I’m coming to the USA!

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I know I’ve neglected this blog terribly, and for that I am awfully, awfully sorry. Thank you to those of you who’ve found my posts, read them (or at the very least skimmed), left comments and shared your stories.

To sum up briefly what’s happened over the last year: I’m continuing to take Asacol (800mg) daily, but – and here’s a confession not even my physician knows – I’ve taken it down to once a day and I’m totally fine. Diet-wise I eat a bit of everything. I try to keep it LCHF, but it’s less hit than miss. I also try to stay away from dairy because lactose intolerance is for life…

… which brings me to – I’m coming to the USA!  

K and I have been planning this trip for months and months, and of course it’s the craziest time to be coming over, with the Rand plummeting through the floorboards and currently languishing at about R17:$1. So it’s going to be a pricey trip to say the least, but I’m so very excited.

We fly out of Cape Town on Thursday and arrive at JFK on Friday. We’ll spend a few days in NYC, staying with a friend, and then we’ll fly to LA for the weekend. Then it’s on to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and then Florida. From there, we’re hopping aboard a West Caribbean cruise (Mexico, Jamaica, Haiti and Grand Cayman) and once the tour finishes, we’ll fly back to NYC for a last few days.

A whole MONTH of travelling – longer than I’ve ever done before – and all I can think about is the food! We have some amazing cuisine and treats here in SA, but the US is on a whole different level. I mean, these insane milkshakes?! I’ve seen on Instagram (yup, I’m there now – come say hi) that people are waiting TWO to THREE HOURS for these things. We won’t have that kind of time to waste, but I’ll certainly be indulging – and overindulging – in all the things I’ve only ever seen on TV (and on Buzzfeed, and on all your blogs).

Which is why I’ve stocked up on Lactase – I don’t want to miss a single bite of the excitement and I certainly don’t want my holiday to be marred by bloating and cramps – ugh, who has the time?! I don’t usually take these (I simply avoid dairy for the most part) but I think it’ll be extremely worthwhile for this trip.

If you have any food or sightseeing suggestions or recommendations, please send them my way. On the list is drag shows, drag bars, gay bars, museums, major landmarks, New York cheesecake, steamed burgers, tacos and New York pizza. Oh, and as many of your candies as I can muster 🙂

Maybe see you there!

An overview of 7 different healing diets

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When it comes to healing diets, there are a number of popular options that have proved effective for people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease or various digestive complaints. If you’re looking to help heal your gut through diet, it’s a great idea to pick one of these tried-and-tested options – but which one?

Here’s a (very high-level) run-down of each of the main healing diets to help you decide. Bear in mind that, just like medication, different diets work for different people, and you’ll have to try them yourself to discover which one works best for you. Also remember that you’ll need to tweak and ‘engineer’ whichever diet you end up selecting – that means adding, removing or limiting things based on your own unique set of food intolerances, sensitivities or allergies. Each of these diets provides a great path towards health – you just need to pinpoint your exact route!

SCD – specific carbohydrate diet (long-term/indefinite)

I started this blog to document my 100 days on SCD – a diet aimed at helping to heal IBD and other GI complaints by removing grains, starches, processed sugar and processed food from the diet – food that are known to irritate the gut and promote inflammation. Many people claim to be medication-free and in remission thanks to SCD, which is why I initially attempted it. It works in phases: You start by removing virtually everything from your diet except for eggs, meat and carrots, and gradually re-introduce foods slowly, week by week, month by month, until you know what your body can and can’t handle. It is an extremely slow process that gives your gut a chance to heal and recover from months or years of damage. SCD offers amazing results for some people and ‘meh’ results for others – simply proving that every ‘body’ is different and requires different approaches.

SCD wasn’t the perfect solution for me, but I’m very glad I did it, if only for 100 days. Here’s a summary of my experience on the SCD diet. You can visit the SCDLifestyle.com site for loads of info about the diet, or view the stages of the SCD diet here.

Paleo (long-term/indefinite)

Paleo wasn’t intended to be healing diet per se, but many IBD sufferers have adopted it due to the fact that it cuts out many foods known to cause inflammation and aggravate the gut. Like SCD, paleo focuses on ‘clean’ eating that is free of refined/processed foods, sugar and grains, but unlike SCD, it also prohibits dairy and, depending on how strictly you follow it, honey. Like SCD, the paleo diet consists mainly of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, unprocessed/organic meat and eggs, as healthy oils. Unlike SCD, you don’t have to take a phased approach to the diet, which has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that you can enjoy all these foods right from the get-go, but the disadvantage is that if certain foods on the paleo ‘legal’ list are causing you gastric distress, you won’t know which ones they are due to the fact that you aren’t testing them individually.

Paleo has gained massive popularity around the world in recent years, because more and more people are wanting to remove unhealthy processed foods from their diets. This also means that more restaurants and grocery shops are catering to this diet and it’s easier to change to a paleo lifestyle.

AIP – Autoimmune Paleo diet/protocol (short-term/indefinite)

AIP is a healing diet aimed at restoring the gut and immune system. It’s based on the same principles of the paleo diet, but it has the added bonus of having many of the problematic foods removed, as well as the opportunity to test these foods and either reintroduce them slowly or cut them out altogether if your body doesn’t like them.

AIP is not intended to be a lifelong diet. It’s recommended that you follow it for a maximum of 60 to 90 days to help repair intestinal damage, which should theoretically give your body enough time to recover sufficiently for you to progress to a paleo diet. Things that aren’t allowed (particularly at first) include nuts, seeds, nightshade vegetables, many spices, dairy, eggs and various other foods.

I have followed the AIP protocol and I can tell you that it is very, very hard, but worth the effort. Knowing that it’s only temporary does make it easier, and from my experience, I do believe that it can be effective in the healing process. Here is a full list of foods you can and can’t eat during AIP. You can also take a phased approach to reintroducing them to see what your body can and can’t tolerate.

GAPS – Gut And Psychology Syndrome diet (long-term/indefinite)

GAPS isn’t as well known as SCD but its principles are similar, in that the underlying belief is that diet can aid in not only digestive disorders, but conditions like autism too. The foods consumed are almost the same as on SCD, but often dairy is excluded. It also takes a phased approach by removing and then reintroducing foods, and it is recommended that you follow it for at least two years, if not longer. Read more about GAPS here.

FODMAPS – Fermentable Oligo, Di, and Mono-saccharides And Polyols (long-term/indefinite)

This is another healing diet that you’ve probably come across during your research, but it’s less well-known than SCD or paleo. It’s also been designed to help relieve chronic digestive complaints, and many people swear by its effectiveness (I’ve never tried it). As with the other diets, it’s worth researching it and reading about the experience of others to figure out whether it might help you too. Get an overview of FODMAPs here.

Gluten-free/wheat-free/egg-free/dairy-free (long-term/indefinite)

A lot of people don’t have a digestive disease but do suffer from food intolerances – the most common of which include dairy, wheat, gluten and/or eggs. I am lactose intolerant and after discovering this fact, the only thing I removed from my diet was, obviously, dairy. I only later discovered that I had ulcerative colitis and that led me to change lots of other things too.

If you don’t have IBD or a digestive disorder, it might not be necessary for you to follow a healing diet, but simply to remove allergens/irritants from your diet. I have friends who, based on their intolerances, have removed those foods from their diets without actually following a specific eating plan. They’ve found a way of eating that works for them, and that’s great! They don’t need to follow an actual healing diet. If you don’t have IBD but suffer from something like IBS, for example, it’s well worth having yourself checked for common food intolerances. You might find that removing just one thing from your diet – like dairy for me, or wheat or eggs – might be a big part of the solution.

‘Rice’/‘White food’ diet (temporary)

This goes against every other diet I’ve covered above and it’s not even a ‘real’ diet. Plus, it’s also meant to be very, very temporary! Basically, this is my flair diet. When I’m flaring (which hasn’t happened in a year!), the only foods that seem to agree with me are white rice (with a bit of lemon juice), white bread, white pasta – all that icky refined stuff that I usually avoid. Plus starchier, low fibre veg like peas and carrots (cooked).

It’s well documented (maybe not scientifically, but certainly among sufferers!) that highly refined starches can actually help soothe aggravated GI tracts. That said, it should only be temporary solution because you can’t live on white rice, pasta and bread! I remember going through a phase some years ago when that’s exactly what I did – and I thought it was okay; that my body just ‘preferred’ these foods. It should in fact have been a HUGE red flag. If you have chronic diarrhoea and bleeding, white foods are NOT the solution. Get to a doctor!

That said, if you’re flaring, white rice and pasta can be very soothing, so if you can’t keep anything down/in, give it a bash. It works for me.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the healing diets out there, and as I mentioned at the beginning, any of these (or others that you choose) should be altered and tweaked over time to suit your body’s specific needs and sensitivities.

Please feel free to share your healing diet experiences, tips or advice in the comments 🙂

Healing foods to eat if you can’t afford supplements

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Having a GI disorder like ulcerative colitis is expensive. There’s the traditional medical route and all it entails – doctors’ appointments, blood tests, colonoscopies, gastroscopies, specialist appointments, hospital stays and medication – and there’s the functional/natural medication route, with nutritionalists’ appointments, tests, supplements and special diets.

If you, like me, have been willing to try virtually anything to heal your gut, you’ve probably found that the damage to your bank balance can be pretty extensive.

When I started seeing a new nutritionalist about three or four months ago, I was pretty upfront with her about the fact that while I was willing to undergo any tests she thought necessary, and willing to try any supplements she recommended, there was a limit to my financial resources. In spirit I wanted to try everything she suggested… but in reality, my credit card cried out in pain. She completely understood and tailored a course of treatment for me that I was able to afford.

Using food as a supplement

She cut down my supplements to the bare minimum for me (Vitamin D, fish oil, a good probiotic and curcumin), and said that it was now up to me to use food to make up the deficit. Although it wouldn’t work as quickly as UltraInflamX, for example, it would work and it would help to reduce inflammation and repair the damage. This is, of course, the whole point of a healing diet, and these foods would form the foundation of it.

Here are the items she suggested I include in my diet as often as possible, preferably every day, to help fight inflammation and heal my gut.

  1. Avocado
  2. Olive oil
  3. Coconut and coconut oil
  4. Turmeric
  5. Healthy fats with all meals and snacks for anti-inflammatory support
  6. Homemade chicken or lamb stock/broth
  7. Peas – a good source of protein. Pea protein to be used in fruit smoothies and soups
  8. Fermented foods
  9. Animal protein
  10. Seeds

I made my first batch of sauerkraut recently and it was really easy. It tastes very ‘sour’ so I know it must be right! I include all the rest of the foods in my diet regularly, if not daily, except for the broth. I just haven’t got around to making it, which is a sorry excuse! I think what puts me off is that not only is it a long process, but we also have a small, poorly ventilated flat and I’m just not sure I want to subject K to those smells!

When it comes to spices like turmeric, you can easily add little bits to curries, soups or broths, which is what I do. As for the pea protein, make sure it’s well blended into your soup or smoothie so it isn’t ‘grainy’, and when it comes to animal protein, always choose meat that has nothing added to it – no preservatives, hormones, spices, sugar, etc. Be especially careful of bacon.

What healing foods do you consume regularly?

Day 3 and some handy paleo food swaps

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I think most people who switch to a healing diet would be lying if they said there weren’t at least a few things they missed from their former way of eating. I also think for most people, sugar/carbs create one of the biggest holes – it’s classic comfort food, after all.

Today is day three of paleo for K, and I was super impressed to discover that she’s been drinking her coffee without sugar. Today’s email read:

You would actually be so proud of me and I have L [colleague] to corroborate the story. I was going to make coffee with sugar… I put the sugar in the mug (like half of half a spoon) and then sat down with L and R at the table. I decided against the sugar and surrendered my mug to L. SHE LAUGHED at how little sugar was in the mug. Then she went to add more.

I’m especially proud of K because tea and coffee, especially when sugary and milky, is ultimate comfort ‘food’ for me. Growing up, if I had a shock or a heart break, my mom would make me a cup of strong, sweet tea. For stomach bugs, the solution was the same, with Marmite toast added to soothe the belly. As an adult, five or six cups of sweet tea or coffee would get me through the work day, and would also assuage my sugar cravings.

When I started worrying about my weight, I switched from sugar to sweetener, which is super-duper sweet, and I could easily drink six cups of tea a day, each with three sachets of sweetener added. I also drank a ton of diet cooldrinks. At the back of my mind I suspected that the artificial sweeteners were wreaking havoc on my gut, and I was right! Cutting them out was the first, and one of the biggest, steps to healing.

But I’d be lying if I said it were easy. Now, I drink black coffee with no sugar (two cups a day max, and seldom on weekends), and I never drink regular tea because I can’t stand the taste of it without milk and sugar.

I deeply miss my comforting mugs of tea, and while there isn’t an ‘exact match’ replacement for them, there are ways to soften the blow. Here’s how I’ve replaced some of my best-loved, and most missed, foods and drinks.

  • Sweet/milky tea and coffee: organic flavoured teas with lemon, honey and ginger added.
  • Fizzy drinks: organic apple juice with no added sugar or preservatives (limited to a couple of glasses a week).
  • Alcohol: Should be avoided if you’re flaring and if you know you can’t tolerate it. Fill a glass with ice, lemon wedges, mint or frozen berries and top with sparking mineral water. It’s the easiest way to fool your brain (and everyone else), and you won’t feel like you’re missing out. If you can tolerate alcohol, stick to dry wines and grain-free spirits only, like tequila (if you can stomach it!).
  • Desserts/‘something sweet after supper’: Fruit with honey; banana ‘ice cream’ (frozen bananas blended up) with cinnamon; dairy-free yoghurt; nuts drizzled with honey (and a shake of salt! Try it; it’s delicious).
  • Rice/mash: cauliflower rice/mash.
  • Potato: sweet potato (paleo, not SCD). Season with rosemary, garlic and coarse salt.
  • Pasta/noodles: Sounds strange, but if I make a delicious pasta sauce or curry, I pour it over butternut or steamed cauliflower and it’s just as enjoyable.
  • Sugar: honey/maple syrup/leave it out (you become accustomed to eating less sweet-tasting food).
  • Cake: There is no replacement for cake. Nothing. Accept it, grieve, and move on. It’ll become like a phantom limb: the pain is always there, but you learn to live with it. Seriously though, you can find ‘legal’ replacements for most cake ingredients: almond flour or gluten-free flour instead of regular cake flour; baking soda instead of baking powder; honey/maple syrup instead of sugar; coconut butter/oil instead of butter; avo instead of butter; egg replacements/flax seed instead of egg, etc. The list goes on – you just have to be adventurous. But you also have to accept that cake, as you knew it, is off the table and a thing of the past (but also, remember how bloaty and ugh the past was!).

I also wrote this post about making your favourite foods paleo, which has got some useful food switches.

The benefit of these replacements, especially when it comes to the hot drinks, is that my teeth are probably in much better nick than they were! Tea and coffee can leave some really tenacious stains. Cutting out fizzy drinks has drastically reduced my bloating, and no chocolate/dairy means no more frequent trips to the loo, and much less gas/bloating.

It’s hard not to lament the losses, which is why it’s so important to make healthy, sustainable switches. And bear in mind that while drinking only water is depressing (I’ve tried it), it’s still important to get your 2-litre fix each day, in between the other drinks.

If you have any useful food switches, please do share!

Day 2: 10 types of veggies & some cooking tips

I have yet to meet a vegetable I didn’t like (okra included), but the same can’t be said for my girlfriend. While I can happily feast on any vegetable that happens to be in season/in our fridge, K is a lot more selective. Now that she’s agreed to eat paleo with me – a diet largely focused on vegetables; none of which is potato – I’m redoubling my efforts to cook the kinds of veggies she’ll enjoy.

Now, while I don’t discriminate, there are certainly some veggies I prefer. They happen to be the exact opposite ones that K prefers. So last night I found myself cooking no fewer than 10 different varieties: Broccoli, carrots, butternut, gem squash, peas, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, leeks and green beans. In all honesty it was pretty quick to do (except for the peeling of the butternut, which K actually did for me), and because I cooked so much, we have plenty left over for work and the next few days.

If for whatever reason you also find yourself cooking entire harvests of veggies each night (I’m looking at you, SCD), these tips might help. Many of them were ingrained during the long hours of SCD prep!

  • Cook (but don’t overcook) your veg. Many people with IBD or other digestive disorders is encouraged to avoid raw fruit and veg (especially when flaring) as it can be difficult to digest. That said, there’s no need to overcook your veg to the point of mush, because then you’re losing a lot of the goodness. Brussels sprouts, for example, need just three or four minutes.
  • Cook more than you need. Putting in the extra effort tonight means less effort tomorrow and more time to watch Parks and Recreation. It’s also great to have cooked veggies in the fridge as a warm, filling snack. I always, always cook at least three days’ worth of veggies on a Monday.
  • Use as little water as possible. Generally, I boil all my veg so that it can absorb the flavour of the herbs, spices and stock that I use. But there’s no need to drown your veg – just a bit of water prevents them from burning and helps them to retain their taste and crispness.
  • Recycle the cooking water. Certain nutrients can be lost or diminished during the cooking process, so if I’m cooking all my vegetables separately, I keep using the same water with each new batch (topping up with kettle water if necessary). If I cook all the veg together, I keep the water (which is now more like stock) for the next time I cook veggies – which is bound to be in the next few days. This obviously doesn’t apply to gem squash and butternut.
  • Read the labels carefully. Not on your produce (although the photo below begs to differ – this was at our local supermarket!), but on your seasonings. Some seemingly innocuous spices are actually full of gluten, maize, soy and even dairy-based additives, so you really have to be careful what you use. If the ingredients aren’t listed, it’s probably best to avoid it. If you’re following AIP, you have to be especially careful: Even if your spice is free of additives, it might still have other ‘illegal’ ingredients like pepper or tomato.
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This is why you need to go to school, kids

So it’s day 2 and K is doing… well, I’ll let her tell you how she’s doing:

“Day 2

15.45pm

I’ve been carb free for almost 43 hours.

I’m doing fine. It’s all in my head.

I’ve bread if you stay away from the kitchen it helps. And to keep a pizza biltong with you to nom on every now and then. I walked pasta sushi restaurant and didn’t even batter eye.

I’m wine. I mean fine.”

Ah, she’s such a trooper! And she’s getting steak tonight – not something we usually indulge in midweek, but I feel she needs a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Besides, any diet that includes steak and biltong is totally doable 🙂

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Not if you know how to make a cauli-pizza!

7 Days of gut-healing meals (and why they’re good for you)

Lately I’ve redoubled my efforts to include as many healing, happy-gut foods in my diet. Here are some of my current favourite meals and snacks for health and healing.

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Chopped banana, strawberries and frozen blueberries drizzled with honey

It’s sad that fruit has a bad reputation (mainly due to its high fructose content), because it can really be so healthy. Bananas are easy to digest and they give you energy and heart-supporting potassium. I’ve also always found them extremely soothing to eat, especially when my tummy’s unhappy. Strawberries give me a good dose of vitamin C and blueberries are known to help ease the symptoms of digestive diseases.

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Eggs, baby spinach and music

A lot of healing diets forbid or discourage the consumption of eggs, but I’ve never personally had a problem with them. They’re full of protein as well as important vitamins and minerals. Spinach meanwhile is virtually a ‘superfood’ and I’ve really been trying to get it into my diet as often as possible. I actually feel like I’m slowly healing my body with each mouthful! Spinach is full of vitamins, and it’s even got Omega-3 fatty acids and anti-inflammatory antioxidants. It’s good for digestion and flushing out toxins, and I recently learnt that cooking spinach actually increases its health benefits because the body can’t completely break down its nutrients when it’s raw. Music is good for the mind, body and soul, so include as much of it in your diet as you can.

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Brussels sprouts

I adore Brussels sprouts (I know, it’s unusual!) and I can easily – and often do – eat bowls of them as snacks. Like most other veggies, they offer high doses of vitamins and nutrients, as well as their fair share of fibre. This means they can cause bloating and should be avoided if you’re flaring. Don’t cook your Brussels sprouts for too long or you’ll destroy the healthy bits! Three to five minutes is enough.

 

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ALL THE VEGETABLES!!! (and a little steak)

So this is what my dinner plate looks like most nights. I take the 3/4 veggie rule so seriously that I usually end up with four quarters of vegetables on my plate and no space for the meat – hence the mashed butternut on the side! Starting with the butternut, it’s filling and easy to digest – it’s one of the first vegetables you can introduce on SCD, and I’ve always loved it and found it to be unproblematic. Carrots are the first veggie introduced on SCD, as they’re also generally very easy to break down. They’re also full of vitamins and minerals.

Broccoli and cauliflower are cruciferous vegetables (as are Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage and kale), which means they’re packed with phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals and fibre, and overall they’re just amazingly fabulous for your health. They also help support the functioning of the digestive tract (read this fascinating article about the healthy interaction between cruciferous vegetables and the bacteria in your gut). Most of us know that peas are a great source of protein and fibre – but did you know that they also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties?

Avocado is one of the healthiest fats you can add to your diet and its Omega-3 helps to reduce inflammation in the gut. My nutritionalist has recommended I eat it every day – that’s how healing it is! Lastly, lean red meat is obviously a protein source, and despite what detractors might say, it’s also one of the best sources of nutrients that you won’t get from plant-based foods.

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Coconut fish curry with cauliflower rice

I’m not the biggest fish fan but I am trying to get it into my diet more often because it’s just so damn healthy. This is hake, which offers Omega-3 acids and a range of nutrients. I’ve cooked it in homemade coconut milk, which is another incredibly healthy fat that my nutritionalist recommends I consume daily, due to the fact that it’s so healing for the gut. As you can see, I’ve tossed in some handfuls of baby spinach for an extra health kick, and it’s seasoned with all the usual ‘legal’ seasonings like garlic and ginger – both of which are also considered ‘super foods’ due to their healing and health-sustaining properties.

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Coconut yoghurt with honey

This is made from coconut milk, and has the added benefit of gelatine and probiotics, which are added just prior to incubating it. Probiotics introduce healthy bacteria to your gut and gelatine is an amazing weapon in the fight against inflammation.  This is one of the healthiest things you can feed a damaged gut. Here’s my recipe for homemade coconut yogurt.

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Oysters and champagne

Okay so this was a bit of a splurge (I was celebrating signing my permanent contract at work), and champagne – or any alcohol for that matter – should be avoided when you’re flaring, or when you’re trying to heal your gut. I was thrilled to discover some time ago that oysters, however, are so so good for you! They’re full of zinc, which is essential for those of us battling digestive diseases as we tend to lose a lot of it. Zinc is essential for healthy functioning and also helps to heal woulds. You’ll find it in pumpkin seeds too.

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Bonus: Cauliflower pizza

Everyone needs to feel like they’re eating something fun every now and then – even those of us with IBD! This cauliflower pizza was made from many of the healthy ingredients listed above, so it has the added benefit of hitting that ‘junk food’ spot without actually being junk food! The olives and mushrooms are also sources of healthy fats and nutrients, and it’s all drizzled with coconut oil for that extra bit of healing.

What are you favourite healing, healthy meals?

Paleo pizza on grain-free seed toast – vegan/vegetarian

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I’ve made cauliflower pizza crusts a few times and while I find them very tasty, it’s a pretty labour intensive process. Also, my bases never really mimic the texture of a ‘real’ pizza base (well mine don’t, anyway). So on Friday when I was craving a pizza – the kind you can pick up in your hands without it disintegrating – I knew cauliflower wasn’t going to be the answer. Instead, I decided to use grain free seed toast as my base.

The result was delicious, filling and as close to pizza as I’ve come so far. Plus it was incredibly easy to make. You can obviously change the toppings to suit your taste – these are just my faves.

Paleo pizza on grain-free seed toast

Ingredients

  • 3 slices grain free toast (I buy Lifebake)
  • A few teaspoons tomato paste
  • Dried basil and oreganum
  • Chopped garlic
  • 1 large tomato, sliced
  • 1/4 onion, sliced thinly
  • Handful of calamata olives, pitted and halved
  • Half a ripe avocado, sliced
  • Salt and black pepper

Method

Preheat oven to 180C (350F).

In a small bowl, mix the tomato paste, oreganum and basil. Spread the mixture onto your slices of grain toast.

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Cover the toast with all the toppings except the avo. Bake for 10 minutes.

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Remove from the oven and top with slices of avocado. Season with salt and pepper.

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Voila! And you’ll be able to pick it up in your hands – WIN!