Health and wellness touch everyone’s life differently. This is one person’s story.
When I was 22, strange things started to happen to my body. I’d feel pain after eating. I’d have regular bouts of diarrhea, and develop unexplainable rashes and mouth ulcers. For a while, I assumed that these had to be the result of something simple, like an infection. But as those symptoms intensified, I also started experiencing dramatic weight loss, losing close to 14lbs over what felt like overnight. I started to suspect that something wasn’t right.
Still, I never expected that it would lead to years of tests and even, at one point, being accused of taking laxatives. Finally, the diagnosis came back: I had Crohn’s.
Identifying my condition was one thing. Treating it was another. I tried everything, including a variety of drugs, and dealt with all kinds of side effects — from allergic reactions, to tablets so large it was almost impossible to physically swallow them.
Then, one sleepless night, I Googled natural remedies for inflammation. I read about how some people had followed specialized diets — including gluten-free, meat-free, and dairy-free — to help them manage similar symptoms.
I’d never considered the idea that I could help nourish — and maybe even help — my body with my diet. But having completed my catering qualifications before university, I thought I could take on a specialized diet. So I decided to give gluten-free a go. How hard could it be?
For the first few months, my symptoms seemed to ease, but as small flare-ups returned, I lost heart. Shortly after, I found Instagram and started following a few people who were on plant-based diets and seemed to be thriving. Unable to get my symptoms under control with the drugs, and with every successive flare-up being more painful and unrelenting, I decided to give specialized diets another go.
I started small and slowly cut out meat. Then came dairy, which was easier to say goodbye to. Slowly, I moved to being entirely plant-based and gluten-free as well. Although I still take minimal medications when I need to, and do still experience some symptoms, my new eating plan has calmed things down quite a lot.
I’m not suggesting that following a plant-based diet will help cure anyone, or even ease your specific Crohn’s symptoms. But by listening to your body and playing around with different foods, you may find some relief.
The foods that work for me
The foods below are the ones I cook with every week. They’re all versatile, easy to use in everyday cooking, and naturally high in anti-inflammatory properties.
These are a wonderful little powerhouse of nutrients that are sometimes overlooked in the food world. I enjoy a wonderful fresh pea soup several times a weeks. I find it really easy to digest, and it’s pretty portable for work. I also love to toss peas into many of my favorite dishes such as shepherd’s pie or spaghetti Bolognese.
And if you’re in a time crunch, they’re delicious as a simple side dish topped with a bit of crushed mint. Peas are full of complex carbohydrates and protein which may help keep your energy up during flares or periods of unintentional weight loss.
Nuts are another wonderful, versatile ingredient. Any type of nut is chock-full of a variety of healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats and contains plenty of anti-inflammatory properties. My favorite way to enjoy these powerful bites is in homemade nut butters and nut milks. I am always fond of snacking on hazelnuts with a little dark chocolate as a treat.
If you depend heavily on nuts (and seeds and grains) daily, consider choosing sprouted, soaked, or pressure cooked options for better absorption of the nutrients.
I always have these in the house, either fresh or frozen. I love them as a topping on porridge or by themselves with some yogurt. Berries are full of antioxidants, which in turn help fight inflammation in the body.
Bananas are brilliant — chopped up in porridge, eaten as a portable snack, or baked into some gluten-free bread. Potassium is one of the richest nutrients in bananas, which makes them an excellent choice for those with chronic loose stools.
I’m always cooking with garlic, and couldn’t imagine the base of a dish not starting off with some garlic and onion. Fresh garlic has such a wonderful taste, and you don’t need much to give any dish some kick. Garlic is also a prebiotic food, meaning it feeds healthy gut bacteria.
For those on a low-FODMAP diet, you can use garlic-infused oil to retain the garlic flavor without risking symptoms.
Lentils and beans
If you’re cutting out some meat from your diet, beans are a great way to get that missing protein. Try replacing ground beef with some lentils or use a 50/50 approach if you’re unsure. They also work great in salads and as a base for stews. I always buy dried lentils and beans and cook them myself.
Pinched for time? Pressure cooking cuts the cooking time for beans down from hours to mere minutes! Canned beans also can work, though they aren’t as rich in folate or molybdenum and are often high in sodium.
Another great multipurpose ingredient packed with beta carotene and vitamin A, which are both known to help fight inflammation. Try grating a carrot into your morning porridge with a little sweetener, or chop them very finely and sneak them into sauces and dishes you have every day.
And that’s it! I’d recommend adding three of these items to your weekly shopping basket and seeing how you get on. You never know until you try!
Helen Marley is the blogger and food photographer behind theplantifulchef. She started her blog as a way to share her creations while embarking on a gluten-free, plant-based journey to ease her symptoms of Crohn’s disease. As well as working with brands like My Protein and Tesco, she develops recipes for ebooks, including a blogger version for the health brand Atkins. Connect with her on Twitter or Instagram.