It’s also about what you eat

All my life I have been a mostly natural person. Growing up, my mom cooked from scratch rather than buying packaged mixes – such as for cakes and cookies. We did have store-bought bread and cookies. But if Mom baked a cake, she started with eggs and flour and baked a cake. One of my sisters was vegetarian for a while. During that time I spent a lot of time at her place. She was always baking bread or cooking something yummy. All from scratch. She also knew more about nutrition than most people. I learned a lot about cooking from her.

In the last six years, all that knowledge has come in handy. Due to health issues, I’m on a strict low-sodium diet – no more than 2,000 mg/day. Plus, I now have migraines triggered by a lot of things that never were a problem – msg, most nuts, nitrates, nitrites, all of the artificial sweeteners, and more. It has forced me to read labels very carefully and also to make more things from scratch.

I highly recommend reading labels. It can be frustrating, but it also is revealing. Things to watch out for:

  • How big is a serving? It’s a good question. A cookie from a well known coffee bar says it has only 115 calories per serving. But if you read carefully, you’ll find that the 6 inch cookie has 6 (six!) servings. Doing the math, if you eat the whole cookie, you’ve just consumed 690 calories. So, that’s why they don’t call a serving 1 cookie!
  • How much salt? Salt is a very common ingredient. It’s inexpensive. It works as a flavor enhancer. If you add enough salt, then you don’t have to add as much of spices. But how much do you need? The reality is that you can actually get by with less than 2,000 mg/day. You would do just fine without ever adding salt to anything you eat. Salt is in every living plan and animal. It’s vital to life, to an extent. It’s the addition of salt that becomes a problem. Do the math some day and try to determine how much salt you consume. A slice of bacon? 1,000 mg! Many of your prepared packaged foods are very high in salt.
  • What is that ingredient? Some labels are like reading the recipe for a chemistry experiment. They include lots of chemicals – some are preservatives, some prevent caking, some add artificial flavor. I always read to the end because I have to. And products with too many ingredients never make it into my grocery cart.

The most disturbing thing that I have found while reading labels is the addition of carrageenan to foods. I first found that it is in many ice creams. What is carrageenan? (You’ll also see carageenan, but carrageenan is the correct spelling.) According to the dictionary:

a substance extracted from red and purple seaweeds, consisting of a mixture of polysaccharides. It is used as a thickening or emulsifying agent in food products.

It disturbed me because I once worked in medical research. The group I worked with was studying tumors. They would inject animals with a known carcinogen. But the concoction they used also contained carrageenan. Why carrageenan? Because it acted as a tumor promoter. It didn’t really cause the tumor, but it helped with its development. I don’t think I want to eat much of that!

I have read, too, that the seaweed from which carrageenan is extracted can be beneficial. I believe it is a matter of quantity. I looked up carrageenan online and found that it is in many food products: desserts, ice cream, milk shakes, sauces, beer, processed meats, skim milk, soy milks, diet sodas, yogurt, and many more.

Want more information? Read the following links, or do an internet search on carrageenan.

Wikipedia on Carrageenan
Stomach aches caused by Carrageenan
Carrageenan and Colon Cancer

Top Ten Things You Can Do To Help Fragrance-Challenged

Here’s a few suggestions to help the people in your life that are fragrance-challenged. And believe that they are there, whether you know it or not. You’d be surprised how many people are silent about this health issue.

  1. A little goes a long way. If you must wear perfume, wear it subtly. It should be a light scent that is noticed after you’ve passed someone – not a cloud that precedes you.
  2. If you’re traveling in a car, leave the perfume off. It’s way too confined a space.
  3. Did you know that that fabric softener you use winds up sending perfume throughout your neighborhood. This can be a problem for many people.
  4. Look at your personal products and see just how many fragrances there are. Cut back on some of them.
  5. Shampoos may be rinsed out, but they still leave a lot of fragrance in your hair. Especially one whose name is the same as a bird used as a symbol for peace.
  6. Especially don’t wear a lot of fragrance at work. We all have to work, so help make it easier on others.
  7. If you have someone into your home that you know has a health problem because of fragrances, get rid of your “air fresheners” and scented candles. Turning them off or not using them just before your company arrives isn’t enough. Those chemicals are picked up by your air system and circulate for a long time.
  8. If someone tells you they have a problem with fragrances, take them seriously and do what you can to help them out.
  9. If they’ll be staying at your house, use fragrance free laundry detergent and dispense with the fabric softener and dryer sheets. It can take 20-30 washings to get those smells out, so just never let them get in.
  10. If you’re planning an extended visit with someone that is fragrance-challenged, leave your hair spray, perfume and any other aerosols at home.

Coping with Cooking Odors

One very unfortunate drawback of my fragrance sensitivity is that I have also become very sensitive to strong natural odors as well. Even, sadly, cooking odors.

Over the years, I had perfected my spaghetti sauce recipe. Technically, it’s a Marinara Sauce, but we call it spaghetti sauce since we mostly use it for spaghetti. I would make a HUGE, as in 24 cups or 6 quarts, batch. I start it early in the morning so it can simmer all day long. Next I divide it into 2 cup packages and freeze it in zippered plastic bags. Then, as we wanted it, we could take a bag out of the freezer, place it in water for maybe 30 minutes, and then we would have spaghetti sauce.

As you might guess, the entire house smells like my sauce by the end of the day. In December of 2003, I had already been working at home for about 6 months because of my health issues. One Monday morning, I got a batch of spaghetti sauce started before work. At that time, I was working upstairs, as far from the kitchen as you can be. But, by the end of the day, I had a really bad migraine. Curiously, it had NO impact on my ability to eat the spaghetti sauce.

For a while after that batch was gone, I was buying bottled spaghetti sauces. My husband was aghast because it is so not like me. I’ve always been a make-it-from-scratch girl. Alas, these sauces weren’t as good as mine; plus they had more sodium than my low sodium diet allows. Finally, we came up with a plan for making my sauce.

I start off in the usual fashion – sauteing the onions, garlic, etc. Then I add the rest of the ingredients except the bay leaves and bring the whole thing to a boil. Next I take my 2 crock pots, place Bay Leaves in the 2 pots and then divide the sauce between the 2 pots – stirring during the process so eveything is well mixed. At that point, we carry the crock pots out to the garage and let it cook all day. As an added precaution, I move my car out of the garage – don’t want the car smelling like spaghetti sauce.

We’ve done this several times now, and it seems to be a good plan.

To Market, To Market – On Monday Morning

My husband and I usually do our grocery shopping together, on the weekend. But this past Sunday, we made the mistake of heading out two hours before the Spurs playoff game. We couldn’t believe the traffic. Seems like everyone was scurrying about trying to run errands before the game. I said, “No problem. I’ll just go early in the morning.”

You have to understand that I no longer want to go to the grocery store. They have a lot of “air freshener” pumping through their system. I timed it once, I was in there only 12 minutes and came out reeking of their “air freshener”. It’s odd that a couple of years ago, I noticed they had a soap in their restrooms that was fragrance free. The label said it was good since it prevented the fragrance from transferring to the produce. Well, I guess they had to get rid of that soap when they brought in the “air freshener” machine!

My neurologist has remarked that she never notices the fragrances in the same places that I do notice them. And I’m sure there are many non-fragrance-challenged out there that will read this post, roll their eyes, and think I’m crazy. I know you’re out there. But, I’m not crazy. If you use mainstream products for your personal hygiene and laundry, then you’re already surrounded by fragrance everywhere you go. AND if you also wear fragrances, then you’re exposed to that much more. Your nose won’t register all the different odors after a while. Plus, you won’t notice that you picked up a NEW fragrance while shopping. But if you start out fragrance free, you’ll notice the difference.

So I have a Survival plan for my grocery trips:

  1. I’m now known to go to the grocery in the morning BEFORE my morning shower. I know, it’s actually appalling to me as well. But I often find I have to change my clothes and wash my hair when I return, so why bother showering before?
  2. I have a list and I pretty much stick too it. Gone are the days when I browse the store and notice the new products.
  3. I’ve taken to wearing my Wein MiniMate as well. It really does help, and if things get real bad, you can hold it close to your face and breathe it directly.

So I figured Monday morning would be good. It’s not a time when a lot of people are grocery shopping. But, what I didn’t count on was that the stores know this. And they do things like stocking and cleaning. Stocking is really no big deal, but cleaning was this morning. Did you know that there are gasoline (or maybe diesel?) powered floor buffers. Emitting all those same exhaust smells as if you’re driving down the highway. Which, for me, are now as bad for me as the fragrances. I was unfortunate enough to have it go up and back down a couple of aisles that I was on. I finally had to re-route my shopping so I could avoid.

I mostly survived that trip. At least I was in and out quickly. But maybe Monday morning isn’t the best time after all.

Do You Know What You're Breathing?