Aspen Times Weekly: Power Up

by Amanda Rae
Apple With A Bandaid On It
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto


Instead of getting sucked into the shame spiral of emotional eating (pizza and ice cream, how I adore thee) I’ve been channeling anxious energy into preparing nutrient-dense superfoods at home.

Quite comforting lately: A bowl of savory oatmeal with garlic, red pepper flakes, and iron-rich spinach topped with a poached egg and a sprinkling of hemp hearts. I add 1⁄8 cup of amaranth, a high-protein ancient grain that looks like birdseed but lends a chewy crunch when cooked, to every ½ cup of rolled oats. Magnesium, potassium, calcium, and B vitamins in oats are known to help balance mood.

Nuts are solid sources of magnesium and B vitamins, too. Cashews are also high in tryptophan, an amino acid that aids serotonin production. I whiz up homemade cashew milk chai with fresh ginger, ground spices, sea salt, and a splash of Vermont maple syrup (see recipe, below) for a thick, creamy, slightly spicy treat that makes a decadent nightcap without any threat of a next-day hangover.

Cashew Milk Chai

Makes about 3 ½ cups

1 cup raw cashews, soaked 2 hours or overnight, rinsed, and drained

3 cups filtered water

½” fresh ginger root, chopped (more if you like it spicy)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cardamom

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ½ tablespoons pure maple syrup

Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth, about two minutes. Adjust salt, sugar, and spices, if desired. (Strain through a nut-milk bag or cheesecloth to make it super-silky, though with decreased fiber and nutrients.) Refrigerate in an airtight container up to three days.

WHEN A TOXIC, ABUSIVE relationship boils over, there’s no saving the soup. In my case, the metaphorical pressure cooker exploded, destroying the kitchen and burning me badly in the process. But I escaped to tell my story.

Step one to healing was taking a stand. I built a case so solid that the judge felt compelled to slap the dirtbag with a permanent protection order, legally banning him from bothering me ever again. (Others are not so lucky. I learned from RESPONSE program director Jill Gruenberg that women in abusive situations attempt to break away an average of seven times before being successful. Seven times! The consequences can be devastating. If you or someone you care about is caught in rough circumstances, please seek help immediately. RESPONSE: 970-925-SAFE.)

Free at last, and surfing a wave of self-empowerment after channeling Marcia Clark in the Pitkin County Courthouse, I began to investigate how food might help me recover — physically, from painful, crippling injuries, and emotionally, as I realized that my happy-go-lucky spirit had been held hostage and tortured for nearly a year by a shameless lunatic with an extensive record of violence.

“Foods have the power to heal,” says Dr. Tom Lankering, a longtime Basalt-based chiropractor and certified practitioner of functional nutrition for over a decade. Lankering is an expert in using nutrition as a tool to help combat emotional stress in the body. I’ll circle back to this later.

My primary concern: How to fade the black and blue bruises mottling my arms, wrists, thighs, knees, shins, hips, lower back, neck, forehead, and cheeks. Not only are soft-tissue injuries ugly, they’re tender to the touch — a result of broken blood vessels beneath the skin. I consulted tips from Dr. Andrew Weil, author of more than a dozen bestselling books including “Eating Well for Optimum Health.” Weil suggests foods rich in vitamin K (dark leafy greens; cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts) to help regulate blood clotting and vitamin C to boost collagen production. Blueberries are tops, too, as flavonoids that lend their dark hue also help to strengthen capillary walls.

Bromelain, an enzyme considered helpful in healing contusions and reducing inflammation and pain, is prevalent in pineapple. Unfortunately, the dosage Weil suggests for effective treatment (200-400 mg, three times daily) would be nearly impossible to consume in fruit form alone. (Pineapple’s fibrous core and woody stem boast the most bromelain, anyway; pill supplements are available.)

Always consult a professional opinion, though: Research cautions that bromelain may interact with certain medications including antibiotics, which I’ve been taking to fight a nasty elbow infection as a result of an open wound and joint “bursa” (fluid-filled sac) sustained during a hard fall on that fateful night.

Understanding that antibiotic drugs prescribed to wipe out bacterial infections also devastate beneficial bugs in the digestive tract, I’ve become more mindful of consuming probiotics to help replenish gut flora. “A healthy gut lays the foundation for your immune system, energy, and mood,” Lankering explains.

As it happens, I’ve been on a fermentation kick since winter, evidenced by a giant olive jar of sauerkraut that lives in my fridge. Sauerkraut is one of the simplest fermented foods to DIY, and once you realize the egregious markup of commercially available brands, you’ll cringe at buying it again. It’s made of just cabbage, salt, and time, dear readers! My method: Shred one head of cabbage (about three pounds). Place in big bowl with 1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt. Massage 10 minutes (now’s a good time to pop in earbuds and call Mom). Pack cabbage and juices into a large glass jar. Insert a smaller, clean jar filled with rice or something heavy into the larger jar to keep cabbage submerged in its own liquid. Leave this assembly on a countertop, out of sunlight, to ferment at least three days. (I prefer mine potent and slightly fizzy after 13 days.)

My orthopedic doctor, Eleanor F. von Stade, gave me the green light on probiotics, with a caveat: Do not consume them at the same time as the antibiotic, as the pill will likely counteract any benefit, she says.

Integral to joint health is collagen, glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate, so I’ve been simmering chicken stock nearly nonstop in the past few weeks. A slew of products have hit supermarket shelves in the past year, as gelatinous “bone broth” is the buzzy darling of the Paleo movement. Yet there’s something deeply comforting about a giant pot of garlic, onions, and bird bones bubbling away for hours on the stovetop — during a snowstorm, especially. Beef bones are richer in collagen and nutrients, but that’s not the stock I like to sip.

One major benefit to embarking on a holistic eating program: cooking more. Ironically, my abuser ekes out a living as a cook in Aspen (perhaps not for much longer), which led me to all but abandon my first true love — cooking — during much of our relationship. I suspect that my body was not getting what it craved — colorful fresh veggies in particular — which may be why I fell prey to negative feelings that tend to push an uneasy mind into a downward spiral. (The link between depression/anxiety and diet is heavily documented.)

Cooking, for me, is deeply therapeutic. Along with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in a rainbow of plant-based foods, the meditative act of making stock or massaging cabbage can soothe the effects of intense emotional stress (what Lankering calls adrenal fatigue) such as sallow, freaked-out skin and persistent sadness.

As I mentioned in the beginning, there is a happy, though bittersweet, ending to all this: I’m hell-bent on treating myself better. Apparently, it shows. Recently I met up with a friend — the kind who knows better than to ask outright how I’m doing. Instead, she saw progress on my face. “You’re glowing!” she exclaimed.

Her words were music to my ears. Because let’s be honest: looking (and feeling) great is the best revenge.

Amanda Rae is grateful for support and guidance from RESPONSE (970-925-SAFE) and her Aspen family of friends and mentors.

Aspen Times Weekly

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