No-Grain No-Dairy Season is Upon Us!
Have you ever wondered why so many religions have fasting holidays in the spring? While Lent, Ramadan, and Passover encourage fasting or calorie restriction, Mother Nature is encouraging the same. When we look outside and see what’s being harvested, the choices are austere.3
In this article, I suggest eliminating just two food groups this spring—the results make for a powerful digestive and circadian rhythm reset, and if you celebrate any of these holidays, perhaps your understanding and connection to it will deepen.
In my book Eat Wheat, I make the case that wheat, grains, and dairy are seasonal foods and have never been eaten year-round. Most grains, which are high in starch, are fall-harvested. As a result, our circadian rhythms amp up production of the starch-digesting enzyme amylase every fall to deliver the starch as an insulating and energy-reserving fuel for winter.1 Come spring, these starch-loving enzymes decline, suggesting that we should avoid or reduce consumption of starchy foods, as they are out of season.
Dairy is also out of season in the spring. Every spring, cows give birth and nurse for the first few months of life. Even today, most respectable dairy farms, like the Kalona Dairy in Iowa, allow the calf to nurse directly from the mother for three months. Traditionally, this was the practice of dairy farmers. By midsummer, when calves were big enough to grass-feed and nurse less, some of the excess milk was available for the farmer to make butter, cheese, and other dairy products in preparation for winter.
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Seasonal Feast + Famine
Spring is the season of famine, where the body becomes ketogenic (switching to using fat as fuel), due to the natural austerity, calorie restriction, and lack of carbohydrates. Summer is the season of feasting, when an abundance of carbohydrates are available, switching the fuel supply back to carbs.
In nature, according to the diets of our ancestors and our circadian rhythms, the diet and our fuel supply should shift from fat in the spring to carbs in the summer-fall.5 Changing our fuel supply is linked to our circadian clock: microbes to digest carbs surge in the summer and fall, while microbes to digest fiber and fat surge in our guts every spring.5
Eliminating all grains and dairy for just one month this spring is enough to reset your body to burn fat rather than carbs as its preferred source of fuel. No doubt, by month’s end, you will find that you are not missing these foods and may feel compelled to do it for another month or two. This diet can be continued through July if desired. At that point, we start adding carbs back into the diet, as they are starting to be available in nature and harvested once again.
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The Spring Elimination Diet
Simply eliminating grains and diary for a month (or two or three) during the spring is a great way to reset your circadian clock, gut microbes, and digestive health. The benefits include losing winter weight, supporting healthy blood sugar, stabilizing mood, improving sleep, and shifting your body’s fuel supply to fat instead of sugar and carbs.2,4
Avoiding out-of-season food groups (like grains and dairy) during the spring also provides a great opportunity to evaluate your ability to successfully digest these foods.
The natural austerity of the harvest each spring, along with the natural calorie restriction that we endure due to a lack of available foods, creates a natural annual elimination diet. This is a great way to test the digestibility of certain food groups. After you eliminate a food group for a period of time and then reintroduce it, you get a close-up look at how well you digest it.
For example, if when you reintroduce dairy, your digestive concerns come back, then we can conclude that you are having trouble digesting dairy. If the dairy was organic, grass-fed, and cultured (like yogurt, buttermilk, or cheese) and you still had digestive issues, then we do not automatically conclude dairy is “bad for you”; we conclude that the component of your digestion required to break down dairy is out of balance.
This was the point of my book Eat Wheat—rather than only removing food groups,we aim to troubleshoot digestive imbalances and repair them with foods, spices, and herbs, so it is not necessary to eliminate foods—just eat them in season in an unrefined, unprocessed form.
Of course, many folks may have lactose intolerance, which could be the cause of digestive distress. But raw organic cheese in America has to be sitting for at least three months before it is sold. During this time, the bacteria in the cheese gobble up most or all of the lactose and most of the hard-to-digest protein casein, allowing most folks who are dairy intolerant to consume it. If you can’t, we are likely looking at a digestive imbalance.
Eliminating dairy during this period is straightforward. It includes all goat, sheep, and cow products. Eliminating grains means all grains, including rice, wheat, oats, barely, millet, quinoa, amaranth, corn—all grains. Beans, tubers, and legumes are okay.
Beans, according to Ayurveda, are best eaten in the spring. We all know they are gas-producing, except the kitchari bean: split yellow mung beans. Beans are hard and resist breaking down from the fall harvest to spring because of their protective antinutrients. Then, with the warmth and dampness of spring, the beans germinate and sprout, making them easier to digest and amping up their nutritional content. If you have digestive issues, sprouting your beans will break down the protective antinutrients and make more bioavailable all the protein, fiber, and micronutrients they have to offer.
If your digestion is strong, well-cooked beans are fine in the spring. Beans are dry and astringent and spring is a wet, rainy, heavy time. Beans will provide a natural antidote to the damp, heavy, and wet (congestive) properties of spring. Beans also provide a large dose of fiber, which attaches to toxin-carrying bile and escorts those toxins to the toilet—a natural component of spring cleansing.
Grains are generally high-starch foods and break down quickly into sugar or glucose in the blood. As a result, in this elimination diet, we also restrict foods with added sweeteners.
Some fruits are okay, but in moderation. In nature, there are very few fruits available in the spring. Apples (best to choose tart apples) can store through the winter and some berries and citrus fruits are available in the spring. Avoid sweet fruits like bananas, melons, mangoes, etc. and enjoy small amounts of tart apple, berries, lemons, oranges (not my favorite because they have been hybridized to be so sweet), and grapefruits, which are better spring choices.
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The Plan: What to Avoid
- No Grains
- No sugar or added sweeteners
- No dairy: including sheep, goat, cow
- No processed or packaged food
- No refined foods
The Plan: What’s Okay—Choose Organic
- Whole foods,except what’s restricted above!
- Fruits: berries, apples, grapefruits, lemons
- Beans, legumes (sprouted if digestion is weak)
- Veggies: all
- Nuts, seeds
- Meats, seafood, poultry
- Ghee, coconut oil, olive oil
- Coffee, tea
Remember, the basic plan is to avoid dairy and grains. And because these high-starch grains become sugar in our body, avoid all sugar and sweets.
Like any health-conscious diet, this elimination diet restricts all refined and processed food. Don’t miss the opportunity spring offers all of us to reset digestion, burn fat, and prepare the body to deliver the lasting energy and stable mood we need to navigate the long days and short nights of summer.
Note: If you are underweight or have a medical condition, please consult your doctor before changing your diet.
Bon appétite and enjoy your Lent, Passover, Ramadan, or spring celebration!