Diet choices impact healthy eating

Red peppers ripen on the vine in the author's Keys garden.
Red peppers ripen on the vine in the author's Keys garden.

Over time like many of us, my husband and I have developed minor health issues that we pass off as just something that happens or something to expect as you get older.

These issues include minor skin irritations, mild arthritis in hands, knees and feet, digestive and gastro-intestinal problems, occasional sleeplessness and restless leg syndrome. Despite this, we consider ourselves relatively healthy but we are always open to ideas to keep healthy.

Last year, we completed an elimination diet, eliminating foods that are known to cause allergies. Allergies are shown in many ways and it's not always in the form of a skin rash or a stomach upset.

After six weeks when our bodies have adjusted, we re-introduce one of the allergic foods every four days and monitor changes in our body. Any adverse reaction, for example, feeling bloated during those four days, is possibly related to that food we've just re-introduced.

Lately, for health and environmental reasons, we have been eating more fruit and vegetables and incorporating hormone and antibiotic-free chicken, dairy, eggs and meat as much as possible.

So how did this diet work?

On Day 1, we had to eliminate dairy, eggs, the nightshade plants (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, white potatoes), all wheat (flour) and gluten-containing products, sugar and anything processed.

We could eat all the fresh fruit and vegetables we could handle, chicken and meat (hormone and antibiotic-free if possible), wild-caught fish, raw nuts, brown rice, lentils, beans, almond or rice milk and -- thankfully -- alcohol, though in moderation.

We craved sugar so much in the first week. It got so bad that we borrowed an ice-cream maker and made almond milk ice cream with agave syrup (allowed) so we would have something sweet in the evenings. It did the trick.

We missed bread and substituted with rice cakes. At meal times, we bulked up on roasted sweet potatoes, brown rice, beans and lots of vegetables. I really missed cow's milk in my breakfast tea and coffee so I gave up breakfast tea and drank black coffee and green tea instead.

My husband found huge improvements in his arthritis and for the first time in years was able to jog up to two miles without pain. Eliminating dairy also improved his GI issues. And eliminating refined wheat products and sugar reduced minor skin rashes that would flare up.

We made it to four weeks, not six, but felt the benefits anyway. We lost weight, slept better and had more energy.

We determined that sugar and wheat products were connected to my husband's arthritis. We now eat very little wheat and sugar. We continue to eat lots of fruit and vegetables.

The Mediterranean style of eating follows very similar eating guidelines. Lots of fruit and vegetables, brown rice, whole grains and smaller portions of chicken and meat. This has many health benefits to humans and to the environment.

The livestock business is a large stressor on Earth's increasingly scarce water resources, contributing, among other things, to water pollution, excess nutrients in bodies of water stimulating excessive algae growth, oxygen depletion and subsequent death of other organisms such as fish, and the degradation of coral reefs. The major polluting agents are animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, fertilizers and the pesticides used to spray feed crops.

I continue to grow vegetables using natural fertilizers, and supplement with local store supplies and an organic buying club. The elimination diet was tough but taught us some lessons and served as a reminder that our food choices can improve our health and that of the environment.

Shirley Gun is a member of the Keyswide nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education. She writes about green living and the four R's -- reducing, reusing, recycling and rot (composting). She can be reached at