Saturday, October 24, 2009

By the Book

I have always been a skeptic.  I was the eight-year-old in Sunday school class who asked the teacher, “How do you know God exists?”  That question is the reason I earned a minor in philosophy in college.  It may also be the reason I earned a PhD in neuroscience.

My skepticism comes naturally.  Mostly I’m just curious.  I love understanding how things work, why they use this part and not that part.  I love knowing stuff.  This insatiable love for learning drew me to books, and to this day, whenever I walk into a library, I breathe a sigh of relief, happy to be surrounded by books and cozy little spaces in which to read all these books.  I feel the same way about bookstores, too, especially the cookbook section, which I always, always check out, even when I have no intention of purchasing anything.  Today, for example, I found myself lingering over a book about Santa Fe cooking, daydreaming about the day when I might finally, finally see that city and eat its delicious food.  And hey, now I live a lot closer to Santa Fe than I did a month ago, so maybe that day will be sooner rather than later!

In the meantime, I shall occupy myself with my newest project: a week of grain-free eating, following the principles of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.  My travel guide in this adventure is my slick new copy of Everyday Grain-Free Gourmet by Jodi Bager and Jenny Lass.  I love this book.

I love this book for everything that it is and everything that it isn’t.  It is a cookbook for people who love food and cooking.  It is beautiful and sleek, filled with delicious-sounding recipes made from simple, whole ingredients.  Unlike many gluten-free cookbooks, which are filled with recipes that require a gazillion different gluten-free flours and weird gums to hold everything together, Everyday Grain-Free Gourmet uses just one unusual flour, almond flour.  To get ready for my SCD project, I bought four pounds of almond from Amazon.  Now, with four pounds of almond flour sitting eagerly on the counter, I’m really committed to this project!

I’m not the only one who flirted with this cookbook.  While I puttered around the kitchen, Matt went straight to the meat recipes and studied them intently.  He wasn’t too impressed with the baked-not-fried version of Crispy Southern Chicken (the man loves him some fried chicken), but while my back was turned, he may have drooled on the recipe for Braised Lamb Shanks.  As long as he loves me more than he loves meat, then I’m okay with this carnivorous behavior.  Have I mentioned lately that he always orders red meat when we go to a restaurant together?  And that I love him, despite this extremely un-vegetarian habit?

I won’t be cooking any meat recipes from this cookbook, but I’m hopping with excitement about the other choices.  Roasted Squash and Apple Soup, Almond Crust Pizza, Spinach and Cheese Triangles, Raspberry Jam, Heavenly Hazelnut Ice Cream?  Yes, please!

My fondness for this book goes beyond its recipes.  I am still skeptical about SCD, as I think we all should be in the absence of more evidence about what this diet does.  The authors are good advocates for the diet, as they both have serious digestive disorders that no longer cause them trouble, thanks to SCD.  They take the science seriously, discussing numerous papers published in legitimate scientific journals—there’s even a Cell paper mentioned!  It is my dream to someday publish a paper in Cell.  What I like most about the authors’ position on SCD is that they acknowledge how much we don’t know about SCD.  More research needs to be done in order to understand these disorders and whether SCD is a clinically sound treatment for them.  The data we have for SCD is largely anecdotal—case studies and testimonials—but I find these stories so compelling that I’m just itching for someone to put SCD on mainstream nutrition’s radar.  For now, I’ll be that someone.

I believe in science.  I am a skeptic, but I believe in science.  The theory underlying SCD makes sense to me, at least as a hypothesis.  Here’s the idea: our guts contain a diverse population of bacteria that work hard to help us digest our food.  Presumably we need these bacteria because without them, our digestion is much weaker.  (If anyone knows specifically what these bacteria digest for us, feel free to pipe in here.)  In a healthy gut, all food is digested well and different bacterial species coexist peacefully.  In an unhealthy gut, such as the gut of a person with celiac or ulcerative colitis, not all foods are well-digested before reaching the gut.  These foods provide a feast for some bacterial species but not others, and the feasting bacteria multiply themselves until they have taken over the gut.  This hostile take-over worsens digestion for the person, who may show symptoms in the form of diarrhea or a lack of excretion.  In order to intervene in this process, the SCD eliminates carbohydrates that are difficult for the damaged gut to digest—all carbs that are not simple monosaccharides or insoluble fiber such as that found in fruits and vegetables—and encourages a replenishing of gut bacteria with probiotic-rich food like yogurt.  Over time, this treatment allows the gut to regain its ability to digest more complex foods, thus curing the diarrhea and pain that accompany poor digestion.

So.  That’s the hypothesis.  Don’t believe it, dear reader?  That’s okay.  I’m not sure if I do either, but even if SCD doesn’t cure digestive disorders, if it soothes the symptoms that distress AND it provides good nutrition, then I think that is pretty remarkable.  The important thing about following SCD is to make sure to eat as diverse a diet as possible so that one gets as many nutrients as possible.  I’m not enough of a nutrition expert to say whether there are any nutrients in grains that we cannot get from other foods—readers, any ideas here?—but I will be sticking with my vegetarian habits.  I see here that Elaine Gottshall, one of the founders of SCD, recommended that SCD vegetarians include at least one egg and some cheese every day.  I love eggs and cheese!  That part of SCD will be a snap.

On Sunday I’ll begin my weeklong series of posts about cooking and eating, SCD-style.  My kitchen is stocked with almond flour, a dozen eggs, and a pound of cheese.  I’ve got fresh vegetables waiting to be turned into soup and a jar of fabulous Texas honey lingering sweetly in the cupboard.  To set the scene, tomorrow I’ll describe some of the nitty-gritty details about SCD and what I plan to do in my cooking.  For now, I wish you pleasant meals and good company around the table.  I’m off to bake a batch of grain-free granola!


Rosiecat said...

A day-after apology: I misspelled Elaine GottsChall's name. There's a c in there! I hate when people misspell my name, so I humbly apologize for inflicting injury on someone else's name.

Asmodeus said...

Asmodeus has two thoughts:

1) What a cad that Matt is, to order meat when out to dinner with you. Oh, how I would like to teach that spindle-shanked good-for-nothing a lesson.


2) You will certainly make it into Cell someday, with beautiful writing like this.

Rosiecat said...

Asmodeus, clearly the only solution is to insist that Matt take me to vegetarian restaurants only. Wait, do they even have those in College Station, Texas? I'm pretty sure I'm living in the wrong city, given my urban hippie lifestyle.

As for that second point, you know just what to say to make a scientista feel good. What a charmer you are!