Q&A with best-selling Paleo cookbook author Danielle Walker.
January is the month to take stock of where you are and start afresh. Part of that is evaluating how your body feels. For Danielle Walker, mother of two, blogger at AgainstAllGrain.com and author of “Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain Celebrations: A Year of Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes for Every Occasion,” this self-assessment occurred over several years.
At age 22, Walker was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease ulcerative colitis and experienced years of discomfort, including multiple hospitalizations. Finally, she resolved to try an elimination diet to pinpoint whether any foods were causing or worsening her digestive problems. Specifically, she nixed grains, lactose and legumes, and soon she realized that these adjustments contributed to her recovery. Since then, the self-taught chef has followed a strict grain-, gluten- and legume-free diet, with only small amounts of dairy.
Still, Walker advises that everyone is different. In other words, take her specific plan with a grain of salt (pun intended) and experiment to discover what works best for you. In the meantime, explore her Paleo, gluten-free and refined sugar-free recipes, and read on for my Q&A with this star cookbook author.
What three tips would you give to people having serious digestive issues?
Seek the care of a functional medicine doctor or a naturopath to help you pinpoint trigger foods, and get on a supplement regime to reduce inflammation and support gut health. Keep a food journal. It’s so helpful to see which foods correlate to your symptoms. Try a strict Paleo diet for at least 30 days to see if your symptoms improve.
Do you recommend people get food allergy testing? Did you?
Yes, I think it is helpful when you are first trying to eliminate problem foods.
What are the top three advantages of the Paleo diet?
A paleo diet naturally cuts out processed and refined foods, which is just a healthier way to live in general. It forces you to cook whole, natural foods and reduces inflammation.
What’s the biggest challenge of going Paleo/gluten-free?
The biggest challenge for me was sticking to it at first. I missed my favorite foods and got stuck in a chicken and steamed vegetable rut. Then I started creating recipes and asking those around me for support, and I was able to really enjoy my new restrictions.
What are your three top tips for going Paleo/gluten-free?
Find support around you, whether it’s a Facebook group, friends or your family. Find recipes for your favorite foods that fit your new restrictions. Don’t cheat!
What are your top five Paleo/gluten-free substitutions?
Almond milk for dairy milk, zucchini noodles for pasta, cauliflower rice for white rice, coconut aminos for soy sauce and ghee for butter.
Which five ingredients do you turn to the most?
Bone broth, almond milk, grass-fed meats, almond flour and chocolate.
How would you describe your current diet? And which foods do you never eat?
A modified Paleo-style diet. I never eat legumes, refined sugars or anything containing grains or gluten.
Do you have any symptoms now, or are you generally healthy and comfortable?
If I am not very careful about my diet and stress levels, I will see symptoms return. Thankfully, though, they’re nowhere near as serious as they were prior to changing my diet.
What do you eat on a standard day?
For breakfast, I usually have a smoothie or a couple of pasture-raised eggs pan-fried in ghee and a banana, plus a cup of decaf coffee with cashew or almond milk.
For lunch, I usually eat a fun salad. The Barbecue Chicken Salad recipe from my “Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple: Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes to Make Anytime” cookbook is my current crush. The dairy-free ranch dressing on that salad is my absolute favorite! I also really love my Thai Salad With Shrimp and Spicy Almond Dressing.
For dinner, we usually have grass-fed burgers or beef tacos. On a good night, though, I would choose to go with seafood, like a piece of wild salmon with sauteed vegetables and maybe some sweet potatoes roasted in ghee and garlic, or just a simple comforting soup. The Leftover Roast Chicken and Vegetable Soup from my blog is a current staple with the cold, rainy weather we’ve been having.
How do you handle cooking for your family? Does the whole household eat the same way? Do you create two versions of dishes? Do any members of your family have digestive issues?
My household is 100 percent gluten-free and about 90 percent grain-free, as my boys eat some white rice. I do my best to cook all one meal except for heating up my grain-free Chicken Nuggets occasionally for my oldest son if he really doesn’t like what’s on the table. We have a rule that he has to at least try dinner, and if he really doesn’t like it, then I’ll try and scrounge up something he does like.
What are your favorite recipes from your newest book “Celebrations”?
My Christmas Fudge is hands down one of my favorite recipes. It took many times to perfect, but it is so creamy and rich.
What was the most challenging-to-create recipe in the book?
Either my Buttercream Frosting or Red Velvet Cake! Each of those took dozens of tries to perfect.
Other than your own, what are your favorite cookbooks?
I love getting lost in any of Yotam Ottolenghi’s books. They’re so beautiful and force me to think outside the box when it comes to vegetables.
Do you exercise? If so, what are your favorite methods?
I stick to low-impact exercises, like walking, yoga and bar-type classes.
What’s next? Are you working on another book?
I’ll begin working on my next book in the new year, and am focusing on more video content.
What three main messages do you want people to take away from your story?
Don’t be afraid to question the care you are receiving and to look into alternatives. Don’t settle for a life of illness, and don’t give up.
Photo credit: thinkstock, iStock, Anchiy.