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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Smoothing things out

For a while I had been feeling exhausted, depleted of any energy and had been suffering from some hormonal issues. I just blamed age, as in general, I try to keep my habits as healthy as possible.
I've never been of the energetic, strong kind who can take two spinning classes on a row at Soulcycle and survive. Actually, I haven't even taken ONE class at Soulcycle. Ever!!!
One day, a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a yoga class (a light one, not one of those held in ovens where you have to fit both of your feet into your mouth while standing upside down on your pinkie fingers chanting om), and while wanting to get into a pose that shouldn't have been that challenging, my arms were shaking and my body felt completely out of whack. That was the moment...
And after more hormonal symptoms and a visit to the doctor to make sure everything was OK, I decided I wanted to try a more holistic approach before walking the hormone injection walk. I consulted with my doctor and he gave me the green light.
Of course I had been reading Gwyneth's new cookbook and since I pathetically want to do everything exactly as she does it, I decided to go on a cleanse/elimination diet. If you been following this blog for some time, first of all, I love you, and second, you may already know that I'm all for balance and that I don't advocate eliminating food groups without any reason (and third, I idolize Ms Paltrow beyond rational). However, I had read about the cons of dairy* in many sources, there are the hormones, etc...and of course, you have to live under a rock not to know that eating gluten is very polemic nowadays. I'm lucky I don't suffer gluten nor dairy allergies, but I knew something had to be changed, because our bodies change as well, and after Passover food and feasting, I decided it was time for some spring cleaning inside. 
If it didn't work, I could always stop and go back to my routine. Harm wouldn't be done. So I'm giving it a shot at a diet with tons of veggies and fruits, one of two handfuls of seeds and nuts (chia, hemp seeds, sesame, almonds, pecans, etc), whole gluten free grains, legumes, fish, lean meats (about 1 or 2 a week), beef once in a very while; pretty much what I usually do, but now I'm not eating dairy, gluten nor sugar (not even sucanat). Pretty much the only sweeteners I'm using, and very sparingly are raw honey, coconut sugar and nectar, pure maple syrup and mostly dates (which are rich in fiber). I haven't had dairy, but if I ever get desperate, I'll try goat milk products first.

After so many years of advocating and working for healthy eating, cooking and baking with emphasis in special diets, I was happy I knew the drill, the ingredients and the methods, but following the regime required something that's not my forte: organization. In order to follow it, I need to do a lot of planning to shop for the ingredients and to actually prepare the dishes, making sure I don't skip any meals and that I have what I need available. It hasn't been that easy to make it happen, but so far, it's worth all effort. I've definitely noticed the change.

Before I talk a bit more about my cleanse, let's first make something clear: I oppose to juice fasts and cleanses where people starve themselves. I'm also against juicing, in general, because despite the hype, juices don't have any fiber and that is way more important than a minor detail. Click here for more on fiber benefits. The fiber in fruits and vegetables keeps us full and satisfied, and it slows down the absorption of fructose, which is the sugar present in produce, and this way, our body doesn't get overwhelmed with large amounts of fructose to process and byproducts to metabolize even further.
Too much fructose may lead to metabolic syndrome (combination of elevated blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and abdominal fat, which are often symptoms of heard disease and diabetes).
When we eat fiber together with fructose, fiber acts a bit like a buffer. If you take away the fiber of fruits and veggies while juicing, you will get yes, lots of vitamins, enzymes and antioxidants, but also a nice load of fructose.
So...what to do? Smooth it out! Instead of drinking juices, which is all the liquids extracted from the plant minus the fiber, drink smoothies, which are basically thinned-down purees of whole fruits and veggies. Fiber and all. However, watch out for those "healthy" smoothies loaded with agave nectar (more fructose) or other sweeteners. If you want to sweeten them, which makes them definitely tastier, use whole fruits or dried dates.

Every morning, I make myself a green smoothie (or two) by mixing lots of leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard, romaine lettuce), other vegetables (cucumber, celery, etc) and fruit (bananas, mango, pears, apples, citrus, cherries, pineapple) with a bit of water or ice and a splash of unpasteurized, raw apple cider vinegar. For short cuts, I use prewashed organic baby greens and often frozen fruit.

Later in the day, I drink my new favorite thing: a MACA smoothie (then I snack on fruit and salads, and have a regular plant-based dinner with animal products here and there, although no dairy at all so far).
OK, great, but what the heck is maca?
Maca is one of the few edible plants that grow in the high altitudes of the Andean Mountains (yes...the land that brought us quinoa). To no surprise, it belongs to the Brassica family. Its root, which is what you can find dehydrated and ground at your local health food store, has been praised since the times of the Inca. Maca has shown favorable effects on energy and mood, and it's been suggested that it may decrease anxiety and improve libido and increase fertility. The exact mechanisms of action are still unclear, but research indicates that the plant contains many bioactive compounds that contribute to its benefits. Maca is a natural energizer, but it's not a stimulant like caffeine, so it doesn't give the jitters and crashes common to the latter, and Maca is also known for helping balance hormones in both, male and female, and that's why I decided to give it a shot.

Although I had heard about it a while back, its unpleasant flavor threw me off, and I refused to include it in my repertoire. However, after going through my own hormonal crisis, I decided flavor wasn't as important.
There's no prescribed dosage for maca, but after reading a lot and being conservative (although, supposedly, no adverse side effects have been reported), I'm consuming 1 1/2 teaspoons every day.
I still need to be patient to see how my endocrine system responds over an extended period of time. The taste doesn't bother me that much any more, and I'm happy to report that the energy boost has been more than obvious since the second or third day.  Basically, I hadn't felt this great for a really long time. I see it in my yoga practice, my overall mood, the general feel of my body, and even the look of my skin. I've been expecting to get crazy carb cravings, especially when I go buy fresh bread at Eli's, where I usually can't resist a warm cinnamon raisin loaf, but even that test hasn't tempted me. So unexpected...
I guess I've also been super disciplined in not allowing hunger to strike by drinking lots of smoothies, eating salads and keeping hydrated, and not skipping any meals regardless of how busy I am.
I'll keep reporting back, as I'm pretty surprised myself.
Just one thing: no Soulcycle yet!!!

SUPER MACA SMOOTHIE

I usually eyeball the amounts except for the maca, so this is an estimate. Feel free to vary depending on your taste. Remember to soak almonds in clean water overnight and rinse before adding them.
I keep super ripe bananas in  the freezer, and I peel and add them to smoothies for maximum sweetness and creaminess.
INGREDIENTS
1 banana, the riper the better
2 teaspoons chia seeds
2 teaspoons hulled hemp seeds
1 ounce (about 12) raw almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons raw maca powder
1 teaspoon mesquite flour, optional but recommended
2 teaspoons raw cocoa powder, more if desired
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
sprinkling of ground cloves
sprinkling ground nutmeg
pinch tumeric
pinch sea salt
1 pitted date, optional
1/2 cup, or more of ice or cold water

METHOD
If you have a Vitamix blender, lucky you! If not, a regular blender, food processor or immersion blender will do.
Just throw everything into the blender's container and puree, adding more water if needed or desired. It will thicken due to the banana and the chia.
Drink up and enjoy!


Serves 1
NOTES:
  • All weird-sounding ingredients can be found in my astore (amazon). Just click on the link on the right column at the top of this post, and it will take you there. Health food stores will have most of them, probably with the exception of mesquite, that is harder to find. nuts.com is also a good option.
  • You can substitute plain tahini for the almonds, it is a nice calcium-filled variation, or just add some sesame seeds into the mix.

Additional Sources:
*For more on dairy:
http://summertomato.com/dairy-friend-or-foe/

Good info about Maca:
http://www.vegkitchen.com/nutrition/7-top-health-benefits-of-maca/
More good Maca Articles:
http://www.naturalnews.com/maca.html