If you’re dealing with an autoimmune disease, your conventional doctor probably gave you two options: manage your symptoms with harsh medication for the rest of your life, or resort to another extreme measure such as surgery or–the route I reluctantly chose when I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease–having your thyroid ablated with radioactive iodine.
Conventional medicine failed me, and I’ve made it my mission to not let it fail you too. What your doctor won’t tell you is that autoimmune disease can be prevented and reversed through diet and lifestyle.
Food is the single leading cause of premature death and disability in the U.S. That’s because the standard American diet is loaded with toxic and inflammatory foods that contribute heavily to systemic inflammation (the root of all chronic illness). The good news is, by removing these foods from your diet and adding in nourishing foods that support your immune system, you can reduce your inflammation and watch your symptoms vanish.
Below, I’ve outlined exactly how to optimize your diet for autoimmunity, including which foods are triggering your symptoms that you should ditch for good, and which foods to eat that will best support your immune system. For more on how to make an autoimmune-friendly protocol a way of life, check out The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook, which provides you step-by-step guidance along with over 150 delicious recipes designed to prevent and reverse autoimmunity!
Toss All Toxic and Inflammatory Foods
The first step in optimizing your diet is to clear your cabinets and fridge of all toxic and inflammatory foods.
The following “foods” have no place in a healthy lifestyle, and should be avoided at all costs:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Additives, preservatives, and dyes
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Processed food, junk food, and fast food
- Trans or hydrogenated fats
The following foods are highly inflammatory for many people, so you’ll want to eliminate them for at least 30 days. You can then reintroduce (most of) these foods one by one to determine if you personally tolerate them or if you have a sensitivity.
- Gluten-free grains
Gluten is at the top of my list of foods you should never eat, especially if you have autoimmunity. Gluten triggers leaky gut, which is a necessary precursor to autoimmunity. Another way gluten triggers autoimmunity is through molecular mimicry. Gluten is structurally similar to a number of your body’s tissues–the thyroid in particular–so when your immune system creates antibodies against the unfamiliar gluten protein, it can mistakenly attack your own tissues in the process. So you can plan on saying goodbye to gluten for good.
In addition to ditching bread, pasta, cereal, baked goods, and snack foods, you’ll also want to be careful of chicken stock, soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, chewing gum, and blended coffees, which are often hidden sources of gluten. Instead, make your own stocks, sauces, and condiments whenever possible.
Dairy is inflammatory for a number of reasons. Roughly 70% of the world’s population stops producing lactase, the enzyme needed to properly digest dairy, once they’ve finished breastfeeding. Even those who do produce lactase often experience dairy sensitivity, due to casein or whey intolerances. Casein protein in dairy also shares structural similarity to gluten and thyroid tissue, making it another major culprit in molecular mimicry. Plus, conventional dairy is full of hormones and antibiotics, both of which can lead to or exacerbate autoimmune disease.
Grains and Legumes
Grains and legumes contain “anti-nutrients” known as lectins and agglutinins, which is why I recommend eliminating grains and legumes at least for 30 days, and possibly for good (depending on how you react when reintroducing them). Lectins found in quinoa, corn, and oats, behave similarly to gluten and have the same gut-damaging effect. Meanwhile, agglutinins have been shown to cause leaky gut and disrupt your immune system.
Corn and Soy
Corn and soy are problematic because 88% of corn and 93% of soy crops are genetically modified. GMOs have been linked to at least 22 diseases, including diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and multiple sclerosis. Additionally, the proteins in corn can cross-react with gluten, while soy contains isoflavones that cause estrogen dominance.
Eggs should be eliminated due to the ability of lysozyme (found in egg whites) to penetrate the gut barrier and enter your bloodstream, triggering leaky gut.
Nightshade vegetables such as potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers contain alkaloids that contribute to inflammation and are not well tolerated by those with autoimmunity.
Citrus fruits are rich in histamine, which triggers your body’s natural immune response. For this reason, high-histamine foods should be avoided to prevent further inflammation and exacerbation of an existing autoimmune condition.
Foods containing yeast cause an imbalance of your gut flora that can lead to Candida overgrowth and Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). Both of these conditions contribute to leaky gut and set you on the path to autoimmune disease and chronic illness.
Enjoy Nutrient-Rich Foods that Support Your Immune System
Now that you’ve cleared your diet of toxic and inflammatory foods, you can focus on eating only nourishing, high-quality foods that will support your immune system and help reverse your symptoms. You can feel empowered knowing that the food you eat is fueling your body’s recovery, and you will begin to see your migraines, fatigue, digestive issues, skin rashes, and mood imbalances disappear. You’ll feel energized, focused, and clear, your skin will glow, and in time you may find you’re able to reduce or even eliminate your medications altogether! Most importantly, you will discover that having an autoimmune disorder doesn’t need to stop you from living the life you want and deserve.
Eating plenty of high-quality protein will provide you with the amino acids you need to support your immune system. As with organic produce, you want to look for the best quality protein you can find. In fact, it’s even more important to prioritize organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, and wild-caught meat, since animals are at the top of the food chain and the effects from GMO-feed and pesticides become magnified when we eat them. Not to mention, conventionally raised meat contains added hormones and antibiotics, which put you at increased risk of numerous chronic illnesses.
My favorite sources of protein are organic, pasture-raised chicken, wild-caught salmon, and 100% grass-fed beef. You can also enjoy grass-fed lamb and pork, pasture-raised duck and turkey, and wild game.
Although you’ll want to limit or completely avoid inflammatory nightshades, such as potatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, there are an abundance of other vegetables you can add to your diet. Your goal should be to eat a rainbow of foods!
Leafy greens, including kale, spinach, arugula, and bok choy, are naturally detoxifying and loaded with micronutrients and fiber to keep your gut functioning optimally. Some of my other favorite veggies are broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, asparagus, beets, sweet potatoes and squash.
Fruits contain many essential nutrients including Vitamin C, potassium, and folate. Whole fruits are also an excellent source of fiber, which prevents constipation and diverticulosis, and supports the friendly bacteria in your gut that are so crucial to immune functioning.
Berries are great because they’re low in sugar and packed with antioxidants. You’ll want to limit or avoid dried fruits, which are high in sugar, and citrus if it is inflammatory for you.
Quality fats help repair the cells of your gut wall, providing immune support, and aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, K, and E.
Avoid trans fats and industrial seed oils (such as canola, soy, and corn), and instead focus on good fats (avocado, coconut and olive oils, and certain animal fats). Avocados are one of my favorite sources of healthy fat, and make an easy, filling snack!
Remember: autoimmunity is not a life sentence. By choosing foods that nourish your body and eliminating toxic foods that make you sick, your body can begin to use its own resources to recover from whatever caused your autoimmune condition in the first place. You have the power to take your health in your own hands and overcome autoimmunity!