Being a vegan newbie and having to follow a strict elimination diet can be real difficult and frustrating. You think what is left to eat after eliminating all meat, eggs, dairy, and acidic foods –like Chinese, Mexican and Italian… seriously! – along with all acidic fruits, vegetables, and condiments that could trigger bladder pain. After you get over the initial shock and mourn the loss of your favorite foods, you start thinking about all the possibilities and choices out there instead of just focusing on what you cannot eat.
With an IC elimination diet, just as the name implies, you eliminate all the known offensive foods – whatever they may be for your specific condition – from your diet. Then after few weeks, you start adding the foods back to your diet, one at a time. You monitor your symptoms or reactions to the added food for few days before introducing a new food. If all goes well, you continue adding the foods back to your diet until you find out which one causes your symptoms. It’s like being a food detective.
For those who haven’t read the previous post, IC or Interstitial Cystitis is a bladder condition that results in constant or recurring pain or discomfort in the bladder and the surrounding pelvic region. Although, there is no scientific evidence linking diet to IC, some foods and beverages are known to cause bladder irritation and inflammation in IC sufferers.
There are lots of IC-friendly recipes and food blogs online, but I wasn’t going to spend time exploring those sites. Instead, I used the IC-Food List as a guide and came up with a list of easy and tasty foods and snacks a vegan IC-sufferer could prepare at home without needing any cooking skills.
I thought re-training the taste buds would be a good start for an elimination diet, especially one with so many restrictions. That’s why I limited the number of the ingredients, spices and the seasonings I used except for the salt of course. At the end of my elimination trial, I was pleased and surprised to learn how much I enjoyed the simple and clean flavors of natural foods without all the added fats and flavoring from other sources.
The very first food I made was a simple carrot and sweet potato soup. My soups are usually made with sautéed aromatics like onions, garlic and herbs, but to keep the ingredients to the minimum and flavors as simple as possible, I threw these beautiful multi-colored carrots I had bought from the store into a stockpot along with sweet potatoes and grated ginger. All I added was plain water to cover the vegetables and some salt.
After the vegetables were cooked through, I pureed the soup using a hand blender. The soup turned out creamy and delicious without adding any fat. If you are on a low-fat diet or any special diet, you can turn any mixture of root vegetables you have on hand, like parsnips, turnips, celery roots and potatoes into a delicious low-calorie soup like this one and eat as much as you want without feeling guilty :). Of course topping this soup with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice would take it to another level.
The best way of always having ginger on hand is to freeze some in a Ziploc bag. Anytime you need it, all you have to do is peel and grate a section of it using a microplane or a regular grater. Frozen ginger keeps real well and is much easier to grate. Another clever way of storing ginger in the freezer is grating it first then rolling it in a plastic wrap like a candy and twisting the ends. When you need it, all you have to do is unroll it and snap a piece off.
White beans and cauliflower soup was another simple and tasty soup I made.
Again, all I added was plain water and salt. I covered the white beans with few inches of water in a pressure cooker pot and cooked them until almost tender. I then added the fresh cauliflowers and cooked them until tender and pureed with a hand blender, my favorite tool for pureeing. This soup was amazingly creamy, nutritious and yummy!
These pureed soups also make great baby food since babies usually start solid foods without any added fat, spices or seasonings. They are also great for people on special diets or fat-free diets. I made a lot of pureed soups using different mixes of beans and vegetables. Since the soups didn’t look very appealing, I pureed them. Any vegetable can be pureed into a soup with or without starch. You just have to adjust the amount of the liquid, add more for a thinner soup and less for a thicker soup.
Towards the end of the elimination trial, I started adding herbs and olive oil to the food. I made this simple and tasty white beans stew with chopped garlic and fresh parsley and rosemary from my garden. I plant new herbs every year, but these two herbs grow all year long in my garden.
The beans were soaked overnight and cooked with plain water, salt and chopped fresh garlic, parsley and rosemary. Before serving, they were drizzled with some extra virgin olive oil, not that they needed it, but it sure made them yummier. Some of the beans burst open during cooking adding creaminess to the liquid.
I tried the same stew concept with garbanzo beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils…the list was endless. The stew was the perfect vehicle to add fiber and protein rich beans to my diet. Each cup of cooked beans contained about 15 grams of fiber which was more than half of the daily recommended intake, as well as about 15 grams of protein.
The options for salads were endless. The only dressing I used on the salads was a little extra virgin olive oil and of course salt. I actually started preferring my salads without any acid. The salads tasted so fresh and clean when dressed with just a drizzle of olive oil.
Top a bed of spring mix salad or any type lettuce with your choice of bladder-friendly vegetable and cooked beans from the IC Food List, and you will have a nutritious meal ready in no time. Let your imagination go wild and create tasty combinations.
I always kept few cups of cooked quinoa in the fridge and added it to my salads for protein. Any combination of vegetables tasted delicious when mixed with quinoa. For this salad, I mixed cooked quinoa with some chopped celery, zucchini and cilantro.
Before serving, I added chopped avocado and sometimes fresh warm basmati rice, yummy! My sister came up with a lot of creative combinations of beans and vegetables for salad and shared them with me. I will post some of her recipes in future.
Another meal idea that required more work, but provided quick meals when done in advance, was making vegan burgers or wraps. I used one of my old recipes for vegan patties and made enough patties to last for few days. Before baking, I formed the patties into three different sizes, small round-shaped patties for slider buns, large round-shaped patties for regular burger buns, and oblong-shaped ones for wraps. Using different vegetable and herb with each sandwich made it seem like I was eating a different meal, haha, smart huh!
I love avocados and used it in my salads and sandwiches. I found the best way to preserve the unused portion was to cover it with the empty half shell, seed intact, and wrap it tightly in a plastic wrap and refrigerate. Any acid like lemon juice or vinegar, splashed over the exposed flesh, could keep it from turning brown, but acid was a no no on this diet. I scooped out the flesh with a large spoon to keep the shell intact.
Lightly steamed vegetables made great side dishes or healthy and filling afternoon snacks. There is nothing worse than an overcooked vegetable, yucks! If you have never cared for steamed vegetables, chances are they were overcooked and mushy. I steamed my vegetables in the steamer basket of my old rice cooker just long enough for them to slightly cook yet preserve their shape and color. With just a drizzle of a good quality extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt the vegetables were transformed from boring to yummy!
If you have never had artichoke, you are missing out big time. I just learned from this article How to Eat an Artichoke that you are not supposed to cover the pan when boiling them or else acids in the artichoke will not be able to escape and they will turn the artichokes brown. Well, that explains why mine turned brownish! However, the flavor was amazing, especially the creamy hearts, yum!
The elimination trial and re-training my taste buds taught me to appreciate all the vegetables in their natural state. I learned to enjoy them raw, steamed or roasted. But, I have to admit roasting them in the oven was my favorite way of preparing them especially with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. My sister can down any vegetable without salting it, but I have to add a little salt to mine. She roasts her vegetables with a little water, no salt and no fat added.
Roasted sweet potatoes and carrots provided a sweet snack for the times I craved sweets.
I sprinkled some cinnamon and drizzled some olive oil over the vegetables before roasting them in the oven at 400 º F. I think the above photo speaks for itself, YUMMY :).
I used to have trouble telling yam and sweet potatoes apart. I finally learned how to pick the right one. They are basically both considered sweet potatoes. What we call yam is the variety with a darker skin and a dark orange flesh that is much sweeter and moist in texture than sweet potatoes. The one I used here was sweet potato and had a pale skin with a light yellow flesh. The flesh had a dry mealy texture and was less sweet than yam. So, here we have it yay.
Eggplants and mushrooms are incredibly versatile and work in any recipe from Italian to Asian. They also make a very tasty substitute for meat and happen to be my absolute favorite vegetables. As for eggplants, I particularly love the taste and texture of Japanese eggplants. They cook quickly and don’t even need peeling because their skin is so tender.
My favorite method of cooking eggplants is roasting which uses the minimum amount of oil, not to mention the heavenly aroma that fills my kitchen when they roast. For this elimination diet, I turned roasted eggplant rounds into sandwiches, salads and snacks.
Some of my favorite fruits were among the bladder-friendly fruit choices which made me very happy :).
I have never been a big fan of brown rice, but thanks to my sister’s preaching about all its health benefits, I started eating it few months ago and gradually developed a taste for it. I still prefer white fragrant rice, but don’t mind brown rice as much as I used to. I even started using it in my vegan patties and soups.
Brown rice is a whole grain rice with the hull being the only part that is removed from it. Unlike white rice, it has the bran and germ. Brown rice has a mild nutty flavor and is chewier and more nutritious than white rice. It takes longer to cook and requires a higher water to rice ratio. I cooked my brown rice in a rice cooker and it turned out good every time. I added a little olive oil and salt to it too.
Mixing white or brown rice with any type of beans results in a complete protein dish. That gave me incentive to prepare a lot of rice and bean dishes. I even added rice and beans to my salads and wraps.
I tried herb rice with fresh parsley, chives, dill and cilantro and added fresh chopped spinach, chard and kale to my rice. The addition of each herb and green vegetable created a different flavor profile.
For my kale rice, I trimmed all the stems both from below the leaves and the center of them because they tend to be tough and take longer to cook. I stored the trimmings in a Ziploc bag in my freezer as I always do with all the vegetable and herb trimmings. When I have enough trimmings, I make homemade vegetable stock.
Even though at the beginning of my elimination trial, I found the idea of a vegan on an IC diet very challenging, after experimenting with different simple and basic ingredients for weeks, I discovered a whole new way of preparing quick and healthy meals without having to take nutrition or cooking classes. If one chooses not to consume any animal products at all on an IC diet, they just have to learn how to combine the essential amino acids to get the most protein possible out of a vegan diet.
If you have IC and try any of these food ideas, make sure to check the IC Food List first and keep in mind that every person will have a different reaction to the same food. Cilantro may bother your bladder, but cause no discomfort for someone else. Substitute the ingredients that irritate your bladder with the ones that soothe it.