SALAD is NOT what I'm looking for
November 30, 2010 7:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about doing a diet/nutrition experiment on myself where I cut out foods that are known to cause serious health issues (disease and/or allergic reactions). What resources can best help me with this?

I will be cutting out meat, dairy, wheat gluten, sugar, soy, peanuts, corn, and caffeine to start. Also any synthetic ingredients or anything I cannot pronounce. Anything else I should add?

1) What resources -- books, magazines, websites, listservs, etc -- can best help me?

2) What are your favorite recipes that do not feature any of the aforementioned ingredients? I want to eat more than just salad. I also have a dehydrator so raw food recipes are fine.

3) If you have cut out all of this stuff, why did you do it (medical?), what advice do you have, and do you still do it? (why or why not?) Tell me anything about your personal experience.
posted by buckaroo_benzai to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What disease does meat cause? Caffeine?
posted by unixrat at 7:11 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

You have pretty much cut out all possible protein sources with that list. I think perhaps you should start a little less drastically. A diet of rice and beans may be hypoallergenic, but you're not going to be all that healthy either.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:26 AM on November 30, 2010

unixrat, meat causes heart disease and cancer.

buckaroo, if you are looking to cut out all of this stuff and keep it out of your diet forever, then go for it. However, if you are looking to see what foods you are eating that are currently causing problems, then I would eliminate one at a time and do a process of elimination.

You also say that the above list is "to start". What's left? What sources of sweetener are acceptable to you?

BTW, you seem to have eliminated all sources of protein except for beans. Most vegan sources of protein are soy and wheat gluten.

You seem to be eliminating everything from your diet except salad... :)
posted by reddot at 7:27 AM on November 30, 2010

Best answer: Everything "causes disease" in one sense or another, and almost everything can produce an allergic reaction in someone.

Your suggested diet basically leaves you with non-wheat, non-corn cereals--though probably only the plain, unprocessed grains--and... algae? Certainly not eggs. And no oils, because they're pure fat and thus linked to obesity. And if you're going to exclude those foods which are the common vectors of foodborne pathogens, you need to eliminate basically all produce. Hell, most vegans get a ton of mileage out of tofu, but you wouldn't be able to eat that either, because it's soy protein.

I don't know exactly what your goal is here, but it sounds to me like you don't have a very good idea of what you're trying to do or how nutrition actually works.

I think you need to read this. Plenty of people are convinced that they are "allergic" to a given food when they're really only intolerant--lactose intolerance is not an allergy--or simply averse to it. Not liking beets does not make me allergic to them, it just means I don't like beets. Then again, there are certain foods which can be actively poisonous if prepared incorrectly, and again, those aren't allergies. But that aside, eating foods to which you are not allergic does not, in fact, make you allergic to them. If you do not have a peanut allergy, there is no earthly reason why you should not eat peanuts. And unless you have coeliac disease, there's no reason you shouldn't eat gluten.

Spend less time listening to food alarmists and more time listening to your doctor. And then go have a sandwich. What you are doing here is neither rational nor likely to produce anything more than massive inconvenience for you and others.
posted by valkyryn at 7:27 AM on November 30, 2010 [17 favorites]

I found The Clean Program to be a very helpful way to find recipes that avoided traditionally known allergens -- no soy, sugar, caffeine, dairy, etc. Some meat such as chicken and some fish and nuts such as almonds are allowed, and I did find it necessary and helpful to use these protein sources to maintain energy. After three weeks, you can begin reintroducing food day by day to see if there are allergen issues. There is an online forum for folks doing the program and they also are a good source of recipes and the reintroduction process.
posted by mochapickle at 7:39 AM on November 30, 2010

Response by poster: Where in my question did I ask for criticism or negative opinions?

I'm just interested in cutting things out as a way to experiment / diversify my diet by eating foods I haven't eaten before. I don't even know if it can be done but I want to try just to see where it leads.

I have been vegetarian and vegan before (for 15 years combined) and was in excellent health according to the doctors I saw and the blood tests they ran, so I'm just wondering how to go a bit further... I feel like being vegan is too heavy on soy products, for instance.

Also, there is protein in almost everything so as long as I eat a lot I don't think it will be a problem.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 7:43 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

buckaroo, if you are looking to cut out all of this stuff and keep it out of your diet forever, then go for it. However, if you are looking to see what foods you are eating that are currently causing problems, then I would eliminate one at a time and do a process of elimination.

This is a good point. I'm not going to critique your dietary choices or anything, because that's not what AskMe is for, but you should know if you're trying to figure out what things improve/worsen your health or general well-being, you need to be systematic in your experimentation. You need to isolate each independent variable (food group) and introduce it/eliminate it one at a time and record your progress. Otherwise, you won't know what did it -- if you eliminated all of these things and then felt like utter crap, you'd have no idea if it was the sugar or the gluten or whatever.
posted by proj at 7:45 AM on November 30, 2010

there is protein in almost everything so as long as I eat a lot I don't think it will be a problem.

You're going to have to pay real close attention to the types of protein you are getting in "everything".

"Apart from soybeans, vegetable sources of protein are more often lacking in one or more essential amino acids than animal sources." - Complete Proteins

Good luck with your experiment!
posted by royalsong at 7:58 AM on November 30, 2010

Mod note: folks, OP is not anonymous. Totally fine to question assumptions politely but otherwise please take side discussions to email, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:07 AM on November 30, 2010

Also, there is protein in almost everything so as long as I eat a lot I don't think it will be a problem.

Yeah, uh, no there isn't.

This isn't an "experiment." An experiment has a clearly defined hypothesis which is tested by rigorously defined methodology designed to produce a measurable result. Your assumptions include a bunch of pseudo-science and downright magical thinking. You're talking about messing with human nutrition in potentially serious ways that even the most strict of the widely-recognized restrictive diets--vegetarian, vegan, etc.--do not, with no real basis for doing so other than curiosity.

I mean, go nuts, but if you're looking for people to tell you that this is a good idea and make helpful suggestions, the only helpful suggestion I can come up with is "Don't do this except under the supervision of someone who knows what they're doing, because you don't seem to."
posted by valkyryn at 8:10 AM on November 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This does leave you with beans, rice, and rice protein (which can be bought at health food stores), but if you're serious about eliminating all this stuff, you're also missing eggs and tree nuts, which many people are allergic to. And coconut. (I have friends and family members with allergies to stone fruits, avocado, and celery, as well. Not sure how far you really want to go with this...)

As for resources, the magazine Living Without, which focuses on gluten-free and dairy-free living may be useful. Check your local library for allergen-free cookbooks. (A lot of gluten-free recipes and products include xanthan gum, which probably qualifies as unable to pronounce, though.)

As for foods without a lot of this stuff:

You can make soup - great in the winter! (If it is wintery where you are...) Make your own vegetable broth, add beans, veggies of all kinds. Squash-based soups are also good. There may well be rice crackers that don't contain soy. For a salad alternative, perhaps vegetable-based nori rolls? No soy sauce for you, though.

Finally - I have tried to cut some of these out. For a period of about seven months about 8 years ago, I found myself feeling increasingly ill with a variety of digestive issues ranging from heartburn to chronic constipation, and stools the color of concrete. (Until this point, I had an iron stomach: no food was too greasy, spicy, fibrous, whatever!) After consulting repeatedly with my doctor, and having various interventions not work, I found myself feeling ill one morning after having nothing but a cup of coffee with cream in it. I decided to try an elimination diet, but in stages because it would just be too darned difficult to eliminate everything all at once. I started with dairy, and planned to move on to wheat and other items from there, eliminating each for 2-4 weeks as needed. (There's a good guide to the elimination diet and keeping a food diary to keep track of symptoms available from the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine.)

After about three days of not eating dairy, I was completely asymptomatic. I felt like a new person. A challenge a few weeks later left me feeling ill again. On the rare occasions where I have had dairy since, the results have been extremely unpleasant, so I don't eat dairy. (And I miss yogurt and cheese so much!)

I eat a vegan diet now, and recently I thought I might have a wheat sensitivity. I tried eating a wheat free diet for three weeks (it takes some time to recover from the intestinal damage caused by wheat if it's truly a case of celiac disease), so I was eating a meat-free, egg-free, dairy-free, wheat-free diet. It was neither easy nor pleasant. Turned out I felt no better not eating wheat than when I was, so I'm eating it again.

IANAD, YMMV, and all that. Consult your doctor and/or a nutritionist to make sure you're eating a balanced diet.
posted by metarkest at 8:13 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Must have forgotten a tag with that UW link. Here it is again:
posted by metarkest at 8:17 AM on November 30, 2010

I would really, really encourage you to review this plan with a physician and a registered dietician. I have been on one highly restrictive diet for medical reasons. It was not an experiment.

Here's the irony: the diet I consumed included many of the foods you want to eliminate from yours. It had a purpose, and it served that purpose. The extremity of the diet I consumed is a terrible diet for purposes outside of a narrow range of therapeutic applications. This is true of many highly restrictive diets, and that is what you are proposing.

I encourage you to treat the level of dietary restriction you're considering the way you would a new daily medication.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 8:20 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're looking for an elimination diet. Poke around the forums at -- lots of people there do them because there's often overlap in food intolerances. Of course, the point of an elimination diet is to add things back in one at a time, to see what's making you ill, so I don't know anything about the long-term effects. I do know that it's been difficult enough just giving up gluten; I should give up lactose for the short term because it still makes me ill but I just can't do it. It sounds like you've removed stuff from your diet before, so you might have better luck.
posted by sugarfish at 8:24 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your question (even if articulated clumsily) would resonate well with many folks from the Paleolithic diet movement, including Robb Wolff, who has a new book (which I haven't yet read) and many podcasts on his website, as well as the folks from Whole 9.

There are many reasons to challenge the healthfulness of glutens, and caseins (the protein in milk) beyond celiac disease. And in fact, there's a great many foods whose general inclusion in North American diets which should be scrutinized and questioned far more than they currently are.

There have been a number of 'food movements' oriented towards seriously altering dietary patterns around disease (including, but not limited to autism, cancers, chronic fatigue, etc.). Please be aware that much of these approaches are not being pursued by mainstream medical folks and so you can not expect to get a single coherent approach to this. I am in no way suggesting that this can not be effective. I truly believe it can. But the academic/medical literature is messy, folks are coming at the questions from different approaches, and fundamentally these approaches challenge what most folks view as the Standard American Diet and also the mainstream cultural views about food and nutrition. It's gonna hit some nerves.

Personally, I have twins with autistic spectrum disorder. They have been gluten free, casein free for 6 years. Of these, for 4 years, they have also been grain free, soy free, and mostly starch free, sugar free and chemical free. I have done extensive research on this, and have fought governmental appeals (and won) arguing that funding for a gfcf diet is an accepted intervention for the management of autism. Around 6 months ago, for myself, I did my first run through Whole30, which is basically Paleolitihic diet (no grains, complex starches, casein, legumes, chemicals, low glycemic). I have been fairly strict paleo since then (and very strict gluten/dairy free). My health issues and energy have improved, and I've lost around 70 lbs. and am now at what is generally considered a healthy weight for my height/age. I changed my kids' diet to closer match this model, and I believe those to be good changes. My relationship with food has changed. I taste foods more intensely, I am no longer a carb craver, and in general am very happy eating the way I do. I do not generally feel deprived by what I don't eat (in fact, I feel this less than I did before). It's a bit of work, but not too much, and I don't require 'discipline' not to 'cheat'. I eat as much as I like, and I enjoy the foods I eat.

No matter how you choose to get there, I highly recommend the process, and specifically, the folks at Whole9 can get you there, or at least a good bit down the road with lots of resources, to making better decisions around food. Good luck!
posted by kch at 8:44 AM on November 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Just a thought, but perhaps, in order to make your nutrition intake easier, you could break up the diet into two phases -- one with, for instance, soy as a source of easy protein; and then after you evaluate your health and reaction to the diet, you could do another phase with something else as the source of easy protein, to see if the soy was having an effect on you. This is assuming you're attempting the scientific method on yourself.
posted by felix at 9:32 AM on November 30, 2010

Best answer: I did raw food for a month last year, which meets the bulk of your criteria.

Raw foodists are a crazy bunch, and I don't think of a raw food diet as anything close to science-based. But I wanted to try a change to my diet that would give me perspective on what I was eating. Raw food made sense in that it was a clearly defined criteria, there was no shortage of calories available to me, but it was also limited to foods that are safe and healthy (if not ideally nutritious). There is plenty of protein from nuts and soaked grains to get you through for awhile.

It accomplished exactly what I wanted. I felt great. I learned that my regular diet was way too rich in starchy foods and too low in fiber, even though I had considered myself to be a healthy and informed eater before. After the month was over, I kept some of the changes, mostly a big reduction in bread and pasta and a huge increase in greens. Which is basic stuff, but even though I knew it, I didn't really see it before. I have felt great physically ever since.

It's challenging, but I would recommend trying raw food for a month as a guided, deliberate way to accomplish what you want to do (even if you don't exactly say why you want to do it).
posted by quarterframer at 9:38 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've recently dropped wheat from my diet (and am feeling much better since). Web sites for celiacs helped me get a lot of new cooking and baking ideas.

Quinoa is one food I've started eating recently that tastes like it fills a lot of my nutritional needs (and has scientific data to back that up; I've been a lifelong "eat what the body wants" grazer). I can have a simple bowl of cooked quinoa and a small pot of tea as an early dinner and feel content until breakfast the following day even if that breakfast is hours later than usual. Millet is also good but not quite as fulfilling for me.
posted by thatdawnperson at 10:44 AM on November 30, 2010

Fungus/nightshades/mushrooms doesn't cause disease per se, but if you have inflammation issues like arthritis, they can make things worse.

A lot of my friends who go through allergen cleanses like the ones you're describing cut out mushrooms, tomatoes and citrus (for the high acidity I'm guessing) all dairy, all wheat, all soy, and all refined sugar.

You might be interested in going to an allergy specialist to do a test (it's pretty expensive though) to see what ingredients your body doesn't react well to. A friend of mine did this and found that cutting out avocado, of all things, made her feel much better.
posted by egeanin at 11:25 AM on November 30, 2010

meat causes heart disease and cancer.

This is not accurate.

A diet high in saturated fats may (and maybe it's "may, in some individuals") lead to an increased risk of some forms of heart disease and some forms of cancer. Not all meat is high in saturated fats.

I say "more power to you, OP" if you choose to eliminate meat from your diet. That's a decision that works well, health-wise, for many people. But the above is bizarrely oversimplistic, so.

Your question (even if articulated clumsily) would resonate well with many folks from the Paleolithic diet movement

Not the "eliminating meat" part!

Okay, now for resources for the OP:

The Institute for Functional Medicine's Comprehensive Elimination Diet is generally considered a gold standard among the US integrative medicine community.

Another take on this can be found here.

Moving past elimination diets to general nutrition, one of the soundest books out there, despite its age, is Eating Well for Optimum Health by Dr. Andrew Weil.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:12 PM on November 30, 2010

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