Years ago I overheard someone making the point that humans are not physically advancing as fast as technology. A person in 2012 is very similar biologically to a person in the year 3; a computer today can fit in our hands, but a computer in the 1950s needed an entire room. That’s quite the progression in just 60 years for technology, and not nearly as fast of a progression over more than 2,000 years for humans. (If you’re a scientist or anthropologist or just know a lot about evolution, please bear with me. I’m speaking in broad strokes.)
Now substitute agriculture for computers. The first agricultural revolution—when farming supplemented or became more common than hunting and gathering—was more than 12,000 years ago. The second agricultural revolution—where farming methods and distribution became more efficient—took place during the 17th century (practically yesterday!). Farming methods, tools and machinery—not to mention our entire food system and advancements in food science—have drastically changed over these 12,000 years. But people? The biggest change I can see is that, in recent years, our eyes have progressively grown bigger than our stomachs.
This slow evolutionary progression helps explain why some people can’t tolerate wheat, grains, and beans, among other things. We became more efficient at producing these crops, became more creative with how to use them (e.g., high fructose corn syrup), and made more space for them at our dinner tables. But our bodies stayed relatively the same.
When I first tried a gluten-free diet, this idea made perfect sense to me. But I didn’t consider how it applies to grains other than wheat. Gluten free, not grain free, was (and still is) all the craze, and the space on my plate where I once parked pasta was now filled with rice. So when symptoms that I associate with eating gluten—namely bloating—returned earlier this year, I started to question all the great grains that had become part of my daily diet.
Researching grain-free diets led me time and again to numerous Paleo and Primal websites (see a list of my favorites below). Not familiar with these diets? Here’s a quick glance of what to eat and what to avoid:
• Eat veggies. A lot of ’em.
• Limit starchy veggies. One of the better ones to eat? Sweet potatoes.
• Eat fruit. Especially berries.
• Don’t be afraid of (good) fat. Coconut, avocado, raw nuts & seeds, olives, olive oil, egg yolks, fish (salmon, sardines), animal fats, butter & ghee.
• Be pro protein. And by this I mean animal protein: beef, pork, poultry, goat, lamb, seafood. Organ meats, too. Quality counts here—if you can afford grass-fed meat and sustainably harvested seafood, buy it. It’s better for you, and for the environment.
• No refined sugar. I know. How did I even consider this?
• No dairy. This one varies depending on the source. I regularly include full-fat yogurt in my diet, and occasionally indulge in full-fat cheeses (and, more rarely, full-fat milk). I am a Wisconsin girl, after all.
• No grains. That includes wheat, rice, quinoa, corn, oats, rye, barley… You get the idea.
• No legumes. That includes beans, peas & peanuts. And peanut butter.
(If you’ve done some research about eating for IBD, you might see some similarities here to the Specific-Carbohydrate Diet.)
It’s not only about eating or not eating these foods; the amount that you eat is just as important. Here’s a rough recommendation for macronutrients based on calorie consumption that I try to follow:
Fewer carbs and a lot more fat that you’re eating? Yeah. That’s how it was for me, too—and I ate a pretty clean diet. Within weeks of being more conscious of my macronutrient intake, my skin was clearer and brighter; my appetite stabilized and I didn’t need to snack; my energy increased; and my sleep was even more sound. The best part? The tiny Crohn’s pains I sometimes had that I attribute to scar tissue completely disappeared.
This way of eating matches up with observations I’ve made about my reactions to food over the years—namely, I’ve noticed that oats and beans are difficult for me to digest, and that incorporating healthy fats and animal proteins helps me feel healthy and strong. Will it work for you? I can’t say. But I can recommend being open to trying it. A different diet may be the first step in your personal progression of eating for IBD.
As promised above, a list of Paleo resources that I’ve found helpful:
• Balanced Bites: Great podcast & all-around Paleo resource.
• Practical Paleo: Excellent book by one of the Balanced Bites podcasters that outlines Paleo eating for different conditions. Wonderful recipes & eating plans.
• Well Fed: A great cookbook by the blogger at The Clothes Make the Girl. Very helpful tips for meal planning and varying nearly every recipe.
• It Starts with Food: I can’t recommend this book enough. By the duo behind Whole9, it’s a perfect primer on the importance of clean eating. The way Dallas and Melissa present this information is incredibly informative and inspiring.
• Mark’s Daily Apple: One of the Primal must-read blogs.
• Nom Nom Paleo: Endless enticing recipe ideas. Makes me realize I should never, ever be bored with my food. Ever.
• Elana’s Pantry: I’m sure you’re aware of my baking obsession. This site is an excellent resource for baked goods and savory meals alike. I can’t stop making the pancakes from her Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook.
• Paleo Non-Paleo: Great recipe and auto-immune disease resource.
• Chris Kresser and Robb Wolf: Great all-around resources.