How to make yourself sick on “health food”

So far this year I had been making a concerted effort to eat less meat, bread, and low-fat dairy. As I’ve written about before, I’m a fan of doing things ‘naturally’ but equally not the biggest planner in the world.  And believe me, I was cursing myself for that recklessly dangerous combination while I lay on my bathroom floor at 3am the other week, removing the contents of my stomach in whatever my body decided was the quickest way possible.

Let me explain.

Like probably the majority of sub-fertile women and people just trying to be healthier all around, I’ve been trying to modify my diet this year.  This was brought on by reading choice materials such as The Fertility Diet and Omnivore’s Dilemma as well as countless other anecdotal stories of people “just removing gluten” from their diet and miraculously getting pregnant the next month.  I fancy that I eat pretty healthy anyway, as we don’t eat out a lot and prepare almost all our meals from scratch so I know exactly what’s in them, but I had never tried to remove things from my diet before.  My strategy was more: moderation is best.

However, in seeking to eat a more vegetarian diet I came across the delightful idea of eating sprouts.  Apparently, merely soaking beans for a day or two can turn a nutritious yet hard to cook food into an even better source of vitamins and enzymes by making them even more bio-available (just don’t talk to any supporters of the Paleolithic Diet).    And given the fact that I had now removed (or was at least trying to limit) almost every other major food group from my diet due to potential concern for my fertility,  I was going to need to figure out better ways of cooking and incorporating beans into my meals.

So, to cut to the chase, it turns out there’s a very real reason that no one beyond fringe groups have ever heard of sprouts.

In short, the sprouting process is perfect incubation for the proliferation of bacteria that will make you deathly ill and in a different time, has probably led to many an actual death.  But please, don’t take my word for it internet, do the research yourself!  That was my major fault.  I read some reports of it causing digestive issue but I mistakenly thought they just meant gas.  I can deal with gas!  Having to hug a toilet for 30 hrs is a little too much.

While it may seem that sprouting is a great way to return to the Earth and do things more naturally and healthily (and cheaper!), nothing is healthy about not being able to digest any of the nutrients that were made more bio-available and making yourself sick.  In fact, I found it rather hilarious that I had in turn created my own “omnivore’s dilemma” by trying to outsmart the omnivore’s dilemma.

I’ll stop there, before going into too many unnecessary details, but suffice it to say that if you’re planing on making any drastic dietary changes, research is a good idea! (And yes, I see the obvious irony to this story as I was so consumed with doing my own research in a different area of my life that I failed to do a thorough background study in an area of my life that could have really used it!  More proof that getting a PhD. isn’t because you’re innately talented, but just because you work hard for a long time!)

Although I couldn’t eat for a while after that, when I did eat, all I wanted was a fried chicken sandwich.  While it may not have been the healthiest thing for me, it sure wouldn’t make me sick!  I hope to one day revisit sprouting, as I already had dreams of getting my own glass jars and yada, yada, yada, but that won’t be happening anytime soon.  Hopefully in 2012, but  just talking about sprouts brings back horrific memories, so maybe that’s even pushing it.

Apparently there are communities of people that eat sprouts out there and live happily ever after (although I personally would like to see how much toilet paper they buy a month) and I’m not doubting that it can be done in a healthy manner, but it is important to note that it isn’t as easy as it looks folks!  Careful preparation is necessary lest you end up like me, terrified of the tiny bean.

Anyway, I hope this post helped some sub-fertile pondering ‘healthy’ dietary changes, some fertile mommy trying to lose the baby weight, or random male blog reading lurker (are any out there??) from an undesired self-induced food poisoning session based on the whimsical idea of returning to nature.  Do your research and follow good guidelines (not blog guidelines) before trying sprouts.

End sprout PSA.

*At the time, I was pretty bummed that I didn’t have my camera at home to take pictures of my creation.  Now, however, I’m ever thankful I have no physical reminders of that night :)

23 thoughts on “How to make yourself sick on “health food”

  1. I’m confused.
    You made your own sprouts with beans, not seeds?

    I make my own sprouts all the time. Add a tbsp of red clover or alfalfa or whatever seed to the jar, fill with water, put on a strainer lid (you can buy these) or cheesecloth secured with a rubber band.
    Change the water TWICE a day.


    Sorry you got sick. I’d rather have a broken arm than food poisoning. I’m not even kidding.

    • Yes, I made them with beans.
      Unfortunately, its not as easy as you mention, considering if there is any bacteria whatsoever on your original seeds/beans then you’ve just created a culture for it to grow that merely changing the water twice a day won’t remove. It is extremely important to make sure your growing environment and original seeds/beans are entirely sterile, which involves more than just rinsing with water a few times.
      Toning down the cavalier attitude that accompanies growing sprouts and ignores the health risks is what I aimed to do by writing this post, since most blog posts I had read describe it just as you did, when in reality its more like: Voila! Food poisoning!

  2. OK I didn’t even get past the part where you said you were going to eat SPROUTS!!!! OH NO!!! My husband and I are both “food safety managers” – aka food safety certified (we don’t “manage” anyone in that regard…we just took classes and are now called that) and neither of us will eat sprouts ever again!!! One of the worst foods for foodborne illness :-/
    I hope you’re okay! Going back to read the rest of the blog post now!!!

  3. Just read the rest of it. It makes me feel sick just thinking about it! Glad you’re okay! Seriously I will never eat sprouts again!

    I got sick from a subway sandwich a couple of times and I think it’s because I got sprouts on it (I thought it was the meat and later learned it was prob the sprouts)…nope, never again!

  4. I love bacon! I’m totally doing paleo! :). But I can’t eat dairy or wheat and broccoli just isn’t appetizing by itself! ;)

    I have coconut ice cream in the freezer and clarified butter in the fridge… ;)

    I sprouted last year and didn’t like the taste….

  5. It’s funny that you wrote this particular blog post…I have some beans (I KNOW they have a funny name…can’t recall it right now) sitting in my cupboard that I’ve been wanting to sprout, but haven’t mustered up the courage (or the patience) for yet. I know it’s a delicate process (my mom actually pinned a newspaper article to them when she presented me with the beans – it’s all about how to do it, but carefully. lol). I absolutely love sprouts in my salad or Chinese food or whatever and will grow them sometime soon, but like you, ugh, I’m afraid of messing it up and getting sick.

  6. Vik,
    Mung beans?

    No, I think I wrote this before that.
    Srsly, a few people in the burbs got REALLY ill from Subway baby spinach.
    I was quite freaked til I found out it was in the burbs.
    Then I was like, pft.

  7. That’s horrible! I’m sorry. Bean sprouts are the one vegetable that we eat that is as dangerous as meat, so I’m really careful about them. Thankfully Josh discovered that he loves sauted lentil sprouts, so if I’m at all uncertain about the quality (which I am often since I’m a little paranoid about this sort of thing, even though I’ve never gotten food poisoning!) he will just cook them before eating and all possible problems are solved.

    I think this is one of those areas where “common sense” looks really different depending on where you’re coming from. I can’t imagine that you’ll want to return to sprouting any time soon, but if you do so with seeds, remember that food grade hydrogen peroxide is your friend! We don’t currently do seed sprouts because neither of us has the time to tend to them properly, and it really does take a lot of work!

    Anyway, I’m sorry that you got sick, but glad that you got away without something more serious! And don’t give up on your (well-researched) healthful eating plan, even if it involves some fried chicken sandwiches every now and again!

  8. At the yoga retreat centre that I visited a few weeks back the owner had a contraption called a Bio.Snacky that she used to sprout her own sprouts. There was something on the C.BC up here a while ago about how bacteria and the like contaminate sprouts because of where they grow (which is probably why my buddy at the retreat centre resorted to growing her own). I’m so sorry that you had such an awful experience. I was toying with the sprouting idea as a summer project, but now I’m rethinking it!

    My diet has changed drastically since my IF diagnosis. Going off gluten has changed my life for the better. I don’t know if I would’ve discovered the healthier me if it wasn’t for my barrenness.

    Thanks for the PSA! :)

  9. Oh my goodness, that sounds purely awful! I am glad you are feeling better now and thank you for the PSA. I learned a lot, not the least of which is that I will probably never make my own sprouts. Which is fine, I don’t eat them currently anyway! ;) But interesting…nonetheless!

  10. This post WAS supposed to be somewhat humourous, right? Like, I’m not supposed to feel totally bad for chuckling a little bit at your story, despite that I realize food poisoning is absolutely atrocious?

    I laughed at your reference to “cutting out every other food group” — I’ve been close to there, too. Every diet out there tells you to cut something out, and if you listen to them all, soon you have nothing left!!

    I’d never read the book The Fertility Diet, but all the reading I did on fertility nutrition emphasized INCREASING dairy and animal fat. I just checked out a summary of the book and was surprised to see that it recommends cutting down on dairy. That’s supposed to be a fertility super-food! The higher-fat, the better!

    It’s hard to know where to stand on all the varying dietary viewpoints. There’s the ethics of eating animals and animal by-products. Then there’s the question of what our bodies are biologically designed to consume. Sometimes they seem to clash.

    Since I’ve found the arguments pretty compelling that animal fats and fertility go hand-in-hand, I’m currently at the point where I think I ought to eat them while I’m of child-bearing age, and perhaps transition to vegetarianism in later years of life. It’s a lot to consider, though, and I commend you for working through all these issues!! Even at the occasional peril of your stomach!!

    • Minor oversight, I just changed it to read “low-fat dairy” since that is what I actually gave up, not all dairy (although that does take a lot of it out). And yeah, I wasn’t going for a vegetarian approach for anything other than purposeful attempts to get more fresh fruits and veggies into the diet and less “bad” cuts of meat, I guess. I definitely think our biology points to what we should eat, its just harder to accomplish that given meat processing.
      But yes, every other book said something different so, I’m sure no one has it all figured out. And yeah, lactose intolerance aside, full fat dairy is good but low-fat dairy is super bad. Anyways, I learned my lesson!

      And I’m glad you laughed! I had to laugh at myself too because this was very embarrassing!

  11. Good to know. I never would have thought about it, and I eat sprouts halfway regularly when they’re available. I’ll be thinking twice now!

  12. OH MY!!!!! We’re on a real health-natural kick right now, too (Nourishing Traditions type) and planned to start sprouting in the near future. This is incredibly good information. I’m so sorry you got so sick! Thank you for warning us!

  13. Yikes, this sounds horrible! Sorry you had to go through this right before defending your thesis. I bet you didn’t need that kind of extra stress. :( Oh, and I could add another anecdote to your list of women who gave up gluten and got pregnant right away…only it took her two months instead of one. If only that would work for the rest of us. ;)

  14. Yikes, so sorry for the experience. Plan on using this line on a daily basis to explain why I can barely articulate thoughts and usually not coherantly: “More proof that getting a PhD. isn’t because you’re innately talented, but just because you work hard for a long time!” lol

    • I was going to ask when you commented earlier if you had sources that say that eating raw/cooked sprouts was as dangerous as eating meat, as that seemed like a bit of a stretch. I’m not sure the data is even out there considering how many billions eat meat vs. sprouts. Even my Chinese adviser told me that eating sprouts is dangerous and was shocked I’d tried it myself. I’m not denying the dangers of eating meat, but most people are at least culturally familiar with how to cook meat whereas with sprouts, little information is available and what is out there is so limited its dangerous for people who may want to try it. Plus, the USDA has some regulation over the meat industry, whereas my kitchen, well not so much :) I’m glad at least the people who’ve read this are at least more informed with what risks they’re dealing with if they try this at home!

  15. In 1992, I was in desperate search of a miracle cure for my furiously rising hormone levels, which – according to a well-documented study – reduced my remaining childbearing years to zero. At the time I was eating close to the recommendations of The Fertility Diet: whole milk products, brown rice, tofu, poultry, nuts and fruit, multigrain bread, an afternoon desert and coffee. Yet there I was, at forty two, going into premature menopause with several endocrinologists proclaiming my “ovulatory infertility” to be beyond repair.

    One day, in a last-ditch effort to prop up my wilting ovaries, I resolved to raise the bar on my eating habits. The first food I eliminated was dairy. My decision to do so was inspired by my chronic sinus headaches. Several sources indicated a strong correlation between milk products and high levels of congestion. Amazingly, after three dairy-free weeks, my sinus headaches vanished. And eight months later (following a regime of additional diet changes and rigorous self-examination) I conceived a baby girl. After publicly sharing my story, I received hundreds of e-mails from women who emulated my process with similar results.

    Notably, in 1994, the year of my daughter’s birth, a large scale study in the Journal of Epidemiology, surveyed women in over 35 countries, showing that those in countries with the highest milk consumption experienced the sharpest, age-related drop in ovarian reserve. Women between the ages of 35-39 reported the highest rate of declining reproductive function. Some experts proposed that this delayed impact might’ve been caused by the cumulative toxic effect of galactose on ovarian germ cells.

    No, not everyone needs to give up dairy to become pregnant. Though a substantial body of clinical research documents the adverse effects of dairy on endocrine and immune health.

    Overall, for the reader who has not done extensive prior research, many of The Fertility Diet recommendations can be dangerously misleading. Consider this: “It has been hard to keep up with the fortunes of soy over the last decade…” followed by: ” don’t turn up your nose at tofu… or ignore soy milk…” If you’re going to write a book, entitled, The Fertility Diet, you might care to do what it takes to keep up with the fortunes of soy. Women with irregular ovulation might in fact, do best to turn up their noses at tofu and soy milk. Non-fermented soy products have been linked with impaired thyroid function. Not a desirable condition for an aspiring mom.

    Or here is another equally troubling recommendation: “Drink coffee… and alcohol in moderation…we didn’t see any effects on fertility at moderate levels of caffeine intake, which is the equivalent of three to four cups of coffee a day.” The interested reader will indeed find a number of sources documenting the adverse affect of caffeine, including higher miscarriage rates, increased blood pressure, excessive urinary excretion of magnesium, potassium, and calcium (essential nutrients for maintaining a healthy pregnancy) to name a few. The followers of Dr. Chavarro’s guidelines might want to take note of an alarming piece of research* that points toward larger risk of mammary and bladder cancer among coffee drinkers on a high fat diet. And if none of these findings were convincing enough, when attempting to create a most welcoming environment for new life, wouldn’t it make more sense to abstain from ingesting a substance that leads to physical dependency serious enough to result in withdrawal symptoms?

    What about the suggested curative effect of ice-cream and whole-fat-dairy? Tinkering with the natural proportion of elements within a food system has been known to spell trouble. Thus, whole fat foods are for the most part healthier than their low-fat counterparts. But the claim that whole-fat milk products in particular are responsible for reversing ovulatory imbalance is highly misleading. Looking at the original study, one could also easily surmise that women who eat low fat dairy, are likely to be chronic dieters with fluctuations in weight. And such fluctuations have been known to result in impaired hormonal health. The reason that even one serving of low-fat foods is shown to increase the risk, is not the milk, but the fact that it marks a particular personality trait, and relationship to food in general.

    In the last fourteen years of counseling people with ovulatory issues, I have found that eight out of ten women have digestive difficulties. I wonder about the effect of – a four cheese soufflé, a few cups of coffee, a glass of wine, fruit desserts and nuts and berries for an evening snack, to name but a few suggestions in the back of the book – on an already compromised digestive system.

    Oh, yes, many readers might miss the irony of the lovely image of two peas in a pod on the jacket of the book. At first I thought it was an odd, but interesting, conscious choice. Until I found them listed in one of the charts without any mention of their damaging effect. Peas, you see, are not quite the libido lifting edibles you want to mix into your husband’s, or your own dinner salad. At least not if you’re trying to have a baby. They are one of the few vegetables known to have contraceptive properties.

    By no means do I mean to imply that scientific research is to be dismissed. But in case you’re tempted to wait for the Harvard sequel (Dr. Chavarro has assured us that “Plans are underway to conduct a…study to test the diet in a more scientifically rigorous manner”) to determine your menu, here is something I learned observing hundreds of people who conceived robust babies, often in direct contradiction of current food science dogma. When it comes to something as dynamic, and mysterious as a human organism, as complex as food, and as miraculous as creating a life, nothing can replace the value of doing your own thinking and the solid science of direct observation.

    * Int J of Cancer (1983) 32:479-84

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