Sally Ross-Clark, Alanna’s Mum, is well known in their family for promoting an active lifestyle and her love of eating. Having just turned 60, Sally is a picture of health – but earlier on this year her immune system started reacting to certain ingredients that left her with blistered skin on her face and body.
As these ingredients were never completely identified, Sally had to restrict what she was eating and drinking. By being mindful of her sensitivity, she is slowly bringing her body back into balance. Sally was recently visiting Alanna in Berlin, along with Natasha (Alanna’s sister) where she shared her immune system-calming kuzu drink and her mugi miso soup, which is known for its strengthening properties. I met up with her to find out more about her experiences.
Can you tell me a bit about your background with food?
I’m a food lover, happy go lucky and I love to eat and drink anything. I have been intolerant to cow’s milk for several years now. I was advised by a Health Practitioner to substitute cow’s milk products for goat’s – milk, cheese, yoghurt and butter. This was tough at first, but now I actually crave them! Although not completely dairy free, goats milk products are easier on my digestive system and help the chronic Rhinitis I can experience from the overload of dairy products. Having said that, I love cream and cheese and if I’m eating out I find it very hard to resist a rich desert or a Spaghetti Carbonara. At home I use soya or oat milk cream as a substitute, and they substitute well to cow’s cream dishes.
Earlier this year though, I consumed a cake which contained agar-agar. I don’t believe I had ever eaten this before. Within twenty minutes my skin had flared up – I was bright red and felt like I was on fire. These flare ups kept happening for several months and it was difficult to establish exactly what was causing it. It was worrying and I became very nervous of what I was eating or drinking, in fear of another flare up.
When it first happened, I immediately called the person who had supplied the dairy-free Valentine’s Day cake which I had ordered because of my intolerances! She was perplexed when I explained what was happening and she recommended that I immediately prepare an ‘emergency’ macrobiotic drink using kuzu powder and this helped me considerably alongside my anti-histamine medication. After narrowing it down to the agar-agar I now know what to look out for, but identifying these problem ingredients is often very tricky.
Did you seek medical help?
I saw a private consultant who arranged for blood tests and prescribed medication. I also researched information online. I had to avoid all the things that came up in the allergy and intolerance tests for about eight months – products with vitamin B, anything containing barley (some miso pastes for example, but brown rice miso paste is an alternative). Since then I have been introducing things back into my diet very slowly. A gradual approach is crucial since the body is still recovering from the reactions.
Can you explain the kuzu drink to me?
I’ve been told that it immediately calms your immune system down when the body senses a stress which triggers the flare up. The drink is pleasant and highly alkalising and if ever my lips start to swell up or appear purple, I immediately make a kuzu drink to calm things down. I now also carry an EpiPen with me, but I am grateful that I have never had to use it. Obviously each person’s situation is different and I would only ever recommend following qualified medical practitioners’ advice.
With the kuzu you can also add umeboshi plums, which are salty and sour and they completely re-ground you.
How has your body responded to the kuzu and cutting things out?
At the moment my body has improved without experiencing random, frequent flare-ups. I’m very grateful for that. I am now able to trial many of the things I had to cut-out, such as miso soup, which I also find calming and soothing for the digestive system. I’ve also been trying a forkful of sauerkraut every now and then. I’m told it’s full of friendly bacteria which is very good for the gut and it really boosts the immune system.
I am a great believer in self-help and following healthy nutritional advice.
How does eating out around other people make you feel?
I was brought up to eat absolutely everything on my plate. It’s a hard task for anyone to suddenly start avoiding the things they like but somehow plague their system. I do empathise because eating and drinking are such important social activities. And you don’t want to draw attention to yourself – you want to fit in. You feel like a burden when you say ‘actually I can’t eat this’. I’m sure most people with allergies and intolerances feel that way at some time or other.
It’s really nice when I’m with Alanna here in Berlin, because that is when I don’t feel this sort of pressure. She also knows all the good places that serve food that’s not only delicious but also good for you. Being around people who also can’t have this or that makes you feel more comfortable and somehow less isolated.
How do you balance your body’s needs with eating the things you love and being sociable?
When you eat a clean, healthy diet, your mental clarity improves, your mood improves, you feel more level, more grounded and more awake, so there are lots of benefits. Having said that, there are times when I think enough is enough! I then go by the 80-20 rule instead of cutting out everything all of the time. I’m pretty good 80% of the time.
If I was still having constant flare-ups I wouldn’t be so relaxed about it. For a while I was on a completely bland diet of grilled fish with oil, vegetables, no butter and lots of rice. It was the only way I could get through it. Having said that, I actually found that when I was on strict restrictions I started to taste my food like I’d never tasted it before – the flavours were so strong.
Your 80-20 rule must be working then?
I love anything that’s just whole food, unprocessed. I’m mindful that I can’t keep eating the ‘20% way’. Your digestive system will catch back up with you, so you just have to be aware of that. Only you know what is best for your whole body.
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Finding a balance using the 80-20 rule.