A to Z Challenge: Letter F for Food

Food Can Be a Problem

People who need our caregiving are probably people who have issues with food. For one reason or another, they may not have the energy to shop and cook. Often they need special diets. Often nothing sounds appetizing to them or the opposite – food is one of their few comforts and everything sounds good. Whatever the case, what happens in the kitchen is very important in caregiving. It’s true, food is medicine that you as a caregiver can give. (Different perspective, yes?)

It is also true that a lifetime of eating poorly can’t be turned around in meal or two. There will be some foods that take effect more quickly than others (ask anyone who likes prunes) but complex processes like weight loss or building strong bones, strong immune system, a resilient nervous system, etc… take lots of time. My role as “caregiver in the kitchen” is one of the hardest for me. Maintaining consistency, making meals attractive, serving a good variety – a real challenge when life gets busy.

Places to Find Help

What a surprise it was to learn that the gut is like a second brain, and it needs to be treated as special, and fed with care. This is an area where it will serve you well to become a learner – first of the diagnosis of the person you care for, and second of the current diet recommended for that diagnosis.

Medical schools do not spend a lot of time teaching about the role of diet in disease so your doctor may not have a lot to say about specific nutritional guidelines. There are specialties in the areas of functional medicine, naturopathic medicine, and integrative or wholistic care that will spend a lot more time with you on the subject of food. Dietitians and nutritional specialists will be more helpful if they follow current research. Be proactive and ask them to work with you. Don’t be lazy about this, and don’t let them be either.

You can find much of the latest research on diet yourself, if you have a computer. There are some tremendous changes coming in the Standard American Diet and the Food Pyramid due to discoveries about the causes of many chronic diseases (including the big ones like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia). It’s an exciting field. I’m posting links to some of my keto meal discoveries as well as listing some of our most helpful references at the end of this post.

Food is pretty, and pretty amazing.

Five (easy) Guidelines

This is such a big topic, and new changes and discoveries are frequent, but here are some things I’ve found to be basic for most chronic conditions:

– avoid processed foods as much as possible. If there are more than two ingredients it’s probably processed.

– buy organic when you can

– increase eating of fresh vegetables and fruits with bright colors. It’s hard to go wrong with this.

– decrease carbohydrates, which includes anything containing large amounts of sugar (soda, desserts, alcoholic drinks) and also breads, pastas, rice and white potato

– don’t give up if things don’t go well for a few days. Return to sensible eating as soon as you are able.

A keto salad lunch

My husband has Lewy Body Dementia/Parkinson’s and he is a researcher of his own remedies. We have seen promising results from his diet which is built on a conservative approach. Lots of colorful vegetables, moderate amounts of clean protein (eggs and meats) and as much healthy fats as we can get (avocado, coconut and olive oils, animal fats, butter, etc…). We also addressed our magnesium and vitamin D levels after finding out that we were low in those nutrients, as are most people these days.

We’ve tried some extreme diets, but found we just couldn’t build a life around weird food choices. The desire to eat has to be kept alive.

Our Ketogenic Strategy

The Keto Plate

  • “The Grain Brain Whole Life Plan” by Dr. David Perlmutter
  • “Fat for Fuel” by Dr. Joseph Mercola
  • “The Paleo Approach” by Sarah Ballantine, PhD
  • “The Ketogenic Kitchen” by Dominic Kemp and Patricia Daly


This was written February 18, 2011 but surprisingly, not much has changed. Our vitamin experiment is in its eighth year. So far, we have both gotten older and are wearing out. This will have to go into the book about the husband…

Have you taken your vitamins today? I haven’t. I’m having a morning cup of coffee. I’m so thankful they’ve discovered some antioxidants in it along with the caffeine. I have probably survived this long because there are antioxidants in my coffee. I can taste them and they are good.

There is an experiment going on at my house. It’s the Grand Vitamin Survival Experiment.

Both Dennis, my husband, and I have read a lot of books about nutrition and have some newsletter subscriptions to Mayo Clinic and several vitamin companies and as a result we do think there are some marvelous discoveries out there – magical things in our foods that were designed to make our bodies function at their peak of performance. I don’t doubt this at all and the evidence of malnutrition is out there for anyone to see. The questionable part is this – are we really capturing that magical element and transferring it unharmed into a pill? And, assuming that, if we’ve already ruined our bodies, will taking the pill help us?

There are so many untrustworthy types out there and 98% of them have a vitamin company… The good thing is, we don’t really have to know if vitamins will help us, we just have to be able to afford them, eat them, and hope they don’t kill us. If we’ve covered enough bases, they might help. This brings me to the experiment.

One of us at my house is covering ALL the bases. The other one of us can’t remember to take vitamins two days in a row. Which one of us will die first?

Okay, I’m the one who can’t remember to take the vitamins. It’s a fear/hate thing.  I “fear” macular degeneration, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, blah, blah… so I think of the bottles of lutein and zeaxanthin up in the cupboard and take them, sporadically. 

On the days when my hands HURT (not just hurt) I get out the arthritis support and pain relief magical elements and take them – also sporadic. Is it merely a memory problem? No, I remember my coffee without any trouble.

 It’s the non-foodishness of them that I can’t get past. If you wanted people to eat something you were selling, would you make it like a small rock, with sharp edges? We spit out cherry pits and watermelon seeds. Why do they think we would swallow these things that leave furrows down our throats, get stuck halfway down and dissolve for the next three hours on the delicate lining of our esophagus? You don’t have to tell me all the tricks either. I’m a nurse – I’ve ground up every pill there is and polluted good applesauce with the powder. That’s the “hate” part when my applesauce gets ruined.

So back to the experiment – Dennis has a supplement/vitamin for every part of his body and every function possible. We have a three shelf cupboard in the kitchen devoted entirely to bottles of pills. New ones arrive by UPS on a regular basis.  It takes a good five minutes to dish them out which he does faithfully a couple times a day. He has to have a special bowl to contain them and I have no idea how he eats them all and still has room for a meal.

And on the other extreme I sit with my cup of coffee and whatever I can eat in the car while I’m driving back and forth to work. Who will survive longest? 

Unfortunately, it’s the cumulative effect over long, long periods of time in which vitamins produce the most difference. WHAT KIND OF EXPERIMENT IS THAT!? I want to know now, or at least in five or ten years.

I’m just glad it’s the weekend and I get to have a second cup of coffee.

He has managed to cut down – most of them fit into this very full box… most of them.

Health Advocacy: Today’s Ketogenic Plate

A ketogenic diet is a low carb, high fat (healthy fats) way of eating. It is similar to a Paleo diet and also has some things in common with the AIP (autoimmune protocol). We are eating this way for weight loss reasons, but it is also a cancer fighting therapy. I’m always running short of ideas on what to make for dinner, so when I do come up with something good, I might as well share it. Right?

We both had plenty for dinner and there were leftovers for the husband’s lunch tomorrow.

Today’s Ketogenic Plate

This meal starts with ½ of pasture fed ground beef. It’s left over from last night when the husband cooked dinner for me. This doesn’t happen a lot, but I had the procedure on my hand to deal with so he gave me a break. A quarter pound per person is plenty when it comes to red meat, especially if you are eating keto for cancer therapy.

The ground beef is really the only thing I had a measure for. The rest of the ingredients can be whatever you have on hand. My pan contains:

2 large Portobello caps, cut in chunks

1 medium onion, cut in chunks

2 stalks of celery, sliced

4 cloves of garlic, sliced

Broccoli, about 2 cups

And cherry tomatoes, for color appeal

Brown the ground beef. In a large pan, melt 2 Tbs. of butter and saute the mushroom pieces. When they started looking dry I put in some avocado oil, another healthy fat.  Add the onion garlic and celery and continue cooking on medium heat for 5 minutes. When the ground beef is browned, add it to the pan. I added the broccoli next and covered the pan to let it steam for another 5 minutes. At the very end I added the tomatoes because I like as many colors in our meal as possible.  Seasoning is to taste and done at the table in our house so each person knows what he’s eating.

I love this salad and eat it last. It’s almost like dessert.

Add a salad with romaine, cucumber and kiwi for Wednesday’s ketogenic plate.


Our journey to eating “keto” has been helped by these resources: “The Grain Brain Whole Life Plan” by Dr. David Perlmutter, “Fat for Fuel” by Dr. Joseph Mercola, “The Paleo Approach” by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD and “The Ketogenic Kitchen” by Domini Kemp and Patricia Daly



Being Your Own Health Advocate: Food

I can see a series of posts taking form on this subject, since I don’t want any of them to be overly long. I’m going to keep coming back to the subject because my passion is growing…

It’s fuel.

I don’t cook for fun. I cook because people have to eat. It’s more about fuel for life than what it used to be – for me anyway.

I didn’t used to think about food very much at all in my younger years. If it tasted good, I ate it. I knew about the rudiments of nutrition and ate what I thought was good for me, along with other things that I knew probably weren’t. My philosophy was that happiness was like a medicine, and if a food made me happy, it was probably canceling out any poor nutritional qualities. I had the benefit of growing up on a farm where my family grew/raised a lot of unprocessed food too. I was seldom sick and never had a problem with weight control.

For a few years in the early 2000’s I worked for the FNP, Food and Nutrition Program, of the University Extension Service of the University of Florida. I started taking the Food Pyramid, dictated by the government food police (kidding) into elementary schools and teaching it to youngsters. I taught Nutrition and Food Preparation to young mothers in a Head Start program. I started becoming aware of the problems Americans were having with food. Obesity at young ages, hyperactivity and ADHD were prevalent in so many schoolrooms.  Even when presented with a decent school lunch, children were turning up their noses and throwing away the most nutritious foods. Often families in trouble with Social Services were being court ordered to learn how to prepare meals to feed their children properly.

By default, people were eating the Standard American Diet, acronym SAD, and it was sad. When I started having health problems that I could relate to diet and lifestyle, I started getting a bit more serious about what I fed myself.  The overweight husband also developed problems with blood pressure and needed medicines which were hard to regulate. Friends and family members started getting diagnoses of GERD and cancer and diabetes. Time started wearing out our natural defenses. I began to hear more about food as therapy. I also began hearing about how many times nutritional advice was influenced by factors other than benefits to health – like, who decides what the Food Pyramid looks like and funny how it keeps changing…

I guess what I think now can be illustrated with the example of a machine, say a really nice new car.  If I take it in on schedule to be serviced I’m doing good. But, the thing that I do most often, and that will make the most difference, is to put fuel in it. Different cars have different fuel requirements that are important to follow. If I put in a grade of gasoline other than what is recommended for clean burning, I’m going to see problems after a while. Waste products build up in the engine.  The car gets sick.

Friends, readers, we are that complex, finely designed machine. Our computer, our emissions systems, our energy production equipment, our whole body is affected by every little thing we put in our mouth.

We are designed to take a lot of nutritional abuse – there are buffering systems, safeguards of all kinds in place – but sooner or later those back-up systems will have taken all the abuse that they can. If we don’t want to be sick or prematurely dead, we must study what’s happening in our “machine” with the fuels we use.

This was the beginning of my journey into food research and the resulting health trends. I don’t have to spend hours at it. I don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it. I don’t have to wait until I’m sick with a serious problem. I don’t have to ask my doctor for every new pill I see advertised in the media.  I eat every day, and that is where the changes should, and can, start.

I’m not necessarily recommending any of these older books – some of the best and newest information is free on the internet, or at the library.

I started by saying that I don’t cook for fun, when I actually do have fun doing it sometimes. But fun is not the main point anymore. Getting the best fuel possible has become the point, just sayin’…



#atozchallenge: Starfruit

20160107_093601.jpgStarfruit or Carambola – you might not have heard of this one if you live in a northern climate. Florida is one of the states where it is grown in the U.S. and it is interesting that one man was responsible for the particular cultivar that is grown commercially and bears his name, Adkin.  He was a backyard horticulturist and his work produced this really, tasty and lovely fruit.

Although this fruit is still relatively rare in many parts of the U.S., I read that it is common in other countries (the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Guam, Phillipines, China, Taiwan) and has been for hundreds of years.  It has many names.  The Starfruit name is descriptive of the sliced fruit, as you can see.

delicious, juicy little stars are very decorative

Starfruit is a little like grapefruit, in that is has substances, caramboxin and oxalic acid, that greatly affect the utilisation of certain medications. Caramboxin is actually a neurotoxin and should not be consumed by people who have kidney disease.  For everyone else the low levels of caramboxin are not dangerous and the health benefits are considerable.  Starfruit is rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, and potassium. It is low in sugar, sodium and acid and has significant antimicrobial activity.

this one might be a bit tart since the ridges still have some green

They are ripe when all traces of green have gone and the ridges have turned slightly brown. Further ripening tends to make the fruit soggy and bland.  The taste and texture have been described as having elements of grape, pear, citrus and apple.  They are very juicy and somewhat tart, and even kind of crunchy. I know, it’s hard to imagine all that if you’ve never had them.  My brother has some trees in south Florida and brought us a whole bag of starfruit last winter.  I like them a lot. If you happen across them in your grocery, give them a try.

#atozchallenge: M for Midway through

And also, sticking with my theme, MANGO, another fruit with a very large seed in the middle.  Mangoes are common in tropic and subtropical climates and have a season – usually January through August in the U.S. because they come from so many different places. They are actually the national fruit of India and several other countries in the east and middle east. The ones in my grocery store were from Nicaragua and Mexico.  I could grow them here in Florida (but I don’t).

On the left, the more common type. On the right a different variety called Ataulfo from Mexico.

A really ripe mango is soft, juicy and I think very peach-like in flavor.  Under ripe ones can taste a little like turpentine, especially close to the skin. At full ripeness you can use them like any fruit in pies, cobblers, short-cake or sherbet.  But they are versatile enough to be used green, and I had them that way once in Cambodia. They were cut into spears and dipped in a spice/salt mixture like a vegetable.  Wasn’t bad, really, but very different.

They are a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A (that pretty gold color…), niacin and quite a few minerals.  There are different ways to cut them but I’ve pictured one that’s easy. Cut on both sides of the flat seed and then into cubes or spears. Even when not fully ripe, like the one I have pictured, I like to freeze them in chunks and use them in smoothies with milk, or yogurt, or orange juice or a banana or all of those things. There is no way to go wrong with a mango smoothie.  They are soooo good!


Some people may have allergic reactions to the stems, leaves, sap, and skin of this fruit, typically a  contact dermatitis. If you are allergic to urushiol, the allergen in poison ivy, you may also have trouble with a similar phytochemical in mangos.  However, even sensitized people can eat peeled mango or drink mango juice.

That’s it for M.  We’re halfway through the A to Z challenge!  Everyone still having fun?

#atozchallenge: Let Us Eat Lettuce

I have returned from a journey, sick and hardly able to think about writing my posts. I am going to be brief.  There are two bits of nutritional advice that have meant a lot to me and they both apply to lettuce. So here goes…

Eat foods that will spoil, and eat them before they do.  We have so many varieties of good tasting but fragile greens available to us in our stores. It is sometimes difficult to eat them before they get limp and dried out, or wet and decomposing.  Do your best to plan but when your plans don’t work out – toss what can’t be cleaned up and used. Buy more fresh stuff.  Inevitably there will be some waste.

Always go for as much color as you can get. Color means a lot. There are nutrients that come with that color and more are being discovered all the time. We now hear about lutein, zeaxanthin, and other carotenoids in regard to eye health and macular degeneration. We hear about resveratrol in plants with deep purple color. There are lots more.  I had to laugh when reading on one website about how these nutrients aren’t essential to life like some of the major vitamins, but that they may be  important for good health.  So the question becomes do you just want to be alive or would you kind of like to be alive and healthy?

Dark green lettuces also contain vitamin A, beta carotenes, vitamin K, vitamin C, folates and a lot of needed minerals. Just eat a salad every day if you can, and consider that you can actually make a salad be the meal.

#atozchallenge: The I Post



No not that kind.

The reason iron is interesting to me is that I know quite a few vegetarians and some vegans. I gravitate more toward that style of eating too.

Non-meat eaters need to be sure they have adequate circulating iron and iron stores in the body or they will experience iron deficiency anemia. Without iron to make hemoglobin, the blood can’t carry enough oxygen to properly fuel body cells. What it feels like is weakness, fatigue, inability to keep warm. It shows up as paleness in skin that should be pink.

The bad news is that plant sources of iron are of a form that is not easily absorbed by our bodies. A good deal of the iron in meat, about 40% of it, is a form that is easily absorbed which is why meats are a good source of the mineral.

The good news is that, amazingly, vegetarians and vegans do not have higher incidences of iron deficiency anemia. And no one, whether they eat meat or not, has to worry about it if they follow a few smart eating tactics with their plants sources of iron.  In fact, dried beans and green leafy vegetables are better sources of iron per calorie than meat. Here are some tricks that will help your body absorb it:

  • Combine an iron rich plant food with a source of vitamin C (absorb up to 5 times more iron)
  • Avoid drinking coffee or tea at the same time as iron rich foods (the tannins in those drinks block absorption)
  • Eat less at a time (your body gets overwhelmed with large amounts, as in supplements, and absorption is limited)
  • Cook with cast iron (really, get a well-seasoned iron pan and use it!)
  • Get your iron from a variety of iron rich foods (many of them already come combined with vitamin C – eat that broccoli!)

Here is the list of foods high in iron:

Beans, peas, lentils, blackstrap molasses, dried fruits, green leafy vegetables, potatoes, nuts and seeds, seaweed (kelp and nori), soy products, whole grains.

Click here for today’s iron rich, fast and easy recipe.  Spiced Carrot and Lentil Soup

Changing My Mind

Changing My Mind

My mind needs to change.

I have been of the mind that serious health problems belong to other people but not to me. I have always worked activity into my life effortlessly – I love to move. I have grandparents who lived into their 90’s and parents who are still living independently. I have weighed the same, within a few pounds more or less, all my grown up life. I don’t worry about what I eat, am seldom ill, am probably a type A multi-tasker, go years between doctors appointments. To all appearances I am a healthy person.

My human nature doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on the diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and cancer in my family history.

Last week I decided to fill out a health survey. One of the questions was to compare blood triglyceride values from past years to the present. I didn’t like what I saw. I went on to look at cholesterol levels, HDL, and LDL. Again there was an alarming trend. I have also noticed a rise in my blood pressure from my usual quite low reading to a higher “normal”. I don’t know how much of this, if any, is normal for me as I age. I’d like to think these changes could go away.

I think I’ll start by admitting that the better eating habits we’ve been adopting aren’t just for the husband, they’re for me too. No more hiding stuff to eat after he’s gone (did I say that, really?) No more reminding him not to eat what I’m eating. And now I’ll not just be walking the husband, I’ll be walking the self for exercise.

The thing I’m really worried about is butter. I’m a little worried about Half and Half in my coffee but I’ve already decided that cutting down a bit on the caffeine would be better for me so that tablespoon of cream is not too bad. But butter, hmm… I love butter.

I read that overuse of NSAIDs can affect blood pressure and that’s another thing I’ve done in the last few years. Ibuprofen has been my friend and how I miss it when I lay off for a few days! But I’ve already decided to get used to hurting a little bit more and maybe taking things a little easy to avoid some of those hurts.

My goal is to see those numbers in my lipid panel improve.  And I’m pretty sure it starts in my head, with a change of mind.  If anyone out there has done something that really worked well, please share it with me.

The Salad Is the Meal


At least that’s what it says on the new magnet we have on the front of the fridge. 20131003_130417

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been finding jars of unidentifiable, thick brown liquid in my refrigerator.  It’s the husband’s soup that he makes in our Vita Mix (the machine that pulverizes wooden blocks for demo).  I haven’t tasted any of it because I’m pretty sure the man has no idea of complementing flavors.  I’ve heard what he puts in there. He is on a roll.

Today we jumped in the truck and went to the Red Barn Flea Market to buy vegetables for the week.  He isn’t normally motivated to shop with me but there is a new angle to it now that makes him eager to choose what he’s going to eat.  He also helps prepare it for the fridge, and fixes a lot of his own meals. We spent $37 and filled two large bags with “stuff” to eat.  Ready for this? We bought beets, radishes and cilantro, yellow summer squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, avocados, celery, tomatoes, cabbage, green and red peppers, broccoli, cantaloupe and grapes.  The lady threw in two pears as a bonus.

We owe this new surge of enthusiasm to a doctor who lectured on public radio and inspired him (to put it mildly) to order a whole set of DVDs and educational material.  I have not wanted to ask what it cost – after all, it’s in the name of good health and I’m sure it will be worth it, whatever the price.

My husband is of a scientific bent and is quite impressed and interested in any research done on health topics.  The doctor who talks on the DVDs gives all kinds of evidence of the miraculous things found in vegetables.  He talks about body chemistry in great detail and his findings are that we have been wreaking havoc on our bodies with food that is bad for us.   One of the DVDs was of case studies of people whom the medical community had pretty much given up on, but who were helped back to great sounding health by eating a different way. There were lots of before and after pictures.  With good nutrition their bodies were able to reverse the course of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart  damage, fibromyalgia, ovarian cancer,  multiple sclerosis, numerous allergies, and psoriasis. And of course, they all lost weight as a side effect.

Truth is, he will get no argument from me about this.  I am totally in favor of anything that means less cooking for me, and this is a very simple way to eat.  He carved up the cantaloupe, I cooked the beets for a cold salad we had tonight, and with the nutritious beet tops I made a soup for tomorrow.  With all that other stuff we are set for the week.  I made a list so we won’t forget to eat anything.

We have been moving toward this type of diet for a while now but this will be the fine tuning that keeps his interest up.  He even wants to get other people interested in a group effort so he has someone with whom to share recipes and stories.  And there is also the online community which his paid subscription includes.

As for now, I am his group.  And I’m just sayin’ I can’t wait to feel better.