The Camino Diet

8 September 2012

Elaine writes: I recently wrote to Joe about my feet having “panic attacks” as the Camino departure date gets closer. I started to notice little aches and pains I either didn’t have or hadn’t noticed before. I would take a step and think, “What was that…am I getting tendonitis?”  I quickly recognized that the FEAR part of FEARocious living was starting to gain momentum so I went back to my old-school anxiety management strategies:

Me: What if I can’t finish the walk.  After all it is 500 miles.
Best-friend Me:  You just started a sentence with “What if…”  That means your anxious.
Me: That’s true, I am anxious.
Best-friend Me:  Time for an anxiety management practice. What do you have control over in this situation with the feet?

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

Click To Enlarge

Me: I guess wearing the right shoes and socks.  Making sure I pack some things for blisters.  Taking my nonsteroidal antiinflammatory (NSAID) medicine like Motrin or Naproxen. Oh, and hey! I remember reading that the Mediterranean diet is considered anti-inflammatory!  Isn’t Spain in the Mediterranean?  Maybe I should learn more about the diet and maybe use it as another thing I can control during this mind, body, spirit journey we are about to take. I’ve been so focused on my backpack and nourishing my thoughts, I forgot about feeding my body, the very thing that is going to transport me all the way to Campostela!

So, here is what I learned about the inflammation process (it has been more than 15 years since I first learned about it in military medical school at USUHS) and how to reduce its effects.  I’ll spare you the boring stuff and just hit the facts I thought were most useful:

  • Inflammation is the principle component of most chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease (and hey guys, that includes erectile dysfunction) diabetes, stomach disorders, degenerative diseases like the ones that produce back and neck pain, premenstrual dysphoria, even cancer and Alzheimer’s—and get this–OBESITY. These are just the diseases I included here. I left out a bunch to avoid having your eyes glaze over as you read this.
  • By the time you feel pain, the inflammation process is already in full gear.
  • The idea then, is to stop it before it gets to pain, or if it’s too late, then to try to attack the problem with a pressure washer instead of a wet rag?  What constitutes the pressure washer? Diet. What constitutes the wet rag? Popping NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, opioids, tramadol, etc. Wearing heat patches, drinking alcohol to relieve the pain or help you sleep.
  • An overall antiinflamatory lifestyle includes stress reduction, limited use of alcohol, no smoking, exercise and proper rest.
  • The anti-inflammatory diet is NOT the average American diet.  In fact, eating red meat, high-fat dairy products, refined sugars/carbohydrates has been shown to increase biological markers for inflammation.
  • While there is no single “anti-inflammatory diet”, there are principles to be followed that will get the pressure washer going.
  • Eat minimally processed foods, include the “good” fats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plant and healthy proteins.
  • Fats are necessary for much of our physiological activity and even the very structure of our cells and are not necessarily “the bad guys” the way we think about them.  In fact, some fats have a potent anti-inflammatory effect. For example, Omega-3 has well known anti-inflammatory effects, but our body cannot synthesize it so we must derive it from food sources or supplements.
  • For the best sources of omega-3 in cold-water fish, remember the acronym SMASH: salmon (wild Pacific), mackerel (Spanish), anchovies, sardines, and herring.
  • The correct dose for fish oil supplements is .5-1 gram per day of EPA and DHA.  The average fish oil capsule you buy in the supermarket has only about 30% of the recommended minimum dose. This means you need to take 3-4 capsules per day. And if inflammation has already set in, more is likely needed (4-5 g per day).
  • Transfatty Acids bad, Olive oil good
  • Transfatty acids really are the bad guys when it comes to increasing triglycerides AND inflammation. DO NOT EAT.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil protects against inflammation almost like an NSAID. It has also been associated with lower systolic blood pressure, lower blood sugar with fasting, and lower cholesterol.
  • The more vegetables and fruit you eat,  the less inflammation, especially cherries and blueberries.
  • Drink wine, but only 1-2 glasses per day as an anti-inflammatory.
  • Do you like Indian and Asian foods?  Tumeric, the yellow spice in curries is anti-inflammatory. So are ginger, organo, rosemary, clove, cumin and cayenne pepper.
  • Ahhhh…chocolate is anti-inflammatory—but it should be dark and have more than 70% cocoa. And no death by chocolate because the research is based on eating 2-3 ounces of dark chocolate per day.  That’s less than half a standard chocolate bar.

Putting it all together, I decided to make a resolution to follow the Mediterranean, or should I call it the “Campostella” diet? I know the tendency is to eat delicious red meats like lamb, grain-fed beef, a lot of red wine and all those great creamy pastries and cakes…mmmm.  Ok, but coming back to the diet, I will eat bountiful salads with olives and olive oil and vinegar, ripe figs off the trees we pass, fresh fish and seafood.  I will look for local varieties of dark, colorful vegetables.  I will not stop until I’ve eaten 4-5 fruits each day.  European bread is wonderfully whole-grain so I won’t have a problem filling up on that base of the food pyramid! I am also going to try to include 6 capsules of Omega-3 fish oil each day so as to avoid having to double up on NSAIDs.  There will be absolutely no problem getting my daily dose of dark chocolate and Spanish chocolate is a real power hitter–Spain, here I come!

As always, Buen Camino!