Autoimmune diets - how do I choose one?
Autoimmune Diets are all over the internet - Paleo Diet, AIP Diet, OMS Diet, Swank Diet, Wahls Protocol, Thyroid Diet - the list is endless.
You’ve probably read through a few, and you’re trying to work out which one you should choose - and it’s hard, because they say you should eat/not eat different things.
It’s confusing, right?
As a nutritionist, I teach my patients how to use diet to manage their autoimmune conditions every day in my clinic.
But not everyone can come to see me in my clinic, because they live too far away.
I’ve written this info for you, to help you decide what diet changes you need to make to help you with your autoimmune condition.
Autoimmune Disease and Diet - what you need to know
What you eat can have a massive impact on your immune system. That’s why finding the right diet for your autoimmune disease is so crucial.
All these autoimmune diets I've mentioned before are based around 2 key points. Once you understand them, hopefully it’ll make your choice of diet a bit easier.
An autoimmune diet is an anti-inflammatory diet
First point - they’re all designed to be “anti-inflammatory diets”. What do I mean by this?
Well, your disease is driven by what we call chronic inflammation. That means inflammation in your body that never stops.
Inflammation is meant to be a short term thing your body does to save your life. Like when you cut yourself. You bleed, it hurts, you get a scab on your skin, the bleeding stops, and your body repairs itself.
That process is called inflammation, and you need it otherwise you might die from a paper cut!
Or, if you get a cold, and you get a fever. Your body is using inflammation, (jacking up your body temperature), to kill off your cold bug.
So, inflammation is REALLY important.
But it’s meant to be a short term process that shuts off quickly.
When it keeps going for a long time, it sends your immune system into overdrive.
And that fuels your autoimmune condition, because your immune system is going crazy and your body starts attacking itself.
Loading up your diet with anti-inflammatory foods will decrease the amount of inflammation in your body.
When you decrease the inflammation in your body, you will reduce your craziness of your immune system.
And that means you’ll feel better.
The secret with all these autoimmune diets is that, in their own way, they’re ALL anti-inflammatory.
They’re just using different foods to do it.
Autoimmune Diets Cut out Foods that Excite Your Immune System
All autoimmune disease stems from your gut.
They get expressed as different conditions affecting different parts of your body based on your genetics, environmental exposure, gender, age, infections etc.
But they all begin in your gut.
That’s why eating the right foods to look after your gut health is vital.
Some foods that you eat might upset you. Like dairy, wheat, and legumes. And some foods are harder to digest than others. These foods can stir up your immune system, by having things called antigens in them.
The more antigens a food has, the more it can stir your immune system up.
Most of these autoimmune diets will remove foods that have lots of antigens in them.
By doing that, your immune system calms down, and you get some relief.
The massive problem with the autoimmune diets
There’s a big issue with all of these protocols and diets.
Can you guess what it is?
WE’RE ALL DIFFERENT!
Your genetics, your childhood, your overall health state, your age - these factors all need to be considered when choosing the best diet for you to follow.
Different people will respond better to one type of diet than another.
Because not all foods react the same way in every single person.
Having said that, there’s a few key things that might give you some insight about which one is better suited for you.
1. Trust your gut
Pay attention to your digestion.
If you eat or drink something, and feel like crap afterwards, (like a bowl of pasta, a cream based sauce, or some chocolate), listen to what your body is telling you.
Gluten and dairy foods may make you feel sick.
If that’s the case, then a paleo style diet might be the one for you.
Or if creamy, fatty foods don’t sit right, a Swank or OMS style diet might be a better fit.
If eating meat gives you problems, then a well balanced vegan or fish based vegetarian diet could be the one.
Keep a diet diary in your phone, or a written one beside your bed.
What you react to will tell you how to pick the best autoimmune diet for you.
2. Processed Food is Your Enemy
Most processed (packaged) food is inflammatory.
Therefore, any diet you want to follow needs to be as unprocessed as possible.
That means you need to prepare and cook to vast majority of your own meals from fresh ingredients.
This is hard for a lot of people, because it does mean that you need to prepare your weekly shopping list, meals, and recipes in advance.
Prepare yourself ahead of time, and get organised.
Don’t leave meal planning until the last minute, otherwise you’ll end up eating lots of processed food.
3. Only take the supplements you actually need, not just what the diet/protocol says
Not all supplements are created equal, and not all supplements are the ones you require to be healthy.
Don’t just wander down the supermarket or chemist aisle, and grab something because you heard it was good, or because someone you know takes it.
Get some professional advice about what are the best things to take for your condition, (and for you personally), at the right dose.
And make sure that whoever recommends something is crystal clear on exactly WHY it is so important for you.
The right health professional should have no problems doing this for you.
4. The autoimmune diet must have adequate nutrients for your body
Whichever diet you choose, it’s got to have the right amount of your essential nutrients in it.
Protein, good fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water are the basics.
If you’re following a diet, and it’s making you feel unwell, or you’re losing a huge amount of energy or weight, it mightn’t be the right one for you.
You might need a professional to check your diet over, just to make sure these basics are covered.
And if you’re feeling sick from your diet, get advice immediately.
I hope that gives you some useful pointers about which autoimmune diet is right for you.
In their own way, they can all be beneficial.
As long as they’re anti-inflammatory, low amounts of antigens, based on whole foods, and make you feel better.
The trick is to work out which one is the best fit for you, your family, your budget, your values and your time.
And hopefully my advice can help you do that.
If you need any further assistance with your diet and your condition, and you can make it to my clinic in Geelong, then by all means book in for an appointment.
I would love to go over all these points in person with you, and make sure that we set your diet up for success.
In the meantime, best of luck, and make the diet changes you feel are best suited to improving your health.
And make those changes right NOW.
Thanks for reading!
Nutritionist at Living Holistic Health
Adrian is a degree qualified nutritionist and member of the National Institute of Integrative Medicine, (NIIM), Human Research Ethics Committee in Melbourne. Adrian is co-founder of Living Holistic Health along with Naturopath Morgan Helming. Melissa Atyan also joins the Geelong based holistic health clinic as functional nutritionist.