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The Final Week

Picara Vassallo

The final week of my dietary adventures flew by, which is quite a feat considering how much I struggled through the first few days.

Life, as it does, got in the way from me posting as much as I'd like. But, I can say that I stayed the course and finished strong

The day after I completed my cleanse, I was fortunate enough to be at one of Mama Gena's events.  Ladies, if you haven't been, I highly recommend going to experience a reminder to access your pleasure and to support each other.  I went with a great group of powerful, passionate women, most of whom are young entrepreneurs.  We danced, we cheered, we hugged and we ate lunch at a vegetarian restaurant.

It was my first meal where I was off the diet.  I actually found it hard to decide on what I wanted, mostly because I felt pretty satisfied.  I wasn't having cravings and I didn't feel a need to pig out or splurge.  I ordered an eggplant dish that was good, but in a much richer and sweeter sauce than I had expected. 

I actually felt a sugar rush!

And what was most amazing was... I didn't enjoy it.  I felt the meal was overwhelming and over stimulating.  So much so that I wished I could immediately go for a run! I was super charged but in a wired way and I just wanted to burn the sensation off. 

It reminded me how powerful sugar could be.... and how much it could mess with my system.

Even though I was technically done with the diet, the next meal was something much more plain and simple.  I realized that most days I can eat without sugar or dairy or gluten and find my food satisfying for my palate but also for my body. 

Since this cleanse ended, I've stuck to about the 80/20 rule, eating clean about 80% of the time and then having "treats" the other 20% of the time.  I've experimented with foods I eliminated and realized some things didn't seem to bother me very much (greek yogurt for instance seems to like me just fine) and other things are still problematic (ugh, chocolate... I love/hate you). 

The greatest gift from this experiment was the level of self awareness I gained.  I had to put a lot of attention on what was going into my mouth, I got to ask myself why I was eating the way that I was, and I had a keen eye on how I was feeling. I realized when I went to food for comfort or satisfaction, when I was using it to stuff down my emotions, or when I had a plain and simple chemical addiction or reaction to certain foods (ehem, chocolate again).  

Of everything I learned about food, I mostly learned about who I am. As my teacher Thea Elijah says, "You can be you, or you can be sick."  May your own adventures and challenges (in diet or otherwise) bring you greater awareness of who you are so you can be healthy and happy and better bring your gifts to shine in the world.

With gratitude and love,

Dr. Picara

Day #13 - Coffee 101

Picara Vassallo

Day #13- Coffee 101

I was a teenage barista.  It sounds like some kind of confession.  But, it was the perfect job for me at the time.  I loved coffee - the smell, the taste, the variety of beans, and of course the buzz.  As the years went on, I started to feel funny after drinking coffee. My stomach wasn’t handling it well and I sometimes felt hung over after drinking it. I couldn’t figure out what the deal was so I switched to green tea and figured my coffee days were behind me. 

Then, I went to Costa Rica for a yoga retreat.  Each morning, they had fresh roasted coffee brewing.  And when I say fresh, I mean I could see the land where the beans were growing across the street.  I couldn’t help myself - I drank it and it was so clean, fresh and I felt a light buzz but not those funny feelings I had been having back in the states. I brought that coffee home and squeezed every cup I could out of that bag of beans.  But, when it was gone, I couldn’t go back to the average java that most coffee shops were serving - it gave me all of those strange feelings again.

I gave coffee up again for a while until I found a few amazing coffee shops that were getting premo beans, grinding on site, and brewing properly.  The difference was pretty profound - I was getting all the benefits of the coffee but none of the weird side effects.

Speaking of benefits, what’s so great about coffee?  There are a number of benefits! Coffee is an incredible source of antioxidants that are very well absorbed, caffeinated coffee seems to benefit Parkinson’s patients, and it may help prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.  Coffee consumption is linked with lower rates of depression and suicide, and it may help protect women from skin cancer.  Studies are showing improved athletic performance from coffee because of it’s ability to increase fatty acids into the blood stream which get utilized as fuel.  Also, there’s a study that shows coffee can reduce your chance of developing Type 2 diabetes.  

That being said, coffee can be filled with pesticides, mycotoxins (toxic mold), and other chemicals from poor transportation, storage or roasting processes.  This explains why I’d sometimes feel hung over after coffee.  I’m allergic to mold and sensitive to chemicals in general. 

How do you find the coffee with the benefits and less of the drawbacks?

First, choose a responsible producer who is transparent about their coffee. I very much like Dave Aspry’s Bulletproof Coffee beans.  He’s gone to great lengths to make sure that the beans are properly dried and roasted to minimize mycotoxins.  His basic blend is fresh and delicious.  For some reason, I don’t find his decaf to be as enjoyable despite the fact that he uses a Swiss Water Process, which doesn’t use chemicals to decaffeinate the beans.  For decaf and for other varieties of beans, I head over to Terroir Coffee which was created by George Howell.  Years ago, he founded Coffee Connection in New England which he sold to Starbucks back in the 90‘s. After that, he spent the next few years traveling the world looking for the best coffee, which you can order directly from his website. Due to his meticulous standards, you might have to wait for a certain date to get the specific beans that you want.  This means that it’s as fresh as what I drank in Costa Rica.  And, their incredible selection means you can get a coffee that’s got flavors from nutty, chocolate and caramel to citrus, berry, and floral. 

How you brew your coffee will also make a difference in the flavor and possibly the way that your digestive system handles your coffee.  I personally use an aeropress or cold brew my coffee.  These allow for less acidity in your coffee and therefore less gastrointestinal distress

My tendency is to drink coffee black, but if I want to change it up I make it Bulletproof with raw goat butter, blended in my vitamix for a nice frothy warm mug of coffee “with cream.”   

If you are the type who gets their java on the go, search for places that focus on organic, fair trade, coffees and brewing methods that are per cup utilizing a Clover system, chemex, aeropress, or cold brewing methods.  You may have to try some different shops but it will be worth it.  Places making great coffee will have knowledgable staff.  If they can’t tell you where the coffee is from or how it’s brewed, you probably aren’t getting very good coffee.

While I love coffee, it’s still not a daily beverage for me.  I don’t need the caffeine buzz (I’m pretty alert first thing in the morning and coffee will make look like this) and I’m not addicted to it.  So, I left it on the diet list so I can enjoy it from time to time when I feel moved to.  If you are completely attached to your morning caffeine, it might be wise to take a break for a few days. Try tea or yerba mate instead and see if you feel different.  Try getting a higher quality coffee and see if perhaps you feel better, stronger, and clearer. If you are going to drink something ever day, make it as delicious and nutritious as you can.  You deserve it.

Day #12 - All About Tea

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Day #12 - All About Tea

I've loved tea for years and been drinking it since childhood.  Herbal tea, black tea, green tea, white tea, fermented tea, aged tea... you name it, I've tried it.  And so through the years, I've gotten pretty particular about my tea.  I'm no connoisseur, I just know what I like.   

Caffeinated or not, the afternoon or before bed is when I love to drink a nice warm cup of tea (even in the summer!)  During this diet, herbal tea has been a real life saver.  I often drink it after dinner to help me get past a sugar craving.  It’s a soothing and peaceful ritual which is also why I enjoy it in the middle of a busy afternoon. 

As usual, I have standards for my tea.  First, they need to be organic or at least come from a reputable source.  What I mean by this is that some teas aren’t labeled organic for a number of reasons, but I trust the company or purveyor of the product and their standards and the quality of the tea speaks for itself.  

One of my favorite new tea shops is a very authentic Chinese tea shop called Tea Drunk.  It’s owned and operated by the most adorable woman, Shunan, who has sourced all of her teas herself.  Her knowledge and standards are very high and her teas are of fantastic quality. When I want a good Oolong, Pu-eh, or Red tea (or black tea as we Americans call it), I go see her.  I’m not sure her teas are labeled “organic” but it doesn’t seem to matter.  Tea with pesticides will taste poor to a tea expert.  They can actually sense the chemicals and it ruins the tea.  A competent source will know the difference and choose the best quality tea to serve to their customers.  And they'll talk your ear off if you ask them about their teas. 

If I want tea from other parts of the world, I will stop by Harney and Sons.  They are locally here in Soho and have a tasting bar for you to test out a tea of your choice.  But, they also have online ordering options for those of you outside of the city.  Their menu of teas is extensive and since they are master tea blenders, they put together combinations of teas in creative ways that can be really fun and exciting.  Their hot cinnamon black tea is super warm and inviting and is a favorite in the winter.  Their green tea with coconut, ginger, and vanilla is a summer favorite, which is also good iced. Their thick mache is also pretty wonderful too.  Having been in touch with one of the owners, I can say that they are still constantly searching for great teas around the world.  

As for herbal teas, there are lots of mainstream brands out there but some of them are adding sweetners, preservatives and more.  I recommend going with a company that is choosing simple herbs for ingredientTraditional Medicinals is a brand that focuses on single herb teas like raspberry leaf, dandelion, and licorice and they are very transparent about their products, providing a lot of information on their website about where the herbs come from and sustainability practices.  Research Celestial Seasonings or Teavana and see what you come up with.  You might be surprised.

Also, It’s wise to realize that herbals teas can have medicinal properties.  Simple google searches can help you learn more about the properties of herbs.  For example, raspberry leaf is great for women’s uterus, dandelion is detoxing and helps the large intestine do it’s job, and licorice can be very soothing for a sore throat or upset stomach but it also slightly raises blood pressure.  For the most part, most herbal teas are mild and you can drink them daily without much concern.  But, if you are on medications or have a serious health condition, make sure you are aware of any potential interactions. 

You never know where you might find a great tea! My friend Gina gave me some lovely herbal tea from “t by Sarah” and I liked it so much, I ordered their "Be Well" blend and their "Ginger Twist" tea right off their website.  You can see the quality of the herbs and the taste is clean and soothing. 

Okay, you might be saying that tea is pretty great but what about coffee?  Don’t worry... as a former barista, I’m no coffee hater but I’ve got pretty tough standards for my coffee.  That post is coming up next.  Meanwhile, why don’t you go make some tea and watch the winter weather. :-)