Foods that Cleanse: The Effects of a Gluten- and Dairy-Free Diet


It’s time for spring cleaning. Embrace the challenge!

Photo © iStockphoto/Thinkstock 2013

We are what we eat. Unfortunately, I had to learn this the hard way. For six long years, I struggled with severe digestive issues and chronic leg swelling—accumulating 20 to 30 pounds of water weight every afternoon. I was pursuing a career in corporate marketing and advertising in New York City at the time, hiding the fact that I felt gross, embarrassed, bloated, foggy-brained, confused and frustrated. At 26 years old, I was working hard and going out on dates with swollen legs and chronic pain, wrapped in spandex and gulping down water pills. Doctors gave me prescriptions for countless pills that didn’t work.

I consulted multiple physicians in New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut and Philadelphia, as well as the Mayo Clinic, and I underwent countless MRI’s, CT scans, endoscopies, colonoscopies, X-rays, blood tests and genetic tests, only to be told there was nothing wrong with me. All the while, my health continued to deteriorate. My leg swelling became so severe that I could barely move. I developed myositis in my leg muscles and huge cysts on the tops of my feet. No one could figure out what was going on.

One evening, I was rushed to St. Vincent’s Cancer Center where doctors performed a bone marrow biopsy. Results, which weren’t conclusive, pointed to leukemia. By 2011, I’d been diagnosed with parasites, pathogens and bacterial overgrowth. I was put on steroids and painkillers but wasn’t getting better.

Having exhausted Western medicine, I turned to an integrative medical doctor, who ultimately discovered that I was suffering from heavy metal accumulation. All the blood tests I had taken earlier to check for heavy metals had been negative. It took a urine test to reveal that my body’s tissues were off the charts in every single heavy metal. The reason? I was born without the gene to absorb folate, a key vitamin in detoxification.

Under the supervision of my physician, I had the mercury fillings in my teeth removed, started a regular schedule of IV chelation and began taking nutritional supplements. I went back to school to learn more about nutrition and Eastern medicine. Using acupuncture, yoga, meditation and herbal medicine and changing my diet to only fresh, whole, unprocessed foods, I began to heal. I have remained symptom-free for two years.

Cleaner Living

I made some important lifestyle changes in order to stay healthy. I closely examined the everyday products I used and found that many harbored harmful metals and chemicals that can adversely impact overall health. Here are several items that I “detoxified” from my life.

  • Makeup and Personal Care Products: Chemicals like parabens are added to personal care products to keep bacteria and mold from growing in the packaging. These additives are considered endocrine disruptors, which can lead to hormone-related cancers in adults and early onset of puberty in girls. Parabens can be found in many household items, including cosmetics, lotions, soaps, toothpaste, shampoos, moisturizers, shaving gels, fragrances and soaps. I began reading labels carefully and choosing products that had a short list of all-natural ingredients.
  • Sheets and Towels: Certain fabrics may be laced with irritating chemicals. I removed all the towels and sheets from my home and replaced them with items made with organic, all-natural fibers.
  • Shower Curtains: Vinyl shower curtains are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which can release chemical fumes that linger in your home for months and can impact your health. I now use a cotton shower liner made with organic fabric.

  • Cleaning Supplies: Chemicals in most commercial cleaning products can act as hormone disruptors, which may interfere with the body’s natural chemical messages, either by blocking or mimicking the actions of hormones. I use natural items like baking soda, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide that clean and disinfect without noxious chemicals.
  • Plastic Containers and Water Bottles: BPA found in many plastic containers is considered to be an endocrine disruptor or xenoestrogen, a class of compounds that can suppress male hormones and mimic female hormones by binding with estrogen receptors. I now opt for stainless steel and glass containers and drink from glassware instead of plastic.
  • Pots and Pans: Teflon-coated nonstick cookware can release chemical toxins into the air when the pans are well heated, contributing to indoor air pollution. Specks of coating in scratched pans can flake into food. I now use Pyrex and cast iron cookware instead.
A Wholesome Diet

To stay well, I strictly avoid all gluten, dairy, soy, sulfates and sugar. I eat lots of fresh vegetables and lean, organic proteins, such as chicken, turkey and eggs. My favorite healthy fats come from avocados, seeds and nuts.

I make most of my food at home from scratch. Here are some of my favorite snacks—quick, easy items that satisfy hunger and truly nourish.

  • Chickpea Dip: In a food processor, process 1 cup cooked chickpeas with a dash of sea salt and pepper, 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro and 2 tablespoons olive oil until roughly combined. Serve with gluten-free crackers.
  • Split Pea Crisps: Soak 1 cup dried yellow split peas in 3 cups water for 4½ hours. Drain peas and pat dry. Over medium-high heat, coat a large skillet with oil. Add half the peas and cook, stirring frequently until golden brown and crunchy, about 6 to 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Repeat with remaining peas. Makes 12 servings.
  • Coconut Beet Chips: Preheat oven to 350°F. Peel 2 large beets and slice (1/16-inch thick) with a mandoline. In a large bowl, toss beets with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Bake for 40 minutes in preheated oven, flipping halfway through. Toss with 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes and ¼ cup fresh basil. Serve with Creamy Kale Dip.
  • Creamy Kale Dip Heat: 1 tablespoon oil in a pan over medium heat. Add 3 cups kale and ¼ teaspoon sea salt. Cook 5 minutes and then transfer to a food processor. Add 1 cup dairy-free yogurt, 2 tablespoons cashews (if tolerated), ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Puree until smooth. Serve with Coconut Beet Chips.
  • Sweet Pea Cilantro ‘Hummus’: Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add 1 chopped Vidalia onion and cook until soft. Meanwhile, bring 3 cups vegetable broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Add 3 pounds fresh-shelled peas and cook for 7 minutes. Transfer Vidalia mixture and pea mixture to a food processor. Add ½ teaspoon sea salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and pulse until smooth. Add ½ cup dairy-free plain yogurt and ¼ cup cilantro, pulsing to combine. Serve with gluten-free crackers.
  • Grapefruit Guacamole: In a medium bowl, combine 1 garlic clove, ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, 2 ripe avocados (pitted and peeled), 1 large grapefruit, (peeled and segments coarsely chopped) ½ teaspoon sea salt, ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper and ¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint. Fold gently to combine, leaving texture chunky. Serve with gluten-free crackers and crudités.
  • Almond Butter Stuffed Pears: Core 1 pear and slice in half. Place 1 tablespoon almond butter (if tolerated) in each half. Top each with a heavy sprinkling of gluten-free granola.
  • Oven-Dried Blueberries: Heat oven to 225°F. In a large bowl, toss 1 cup blueberries with 1 teaspoon honey. Place berries on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in preheated oven 2 hours.
  • Avocado: with Lime Halve an avocado and remove the pit. Drizzle each half with 1 teaspoon olive oil and fresh lime juice. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.
  • Apple Crisp: Combine pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds (add walnuts and pecans, if tolerated), dried cherries, orange zest, coconut flakes, raw cacao nibs and hemp seeds in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Layer sliced apples in a greased baking dish. Sprinkle mixture over apples and bake at 350°F until apples are soft and bubbly.

Food and lifestyle changes truly made me whole again. My journey to health led me to one of the greatest discoveries of my life—healing through food. It also introduced me to one of my greatest joys—helping others heal through food.

Try these recipes for nutrition-packed flavor and goodness to promote your own healing and wellness.

Photo by Amie Valpone

Mint Quinoa with Sweet Beets


Fresh beets, honey and mint create a sweet sensation. Serve this dish as an appetizer, side dish or even dessert. Kids will love it topped with dairy-free ice cream.

1½ cups uncooked quinoa
3 large beets, scrubbed
⅓ cup raw, shelled sunflower seeds or almonds
2 tablespoons honey
¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons vanilla yogurt or dairy- free vanilla yogurt, optional
-Lemon zest

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, cut leaves off beets and place beets in a large pot of water. Cover and bring to boil; then simmer 25 to 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. Remove skin and pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside to cool.

3. Preheat oven to 300°F. Place seeds on a baking sheet and roast until golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes.

4. Cut beets into ½-inch chunks. Remove seeds from oven and toss with beets and cooked quinoa in a large bowl. Drizzle with honey and fluff with a fork to evenly distribute seeds. Sprinkle with fresh mint and top with vanilla yogurt, if desired, and a dusting of lemon zest.

Each serving contains 121 calories, 3g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 18mg sodium, 19g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 4g sugars, 4g protein, 12Est GL.

Sweet Orange Brussels Sprouts


Speedy and satisfying, these Brussels sprouts are easy to whip up and are a good source of vitamins. Fresh arugula adds zip. This recipe is super-simple to make and keeps well for a couple days in the fridge.

3 pounds medium Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup arugula
¼ cup pumpkin seeds or pistachios, shelled
6 chives, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest

1. Fill a large pot with water. Add a steamer insert and bring water to boil. Add Brussels sprouts and onion slices and cook until tender, approximately 10 minutes.

2. Remove Brussels sprouts and onions from heat. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl.

3. Toss Brussels sprouts and onion slices with remaining ingredients. Serve warm.

Each serving contains 141 calories, 3g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 156mg sodium, 24g carbohydrate, 9g fiber, 7g sugars, 9g protein, 9Est GL.

“Fried” Crunchy Flax Green Tomatoes


This recipe nixes frying and gluten for a healthy chip that’s perfect for anyone. As a party appetizer or a snack, these easy-to-make tomato chips can’t be beat.

4 large green tomatoes
¼ cup flax seeds
2 tablespoons chia seeds
2 tablespoons gluten-free cornmeal
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray a baking sheet lightly with non-stick spray.

2. Slice tomatoes into ½-inch thick slices. Set aside.

3. In a small, shallow bowl, combine flax seeds, chia seeds, cornmeal, chili powder, sea salt and pepper.

4. Drizzle tomatoes with oil. Then coat with flax mixture.

5. Transfer tomatoes to prepared baking sheet and bake 15 minutes in preheated oven. Flip and bake another 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and serve warm.

Each serving contains 132calories, 9g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 215mg sodium, 12g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 5g sugars, 4g protein, 4Est GL. 

Spring Asparagus & Kale Salad with Parsley Lemon Dressing


The beauty of this salad is subtlety—a hint of sweetness, a touch of tangy vinegar and a little kick from freshly ground pepper. Fresh asparagus pops with the taste of lemon juice, kale and parsley. Serve this when you’re feeding friends who like flavor. Filled with bright greens and a healthy dose of vitamin C, it’s a terrific accompaniment to chicken or fish (if tolerated).

-Stems and greens from 6 large fresh beets
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch fresh asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into ½-inch pieces,
1 large bunch fresh kale, ends trimmed, cut into ½-inch pieces 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest

1. Thinly slice beet stems and greens. Rinse well, drain and set aside.

2. Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add asparagus, kale and beet greens. Cook 7 to 8 minutes or until bright green.

3. Remove from heat and transfer to a serving bowl. Add parsley, sea salt, pepper, lemon juice and zest. Serve warm.

Each serving contains 78 calories, 4g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 524mg sodium, 10g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 1g sugars, 4g protein, 3Est GL.

Balsamic Glazed Lentil & Corn Salad


More a meal than a side, this hearty salad gets its protein and meaty flavor from lentils. Corn, mixed greens and diced bell pepper deliver a satisfying crunch.

2½ cups water
¾ cup brown lentils, uncooked
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large orange bell pepper, diced
1 cup frozen corn or kernels from 2 fresh ears
3 cups loosely packed baby spinach or other greens
½ cup arugula
2 scallions, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon fresh lemon zest

1. In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add lentils, reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook until lentils are tender, approximately 30 minutes. Do not over-cook or lentils will become mushy. Drain and rinse under cool water.

2. In a large bowl, place remaining ingredients and gently toss to combine.

3. Add cooled lentils to salad mixture and serve.

Each serving contains 169 calories, 5g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 114mg sodium, 24g carbohydrate, 9g fiber, 2g sugars, 8g protein, 8Est GL.