February 14, 2022

Plant-Based Diet

I didn't want to mention this sooner, because I wasn't sure how it was going to go or even exactly what I wanted to do. As you know, I've been dealing with chronic pain for for several years now and it got to the point where it was unbearable. I started seeing a rheumatologist, who has tested me for everything you can possibly imagine.

The symptoms sound very much like rheumatoid arthritis, but there isn't a specific test for that, so it's more of process of elimination and looking at other tests to make a diagnosis. For now, she gave me the diagnosis of "fibromyalgia"--I really don't like that, because so many doctors don't think it's a "real thing" and don't take it seriously. It's basically a way of saying that I have pain for unknown reasons.

And the pain is so hard to describe. It travels around my body--I mostly feel it in my hands, neck, shoulders, hips, and back. My lower body isn't affected as much, which is probably why I can still run. Pain killers (even narcotics) don't help much (not that doctors prescribe them anymore anyways!).

During my last couple of appointments with her, she mentioned that a vegan or plant-based diet has showed promising results with autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (and even fibromyalgia). I'm not at all opposed to being a vegetarian (I've never been a big fan of meat anyway) but I thought it might be helpful to try a full-on vegan diet at least to see if it helps my symptoms.

My main goal was to eat "normal" foods that I already eat and just modify them a bit to eliminate animal-based products. I didn't want to start eating tofu or tempeh or things like that. That's too big of a change and it's overwhelming to me. (Also, the times I've tried it, I haven't like it.) I want to keep my diet as "normal" as possible so it won't feel like such a big change for me.

This was a few weeks ago, and so far, I've found it pretty easy. I still eat the same breakfast and lunch; I switched my milk to almond milk, and chocolate chips to vegan chocolate chips (which I found taste nearly identical), so that takes care of both of those meals. For my snack in the evening, I usually have almonds and dried cherries (or lately, tapenade on plain Triscuits).

Cooking dinner is a little more complicated, because I don't want to force the family to eat this way. So I've been making some things separately. Like yesterday, I made chili. I cooked the ground turkey for the boys and set it aside. Then I made a big pot of vegan chili (my regular recipe, only adding an extra can of beans). I took out my portion, then put the ground turkey into the pot for the boys. In my portion, I added TVP (texturized vegetable protein, which resembles ground meat). It wasn't necessary, but I wanted to try it because it's been years since I used it.

Vegan Chili

Fun Fact: I don't remember where I got this info from and I can't find it anymore; but do you remember those rectangle pizzas from elementary school? Well, I remember reading that the "meat" on them was actually TVP! I could be mistaken because I can't find this info again, but I remember being really interested in that.

And the day before that, I made Sesame Chicken over rice. I cooked the chicken for the boys, then set it aside. I made just the sauce in another pan (which is vegan). And then I drained a can of chick peas for my portion. So, I made my bowl with rice, then the chick peas, and then topped with the sauce. 

Sesame Chick Peas with Rice

Then I dumped the rest of the sauce in with the chicken for the boys. I don't feel like I missed out on anything; the chili was SO good!

When we did pizza one night, we each made our own mini pizzas and I just chose to make mine with hummus and olive tapenade. It was SO GOOD and I didn't feel like I was "giving up" pizza.

Hummus and Tapenade Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust

I don't want to buy the vegan cheese and stuff like that (at least not now). Like I said, I just want to use my regular ingredients, to keep everything as "normal" as possible. I have a few vegan veggie burgers in the freezer in case I get in a pinch for dinner, but other than that (and the TVP and almond milk) I haven't had to buy anything "special".

One of the reasons I wanted to take a vitamin in the mornings was to ensure I was getting at least vitamin B12--the only vitamin you must get from animal products--and I'd chosen a vegan multivitamin that focuses on the vitamins vegans tend to be deficient in. However, after looking at my food intake and checking out the vitamins there, I realized that I really don't need a multivitamin.

I definitely need B12, and I should take calcium, but between my fortified cereal and chia seeds (holy cow, chia seeds are full of everything good for you! Even a tablespoon a day, which is what I use) I'm getting enough of most things. So, I just ordered a vitamin that supplements the main vitamins/minerals I feel the need to supplement. I'm *really* hoping that it doesn't make me nauseous, like the multivitamin did, considering it doesn't have iron in it!

So far, all of this has been an easy transition. The hardest thing for me to give up is cheese; I used to eat vegetarian meals pretty frequently, but to get rid of the cheese is a little stifling. Regardless, I am willing to go all-in and give this a shot. The chronic pain over the last year or two has gotten to be so bad, and none of the arthritis medications I've tried were working, so I decided to give this a shot.

Since I was looking through the heritage recipes and there are VERY few that are vegan, I was tossing around the idea of trying out a new vegan recipe each week instead--maybe take one of my old recipes that I've made for a long time and making a few changes to remove animal products, then write about that (like the chili or the sesame chicken above). For these recipes, I'd be willing to try anything! Even tofu and nutritional yeast and jackfruit and all of that "weird" stuff ;)  (So, if you have a "must try" vegan recipe that you want me to try out on my blog, please email it to me and I might do that!)

So, I've been doing work-arounds like that for my meals. It's a little more work, but not bad at all. 

I am going to try to keep a food + pain journal to see if I notice any improvement over time with my pain levels. If this actually works, I will be so relieved!



Here is today's random fact of the day:


After reading this, I realized I know nothing about St. Valentine. So I did a quick google search and landed on Historydaily.org. It's actually a really interesting read! Here is the gist:

Valentine was an ancient Roman Catholic Bishop who had a soft-spot for love. He was secretly marrying Christian couples, which got him in trouble with Emperor Claudius. A married man could not be drafted into military service, so Claudius wasn't happy about the secret marriage ceremonies (because he needed his army). He gave Valentine a choice: renounce your faith or be executed (by being beaten with clubs and beheaded). Valentine chose to be a martyr for his beliefs and was executed on February 14th (the year is unclear, but it was between 269 and 280 BC).

And here is the info on the above fact of the day:

Source: History Daily

30 comments:

  1. Very interesting Katie. I need to try some food changes to help some health issues and I was struggling with how to do it with the family meals and you laid out a good way to do it. I had a block in my brain and you gave some good ideas.

    Food affects a lot of health and mental health.

    Keeping the journal is going to be a good thing to keep. You might even see benefits in sleeping.

    If vegan doesn't seem to help, consider trying gluten free.

    If you start feeling better, you could slowly start to eat the nixed foods again, one at a time, to find out if any of them trigger your symptoms. This helps you learn which foods to stay away from....if you do not want to follow specific type of diet like vegan but it's not a bad thing to be vegan.

    Good luck.

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    1. Gluten-free is the one diet I've been avoiding more than anything, haha! I've been eating a lot less sugar since I've been eating so much fiber, and I'm hoping that by eating healthier I'll feel better overall. I think gluten-free will be a last resort for me if nothing else works ;)

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  2. I've been a vegetarian for 35 years, and one thing to keep an eye on is wine (I can't remember if you've stopped drinking again or not, sorry).

    Most wines are not vegan as animal products are used to stabilize them or to help them "mature" faster. Make sure to read the back labels if you are looking for one that is vegan-friendly.

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    1. I remember learning that awhile ago, and I was so surprised by that fact! But today is actually my one-year anniversary of being alcohol-free :) I have no plans to start drinking again.

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    2. I have an egg allergy, and wouldn't you know it, many wines have egg used as part of that process. I knew I reacted poorly to wine, but didn't realize for a long time that it was likely due to eggs, since alcohol rarely has ingredient lists and who would think eggs would be in wine?

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  3. Katie, I hope your diet change helps. As an autoimmune patient, I can say I feel better when I eat “clean”. My triggers may be different from yours, but experimenting with an elimination diet helped me identify quinoa, oats, coffee, lactose, and bananas as my biggest sensitivities. I love cheese, so it was worth the experimenting to figure out that cheddar has a low enough lactose content to not bother me. On the other hand, quinoa makes me stay in bed for a week, so there’s no wiggle room. Look up elimination diet or autoimmune protocol diet to see the details.

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    1. That's very interesting! I always love to hear people say that certain "healthy" foods are triggers. You always hear about the typical diet of fresh fruits and veggies, lots of healthy protein, nuts, legumes, etc. So when you listed your biggest sensitivities and they are the typical health foods, I find it more realistic. I've found over the years that bananas hurt my stomach--which sounded so odd to me, because bananas are healthy! I'm glad you figured out what was working/not working for you.

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  5. Here is a woman that has gone dairy/gluten free for autoimmune reasons. https://instantloss.com/about/

    by all means, I'm not trying to get you to buy an instant pot. Just giving some extra inspiration.

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    1. I almost flagged this comment as spam, but decided to check out the site. I'm glad I did! I got caught up in her story. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Have you ever been tested for Ankylosing Spondylitis? Your symptoms sound a lot like what my sister has. It took along time for her to get a diagnosis.

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    1. The thing that really sucks with autoimmune is that there is no one real test for each condition. They use a multitude of blood tests, urine tests, x-rays, MRIs, different types of medications, etc to see what they can find. So I still don't have a "real" answer--I've been trying out different medications since all my tests seem to be normal (only a few borderline results). I definitely have osteoarthritis in a few places, but that's not autoimmune. Anyway, she's checking out the ankylosing spondylitis--my symptoms match very closely!

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    2. Katie, out of curiosity, what blood tests have they done? My mom had rheumatoid arthritis and they diagnosed it through blood tests that looked for inflammatory markers, as well as X-rays. I looked it up and the most common blood tests look for an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR, also known as sed rate) or C-reactive protein (CRP) level, which may indicate the presence of an inflammatory process in the body. Other common blood tests look for rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies. If your doctors haven't had these specific tests done it might be worth looking at.

      And don't discount soy too quickly--soy milk has come a long way! I don't drink cow's milk, so for cereal or milk I use Silk Unsweetened (the Original is great, too). Budget Bytes has some great tofu recipes--even how to get it crispy and delicious!

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  7. My husband is allergic to dairy (slightly different than being lactose intolerant) and chooses not to eat red meat. So, now that we have been married a decade (and together 14 years) i've had to adapt a semi-vegan lifestyle! I will say that the cheese is the hardest because I LOVE cheese but i've found that goat cheese is a good substitute. I know Vegan is no animal products but goat cheese is much less irritating to the GI and therefore causes less inflammation (e.g. pain). Might be worth looking into if you are interested!

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion! It's great that you've supported your husband by adapting to his lifestyle choices (and even embracing them). That must make it easier on him!

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    2. Violife® Vegan Cheese Product. I had a coupon for a free pack. I got the sliced cheddar. It was really good!! I think it is relatively new, so be on the look out. :)

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  8. Hey, “Let food be thy medicine,” right? I sure hope this works for you!! -Allison

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  9. I went vegan (for ethical reasons) back in September. I'm a regular reader of your blog so this is a pleasant surprise. I'm looking forward to reading more plant-based content from you.

    The great thing is that you'll probably start getting a lot more fibre in your diet without even trying. I know that's one of your goals right now, too. I've never eaten this much fibre in my life and it uh... makes a big difference!!

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  10. I've been working with my diet to prevent migraines, which started for me in my mid-40s. So far I've identified yogurt, vinegar, peanuts, chocolate and processed meats (like pepperoni, sausage, bacon) as triggers. I would be very interested in a new vegan recipe each week. I personally love tofu and vegetarian meals--I was vegetarian and then vegan for years until I was diagnosed with a carnitine deficiency and had to add some animal products back into my diet--but I always liked cooking vegan.

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  11. I try to incorporate a fair bit of meatless meals into my diet. No specific recipe, but I go to these 2 sites for ideas: https://blog.fatfreevegan.com/ and https://epicureanvegan.com/

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  12. I'm glad you're experimenting. My biggest pain issue is with sugar. It's a direct correlation. If I reduce sugar, my pain levels plummet. We're each an experiment of one. I sure hope the plant-based diet will be the solution for you!

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  13. My aunt with chronic pain found that cutting out nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, etc) made a big difference for her. So if you don't see results with this change, or want to try something in addition if it works but you are still having pain, that might be an option to discuss with your doctor.

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  14. I have colititis, which is an autoimmune disease. I've struggled with it for several years and my doctor told me there was nothing I could do to treat it, except medication. I haven't been back to him, because I think he's full of it. My aunt has been successful with eliminating trigger foods from her diet. I recently started Optavia again, as I was successful with it a few years ago and I desperate to get rid of my pandemic weight gain. I started in December, and for the first time since being diagnosed with colitis, I have been able to cut my dosage from 4 pills to two and I am doing great. I honestly feel like Optavia has helped, it's a soy-based product. I get one lean and green meal a day in which I have to measure my protein and greens, in addition to 5 fuelings. When I first started I stuck with chicken or steak (once a week) and just a steamed veggie, so I eliminated almost everything from diet, except for one cup of coffee in the morning. I'm slowly adding ingredients back in to my diet to see if anything triggers me. I'm a firm believer that what we put into our bodies is a critical factor in causing disease, mental health issues and more. Pesticides and and cancer causing agents are regularly used in processed foods, so I try to avoid them as much as possible.

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  15. I hope this helps your pain. I have diagnosed RA and have been vegan for 11 years. I was vegan even before I developed the RA though, so hard to say how the diet affects me since it's the only way I've eaten since having it. My pain is non-existent most days, but I'm also on a medication to keep the RA under control. The biggest change I noticed after giving up animal products was in my recovery time from running. I used to get really sore after a long run and that pretty much went away. I love this way of eating and it's so easy once you get past the learning curve but I also recognize it's less of a challenge because I only have myself to shop and cook for. Anyway, all that to say ... chronic pain is awful and draining and I hope you find some solutions!

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  16. I am so glad you shared. I have autoimmune issues too. I have hypothyroidism & crohn's. I am going to try plant based foods in hope of improving my health. My father had RA. He was advised to avoid night shade plants, coffee & chocolate. What helped the most was Rx. It stops the progression & further joint damage. Methotrexate. Please continue sharing the findings on how plant based helped. Share recipes too.

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  17. I know I am piling on another suggestions BUT, have you been tested for food sensitivities? I was tested with the guidance of a nutritionist. I was sensitive to 18 different foods, almost all of them unprocessed foods- egg plants, tomato, etc. Anyway, she suggested I get tested for celiac and she, my doctor and myself thought there was very little chance of it but did it just in case. Wouldn't ya know... I have celiac. It is an autoimmune disorder that can be latent; I was diagnosed at 45 after getting increasingly worse with body pain, exhaustion and GI issues. Anyway, the celiac test is super simple and was a life changer for me!

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  18. I am not vegan, but do enjoy an occasional meatless meal. I have found the website "It doesn't taste like chicken" to have some really easy and pantry friendly. Her Korean sweet BBQ lentils are to die for.

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  19. I know I'm always a couple days behind on your blog, but I have real thoughts about this one.

    Vegan cheese isn't there yet, and has no nutritional value. Don't do it. Maybe next year! One exception: Mac n Yease is actually really good. You may be able to make this yourself, Plum Bistro is how to google it. It is not a simple task, fair warning.

    My gf and I have also made our own cashew cheese sometimes, labor-intensive, and you need a food processor or very good blender, but it's good. It's more like nacho cheese you find at a stadium, texture wise.

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  20. I don't really miss cheese, but I really miss creamy sauces. I make a vegan based alfredo that I found on Mary's Whole Life. She uses it to make a dairy-free chicken alfredo over spaghetti squash - skip the chicken and sub veggie broth for the chicken broth and you're set. It's SO good. Also I have a recipe for a vegan spinach artichoke dip that is delicious.

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