Hi there! A couple of weeks ago my mom and I decided to do a cleanse. I had traveled quite a lot and eaten out and with the change of seasons we both felt like shaking things up a little bit. So we decided on the five day fast-mimicking, vegan and lectin-light plan outlined in The Longevity Paradox, by Dr. Steven Gundry. We wanted to share our experience in case you are thinking to do the same and have any doubts or questions before you start. As a side note, if you are looking for a low histamine cleanse, this one, although not low histamine by all standards, it is relatively low histamine.
I will start by saying that this is possibly one of the most restrictive cleanses I did, and certainly something complelety new for my mom. While I was already following a grain-free, sugar-free, lectin-light and even dairy-free diet for a few years, my mom never eliminated any of those completely from her diet. And on top of that, it was calorie restricted. This cleanse can be done even without the calorie restriction part and it will still benefit you, but if you want the benefits of fasting along with the benefits of cleaning your diet, you have to keep calories under 900 per day. For easy reference, here are the general rules of this five day cleanse:
- It’s calorie restricted – you only eat 900 or less calories a day to mimick the benefits of a whole month of full-time calorie restriction (according to Dr. Steven Gundry). Fyi, Dr. Valter Longo, the one who discovered the benefits of the calorie restriction fast, has a 600 calorie limit in his plan. You can do either, or somewhere in the middle.
- It’s vegan – no animal protein (inclusive eggs) and dairy are allowed.
- It’s lectin-light – no plants with high content of harmful lectins are allowed. Beans and legumes will be soaked and pressure cooked to eliminate most lectins and will be kept under 8oz (1 cup) a day.
- You eat only whole foods – it’s free of heavily processed foods (obviously, cooking is a form of processing, but here we refer to store bought, multiple ingredients products).
- It’s free of sugar, including fruits – maybe a small abount of wild berries can be included, that’s probably something you will have to decide. The original five-day fast mimicking plan of Dr. Valter Longo has some nut bars that include a small amount of honey, so in my interpretation this plan can include a tiny amount of sugar from fruits or honey if that fits your needs. Dr. Gundry will probably advise against.
- Make it nutritious – I applied the nutritarian approach when I built our menu. It’s a term coined by dr. Joel Fuhrman to describe a diet that maximizes micro-nutrients and minimizes macro-nutrients. That means a diverse diet rich in nutrient-dense whole foods and not rich in calories. And remember that the point of calorie restriction is not to starve yourself of nutrients, on the contrary.
NOTE: This cleanse can be also considered low histamine. By some lists, beans are not low histamine, but I never had problems with beans in the past and they are included in one of the most reliable anti-histamine programs online, HealingHistamine.com. Additionally, many of the foods I use in this cleanse have anti-histamine properties. Only one meal of all ten include a small amount of avocado and the snack has some cocoa, but you can easily remove / replace both.
About cooking methods
In order to keep it nutritious, think of sourcing, as much as possible, local and organic, in season and include both raw and cooked vegetables. It’s not that you have to make it perfect, but do the best you can, with what’s available to you. I would not go out of my way to source ingredients that grow at tropics, while I’m in Romania and it’s autumn. Maybe because I wanted this experience to inspire my mom, I wanted it to be as simple as possible, and use ingredients that are easy to find in Romanian stores. I wanted to look familiar and accessible wherever in the world you are. And as long as you stick to the rules above, you can use any ingredients available to you.
In the case of beans and legumes, if you include them, remember they have to be soaked and pressure cooked to minimize the content of harmful lectins. In my cleanse I use chickpeans and lentils. While I don’t soak lentils because they’ll go mushy, I wash them well, pressure cook for 15 minutes and discard the water. As for chickpeas, I soak them overnight, changing water about three times and pressure cook for 20 minutes. I do not add salt in the water when cooking, as I heard it interferes with the cooking process. Black beans are also excellent to use during this cleanse; I do the same as with chickpeas but the pressure cooking time is 25 minutes. You find a guideline on how to pressure cook beans / legumes in The Plant Paradox Family Cookbook by Dr. Steven Gundry.
To make this meal plan really easy, prepare the beans in advance and freeze them. When you stew the beans, you can use them directly from the freezer if they are packed in individual portions. If you want to make something like hummus, take them out in advance, or you can even warm them in the oven before blending.
Stewing the beans is really easy. Start with a little extra virgin olive oil or whatever approved oil you like (avocado can be used too) measuring the oil, depending on how many servings you make. I cooked for two so I used 1 tablespoon for two servings, that means 119 calories for two. When I make stewed beans outside a calorie restricted plan, I add enough oil to generously cover the pan. Sauté the onion until fragrant and translucent, add some garlic and the beans and eventually a little water so they don’t stick or dry out. I usually add beans straight from the freezer, so I cook until beans are all thawed and soft. If you use other greens, like kale (see Day 4, Meal 1) add them just for a few minutes at the end.
Spices and salt
During the cleanse I wanted to keep it simple so I mainly used Herbs de Provence as a spice mix, plus salt and pepper. Use fresh cilantro and / or parsley and even dill to your heart desire, they are super tasty and nutritious and don’t add much calories. Also, feel free to add fresh rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil to your dishes. Pesto is problematic because it requires a lot of oil and will have a lot of calories. Outside a cleanse like this one, I love using pestos.
Speaking of salt and pepper; add to your taste. I had to add a little less salt than usual when cooking because my mom doesn’t eat as salty as I do, so I’d rather have to add more than to make it too salty. Salt is important in a cleanse especially when you eliminate all processed foods that usually contain a lot of added salt. I used iodized Himalayan pink salt (with no fillers or anti-caking agents) which I know is pretty hard to find in the US. If I were in the US I’d use Redmond Real sea salt, which is naturally rich in minerals and iodine.
For me, this was the most annoying part of this five day cleanse. I never count calories and in general I’m not advising anyone to do so, however there is no way around it when you have to follow a calories restricted diet plan. One thing I noticed is that we tend to underestimate the number of calories we are eating, so in order to keep it under 900 a day I had to be very strict with my portions and especially with the use of oils.
In my every day life I follow the plant paradox principles of eating and for the past three years or so my weight has been stable despite me eating way above the number of calories suggested in the mainstream channels. That’s mainly due to eating a lot of extra virgin olive oil – Dr. Gundry advises 12 tablespoons a day, which means over 1200 calories only from oil. I don’t eat that much, but still quite a lot. So, all this to say, if you do follow the plant paradox eating principles, you will have to be careful with the use of oils as they thend to be the most caloric in this plan.
Another ingredient that is allowed but must be restricted, is beans / legumes. The amount you can have daily is 8oz (1 cup) so if you have two meals a day, you can have half a cup per meal. I included chickpeas and lentils for almost every meal. I didn’t want this to be a tough experience for my mom who was eliminating so many food groups from her diet at once and for the first time. Plus, as I said, I wanted our food to include maximum of nutrients, and beans do provide that. And I personally do very well with beans. Some of you may wonder how that Dr. Gundry allows beans and legumes? Well, this is one of the misconceptions about the plant paradox, that we can’t have beans and legumes. After finishing phases 1 and 2 of the plant paradox (about 6 weeks), Dr. Gundry advices getting to phase 3, where animal protein is reduced to a minimum or eliminated and where beans / legumes are allowed if soaked and pressure cooked. Especially in The Longevity Paradox, Dr. Gundry makes the case for eliminating animal protein and including properly cooked beans / legumes or, as an alternative, doing a five day calorie restricted diet plan every month, with the same benefits. Please go back to The Plant Paradox and The Longevity Paradox books for more details and if you want to go even deeper into the topic, check Dr. Valter Longo’s work.
The Meal Plan
I am not a meal planner at all, so I go with what I find available and build meals around that. But there are few tricks I use in the kitchen to make my life easier and one of them is that I cook beans in advance. I soak them over night and change water several times, pressure cook them and then freeze in individual portions for later use. My favorite way to freeze them is in Stasher bags, because they break down easily while frozen if I just want half a bag and they don’t get stuck in a block that will get longer to thaw. If you don’t mind them being frozen in a block, Souper Cubes are great for freezing anything, not only beans.
And because beans – lentils and chickpeas – are part of almost every meal in this cleanse, I’ll start with a small paragraph on how I prepare them for meals. You don’t have to do the same, but you get an idea and follow my method if you want.
Chickpeas – I soak them overnight, change water several times, pressure cook them for 20 minutes (pressure release naturally), drain them. I freeze them in individual portions (1/2 cup or 1 cup, depending on how many people I cook for) and take them out just before I want to prepare the meal. If I make hummus and they are frozen, and I have no time to wait for them to thaw, I warm them in the oven and then blend them with tahini, garlic, olive oil, cold water and a little lemon, salt and pepper and cumin if using. Sometimes I sautee them with onion and garlic and add some herbs like fresh parsley. Sometimes I mix them with other veggies and roast them all together. Since they are already cooked, you only need to thaw / warm them up. But if you decide to roast them for a longer time, they’ll become crunchy and they are delicious.
Lentils – I don’t soak lentils because they lose their shape completely and become a soup when cooked. Which is fine if you make a lentil creamy soup. I usually buy the green, small ones, also called French green lentils, they are the sturdiest when it comes to holding the shape. I pressure cook them for 15 minutes and drain. I’m still not sure if the water from cooking beans is full of nutrients or full of lectins, so until I know for sure I’ll discard the water (a question for Dr. Gundry!). I like to stew lentils. It’s a term I use from lack of a better one but it means this: I sautee onion until translucent and fragrant, add smashed and chopped garlic, add the cooked lentils (usually frozen) and cook on slow heat until all creamy. I might add a little bit of water in the process otherwise it might stick to the pan. You can mix other veggies in, like I did here with kale and finish with fresh aromatic herbs like parsley or cilantro. Also, you can add the spices of choice.
Black beans – I didn’t use any black beans in this cleanse but you might want to. I soak them overnight, changing water several times and pressure cook them for 25 minutes. They might get a little overcooked but I’d rather be safe than sorry. I discard the water and prepare them the same way as lentils.
During this cleanse, beans and oils are the highest in calories, so that’s where you have to pay attention when counting calories, especially that when preparing the beans you always need some sort of oil. That’s one of the resons you are only allowed 1 cup of beans per day (although I’m sure Dr. Gundry had something else in mind too, like amount of proteins and carbs). Here are the calories in beans and oils (they are rough estimates though, keep that in mind) and a few other ‘fatty’ items:
- 1 cup of boiled lentils – 230 calories
- 1 cup of boiled chickpeas – 267 calories
- 1 cup of boiled black beans – 227 calories
- 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil – 119 calories
- 1 tablespoon of avocado oil – 124 calories
- 1 tablespoon hemp seed oil – 126 calories
- 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed butter) – 89 calories
- 2 tablespoons hemp seeds – 111 calories
- 1 brazil nut (1 kernel) – 33 calories
- 10 olives – 59 calories
- 1 cup coconut milk – 552 calories
As per the vegetables and greens, they are pretty low in calories. The only other vegetables I would pay attention to regarding calories are the starchy ones, like the sweet potato. The sweet potato has to be cooked, cooled and reheated for a better nutritional profile (more resistant starch and a slower absorption of sugar). I like to cook my sweet potato in the oven, in skin, no oil or water. Just in a tray, at 350F, until they are soft to touch. Time will depend on the size of your potatoes. Then I let them cool, eventually overnight or for a few hours in the fridge and when I’m ready to eat I reheat them. In normal days I douse them in extra virgin olive oil, but I’m careful during the cleanse, considering one tablespoon of olive oil has 119 calories. For the rest of the veggies, I eat them raw, steamed, roasted or boiled / blanched. I make sure I eat vegetables in different forms, both raw, minimally cooked (blanched) or roasted, to maximize the amount and types of nutrients. I love raw cauliflower, but I like to cook broccoli and other leafy greens. I love raw cabbage salad but I also love roasting it and I love boiled Brussels sprouts (al dente).
- 1 head large cauliflower (840g) – 209 calories
- 1 bunch broccoli (608g) – 205 calories
- 1 medium onion – 44 calories
- 1 cup chopped cabbage – 22 calories
- 1 bulb fennel – 73 calories
- 1 raw carrot – 30 calories
- 100g raw beets – 43 calories
- 200g asparagus – 40 calories
- 100g sweet potato – 86 calories
There are different ways to split the allowed food / calories throughout the day, but we chose two meals a day: lunch and early dinner. The reason for that is because for both my mom and I this is our usual eating schedule; and this also provides the benefits of intermittent fasting. Our first meal was around lunch (12pm) and dinner was not later than 6pm with maybe a few snacks in between and coffee in the morning.
Ingredients for day one: extra virgin olive oil, hemp seed oil, red onion, leeks, cauliflower, asparagus, fennel, garlic, ginger, hemp seeds / sweet potato, lentils, broccoli, arugula / salad, olives, herbs de Provence.
Meal 1: Veggie hash with leeks, cauliflower and asparagus (246 calories)
Start by sautéing leeks, onions and ginger, until fragrant and translucent. Remember, the amount of oil used should be minimum, 1 tablespoon for 2 servings should be enough. Add the garlic, riced or chopped cauliflower and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the asparagus and cook for a couple more minutes. Add salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence in the process and taste. If you feel like, you can add some sliced mushrooms to this meal. Serve with hemp seeds and a drizzle of olive oil or hemp seeds oil. Refer to the lists above for amount of calories, but don’t worry too much about counting the calories in the non starchy vegetables. Keep the oil to a minimum and measure the hemp seeds.
Meal 2: Buddha bowl with lentils, sweet potato and broccoli (317 calories)
To prepare the lentils, measure 1/2 cup of pressure cooked lentils per serving. Sauté red onion until translucent and fragrant, add the lentils, add fresh garlic, herbs to your taste, and cook until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add some water so they don’t dry out. finish with fresh parsley or cilantro. Boil or steam the broccoli, keep it al dente if you can. To prepare the sweet potato, slice baked and cooled sweet potato and warm it in a pan in a little bit of olive oil, with herbs de Provence, on both sides. Serve with a green salad / arugula and a few olives.
Ingredients for day 2: evoo, hemp oil, kohlrabi, avocado, carrot, asparagus, olives, figs, arugula, chickpeas, tahini, nigella sativa seeds / red cabbage, leeks, fennel, ginger, cloves, green salad (mache), sweet potato
Meal 1: Raw veggie platter with hummus (456 calories)
To make the hummus, mix in a blender: 1/2 cup chickpeas per serving, 1/2 teaspoon tahini per serving, 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil per serving, lemon juice, salt. Optionally you can add cumin and garlic. Sprinkle with some toasted nigella sativa seeds. Steam the asparagus al dente. slice raw kohlrabi, raw carrot, you can use raw radishes if available. Serve with a green salad, olives, 1/4 small avocado and optionally one fresh fig (reminder: figs are flowers, not fruits).
Meal 2: Roasted red cabbage with sweet potato and green salad (350 calories)
To make the cabbage, combine in an oven dish: chopped cabbage, leeks, fennel, garlic, ginger, bay leaves, 2 cloves, salt and pepper. Bake at 375F for about 30 minutes. You can add 1/4 cup of cooked chickpeas per person to this dish for some protein. Alternatively, you can serve with sprinkled hemps seeds. Serve with a green salad and half baked sweet potato (a medium one), cooled and reheated.
Ingredients for day three: evoo, hemp oil, lentils, red onion, garlic, beetroot, horseradish, Brussel sprouts / cauliflower, coconut milk, chickpeas, asparagus, arugula, mache, olives.
Meal 1: Stewed lentils with Brussels sprouts and beetroot salad (350 calories)
To make the lentils, start by sautéing onion until fragrant and translucent, in a tiny bit of olive oil, add the pressure cooked lentils, garlic, salt and pepper, herbs. Cook for about 10 minutes, adding a tiny bit of water in the process. You can finish with fresh cilantro or parsley. Boil the Brussels sprouts for about 6 minutes (cut the big ones if they are not equal size). Grate the horseradish and beets and mix them with a little bit of olive oil and apple cider vinegar, salt. Careful with the horseradish, it can be very powerful. If you don’t have fresh, you can use prepared horseradish, many brands you find in stores are clean.
Meal 2: Cauliflower mash with chickpeas, asparagus and green salad (470)
Boil or steam the cauliflower and blend it with 1/8 cup coconut milk, salt and pepper. Sauté the chickpeas with red onion, garlic and herbs de Provence, or other fresh herbs, using 1 tablespoon of olive oil for 2 servings. Steam the asparagus. Serve with a green salad, olives and a drizzle of evoo and apple cider vinegar.
Ingredients for day four: evoo, hemp oil, lentils, red onion, garlic, kale, cauliflower, asparagus, olives, arugula / sweet potato, hummus, cabbage, carrots
Meal 1: Buddha bowl with stewed lentils and kale, asparagus, cauliflower and green salad (350 calories)
Prepare the lentils like in day 1 or 3, but add some kale or other leafy greens to the mix. Serve with steamed asparagus, raw cauliflower (cook if you can’t have raw), a green salad, some fresh herbs and a drizzle of hemp or olive oil.
Meal 2: Hummus and sweet potato platter with cabbage salad (420 calories)
Warm the precooked sweet potato (1/2 small potato per serving). Shred the cabbage, massage with salt, add a tiny bit of oil and apple cider vinegar and pepper. Make hummus like in day 2 and serve with raw carrots and cauliflower, and a green salad. You can remove the sweet potato and add more hummus if you like, but no more than 1/2 cup of hummus.
Ingredients for day five: evoo, hemp oil, cabbage, ginger, red onion, garlic, bayleaves, cloves, nutmeg, herbs de Provence, sweet potato / lentils, broccoli, cauliflower, arugula
Meal 1: Roasted cabbage with scalloped sweet potato (350 calories)
Prepare the cabbage like in day 2, but I used white cabbage this time. You can use any type, including napa or savoy cabbage variety. Slice a sweet potato and sauté the slices in evoo with salt and herbs de Provence (not more than 1/2 sweet medium potato per serving. Serve with a few olives and sprinkle with hemp seeds.
Meal 2: Buddha bowl with lentils, broccoli and crunchy cauliflower (300 calories)
For the last meal of the cleanse I didn’t feel like cooking much, so just used plain pressure cooked lentils, raw cauliflower, steamed broccoli, a few olives on a bed of arugula. Drizzled with olive oil / hemp seeds oil, sprinkled with salt.
Snack: mini brownie
Day 4 was the day I felt like baking something, for a change in routine, texture and flavors. I made these mini brownies, 50 calories each. For the dry ingredients, I used: 31g of flaxmeal, 21g of hemp seeds, 10g of cacao powder, 20g of plantain flour, 10g of psyllium husk, 60g of tigernut flour, 30g of chopped walnuts, pinch of salt. Mixed them all in bowl. In a blender I mixed: 60g sweet potato, 20ml coconut milk, 20ml water (add more if necessary). Mix the dry and wet ingredients until you get a nice, sticky ball of dough. Roll in between two parchment papers about 1/4 inch thickness or a little less and cut in equal parts. Bake at 140C (285F) for about 25 minutes. You will get about 16 pieces. Each piece will be about 50 calories. They are not sweet at all, but if you want some sweetness feel free to add some inulin powder (it is an ingredient in the original five day fast by dr. Valter Longo, so I suppose is approved).
Most days we had two Brazil nuts, for their content of selenium. They have 33 calories each. Sometimes, when we had some more room to play with, we had a few fresh walnuts (we have walnuts trees all around here). I did have a few pistachios one day and a couple of freshly boiled chestnuts.
Drinks and supplements
We had lots and lots of mineral water, as you can imagine, as you will need to stay hidrated all this time. My mom doesn’t drink tea, but I had a ginger and lemon balm tea every night (I still have). And surprise: we didn’t give up coffee. It was the one thing we wanted to keep to not feel the deprivation too much. My mom had black coffee and I had two cups every day with a little bit of coconut milk. Feel free to replace coffee with tea or remove all caffeine all together, your choice.
My situation with supplements was quite particular, as I am taking a break these days from most supplements; not because I want to, but because I have a hard time finding the formulas I need here in Romania / Europe. I think Dr. Gundry recommends taking the supplements as usual, and Dr. Valter Longo’s five day fast program also provides supplements. Speak to your doctor if you have questions or doubts.
The biggest change for me was the calorie counting, which I didn’t like at all. This is in general food I eat every day, so I loved everything taste wise, even if sometimes it felt a little boring. I didn’t weight myself before so I’m not sure how much weight I lost, but I estimate about 1.5kg. That was not at all my goal anyway. However, my mom lost 3.6kg in five days, which is quite a lot. The most she ever lost in one week when she followed a plan made by a nutritionist was 1.8kg. My mom’s main motivation for doing this cleanse was weight loss, so that’s a good incentive for her to continue to keep some things out of her diet, like bread and sweets. If she had doubts about the plant paradox lifestyle, now she is convinced it works and she knows what to do if she wants to continue to lose weight. She was astonished (and me too!) that she didn’t feel hungry at all and she had no cravings or sugar withdrawals. She had energy, worked full time and except for a day when she had a headache she was feeling pretty good). She told me she was surprised she didn’t have any stomach pain, as that tends to be one of her problems. Also, both our digestions were on point. When I asked her what does she think it was that she did so well, she said, jokingly, that she has a strong mind, which I agree with. When she makes up her mind about something, there is nothing standing in her way.
And back to my experience, I doubt I’ll want to count calories again, I don’t feel it fits my style at all. I’ll find a way to do calorie restriction in the future, like maybe just having one meal a day, where I eat intuitively. Plus, I feel that after this experience, I have an idea about portions and calories without having to count again. Before, I ignored how many calories can be in a cup of hummus now I know that if I want to restrict calories, I need to keep it at 1/2 cup.
Obviously, I can’t really measure what happened in our mitochondria during the cleanse, but I hope they got a nice boost and now they are fresh, younger, happier and stronger. One thing I noticed straight away though, was how clean my tongue was in the morning, and I think that’s a good sign. If you do the cleanse, let us know about your experience in comments. It’s fascinating how different we all are and how we respond so differently to the same thing.
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