What should I eat on the Autoimmune Diet?
DISCLAIMER: CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR BEFORE DECIDING ON A TREATMENT PLAN FOR ANY DISEASE OR INJURY.
Foods to Eat
The foods that are most beneficial for patients on the Autoimmune Disease Diet are those that are the richest in the most essential nutrients for autoimmune disease patients. While it’s ultimately up to you which whole foods you choose to include more often and which ones you may eat less frequently, the foods below offer some specific benefits. If there’s a particular food on this list that you really don’t like, you’re not obligated to eat it. This list is merely a suggestion of ideal food choices, and intended to generate ideas for healthy, autoimmune disease-healing eating and cooking. Since some readers are likely just getting started with home cooking and healthy eating, use this list to help brainstorm about the healthy foods and meals you might enjoy.
Fresh Vegetables and Fruits
Note that some autoimmune disease patients, like arthritis or psoriasis patients, may need to eliminate nightshade vegetables from their diet. Nightshades can be irritating to some people, and some patients may need to temporarily (or sometimes permanently) eliminate these in order to recover from their disease. Other people may not need to do this, but it can be valuable to start the Autoimmune Disease Diet by removing these nightshade foods, and then gradually add them back in at a later time to assess your own sensitivity. If you don’t notice any changes, then go ahead and eat the nightshades! If however you do notice a negative change of some kind, remove the nightshades completely for a longer period of time.
Otherwise, though, your diet can and should include a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables of your choosing. As long as they’re fresh (not canned or frozen), they can be on the table. Fresh fruits and vegetables of all kinds help alkalize the body, but there are some specific fruits and veggies that are more alkalizing. Alkalinity is an important part of most healing protocols, including those involving diet as a core part of the protocol. When your body is more alkaline, it can fight infection more easily and generally heal more efficiently.
Here is a list of some fruits and vegetables that are most alkaline (consider increasing these specific foods in your diet):
- Black currants
- Figs (dried figs are particularly alkaline; this can be a healthy and flavorful snack, so long as the fig product doesn’t have any added sugar or preservatives)
- Grapes (raisins are even more alkaline; again, be sure that the raisins you eat are free from preservatives and sugar)
- Beet greens
- Brussels sprouts
Especially during the process of detoxification and more intense healing, freshly made juices are likely to become your best friend. This is a great way of increasing your liquid intake during the day while also giving your body a concentrated, nutrient-rich, and light yet filling snack or meal. Some diet protocols, like the Gerson Protocol (which I discuss more in this article) focus heavily on juicing, particularly during the initial phases of treatment, because fresh juices are easier to digest but can still give the body plenty of the nutrients it needs in order to heal.
Some juices, like a beet-carrot juice (with a squeeze of lemon) are surprisingly hardy and can function as meals by themselves. Other juices, like orange juice or watermelon juice, are much lighter and better suited to snacking or perhaps a light breakfast. Some people choose to do a juice fast on days when they’re detoxing more intensively or when they’re simply not feeling as well since this can be a more tolerable way to get necessary nutrients without taxing the gastrointestinal tract.
Here are some other ideas for fresh juices (you should make these at home; a juicer is only about $50, but you can get years and years of use out it):
- Orange-Carrot juice
- Green juice (include kiwis, kale, green apples, celery, cucumbers, spinach, wheatgrass, or mint, with some orange or pineapple juice to sweeten and enhance the juice’s flavor)
- Grapefruit-Orange citrus juice (add some other citrus fruits, too, if you wish; grapefruit juice is an especially powerful liver cleanser and excellent for detoxification)
- Ginger-Pineapple-Cucumber juice
- Mango-Orange or Mango-Berry juice
- Pineapple and Greens juice (combine pineapple with kale, cabbage, lettuce, or other leafy green vegetables)
Legumes, such as beans and lentils, can be an excellent source of protein, as well as of various other vitamins and minerals. Lentils, for example, tend to be high in non-heme iron, folate, potassium, and manganese. Make sure that when you eat legumes that you only choose dried beans or lentils (or even fresh ones, if you have access to these), and not canned. Canned foods of all kinds are on the “Foods to Avoid” list.
Besides being extremely healthy, legumes can also be used to make quick and easy meals. Before using any bean or lentil, rinse them well and then cover the beans you plan to use with water. Leave them to soak overnight or for at least 12 hours, then drain and rinse the beans again. This soaking process removes or processes certain antinutrients, like phytic acid, that can “clog up” digestion and the absorption of nutrients in the intestines. After soaking and draining, the beans/lentils will also cook more quickly and evenly. They may be added to slow cooker meals (like chili soup) or even boiled simply and then frozen for a later date. For example, I personally like to boil garbanzo beans in advance and freeze them so that I can make Indian Chana Masala whenever I like. If the beans are already cooked and ready to go, all I have to do is remove them from the freezer in the morning and then they’re ready for me by evening. When I prepare this way, I can have a fresh, hot meal that’s done in about 30 minutes and that can be made with fresh vegetables.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds make good snacks, but they can also be added into the diet in other ways. For example, homemade nut milks can add a huge dose of easy-to-digest nutrition, as can some chopped nuts on top of a salad. Like with legumes, nuts and seeds should, ideally, be soaked before eating. You can do this a day in advance by soaking the seeds and legumes you plan to eat the next day the night before. Pre-sprouted nuts and seeds are also available in some countries (though the DIY method is probably more budget-friendly for most people).
Some nuts, like almonds, can also be made into a flour that tastes delicious in baked goods. While the texture of baked foods made with almond flour tends to be quite a bit different, almonds lend a nice flavor to a lot of desserts in particular and it can be fun to experiment with this flour in particular.
Some grains can add variety and nutritional value to a person’s diet. Just because you’re not supposed to eat wheat or gluten on this diet doesn’t mean that all grains are off limits. Ancestral grains, or grains that have been farmed and eaten for thousands of years and are highly unlikely to be as processed or chemical-exposed as wheat or other more commercial grains, can provide an enjoyable alternative to gluten-based grains.
Examples of ancestral grains include amaranth, millet, sorghum, teff, and quinoa. Wild rice can also be considered an ancestral grain (avoid white rice and choose brown or wild rice instead for maximum health benefits). These are all highly nutritious and can be a healthy part of a balanced, varied Autoimmune Disease Diet.
Healthy Animal Proteins (in moderation)
Animal proteins supply vitamin B12, vitamin K2, heme iron (the most bioavailable source of iron), zinc, choline, amino acids, iodine, vitamin B6, and the other B-complex vitamins. While some plant foods may also contain some of these nutrients (with the exception of vitamin B12 and heme iron), animal products are the absolute best sources of these nutrients. Because of this, it’s important to include some animal protein in your diet while you’re following the Autoimmune Disease Diet.
Most cancer-curing diet protocols recommend consuming 5% less of animal protein in your diet. So, depending on your individual preferences and needs, this could be either a tiny daily dose of animal protein (Dr. Weston Price recommended having some grass-fed butter on toast in the mornings, for example), or a somewhat larger weekly dose of animal protein (like a grilled chicken breast once a week).
If you’ve been vegan or vegetarian, start the first 2 weeks to 1 month of the Autoimmune Disease Diet with a moderate dose of healthy animal protein. This may be something like a daily glass of grass-fed goat’s milk, a free-range fried egg for breakfast, or a small amount of free-range chicken breast added to a daily salad. If this is your situation, also be sure to take a daily sublingual vitamin B12 supplement made of methylcobalamin.
All of your animal proteins should be grass-fed/free-range, with no exceptions. This is because animal-based foods that are commercially produced do not have the same nutrients, such as vitamin K2 and iodine, that are present in grass-fed and free-range animal-based foods. Plus, commercial animal products have added antibiotics, hormones, organophosphates, and other toxins. Free-range chicken and eggs are somewhat more accessible than other grass-fed foods, and so these should be your first priority if you enjoy them. Grass-fed, organic goat’s milk and cheeses also tend to be more accessible, as do grass-fed buffalo meats. As a general rule, stay away from cow products of any kind, since these are almost always full of various toxins. Source your cow’s milk and beef products carefully, and if you’re in doubt of the feeding or production processes of these, it’s better to be safe than sorry (in other words, if you’re not sure, just avoid the product).
Foods to Avoid
(Most) Dairy Products
The vast majority of dairy products that are on the shelves come from cows who were pumped full of antibiotics and synthetic hormones (besides the fact that these poor cows probably were treated pretty terribly, which not only is bad for them, but also bad for you, because this poor treatment can lead to poor or even toxic quality milk products). Unless you personally own a milk cow, or have a friend who has a milk cow, or know of a dairy source that you are 100% certain raises their cows on grass and doesn’t give the cows any sort of synthetic “medicine”, dairy products of all kinds should be completely eliminated.
If you’re just beginning the Autoimmune Disease Diet, you should eliminate all dairy products either way, even if they’re high quality and healthy. This is because some people do indeed have a sensitivity to cow’s milk, or simply may not be able to digest it very well until they regain their health. Eating difficult-to-digest foods can be taxing on your whole gastrointestinal system, and since gastrointestinal health is the key to all health (especially if we’re talking about the gallbladder), it’s best to avoid ingredients that might cause discomfort. Even if you’re pretty sure that dairy isn’t a problem for you, it’s smart to cut it out at first just to be absolutely sure. You can add back in healthy dairy foods later if you so choose.
Goat’s milk and goat’s milk products can be easier to digest, and are also less likely to contain the undesirable toxins that are so often present in cow’s milk. Always read the ingredients, though, and make sure that the products you choose are as pure as possible (some goat’s milk may have added vitamin D or calcium, which should be avoided, as should mono-and-diglycerides or other similar ingredients in some goat cheeses).
(Most) Wheat and Popular Bread Products
Wheat and other gluten-containing grains, such as barley and rye, should be avoided, especially when you’re first starting the Autoimmune Disease Diet (note that oats also tend to be contaminated with gluten, so consider eliminating these, too, at first). For some people, gluten sensitivity can be a real issue, and cutting out gluten initially can eliminate the possibility of sensitivity-related digestive discomforts or general inflammation. Alternative grain options that avoid this problem of gluten sensitivity include amaranth, buckwheat, corn, rice, quinoa, sorghum, and teff. Some people also use non-grain flours like almond flour and chickpea/garbanzo flour as gluten alternatives for homemade breads or baked goods.
Besides the fact that gluten can cause inflammation or GI discomfort in some people, though, in the US the vast majority of wheat flour or gluten-based flour products are bromated, meaning that they’ve been “enriched” with potassium bromate, a substance that some sources claim enhances the gluten development in bread doughs. Potassium bromate contains bromine, a toxic halogen element that competes with iodine in the body for a spot in iodine receptors. Bromine toxicity and/or iodine deficiency can cause a long list of symptoms, many of which closely resemble those seen in autoimmune disease.
Note that some countries, including the UK and Canada, have banned bromates, brominated vegetable oils, and other bromine-based food additives from baked goods. Do your due diligence still and double or triple check the ingredients and production processes of the bakery goods that you buy, but chances are higher that freshly baked, simple breads from local bakeries in these countries will be free from toxins. When visiting a bakery for fresh bread, choose breads that contain a short list of ingredients, such as flour, water, yeast, and oil (eggs or small amounts of sugar added purely to help feed the yeast are also acceptable).
In the US, though, never buy baked goods of any kind that are made from wheat flour or other types of gluten-based flour. There are a select few gluten-free sandwich breads that may contain a reasonable, healthy ingredient list, but generally speaking, if you want bread, the best choice is to learn the art of gluten-free bread baking so that you can make your own breads. Get a bread machine and look up some gluten-free bread recipes, and start experimenting. If you eat a lot of bread or have a big family, consider making a few loaves in advance and freezing them for later so that you can keep up with your own bread intake.
Refined Sugars and Syrups
Refined sugars and syrups are a serious issue throughout the world. These foods are high in calories and almost completely lacking in nutrition, and contribute to dental problems, weight gain, mental/emotional health problems, and more. In the brain, pure sugar is just about as bad as cocaine (studies have even shown that these sugar and cocaine do indeed exert similar psychological effects, which further proves that, yes, sugar is a highly addictive substance). It’s essential that you completely eliminate all refined sugars and syrups from your diet if you want to succeed on the Autoimmune Disease Diet.
I want to make a distinction here, though, between sugar and sugars. Sugar is bad. Don’t eat sugar, period. Sugars are present in a lot of foods, and are unlikely to do you harm. Sugars are what make bananas, berries, and pineapple sweet. But, just because these foods naturally contain higher levels of sugars than other foods doesn’t make them bad. Eat as many bananas, berries, or pineapples as you’d like while following the Autoimmune Disease Diet. Sugars can, in fact, be beneficial in certain cases. And besides this, most whole foods that naturally contain sugars tend to also contain high levels of other nutrients. While a pineapple or a banana will help you feel full for longer, eating a doughnut is actually more likely to make you feel more hungry, or at least more hungry more often.
Here is a list of refined sugar and syrup type ingredients that should be completely eliminated (though the list of sugars and syrups is actually quite long, I’ve tried to focus on some of the main types of sugar/syrup or the sneakiest names for these that must be avoided):
- White sugar
- Powdered sugar
- Brown sugar
- Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and corn syrup solids
- Brown rice syrup and rice syrup
- Beet sugar
- Cane sugar
- Grape sugar
- Dextrin and dextrose
- Barley malt
- Coconut sugar **
- Agave nectar **
** Coconut sugar and agave nectar are significantly less refined and more natural than the other sugars on this list, but should still be avoided.
Instead of sugar, use stevia (drops or powder), monk fruit (drops or powder), or raw honey. These three options are naturally very sweet, but they don’t carry any of the negative health effects of refined sugars. Stevia leaf itself has known anti-cancer benefits, for example, and raw honey has been known to help heal wounds both outside and inside the body (it can be valuable for treating ulcers, for instance).
Lead and/or Mercury Contaminated Fish and Seafood
Some types of fish are more likely to be contaminated with lead and/or mercury or other heavy metals, and should therefore be eliminated from the diet. Heavy metal poisoning is a relatively common issue, especially for people who have or used to have mercury amalgam dental fillings (read more about this here), and is another form of toxicity that can cause or aggravate autoimmune diseases symptoms. Because heavy metal poisoning is such a major problem, reducing exposure to heavy metals is one of the most important parts of lifestyle and body detoxification for autoimmune disease patients.
Types of fish and seafood that should be avoided include:
- King mackerel, Spanish mackerel, etc.
- American lobster
- Orange roughy
- Blue mussel
- Zander / pike perch
- Largemouth bass
- Common rudd
- Atlantic flatfish
- Chilean sea bass / Patagonia toothfish
- King crab
- Basa / Swai / Tra / Striped catfish (this may be referred to only as “catfish”)
- And more…
Some better, healthier choices of fish include wild-caught Alaskan salmon (avoid farmed salmon and Atlantic salmon), Pacific sardines, black cod (otherwise known as sablefish), and albacore / skipjack. Trout, when raised sustainably in a clean environment free from chemicals and toxins, can also be a good and healthy choice; even if the trout is wild-caught, the environment that these fish live in tends to be fresher and cleaner than other environments. These types of fish tend to be less likely to be contaminated with harmful heavy metals, and also still carry the valuable health benefits of fish. If you enjoy having fish, stick to these alternative, safer, healthy seafood options (if you don’t like fish, continue onward, eating fish certainly isn’t a requirement).
Artificial and Natural Colorings/Flavorings/Sweeteners
Both artificial and natural colorings, flavorings, and sweeteners must be completely eliminated. The word “natural” in this context is deceptive, and in fact, there’s not much difference at all between natural and artificial additives. The list of so-called “natural” additives is long, and the single ingredient known as “natural flavoring” or “natural coloring” can actually envelop a hidden list of 50+ ingredients (in other words… a “natural flavoring” is always more than one ingredient). Between 80-90% of the ingredients found in natural flavorings or colorings are of chemical origin, and can include substances like BHT and propylene glycol (which are toxic), or truly more natural ingredients like lemon essential oil or vanillin. Regardless, you don’t get to know these details when you choose a food with “natural” flavorings. Maybe those flavorings actually are natural (or directly derived from natural sources), but chances are higher that they’re not.
So, artificial and natural colorings, flavorings, and sweeteners fall into the same category. Specific artificial sweeteners that should be eliminated include:
- Acesulfame potassium / Acesulfame K
Sugar alcohols should also generally be avoided on the Autoimmune Disease Diet. While these aren’t technically toxic, they usually aren’t very well digested (if they can be digested at all). Because of this, they can cause gas and inflammation. Sugar alcohols include erythritol, sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol, and lactitol.
Unless you know a local butcher who could personally take your grass-fed or free-range meat and make it into sausages or patties without any fillers or additives, no deli meats. This means no store bought sausages/hot dogs, burger patties, pepperoni, ham, salami, bacon, or other similar products. These deli meats are almost always contaminated with nitrates and other unlisted ingredients like preservatives (some meats even have organophosphates injected directly into them to preserve color and freshness). Besides this, the vast majority of deli meats won’t be made with free-range/grass-fed meat products, and therefore will regardless be contaminated with hormones, antibiotics, and other undesirable toxins.
So either find a friendly neighborhood butcher, learn to make your own homemade deli meats (I have nothing against a homemade sausage made with quality meats), or else steer clear.
Pork and Pork Products
Some people will be very sad about this one, I’m sure, but it’s for the best. There aren’t very many types of meat that I’d recommend completely eliminating (unless of course, for instance, there’s a particular kind of meat that you particularly dislike), but pork is one of them. Pork, especially when undercooked or improperly cooked, can harbor certain parasites like the Trichinella parasite. Many people get infected with this parasite and never even know it’s there. As we’ve talked about before, it’s common for autoimmune disease to actually be caused by an underlying pathogenic infection. For this reason, avoid pork and pork products so that you don’t accidentally end up with a parasite infection (or so that if you already have a parasite infection, you can get rid of it once and for all).
All Canned Foods
Canned foods are very likely to be contaminated with aluminum, a metal which, although necessary in tiny quantities, can cause conditions like autism and lead to an increased risk of magnesium deficiency and hypercalcemia (read more about hypercalcemia here). Plus, canned foods are lower in nutrients for the simple fact that they’re more processed and less fresh. They also tend to contain preservatives or other toxic, chemical ingredients that can cause health problems.
Foods that are packaged in glass bottles, however, can still be eaten so long as they don’t contain any other toxic ingredients (again, like preservatives, sugar, artificial/natural flavorings or colorings, etc). Glass is a much healthier way to package foods for sale.