One of the questions I am asked most often by new clients is, “Does it matter what I eat?” You may be one of the many women overwhelmed by all the options out there when it comes to diet and nutrition advice.
On a basic level, my answer is simple: Eat real, whole, nutrient-dense foods. This means to choose foods with only one ingredient on the label and to eat them as close to the way they are found in nature (within reason).
It is well-proven today that excessive gluten, soy, dairy, and sugar can exacerbate underlying inflammation, but other than that, there is hardly a one-size-fits-all approach. Many women (myself included) have found relief using an elimination diet to gauge their body’s reactions to specific foods.
Autoimmune Paleo Diet
Just as the name implies, the autoimmune paleo approach is specifically designed for individuals with autoimmune disease. It is stricter than the general paleo diet because it also eliminates grains, legumes, dairy, eggs, nightshades, nuts, and seeds (as well as processed foods) – foods that have been found to trigger inflammation.
To further promote healing, this approach adds in nutrient-dense foods, such as bone broth, high-quality meats, wild-caught fish, organ meats, fermented foods, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
In my experience, if you are looking for some step-by-step guidance and some accountability while tracking your progress, there are excellent resources. Two of my favorite autoimmune elimination diets are The Myers Way Comprehensive Elimination Diet and the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) Diet.
Food Allergies and Sensitivities
An elimination diet is arguably the most conclusive way to get to the root of your dietary triggers, but if you prefer to enlist the help of a natural or functional medicine doctor, they may be able to order blood tests.
There are also some convenient (although slightly expensive) home test kits such as the Pinnertest or Everly Well tests, for which you use a small blood sample to measure your IgG response to different foods. Be warned, however, that these results are not always 100% accurate.
Another factor that contributes to inflammation is intestinal permeability. Your gut membrane is designed to help your body absorb vital nutrients. The problem is that the wrong foods (along with infections, medications, age, chronic stress, environmental toxins, and bacterial imbalances), can cause these highly-sensitized cells to release a protein that begins to break down the lining of your gut.
Suddenly, it’s not just the “good stuff” (like vitamins and minerals) that are passing through to your bloodstream, but the “bad stuff,” too (like toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles).
To make matters worse, your immune system latches onto these foreign molecules and marks them as pathogens (similar to disease-causing microorganisms such as bacteria or viruses). Now your immune system is stuck in overdrive trying to fight off the never-ending onslaught of foreign invaders that keep escaping through your intestines!
This immune reaction leads to inflammation throughout your system and causes symptoms such as:
- Food sensitivities
- Thyroid conditions
- Joint pain
- Skin issues like rosacea and acne
- Digestive problems
- Weight gain
According to the leaky gut theory, partially digested food particles (like protein and fat) can seep through your intestinal lining, make their way into your bloodstream, and cause the allergic response present with food sensitivities.
Over time, it can lead to more severe health conditions and autoimmune diseases such as ulcerative colitis, arthritis, eczema, depression, migraines, and more. It has also been shown to cause malabsorption of vital minerals and nutrients, such as zinc, iron, and vitamin B12.
Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
Your digestive system requires a finely tuned balance of living microorganisms, such as bacteria and yeast. In the case of small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), beneficial bacteria usually found in the large intestine migrate up into the small intestine, where they cause problems such as chronic diarrhea and malabsorption.
Restoring this balance under the direction of a professional health care provider is essential, which is why I recommend working closely with him or her to develop an effective treatment protocol that focuses on healing the gut through whole foods and supplementation when necessary.
If it’s helpful to make a list of supplements to discuss with your healthcare provided, some of my favorites for gut healing are the following:
- Probiotics – to replenish healthy gastrointestinal microflora.
- Digestive enzymes – to help break down and flush out protein-based pathogens.
- Collagen protein – to help regulate stomach acid secretion, to aid digestion by holding water in the intestine, to heal the intestinal wall, and to prevent inflammation with glutamine (a key amino acid).