The Project Rheum

Healthy with Rheumatoid Arthritis


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Autumn and Slow-Roasted Walnut Butter

IMG_8926There’s a golden hue in October that seeps into the very fabric of our island landscape and settles deep into our souls. Fall is a season that, despite a drop in temperature, warms us inside out. The hustle of July and August is over and there is a window of time we give ourselves to just sit and watch the beauty of autumn unfold. Our rakes, pruning shears, and wood axe lean abandoned against the side of the house, and we sink back in our chairs outside on the patio and watch the leaves of our many trees loosen their grip on summer. We marvel at how our perennial plants stop growing, like they need a break too; how the thick, early morning fog quiets the earth; and how our dog, Lola, lazes beneath the nut trees, waiting for the chance to eat anything that falls.IMG_8845Walnuts and Omega-3s for Heart Health

Unlike other nuts, walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Diets rich in ALA are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease as well as lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. This is good news for people with rheumatoid arthritis as we have twice the risk of heart disease as healthy adults.

Pennsylvania University nutrition scientist Sheila West, PhD., has found that a diet rich in ALAs might improve arteries’ function and allow them to dilate better. This means that the omega-3s in walnuts can relax blood vessels, which helps to reduce stress on the heart. West says that a daily diet including walnuts or walnut oil lowers resting blood pressure and blood pressure response to stress. In addition, participants in her study who added both walnuts and flax oil to their diet had significantly reduced levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the blood linked to both heart disease and arthritis. Eating walnuts is safe, West says, as long as you cut out other sources of fat. Adding them to your diet may even help to reduce inflammation in those suffering from inflammatory conditions. (Source and Source)IMG_8980Slow-Roasted Walnut Butter

3 cups walnut halves
up to 1 tbsp melted coconut oil
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 generous pinches of sea salt

Pre-heat oven to 175 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees celsius) and roast walnuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet for approximately 40 minutes, turning once mid roast. Remove the nuts from the oven and let stand to cool on the cookie sheet. Place walnuts in a food processor and grind to a fine powder. Continue processing and add up to 1 tbsp coconut oil in a steady steam while the machine is running. (Coconut oil is not necessary in this recipe but it does give it a creamier consistency). Process the mixture until it is rich and creamy, scraping down the sides as you go. Add the salt and maple syrup toward the end and pulse to combine. Processing time varies depending on how powerful your food processor is. Go for a product that is as smooth as possible. My processing time was approximately 6 minutes.

(It’s always advisable to soak walnuts for 4 hours before use, but making walnut butter requires a completely, 100% dry nut. If you’ve got the time you can achieve this through dehydration OR after soaking and rinsing the walnuts with fresh water lay them out on an absorbable tea towel for several hours, then roast at a low temperature on a cookie sheet for 40 minutes. Remove the cookie sheet and allow the walnuts to aerate for atleast 12 hours. This method produces a bitterless butter.)

Try your homemade walnut butter with a crisp organic apple. The pairing is irresistible.IMG_9002Why Roast Walnuts Slow?
Roasting walnuts at high temperatures can damage their delicate oils and result in the production of free radicals. Free radicals in the body can cause lipid peroxidation (the oxidizing of fats in your bloodstream that can trigger tiny injuries in artery walls). Lipid peroxidation is a first step in the buildup of plaque and cardiovascular disease. Store-bought pre-roasted nuts are generally roasted at high temperatures, so it’s best to buy raw nuts and roast them yourself at a low temperature for a longer period of time.

Storage
Walnuts can be stored in the fridge for up to six months. Storing nuts in the fridge prevents rancidity and the breakdown of their natural oils. Walnut butter needs to be stored in a covered glass container in the fridge as well. It will last this way for several weeks.

Medical Considerations
Walnuts are a concentrated source of oxalates, which may be of concern to some people who produce kidney stones or gallstones. Consult your physician.

In Health,

Zuzu

PS Many thanks to Alicia Silverstone for using one of my photographs on her blog The Kind Life and for sourcing it back to The Project Rheum. Take a look at my photo and her beautiful blog here.

References
Mateljan, George. The World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the Healthiest Way of Eating. Seattle: George Mateljan Foundation, 2007. Print.

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Pick-me-up Anti-Inflammatory Tea

IMG_8494This morning I wake up and find myself plagued with feelings of hopelessness and doubt. How did I get this illness? How bad will it become? Will I be able to cope with all the physical changes coming my way? I feel weighted down, heavy with questions that can’t be answered. Beside me, my husband Steve gets out of bed and opens our bedroom blinds before he disappears down the stairs for the kitchen. It’s his normal morning routine and for a moment I envy his easefulness.

The light from outside infuses our room and I can see our two resident barn swallows flying in the near distance, weaving over and under each other like a graceful choreographed dance. They’re forever hard at work, gathering material to build a nest under the eaves of our house. Soon there will be chicks with hungry mouths to feed, then lessons on how to fly.

We’re in the thick of spring here and heading toward summer fast. Everything outside that has reserved its growing energy over winter is lush and green and bursting with new growth.

When I sit up I can see our dog Lola chasing deer off the field. My gaze shifts inside to my bedside table where a card I bought myself years ago sits upright against some books.

“All that I can, I will,” it reads.

Words to live by.IMG_8546Anti-Inflammatory Tea
Serves One
1 cup freshly brewed Chai Rooibos tea
1 cup almond milk
¼ cup banana, chopped
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 small thumb of fresh (organic if possible) ginger, peeled and chopped

Combine all ingredients in a powerful blender until smooth. Pour into a pretty cup and drink while it’s still warm.IMG_8406 IMG_8394Health Benefits of:
Cinnamon: decreases inflammation, enhances circulation, helps to regulate blood sugar, eases gastrointestinal distress, provides powerful antimicrobial protection, is a concentrated source of calcium and manganese

Ginger: Helps alleviate nausea, decreases inflammation (especially that associated with arthritis), and is a concentrated source of heart-healthy magnesium, vitamin B6 and potassium

Turmeric: provides powerful anti-inflammatory protection, promotes joint health, promotes optimal liver function, rich in iron and manganese, protects against cancer, promotes heart health, may help prevent and even treat nerve cell and brain cell disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Multiple SclerosisIMG_8544In Health,

Zuzu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Good Morning Chia

IMG_8060It has taken almost four months to heal my fractured foot and a whole host of stubborn physical complications that have come with it. But now I’m finally rounding the corner. You know the corner; all of us do. It’s that place between being in bed for whatever reason and suddenly feeling well enough to rise; the place where despair turns to happiness, weakness to renewed strength. It’s that place where the moon is suddenly full; and where the receding tide folds over on itself and pulls up to shore again. I’m almost there. I can feel it. I can actually visualize myself putting on my dusty running shoes, grabbing my warm coat from the hall closet and opening the door to let the outside in.

I’m ready to be outside.

What a beautiful relief.

I feel heightened gratitude as I always do when my body shifts out of pain into a more neutral place. Thankful to the cells in the body responsible for making things right, to the cells in this shell that propel me out of bed with a spark of energy. I know that a single spark is all it takes to catch fire.

I’m beginning again to dream of nourishing, anti-inflammatory foods, especially those that begin our days. I’m talking about simple, nutritious breakfast; the most important meal of the day as it breaks the previous night’s fast. What we put into our bodies at this meal really does set the stage not only for how we physically (and emotionally) feel and perform, but how we treat our body for the rest of the day. I don’t know about you but I don’t need anything elaborate and fancy first thing in the morning. Something easy to make and healthy to eat is the winning combination I always go for. One of my go-to favorites is chia seeds soaked in a bowl of warm homemade almond milk and topped with fruit.IMG_8138Chia is truly a superfood, packed with tremendous goodness. It’s particularly good for people like us because it boasts a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids that help “lubricate” the joints and keep them supple. (Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain a whopping 4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. And interesting to note, chia has eight times more anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids than salmon). In the body omega 3s are converted into prostaglandins, which are known to have both pain relieving and anti-inflammatory effects. Besides helping to reduce inflammation, omega 3s boost everyday cognitive function like memory and performance and also improve mood. Deficiency in these fatty acids can lead to symptoms like fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings, and poor circulation.

More Chia Nutritional Facts: 

– One tablespoon of chia has 5000 mg of total fiber.

– Chia is a high-quality complete protein. (Chia seeds are 21 percent protein and offer 2 grams of protein per tablespoon).

– It’s rich in calcium. (Ounce for ounce, chia has five times more calcium than the same amount of cow’s milk, plus it contains boron, a trace element that helps transfer calcium into our bones). It also contains other minerals and vitamins like iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, manganese, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, niacin, and folic acid.

– It’s hydrophilic, which means it helps us to retain moisture, guarding our bodies against energy-sapping dehydration as well as protecting our joints from wear and tear.

– It contains many phytonutrients, including quercetin and kaempferol, both known for their anti-inflammatory properties.

– It’s a rich and powerful source of inflammation-reducing antioxidants.IMG_8190Good Morning Chia
Serves 1 or 2

1 cup homemade almond milk
1/4 cup organic white chia seeds
1 ripe pear or apple, chopped

Prepare homemade almond milk from my recipe here. (I’ve eaten the above chia recipe with store-bought almond milk and it’s just not the same as it is with homemade almond milk, naturally sweetened with dates and vanilla seeds. In fact, it’s not very tasty at all).

Heat the almond milk in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. Do not bring to a boil. When you see steam rising from the milk, remove from heat. Pour 1/4 cup white chia seeds into the saucepan with milk and stir well. The chia seeds will almost immediately begin to expand because of their gelatinous nature. Pour into a bowl and top with your favourite fruit. Add more almond milk to make a delicious morning breakfast.

I love this recipe topped with the sweet taste of ripe pear, chopped into bite-size pieces.IMG_8080IMG_8167In Health,

Zuzu

Medical Considerations: If you eat a low-fiber diet, be sure to introduce chia to your diet slowly. Start with two tablespoons of chia in this recipe instead of 1/4 cup.

If you have a specific digestive disorder, like diverticulitis or IBS, talk to your doctor about what form of chia is best for you. Milled chia, which can easily be added to smoothies, may be a better form for some people.

Reference: Coates, Wayne. Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood. New York: Sterling, 2012. Print.


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Homemade Almond Milk and the Choice to Omit Dairy

IMG_8045 What exactly are we eating and drinking? Have you asked this question lately? If you have, you’re not alone. More and more of us are becoming increasingly interested in grocery-store-bought food: What’s in it and how did it come to be? Finally we want to know how the food industry is growing, making, handling, preparing, packaging, and distributing the food we put into our bodies.

Dairy milk is not off the table from such scrutinization. This is reflected in the rising sales of dairy alternatives. Do you remember when the only milk substitutes in grocery stores were made from soy and rice? Lining the shelves today are several different brands of almond, coconut, hemp, oat, even quinoa milks. According to Mintel GNPD (2011), the number of new rice/nut/grain and seed based drinks more than doubled from the 18 introduced in 2006 to 45 introduced in 2011 (Source). And in the United States in 2012, sales of milk alternatives rose 15.8%, while whole and skim milk sales fell 2.4% and 3.5% respectively.

Why are consumers making the switch? There are several reasons, from obvious medical motivations to health concerns and very personal-based ideologies. Let’s look at some possible reasons:

1. Some of us give up milk because of digestive issues, like lactose intolerance and casein allergy. Others abandon it because of self-diagnosed milk “sensitivity” that may exacerbate pre-existing conditions like eczema, IBS, headaches, bloating, acne, and arthritis.

2. Health-conscious consumers are questioning the benefits of dairy to their health, and this goes beyond the saturated fat content in milk. In the United States, people are becoming increasingly aware of the growth hormone given to female cows to increase milk production called recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), also known as recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGh). In an article in the 2013 summer issue of Veg News entitled “Is Dairy Dead?” Kristie Middleton, farm protection manager at the Humane Society in the U.S., writes “Besides side effects such as inflamed udders, rashes, and an increased risk of lameness…heifers treated with rBST have increased levels of the hormone IGF-1, which is potentially connected with tumor growth in humans.” The European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have banned the use of rBST.

Note to Canadians: Although American milk can’t legally be sold in Canada (some experts believe it is sold regardless of regulations. See here for evidence of that), many American dairy products (including those from cows treated with rBST) do have access to Canadian markets as dehydrated ingredients. These ingredients appear on food labels under such terms as milk ingredients, concentrated skim milk, whey protein concentrate, and whey protein isolate. Such ingredients are commonly found in processed foods, dairy based desserts (ice cream, cheesecakes, mousse puddings), cottage cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, cheese products and sauces, salad dressings, cooking sauces, and whey protein.

3. Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in industrial factory-farming practices and in the welfare and well-being of farm animals. Many of us have seen Food, Inc., a documentary film and a sad portrayal of the inhumane treatment of food animals in unbearable cramped quarters and deplorable conditions of some industrial-sized warehouses in the U.S. Such animals never see daylight or a blade of grass. Of course the mistreatment of animals extends to other countries besides America, like Canada.

In an article entitled “Facts About Our Food,” the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals (CCFA) reports: “While the number of Canadian dairy farms has decreased by 85% from 1970 to 2003, the volume of milk per farm has increased by an astounding 550% in that same period. Dairy cows have paid the price for such staggering growth.” According to the CCFA, dairy cows are bred to be high producing animals by birthing a calf annually. (Following the birth, the calf – as young as a few hours old – is removed from its lactating mother so her milk can be used by humans. This premature separation causes distress to both cow and calf). Annual breeding of dairy cows, intensive milking of the animals, large udders, and confinement (dairy cows are typically tied to individual pens where they’re unable to move freely enough to even groom themselves) can cause a host of physical ailments, including swollen udders with mastitis, a common and painful bacterial infection. Also, the type of high-energy feed given to dairy cows to increase their milk production can result in metabolic disorders that can cause lameness, even death. In their article CCFA describes “downer” cattle as cows that are unable to walk or stand. They write: “(Dairy cows) arrive at the slaughterhouse unable to leave the transport truck, usually due to injury or illness sustained on a dairy farm. (They) are sometimes dragged from the truck by tractors or loaders, and are either left to die, or are slaughtered with the other animals. This results in immense suffering and pain for a downed animal.”

See here for the entire article and here for No Country for Animals, a documentary film that examines Canada’s deplorable record on animal welfare and looks at the people who are fighting to bring about much-needed change.

What’s happening in your country with animal rights?

Calcium in Dairy Milk and Whole Foods

Milk and milk products have long been marketed by the dairy industry as rich sources of calcium. And they are. So if you’re allergic to milk, have health concerns or ethical issues surrounding the production of milk, or just feel better without it, you may worry about getting enough calcium. In her book The Whole Food Guide to Strong Bones: A Holistic Approach, Dr. Annemarie Colbin writes “Don’t worry; there are plenty of other sources of calcium that may actually be easier for your body to absorb.”

According to Colbin, plant foods contain plenty of calcium that is highly bioavailable (almost twice as much ounce for ounce as in milk products and even calcium-fortified food and beverages). The best vegetable sources include cauliflower, watercress, parsley, Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, broccoli, and turnip greens. Other good sources are seaweeds, nori, miso, and mineral waters. Animal foods rich in the mineral include oysters, soft-shell crabs, small fish with bones (sardines and anchovies), and soup stocks made with bones.

Although slightly less bioavailable, calcium is also abundant in sweet potatoes, pinto beans, sesame seeds, and almonds.IMG_7981 Almond Milk
1 cup whole raw organic almonds, soaked overnight
4 cups filtered water
2 soft dates, pitted
1/2 – 1 whole vanilla bean, opened and scraped cleanIMG_7901IMG_7918IMG_7937 Drain and thoroughly rinse the soaked almonds. Add them to a high speed blender with 4 cups filtered water, pitted dates, and flesh of vanilla bean. Blend on high until ingredients are liquified. Strain through a sieve, cheesecloth, or fine-mesh produce bag into a large measuring bowl or saucepan. Pour into a glass jar and store in the fridge tightly sealed for up to three days.IMG_7961 Soaking: To increase the bioavailability of almonds it’s important that we soak them. Soaking reduces the phytic acid in these nuts (which binds to zinc, iron, and calcium, making these minerals less available to the body) and increases their digestibility.

Nutrient Profile: 1 cup of almonds contains 352 mg calcium, 1,576 mcg copper, 6.1 mg iron, 390 mg magnesium, 673 mg phosphorous, and 1,034 mg potassium. Almonds are also a very good source of vitamin E, with one cup containing 32 mg.

Storage: Make sure to store almonds in a tightly-sealed container in the fridge to reduce the chances of rancidity. Refrigerated almonds will keep for six months. Almonds kept in the freezer last for a year.

Biochemical Considerations: Almonds are a concentrated source of oxalates, which may be of concern to individuals who produce kidney stones or gallstones. Check with your doctor. Don’t drink almond milk if you have a nut allergy.

Be sure to make your own nut milk as most store-bought milk alternatives contain carrageenan, a thickening agent, that has been linked to inflammation and has been shown to induce inflammatory bowel disease in animal models. (Source).

Wow, some processed foods and beverages are looking unhealthy, aren’t they?

The good news is that we don’t have to wait for the food industry to get it together. We can take matters into our own hands and make a lot of what we need in our humble kitchens, even milk.

I’m so ready to be the change that needs to happen. Are you?

In Health,

Zuzu


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A Seaside Birthday, an Incredible Woman, and the Positive Impact of Raw on Rheumatoid Arthritis

IMG_7397 When it came time to celebrate my birthday in July, I knew exactly who I wanted to spend the day with and exactly what I wanted to do. Making a cake felt like the perfect thing to do, and who better to share that with than a woman who enriches my life; a woman who is the perfect combination of softness and kick-up-your-heels fun. Plus she has unbeatable flair in the kitchen. To share an afternoon with my mom at her home by the sea was honestly the best birthday gift I could want for.
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For years on my birthday until we knew better my mom would make me an angel-food cake from scratch and hugged in pure dark chocolate with velvet-red raspberry sauce dripping on all sides. Heaven on a plate. But today we know that processed sugar and white flour (regardless of how “enriched” the package says it is) are inflammation triggers. (See here for more information on that).

So in July we put all of my mom’s conventional baking books aside and looked toward a healthier future. We stripped away all inflammatory ingredients, added a few anti-inflammatory ones, and made something Raw.

Raw foods are real, whole, uncooked, unprocessed, preferably organic and never heated above a certain temperature (usually between 95 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit). Recipes are vegan and comprised of any combination of nuts, seeds, (dried) fruits, (sea) vegetables, whole oats, fresh herbs, oil (coconut, olive, and sesame), spices and other flavours like vanilla. Sometimes food is slowly heated in a dehydrator or naturally by the sun.

But why choose raw over cooked in the first place? Viktoras Kulvinskas, author of Love Your Body: Live Food Recipes, writes “Nature’s foods are in their most nutritious state when eaten raw, picked ripe from orchard or garden. Cooking destroys all enzymes, lecithin, many vitamins and much of the protein. As much as 85 percent of the original nutrients may be lost in cooking.”

One of the strongest reasons why a raw diet is so good for us is because of the enzymes that naturally occur in uncooked plant food. In her book Raw Energy, author Stephanie Tourles writes “Life could not exist without enzymes. They are in the cells of every living plant, animal, and human being on earth and are the essential manual workers, the labour force, for every chemical action and reaction that takes place, which happen to be lost with heat in the cooking process. We couldn’t walk, talk, breathe, digest food, heal, build bone, have a thought, or grow hair without them…The significant, health-promoting difference between live (raw) and dead food is the enzymatic activity contained within cells of raw food. All foods untouched by a heat source over 120 degrees Fahrenheit have an abundance of enzymes.”

The enzymes in raw plant food are of particular importance in the process of digestion where they give extra help to the digestive enzymes already present in our bodies (and produced by the saliva glands, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, and intestines). So when we eat raw the body isn’t over-burdened with the work of digestion and can therefore put its energy into other functions, like healing for example. Does that sound as good to you as it does to me?

What’s even better news for us: peer-reviewed research indicates that a living-food vegan diet has a positive impact on the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (and fibromyalgia). Rheumatoid arthritis patients and participants in seven research studies conducted at the University of Kuopio in Helsinki, Finland reported significant reductions in morning stiffness, swelling of joints, and pain while eating this way.

In Becoming Raw: The Essential Guide to Raw Vegan Diets, registered dieticians Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina offer the following possible explanations for why living food diets reduce symptoms of RA in some people:

  1. Such diets are rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, while foods that increase oxidation and inflammation are minimized. People who consume living-food vegan diets have higher intakes of plant phytonutrients like quercetin (found in apples), kaempferol (found in kale and broccoli), and myricetin (found in walnuts); vitamin C and E; carotenoids; and fiber.
  2. Living-food diets dramatically alter our gut microflora, increasing the friendly bacteria that live in our intestines. This change is thought to significantly reduce the symptoms of RA. One theory suggests that this is because fragments of the unfriendly bacteria pass through the intestines into the bloodstream and initiate the formation of antibodies, which not only attack these potentially harmful fragments, but also attack healthy tissues with similar structure.
  3. “Strict” vegan diets exclude trigger foods that cause allergies and food sensitivities, like dairy products, gluten-containing grains, and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant).

 

According to Davis and Melina, raw vegan diets offer promise in the realm of chronic disease because they eliminate two of the most potentially harmful categories of food: processed foods and animal products. They’re also free of cholesterol and trans-fatty acids. Plus they contain very few  of the harmful compounds that are formed when foods are heated, especially at high temperatures.

Yes, raw food is good for us, but the true question remains: Can we really make delicious food out of such a limited ingredient list without cooking anything?

Oh yes we can!
IMG_7634 Raw Lemon Cheesecake

Crust
2 cups organic walnuts, soaked overnight, rinsed, drained
1/4 cup organic shredded coconut
4 dates, pitted (Medjool is best as they’re sticky)
generous pinch of salt

Cake
3 cups organic raw cashews, soaked overnight, rinsed, drained
Zest of 6 organic lemons
6 organic lemons, peeled, roughly chopped and seeded, approx. 2 full cups
1/4 cup and 2 tbsp raw coconut nectar
3 tbsp coconut butter, warmed to liquid
3 tbsp coconut oil, warmed to liquid
1 cup and 2 tbsp filtered water
generous pinch of salt

Cherry and Raspberry Coulis
1 cup fresh organic raspberries
1 cup fresh organic cherries, pitted
1/2 lime, squeezed
Raw coconut nectar to taste (optional)

Organic fresh berries and sliced fruit of your choice.

To make the walnut crust, drain and thoroughly rinse the soaked walnuts and place on a tea towel to dry off somewhat. Add them to a food processor with the shredded coconut, dates, and salt. Pulse until a dough is formed. Press the raw mixture to the bottom of an eight- or nine- inch spring-form pan.

To make the lemon cake, drain the soaked cashews and put into a high-speed blender (like a Vitamix) with zest, lemons, coconut nectar, water, and salt. Melt the coconut oil and coconut butter by putting them together in a small bowl and setting the bowl over another bowl of warm tap water. Once melted, add the oil mixture to the blender. Blend thoroughly until the mixture is smooth and thick. If you don’t have a high-speed blender, put all cake ingredients into a large bowl, stir well, and blend in batches. Pour into the spring-form pan on top of the walnut crust. Place in the freezer until the cake is firm.

To make the coulis, blend all ingredients until smooth. Strain the mixture through a sieve.

Remove the cake from the spring pan and cover with fresh fruit. Drizzle plates with the coulis.

Refrigerate any leftovers.
IMG_7531 IMG_7543 We all deserve someone to watch over us. Someone who bears witness to our hardships, heartaches, and triumphs. Someone who rides the tide with us, regardless of how high or low it is.

Is there anyone who makes you feel safe enough to express how you really feel about your illness? Someone who is the first to arrive at your door when you’re sick and the last to leave; who helps you to sustain happiness and a peaceful heart despite the often turbulent challenges?

My mom is that person for me—my sailor’s knot, anchor, harbour, lighthouse in the dark.

As she raises her glass to me today in honour of my new year, I can’t help but tip mine back to her.
IMG_7714 My next post will be in October.

In Health,

Zuzu

Note of Caution:
A raw food diet is high in fiber, so it often takes the gut time to adjust. Slowly fold raw food into your meal plan and your stomach is less likely to upset.


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Nothing Sweeter: Summer and the Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Strawberries

What’s not to love about summer? Clouds lift, skies open, days are longer, warmer, brighter. At my house we sleep in later, go to the beach more, linger over books more, picnic more, star gaze more. Simple I know. But there’s something divine and so delicious about relaxed summer living.

Even the food we eat in summer is streamlined to simple ingredients and tastes.
#1 #2This week I met family at a local strawberry field where under blue skies we filled buckets full of succulent, plump, and juicy red berries. It was a good day for everyone, but someone in particular was very happy to be there, armed with sunhat, boots, and her very own bucket.
IMG_5247 IMG_5215Back at home my sister and I washed and hulled most of the berries for freezing but kept some fresh to enjoy right away. During our work over the kitchen sink I couldn’t help but think up recipes to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth. Eating clean without refined sugar doesn’t mean we have to forego the taste of sweetness. Once we clean up our palette by letting go of processed treats, nature’s very own fruit tastes sweeter than anything store bought.
#5Berries are the perfect fruit – low on the glycemic index, packed with antioxidants, and rich in health-promoting nutrients. All berries are good for us, but strawberries are one of the best because they’re a concentrated source of phenol phytonutrients, which makes them not only a heart-protective fruit, but an anti-inflammatory one as well. The phenols in this berry lessen the activity of the enzyme known as cyclo-oxygenase (COX), whose overactivity has been shown to contribute to the inflammation in arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis and cancer. (Interesting to note: Aspirin and ibuprofen stop pain by blocking the COX enzyme).

In 2007, Howard Sesso, ScD and colleagues at Harvard School of Public Health found through the dietary intake of 27,000 women that those who reported eating two or more serving of strawberries per week were more likely than the non-strawberry eaters to experience a decrease in C-reactive protein (CRP), a blood bio-marker that signals the presence of inflammation in the body. High CRP levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, and levels can also spike when people with RA or lupus have a flare. (It’s important to note here that, on average, the women in Sesso’s study in the highest strawberry intake group with lower CRP readings ate about twice as many servings of fruits and vegetables every day than did women in the lowest intake group. So they had much higher average intakes of important nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, potassium and folate. They were also non-smokers and physically active. Just another reminder that eating fruits and vegetables and living a healthy lifestyle can indeed contribute to a decrease in inflammation). Although Sesso’s research focuses on heart disease, he does say that lowering CRP levels with strawberries may help arthritis too.

Besides their anti-inflammatory properties, strawberries are good for us in other ways. One cup has over 136 percent of our daily requirement of vitamin C, 20 percent of the daily requirement of manganese, and 15 percent of the daily requirement of fiber. They are also a good source of vitamin K, pantothenic acid, vitamin B1, iodine, folic acid, biotin, and vitamin B6.

Eat them all by themselves, toss them on a plate of summer greens, add them to a smoothie…make popsicles with them. Freezing freshly picked strawberries doesn’t destroy their nutrients or alter their anti-inflammatory properties, which is good news for those of us who like a cold homemade popsicle during the warmer months of the year. Homemade is simply the best kind of treat out there. This way we know exactly what we’re putting into our bodies and what we’re sharing with friends.

Strawberry Creamsicles

1 1/4 cup raw cashews, soaked in water overnight, thoroughly rinsed
4 cups frozen organic hulled strawberries, thoroughly thawed
1/4 cup raw honey
1/2 cup filtered water
2 tsp pure vanilla (non-alcoholic if you can find it)
2 dates, pitted

Soak the cashews overnight in water. Drain and thoroughly rinse. Add thawed strawberries with their juice to a high-speed blender, along with cashews, honey, water, vanilla, dates. Blend on high until smooth. Pour into your favourite popsicle molds and freeze for approximately 5 hours.
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Health Benefits
Cashews: have a lower fat content and a higher protein and carbohydrate content than most other nuts. Sixty-five percent of their fat is derived from oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated oil with known benefits in protecting against heart disease and cancer. Cashews are a good source of protein, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc. All nuts should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge (where they keep for about six months) or the freezer (where they keep for a year).

Bio-Chemical Considerations
–Strawberries are one of the 12 foods that have been tested positively for pesticide residues. Buy fresh, organic berries, even if freezing.
–Cashews contain small amounts of oxalates, so those of us who suffer from kidney stones should avoid over-consuming them. Parts of cashews contain oleoresins, similar to those in mangoes and pistachios, which have caused allergic reactions. If you’re allergic to mangoes or pistachios you should avoid cashews too.

In Health,

Zuzu

References
Murray, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods: The Most Comprehensive, User-Friendly A – to – Z Guide Available on the Nutritional Benefits and Medicinal Properties of Food. New York: Atria Books, 2005. Print.


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Take a Deep Breath: Slow Belly Breathing for Chronic Pain and Stress

IMG_4869What kind of breather are you? Do you breathe fast or slow? Deep or shallow? Do you hold your breath when you’re in pain? Have you “lost” your breath since your diagnosis? Do you check your breathing pattern throughout the day, or are you totally unaware of it?

I’m a chest breather. I don’t know exactly when this habit started, maybe when I was initially diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as a teenager. Even as an adult dealing with pain and the anxiety associated with unpredictable health can be enormously stressful. No doubt pain and stress interfere with breathing patterns, with respiration sometimes quickening and becoming shallow even in the anticipation of discomfort.

For many years I was totally unaware that I was drawing minimal air into my lungs. In fact I was drawing air into the chest area using the intercostal muscles rather than throughout the lungs via the thoracic diaphragm.

Do you know that most of us stop regularly engaging our diaphragms by the age of ten?

According to a report by Dr. Erik Peper and Rebecca Kajander published in Biofeedback, most people make a habit of thoracic breathing (or chest breathing), which is a shallow, ineffective breathing pattern that uses upper chest muscles and largely ignores the diaphragm. Chest breathing can cause shortness of breath, fatigue, irritation, headaches, and muscle tension in the upper chest, as well as increased feelings of anxiety and panic. So for those of us with RA or other health challenges already feeling stressed out or anxious about our condition, thoracic breathing doesn’t do us any favours. In fact, if left unchecked it can lower CO2 levels enough to lead to hyperventilation (or overbreathing), which is breathing beyond what the body needs to meet its immediate demands for oxygen and carbon dioxide.

To breathe properly you need to engage your diaphragm, the dome-shaped internal skeletal muscle under your rib cage that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. (For a good 3D view of the diaphragm, look here). In her book Breathing Into Life: Recovering Wholeness Through Body, Mind and Breath, wellness expert and author Bija Bennett writes “The dome-like diaphragm is so strategically located it is said to be a work of art. Your heart rests over it. Your liver and spleen lie below it. It’s attached to your spine. As it moves it encloses and touches all your abdominal organs. (It) interconnects your heart, your abdomen, your lungs, and your spine. And because of these relationships its movement profoundly affects your posture, digestion, elimination, and respiration. This is your diaphragm, the mediator of all rhythms – biological and emotional.”

Breathing with your diaphragm, also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing, involves taking slow, relaxed and effortless breaths where you deeply inhale and exhale. As you breathe in, the diaphragm drops downward, pulling your lungs with it and pressing against abdominal organs to make room for your lungs to expand as they fill with air. As you breathe out, the diaphragm presses back upward against your lungs, helping to expel carbon dioxide. Breathing this way not only helps to properly balance oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body, but it also:

Reduces tension, stress, and anxiety
Reduces pain
Promotes relaxation
Maximizes energy
Improves focus and concentration
Increases circulation
Eliminates toxins
Strengthens immunity
Aligns posture
Improves digestion and elimination
Lowers blood pressure
Relieves insomnia

Not bad for simply using a muscle in our body the way it was intended.

To find out if you’re using your diaphragm, put your left hand on your chest and your right hand on your abdomen just below your belly button. Breathe in through your nose and you should feel your belly rise (and if your inhale is long enough you’ll also feel your rib cage and chest expand). Exhale through your nose and you should feel your belly deflate. If your left hand on your chest remains relatively still and only your right hand moves up and down with inhale and exhale, you’re on the right track. This is belly breathing. Newborns and young children use their diaphragms effortlessly, which you can see by the slow and easy rise and fall of their tummies when they sleep.

Diaphragmatic breathing encourages a slower respiration rate, and, as it turns out, slow breathing helps to relieve pain. According to Alex Zautra, Foundation Professor of Psychology at Arizona State, slow breathing provides a natural means for dampening activity in the stress system of the brain, leading to a reduction in pain. His research with fibromyalgia patients at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center shows that these chronic pain sufferers report less pain while breathing slowly (unless they’re overwhelmed by sadness or depression). His research also suggests that slow breathing reduces the dominance of the fight/flight response within us, which calms the parasympathetic activation and allows for better regulation of emotions (like fear and anxiousness).

Kajander and Peper of Biofeedback give two thumbs up for slow breathing too as a way to relax. In their article they write that slow breathing results in mild increases in carbon dioxide which causes slowing of the heart rate, dilation of peripheral vessels, stimulation of gastric secretions, depressed cortical activity, and mild drowsiness, all characteristics associated with relaxation.

Your breath is a powerful tool for achieving optimal health. But only if you remember to use it! Being aware of how you breathe is important and requires simply checking in and following the path and sensation of your breath. This is an excellent first step to get you out of your head and into your body. Close your eyes for a moment and fully exhale. Begin by inhaling through your nose. How does your breath feel when it enters your nose and passes down your throat? Where does it go from there? Is it fast or slow? Does it feel blocked anywhere? Is it smooth? Steady? Irregular? Try not to judge how you breathe, simply observe and note how it feels.

When I first began practicing this exercise I noticed how often I held my breath because of joint pain and fatigue. Holding breath, although maybe appropriate in some yoga breathing exercises, increases the fight/flight response in the body, which sets up a whole host of unhealthy biochemical reactions, not to mention increased anxiety for those of us who are already anxious.

You probably know that breathwork is an integral part of tai chi, qigong, pilates and (chair) yoga. Controlling and coordinating breathing with movement ensures you breathe deeply. I recently signed up for chair yoga and I’m loving Pranayama (the rhythmic control of breath). In yoga terms, the level of prana (“aliveness” or “life force”) flowing through your body determines your body’s health, vitality, and youth. The belief is that any illness we have will ultimately be improved by increasing our reserves of prana. There are so many good breathing techniques, but “Ujjayi” Pranayama is one of my favourites. Ujjayi is sometimes called “Victory Breath” or “Ocean Breath.” The key to this exercise is to gently narrow the inside of your throat, which exaggerates the sound of your breath so you can hear it. (More on that below). As you slow down your breath and smooth out the flow, it begins to sound like ocean waves. The benefits? Ujjayi encourages belly breathing, quiets the mind, and with consistent practice eventually gives you an inner confidence that makes everything in everyday life (including your health) feel somehow easier to handle. Sign me up!

Although Ujjayi can be done sitting up and through yoga postures, beginners typically start by lying down on the floor. If you can’t get down on the floor because of your limited range of motion (please don’t try!), try it on the bed instead. Here goes:

Begin this exercise lying on your back on a yoga mat. Bend both knees and support them in this position with pillows or a few folded blankets (this allows your spine to relax beneath you). You may also want your head and neck supported by a folded towel or thin pillow. Arms should be relaxed by your sides with palms facing skyward. Take a few easy, natural breaths and feel your body soften under you. To feel the muscles of the throat involved in this exercise, clear your throat. Feel that? Or pretend that you’re fogging up a mirror. Now “fog up the mirror” with your mouth closed. Because this action slightly narrows your throat passageway, your inhale and exhale should sound like the ocean tide coming in and going out again. Keep your lips closed and continue breathing at your own easy pace while making this smooth and even soothing sound. Notice how your breathing rate naturally decreases and your belly rises and falls with your diaphragm. Try to stretch out the inhale and exhale a little longer. Start with 5 minutes or less a day and gradually work your way up to 20 minutes.

In Health,

Zuzu

Note of Caution: Don’t use deep breathing exercises if you have difficulty breathing or have medical problems with your lungs. People with low blood pressure may have to forego breathing techniques. If you experience any pain while breathing, see your doctor for a medical assessment.