The best thing to keep in mind with these particular diets is that we are all different. What works like a miracle for one person could make the next person ill. Let’s go over the pros and cons of some of the popular diets out there.
The Paleo diet is one of the most commonly talked about diets these days. All in all, it is a great starting point for someone moving over from the standard American diet. The Paleo diet generallyconsists of grass-fed meats, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, free range eggs, nuts and seeds, and healthy oils. It omits all processed foods, dairy, grains, legumes, and even salt. It’s definitely one of the more balanced trendy diets I’ve seen, but the lack of carbs and salt could pose an issue to some with adrenal issues.
Keto diets seems to take paleo one step further, and they drastically reduce the amount of carbs you consume. A typical Keto diet consists of 75% fat, 20% protein and only about 5% carbs per day. There are many studies and anecdotes done on the keto diet and it can be very beneficial for people that are dealing with diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer and seizures. Basically, replacing carbs with fat can help the body start to use the fat as energy instead of the carbs. The biggest issues I’ve seen with keto are that those with very sluggish livers might have a hard time adjusting their bodies to utilizing the fat, especially if they’ve eaten fairly low fat their whole lives, and it is very hard to get a decent amount of potassium on this diet, which is a very common deficiency (and I have in fact seen a person go from perfect potassium to the lowest level based on an HTMA test after trying keto for a few months).
AIP (Autoimmune Paleo)
This diet is great for reducing inflammation in the intestines, and gives a person an easy way to heal their gut. It is more geared towards people dealing with autoimmune issues as it can be a great way to reset the digestive system. Most people do it for a short period of time, and slowly start introducing other foods back in. The biggest difference between AIP and paleo is that nuts and seeds are not allowed on AIP, and coconut seems to be a big part of AIP for those that tolerate it. A lot of gut healing foods are also encouraged: bone broth and non-dairy fermented foods especially.
Whole 30 is another short-term, awesome way to transition into a healthier lifestyle. It is basically a program to reset your gut and metabolism so you can shake off sugar addictions, stubborn weight gain, and bad habits. It is mostly Paleo in its nature, although it does allow the use of ghee (but not butter). They also encourage people to NOT even step on a scale during this time to measure weight loss because they want to help people realize that weight is not an accurate measurement of health! The benefits of giving up junk food will last much longer than if you were to just drop the weight quickly and go back to your old habits. This is just a 30 day program, but it can help people get back on a much better track, especially if they switched over from a standard American diet.
These 2 diets are highly popular and always thought of by most as the “healthiest” diets. I’ve written a bit more in-depth on why I don’t recommend these sort of diets here. There are a few variations of vegetarianism: some people still eat dairy and/or eggs even though they are considered “animal products”. Vegans tend to avoid anything that comes from an animal, even things that you would wear (like leather). Most people that advocate for these types of diets say that it is healthier for ourselves as well as the environment, but there is much debate about this. As mentioned, my full outline on this is linked above.
My take on the above diets
I am ALL about balance. I know that for some, they need more structure than just a “balanced whole foods diet” but in reality that is the best approach. I am seeing a scary trend lately- people are becoming TERRIFIED of food! And it is all because of diets like the above. Grains are bad, meat is bad, dairy is bad, gluten is bad, fiber is bad, fat is bad, every.single.food.group. is considered bad by one person or another. This makes some people even go a step further: let’s eliminate oxalates, salicylates, histamine, etc. It is getting pretty crazy out there! While many people might have a true issue with many of these things, eliminating them is not going to be the final answer.
What most people fail to mention is the QUALITY of the foods that most people are eating. Yes, conventional food products (dairy, wheat, meats,etc) are of terrible quality. They are using genetically modified foods, pesticides, herbicides, artificial colors and sweeteners, corn syrup, etc. These are not the same foods our ancestors ate.
When it comes to choosing a diet, I don’t believe in eliminating things unless you are certain that you are having an issue with them. A common chain of reactions is this: a person goes gluten free, starts to feel better for a time, and then symptoms come back. So they cut dairy, they feel better for a time, and then once again symptoms come back. This starts to happen with several other foods until they realize they are limited to such a small amount of food to actually eat.
And the biggest thing that is overlooked:
The FOOD is not always the problem. When we switch to a healthier diet (especially if we’ve been eating the SAD way most of our lives) we HAVE to heal the gut from the damage that has been done. Otherwise, we’re just going to go down a rabbit hole of eliminating foods and stressing about what else we can try to eliminate to see what “helps”. And this stress is NOT going to help you heal either. It is a huge hindrance in the healing process, when we should be eliminating the majority of our stress.
HEALING YOUR GUT AND LIVER
The basics of healing the gut and liver involve increasing stomach acid and bile flow, healing the gut lining, healing the colon, and repopulating gut flora. Eliminating triggers until you heal can help immensely but it is important to get to the root cause of why these imbalances happened. For many common triggers include gluten, grains, dairy, eggs, sulfur rich foods, and sugar. Many people are focusing on diets that exclude these foods but not focusing on rebuilding the gut. Eliminating the foods will help for a time but eventually more food intolerances can pop up until the gut lining is healed. Focusing on whole foods is paramount to healing all illness. Staying away from processed or fast foods is extremely important, especially because they barely contain food. They have no nutritional value and they are severely irritating to the gut.
Healing the gut fully can take time. It took decades for many people to get to this point of ill health. Luckily it won’t take decades to heal, but it will take most people at least a year or 2 to heal the majority of the damage.
Stomach Acid: Many doctors have things backwards when it comes to heartburn- millions of people are told that they have excess stomach acid so they pop antacids. In reality, it is estimated that 90% people in America are LACKING stomach acid. Low stomach acid leads to imbalanced gut flora, deficiencies of nutrients, amino acid deficiency, and it leads to GERD, heartburn and acid reflux. If you do not have sufficient stomach acid, food sits and rots in your stomach. This is what we feel when we get acid reflux- it is not excess stomach acid, it is rotting food that cannot digest properly!
What to do: Apple cider vinegar is always my first choice (unless someone has a severe histamine intolerance). I find that ACV works MUCH better than any HCl pill. HCl is what I tend to recommend as a last method *if* ACV is not tolerated. A deficiency in sodium is common with low stomach acid. We can use a good unrefined sea salt liberally (especially if your HTMA shows that you need it). Salt water sole is a popular choice for increasing stomach acid. Fermented foods, bitter herbs and bone broth are also helpful for balancing stomach acid.
Also: Check yourself for a hiatal hernia! This can be a hidden cause of many digestive symptoms, especially low stomach acid.
Bile Flow: We need bile flow for digesting fats and proteins, detoxing pathogens and heavy metals, and for the utilization of fat soluble nutrients. Bile and stomach acid tend to both be on the low side for most people dealing with food intolerances and gut symptoms.
What to do: The best and easiest thing I have found for aiding bile flow is a bitter herb supplement. This one from Herb Pharm is super easy: just doing 4 sprays before each meal can help stimulate digestion. Bitter herbs technically help with bile, stomach acid, and digestive enzymes (and I see so many people taking 3 separate supplements for this purpose!). Gaia Herbs “Sweetish” Bitters are also great! This blend includes Anise Seed, Cardamom, Fennel, Gentian, Ginger Root, Milk Thistle, Turmeric, and more. You just put 60 drops in a little bit of liquid about 15 minutes before each meal to help with digestion. And finally, dandelion root is my other favorite as it can nearly quadruple bile flow.
Soothing/Healing and Sealing the Gut Lining: Leaky gut is when the walls of the intestine become inflamed and porous, allowing undigested food, bacteria, toxins, and other antigens into the bloodstream and lymph system. This creates inflammation (body and brain), food intolerances, and depression, as well as bloating, gas, IBS, constipation, or any digestive complaint. Some people don’t even have gut complaints when they have leaky gut. Their symptoms could just include eczema or psoriasis, maybe joint pain or headaches.
Colon Health: If you are not eliminating toxins properly, this can create a breeding ground in your colon for parasites, yeast, and other nasty things. These bugs can prevent you from properly absorbing nutrients too! Making sure your colon is happy is an important but overlooked part of gut healing.
What to do: My top colon healers are George’s Aloe Vera, bitter herbs (because bile deficiency is a huge cause of chronic constipation), plenty of fiber, get a Squatty Potty, and staying hydrated. Read my whole mega colon health post here for more idea.
Replenishing Gut Bacteria: Gut bacteria is crucial for many reasons: creating certain vitamins, keeping harmful pathogens under control, and plays a role in keeping many illnesses at bay, especially colon cancer. We have about 100 trillion bacteria cells in the body, which is more than our human cells! Bacteria are truly crucial for our survival and well-being.
Probiotics and fermented foods are both helpful for this purpose. When it comes to getting more bang for your buck, fermenting is the way to go! You can read a bit more about fermenting here, and some easy starter recipes. Or you can read about my top probiotic picks here!
Heal the Liver: The liver itself has about 500 functions, but it does play a role in digestion. It is another overlooked organ needed for full healing.
What to do: Herbal infusions like nettles, oatstraw and red raspberry leaf. Infusions are extremely nourishing to the body, and most of them help with liver, lymph, kidneys, and the adrenals. Sunflower lecithin is rich in phosphatidyl choline, which is a B complex vitamin that has extremely important roles in fat metabolism and liver health. It helps with stimulating bile flow and can help flush fat out of the liver, and it is also extremely important for brain health. And my favorite liver healer is BioRay Liver Life.
So before you eliminate another food group, PLEASE look at gut and liver healing. See what you are not doing already, or switch things up if you have already been gut healing. Eliminate the worst triggers that you have as you heal- but remember that you WILL heal! We cannot stress about
You can also read my take on the Ideal Diet here. This gets into more detail on what “foods” we should all be avoiding, as well as more info on gut and liver healing.