Which Diet/Protocol is Best for Optimal Thyroid Health?

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It’s January 2015 and we are all off to a new start. I know for many of you this means deepening your healing journey and food can be a big part of that.

I just got back from Morocco where we spent the entire month. I loved the country and its cuisine. In fact, food was one of the key deciding factors in picking our travel destination. One thing that was apparent to me, and acted as a reminder is the fact that most Moroccans, especially the ones living away from big cities, look healthy and happy. Glowing skins, white teeth, no obesity and many smiles – this is what an average Moroccan looks like. This was a reminder to me what real, unadulterated food can do for us.

Coming back home and logging back on to my usual social media streams was rather overwhelming – Facebook posts telling us to detox, stock up on magic supplements and get on the next promising diet. Even for me, it was overwhelming and somewhat irritating.

I therefore decided to write an article about picking the right diet in 2015 (although I don’t like that word, so I will change it to a “protocol”). I know many of you say “I eat a really healthy diet” which unfortunately is often accompanied by a long list of symptoms, frustrations and complains.

I will try to address it here – why is this happening? Why is your current diet not working for you? And, how do you pick one from so many options?

To do that, I want to lay out some of the common protocols and diets that have lately gain traction for their focus on healing. Some of us have tried them in the past with good, mixed or bad results.

If you are new to this space, I have written and spoken extensively about the role of the digestive tract and the liver function in the previous articles.

Healing Protocols that Gained Traction in the Thyroid and Autoimmune World

GAPS/SCD

 – both of them are similar in their approach. GAPS was developed to deal with issues like autism spectrum disorders, ADD/ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia and schizophrenia by treating the root cause of many of these disorders: compromised gut health. The challenge I find with these protocols is the indiscriminatory inclusion of eggs and dairy which many people with thyroid and autoimmune conditions do not tolerate well.

Low FODMAPS

– stands for low Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. This protocol was originally developed in the 1950ties for people with Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS) and got recently re-popularized by the Monash University in Australia. This diet labels food high in specific sugars (fructose, lactose, fructans, galactans and polyols) which feed pathogenic bacteria in the gut that worsen the digestive issues, like the ones in people with IBS and “leaky gut.” Some of the seemingly healthy foods like onions, garlic, avocados are high in FODMAPs and can often be the cause of digestive distress, especially bloating. The protocol does however allow diary, some gluten grains, eggs and white refined sugar which many people do not tolerate well and should not be eating at all (like refined sugar).

AIP (Paleo for Autoimmunity)

 – takes paleo (means no grains, tubers, dairy) to the next level by further eliminating seeds, nuts, eggs, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, chili, eggplant and goji berries are in this group) and seed-based spices (including cacao). It was heavily popularized by Dr Sarah Ballantyne, also known as the Paleo Mom. It’s a rather restricted diet but it has produced many great results for people with serious digestive issues and autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, etc. It does however allow food high in FODMAPs which can be problematic for some people. AIP got criticized for being too heavy on meats but it does not have to be this way.

Elimination Diet

 – cuts out the biggest potential food culprits many people have a problem with – gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, nightshade vegetables and limits all sugars. This is, by far, the easiest protocol to follow as compared to the ones above. Some people start healing on this protocols but for others this is just not good enough. Often, further elimination is needed – of all grains (even the ones without gluten) and/or seeds, nuts, citrus fruit, etc.

Vegan/Vegetarian Diet

 – if someone is a vegetarian or vegan for religious reasons, it is then an understandable choice. For the rest of us, this is not a way to heal. Animal proteins have a totally different amino acid profile and contain vitamins and fats not found in plants. For example, glutamine, B12 and iron (supplements are not the same) are only found in meat and are key in thyroid health. If healing is your objective, then eating responsibly-raised, grass-fed meat in the right amounts will only help.

Gluten Cross-Reactive Foods

 – this is not a protocol per se but one big ticket item to be aware of in your quest to health. Unfortunately, the proteins found in some amazing foods such as buckwheat, cacao, coffee, hemp seeds, rice, amaranth and oats can create a similar auto-immune reaction as gluten. You can either test for your sensitivities (Cyrex Labs Array 4 offers that) or set up the FMP Journal (see below) to figure it out.

So, What Do You Do Now?

Confusing? Are you reading this and thinking “OK, so what do I do now?”

Here is the naked truth: for many people, there is no one diet. Often times, a hybrid approach is needed to get good results.

Furthermore, our body changes. Our environment can change, our relationship to self and others can change – this may also impact how we respond to food. It’s not uncommon for a person to tolerate one food all this time and suddenly develop an intolerance or an allergy.

Instead of being frustration, I want to offer you a new perspective of what you can do:

Journal What You Eat.

This is really powerful even though it may sound like something we used to do in high school. Trust me on this one. We forget what we ate (one reason to do it) and we don’t see a pattern until we see our diet choices in totality (second reason to journal).

The idea is simple: when you look back at your journal, you will be able to spot patterns and identify suspect foods.

Set up a weekly journal where you jot down what you ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, what you drank and snacked on. Then, keep track of how you feel: anything from your digestion (like acid reflux, gas, pain, constipation, burping, bloating) to mood, sleep quality, body pains and aches. They can all be symptomatic of what we eat.

I call it the Food-Mood-Poop (or FMP) Journal and as you can see, the final item is your poop: another great diagnostic tool to understand your digestion.

How This Works – An Example

Let me give you an example: let’s say that you started off with the Elimination Diet and you are 4 weeks in. You are beginning to feel better but things are still not 100%. You are still bloated at times, get smelly gas (yes, it’s methane – another great diagnostic tool to know where it’s coming from), puffy eyes (not normal) and feel tired in the afternoons.

You just had a super healthy smoothie for breakfast consisting of some avocado, zucchini, a handful of goji berries and almonds, some cacao powder and a cup of coconut milk. Within 30 minutes you are massively bloated and looking 3 months pregnant and the following day you are experiencing shoulder pain.

What is going on?

When I see a FMP journal entry like this, a few things come up right away:

  1. Are you reacting to food high in FODMAPs (in this smoothie: avocado, coconut milk)? That could be the reason for the bloat.
  2. Are you reacting to goji berries? As a nightshade, they contain calcitriol – a highly inflammatory substance for people with joint and muscle pains.
  3. Or, could it be the almonds?

The only way for us to know is to do two things:

Step 1: Create a “safe food” list. This means eat what you know is safe. In this category, most people have no problems with all meat, fish (unless allergic), seafood and plenty of vegetables like zucchini, carrots, spinach, squash, lettuce, cucumber, beets, radishes, etc.

Step 2: Bring in one suspect food at the time (meaning: one every other day) and see how you respond. Try the goji berries again. Does the shoulder pain come back? Try the high FODMAPs foods again – are they the ones causing you to be bloated?

Yes, it’s a heck of a detective job. One that you can do on your own by understanding the various healing protocols, keeping the FMP journal and getting into all the dirty details. Or, work with someone who can help you do it.

Stop Looking for the Right Diet; Create Your Diet.

I think you can see from the example above, for some of us, there is often no one protocol that works. Tweaks, modifications, patience and listening to our body will help you create a protocol that works for you and only you.

Each pain and ache is a sign from our body – listen to it. 

Many of us (that was me, too) are very disconnected from what our body is telling us. Each pain, ache, bloat, inflammation is a sign, a language, the body is using (the only one that it knows) to communicate with us. Let’s not ignore it. Let’s learn to listen to it.

Helping You Design Your Thyroid Diet

I will be sharing more case studies (like the one above) which many of you can find yourself in. I will be discussing more on the difference on between “eating well” and “eating right.”

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You will learn how to eat for thyroid health in this very popular free workshop called “How to Use Food to Rebalance Your Hormones.” To reserve a spot, just go to http://www.cookingforbalance.com.

I hope to see you there!

Warm wishes,

Magdalena-signature-small

Thyroid Diet Starter Kit

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