When you have a food and nutrition blog, people talk to you about digestive issues quite a bit.
People ask me about stomach pain after eating, diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, and everything in between. When my husband had undiagnosed Crohn’s Disease, stomach pain after eating was a major symptom and telling factor. Seven blissfully symptom-free years after surgery to remove part of his small intestine, when he had chronic diarrhea for two months, the medical establishment couldn’t do anything to help him.
Two days of going grain-free fixed his elimination better than it had been in his whole life and nixed any stomach pain after eating. Just. Like. That.
So I guess we’re pretty comfortable talking about poo around here.
And when digestive issues come up, I often say, “You know, you should just try going grain-free. Just see what happens…”
And then people want more information.
It’s daunting to cut an entire food group out of your diet, especially one that may have previously been, say, the foundation of your eating habits (aka the Food Pyramid).
Cutting Out Food Groups IS Hard!
When we first decided to go grain-free to see if my husband might have a gluten sensitivity, I admitted here at KS that I was a little nervous, and that I expected some difficulties.
There were some folks who pretty harshly told me that new diets are easy and I should stop complaining.
I beg to differ.
Cutting something from your diet that you usually eat every day, if not every meal, is far from easy.
I’m no superwoman, and I don’t claim to be.
Going grain-free, or dairy-free, or nut-free, or gluten-free…those are BIG changes. And it’s okay to be scared to death of trying them.
It’s okay to wonder, “What in the world am I going to eat?”
It’s okay to wish you didn’t have to do it.
But it’s also okay to take baby steps and do what you can each day.
If you feel like you should try an elimination diet of some sort, well…you probably should.
Tell yourself you’ll do it for one day.
Tell yourself you’ll do it every lunchtime for five days.
Tell yourself you’ll start next week, then spend this week researching recipes, collecting ideas, making lists, and buying a few new ingredients that you might need. Make a meal plan and just start thinking about it. You’ll be so much more prepared.
This post is sponsored by Plan to Eat.
Why Plan Meals for Special Diets?
Of course, a little recipe organization and meal planning is good for those of you who are eating whatever they want, too.
I visited a friend today and remarked on her cute chalkboard with the week’s meals listed. She started telling me how much her family likes seeing what’s coming, and then got more and more excited as she described the benefits of meal planning, which she’s only done for a couple weeks. In that SHORT amount of time, she’s already noticed:
- wasting less food because she thinks about what’s in her refrigerator and plans to use it up
- using food from the freezer more consciously and regularly
- getting in and out of the grocery store more quickly
- using more meat than usual and yet spending less
- she was particularly pumped about the amount of money she is saving by shopping only once a week since she knows what to buy for all five days
I couldn’t be happier for her that she’s discovered the joys and true freedom of menu planning. And all I did was say, “Cute blackboard…that new?”
How to Get Started Menu Planning
You just gotta write it down. Once you do, you’ll be more likely to stick to your plan. Have fun with it! You could:
- Use Pinterest to collect recipes.
- Write a simple list on paper or in a notebook.
- Buy a cute chalkboard, whiteboard, or bulletin board
- Write it on the fridge with magnetic poetry (maybe I’m stretching there)
- Try an online menu planner like Plan to Eat
I admit, I’m still a paper and pencil person, but only because I keep saying I can’t do one more thing on the computer.
However. Whenever I do any strange diets or use a bunch of new recipes, Plan to Eat is my go-to tool. Because of the speed of the “import recipes bookmarklet,” I can just quickly drop new recipes into PTE online and my entire grocery list is auto-generated and ready when I walk into the store.
Plus, once everything is in Plan to Eat, I can drag them around the weekly planner to make things fit my real life daily schedule, make notes on my favs (and not so favs), and I’ve realized that more and more of my recipes are easier to find in my computer than my paper copies, which might end up on the counter, on my desk, or just…AWOL.
This way they’re always in my phone, and I’m ready to cook much faster.
If you’re worried about the upfront time “cost,” because you do have to get the recipes into PTE, don’t – this bookmarklet thing is so cool! It makes a pop-up window sit right next to the website you have open, and you can scroll through either place and copy and paste right into your “recipe box” on Plan to Eat. It seriously takes more time to find the recipe in my long-winded posts than it does to move it over.
A word about copyright: Bloggers and online recipe writers do work very hard to make sure they publish original and delicious recipes. Please be sure to always source exactly to the page you found the recipe, and really, best practice is to only copy the ingredients and write your own method instructions, or just link to the original and let PTE friends check it out there. That’s both legal and courteous. I can upload my own recipes whenever I want, though, because they’re mine!
If you want to check it out, PTE offers a free 30-day trial. Bet you start seeing the financial savings that fast, just like my friend did!
I’m so glad of the chance to remind you of the importance of meal planning for those of you trying an elimination diet of ANY sort.
When you’re working so hard to make changes, you have to be kind to yourself and know what you’re doing each day, or you probably won’t make it.
But Should YOU Cut Gluten?
After hearing stories like Amy’s, watching my husband’s amazing experience with going grain-free and then figuring out it was gluten that bothered him, and hearing statistics like:
One in three Americans may have some issue with gluten.
I’m to the point where when anyone talks of an unexplained malady, a pain that they can’t get rid of, or a health issue that doctors can’t figure out and are just medicating, I automatically think, “They should cut gluten.”
When I see a child out of control or struggling academically or with their health, and especially when I notice dark circles under their eyes, I think, “I bet they have a gluten problem.”
I can’t always be right. Not everyone can have an issue with gluten.
But one in three is a pretty huge percentage of the population.
So maybe it’s a good idea to follow the advice of Dr. Tom O’Bryan, searing words that I heard on a podcast way back at the beginning of our journey and I’ll never forget:
“If anyone has a health issue of any kind, they should start by cutting gluten.”
It might not help, but what if it does?
If you’re familiar with the Bible, you may have heard this (paraphrased):
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Better to go into life crippled than to be thrown in to Gehenna, where the fires never go out.”
The point of the verse is this: if something causes you to sin, it’s better to cut it out of your life rather than end up in a place of eternal suffering.
For some people, gluten (or dairy or sugar or corn or soy or…) makes them feel like Gehenna.
If that’s you, you shouldn’t be doomed to eternal suffering.
Cut it out.
Pray about it and be open to listening to God’s Word.
Be brave, be bold, and try an elimination diet, cutting out all of the possible offenders and figuring out what’s bothering you!
What About a Grain-Free Diet?
I mentioned the importance of meal planning when starting any sort of elimination diet, and how hard it can be to find new recipes that fit.
That’s why I often recommend that even if you’re just trying to go gluten-free as part of an elimination diet, you might as well just go grain-free first. In a lot of ways, it’s easier than remembering what contains gluten and figuring out gluten-free recipes that seem to have fifty different kinds of flour and a few assorted gums, and grain-free can have more dramatic results anyway.
If you do want to try eating grain-free, do these first:
- Buy a lot of vegetables.
- Plan meals where you can just skip the grains – stir fry without rice, a burger without a bun, soup laden with veggies and no pasta or rice. For a few days, that’s really not that hard. Gather some ideas into Plan to Eat so that you don’t forget to buy any of the veggies you don’t normally pick up.
- If you want some bread-like products, don’t freak out about all the Paleo or grain-free recipes (or gluten-free ones) and ingredients you’ve never heard of. Buy one bag of coconut flour, found here at Tropical Traditions for typically the best price – it will seem uber expensive at first, but you don’t use much, maybe 1/4 cup at a time in recipes, so that bag should last you a while. (Check out the coconut flour testing I did with three different brands. I also tested various brands of almond flour and almond meal.)
The biggest surprise so far is that it hasn’t been nearly as hard as I thought to figure out what to have for dinner. We’ve eaten mostly salads and simple sides for lunch, and most of my husband’s lunches have been “raw” – nothing cooked at all – to mimic the “cleanse” Jordan Rubin recommends in The Maker’s Diet. Although it might not have been the best idea for a digestive inflammation like Crohn’s – raw vegetables are harder to digest and cause flare-ups for many – it seemed to have a good effect on him from day one, so we continued.
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A Salad Every Day???
I figure, if you add enough fresh veggies to a salad, some crispy nuts, and a good selection of homemade salad dressings, you don’t really feel like you’re “eating light” or missing out on anything at lunch. We include:
- lots of peppers
- water chestnuts
- dried fruit
- cut fruit
- crispy walnuts
- crispy sunflower seeds
- I add cooked chicken, hard boiled eggs, or cheese when I need a little something extra and don’t feel like a raw lunch
These don’t go all in at once, but you can imagine the variety we end up with. I also vary the greens a bit, using fresh spinach and cabbage sometimes.
Make a list of what you CAN eat.
Here are some of my favorite grain-free and gluten-free recipes and resources:
Grain-Free Breakfast Recipes
Grain-free Pizza Quiche (or salmon version, right)
And speaking of simple resources, I’ve put together a FREE cooking gluten-free cheat sheet mini eBook to help get you started!
Grain-free Appetizers, Snacks and Sides
Green Bean Chips (an alternative to potato chips)
- Brussels Sprouts People will Actually Enjoy Eating
- Plan to Eat’s blog has categories for gluten-free, dairy-free, and Nourishing Traditions recipes
Grain-free Main Courses, Soups and Sides
St. Patrick’s Day Veggie-Laden Shepherd’s Pie (arrowroot to thicken)
Homemade Burger & French Fries (just skip the buns and use lettuce or portabella mushrooms instead)
Chicken Leek & Barley Soup (Leaving the barley out and being heavy-handed with the leeks and carrots made for a surprisingly thick, very delicious and nutritious soup.)
Black Bean Soup – The first night, I already had black beans soaking for Black Bean Soup, so I made it for myself and the kids and simply omitted the beans for my husband. You would think that a soup without the main ingredient would be terribly insufficient, but he said it was really good. I did have about a half cup of leftover taco meat that went perfectly into it, so I suppose I created a taco soup, grain-free style.
- I have SO many more grain-free recipes! FIND THEM ALL HERE, UPDATED EACH TIME A NEW ONE IS POSTED!
- Keep in mind that almost all soup recipes can be made grain-free by removing rice or pasta and using potatos or turnips instead
- Grain-free Tomato Pizza Tortillas
- Puerto Rican Chicken
- Honey Dijon Chicken Casserole (thicken with arrowroot)
- Potato Beef Bake (same as above)
- CSA Greens Recipe: Italian Salmon (or Mushrooms) with Greens and Goat Cheese
- plus just about all the condiment recipes
- Roasted Winter Vegetables with Fennel
How Does Grain Free Affect Your Food Budget?
I have no good news here. There’s just no getting around it: meat, nuts, dried fruit, and even vegetables, most of the time, cost much more than grains and legumes, especially coming from my perspective of grinding my own bulk whole grains, making everything from scratch, and using dry beans. I just stocked up on $130 of grass-fed beef and chicken, which would usually last 2-3 months, for sure. I don’t think it will stretch that far this time, although I am still managing to stretch one package of meat into 2-4 meals, including leftovers.
I have discovered spaghetti squash, which is the one replacement for grains that is just as cheap as its namesake. I promptly bought a half bushel of them the day after we decided to go grain-free, just so I could have some easy-as-spaghetti meal options.
The one positive impact on the food budget is probably in the cheese department, because since my husband is staying dairy-free for a while, too, we just skip the cheese in most recipes. Also, thank goodness it’s apple season. We have picked four bushels of apples at under $10/bushel in the last three weeks. A bushel is a lot of apples, in case you’re wondering. We love our apples.
Someone asked last week if NOT buying the grains would at least help the budget be less out of control. Because I buy so much in bulk, it’s hard to say what we’ve spent the last few weeks compared to normal Kimball life, but I have noticed this: not preparing the grains has spared a lot of prep time, especially in the evenings. I have not missed soaking things and getting sourdough sponges started, not one bit.
I wonder what I’ve done with all that extra time? I think I’ll go look for it now.
More Info on Going Grain-free
The basics: getting started
- Remember to meal plan and use Plan to Eat to help you stay organized!! The 30-day free trial will be plenty to try a Whole30 or similar. 🙂
- FAQ’s on the Grain-Free Lifestyle :: including grain-free snacks and ideas to feed kids without grains
- Tips to Keep in Mind When Starting a New Restrictive Diet with Kids
- How to Bake Grain-free with Coconut Flour
- How Do 3 Brands of Coconut Flour Differ?
- Comparing 3 Brands of Almond Flour (and the difference of almond meal)
- The Comparison: The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), GAPS Diet (Gut & Psychology Syndrome), and the Maker’s Diet
- Jordan Rubin and the Maker’s Diet
- Why is Gluten Such a Problem
- How Much is Too Much?
hungry for more?
- WHAT IF GRAIN-FREE DIDN’T WORK FOR ME?? Sometimes, grains aren’t the problem. If you’ve tried an elimination diet and it didn’t work to decrease bloating, constipation, or stomach pain, you’ve got to read Suzanne’s story and the very real solution.
- Five Keys to Weight Loss with Real Food
- How Did We Do on the Lenten No Grains/No Gluten Challenge?
- Monday Mission: Chew Your Food
- Key Steps You Can Take to Heal Your Gut
Other Resources Around the Web
Cara, who has been feeding her family grain-free (GAPS) for quite a few years, is an expert I turn to when I need a new recipe. She has a number of resources for sale:
- Health Home and Happiness Starter Package (most popular!)
- Grain-free freezer cooking class – do it in an afternoon!
- Grain-free meal plans
- Allergy-Free Cooking classes from Traditional Cooking School
- Customizable meal plans for any limited diet (especially FODMAPS)
- Heart of Cooking‘s Allergy Free Menu Planners (for any allergy or combination!)
- Beyond Grain and Dairy or Baking with Coconut Flour by Starlene Stewart
- Everyday Grain-Free Baking by Kelly Smith of the Nourishing Home
- The Grain-Free Lunchbox
- Against the Grain: Delicious Recipes for the Whole Food and Grain-Free Diet by
Phew! I think that’s it. All my grain-free knowledge, all in one place. If you have weird digestive stuff going on, diarrhea, stomach pain after eating, or just wonder about any sort of gluten or grain sensitivity…give it a try for a few days. You don’t have to have a ton of resources to skip grains, even for a week.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Plan to Eat. See my full disclosure statement here.