Giving up gluten … for now, at least

by Camille on July 22, 2011

Ah, gluten. I miss you already.

I’ve long known that I have a sensitivity to wheat. When I eat a lot of it—especially in yeasty foods (think pizza crust and delicious French bread)—I bloat up and my stomach doesn’t feel quite right. Still, although we’ve written about gluten (a protein compound found in many grains, including wheat) and gluten-free living here on Svelte, I never thought I would be in the position to have to give it up.

However, over the past couple of months, my psoriasis—a skin condition that I’ve had since I was a child—has become a lot worse. It’s always been manageable: a tiny patch here or there, nothing a little steroid cream couldn’t fix. Then, around February, it became more severe, with itchy, burning patches on many of my major joints (like elbows and ankles). Among other reasons, because I was breastfeeding, I didn’t want to take any of the super-heavy medications that are used to treat bad cases.

I waited it out for a while, hoping that it was linked to post-pregnancy hormone changes, and that taking more fish oil would help (several studies have shown that an increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can reduce symptoms). No dice. So I began searching medical research (by the way, PubMed is great for this) to uncover dietary changes that might help. Sadly, all of the newer studies suggested the same thing: give up gluten.

Turns out that individuals with psoriasis tend to have higher levels of gluten-related antibodies found in individuals with celiac disease (a condition in which eating gluten damages the body’s tissues and causes all kinds of less-than-pleasant symptoms). Other studies have shown that in addition to consuming more fish oil, reducing or eliminating gluten can help, often significantly, in treating psoriasis. Which brings me to my new diet.

Two weeks of not eating gluten and I’ve discovered that GF is not as hard as I thought. My mom bought me Bob’s Red Mill gluten free pancake mix, knowing my family likes to make pancakes on the weekend, and that yielded a tasty batch of pancakes. If I really want something bready, I have a GF waffle or gingersnap from Trader Joe’s. But for the most part, I’ve been eating more real, unprocessed food (fruits, veggies, beans, meat and nuts). Oh, and I discovered KIND bars, which are gluten-free and beyond delicious (although at roughly 200 calories each, should really be consumed in halves). Of course, I do have the advantage of not having celiac disease, which means I’m able to be less stringent about making sure what I eat doesn’t have a trace of gluten in it.

I lost a pound and a half in two weeks, but it has yet to be determined if my diet is to thank, or if it’s simply a byproduct of my new running regime. Regardless, my psoriasis is getting better. Even after such a short period of time, the spots on my joints have gone down significantly, and the tiny patches on other areas of my body are gone. I’ll be curious to see if the results continue to improve.

Have you given up gluten for psoriasis or another reason other than celiac disease? Any tips of the trade for this newbie?


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The Paleo Pregnancy

by Camille on July 18, 2011

Dawn Weinberger and her husband, Carl.

Have you read about the Paleo diet? This grain-free, whole foods-based plan seems to be popping up everywhere—and now that I’ve given up gluten (more on that later this week)—I’ve been especially interested in the so-called “caveman” lifestyle. Needless to say, when I heard that my colleague Dawn Weinberger had a new website, The Paleo Baby, I was excited to learn more. I asked Dawn, who’s a writer and Paleo mom-to-be from Portland, Oregon, to share the story behind her site:

Camille: What was your motivation for adopting a Paleo diet?
Dawn: I moved toward Paleo in May of last year. I was already working out and running a lot. My diet was exceptional by most standards (low fat, whole grains, lots of veggies), and I kept a close eye on calories. However, I never managed to see a real change in my body and never seemed to move beyond a certain point in terms of strength and endurance.

The owner of the gym I go to (Sweat360 in Hillsboro, Oregon) Robert, kept dropping hints that I should change my diet (realistically, he probably said something two or three times—but I was defensive and felt like he was always bringing it up). He knew that I was obsessed with cheese, and that I often avoided healthy sources of protein, mostly because I just didn’t enjoy handling or cooking meat. I remember saying to him one day “I will never, ever give up dairy.” The funny thing is I gave up dairy that very day! I went to the mall, and had a particularly frustrating shopping experience—it seemed like everything I tried on emphasized my flaws, even clothes that technically fit. That’s when I admitted to myself that Robert might have a point, so I decided to give up dairy for two weeks, as an experiment. Simultaneously, I started eating more protein and cutting out grains. Two weeks later I was already seeing subtle changes, so I decided to keep the experiment going … I was somewhat skeptical at first, but I did a lot of reading and research about the diet and was quickly convinced that it was the right choice for me.

I didn’t really go 100% until October, when Sweat360 offered a six-week Paleo meltdown challenge. I only lost a few pounds (weight loss wasn’t really my goal), but I saw a significant change in my body composition and I felt incredible. At 37, I was truly happy with my body for the first time ever. I decided I would be crazy to go back to my old ways so I adopted Paleo as a lifestyle.

A few months later, my husband Carl and I decided we wanted to have a baby and I got pregnant right away (our daughter is due October 23rd!). I looked, but I couldn’t find a whole lot of info on pregnancy and the Paleo diet and I wasn’t about to start eating dairy and grains again just because conventional dietary advice said I should. I decided to start The Paleo Baby so I could document my experience and hopefully provide some useful information for other women in my shoes.

Camille: How has changing your diet changed your life—and what’s been the biggest challenge of adopting a Paleo diet?
Dawn: In simple terms, I just feel incredible. I used to get headaches a lot … now headaches are rare. My seasonal allergy symptoms are much improved (I still have allergies, but the severity has decreased significantly) and my digestion is perfect (I didn’t even realize there was anything wrong with my digestion pre-paleo). I also no longer experience blood sugar crashes or that “hangry” feeling if I go too long without eating. The afternoon slump is a thing of the past. I’m a lot more confident and more satisfied with how my body looks (even being pregnant).  I’m stronger and feel like a person with true athletic potential rather than just someone who goes to the gym to ward off weight gain. Read more…

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Grilled mini bananas

It’s been seven months since my son was born, and (unlike those first few post-partum months) I’ve been thinking a lot about what I eat. I have two goals: One, eat nutrient-rich food so I’m getting more value from every calorie; and two, eat in a way that helps me get back in shape. (I’ve been able to lose almost all of the weight I put on during pregnancy—but I’m miles from being as fit as I was a year and a half ago, so I’m on the lookout for foods that will give me energy for my workouts.)

As such, I’ve been casting a critical eye at my side dishes—i.e., the non-protein portion of my meals. I’ve talked about my love of white rice many times here at Svelte. I’m not about to give that up, but when I started examining my lunches and dinners, I realized they were heavy on other filler foods like cous cous, pasta, bread and potatoes.

While I was brainstorming about how to switch things up, I remembered something dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner told me when I was interviewing her for a story for Prevention. She pointed out that one of the easiest ways to make meals healthier is to rethink the “starch” portion of your meal. “People eat starchy foods like potatoes because that’s what they’re used to. You can swap these foods out with nutritious vegetables that are just as satisfying, but better for you.”

With that in mind, I’ve been experimenting. One recent discovery is grilled mini-bananas, sliced length-wise and grilled in a pan. They look (and taste!) deep-fried, but they’re actually lower in cabs and calories than rice. Here are a few other smart swaps I’ve been using:

Instead of … 1 cup pasta (220 calories, 43 g carbs)
Try … 1 cup stirfry veggies (70 calories, 10 g carbs)
Stir-fry veggies are surprisingly versatile; I like to use them in place of pasta. Serve with marinara sauce, ground turkey and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese for a delicious, gluten-free dinner that will run you about 70% fewer calories and 77% fewer carbs than pasta.

Instead of … 1 cup rice (205 calories, 44 g carb)
Try … 1 banana or roughly three mini bananas, grilled (107 calories, 27 g carb s)
Not only are grilled bananas sweet and satisfying, they’re chock full of potassium—a mineral that helps lower blood pressure and maintains nerve fuction.

Instead of … 1 cup mashed potatoes (174 calories, 37 g carbs)
Try … 14 baked sweet potato fries (140 calories, 23 g carbs)
In addition to being a great source of vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes are lower in natural sugar and carbs (really!) than white potatoes. And, of course, they’re delicious.

Do you have any unusual side dishes to share?


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Dear readers, I’m thrilled to be blogging about something completely unrelated to food, but very, very connected to this site. The Art of Forgetting, my dear friend and co-blogger Camille Noe-Pagan’s thoughtful and beautifully-wrought debut novel, goes on sale today. Camille’s woven together a powerful story of friendship, and she traces its essences–joys and sorrows–with such a sure hand that, to me, the experience of reading it felt thrillingly familiar. From the first sentence to the last word, I couldn’t put it down (and I’ve picked it up again more than once).

Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised when the critics at Library Journal wrote this: “This page-turner with original, likable, empathetic characters and an identifiable theme will attract readers who enjoy intelligent novels about women’s friendships.”

Nor when (true story), yesterday I picked up the American Airlines in-flight magazine on my JFK-LAX flight to see yet another rave. These high praises are beyond well-deserved (and, my intuitive powers tell me, just the beginning). I can’t urge you strongly enough to pick up a copy and see for yourself. Camille, congratulations on your lovely, lovely story!


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With sugar, how much is too much?

by SARA on May 31, 2011

Lemon Yogurt CakeYou’ve probably noticed that sugar’s been getting a pretty bad rap lately.  For weeks now, this video of Robert Lustig, an expert on child obesity at the University of California, San Francisco and a subsequent New York Times Magazine cover story have been making the rounds.

In a nutshell, the links argue that both sugar and high fructose corn syrup are much more harmful than other substances because they contain high levels of fructose (50% or more), which is metabolized primarily in the liver (as opposed to other similar compounds like glucose, which are metabolized by every cell in the body). When we eat more sugar than the liver can keep up with metabolically, it starts converting the fructose directly to fat, which experts think can trigger insulin resistance. We release insulin is to control blood sugar, so when our bodies stop responding to insulin, blood sugar goes up, and diseases like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and (because insulin helps existing tumors grow) even cancer can follow.

Scary stuff. But what’s important to keep in mind is that this doesn’t happen always and without fail. If you’re eating a healthy diet, some sugar is just fine. Even helpful, as Gretchen Reynolds noted in a recent blog post for the Times. Apparently, in athletes, some fructose can actually help the liver recover from a workout. All this, of course, leads me to this question: For those of us who are active and trying to eat well, where’s the cutoff? How much sugar counts as acceptable–and how much is too much? Read more…

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My breakfast this morning. Delish!

Confession: I’ve been bored with breakfast, and feeling like I’ve been eating too much these days. So instead of my usual morning meal—eggs with spinach with a whole grain waffle or a slice of toast—I opted for fresh mango and an apricot (along with my usual espresso with steamed milk). Light, delicious, and most importantly, boredom-busting!

If you’ve been hit with a case of the dietary blahs, why not swap out one of your standards for some fresh fruit and veggies? (Throw in a few nuts if you want a little protein). It’s a great way to give your digestive system a one-day break and bring down your calorie count, too.


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Please help me support an important cause

by Camille on May 19, 2011

Dear SvelteGourmand readers,

My forthcoming novel, The Art of Forgetting, is about two women and how their friendship is forever changed after one of them suffers a brain injury. Unfortunately, brain injury isn’t a fictional phenomenon: it affects more than one million Americans—many of them troops who serve our country—every year.

With this in mind, I’ve teamed up with the Bob Woodruff Foundation/ReMIND, which provides resources and support to service members, veterans and their families to successfully reintegrate into their communities so they may thrive physically, psychologically, socially and economically. The Bob Woodruff Foundation is an incredible, crucial resource for service members who have suffered brain injury.

If you’re considering ordering The Art of Forgetting, which Library Journal calls a “page turner” for “readers who enjoy intelligent fiction about women’s friendships,” please do so before June 1st and I’ll donate $1 per pre-order to the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

Simply pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders or IndieBound, forward your receipt to camille (at) camillenoepagan (dot) com, and I’ll make a donation on your behalf.

Thank you for your support!


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Svelte spring food: Artichokes

by Camille on May 15, 2011

I love spring: after relying on frozen produce or stuff that’s been shipped from Timbuktu (okay, technically Costa Rica and Mexico) all winter long, there’s suddenly there’s a whole variety of fresh, local fruit and veggies to choose from at the farmer’s market and grocery store. At the top of my list: Artichokes. (Apparently I’m not alone in this; the New York Times just ran a great story on how to cook them).

Turns out that these prickly veggies–most of which are grown in California—aren’t just delicious; they’re great for you, too. “The beauty of an artichoke is that it takes a while to eat, so it’s almost impossible to overindulge,” dietitian Wendy Bazilian, author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet, told me when I interviewed her about spring foods for a recent iVillage story. Plus, one medium bulb contains just 64 calories and a whopping 10 grams of fiber, while half a cup of hearts has 45 calories and seven grams of fiber. And artichokes contain a cholesterol-lowering compound called cynarin.

The key to keeping artichokes lean, of course, is to skip the melted butter; Bazilian suggests dipping them in a yogurt-based dressing or vinaigrette. Do you love artichokes, too? Have a favorite artichoke recipe to share? If so, share it below!


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What do you do about eating meat?

by SARA on May 13, 2011

piece by piece: deliciousEarlier this week, the New York Times published an online debate tackling the knotty issue of how to make livestock practices more humane. In three states, laws have been proposed to ban taking undercover videos of how the animals are treated. Supporters say it’s a safety risk to the animals to have trespassers skulking about. Detractors–well, you can imagine what they think. Until there’s no longer anything to hide, they feel these videos are important.

The “something to hide” bit points to the larger issue–how abysmally we treat these animals, not to mention how full of hormones, disease, and chemicals they are by the time they reach our stores. How to turn the tide was what the Times aimed to tackle with a who’s-who of experts, from Temple Grandin and the president of the Humane Society to economists and law professors. The ideas were as varied as the contributors–from creating a domestic peace corps for farming to criminalizing cruelty to farm animals. But time and again, nearly all of the experts turned the issue back to us, the consumers, arguing that our dollars were the surest, clearest path to making this health and humanitarian issue a thing of the past.

Having seen the chickens flopping around in Food, Inc. and knowing that drug-resistant bacteria is rampant in store meat (47% of chicken, pork, turkey, and beef, according to a recent study) has gotten me really thinking hard about my choices. I find I eat less meat now, and I’m quite careful about researching where what I do consume comes from. When I’m in New York, it’s pretty easy (people are obsessed with this stuff here), but out in my parents’ town in PA, for instance, it’s trickier. I’m also not feeding a whole family–where I know cost becomes a much bigger issue. Something that struck me about the Times debate is how few solutions the experts had for helping consumers better access these healthier choices. Probably because there are no easy answers.

…until you hear about an approach somebody’s taking and think–wow, that was under our noses the whole time. I’m always surprised, heartened, and inspired by how smart people can be about making things work. So, I’m wondering, how do you navigate eating meat these days? Have you radically changed your habits? Adapted just a few things that make a lot of sense to you? Or are you still working it all out?

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How chefs stay svelte

by SARA on May 4, 2011

Brussels sprouts before roastingA doctor I once interviewed told me that sometimes, when trying to come up with solutions to a problem, it helps to look at extreme cases. If you find something that works in those, you’re likely onto a trick that can be applied in the real world.

Take this tip to the kitchen, what group stands out? Chefs. They’re not just cooking one meal, but sometimes hundreds. (I recently interviewed Tom Colicchio on a night when he and his team had to prepare 500 individual dishes. I still find this baffling.) All the while, they’re surrounded by temptation, and it’s actually part of their job to taste that bounty to make sure it’s fresh and the flavors are right.

Still, if you think about it, a whole lot of chefs are in pretty decent shape these days. Ergo, a few weeks back, I asked eight well-known chefs for their best stay-healthy cooking tip. I’ve got to say, I was pretty impressed with their suggestions. You can find the full story with quotes and recipes on Here, my personal favorites:

Mike Isabella from Top Chef All Stars says he uses grapeseed oil instead of butter. It’s got just two grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, as opposed to butter–which has seven. He also (conservatively) sprinkles satiety-inducing nuts on salads.

White House pastry chef Bill Yosses looks for high quality ingredients. The more natural flavor something has, he reasons, the less of it you have to use. (Click here for the chocolate mousse recipe he makes for the Obamas.)

Read more…

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