Playing with My Food

milk chocolate bar by RosieTulips, on FlickrWhen I was first diagnosed in 1978, I was told to avoid salt. Back then, that was a challenge…the various health foods weren’t really around yet, and salt-free items were both really expensive and really disgusting.

As I got sicker, I gained more restrictions. No grapefruits or grapefruit juice (contraindicated with different drugs). Low protein. Limited dairy. No processed foods. OJ and tomato juice were OK, if I didn’t overdo it. Every new drug added something else to the mix.

But the one thing I realized many years ago was that my body knew what it needed. If I was craving steak, I needed protein. Spinach and chicken livers? Iron. Cheese and broccoli (not necessarily together)? Calcium. Orange or tomato juice? Potassium. I stopped eating chocolate, most dairy products, and other items because my body knew those items weren’t good for me. (Chocolate and dairy are high in phosphorus. End-stage renal disease results in elevated levels of phosphorus, so my body knew I had to avoid certain foods.)

And I gained more skills in the kitchen. I had been raised in upstate New York on a mostly steak-and-potatoes diet, but as I traveled for work, I tried more foods. And as I stopped buying canned foods, I learned how to make things that most people buy. (My son was 8 before he discovered that grocery stores sell pre-made spaghetti sauce.)

Now that I have a new kidney, I pretty much lose most of the restrictions I’ve lived with for the past 15 or so years. And I gain some new ones.

  • While I still need to watch my sodium, I am allowed to eat more salt than before. (My body, however, still reacts negatively to too much salt.)
  • I can no longer eat raw foods. This rules out fresh clams and oysters on the half shell, carpaccio, aioli (unless the eggs are pasteurized), most sushi, etc.
  • I can’t eat at buffets or salad bars because of the risk of contamination. This rules out most of the foods available at any grocery store with salad or food bars, sub shops, etc.
  • I can eat fresh fruits and vegetables, as long as I wash them first. And even those that I peel first must be washed. (I now own a brand new salad spinner, complete with built-in mandolin.)
  • I have to be careful how much sugar I eat. One of my drugs is Prednisone, which can increase the sugar in my blood, leading to diabetes. (This one doesn’t bother me too much because I typically don’t eat a lot of sweets.)
  • I’m supposed to cook meats to medium (I like my burgers medium, but I like my steaks medium-rare.) And I have to fully cook eggs yolks, so no more over-easy eggs (unless I use pasteurized eggs).
  • For now, I can’t eat soft cheeses like mozzarella and brie. But because I need more calcium, I am allowed just about any other cheese. (And I’ve been eating cheese all along, so once they tell me I can eat soft cheeses again, not much changes.)
  • No sprouts. I almost never eat them anyway, so this one isn’t a big deal.

In addition, I’m on blood thinners for three months. (I had a blood clot in my leg several years ago, and my form of nephrotic syndrome can trigger clots. Because they don’t want the new kidney to end up with one, I get to enjoy blood thinners. But at least it’s for a fairly short period of time.) As a result, I have to be careful about eating foods with Vitamin K, which regulates blood clotting. The trick is to eat the same amount of Vitamin K every day.

As I recover from the surgery, I find myself back in the kitchen. (As long as I don’t stand for a long period of time, I’m OK.) As I get stronger, I will cook more, but for now, I try different foods to see what my body does and doesn’t approve of.

And, as it turns out, I can eat chocolate again :-) I only have one piece a day (if that), but thanks to the generosity of friends who sent me different gift baskets, I have a wonderful selection to choose from.

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