Friday, March 1, 2013

Cookin' & Realistic Expectations

It's National Kidney Month officially today.  Yay!  So throughout the month you'll see more posts on the science of kidney disease, treating kidney disease, and living with kidney disease.  And most importantly, what you can do to support yourself or anyone you know with chronic kidney problems.  Happy Kidney Month!

In another life, this blog would be a food blog.  You know the saying, "Eat to live"?   Well, I LIVE TO EAT! Growing up, my mom stayed at home with my sisters and me for a few years. And five out of seven nights a week, she made dinner for us.  Yes, you read that correctly.  My mom cooked dinner for us just about every day until I left for college.  It wasn't until I grew up that I learned this practice of cooking dinner every day is uncommon, or even unnatural.  But living with kidney disease reaffirmed why it's even more important for me to control what goes into my body.  Many people with kidney disease also have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, and mild to severe obesity.  And I have to wonder:  have I managed to maintain this much energy and health so late in the game of kidney failure because of my diet? People often balk when I tell them that at 26, I cook five days a week, and only allowing myself to cheat on my diet with fast food or restaurant trips on the Saturdays and Sundays.  It doesn't work for everyone, but here's five reasons why I do it:

1.  Money:  It costs 1/4, about $25, of Ben's and my grocery budget to eat a meal at one of our favorite restaurants.  I try to budget $100 a week for groceries. It may seem like a large number, but that amount pays for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and dessert for five, sometimes six days a week.  Making my lunch at home costs me about $3.50 per day when you break it down.  That's HALF of what it would cost to eat at Chipotle ($7/meal) every day. 

2.  Sodium:  The majority of people with kidney disease also have high blood pressure (HBP). HBP is known as the "silent killer."   Doctors say one in five people who have HBP don't know they have it, because there are no visible symptoms. Meanwhile, HBP spends years quietly attacking your heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain if left untreated. One way to lower your blood pressure, is to reduce your sodium intake.   A while ago I read a book that said the amount of added salt in American food has increased by a whole teaspoon over the last 50 years.  Which means,  most Americans are eating food that's too salty, they just don't know it because our taste buds have adapted to the increase. The only way to control how much salt is in your food is to...cook it yourself!  When we purchase food prepared by someone else, we give  control of our diets to another person, and trust them not to poison or kill us.  But not every chef  knows each person's state of health. 

3.  I Can Have It My Way: Another easy way to cut back on sodium, I've found, is to cut out as many "processed foods" as you can bare.  For the purposes of this blog, processed foods refers to canned soups or bottled sauces, frozen dinners or snacks, box meals like Hamburger Helper, and processed meats like sausages.  And there's a whole bunch of other items that would go into this category.  Basically, if you're buying something not from the produce aisle and it says anything like  "Heat for five minutes and then you have a fabulous dinner or snack!" it would be considered processed. And if you look at the nutrition labels on the backs of these items, you'll see that the makers load all of these types of meals with sodium, sugar, and saturated fat. Now, some things are better out of the bottle. Like Ketchup! But you can actually make ketchup, and all of the other things listed above from scratch, with fresh ingredients, and with half the sodium, fat and sugar content.  Amazing right?!  Obviously, convenience meals have their place. After a "hell day" at work, sometimes I want nothing more than to warm up some Kraft "blue box" mac n cheese.  And I love a good frozen chicken nugget.  But I can't eat that stuff every day anymore, unless I want to make myself VOMIT nonstop.  Ask Ben.

4.  Fun:  I don't just cook for myself because I want to stay healthy, but I actually enjoy it.  I really do love the process of chopping, mixing, heating and baking--creating--and then finally EATING.  

5.  Education:  I've found that the biggest roadblock to cooking for yourself can simply be lack of know how.  I didn't grow up watching my mom cook for my sisters and me.  In fact, she usually yelled at us to get out of the kitchen!  And I remember the first thing I cooked for Ben--  peanut butter cookies.  And they were disgusting.  I cried and I cursed and wondered "What went wrong?!" But I didn't give up...because I love eating.  But I'm also financially challenged. And I realized that the only way I was ever going to get the amount of food I want, for the amount of money I have, in the way I need it to be made was to put those ca-ca cookies behind me get back into the cooking saddle.  I try out new recipes to keep things interesting but also to learn how to do new things. 

So if you think I'm pretty strict now, once I have the transplant my diet will go into overdrive.  There's a huge list of things I won't be able to eat, or will have to eat in severe moderation.  But I stopped huffing and puffing about my diet a long time ago, and have learned to just go with the flow, and treat myself every once in a while. 

However, let me be clear:  I am NOT someone who thinks cooking for yourself, going vegan, eating completely organic or going on a juice cleanse or whatever extreme, trendy diet you name will prevent you from falling seriously ill.  I think SH*T Happens.  Life Happens. Sometimes people take all the right vitamins and do all the right stuff and STILL get cancer.  And sometimes people eat off the Dollar Menu every day and live until they're 100.  I don't believe that a healthy diet like mine or any other can prevent any severe illness.  Ask my doctors:  I didn't get kidney disease because of something I did or didn't do.  But I do believe that making healthier choices about what to eat over time can strengthen the immune system, making it easier for you to fight off and overcome whatever health battles we face in our lifetime.