Living With Polio

Nutritional Route to Weight Loss

From the series, Polio Survivors Ask, by Nancy Baldwin Carter, B.A, M.Ed.Psych, from Omaha, Nebraska, is a polio survivor, a writer, and is founder and former director of Nebraska Polio Survivors Association.

Q: I need to lose weight. My longtime post-polio weakness limits my choices of exercise. How can I enjoy going the nutritional route?

A: Want some adventure in your nutritional life? Grab a wide-brimmed hat and head for the nearest farmers’ market! Warm breeze nudging you from one canopied booth to the next, baskets of intriguing produce lighting up the gourmet corner of your brain, food so fresh you can almost smell the garden it came from mere hours earlier.

Talk with the vendors. Relish this one’s description of the rather thin, tapered, dark green pod he holds, the perfectly-named Chinese rat tail—and imagine chopping this kooky radish into your next salad. Laugh with that one, as he explains in mock-exasperation that his 12-year-old nephew, dutifully spritzing the collard greens (not to mention the vendor in the next booth) is, well, just a kid and whacha gonna do. People! Fun!

Here’s bright pink amaranth, which dazzles up a salad a bit more than the green variety, though they both have the same spinachy taste. And arugula—dark green here, a tender leaf with a peppery bite. And spigariello, long-leafed broccoli that comes with a dainty, yellow edible flower. All of these help make salads enticing.

Get an exciting assortment: Pleasantly bitter radicchio, its beautiful magenta leaves streaked with ivory; or frilly-edged kale, with its gray-green (and even purple) leaves and slight cabbage taste; or turnip greens and their mustardy touch of sweetness; or cabbage-flavored collards, flat and green; or baby bok choy, cupped deliciousness from the mustard cabbage family; and our old stand-by, spinach.

Make salads. Shred young, tender beets into them; embellish with fresh herbs like thyme or basil or dill or rosemary. All from the market. Add chickpeas or kidney beans or Craisins or slices of mangoes or pears. You won’t need more than a touch of fat-free dressing. Steaming is good, too, quick and tasty, and will retain nutrients that otherwise might leach out if cooked in water.

This isn’t merely a salad story. The best book I’ve seen about eating the right stuff in the right way is Everyday Cooking by Dean Ornish, M.D. Oh yes—it has scrumptious recipes, too. Who can resist Creamy Mushroom Stroganoff or Brandied Pear Bread Pudding or Braised Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts!

Irma S. Rombauer’s classic The Joy of Cooking is a wonderful source of veggie information, with outstanding drawings, overflowing with tips, explanations, and recipes.

Of course, the trip to the market merely whets the appetite for the eating changes we realize we must make if we want a different outcome. We all know losing weight requires taking in fewer calories than our bodies burn up. Here’s the good news: This isn’t about deprivation—it’s about making healthier choices. Experiment. Try new stuff. Let curiosity get the better of you!

How about taking home a handful of delightful little Yukon Gold potatoes, so new the skin comes off when you barely rub them with your fingers? Steam them with some fresh green beans and a breath of basil. Heaven!

And don’t forget to check out the kohlrabi, those alien-looking turnip-y globes with weirdly shaped appendages sticking out in all directions where leaves used to hang. Great for snacks or soups or stews.

What to drink? Remember the Brewster sisters in the play Arsenic and Old Lace? Eccentric spinsters who treated their suitors to a sip or two of poison-laced elderberry wine? Here we have elderberry blossoms! You, too, can make your own wine. Or easier yet, brew up a pot of tea by steeping the blossoms in hot water. Or perhaps you’d prefer juicing a large, cool glass of antioxidant-packed aronia berries.

What a refreshing outing this has been!


Food has wonderful flavor, all by itself. Everything doesn’t have to taste like some form of fat and salt. Food already has fat and sodium in it—adding more may only mask the unique flavor of the food. Guidelines say our bodies actually require no more than 20-25 grams of fat a day. One tablespoon of ANY oil contains 14 grams of fat. One tablespoon of butter contains 14 grams of fat.

There’s no good reason to fry food in butter or oil. Ever taste a fresh mushroom sautéed in its own juice? All that delicious liquid cooks right back up into the mushroom—divine! Invest in a Teflon skillet—that’s all you need. If you know a food is absolutely going to stick to the pan, toss in a spoonful of the broth on pages 18-19 in Ornish’s Everyday Cooking for spectacular added taste. Or very lightly spray the pan with Pam. Think you need to add fat in your recipes? Try substituting plain, unsweetened applesauce or plain yogurt instead of butter or oil. Use your inquiring mind. Alter recipes to fit your needs. Spend time investigating fat-free products.

Salt’s another culprit. When 140 mg is the cutoff for low sodium, eating food containing five or ten times that amount simply makes no sense.

A smart choice of juices: Low-sodium, all vegetable V-8. No fat, 140 mg salt, nearly three times the potassium of a banana, 50 calories. Check that label out! And always use skim milk. Did you know you can whip it into “whipped cream?”

Here’s a good exercise: Move away from FAT and SALT!

And sugar. Do we really have to say anything more about sugar? Here’s a little nugget of chocolate candy barely over an inch long. Doesn’t look as if much harm could be lurking there. How about 13 g of fat, 60 mg of sodium, 20 g of sugars, and 200 calories. What a bite! Think you can stop with one?

It’s imperative to know the Nutritional Facts and Ingredients for everything we eat. Learn how to read these. For starters, they are on the back of every package of processed food. Pay attention to number of calories, amount of fat, sodium, sugar, and protein. Processed food can be riddled with things we don’t even imagine. Don’t ever buy any food without checking the labels to be certain you’re within the nutritional parameters you’ve chosen for your eating style. To be clear: READ THE LABELS!

You can’t beat this for canned tuna: StarKist’s special Very Low Sodium Chunk White Albacore Tuna in Water—1 g fat, 30 mg sodium, 13 g protein, 60 calories. Compare that!

Eat Complex Carbohydrates—whole grains, breads, cereals, pastas, beans, which are absorbed slowly and can supply energy steadily, helping maintain an even blood sugar level. Limit Simple Carbohydrates—fruit juices, sugar, sugar products, jams, jellies, syrups, etc., which cause a quick rise in blood sugar, are easily converted into fat, and leave us feeling tired,.

For times when cooking is out of the question, keep a well-stocked freezer. It’s not much more difficult to make a quantity when cooking. Store individual servings in containers in your freezer to pop out for a yummy meal on those blah days.

Chestnuts may be the only nut that doesn’t contain fat. Buy them peeled and vacuum packed with no liquid if you don’t want to struggle peeling fresh ones. Mind you, we’re not talking about water chestnuts here. Dream of all the ways you can use these nuts in your cooking.

Make this kind of cooking a hobby. What a sensational way to enjoy a day!

As always, seek your doctor’s advice before making major changes in diet.

Source: Post-Polio Health International (

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