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Friday, February 3, 2012

Eating for Stress

Zap! Stress be gone!

I'm not a doctor or a trained nutritionist. I've done a lot of research and found a diet that works for me. I don't suggest it works for everyone and I recommend folks do their own research to find a solution that works for them.

The last few months have been very stressful. VERY stressful. Stress is often unavoidable and it's toxic. Higher stress levels are tied to higher incidents of illness, inflammation, and is thought to be linked to cancer. That's all well and good but life happens! I have been trying a lot of different things to help me maintain productivity at work, avoid picking fights or responding inappropriately to confrontation, and avoid having a lupus flare up. A large portion of that effort goes into what I eat.

Even institutions like the American Cancer Society and MD Anderson recommend diet alterations to help reduce the risk of the return of cancer and to avoid feeding cancer cells. Many of the recommendations are practical for people with auto-immune issues and inflammation (this includes allergies....). I went to a cancer treatment center that also treated auto-immune conditions and received brief counseling on what to avoid. The list included white flour, processed sugar, milk, red meat, white rice, alcohol, and potatoes. These foods are often eaten in excess, don't have a lot of nutritional value, are tied to inflammation and weight gain, and are really starchy.

Additional foods that are good to avoid:
  • Meat - animal rights aside, red meats are high in iron, which feeds cancer cells. Animals are usually confined in unnatural conditions and spend their lives stressed out of their minds, and I have to imagine it's not a huge leap that all of those hormones and chemicals don't do a body good. Cured meats contain nitrates which have been correlated to stomach cancer. Burned meat contains mutagenic compounds. Then there's farmed fish.
  • Fried Foods - Mmmm...acrylamide. A by-product of frying that's also used as a neurotoxin and a known carcinogen.
  • Gluten - especially if there's a possibility you're intolerant, although doctors are starting to admit that intolerance is more common than previously though and only extreme intolerance is caught by current testing. A good way to find out if it's really what's causing you to be tired? Avoid it for 2 weeks and then eat it again.
  • Canned foods - Cans are usually lined with resin, which is high in BPA, which leeches into your food.
  • Sugary Drinks - I'm not buying the "Corn Sugar is like any other sugar" commercials
  • Sulfites - they are in a LOT of foods. Capers, many vinegars, kalamata olives, and many sandwich shops use it as a preservative.
How can you be stressed surrounded by puppies? (We still just
have the sitting)

Even though I am gluten free and vegan, I'm a sucker for baked goods and comfort foods, just like anyone else. If I bake, I eat, so my recipe development has suffered. However, I'm getting really good at making salads, smoothies, and cooked veggie dishes. I'm trying to exceed the recommended "balanced plate" recommendation of 2/3 of the plate filled with fresh fruits and veggies. A typical morning starts off with a smoothie, I have salad and miso soup for lunch, and usually cooked veggies and either brown rice or quinoa for dinner. There's more variety, but that is a typical day. I make all of my own food, and it's not nearly as daunting as people think, even with a chronic illness and a full time job. Salads have very low prep time (compared to cooking something, especially), and what's easier than throwing a bunch of ingredients in a blender? If I don't even have time for salad, I grab some dried wakame or kombu, a jar of miso, and dice some onion. Add hot water, and you have instant soup.

Curries are fantastic. Turmeric and curcumin are antioxidant power houses.

Smoothie Base:
  • 1 heaping TB Warrior Food (hemp & brown rice protein - Vanilla is my favorite)
  • 3 TB Tocos Plus (vitamin E supplement)
  • 1 tsp Premier Research Lab Max B-ND (vegan B complex supplement)
  • 1 tsp Maca
  • 2 TB ground flax or chia
  • 1 TB flax, chia, pumpkin, or hemp oil (I rotate through these)
  • 1 banana
  • 1/2 lemon juiced or buffered vitamin C (helps to absorb healthy properties of the oils)
  • 1/2 cup ice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp chlorella or blue green algae
Optional Additions:
  • 1 cup of berries and 2 cups of greens
  • 1 cup of berries
  • 1 heaping TB cacao and 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup orange juice and a pinch vanilla bean

So many options! Mangoes, oranges, pineapple, oh my!

Easy Salad Dressings

Miso Dressing
1 heaping TB non-soy Miso
2 TB Olive Oil
1 TB Apple Cider Vinegar or 1/2 Lemon, juice
1 TB onion, minced
pinch of dried ginger

Nut based "Ranch"
1/3 c macadamia or cashew
1/2 c water
liberal amount of dill
1/2 lemon, juice
garlic powder to taste
onion powder to taste
pinch salt

Combine ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. For easier mixing, soak the nuts for 15-30 minutes beforehand.

Salad Blends

I'm not beneath saying that I eat a ton of greens in one sitting. As in a full head of romaine. Plus sprouts and other toppings. The saying that lettuce has low nutritional value is a farce. Leafy greens, including romaine lettuce, are nutritional power houses that have compounds that fight stress, are high in essential vitamins, and contain amino acids that are the building blocks that we refer to as protein. Costco now carries large bags of baby kale and arugula. Arugula has to be my favorite because of that peppery kick it gives. It goes really well with my vegan "Ranch" dressing. Kale pairs really well with the miso dressing. I like to use multiple greens in one salad. Arugula, spinach, and romaine are my favorite. Kale is great with romaine for the more robust dressings.

Kale, lettuce, and spinach are all part of the "dirty dozen" or the fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide ratings when grown conventionally. It's best to buy organic and soak them in a large bowl of water with apple cider vinegar or food grade hydrogen peroxide (it only takes a few teaspoons) to help clean off bacteria and parasites. I choose to eat sprouts, but douse them with liberal amounts of food grade hydrogen peroxide and rinse thoroughly to help prevent getting ill from food borne bacteria.
Sprouts, a couple tablespoons of almonds, and a mixture of kale and romaine make a tasty salad

Parting Thoughts

Food is a large aspect of what has been keeping me energized and sane during this time period, but supplements and exercise have played an equally important role. I had a period of extreme nausea and dizziness and started supplementing with even more vitamin B12, and within a week, I felt my energy and balance come back. I have always struggled with maintaining balance in my GI tract, and was dealing with B12 shots and supplements well before I became vegan. B complex, buffered vitamin C, MSM, and several of the supplements listed in my smoothie base are tools I use to help ensure I'm lowering inflammation levels in my body. I'm going to add curcumin and turmeric, and am hopeful that these will help as well.

I try to make it to the gym every work day and garden, walk the dogs, and Zumba on the weekends. On days I feel lazy and have to drag myself down to the gym, I'll be content with 45 minutes on the recumbent bike or elliptical, but usually I'm mixing cardio with balanced weight training. There are mornings when I want to go running out of my office building and not come back - I go to the gym for an hour and all the sudden things are in a new perspective and more manageable. My boss encourages me to take time to work out because he has seen a dramatic increase in productivity and focus, especially in the afternoons, and he has been not-so-blunt about the fact that I'm just more amiable. I was reading Oxygen while on the bike yesterday, and I can't say I was too surprised that exercising just one hour can elevate your mood for 12 hours!

Is there anything better than finding something beautiful in nature to study for a few moments? I'm making a new resolution to try to get outdoors and enjoy my surroundings more. I'm lucky to live in Seattle, within short driving distance of 2 mountain ranges and scores of hiking trails.

I hope everyone finds a Zen moment and finds a working balance that works for them.

Some Resources:
Livestrong - Top 5 Cancer Causing Foods (Livestrong was a great resource when my family was helping my brother deal with cancer):

Raw Vegan Source - Supplements and Reading Materials:

Gone Raw - Raw vegan community forums and recipes:


  1. Glad to see a post from you Cami! Glad you have found a routine and diet that works.

  2. Thank you! Work has been so crazy, I don't make it online as much as I'd like...

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  4. Wow, I knew that there were people who lived with extremely restrictive diets but I've never seen it all laid out before- that is an intense amount of things to keep track of! I have been trying to do more to make my diet more healthy and productive for my body, but I'm pretty positive I would never be able to go to this extreme, especially since I am a pretty picky eater. Your smoothie base is really interesting to me though. I really enjoy smoothies and have been looking to find ways to make them more nutrition filled, and this definitely showed me a few things. How did you find out about all those different nutrients? And how do you find out what they best ones are for your body and how much to take?

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