The foods we eat play a key role in the development and healing of chronic illness. Each meal and snack, we have a chance to obtain essential vitamins and minerals from nutrient-dense foods; however, each time we choose processed, nutrient stripped food, we lose an opportunity to get the nutrients we need. According to the CDC, approximately ten percent of Americans have a nutrient deficiency, the most common being vitamin B6, iron, vitamin D, iron, vitamin C, and vitamin B12. In any chronic condition, especially IC/PBS, we cannot decrease inflammation or restore balance when nutrient deficiencies are in play. Below we explore the 10 pillars of healthy eating, which work to remove barriers to healing and promote overall wellness.
- Cut out refined sugar. Sugar triggers the release of dopamine, the same mechanism behind any other addiction. Not only does our brain crave more and more, but refined sugar is quickly absorbed into our bloodstream, causing a spike of insulin and inflammation. Candida also thrives off this sugar which can lead to overgrowth and a multitude of other problems. Although maple syrup and honey are natural forms of sugar, it is best to consume these in moderation to avoid the above problems. Instead, consider trying monk fruit or stevia, which are natural sweeteners that don’t raise blood sugar.
- Distance yourself from gluten. While going gluten-free seems to be a trendy diet, there is strong evidence supporting a gluten-free diet for those with leaky gut. When we consume gluten, it triggers the release of zonulin, a protein that signals the tight junctions of our intestinal cells to open. This can lead to a host of problems, including bloating, gas, loose stools, and food sensitivities. Gluten also mimics the protein sequence of our natural body cells, so when these large proteins enter our bloodstream (as with leaky gut), our immune system gets confused and starts attacking our own cells, leading to autoimmune disease. Some gluten-free foods are highly processed, so it’s best to choose naturally gluten-free whole grains such as quinoa, brown or wild rice, chickpea pasta, or certified gluten-free oats.
- Avoid conventional dairy. As with gluten, there are a variety of concerns when it comes to dairy. To start, dairy contains a proinflammatory protein called A1 beta-casein. Conventional dairy contains rGBH growth hormones, antibiotics, and pesticide contaminants, all of which have been shown to have adverse health effects. Similar to gluten, casein protein in milk mimics a protein sequence in our own cells, which triggers our immune system to attack our own body. While consuming organic dairy will decrease our exposure to growth hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides, choosing non-dairy alternatives is best.
- Eliminate processed meat and grains. When we consume refined grains such as white bread, white rice, or white pasta, our body digests and absorbs them rapidly. This leads to a spike in blood sugar and insulin, which promotes inflammation. Alternatively, processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and lunch contain nitrites and nitrates, which are preservatives linked to numerous cancers. Instead of choosing the highly processed options listed above, consider purchasing nitrate and nitrite-free options for meats and whole grains with fiber left intact.
- Focus on plants. The color in plants are phytochemicals that act as powerful antioxidants to fight inflammation. The deeper or brighter the color, the higher the level of antioxidants. Plants also contain fiber which works to slow the digestion of carbohydrates, increase satiety and regulate blood sugar. Even better, it encourages the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which has a positive effect on inflammatory pathways. When we focus on whole plant foods, it’s easy to get the recommended minimum of 30 grams of fiber each day. To reach this recommendation, try to fill half your plate with colorful vegetables each meal.
- Enjoy fruit in moderation. Not only can excessive fruit intake, especially juice, spike blood sugars, and insulin levels, it can also feed natural yeast in our body and lead to Candida overgrowth. While the mechanism is unknown, research has found that Candida triggers the release of histamine from mast cells. When we have a build-up of histamine, it can lead to skin irritation, changes in blood pressure, fatigue, gut dysfunction, and UTIs. To keep Candida in check, it’s best to enjoy up to 3 servings of fruit per day and pair it with a protein-rich food to help slowly digest and absorb the natural sugar.
- Incorporate healthy fats – Omega-3 fats found in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, and tuna, are potent anti-inflammatory agents. For this reason, it’s recommended to have 2-3 servings of fatty fish per week. Other sources of healthy fats include avocados, nuts, especially walnuts and almonds, and oils, especially olive oil, avocado oil, or sesame oil. For those who tolerate it, you can enjoy a handful of nuts or spoonful of nut butter each day and avocado a couple of times per week.
- Choose organic when possible. Although organic produce may be contaminated with pesticides, the levels are significantly lower than conventional. If pesticides are toxic to insects, plants, and fungi, imagine what it does to our own body? Pesticides have been linked to DNA damage, endocrine disruption, oxidative stress, and a host of chronic conditions. Moreover, GMOs have been linked to the development of food allergies in vitro, as well as increased antibiotic resistance. The concern with additives, preservatives, dyes, and artificial sweeteners is a never-ending list, including cancer and infertility. When we purchase organic foods, we avoid all of the above (and more).
- Include quality proteins. Like dairy, conventional meat can contain antibiotics and growth hormones, whereas organic farmers cannot use antibiotics, growth hormones, or pesticides while farming. Grass-fed beef has been found to have higher levels of omega-3 fats, which we know help to fight inflammation. Unlike wild-caught fish, farm-raised fish contained higher levels of PCBs, which are known carcinogens. Whenever possible, invest in quality proteins such as 100% grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and pasture-raised chicken and eggs.
- Get personal. IC is individualized – what works for one person may not work for another. While clean eating and an anti-inflammatory diet are the foundation of healing, it likely will need to be tailored to your unique needs. For example, some people with IC may need to avoid foods high in oxalates or histamines. Additionally, you can identify what foods are triggering your immune system and causing inflammation through the MRT Food Sensitivity Test. If you need help developing a personalized plan, Integrative and Functional Nutritionist Brianne Thornton is here to support you!
To get started in your healing journey, join us for our 7 Day Healthy Living Challenge! This challenge includes a 7-day meal plan with recipes and a grocery shopping list, along with live Q&A and support from Brianne and Elisabeth. For more information and to get signed up, visit our site: https://icwellness.org/product/7-day-healthy-eating-challenge/