Monday, December 12, 2011

Gluten Nightmares : Dreams of Eating Normal Food & Realizing the Consequences

Do you have Gluten-Nightmares?

Dreams about accidentally eating gluten / wheat

I can not help wonder if I am alone in experiencing rather vivid dreams, or nightmares as it may be, about consuming wheat products or other gluten-containing foods and then, in these dreams, realizing what I had done and freaking out about it.

I find it rather strange and disturbing that even after being 100% gluten-free for many years now, I have dreams in which I am in a situation where "normal" (gluten-containing foods) are being served, and for whatever reason I am partaking in its consumption along with everyone else in the dream (others that would be unaffected by gluten).

Most often, the food my subconscious falls for is PIZZA!  Next is bread — especially a great Italian Bread, Sourdough, or other fantastic artisan bread.

Gluten-Filled Nightmare / Dream Analysis

Clearly I must miss these "real" foods during my waking life, even as I feel quite satisfied with the gluten-free-diet equivalent replacements for most everything I ate in the pre-Celiac years.  But, regardless of what my conscious brain thinks about my diet, my subconscious haunts me at least a few times per year with these nightmares about eating gluten and realizing that I am going to become violently ill (since, in the dreams, I have consumed large amounts of those tasty, but evil, gluten-filled menu items).

This is where the dream becomes a nightmare: I know the damage that even a little gluten exposure can do to my body, and in my dreams I become aware of the fact that I just ate a LOT of gluten.  Then my mind is racing about what to do to minimize the effects of the gluten-exposure (there are not many options).  And, I am already thinking about how bad the exposure is going to be and how severe my symptoms will get —  I even think of going to the hospital. This is simply disturbing.

I think that my dreams are motivated not just by a desire to consume gluten-containing foods, but probably moreover by a desire to be able to just have the freedom to eat most anything that is being served — be it at a party, a restaurant, etc — and not have to constantly avoid foods that will surely contain gluten or that may contain gluten (due to cross-contamination).

These dreams tend to develop most often around times where there are events (like company Christmas parties) that I know I will not be able to safely consume a single item at.  So, my subconscious decides to run with this thought and torment me a bit and/or remind me of my need to remain vigilant with regards to gluten avoidance.

Have You Experienced This?

I am curious as to how widespread such thoughts are among the wheat-free / gluten-free / Celiac Disease community.  I guess this could apply to people with peanut allergies or any other condition where accidental ingestion of unsafe foods would lead to serious side effects too.  Feel free to post your comments if you have anything to share.

Here's hoping that this is uncommon, as it really is disturbing and shakes me up a bit as I emerge from my gluten-nightmares!

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information. In addition, visit my Gluten-Free Recipes Site where many of the recipes I have featured on this blog are available for free.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Diet vs. Exercise : and the winner is...

Diet vs. Exercise : Longer, Healthier Life with Exercise

Exercise more effective than diet at reducing death-risk

If you think you may live longer just because you have maintained a healthy weight through diet, you may only be partially correct unless you are also exercising vigorously on a regular basis.

A recent study examined the health benefits of exercise vs. diet to determine which one of the two had a larger impact on overall health — and the conclusion was that exercise  and fitness contributes more to lowering risk of death (from cardiovascular disease) than dietary changes and BMI (body-mass-index) changes from weight loss.
"The findings, published in Circulation: Journal of The American Heart Association, suggest that maintaining or improving fitness levels can reduce death risk -- even after researchers accounted for confounding factors, like changes in body mass index (the commonly used measurement of a person's weight relative to his or her height)."

BMI (Body Mass Index) Not the Best Indicator?

We have all perhaps heard about our "body mass" or BMI number — essentially a quick indicator of what percentage of body-fat we carry; in its simplest form, it is calculated as a ratio of a person's height to their weight.

I personally have thought that simplified BMI calculations to determine body-fat are ridiculously inaccurate, especially for people that tend to exercise and carry a fair of muscle weight.  Some of my friends that lift weights and exercise heavily have 10% (or less) body fat but yet are considered "overweight" (according to BMI calculations) because they carry a substantial proportion of muscle weight, which by definition is denser than fat. This is a failing of the standard BMI calculations: they do not take into account a person's fitness or musculature at all.

Well, perhaps after this study there will be less focus on the grossly-inaccurate BMI figure, especially given this finding (quoted from article on Huffington Post):

"The Fitness loss with age is associated with a higher risk of all-cause and CVD [cardiovascular disease] deaths, after controlling for weight change, [...] However, weight, BMI or even percent body fat change were not associated with death risk,"
This is an interesting finding indeed.  But, researchers cautioned that these findings are not just to be applied to all groups the same:
"[...] because the study looked at mostly normal or slightly overweight men, it does not make clear whether the results would apply to severely obese people. Generally, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal, 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight and 30 or higher is considered obese. [...] the new findings should not be extrapolated for people who are considered obese.
This preceding statement seems to be common sense.  We have to keep in mind that the study compared the relative effects of diet vs. exercise and noted how fitness (from exercise) benefited participants in the study, but the long-term (6years plus 11yr followup) study included a group of men that was already only slightly overweight.

The group was comprised of 14,000 men, mostly from the white middle-class, and with an average age of 44 and all in relatively fit condition with an average BMI of 26 (i.e., just slightly overweight per standardized charts).  I really wish they (researchers) would have tracked details of the participants diets more, but perhaps that will come later.

Exercise / Fitness Lowers Risk of Death

If there is one thing to take away from this study, it is that there is a clear connection between staying physically fit through exercise and reduced risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease) and death:

"For every unit of increased fitness, which researchers gauged using METs or Metabolic Equivalents (basically, a measurement of how hard your body is working based on a treadmill test) over six years, they saw a 19 percent lower risk of heart disease and stroke-related deaths and a 15 percent lower risk of death from any disease. The authors followed up with people for slightly more than 11 years.

"What this study was trying to determine is what's more important for cardiovascular disease -- fitness or fatness?" said Dr. Marc Gillinov, a staff surgeon in the department of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at the Cleveland Clinic and author of the forthcoming book "Heart 411." "Its conclusion is that overall fitness appears to be more important than BMI, more important than fatness, when it comes to determining whether you're going to be at risk for dying from CVD."

The message, Lee said, is that we may need to focus more on maintaining or improving fitness rather than worrying too much about weight gain -- at least in terms of public health. He said efforts should focus on the importance of regular exercise and upping daily activity levels, by doing small things such as walking the dog and taking the stairs instead of the elevator."

There you have it! We may all be to weight-obsessed vs. fitness-obsessed.  I am glad they concluded by stating how it would be better for (public health outcomes) to worry less about weight gain and concern ourselves more with exercise.  Sure, a healthy diet is going to help your overall health, but from what this study is finding, you would likely be doing your body much more overall good by exercising than by staying thin while being inactive.  I.e., yes, someone heavier than you could be in better condition if they exercise while you do not.

I personally enjoy exercising and this latest study only confirms what I would have guessed just by how much better I feel when I exercise vs. when I do not.  I watch my diet, but I surely do not obsess about it as I am eating my favorite gluten-free desserts and other snacks.  I do try to maintain a regular workout schedule of at least 3-days/week of vigorous exercise and another 2 or 3 days per week of getting out for a nice long walk or something similar.  And, now I have more reason than ever to stick with this exercise plan.

You can be fit while being a bit overweight

I hope everyone can benefit from knowing that exercise can improve your health as much or more than your diet.  And, as the article concludes, you are doing yourself and your health a great benefit by exercising even if you are a bit overweight:

"The message is that you are doing yourself a lot of good with exercise," [...] "If you're someone who's fit but is finding it hard to drop those last five to 10 pounds, don't beat yourself up about it too badly. And if you're someone who's overweight but active, I'd say keep working on it, because you're doing some good. This is a reminder that fitness is really important."

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information. In addition, visit my Gluten-Free Recipes Site where many of the recipes I have featured on this blog are available for free.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Homemade Larabar Recipe. The "Laurabar" gluten-free treat equivalent.

Make your own Larabars

Larabar, meet the "Laurabar"

I enjoy quite a few of the the Larabar date-based snack bar varieties, but I honestly do not understand how something so simple to make from such affordable ingredients can cost so much.

Sure, they come conveniently wrapped and are of a size suitable for snacking on the go, but I just find the Larabar products to be prohibitively expensive.  Let me clarify what I call expensive: a 1.7-ounce bar that lists for $1.69 at most grocery stores around me (i.e., a whopping one dollar per ounce!) and is sometime on sale for 4 bars for $5 (i.e., $1.25 each) or once in a blue-moon I see them for "only" $1/bar.  Even at "only" a dollar per bar, wow that adds up in a hurry.

So, I made my own.  And, just to entertain my wife, I named them after her :)

My "Peanut Butter Cookie" Laura-bar Recipe:
Super-Simple 10-minute Investment, and Cheap!

One of my favorite Larabar varieties is their "Peanut Butter Cookie" version, which like all Larabars is simply a mixture of dates (the primary ingredient in their bars) and secondary and perhaps tertiary flavors.  I made two versions: one with chocolate chips and one without.

Money-Saving Ingredients...
I started with a nice big tub of pitted dates that I acquired from Costco — this tub is a whopping 3.5 pounds of dates for something like $7.00 (i.e., $2.00/pound).  Next, I picked up a 35-ounce container of Planters peanuts from the grocery store for $5.48 (i.e., $2.50/pound) — Planters is a Kraft company, and as such the peanuts should be GF since no gluten-issues were disclosed on package.  For the chocolate-chip variation, I grabbed a 12-ounce bag of chocolate chips for $2.00.

PB Laurabar Ingredients / Instructions

You will not find a much simpler recipe than this!  The 10-minute creation time includes measuring and cleanup (I think it took longer to wash my food processor out than it did to make the bars).

  • 1 (packed) Cup dates  — place in the food processor and run it until the chopped dates essentially turn into a sticky well-chopped soft ball of dates.  This only takes a minute or so.

  • 1 Cup peanuts  — add to the dates in the food processor.  Perhaps use a spatula to mash the date-ball down toward bottom of chopper first.  Run processor in bursts until you have peanuts chopped to desired consistency.  This also takes less than a minute.

  • (optional) ½ Cup Chocolate Chips  — if you are making the Peanut-Butter-Chocolate-Chip-Cookie version.  Add these to the food processor and run in bursts for a total of 15 seconds or so (I only wanted to lightly-chop my chocolate chips so I had some noticeable "chunks" yet; you may not want to chop them at all, but chopping helps mix them into dates/peanuts quickly).

  • Move the finished date and peanut (and perhaps chocolate chips) mixture out of food processor and into a small glass pan (or equivalent).  I used a 7"x5" glass pan.  Now, pack that mixture down flat in the pan until it is level.  I end up with about a 1/2"-5/8" thick bar using this size pan.

  • Chill the pan of date-mixture in the fridge for a while so they hold up to cutting into bars.  An hour or two should suffice.

  • Cut your desired-size bars... they should look something like this when done:

You can surely place them in sandwich bags or plastic wrap for taking with you like any other snack bar now. And, you have just saved a fortune compared to purchasing pre-made bars!

Laurabar vs. Larabar : HUGE $ SAVINGS!

With a single batch (per recipe above) you will have between 16 and 18 ounces of finished product.  In other words, you have just created the equivalent (by weight) of 10 Larabars that would have cost you between $10 (if on a super-sale) and $17 (if purchased at typical retail price).  But, you just created the equivalent of those 10 bars for less than $2.50!

If I can make my "Laura Bars" for a mere quarter (yes, 25-cents) apiece, what can possibly justify the $1.69 retail price of the Larabars?  Packaging, distribution, wholesale markup, retail markup, convenience?  A 400%++ markup sure sounds like a lot to me.  When I constantly hear news of the economy being less-than-robust and about people not having money, I can not help but wonder: are people willing to invest a few minutes of their own time in order to save 70-85% on the what is essentially the same thing?

These bars are great for snacks or dessert, and they are relatively nutrient-rich with a fair amount of fiber, protein, and potassium.  They sure beat snacking on a traditional candy bar when it comes to your gluten-free diet.

Continue to read this Gluten-Free Blog for all sorts of gluten-free recipes, product-reviews, and related information. In addition, visit my Gluten-Free Recipes Site where many of the recipes I have featured on this blog are available.