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roasted zucchini and crookneck squash with pumpkin seeds, oregano, and olives

I went out to harvest in the garden this morning and after using up about 20 crookneck squash in the last couple days, I harvested a dozen more. And a dozen cucumbers and three tomatoes. I trimmed the tomato plant back a bit so I can see several others are nearly ready, and William on corn duty tells me there are six or more ears that need to be used now. They’ll be as many or more of everything tomorrow.

I somewhat jokingly wrote in an instagram post several weeks back that I’ve found the best way to eat more vegetables is to grow a lot of vegetables. No jokes anymore since at this point in the season, it’s an incredible fact. For me anyways, this goes particularly because even though the romanticism of growing our own has long since worn off, there’s a huge sense of obligation to not waste what we’ve watched growing all season, to not waste the many hours William has spent watering and sifting compost, pulling weeds, and turning over beds.

Me? I mostly just harvest and cook and then take the glory. As is true for most gardeners and farmers, we tend to plant extra of everything because inevitably one or more crops fail– and people who grow things are slightly addicted to growing more things. (A slight problem when the backyard is producing so much). This year so far, nothing has failed. Literally nothing except a slow start and replanting of beets which thankfully won’t be ready until the summer squash, cucumbers, and corn are about done.

Anyhow, one thing I’ve been thinking about all summer is how very little has been stated publicly, in the mainstream US news anyway, about lifestyle factors that can help us through this pandemic season. Eating more vegetables, filling ourselves up on all the colors, nutrients, phytonutrients, and generally eating more whole, looks-like-it-came-directly-from-the-earth, foods can go a long way. I was asked to write a little more in-depth about this topic recently for Territory Run Co., so if you’d like more details on specific foods, nutrients, or lifestyle factors to help through this season (like mindfulness for stress relief), you can find the article here.

Meanwhile, I’ll be trying to figure out how to gift a few harvest extras this week, and chop, roast, sauté, etc. my way through the others. A little Italian flavor inspired, this combination of roasting zucchini and crookneck squash, and topping it with an herby, olive, garlic, and pumpkin seed topping is just one way to add some pizazz to eating your vegetables. If you have a grill basket and would like to take the cooking outside, grilling the squash instead of roasting will be a nice shift in methods.

Roasted Zucchini + Crookneck Squash with Pumpkin Seeds, Oregano, and Olives, serves 4 as a side
Use any type of summer squash you have available. The smaller, less seedy ones have the best texture.

4-8 small to medium summer squash, chopped (enough to fit a sheet pan or baking tray)
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1/4 tsp. salt
20 fresh oregano leaves, finely minced (about two large sprigs)
15 small black olives (about 1/4 cup), rinsed, drained and sliced

  • Preheat your oven to 425 F. Line a baking pan with parchment and then spread the chopped squash evenly, so it’s mostly a single layer. Sprinkle with a little salt and roast until soft and borderline mushy, about 30-40 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, lightly toast the pumpkin seeds in a pan on the stovetop, and then remove them to a cutting board. Chop them until they’re in medium-small pieces, small enough to not be able to tell they’re pumpkin seeds, but not super-fine.
  • Mince the garlic and add it to a small dish, along with the pumpkin seeds, salt, minced oregano and olives.
  • When the squash is done roasting, slide it into a serving bowl, and then stir the herby pumpkin seed mixture throughout and serve.

Carnival Belly, Running, and a Digestive Health Survey

Lately, William and I have been taking weekend adventure runs, meaning we’ve been getting out of town for a good part of the day to run somewhere new. Often this is followed by a picnic with a very runner-favorite spread: PB&J sandwiches, fruit, and tortilla chips. A couple weekends ago, the route I chose was based on being new and not far to drive, and as such it was on a course that’s designed more for mountain biking. After three miles of steady running upwards amidst the giant forest foxgloves and complete peace that is running away from civilization, we got to our summit and the single-track mountain biking descent. It started out as a really fun, fairly technical terrain with lots of creek rocks, tree roots, twisty trails and garden-gnome spotting. But there were also steady, heavy mountain biking moguls, making every bit of downhill come with nearly the same in little uphill rollers.

By about halfway through the downhill, I had this experiential memory of being on a carnival ride, and I was unsurprised to find my digestive system was feeling jostled in just the same way. By the end of the fourth and final mile of downhill, I realized I’d taken for granted that the norm for runners is to cruise and ‘wheee!’ downhill once the climbing is done. And I’d gladly take that steady climb over the tumbling in my lower GI and the muscle fatigue setting in from all those rollers.

My carnival belly largely went away for the day once I stopped running and had a meal, but it was mildly painful and upset for a day or two afterwards. Relatedly, this week our annual relay team has taken the very different challenge of racing the 2020 relay race virtually, and because this race coincides with the hottest stretches of heat year after year (and no different this year), I had that same mild carnival belly throughout the day yesterday after a hard race effort in the morning heat that was quickly becoming uncomfortable. Similarly to the week before, the discomfort was mostly gone again within a few hours.

So What’s With the Carnival Belly From Exercise, and in Running Particularly?

When we exercise, our body directs blood flow away from the gastrointestinal tract and to the working muscles. This reduction in blood flow, accompanied by an increased release of stress hormones during higher intensity or long exercise efforts, as well as the high impact of running (just visualize the internal organs being jostled up and down as we run), all combine to cause damage to the cheesecloth-thin lining to the gut, leading to all sorts of uncomfortable symptoms, as well as impaired digestion and absorption of food and drinks.

And yes, all of this is fairly normal in small amounts given the nature of doing long or hard exercise bouts. When we are dehydrated (a big topic in itself for another day) and/or exercise in the heat or to an extent that we have a high body temperature, we further reduce blood flow to the GI system, increasing stress hormone release, and develop a higher likelihood of digestive distress. But what might be a small amount of discomfort and upset sometimes should not lead to or be confused with frequently occurring and/or greater than mild GI symptoms.

Despite the serene views, this was taken at the point in the day when the sun was getting hot, the water bottle was running low, and my fun to need-to-be-done ratio was starting to tip directions.

What Can We Do For MILD GI upset?
Rather than grimace and bear it, there are many nutritional and training strategies we can do to minimize GI distress. Primary strategies include being properly hydrated in the 24 hours before / after exercising, especially in the summer heat, as well as training the gut. Just like other aspects of the body, we can train our gut to tolerate different types of foods, fuels, and amounts. Other helpful tactics include avoiding NSAIDS around exercise (as frequent use negatively impacts the gut), and eating and drinking smaller and more frequent amounts during exercise–this method alone helps alot with optimizing absorption and reducing upset.

But what about when that GI ‘offness’ or tummy upset isn’t just mild, and it continues long-term or occurs frequently?

That’s what I’d love to ask about today. Having chronic or frequent digestive symptoms including nausea, GI pain or cramping, reflux, lack of appetite (in general or after exercise), bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, loose stools with undigested food, or limited food choices due to reacting to many foods are all big warning signs, kind of like our body’s version of a flashing yellow or red light telling us to proceed with caution, or just plain stop and seek to understand what’s going on.

Rather than address any of those symptoms individually or all together, I’d actually first like to know how common those symptoms are–so I’ve created an anonymous survey for you to tell me about them.

If you’ve followed along here longer term, you’ll know I write about digestion a lot as it’s one of a few factors that finally pushed me into clinical nutrition, and it’s honestly my favorite nutrition topic to help others with–partly due to my own challenges over the years, but also because it can be complicated and I love a good challenge.

So if you’d please, fill out the quick survey for me and I’ll see if I can share about any of those flashing yellow or red symptoms that can cause us distress in or out of exercise in the coming weeks.

Best summer post-exercise treat / summer snacking — all the berries!

References:
Costa, R.J.S., Miall, A., Khoo, A., Rauch, C., Snipe, R.,…and Gibson, P. (2017). Gut Training: The Impact of two weeks repetitive gut-challenge during exercise on gastrointestinal status, glucose availability, fuel kinetics, and running performance.
Costa, R.J.S., Snipe, R., Kitic, C.M., and Gibson, P.R. (2017). Systematic Review: Exercise-induced gastrointestinal syndrome-implications for health and intestinal disease.
Snipe, R. (2018). Exertional heat stress-induced gastrointestinal perturbations: Prevention and management strategies.

Potato + Artichoke Frittata and summer guidance

It seems that time is getting away from me this summer. In the midst of this tough year, I’ve found I’ve needed more of a break from the virtual world these last few weeks. In the midst of doing some checking in with myself, I retook a character strengths test around the time of my last post in late June from the Via Institute on Character. Having last took the same test in early grad school, I found that most of my top character strengths are truly mine and have hardly changed, but having moved into my own nutrition clinical work, some of the strengths that were lower as a student have truly risen to the top. The results highlight how much we become what we practice. From that assessment, my top character strength is spirituality, as it has nearly always been. What the institute means by the Spirituality character strength is:

Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe; knowing where one fits within the larger scheme; having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort.

All of which has guided the majority of what I’ve written here this year and for the last several.

But the too-much-online-all-the-time and never-ending negative news cycle has gotten in the way of that a bit this spring and early summer. My internal guidance has gotten harder to hear and less obvious. On the daily, I have often felt torn between too many demands and not enough complete alone time. And so, in early July, I took a time out. I took a week off completely, from my public health job, from nutrition clients, from running, and from all technology. If I’m honest, what I hoped to gain from it was a flash-bang inspiration and guidance, if only for a moment, to make me feel better about all of this we’re living through.

But I didn’t get it.
It’s often said that God speaks in the whispers of the heart. That his guidance for us dwells in the silent spaces.

One of the things I’m coming to over the last few months is directly on this topic. When I work with individuals with nutrition, I provide guidance and of course my opinion, but I see each encounter with each client as a true collaboration; because as much as I have the professional training and knowledge of nutrition and its impact on physiology, we are each experts on our bodies, or should be. And I think each of us has the intuitive feels right for me knowledge about our bodies hidden underneath the clutter of all our everyday stimulation and egotistical desires.

This year, so many of us have been going through hard things, personally, professionally, with health, and more. It’s been my intention to start writing and sharing more here on the everyday aspects of that that are applicable. Frustratingly, that everyday application has only come easily when working individually with each person. Instead of resisting against this frustration, or forcing something that I’m finding difficult, the right answer for me today is to follow the strings and share here what comes with more ease. All that’s to say, I’m practicing having more grace with myself. And hope you can do the same with you.

And also,
If you are struggling with your relationship to your body this year, or finally beginning to address it, I hear you.
and If you are struggling with your digestion and/or are in the midst of a long frustrating battle with it, I hear you.
and If you are overwhelmed and/or losing hope with this pandemic and lack of true normal or return to it in the foreseeable future, I hear you.

Perhaps I’ll soon begin to provide more concrete words on those topics soon, like I have been meaning to. In the meantime, I’m leaning in to feeding myself and William wholesome meals lately, like this potato and artichoke frittata, and trying to keep the quiet spaces open to allow in the guidance I prefer.
Hope you are taking care.

Potato + Artichoke Frittata, serves ~3
I’ve never been much of a potato person, except the year-ish I lived in Ireland, but William insisted on growing potatoes this year. He chose a variety from Row 7, a seed company founded by chef Dan Barber, whose intent is to work with farmers who are developing vegetable varieties with flavor in mind, a notion that realistically is not done when it comes to developing commercial / commodity foods. It’s clear to me now that good potatoes make all the difference. If you can, I encourage you to buy locally from a farmer near you. I promise, they will taste infinitely better than anything in a standard supermarket.

300 gr. / 2-3 medium potatoes, unpeeled, medium-diced.
a dab of coconut oil or ghee, to cook
6 large eggs, whisked
a dash of black pepper and 1/4 tsp. salt
200 gr. / 1/2 a can of artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed, chopped
1 tsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/4 cup fresh basil, finely minced

  • Over medium-high heat, warm a little coconut oil or ghee in a medium-large heavy skillet that is oven-safe. Stir in the potatoes and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Cover and cook until they are tender, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes.
  • Whisk the eggs along with the remaining salt and black pepper. Turn down to medium-low heat and pour the eggs into the skillet with the potatoes, along with the chopped artichokes.
  • Cook for a few minutes, until the eggs are just set and there isn’t a lot of liquid running around the pan on the top. To help with this, you can run a spatula underneath the sides of the frittata, and tilt the pan so the uncooked eggs run ot the underside.
  • Remove from the heat and place in the oven under the broiler for a couple minutes, until the top has puffed up and set. If your broiler has two settings, choose the low setting.
  • Remove from the broiler and let it sit for a minute or two. In the meantime whisk together the remaining olive oil and turmeric. Drizzle the turmeric mixture over the top, and sprinkle with fresh minced basil.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature with fresh greens or other meal accompaniments.


Are you in need of extra nutritional support?
If so, I invite you to reach out to me for more personalized support. Conditions I often work with include digestive health and food intolerances, meeting needs of endurance athletes, vegan/vegetarian diets, intuitive eating, and autoimmune disorders.