Special diets and illnesses

As we go through life, we go through phases in how we eat.  As babies, we need low salt and smooth textures.  We love sweet and even lemons taste sweet to us.

As toddlers, we want things that feel interesting to our fingers and our personalities influence what and when and how we eat more.  Some are adventurous and want interesting and new items.  Others are more cautious and only want to try familiar foods.  Some will just plain eat anything and everything.

As we approach school age, we assert ourselves even more in terms of when and how and what we’ll eat, but that begins to be influenced by our peers and our adult idols.  We want to eat the way those we admire eat.  We want to eat what our friends eat.

In high school, food fads begin, and it might be anything from weight loss to clearing up acne that inspires some odd food phases.  We also eat more, and that continues through the college/young adult years when we want lots of food and we want it cheap.  We also want it easy.

It’s not until our twenties or thirties we begin to become interested in budgets and balanced diets, and we explore cooking and food more.  This continues…until the illness or special diet is required.

Gluten free, sodium free, dairy free, vegan, vegetarian, low-cholesterol, low fat, high protein, low carbohydrate…the list goes on.  There is also bland diets and soft diets, or the ultimate in boring…the pureed diet.

Yeah, how to have an interesting meal when everything is liquid or pureed or mashed.  It’s even worse when it’s long term.  Granted, there are many liquid meals on the market, but they get boring too.  Sometimes, it’s nice to have something hot…or more like home made food.

Recently, I was in the hospital and as a result, am enduring the semi-liquid diet routine.  I sampled their broth there.  I’m afraid I refer to it as sock broth, because it all tastes like it must have been made with a dirty sock.  It comes in two colors: clear with sediment (they call it “chicken”) and brown with sediment (they call that “beef”).  Mix it with mashed potatoes, it’s not bad tasting but it becomes a gray gruel.  Homemade soup stock, strained to make the clear broth sometimes required, is much more tasty, even if it is salt free or low-salt.

They did offer me a “mechanically blended” version of meals.  I was afraid of what it would contain and how it would look.  They had dreadful broth, what would a blended meal consist of? Would they dump an entire meal into the blender and hit the button?  Salad, vegetables, meat, bread, potatoes, and dessert all whipped into a froth and poured into a styrofoam cup?  I didn’t dare.  I stuck to my ritual meal of mashed potatoes, broth, and sugar free jello (still not sure why they gave me sugar free jello with each meal either.)  I discovered that mashing the jello with a fork rendered it into something I could get into my mouth.

I also discovered something else.  It was the smell that was most critical about the food.  If the smell was good, it didn’t matter what it really tasted like.  Therefore, the jello smelled good and fruity, and it didn’t matter that it really tasted a lot like the sock broth.  Orange and lemon jello, on the other hand, failed as “smells” and didn’t redeem themselves in taste either.  I also discovered that I was quick to be “full” which is also useful to remember when we’re dieting.

Texture is also important.  It shouldn’t ever “feel” slimy or it gets rejected.  Watery textures are slow to be filling, but adding some mashed potatoes made it very filling.  Applesauce’s sweet/tart flavor and interesting grainy texture was very appealing, as is the creamy texture of yogurt.  Cold, lumpy oatmeal or grits was not appealing at all, while freshly made was.  (Therefore, I avoided those foods at the hospital where it was cooked, served and carried to the floor where I was, then distributed to the patients.)  An ice cream sundae, smuggled in by my fiance, was absolute heaven!

At home, a big hit for me was mashed banana with vanilla yogurt.  A word to the wise…a whole banana with a half cup of yogurt is a LOT!  With my fondness for chili, a simple meal of chili powder with a partial package of ramen noodles became “chili mac” for the chewing impaired.  Don’t add any of the seasoning packet if you are on a low or no sodium diet though, and make sure to use salt free chili powder.

Homemade soups are another natural.  The “lumps” of vegetables and meat can either be cooked until mashable with a fork, blended with a stick blender, or simply strained out.  Most of the nutrition from vegetables end up in the broth anyhow!  Mashed potatoes, made from Idahoan Instant mashed potatoes are an easy meal too.  I love the flavors of these potatoes, available in envelopes.  For single servings, just use part of the envelope and clip the package closed for later use, and save a lot of money over buying the single serve cups.

Like Mexican food?  Try the no-chew tostada!  Simply heat refried beans, stir in some shredded cheese, top with some salsa…and eat the filling without the tortilla.  Want a meatier version?  Mix a pound of ground turkey with water before cooking, add chili powder, oregano, and ground cumin (taco seasoning packets have too much sodium usually.) Bring the mixture to a boil, and add 1 tbsp. cornstarch that has been mixed with 2 tbsp. water to the mixture, and stir.  Return to a boil, stirring continuously, and allow mixture to thicken.  Remove from heat.  Mix 1 serving with shredded cheese, as desired, top with salsa or canned diced tomatoes (try fire roasted tomatoes with green chilies for some zip) and you’ve got dinner!  Either of these can also be used as a topping for a baked potato too, just add a dollop of sour cream on top.  Skip the peel if you really can’t manage the chewing at all.

Many of your favorite foods can be adapted for the low to no chewing.  Generally, it means that textures must be softer than usual, contain a bit more moisture, and some ingredients may need to be omitted, such as tortillas, crunchy accents, etc.  Other times, seeds and grains that don’t stick together well may present problems, such as caraway seeds, sesame seeds, rice, etc.  To adapt foods that normally contain these foods, they may need to be omitted, or used and strained out before continuing with the cooking process.  Other times, a ground version may be used to keep the flavor without the offending seed to irritate and aggravate.  This is often true when dealing with dental surgeries and procedures.

Other times, a major diet change such as is required for gluten free or dairy free diets is in order.  There are entire cookbooks with recipes for these diets, but they do often mean the entire family’s diet is modified to simplify meal preparation and prevent the one who needs the diet from feeling isolated and depressed over the changes.  This is probably especially true when children need a special diet.

There are also support groups for those who need special diets and their families.  The changes aren’t always easy to cope with, especially when they are not temporary.  Children may often not understand why they can’t have that brownie and have to have the special one instead.  Teens may resent the restraint put on their activities due to their dietary needs too.  Diabetic children and teens often also feel isolated and angry about their dietary needs as well as their insulin regimen, and this can create disputes with their anxious parents.  I often wish that there had been a local support group when I had been the parent of an angry diabetic teen, and was thankful when I found online versions that helped me understand that my problems and concerns were normal ones.

I’m currently researching the possibility of using a gluten and dairy free diet to help with some of my own health issues, especially after the success that a relative has recently had with her adoption of that particular lifestyle.  That’s the key, it becomes a lifestyle when it’s a permanent change to your diet.

To make it successful, especially when it’s not an option but a medical necessity, it is imperative that you research, get good recipes, and adopt the whole concept whole heartedly.  A single “back sliding” event can set you back as much as four days, and two in a short time period can effectively set you back over a week.  It’s a lot easier to adopt without reservation when you are equipped with the right tools: ingredients, good recipes, shopping options, and meal planning.

Oh, and just to satisfy curiosity about why I would consider the gluten and dairy free diet…it’s simple.  Omitting those two items from your diet is often suggested as a good move to reduce inflammation from what I’ve been told.  In addition, there may be a genetic reason that these two items might be more “inflammatory” than usual–if your ancestors did not habitually consume these foods, you may lack the ability to properly digest them yourself.  Many Native Americans are lactose intolerant–there was no historical use of milk in the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans.  In addition, I’m not so certain that there was a lot of gluten in the historical diet either, as they used native grains and corn primarily.  My family has Native American ancestors, as well as European, and lactose intolerance isn’t uncommon in our family.  My own children and grand daughter were not able to handle cow’s milk as babies either.  I know that milk and ice cream are a game of Russian roulette for me–about half the time, it can result in cramping and digestive upsets that last for hours.  Cooked milk products and yogurt don’t seem to bother me.

Even with all of that, committing to the diet isn’t something I’ll take lightly.  Cheese is an ingredient I use often, and I’m accustomed to using wheat flour as well.  I regard the diet as a lifestyle change that I would need to seriously commit to for a period of at least six months in order to accurately assess whether it’s working for me.  In my case, it also means that my soon-to-be husband would also have to be willing to commit to.

So first things first.  I’ll recover from this episode before I devote more time to contemplating another special diet.  In the meantime…I’ll have to get some of the recipes from my niece for gluten/dairy free foods!  So stay tuned…and I’ll send her a reminder too.

About giascott

Writer, blogger, cook, grandmother, mother, wife, radio personality, outdoor enthusiast, dog enthusiast, crafter, artist, and part-time nut~~I've earned a lot of t-shirts in my day! I'm one of those crazy independent women who can cut down a tree, build you a shed, sew you a dress, cook your dinner, make some soap, pitch a tent, build a fire, catch some fish, dig in the garden, chase a kid or two, write you a poem, paint you a picture, and a dozen other things...just don't ask me to sing! I'm also embarking on a relatively new portion of my life, one of being disabled. I'm learning some lessons along the way about a lot of things too.
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