Since I wrote a couple of posts on autoimmunity and its link to gastrointestinal health, I’ve had a few readers contact me and ask what kinds of diets are good for healing the gut and reducing the development of autoimmune disease. I figured it might be helpful to do a post on the subject, since I’m sure there are more people out there wondering the same thing.
There are lots of different ways to go about healing the gut, though they all have some similar underlying principles. What works for one person may not work for another, and what someone thinks is easy to stick to may seem impossible for you. For that reason, I’d like to discuss a few diets out there that I have learned about and have heard lots of people having success with, as well as some principles for designing your own healing diet.
The GAPS diet
This was the first healing diet that I learned about. Developed by British physician Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, the GAPS diet stands for “gut and psychology syndrome.” She developed it after her son was diagnosed with autism. She believed there was a link between the health of the brain and the health of the gut, which time has proven to be true. She’s had great success in treating her son’s autism with GAPS, and has promoted her diet as a way to treat any number of mental/neurological disorders, from bipolar to schizophrenia, autism and ADHD. Lots of people who don’t have psychiatric or neurological disorders have also found healing on the GAPS diet. The diet has an intro phase that is fairly strict, then a few phases after that in which you gradually reintroduce foods into the diet. It’s centered around eliminating sugars and starches that could feed pathological bacteria in the gut. There are lots of soups, bone broths, meats with long cooking times, fermented foods, and nothing raw at all in the beginning phases. Some people seem to have no problem incorporating it into their lives and enjoy the food, for others, it seems impossible to accomplish. There’s no predetermined time on GAPS or the different stages, it’s all based on your symptoms and the severity of your disease. If you’d like to learn more, you can visit the website to learn more, or check out Dr. Campbell-McBride’s book. The book is incredibly informative on gut health in general, and even if you don’t choose to do the GAPS diet, it’s an excellent read.
Robb Wolf’s Autoimmunity Protocol
Robb Wolf is known for his adherence to a paleo diet and his concentration on physical fitness. He wrote a book “The Paleo Solution” that describes the paleo diet and its benefits for many diseases of our modern world. He has a thirty day protocol for trying out a paleo diet that is very user friendly. The diet focuses on eliminating foods that weren’t consumed by our hunter gatherer ancestors. He recommends avoiding dairy, gluten, grains, and legumes, as well as some additional foods for people with autoimmune disease. He encourages readers to try the diet for 30 days, without cheating, and see how they feel after a month of clean eating. Unlike the GAPS diet, the paleo diet is designed to be a new way of eating for life. Some people find it too restrictive, while others feel so much better on a paleo diet that they stick with it indefinitely. One of the main differences between paleo and primal is the role of dairy in the diet, as a lot of people believe dairy, especially fermented dairy such as yogurt and kefir, is well tolerated by many and an important part of the human diet. If you’d like to check out Robb Wolf’s paleo diet and his autoimmunity protocol, visit his website at RobbWolf.com
The Body Ecology Diet
Donna Gates is the developer of the Body Ecology Diet, which focuses on eliminating candida from the intestines and restoring the balance of health bacteria in the gut. When I went on a healing diet, this is the one I chose. I tried to follow it pretty strictly for at least 6 weeks, then made some changes as my body tolerated and followed it for an additional 4-5 months. The diet focuses on eliminating sugar of ALL kinds, including fruit, for at least the first period. I reintroduced some fruits after the initial 6 weeks. I have to say, I had some incredible healing on the diet. My gut flora rebalanced, I actually gained some weight (I’ve been chronically underweight), my energy returned, and I just felt incredibly nourished. My sweet tooth is still incredibly lessened from when I first started the diet, and I feel healthier than I have in a long time. It includes a lot of vegetables, some healthy fats, fermented foods and limited grains. You can buy the book “The Body Ecology Diet” or check out the website bodyecology.com.
Make Your Own!
If you read up on these diets and still don’t think any of them will work for you, don’t be afraid to try mixing it up a bit. It all depends on your current state of health, the time you have to devote to the extra cooking and food prep, and the likelihood of sticking with it. The best diet for you is ultimately the one that you’ll follow, it won’t do you any good to try for something that’s just impractical for your life. Some general concepts to remember are to limit sugar and starch intake to kill off pathogenic bacteria, incorporate fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut or kefir in order to restore beneficial bacteria, and avoid foods that lead to inflammation. For many people simply going on a grain free diet is tremendously helpful, for others, bone broth is incredibly healing. Don’t be afraid to experiment! This isn’t something you need to write up for a journal, if it works for you, that’s all that matters in the end. If you need ideas or information on traditional cooking methods, you can pick up a copy of “Nourishing Traditions Cookbook”, or check out the wonderful website NourishedKitchen.com
Remember, its never too late to start improving your health. Starting a new diet may seem daunting at first (I wasn’t sure I’d make it a month when I first started), but the potential for healing is tremendous. As Hippocrates said over 400 years ago “All diseases begin in the gut.” We are now starting to understand just how much truth there is in his wise words.