Today, it seems hardly a family escapes some form of potentially debilitating chronic ailment, be it an autoimmune disorder, diabetes, digestive ailments, food allergies or, increasingly, cancer. Dealing with such illness on a day-to-day basis can be extremely stressful for the entire household, but especially for the mom, who is often the one to take charge of her family’s meals and health.
Our family has had to face several rounds of serious illness, including Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis and severe gut issues. In each case, we have chosen to treat the condition primarily with dietary changes, making adjustments to our otherwise quite excellent traditional diet. We implemented these changes after carefully considering the family’s overall needs and desires. Although this path was sometimes difficult, we developed strategies that worked well for us. I hope our experience can furnish inspiration and ideas for other families who may be encountering similar challenges.
ONE DIET FOR ALL?
It is my opinion that no illness or health problem, whether acute or chronic, can be overcome without first seriously addressing dietary changes. The changes might be as simple as adding fermented foods to the diet or eliminating irritants such as conventional dairy products, commercial vegetable oils or grains. Dietary changes can be of great benefit to the entire family and may bring about unexpected results for other family members besides the one suffering the illness.
Although feeding the whole family the same restricted or special diet can work in some situations, an across-the-board approach will sometimes be met with resistance, particularly from children. Moreover, some family members may actually need the nutrients that would be lost with a more restrictive diet. In many cases, therefore, the diet of the affected person may need to be quite different from that of the rest of the family. That does not mean that it is impossible to change out some ingredients for family meals in such a way as to satisfy and nourish everyone. For instance, if gluten is a problem, it is very easy to substitute spaghetti squash or soaked or sprouted brown rice for traditional pasta. Cauliflower “rice” is also a wonderful substitute when it is necessary to eliminate all grains for a time (as with the GAPS diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, or Paleo Autoimmune protocol). Pulverized pork rinds work very well in place of bread crumbs in many recipes. This substitution is my go-to for dishes such as meatloaf or as a topping for casseroles. I simply toss the pork rinds into my food processor and process for a few seconds to reduce them to crumbs.
When it is necessary to avoid dairy, coconut milk or cream are delicious replacements. It is possible to whip coconut cream like heavy cream and also culture it for yogurt. Ghee is nearly always a good replacement for straight butter. Some people may want to try to include a small amount of twenty-four-hour, cultured, full-fat raw yogurt every day. Once the individual tolerates the yogurt well, adding extra raw cream can make it even better.
Often those suffering with arthritic conditions, as my husband does, may benefit from eliminating grains (even when properly prepared), as well as sugars (other than raw honey), all non-traditional fats and nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers). When we make meals that normally contain any of these, I remove a portion for my husband before I add the offending ingredients (such as tomatoes in chili or sauce). In this way, he can enjoy a meal that is similar to what the rest of us are eating and I do not have to prepare an entirely separate dish. In such cases, I might add stock and sour cream instead of the tomatoes, and use thinly sliced zucchini in place of lasagna noodles. (A “spiralizer” is a useful kitchen tool for making “pasta” from vegetables—a real blessing in the kitchen.)
I do the same with desserts. The kids can enjoy panna cotta, flan, ice cream, cake or cookies made with maple syrup or coconut sap sugar and sprouted grains, but my husband cannot. For him, I use a small amount of raw honey or monk fruit and use grain- and starch-free flours that I make myself. Many delicious desserts are possible—even without sugar, grains and cream—and there is often no need to make separate versions.
Many ailments, including diabetes and cancer, can improve considerably with a low-carbohydrate diet. An easy way to accomplish this is to increase the intake of beneficial fats such as butter, cream and full-fat yogurt from grass-fed animals, as well as coconut oil, lard and olive oil. With adequate fats, vegetables can replace foods high in carbs and starches and accompany high-quality proteins such as eggs from pastured hens, grass-fed and grass-finished beef and pastured pork. Wild-caught seafood can also be a great addition to the healing diet, and I often use it in chowder for a very satisfying and nutritious meal.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and especially beet kvass are generally fantastic for healing and detoxifying. It’s ideal to consume a little sauerkraut at each meal, even if only the juice. While in the healing phase of his illness, my husband started every morning with three ounces of beet kvass which I made with plenty of garlic for an even more powerful tonic. This is a great way for any of us to start the day, whether we are ill or not! When an intestinal bug is making its way through the household, the juice of kimchi, sauerkraut or other ferments is a sure way to chase the bug away. (It can be important to go easy, however, because a little goes a long way; everyone may need to stay close to a bathroom for a time.)
“Fire water” is another excellent ferment to keep on hand to chase away the “beasties” and facilitate healing of chronic illness. It is a simple ferment of garlic (one to two heads per quart), ginger (to taste), a yellow onion or two, a jalapeño or cayenne pepper, horseradish (optional) and salt (one tablespoon per quart). There are no hard-and-fast rules as to the quantities of each ingredient. Simply chop up and toss together all of the ingredients, place them in a jar, add enough filtered or spring water to cover and allow to ferment on the counter for five to seven days, “burping” the jar if not using an airlock. As little as two teaspoons per day of the resulting juice can go far to help cleanse and heal the digestive system.
Fire water is equally useful as a seasoning for meals. It can be helpful to keep it close to one’s herbs and spices to add to salad dressings, soups and other savory dishes.
In severe cases where one’s ability to eat anything at all is compromised, meat stock and/or a modified version of WAPF’s homemade baby formula are very nourishing and promote healing. These can even be offered in a GI tube when oral feeding is impossible. Also remember cod liver and coconut oils, and use extra liposomal vitamin C to aid healing and combat infection.
In addition to diet, our household employs a variety of nutritional supplements and herbal and homeopathic protocols. We keep several items in our “medicine cabinet”—a drawer in our pantry—for regular preventive use and also as the need arises. These include vitamin C, fermented cod liver oil products, colloidal silver, herbal products and essential oils (see sidebar).
It can be helpful to create and print charts to place in plain view on the refrigerator or the inside of a cabinet door. These charts can list the person’s supplements or products, dosages, time of day, whether to take with or without food and so forth, as well as including checkboxes to keep track of doses taken (see sample chart below). Without such a visual aid, it can become overwhelming to keep up with everything needed! This strategy was a life-saver when my husband was recovering from his chronic Lyme disease and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to placing a chart on our refrigerator, I also printed copies for him to take to work, as he was often away for many days at a time.
I did the same for my father when helping him through his cancer diagnosis. Initially, he felt overwhelmed with his supplements, prescriptions and herbals, but my chart made his regimen very doable. I even prioritized each of the components on his chart with color coding, as he often literally could not stomach everything suggested for him.
Some prescriptions or supplements need to be taken early in the morning or before bed. For these, I keep a dish with a few pills on our bathroom vanity to make it easier to remember to take them. This may not be wise if little fingers are able to reach a potentially dangerous pill or supplement, so exercise good judgment.
REST, SWEET REST
It is important to remember that one key component of any healing protocol is rest. Without this, the body will take far longer to heal—if it can even heal at all. If it is mom who is experiencing a health crisis, it helps for the children to learn to help with daily chores such as cooking and cleaning. Even toddlers can be taught to put their things away. The family also can learn to simplify meals and tolerate messes.
Make sure there is a quiet space—a refuge—where the ill family member can escape for as long as needed, even for days, weeks or months. It can be healing to make calming music or audio books available and helpful to enlist the help of other family members and friends. Above all, be mindful and understanding of the family member who needs rest for recovery, and try to create a happy, calm environment for as long as it takes. This is always desirable anyway and makes for a happy life!
Let’s not overlook the fact that a joyful heart eases all burdens. In a home filled with strife, there is no rest and often no healing. It is important to find ways to keep the atmosphere happy, whether with music, playfulness or cooperation. Other simple measures to foster joy can include turning off the television and taking out a board game; reading a favorite book to one’s loved one; taking the person who is healing outside in the sunshine; enjoying the birds, the breeze and nature; having meals outside at a picnic table or on the lawn; and opening up the blinds and letting the light in. The healing rays can brighten up any room, any day and every life!
CARE FOR THE CAREGIVER
When I was in the thick of caring for my very ill husband, people often reminded me to take time to care for myself, too. Initially, my response was to brush this suggestion off; after all, I was the one who was well! But as the weeks and months passed, with little sleep and even less relaxation or enjoyment, I began to appreciate what these wise well-wishers meant. Caring for others is rewarding but can be exhausting. It can rob caregivers of sleep and life’s pleasures and even have a deleterious effect on their own health. One can quickly become burned out under this kind of stress. In my case, I was very stubborn and rarely accepted help from others until a wise woman gave me this piece of advice: refusing offers of assistance robs others of the blessing and pleasure they would derive from helping, and it would be better for everyone if I could swallow my pride and accept the help. This freed me of the guilt I associated with needing help.
Recognizing that caregivers need to take a break now and then, strategies include asking someone to give the caregiver a few hours’ or a day’s relief to get out to do something they enjoy, or asking others to occasionally help with laundry or to bring a meal. For meal help, it is good to offer a list of the ingredients and even a recipe to ensure that the meal meets the family’s dietary and healing requirements. Most people will be agreeable to this and may even be pleased to learn something new. Whether the healing journey is brief or long, we should strive to enjoy and cherish the life we’ve been given for as long as we have it. And we should always let those we care about know of our love for them!
MAUREEN’S BASIC “MEDICINE” CABINET
• Liposomal or buffered vitamin C (I use Perque Potent C Guard)
• Green Pastures fermented cod liver oil
• Fire water
• Hydrogen peroxide (3%)
• Colloidal silver
• Lugol’s iodine (5%)
• Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO)
• Activated charcoal or bentonite clay (for upset stomachs and food poisoning; also excellent for burns)
• Epsom salts
• Clear/empty vegetable capsules (for filling with essential oils or powdered products)
• Essential oils (peppermint, oregano, chamomile, tea tree, lavender and rosemary)
• Aloe vera
• Raw honey
• Homeopathic remedies such as Arnica montana (great for traumatic injuries and bruises), Ledum palustre (for insect bites or as part of some Lyme disease protocols), Sulphur (skin problems) and Apis mellifica (bee stings or conditions involving swelling)
GRAIN-FREE AND DAIRY-FREE RECIPES
GRAIN-FREE FLOUR MIX
4 cups crispy nuts, processed to a fine crumb in a food processor
2 cups full-fat coconut flour
2 tablespoons ground chia seeds
2 tablespoons baking powder (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (optional)
This flour mix is suitable for the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) and the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet. For a ready-to-use baking mix, add the baking powder and salt to the mix. Keep refrigerated.
DAIRY-FREE GAPS-FRIENDLY COCONUT ICE CREAM
1 teaspoon gelatin
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
2 raw egg yolks
1 cup coconut cream
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a small, heavy saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over the coconut milk and let soften for 5 minutes. Gently simmer, stirring constantly, until all of the gelatin is dissolved. Turn off heat. Whisk the egg yolks into the coconut cream and add the egg yolk-coconut cream mixture to the coconut milk. Add the honey and vanilla extract. Place in a glass container, covered, in the freezer. Stir every 30 minutes until frozen (about 2-3 hours).
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2017.