Transition successfully to a special diet

 tips for staying special diet

Are you considering going on a special diet, such as the autoimmune Paleo diet, the leaky gut diet, the SCD diet, or the GAPS diet? The thought of a major diet change can bring feelings of uncertainty and questions such as, “Can I handle this? What do I eat for breakfast?” Food powerfully impacts our emotions, and dietary changes can really “rock the boat” in daily life. However, by thinking ahead and employing some simple strategies you can ensure a successful transition and hence better health.

In this article I suggest some surefire ways to help set yourself up for success on your new diet.

Plan ahead and do your research

The most important step is to plan ahead. Why are you changing your diet? Do you understand the potential health benefits? Knowing this will help you move forward with commitment and confidence. Find reputable, current resources through your health care practitioner, at the library, or online. Even an hour of self-education will help you feel more empowered.

Menu planning

Menu planning is key to succeeding at a major diet change. Sit down with your resources, look at recipes, and write out a menu plan for at least a full week. Pick foods you know you will eat so you don’t find yourself falling into old habits. This way you will have backup when you get home late from work or fall behind helping your child with homework. Over time, your menu options will grow. Check out online menu planning services for special diets.

Make a grocery list

Make a comprehensive grocery list that fits the menu plan. Some items may need to be bought later for freshness; know what they are in advance.

Clean out the pantry

Before going to the store, empty your house of all prohibited foods. If there are foods you may test later for tolerance, put them in a location that’s not front-and-center. Grab those grocery bags, and go to the store!

Go shopping

Leave some extra time for this trip; you may be navigating new sections of the store, or finding unfamiliar foods. Ongoing, remember to stock up during sales and ask about discounts on case orders.

Batch Cooking

One of the best tools for a special diet is batch cooking. Batch cooking is preparing meals in bulk ahead of time, and refrigerating or freezing for later. Many who follow a special diet prep meals two days a week. On Sunday, you might take half a day to make a crock-pot of stew, prep a bunch of vegetables, and roast two chickens to put in the fridge or freezer. On Wednesday, you might bake fish for two meals, prepare a sweet potato dish for two meals, etc. It may seem like a lot of time to commit in one day, but soon you will come up with an efficient system where most of your food is prepped ahead of time and you save energy doing it.

Batch cooking reduces the stress of cooking every day, and when that moment comes when you might normally say, “Heck, I’m ordering a pizza!” you can reach for that tasty stew in the freezer. Success.

Sourcing local products

Some special diets require hard-to-find food items. You may have some luck at local food co-ops or farmers markets for these products, or even from the farmer directly. Buy bulk where you can.

What about the family?

One of the biggest challenges of being on a special diet is cooking for a family. Ideally, the whole family is on the same diet but anyone with kids knows this is wishful thinking. Depending on the age of your children, explaining why you are eating this way may help encourage acceptance. Some people cook one way for themselves, and one way for the family, but this is a lot of work. Others find they can cook most of the food to meet everyone’s needs, then throw in some extras for the kids (such as grains or potatoes).

Bring your lunch and keep snacks handy

Since you have prepped meals ahead of time, lunch can go in a container with you to work. Also, keep diet-friendly snacks handy in case you are delayed getting home or are hungry between meals. Preventing hunger is one of the best ways to be successful on your diet.

What about restaurants?

Eating at restaurants can be a challenge on a special diet, though more restaurants are becoming aware of special dietary needs. Ask questions, be firm, and don’t order if you are uncertain.

What to do when you fall off the wagon

Just about everyone “falls off the wagon” at some point. Try not to kick yourself for it. Dust yourself off, climb back on, and remember the longer you’re on the diet, the more successfully you will stick to it. Also, when you start to enjoy the health benefits of your diet you’ll find compliance becomes easier. Many foods lose their appeal when they trigger uncomfortable or even unbearable symptoms every time you eat them.

Why some people need to avoid nightshades

scoop on nightshades

If you’re following the strict leaky gut or autoimmune diet, you may have noticed nightshades are on the list of foods to avoid. Many common and much-loved vegetables belong to the nightshade family, including eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet and hot peppers (but not black pepper), and chili-based spices, including paprika. What many people don’t realize is nightshades contain compounds that can contribute to their pain, digestive issues, and inflammation. Some people are sensitive to nightshades so it’s important to determine whether they might play a role in your symptoms.

The word nightshade typically conjures images of notorious toxic plants such as jimson weed, petunias, and deadly nightshade. The nightshade family, called Solanacea, has more than 2,000 species, most of which are inedible and many of which are highly poisonous. However, many edible plants also fall into the nightshade family.

Below are some of the other less well-known nightshades:

  • Bush tomato
  • Goji berries (a.k.a. wolfberry)
  • Naranjillas
  • Pepinos
  • Pimientos
  • Tamarillos
  • Tomatillos

What’s the problem with nightshades?

Several natural compounds in nightshades can make them problematic: saponins, lectins, and capsaicin. These compounds make nightshades a common food sensitivity, and they can lead to leaky gut, a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes overly porous. A leaky gut allows unwanted pathogens into the bloodstream, leading to health issues including inflammation, allergies, and autoimmunity.  Researchers also suggest that even moderate consumption of nightshades can contribute to a variety of health conditions, arthritis in particular.

Saponins in nightshades

Saponins are compounds that have detergent-like properties and are designed to protect plants from microbes and insects. When consumed by humans, saponins can create holes in the gut wall, increasing leaky gut and allowing pathogens and toxins into the bloodstream. Saponins also have properties that can encourage the immune system to make inflammatory messengers that cause inflammation in the body.

Peppers are high in saponins. Ripe tomatoes have low levels of saponins, while green tomatoes and hot-house tomatoes (those that are harvested before they are ripe), are exceedingly high in saponins.

Lectins in nightshades

Another compound found in nightshades that can be problematic for some people is lectin. Lectins are a concern because they resist digestion, are able to withstand the heat of cooking (which means they are intact when you eat them), and help create a leaky gut. They can penetrate the protective mucus of the small intestine where they promote cell division at the wrong time and even cause cell death. Lectins can also perforate the intestinal wall, and trick the immune system into thinking there’s an intruder, causing an allergic reaction.

Tomato lectin is known to enter the blood stream relatively quickly in humans, while potato lectins have been found to irritate the immune system and produce symptoms of food hypersensitivity in both allergenic and non-allergenic patients.

Capsaicin in nightshades

Capsaicin is a stimulant found in chili peppers that helps give them their heat. While a variety of health benefits have been attributed to capsaicin, it is also a potent irritant to mucous membranes and may contribute to leaky gut as well.

Yams and sweet potatoes are not nightshades

Yams are in the same family as sweet potatoes; true yams are not very common in the United States. Fortunately, sweet potatoes and true yams are not part of the nightshade family despite their names, and do not exhibit the same tendencies as nightshades toward promoting leaky gut and inflammation in the body.

Anyone wishing to improve digestive health and manage inflammatory conditions, autoimmune diseases, or allergies may want to consider drastically reducing or even eliminating their consumption of nightshades to determine whether they are a problem. Ask my office for more information about the leaky gut, or autoimmune, diet.