Meal planning with food sensitivities in mind
Photos by Ashlee Glen
Sometimes it feels like we live in a time of almost total food-confusion. Science keeps changing its mind about what is healthy—and what was good for you last year might very well kill you now. New “superfoods” with sensational health benefits make the news on a regular basis and suddenly show up in every magazine, restaurant or store shelf. (Yes, I’m looking at you, kale and goji berries!) Even good ol’ chicken eggs are confusing. A few years ago, the egg white ruled the shell from a health perspective…but I think the yolk is making a comeback.
So, what should you eat to be healthy… and, also, feel healthy? Personally, I think it is pretty simple: Healthy eating habits start with you taking control of your own food. Research where it comes from, what it contains and how it was grown or prepared. Also, taking control of your own food means your diet might look a little bit different from your friend’s, family member’s or co-worker’s due to our own unique sensitivities.
When taking control of our food, we need to start with the big picture then work on our own individual plan.
The Big Picture
Food writer and author Michael Pollan summarized the big picture very elegantly in his book In Defense of Food. He writes “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”
“Eat food” means avoid the processed, artificial stuff such as vegetable oils and synthetic sweeteners. Buy whole foods and cook at home. “Mostly plants” means to enjoy meat, eggs and dairy in moderation and to fill your plate with a variety of seasonal, colorful plant-based foods. Not just broccoli and iceberg lettuce, but explore your farmers market and grocery produce section. “Not too much” means to keep the calories in mind and control your portion size.
When it comes to food, we are all different and one size does not fit all. We vary in preferences, lifestyles, body types, and sensitivities. Sensitivities or intolerances may be an underexplored area for many people. It certainly was for me! Over the past few years, I have come to realize that my body really does not like gluten, corn and lactose—and it had been trying to tell me that for years.
A sensitivity is different from an allergy. It does not trigger the immune system by producing an aggressive, allergic response but may be more subtle. Food sensitivities may manifest themselves in different ways and often we are unaware that food is the root cause to a condition or an ailment that we experience. More often than not, we look for a prescription drug to take care of the problem, when our diet may be to blame.
Wheat (gluten), corn and dairy (lactose) are three of the most common foods people are sensitive to, but once you start researching the list gets much longer. The issue with these three is that they tend to show up as ingredients in almost all processed foods. Your yogurt may be thickened with cornstarch, your hot dog may contain gluten and your protein powder is likely made from dairy.
If you experience unexplained symptoms, such as GI issues or skin problems, you may want to take a closer look at what you are eating. A prescription from your doctor may be the solution—but it may also just reduce symptoms, not the root cause.
Here is an action plan that worked for me:
1. Again, take control of what you eat. Stop eating out for a period of time and cut out processed foods. Since you still need to eat, look up some recipes with a lot of room for flexibility (like the ones in this section!).
2. Start a basic elimination diet. You may have a general idea which foods cause you trouble so start with cutting them out of your diet for 7-10 days to see if anything improves. If not, try the next food group.
3. Keep track. Read labels and take notes of what you eat. Remember that some symptoms appear instantly while others take several days to appear (especially skin problems).
The following recipes are two of my top picks for those with food sensitivities. Here are a few of my top recipes for those with food sensitivities.