**Disclaimer: this post is not meant as medical advice. This is simply what worked for me**
It’s been a while since I’ve discussed health issues on this blog and I recently had a few questions from readers about them. I’ve been really hesitant to discuss these things because this is my own journey and I’m still struggling to find what works for me. And what works for me, might not work for you! But since this is a healthy food and living blog, it might interest you all to hear about the goings on, the progress I’ve made and what I’m doing going forward! Plus, as I’m studying to be a holistic nutritionist, this is precisely the kind of thing I love talking about! Of course there will be a wonderfully delicious recipe at the end as well ;)
Older readers might recall that in the summer I was struggling with low iron levels that refused to go up, low energy and fatigue as well as a lot of digestive upset. You can read about those issues in this post. I was extremely fortunate to receive a ton of advice from you all and that combined with some of the things I’ve been learning about in school and by working with a naturopath, I have made some progress while uncovering new problems.
First things first, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my first few things at school is that it all starts with digestion. If digestion is weakened or not functioning properly, this will cause a lot of problems upstream. Did you know that 80% of your digestive system is in your gut?? And not only will faulty digestion impair your immunity (included in this realm is intolerances and allergies), but it will also severely impact your ability to extract nutrition from the foods you consume. They say, “You are what you eat” but it’s actually much more accurate to say, “You are what you absorb”.
In saying that, it should have been no surprise to me then, that my iron issues were directly related to my digestive issues. So working to heal my digestion has been a primary focus and I have to say, I haven’t even taken any iron supplements in months and I do feel better! I am not 100% there but there is definite improvement. To find out what has worked for me in this regard, keep reading, if not, scroll down for today's recipe!
Food and Eating Habits
Simplifying food combinations: The idea of food combining was not foreign to me, but it also wasn’t something that I’d followed very closely. There are a lot of competing views on food combining but I think this infographic outlines it quite well:
Complicated eh? But adhering to these guidelines for the most part has been so crucial for me. Someone who has strong digestion doesn’t need to worry about this very much, but for anyone who experiences digestive upset, following these rules reduces the stress on the digestive system, meaning food is digested easier and more completely. That means you get more nutrition from your food! It’s been tough- as a vegan some of the combinations that are “bad” are so common! Like nuts are not good with oils or starches, and there is much debate as to whether legumes are actually a starch or a protein. I’ve been feeling best treating them as a protein, meaning no combining with grains! And what’s more vegan than beans and rice??
Simplifying my meals: This simply means that my meals lately have generally had fewer ingredients. So while in the past I have made smoothies that contain 20 different ingredients, lately they’ve focused around 5 or 6, same goes with my salads. This allows the digestive system to properly break down each component instead of competing for different enzymes. Carrot Cake Puree anyone?
Anti-inflammatory and non-reactive foods: I’ve eliminated most foods from my diet that have been found to be inflammatory or reactive which included things like gluten, bananas, some forms of soy, nightshade vegetables, etc. Lists of these foods can be found on the internet, but I like this one. In addition to this, I’ve been incorporating lots of anti-inflammatory foods like omega=3 rich hemp and chia seeds, berries, lemon, raw and cooked vegetables and spices like turmeric and cinnamon.
My supplement cupboard has been looking a bit like a pharmacy, but these carefully chosen supplements have been doing the trick!
Probiotics: often times digestive upset can be linked to a disbiosis in the body, or in other words, an imbalance in the good and bad bacteria in your gut. We need bacteria, they do so many beneficial things for us. But things like stress, illness, medications and food choices can tilt the balance towards the bad ones. A good probiotic can help bring balance back to your system.
Digestive Enzymes: while these are not something I like to rely on, when I’m eating out and don’t have full control over the ingredients in my food, these help to negate any bad reactions to food.
Vitamins A, C, E: These are powerful antioxidants and are crucial to helping your small intestine regenerate and repair.
L-glutamine: This is an amino acid that is used for energy by the cells of our small intestine. Supplementing with this greatly enhances your intestine’s ability to heal
Magnesium and Zinc: critical in so many reactions relating to digestion. Magnesium also helps your muscles and body relax and cope with stress. Stress and digestion are not friends so finding a way to deal with stress is so important!
MSM: Short for methylsulfonylmethane, MSM is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent by helping to remove and detoxify waste products that create inflammation.
Sleep: Getting enough rest is so important to reducing the overall stress on your body, allowing proper hormonal functions and giving your body time to rest and repair. I’ve made it a priority to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
Not Snacking and Intermittent Fasting: This might sound like it’s going against the grain to conventional nutrition advice but eating less often and drawing out the space between my meals allows my system to fully digest the previous meal before tackling the next one. In fact, when I space out the time between my final meal of one day and my first meal of the next by 12-14 hours or more, my body is more able to handle the task. I try to eat only 3 times a day, which believe me, a former chronic snacker, this was VERY hard!
Stress: Reducing stress. Stress affects your body in so many ways from your digestive system to immunity to your hormones, all of which of course are intertwined! Many people who struggle with Irritable Bowel Syndrome of cite stress as one of the main factors as to whether or not they will react to a food or not. This was one of the primary factors to me deciding to go down to part-time at school.
My journey towards healing my digestive system has taken a while, but I do feel like progress is being made! I have been feeling more energized and my digestion is definitely stronger. My iron levels are still low though, so I will incorporate a supplement soon to boost my levels. Hopefully my digestion will continue to heal so I won’t require one at all! I have been told Floravit is an excellent iron supplement which is easily absorbed and doesn’t cause digestive upset like many iron supplements. I will also continue to pay attention to food combining, including combining foods to enhance iron absorption such as with vitamin C.
I’ve also made other discoveries along the way, particularly as it related to my thyroid function. Did you know that dysfunction of the thyroid, particularly hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is actually really common, especially in women? I will save my discussion on the topic for a whole separate post, if you are all interested!
And now, for the recipe I promised you!
I had a craving for something warming and comforting when I went home to visit my parents last week, and a stew seemed like just the thing! However, with my multitude of restrictions coming into play, we had to get creative.
The result was a very delicious, anti-inflammatory, low reactive African “Peanut” Stew that tastes just as good as the traditional version! Substitutions we made from the original recipe:
- Almonds and almond butter instead of peanuts: peanuts have a high affinity for mould, therefore aren’t as digestively friendly!
- Cayenne in stead of chilli peppers: cayenne is actually anti-inflammatory while chilli peppers belong to the nightshade vegetable family and can be problematic for some
- Chickpeas instead of black-eyed peas: chickpeas are one of the best tolerated legumes
- Coconut sugar for brown sugar: brown sugar is really no different from white sugar and is acidifying, reactive and high glycemic. Coconut sugar is a much more healthful option.
- Added some chopped kale, just for fun and added nutrition!
The almond butter makes this stew incredibly creamy and satisfying with a wonderfully sweet flavour that plays off the spiciness of the cayenne. The cinnamon and cumin enhance the anti-inflammatory properties of the stew and the chopped almonds add great texture!
If you have weak digestion, I suggest serving this over greens as I did. But if your tummy is a powerhouse, feel free to serve over your favourite grain, like my parents.
African “Peanut” Stew (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free)
Adapted from 'The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook' by Robin Robertson
Ingredients (6 servings)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium size sweet onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 pinches cayenne (or 1-2 tsp chilli flakes)
- 1 1/2 tsp peeled and grated fresh ginger
- 1/2 tbsp coconut sugar
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 3 1/2 cups chopped and peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2 lbs)
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/4 cup creamy natural almond butter
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, or one 15 oz. can
- 1/2 cup chopped raw almonds
- 3 cups chopped kale
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion, cover, and cook, stirring a few times, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cayenne, ginger, coconut sugar, cinnamon , and cumin and cook for 1 minute. Add the squash and stir to coat with the spices. Add 1 1/4 cups of the water and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.
Put the almond butter in a small bowl and slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup water, stirring until smooth.
Stir the almond butter mixture into the stew, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. About 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the chickpeas, almonds and kale and simmer until heated through. Before serving, taste to adjust the seasonings.
Serve over top of your favourite greens or grain.
I hope you all found this post informative, helpful and delicious! I had a ton of fun writing it as it was something a little different!
Did you enjoy reading this post? What did you like about it and what didn’t you? Would you like to see more content like this on the blog?
I appreciate your input! See you back here for Healthy Vegan Friday. If you haven't already, check out last week's post here.