Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Experience with Diffusing Essential Oils

I just wanted to share my experience with diffusing essential oils in our home.  In researching what happened to my family, I found little information online about the possible negative effects of the oils, but I found plenty of personal experiences and questions like my own in forums being discounted by representatives of different oil companies.  

I've been using various essential oils for several years now, mostly for cleaning purposes or to add fragrance to my homemade lotions and chapsticks.  Tea tree oil has been helpful with cloth diapering and I have loved adding some lavender or eucalyptus to things like homemade bath salts for wonderful fragrance.

As a lover of alternative medicine and natural healing, I was very excited when everyone around me started talking about essential oils being used in place of over-the-counter medications for minor health complaints like headaches and runny noses.  I'm willing to give just about anything a chance, so when my kids' sitter started selling doTerra, I decided to purchase a few items from her.  I never went into it thinking they would cure cancer, but I was hopeful that they could help alleviate the symptoms of things like a cold or sleeplessness.

My first purchase was doTerra's insect repellent blend, TerraShield.  After spending a very uncomfortable Memorial Day weekend camping with my family and ending up covered head to toe with bug bites because I wasn't willing to spray us down with traditional bug sprays, I was willing to give this a shot.  For our Fourth of July camping trip I applied the bug blend to the kids and they didn't seem to be as eaten up after the trip.  I'm not sure if that speaks to the effectiveness of the product or the fact that there were less bugs around on that particular trip.

After that I decided to buy a few other products from my friend - the Balance blend and the Past Tense roller for headaches.  Balance smelled good - I bought it because I thought it would be a good thing to have on hand in a house with four small children.  I can always use some balance!  Past Tense was my favorite product by far.  If I felt a small headache coming on, there was something soothing about the tingles I would get on my temples and neck where I rolled on the oils.  It's not that the headaches went away; I just think the pleasant smells and tingles distracted me long enough to feel better.

After that I bought OnGuard, hoping it would help our house remain healthy this winter, as well as various oils that smell nice to me - lavender, eucalyptus, rosemary, etc.

One day, while babysitting my sick children, our sitter brought over her oil diffuser.  She said that diffusing the OnGuard into the air would help to purify it and keep the healthy children from catching the bug that was beginning to sweep through the house.  When my oldest son started coughing that night, I didn't connect the diffused oils to it at all and just assumed a cough was part of whatever sickness his body was fighting off.  I also began to experience a tightness in my chest, but discounted it as my body beginning to come down with the bug.

It's now been a month since we bought the diffuser and I've tried different oils with the same effect every single time - someone in the house ends up wheezing and coughing.  At first I thought it might be that I was just adding too much oil to the water, so I decreased it to only one drop, but that didn't make a difference.  Then I stopped diffusing anything with peppermint and eucalyptus in it, as some literature I read said that those oils should not be used around children (they can cause respiratory issues).  That meant no more OnGuard in the house.

Soon even things like lavender and lemon, which I was simply diffusing through the house to give it a nice smell, were beginning to bother my husband (who had asthma as a child), me, and my oldest son.  I would describe the feeling that I get as the same I have experienced after cleaning with harsh chemicals.  It's as if my lungs are irritated and burning. 

It is very difficult to find literature about the safety of these essential oils.  I've asked several people affiliated with doTerra about the safety of their use, especially around children.  All of them have assured me that they are safe to use because they are natural.  But just because something is natural, it doesn't mean it is healthy for everyone, right?

In trying to research the safety of the essential oils, I've come across lots of information about side effects in pregnant and nursing women, as well as small children.  As a nursing mother with many small children, these are things I didn't even think about before I starting rubbing these oils on myself and my babies.  I'm thankful now that we didn't start ingesting them without doing any research.

I feel like in the natural/alternative health community, we are quick to dismiss criticism and we assume that things that come from nature have to be good for us, while anything made in a laboratory is bad.  We forget that things like essential oils, which are concentrated far beyond how one would find them in nature, are just as potent and dangerous to some people as pharmaceutical drugs.  We wouldn't just give our children dosages of random drugs given to us by friends without researching their safety, so we need to treat the essential oils the same way.

We are no longer diffusing oils in the house.  Yesterday was my last attempt and after only ten minutes with the diffuser on, filled with oils that are not supposed to be unsafe for kids or cause respiratory distress, my son was coughing and complaining of shortness of breath, my husband said he was starting to wheeze, and my lungs were starting to burn.  Perhaps others can handle the oils, but it sounds like they are an irritant for members of my family.  And the response to the inhalation of oils has me questioning the safety of applying the oils topically.  Some of these oils are capable of melting plastic, so I'm not sure they should be used without proper training on the sensitive skin of children.  We will, however, continue to use the oils for things like cleaning and other home maintenance (bug repellent or adhesive removal - stuff like that).

From now on, if my children are fighting a cold, we'll go back to using herbal teas to help with symptoms - something that used to work for us with great success.  A warm cup of peppermint tea is much less potent than the concentrated peppermint oil and can have the same effect.  And if I'm looking for a safe alternative to synthetic fragrances to make my home smell better, I'll go back to simmering cinnamon sticks and orange peels on my stove.  They smell just as good and I've never had trouble breathing from them.

Since the Internet seemed to be lacking in information about the downsides to essential oil usage, I thought I would share my experience.  This is just that - my experience - and I firmly believe we are all created differently, so some bodies may be capable of handling the diffused oils.  Perhaps there is something in our home already irritating our lungs and making it hard to tolerate the oils.  Or maybe we have allergies or sensitivities most people don't have (as a food and seasonal allergy family, that could be likely).  I would just warn anyone reading this to research what oils you are using on your family members before using them and make sure to educate yourself on the proper use of them before doing so.  Proceed with caution in the same way you would with any other drug or supplement.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Preserving Soap Nut Liquid

I started using soap nuts last spring when I was fighting a nasty battle with the yeast in my daughters' cloth diapers.  I'd been cloth diapering for nearly seven years without ever having this problem.  Everything I used to strip the diapers of the yeast and get rid of the horrific yeast rashes on my girls wasn't working.  Someone recommended washing them with soap nuts and at that point I was willing to try anything.  I did it and haven't turned back.  In fact, I loved them so much I started using them for all of our laundry.

Soap nuts are actually berries that grow on trees native to India and Nepal.  These berries contain saponins, making them a wonderful, natural cleanser for everything from laundry to dishes to even personal care.

Soap nut suds for the dishes

Soap nuts are also an extremely environmentally-friendly soap option because the trees they grow on do not need to be sprayed with pesticides.  The berries are naturally pest-resistant.  The soap does not contaminate water and the nuts can be composted after use.  It doesn't get much better than that!

The annoying little laundry bag

The most common way to use soap nuts in your laundry is to crack open a few, place them in a cloth bag, and toss them in with your laundry.  I have found that using them this way in my laundry creates several problems - it can be annoying to find the little baggie in the clean load of laundry and it can be difficult to determine whether or not your nuts are still creating suds.  Each nut should last through at least three loads of laundry, but I have found that their length of use is dependent on which cycle you are using on your machine.  Cloth diapers, for example, typically have an extra rinse, so if I do not fish the baggie out between the wash and rinse cycles the nuts will be exposed to water again and lose more of their strength.

To fix these issues I decided to make my own concentrated soap nut liquid.  But this liquid can spoil, so I had to figure out a way to preserve it.  Many people freeze their liquid in ice cube trays and throw a few in each load, but with limited freezer space in my house (and a slight canning addiction) I figured canning would be a better option.

Here's how I do it:

I use smaller jars - pints or half-pints - since the liquid can spoil.  Each half-pint will get me about three loads worth of soap, so with a family of six that cloth diapers I can easily use that up before it spoils.  I place 2-4 cracked nuts in the bottom of each jar.

Next I fill the jars with water.

Process in the pressure canner for 15 minutes on 10 psi or the water bath for 30 minutes and you have your liquid soap.

It's that easy!  

When I open a new jar I strain it into a different jar and then throw the cooked nuts into the compost.

A few things to note about the soap:

*I use approximately 1/4 cup liquid per load of laundry.  

*The soap itself is nearly scentless.  If I had to describe the smell it would be slightly fruity, but none of it remains on the clothing.  If you like scented laundry soap you could add a few drops of essential oil to the liquid after you open the jar.

*I have not had any issues with staining clothing, but when I do a load of whites I make sure to add the liquid to the water instead of just throwing it directly on the clothing.

*I use vinegar as a fabric softener and have not had any issues with it combined with the soap nut liquid.

*If I open a jar and am not going to use it within a few days I will put it in the fridge.  I'm not quite sure how long it would last in there before spoiling, but I've used some after a week and it was fine.

The laundry cabinet

If you're looking for a cheap, environmentally-friendly, and gentle cleanser I would definitely try out soap nuts!  My next experiment will be using the liquid as a shampoo.  I'll be sure to share how it goes.

God bless!


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In Defense of Home Canning


In a perfect world we would all eat 100% live food all of the time.  Everything would be raw and free from bacteria that make us sick.  Fruits and veggies would be abundant every season of the year and wild game (that isn't feeding of off GMO crops) would be right outside of our back door for us to consume whenever we need it.

Obviously, we do not live in a perfect world.  Food-borne illness exists.  Seasons change, making it impossible to grow fruits and veggies at times.  Modernization and industrialization have changed our environment and the way we have to grow and preserve food.

Our ancestors had many different ways to deal with these problems.  Some of them were nomadic and moved with the changing seasons so that fresh fruits and veggies would always be available no matter where they were.  Others stayed put through the harsh winters and relied on traditional methods of preserving food in order to survive through "hibernation".  Most of them, though, resigned to only eating what is in-season and available locally for them.  If that means you only ate apples in the fall or berries in the spring, that's the way it had to be.

Thankfully, through time, new methods of food preservation have evolved and we're not forced to let the season determine our menus.  While the tried and true methods of lacto-fermentation, smoking, and drying food will always be best, they are not always convenient or possible for everyone.  Freezers and canning methods are the solution for those people.  Some will look at these methods of preservation and say that because they are new and not what our ancestors used they are unhealthy, un"primal", or "processed", but I argue that just because it's new, it doesn't necessarily mean it's bad or evil.  Not everything that is "processed" is the equivalent of a Twinkie, and in fact, the processing can make some foods even healthier for us to digest.

Why Preserve Food?

Environmental responsibility is just as important as the food we put into our bodies, mainly because it affects what we put into our bodies in the long-run.  Because there are changing seasons, many areas of the world are unable to grow fresh produce for a large part of the year.  In order to get their required nutrition, people living in these areas need to either preserve foods when they are in season or have fresh foods shipped to them from other parts of the world when they are out of season.  Preserving the food while in season so it can be eaten throughout the year is the more environmentally responsible option.  On top of that, it is better for your local economy, as you're supporting local farmers during their growing seasons by buying their products in bulk instead of supporting farmers overseas throughout the rest of the year.

Frozen or Canned

There are many people who are very anti-canned foods, because they feel canning leaves the food dead and denatured.  These people will, however, rely on freezers to preserve their foods.  While canning does create a sterile, dead food (void of both bad AND good bacteria), it does not mean the food is entirely denatured.  My purpose in this post is to show you how and why.

I would also argue that while freezing is a wonderful method of preservation, it also, technically, creates processed food, and simply isn't practical for the average family to practice for ALL foods.  In my family of six, it can take hundreds of quarts of canned applesauce from apple season in order to provide enough for us to eat just 2-3 times a week during the off-season.  Just the applesauce alone would require an entire chest freezer for preservation.  If you're a family that also buys your local, pastured meat in bulk, preserves many different varieties of foods other than applesauce, or perhaps has a breastfeeding infant that requires pumped milk, freezer space is precious and not readily available for bulk food preservation.  A solution could be to buy multiple freezers, but once again, environmental responsibility is just as important as the food we consume.  Freezers use a lot of energy.

While canning does create a sterile, dead food (void of living bacteria - both good and bad), it does not mean the food is entirely denatured.  We have to make choices about how we preserve food based on the amount of space we have, what the heating process does to the specific food, and what is best for the environment.

What does the canning process do to the nutrients in food?

Studies have shown that there are both good and bad things that happen to the nutrients in foods that are canned.  Vitamin C is lost during the canning process, but what little remains afterwards is stable throughout storage.  The same for many of the B Vitamins.  During the freezing process, on the other hand, very little of these nutrients are lost during blanching, but they are not stable during storage due to oxidation.  Frozen produce consumed within a month is going to be more nutritious than if it was stored in the freezer for six months, whereas the nutrients in canned foods will remain stable throughout the shelf-life of the food.  So a year after preservation, the canned food will usually be more nutrient dense than the frozen food, depending on moisture levels and the temperature of the freezer, of course.

On the other hand, the canning process opens up the cell walls of fruit flesh, making things like Vitamin A and carotenes more readily available.  Very few of these nutrients are lost during the canning process, and in the case of things like tomatoes, the carotenes, like lycopene, will actually increase.  Freezing produce, however, does not cause an increase in nutrients, with the exception of things like peaches where freezing yields 21 times more Vitamin C than fresh (canning yields only four times more than fresh - but the canned peaches have more Vitamin E than both frozen and fresh).

Fiber is another thing to consider when canning.  The high heat does not affect fiber content, but rather makes it more soluble and useful to the body.  Freezing does not do this.

The bottom line is this - both methods of preservation have their pros and cons.  Canning creates a sterile, dead food that in some cases can be lower in nutrients, but it allows for more convenient storage and does not cause long-term nutrient loss.  Freezing means less nutrient loss up front and leaves both good and bad bacteria intact, however it allows for more nutrient loss during the storage process due to oxidation.  It also takes up more room in your freezer, and preservation of the food is dependent on access to electricity.  If you've ever had a full freezer during a long-term power outage or have had a freezer door accidentally left open (like me), then you understand how inconvenient and costly this problem can be!

When to Can and When to Freeze?

Bone Broth

I've posted before about how I can my bone broths.  There are many who think this is an unwise thing to do, as the high heat of the canning process can affect your gelatin.  This is true - not all canned broth will gel afterwards.  But, that doesn't mean that there is no benefit to canned broth.

When buying processed gelatin in the store, you can usually find two types - regular gelatin powder and collagen/gelatin hydrolysate.  Gelatin powder is like the equivalent of uncanned bone broth reduced to a powder.  It will gel and create things like gummy snacks.  Collagen hydrolysate is like the equivalent of canned broth.  It is heated at a higher temperature than regular gelatin powder, which increases the number of amino acids.  While collagen hydrolysate will not gel, much like canned broth, it is better assimilated into the body.  Collagen hydrolysate is actually better for people like me, with Crohn's Disease, as it is easier on digestion.

I see benefit to both freezing and canning bone broth.  It is good to have some fresh off the stove or crockpot, some kept in your fridge for quick use, and some in either the freezer or canned for those times when you need it and don't have it fresh.  Canned broth, since already heated, is perfect for things like soups and stews.  Frozen is good for thawing and warming as a beverage.


Canning meat is one of the easiest things in the world to do.  You simply take the raw meat, chop it into little pieces, fill the jar with water, and process in the pressure canner.  When you are done you have a preserved jar of canned, pastured meat for those days when you may not have had time to thaw your meat before cooking or you need to take a meal with you somewhere.

Meat, unless you're eating it raw, is going to lose nutrition through preparation regardless of the method.  Canning the meat brings it to a temperature of 240 degrees for a few hours and then allows all nutrients to remain stable throughout storage.  You may end up cooking fresh or frozen meat at the same or higher temperature, losing the same nutrients.  Canning will render the meat sterile, whereas cooked meat can quickly lead to food-borne illness if not handled and preserved properly after it is taken off of the heat.

For some meats, such as fish, the canning process will actually increase nutrition.  The high heat causes bones in fish meat to leach calcium into the meat.


Let's face it, canned veggies often don't taste as good as fresh or frozen.  Green beans, for example, can end up mushy.  And the longer the jars sit in storage, the worse the flavor seems to be.

But some veggies, like leafy greens, actually benefit from the heat.  Spinach that sits in your fridge can lose nearly all of its nutrient content in one week (that doesn't count the 2-3 weeks it can take for it to get to your fridge from the farm during winter).  Cooked spinach increases iron, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamine, and calcium; and has higher amounts of vitamins A and E.  Spinach that is picked ripe and canned immediately will have much more nutrition than store-bought spinach that you bring home and immediately use up, and way more than spinach that sits in your fridge for a week longer.

With any veggies, if you're worried about nutrient loss during the canning process, remember that most of what is lost ends up in the cooking liquid.  Since canned veggies are only really good in cooked foods like stews or soups, it is best to use the liquid from your jars in the soups in order to increase nutrition and make up for what was lost in the veggie itself.

A 2005 Dutch study suggested that canning fruits and vegetables decreases glucosinolate content - a phytochemical that may fight cancer and memory loss.  Glucosinolates are primarily found in cruciferous veggies like cabbage or broccoli. Since broccoli is high in Vitamin C, it is not recommended that you can for preservation.  And cabbage is best preserved through lacto-fermentation as sauerkraut.  To benefit from the protection of glucosinolates, just preserve the foods high in them with other methods and serve them as a side with your home-canned foods that lack them.


As is the case with broccoli, it is best not to can fruits that are high in Vitamin C.

Some people have luck canning pumpkin, although I have never tried.  Canned pumpkin has 30 times more vitamin A than raw pumpkin and 20 times more than fresh-cooked.

Other fruits, such as apples, provide fiber as their benefit.  Since the canning process does not affect fiber, and actually enables better digestion, apples are one fruit that is best preserved through canning.  You could argue that it would be best to freeze applesauce, as not to make it a dead food, but the heating process used to create the applesauce itself has already rendered it dead.  Freezing will not make it live again.  Canning will free up freezer space for items that cannot be preserved through canning, such as squash and citrus fruit, and allow you to buy apples in bulk during the growing season.

Fruits such as berries are best when frozen if you're looking to consume them for nutrition, but since they aren't a main source of vitamin C to begin with, canning will not make much of a difference.  It is nice to have some frozen berries to enjoy in things like smoothies for a nutrient punch, with some canned berry jams in the cupboards to use as condiments and for flavor.

As mentioned above, always can your tomatoes instead of freezing, as the process increases the amount of lycopene in the fruit.


All food methods have benefits.  When you're looking at 15 bushels of fresh apples, it would be impossible to freeze it all.  Dehydrate some into chips.  Freeze some for baking.  Can some applesauce.

When you get your full beef you can dehydrate or smoke some for jerky.  Can some for a convenient meal later.  Freeze the rest to enjoy throughout the year.

Unfortunately, we can't always forage and hunt for the freshest of foods.  We have to make sacrifices in order to be able to live in the modern world.  Raw, live foods are rare and when they are plentiful, they are rarely safe when eaten raw.  Even most of the "raw" almonds you find in the store are irradiated and left dead.  It's the unfortunate consequence of desiring almonds when you don't live in almond country.  In order for to food to get to our doors year-round, whenever we're craving them, they have to be made safe for transport.  The same will be true when you're desiring berries in the winter or bananas in the North.

Don't let your fear of eating "dead" foods (in moderation) keep you from enjoying the art of canning your own delicious foods.  Yes, a raw egg is best for you nutritionally, but you will still eat it when it is cooked and dead, won't you?  Just because a food is canned, it doesn't mean it's not good for you.

As with any meal, it's always good to eat more live than dead foods and no one is advocating a diet consisting solely of home-canned foods.  If you decide to have some of your canned applesauce with a meal, make sure that you add some homemade yogurt or large portions of raw veggies to the meal.  If you're eating canned meat, top it with a fermented cruciferous veggie, like homemade sauerkraut.  If you're enjoying some of your homemade unsweetened berry jam with a meal, add raw, local honey to it before serving to "liven" it up.  Balancing dead foods with live ones will create a healthy, nutritious meal that is also environmentally-friendly and supports local farmers year-round.

A jar of in-season, home-canned produce is going to be more nutritious than out of season produce at the grocery store, and also better for the environment.  Period.  You also can't downplay the security in knowing that the organic, local food you worked so hard to preserve will be stable regardless of whatever happens to the power.

Finally, remember that whenever you're canning, always use proper sanitation and hygiene guidelines.  Use lids that are free of BPA and other toxins, and always make sure to dispose of any jars that show signs of seepage or spoilage.





Monday, January 27, 2014

Homemade Liver Powder

I struggle with anemia.  Between my Crohn's Disease and having been pregnant and/or nursing for over seven consecutive years, my iron levels can get pretty low.  While pregnant I always experience a dip in my hemoglobin levels in the beginning of the third trimester, where I test around 8.0 (normal range for women is between 12.0-15.5 and slightly lower at 11.0 during pregnancy).  I've also had flare-ups of Crohn's Disease in which my anemia is so bad that they were considering blood transfusions.

Because of this problem, I've had to find ways to deal with my anemia through diet.  Traditional iron supplementation is not a good solution, as most iron supplements can make constipation even worse during pregnancy and are typically made up on non-heme iron that does not absorb well at all.  And if you have a child who is suffering from anemia, supplements can be dangerous because children often overdose on iron.  It really is best to focus on getting your iron through your diet and also making sure you aren't eating foods that leach the iron from your system or inhibit its absorption.

There are two forms of dietary iron - heme and non-heme.  Heme iron comes from animal-based sources that are full of hemoglobin, such as meat and fish.  Non-heme iron comes from plant-based sources like beans and fortified grains and is not absorbed as well into the body.  In fact, the reason that grains are fortified with things like iron is because the food itself, when improperly prepared, can actually leach iron from your body.

Besides avoiding grains and improperly prepared beans and legumes, when I'm dealing with anemia I also avoid black tea, which is full of tannins that decrease iron absorption (lighter teas, like white and green do not seem to have the same effect).  I also make sure not to eat any dairy or other calcium-rich food with my iron-rich foods.  Just making those small changes to my diet has increased my hemoglobin score four points in one month during pregnancy, without having to take an iron supplement.

I obviously also try to increase my heme iron intake.  During pregnancy, I follow a form of the Brewer Diet and try to eat iron-rich organ meat at least once a week, usually in the form of pastured beef liver.  The problem with this is that there are times during pregnancy where nausea makes stomaching the very potent smell and taste of the liver nearly impossible.  Because of this, it helps to get creative with your liver consumption.  One way to do that is to freeze your liver in small chunks and swallow them whole like a pill throughout the day.  If you're like me and have a strong gag reflex during pregnancy, that may not be the best solution.

Making your own iron pills is easy and a great solution to this problem.  People often use this process after pregnancy to encapsulate their placenta - dehydrate the meat, grind it down into a powder, and fill your empty gelatin capsules.

Here is how I did it with pastured beef liver (remember to only use pastured beef liver that is from a reputable source).  First, I cut the liver into thin strips, placed it on a cookie sheet, and baked it in the oven on the lowest setting possible (170) for approximately ten hours.  You do NOT want to put the iron in your dehydrator inside of the house, because the smell will be horrible and will take a really long time to air out.  Having it in the oven is also pretty noxious, but not nearly as bad as it would be in the dehydrator.  Within 24 hours the smell was gone in my kitchen when I dried it out in the oven.

Once your liver is dry, put it in the food processor until it is ground into a fine powder:

Next, take empty gelatin capsules and fill them with the powder.  For mine, I used these:

I was making these for my six-year-old son, who has a hard time with swallowing bigger pills.  If you're making these for an adult, you may want to use a larger size capsule.  These #3 capsules only hold up to 360 mg of the powder, while the 00 size can hold up to 1092 mg.

To fill them you just dump all of your powder into a bowl, take apart the capsule, scoop the powder into both ends and then put the capsule back together.  So simple!

If you're like me and you battle anemia, you can feel it coming on.  Whenever you're feeling a little run-down and irritable, just pop a handful of the capsules and let the liver do its magic.  Remember to store your pills in the fridge.

You can also skip the encapsulation step and use your powder in other ways - put some in your meatloaf or burger patties for an extra iron punch, or in any other casserole that will hide the liver flavor well.

I add a tablespoon to my smoothies.  1 Tablespoon liver powder, 2 cups of homemade raw yogurt, 1 tablespoon of raw local honey, 1 tablespoon homemade nut butter, some raw spinach, and a cup of frozen fruit - talk about a superfood with all of the nutrients, probiotics, digestive healing, and allergy help!

My kids usually do well with eating cooked liver, but a smoothie is one way to get a picky child to consume it without a fight and to make it feel like a treat!


Sunday, January 5, 2014

SCD/GAPS/Paleo: The Plan

To follow-up from my last post, I thought I would share a little more about the actual diet.  The theory is that certain individuals have what's called a leaky gut - intestinal or bowel hyperpermeability.  Essentially, in these people the lining of their intestinal tract contains holes resulting from things like poor diet, infections, medications, and toxin exposure.  When these people eat food, particles of the food, toxins, and other molecules can break the barrier of the intestinal wall and end up in their bloodstream, causing an immune system reaction.  For me the reaction is Crohn's Disease and for my son it is allergies (rashes, itching, and in the case of major exposure, anaphylaxis).

The digestive system is filled with over 100 trillion microorganisms (gut flora), some good and some bad.  People with a leaky gut have an overgrowth of the bad bacteria and are deficient in good bacteria.  I have had testing done to confirm that this is the case with my body and am assuming the same is true for my son.  We aren't sure how this happened with him, as he seems to have been born with his allergies, but our theory is that the megadoses of antibiotics and steroids that he was exposed to in utero and shortly after birth through breastmilk may have something to do with it.  Scientists don't really know why this happens. 

Bad bacteria in your gut feed off of sugar and carbohydrates.  By altering the nutrition that we take into our bodies, we can stop feeding the bad bacteria so it dies off, and allow for the good bacteria to take over.  Once you have the proper balance of bacteria, the gut can be healed and proper digestive/immune responses occur.  This is the goal of this diet, which is outlined here:

What We Can Eat

Meat - all antibiotic and hormone-free beef, lamb, pork, poultry, and fish
Eggs - antibiotic and hormone-free
Dairy - homemade raw milk yogurt, natural cheeses - made from antibiotic and hormone-free milk
Veggies - fresh and frozen organic vegetables; home-canned vegetables; artichoke, asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, celery, lettuce, Lima beans, mushrooms, onions, parsley, pumpkin, spinach, string beans, turnips, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, kale, peas, squash, tomatoes, watercress
Beans - only properly soaked; navy beans, lentils, split peas
Fruit - fresh, dried and frozen organic; avocados, apricots, bananas (ripe only), berries, cherries, coconut, dates, raisins, grapefruit, kiwi, lemons, melons, nectarines, peaches, pineapple, rhubarb, grapes, kumquats, limes, mangoes, oranges, papaya, prunes, tangerines; apples and pears only from farmers who you know have not sprayed with antibiotics
Nuts - only properly soaked; almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, hazel nuts, walnuts, cashews, boiled chestnuts; nut flour
Juice - organic and watered-down tomato juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, grapefruit juice, grape juice, apple cider  
Weak tea  
Oils - olive oil and coconut oil
Others - mustard, unflavored gelatin, vinegar, spices, baking soda, unsweetened chocolate
Alcohol - dry wine, gin, Scotch, bourbon, and vodka

What We Can't Eat

Meat - processed meat (bacon, hot dogs, lunch meat, etc.), smoked meat, canned meat
Dairy - processed cheese, cottage cheese, cream, feta, mozzarella, primost, gjetost, ricotta, store-bought yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream
Veggies - commercially canned; corn, white and sweet potatoes, yams, parsnips, okra, sea weed
Beans - chick peas (no hummus), bean sprouts, soybeans, mung beans, fava beans, garbanzo beans; no bean or lentil flour Grains - all, including oats and rice
Fruit - canned, dried with sulfites, banana chips
Nuts - peanuts or salted nuts of any kind
Seeds - none are allowed
Juice - canned tomato products, apple juice, juice boxes
Oils - margarine, soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, vegetable oil
Other - cornstarch, arrowroot starch, tapioca starch, sago starch, carob, agar-agar, carrageenan, pectin, baking powder Sweeteners - sugar, molasses, corn syrup, maple syrup, artificial sweeteners, sucrose, lactose
Alcohol - beer, sherry, cordials, brandy 

Here is what the last 24 hours of eating looked like for me:

Breakfast - two pastured eggs scrambled and served over a bed of spinach and raw milk cheddar cheese; hot tea; a few bites of raw milk yogurt
Snack - pastured beef gelatin (made with orange, pineapple, and cranberry juices)
Lunch - bowl of split pea soup (made with soaked green split peas, homemade beef broth, green beans, pastured beef, garlic, onion, and peas); hot tea
Snack - raisins and sprouted almonds
Snack - grape tomatoes and goat cheese
Dinner - pastured ground beef browned and mixed with BPA-free tomato paste, served over zucchini noodles; baked broccoli (made with olive oil and sea salt)
Snack - slice of cheese

Here is what the last 24 hours of eating looked like for my son (dairy-free):

Breakfast - two pastured eggs scrambled; two almond cookies (made from freshly ground sprouted almonds, cashew butter, honey, eggs, and homemade vanilla extract) covered in home-canned cranberry sauce and drizzled with honey; over-ripe banana
Snack - raisins
Lunch - bowl of split pea soup (made with soaked green split peas, homemade beef broth, green beans, pastured beef, garlic, onion, and peas)
Snack - bowl of sprouted almonds
Snack - bowl of pastured beef gelatin (made with orange, pineapple, and cranberry juices)
Dinner - pastured ground beef browned and mixed with BPA-free tomato paste, served over zucchini noodles; baked broccoli (made with olive oil and sea salt); hot tea
Dessert - one almond cookie

As you can see, there is no shortage of delicious food options.  It took some getting used to, but once our taste buds adjusted to not being overloaded with sweets, we learned to find pleasure in simple things, like a piece of raw fruit or a tiny amount of honey.  


Saturday, January 4, 2014

SCD/GAPS/Paleo Diet: The First Three Months

On October 1 my six-year-old son and I began our own version of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet/GAPS Diet/Paleo eating plan.  We made the decision to do it for a few reasons.  First, I have Crohn's Disease and over the course of the last five years have been able to wean myself down to the minimum dosage of my maintenance medication, but have never felt completely comfortable with quitting it cold-turkey because I've been either pregnant or nursing at the time.  I'm currently nursing a ten-month-old, but feel like it's a good time to try to go off the medication before another potential pregnancy.

The reason we decided to have my son do it is because he is allergic to peanuts and dairy.  He turned six years old last August and while he has outgrown many other food allergies over the last few years (eggs, soy, pineapple, and tomato), these two allergies have actually gotten worse according to test results.  My son nursed as a baby and never had a reaction to what I ate and was in my milk.  He even received pumped milk up to the age of nearly three without reactions to what was in the milk, but when I tried to give him some of my pumped milk for an added probiotic boost last year he reacted to it.  Even after avoiding dairy and peanuts for several weeks and trying again, he still had a reaction.  Because of this and the fact that very few children outgrow their allergies if they haven't already by Kindergarten age, we knew that it was going to take something drastic, combined with a lot of prayer, to heal his body.  Others have had luck with food allergies on the GAPS diet, so we thought we would give it a shot.  At this point we have nothing to lose.

I'd had Breaking the Vicious Cycle, the book about the SCD diet, sitting on my bookshelf for years and had been ignoring it despite having people in my life tell me I should try it.  It wasn't until a friend told me about her experience with her autistic son and the GAPS diet and then hearing about another woman at a Weston A. Price meeting who had "cured" her Crohn's Disease with the same diet, that I decided I needed to look into it.

The SCD, GAPS and Paleo diets are all very similar.  You avoid all grains (not just gluten), including things like rice, oats, quinoa, potatoes, and other foods that people with gluten intolerances can eat.  No sugar, preservatives, or other food additives are allowed.  Basically, you can eat pastured meats, pastured eggs, raw dairy, organic fruits/vegetables, properly soaked nuts (and nut flours and butters), lentils, split peas, navy beans, honey, oils (we only eat coconut and olive), and a few other things.  All of the diets vary a little in what they will and won't allow, but the point is the same - no grains and sugar, a therapeutic probiotic regimen, and clean eating so that your "leaky gut" can heal.

Preparing for the Diet

We spent the month of September preparing for the diet.  Since we are already dealing with food allergies, intolerances, and special diets in our home, going on such an intense diet wasn't nearly as scary as it would be for most people.  We haven't been able to eat at restaurants or eat processed foods for years now, so we didn't have to worry about adjusting our lifestyles to eat this way.  We also already had sources for many of the foods on the plan, like pastured eggs/meat and raw dairy.  We have basically been eating this way for years without completely cutting out sugar and grains, so that was going to be the hard part for us.  For others who have to completely change the way they look at food, this process would seem much more overwhelming and difficult.

I also think that this diet would be very difficult for the average child.  Most of the foods that children enjoy (and that are convenient for parents to feed them), such as breaded chicken nuggets, breads, cookies, crackers, french fries, candy, macaroni and cheese, etc. are not allowed on the diet.  We didn't have to deal with a child that was being forced to give up the foods he liked, because our son has never been able to enjoy many of those foods due to his food allergies.  He is used to not being allowed to eat what other people around him are enjoying.

There were some foods that were hard for my son to give up, mainly some of his favorite sugary treats.  For me it was sourdough bread, bacon, and homemade pancakes with maple syrup.  Eventually, we both weaned off of our grain and sugar addictions and I learned how to cook "legal" options that would replace them using nut flours and honey.  We used the month of September to wean ourselves off of those foods and for me to refine my skills in cooking with our new staples.

Starting the Diet

On October 1, 2013 we officially began.  We followed the GAPS protocol and for the first week we ate nothing but homemade bone broth to allow our digestive systems to heal.  On top of this, my son started a new therapeutic dose of probiotics (I was already on a therapeutic dose).  He went from taking 12 strains at 3 billion to 12 strains at 10 billion and I continued at 12 strains at 20 billion.

The first week was terrible.  We both experienced very severe-die off reactions as our bodies purged the bad bacteria.  By the second night we were both waking through the night and vomiting.  This lasted about five days before we finally felt better.

I experienced a slight dip in my milk supply during the first few days, so I began eating homemade raw milk yogurt by day three.  Since my son cannot have dairy, he was simply on the bone broths.  Our next food we introduced was cooked vegetables in the broth and homemade sauerkraut, followed by egg yolks and cooked meats.  By week three we were eating nut flours made from nuts that I had properly soaked and dehydrated, along with cooked fruits.  The very last things we added were raw fruit and soaked lentils, split peas, and navy beans after the end of the first month.

Six weeks into the diet we were both feeling great and decided to up our probiotic dosage again.  My son began taking 12 strains at 13 billion and I upped it to 12 strains at 23 billion.  We did not experience a severe die-off the second time.

At the two month mark I hadn't taken my maintenance medication for my Crohn's Disease and was experiencing zero symptoms.  In fact, my body was having the opposite reaction and I became very constipated and was only having a bowel movement once a week.  Three months out and I'm still having problems with this issue.  For years with my Crohn's Disease I have had to avoid trigger foods that would cause symptoms to flare, such as raw peppers, lentils, onions, or broccoli to name a few.  I have learned that cutting out the fiber from all grains and then still avoiding those trigger foods makes digestion very difficult.  I've had to change the way I eat and allow myself to consume small amounts of the trigger foods in order to stay "regular".  It has been wonderful to enjoy a bowl of split pea soup or some raw peppers after avoiding them for nearly a decade.

The Results at Three Months

After three months I feel amazing.  My nursing baby still wakes three times a night to eat and with previous babies I was feeling very run-down and could feel my immune system crashing and the Crohn's symptoms beginning to flare by this point.  I feel like the diet has given me a tremendous amount of energy and I feel so healthy that the sleep-deprivation isn't as much of an issue.  I imagine that I would feel like a million dollars if I were also getting solid sleep on top of this diet. 

The effects of the diet on my son have also been amazing.  After that first week of die-off he began having formed stools for the very first time in his life.  His digestion is now very regular and solid.  Another amazing result has been his weight gain.  You would think that by cutting out nearly half of the foods he can eat, he would lose a lot of weight (which has been the case for me simply because I'm eating and craving less - I've lost all of my baby weight and then some, a total of 20 pounds in three months), however, he has had the opposite reaction.  My son has always been extremely tiny, under the tenth percentile on the growth chart for weight most of the time.  At age six he weighed 38 pounds, which was the same weight he had been for over a year.  He lost two pounds during the first six weeks of the diet, but right before Christmas he was weighed again and had gained that two back plus another three pounds.  Cutting out half of his diet and eating much more nutrient-dense food has resulted in a five pound weight gain after over a year and a half of no growth.  This proves to me that his body is now absorbing more of the food he is eating and his digestion is getting more efficient.  Since the goal of the diet is to heal the gaps in the intestinal wall, I have faith that this is a sign that something is happening there!

I plan to write more here about our journey, which will last at least two years, and also share some of our favorite recipes and tips for surviving this diet.  If you or a family member are suffering from an autoimmune disease, food allergy/intolerance, or other ailment in which traditional medicine is failing you or giving you few options for full healing, this is something that may be an option for you.  I won't lie, this diet is extreme and you have to follow it fanatically in order to see any benefit, but there are countless testimonies from people who have done it and have had great outcomes.