A successful experiment
Self immune disease, hypothyroidism, migraines, a digestive system with a mind of its own, mood and energy fluctuations...and not a lot of clues regarding their reasons.
Our family had a bunch of “little things” that were hard to grasp, or explain. But a few things were clear: we didn’t like it, and normal medicine didn’t have the answers we were hoping for.
As we read more and more, and experimented with different approaches, we came across Functional Medicine and the idea that inflammation can be at the bottom of many of these imbalances.
So, after some additional research we decided to embark on a period of eating only foods that are very nutrient dense, with no side effects on inflammation.
Initially, I thought it should be simple as we eat mostly home-made meals and there was already a strong focus on healthy ingredients.
What is a Clean Food Menu
Also known as Functional Nutrition, Anti-inflammatory diet, Michael Pollan Food Rules (Eat Food. Not too much, mostly plants) Whole30, The Paleo Diet... you name it. It is a bit of all of these concepts, and none exactly.
In a nutshell, here is the range of options:
- All nuts and seeds
- All fruits and vegetables
- Organic meats and poultry
- Probiotics, especially home-made
What is not in the menu:
- Legumes (which includes peanuts!)
- Sugar, honey, sweeteners
- All those weird things you already know are not good for you, but pretend we don’t see them in the ingredient list, so we can eat them anyway
For us, it seemed like it was worth trying, for a month, and see the results.
It turns out it required a lot of changes.
The main change being grains. We ate lots of grains, and pseudo-grains, being careful to always rinse them overnight to mitigate any effect of the anti-nutrients that they have. We really thought that was enough, and we were getting loads of good nutrients from these grains. As good, or better, than vegetables.
Grains are not allowed during this period: they are hard to digest, many have gluten, the anti-nutrients might or might not be present, and they take a lot of space in your plate that could otherwise be used for fresh, local ingredients. Now, if you go and search online you will find loads of information, articles, research, etc., for all perspectives (no grains, soaked-only grains, just avoid the white flour, grains are great). You will need to follow your gut on this one.
We also let go of dairy. A few reasons include: Lactose intolerance, low ability to process the calcium and other nutrients from this source, and animal care. Once I realized that baby cows are separated from their mums, so we can get their mothers milk, I was appalled and stopped drinking milk. But then I got kids and when the breastfeeding phase was over, I caved in and started giving them cow milk daily. Now I understand what else is in that milk, and how poorly it performs at its main benefits, and I am happy to give dairy away.
Eggs were a big restriction because they are just so convenient: you can throw them together and have a meal ready in a few minutes, any time of the day. It was tough. We also had a Sunday ritual that involved eggs and the kids would do it with me. We had to end a ritual and start something else. It turns out my husband got an idea for a great Castagnoccio with banana that everyone loves. Bonus points: the three of them make it together and call me up when it is time to eat. I get a bit of time for myself. I love Sundays.
We also made a Food Intolerance Test. It is expensive, and we weren’t sure if it was worth it. Now that we got the results, it is clear that it was useful. There were a few things we were eating very frequently that we were not tolerant to - such as eggs!, and some seeds.
Once our kids are a bit older, we will most likely suggest that they take this test as well.
The Clean Food Journey
The first few days were particularly hard. I had no idea what to make, especially for breakfast. My go-to ingredients (grains, eggs) were gone, and I didn’t want for us to be eating just fruit. It is our biggest meal of the day, everyone is gearing up and with huge appetites. This is the opportunity to offer the best of the best. On top of that, there was an incident in the kitchen and some of my main appliances broke down, beyond repair. It was very stressful.
Tip: if you can wait a few days until you start, it is worth sketching a meal plan, and go grocery shopping for all the things you will need. Likewise, give away (or plant!) all those things you can’t eat. They will seem particularly appealing when you are hungry, in a hurry, and out of ideas for what to cook.
Day by day, we got into the rhythm. A few meals were particularly enjoyed by everyone and became staples.
Everyone’s digestive system improved, one of the kids was suddenly calmer, my headaches improved, and both my husband and I are waking up with extra energy. More than anything, it feels better. Oh, and we lost some extra weight and fat that we didn’t need in our bodies.
To the point that once the period was over we had difficulties picking one food that we could bring back into our kitchen. We are clear we want to keep eating like this.
We did find a good candidate, though: amaranth. A pseudo-grain, not even a grain, depending on who you ask. It has lots and lots of calcium (277mg vs 113mg in milk vs 232mg in kale, for 100g), fibre, and protein. No gluten, of course. Hence, we gave it a go and will try it out for a week and see how it goes. Properly soaked, with some vinegar, overnight.
We definitely adopted this has our main way of eating. Most likely, there will be some amaranth or honey sporadically, but this is definitely a positive change that doesn’t feel like a sacrifice at all. We also want to watch out for the amount of fruit we eat, and how we eat it, so there isn't too much sugar inadvertently being consumed.
As next steps, we want more and more food coming from our garden, so we know it is clean and made with our own care. On top of it, it means no pollution was created not only growing these foods, but packaging them, preserving them and transporting them. It is better for us, the plants, the world.
Eating Clean Foods is clearly a win-win situation, except that you need a bit of time, and skills to do it. It takes practice.
We are lucky to have a garden. But any space you have can be used: a corner of your kitchen for some micro-greens, a window for some herbs...any bit counts, and you might just find many other benefits into growing these foods. For example, some people find it relaxing and meditative, others a good way to learn new things, others a way to stay fit, others even to grow foods that are difficult to find in a supermarket.
In parallel to clean and good food, there is another kind of “food”: the one we give our skin, nostrils and so on: taking care of house without toxics, and taking care of our body and hygiene with clean, natural products (from washing our hair, to brushing our teeth). But that is a whole different journey. For now, I am off to eat some cherries and pecans.