Evolution in Reverse

Regular blog readers know my feelings on the connection between diet and health. I started my journey to discovery about 3.5 years, ago, when I went gluten-free. Ever since, I have pushed to find the root cause of my body’s mission to attack itself in myriad ways, and further modified my diet. These days, I’m evolving my diet in reverse, and eating mostly like a cavewoman.

Paleo is very hot right now. The New York Times even did a recent article featuring Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo, one of my favorite cavewomen. Despite the fad, there are real health benefits behind it, especially for those with autoimmune disease.  I’m talking science-y stuff here. Since I already ate mostly whole foods, and I had already cut out gluten and cow’s milk dairy, I decided to try a one month experiment with my own version of this diet. Here’s what my “mostly cavewoman” diet has looked like for the last month:

What I Eat (Regularly, 85-90% of my diet):

  • Grass-fed and/or organic meats at most every meal:
    • Beef
    • Bison
    • Pork
    • Bacon (Nitrite-free, Sugar-free)
    • Fish (Salmon, tuna, cod, grouper, snapper, flounder)
    • Shellfish (Shrimp, crab, mussels, oysters)
    • Chicken
    • Turkey
    • Organic eggs (pastured when I can get them)
  • Lots and lots of vegetables (6-8 cups every day). Here are some of my favorites:
    Mmm....veggies!
    Mmm….veggies!
    • Broccoli
    • Cauliflower
    • Spinach
    • Kale
    • Potato
    • Sweet potato
    • Zucchini
    • Cucumber
    • Onion
    • Cabbage
    • Winter squash
    • Avocado
  • Whatever fruits are in season. I’m lucky to live in Florida, where it’s always growing season. I also love frozen berries, especially in smoothies.
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Organic almond / coconut milk
  • Organic, non-GMO soy milk
  • Gluten-free organic Tamari soy sauce
  • Ghee
  • Olive/coconut/avocado oils

What I eat occasionally (10-15% of the time):

  • Brown / jasmine rice
  • Beans
  • Honey
  • Sheep / goat’s milk dairy products (products = cheese)
  • Dark chocolate
  • Wine
  • Coffee and tea

What I Don’t Eat:

  • Processed foods of any kind
  • Foods with added sugar / artificial sweetener*
  • Gluten-containing products
  • Cow’s milk dairy products

* A note about sugar: This beast is addictive, and it is everywhere. I do not cook with sugar, and I limit the amount of sugar everywhere I can, but it’s not a perfect science. I also confess to enjoying a Diet Coke from time to time. I know, I know. Soda with aspartame is the worst kind of transgression! But it’s a long held vice, so for today, I choose limits over total deprivation. Also, I’m human. Let the hand slapping commence…

If you made it through the lists, you’ll notice that my diet resembles Paleo. That is by design, but there are a few key differences:

  1. Wine: Strict Paleo diets remove alcohol, but a few times a week, I enjoy a glass (or two) of good red wine. It’s soul satisfying to share an evening, and a glass of wine, with my wife after a long day. We’ve also made a hobby of discovering new ones together. Unless I am desperate, I won’t get rid of it.
  2. Soy: This is my biggest daily variation from pure Paleo. I am aware of the issues regarding soy. I buy the best products I can, all organic and non-GMO, and I do not use it excessively. My wife has a coconut allergy, so our family meals cannot include coconut, whether aminos, milk, or oil.

    Homemade meat sauce over zoodles, with bonus Pecorino!

    Homemade meat sauce over zoodles, with bonus Pecorino!

  3. Brown/jasmine rice: I’ve tried, but I really can’t get down with cauliflower rice. I adore roasted cauliflower, and I love zoodles, but I am also okay eating brown and jasmine rice from time to time.
  4. Potatoes: Though potatoes were recently added to the Whole 30 protocol, many Paleo folks choose not to eat them. For me, they’re pure comfort food to my Scottish blood,
  5. Beans: Since I started eating this way, I haven’t really craved beans. However, I’m keeping them on the list for now, because they’re delicious, and because there is conflicting evidence about their nutrition.
  6. Non-cow dairy: A small hunk of manchego, gooey goat cheese on a bunless bison burger, or a bit of shaved pecorino romano over zoodle pasta with meat sauce can make my day.

This is what works for me. Some of the foods are verboten, but I don’t pretend to be a Paleo purist. To this point, I haven’t adopted the autoimmune protocol (AIP) either, though I’m not ruling out a trial down the road. And my diet evolution has been wildly successful. In just a month, my energy is up. My digestive problems (just going from gluten/dairy free to mostly cavewoman) have been reduced by 60-70%. I’ve even lost a few pounds, though thanks to age and Prednisone, weight loss is a maddeningly slow process.

Right now, my major obstacles revolve around eating this way on the road, and making time to cook what I eat. I’m still wrestling with both. In my next post, I’ll share what I’ve learned so far, and will give you a list of caveperson resources I love. Until then, I’m heading back into the kitchen!

More on Food: Meet Seamus Mullen

Admission time: I’m a huge foodie.  I love to cook, eat, and invent in the kitchen.  I’m a loyal subscriber to Cooking Light, Food and Wine, and Cuisine at Home.  One day, I’d like to go to culinary school.  While surveying the room during breakfast recently, my son said “Mommy…you really have a lot of cookbooks.” I guess the overflowing shelves were his first clue. 🙂

When I was diagnosed, I wondered if I’d have to give up cooking.  Then I read about Chef Seamus Mullen.  He’s a star chef, focused on Spanish cuisine, who owns Tertulia in NYC.  And he has Rheumatoid Arthritis.  He’s tackling his illness with courage and grace, and his career continues to thrive, despite its physical demands and grueling hours.  What’s more, he works to build awareness for RA.  When he appeared on  The Next Iron Chef: Season 2, he even discussed his illness and the additional demands of competing with it.

This week, Chef Mullen popped up again.  One of my favorite bloggers, Sara Nash, published this article about Seamus on MyRACentral.com.  I devoured it, as usual, and am now anxiously awaiting the release of his book.

I adore expressing my love for friends and family through food.  Seamus Mullen reminds me that I can, even though my body might try to make it more difficult.  Thank you Chef…you’re an inspiration!

UPDATE: When we were on our Mediterranean cruise, literally 4 days after I posted this, I discovered that the celebrity chef on board was…..Seamus Mullen! Talk about a crazy coincidence! We tried to get a chance to chat with him, but he was mobbed like a rock star at every event, and we couldn’t get in to any of the private ones by the time we found out.  We did enjoy watching him in an Iron Chef competition with the ship’s Executive Chef. And yes, he emerged victorious. 🙂

My Food Miracle

For the past few months, I have battled stomach issues.  About an hour after eating, I experienced extreme nausea, and unpleasant though it is, I was often unable to digest my meals.  In addition, my joint pain and fatigue were almost unbearable.

My health was spinning out of control, and I had too few answers.  I had to do something.

First, I looked for patterns in my eating habits and symptoms.  My stomach issues seemed slightly worse when I had a meal containing bread or pasta.  Digging deeper, I found strong connections between gluten and autoimmune diseases.  Celiac Disease is a serious autoimmune disorder, causing irreversible intestinal damage and nutrient malabsorption for sufferers that consume gluten.  Gluten intolerances are also linked to other autoimmune diseases and conditions, including mine:

The evidence was mounting.  Despite my love affair with bread (I have been known to eat half a loaf of good bakery bread as a meal :)), I started my own elimination diet experiment three weeks ago.

The first thing I learned is that going gluten-free is not easy.  It seems that simply cutting out bread and pasta would do the trick.  However, this sneaky little protein appears everywhere; as a food additive (ever heard of MSG?), in soy sauce, in beer, and even as a binder for medications and cosmetics.  The good news is that more and more gluten-free alternatives are available, and there are a host of fabulous sites and blogs committed to sharing the most up-to-date information.  I’ve added some favorites to my links page.

Ready for some early results?  Drumroll please…

I.  FEEL.  AMAZING.

My stomach, joints, and energy levels are better than they’ve been in 18 months.  I still have RA swelling and pain, but it’s nowhere near as constant or extreme.  I’m no longer nauseous after eating, and I have enough energy to make it through most days.  I hoped for a noticeable result, but what I got was nothing short of a miracle.

This short-lived experiment has quickly become my new lifestyle.  The pantry is re-organized, recipes and menus are evolving, and the support I’ve received from family and friends has been overwhelming.  Lora has joined me on the gluten-free adventure, so we’re discovering new foods together.  Mom modified her recipe for scalloped potatoes, so I could still enjoy them at Easter dinner.  To date, I have not made changes to my medications, but I’m hoping to reduce and/or eliminate some in the coming months.  We’ll see what my rheumatologist has to say. 🙂

I would never suggest that diet changes can fully replace medications and other therapies, but food is another very powerful weapon in my daily battle with RA.  Goodbye bread, and hello health!