“So, what do I eat?”
This was placed on the site in February of 2004 in response to that recurring question of “What is there left to eat when you eliminate all of this stuff you talk about?”. This short work outlines the sort of thing I eat on a daily basis while reviewing and re-emphasizing some of the reasons for those choices. Hopefully it will clarify a few things and help the reader to realize that it is not the end of the world when they choose to follow this elimination diet to improve their health. All it takes is a bit of creativity…once you understand the basic ground rules. The cool thing is that it does not take long to see results and man, oh, man is the effort worth it. It only takes a small step of faith…then, you’re off and running.
“What in the World Do I Eat?”
By Dogtor J
So, you’re starting to understand the whole concept of food intolerance and feel that it may help you to start restricting your diet. Great! “Now what?” is the commonly asked question. “What foods have wheat in them?” is another. “What in the world do I eat once I cut out all of that stuff?” is the big one.
I went through the same thing, of course. As I went down the list of things I ate on a regular basis, I often said… and out loud…”Man, that has wheat in it, too!” Yes, the pasta, cereal, cookies, crackers, TV dinners, soups, sauces, and snack foods all had wheat. But when I nonchalantly looked at the one liter bottle of root beer on the counter one day and saw “modified food starch” on the label, I wanted to give up. Even though it made sense in retrospect (the wheat protein…the gluten…is what thickens the root beer and gives it that classic consistency that distinguishes it from other colas), it still imparted a sense of hopelessness in my battle against the “dark side”…the world of gluten, casein, and soy.
So, the diet is more easily viewed as an “elimination diet” when our goal is to avoid anything with these particular protein complexes in them. Then “all you have to do” is to also eliminate anything else that you have become allergic to over your lifetime. Simple, right? Yes, it is simple, but not easy.
Once again, the primary allergens are wheat, cow milk products, and soy. These (along with the other gluten grains barley and rye) are the ones that damage the villi of the duodenum and set us up for other “secondary” allergens, those that are formed as more normal proteins (such as eggs, bananas, peanuts, and tomatoes) pass through that damaged gut. This explains why, according to the FDA, the childhood allergens are cow milk, wheat, eggs, and soy in that order. But why the eggs? The eggs are the first secondary allergen as they are usually the first protein to enter that immature intestinal tract following the cow milk formulas and teething biscuits that do the primary damage. This just makes sense, doesn’t it? Then as we grow older and the damage worsens, we may become allergic to more and more foods. This explains why the typical adulthood allergens are different from those described for children and includes such things as shellfish, nuts, and tropical fruits…things that would normally be considered healthy.
It is very common for celiac sufferers to have multiple food allergies. I know a woman with celiac disease that is allergic to thirty different foods. The explanation lies in what is known as “leaky gut syndrome”, during which proteins enter the bloodstream through the damaged intestinal tract in forms that the immune system no longer recognizes as normal. As a result, we form antibodies to these “foreign” proteins in an attempt to protect us, especially the person with advanced celiac disease whose immune system is failing from the chronic malabsorption of essential nutrients required to keep it healthy. Do you see the snowball forming here…the spiral tightening?
The ideal diet then becomes one that eliminates the foods that are doing the primary harm and the ones that causing secondary problems…the allergens. The latter group is becoming more and more important as we learn about the role of allergens in immune-mediated diseases such as MS, lupus, rheumatoid disease, and other chronic conditions. We now understand the role of allergic reactions in chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, pain syndromes and even epilepsy.
“OK, but what do you eat? What is left? I’ll starve to death if I try do this thing!” Don’t listen to those little voices that are telling you these lies. There is plenty out there to eat. Yes, with 70% of our diet being dairy products and wheat alone, the grocery store gets really small all of the sudden when we take these out of the mix. But you are left with a logical, healthy, and still quite varied diet of meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, berries, and baked goods (with flour alternatives)… oh, and some dark or semi-sweet chocolate (as long as you’re not allergic to chocolate).
Let’s take it one meal at a time. For breakfast I usually eat eggs, some veggies and one or two pieces of gluten-free, dairy-free toast. The bread alternatives are available at the local health-food store. I usually get the tapioca loaf or one of the breads in the freezer section. You can also make your own with a variety of GFCF (gluten-free, casein-free) mixes. Oats have been controversial for years in the celiac circles but many feel that they are “safe” now. I have eaten a fair amount of oatmeal and other oat products over the past four years without any problems. There appear to be some healthy benefits of oats (such as lowered cholesterol) but I am not sure if this is due to the oats themselves or to the fact that the oats are eaten in place of the bad things like donuts, pancakes, waffles, or cereal with milk. However, I am pretty convinced that most oats are safe for most celiacs. Perhaps they should be avoided initially in the worst of the worst cases, especially those individuals that need the glutamate restriction. Oats are high in that neurostimulating amino acid and they could be the worst way to start your day if you are battling fibromyalgia, ADHD, or epilepsy.
For a quick breakfast, I will eat a rice or oat-based cereal with a milk substitute on it. Rice milk and almond milk are good on cereals and as milk substitutes in baking. There are gluten-free waffles at the health food store but most of them have soy protein in them. Our local health food store bakes GFCF breads and when cut thickly and toasted, these bread substitutes make great French toast. You just have to use your imagination and think outside the bun a bit. You learn to not adhere so tightly to the “food rules” you’ve been brought up with all of your life. Chicken or turkey for breakfast is “OK” when there is nothing else in the house. Remember: the food police will not arrest you if you have a dinner-type meal for breakfast or lunch.
Speaking of lunch, this is the toughest meal usually because we often eat it on the go. Fast food goes right out the window for the most part…a change that is fabulous for your overall health. Cutting out fast food not only eliminates a tremendous amount of wheat and dairy but also the life-threatening amounts of hydrogenated oils that are plaguing this country. I will not get on this soapbox right now (“Yeah!”) but this is HUGE, folks. You will be hearing much more about this crucial issue throughout the media in the near future.
So back to lunch. How about a salad? Ahhh…the salad. Ever wonder why eating a salad for lunch actually makes you feel better? Is it the veggies or is it the fact that you didn’t load up on the bread, cheese, and trans fats? It is both, actually, isn’t it? But what about eating on the run? Some fast food places have salads and I eat them a lot. I just keep a few extra things at work and home to put on them to spice them up a bit, like raisins, pecans, cherry tomatoes, cut up zucchini, celery, mandarin oranges, coconut, bell pepper, etc. Get creative.
But when I’m in a real hurry, I’ll go to Taco Bell and get a Southwest steak bowl (with no cheese or jalapeno sauce) or a few tacos. I do eat limited amounts of corn but I try to avoid eating too much of this grain as it can cause similar problems. Some people are very corn intolerant so it is important that you determine this for yourself. It may not become evident until you have eliminated the main foods for a while. I am now over three years gluten and dairy free and can still feel the milk in milk chocolate. But after a year or so of doing this, I realized how allergic I was to bananas and how corn upset my stomach (and colon) if I ate too much. The wheat and dairy issues were obscuring these other reactions.
Let me just say here that one way to deal with these secondary food allergy issues is to go ahead and get tested right away. This will eliminate a lot of the guesswork. For those with serious immune-mediated diseases like lupus and MS or stubborn conditions like chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, I would recommend that they be tested for the IgG antibodies as well. Allergy tests involve IgE, the antibody involved in production of the symptoms in an allergic reaction, such as stuffy noses, itching ears, heartburn, rashes, and the like. IgG is one of the antibodies involved in “deeper” reactions that we refer to as immune-mediated (or autoimmune) reactions, such as type one diabetes, lupus, MS, and rheumatoid arthritis. Remember: the term “autoimmune” is a misnomer. It implies that the immune system is attacking the body for some unexplained reason as if it were making a mistake of some kind. Our body does not make that kind of mistake…ever! There is always a logical explanation for what our bodies do. In the case of “autoimmune diseases”, the immune system is going after something it does not like in the target tissue such as the joints, pancreas, myelin sheaths of nerves, or blood cells. What could that be? In general, the immune system reacts to proteins that it does not like. What are examples of those proteins? Viruses, bacteria, molds, inhalant proteins (dust mites, pollens, cat dander, etc), and food proteins.
We can conjecture all day what we may or may not react to as an individual but by age forty or fifty, we could be reacting to just about anything in the way of secondary food allergens…peanuts, shellfish, tomatoes, pineapple, mangos… you name it. The fastest way to find out is to be tested (now done through a blood sample) and I highly recommend it for those that are in what I lovingly call “the worst of the worst” category or those who feel desperate for a solution and want it fast.
Back to the meals. Breakfast is done, we have lunch on the run (oh yeah, speaking of on the run, you can make sandwiches out of GFCF breads, of course), and now you want a snack of some kind before dinner. Fruit is ideal as are fresh veggies. “Boring” is what most say. “Tough!” is what I say. “Do you want to get better or not??? ” (There is always room for some tough love…and Jell-O.) What you can safely eat for snacks may be determined by what you are fighting in the way of a chronic condition. Of course, you must avoid allergens but you also have to avoid certain foods if you are fighting pain (including migraines and fibromyalgia), ADHD, epilepsy, or insomnia. These are the glutamate-rich foods.
The glutamate-rich foods are listed in the addendums of my pain and epilepsy papers and include the primary foods (grains, dairy, soy), certain nuts (peanuts, cashews, pistachios), foods with MSG (errrh), and the bean family (limas, black, pinto, garbanzo) and other lentils. The latter are good in moderation as a source of protein but they are loaded with glutamate for the sufferers of the aforementioned conditions. Aspartame is glutamates evil twin and is made from the amino acid aspartate, another neurostimulant or excitotoxin as they are being called. So, you have to pick your foods according to your condition. I know this is getting a bit complicated but it does become second nature after awhile. It just takes some knowledge and some time to sink in.
Finally there is dinner to deal with. This is usually the easiest meal for a number of reasons as there is the most flexibility here in most cases. Whether eating out or at home, the choices are more varied in the way of meats and side dishes. Certainly, there is the greatest temptation here, too, especially when eating out. The old ideas of “rewarding ones self for a hard days work and for being good all day start to creep in and the day often ends in failure, just as you face the finish line. You will learn to overcome this temptation as you start to feel better and realize that you like feeling better. (Personally, I will never go back to feeling the way I did four years ago…never!)
Once again, depending on your known allergies and intolerances, you can have a variety of meats, veggies, and side dishes for dinner. I eat a fair amount of chicken, beef, turkey, and fish with lots and lots of vegetables, some rice, some corn, and a fair amount of potatoes. Ahhh…the potato. Although he has been much maligned, he is our hero when it comes to a “safe” carbohydrate source. Yes, he will put weight on you if you eat too many of them and are an inactive person. BUT, they are immunologically inert and it is a rare thing for people to react negatively to them. The exception is found in those people who are allergic to latex (rubber) as there is an interesting cross-reaction in those individuals. Just don’t eat potatoes deep fat fried in hydrogenated oils. (French fries are not food. They are atherosclerosis and type-2 diabetes in the making. I agree with Dr. Mercola when he says that he would rather see you smoke cigarettes than eat fast food French fries. Of course, we both recommend that you do neither.)
Dessert is the biggest hassle of all. This is where most people either break down completely or, at least, break down and cry. It requires the most creativity if you are a “dessert person” (as most of us are, I’m afraid). What do you do now that sugar has become the “root of all (dietary) evil”? Well, I’m here to say that it is NOT the root of all food evils. Certainly, we eat way too much of it in this country but sugar is infinitely better for you than the sugar-alternatives like aspartame and saccharin. So, if you want something sweet, by all means eat the sugar. Just don’t go overboard. If you over-restrict yourself, you will have an incredibly hard time succeeding at this task. (Again, taking a cue from Dr. Mercola, he tells his patients to stop smoking last in the grand scheme of things because that would be the hardest thing to do and if tackled too early, it would jeopardize the whole operation.) Eliminating all sweets (including fruits), like some of the sugar-busting diets recommend, is ludicrous when you consider human nature. There must be some give and take here. Plus, eliminating fruit from the diet never made sense to me except to perhaps kick-start a weight loss trend. Fruits (and especially berries) provide essential nutrients and fiber when eaten whole.
For dessert I will have a GFCF baked good of some kind (cookies, cakes, pies, cobbler, brownies…not too shabby, eh?), fruit, or a trail mix of raisins, pecans, dried fruits, coconut, dates, and semi-sweet chocolate morsels. Some can be purchased pre-made at the grocery store and others can be made pretty quickly at home using the mixes from the health food store.
And believe it or not, sometimes I actually go to bed without dessert. “Whoa. How is that possible?” The great news is that once you have been gluten and casein-free for a while, the cravings for the wheat and dairy products go away. So many times our hunger is not a need for more calories, but rather a physiological craving for whatever we ate a few hours ago, something that our brain really “liked”. (Food addiction is a very real thing, as are the casomorphins and gliadorphins that I write about. Become familiar with these terms. They are important.) Our brain LOVES what it derives from wheat, dairy and the carbohydrate-based foods but it also craves aspartame, MSG, caffeine, and sugar. We’re all “food junkies” when it come right down to it. But remember this: There are NO addictions that are healthy for us…none. If you are physically addicted to something it will invariably be bad for you, whether it be alcohol, cocaine, milk chocolate, cheese, or aspartame. Having a “hankering” for something (as they say in the South) is one thing. We all have sudden thoughts of something that sounds good to us, like a steak or a taco. But if you are cheese addicted, for example, you know the difference. “I could never give up my cheese” is THE most common negative comment I get when explaining my diet to someone for the first time. It IS the number one human, dog, and cat allergen and it has been tied directly to asthma, type -1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. And this single food illustrates every single principle I write about better than anything else, including (especially) this last point about food addiction. People can give up just about anything but touch their cheese… and you’re a dead man. Point made.
So, I know you’re ready to tackle this issue now, right? Like so many things, starting out is most of the battle. The really cool thing about the “elimination diet” is that positive results often (in fact, usually) occur quickly…very quickly in many cases. I noticed a difference on day FOUR of eliminating wheat. I awoke with the distinct feeling that I didn’t need coffee that morning for the first time in twenty-something years. By the end of the first week, I felt like a new man…my heartburn was gone, my intestines were quiet, and my head was clearer than it had been in years. By the end of the month, my pain was gone. Wow! Now, after nearly four years, my insomnia, IBS, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and even my allergies are all gone. I am prescription drug free for the first time in my adult life and feel better than I did when I was twelve. This is all totally explainable and I know that it can happen for millions and millions of people around the world…thus my passion.
All it takes is a little step of faith and a commitment to sacrifice for a short while to see results. Then, the results become the motivating factor to keep going. It becomes a self-fulfilling process in the opposite direction…an unwinding of the ever-tightening “spiral” in which we find ourselves today. You can do it. Anyone CAN do it. It is just a matter of believing it and being motivated enough to try. And besides, this is not some fad diet that doesn’t make sense. There is absolutely NO down side to trying this approach except for the sacrifice it entails. But you know the saying…”No pain, no gain.” There is a lot of Truth in that, but the good news is that the “pain” is simply a matter of not getting our way all of the time. Didn’t our parents tell us something about that?
I hope this helps. I know it can.
Read The Answer- to “Why is the Plane of our Nation’s Health in a Death Spiral?”
1) Avoid all gluten grains, dairy, and soy
2) Avoid all aspartame, artificial sweeteners, and MSG
3) Limit corn and sugar consumption
4) Become familiar with the glutamate- rich foods if you are battling pain, ADHD, insomnia, or epilepsy.
5) Become familiar with the terms casomorphins and gliadorphins, those morphine-like protein chains that we form in our (incomplete) attempt to digest the gluten grains and dairy products. They explain MUCH.
6) Example foods for meals:
Breakfast: eggs, breakfast meats, gluten-free/casein-free breads, sautéed veggies, oatmeal and other oat or rice based cereal, almond or rice milk, and fruits. Consider lunch or dinner foods if all else fails. (Forget your self-imposed food rules for a moment.)
Lunch: Salads, sandwiches with GFCF bread, Taco Bell (tacos, steak bowl…no cheese or jalapeno sauce), dinner-type foods (hamburger patties, chicken, sweet or baked potatoes, more veggies). Note: Most soups (like Campbell’s) have MSG in them.
Snacks: Fruit, trail mix, nuts (remember the glutamate-rich ones, like peanuts), potato chips from the health food store (no trans fats), GFCF baked goods.
Dinner: Meats, veggies, salads, potatoes (sweet or baked), rice, limited corn, GFCF breads. I eat a lot of chicken these days. I steam most of the veggies or eat them raw. I snack on olives, carrots, celery, apple, etc while I’m cooking if I’m really hungry.
Desserts: GFCF baked goods (cakes, cookies, brownies), trail mix, fruits, semi-sweet or dark chocolate (avoid milk chocolates). Just be careful what you eat before bedtime if you are having trouble sleeping. It is the desserts that are keeping us up most of the time…the sugar and glutamate combination can be a killer.
Always keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish. If you are fighting insomnia, chronic pain, ADHD, or epilepsy then you need to pay close attention to the glutamate-rich foods, caffeine, aspartame, and sugar. If allergies are the problem, then identify the offending foods and strictly avoid them, as it takes very little to trigger the immune response. Chronic colon problems can be aggravated by any of the foods that can be seen the next day…peanuts, corn, etc.
Here are a few rules-of-thumb. Most soups have MSG as do 60% of prepared foods (frozen foods, etc). Many ethnic foods also have MSG, not just Chinese. Mexican foods, Italian foods, and Japanese foods have it many times as well. But, so do many of the franchise restaurants that serve steaks and chicken dishes. 90% of prepared foods have hydrogenated oils, including frozen dinners, fast foods, snack foods, and candy bars. Hydrogenated oils are not only the single-most important factor in strokes, heart attacks, and type-2 diabetes but they magnify the problems in just about every other medical condition known to man, including ADHD, epilepsy, pain syndromes, autoimmune disorders, and cancer. Their negative effects are HUGE in scope.
Remember to consider any secondary food allergies as you start the recovery process. Once the main things are eliminated, you may notice how other things upset your stomach, like bananas and apples did mine. All of the wheat and dairy products may have been obscuring the reaction to these other foods. The good news is that once you have been off the main culprits long enough (months to years, depending on your system) you may be able to return to eating those things that should be healthy for you, like eggs, bananas, tomatoes, etc. Common sense really dictates what is a primary versus secondary allergen, doesn’t it?
I hope this helps,