To treat illnesses, we must understand what they are, and what they are at their very core is inflammation. Therefore, everything we do must be to lower our inflammation. It’s simple – does the food or activity lower our inflammation? Yes? It’s in. No? It’s out. (Or yes, it’s in, but we’re aware of the cost.)
This is going to be slightly different for each individual. For example, if I’m a meat-eater, my food will include proteins like free-range, organic beef and chicken. If I’m a pescatarian, my protein will be fish. If I’m a vegan, I’m going to go easy on the well-rinsed and well-cooked beans I eat at any one time, sprout everything possible to make it more digestible, and consider whether soy proteins are good for me at all.
The point is, you’ve got to figure out how and what to eat to create healing in your digestive tract.
I started with a food diary, cut out everything that wasn’t digesting or that made me feel bad, then slowly introduced things one at a time to find out how they really made me feel. We’ll talk more about those things later on, but maybe keep it in mind for yourself as we move through this section what foods you’re already aware of that don’t work for you. You could simply start with cutting those out 100% of the time.
Feeling well became more important to me than the food I wasn’t eating and it wasn’t a problem most of the time to cut out foods that made me feel ill. I still ate proteins, veggies, a little fruit and lots of water. Initially I ended up with zero grains, just a little caffeine and alcohol and very little sugar in my diet. I felt fully satisfied most of the time and when I didn’t, I figured it was an hormonal imbalance.
I now know it takes about four days to fully clear my body out after I eat traditional grocery store breads (with high-gluten, dough relaxers, & gums), including emotionally. The cravings to continually put more of that type of bread in my pie-hole after I’ve eaten some toast, bagel, or an innocent croissant will last long after the bloating in my stomach and the pain in my joints go away.
Looking at Food – Up to this point in your life, you may have looked at food as something inconvenient. Perhaps you’ve been very busy and put off eating until the last minute, frequently forgetting to eat until very late, sometimes skipping meals all together. You haven’t made the best food choices, eating out or getting drive-thru on the way home. Or maybe the opposite is true and you’ve been a real foodie. You love food–all food–and you’ve been very adventurous and lately many of those foods have been making you feel ill. Or maybe you’re an emotional eater and your feelings taste like donuts, ice cream and mac-n-cheese. It’s time to re-think how you look at food.
Food is your medicine and your fuel. Your body is like a machine and needs food to restore itself and heal. Later, you can add in more and more things to see how they affect you, but right now, you’re going to need to keep things fairly simple to give your system a chance at healing itself.
Your machine must be able to handle the foods you put in it or you will cause your body harm and then your healing will take longer. Foods that your body can’t deal with sit in your system and ferment, rather than digest, which causes inflammation and inflammation causes illness. Those foods will eventually make their exit from your body, but undigested food parts will scrape your intestines and cause distress, aka inflammation. Do that for very long and you’ve got a whole host of new issues like leaky gut and food allergies.
Digestion is a hard thing for those with a chronic condition. This is one of the most important pieces to figure out for yourself. Every moment your body works on digesting food it can’t really digest, it’s not repairing the damage your chronic condition has caused your body. But, we need nutrients, right? And we have to eat. So, how do we eat in the least harmful way to encourage the most healing possible?
Current American diets have us eating complex, whole grain, dense foods because they are theoretically the most healthy and filled with nutrients. Things like whole wheat bread, corn and steel-cut oatmeal. Add in tons of fresh, raw, nutrient-dense, beautiful veggies that are teeming with vitamins and minerals, and what could be wrong with any of that? Top it off with a green smoothie or green juice a few times a day and add some protein boosters and you’re pretty much guaranteed to get healthy tout de suite.
The diet I’ve outlined above works well for someone that has a body firing on all cylinders and has the ability to devour and digest all types of foods at any time and in any combination. This is not you if you are chronically ill and what I’m going to tell you about food is going to go against what conventional wisdom is telling you. Your body simply cannot handle or digest those foods right now, especially if you combine them.
Complex, dense and whole grains can make your stomach and intestines sad if you don’t have the juices to break them down. They will spend days working on the hulls, proteins and denseness of those grains and never make any progress towards breaking them down sufficiently to glean enough nutrients out of them to replace the energy spent digesting them, which puts you at a negative energy balance. They’re anti-nutrients, if you will.
Eventually, your intestines will just keep passing them further and further down the poop shoot where they will scratch and scratch, all the while inflaming everything before they come out. Meanwhile, your poor tummy and then intestines will feel bad and you’ll be tired and exhausted and you’ll wonder why in the world things could feel so bad when you’re trying to eat so well. The same can be said of legumes for most chronically ill people.
That being said, if you miss grains and feel you must have something during this important healing time, your best bet would be to have a small portion of white rice. It is the easiest to digest, and that’s our goal right now–easy digestion. But it would be better to keep away from most grains and maybe use sweet potatoes as a replacement for now if you can digest them well. Later, when you’re stomach heals, you can try and bring them back in.
The majority of grains in the US are GMO and even grains that aren’t have still been changed in fundamental ways. In the 50s and 60s, a man named Norman Borlaug, led the way to a new revolution that “involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers,” according to Wikipedia. He improved the yield of this new species of semi-dwarf wheat he created with fertilizers and pesticides. He won the Nobel Peace Prize.
What we now call wheat is a very distant relative of the wheat 50 years ago. And now scientists are starting to connect all kinds of chronic illnesses with wheat-sensitivity due to the increased gluten properties of the “new” wheat.
And as Grainstorm.com says, “So, put another way: We have mutant seeds, grown in synthetic soil, bathed in chemicals, then deconstructed, pulverized to fine dust, bleached and chemically treated to create a nutritionally void industrial filler that no other creature on the planet will eat. And we wonder why it might be making us sick?”
In the future, when your body systems are working really well, look for non-GMO varieties of grains and try out spelt or Kamut. Both are ancient grains and not modified in the same way as the majority of wheat and corn. Rice is further behind in this global GMO race. There isn’t much GMO rice in circulation yet, so stock up on the non-GMO versions while you can. Very soon most rice is predicted to be herbicide resistant, pest resistant, increasing in grain size, nutrients, and flavors. One type is even going to produce human proteins.
One main reason a person who is chronically ill needs to stay away from grains is that they have a high level of Phytic Acid, which in a chronically ill system, prevents absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc. We need those minerals to be bioavailable and easy to assimilate into your system, which means grains, for now, are out. Phytic acid is found in the bran of all grains as well as the outer coating of seeds and nuts (which is why soaking to remove most of it works for some people).
However, for a person who is not chronically ill, phytic acid has proven to be a helpful part of a healthy body system by acting as an antioxidant, combining with iron when it becomes a free radical, threatening to cause illness and cancer. From BreakingMuscle.com: “It is known that iron can behave as a free radical, contributing to oxidative stress in the body. In this context, phytic acid’s ability to sequester and trap iron is beneficial. In fact, it does such a good job of binding to iron that it can effectively neutralize any free radical.” It can also help regulate blood sugars and cholesterol.
(If you’re a MTHFR mutant like me, there’s a third possibility that I go into here.)