“One pot meals make a lot of sense . . . because so much of what people hate about cooking is really the clean-up, the mess, the grease.”–Tom Douglas
Autoimmune diseases, according to John Hopkins University, unbelievably affect about 23.5 million Americans, 80% of which are women, of which I am one. While scientists are busy trying to understand the biological gender differences that contribute to this higher prevalence among females, one unexpected discovery is the contributions of the intestinal (gut) microbiome as a driver for these excessive numbers according to Scientific America. Furthermore, those identified with gut-centered autoimmune diseases, including irritable bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease, tend to have micronutrient deficiencies, in particular iron, folic acid, zinc, vitamins B6 and B12, copper, zinc, and vitamin D–which can really put the microbiome in dysbiosis.
If left untreated, nutritional deficiencies can lead to an array of other health concerns, such as neurological complications, psychiatric symptoms, cancer, and bone health issues. This is particularly of concern if adults have not been properly diagnosed. For example, symptoms of celiac disease often vary from person to person; therefore, it is possible to go decades without identification as was the case with me. I was in my late forties experiencing numerous unexplained, uncomfortable symptoms before one doctor finally suggested an endoscopy along with a blood test and a colonoscopy. As it turned out, the endoscopy and blood work both identified celiac disease.
This dramatically changed my life, especially the way in which I eat. In addition to eliminating gluten, the doctor advised a nutrient-rich, whole food diet, heavily emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains (without wheat, barley, and rye), as well as legumes. This is because I spent most of my life with malabsorption issues due to the damage of the lining of my small intestine as well as the inflammation and atrophying of the villi that absorb nutrients and minerals. Hence, the reason I was often sick as a young child.
Specifically, vitamin D deficiencies are especially high with those who have celiac disease, which is crucial for growth of bones. Chronic deficiency of vitamin D can lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis to name a few. Additionally, zinc is another nutrient often deficient in those with celiac disease. This nutrient promotes wound healing, virus recovery, growth, and development.
Therefore, how I now choose to cook and eat is heavily influenced by this knowledge. While, I can’t, per se, play catch up, I am aware of my need to focus on healthy eating and supplementing with a few key vitamins. The recipe below, based upon recipes by Simple Veganista and California Walnuts is reflective of this focus as it is chock full of nutritionally dense plant foods.
In particular, this recipe emphasizes foods high in zinc, such as walnuts, mushrooms, spinach, and legumes as the pasta I use is made out of chickpea flour. Mushrooms, especially those grown under UV light, are one of the few non-animal sources of vitamin D. Additionally, walnuts benefit gut, heart, and brain health while spinach (or other green vegetable I may use) is rich in flavonoid antioxidants and vitamins and possesses anti-inflammatory properties.
With or without an autoimmune issue, we can all benefit from eating more healthy, homemade meals. These meals don’t have to be complicated or time consuming and can even be completed in one pot as demonstrated in this recipe. Feel free to swap out the chopped walnuts with your favorite ground meat or meat alternative. Don’t want spinach? Replace it with another favorite green vegetable. The point is eating healthfully doesn’t have to be hard, tasteless, or make clean-up challenging. One pot and you’re done!
From my home to yours, I wish you the best in health!
One pot Walnut and Mushroom Penne (with gluten free option)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 pound mushrooms
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ red pepper
½ teaspoon fennel seed, options
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 cup chopped walnuts*
1 cup chopped fresh or 14.5 ounce canned tomatoes
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 pound penne pasta (I use gluten-free, chick-pea pasta.)
2 cups fresh spinach or other favorite green vegetable
In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. (Can also use ¼ cup water if you prefer oil-free cooking.)
Add in onion and garlic, saute until translucent. (If using water, you may need to add more water to prevent sticking.)
Stir-in mushrooms and cook until soft, stirring occasionally.
Stir-in tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, oregano, basil, black pepper, red pepper, and fennel, if using.
Add crushed tomatoes, walnuts, and chopped tomatoes and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and stir in vegetable broth and pasta.
Allow to simmer and gently bubble for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat, stir in spinach or other green vegetable.
Allow to rest 3-5 minutes, then divide between 4 serving bowls.
Sprinkle with your favorite topping, such as parmesan or pecorino cheese, fresh parsley, and/or chopped scallions.
*Walnuts can be swapped out with your favorite ground meat or meat alternative.