“Perls” of wisdom while on sabbatical, and my new gluten-free brain

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Perl 1: Carolyn Choate in 2012, following surgery.
Perl 1: Following surgery in 2012. Now, I’m taking back control of my body through food.

Oops! I’ve been so busy surviving that National Cancer Survivor Day on June 7 went right over my head. ThisBarking Tomato is highly unusual, considering that just this time last year I wrote a rather lengthy essay for CNN.com that consumed many days and nights.

2015 has been far different.

The perfect Chilli Rellenos.
Perl 2: The perfect chili rellenos is in Arizona.

Between my older daughter moving to Saudi Arabia at the end of March to take a cool job – yeah, that’s totally oxymoronic when it’s about 102 every day there – to me taking a subsequent trip to Arizona to check on my elderly aunt – and finding the perfect chili rellenos – to my younger daughter graduating shortly thereafter from my alma mater, Washington College, in my home state of Maryland, and planning a blowout for both sides of the family tree on the banks of the Chesapeake, to returning home to reconfigure and enlarge my vegetable garden back here in the Gate City, I have to say: I’ve been a tad too preoccupied in my 12th year since Stage 3b cancer tried to pull a fast one, and stick me in the asparagus patch permanently.

Perl 2: Kaust Saudi Arabia.
Perl 3: King Abdullah University of Science & Technology in Saudi Arabia is an exciting place for my kid to be. Gee, I miss her.

Too alive to pontificate about living when I have so much living going on, if you follow me.

And, the icing on the cake? That there’s the biggest news of all, foodie friends. There is no more icing on my cake. In a technical sense as in, “Mix 3 cups powdered sugar and 1/3 cup softened butter. Stir in 1 ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract.” I’ve recently become a disciple of Dr. David Perlmutter’s teachings in the ground-breaking book, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers. (Little Brown $27). This is no diet for the express purpose of losing weight, mind you. I like to think of it as the ultimate life insurance policy for just $27.

Perl 3: My daughter, the grad.
Perl 4: My daughter: the grad –  from my alma mater, yet. Where did the years go?

Doc Perlmutter, the only neurologist in the U.S. who’s a fellow of the American College of Nutrition, brilliantly lays out the research and grounds for one of the greatest threats to human health: gluten specifically, and carbs in general. In fact, many in the trenches of cutting edge research on Alzheimer’s and dementia have coined the term, “Type 3 Diabetes,” to describe what they’ve come to recognize as preventable conditions when so many of us feel helpless as to our future fate in this regard.

Turns out, 1 out of 4 people have a neurological sensitivity to gluten. You heard me right. Even if you DON’T show a digestive sensitivity, a neurological sensitivity, over time, wreaks havoc through the chemical damage of inflammation. After years in a state of agitated inflammation – years of poison through daily consumption of an allergen without remediation – that infamous plaque begins to build in the brain. And by the time that unfortunate train leaves the station, there’s really no turning back. Hence, that “life insurance plan” I told you about; the one in which you can – and should – invest now in gluten-free eating and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

Perl Six Grain Brain
Perl 5: Finding the book “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter, MD

There’s much more to Doc Perlmutter’s book, by the way. Like the staggering destruction of blood sugar spikes on the human body from abhorrent overeating of carbohydrates. One of the worst offenders? Whole wheat bread. I ain’t lying. Higher glycemic index than refined sugar.

Another interesting insight? Most educated Americans – me included – have been brainwashed to believe that a low fat, high carb diet is best. WRONG. The brain works at its best on a high fat, low carb diet. Think our early hunter gatherer ancestors i.e. lots of wild boar and a few berries in season.

And then there’s statins. They work counterintuitively to suppress the very cholesterol your brain craves when making decisions, large and small. And, over time, the lack of sufficient fat levels only exacerbates neurological dysfunction.   Cholesterol levels 150 and under, far from being the ideal target to which one should ascribe, actually accounts for “foggy” reasoning once retirement age is reached. (The much-lauded Framingham study is cited multiple times in Grain Brain to substantiate Dr. Perlmutter’s claims.)

Hey, I’m more than happy to return to full-fatted yogurt for breakfast. (Who were we really kidding?) Over the moon – it is made of cheese – to savor a good sharp cheddar on a grass-fed burger sans the bun and ketchup. Mustard, by all means. An omelet for dinner? Why the hell not?

For me, an acute migraine sufferer since the age of 12, taking all kinds of heavy duty prescription drugs including self-injectables and even anti-seizure drugs prophylactically, reading that gluten sensitivity is one of the leading causes of headaches gives me great hope. I’m in the process of weaning myself off Topamax, a drug used to reduce epileptic seizures with a side benefit of preventing migraines. Considering all the agony, loss of productivity, doctor bills, and sheer waste of joy over the last 45 years, buying Grain Brain could well be the best investment I’ve ever made.

Perl Five Garden
Perl Six: My vegetable garden will be my saving grace.

It isn’t easy. At the same time I feel a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. And there’s a little bit of adventure thrown in there, too. Like discovering any new foodie sensation, I’m in the honeymoon phase and working my way through “the neighborhood.” Learning the do’s and don’t’s then forming my own unique style is not unlike me anyway. Thankfully, Grain Brain has a nice selection of recipes and there’s even more on Dr. Perlmutter’s website, drperlmutter.com

That vegetable garden I planned over the winter, way before I even knew about the Doc or his prescription for sustainable health, will really come in handy as I transition from a life-long addiction to simple carbs and gluten-laden toxins that have compromised my health and wellbeing. This year’s tomato sauce won’t have a molecule of sugar in it and it won’t touch a bed of pasta. Ditto the peppers and eggplants, giving me ripe opportunities for creative roasting techniques that I’ve been wanting to experiment with. The pickling cukes are perfect allies for building probiotic, gut enriching flora. I’m still convinced of the anti-cancer properties of raw kale and planted lots of curly and purple varieties for salads massaged and macerated in olive oil and lemon. And, as always, herbs are the exclamation points of flavor added to any/all culinary compositions: thyme, basil, oregano, parsley, chives, mint, tarragon, sage, and rosemary.

Did I mention that Doc Perlmutter’s got a recipe for dark chocolate almond bark? (There is a God.) Stevia and honey are the sweeteners of choice in the gluten-free, sugar-free world of which I have taken up residence. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be doing way more than merely surviving in this “place.” I’ll be thriving beyond the vast majority of my uninsured peers. Cheerio!

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 7.25.50 PMDark Chocolate Almond Bark

4 ounces unsweetened cocoa chocolate bar (>70 percent cacao)

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 tablespoon vanilla, or other flavoring

1 to 2 tablespoons Stevia

1/2 cup chopped nuts (almonds and walnuts are best)

One pie tin lightly coated with coconut oil or lined with parchment paper.


In the top of the double boiler melt the chocolate with the coconut oil. Let the mixture cool slightly, then add the flavoring and Stevia. Pour the mixture into the pie tin. Sprinkle the chopped nuts on top of the chocolate. Refrigerate until mixture has solidified and it is hard.

Recipe contributed to Dr. Perlmutter’s website by Bartley Gelormino

Carolyn ChoateAbout The Barking Tomato: Carolyn Choate loves to chew on food. Literally and figuratively. In the kitchen from her garden in Nashua or her favorite market, a restaurant across town or across the globe. When not masticating, Carolyn is likely swilling wine or spirits as neither is far from her heart – or lips. Forget diamonds and Louboutins, she’d rather blow a wad on Pinot Noir and grass-fed filet with fresh sautéed morels. And write about it. You taste the picture: The “Barking Tomato” aspires to push your “foodie” button. Carolyn’s day job is producing local affairs programming for WYCN-CD. You can contact her at crchoate@tv13nashua.com.

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