This part of my life began when my very sick partner was diagnosed with Celiac. Even the slightest exposure to gluten can make him very ill for several days, so I have pursued gluten-free options with thorough aggression. In the U.S. a recent surge of gluten awareness means we have more choices than ever, but it still means hunting and analyzing and tracking down parent companies. After several years now of doing so, I want to share my tricks and tips with others who are still struggling.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Food Sensitivity Elimination Diet

During our four months in Norway, our diet changed pretty drastically.  The benefit of a long change in diet is that when you go back to eating your regular foods, you discover hidden food sensitivities you hadn't realized were a problem before.  The drawback is that you discover hidden food sensitivities you hadn't realized were a problem before.

How, you might ask, do you not realize you're sensitive to a food?  In my partner's case, he spent his entire teen and adult life with gradually worsening, undiagnosed Celiac disease.  He has not been entirely "well" at any point in his memory, so his baseline state of physical experience is illness.  That's something difficult to grasp for people who don't have food sensitivities or chronic illnesses.  So if some food is making him slightly sicker, it becomes part of the everyday experience. Asking if a food makes him feel sick is like asking a fish how the water feels today.

The only real way to tell if you have a food sensitivity is to stop eating a lot of foods for a few weeks, let your system heal from the chronic inflammation, and then re-introduce the foods one at a time.  If there is a sensitivity to that food, the reaction should be swift and unmistakable. No reaction = no sensitivity.  This is known as an elimination diet.  Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to find info on elimination diets, because everyone has a different idea of what you should eliminate.  There is also a gap between elimination diets to test for food sensitivities, and ones designed to eliminate so-called "toxins" or whatever the author has decided is morally "bad" food (often on very shaky evidence).

We already know that gluten grains are a problem for him. He suspects, based on noticeable physical reactions that need further testing, that bananas, cucumbers, avocado, and the nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers) are also a problem.  Beyond that, we are cutting the "usual suspects" for food intolerances; eggs, dairy, soy, corn, rice, chocolate, refined sugar, citrus fruit, nuts, alcohol, and caffeine.  After 21 days, we'll gradually re-introduce one type at a time, waiting 3 days for a reaction before introducing the next food.

The Diet

 We used this elimination diet handout as a starting point in designing our own.  You will probably never find an elimination diet that is "perfect" for you, because every body is different.  The changes we made to the diet on the handout included eliminating beans, nightshades, rice, bananas, cucumbers, avocado, and pine nuts, because my partner intuitively knows they don't "sit well" with him.  We are keeping beef, because he doesn't absorb plant-based iron easily and needs a source of iron.  You must listen to your own body when it comes to making your plan. 

This means that we are eliminating:

  • Eggs
  • Dairy (including cheese, milk, yogurt, casein containing products, and butter)
  • Grains (all but quinoa; wheat, rye, barley, rice, oats, etc.)
  • Corn (including syrup and starch)
  • Beans (including soy, peas, other legumes)
  • Specific fruit (bananas, avocado, citrus fruit)
  • Nuts and seeds (all except coconut)
  • Nightshade vegetables (including potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, paprika)
  • All oils except olive
  • Shellfish
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine (including decaffeinated coffee and tea; they still have traces)
  • Refined white sugar (we'll re-introduce beet and cane sugar separately)
  • Honey
This leaves us all non-nightshade vegetables, meats, fish, most herbs and seasonings, most fruit, coconut milk, quinoa, and olive oil.  That is somewhat restrictive, but it is absolutely possible to create a varied and tasty diet from that list. 

Some ideas for substitutions:

Coconut milk will pretty much replace all dairy.  We have an ice cream freezer and it makes passable ice cream if I can decide how to sweeten it.

The loss of sugar is a big one.  I have a jug of blackstrap molasses if a recipe can take the burnt-sugar flavor of it.  I can use fruit to sweeten.  I may also invest in some coconut sugar, if necessary.

Gelatin can be used instead of eggs as a thickener for ice cream, even if it doesn't behave like eggs in baked goods.  I suspect it could stabilize coconut cream into whipped cream to serve on some baked apples or fresh berries.

Quinoa every day fills the need for starch and makes a good side dish/filler for many meals.  It will be the go-to for hot breakfast, with some coconut milk and fruit.   

I will blog the successful (i.e. tasty and satisfying) recipes as we go, and at the end of the 21 days, I should be able to post a sample menu to help you if you are going through the same process. 

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