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.