Lots of stuff has been happening in the past few weeks, even though this here lil’ ol’ blog has been as quiet as a ghost town. *cue tumbleweeds drifting past*
Through all the many busy things, however, has been a common thread: diet. I’ve been thinking about our diet, reading about different diets, talking to other people about their diets and trying out some changes to my own diet.
It turns out that food, like parenting, is one of those rabbit holes (vortices!) that you can fall into and never really climb out of. At least not the as same person that you were before. Ever since we went gluten free two+ years ago I’ve been a convert to the “food has a powerful effect on how you feel, mentally and physically” camp. Around the same time we were trying out a gluten free diet, I was reading another blog about a family that was on the GAPS diet, and I thought, “wow, that’s a lot of meat” and “wow, that’s a super restrictive diet”. I didn’t fully understand the reason why someone would choose GAPS, or what it was supposed to do, and even going gluten free felt overwhelmingly difficult. I just put GAPS out of my mind at that time.
Two years on, we’re still discovering food intolerances for Claire and I. None are as severe and dramatic as gluten, but the effects are insidious all the same. Corn, coffee, and processed gluten free bread are definitely out. Milk and soy are on my suspect list. And I’m starting to understand the reason people do GAPS – by taking everything out that may be damaging your gut or leaking through your gut wall and slowly re-introducing it you achieve two things: 1) you know for sure what you react to and what you don’t, and 2) you give your gut time to heal by removing the foods that have been damaging it and eating healing foods instead. Over time, your gut can heal enough for you to be able to eat your trigger foods again.
Because I’m a learn-by-doing sort of person, I spent the last week or so dabbling in GAPS/Paleo. I know the two terms are not interchangable; I just wasn’t strict enough to say I did one or the other.
Ten Things I Learned in a Week of (almost) GAPS/Paleo
1. Grain = Sugar, even whole grains like oatmeal and whole wheat bread
So many people think they’re eating healthy when they choose whole wheat bread instead of white, but the fact is that both hit your blood sugar hard and cause a big insulin spike. Grains, dairy and starchy vegetables like potatoes are all the same as sugar when they reach your digestive system. This piece of information has definitely changed the way I look at those foods.
2. When I’m not eating grain, I’m eating a LOT more eggs.
Like crazy amounts of eggs. Too bad 1/3 of our flock is currently broody and not laying any eggs. If we were to eat like this full time I’d need a much, much bigger flock of hens! But I have discovered many tasty ways to eat eggs, like these Pumpkin muffins, coconut flour pancakes and banana pancakes.
3. I actually like chicken broth.
However, I don’t like the process of cooking meat or cleaning meat off a cooked carcass. Also, since my husband is a dedicated, lifelong vegetarian, cooking meat in our house is a radical act. I’m very grateful for his tolerance and good humour about the whole thing.
4. I learned how to make my own coconut milk.
Trying to find coconut milk without guar gum in it is like the holy grail of GAPS/Paleo cooking. Why does it all have guar gum? And why is there such a variation in quality between the different brands? I got fed up with it all and figured out how to make my own: Soak 1 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut in 2 cups of water for about an hour or so (more is probably good too, I was just impatient), blend at a high speed and then pour it all through a muslin cloth to strain out the fibre. Just like making almond milk! And the fact that it doesn’t have any BPA in it either is a bonus.
5. I feel pretty good without grain, starchy veg, dairy or soy, but my energy levels start to drop after a couple of days.
I haven’t figured this one out yet. Any of you GAPS/Paleo folks are welcome to chime in on the comments if you think you know what’s going on here. I don’t know if I start to feel draggy because I’m detoxing, or because my body isn’t used to shifting into ketosis and burning fat from my diet instead of sugar, or because I’m not eating enough fat/protien, or because I don’t have the body fat reserves available to dip into when I need them. I couldn’t stick to GAPS because of this, though. I started adding in some rice or potatoes one meal a day and felt way better.
6. I’ve got two kombucha cultures going now.
I’m on a mission to recreate GT Dave’s incredible Synergy Black Chia drink at home for pennies a glass, instead of $5 a bottle at the grocery store. Kombucha is magical stuff, and full of amazing probiotics to help with gut healing.
7. Some fats are good for you, even (especially) saturated fat and cholesterol.
Your brain loves fat. Desperately needs it, in fact. That’s why 55% of the calories in breastmilk come from saturated fat, and eggs are described as “the perfect food”. Adequate fat and protien helps me feel full longer than starchy foods do, and I have fewer mood swings and sugar crashes, especially that desperate pre-dinner crash. Instead of downing a bowl of corn chips and salsa before cooking dinner, now I eat a couple of tablespoons of coconut manna straight from the jar and then start cooking. So much more even keel.
8. Long term overconsumption of sugar (and yes, this includes “healthy” whole grains) increases your risk of degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimers.
In fact, high sugar (and grain) consumption increases your risk of all kinds of inflammation-based illnesses and autoimmune disorders. I don’t think I can go grain free forever, but reducing my grain and sugar consumption overall is a good thing. Check out Dr. Perlmutter’s book Grain Brain for more info. And check out Chris Kresser’s thoughtful and well-balanced response.
9. The gut and the brain are intimately connected.
I’d even go so far as to say that your entire body is an extension of your brain. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, compulsive, having trouble concentrating, having bad headaches, etc – look to your diet. Are you eating enough healthy fats and protien? Do you rely on grains and sugars to get you through the day? Could you be gluten sensitive and not know it? You don’t have to have celiac or autism or gastrointestinal symptoms to be affected negatively by gluten or an unhealthy gut flora on a neurological level. See Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride for more info.
10. Food is social, and eating differently from everyone else is HARD.
This is true for the kids (one kid is allowed the sugary popsicle, the other kid is not), and for whole families (one person is eating meat, everyone else is not). I don’t want to create more division and differences between us, but I also want to make sure we’re eating things that are going to nourish us, not slowly undermine our health. I also want to honour the fact that food is supposed to taste good and be enjoyable to share together. I’m still figuring this one out – what does healthy eating look like for our family? How can we maximize our common ground in a family where we all have differing requirements and preferences around food?
Spring and early summer is a pretty good time to try going grain/sugar free. We’re in the clear for sugar-based holidays for a while now. The season of abundant fruit and vegetables is just about here, and the bright days and lots of outside time make it easy to get outside and enjoy doing stuff. Just as we crave hot stews and starchy things to keep us warm in the winter, we crave light fruits and vegetables to keep us cool in the summer.
I think there is value in changing up my diet and breaking out of those food ruts we all get into. Both the Ketogenic (Dr. Perlmutter’s suggested diet) and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (which is what GAPS is based on) were developed as therapeutic diets – diets to be undertaken for a limited time and/or by a limited part of the population to address specific health issues. I suspect that almost completely eliminating carbohydrates or grains is more extreme than is necessary or helpful for most people, but reducing the amount of grains, diary and soy I consume has been an interesting experiment.
Have you tried changing your diet by going gluten free, GAPS or Paleo? Did you learn anything interesting by eating that way?