Imperatives 1 - New Diet

Coffee was the biggest culprit in my regular not-low-acid diet.

For the first time in my life a certain ridiculous thought had entered my head: that a day could come when I might no longer be able to eat pizza. I had gone to the doctor to report on some what-I-thought-were minor symptoms (heartburn and stomach cramp) — and because of this she suggested some changes to my diet. I guess by the age of 47 the chance that one or more of those commercials for previously-irrelevant medicines that you see on TV might suddenly become relevant. But I’ve worked hard, especially in recent years as I’ve grown older, to treat myself decently. Near the top of my list of motivations (aside from the obvious, that I want to stay healthy) is my wish to preserve my ability to eat pizza. So even the slightest warning from a doctor about my diet causes me fear and frustration. Apparently, despite the steps I’ve taken, perhaps I have not adequately forestalled aging.

Dentally, I had to get a tooth implant last year, second from the back top left. Lord knows, Steve Martin’s “Pizza in a Cup” notwithstanding, liquid pizza is not the pizza I wish to look forward to. I’ve also reduced my intake of high-fat foods. In fact, throughout the past two years especially, because I joined a food coop where excellent farmers’ market-quality produce is sold for low prices, I’ve taken my fruit and vegetable consumption to record heights. I’ve also eliminated junk food and most processed foods from my diet (though I sure would like to revisit my old after-school snack treat, Mama Celeste sausage pizza, once again). These days, if I’m hungry between meals I’ll eat some dried figs, salted pistachios or cashews, a banana or pear, or some carrots.

The aforementioned doctor visit occurred in early November 2014. She asked a lot of questions about my diet, when and how much I eat, and my general level of stress. She told me to stop eating high acid foods for two months in order to give my system a rest. 

Okay, high acid foods, what are they… right?

Well, it turns out the list of foods high in acid comprises just about everything I like: coffee, alcohol, sparkling water, spicy foods, cooked tomatoes, mint, chocolate. I’m certain she left plenty more items off the list because she knows about me and pizza. I imagine she saw a look of absolute appall on my face. “You can’t really mean this, what about sometimes?” I protested. “If the tomatoes start off uncooked and are only cooked on the pizza in a hot oven for like two minutes, is that okay?” I queried. “Can I drink kombucha?” I delicately asked her. She had no opinion. I don’t think she knew what it is. Just lay off high acid foods, she reiterated.

I committed — and I sought solutions. Ginger ice cream for when I craved a sweet. Water as my only cold beverage. To replace coffee I switched to decaf; but I still experienced cramps so I switched to caffe d’orzo, Italy’s version of decaf (it’s made from barley) (a quick search reveals that decaf has as much acid as regular coffee). I had tacos but added no hot sauce – a first for me. When my wife made chili for Sunday dinner, it was “white” chili (very good actually – she made it with ground turkey, cannellini beans, quinoa, green salsa, chicken stock, cumin, and kale; here’s the recipe she based it on). Pizza? It would have to be white.

After two months of feeling no symptoms, the doctor gave me the green light to one-by-one add back foods. Be mindful of how they make you feel, she said.

When I think hard on the list and how much of a role these foods actually played in my life, I've gotta figure that coffee was the biggest culprit – well, that and overeating – when it came to antagonising my gut. My habit had been to drink one or two ‘6-cup’ moka pots’ worth of the stuff daily (about 10 oz coffee per pot). So, since the warning from the doctor, I’ve stayed off of coffee and I’ve been pretty firm on it: in the last eleven weeks I’ve had coffee only twice.

I have added back a moderate consumption of alcohol. I don’t drink too much anyway, and it hasn't bothered me. Spicy foods, I’ve dabbled here and there, but I have not loaded up on the habañero as I was once prone to do.

In the pizza category I’ve been okay too. After a solid two months of no cooked tomato, I’ve had pizza a handful of times and, at most, felt a little cramp afterwards. It seems the warning is: pizza’s ok, but don’t have it too much. Last weekend we ordered a grandma pie from Cotta Bene, one of my favorite places that delivers to me. It was the first time I'd eaten more than a slice (or a square) at a time since October. Oh, actually, I'd had a slice and a square from Di Fara the weekend before. I'm gonna have to watch myself – I can't even keep track.

The cramp I feel when I feel it is every so slight. But who the heck knows what's going on in there. I'd rather play it safe and keep my pizza consumption under control. Perhaps the silver lining is that less of something makes you appreciate it more. NEXT CHAPTER: CHILDHOOD FOODS