What is the hardest part of keeping to a diet? Well, it turns out that there are three real diet killers. One is boredom. The second is cravings for the banned foods and the other is lack of convenience. Whether it’s a low carb diet for weight loss, a Stone Age-style diet to control food allergies or candida, or a ketogenic diet for severe childhood epilepsy, these are the three issues which are most likely to cause us to give up before the diet has had a chance to do its work.
Unlike other diets, where eating a little of everything is the general rule, these diets cut out foods such as wheat, corn and sugar entirely. Now, from a health and nutrition point of view, that’s not a problem. It is not difficult to get the nutrients and fibre they provide from other foods. And after all, if we eliminate these foods, we are only going back to the diet that is likely to be most healthy for us from an evolutionary point of view – the diet our cave man ancestors ate.
The difficulty arises from the fact that we have become used to the taste, texture and convenience of the foods we have learned to make with wheat, corn, sugar and other highly processed, carbohydrate-dense foods. These have become our staple foods, and we miss them when we eliminate them from our diet. Take wheat, for instance. Obviously the main ingredient of bread, pasta, pizza, biscuits, cookies, cakes, pastries, pies and other baked goods, it is also a hidden ingredient in many other foods and dishes. Here are just a few: gravy and white sauces, sausages, burgers and other processed meats, soups, stews and casseroles, cereals, hash browns and roast potatoes, savoury snacks and coated nuts.
So when we go on a diet which eliminates staples such as wheat or sugar, we have two basic options. Just leaving the banned foods out of our diet might seem the easiest option, until we realise that we no longer have the convenience of bread for our lunch box sandwich. We soon start to crave the springy texture of bread, too, the crumbly, crunchy texture of crackers, biscuits and cookies, and the sweetness of cakes and desserts. If we have eliminated a significant number of different foods, this can also expose us to the risk of developing nutrient deficiencies and food allergies or sensitivities.
On the other hand, we can substitute the banned foods with ingredients which provide us with equal or better nutrition and variety of nutrition, taste and texture. In this way, we can prevent boredom, cravings and feelings of deprivation from derailing our special diet, and we can continue to enjoy the convenience of bread.
There is one very big problem, though, if we go for the second option. Wheat, sugar and many of the other ingredients we may be avoiding lend particular characteristics to a recipe when cooked or baked. This means that it is not usually possible to simply replace one or other of these ingredients in a recipe with a substitute. Additional ingredients may need to be added, and liquid quantities and cooking times adjusted. What works as a substitute in one recipe may not work in another. Wheat-free and sugar-free baked goods are becoming more available now in supermarkets, but they usually contain alternatives which are unsuitable for those on low carb or Stone Age-style allergy or candida diets. Making our own is often the only real alternative.
That’s all very well, but how do we start? If substituting one or two ingredients in the recipes in our traditional cookbooks is no use, we need a specialised cookbook. But which one? Well, it depends upon two things: the particular foods we need to avoid, and the type of recipes we wish to enjoy. It is all too easy to find a cookbook which avoids the banned foods by offering recipes or dishes which do not contain these foods in the first place. But what if those are the very foods we wish to have on our diet, to avoid those feelings of boredom, cravings and deprivation? To ensure that we achieve the variety of foods that is necessary if we are to avoid developing nutrient deficiencies and food allergies? Cookbooks which tackle the recipes and dishes which require more expert knowledge of substitute ingredients and how to use them successfully, such as breads and other baked goods, are few and far between, but they do exist.