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What am I Supposed to Eat?!?
Crisis forced me to listen to my body
I rang in the New Year by vomiting uncontrollably, and I hadn't had a single alcoholic drink. Turned out that a flu coupled with high glucose levels triggered diabetic ketoacidosis which lead to ceaseless vomiting which landed me in the ICU for four days. Until then, I was like most Americans who don't worry about their good health until it's gone. When I emerged from this crisis, my entire body had undergone a serious cleansing, having drained itself of nearly all its liquid even in the cells. It was replenished by IV fluids in time for me to live, and my body was sending clear signals not to screw it up again.
For the next few days, I craved only water-rich foods like grapes and cucumbers. As my strength returned, my body allowed me to eat strawberries. Later, miso soup. Soon, with little cubes of tofu. Anything else sounded positively repulsive. The doctor told me to "listen" to my body and I obeyed.
Strangely, I felt filled with a new vitality. It would go against conventional thought to believe that my meager new diet made me stronger but I felt stronger. I felt clean. Little by little, I began to add more healthful food choices to my diet, following the promptings of my body. I had lost my desire for animal meat which was a welcome discovery since I had long wanted to become a vegetarian for ethical reasons.
Not wanting to "screw up" my new, clean body, I researched healthful, superfood choices being touted by various doctors. To my dismay, doctors contradicted each other. The diabetic diet guidelines given to me when I left the hospital was designed by the American Dietetic Association in conjunction with the American Diabetes Association. The guidelines instructed me to base my main food intake on whole grains, whole fruit, legumes and protein. That's been pretty much the US Food Pyramid since I was a kid, hasn't it?
Why don't doctors' agree?
But then, new research on diabetes management states that this incurable condition can be reversed with a diet of no grain, no/low fruit and no legumes. The No Grain Brain by Dr. Perlmutter and the No Grain Diet by Dr. Mercola are based on studies that revealed startling improvements in many types of health maladies when one removes grains from the diet. This is the exact opposite of what the traditional medical associations tell me.
Do you recall how eggs were the cholesterol bad guys? Today, eggs have been found to have many health benefits, including cholesterol that is necessary for proper brain function. As comedian Lewis Black said, "Eggs are bad, eggs are good. Hurry up and make up your mind! It's breakfast and I'm hungry!"
My body, my needs, my diet
So I set out to design my very own diet based upon the individual needs of my body. Not everyone is a diabetic and can't process sugar, as my husband is quick to point out as he devours a hot fudge sundae in front of me (frankly, I wonder how our marriage has lasted for 28 years without my poisoning him.) Seriously though, my diet has to work for only me.
Yet, the initial problem remained: Conflicting research results.
As a diabetic, I'm cautioned to avoid or seriously restrict my consumption of fruit and grains.
As a patient with high triglycerides/cholesterol at risk of stroke, I should stay away from red meat, salted and preserved foods.
As an informed consumer, I should beware of mercury-containing fish, farm-raised fish fed grains instead of green algae and plankton, produce sprayed with pesticides, and genetically modified soy.
As an ethical vegetarian (my own personal restriction), I opt not to eat animal flesh.
What is left for me to eat?!?
So far, I've found only low starch vegetables fit my dietary criteria. Low sugar fruit on occasion. Dairy, if I can ignore the distant pleas of newborn calves being torn from their distraught mothers who must live their entire lives lactating until they, too, are sent to the slaughterhouse.
There are almond and soymilk cheeses but they taste nothing like dairy cheese so what's the point? Even my beloved tofu is under attack by nutrition scientists. Once a health food, tofu can cause a host of medical problems. The amounts tested in studies are high, up to a pound a day, they tell us, so we needn't worry since "no one" eats that much tofu. But I easily would consume a pound of tofu in a single day. It was my sole source of protein. Now that soy is off my menus, I must find a way to make do with only vegetables.
The problem with seeds, nuts and legumes
I began to eat nuts--almonds, cashews mainly--with great abandon until I learned that two cups can contain 1600 calories. That nearly my entire day's worth of calories. Gaining weight would defeat the purpose of my diet. Legumes, whole grains and rice, however healthy for you, are high in carbohydrates which send my glucose levels skyrocketing so unless I want to pump myself with more insulin (and I don't), I must refrain.
I still wanted to feel satiated and full. My mind raced to find what I could eat with wild abandon. Going to an all-you-can-eat fresh salad bar, I stuffed myself with all sorts of vegetables. Afterward, instead of feeling satisfied, my stomach was overfull and I learned that stuffing yourself even with good stuff is not good for your body. I felt much better after a light meal of miso soup and fresh cucumbers than I did after a huge salad with spinach, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, radishes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, peas, celery, kale…
All of those great vegetable are good to eat but I shouldn't eat them all at once! Besides, eating a salad comprised of only a few vegetables at a time meant that the next meal's salad could be refreshingly different while facing the same medley of everything would get boring very quickly.
Focusing on the positive, one meal at a time
I'm a hurry up type of person. I like to see the goal and get there now. This works for some matters but not for crafting a healthy life because life must be lived moment by moment. When it dawned on me that all I needed to do was focus on the meal or snack at hand, instead of a new lifestyle of vegetarianism, an enormous pressure was lifted. I didn't have to fret over my seemingly "limited" food choices. It felt entirely wonderful to know, however, that "for today's lunch" I would make a fresh avocado salad on spring greens. A vegetarian dinner of eggplant parmesan on sautéed spinach wouldn't raise a carnivore's eyebrow. When breakfast came the next morning, my palate was delighted by freshly brewed coffee and a mushroom omelet.
This has been my newfound secret of living--nay, relishing--my vegetarianism. Yes, I'm still eating at a lacto-ovo level for now but baby steps.
My favs of which I can have plenty!
- Green beans
- …and more!
Make a list of your healthy favs!
If your diet has been limited by your health conditions, I encourage you to take it one meal at a time. Be sure to focus on your favorite healthy options so you won't feel deprived. Make a list and seek new recipes that feature your favorite ingredients in healthy preparations.
Vegetables don't always need to be eaten raw or in salad form:
Steamed, mashed cauliflower blended with roasted garlic
Spaghetti squash topped with marinara sauce and black bean-quinoa meatballs
Falafel served with fresh cucumber sauce
Stuffed cabbage rolls filled with diced vegetables simmered in spicy tomato sauce
Spinach lasagna with zucchini "pasta" noodles
Mushroom "burger" patties with onion gravy
Rate this recipe
There are different types of eggplant. For this recipe, it's best to use the larger variety and not the thin, Japanese type. I never used to peel and salt it before breading the slices until a good friend of mine told me her Italian family always did so. At first, I thought the salting step would wilt the slices too much, but after I tried it, I found that the eggplant Parmesan came out much tastier without the tougher skin on. The flesh was tender, not rubbery either.
As for your choice of flour and bread crumbs, use what you like. Because I'm avoiding grains, I tend to substitute almond flour and Italian seasoned bread crumbs (a little won't hurt me as I'm not allergic to them.) Panko is Japanese bread crumbs made from high gluten white bread so if you're gluten intolerant, use a gluten-free bread to make your own.
The use of cheese and egg in this recipe makes it non-vegan and non-dairy free, by the way, but for me a little goes a long way. Again, since my refraining from dairy is a personal choice and not a medical one, I will indulge a little now and then. Feel free to substitute vegan cheeses or omit entirely. You can dip the dredged slices into almond milk instead of eggs, too.
If you don't have a blend of dried Italian herbs, make your own using dried oregano, basil, and thyme.
- 1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced into 1/2" slices
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- 3/4 cup flour (almond, soy, wheat)
- 2 cups breadcrumbs (panko, Italian seasoned crumbs, gluten-free bread)
- 2 tsp. sea salt, divided use
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 2 tsp. dried Italian herbs
- 2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 cup Mozzarella cheese, grated
- 2 cups marinara sauce
- 1 cup olive oil, for frying
- Wash and peel the eggplant.
- Cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch slices. You can make them thinner if you prefer a crispier eggplant Parmesan; thicker if you like the meaty taste of eggplant.
- Lay the slices on a paper towel-lined cutting board. Sprinkle both sides of each slice with salt, using a total of 1 tsp. for all the slices. Do not oversalt. Allow these to sit undisturbed for about 15 minutes.
- Using the paper towel, press out the liquid from the eggplant slices.
- Prepare three medium-sized mixing bowls for the dredging process: In one bowl, blend together the remaining teaspoon of salt, black pepper, garlic and onion powders, dried Italian herbs and the flour. In the second bowl, beat the eggs. Finally, in the third bowl, pour in the seasoned bread crumbs.
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil.
- Dredge each eggplant slice into the flour on both sides. Then, dip into the beaten eggs, covering both sides. Then, coat the slice with bread crumbs.
- Fry eggplant slice on both sides until golden brown. You can fry more than one slice at a time but be careful not to overfill pan or oil temperature will drop, causing the slices to absorb too much oil. Drain on paper towels and repeat with remaining slices.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lay eggplant slices in a single layer in a baking pan. Top each slice with marinara sauce and shredded cheese.
- Bake in 350 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.
Chef Ron Johnson's Version
A non-vegan Eggplant Rollitini
If you're not vegan and enjoy dairy, you can try Chef Ron Johnson's Eggplant Rollitini which is eggplant slices rolled with ricotta cheese then finished off like the Parmesan recipe. I absolutely adore his use of nutmeg in this recipe! So aromatic.
We forget to employ those fragrant, flavorful spices when we start a new diet when, in actuality, eating healthfully can taste so good.