The Great Grand Diet Trial Of 2011: April

January 5th, 2012 - filed under: The Food » Food Styles

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!

The Test
In April, I eliminated all grains.

The Theory
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 . . .

The Results
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!

Edited to link in the rest of the series:

Putting It All Together

  • Bianca

    How interesting! I have a meat-eating friend who swears by the paleo diet, but as a vegan, I just don’t get it.

  • Adrienneaudrey

    Interesting findings. Thanks for sharing. I agree that different bodies may need different foods. That may even be why some people have different food cravings and different types of foods they prefer over others. My husband is a total carnivore but I prefer to eat a plant based diet. We don’t push our diets on one another and it’s never been an issue.

  • Scandifoodie

    I am totally with you! We are all so different that it’s impossible to impose one diet to all people. My diet is mostly grain-free and I rely on quinoa and buckwheat and that seems to work for me. I’ve noticed rice (even brown rice), corn and wheat don’t agree with me. It’s all about experimenting and realising what works and what doesn’t.

    Thanks for sharing! Have a lovely weekend!


  • Kaitlyn@TheTieDyeFiles

    I definitely don’t think I could go completely grain-free. I recently started CrossFit and they’re all about Paleo, which is difficult and boring on a vegan diet anyway, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Sure some people have a hard time digesting grains. I don’t each much of them, save with the boyfriend or going out, but I still enjoy them!

  • Heather

    Being gluten and corn intolerant I completely understand the health benefits of going grain free.
    Although, I’m not sure the paleo dieters are 100% accurate in their belief that “A relatively recent addition to the human diet, grains can be difficult to digest and hard for the body to handle.”
    You mentioned yourself how rice is an Asian staple and corn a staple in Hispanic cuisine.
    Also, the grains used in bread making in ancient custom involve fermenting. Traditional Naan and Injera both use fermented dough which eases digestion to a degree.
    Anyway, I do think that reducing grains for anyone is a step in the right direction, as long as more veggies and fruit replace the reduced grains.

  • Amanda

    Such a great post!! I had a baby in Feb of last year and about 7 months PP noticed that I seem to be suffering from a Candida infection. I feel most likely caused by the intense hormonal changes I was/am going through with my body getting back to normal whilst simultaneously maintaining lactation for my child. I feel so overwhelmed and honestly slightly discouraged. But this was really encouraging to read because as you stated, grains are HARD to cut out entirely! And if you didn’t notice a huge difference, well then…that’s very interesting to me. I’m trying to include more fermented foods rich in enzymes as well as probiotics which I’m hoping helps. Also sugar seems to be a real trigger for me so I’m trying to cut that out as much as possible. Hopefully all this helps!

    Ultimately you got rid of the yeast with just food/lifestyle changes? I’m sooo hoping that I can kick this shit to the curb! Candida sucks.

  • Bunchofbeets

    Such a great lesson to learn, to listen to your own body to see what works best for *you*.

    I actually have been discovering this more and more myself lately. I have a degree in nutrition, so I know better than anyone that fruit is really great for you. But I also know that fruit just doesn’t work well with me – I too have trouble with blood sugar imbalances and for my body most fruit, with it’s simple sugars, just wreaks havoc on my system. I eat it and I just don’t feel good afterwards. After years of feeling guilty that I ‘should’ be eating fruit I finally decided what I should be doing instead is what makes me feel best. In my case it’s getting my dose of vitamins and minerals from vegetables, so that’s what I load up on now totally guilt free.

    Here’s to listening to our own bodies!

  • tara

    Nothing to do with this post, just wanted to mention I FINALLY ordered your book today (pregnancy survival guide) from herbivore, along with a few other goodies. And no, not expecting to “need” a pregnancy guide anytime soon, just wanted to show the love and now I’ll be prepared when the time comes!

  • bitt

    I totally agree that no one should eat gluten who doesn’t need to avoid it, I certainly wouldn’t if I did feel better off of it and have celiac disease. That being said, I don’t find being gluten-free to be that bad, especially somewhere like Portland which is probably one of the most gluten-free friendly places in the country. I have visited several times and never once felt deprived or felt a lack of places to go to eat a good meal. I was saddened by your statement that being gluten-free might equate to a less quality of life, because it doesn’t. However I see your point on not needing to be gluten-free and so why miss out. I just don’t want gluten-free eating to get a bad rap and wanted to say that Portland is a great place to get GF food.

  • Jmessier

    I recently added grains on a regular basis again to my diet and I can attest that I feel soo much better. I went months on a low to no grain diet managing fine not like wow or anything (nor does the raw diet feel good for me). I can now go to the bathroom regularly and not feel the fatigue that I was experiencing. I know that grains are an important part of my diet no matter what anyone tries to convince me of.

  • Sandy

    Great post! I just started a gluten free diet yesterday, mostly looking to help my husband. We both eat the same exact things in the same proportions, but he is overweight and I am skinny. I am really hoping this will be the change my husband needs since his weight did not change at any point in time after switching from SAD to veg to vegan (cholesterol and bp are great tho now). I do all of our cooking (since there is not a single decent vegan meal to be found in our town) so I need to make the change as well. I don’t think I personally have a gluten intolerance, but I am interested in seeing the results.

  • Laura Agar Wilson

    That is something I’ve thought for a while – we are all different and whether it comes down to genetics or whatever, I think certain diets work better for some than others. When people have asked me for advice I tell them to experiment with different ways of eating to see what makes them feel their best, just as you have done!

  • Janine @ Alternative Housewife

    Amen to that! I can definitely tell the difference when I do less grains, although there is little difference in how I feel if I just eat none. So I go with moderation. My husband, on the other hands, can down refined carbs like they’re his last meal and report no ill effects. Everyone has different sensitivities and a lot is probably genetics and even your countries of origin and what is native to those areas I would suspect.

    I really love reading your blog and how open-minded you are despite your strong values. A lot of vegan blogs (P.S. My friend Tashina just went full vegan at for anyone interested – Just a quick plug) come off really snooty but I find that the paleo ones, while I agree with a lot of it, are just too snobby to read!

  • Lou

    I love reading about your diet experimentation… I’ve done a fair bit of it myself, trying to heal my eczema prone skin without medication, and I think I’ve achieved a pretty rad diet in the process (vegan, avoiding refined sugar). I love me some grains though, I wouldn’t cope without them in my life! I think personally, I feel better on certain grains than others so I eat accordingly. It’s all trial and error, huh?!

  • Rebecca

    My absolute favorite line from this post??? There’s something to be said for quality of life.

    Right on!

    Also, hear hear on the whole different diets working for different people thing (although I still retain some bodies are better at assimilating certain nutrients from plant foods than others. As much as I wish I felt good on a vegan diet, I just…don’! Just my experience though…)

    I’ve been on a grant diet trial all my life it feels like…and am still on it…here’s hoping!

    On a semi-relate and semi-unrelated note (I feel you, Sayward, and the rest of the BA community would be interested in this):
    I *just* started a new chiropractic treatment (I have gone through a TON of “traditional” and “non-traditional” treatments for a variety of ailments) and although I can’t really report any major benefit (or non-benefit) as of yet, after one treatment my digestion has already improved. Awesome, right?

    Although I am told not to crack my neck or back in between appointments…let me just say I had no idea how addicted I was…sigh…

  • Jemma @ Celery and Cupcakes

    This is such a great post and spot on! I think different diets work for different people just for the simple fact that we are all individuals.

  • Ginger Baker

    I think Sayward actually stayed gluten-free after this trial but added *other* grains back. At least, that is my understanding from this post. You can see where she says “and I knew that I already felt so much better after cutting out wheat (THE main grain) and processed sugar” in the beginning of the post. I think she found that cutting out OTHER grains did not have a big effect though and thus wasn’t worthwhile.

  • Ginger Baker

    If you read her post carefully, she states that she DID notice a big difference from cutting out wheat and sugar, just that the effect of cutting out *other* grains was not very noticeable.

  • Francine

    As someone who was raised having pasta with my family every Sunday, I’ve found that trying to cut it out from my diet actually makes me feel kind of depressed, not better. There definitely is something to be said about quality of life, and that different diets work for different people. I eat mainly veggies in my diet, but adding in that pasta with homemade tomato sauce meal just makes my whole week.

  • Vicki

    I know this might be strange, but I’m one who eats paleo/primal but I still LOVE reading your blog and I have for a couple years. I still get a lot of good information out of it even though I am a meat eater. My husband and I tried to go vegan for quite some time, and were really careful about what we ate, but over time I became quite sick. I did go see a natural doc and ended up having to give up yeast, gluten, any kind of flour, wheat, and sugar. :( But I have to say, when I followed that, and added small amounts of meat, healthy fats, veggies, nuts and seeds, my health improved remarkably. My thyroid normalized for the first time in five years which was a blessing as I thought I would eventually die from so many problems with it. I lost 37 lbs and got back to my old slim self and my energy skyrocketed. I no longer have low blood sugar like I did, and don’t get the rumbling tummy I always had from being hungry all of the time. I think our bodies are so individual, and what works for one person, doesn’t always work for another. My heart will always wish that being a vegan worked for me, but unfortunately it doesn’t. :( But I still work at eating as many wonderful, nutritional whole foods as I can, and I get a lot of information from your blog that I can use.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Quinoa and buckwheat are the 2 I do best with as well – incidentally, they’re not actually grains! They’re “psuedograins”, technically seeds.

    I used to have trouble with brown rice and oats, but the last few months I’ve done totally fine with them. I believe I repaired a lot of damage in my gut and that’s allowed me to tolerate a wider range of foods. So who knows, maybe in a year or so you’ll be able to try some other grains again!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Ugh, my sympathies. CrossFit seems so awesome, but those crazy CrossFitters! =D

    Have you seen the Facebook group CrossFit Vegans? Also, this awesome lady runs a vegan CrossFit gym in SF!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Hi Amanda, I also had postpartum-related Candida. I did get rid of it completely using diet and lifestyle, but I had to do a very strict diet that eliminated A LOT (this was back in 2010). I cut all sugar, fruit, carbs, alcohols, vinegars, yeasts, and many legumes. It was really hard but also only lasted a relatively short time. I ate a lot of salads, seaweed, protein powder drinks, and nuts. It sucked!

    There are also some anti-candida drugs that are safe for nursing. We were broke and uninsured at the time, but if you have insurance I really strongly urge you to work with a professional. Candida is SUCH an asshole.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    This is a perfect example! Good for you for listening to your *own* needs. =)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Yay! Oh I hope you like it!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Hi bitt, I think you misread me! I was previously gluten-free and I didn’t find it too difficult or restrictive (once I’d gotten used to it). However, cutting out ALL grains was really hard. That’s different than just g-f! I completely agree with you that g-f isn’t such a big deal these days, especially in the PNW. ;-)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Yup! Thanks for all the help clarifying Ginger. I think my wording was a bit confusing in this post.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Interesting! And more proof that we all have different needs.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    This whole comment rocks, and the first paragraph is me and D exactly! I can’t go overboard with grains or I start to feel bad. Moderation is everything. Damian is such a bread-head!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    So many people leave out the “quality of life” part of the equation, in their pursuit of nutritional “perfection”.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Not strange at all! I actually think omnis are the majority here. =)

  • Jmessier

    Sayward, I was wondering how your coffee drinking effects your system specially since you had candida. Did you give it up while trying to eradicate it? Does it not bother you now? I think I have candida (my only symptom I think is a very bloated belly. I’m pretty lean so it’s definitely noticeable.) I’ve tried the anti-candida diet and it was hell. I had no energy. That’s how I started eliminating grains from my diet for a long time.

  • Karen

    Just out of curiosity, what part of falafel (minus the pita) has grains? I thought it was just ground chickpeas.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I wasn’t drinking coffee at all when I had Candida, but if I were, I would have given it up. It doesn’t bother me now at all. I adore my coffee!

    I would hesitate to self-diagnose Candida just based on bloating. There are so many things that can cause gastric distress and a swollen abdomen. I’d say you should definitely talk to a professional – they can test for Candida (and other things)


  • Sayward Rebhal

    It depends on the falafel, but many of them are not gluten-free. Some use gluten-containing or gluten-contaminated ingredients. Many add flour as a filler/binder.

  • Sam

    Semi-related comment: I just started my first batch of sauerkraut!

  • Sarah C

    Slightly off-topic, but I wonder if you’d share a bit of how you knew that you had Candida in the first place? I just can’t figure it out – the list of symptoms on the internet are so general and vague that I’m not sure how to decide if my (also post-partum) feelings of ickiness, fatigue, and inability to lose weight are candida-related.

  • Tashina

    Thanks for the plug, Janine!!! <3 I have to say, I agree about a lot of diet related blogs coming off as snobby. It's something I'm really trying to avoid with Logical!

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