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Pain Patient Tip For Optimal Health: PROTEIN!

26 Jun

by Heather Grace, IPJ Staff Writer

Most people with chronic or intractable pain have damage to the central nervous system. It’s a long-term process (life-long—especially for those with IP), however, healing damaged nerves *is possible.*

This requires getting appropriate vitamins & supplements. I take a multi-vitamin with iron, B-complex, calcium/magnesium/zinc, fish oil, flax oil & pregnenolone religiously. It also requires proper pain control, often through prescription medication.

Pain management is much more than that, of course. There are many great self-care remedies, such as a no/low impact exercise like swimming or walking. When I’m up to it, I use my elliptical cross-trainer machine. I also take in plenty of protein & amino acids. Relaxation/stress reduction techniques are great too, such as yoga or meditation.

When my pain is at its worst, doing things that make me happy truly helps. Like: online pain advocacy via social media/this blog—aiding others with chronic pain, watching a favorite comedy movie or tv show, or taking a walk somewhere nice—a big park or the beach. Sometimes a solitary stroll is nice, but I also enjoy dog beach on occasion. Watching blissfully happy dogs running & playing—including my own—always puts a smile on my face.

One of the lesser known ways to heal the body on an ongoing basis, though, is through the intake of amino acids. Many of them specifically benefit our nerves, muscles, etc. Taking amino supplements like GABA, Taurine &/or Glutamine is a great start.

However, the very best way to get a variety of pain-essential aminos is by increased protein intake. (Experts agree utilizing food sources of vitamins/minerals is most beneficial to the body.) Lean meat, poultry & fish as well as vegetable sources like beans/lentils are great. All of these contain large amounts of protein and thus, lots of essential amino acids. The problem is, many people with severe pain have a decreased appetite.

Because I am one of the people with a lower appetite than I had pre-pain, I started increasing my protein/amino intake by using supplemental protein powder. I highly recommend it—so long as your physician approves, of course! Looking for the right product is crucial—all protein supplements were not created equal. Look for the ones with healthy, pronounceable ingredients, the fewer the better. Your best bet is brands found at stores like Whole Foods, Sprouts, Mothers or Trader Joes. (Any store that sells quality health food/vitamins/supplements is a great place to look for protein supplements!)

Because I like the taste of whey and egg protein powders most, I prefer brands like Jay Robb. It’s great tasting without having 100 unpronounceable ingredients. As for vegetable proteins, you can’t go wrong with the Garden of Life “Raw” line. This line is organic and contains only plant-based ingredients—great for vegetarians and vegans alike. In addition to a blend of vegetable proteins (rice, garbazanzo bean, amaranth, quinoa, millet, etc) Garden of Life adds a wonderful enzyme blend to aid digestion. My favorites are Raw Protein Energy w/Guayaki Yerba Mate and Raw Meal w/Marley Coffee.

Both Jay Robb and Garden of Life are fairly expensive, however. Prices are in the $30-50 range for most of the quality brands in stores. (Garden of Life is at the higher end of the spectrum.) You can find deals online. However, be sure you’re getting the product from a well-respected vendor with a good reputation. This helps ensure the product is both genuine and was properly stored, to prevent spoilage. Note: I would personally avoid auction sites for a product like this.

In addition to price concerns, any product that’s protein powder with other added ingredients (containing vanilla, sweeteners such as stevia & sometimes more) can be limiting. Most powders are meant for use in sweet recipes, such as smoothies. They can also be added to coffee or tea in place of milk/cream.

That’s my best advice for people who aren’t big on breakfast… add protein powder to your morning coffee or tea and your body will thank you for it! I absolutely love protein powder in iced coffee or iced chai tea. TIP: If you want iced coffee or tea, be sure to add the protein powder to the hot coffee/tea and mix thoroughly before adding ice… it dissolves/mixes into the drink more easily that way.

During spring/summer especially, I make/freeze smoothies but also coffee and chai tea. I blend these with ice and make enough to pop several in the freezer & pull them out to eat during in another hot day. Once frozen, I often eat my frozen smoothies/coffee/tea with a spoon still mostly frozen. Or, sometimes I allow them to thaw somewhat & eat a slushy shake. I’m always happy to have something to eat that with a decent amount of protein that also beats the heat!

Though smoothies, coffee or tea are great ways to use the protein powders as mentioned above, these powders don’t work with just any food. The products with sweeteners, as you may expect, do not work well with savory foods!

If you want more flexibility—so you can add protein powders to *any* foods you want—pure protein powders are the way to go! You’ll find that few of the high-end brands sell plain whey or soy proteins. However, there’s another option… TIP: Find a local store/online retailer that sells these in bulk quantities.

I buy my pure protein in the bulk bins at my local Sprouts. They carry both whey and soy protein. Each has a small amount of soy lecithin added, so the powder doesn’t clump. I buy the whey protein, which is approx $13 per pound. I believe the soy protein is approx $11/lb. It’s quite economical this way and the bonus is, you can buy as much or little as you like!

I add plain whey protein to most of my small meals (like soup/stew, yogurt or oatmeal) so I still get adequate protein. I add it to one my very favorite ‘fast food’ snacks/small meals by Tasty Bite. Tasty Bite sells mild Indian food that comes in 10oz microwaveable pouches—I believe they are meant to be used as side dishes. I often add a tablespoon of whey protein powder to their Madras Lentils, after I’ve cooked it. (Note: The Indian name for this dish is daal makhani, but it is also known as black lentils with red beans). Another fave of mine with a bit of added protein is Tasty Bite’s Kashmir Spinach (sag aloo / creamed spinach with paneer cheese).

TIP: Always add protein powder to hot foods *after* it is heated up. I generally add mine as soon as I’ve turned off the stove and the food nearly is ready to serve. As stated earlier, adding the powder to a warm/hot dish allows it to blend easiest. Adding it at the end also means the protein powder won’t impact the intended outcome of your recipe—you won’t add too much/too little early on. Also, if you’re using whey protein, the fact that it’s a milk product can make hot food recipes easier to scald/stick to a pan if added early on. It’s even possible to ruin what you’re making if you add the powder too soon. This is especially true when a recipe calls for precision, such as candy making. I’ve added protein powder to toffees and brittles, for instance—but only at the very end!

Readers: Any ideas for other recipes that would work well with added protein powder? Share them by commenting below!

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