The Plant Paradox Diet: Week 1 Wrap-up
A little over a week ago we started a new diet fairly spontaneously. I was talking to a friend about some health concerns I had and she recommended I read the Plant Paradox, that it might be right up my alley. And she was right - the next day I had downloaded the audible and devoured the content in my free time over a few days. (This article is a great summary of the philosophy behind this approach.)
When I finished, I was feeling hopeful but skeptical of starting (yet another) diet. I hated being so hungry on the first couple of weeks of the SCD diet and the almost year it took to reintroduce all of the foods we wanted to test and eat. I did not enjoy the restriction of food on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol, and it didn’t make an impact on my digestion or heartburn over the regular Paleo diet. The FODMAP diet made me crazy trying to figure out if something was affecting me or not, and layering it with Paleo made it especially restrictive. And I couldn’t even finish the first week of the Swift Diet because my heartburn was so bad I couldn’t function. But I am willing to do hard things and be uncomfortable if it will ultimately help me and my family feel better and live longer.
It was exciting to read about the success stories in the book, from people with heart disease, cancer, or autoimmune diseases. (But don’t all diet books have those types of claims? I’m the type of person that will believe it when she sees it. I’ve fallen victim to this industry too many times, and was hesitant to get my hopes up too high.) However, I really connected to the underlying science Dr. Gundry presents in the first half of the book. It helped me understand why some of the foods we’ve been able to add back to our diets work for us, and why others don’t. It helped me to trust my body and intuition, and to let go of all of the nutritional advice I’d been following or felt guilty about deviating from.
We started the Plant Paradox diet for a couple of reasons, but mainly to heal our leaky guts and improve the health of my family. I wanted to get off of the PPIs I’ve been taking since I was 19. My daughter wanted to not feel sick every time she ate. And my husband wanted more mental clarity and digestive health. My son wasn’t so sure about this whole thing, but was reluctantly willing to support us on our health journey for a few weeks. We’ve been eating Paleo since 2011 and saw a lot of improvement (we started sleeping better than ever, digestion got significantly better for all of us, decreased blood sugar highs and lows, etc.). But we knew we were not at optimal health, and that the things we were doing to mask the symptoms and find relief were not ultimately helping our bodies fix the underlying problem.
Phase 1: The kick-start cleanse
We followed the three day cleanse to start, and I found it rough. I felt weak, hungry, and was battling headaches. My daughter did great, she just had a ton of cravings and felt miserable because of all of the upcoming events that we’d have to modify because we were committing to the diet for six weeks (including Easter and her birthday!). I can’t really blame her - drinking a salad for breakfast was a bit traumatic for an 11 year-old. Heck, it was traumatic for me! My husband didn’t notice much, in part because his diet was really clean to being with. Most of the symptoms he felt seemed to be related to starting a probiotic, something he is very sensitive to and has limited success with in the past. My son opted out of the cleanse and was content eating his cereal for a couple more days.
By day 2, I had printed out the Yes and No foods list and taped it to the inside of our cupboard. My daughter and I were scheming for the things we could add or modify to make this work for us. I joined the Facebook group and tried to glean information and recipes that would add some variety and help us understand what was normal on each day. We found a recipe for pancakes that we quickly made as an alternative to the smoothie in the morning for her. My husband liked every single meal we made and felt better eating less - his head felt clear in a way it hadn’t in a long time while he was on the cleanse.
Things I wish I would have known before starting:
- Plan ahead. Shop and prep as much as you can so it is ready to go and easy to make. I cook from scratch a lot already, but it felt like a lot. I wish I had riced the cauliflower, cleaned and chopped the kale and broccoli, and made the chicken so it was all good to go. We went to the grocery store almost every day for an ingredient (avocados are your friend in this phase!) and it was torture for me to be around so much food while feeling weak and vulnerable to cravings.
- Make the smoothies ahead of time, tasting first to make sure you like it. I did not like the stevia and mint combination (even though I just used half of what is in the recipe), and ended up making something that tasted more like guacamole salad. I should have switched to a salad for breakfast if I was hungry. It might have been more satisfying and less confusing before starting.
- Locating clean meat is hard. I didn’t realize how much meat we were eating until going through these meal plans. I buy organic poultry and grass-fed beef, but how do you find animals that were not fed grains? I went to a farm store and bought a chicken and four Italian sausages and it cost me $50. We used that meat for most of the first week in salads and stir-frys. But our farmers market doesn’t start until later in the spring, which made it a little tricky to track that down. (Related: what do I do with the meat I have in the freezer that I bought before we spontaneously decided to do this diet? Wait until the final phase after we’ve healed?)
- Dr. Gundry has a Youtube channel with more recipes and tips for his diet. AZ Life also documented their Plant Paradox journey in v-log that was entertaining and helpful because it was so real. It was exciting to watch them see such dramatic improvement with their Rheumatoid Arthritis and Crohn’s Disease in just a few weeks.
Using previous diets, I’d been able to get off Prilosec but I still needed to use Zantac to control my heartburn. I knew that while not as harmful as Prilosec, the way Zantac cuts off stomach acid production was a big contributor to my leaky gut and the other health issues I was having and that long term was not going to serve me well. But my doctors insisted that because I had GERD, my options were to continue to take a PPI or get cancer. The night before we started, I stopped taking the Zantac and I haven’t taken one since. Normally I’d have such severe heartburn or gas pains that it would keep me up for hours. I have not had one symptom since starting the diet. Not one. My daughter’s stomach aches and allergic reactions to food also went away and haven’t returned. This is so exciting!
Moving onto Phase 2: Repair and Restore
We were really looking forward to the ‘freedom’ offered in Phase 2. Although eating out doesn’t really feel like an option at this point. Maybe later in this phase we will be able to navigate a menu and ask for what we need, but it just seems so much easier to eat at home right now.
During this phase I made a couple of recipes to satisfy our snacky cravings and be a sweet treat at the end of a meal, including the mint ice cream as popsicles and some paleo granola made with nuts and coconut and a couple of dates. We quickly discovered that we do not like the taste of stevia, and I opted to avoid it in most recipes and either use a date or a little honey instead. I know this isn’t compliant, but it is the only way this is going to work for me.
Additional things I discovered in that first week, or wish I would have done differently:
- Make mayo that is clean. I couldn’t find some in our grocery store and I didn’t see any at my Costco that was compliant. The kids missed some tuna or egg salad for lunches, and I just used what I had because I was feeling so wrecked during the diet that I wasn’t about to make mayo on top of the other things I was trying to make to keep my kids happy.
- I spent about 5 hours many days planning, shopping, preparing, or cleaning up food each day at the beginning. Part of that is because we quickly went through the recipes in the book that looked like they would work for our family. I think it would be easier if it was just my husband and I and we just followed the suggested meal plans. But that didn’t feel like an option after a couple of dinners the kids had to force down.
- Dairy makes things taste better. I found some grass-fed ghee that is delicious and we use it to cook eggs and cabbage in and add it to mashed vegetables. But I’d been avoiding most dairy for so many years, that to be able to add back some goat or sheep milk cheeses or yogurts is pretty exciting. I made this Warm Kale and Caramelized Mushroom salad with Goat Cheese and it was one of our favorite dinners that week.
- Other flavor boosters we’ve relied on so far: Jacobsen Salt Co.’s Sweet Onion Sea Salt, Olykraut’s Sea Vegetable or Spring Nettle Sauerkraut (that I had to try to make myself when I ran out, similar to this recipe but without the beet and with some garlic), and caramelized onions.
- I found some plantain chips and sweet potato chips cooked in coconut oil that have really helped the kids with lunchtime. The Costco organic seaweed snacks were great for curbing salty cravings too. Sometimes we would put some scrambled eggs and avocado inside for a little seaweed breakfast burrito.
- It wasn’t until my friend suggested that I try the bulletproof coffee recipe as a treat that I added coffee into the diet. I found that I was sensitive to caffeine at first, but remembered I had some Four Sigmatic Decaf coffee in my pantry that might help me to feel better. I was surprised by how creamy the coffee felt, and I had no jitters or upset stomach while I was drinking it. Making this reminded me of the green tea latte that Dianne Sanfilippo makes, and I’m looking forward to playing with these recipes over the next few days for a morning treat. I like the idea of using MCT oil and healthy fats to help give me a boost, kick-start ketosis, and be a satisfying creaming taste.
We quickly caught ourselves talking about the ‘cheats’ we were consciously choosing. I hate the language and concept of ‘cheating’ as it pertains to food, especially around children. So we decided as a family to stop talking like that. We are intentionally making decisions that weigh the potential risks for ourselves to make the best choices we can in the moment. So for Easter we added some honey to goat cheese and whipped it up with as a dip with some organic berries to help us avoid eating the cake and candy that we knew would surround us at a family gathering. For a brunch we made vegan almond cookies with a little maple syrup that felt special and wouldn’t make us feel sick. My husband has a lot more willpower than the rest of us do, but he never had a sweet tooth in the first place. I think it is more important to teach our kids to listen to their bodies and make their path, being aware of how foods are engineered to be willing to suffer some discomfort in the short run for longer-term benefits.
Week 1 Recipes
I’d love to share a couple of our favorite recipes we’ve tried in the past 13 days that aren’t in the Plant Paradox book.
Soft Plant Paradox Granola
This recipe was a combination of a couple that I found on the Facebook page. While this is sugar and lectin free, we use it as a treat to help satisfy sweet cravings or sprinkled on some goat milk yogurt in the morning.
5-6 cups of nuts, unsweetened coconut, or compliant seeds
(including flaxseeds, sesame seeds, pine nuts, pecans, blanched raw almond slices, walnuts, or hemp hearts)
I find that the macadamia nuts or pistachios don’t work as well in a granola recipe.
Some people will use puffed millet or quinoa, but I’m waiting until phase 3 to try that.
2/3 cup hot water
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 T cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1 T vanilla
1 t sea salt
10-12 pitted dates
(cocoa powder is optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Melt the coconut oil in the microwave with the water. In a blender or NutriBullet, add the coconut oil, water, and pitted dates. I let these sit for a little bit to soften while I prepared the other ingredients. Then I blended until smooth with the other wet ingredients.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix very well. Spread on a cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes to help the granola bake evenly. You will know it is done when it is golden brown.
NOTE: This will burn if you don’t watch it carefully. The texture doesn’t get very crispy, but you will know it is ready by how great your house smells and how dark the mixture is getting. The coconut flakes will likely be the first to burn, so keep your eye on them. My trick for a crunchier granola is to turn off the oven and leave it in for another 10-15 min to finish cooking slowly.
Green Banana Pancakes
These pancakes made this diet possible for my kiddos. It was hard for them at first to not add jam or maple syrup. But these are fluffy and a great treat to grab on the go and have in your bag. We like to toast them and eat them with almond butter in the morning. They are even good cold from the fridge. They freeze well, so you can make a big batch and have them ready to go. This recipe makes enough pancakes for the week for us. I was so excited to find this idea on the Plant Paradox Recipe Sharing Facebook group.
1/4 cup Tigernut or Tapioca flour
1/3 cup coconut flour
2/3 cup almond flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
3 t vanilla
1/2 cup unsweetened almond or coconut milk
3 t coconut oil + a little more for cooking
6 green bananas
In a blender, combine the ingredients and blend until smooth.
Preheat a griddle or large nonstick frying pan to medium-high with 1 T of coconut oil. Scoop 1/4 cup pancakes into hot pan.
Cook for 4-5 min each side, or until the top has bubbles and looks a little dry. Flip and cook a couple of minutes more. Repeat until batter is used, adding oil if needed.