Food as medicine…it’s not a crazy idea. It’s become my reality over the past year after my ulcerative colitis diagnosis. For years I struggled with emotional eating and consumed far too much sugar and processed foods, creating even more damage for my chronically inflamed gut.
After a year on the Specific Carbohydrate diet, my mindset has really shifted towards regarding food as medicine, and listening to my symptoms before I eat. If I’m having a rough IBD day (or week..or month…) then I go back to basics which for me looks like eggs, chicken, beef, pureed vegetables and soup.
I don’t expect that too many people reading this will be following the SCD, but there’s some wisdom that applies to all of us. First, listen to your body. Everyone’s body is a little bit different and may react to different things. It’s always a good idea to follow some solid guidelines of healthy eating, but you should also know which foods and supplements are the best for you. Get into the habit of listening to your body and noticing how you feel after eating certain foods.
Keeping a food journal is a great way to track how particular foods affect your health and wellbeing.
Eat More Plant Based Foods
You don’t have to be a vegetarian or vegan for your diet to be healthy. But it’s always a good idea to fill the majority of your plate with plant-based foods rather than heavy meals or takeout. Plant-based foods tend to be nutrient dense but are low in calories, which means they nourish you and fill you up while helping you maintain a healthy weight. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains (if you eat them) are some staples of a healthy plant-based diet.
Avoid Sugar, Processed Food and Alcohol
When you live with a chronic illness, it’s vital to avoid foods that can throw your body out of whack. The big culprits are sugar, alcohol and (unfortunately) caffeine. Work towards eliminating sugar and alcohol. Your mental health will benefit as well.
Make Time to Meal Prep
Set aside some time on the weekend to prep some food for the week. You won’t succumb to temptation as easily if you have food prepped in your refrigerator or freezer ready to reheat when you’re in a hurry, or are too sick or tired to cook.
Easy Meal Ideas for the Chronically Ill
Chicken soup. Having an Instant Pot makes this process dramatically easier. Two hours in the Instant Pot with chicken feet (if you can find them) makes a collagen rich soup that’s easy on your gut.
Yogurt. Again, an Instant Pot makes this easy (get one with yogurt settings.) On the SCD diet, I have to let it ferment for 24 hours. I buy a gallon at a time and use a cup of Dannon for starter culture and just let it sit for 24 hours. Then I eat it with bananas and almond butter, or throw them in the Vitamix for an easy smoothie.
Veggie Quiches. I follow a simple formula – sautee easily digestible veggies along with some onions and put it in a pie plate. Then I blend 4 eggs, a cup of hard cheese and 8 oz of farmer cheese in the Vitamix and blend it with the cookied veggies. Cook at 350 for about 30 minutes.
Chicken parts. Easy peasy..get your preferred chicken parts from your grocer. Brush with oil and whatever spices you can tolerate. Cook at 350 for about 40 minutes, depending on your oven. You might want to turn the heat up the last few minutes to brown the skin.
Burgers. I keep them frozen and when I’m in the mood for something filling, I defrost in the microwave for 5 minutes and then cook in the cast iron skillet. I love having avocados on the side.
What to Feed the Family?
This is pretty much what I live on when I’m flaring. There’s only one problem…my family has to eat too and they’re not too fond of vegetable purees. I’m fortunate that my husband is happy to pitch in when needed, and my kids are old enough to do some basic kitchen tasks. Here’s some of our easy go-to family meal ideas that they can do.
Spaghetti and meatballs. Prep the meatballs in a bowl, then brown them in the oven or in a cast iron pot. Top with your favorite ready made pasta sauce (we like Rao’s.) and let simmer for about 25 minutes.
Cuban picadillo. This is a family favorite that’s easy for me to cook even on my worst days. This is one good traditional Cuban picadillo recipe that I found. When I make it, I use Campbells tomato soup to remain SCD compliant and I don’t use potatoes, capers, raisins or olives. Sometimes I’ll put hardboiled eggs and green peas on the top. Bonus, it’s awesome for breakfast the next morning with soft cooked eggs on top.
Chicken in the Instant Pot. Did you know that you can cook a whole chicken in your Instant Pot? What a time saver. Here’s a detailed tutorial.
Rice with Eggs. My husband and kids love this. It’s the ultimate in lazy cuisine and chances are you have the ingredients on hand! Arroz con hevo (Ultimate Latin Lazy Lunch.)
Breakfast for Dinner. This could look like scrambled eggs, an easy egg casserole or pancakes and sausage.
That being said, we’re no stranger to our Costco’s convenience area. It’s a life saver. We’ll get a rotisserie chicken, pork tenderloins or prepared food that doesn’t have too many yukky ingredients. And my kids do get to have pizza, chicken nuggets and mozzarella sticks, just not every night.
My Favorite Kitchen Tools for Cooking with Chronic Illness
I’m not as gadget happy as I once was. More stuff to clean up and find storage for. These days I try to keep things simple! But here’s a few kitchen tools I use all the time.
Instant pot. Mainly I use it for chicken stock, yogurt and beef stew. I’ve also used it for lentil and bean soups.