I have been asked this question a few times in the last couple of days when I mentioned I had made a grain free granola, as I have decided to go grain-free for January (and possibly longer). Does it have oats in it? What are grains in? What's wrong with grains, and why are you giving them up? Aren't you already gluten free, what's the difference?
Whoa! So many questions! I realised, however, that I live in my little nutrition bubble where I assume that everyone knows what grains are, and what paleo is, and what a grain free granola is! But it's actually only the other people in my nutrition bubble who know what I am on about, and the vast majority of the population just think I am slightly bonkers.
So, before I get to the recipe for this delicious, grain-free granola, I thought I would give you a little background as to why I am going grain free. It's a bit personal and it's about my health. But I think it's important for people to understand why I do what I do for a living and why it's so important to keep digging when you've got a health condition that isn't being addressed properly by conventional methods.
So... a few years back, about a year after having my daughter (and when I look back, probably longer than this), I started feeling really unwell. Extremely tired and really down in the dumps. Quite depressed. Waking up in the morning and bursting into tears for no apparent reason. And did I mention tired? Oh, so tired. But I had a 1-year old and a 3-year old - this was normal, right? No! This was not normal.
Despite having already qualified as a nutritional therapist, I had taken a bit of time off to have the kids, and move out of London. My diet was not brilliant. Lots of quick fix carbohydrates. The standard 'new mum' diet where cake is a food group. I took myself off to the doctor and they ran some blood tests. Thankfully, my nutrition training taught me never to accept the first answer when it came to getting news from your doctor. 'Your iron's a bit low, but everything else is normal'. Ugh. I don't feel normal. I got a print out of my test results. And there I discovered my 'borderline' underactive thyroid - not bad enough to go on medication, but on the far end of the (ridiculously wide) reference range. Further tests revealed I also had elevated thyroid antibodies - my body was attacking my own thyroid! There it was. Autoimmune thyroid disease - the cause of my symptoms. Unfortunately conventional medicine does not have an answer for autoimmunity, so I set about trying to find one.
Over the last 3 to 4 years, I have drastically changed my diet and undergone a slew of other functional tests to try and get to the bottom of my autoimmune thyroid disease. Because this condition doesn't just happen on its own overnight. It has a number of varied and far-reaching possible root causes which set up the internal environment for autoimmunity and/or thyroid disease to occur: adrenal fatigue, food intolerances, imbalanced gut bacteria, leaky gut (from food intolerances), bacterial/fungal overgrowths and more. Turns out I have all of the above!
It was overwhelming to say the least to discover this and almost impossible to know where to start. I had already given up gluten (as this has a very big link to autoimmunity and hypothyroidism) and massively cleaned up my diet but I needed to do so much more. I went on an anti-candida protocol to deal with my candida overgrowth and threw myself into yoga and exercise to manage the adrenal fatigue. And took loads of supplements!
I am definitely a lot better than I was a few years ago, but what I have come to realise is that this is a condition that you 'manage'. There will be good times and bad times, and you have to work really hard at it from a nutritional and lifestyle perspective. I really feel the slip-ups. Too much stress, not enough exercise, too much alcohol and/or sugar, and falling off the food intolerance wagon - particularly dairy. Christmas was hard - I ate too much and drank too much and felt like crap for days.
A few months ago, I retested my thyroid antibodies, praying for a miracle. They had doubled in two years. I could not believe it - I now had what's called Hashimoto's disease (this is where your antibodies go over a certain level). I'd been working so hard but I was obviously missing something. I'm still not entirely sure what this is, but I am so determined to get them down. Incidentally, my other thyroid results (T4 and TSH) remain 'normal', although still borderline. I think my adrenals still struggle hugely - I have a very poor response to stress. People who love me know this, and still love me! It's possible that the intensive exercise I threw myself into last year (I completed a triathlon and was going to 6am bootcamp classes three times a week) burnt me out. I was still eating dairy. And I do love a cocktail or four.
I will say here that I do not shun conventional medicine and I very recently got to the point where I was open to trying thyroxine. I lasted a week. It made me completely crazy and so I came off it, and I am back to managing the condition 'holistically'. I am working with an integrated doctor now. I have seen lots of doctors and lots of nutritionists/natural therapy practitioners over the years but I feel that I need someone with a medical background who understands my condition, but also takes all the hard work that I have done and continue to do with my diet and lifestyle into account. Sadly my doctors did not do this. In fact, one doctor laughed at me when I suggested that I was managing my thyroid condition with nutrition. And every single one has told me to accept the fact that my antibodies will continue to rise because that's just what they do. I'm not having that. I may not have managed to get myself completely better but I'm fairly certain that everything I have been doing has stopped me from heading into full-blown hypothyroidism, despite the high antibodies.
Which brings me to going grain free. Lots of my research has led me to paleo diets being successful in the management of autoimmune conditions. In fact, I trialled the Autoimmune Paleo diet for a few weeks last year, but it was way too restrictive for me, and I just wasn't comfortable eating that much meat. I love vegan food too, so I was really missing my nuts, seeds and pulses. So now I'm reaching a point between my already quite restricted diet (to most people) and an extremely restricted diet where I'm eating chicken for breakfast.
As I am already gluten free, I don't eat wheat, rye or barley. I also gave up oats when I discovered I was intolerant to them. So now, it's about eliminating the other grains - rice (as in actual rice, but also rice noodles, rice cakes etc), quinoa, corn and most of the gluten free ingredients that they add to gluten free flours. As well taking my dairy intolerance seriously, and having a good break from alcohol and sugar!
So what I am eating, I hear you cry! Plenty of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses, meat, chicken, fish, coconut and, erm, that's about it! I got a spiralizer for Christmas which has been my saviour as I have been making noodles out of every vegetable I can get my hands on! Tonight I am trying butternut squash.
Anyway, back to the grain free granola. Everyone who knows me knows that I love my Nutribullet smoothies for breakfast, but I need to eat something else more substantial in the morning now because my diet is that much more restricted. This recipe is so simple and what you get is a super tasty, really filling breakfast packed full of protein and good fats.
Place the nuts in a food processor and chop until you have a mix of chunky and fine nuts.
Add the chopped nuts to a large bowl with the pumpkin and sunflower seeds, desiccated coconut, and cinnamon.
In a large saucepan, melt the coconut oil on a medium-high heat. Toast the nuts and seeds in the oil for around 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until starting to brown.
Turn the heat down. Add the vanilla, maple syrup and cacao nibs. Stir well for 2-3 minutes.
Turn the heat off and flatten the granola down and leave to cool in the pan.
When cooled, break up the granola into chunks, stir in the chia seeds and cranberries and store in an airtight jar.
Delicious served with coconut yoghurt or coconut milk and fresh pomegranate seeds at breakfast time or any time of the day!
Thank you for reading my story about my autoimmune thyroid disease/Hashimoto's. If you want to find out more about this condition, autoimmunity, or paleo diets I would highly recommend the following sites: