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Thoughts on Food, Via the Lone Star Tick and Autism [Aug. 10th, 2014|11:11 pm]
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Every food in this world is nutritious for somebody somewhere, at some point in their life.   Be it animal or vegetable or mineral (e.g. salt)  everything that has been a component of someone's diet has been useful to one or more of its consumers, and even essential in the setting where it was eaten.

Every food in this world is bad for somebody somewhere, at some point in their life.  A food that is nutritious for you may be toxic to someone else, and vice versa.  The one you can't get along without--the basis of your cultural diet--may make someone else sicker than sick.  Might even kill them. 

Even a food you've eaten happily all your life can turn on you, both with the changing biochemistry of age  and with external events.   For the former type of change...I used to do OK with cabbage and its relatives.   Wasn't particularly fond of them (though young raw cabbage was pretty tasty!) but they caused me no real trouble, and I included cabbage in most of the vegetable soups I made.   Then, in middle age, I made my usual soup, and with the first bowl of it I  was on the fast track to the small tiled room and its plumbing.   OK, maybe I was coming down with something.   But no.  It soon became obvious that cabbage and its close relatives were going to cause a huge inconvenience any time I ate them.   Something had changed in my internal biochemistry, and cabbage was out (in more ways than one) so I changed how I made vegetable soup.   And I wince when diet gurus extol the foods that are "superfoods" and supposedly good for me--and that I know will make me sick for a minimum of 24 hours.

For the second kind of change, take the Lone Star tick, Amblyomma americana, a common tick where I live.   These ticks happily suck blood from humans as well as other mammals, and their saliva contains a sugar that is also found in red meat.   The saliva also induces a typical immune response (redness, itching, swelling) and therein lies the way that a single tick bite can create an allergy to red meat.   The body says "that sugar's bad!" and...there you are.  Staring at your favorite steak or burger but unable to eat it.   Bad enough the ticks can give you tick borne diseases, but forcing a dietary change in addition to sucking your blood seems...unfair.  (Nobody said life was fair.  I know.)   Other sudden changes?  People can become violently allergic to something unexpectedly.  I knew someone once who had been eating shellfish without incident for years...until the day he had a life-threatening reaction.

The take home lesson here is that no general statements about foods are universally true.  Cabbage makes me sick; it may not make you sick and may in fact make you feel better.  What makes me feel good may make you sick.   Some thrive on more protein than others.  Some thrive on less.

When our son was growing up, there was a lot of hoorah in the media about special diets for autistic kids.  Eliminate that, leave out this, add these (expensive!) supplements, on and on and on.   Some parents opted for the extremely restrictive diets that had been recommended; some tried less strict diets, and some (like me) were not convinced that a reasonable diet for most kids wouldn't be reasonable for our kids.   (My young autist had food likes and dislikes, of course, but most people do.  And he turned against cheese and milk (previously among his favorites) suddenly one year and I...shrugged and made sure he had other calcium sources.  He was going to be tall; he needed strong bones.)   Aside from restricting sweets about as much as I would have for any kid, if he would eat it, he could have it.   As I observed the lack of success most people had with restrictive diets and listened to the increasing hype online, on TV, in the news about food allergies and restrictions that were now supposed to be the cure for everything under the sun, I became convinced that a lot of what we hear about foods in the media is...driven by someone's desire for power or profit or both.

Obviously the food industry wants to profit from us.   They produce the food; they want the market to support them.    I am not  a fan of most segments of the food industry--I don't think the fast food joints belong in schools, and we got along fine in elementary and junior high without soda machines or candy machines in the schools at all.   I'm opposed to the routine use of antibiotics in healthy animals (increases antibiotic-resistant bacteria) and strongly prefer management practices that are "natural" (cattle and hogs on open ground, chickens running around eating greens and bugs.)   Range beef tastes better, in my opinion; less of it is more satisfying than stockyard beef, and when we've been able to have a garden, we gardened organically.   It's fairly easy to evade a lot of the advertising pressure if you cook your own meals most of the time, from scratch.   Harder, if you're really short of time, or can't find a nearby market with good fresh vegetables and fruits and meat (which basically means, if you're poor and live in a big city)  or can't have at least a small garden of your own. But still possible to  eat a reasonably good, if imperfect, diet that no, really, is not about to kill you.   When I was a kid, the only bread available was white bread; the only potatoes available were russet potatoes; every kid I knew ate white bread, white potatoes, meat, often canned vegetables...and we weren't fat or sick.

Increasingly, the diet industry and fitness industry are filled with "experts" who spout absolute nonsense about food, each with the aim of getting the consumer to buy their book and/or special supplements, and who try to scare people into their particular corner of the food industry--usually more expensive than whatever you were eating.  The guru who tells you humans are genetically incapable of handling gluten...is dead wrong.  Historically wrong.  Ancient peoples ate wild grains that contain gluten for many thousands of years before humans started farming the wheat ancestors.   Sure, some people get really sick if they eat anything with gluten in it.   Others have no problem with it.  The same is true of every other food that's been part of a traditional diet. Some people can't eat tomatoes or strawberries or cabbage or squash or melons or peaches or pineapple or papaya....the list goes on.  Some people can eat tomatoes or strawberries or cabbage, etc. every day without any trouble at all.   What a person can eat without a problem can change--slowly or suddenly, slightly or completely, for internal or external reasons.   But fad after fad sweeps over the diet and fitness industries, and--just as with Big Agriculture--those fads are tied much more to someone's desire for power over others and/or profit from others than to the reality of food and any individual person.

I have friends who are vegetarian and friends who are not.  Both are healthy.   I have friends who are going gluten-free, and friends who are not.  And both are healthy.  Some don't do dairy; some do.  Both are healthy.   What we (the friends involved) do that works is let one another eat what each one wants without trying to change the other person.   (Some of us weren't like this when we were younger, but we learned tolerance.)   Given the reality of individual reactions to individual foods and diets, and the ephemeral nature of fads proposed by "experts", and the fact that in a large enough population you can find healthy people whose diets are completely different...this seems a sensible and humane approach.   I believe there is no perfect diet for everyone.  I believe there is no "superfood" and no totally evil food.   The foods that make us--individually, one by one, and differently--healthy are the right foods for us.   And they are not the same.


[User Picture]From: gifted
2014-08-11 05:34 am (UTC)
I wholeheartedly agree. Incidentally, my tolerance to milk went splat in my mid-30's. Now, if I consume too much milk (or milk-based product), it comes back on me for several hours afterwards. Notably upset tummy is my mildest reaction. I believe many, if not all, humans are intolerant to lactose/lactate after infancy (especially that which is produced by a non-human, ie, a cow), which is avoided by a chemical added to commercial milk, designed to override this intolerance; I may simply have become immune to this chemical override, rather than unusually intolerant to a milk which wasn't designed for me in the first place. But that's another story.

I do know many humans who can consume large amounts of cow's milk without issue.

I'm all about raw (or lightly cooked), fresh, utilising natural fats and oils, and avoiding processed junk as much as possible -- but the key is to know and listen to your body, and to find a balance.
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[User Picture]From: dr_phil_physics
2014-08-11 11:39 am (UTC)
Onions, especially raw, most especially red onions. And beans. These are my nemesis after fifty. Beano helps.

Totally agree about fad diets and Pronouncements For And Against Food. It's partly a science thing. Media are alert to studies, but take each one as the final word. That's not how science works.

Dr. Phil
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[User Picture]From: kk1raven
2014-08-11 12:17 pm (UTC)
a lot of what we hear about foods in the media is...driven by someone's desire for power or profit or both

That does seem to be the case.

I am a firm believer in eating a wide variety of foods in moderation. Too much of pretty much anything is bad for you. Too little from various categories can be bad too. I think science and the medical establishment have barely scratched the service of understanding how foods really affect us.
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[User Picture]From: redvixen
2014-08-11 01:50 pm (UTC)
I can't eat mushrooms or peppers and I've been lactose-intolerant since I was born. I also have trouble keeping my iron content high, despite the meat heavy diet my husband prefers.

I used to love radishes and rhubarb but after my first pregnancy I couldn't stomach them. So, I know chemical changes cause changes in the foods a person can eat. I expected more changes after my hysterectomy but wasn't affected by it. Most of my food problems are the same as the ones when I was a kid. I have other changes due to the operations I have undergone.

My husband is currently driving himself nuts, and by extension me, in his search to find something I can eat or drink to help combat this cancer. I've already done the research and found no real changes from what I knew before. Eating healthy is a matter of balancing your foods and getting the widest base of nutrients possible from a variety of food sources. One particular food or drink will not solve or prevent health issues.
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From: (Anonymous)
2014-08-11 04:48 pm (UTC)

Food and food writers

The person I like most and trust most when it comes to writing about food is Michael Pollan. His "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and the subsequent books are terrific, and sensible.

Our personal solution is finally able to come together: we recently relocated to NW ND. We now have a good garden (we'd have put one in, but buying property with one already started was sheer gravy), excellent hunting opportunities for my spouse, and 2 freezers. I have a pressure cooker-canner on the way, and additional canning jars on order, and the garden is going great guns.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-08-12 02:54 pm (UTC)

Re: Food and food writers

Garden plus freezers plus access to good meat solves a lot of problems. Our gardening has become very uncertain with the drought and severe water restrictions. We can usually get greens and maybe snow peas for a month, and a few onions and tomatoes, but that's it. We used to get corn, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, beans, and more different greens. I can still make stock, though, and that's today's project--making chicken stock to freeze.
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[User Picture]From: sorceror
2014-08-11 04:53 pm (UTC)

I agree - with the caveat that the average NAmerican diet does seem to have too much sugar and too many refined foods in it. Other than that, though, I don't believe that there is any One True Diet that guarantees health and slenderness for all who adopt it. Different approaches work for different people.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-08-12 03:02 pm (UTC)
People eat more when stressed (probably a biological hard-wired thing--in times of trouble, eat because famine may be coming) and people who don't have the money and time to seek out good basic foods and prepare them are in a bad way. The cheap food isn't good; it's the affluent who can afford to drive to the good supermarkets or the outlying farmers' markets where there's organic produce, grass feed beef, etc. I eat lunch in the city with a friend; we often go to a restaurant that has its own organic garden and is particular about its ingredients. The food is delicious and healthy--but priced above what I could afford every day, and what most of the working people and all the unemployed can afford. And I remember the year I spent with very little money in Houston, when I was always hungry. I couldn't afford a nutritious lunch (like a bowl of soup) every day, and boy did that candy machine call my name...a Snickers bar would quiet the hunger pangs for a couple of hours at least. But if I bought a candy bar, then I wouldn't have enough saved up the next day to buy the soup. One of the great lessons of that year was what it feels like to face some of the same choices the poor face all the time. And hunger is a very strong persuader.
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[User Picture]From: mrs_redboots
2014-08-11 07:52 pm (UTC)
Two of my husband's siblings have coeliac disease and have to avoid all sorts of gluten; I know several other people who find it makes them seriously ill. However, for the vast majority of us, bread and grains are a great staple food. I gather, too, that many people in some populations do not have the gene that enables them to digest milk once past infancy, as is true of many animals, I believe. But there again, for those of use who can digest it, it can be a valuable part of one's diet.

When people start being faddy at me and telling me gluten is unhealthy or whatever, I reply that I'm sure the people in those parts of the world where famine is endemic would be very glad to hear it - as, indeed, would my parents have been during the 1940s when food was very severely rationed in this country.
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From: (Anonymous)
2014-08-11 08:09 pm (UTC)

My Fault

My body changed for the not better about 15 years ago. I was diagnosed as a Type 2 Diabetic caused by a very poor diet. Typical news photographer diet. Think of any bad fast foods diet and we survived (if you want to call it that) on it. I was drinking about 7 sodas during the work day and don't ask how many sugars I put in my coffee. I eat well now because I have a great wife that keeps me on the straight and narrow, but I have to agree that your body does change. Sometimes it is just luck and other times it is, as in my case, stupidity.

Ed Bunyan
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-08-12 02:51 pm (UTC)

Re: My Fault

Living on soda is not a good idea...I went through a period where I was drinking WAY too much Coke--2 liters a day in summer. The rest of my diet wasn't that bad. Weight is peculiar. Until I took pregnancy hormones so I could breastfeed our adopted son, I was always thin. At 38 I weighed what I had at 18, and I could eat anything. Things changed abruptly with the hormones and breast-feeding...suddenly I gained weight very easily, like normal people. (Curves...actual curves...it was fun for a year or so.) I need to be very active to lose weight, and there are foods I need to eat to keep the depression at bay. Others I need to avoid (but crave when Big D is sneaking up on me.) Now I drink sodas only when traveling and nothing else is available (can't trust the water, or it's limited.)
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[User Picture]From: mrs_redboots
2014-08-12 03:39 pm (UTC)

Re: My Fault

May I ask what you eat to help stave off depression? I have known too many people who have died from this ghastly disease, and have suffered from it a bit myself. And with the very sad news about Robin Williams today.....

The only thing I can't eat now that I used to be able to could is oven chips (oven fries, for you North Americans), which give me the most appalling indigestion. Real fried chips from the chippie seem okay, although I don't have them often. But it has been a thing in our family that as you get older you can't digest red wine, and I'd love to know how to put off that evil day.

Edited at 2014-08-12 03:41 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-08-12 05:14 pm (UTC)

Re: My Fault

First--not everyone with depression has the same biochemistry so I have no idea if my tactics will help others (except it does seem to help our autistic son.)

I do best on a high protein diet, specifically including red meat, of which beef (and grass-fed beef) seems the most efficacious. Venison also works, with lamb and pork trailing after. Chicken and turkey are OK, but not a huge help, and fish (which I quite like) does nothing for me. In graduate school, I tried out a vegetarian diet for a time--at that point my depressive stuff had not been diagnosed, as I was a high-energy person and (I found later) seemed to others more irritable and "difficult" then depressed while inside I felt very bleak indeed. At any rate, going vegetarian sent me straight down within a week; in two weeks I was (while functioning intellectually) emotionally in the pit. Somewhere around week 3/4, my husband insisted I eat a steak, and the worst was over (not the whole thing, but the total black pit "Why do I even bother to breathe?" thing.

Diet doesn't do everything, of course: I use cognitive therapy techniques, exercise, "outside" time, music, and--if all these don't hold off the black pit--I go back on medication. But if I feel a steady internal pressure to eat more sweets (not dark chocolate, but things like doughnuts, cake, cinnamon toast, candies other than dark chocolate) I need to assess the level of depression, avoid the sweets, and go for cheese, red meat, spicy food, while upping the intentional use of cognitive therapy techniques and exercise. In fact, making sure I'm getting enough animal protein, enough exercise, enough time outdoors, and countering the negative thoughts when they intrude minimizes the number of episodes I have and most of the time I don't need any meds.

The worst attacks (which resemble Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem that begins "No worst, there is none..." can hit me within one minute...I'm doing OK and then...I stepped off the cliff and am falling. But now I can stop that (having done it many times)--it's like having a rope anchored up there and a climbing harness on. I know what to do and not do. Eat the nearest high-protein food (even peanut butter, if that's all there is but a hunk of hard cheese or a piece of beef is better), get into sunlight if there is any, remind myself that I've been here before and it's survivable, and move--walk, bicycle, climb stairs, as vigorously as I can. Once I'm up to seeing daylight over the edge, which can be within a few hours, that little blip is under control. Some of these last a few days--they're dramatic, but if I treat them, they go away faster than the other episodes. The more insidious ones are harder to spot because they're slow and the world is full of things that can explain a day's "down" mood...or even a week's worth of them. And--like many people with a chronic problem--I am loathe to admit that it's happening AGAIN. Surely it's just that really stupid speech I heard on the radio, or another massacre somewhere or an epidemic or the idiots in my state legislature being their usual bonehead selves. After all, the diagnostic criteria for clinical depression is based on duration, not just intensity. But if I catch one early, it's just a minor trough in the waves, so to speak. So I'm pretty alert to my particular "sea conditions." If I let things go, the depression markedly affects my writing--it's not the only thing that can slow or stop me (that last bout of pneumonia certainly did) but it's the one I can fix, if I catch it in time.

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[User Picture]From: mrs_redboots
2014-08-12 05:23 pm (UTC)

Re: My Fault

Thank you. Of course, you crave carbohydrates as they are a natural tranquiliser, I understand - but I like that they are a danger signal that means you need a steak forthwith!

I know one woman who had very severe depression, to the point of nearly dying of it several times, and she found what turned things round for her was eating what was then (back in the 1970s/80s) called a whole food diet - in other words, as little processed food as possible, and, I believe, in her case specifically avoiding white bread.

I had depression on and off for about 30 years, but it seems to have got much better over the past 20 years or so, and I hardly ever (touch wood) have an attack now.
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From: sheff_dogs
2014-08-11 09:26 pm (UTC)
Well said!

I have friends who have become allergic to alcohol, cheese, chocolate, onions and nuts, all well into adulthood. The cheese one in particular horrified me. My stomach now objects to raw onion, raw cabbage, some pastry and a lot of raw chilli although I don't have actual allergic reactions to them. Generally I just avoid them, though I risk it with the chilli.

And gifted, most people with no European ancestry lose the ability to digest milk, specifically lactose, around the time they are weaned, although they can usually eat other milk products like yogurt where the lactose has been changed in the processing. So that's most of the world!
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[User Picture]From: hairmonger
2014-08-12 01:49 pm (UTC)
Yes! Triple yes! I have many food allergies, and they change over time. Individual bodies are individual.
When I was small, in the 1950s, before I knew I was allergic to yeast, the only time I saw white bread was at my grandparents, where half the time it was made by my grandmother. My parents didn't buy whole wheat bread because it was "healthy" but because they liked it better.

Mary Anne in Kentucky
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From: timepiece
2014-08-19 06:28 pm (UTC)
You would probably enjoy the Cook for Good blog, which is all about eating healthy on a food-stamp budget (begun as the result of a dare, I believe). Her food plans are frugal in the truest sense of the word, using everything - you know, "take the chicken left over from Monday's dinner and add to this soup, along with ...." Not that many of her recipes have chicken - or any kind of meat. She is trying to work with a food-stamp budget after all.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2014-08-20 03:26 am (UTC)
I learned about eating healthy on a tiny budget from my mother, in the days long before food stamps...and she had learned from her mother and grandmother through varying economic times, the Great Depression included. I agree, it's an important skill. If you know how (and if the ingredients are available) you can do well on less than most people. It's come in very handy at times in the past when my husband and I were squeaking by on little, and so did knowing how to grow even a little food where we were. Some people now deplore that girls aren't made to take Homemaking in school, with cooking and sewing, but my mother learned both at home before middle-school age, and I learned cooking (I'm a dud at sewing, though I've made clothes, curtains, bedspreads. Just not half as well as my mother made them. OTOH I learned knitting...)

It annoys me that food faddism has taken hold in some official lists of what can and can't be purchased with food stamps or the equivalent (in Texas it's called something else) without regard to what's actually available in the stores where the people with lowest income live, or the food sensitivities that they may have.
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From: timepiece
2014-08-20 01:41 pm (UTC)
Yeah, availability is an entirely separate issue. That blog does try to work with in-season produce (which of course would usually be less expensive).

I used to live on the edge of one of the lower-income neighborhoods in Manhattan. I had to buy decent groceries at a place near work (59th St) and carry them home (181st St) because the local bodegas had almost nothing, and there weren't many actual grocery stores. I ate a lot of box mixes, because carrying produce and meat for any length of time gets super-heavy. Even on the subway.

Sometimes I wish Home Ec had been required - I really have very little in the way of housekeeping skills, and my mother was a business owner who wasn't really home a lot to show me. I did learn sewing when I took Costume Construction in the college theater dept.
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