To all the doctors and dietitians out there… the Paleo diet doesn’t have to be the enemy, it can be a cure! After finding her own success with a carefully crafted Paleo protocol, Dr. Terry Wahls is here to prove to us that a nutrient-rich, vegetable-heavy Paleo diet can be the perfect tool to help you manage your autoimmune disease. With a keen eye towards tackling the cause of the disease rather than the symptoms, the Wahls Paleo Protocol Diet is an innovative and inspiring twist on classic paleolithic dieting. Here are her words of wisdom!
The key to creating a healing paleo driven diet is to have the base of your food pyramid be 9 – yes 9! – cups of nutrient rich vegetables. Instead of thinking about paleo being a meat driven diet, it’s time to think about it as a vegetable driven diet with high quality meats layered on top of the vegetables. Together, vegetables, fruits, meats and fish provide essential healing nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids, coenzyme Q10, B vitamins, antioxidants, sulfur and iodine. This is my formula for the Wahls Paleo Protocol Diet, a diet that is focused on healing a variety of autoimmune diseases– at the root cause.
Traditional nutritionists often insist that Paleo-inspired dietary plans are dangerous to a person’s health. Why? Because they eliminate whole grains and legumes, two food groups that are shown to be healthy components of a wholesome diet. Various studies show, however, that the Wahls Paleo Diet, which puts a heavy focus on foods with optimal vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for brain and mitochondrial health, can positively impact blood lipids, blood pressure, and other biologic markers that scientists and physicians associate with risk of disease. I, Dr. Terry Wahls, am living proof that my version of the Paleo diet can influence and even reverse disease. Others who have implemented the protocol have seen their pain diminish, mood improve, excess weight melt away without hunger, and both blood sugar and blood pressure normalize. They are able to reduce and then stop medication after medication, including immune-suppressing drugs.
I had been a vegetarian for almost a decade at this point; but even despite my healthy, plant-based diet, my symptoms continued to get worse. Eating vegetarian was not the key to my healing. After doing intensive research, I decided to transition from a long-held vegetarian diet to a Paleolithic-style diet in an effort to mediate the symptoms of my MS and slow my gradual decline. I had been a vegetarian since I was in high school, so transitioning to eating meat took was a physical and emotional challenge. But I focused on what would help me to heal. Eventually, I eliminated all grains, legumes, and dairy products from my diet. But even despite these dietary changes, my health continued to decline.
Then, I learned about the mitochondria. These tiny little intracellular organelles are the engines for our cells. Our mitochondria are responsible for converting the energy in the food we eat to a form that our cells can use to conduct the biology of life. Problems in the mitochondria have a ripple effect—they cause problems in the cells, which cause problems in the organs, which cause problems in the whole body, leading to illness and dysfunction. Chronic disease begins in the mitochondria, and that is where the Wahls Protocol seeks to arrest it. I sought to create a diet with the chief purpose being to optimize the health of the mitochondria.
It was then that I decided to modify and refine my basic Paleo approach to health. To achieve this, I began by further eliminating foods that were causing problems for me (grains, legumes, dairy, and eggs) and adding greater amounts of nutrient-rich foods like sulfur-rich vegetables and high quality animal proteins in order to get the intensive dosage of micronutrients I knew my brain (and specifically, my mitochondria) required, such as omega 3 fatty acids, coenzyme Q10, B vitamins, antioxidants, sulfur and iodine.
In dealing with my MS, I eventually developed and cultivated the Wahls Paleo Diet, which focuses on vegetables and fruits: 9 cups every day, divided into 3 cups of leafy greens, 3 cups of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, and 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables, as well as a regimen of organ meats and sea vegetables. Although there are three specific levels to the diet in the Wahls Protocol, the key tenets are a major increase in plant foods in a particular ratio: leafy greens, sulfur rich vegetables, and brightly colored vegetables and fruits every day in specific amounts, as well as high-quality, clean sources of animal protein. The protocol excludes dairy, gluten, and soy. The Wahls protocol is a combination of a Paleolithic-style diet and a diet customized to deliver the nutrients functional medicine recommends, along with some other specific additions and prohibitions based on my own research and experience. I teach people how to eat to maximize the vitamin, minerals, and essential fat intake per calorie (i.e., maximizing nutrient density), because when you have an autoimmune disease, every bite of food you take can be medicine for you.
Here’s a more specific breakdown on the Wahls Paleo Diet:
On a Daily Basis:
- 3 cups of green, leafy vegetables
- 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables, such as those from the cabbage family, the onion family, mushrooms, and asparagus
- 3 cups of deeply colored vegetables or fruits, such as beets, carrots, and berries
- Omega-3 fatty acids from wild fish and grass-fed meat
On a Weekly basis:
- Organ meats, which are high in vitamins and minerals, including coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, an antioxidant that may have heart-health benefits
- Seaweed a good source of iodine
The Wahls protocol does not include gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye), dairy, or eggs. It does, however, allow nuts and seeds, and some oils.
With this diet integrated into my lifestyle, I was actually able to reverse my decline and regain functionality. The results speak for themselves. I am not only out of my wheelchair, but can walk comfortably without a cane, ride my bike five miles to work every day, and I feel better than I have in decades.
The Wahls Protocol proved to be restorative for me, but could it work for you? The Paleo diet, of which there are multiple versions, consists only of those foods that were available to humans during the Paleolithic era, such as lean meats and fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and certain types of oils and fats. Grains, dairy products, refined sugar, and other processed foods are not “permitted” on the diet. Since most Westernized diets lack an adequate amount of brain-boosting vitamins, nutrients, and healthful fats, the Paleo diet emphasizes the incorporation of foods heavy in these essential dietary components. In this way, it shows promise in treating and managing degenerative neurological diseases and autoimmune diseases like MS.
24 million people in the US have an autoimmune diagnosis, but another 50 million do not feel well and have autoantibodies but do not yet have enough antibodies to make a diagnosis. So, that means about 75 million have autoimmune problems. That’s extremely significant, and to me it is a sign that our lifestyles have led us down a very dangerous path. The Wahls Diet is absolutely helpful for those with various types of autoimmune problems. The diet helps reverse chronic cellular dysfunction, which can improve health no matter the disease state. My protocol in particular is carefully crafted and customized to address autoimmune diseases. However, I also believe it will be extremely helpful for those who are trying to lose weight (especially those struggling with obesity), as well as for those trying to control their blood sugar, their cholesterol, or who are worried about heart disease or stroke risk. It would also likely be helpful for those with mental health or neurological problems. This is because the Wahls Protocol does not treat symptoms. It treats causes.
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Looking to reverse your MS or autoimmune disease? Learn how Dr. Wahls reversed her MS symptoms by adopting a nutrient-rich paleo diet in her book The Wahls Protocol.