How Going Gluten- and Dairy-Free Is Helping My POTS
Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health or diet, please consult a doctor or medical professional.
I’ve now been completely gluten- and dairy-free while avoiding refined sugars as much as possible for three weeks and as more and more people are asking…
“Isn’t it expensive?”
“What do you eat then?”
“Does it really help?”
…I thought I’d write this post on my tips and experiences so far.
Firstly, every diet suits every individual differently, but since my health condition means I struggle to digest regular food, cardiologists have been suggesting the benefits of me going gluten-free for ages. While managing the A-Level workload, numerous trials of various medications and all the while trying to have a bit of a social life, I found changing my diet drastically a daunting idea. In a world full of convenience foods being available everywhere, sugar products the go-to quick solution for lack of energy and the lure of the cheapness uniting students everywhere, it seemed another thing that was going to be hard work.
I’m not going to lie, changing my diet quite drastically did take motivation and commitment. Opting for more and more plant-based meals as opposed to heavy carbs and reaching for fresh items like mushrooms instead of a jacket potato seemed like a world away but actually, it’s already becoming one of the best things I’ve done.
For me, as someone who has suffered bad tummy cramps, achiness, nausea, poor skin/acne and a foggy head since 14, to say my skin is so much clearer, I no longer ache in my arms and my tummy hasn’t hurt once since the day after I started is amazing. Even though I still very much struggle with fatigue, I feel more and more energy seeping back. My legs aren’t as heavy and I can remember my words quicker. Such a simple change – albeit just one that required a little planning, nothing more – has improved my symptoms so much and now I see why everyone raves about diet changes being the key to improving health.
It all started when my lovely friend brought me “Deliciously Ella: The Plant-Based Cookbook” for my 21st birthday.
At this point I’d been cutting out refined sugars and processed foods as I noticed they made me hot/achey afterwards but receiving this book got me researching deeper into the subject.
Through having postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, a condition that ultimately means your autonomic nervous system doesn’t work properly, my body’s immune system, respiratory and digestive systems also don’t work properly (as all subconscious systems run off your autonomic nervous system). This also means I produce too much adrenaline and histamine and so I have to take many antihistamines and stomach-coating tablets before eating every day.
From this I knew there must be diets that work better for my condition. While following the guidance of my immunologist means I ate a low-histamine diet already, after reading Ella’s recipes I was determined to give the plant-based, gluten-, wheat- and dairy-free diet a go. I also avoided excess sugars, preservatives and sulphites.
As the author of these cookbooks herself was diagnosed with POTS in 2011, the same year I got ill, and subsequently was bed-bound for months like myself, I was fascinated to see how her diet had aided her recovery. As well as regular gradual exercise and help from vitamins and supplements (both of which have helped myself) she explains how changing her diet was the biggest contributor to her recovery.
That night after plenty of reading, making sure I would have enough protein sources from this diet (as it turns out from beans, seeds, lentils and leafy green veg), I agreed I would cut out everything above but keep small amounts of chicken and fish for now (although I hope to cut these out too eventually).
Even though it’s only been 21 days, the positive effects on my body, skin and energy mean I will not go back to eating the way I did before. I recover from illness quicker and I no longer struggle with discomfort. As it’s such a big change I thought I’d run through some tips for anyone wishing to partake in a plant-based diet.
I must stress this is not something I did lightly and if you have any pre-existing medical conditions especially, seek advice from your doctor/ specialist first. These are just little tips to save three weeks of experimenting!
– Always have a well stocked cupboard with essentials to add flavor to any dish.
Sunflower and chia seeds are my faves for adding protein and texture to salads.
Cumin and cinnamon are great spices to accompany roasted veggies like butternut squash and sweet potato. Good gluten-/dairy-free condiments are essential for livening up brown rice/gluten-free pasta. There are some lovely pestos made with tofu that taste exactly the same as regular pesto. Sweet Mandarin gluten-free black bean sauce is amazing and a good gluten-free ketchup is a must.
To liven up toast in the morning, try a natural nut butter like almond and make sure you have good dairy-free spread!
– Get used to preparing food at home to save time/money.
Despite common thought suggesting the baking/packaging process that goes into producing gluten-free/dairy-free food means it will be more expensive, it doesn’t have to be at all. I actually find I’m spending less money on food than I was before! But it’s all about the preparation. It is true that eating this way out can be costly and time-consuming (as only a few restaurants cater for dietary requirements and if they do there usually isn’t a vast choice – in my area anyway). This means I have to be organized and most of what I eat is prepared at home. The key to eating cheaply and making sure you know what’s going into your food is to prepare it at home and take it with you. Think Tupperware full of easy to make, yummy gluten-free pasta and pesto or a salad you can make in bulk to go as a side for a couple of days.
One of the salads I now swear by is Deliciously Ella’s lentil, courgette and mint salad that’s super easy (as I still eat meat I may have a large portion of this with chicken or fish and the sunflower seeds are an amazing source of protein and omega 3).
– Have your go-to supermarkets for your favorite ingredients.
It takes a while for anyone changing their diet to get used to the textures and tastes of their new food. In addition to this, like any foods, there will be some substitutes you love and some you frankly loathe.
Personally I think it’s a great idea to begin at the basics. I began by trying all the various milk alternatives over a few weeks. This is mainly because as a massive tea drinker I knew I had to find the right dairy-free alternative! Soya, oat, coconut and almond are the most popular choices and out of those my preference is almond every time! But give them a go, everyone is different and if you’re going to be drinking it a lot you need to be happy and look forward to drinking your substitute.
Another staple is bread, and trust me when I say it took me a while to choose my favorite maker of the top loaf. I personally love the nutty taste of whole meal/brown bread so I adore M&S’s “Free From” range for my bread. In contrast I find my dry spices and ingredients like pure cacao powder for hot chocolate and chia seeds are cheapest from Aldi and amazing quality! More obscure items like a natural sugar alternative in the form of coconut sugar I get from health food shop Holland and Barrett. Other shops such as Morrison’s do the best gluten-free/dairy-free pastas and pasta sauce in my opinion but try different shops and enjoy experimenting! Everyone’s palate is different.
– Keep a food diary to track foods that make you feel good and any changes you notice.
This is so important. Keeping your start date and a brief diary lets you know what’s helping and what isn’t. By noting the foods I’d tried and I’d liked (both personally and what made my body feel good) I could then deduce the foods that helped and those that didn’t. It made me realize that some fruits didn’t agree with my body such as banana and grapes even if they are natural! It also made me keep aware of any symptoms that improved such as stomach cramps, achiness and that my skin has become much much clearer. Keeping a diary every day means you are also more likely to stick to the plan even if you don’t feel its effect straight away.
– Be open to experimentation.
Having a mixture of foods your body loves means there is a tendency to stick to the same meals you know make you feel good. This is OK for the first few days when you want to see if this new way of eating actually helps you. However, this also means eating can become repetitive and boring if not careful. I challenge myself to try three new recipes a week even if they include most of the same ingredients to avoid chucking away fresh food and keeping meals and cooking interesting! There also may be some veggies you have never been particularly keen on. As you become less dependent on high-sugar starchy foods you may find these once banished foods to be tasty. For me mushrooms were once a no-go but chopped and fried with a little coconut oil, chia seeds and garlic, they are transformed! Avocado certainly wasn’t working wonders for me until I tried it soft with a little lime juice! It’s all about keeping an open mind.
– Keep a healthy sweets stash for long days.
Despite it being a good idea to venture out of your comfort zone when adjusting your diet, it’s always good to have the comfort food at hand – albeit the healthy version! Everyone has long days when chocolate or biscuits are a must and just because gluten and dairy isn’t on the table, doesn’t mean you have to miss out by any means. Find the nicest gluten-free/dairy-free morsels you can find (“Freee” does the nicest lemon biscuits ever, while Amazon has a good range of chocolate). Nut butters are a great way to also satisfy that sweet tooth without causing a sugar high. Almond butter is my new fave on toast!
Above all, enjoy how well and energized you feel. You really are what you eat.
Thanks for reading and I hope anyone that was a little inquisitive about how to change diet has found it useful.
This post originally appeared on Antics and Ramblings of a Twenty Something.
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