In a guest series, a foodie takes on an Elimination Diet.
I’m a foodie. At least, as much of a foodie as a former vegan who still has an aversion to dairy and many animal products can be.
But at a mere 35 years old, after months of anemia and years of low iron, with my rheumatoid arthritis symptoms troubling me – despite being on the “gold standard” of conventional medicine – when my primary care doctor suggested I see a nutritionist about an Elimination Diet to see if changes to diet may reduce my symptoms and help me get healthy again, it sounded worth a try.
The list of prohibited foods for Elimination Diets vary, but for the one I’m following the list is long, and boils down to this: No gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, citrus, corn, nightshades (tomato, potato, peppers), peanuts, sweetners (including sugar), chocolate, alcohol, coffee (even decaf), and “Any artificial ingredient or preservative” according to the “Elimination Diet Guidelines” my nutritionist sent me home with.
That leaves out a few fine points – no dried fruit if it’s sulfered, no pepper-based spices other than black pepper, and small amounts of agave syrup and real maple syrup are allowed, for example. After the first several weeks, foods are slowly reintroduced to determine whether I have a reaction to them. The whole process takes six to eight weeks and is supervised by my nutritionist, who is available via email in between appointments to answer my many questions.
I knew I would miss generous cups of decaf all day, two egg breakfasts, brown sugar and cocoa nibs on my morning oatmeal, Thai takeout, after-dinner bites of chocolate and my favorite food – potatoes – but there are so many other wonderful things to eat, my attention turned quickly to what I could have.
Even experienced label-readers would be surprised at how hard it is to find anything that isn’t a “whole food” that’s safe to eat: corn, corn syrup, other artificial sweeteners, soy, barley malt, and peanut oil are in a shocking number of products I optimistically pick up on the grocery store shelf and set back down in their place, inspired to mix up my own from scratch instead.
Ten days in, I feel great. I’ve carved out half a day on Sunday and two nights a week to plan, shop and cook to fill the fridge and freezer with meals and snacks so I never find myself without something “allowed” to eat. I’m as food motivated as a golden retriever, and I haven’t been hungry or unsatisfied at all. My grocery bill has gone way up, but my eating out bill is zero (the best I can do on most menus is a bottle of sparkling water, unless it’s citrus flavored, accompanied by a long conversation with my dinner companions about exactly why I joined them for dinner but won’t eat) so overall, I’m actually saving money. And after years of eating what’s convenient, I’ve remembered the pleasure that comes with slow food, with preparing thoughtful meals and appreciating them with good company.
So for the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing what I learn, along with the recipes that make this whole thing possible. First up, a protein packed citrus-free hummus-substitute that’s been one of my staples. It’s delicious with carrots for dipping; shaken with a little apple cider vinegar and sesame oil for salad dressing; or mixed with smashed avocado and slathered into celery sticks. If you’re sensitive to pine nuts, you can substitute walnuts.
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 large cloves garlic, quartered
- 1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 Tbsp tahini
- ¾ cup pitted greek olives (no pimentos)
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp water (optional)
- ¼ cup pine nuts (or walnuts)
Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat. When warm, add garlic and saute gently until softened.
Place olive oil/garlic mixture, garbanzo beans, tahini, olives, apple cider vinegar and salt into a food processor. Process until well blended and a thick paste. With motor running, drizzle in additional olive oil and/or water slowly until the consistency is creamy and to your taste.
Add pine nuts and pulse just until broken up, but still crunchy.
Top with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and serve.