When I became vegetarian a year and a half ago, I had no trouble making the switch from eating meat. It was easy to fill in my diet with more dairy and grains in place of meat.
However, while stuck at home most of the time during the pandemic, I noticed that I'd been comfort eating quite a bit of cheese, bread, and ice cream, and it was making me feel bloated and sluggish.
With all the extra time on my hands, I have been thinking more about my health, and wondered if I could try a new diet that might improve my overall wellbeing.
No more dairy products for me. baibaz/ iStock
Though dairy has proteins, vitamins, and minerals, it is also high in calories and saturated fat, and can cause stomach pain and indigestion. Some people experience side effects such as bloating, acne, and nausea from consuming too much dairy.
According to Vasanti Malik, a nutrition research scientist with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,"Eating a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of green leafy vegetables and nuts can better help you get the calcium and protein you need rather than relying too much on dairy."
Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat. Like dairy, grains also provide important vitamins and minerals, but they can also have some adverse affects on health. According to research published in the Expert Review of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, gluten can cause "altered gut function, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and gut microbiome changes" in some individuals. I wasn't sure if I had experienced these symptoms exactly, but I wanted to see if I would feel any changes if I stopped eating gluten.
According to Whats Good by The Vitamin Shoppe, the nutrients I would need to replace when cutting out dairy were protein, vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A, magnesium, zinc, and probiotics.
Some of my dairy- and gluten-free groceries. Zoe Ettinger
It sounded like a big list just for cutting out one food group, but determined to stick with the diet, I found foods that would replace each nutrient: tofu for protein and calcium, mushrooms for vitamin D, almonds for phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc, bananas for potassium, spinach for vitamin A, and sauerkraut for probiotics.
According to Very Well Health, the nutrients I would need to replace when going gluten-free were vitamin B6, folate, vitamin D, calcium, iron, vitamin B12, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin I was surprised by this long list.
I wasn't looking forward to having to purchase so many additional foods to meet my nutritional needs. Luckily, I already had calcium and vitamin D covered with my dairy-replacement purchases, the spinach I had would also provide folate, the almonds have riboflavin, and tofu has a decent amount of iron.
To complete my grain-free nutritional needs, I bought chickpeas for vitamin B6, beans for thiamin, and I had peanuts on hand for niacin. I already take vitamin B12 supplements that were recommended by my doctor when I went vegetarian, so I left that one out of my purchases.
I enjoyed looking online to find recipes that would fit with my new restrictive diet. I turned to some vegan recipes, which I knew would already be dairy-free, so all I would have to look for was options without any grains.
One of my favorite new recipes is a vegan Caesar salad, which uses baked chickpeas instead of croutons, hummus instead of mayonnaise, and water from capers to give the dressing a briney taste.
Vegan Caesar salad with crunchy chickpeas. Zoe Ettinger
Breakfast was one of the harder meals of the day, since I almost always have a yogurt with granola or a bagel with cream cheese.
Since I don't like to wake up early in the morning to cook, I just had a banana with peanut butter for breakfast during the week. It got a bit tiresome by the end of the week, and I would find myself snacking on nuts in between breakfast and lunch.
Lunch and dinner were more fun, since I had more time to cook and was able to find new and exciting recipes online. One recipe that I particularly liked for dinner was a chickpea coconut curry. Made with tomatoes, coconut milk, and spices and served over rice, I felt very full after eating it, and didn't have the bloated feeling I sometimes get after having a dairy-heavy meal.
As the week came to an end, I found myself craving the comfort foods that I had been missing for the past week.
By the end of the week I found that cutting out dairy and gluten did make me feel less bloated throughout the day, and my energy levels seemed somewhat higher than normal. However, though it was a positive change, I felt that I was giving up too much for it.
I think that cutting these foods out for a week will help me reduce my intake in the future, since I now know so many good substitutes for them.
I believe a dairy- and gluten-free diet would be easier for someone who eats meat, since meat contains some of the protein, vitamins, and minerals you miss out on when cutting out gluten and dairy, and you would simply have more options.
I'd recommend that anyone who wants to try a similar diet should do their research beforehand, but in my experience, it might provide them with new, healthier options to try when they want to cut down on their gluten and dairy intakes.