I am not writing much lately. Instead, I am spending my time figuring out what I am going to eat, and then cooking it. After three months of recurrent bronchitis, the return of asthma symptoms after a three-year hiatus, more finger joints being affected by osteoarthritis, increasing fibromyalgia tender points, dripping red eyes not responding to allergy drops, and the acupuncturist telling me week after week that I have “too much heat,” I decided that I needed to look at how the food I eat creates inflammation.
There are many elimination diet protocols available via the Internet, with many of them authored by people with questionable or even imaginary credentials. I settled on one posted by the University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine Family Medicine Department. They recommend eliminating potential trigger foods for three weeks, and then reintroducing foods one at a time to determine if they cause problems.
On April 10th I stopped eating gluten, dairy, corn, peanuts, sugar, and eggs. Because I had problems with soy milk years ago, I eliminated all soy as well. And given the controversy about nightshade vegetables causing inflammation, I stopped eating tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplant.
Going gluten-free is not difficult these days. Even the conventional grocery stores have gluten-free foods on the shelves, and there are lots of lists of food with hidden gluten on the Internet. Egg and dairy are easy to find and avoid. Once you learn all of the food industry’s names for sugar, all the -oses, that’s easy to avoid, too. But soy hides in almost every food group. Soy oil is in canned tuna, and vegan eggless mayonnaise and butter substitutes. Soy is common in gluten-free cereals and protein powders. It’s even in chocolate bars as soy lethicin. To be safe, I avoided condiments. I ate mostly rice cereal and almond or coconut milk, fresh fruit, rice cakes and almond butter, organic pastured chicken, and organic grass-fed beef with vegetables, rice and sweet potatoes.
After three weeks my eyes no longer watered, I had no pain in my hands and fingers, I stopped wheezing, the muscles in my legs and arms didn’t ache, and the acupuncturist said I had the most even and regular pulses of the five years he’s been seeing me.
I began food trials the beginning of May. I could not follow the schedule of a new food every three days, because eggs, gluten, and dairy made me so sick that it took almost a week to get over each of them. I also reacted to sugar, peanuts and soy, but not as intensely as the first three foods. Corn, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers don’t bother me. (Eggplants are out of season at the farmers’ markets, so that’s still a mystery.)
With all these food sensitivities, I no longer know how to best characterize my diet. Am I a carnivorous, gluten-free, soy/peanut/sugar-avoiding vegan? An egg-avoiding paleo diet adherent? A pasta-free Mediterranean diet follower?
But the most critical question is, can I ever eat pizza again?
Friday night I trolled the Internet for gluten/egg/dairy-free pizza crust and cheese alternatives. Yesterday I visited all three natural food grocery stores in town to score Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free pizza crust mix, Bob’s Red Mill golden flax meal (to mix with water to replace eggs), organic nitrate and nitrite-free pepperoni, and Daiya “mozzarella style shreds.” And as evidence of a benevolent universe, I also found a Spanish gluten-free beer on sale, and a dairy- and soy-free 85% cacao dark chocolate bar. Woohoo!
The pizza dough came together with just a couple of minutes of mixing at medium speed and 20 minutes of rising. Following the package instructions to divide dough in half and “pat out with wet hands” yielded a 12-inch whole grain crust.
I added organic Muir Glen canned pizza sauce, and olives and mushrooms from the fridge to the “mozzarella shreds” and ended up with something that looked just like all the other pizzas I’ve made at home.
Twenty minutes later I sat down to a slice of hot pizza and a glass of cold beer.
The beer is a lager with strong hops flavor. I prefer porters and stouts, but getting to drink any beer at all was a real treat. The pizza was everything I’ve missed – a crisp wheaty crust, with rich tomato flavor underlying spicy pepperoni, roasted veggies, and melted gooey cheese – all without any actual wheat or cheese.
My unrestricted-diet dinner companion called it “really good” and did not notice that the cheese, well, wasn’t.
The last two months I experimented with new dishes that avoid all the forbidden foods, without using any “specialty” ingredients. Roasted cauliflower, coconut rice, mango chicken, and lentil and sweet potato curry are now in my menu rotation. But I am truly excited by how well the gluten-free and vegan ingredients worked – some Saturday nights just call for pizza and beer. Using “engineered” ingredients may allow this Mediterranean paleo-vegan to eat some of the things I thought were banned forever. Perhaps wheat-free, cream-free, butter-free scones are next!