Reversing Diabetes – Week 2 – Salad is King

 Fasting Blood Sugar: 8.2 (originally 10.5)
Blood Pressure 122/84
Weight: -2 lbs. (Total -8)

Week 2 and my fasting blood sugar is down 2 points from last week!  Blood pressure is closer to a normal reading and there are a few days when it is even a little lower than normal (104/79; 110/85). Perhaps a happy side effect may be to reduce or even stop my blood pressure medication if this pattern keeps going.

Weight loss has slowed but it has been busy at work with days that I couldn’t get out for a walk, then got home late and was too tired to do anything but make dinner. It doesn’t help that it’s late fall and it gets dark outside by 5 pm and it’s cold. But these are excuses, yes? If this is to be a lifestyle then I have to do whatever it takes to be active every day, even if I just march on the spot while I’m cooking. Anything.

In terms of meals, this week was all about the giant salad. It doesn’t matter whether for lunch or dinner, but imperative at least once a day.  Leafy greens are at the top of the nutritional heap – low in calories but packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre. Any combination of the following greens work as the base for every salad: curly or lacinato kale, Swiss chard, Boston lettuce, leaf lettuce, Romaine lettuce, arugula, spring mix, baby spinach, watercress or microgreens plus parsley or cilantro or other fresh herbs. My fridge is bursting with greens.

To this base, I add the rainbow with as many colourful additions as possible in creative variations from day to day: avocado, cherry tomatoes, celery, chopped red cabbage, cucumber, thinly-sliced Brussels sprouts, red, green and yellow bell peppers, carrots, beets (grated or roasted), thin jalapeno slices, mushrooms, broccoli, zucchini, red or green onions, snow peas, sugar snap peas, kohlrabi, radishes.

While fruit in salad is a personal preference, I love it and mix things up by adding orange or mandarin segments, diced mango, diced apple, diced pears, kiwi, blueberries, strawberries or pomegranate arils. 

If I add fruit, I’ll also add nuts (walnuts or almonds usually), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or hemp seeds.

Dressings are tricky when not using oil. I’ve been experimenting with all sorts of seasoned vinegars, lime and lemon juice combinations and creamy dressings made with blended soaked cashews or tahini. Recipes to come! 

 

Reversing Diabetes – Week 1 – Focus on Breakfast

Fasting Blood Sugar: 10.2 (originally 10.5)
Blood Pressure 126/92
Weight: -6 lbs. (Total -6)

This first week has been more of an orientation than anything else. I am not following any one particular program, but crafting my own based on guidelines suggested by the plant-based medical advocates mentioned in my last post.  The underlying tenet is that I am eating a low fat, high-carb diet that is mostly fruits and vegetables, raw and cooked, some whole grains, plus a handful of nuts and seeds every day.  I am not counting calories and while aiming for selections with a lower glycemic-load, I am not excluding starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn or squash. I am avoiding all meat, dairy, processed food and oil. 

So far, so good — A week in, my blood sugar tests fractionally better.  At least it’s going down. Blood pressure is also marginally better than usual for me. The highlight is the six-pound weight loss this week.

So what does breakfast look like?

  • Steel-cut oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts
  • Bowl of mixed berries and a banana
  • Whole grain toast with avocado, cucumber and tomato slices
  • Green smoothies

Hail to the Green Smoothie as this has quickly become my go-to breakfast, especially when I’m rushing. It’s faster than juicing,  nutritious, easy to throw together and I can drink it in the car.  Because the whole food is blended, the fibre remains intact and for diabetics, fibre — particularly soluble fibre — slows the absorption of sugar and helps improve blood sugar levels. 

There are four main steps when layering up the ingredients into the high-speed blender, from bottom to top:

  1. Liquids (eg: unsweetened plant milk, coconut water, filtered water)
  2. Fresh Solids (eg: banana, kiwi, spinach, chard, kale)
  3. Frozen Layer: (eg: frozen berries, peaches, pineapple, mango)
  4. Super Food additions: (eg: ground flax seed, hemp seed, chia, moringa or amla powder, spirulina)

If I wake up with no appetite,  I just have water with lemon, then nothing until lunch. I’m trying to only eat when I’m hungry, and only until I’m satiated, not stuffed.

Finally, exercise — I have started walking every day and if I can’t walk, I jump on my Bellicon rebounder and try to close the three movement rings on my Apple watch. So far, I’ve been most successful on weekends when I have time to walk further or be more active throughout the day. Goal for next week: try to move more at work.

Reversing Type 2 Diabetes without drugs

The results are in.  As suspected, my  November 17, 2019 blood test results thrust me into diabetes range. My fasting glucose measured 10.8 (anything greater than 7.0 mmol/L after an 8-hour fast can be used as a provisional diagnosis of diabetes mellitus). My Hemoglobin A1C level was 9.2 (anything greater than 6.5 indicates diabetes).

Even though I knew the results would be higher than normal, I was hopeful that I’d remain “pre-diabetic”.  Now, there it was in black-and-white and I was gripped with the fear of possible complications: heart attack, kidney disease, dialysis, blindness, amputated limbs… How did this happen? More importantly, how to fix it?

A huge fan of health-and-lifestyle documentaries and literature, I have come to know those who are prominently involved in promoting nutrition as medicine: Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease). Dr. Colin Campbell (The China Study). Dr. Dean Ornish (Program for Reversing Heart Disease). Dr. Neil Barnard (Program for Reversing Diabetes without Drugs). Dr. Joel Fuhrman (Eat to Live; The End of Diabetes) and Dr. Michael Greger (NutritionFacts.org).  There’s also Robby Barbaro and Cyrus Khambatta co-founders of the Mastering Diabetes program. ALL of these pioneers advocate whole-food plant-based nutrition for optimal health.

The information they collectively provide points to study after study after study: a low-fat whole-food plant-based diet may prevent and even reverse certain health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. I know in my own heart that I have to try it.  The last thing I want is more medication – starting with the traditional metformin – as I am already taking an anti-coagulant and rate drug for atrial fibrillation, plus a heart pressure pill. My doctor has agreed to let me try nutrition and lifestyle changes first. I must monitor my blood glucose with a glucose meter at home. If the numbers rise consistently, I will have to take the drug. Otherwise, I will check in with another blood test in three months.

The plan, then, is to eat a low-fat, whole-food plant based diet. This means:

  • No animal products including eggs and dairy
  • No processed foods, even if they are vegan
  • No added sugar, salt or oil
  • No alcohol, fruit juice or caffeine

I think I can do all of these things except the caffeine. One cup should be OK. 

I also need to add exercise to my sedentary day, where it’s not impossible to sit 8 to 10 hours at my desk job.  My goal is a minimum of one hour of exercise every day, even if the best I can do is a brisk walk.

While it all may sound a bit daunting, I’m very motivated here at the start. Is this sustainable over time? Will this work at all? I will be tracking my efforts here on the blog.

 

 

 

Type 2 Diabetes?

I have a requisition in my hand for a blood test to see whether I have developed Type II diabetes. I’m pretty sure it will be positive. I was teetering very closely on the pre-diabetes/diabetes borderline just as I started a plant-based lifestyle a few years back. The numbers went down. I lost weight. Then I started planning a trip to the other side of the world, to see my daughter in New Zealand. I wanted to be able to eat everything and not limit myself.  Adventurous foodie won over the sick foodie. Unfortunately, I never went back to fully plant-based when I came home. I just continued to gain weight and lose energy and then gained even more weight. 

I am obese now.  Sluggish. Tired. Red-faced. Breathless. I look like I’m expecting twins and have no muscles, anywhere–classic signs of insulin resistance.  I’m feeling cramps in my legs at night. I can never close the rings on my iWatch. My toes are numb. My vision seems to blur at times, especially in the morning. 

I know I need to recommit to whole-food plant-based eating.  Will that be enough to reverse Type 2 Diabetes? 

Tepache Time

Fermenting has intrigued me since childhood. Every fall, my parents used to shred countless heads of cabbage, by hand, enough to fill a rain barrel. They salted it, packed it in and kept it in the cold cellar. We had fresh sauerkraut “on demand” for the next year. It was great fun watching my nephews’ reactions as their grandpa removed the top layer of ferment “scum”  (“EWWWW!!!”) to reach the fresh sauerkraut below.  I make sauerkraut exactly the same way today, except in far smaller quantities. 

Now that we know how beneficial fermented foods are for gut health, I am experimenting with fermenting all sorts of other foods. 

The newest and most exciting thing I have stumbled upon is tepache (teh-PAH-chay) and the funny thing is, it’s not that new.  Tepache dates back to Pre-Columbian Mexico as a popular drink among the Nahua people. Originally, corn was the base of tepache but the contemporary recipe (tepache de piña) uses pineapple rind and core to make this drink. It’s totally fine to just cut up the whole pineapple as well, which is what I did in the batch pictured below.  In fact, there are countless variations on how to  make tepache – rules and recipes vary and that’s what makes it so fun experimenting.

HOW TO:

  • 1 whole ripe fresh pineapple, rinsed clean (organic is best if possible)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 to 6 cloves
  • 1 thumb ginger (optional)
  • 1 large cone of  Piloncillo ( Piloncillo, named “pylon” for its conical shape, is a raw form of pure cane sugar that is used in Mexican cooking. Alternatively, use 1 cup of brown sugar, rapadura, panela, jaggery or any variation of raw cane sugar).
  • ​16 cups of filtered water, or enough to cover the pineapple pieces

Cut off the crown and base of the pineapple and compost. Cut the rest up into slices and then triangles. Put the cut pieces of pineapple with rind into a 1-gallon glass jar or  container.

Add the sugar and spices and enough filtered water to cover.

Muddle, or stir it well with a wooden spoon.

Cover the glass container with cheesecloth or small dishtowel, holding it firm with an elastic.

Place on counter at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.

The timing of the fermentation depends on temperature and can take anywhere from 2 days in a warmer climate to a week or more to get to the bubbly refreshing drink stage. If left longer, it becomes an alcoholic beverage and if left longer still, pineapple vinegar.

I begin sampling once I see a thick layer of white foam on the top. The foam means it’s alive and fermenting. I sample by moving a bit of the foamy stuff with my spoon and testing the brew below.

It should taste light, bubbly and not too sweet. There may be a bit of a musty smell similar to an overripe pineapple,  but it should not be repulsive. I find it a bit smoother and tastier than kombucha.

Aiming for the “refreshing beverage” stage rather than hooch or vinegar, I strained this batch into jars after five days on the counter. A second ferment is possible – meaning once it is strained in the jars, you let it sit another day or two to get more bubbly. It’s important to “burp” the jars at least once a day to avoid explosions from the build-up of carbon dioxide. I used one mason jar and one jar with a clip top (pictured).

Once it tastes as you like it, it should be refrigerated, where it  keeps fermenting, but at a much slower pace.

Tepache tastes best very cold or over ice.

I’m sure it would also taste great in cocktails such as a piña colada.

¡Salud!

 

A is for autumn, apples and the air fryer

Not long ago my gas range went kaput and the budget being what it is, I decided to not replace it for a while. The barbecue carried me through the summer, along with an older toaster oven (which I have to watch carefully as it routinely sets off the smoke alarm) .  After hearing so many great things about them, I decided to try an air fryer. Crispy french fries with just a teaspoon of oil, or even with none? What’s not to love? 

I took the plunge with a Philips VIVA air fryer (Model HD9220C) from Costco that came with a bonus grill pan. I think they’re discontinuing this line which is why it was on sale, but it had great reviews. 

First try – fries of course. Fantastic. Lightly browned. More like baked than truly fried, but I prefer them this way rather than greasy. I’m sure if one added a bit of oil, they’d be crispier. The ones pictured here were air fried with NO oil at all. Really, the air fryer is just a tiny convection oven that is more energy-friendly and possibly quicker too. 

I have been having great fun experimenting with things to air fry. My last effort was breaded steamed cauliflower which came out very well. 

It’s fall now and apple season. As the weather cools and the leaves turn, bring on the comfort food and those wonderful smells: apples, nutmeg, cinnamon…crisps and cobblers. 

I thought I’d experiment with apples in the Air Fryer. First try apple chips – I just sliced up an apple, tossed with juice of half a small lemon, a tbsp of  coconut sugar and a tsp of cinnamon. Air fried at 200 C for 10 minutes. Tossed the slices and air fried 10 minutes more. These are really delicious – sort of a cross between a dehydrated apple slice and a baked apple. Would be lovely topped with a scoop of ice cream/ice dream. 

So why not a whole baked apple? 

 

WHAT I DID:

I cored two Mutsu apples but certainly select your favourite.

In a separate bowl I mixed 

2 tbsp rolled oats

1 tbsp coconut sugar (brown sugar would work as well)

Sprinkle of chopped walnuts

Sprinkle of craisins (or raisins)

1/4 tsp cinnamon

A few scrapes of fresh nutmeg or a tiny sprinkle

A scant sprinkle of salt

Approx 1 tbsp Earth Balance vegan spread (or coconut oil)

Mix this blend together until the oats seem moist and want to clump and stuff the two cored apples. Place in Air Fryer at 175 for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on type of apple. It should be fork tender but still keep its shape. You can open the drawer and check with no consequences! The result is a tender, delicious baked apple with a crunchy, sweet topping. 

Happy Autumn and enjoy those freshly-picked apples!  

 

 

Juicing 101

I didn’t really understand the benefits of drinking fresh-pressed juice until I watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. In this documentary, Australian Joe Cross chronicles his journey to regain health with a drastic 60-day juice fast. As he juices his way across America drinking his signature “Mean Green” (recipe below) Joe loses nearly a hundred pounds and clears up a chronic, debilitating skin condition.  

Inspired, I wanted to try this. I could certainly benefit from some weight loss and re-setting my taste buds away from junk food and towards healthier whole foods seemed like a win-win.  First, I  loaded up my shopping cart with veggies – heaps of greens, mostly organic. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a list every year of the best and worst foods in terms of pesticide residue. When you’re ingesting huge quantities of produce for juicing, organic is preferable if only for the most contaminated dirty dozen. In 2018, these are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and bell peppers. The clean 15  are the least contaminated, so if you have to skip organic due to cost or lack of availability, start with these.

 On my first try, it took me over an hour to wash, peel, and chop enough veggies to make a day’s worth of fresh juice.  Another 15 minutes was spent juicing, then 10 more minutes scrubbing the juicer Once the pulp dries in the machine, it can become very difficult to remove. So yes, time is involved – but if you’re not cooking, you may have a bit of time to spare. Some find the taste of freshly-pressed green juice refreshing; others liken it to drinking freshly-mown grass and gag and sputter as they choke it down.  I prefer it immediately out of the juicer, when the nutrients and enzymes are optimal. Fresh is not always possible if you’re juicing ahead or taking it to work, in which case it’s completely fine to store it in glass containers in the fridge for up to 72 hours. Some people freeze it – I never have.   

Types of Juicers

Centrifugal Juicers – Using centrifugal force, these juicers spin the pulp at high speeds to extract the juice. They can be loud and are not great at juicing leafy vegetables, such as spinach or kale, sprouts or wheatgrass.

  • Most common, least expensive juicers found on shelves
  • Fast prep and easy to use
  • May be more difficult to clean
  • Yield less juice
  • Reduced juice quality as fast-spinning blades produce heat that destroys beneficial enzymes and oxidizes nutrients

 

Masticating Juicers – These are known as the “cold-press” juicers. Produce goes down a tube where it is squeezed and crushed at a slower speed with the juice exiting the bottom of the tube.

  • Well-suited to juicing leafy greens, grasses, sprouts and herbs
  • Higher juice yield
  • Lower speeds means less heat is generated, preserving more nutrients and enzymes ; juice stays fresher longer
  • Less noisy / Higher initial cost

I started with a Breville centrifugal juicer. As I got more serious about juicing, especially greens, I purchased an Omega masticating juicer which I continue to use daily. 

Benefits of Juicing vs Smoothies

Juicing extracts the liquid and nutrients from produce leaving behind the indigestible fibre. The digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard to break down the food and nutrients become more readily available in much larger quantities than eating the produce whole.  Many healing/detox programs offer fresh green juices for just that reason – they are extremely nourishing and help to restore the body at a cellular level.

Smoothies use the whole fruit or vegetable, with all of their natural fibre. Made in a blender or NutriBullet, the process breaks the fibres down to make them easier to digest allowing for a slow, even release of nutrients into the blood stream and avoiding blood-sugar spikes.  More filling and faster to make, smoothies generally have a thicker, creamier texture than juices. Ounce-per-ounce, they contain fewer servings of fruit and/or vegetables than fresh-pressed juice.

The first three days of juicing were hell. I felt feverish, as if I was getting the flu. My head was pounding. My muscles hurt. This is what detoxing feels like when you abruptly cut off sugar and caffeine . By Day 4, however, I felt somewhat better and then WHAM, I felt amazing! I would get crazy surges of energy — I caught myself bouncing up and down by the photocopier at work one day. I constantly felt like moving and walking and going outside! It was remarkable.

I discovered that I liked to have a “shot” to start things off every morning and I continue to do these now. Wheatgrass, while beneficial, makes me feel queasy so my preference is lemon and ginger. Ginger shots (my Lemon Zingers), are a great eye-opener with a slow warming burn not unlike a shot of whisky.  

Sometimes during the fast, I did feel bloated from all of the juice, but never did I feel as if I was starving. I stuck to the juicing schedule that Joe Cross suggests which is about 16-20 ounces of juice, 4 to 6 times per day, supplemented with herbal tea and pure coconut water. It’s also suggested that the ratio of produce in the juice should be 80% vegetables to 20% fruits — to keep the sugar down. 

At the end of 30 days, my stomach was making extremely loud gurgling sounds, reminding me that it wanted something with a little more substance to digest.  I was ready to eat again.  People had noticed my weight loss – it amounted to 28 pounds in a month. My blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels had all dropped. My doctor told me that whatever I was doing was working terrifically well. Plus I had more energy than ever. I lost my taste for sweets and junk – at least for a while – and the first solid food I wanted to eat was a raw green spring roll.

Although some can and do fast on juice for long periods with excellent results, I would never advocate exclusively juicing for a very long term. A 30 or 60-day juice fast is a pretty drastic measure and probably long enough for even the most hard-core juicer. It does reset your mind and body as one would reboot a glitchy computer. The sense of well-being is invigorating and will carry you towards a healthier path for some time. If you do start to slip back into old patterns, a short juice fast of a few days serves as quick reboot to get back on track.  Ultimately, however, you don’t need to “fast” at all – just include fresh-pressed juice as part of your lifestyle. The super-boost of easily-absorbed nutrition always feels fantastic. I now try to include one a day on most days. Nature’s multi-vitamin.

Juicing Tip

In order to get the widest variety of nutrients, it’s important to drink the rainbow. Green juices. Red juices. Orange juices. Purple. My tip for better flavours when making up recipes is to stick with the same colour families for each batch of juice. Do not mix green produce with orange produce. It will turn brown. It will not be appetizing, no matter the taste.

Juice On!

The Path to Wellness

Welcome to HeartBeets! Finally, my own little niche online, to document my efforts to get healthier, to find more balance, to find joy.

We live in a harried society, one where we have to make an appointment just to find our own breath. Eating out more than in, we dine on convenience that comes loaded with salt, sugar and fat.  We are toxic. We drink. We smoke. We sit. We sit. We sit.

We are sick. We are overweight, overworked, in debt, stressed and unhappy. Spending on prescription meds in the United States is expected to reach $610 billion by 2021 according to QuintilesIMS Holding, a company which compiles data for the pharmaceutical industry. It’s estimated that pharmaceutical drugs, including prescriptions, are the second biggest health care cost in Canada — 16 per cent of health care spending — and the fastest growing.

Who isn’t taking a yoga class or learning to meditate? We’re trying to cleanse and detox, adding handfuls of greens and tossing back shots of turmeric and ginger. There is more paralyzing indecision than ever – about everything, but especially our health.

I want to explore the lifestyle choices that we are faced with and to share my findings with you.

My place is called HeartBeets because part of my plan is the transition to a whole-food plant based diet with an eye towards better heart health — something I will write more about in later posts.  Stay tuned!

Heart beets