FAILSAFE and vegan – it can be done!

It might seem like I’ve been a really slack blogger lately, but I have a good excuse, honestly!

A few months back I started to have some ‘digestive issues’. (I’ll spare you the details.) They were recurrent, appeared suddenly, and meant that I’ve missed about 7 days of work in the last few months.

The GP, the gastroenterologist and I were all stumped. The ‘episodes’ didn’t seem to relate to anything I ate and all test results had come back negative. Finally I asked my GP if I should see a dietitian…

The GP agreed that it couldn’t hurt and gave me a referral to a fantastic dietitian. I was a bit worried I’d get The Look when I told her I was vegan but, to my great relief, she didn’t even bat an eyelid, she just got on with finding a solution to the problem and suggesting ways to work around that.

Anyway, after a bit of detective work, we THINK (actually, we’re pretty sure) that an old food intolerance to salicylates, that I’d almost forgotten about, has reared its ugly head after about 15 years. Probably due my sudden increase in fruit and veggies after my weight loss last year – not to mention a massive increase in tea drinking since I realised coffee made me feel jittery.

Now I am testing a FAILSAFE low/moderate-salicylate diet until April, to see whether this fixes the ‘issues’.

It’s fairly restrictive, especially when you add veganism to the mix. The foods I need to avoid right now are pretty much a list of all the foods I eat all the time. But we vegans don’t shy away from a dietary challenge (especially if they make us feel better!)

So for the next few weeks I’ll be blogging about being vegan on the FAILSAFE Diet. Perhaps I’m not the only one? Salicylate reactions aren’t that uncommon, and since vegans usually eat LOTS of fruits and veggies, it might be related to some people’s reports of not feeling well on a vegan diet.

Please note that I’m on a low-moderate salicylate diet, and I’m re-learning the FAILSAFE diet after many years, so if you are on FAILSAFE make sure you check the ingredients against what you’re able to tolerate.

So what CAN I eat?

I’m starting with Friday night’s dinner. It was my attempt to win the family over to this way of eating for a few weeks, and it went down pretty well.

This was the menu:

  • Potato and leek pie
  • Braised cabbage and carrots
  • Pear crumble

I didn’t make these recipes up. The first two are online but needed a little bit of tweaking to fit all my new dietary requirements. (see links below)

Potato and leek pie


Yeah…I don’t do pretty pies. 🙂

Proving my friend’s theory about the family always being happy with pastry, this was a winner.

Enough carbs for ya?

Enough carbs for ya?

It looks quite plain and bland, but salt and pepper are really the only low salicylate seasonings I could use, so I used freshly ground black pepper and Himalyan pink salt to make myself feel better about it.

Get the original recipe from Vegan Lunch.

Braised cabbage and carrots

It doesn't look pretty, but it's surprisingly delicious.

It doesn’t look pretty, but it’s surprisingly delicious.

This is a family favourite. I only had to substitute spring onions for the onions and water for the stock. I added extra salt and pepper to boost the flavour. It was still really good, and nobody missed the stock.

Get the braised cabbage recipe from FOOD.

Pear crumble

We don’t often have dessert, but since I had time, I made a pear crumble (pears are the only low-salicylate fruit) with margarine, oats and brown sugar. I served it with So Good Vanilla Bliss ice cream, which is one of the few FAILSAFE ice creams. This was a winner too – actually any dessert is a winner, except an adzuki bean pudding we had once!

I didn’t get a picture of the crumble, but you know what crumble looks like, don’t you?

The plan

The diet seems a bit less terrifying than it did 15 years ago. Maybe it’s because being vegan has taught me a lot about substituting ingredients, or maybe it’s that the family have grown up and are less fussy eaters…but probably it’s because we know it will (hopefully) only be this strict for a few weeks.

So what happens then? Hopefully the dietitian will be able to help me figure out where my (probably fairly high) salicylate threshold lies and I’ll be able to manage my diet so that I can still eat spinach and miso and tempeh and almonds and eggplant, and all my other (super-high-salicylate) favourite foods sometimes, but just not all the time. I can live with that.

And, best of all, I can be confident that I won’t be troubled by surprise ‘digestive symptoms’ again.

Want to know more about salicylates and food intolerance?

I originally tried the elimination diet back in the 90s because my 5 year old had funny symptoms like puffy eyes, stomach aches and sleepiness. We all followed the diet and to my surprise, I reacted more strongly than anyone else in the family. It didn’t cause me too many problems if I watched my diet a bit. Apparently, I probably have a fairly high threshold, and as I got lazier (and more forgetful) over the years, my levels built up causing the recent problems.

If you have symptoms that might be caused by food intolerance, it’s really worth checking out.

Watch this introduction by Sue Dengate.

10 thoughts on “FAILSAFE and vegan – it can be done!

  1. Sorry to hear about your digestive problems but nice that you seem so on top of it. I think this is the diet my friends follow – I even checked a recipe she gave me and it is from a Sue Dengate Failsafe cookbook (for gingerbread that was really good – it has an egg in it but if you are able to find egg replacers that work in the diet I am sure you could make it if you are that way inclined). Good luck with the diet and finding some balance

  2. I know quite a few people who are or have been FAILSAFE in the past and they felt looooads better. I read Sue’s books some years ago when my son’s eczema was terrible!

    • Wow! I only know one person who has even heard of it. Maybe because it wasn’t so big when my kids were younger. I know I feel a lot better already – but I was going through the withdrawal and was feeling rather fuzzy-headed when I wrote this post.

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