Time to Ditch Wheat

Ever since I changed to a restrictive, but healthy, diet to address Chronic Fatigue syndrome, over 25 years ago, I have prided myself on continuing to eat organic and healthy food.  Then, two years ago, after a time of huge stress, I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease, an auto-immune disorder where sufferers react to gluten in foods, even in the smallest amounts.  The test result astounded me.   I am a nutritional therapist and eat a healthy diet so how did that happen!  There was a strong sense of irony as I had recommended avoiding gluten containing wheat to lots of clients and now it was going to be off limits to me too – for ever.

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The change to a gf diet was actually not too difficult for me as I didn’t eat wheat-laden junk food, or cakes and biscuits regularly – or so I thought.  However what I didn’t realise at the beginning, is just how pervasive and invasive gluten is in our home, our food, and our environment.

Not only do Coeliacs have to exclude all wheat containing products like the obvious bread, pastry, biscuits and cakes, but also foods with a little wheat in them which includes less obvious things such as burgers and meat balls, sausages, black pudding, ham with a breadcrumb crust, sauces, taramasalata, guacamole, crab pate and many others.  My husband has become very used to hearing ‘Why on earth do they put wheat in that!”  Very often wheat is not a necessary ingredient, just a filler and there are lots of alternatives. 

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When one takes out other gluten containing foods like barley, rye, couscous, bulgar wheat, and oats plus foods containing extracts from them, another huge batch of foods has to be excluded.  Some coeliacs can tolerate gf oats but its best to avoid them as they still contain a form of gluten though different from wheat gluten.  Spirit vinegar and malt vinegar and malted products are out too as they are made from barley, and this includes most chutneys and many sauces.  And then there is wheat in cosmetics such as when vitamin E or wheat germ oil is used, and I can testify that it does cause a reaction.  

So what does one eat?  Well obviously meat, fish, eggs, veg, fruit nuts and seeds.  Ah, but not necessarily.  If you read the small print on packets you can find that it says ‘may contain gluten’ or packed in an environment where gluten containing products are packaged”.  Coeliacs are so sensitive that this immediately cuts out another large number of products.

When I got my diagnosis I thought I could continue to eat mostly organic food, often bought from the health food shop.  But I was wrong.  The only uncontaminated grains and pulses sold by my health food shop are – quinoa and brown rice flakes.  I cannot buy rice, millet, nuts, seeds, or lentils because their supplier buys these products from China, presumably where they are grown, but all packaged in the same factory that handles wheat flour. (I am not sure that I would trust a Chinese organic certification label in any case).

This makes trying to have a healthy organic diet very difficult though I have found that Waitrose’s range of organic foods is not contaminated, and is presumably grown in other countries than China. But Waitrose does not offer a full range of the usual Health Foods.

The whole experience of being a Nutritional Therapist with Coeliac Disorder has made me realise just how pervasive wheat is in normal diets. It is probably present in around 80% of foods that people routinely eat.  Medical authorities wonder at the explosion of wheat allergies and autoimmune disease, and at the huge growth in the demand for gf food. Human digestion has not yet evolved to eat a diet containing the modern form of gluten, as wheat is amongst the most highly selectively bred foods in farming, and in any case, gluten is a very difficult protein to digest, which is why our ancestors allowed it to ferment with yeasts to help it break down.   It would seem that we are being set up, albeit by accident, to suffer from wheat allergies and intolerances.  

Most Nutritional Therapists will ask their clients to cut down or exclude wheat from their diet when giving health advice.  From a naturopathic perspective, wheat is considered suppressive to liver metabolism, pro-inflammatory and with negative effects on the immune system.  It is difficult to recover from ill-health while essential organ systems are operating below par. A colleague has said that she has observed that patients don’t make any progress unless they stop having wheat (and dairy which has similar problems).

Today, walking round the health food shop in search of brown rice flakes, it occurred to me that the whole ethos of the health food industry is based on eating wholemeal wheat. 

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There are so many products made with it and which take centre stage that it is as if the industry has forgotten that this is just one grain amongst many, and that it isn’t necessarily healthy even if it is organic and wholegrain. A loaf of home-made organic bread has become synomynous of the most healthy food one can eat.  And yet it isn’t – not by a long way.  

The acceptance of wholewheat as a healthy food means that a blind eye is being turned to its insidious use in a huge range of health food products.  Many people won’t realise that they are consuming so much of such an unhelpful food, thinking that they are eating a healthy diet because they buy their food from a Health Food Shop.

It is about time the health food industry caught up with its customers and modern science, to sell what customers are increasingly demanding – and it isn’t wheat products.  The upsurge of clean eating, detox diets and food sensitivities shows there is a demand to reshape what they offer.  It’s time to ditch the wheat.

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How do you get better sleep?

Sleep problems are extremely common these days and once one looks at the things that one can do to help, it becomes clear that the average lifestyle is not at all conducive to a good night’s sleep.  That said, there are many different reasons why we don’t sleep and it is a case of trail and error until you find what works for you.

We often take sleeping for granted but quality sleep is essential for maintaining health of the body and in particular of the immune system.

Cats don’t seem to have any problems sleeping

One could view the immune system as a housekeeper, keeping everything clean and organised and in working order, and noticing when parts need repairing too. It does a great deal more than fighting bugs. Most of the bodily repair processes are part of the immune processes and take place at night, during sleep. They are affected by the thyroid hormone, which controls metabolism, and by cortisol, which is produced by stress.  The body produces more cortisol during the day to deal with stresses and then thyroid hormone at night to drive the repair processes. When these hormones are out of balance and there is too much cortisol around at night we may not sleep well, the repair processes are compromised, and detoxification of cells does not take place. Over a long period of poor sleep our tissue toxins levels can rise giving rise to inflammation processes and our immune function is depressed. Sleep is essential for immunity. This is why we need to sleep or at least to rest when we are ill. If we continue working when we are ill, the body never has the chance to completely recover from a virus infection, like a cold, and we may ‘catch’ one cold after another throughout the winter. If stress levels remain high then we won’t sleep well, repair cells, and our immune functions become compromised resulting in  ill health and disease.

For good sleep we need to find ways of relaxing and de-stressing.

Ensure you have a regular bedtime routine that prepares you for sleep.
Spend some time during the day, in quiet relaxation and meditation
Take saunas and steam baths before bed
Have baths with Epsom salts or lavender oil before bed
Try a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow or use a lavender herb pillow
Exercise reguarly
Try stress busting techniques
Take Hot and Cold showers for waking up in the morning to help set your body clock
Use Lavender pillows or put lavender oil drops on your pillow.
Correct your breathing so it is deep belly breathing. (Breathing in the upper part of the chest stimulates the stress response and the release of cortisol)
Avoid stimulants such as tea, coffee and chocolate in the evening.
It may help instead to have a small bowl of porridge as this is calming. Lettuce has soporific qualities and so could be incorporated into the evening meal.
Avoid TV but especially news, thrillers, violence and stressful content. Wildlife programmes and other items that are uplifting are ok.

Avoid all TV, computer, tablet and phone screens in the last hour or two before bed (except ones like kindle paperweight that do not omit much light at you).
Keep light levels low – use side lights and lamps. Avoid looking at bright lights at night.
Listen to relaxing music or relaxation tapes.

If you wake during the night and have difficulty getting back to sleep try:
to count your breathes up to 21 and back to 1, and while counting concentrate on slowing the breath and breathing deeply. Sometimes if one wakes in the night it is because the thyroid or adrenals have woken up and increased the heart rate. By slowing it down again, it gives a message to go back to sleep mode.

Herbal supplements such as Hops, Passiflora, and Valarian can help.  Also Calms, available from your health food shop are good.
Try Avea Sativa from Weleda
Try Pukka Herbs Nighttime tea, or other brands of night-time tea.

Some people find that even the tiniest amount of spicy food will make them feel wired at night and stop them getting to sleep for hours, despite feeling tired. Alcohol can also cause this despite it being a relaxant. Avoid all spicy food for a week, including chilli, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, zartar, black pepper, curry powder, 5 spice mixture etc. Sometimes the ‘wired’ buzz can extend to a buzzing or tinnitus in the ears.

If these suggestions do not work for you then the problem needs addressing at its root. Hormone imbalances and inflammatory processes may need to be addresses before good sleep patterns can be established.  If you can’t find a solution to your sleep problem then consult a nutritional therapist for more help.

Let me know what has worked for you!

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Travelling with Coeliac Disease

My first year as a diagnosed Coeliac sufferer coincided with my busiest ever year of travel.  I went to Egypt 5 times, to the USA, to Spain, to the Yorkshire Dales, attended a walking leader course in Wales and made numerous visits to my mother, who suffers from dementia.  It has been quite a challenge to stay well with all with all these changes in routines and forced eating out, but on the whole the experience has been really positive.  It does take planning, and a change of attitude towards food and eating out.  It is just not possible to eat what other people do – but then having been a foodie and a health foodie at that, I have been used to being picky about food.

Firstly travelling to Egypt! This could have been the most difficult challenge but I found out that Egyptair does do gluten free meals, one just has to ring up the airline to book as it is not available on-line (although cholesterol free meals are?!!). Special meals arrive about 15 minutes before everyone else has theirs which is nice. Cairo airport only has fruit that is not wrapped in some sort of wheat parcel but arriving at 7 pm this is not a problem. The little resort at Sharm I visit has a buffet breakfast where one can choose omelettes, cheese, yogurt, fresh fruit, tomatoes and cucumber. A slice of gf bread from my travelling stock p1050145completes a good breakfast.  The Bedouin quickly got on board with my ‘weird’ diet and soon everyone knew that I mustn’t have gluten and they have catered for me very well wherever I go.  The Marriot in Cairo was also good with so many gluten free options to choose from. I carry a Gluten Free Travel card in Arabic, downloaded off the internet so people will know exactly what my requirements are.

When we went to the USA to visit our son, we stayed with friends who were very p1010793accommodating and then hired a camper van for the journey from San Francisco to Bend in Oregon.  Self-catering is easy when there are lots of great health food supermarkets to stock up on. One night we went to a cinema called McMenamins (a chain of cinemas in the USA), to see the new Jungle Book film and they had separate catering facilities for gf so chips and all manner of junk food was available – just this once I indulged! British Airways had good gf meals on the flights there and back.

At Heathrow airport, there are gluten free snacks at Eat, gf options on the menu at Wonder Tree, and the Gorgeous Kitchen, plus a branch of Carluccio’s which is coeliac approved, so no problem having  lunch before an afternoon flight.

p1040915Going on holiday to Spain did worry me but it turned out to be a very positive experience and I didn’t get gluted once.  We booked through Collett’s Walking Holidays and they ensured that my dietary needs were communicated to their staff. Our hotel, in the tiny mountain village of Panticosa, was excellent with the chef preparing special adaptions of the meals just for me.  I bought ingredients for my own sandwiches with gf wraps I brought with me, and eating out was fine as they seem very aware of coeliac disease.  Our waitress at one restaurant said it was no problem as she had a cousin who was coeliac and knew exactly what was required.

Our walking holiday to the Yorkshire Dales, also booked with Collett’s Walking Holidays, was also fine with a choice of restaurants in the little village we stayed in.  One restaurant called Thirteen, had a menu that was all gf all the time as the chef had a problem with gluten!  The food was some of the best I have ever had. Even the village pub had meals that were gf.  The hotel we stayed in provided nice gf breakfasts and had recommended the excellent restaurant 13.

The worst experience was of Brittany Ferries on their Plymouth to Santander route.  We had previously used the ferries to get to Northern Spain on two other holidays and enjoyed great meals in the restaurant, before I had my diagnosis.  This time the company were quite unhelpful with advice when we booked, just saying we would have to ask the staff if they had any gf options but saying that they couldn’t do special meals.  When we asked one member of staff at the restaurant he just said take whatever I like from the buffet and remove the bread! Another waitress was a bit more helpful but they didn’t really know which foods were definitely gf so I worried about having a gluten attack. This spoilt the experience for me.

On visits to my mother’s house I just took most of my food with me.  She hasn’t been able to cook for herself for a while and would not have understood my problem so it was easier to sort it out myself.

When travelling I do take snacks and emergency foods with me.  9Bars are almost a meal in themselves and great if one is being very active. Packets of mixed fruits and nuts are good too, and I have found you can’t always trust the ones abroad, especially if they are spiced as they use some flour in the mix.  Naked bars are good alternatives to 9Bars.  BFree wraps are good and actually last quite a long time without refrigeration. And of course fruit is usually freely available too.

During my October trip to Sinai, Egypt, I led a group to build a small dam in the high mountains. There were 8 of us in the group, and just by chance, 3 of us were coeliacs.  The other two were mother and son and long experienced in travelling gf.  Freddie’s job takes him to some of the most remote parts of the world to film animals and he doesn’t find living gf too much of a problem, so there is hope for all us coeliacs.

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More Healthy Baking

This cake is not only delicious but has good levels of nutrients.  There are vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in the dried fruit, healthy fats (yes butter is a healthy fat after all!), protein from the eggs and nuts, and healthy carbs in the wholemeal flour.  For more nutritional info see below.

I call this type of cake recipe the potato masher cake because most of the work of mixing is done with a potato masher!

Banana and Hazelnut Cake

Ingredients:

125g /4 oz prunes/apricots/dates

125g/4 oz butter or equivalent of oil such as light olive oil or coconut oil.

2 or 3 ripe bananas

2 eggs

30g/1 oz ground almonds

125g/4 oz hazelnuts

125g/4 oz wholemeal flour or wheat and gluten-free flour such as rice flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Cook the dried fruit in a small to medium-sized saucepan with sufficient water to cover them for about 15 to 20 minutes. Simmer gently, do not boil or they will burn. When cooked and mushy, add the oil or butter and mix well. Mash in the bananas. You can do all this in the saucepan with a potato masher. Allow to cool slightly.

Add beaten eggs. Mix well. Then add flour, ground almonds and baking powder and mix briefly and gently then add in the hazelnuts.

Turn the mixture out into a loaf tin or cake tin which has been greased and lined. Cook in a moderate oven, gas mark 3 or 4 for about 40 minutes or until done.

 Variations

You can substitute mango for the banana, and vary the dried fruit and nuts and flours.

Topping

Put about 100g/3 oz of cashew nuts into a blender with about 3 or 4 tablespoons of apples juice, blend and spread on top.

Nutritional Information

Where possible always buy organic ingredients to avoid pesticides, growth hormones, additives and other unhelpful or harmful chemicals.

Prunes are a good source of provitamin A and phenolic compounds.  They are a good source of potassium, thiamine (B1), riboflavin(B2), vitamin B6, boron and dietary fibre.  They have good levels of antioxidants, calcium, magnesium, and iron.  They are notorious for preventing and relieving constipation. The insoluble fibre in prunes provides food for ‘good’ bacteria in the large intestine.  An investigation of the blood of fifty-eight postmenopausal women who ate approximately 12 prunes per day for three months revealed the presence of enzymes and growth factors that indicated increased bone formation in their bodies.  These markers were not seen in women who did not eat prunes.  Prunes contain boron which is a trace mineral essential for bone metabolism and is a necessary factor in preventing osteoporosis.

Apricots are good sources of potassium, iron, fibre and carotenes such as lycopene and lutein.  These carotenes are what give red, orange and yellow colours to fruit and vegetables.  They are particularly beneficial for preventing macular degeneration, heart disease and cancer.  Where possible buy un-sulphured apricots, usually available in health food shops.

Dates are an excellent source of fibre; the B vitamins niacin (B3), B6, riboflavin (B2), thiamine (B1), pantothenic acid (B5) and folic acid; copper, potassium, manganese, iron, and phosphorus, zinc and selenium. They are among the most alkaline of foods and contain a special fiber called beta-D-glucan which has been shown to decrease the body’s absorption of cholesterol and to slow or delay the absorption of glucose into the small intestine thus helping to keep blood sugar levels even.  Beta-D-glucan also adds bulk and softness to stools due to its ability to absorb and hold water.  The eases both stool movement through the colon and elimination – hence dates help with constipation.  In addition the soluble fibre passes through the intestinal tract more slowly than insoluble fibre which slows down the rate the stomach empties its contents after a meal.  This increases feelings of satiety and can help with weight loss diets.  Dates are surprisingly rich in antioxidants and anti-cancer compounds.  Date extract  was found to prevent free-radical damage to both fats and protein in a dose-dependant manner – the higher the concentration, the greater the protection against free radicals.

Bananas are an excellent source of potassium and vitamin B6 and a good source of vitamin  C, fibre, riboflavin (B2), magnesium, biotin, and carbohydrates.  Potassium helps regulate heart function and fluid balance, lowers blood pressure and protects against heart disease and strokes.  In one study, researchers tracked 40,000 American male health professionals over four years to determine effects of diet on blood pressure.  Men who ate diets higher in potassium-rich foods had a substantially reduced risk of stroke.  In addition the soluble fibre in bananas helps normalise bowel function.

Nutritional information from the Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Michael Murray

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Healthy Baking

With the success of the Great British Bake-Off, a huge rekindling of baking skills is happening.  I come from families of cake bakers on both sides. My grandmother’s shortbread was absolutely delicious and we ate at least 2 or 3 different cakes for tea each day!   However for health-concious and weight-concious people, eating cakes is not usually on their agenda and eating sugary cakes is a fast route to blood sugar problems, diabetes and heart disease. But there are such things as healthy cakes!  Eggs, wholemeal flour and even butter have healthy properties with good levels of vitamins and minerals. If you replace the sugar with dried fruit and/or bananas, cakes can have good antioxidant levels too.  Adding in nuts adds more protein and flavour. Here is a good basic cake made without sugar – and very easily made too!

Basic Healthy Sponge Cake

Ingredients

8 oz dates

6 oz butter or equivalent of oil such as groundnut oil or light olive oil or coconut oil.

4 oz ground almonds

2 or 3 mashed bananas

2 eggs

6 oz wholemeal flour or wheat free flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Method

Cook the dates in a small saucepan with sufficient water to cover them. Simmer gently, do not boil or they will burn. When cooked and mushy, add the butter/oil and mix well. Mash in the bananas using a potato masher. Allow to cool slightly.

Add the almonds and the beaten eggs. Mix well.

Add the flour and baking powder and mix briefly and gently.

Turn the mixture out into a loaf tin or cake tin which has been greased and lined. Cook in a moderate oven, gas mark 3 or 4 for about 40 minutes or until done.

Easy and delicious!

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Back to the Office

The summer season at Green and Away is over for another year, the days are growing shorter and it is time to re-evaluate work.  Green and Away was a great success this year with great events and wonderful volunteers and already there are two bookings for next summer plus we hope to have the brilliant Pantaloons back to perform in the open air.

However things are not looking so good for our Bedouin friends in Sinai at the moment.  With the political instability and outbreaks of violence in Cairo and other parts of Egypt, St Catherine’s Monastery has been shut by the government with devastating effects for the local Bedouin.  They have been relying on tourists visiting the monastery and then climbing Mt Sinai to give them work through serving tourists in cafes, taking them on camel treks, selling local produce and providing accommodation.  St Catherine’s is a small town with almost no other employment on offer so the effects of this action are being felt by everyone. With no income, the camel men are struggling as they can’t afford the £2 a day to feed their camels and are having to sell them.  For camel men this is a desperate measure as their camels represent their business and their future income.  If they sell now they will have money but no source of income when the monastery reopens and a bedouin without his camel is like a man with no arms.

Boy and his camel

Boy and his camel

Despite the fact that St Catherine’s remains calm and peaceful, people will not travel there and yet what the Bedouin need most is visitors.  There are two journeys scheduled for next spring and we hope they will go ahead but it is difficult to publicise them in the current atmosphere of uncertainty.  There must be some people with a sense of adventure and who are happy to enjoy the peacefulness of the Sinai mountains.

We are about to launch an appeal to help the Bedouin camel men. Shortly there will be a donation page on the Just Giving website where people can sponsor a camel for anything from one day £2, to a month £60. Anything donated will help a lot. More details to follow…

Meanwhile back to the loathed admin to keep G&A on track for next year.

For more information about the situation in St Catherine’s, Sinai, see the article in The Guardian newspaper.

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Musing on Beauty

When I was in the Sinai desert a few weeks ago there was plenty of time for reflection.  Here are some of my thoughts written as part poem, part prose.

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Beauty

Why is there beauty in the world?P1000842

What is beauty and what is beauty for?

How to describe what beauty is

except in poems and prose that evoke

an appreciation of beauty.

Beauty is in flowers, coloured rocks,P1000020

Smiling faces, loving eyes.

Beauty exists for us when fear falls away,

Because fear blocks by opening our minds

And shutting our hearts.

We feel beauty in our hearts, our eyes, our ears,

Our bodies, it comes in the impulse to hug someoneP1010865

Or to caress a smooth wooden bowl,

Or the sound of someone singing,

Or a meadow of wild flowers.

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder

But beauty is always present in the world.

Appreciating beauty depends on the receiver. P1010909

Once we let go of fear, beauty is everywhere.

And when we see beauty we are more connected to spirit/god.

Seeing beauty lets spirit into our hearts

And hearing beauty and feeling beauty,

And touching beauty and tasting beauty…

I love the caresses of the sun and breeze on my skin.

I love the feel of smooth rock beneath my feetP1020319

I love the blue azure sky, especially when it dances with sparkly stars.

I love the cool soft, silky and sensuous early morning desert sand

As I pour it over my naked body.

I love the empty silence, full of energy and expectation

That reflects back to me my every sound tenfold.

I love all this beauty.

When I see a peony flower,

it is full of radiant colour,P1020350

a cerise nest of crimson leaves,

Stunning in its beauty.

And what of rainbow coloured topical birds

And lizards with bright turquoise heads.

Why, if nature is practical, functional and self-interested (if it is),

Does it make such DSC00004monumentally beautiful, bountiful, statements?

Nature bursts with life, exuberance, blousy extravagance – with beauty.

Surely this beauty cannot be explained as the result of a process of evolution and natural selection.

It feels above all that.

Is it spirit’s/god/dess’s present to the world?

When we live in the world, in the present,

We feels god’s present of beauty in our hearts.

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