Vegetables have always been the vanguard to healthy eating.
Seemingly since the dawn of time, parents have struggled to ensure their resistant children get enough greens, at least until the point when they realize that eating these bland, sometimes bitter, leaves are actually a worthy sacrifice in the name of good health. And yes, while those of us who have reached that point understand the greatly simplified statement that eating vegetables makes us healthy, we may not fully realize just how healthy vegetables can be.
While the diet that hunters and gatherers consumed became the basis for the standard Paleo diet, two well-known variants have also emerged: the Wahls diet and Paleo Autoimmune.
The Wahls Diet
Developed by Dr. Terry Wahls, a multiple sclerosis (MS) patient bound to a wheelchair. When conventional approaches didn’t work – chemotherapy and immunosuppressant drugs – Dr. Wahls turned to diet and was able to reverse the effects of her disease. The most important part of her diet… Vegetables! Today, the Wahls diet highly emphasizes vegetables; in fact it instructs you to eat 9 cups of vegetables per day!
How did it work?
The diet helped Wahls fight against MS by targeting the mitochondria and brain cells. Since the mitochondria are powerhouses of the cell, they convert the food we eat into energy, as well as detoxify the body. The Wahls diet utilizes this knowledge by emphasizing foods that are specifically rich in a group of micronutrients that will feed both the mitochondria and brain cells to optimize health.
The body of evidence for the Wahls diet includes a 12 month study that found the Wahls diet significantly improved fatigue in MS patients. In addition, various testimonials are posted on Dr. Wahls’ website. It highlights stories of patients who have improved from a wide range of diseases, such as MS, Parkinson’s, Raynaud’s, scleroderma, and more.
What’s in the Wahls diet?
Vegetables, Veggies, Greens, “rabbit food.” Whatever you choose to call it, the most important part of the diet is vegetables. The diet includes 9 cups of vegetables per day, broken down into 3 groups:
- 3 cups of leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, lettuce, etc to provide vitamins)
- 3 cups of sulfur rich vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, garlic, onions etc to remove toxins)
- 3 cups of colorful vegetables and fruits (for antioxidants, colored all the way through so bananas and apples don’t apply but berries, carrots, citruses, and other fruits do)
Outside of the vegetable requirement, the Wahls diet closely resembles the standard Paleo diet, including organ meats, bone broth, spices and herbs, and organic, grass-fed, and wild-caught meat and seafood. Foods that are excluded include: gluten, eggs, dairy, refined oils, and processed food.
The second variant of the standard Paleo diet, Paleo Autoimmune, is one modified for those suffering from autoimmune disease. It is a specialized version with an even larger focus on nutrient density and stricter elimination guidelines. Like the Wahls diet, Paleo Autoimmune aims to flood the body with nutrients, while avoiding foods that might be contributing to the disease.
The biggest difference between the autoimmune and standard versions of Paleo is where the line is drawn between foods that are allowed and foods that aren’t. Those who are healthy are able to eat less optimal foods than those who are sick. So, in comparison to the standard diet, Paleo Autoimmune contains more health promoting foods high in nutrients, such as organ meat, seafood, and vegetables. While eliminating food allowed in the standard diet that stimulates the immune system or harms the gut environment, such as nightshades, eggs, nuts, seeds, and alcohol.
The Wahls and Paleo Autoimmune could be great options to improve your health conditions, but diet is always only part of the solution. How you respond to these diets will depend on your body and the other ways you take care of yourself. In the case of Dr. Wahls, exercise and neurological electrical stimulation was just as vital as diet.
Many diets such as the low-FODMAP diet, specific carbohydrate diet, and Paleo Autoimmune are elimination diets, however, the Wahls diet is a permanent lifestyle change. So although you won’t be cutting out different food groups, seeing how your body responds, and possibly reintroducing them, you will be completely revamping how you eat. Nevertheless, if you have a condition that isn’t progressing the way you’d like, the Wahls diet is definitely worth a try.