In 2011 I set about on a journey to regain my health – a series of dietary experiments. You can read the backstory here. Prior to beginning these trials, I had used an elimination diet to clear up a systemic Candida infection. I was also healing my gut/digestion through the intensive application of probiotics via fermented foods and beverages, and it worked, because cultured food is magical!
In April, I eliminated all grains.
More so than in previous months, April’s experiment was almost exclusively borne out of curiosity. Grain-free? It’s pretty drastic, but I couldn’t help but wonder. I knew that most of my issues were related to either digestion or blood sugar (or both), and I knew that I already felt so much better after cutting out wheat (THE main grain) and processed sugar.
There are some healthy-eating folks who will argue against the inclusion of grains in any diet. The “primal” or “paleo” crowd insist that the advent of agriculture was the beginning of a nutritional degeneration of sorts. A relatively recent addition to the human diet, grains can be difficult to digest and hard for the body to handle (they are broken down into simple glucose, which can produce the spike-and-crash blood sugar effect). As well, most grains contain anti-nutrients if not properly prepared. Grains – especially refined grains – can even cause inflammation throughout the body.
So what would happen if I ditched them altogether? It seemed to work wonders for a lot of other people, so I figured I’d give it a try. I was rockin’ without the gluten and the sugar. I thought I had nothing to lose . . .
There’s something to be said for quality of life.
Eating a grain-free vegan diet can be tricky, and trying to eat out? Total pain in the ass. Which is okay with me, to a certain degree. I don’t mind a “pain in the ass diet” when I’m reaping great rewards from it (ie, RAW!), but the problem here was that . . . I wasn’t. I didn’t feel any different and I certainly didn’t feel any better. I’m pretty familiar with grain-alternatives already, so eating at home wasn’t as much of a problem. I can wrap my sandwich fillings in lettuce leaves, serve my burrito innards in cabbage cups, and spoon a stir fry over spinach. I just had to eat a little more volume to compensate for the missing calories, but overall, it was okay.
Eating out, on the other hand, was tough. And you know what? Eating out is fun. But suddenly each of our favorite spots was a no-go. Thai is full of rice and noodles. Mexican relies on rice and tortillas (both wheat and corn) (yes, corn is a grain). Ethiopian isn’t the same without that glorious spongy injera. I could do Mediterranean – minus the pita, minus the falafel, minus the tabbouleh. Super. Sad. Trombone.
It was an interesting experience, because it wasn’t “hard” in the same ways as the other challenges. But it was infinitely more frustrating. Because it felt so . . . pointless. Deprivation for deprivation’s sake just isn’t my bag. After three and half weeks I threw in the towel. Even neurotic me didn’t feel the need to finish out the final week!
However, the month wasn’t a total wash. Quite the opposite in fact – this experiment helped me begin to form the foundation of what would eventually become my over-arching food philosophy. Since I *didn’t* have the same reaction as other people reported (ie, great benefit) from dropping grains (ie, going low-carb), it really hit home that different people require different macronutrient ratios. And now I firmly believe that this is why such divergent diets work so well for various people. Which has got to be at least part of the reason that there’s so much conflicting nutritional research out there! I don’t know why so many people – both professional and layman – seem to ignore this.
[Edited for clarity: when I say "different diets work for different people", I am referring ONLY to macronutrient ratios - fats, carbs, and protein - all of which can be adjusted as necessary within a plant-based diet!]
Anyway, that’s mostly what I got out of April, and I’ll consider that a success. Plus, next month was May, and May meant one of my very favorite changes . . . but we’ll get to that next time!