Thursday, 22 October 2015

I've got a new website - visit me there instead!

Dear all I can't believe it's been five years since I started this blog. In that time so much has happened and I've become a totally different person.

Don't worry, I'm not deserting my dear, loyal followers, I've just decided to have an upgrade and have moved the blog onto a standalone site:

Don't worry, all the old posts are on there, as are plenty more new ones, so come over and find me.

And if you like it, remember to add my new web address to your blog roll, rss feeds, tweet about it, shout about it, but most importantly tell me what you think about it.

Much love and here's to an exciting food filled future together: Nosh.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Living with Hypoparathyroidism

This month I learned a new word: hypoparathyroidism.

Not only is it quite a mouthful, but that one word has made me evaluate how every single piece of food I consume is linked directly to the health and wellbeing of the me today - and that of my future self.

I've had hypoparathyroidism for 18 months, however it wasn't until I saw a new registrar at the hospital four weeks ago, that I even knew the condition existed. Before I start explaining this life-changing condition, let's rewind back to September 2013.

I'd had a lump in my neck all summer, it had been a busy one; I'd been building a temporary forest in the middle of Manchester City Centre, trying to sell my house, arguing with my ex, travelling to Bristol every weekend and trying to juggle a busy job with an even busier blog. I'd had a virulent throat infection which had made my throat and lymph system swell up - so having a small swelling at the front of my neck was no issue, I was burning the candle at both ends, I was run down, it was an infection...

My GP sent me for an ultrasound to see which lymph nodes had an infection and 18 hours later the hospital rang asking me to go in for a biopsy. Long story short, I had well-defined papillary thyroid cancer with metastasises in the lymph nodes in the left side of my neck. It was a scary time and in the second week of November I had a seven hour op to take out my thyroid and all the lymph nodes from the left side of my neck.

At the same time, two of my parathyroids (these are important, they'll appear again later) were salvaged from the back of my thyroid and inserted in the disease free side of my neck. I came round in hospital and didn't even mind the microwave mush the MRI had the cheek to call food, because the morphine made everything ok.

Two days later (Sunday) I started to feel funny - I suppose I'd been feeling off since my op on Friday, but I'll say one word: morphine. I got up, fell over and immediately went into convulsions, extreme pins and needles spreading over my entire body and my extremities cramping up as I started to have a seizure. I have to say it was the scariest moment of my life  - I couldn't breathe, I thought I was going to die.

My parathyroids, four little glands find behind the thyroid (parathyroid means 'behind thyroid', there is no relation in function), had stopped working. This meant I couldn't process calcium and I had very quickly slipped into tetany and had to be put onto a calcium infusion, which added a large amount of calcium directly into my bloodstream (why no one bothered to check my calcium levels after a thyroidectomy, I still don't know). For more about hypoparathyroidism, read THIS.

After being discharged from hospital I've had a blood test every month (down from every week) and it's apparent that my parathyroids no longer work, so I now have to take a lot of calcium in tablet form - 1,500mg everyday (equivalent to five pints of milk), plus Vitamin D (to process said calcium) and ensure I eat a calcium rich diet.

So what does hypoparathyroidism mean for me and the rest of my life? It's time to eat more calcium containing foods - I thought I was doing quite well, but it seems I may have been a calcium dodger for most of my adult life; I'm not one for bread (flour is fortified), I hate cereal (also fortified), oranges (surprisingly good calcium stores) don't feature regularly in my diet and I eat a fewer greens than I should do. I also need to eat more magnesiumpotassium and vitamin D.

Spinach, broccoli and kale are all
high in calcium, low in phosphorus
Does that mean that I'm allowed to mainline dairy now? Well... not exactly. Dairy, beans and nuts are a great source of calcium, but they're also a source of phosphorus. Now my parathyroids aren't there to get rid of extra phosphorus it sits in my kidneys, damaging them over time and pulling calcium out of my bones (bad) and dumping it in random places around my body (super bad). So some of the food you'd immediately think of eating to up your calcium need to be eaten in moderation.

A good start can be made by eating less protein (a high protein diet isn't good for anyone, but that's
an argument for another day), cutting down on chocolate, cutting down my rampant coffee intake, curbing how many tomatoes I eat (a lot) and cutting out things like charcuterie and bacon apart from on high days and holidays. And never drinking cola. Ever. Even non-hypopara females should cut out cola (ladies are at a much higher risk of osteoporosis, it's all to do with our oestrogen).

Plus alcohol, fats, wheatgerm (as in brown bread), salt and sugars need to be curtailed too, as they all block the uptake of calcium, as does spinach and rhubarb (thanks to their high quantities of oxalic acid).

And what else can I do? Exercise is important, especially weight bearing. So I've started running and cycling. I've started a food diary (tracking some debilitating headaches I keep having) and I take far more notice of how I'm feeling on a day to day basis - tingling and cold? Get some calcium in my quick! Stress is also something I need to avoid, as cortisol pulls calcium out of your bones - so meditation and yoga are starting to feature in my life.

As you can see, hypoparathyroidism isn't an easy condition to get on top of. We all process minerals differently, so what works for one person, won't definitely work for me. And it's quite rare, so there aren't that many people to give you advice. After googling the condition last month, I went into a state of panic, would I get cataracts, Parkinson's and osteoporosis? What about kidney disease? What can I eat? What can't I? My diet became seriously restricted and I hid my large collection of cookery books, thinking I'd never be able to make recipes from them again.

I'm still learning, a lot. There's a lot of information to absorb and every mouthful of food I take is a quandary, every time I have a headache, am cold or can't think straight I have to think if it's a symptom or is it just a cold day?

Luckily for me there's a wonderful support group call HypoparaUK, who have explained which specialists I need to be put forward to see, have told me it's ok to eat a little bit of chocolate (cocoa is packed with phosphorus, I feared for the world when I though chocolate was banned) and that most foods are ok in moderation. They've also helped me to understand my symptoms of low/high calcium (they manifest differently person to person) and helped me to understand why my moods have been so affected.

From now on I'll have constant blood tests, I'll be monitored by a specialist endocrinologist (when I manage to get off the waiting list) and I'll always needs to be careful with what I eat. Have a seen a difference in changing my diet these last four weeks? Yes; I'm slimmer, happier, my skin is glowing, I'm less fatigued and the only problem at the moment is the headaches - so I must be doing something right.

But it's got me thinking, shouldn't we all be mindful of what we put in our bodies day after day (and not just after a particularly heavy weekend bacon and booze binge)? We're a finally tuned mass of cells, organs and processes; we need a steady balance of the right vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, carbohydrates and proteins to keep us functioning efficiently and effectively, not to mention to ward off easily preventable, debilitating and life shortening diseases.

As I've alluded to before, I'm not a fan of the fad diet - everything we eat contains trace elements that we need, so cutting out a whole food group (unless you have an allergy or a medical reason) can do nothing but cut out a whole range of much needed nutrients. I'm as guilty as the next person for wondering whether I should follow some much hyped paleo, clean eating, protein heavy, celebrity endorsed money spinner - but the more I look into my own diet, the more I reject our current love of the faddy, trendy or down right ridiculous. A blow out is out, but cutting out or relying heavily on one food group - that's never going to work.

There's a lot to learn and a lot to consider, but let's all raise a milky drink and some kale to being a little more mindful (and sneaking in some cake on our holidays).

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Common - Northern Quarter, Manchester

Common's had a makeover, that's not a bad thing, it's just a fact I thought I'd point out. Don't worry all you lovers of their stripped back look, they've gone for an even more minimal, industrial look; think Ikea, without the bright colours or bookcases with pieces missing.

We popped into Common for lunch this week, mainly because my dining companion had wanted to go to Home Sweet Home (he's lived in the Northern Quarter for years and never been in), but it was full of hip young things drinking hyper-sweet milkshakes and eating day-glo coloured buttercream,so we popped next door, because 't'were new like,' grown up looking and quiet.

Quick scan through the menu and we realised they'd moved away from the burger/comfort food/slightly rustic heaviness and added small plates and meals with a fresher, lighter feel: refreshing to see somewhere in the NQ stepping away from messy piles of Tex Mex Americana and forging a food identity all of their own (don't worry, they still do burgers, if you haven't got over that yet).

If you go to Common and you are unsure what to order, I will tell you what you're going to have:

1. Shak shuka; a middle eastern version of huevos rancheros (eggs baked in spiced tomato and peppers). This is a staple dish for me at home, but Common's subtly spiced, cumin warmed, pepper heavy version was delicious, especially as they'd managed to keep the egg yolks runny. Which I can assure you, is a feat of kitchen skill.

2. Korean fried chicken: a sticky, sweet, garlicky, crispy, spicy delight. Utterly more-ish, they should
make a larger version for people who don't like sharing. Like me.

3. Popcorn cockles - all establishments should serve these tiny, crunchy, salty morsels of amazingness - however I doubt they'd manage to keep the cockles as soft and the batter as light as Common's. I want whoever the chef is at Common to come to my house and marry me. I'm on the market for getting wife-d up and anyone who can come up with these dishes is probably the person for me.

We also had the smashed avocado and tomato on toast - lovely and fresh, would be a great light lunch for non-pigs. I'd probably take the almonds out of the tomatoes, as they didn't add anything, but it pleased me to know I was eating one of my portions of nuts and seeds for the day (because things like that worry me at night). In addition the veg chilli on chips was great - plenty of not too wet chilli, melted cheese and salty/crispy fries - it was just over shadowed by the amazing-ness of everything else.

Oh and I ALMOST forgot - Common has expanded into the (viz lovely waitress) 'scary basement and popped in a bit of a bakery.' Now all their cakes are made in house and are very reasonably priced compared to their competitors: NOT NAMING ANY NAMES, BUT SERIOUSLY £5.50 FOR A SLICE OF EFFING CAKE?

Whoops, got giddy before
Hand thrown pot
Anyways, digression - for £1, Common is selling little chocolate orange truffle things (they're not that small though) - like a chewy date and chocolate heavy thing, with orange. Fit. And according to the waitress they're made with raw things and cocoa, which is all good for you. Unfortunately I couldn't fit anything else in and we had to leave, or I would have eaten them all. I need the recipe.

So a note about the new decor (I know you're all desperate to know) - think concrete, grey, open kitchen, light wood and you'll have it (their images here). There are long refectory style tables and hand potted lamp shades - if you like minimal, scandi, industrial chic you'll love it. I love the new makeover, I love the new menu, I love Common. But the chairs are a bit uncomfortable for old people like me.

Price for one snack, one side dish, three light bites and one cake: £23. Dishes range from a couple of
quid for a snack, around £4.50 for a light bite and up to low double figures for a main meal.

Food - 9/10
Atmosphere - 7/10 (quiet, but it was Wednesday mid-afternoon)
Service - 8/10
Value for money - 9/10

Total 33/40

Common, 39 Edge Street, Manchester M4 1HW, 0161 832 9245, Twitter, Facebook.

Please note, Common had no idea I was there until I started mouthing off afterwards on social media. Bloggers do actually pay for most of the meals they eat out. Mostly.

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