In Part 1 of this series I shared a bit of my story of surviving pancreatic cancer, chronic pancreatitis, major surgeries, gastroparesis, bowel dysmotility and what the recovery process has been/is still like for me. I also expanded on one approach which has probably helped me the MOST in managing and treating my severe digestive disorders. If you haven’t already, go back and read part one here.
Part one was focused on the juice, fruitarian approach to managing digestive issues by focusing on juicing for easy absorption of tons of nutrients while giving your system a digestive break along with MONO-MEALS consisting of ripe juicy fruits with the addition of leafy greens, for those who can tolerate them.
Today, I want to focus on the pureed food approach which literally saved my life for a few years. Right after I had my feeding tube removed and was in recovery from a massive surgery to removed the remaining half of my pancreas, along with my spleen, and an auto-islet cell transplant to my liver, I spent about a month in the hospital as a very, very sick person. I was already less than 100 pounds and continuing to lose weight. My medical team wanted me to try whatever food I wanted, after not eating anything by mouth for over 300 days. It didn’t take long to realize this was a BAD idea. We knew eating would be hard but the complex, heavy, sodium/fat rich foods in the hospital only made things worse and actually, I had to get an NJ feeding tube placed because I couldn’t take in much food and the majority of it was coming right back out.
Once I got back home I still tried to eat normal foods and continued to feel worse and drop more weight. So, my life was sustained by the one food that caused the least horrendous reactions… broth. My parents would buy a few bowls of “Hot and Sour Soup” from a local Chinese restaurant for me to have each week. There were some vegetables in it but it was mostly broth. I was consuming very very little. Maybe 1-1 1/2 cups of broth for the whole day. But, it saved me. I lived on it. Soon after we discovered a very brothy ginger soup from a local Thai restaurant and that became another lifeline.
A few months later my dad suggested I try making my own pureed vegetable soups. This was a daunting process as I had little strength but I needed something that I could do, something positive to focus on. This is truly where my love for cooking/creating food came about. My parents would buy me whatever ingredients I wanted and I would go to town finding ways to make a simple pureed vegetable soup something I could consume with less miserable reactions, and enjoy the taste of. Note: I have never been picky; I grew up eating everything and liking it all. I love the taste of all fruits and veggies.
I would make two jars full of soup to last for about a week (this is NOT enough calories for a normal person, but it’s all I could manage); one would be a hot soup to be re-heated and the other was cold soup, like a gazpacho. I would add some over-steamed veggies that were soft and mushy or some crackers or bread (something starchy to try and settle my stomach) to my tiny cup of a meal.
At night I would force feed some type of nut butter, desperate to get some fat into my system. I thought I could eat more at night then take medicine to basically knock me out & keep the food down. But usually I ended up being awake most of the night in excruciating pain while my mom sat/slept in a chair by my bed.
I switched from the pureed food approach to the juicing/fruitarian approach a few months after getting my gastric pacemaker surgery which allowed me to eat more. I lived on pureed foods for over 2 years and though it was NOT ideal, I slowly gained some weight & improved overall, with time. My GP symptoms stayed severe but I was able to survive, avoid the hospitals for long periods of time, avoid getting another feeding tube (though I did receive daily IV infusions & medicines through a PICC line for a 6 month period), & work to overcome some of my major nutritional deficiencies. All of which improved my quality of life!
When dealing with severe digestive disorders I believe our focus does NOT need to be so heavy on calories & weight, rather our focus needs to be on filling our bodies with nutrients, making healthy decisions that will allow our bodies to gain healthy weight & not just toxic buildup.
My motto through all of this has been: NUTRIENTS > CALORIES. I knew I could not consume & keep down anywhere near enough calories for my needs. And the more I thought about that, the more anxiety I had. So I focused on putting nutrient dense foods into my body, even though they weren’t calorie dense, my body still responded by very very slowly putting on weight because I was giving my system vital nutrition. Our bodies are highly intelligent.
The approach I shared in PART I and this approach are both focused on nutrients. Sure you can gain weight by force feeding milkshakes, but you are going to feel MUCH worse force feeding that than you will eating a pureed soup. A pureed soup has way fewer calories but it has double, even triple the nutritional value of a traditional milkshake by giving your body easy to absorb phytonutrients, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and nutrients. Plus that milkshake may help you gain weight but is it providing your body with any other healing qualities? That milkshake may put weight on your bones but it will otherwise be hindering healing. I’m not telling you to be scared of a milkshake, just make sure the bulk of foods you’re attempting to consume are going to be HEALING and not HARMING.
*In PART III I will be tackling foods to avoid & more!
Now, I’m excited to share my formula for making delicious soups that are satisfying & nourishing:
1. Pick one or two veggies to focus on.
2. Buy fresh, canned or the frozen steamer bags (that is the easiest option)
3. Steam, roast or leave the veggies raw.
4. Using a blender or immersion blender, blend your prepared veggies with vegetable broth, your favorite herbs, spices or condiments.
5. Let your soup sit in the fridge to get lots of flavor!
OPTIONAL: To bulk up your soups: Add a healthy cooked starch like potatoes or rice, blend the starch with the rest of your soup and the result is a very creamy/velvety dish.
OR add a healthy overt fat for extra creaminess. Avocado, tahini (ground sesame seeds), coconut & hemp seeds are some of the best sources of healthy fats that aren’t as hard to digest as animal fats & oils.
My favorite blended creations:
**Creamy Potato Soup
5 large russet or yellow potatoes
2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups chopped celery
1 large yellow onion
**Cauliflower & zuchinni are great additions or even substitutions for any of the veggies above.
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons basil & parsley
1. Wash, scrub then rough chop all veggies. Leave in fairly big pieces.
2. Add veggies to your crockpot add enough water to reach the top of the veggies without making them float. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 2-3.
3. Once everything is soft ladle the soup into your blender and blend in batches until it is smooth enough for you.
Recipes freezes well, and gets better with time in the fridge to meld together. The soup turns into the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes when it cools.
**Beautiful Beet Soup — one of my favorites! This was my lifeline.
3-4 beets (or use 2 cans of beets and skip step 1-2)
1 large cucumber
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 ripe avocado or 2 tablespoons of tahini
1-2 cups veggie broth or reserved cooking liquid
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1. Scrub beets clean, Save the green tops to blend with the other ingredients.
2. Chop each beet into four large pieces. Add to a pot and cover with water, bring to a rapid boil for 20 minutes or until fork tender. Reserve some cooking liquid to use instead of broth.
3. Add all ingredients to blender. Blend until smooth and creamy.
I enjoy this recipe best served cold although it is also good warm. Eat according to your preference. Though I recommend allowing it at least a few hours to meld in the fridge before eating. This soup gets better with time.
2 bags steamed microwave carrots
1/2 chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
one medium potato- steamed in the microwave (sweet or white).
1-2 cups veggie broth or water
1. Season with salt, pepper, curry powder, turmeric paprika, garlic powder
Blend! Eat warm.
**Green Gazpacho — another of my favorites & lifeline!
1 large ripe avocado
2 large cucumber
4 stalks celery
1/2 small onion
1 cupped chopped tomato
1 cup Vegetable broth or water
handful fresh cilantro (optional)
1 clove of garlic (optional)
Pickled jalapeño and/or srirracha
The juice of 1/2 of a large lime
1. Chop ingredients. Add everything to a blender. Blend until smooth.
2. Eat cold! A gazpacho is a cold, refreshing soup. This is perfect in the summer.
**Wonderful White Soup
2 bags frozen cauliflower (or 1 head fresh)
1 large potato
1/2 chopped onion
1 clove minced garlic
1 cup full fat coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoon curry powder
cracked black pepper & salt
optional: ground cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes
1. Steam veggies and add to the blender. Blend all ingredients together until smooth. This is soup is play on the Indian flavors I love!
**Yummy yellow soup
3 large yellow squash (the ones that look like yellow zucchini)
2 ears of fresh corn, cut off the cob
1/2 yellow onion
1-2 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice
optional spices: turmeric, dill, basil, parsley, rosemary
1. Steam/cook veggies.
2. Using a blender, blend all ingredients until smooth & creamy.
3 large zucchini
1 bag frozen sweet peas
1/2 yellow onion
1 handful of greens (I like kale for this)
1 cup veggie broth
Optional spices: hot sauce, dill, basil, oregano, mint, parsley.
Optional: 1 cup of cooked brown rice for bulk
1. Steam/cook veggies
2. Using a blender, blend all ingredients until smooth and creamy.
**Glowing Carrot Soup
2-3 cups raw carrots
2 cloves smashed raw garlic
1 inch fresh ginger root, chopped
1 yellow or orange bell pepper
1/2 cup tomato puree or pure tomato sauce
salt, pepper, lemon juice, fresh herbs like basil/dill
Boil carrots until for tender, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and ginger to the boiling water to infuse more flavor.
Add cooked carrots, ginger, garlic to a blender along with the raw peppers, tomato puree, spices, and a little bit of the cooking liquid.
Blend until smooth and creamy. To thicken add 2 tablespoons of raw hemp seeds OR more bell pepper.
Top with more fresh herbs, or chopped greens.