I heartily support plunging into food culture when traveling. And by that I mean eating everything locally specific to the area you are visiting.
Italy’s prized foods change constantly as you roam about the country, and we ate all of them. Of course we ate lots of the quintessential pasta (though the shape changed depending on where we went), but I also ate SO MUCH incredible cheese. Aged, robust cheese in the mountains, and lots of ricotta (and variations thereof) in Sicily. Sicily offered an overflowing cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables, but it also taught me to eat a croissant filled with sweet pistachio cream for breakfast every morning, and to end each day with either a gelato or a cannolo. Sicilians are very proud of their pastries, and that is a lot of ultra-refined white sugar and flour to to eat. Of course we had lots of espresso, and considering that the local wine was a few euros a bottle, we had plenty of that too.
When you’re on the go, nothing is as easy for a packed lunch as some kind of bread-based meal. Our favorite lunch was to pack ourselves a loaf of local bread, some local cheese, tomatoes, seasonal fruit, and half a bottle of wine in our hydroflask.
It was a great cultural experience, but I came back from my month in Italy feeling like my daily diet needed a major influx of GOOD and CLEAN food. So I asked my health coach-friend Koko (well, her professional name is Aniko Fischer), for a good cleanse program. I really hate the idea of a deprivation detox, which is the trendy option. I have tried a juice cleanse before, and I lasted a mere 2 hours. She was in total agreement and quickly produced a program inspired by one of her nutrition heroines, Ann Louise Gittleman. In Koko’s words:
The main reason I chose this cleanse is because I generally don’t believe that fasting or cleansing, especially for long periods of time, is a very healthy thing to do unless your body is prepared for it beforehand. Too many people transition so abruptly from eating crappy foods to fasting that their bodies don’t have time to help filter out the toxins that fasts release from fat cells. So I like this cleanse because it guides you through a steady transition.
I also like the fact that Gittleman focuses not only on what foods to avoid, but also on what foods to add to your diet. Cleanses always seem less daunting to me when you can focus on interesting and delicious foods to add to your diet rather than just worrying about what you can’t eat.
For 1 week, I cut out gluten, caffeine (readers, I had a 3-day headache when I cut out my beloved coffee and switched to green tea!), sugar (including honey and agave), alcohol, and pretty much anything processed or refined (including anything soy-related). And I added LOTS of foods specifically supporting the liver and colon, (cauliflower, cabbage, beets, broccoli, kale, psyllium husk powder, filtered water, etc). Everything organic.
After that week, I juice-cleansed (a specific juice recipe from Gittleman), for 1 day. Followed by 2 days of the former diet plan + lots of probiotics and fermented foods.
What was challenging
That no-coffee-headache. I also found it surprisingly challenging to cut out gluten. A couple of years ago I actually went gluten-free for 6 months, just out of curiosity. So it wasn’t a new challenge for me, but I couldn’t get crusty bread out of my head! My primary cravings were for crusty sourdough bread, cereal, cake, and doughnuts (and I’m really not a doughnut person, I swear!) To combat this, I ate a lot of roasted cauliflower and cabbage. Wonderfully savory, lots of chewing.
I also don’t think I would have succeeded in my juice-fast without Alberto’s support. Let’s not sugarcoat this, I was really hungry that day. But I had strategically chosen a non-working day to fast, and Alberto and I usually spend Saturday together. He was totally aware what I was doing, and incredibly supportive. He never seemed to grow weary of hearing my pathetic voice complain of hunger, and he encouraged me to keep going. He even said that he was jealous of me, for how well I was taking care of my body. I really think my resolve would have crumbled without his vigilant encouragement.
My trick for satiating dessert cravings is to mix a heaping tablespoon of raw, organic cacao with a little bowl of goat’s milk yogurt, a few drops of stevia, and whatever seasonal fruit I have around.
What I loved
Not only did I feel great satisfaction for how well I was nourishing my body, I also formed some awesome habits over that week and a half. Since the cleanse ended a week ago, I start every day with an incredibly nutrient-packed smoothie (recipe below), rather than my usual carb-heavy, nutrient-light bran flakes. Though I don’t feel much of a difference when I cut out gluten (I clearly don’t have a sensitivity to it), I have been eating less glutenous foods, with more variety. Even without a sensitivity, I think there are foods that have a lot more nutritional pay-off than the bread on my sandwich.
(sidenote: I read Michael Pollan’s Cooked this summer and it included some fascinating and disheartening research about the history of flour agriculture and milling in this country. I highly recommend it, it’s gotten me committed to finding sourdough levain made with whole grains for my home supply of bread).
I’m a huge fan of green tea now! Especially with a big squeeze of lemon juice. It gives me so much steady, focused energy. I actually haven’t gotten back into the coffee habit since the end of the cleanse, though I am certainly not against it (hello, I want nothing more than to open my sweet little cafe). I think a high-quality, almond cappuccino will be more of a treat than a daily requirement.
Because I wasn’t feeling deprived during most of the cleanse, I didn’t feel food-mania by the end of it. Though I have searched out the perfect venues to satisfy my doughnut craving, sourdough craving, etc. Everything in moderation, eh?
Daily Green Chocolate Nutrient Powerhouse
(notes: this is an incredibly flexible recipe. I throw in whatever green veggies I happen to have sitting in the fridge, and whatever little superfoods I have in stock in the pantry. Somedays there’s a little broccoli, cucumber, flax seeds… and some days there’s not. You can also halve the water if you want a thicker smoothie to make a smoothie bowl, sprinkle with granola).
2 stems kale, stems removed
1 stem swiss chard, stem removed
1 frozen banana
1 C filtered water
1/2 C organic kefir (my favorite brand is this one)
1 tbsp raw organic cacao powder
1 tsp local bee pollen (local is ideal to help with seasonal allergies)
1-2 tsp psyllium husk powder
1 tsp chia seeds
1 tsp spirulina
a few drops of stevia, to taste
Blend and enjoy!
(A HUGE thank you to Aniko (Koko) Fischer for contributing to this feature. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email if you’d like to look into health coach services with Koko, or would like more details on this cleanse.)