Tuesday, 13 May 2014

A Recipe and Why I am no Stranger to Controversial Eating Habits

Mediterranean Chicken, Sort Of

There isn't particularly any agreement on what actually constitutes a Mediterranean diet so I am using this recipe title loosely.  Because I don't usually eat grains I make this recipe without but it ends up quite liquidy and thus would lend itself well to a layer of uncooked quinoa on the bottom to cook in the juices. I just save the liquid and freeze it for future soups.

12 boneless chicken thighs
1 large can  tomatoes, drained
2 cups marinara sauce-homemade or from a jar, 1/2 cup reserved
fresh baby spinach-about six handfuls
garlic-three or four large cloves crushed
1 sweet pepper any colour, chopped or sliced
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
1 cup sliced, pitted black olives
1 jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
2 cups feta cheese, crumbled
2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
1/4 cup fresh parmesan, grated

 Preheat oven to 350 F

I a rectangular casserole dish about 9x13 inches, spread  the tomatoes  and cover with 1-1/2 cups marinara sauce.  Reserve approximately 1/2 cup of the marinara.  If you are using quinoa, spread the uncooked quinoa over the tomatoes and sauce.  Pile on the spinach next.  It will cook down significantly so you really want to use about twice as much as you think you should.  I could have used more than I did here.

On top of the spinach put the remaining vegetables and the crumbled feta.  Layer the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables and spread the remaining marinara sauce over the chicken.  Sprinkle the grated mozzarella and parmesan cheeses over top of the chicken and bake about an hour.  Because the marinara sauce is already likely to have herbs and salt, you don't need to add any unless you wish to add more.  The marinated artichokes will also have some seasoning added and the olives and feta will add some saltiness. 

I do not believe in preaching about food to people, and I usually find those who do so as annoying as those who preach their religion.  I do get it, when you find something you really believe in, something that really works for you, you want to tell others so they can be as happy or as healthy as you are.  We live in a world where people want to feel they have control over their health, mind and body.  To some extent we have control but not as much as the people trying to sell you goji berry juice would like you to believe.  For some, it's worth it just to take the chance that there is a miraculous cure in food, that the latest wonder food can cure or prevent whatever diseases we fear.  Playing into that feeling are the many people who wish to sell us foods, drinks or supplements (not to mention fitness programmes) and in addition there is the confusing advice and the ever changing 'facts' from so called experts who are often mislead or confused themselves.  The subject of nutrition has always been one that fascinated me and I read up on it frequently.  I am interested in knowing which so called facts are actually supported by studies and just how scientific those studies actually are. Following that I am interested in how they apply to me and my body. 

As someone living with a chronic illness, I would indeed like to be cured or even improved simply by adding supplement X or by juicing berries and kale.  Wishing does not make things so.  Once upon a time I was vegetarian and then vegan.  I ate a very healthy diet rich in plants foods, vegetables and whole grains, ancient grains, very low fat and very minimal processed foods.  Not only did this diet not cure me, it made me sicker.  Please note I am not saying it would or does make everyone sicker.  It made me sicker.  Here is why.  It is uncertain whether or not I have Coeliac Disease, and largely irrelevant because it is quite clear that I have a severe gluten intolerance so I have eliminated gluten from my diet.  Could I do this and still be vegan or vegetarian?  Yes.  When eating vegan I was always hungry.  I ate lots of food and it was healthy food.  My staples were beans and brown rice.  I gained weight, about 30lbs more than I needed, and I was still always hungry.

My journey to make my body as healthy as I could make it, despite knowing that there is no cure for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, and knowing that I am not built like a runway model and super thin was not my goal, lead me to dive even more deeply into learning as much as I could about nutrition, about food and what our bodies do with it, and to apply this to my own body to find the way of eating that was best for me.  What this eventually lead me to was a gluten free diet low in carbohydrate which makes it proportionately higher in protein and fat. It may well be low in calories as well though I certainly don't count them.  It is practically the opposite of what I had been eating, believing myself to be doing all the right things for health.  It is the opposite of what we have been told to eat for the past twenty or thirty years.

I had not become vegetarian for health reasons initially, I had simply gone off meat.  Increasingly I found it disgusting and I didn't want to eat meat.  I became vegetarian mostly for ethical reasons, not because I believed meat was bad for us.  This made my transition back to meat eating a very emotionally challenging one.  At one point even the smell of cooking meat nearly made me vomit.  It was very obvious that I had to give up foods containing gluten, but what I eventually learned was that my own body has a very troubled relationship with carbohydrates.  I love them.  I really love them, like a drug addict loves her heroine.  The more I ate of them the more I wanted them, craved and felt I needed them.  This led to over eating and if I tried to eat less food I was ravenously hungry and cranky.  I had a significant blood sugar drop every day in the afternoon which left me shaking, tired, dizzy and weak, and needing a carbohydrate fix. 

So I made a radical change.  Gluten is gone.  I am so sensitive I am even affected by cross contamination from a cutting board or knife.   The difference this made for me makes the sacrifice involved tolerable.  Yes, there are gluten free baked goods available in the shops and recipes I can follow at home but most of them do not taste as good as the original.  If they do, they are made with a bunch of starches and sugars I really do not need, so they are a very rare treat.  But it's not just the gluten filled grains I have given up.  Except for the occasional treat, I do not eat any grains and I feel so much better.  No grains, minimal starches and very little sugar and the extra weight melted off, the insatiable hunger and the blood sugar drops gone just like that! It took my body about two weeks to adjust to the new way of eating, though closer to a month not to feel a little bit ill each time I cooked meat.

So what do I eat?  I eat eggs, meat, vegetables, some high fat dairy, animal fats, nuts and a small amount of fruit.  Fat is filling, fat is good for us unless we are eating trans fats, the man-made garbage.  The satiating quality of fat does not allow me to come even close to eating enough of it to put on weight.  I don't pay any attention to how much fat I eat, I use butter and never worry about it.   I eat eggs, cheese, butter, cream or olive oil, and meat every day.  I eat lots of vegetables but keep the beans to a minimum now as they are higher in carbohydrates which my body does not deal well with.  I still love beans but  I  don't base my meals on them.  I eat very little processed food and when I do buy it I read the labels carefully to avoid trans fats, sugars and sodium as well as gluten.

Okay, I may have come a little close to preaching there.  It's difficult not to when explaining why I eat the way I do.  In my opinion, the true research and the scientific studies support this way of eating but not everyone needs to avoid carbohydrates to the extent that I do and not everyone needs to avoid gluten.  I have not cured my M.E. through diet.  If I did it would not be M.E.  But I have found what works well for me and am happy to explain it to anyone who is interested.  The ethics of eating animal products is a whole other subject which  I'm going to leave alone for now.   I hear the collective sigh of relief!

Some sources that are clear and easy to read:


  1. your chicken dish looks delicious!
    would be very good when having guests served with some white bread :-)

    since my early childhood i eat what i WANT - but i have a great natural aversion against processed food - even before i knew what processed food is. my body has a strong voice. i don´t gain to much body fat ("weight" would be the wrong word because muscles are much heavier than fat) from eating - it comes when i´m not moving enough.
    as long as i ride my bike, go wandern, skiing or swim i can totally follow my appetites :-)
    and believe or not - i never made a diet. honestly.
    but it gets harder to eat pure - the newest coup are canned tomatoes with preservatives. and we are not wealthy enough to buy exclusively in eco food store. grrmmph.

    wish there were a help with your M.E.......

  2. Processed food is really not very appealing! You are right about how hard it is to eat/buy the better quality, eco-friendly food. It is more expensive or just not available. Local food is much more expensive too and I cannot afford to only buy from the local farmers. I really prefer to buy free range eggs but they are twice as expensive so I buy them about half the time.

  3. In my family we have a complicated relationship with food too. My sister had anorexia when a teenager and nearly died, I forget to eat, Bushy has always been 'overweight' in spite of eating exactly the same as me and exercising, and my kids have opposite tastes. We could serve them with one plate as one loves veggies and the other loves meat! They both have sensitivity to lactose and gluten as do I. I am now gaining weight for the first time in my life because of medication. So we don't diet we just eat as healthily as we can, given my Aspie inability to cook complicated meals, and my son's inability to face complicated meals, and exercise in some form . That could be vacuuming, walking, gardening or biking to work. Fitness is more importNt to measure than fatness! Great post :-)

    1. My son has 'food issues' too. He has had them his whole life and it is largely texture oriented. I introduced him to everything at a young age, the way you are supposed to, but that didn't prevent it. When he was two and three he couldn't get enough of bananas and had at least two a day. Then suddenly he stopped and hasn't eaten a banana ever again. He eats meat and a very limited selection of vegetables and fruits. He generally doesn't like sauces or food that is mixed. At 19 he has expanded what he will eat just slightly and is at least more willing to try something new and is even trying out some sauces now.
      My brother is severely lactose intolerant so with the two of us at a family meal it does get difficult!
      I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :-)

  4. I really like your point here, Shawna, that what is good for one isn't good for another, and that's it, really simple. I think the most important thing is to listen to yourself - your body, your soul. And yes, experts get confused. Because there is no one answer for everyone, isn't it? Plus we change all the time... I used to love milk - now I don't even want it. I love Tahini sause, but it seems I have some sort of intolerance to it (which is strange because I actually eat just about anything and never had any issues with food at all)... Just keep listening to yourself, that's my outlook on it at this point of my life journey, for whatever it's worth. Preaching is annoying... I suppose we all can do it when (as you pointed out) we find something we think the greatest thing in the world... I used to learn a lot about naturopathic way of life in my 20s - I was so on fire with it, I bet I was annoying to people around me. :)

    I like your diet, it's very yummy and seems very natural to me. Though I like carbs, I know they are not the best for me either. We don't eat a lot of carbs, so I guess our way of eating is very similar to yours. I don't buy processed food just because I didn't get used to it - we cook mostly from scratch in Russia, and that's how I like it. I don't really care much for organic one way or another. It sounds perfect - to buy only from local farmers or grow your own food... but, yes, also much more expensive and time consuming in some sense. So I'm with you on that. xxxxx

  5. I grew up with a mum who cooked from scratch and that was how I always cooked too. Sometimes I am so very tired that cooking is not really possible for me and that would certainly make convenience and processed foods very tempting but I still avoid them. For one thing, they often contain gluten. I try to make things like cooked meatballs ahead of time and keep them in my freezer, sometimes I just open a can of tuna to eat or have peanut butter with an apple or cottage cheese and some fruit. Really easy, ready to eat food for the times when I need it is my biggest challenge, especially because I don't eat bread.

    I was very keen about my vegan diet and lifestyle. I didn't preach to anyone but I was really devoted to it and anytime I heard someone say oh I can't be vegetarian because I need meat, I would inwardly roll my eyes and and think no you don't. Having been vegan for several years, which in itself was controversial to many people, and now eating a diet high in fat and nearly grain free which also shocks people, I am in no position to preach to anyone! I know what works for me and if someone thinks my way of eating would work for her and wants to know more about it I'm happy to share but otherwise, what other people eat is none of my business.

  6. Wow, there's a lot of food for thought here! Ha ha. That chicken dish looks great, but my husband has a lot of food issues, too, so I'd have to adapt the recipe a bit. Some are things he can't eat, but he also doesn't like cheese (!!!!), olives, artichokes, garlic. He can only eat a limited amount of fats and oils, tiny amount of dairy, and he should probably try to eat less gluten, but he's a bread addict. It does get difficult, especially when we go out.

    1. My son won't eat melted cheese except on a burger and even that didn't come until he was in his teens. I love cheese and it was the only thing I missed when I was vegan. My mum is allergic to garlic and onions. It's so difficult to feed a family. I'd recommend you alter that recipe until it becomes beef stew. ;-)

  7. Other than being vegetarian for 45 years I've never given much thought to my diet.
    I eat what I like, always cook from scratch and don't eat sweet things simply because I don't like the taste.
    I eat three meals a day and never snack in between. I try and refrain from alcohol for a continuous 48 hour period each week.
    I've never dieted and have loads of energy so I must be doing something right.

    1. Clearly you must be! It's great to have hit early on what is right for your body. You certainly look fantastic and it shows that you feel fantastic!

  8. Being a vegetarian, I try to make sure never to preach to others about it because others have oft preached to me on why I shoudn't be one, and it really bothers me. What works for me works for me and may not work for you. Great post, and I am making a variation of this meal tonight for dinner!! Yum!

  9. Your chicken looks delicious. I agree with you Shawna, no two people are the same so one rule will not work for all. I love to cook and entertain but who am I to tell anyone what will work for them??? Great post, loved reading it!!!

    1. I love to cook for people too. It can certainly be difficult when people have different dietary needs or preferences but then the challenge is kind of fun too! Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, Elsie!

  10. Wasn't preachy at all! Simply said what you do! x

  11. Your diet sounds a lot like mine, minus the dairy (I'm intolerant to casein.) I absolutely believe that everyone has to find what works for themselves. Did you read about how amylase digesting genes varies from person to person and affects how one digests carbohydrates? http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140330151318.htm and I'm going to have to try your chicken dish, yum!

  12. I think you were very clear in explaining how you came to eat what you do, and that you found what works for you, not what you think would work for everyone. (:

    I too spent years as a vegan but when I was doing a lot of martial arts and running, I was endlessly hungry though I was eating until I was so full I felt kind of ill. I carried an extra 25 lbs. back then, too. We eat kind of a similar diet now, you and I!

    1. Hi Aya, it's nice to hear from you! I still sometimes have a bit of trouble with meat. If I think about it too much I find it a bit disgusting-same with eggs-but usually it does taste good. I wish I were a ninja like you, but I will have to practice mind control instead. I need some kind of super power!
      Drop by for a meal next time you are in Canada.


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