Holiday Eating & Celiac Disease

The holidays are quickly approaching and many of us are getting excited about those special foods that we associate with this time of year. We can’t wait to indulge ourselves. A nibble here … a plate there … and a lot of — OMG! I have to try some of that! But for those with Celiac Disease, the holidays pose an even greater challenge — celebrating without causing a flare (worsening) of their symptoms!

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But what exactly is Celiac Disease? Well, it is a Chronic illness — specifically Autoimmune. It occurs in genetically predisposed people. In other words, it is hereditary. And it’s estimated to effect 1 in 100 people, worldwide. Some patients are diagnosed as children. Others develop the disease in adulthood. And doctors are still unsure of why this happens. Yet, we do know that the cause is the same — gluten. This is a protein found in Wheat, Barley and Rye. When a Celiac patient ingests gluten, their body launches a massive immune response — attacking their small intestine. For this reason, dietary precautions must be taken to avoid painful and frustrating symptoms.

Many processed foods, unless labeled “Gluten-Free“, contain gluten:

  • Beer, Ale, Stout
  • Breads
  • Cakes & Pies
  • Candies
  • Cereals
  • Communion wafers
  • Cookies, Crackers & Croutons
  • French Fries
  • Gravies
  • Matzo
  • Pastas
  • Hot Dogs & Lunch-meats
  • Salad Dressings
  • Seasoned Snack-foods & Potato Chips
  • Self-basting poultry
  • Soups, Bouillon & Soup Mixes
  • Vegetables cooked in sauce 

Now, for a moment, imagine trying to navigate your way through a holiday dinner or party with Celiac Disease. Obviously, it isn’t easy. But it is possible.

If you are hosting a holiday dinner or party and you know that a guest (possibly more than one) has Celiac, consider incorporating a few gluten-free options into your menu-plans. There are many recipes available. You may even find that others like the idea of having a “healthier” choice available!

Fresh fruit is a great option. Grapefruit, oranges, pears, cranberries, etc., are just waiting to grace your table. Nuts like cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias and pecans offer a nice snack, but avoid salting and/or baking them in oil. Veggie trays are another. Think Bacon and Pimento-cheese dip — absolutely yummy! Wine is another gluten-free option. Shrimp also gets a thumbs-up. So do cuts of beef, lamb, rabbit and fish. It’s just not that difficult. More importantly, it gives everyone the opportunity to enjoy themselves! And your Celiac friend or loved-one will certainly thank you for it!

 

Reference Links: 

https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/what-is-celiac-disease/

https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/symptoms-of-celiac-disease/

https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/related-conditions/dermatitis-herpetiformis/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/gluten-free-diet/art-20048530

https://celiac.org/eat-gluten-free/recipes/

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/eating-diet-nutrition

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/celiac-disease/dietary-changes-for-celiac-disease

*Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Pumpkin: It’s Not Just Seasonal, It’s Healthy!

Well, it’s that time of year again … colorful, frosty Fall. Or should I say pumpkin season? Nowadays, you can find the flavors of “Pumpkin” and “Pumpkin-Spice” everywhere. But did you know that pumpkin is more than a seasonal flavor on the menu? In fact, it’s literally a healthy culinary choice. Something that is both good to eat and good for you. Imagine that!

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Pumpkins are considered a “Superfood“. For those unfamiliar with the term, a “superfood” is a food that offers high levels of desirable nutrients, is linked to the prevention of a disease, or is believed to offer several simultaneous health benefits beyond its nutritional value.

Now, let’s focus on exactly what pumpkin can do for you:

  • Pumpkins are rich in fiber. This slows digestion and allows you to feel full for a longer length of time. A cup of pumpkin gives you more grams of fiber than 2 slices of whole-grain bread! And it is a low-calorie choice, with less than 50 calories per serving!
  • Pumpkins promote good eye health. That beautiful, deep-orange color means there is an abundance of beta-carotene inside. This converts to vitamin A in the body. A single cup of pumpkin contains over 200% of the recommended daily intake needed for most people. It also contains two antioxidants (lutein & zeaxanthin) that are believed to help prevent cataracts and even slow the development of macular degeneration!
  • Gives your immune system a boost. All that vitamin A helps your body to fight infections, viruses and infectious diseases. Pumpkin oil even helps to fight bacterial and fungal infections. And there’s also vitamin C inside. That may help you to recover from colds more quickly.
  • Younger, healthier skin awaits. Not only does the beta-carotene protect us from harmful UV rays that age our skin and cause wrinkles, but pumpkin pulp actually makes a great all-natural facial that exfoliates and soothes your skin.
  • Lower Your Cancer risk. As if pumpkins aren’t providing enough healthy benefits, research shows us that beta-carotene rich diets may lower the risks of some cancers, i.e. prostate, lung.
  • Helps Manage Diabetes. Pumpkin has been proven to lower blood glucose levels, in scientific tests. It can also improve your glucose tolerance and increase the amount of insulin that your body produces. More research is being done. But if you are diabetic, this is a smart choice.
  • Pumpkin seeds are the ideal snack. So, don’t toss them into the trash-can. Toast some and taste how delicious healthy eating can be. These seeds are packed with healthful oils, magnesium, potassium and calcium. They are also a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. All this goodness can help bones, muscles, heart health, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, even aid insomnia. Wow!

 

So, don’t reserve pumpkin for the holidays. Reap its benefits, as often as you can. It is after all a “superfood”. There are also many easy recipes that will help you incorporate pumpkin into your meals and tempt your taste-buds. And while you’re enjoying them, you have that added satisfaction of knowing that pumpkin is more than delicious. It’s actually good for you. Any way you choose to carve it, cook it, or toast it … that’s a win-win!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/6-surprising-health-benefits-of-pumpkin#1

Superfoods or Superhype?

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/303864.php#benefits

http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/19315/ingredients/vegetables/pumpkin/

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds

*Photo by James Wheeler on Unsplash

 

A Little Rest …

 

Sometimes, I am amazed by the amount of energy that I have. Other times, it amazes me how tired I can get. Totally drained. At age 59, with three Chronic illnesses, fatigue happens. I could blame my age, or my health. From the rational standpoint, it’s probably a combination of both. But, unfortunately, I’m not alone. Approximately 150M Americans live with at least one Chronic illness. Millions, like me, live with multiples. And fatigue is a very real … very stubborn … part of most Chronic illnesses. Do you fight yours? Or do you listen to your body and rest? 

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When you have fatigue from a Chronic illness, it changes a lot of things about your life — even the way you see yourself. You remember the person you were, before diagnosis, i.e. running 5-10 miles each day, whitewater rafting, chaperoning field-trips, maintaining a hectic schedule at work and at home, playing tennis, no pain, no limited mobility, etc. And then you look in the mirror at the person you are, today. Better, in some ways. Worse, in others. It’s frustrating.

Now, when you have energy, you savor it like a fine wine. Because, unlike your old self, you can’t take such things for granted. You know that these energy bursts, come and go. You even prioritize what you will use your energy on. Because, we all know that there are limits. If that isn’t frustrating enough, your fatigue also changes how you relate with others.

You find yourself accepting fewer invitations and not returning phone calls. Instead of posting your selfie enjoying a night out with friends, you look at the ones posted by others. You struggle to keep up with home … work … the kids … friends … everything. You look for a way to manage it all. Then, when things get difficult, you beat yourself up about that. It’s a vicious circle.

First and foremost, let go of the person you once were. Or should I say the person you thought you were? Let’s be honest, here … even before diagnosis … you had other problems. We all did. None of us are, or ever were, super beings. It’s time to focus and to love the person that you are, right now. 

Next, you really need to learn how to say “no” and even delegate. It’s better to do a few things well, than to do several mediocre. No company pays anyone enough to be a one-person act. Work, like home, is a team-effort. Co-workers need to do their part. Personal days are just that — personal. Use them, wisely. Kids can actually do laundry and clean the house. Spouses can cook dinner, run errands, etc. This holds true for husbands or wives. The new you has more time and flexibility. So, if it takes longer to get ready, you have that time. The new you isn’t volunteering on every committee, at every fund-raiser, etc. Hence, there is actually time for a nap on Saturday afternoon. And there’s no sin in taking one!

A very wise man (I’m talking about you Dr. Steve) once told me that if my body didn’t need rest, then I wouldn’t be tired. Though I was skeptical at first, I’ve found he was right. Yes, you can have drowsiness from medications. But that’s not the same thing. When fatigue sets in, it’s like your cellphone trying to function with its last smidgen of power. Nothing works too well; does it? And a nap is to your body like a re-charged battery is to your cellphone — vitally important! 

Some chronically ill patients even have trouble sleeping. If this is you, please consult your doctor. Pain can interfere with your sleep. Depression can, too. Usually, once you gain adequate control of your pain, you can rest. If sleep is still a problem, there are many non-medicinal approaches to help you, i.e. relaxation training, cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, etc. Exercise is another way to ultimately relax and get your needed rest. Most chronically ill patients need and can do low-impact exercises, i.e. walking, swimming, Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, etc. Believe it or not, even Ballroom Dancing qualifies. You could actually combine time with your better half and exercise, into something special for the two of you to share. Healthy and sexy? That’s a win-win. If sleep still eludes you, a prescription may be needed. But realize that you have options. Explore them.

Last, but not least, never underestimate the power of a good recliner. It doesn’t have to be an expensive model. No home make-over is required. What most people do not realize is that a recliner (when reclined) relieves pressure and pain to the body much like a hospital-bed. And that alone may provide the rest you are desperately needing. So, c’mon. Stop making excuses. It’s time to be good to yourself. Find a quiet spot … relax … feel the stress fade away … and rest. You need it. We all do.

Now, shhhh … close your eyes. Heal.

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/chronically-me/201804/chronic-illness-fatigue

https://www.nationalhealthcouncil.org/sites/default/files/AboutChronicDisease.pdf

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/coping-strategies_for-chronic-illness#1

https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-disorders-sleep-and-chronic-illness

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-does-exercise-help-those-chronic-insomnia

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise-and-chronic-disease/art-20046049

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/low-impact-exercises_n_1434616

*Photo by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash

We Need Human Touch …

Most of us don’t put a lot of thought into this subject, but there is much to learn from it.  If you were raised in a family who openly showed affection, you are most likely a hugger. You hug family, friends, new acquaintances, etc. It is a social interaction that is part of your daily life. If you were raised in a family who didn’t easily share affection (by that I mean often or at all), you may not like hugging. You probably don’t even understand why some people are so open to affection. Yet, touch is a basic human interaction. An infant is soothed by it. An adult feels comfort, even joy, from it. And what they are feeling is real. It’s significant. Because we all need human touch — the decent, affectionate kind. It has the ability to relieve us of pain, fear, frustration, etc. It has the power to make us feel loved and appreciated. But how does something like a hug do all that? 

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According to researchers, we all have the ability to communicate many feelings through touch. Physical contact is what distinguishes us from other animals. It is a silent language that needs no words. A mother can cuddle her crying baby, in the night, and the message is clear. The infant knows he/she is secure and their crying ceases. A stranger can go into a natural disaster area and offer a hug to a distraught victim. Again, the message is clear. Help has arrived. That compassion, even from a stranger, can be sensed. And it’s powerful. There is also a difference between a caring touch and an aggressive one. The two categories should never be confused. 

When we offer or receive a caring hug, oxytocin is released in our bodies. This is a “bonding” hormone. It has the ability to reduce stress, lower cortisol levels and increase our sense of trust/security. In fact, in a study conducted by the University of North Carolina, researchers discovered that women who received more hugs from their partners had lower heart rates and blood pressure. That’s healthy! A massage has the ability to relax the body, ease pain and melt away tension. That’s healthy! Even something as simple as eye contact and a pat on the back from a patient’s doctor may boost their survival rate, despite the complex disease they are fighting (University of California research). It may sound too good to be true, but science supports it.

Scientific research actually correlates physical touch with several things:

  • Decreased violence. Less touch as a child will lead to greater violence.
  • Greater Trust. Touch has the ability to bond individuals.
  • Decreased Disease & Stronger Immune Systems. In other words, a healthier you.
  • Greater Learning Engagement. When teachers touch students platonically, it encourages their learning. They are also more likely to speak-up in class.
  • More Non-Sexual Emotional Intimacy. Interpersonal touch has a powerful impact on our emotions. 
  • Stronger Team Dynamics. We touch to initiate and sustain cooperation. Hugs and handshakes increase the chances that a person will treat you “like family”, even if you’ve just met. 
  • Economic Gain. Touch signals safety and trust, i.e. NBA teams whose players touch each other more, win more games.
  • Overall Well-being. Adults need positive human touch to thrive, i.e. hugs, handshakes, a pat on the arm or back, holding hands, cuddling, etc. It is fundamental to our physical, mental and emotion health.

Today, we are even seeing Touch Therapy being used to treat patients. First standardized in the 70’s, scientists are not sure how this technique works. The popular theories are: a) Pain is stored in the body’s cells; b) Think quantum physics. Blood, which contains iron, flows through our bodies and creates an electromagnetic field; c) Good health requires a balanced flow of life energy. And there are many Chronic illnesses that respond to this treatment, i.e. Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Alzheimer’s, Chronic Pain, etc.

Some of us are old enough to remember the social panic that AIDs initially created. People feared that it could be spread by even the simplest forms of human contact. Patients often suffered in near isolation. Until, one day, a certain princess visited an AIDs hospital … and held the hand of patient. No gloves. No mask. Just hand-to-hand touch. Thank you, Diana. You not only helped that patient, you changed the global perception of a disease.

We are all in need of human touch … of its power … its compassion … and its ability to literally make us feel better. Some are starved for that connection. So, stretch out your arms … reach for a friend, a family member, your pet, even a stranger. It’s time that we all embrace a hug for our good health. 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201303/the-power-touch

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/201808/not-everyone-wants-hug

https://www.khca.org/files/2015/10/8-Reasons-Why-We-Need-Human-Touch-More-Than-Ever.pdf

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mind-body-connection/201309/why-we-all-need-touch-and-be-touched

https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-surprising-psychological-value-of-human-touch/

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hands_on_research

https://www.in-mind.org/article/that-human-touch-that-means-so-much-exploring-the-tactile-dimension-of-social-life

https://theweek.com/articles/749384/painnumbing-power-human-touch

https://www.healthline.com/health/haphephobia#symptoms

https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/treatment/therapeutic-touch

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/magazine-39490507/how-princess-diana-changed-attitudes-to-aids

*Photo by Gus Moretta on Unsplash

Halloween, Kids & Juvenile Diabetes

It’s October and the leaves are starting to fall from the trees. Cooler air (Thank you, Lord!) has finally arrived. Autumn decorations are everywhere you turn. And, yes, the kids are getting pretty excited about Halloween. But if your child has a health issue like Juvenile Diabetes (T1D), a holiday that’s focused on enormous hauls of candy can literally be dangerous. Still, there are ways to have loads of fun and stay safe. Let’s talk about it …

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Personally, I have struggled with my weight my entire life — up and down the scale. My cousin was diagnosed with T1D, before he even started to school. As adults we began looking for alternatives that might be a source of prevention, for our own children. To date, our efforts have worked!

First of all, don’t focus solely on food especially candy and sweets. This holds true for any holiday and any child. It’s a life-lesson. Yes, Halloween only comes once a year. But that can also be an excuse for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s, Easter, etc. So, avoid it. Those excuses add up and they can have negative consequences.

Second, but equally important, is your child’s feelings. Kids with any Chronic illness want to feel “included” — not excluded. They want to feel like everyone else. An easy way to make them feel included is to adopt traditions, even for something like Halloween. These traditions bond your family. They can even be shared with friends. 

So, before the big night, plan a fun-packed evening! You will need someone to watch your front-door, while you’re out. Ask a grandparent, or friend, if they can help for 2-3  hours.

Remember that trick-or-treating is just one part of Halloween. It isn’t the ONLY part. Think traditions, here. You can plan a family-dinner at home. You might even put up some decorations, i.e. balloons, Silly String, a Fog Machine, etc. If possible, get the kids involved. It adds to the excitement. And they’re more likely to eat something, if they have helped prepare it. Cucumber and Hummus sandwiches are a good start. Or maybe a Veggie Skeleton? How about Turkey Chili? Cheeseburger Pasta? Meat’n’Cheese Stromboli? Greek Pizza? These recipes and countless others are Diabetic, easy and kid-friendly. For dessert, add a little autumn fun … bob for apples! 

Now, you’re ready to go trick-or-treating. Remember those jackets, sweaters and Glow sticks. It’s important to limit your area of door-to-door action, i.e. your street, your apartment building, your neighborhood. This alone will reduce your child’s candy haul. You can include Grandma’s house, an Aunt’s house, etc. that are located elsewhere. But set limits from the start and stick to them. This will allow your diabetic child to make the rounds … showing-off his/her costume with their siblings and/or friends. And it will also give you more control over their sugar intake.

The last activity of the evening is the grand finale, i.e. a corn maze, a local haunted house, a hay ride, etc. Whatever you choose will be loads of fun for the entire gang. And it will provide plenty of laughter as well as great memories. The photos, selfies, even video will be worth sharing for days … weeks … even years to come. The bragging rights for you and your children will be equally enjoyable. Anybody and everybody can go door-to-door. Yawn. It equates to the same-old, same-old. You took Halloween to a new level and your family will love it!

Once you are back at home, turn your outdoor lights off and bring in your jack-o-lantern. This signals to all of your children that the evening is winding down for everyone — not just one. The candy eating will start and that’s okay. Allow them to eat a little and save the rest for later (a good practice for kids who aren’t diabetic, too). Get their baths out of the way … and put their pajamas on … then enjoy a DVD … unwind. They’ll be ready for it and you deserve it. Best of all, you’ve started a Halloween tradition that you’ll want to repeat year after year. One that is special, healthy, inclusive, fun and packed with surprises!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/news/20011030/children-diabetes-eat-halloween-candy#1

http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/259414/cucumber-hummus-sandwiches/

https://www.tasteofhome.com/healthy-eating/diabetic-recipes/

http://main.diabetes.org/dorg/PDFs/awareness-programs/hhm/what_can_i_eat-fast_food_tips-American_Diabetes_Association.pdf

Easy Greek Pizza

https://www.everydayhealth.com/healthy-halloween-treats-for-kids.aspx

https://www.history.com/news/what-is-bobbing-for-apples

 

 

*Photo by Bekir Donmez on Unsplash

Your Privacy, Your Chronic Illness & Your Job

Don’t let anyone fool you. When you live with a Chronic illness, you do a lot of thinking. You make a lot of decisions. Cool tee shirt aside, life really is filled with tough choices. And if you haven’t juggled many in your past, a Chronic illness will change that quickly. Which doctor do you trust? Which treatment do you choose? Which medication/s will work best? And aside from these obvious questions, you also wonder about your privacy. Yes, HIPAA is a great thing. And there are similar protections in place abroad, i.e. PIPEDA, Directive on Data Protection. But, outside of medical community, who do you share your illness with? Who do you entrust with that personal information? How much is, well, too much?

 

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Let’s start with your family and close friends. They are usually part of your support system. And, yes, they need to know about your diagnosis. Especially, those who are closest to you. A strong support system will help you to manage your condition more effectively. Providing them with additional information is also helpful, i.e. the name of your doctor, your medications, etc. Next, is your workplace. And that’s an entirely different animal!

Legally, you are not required to disclose a Chronic illness to your employer. An employer hires you to do a job. If you are capable of doing that job, you are fulfilling your end of the deal. This also holds true, if you are seeking employment. On the other hand, some say the added stress of trying to conceal their condition was/is frustrating and difficult. There is no wrong answer, here. It really depends on what you are comfortable with. You may choose to discuss your illness with HR, but not your co-workers. That too is okay. Nobody wants to be gossip fodder for the break-room. This is about your health and your privacy.

Many patients learn what their group health plans offer, after they have been diagnosed. Better late than never, I guess. When you are living with good health, you are truly experiencing a blessing. But knowing your health coverage is also the peace of mind that will help you to sleep at night. Take a few minutes to actually get those facts. And if you have never taken the time to acquaint yourself with Labor Law, here are two key pieces of legislation to start with: The Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. Living with a Chronic illness, you may need to use one or both at some point. Understanding them is crucial. Sadly, disability discrimination still exists in our society. And many Chronic illnesses can lead to a disability. If you ever feel your employer is harassing you, or is discriminating against you, due to your Chronic illness … you can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC. Know your rights. They exist to protect you.

Last, but not least, go out and LIVE! Don’t allow your disease to define you. It isn’t what you are, it is just a part of who you are. So, make plans. Work. Travel. Finish Grad School. Buy a home. Start a family. Set goals. Dare to dream. The choices are waiting and they’re all yours!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/security/laws-regulations/index.html

https://www.atlantic.net/hipaa-compliant-hosting/beyond-hipaa-international-health-data-protection-europe-canada/

https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/

https://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm

https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/ada18.html

https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/disability.cfm

*Photo by Jose Llamas on Unsplash