Low Iodine Diet Adventures: Craving, Experimenting, & Radiating / by alec vanderboom

     I suppose Low Iodine Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie has very little to do with shepherds. Scavenger Pie? Gardener's Bake? I dunno. 
     Anyways. I started a low iodine diet last Friday. So, when coupled with the dietary recommendations from my naturopath, my dining options have dwindled significantly.
     This has actually been tougher than I thought. You see, I love food. I love to cook. Cooking is often my only creative outlet in a busy day. But now, I have been challenged, and like listening back to a bad take of a song in the studio, the results can be very unsatisfying.
     Before I get into tonight's culinary experiment, here's the down low on the low iodine diet and the reasons for it:
  • The next step for treatment after my thyroid cancer diagnosis and surgery is a radioactive iodine treatment. The drug I'm on right now, Synthroid, will be shut down through two injections of Thyrogen, and then I go for my treatment. Essentially, I will be brought a pill in a lead box (brought in by someone in a Doc Brown suit, I like to imagine), I'll swallow the pill with some water, and then LOOK OUT! OFF LIMITS! No adults will be allowed in my hospital room unless they are 1-2 meters away, and only for a 20-minute maximum visit. After three nights in relative isolation, I will be released following a scan by Doc Brown's Geiger counter--or something like that.
  • I can't be around children, pets, or pregnant ladies (I suppose adding "ladies" is redundant...oh well), so my pseudo-isolation will continue for a while after the treatment. It has been recommended to me not to be back at work for two weeks. Because the radiation will be expelled through sweat, I can't have contact with anyone, and I need to throw out towels, bed sheets, dishes, and cutlery. Yikes!
  • From what I understand, the point of the low iodine diet is to starve the body of iodine for two weeks so that when I take the pill, my now active thyroid tissue (thanks to the Thyrogen) will eat up the iodine and then the radiation will kill any remaining cancer cells. Keep in mind, I'm not an expert, but this is what I've gathered over the last couple of weeks.
  • The diet itself involves cutting out iodized salt, anything from the water (fish, shellfish, etc.), anything from a can, dairy, and anything with red food colouring. I also can't eat anything that I don't prepare at home since everything in restaurants contains higher iodine levels. This is actually quite a challenge now that I realize how easy it is to just grab a snack at a coffee shop, or even by the till at a grocery store.
Back to the food. I've never really realized what it is like to truly crave food. I mean, I'm a skinny guy to begin with, but whenever I've had a "craving" for something, say nachos, I can go out and get some--hopefully from Amigos. But now, when I want something, I've really got to think about it and go through the list of restrictions to figure out what I can have. 
I now see why diets fail. Temptation is everywhere, and eating involves habits that have been ingrained in us since birth. Like craving nachos. This is a habit. Nowadays, through recommendations from my Low Iodine Diet and from my naturopath, I can't have cheese, tomatoes, onions, peppers, corn, and so on. So, no nachos. Now some of those things might seem weird to cut out, but regardless of the reason, I'm being asked to change habits. I don't want cancer anymore or ever again, so I can change. Except, Man! Now I really want nach...never mind.
Experimenting in the kitchen tonight resulted in one heckuva tasty dish. I saw what we had in the fridge, I looked up what's traditionally in a shepherd's pie, and a little while later, I had a darn tasty dish (that I thouht was going to be terrible when I started off).
 So, here it is... Low Iodine "Shepherd's Pie" with a Quick "Sorta" Apple Sauce
  • yellow potatoes (I think I used Yukon Gold. Whatever, they were in the pantry)
  • 3 beets
  • 3 fairly large carrots
  • leftover steamed broccoli and cauliflower...it was in the fridge, so why the heck not?!
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • bay leaf
  • Coarse Windsor Salt (it's low iodine friendly!)
  • honey
  • a lil' Olive Oil
  • Vegetable Stock...I made my own on the weekend and then froze it...roughly chopped carrots, celery, and cauliflower boiled and then simmered in water. With the cauliflower I actually used what I'd consider to be the "core" which I've always thrown out, but it worked!
-Boil potatoes and, later, mash them with vegetable stock, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Whatever. Just make mashed potatoes, and make them tasty.
-While all that is happening, par boil some beets and shred some carrots.
-When the beets are done, drain them and then add the carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, vegetable stock, salt, pepper, bay leaf, honey, cinnamon. Reduce the mixture.
-With a little olive oil in a pan ( I used a larger cake dish), add the beet mixture (but remove the bay leaf), slather on the potatoes, and bake at 400 for 20 minutes or so. I also broiled it at the end to brown up the taters a bit.
-While the "pie" is in the oven, chop up some apples, add a little bit of water, cinnamon, honey, and a bit of salt. Reduce...there ya go! "Sorta" Apple Sauce! This part wasn't really needed, but I wanted a little more sweetness, and a bit more moisture to replace the traditional gravy. It worked! So, if you have time, try it!
-After letting everything cool a bit, cut out a slice of the "pie", spoon on some "sauce", and thank me later...haha.