Wahls Protocol: Restoring Your Cells To Regain Function And Mobility Lost From Autoimmune
What conditions is this diet best for?
In her book, The Wahls Protocol, Dr. Terry Wahls, MD describes the basis and implementation of her clinically researched diet, The Wahls Protocol. Dr. Wahls developed The Wahls Protocol after she was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis and later, secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.
Dr. Wahls had reached the point of needing a zero gravity chair and a tilt-recline wheelchair before putting together all of the research she had done on her own into an eating plan that would give her cells what they needed to regain function. She still has MS, but she is now able to walk, cycle and horseback ride once again, among other activities.
The Wahls Protocol is recommended for anyone with Multiple Sclerosis and anyone with any type of autoimmune condition.
What are the main tenants of the diet?
The crux of the diet, which includes three levels, is biochemical restoration. Dr. Wahls walks the reader through the steps that take one from their current diet, which she notes may be lacking in the potent nutrition required by cells for health, to eating “The Wahls Way.” The levels are optional, and where one starts depends upon their own comfort level. Each level builds up to the next level. The Wahls Protocol is a Paleo-style plan, but is more structured in order to ensure maximal nutrient intake.
The most restrictive and therapeutic level, Wahls Paleo Plus, is an extremely low-carb, high-fat diet, and is similar to a ketogenic diet. Dr. Wahls explains that when the fat in our diet is converted into ketones (only possible when eating a very low carbohydrate/high-fat diet), which are excellent sources of energy, we have an excellent source of fuel for our mitochondria (energy producers of all cells), brains cells and muscle cells. A ketogenic diet is not recommended during pregnancy.
Food Given Up
Level 1: Wahls Diet
All gluten- and dairy-containing foods are avoided.
Level 2: Wahls Paleo
All non-gluten grains (presuming one is already gluten-free), legumes and potatoes are reduced to two servings per week. These servings are not required, but allowed for to encourage flexibility for social and family events. Dr. Wahls notes that it is preferable to eliminate grains and legumes entirely to reduce carbohydrate load, as well as the antinutrients (phytates and lectins) and gut irritants that these foods are rich in.
Level 3: Wahls Paleo Plus
All grains are grains, legumes and potatoes are eliminated. Starchy vegetables are limited to 2 servings per week or less. Fruit is limited to one serving per day, preferably berries. White-fleshed fruits are eliminated, such as apples, bananas and pears, as well as sweeter fruits like grapes, peaches, pineapples and mangoes.
Foods Eaten Frequently
Level 1: The Wahls Diet
Nine cups of fruits and vegetables every day, broken down into 3 cups of leafy greens, 3 cups of sulfur-rich cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc) and 3 cups of deeply colored vegetables and fruits, such as berries, carrots, winter squash, beets, etc.
Pastured or wild meats, seafood are highly recommended.
Level 2: Wahls Paleo
Dr. Wahls recommends adding seaweed or algae and organ meats at this point, as well as fermented foods, soaked seeds and nuts and more raw foods, including animal proteins like sushi, steak tartare and ceviche.
Level 3: Wahls Paleo Plus
Vegetable intake changes to 6 cups, divided evenly between leafy greens, colors and sulfur vegetables. Since this phase is a ketogenic diet, Dr. Wahls recommends adding coconut oil and full-fat coconut milk.
Far more in-depth guidance is provided in the book, including meal plans and recipes. If you would like to follow the Wahls Protocol, reading the book is essential.
Meal Frequency/Portion Sizes
Dr. Wahls recommends eating to satiety. The Wahls Protocol Levels 1 and 2 include 3 meals per day, with additional snack suggestions. For Level 3, Dr. Wahls recommends eating just twice per day and fasting 12-16 hours every night. She explains that eating protein and fat with relatively fewer carbohydrates will tend to suppress the appetite. She also notes that during the long periods between breakfast and dinner, and between dinner and breakfast, the body can focus on processing and eliminating toxins, making hormones, and healing. One may start with 3 meals a day at first, still making sure to have a 12-16 hour fast between dinner and breakfast.
Dr. Wahls stresses the fact that the diet should ideally be the source of all nutrients, and eating The Wahls Way meets all of one’s needs; however, she does acknowledge that supplemental nutrients may be necessary. She recommends traditional and functional testing to assess nutrient levels and needs.
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)?
This diet will definitely require shopping at an organic grocery store or market and encourages buying food as close its source as possible. If you have been eating a conventional diet, you may notice a sharp increase in food costs. If you have already transitioned to a high-quality organic diet, the transition will be easier, although you will likely see an increase in spending, as you will be buying much more produce.
What other autoimmune diets is this diet similar to?
The Wahls Protocol is similar to Autoimmune Protocol and/or Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) plans, as well as the Myers Way, although there are key differences, such as no limitation on nightshades, more structure with and increased volume of fruit and vegetable intake, and having three levels for ease of transitioning, with the third level being ketogenic. Both the attention to nutrient density with The Wahls Protocol, as well as the guidance provided for transitioning into the most therapeutic version of the diet, are both great assets.
If you are currently doing Autoimmune Protocol or Myers Way, The Wahls Protocol is still an excellent resource to delve into and can be blended with AIP/MW to make for a more nutrient-rich and potentially more therapeutic diet. Dr. Wahls also shares other therapeutic modalities which have been important aspects of her healing process, and these complement the diet.
Questions for your physician/health practitioner:
First of all, find a functional medicine physician/practitioner. Otherwise, your practitioner will likely not know how to answer these questions.
- Can you help me identify and treat underlying infections?
- Can you order functional labs to assess the health of my gut and my inflammatory and nutrient status?
- Can you refer me to a Functional Medicine Dietitian/Nutritionist who can provide additional individualized support with the diet, supplements and gut-healing?
- Will you work with me to reduce and eventually stop my medications as I begin to feel better?
- What type of monitoring do I need, as I embark upon a ketogenic diet?
About the Author
Angie King-Nosseir MS, RD is an Integrative and Functional Registered Dietitian, with a passion for walking with people along their path toward health transformation. Angie has a Master’s degree in Nutrition, is a Certified LEAP Therapist, corporate wellness health coach, freelance nutrition and wellness writer, and certified yoga instructor. She is trained in Functional Nutrition and Medicine through the Institute for Functional Medicine and in Food as Medicine through the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.
This blog post was originally published by AutoimmuneMom.com, written by Angie King-Nosseir, and first published on Jan 21, 2016.
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