Life Savers: Living the allergy-free life

Greetings Gentle Readers!

I have a real treat for you today (pun intended!).  In the recovery of serious illness we need to get serious about our nutrition too.  To assist us I introduce to you a dear friend who has helped me and many folks learn how to use nutrition as medicine.  I am grateful for the expertise of Cindy Jakacki-Null: tenacious gluten-free and allergy-free food researcher, healthcare professional, and Foodie extraordinaire.  Cindy talks enthusiastically about how she loves to cook, create in the kitchen, research and convert recipes, and share both her talents and tasty treats with friends and family.  Her expertise has made a difference in the lives of countless individuals, most recently a loved one facing death until her sister’s diet changed.

  1. Tell me a little about yourself and your special interests related to food. 

I have always liked to cook and especially to bake.  This is probably because growing up in our family’s household, sweets were off limits except for special occasions.  My father battled  Juvenile Diabetes. My Dad and Mom wanted to prevent any of us from getting it and were very forward-thinking for their time in their pro-health efforts.  While baking in general was discouraged, I jumped at the chance to cook meals and bake for holidays and special occasions.  My Mom cooked fairly plain foods for the picky eaters of the family and it challenged us to find suitable ingredients for everyone (even sneaking in some pureed veggies long before it was in vogue to do so!).  I am grateful to have experienced fine dining and haute cuisine growing up which peaked my curiosity in all things food. I then taught myself how to cook.

2.   What is a “Foodie” (or a better name if you have one)?

I looked up this definition because I always wondered what the specific “requirements” were; however, like anything else, they varied.  Per Webster’s dictionary a Foodie is, “someone who has an ardent and refined interest in food.”  Yet, it goes beyond that.  The term, “live to eat” instead of “eat to live” comes to mind. To be a true Foodie is more than satiating the physical appetite in addition to the mental one, and a thirst for knowledge. A Foodie may not have all the culinary answers but seeks to find them out.

3.   More seriously now, where are the best places for information for a person who needs to make major changes in his or her nutrition for medical reasons? 

 We have so many resources available now that we have the internet!  However, it’s important to be cautious because anyone can have a blog or website and present themselves as if they are experts.  I also think that the answer to this question may differ a bit dependent upon one’s health issues.  Keeping all of this in mind I recommend the following references:

1)     www.mercola.com  This goes beyond just nutrition.  Abundant amount of articles, videos, links, resources

2)     Weston A Price  http://www.westonaprice.org/basics/dietary-guidelines

3)     I recommend Paleo Diet blogs even if you are not on a paleo diet because they are a good general source of information.  More specifically, I’d like to offer websites that combine alternative, integrative medicine with nutrition experts.  The ones I have chosen also have free online radio blogs.

 Word of mouth can help a person too, especially if the “mouths” so to speak are attached to people who are knowledgeable, have done extensive research, and apply what they’ve learned to their own lives.

     4.  In your experience, where is the worst place for information for a person who needs to make major changes in his or her nutrition for medical reasons? 

I’d have to say to be cautious of more traditional medical professionals, both locally and online, who tend to be unwilling to think “outside of the box.”

Also be wary of programs/organizations/universities (in person and online) that are supported primarily by the FDA, pharmaceutical companies, businesses owning food brands…or anyone who may profit from it.  This is not to say that there isn’t some beneficial information on their websites; however, I personally examine the research closely and look for continuity of information before I will endorse and use them.

 5a. What are some of the best ways you have found for a person to start to learn new cooking or baking skills?

 To learn a new skill a person must practice, practice, practice while learning the “how to’s.”  Be open to learning new things even if you’ve done things a certain way all your life; it’s like learning to ride a bike all over again!  Learn about flavor combinations.  Do research.  Read blogs.  Read books.  Listen to free online radio shows.  Watch food TV shows and DVD’s. Your Gentle Readers can start with the websites that I’ve mentioned here.

5b. How about a few shopping tips for a person starting to purchase new and unfamiliar foods?

I recognize that moving in a healthier direction can be overwhelming in the beginning.  Start where you are and consider a few tips to get you started:

  • Before you even go to the store do some initial research on anything you are unsure about. For example, examine purchasing food in cans vs. plastic vs. aluminum. It makes a difference and can have a profound impact on a person’s health.
  • Think twice when food is on sale.  It can be tempting to buy on impulse an unfamiliar food or brand name. Look more closely at what you are buying!  Here are two examples:  1) there are brands of olive oils and vinegars that are “pure,” better tasting, and not as processed; and 2) purchase olive oils only in glass, dark-colored bottles to keep them from becoming rancid and from dangerous chemicals in the plastic container leaching into the oil.
  • If you can’t find better food choices at your local store, consider shopping somewhere else or shopping online!  Food that is pure, tastes better, doesn’t make you sick, and is more nutritious  will save you money in the long run.
  • Improving your nutrition is also a balance. For example, I prioritize avoiding the “Dirty Dozen” and favoring the “Clean 15” (organic) food lists.  (Go to:  www.thedailygreen.com for these lists.)  I would love to buy all organic foods but I can’t afford it either!
  • Talk to others who cook and eat clean foods.
  • Stock up on healthier foods, especially when you can find them on sale.
  • Read labels carefully. I know this is an old standard, but some ingredients have different names which can be deceiving. For example, did you know that another name for soy is autolyzed yeast extract?”  If I see an ingredient that is unfamiliar to me and I can’t pronounce it, I don’t buy it! The “Foodie” in me goes home and does a quick check online to determine if it’s ok for me and my family.
  • Carry a list of verboten items with “aka” names to help you identify less healthy ingredients such as:  artificial preservatives, MSG, casein, etc.
Gingerbread cookies: free of gluten, grains, soy, sugar, dairy, eggs, corn, artificial preservatives and dyes. Aren't we cute?!

Gingerbread cookies: free of gluten, grains, soy, sugar, dairy, eggs, corn, artificial preservatives and dyes. Aren’t we cute?!

 6a. Let’s get specific now for the kinds of nutritional changes many of the folks reading this blog might be making, starting with gluten-free foods.  In the beginning gluten-free foods all seem to taste so bland and grainy.  What makes them taste better and where would I find the kinds of foods that tend to taste good?

Let’s start with the second part of your question:  I rarely, if ever, buy any pre-packaged, ready – to-eat foods, so I wouldn’t be able to tell you where to buy them.  I make them myself.  Regarding why foods taste better, most professional, traditional chefs would agree: the secret is in the quality of ingredients.  This includes:  buying “clean” “whole” foods that come as close as possible to its natural state.  In other words, I recommend minimally processed foods with NO artificial preservatives, additives, artificial colorings and flavorings.  This healthier way of cooking and is the way that I am eating.  Foods taste better and I feel better overall as a result.

Also: there definitely are big differences in cooking and especially, baking allergy-free.  The more foods you eliminate in an allergy-free recipe, the harder it is to get a result that is palatable, let alone recognizable to the real thing!  In some ways, it is like riding that bicycle all over again.  Be creative but get started on doing some research and practice.   This might mean starting with your favorite blogger’s information and reading comments.  I learn a lot from the comments!

 6b.   Do you have a store, favorite blog, or website that you would recommend for gluten-free foods?

Please note that I avoid gluten in addition to dairy, soy, corn, artificial preservatives, sulfites, nitrates, nitrites, MSG, and dyes. Certain foods I only buy organic and I prefer free-range meat when possible.   Keeping all of this in mind, I offer the following:

  •  Find most meat, bone marrow, bacon, and animal fats online at US Wellness Meats: http://www.grasslandbeef.com/StoreFront.bok.   Shipping is only 7.50 per order, regardless of size, and they often, have specials.  A person can sign up for free to receive e-mail notifications and special offers.
  •  Buy organic coconut oil from Nutiva (company): http://nutiva.com/  They have frequent sales, including “Nutiva Tuesdays,” and occasional free shipping.  Sign up for free to receive e-mail notifications, etc.

 

  • Tropical Traditions      http://www.tropicaltraditions.com/  sells      various products, of which I      primarily buy organic coconut oil,       shredded  coconut (various      sizes),  organic palm oil, organic red virgin palm oil.  They also sell organic, free range meat.  TT has regular sales, but since shipping      can be costly, I usually only buy something when shipping is free.   Sign up for free and they will also send e-mail notices.
  • Nutstop: www.nutstop.com sells various types of nuts and seeds, including raw, roasted, blanched, etc.   They have good prices on large quantities of macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Always compare online stores to local resources. 

 

  1. How can I save time and money when shopping or making gluten-free foods?

It’s easier to save time and money if you are solely looking at foods without gluten verses foods without multiple allergens like I do!

  • Initially researching sources for foods can be time consuming, but once you’ve found stores (online and/or local) that suit your needs, stick to it.
  • Buy in bulk when ingredients are on sale to save money as well as to make sure that you have an ample supply on hand.
  • Make double, triple, even quadruple batches of both savory and sweet foods.  Freeze in convenient sizes so you can easily pull what you need out of the freezer to thaw and for a fast meal.
  • Word of mouth.
  • Apply “Mise en place” or the French art of having everything in its place. Prep ingredients ahead of time, not just for the meal on hand, but for meals for the upcoming week. For example, I use a lot of onions in my meals, so I peel and cut several of them and store them in the refrigerator.  Onions also freeze well for later use in meals.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable (or are uninterested in) converting “regular” recipes, there are numerous blogs with free recipes that will meet your requirements.  Email me for more information on converting recipes at:  cynjaknul@aol.com
  • Keep notes!  Write down or edit personal files with any changes you’ve made in a recipe, including what worked and didn’t work for the next time you make the dish.

In general, don’t let fear prevent you from making good tasting and nutritious meals. You never know if your next masterpiece is just waiting to happen because you were willing to take a risk!

  1. Now for another hot topic, what suggestions would you  have for a person trying to reduce then eliminate sweets or sugar in his or her diet when following a special health protocol?

This is challenging.  An answer depends upon one’s definition of “sugar.” Are we talking refined sugar? Honey? Maple Syrup? Starches? Starchy vegetables? Grains? Fruits? I haven’t done this myself so I would not be the person to ask. I’ve reduced sugars but not to a huge extent regarding fruits, grains, starchy veggies.

  1. Will sugar free foods generally cost more or less than what I am eating now?  How about gluten-free foods?

Again the answer depends upon the  type of foods for which  you are looking. Anything that is considered “different” or “specialized” will generally cost more, even if it doesn’t cost the company much to make it!  Also many companies, even those selling so-called “healthy” foods, cut corners in their ingredients by adding fillers, artificial preservatives, MSG, smaller amounts of the “key” ingredient, etc.  For various reasons, foods that have fairly pure ingredients tend to cost more. One example is “power bars” that are made only with dried fruits and nuts.

 I make most of my foods from scratch because in the long run, it is cheaper than buying prepared items, plus they are more flavorful and healthier. For example: many flour mixes at the store contain highly processed gluten-free flours such as rice and starches.  There are some mixes available with” ancient grains” but they generally cost more. 

10. Wow, you’ve really helped me get energized on using food as part of my medicine for healing!  We might need to chat again to include other special dietary needs such as dairy-free, non-GMO, organic vs. non-organic, and more!  If there was one thing you would like to say to encourage our Gentle Readers who might be stressed-out with a new way of eating, what would you like to tell them?

Be patient and kind with yourselves. Seek out support, whether it be from research, friends, family, others who are in similar situations, etc. Don’t give up!

****************************

Well we hope that this special blog post will be helpful in the journey to health for you and your family.  For more information, please feel free to contact Cindy at:  cynjaknul@aol.com  Seeya next time!  Just Julie

3 thoughts on “Life Savers: Living the allergy-free life

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