How to Start a Paleo Diet for Autoimmune Healing
What conditions is this diet best for?
The paleolithic diet, aka paleo or primal diet is best for people with autoimmune or inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, celiac, lupus, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, diabetes, IBS, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, obesity and others. In addition, those who have issues with blood sugar regulation and weight loss are usually served well by a paleo diet.
What are the main tenets of the diet?
While there are several slightly different versions of paleo/primal diet out there, most are rooted in the belief that one should eat what was available to people when we were hunters and gatherers. This means eating what a caveman would have eaten prior to the period when people began using agriculture to cultivate grains and legumes. This entails eating only natural, unprocessed foods such as meat, fish, vegetables, wild fruits, eggs, and nuts. While there are several variations to this diet under one paleo umbrella, the basic idea is to eat a whole foods diet free of grains, legumes and processed, packaged foods and beverages.
What foods are eaten?
- Pastured Meat & Eggs
- Wild-caught Seafood
- Organic Vegetables and Fruits
- Nuts and Seeds, depending on which version of paleo you follow
- Oils and Fats: primarily coconut oil, olive oil, butter from pastured cows, lard, tallow
- Herbs & Spices
What foods are given up?
- Refined Grains: oatmeal, toast, muffins, pasta, pancakes, pizza dough, pita, bagels, etc.
- Whole Grains: wheat, rice, barley, corn, rye, spelt, millet, bulgur wheat, and amaranth
- Grain-like Seeds: quinoa, buckwheat
- Legumes: beans, peas, soy
- Processed Foods & Beverages: crackers, protein bars, cookies, pretzels, snack packs, sweetened sodas, juice, energy drinks
- Processed Dairy Products: pasteurized cheese and milk, fresh/frozen yogurt, cottage cheese, and ice cream
Meal frequency/portion sizes
In addition to the different versions of paleo diet out there, there are some variations on the number or meals per day eaten. Many people on a paleo diet are also associated with CrossFit training and eat according to that style of fitness training. While it’s custom to eat three meals and snacks as needed daily, some primal followers find opportunities to fast throughout the day or a few times a month. Because the paleo diet is nutrient-dense, portion sizes tend to be moderate as people don’t find themselves too hungry on this diet.
Done right, eating a paleo diet will supply you with all the vitamins and minerals your body needs as the diet is inherently nutrient dense. While you don’t have to take any supplements or vitamins with a paleo diet, most followers include a high quality fish oil such as fermented cod liver oil to their diets as well as pro-biotic and bio-available forms of Vitamin D. Also, if you have an autoimmune disease and/or suffer from a leaky gut, taking digestive enzymes are often helpful when following this lifestyle.
Will this diet require shopping at a specialty or organic grocery store, or buying the diet’s pre-packaged food (aka, is this diet going to be very expensive to sustain)?
Technically, this diet doesn’t require shopping at a specialty store because you can follow a paleo diet by buying meats, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds from a conventional grocery store. However, and this is a big however, the basic tenant of the diet is eating food as close to as pure as a caveman would have found.
Often, followers of a paleo diet shop at several different sources to find the highest quality organic, pastured or grass fed products. Many people on a paleo diet use a combination of online grocers, farmer’s markets, community supported agriculture (CSAs), co-ops and specialty stores to buy their food. Shopping for this diet can be tricky at first to find the quality of products that fit within your budget, but once you have come up with your system, it’s pretty easy to do.
One thing to note: If you are following a paleo diet to heal from disease, it is critical that you buy the highest quality foods. Eating foods with GMOs, chemical additives, pesticides, or antibiotics can be detrimental to your health and stall healing.
What other autoimmune or popular diets is this diet similar to?
Questions for your doctor
- Is there any reason this diet would not be safe for me to follow from a medical standpoint?
- Are there any foods you would recommend I not include in my daily diet?
- Are there any supplements I should take to support me while following this diet?
- Can you recommend a practitioner to help me with menu planning, recipes and supporting these new diet and lifestyle habits?
About the Author
Jen Wittman, CHHC, AADP, owner of The Healthy Plate, is a Holistic Health Expert & Transformational Coach, providing nutrition and lifestyle counseling for those with thyroid, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. She reversed her own “incurable” autoimmune thyroid disease with natural diet and lifestyles methods and assists others to heal as well. She also helps parents balance work and play, reduce stress, and cook quick, delicious and nutritious meals so they can have more time for their families, friends and fun. Jen has degrees in culinary arts, psychology, transformational coaching, nutrition, and Italian language. She spent a year honing her cooking skills in Italy and is passionate about laughter, living joyfully with her husband and son, and helping people craft the life of their dreams.
This blog post was originally published by AutoimmuneMom.com, written by Jen Wittman, and first published on May 8, 2013. Updated on September 2, 2015.
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