Medicinal Diets Overview

What Medicinal Diet is Right For Me?

By Jen Donovan at Whole Body Healing Eugene

The medicinal diet that will most benefit you is highly individual and depends on many factors including personal health history, health goals, ancestry, taste/preference, lifestyle, and other factors. The primary medicinal diets I use in my practice are listed below. They are listed in loose order from least to most restrictive. How restrictive your diet must be to see results depends on your goals, level of adherence to the diet, and the extent and complexity of your condition. I generally recommend starting with a less restrictive diet and judging the result after several months to decide if it is working or if you need to dial in further. That being said, some people do better diving into a very structured, intensive dietary protocol right away due to their personality type and health goals.

Whole Foods Diet

Eliminate refined seed oils, white sugar and refined flours, all food additives (preservatives, colorings, flavorings, emulsifiers, sweeteners) and all processed food.

Focus diet on unrefined fats and whole fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, eggs, seafood, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes that are minimally processed and made from scratch. Eat only unprocessed or minimally processed foods that could be made in your own kitchen or back yard (butter, vinegar, coconut oil, etc.).

Pros: Many people notice a dramatic difference in their health when they eliminate all processed food and begin to cook everything from scratch. Other than the “no processed food” rule, this diet can be highly flexible and individualized based on preference and need. This way of eating can be simple even with a busy lifestyle by having adequate amounts of whole “snack foods” available (easy to prepare and eat whole foods like fruit slices, nut butters, cheese, hard boiled eggs, jerky, etc.) and simple, batch cooking techniques like soups, pot roasts, stir frys, etc.

Cons: Some people find it difficult to maintain a whole foods diet when stressed and busy. Ability to plan ahead and prep is necessary. Some people still experience unwelcome symptoms on this diet because it does not discriminate between more and less inflammatory whole foods.

Primary targets: Any mild/moderate mental or physical health condition such as anxiety, depression, digestive issues, skin disorders such as eczema, fatigue, brain fog, learning disorders such as ADD, behavioral difficulties in children, metabolic problems like blood sugar instability, hormone imbalances such as PMS, heart health, or asthma

Whole Foods Inflammation Reduction Diet

Eliminate refined seed oils, white sugar, gluten, corn, soy, dairy, food additives (preservatives, colorings, flavorings, emulsifiers, sweeteners), and generally processed foods

Moderate heavy starch/sugary foods
Prioritize animal protein, vegetables, and healthy fats

Pros: Can create a drastic change and significantly lower inflammation coming from a standard diet. Due to the increasing popularity of gluten free and low sugar diets, many easy substitutes can be found for these foods ready made at the grocery store.

Cons: It is still possible to eat a high starch or carbohydrate diet when following this protocol, which may not be enough to significantly affect your symptoms depending on the case.

Primary targets: Any mild/moderate mental or physical health condition such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, digestive issues, skin disorders such as eczema, brain fog, learning disorders such as ADD, behavioral difficulties in children, or asthma

Weston A. Price Diet

Eliminate refined seed oils, white sugar and refined flours, all food additives (preservatives, colorings, flavorings, emulsifiers, sweeteners) and all processed food.

Focus diet on unrefined fats and whole fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, seafood that are minimally processed and made from scratch. Eat only unprocessed foods or minimally processed foods that could be made in your own kitchen or back yard (butter, vinegar, coconut oil, etc.).

If dairy is eaten, it must be raw (unpasteurized). If grains, nuts, seeds and legumes are eaten, they must be properly prepared through soaking, sprouting, and fermenting. Gluten should only be eaten as a sprouted grain like buckwheat, or as a traditionally fermented sourdough.

Pros: The benefits of this diet are the same as a whole foods diet, with some added bonuses. Many people find that they tolerate inflammatory foods such as dairy, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes much better when they are properly prepared in the traditional methods. Dairy intolerance is often a manifestation of pasteurization, and sensitivity to grains, nuts, seeds and legumes can often be reduced or eliminated with proper preparation methods.

Cons: While this diet still has some flexibility depending on preferences, it does limit the available food options as raw dairy is not available everywhere and proper preparation of grains, nuts, seeds and legumes are not as common in contemporary western society. Properly preparing these foods does take extra time and effort which may not feel accessible.

Primary targets: Any mild/moderate mental or physical health condition such as anxiety, depression, digestive issues, skin disorders such as eczema, fatigue, brain fog, learning disorders such as ADD, behavioral difficulties in children, metabolic problems like blood sugar instability, hormone imbalances such as PMS, heart health, or asthma

Paleo/Primal Diet

Eliminate refined seed oils, white sugar and refined flours, all food additives (preservatives, colorings, flavorings, emulsifiers, sweeteners) and all processed food.

Also eliminate all grains and legumes, including gluten/wheat, corn, soy, rice, quinoa, beans, lentils, etc. White potatoes can optionally be eliminated.

Focus diet on unrefined fats and whole fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, seafood, nuts and seeds that are minimally processed and made from scratch. Eat only unprocessed foods or minimally processed foods that could be made in your own kitchen or back yard (butter, vinegar, coconut oil, etc.).

Dairy may optionally be included. Raw (unpasteurized) dairy is preferable.

Pros: By eliminating grains and legumes, many people find that stubborn symptoms begin to dissipate. This is likely due to the inflammatory and gut irritating compounds found in these foods. This diet can also improve blood sugar balance for those more sensitive to carbohydrates by eliminating many high starch foods from the diet. While more restrictive than your basic whole foods diet, there is still a great deal of flexibility available depending on preferences and individual needs.

Cons: This diet will require you to be even more conscientious at the grocery store and when eating out. Although many “paleo friendly” options exist due to the growing popularity of this diet, it does mean more energy spent towards maintaining the diet. Additionally, due to the inclusion of starchy vegetables such as yam and natural sugars such as honey and maple syrup, this diet can still not be enough for some people with more significant gut, hormone and blood sugar imbalance issues.

Primary targets: Any moderate mental, physical or neurological health condition such as anxiety, depression, OCD, Autism, Bipolar, mild to moderate autoimmune conditions, digestive issues such as IBS or Crohn’s, skin disorders such as eczema or psoriasis, fatigue, brain fog, learning disorders such as ADD, behavioral difficulties in children, metabolic problems like blood sugar instability, hormone imbalances such as infertility, PMS, painful cycles, or cycle irregularity, heart health, or asthma

Whole Foods Low Histamine Diet

Histamines are a compound found in some foods that can trigger a systemic allergic type response in the body. By avoiding histamines in foods, some people find significant reduction in their allergic type symptoms.

Histamines are found in food additives and processed/shelf stable foods, and so eliminate refined seed oils, white sugar and refined flours, all food additives (preservatives, colorings, flavorings, emulsifiers, sweeteners) and all processed food.

Eliminate gluten, legumes (lentils, beans, soy), nightshades (eggplants, tomatoes, white potatoes, and peppers), dairy, anything fermented (sauerkraut, kombucha, alcohol, vinegar, bread), chicken eggs (duck eggs are usually tolerated), spinach, mushrooms, some fruits (avocados, strawberries, raspberries, banana, pineapple, papaya, guava, lemons, limes, and oranges), anything cured, canned or dried (cured or dried meats, canned fish or vegetables, dried fruit).

Food must be eaten fresh (especially meat and seafood- they cannot be consumed if they have been in the fridge or on the store shelves more than 12-24 hours). No cooked leftovers may be consumed unless immediately frozen, and eaten within a few hours of defrosting/re heating from frozen.

Pros: By eliminating histamines, many people find that stubborn symptoms begin to dissipate. This is likely due to the over reactivity of the immune system in relation to allergic responses. A wide variety of symptoms can be related to this inflammatory immune histamine response.

Cons: This diet will require you to very conscientious of your food intake. It is difficult to cook ahead unless you have ample freezer space. Traveling and grabbing “on the go” snack foods can also be very difficult, as they are mostly high in histamine.

Primary targets: Any mental or physical health condition that could be related to histamines such as anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, Tourette’s, breathing disorders such as asthma or shortness of breath, digestive problems such as GERD/acid reflux, skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, insomnia, migraines, mysterious rashes and hives, frequent allergic responses to foods and environmental irritants (runny nose, eyes, itchy throat), and the autoimmune disease mast cell activation disorder.

Pro Metabolic with Low Anti Nutrient Diet (oxalates, salicylates, lectins, phytates)

Eliminate refined seed oils, white sugar and refined flours, all food additives (preservatives, colorings, flavorings, emulsifiers, sweeteners) and all processed food.

Grain consumption is limited to white rice. Legumes, nuts and seeds are eliminated.

Vegetable and fruit consumption is focused on those with the lowest anti nutrient content. These include root vegetables such as sweet potato, yam, parsnip, taro/cassava (limit this due to oxalate content), alliums such as onions, garlic, and shallots, mushrooms, and minimal consumption of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage. Nightshades (tomates, peppers, eggplants, white potatoes) are avoided, as well as high lectin foods such as cucumbers and squash. Fruits such as apples, pears, berries, cherries, melon, plantain, coconut, avocado, etc. are eaten in moderation. Honey and maple syrup can also be consumed in moderation.

Dairy in all forms can be eaten if tolerated. Raw is preferable.

Unlimited meats, seafood, and eggs are consumed.

Pros: This is a moderate-high carb, high protein, moderate-low fat type of diet, with anti nutrients in plants mostly avoided. While this diet is fairly restrictive, it allows for inclusion of naturally sweet and starchy foods. The balance of higher carb/higher protein from low toxin whole foods sources makes this diet is especially helpful for people with hormonal issues, low thyroid, adrenal fatigue, and people with mitochondrial issues or gallbladder insufficiency that make a higher fat/lower carb diet difficult. This is also a helpful diet for people who are underweight and have difficulty absorbing nutrients.

Cons: Remembering what plants are high in anti nutrients can be difficult for some, and the list of plant foods to safely eat in abundance can be small and monotonous. Due to the inclusion of natural starches and sugars, this is not a good diet for people with significant gut problems, immune system deficiencies or chronic infections.

Primary targets: Any moderate hormone or endocrine related health condition such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, difficulties managing stress, low thyroid, adrenal fatigue, difficulty putting on or keeping on weight, PCOS, hormone imbalances such as infertility, PMS, painful cycles, or cycle irregularity

Whole Foods Ketogenic Diet

Eliminate refined seed oils, white sugar and refined flours, all food additives (preservatives, colorings, flavorings, emulsifiers, sweeteners) and all processed food.

Also eliminate all grains, legumes, natural sugars, higher glycemic fruits and starchy vegetables, including gluten/wheat, corn, soy, rice, quinoa, beans, lentils, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, plantains, bananas, mangos, peaches, pears, apples, honey and maple syrup. Total carbohydrates should be between 20-50g per day.

Focus diet on unrefined fats and whole low starch vegetables, meats, eggs, seafood, nuts, seeds and small amounts of low glycemic fruits (mainly berries or melon) that are minimally processed and made from scratch. Eat only unprocessed foods or minimally processed foods that could be made in your own kitchen or back yard (butter, vinegar, coconut oil, etc.).

Dairy fat (ghee/butter, heavy cream, crème fraiche, sour cream) may optionally be included. Raw (unpasteurized) dairy is preferable.

Pros: By significantly restricting carbohydrates, many people see lingering blood sugar, hormone and gut imbalances improve. Forcing your body to run on fat for fuel can be very healing for the metabolism and creates a therapeutic state in the body called “ketosis” which can be especially beneficial for many issues related to mental, brain and neurological health. Many people find that their tendency towards binge eating and uncontrollable sugar cravings are reduced or eliminated on this diet.

Cons: This diet will require you to be even more conscientious at the grocery store and when eating out. Although some “keto friendly” options exist due to the growing popularity of this diet, it does mean more energy spent towards maintaining the diet. Additionally, tracking your macro nutrients (total amount of fat and carbohydrates consumed per day to make sure you are staying within optimal ranges) can be beneficial, especially when first starting out, which can take time, energy and be triggering for some people with a history of disordered eating habits. The higher level of fat consumed on this diet can be difficult for some people’s gallbladder function.

Primary targets: Any moderate mental, physical or neurological health condition such as anxiety, depression, OCD, tics/Tourette’s, movement disorders, seizure disorders, Autism, Bipolar, moderate to severe autoimmune conditions, digestive issues such as IBS or Crohn’s, skin disorders such as eczema or psoriasis, memory/cognitive problems and learning disorders such as ADD, behavioral difficulties in children, metabolic problems like severe reactive hypoglycemia, pre diabetes or diabetes, significant hormone imbalances such as infertility, PMS, painful cycles, or cycle irregularity, heart health, or asthma

Gut Healing Diet

This is a short term diet done for six weeks to two years depending on the severity of your illness and your healing goals.

Eliminate refined seed oils, white sugar and refined flours, all food additives (preservatives, colorings, flavorings, emulsifiers, sweeteners) and all processed food.

Also eliminate all grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, natural sugars, fruits and starchy vegetables, including gluten/wheat, corn, soy, rice, quinoa, beans, lentils, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, plantains, Jerusalem artichoke, and all fruit, honey and maple syrup.

Also eliminate medium starchy vegetables such as jicama, turnips, parsnip, and rutabaga. Plant fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, and others should be eliminated and only animal fats (butter, ghee, tallow, lard) should be used.

Focus diet on animal fats, low starch vegetables (mainly cruciferous and alliums, plus carrots and beets, meats, eggs, and seafood that are minimally processed and made from scratch. Eat only unprocessed foods or minimally processed foods that could be made in your own kitchen or back yard (butter, vinegar, etc.). Meat stock, which is made by boiling meat (not just marrow bones) for 2-5 hours, should be consumed with each meal. 1-2 tablespoons of sauerkraut or other allowed fermented vegetables should also be included with each meal.

Only raw dairy fat should be included such as ghee, butter, or fermented cream. Raw fermented yogurt can also be included after a few weeks on the diet.

Pros: This is a powerful diet for completely resetting and rebuilding the gut. Although very strict and restrictive, this can be done short term (a few months to a couple years) and have quite dramatic results in mental, physical and neurological health. Eating meat broth with every meal is very comforting and nourishing. Profound changes in the immune system, nervous system, and metabolism can be the result, even in cases of severe illness.

Cons: This is a serious diet to take on! It requires a lot of discipline and dedication to pull off. Additionally, it can be sabotaged by any “cheat meals” and so must be adhered to 100% for full potential of results. Some people can get triggered or distressed by the monotony of meals and restrictive focus of the allowed foods.

Primary targets: Any moderate to severe mental, physical or neurological health condition such as anxiety, depression, OCD, tics/Tourette’s, movement disorders, seizure disorders, Autism, Bipolar, psychosis, moderate to severe autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s, lupus, mast cell activation (with some low histamine adjustments), digestive issues such as SIBO and diverticulitis, severe seasonal and food intolerances and allergies, severe cases of skin disorders such as eczema or psoriasis, severe learning disorders such as ADD, severe behavioral and emotional difficulties in children

Carnivore

Eliminate all processed food and food additives including sugar and refined seed oils.

Eliminate all plant foods including mushrooms.

Focus the diet on meat, animal fats (tallow, lard, ghee, bone marrow, raw suet), eggs, and seafood.

Dairy and honey should be at least temporarily eliminated. They can be added back in moderation if desired after 4-6 weeks. Raw dairy is preferred.

Pros: This is the ultimate elimination diet. While extremely restrictive, the complete elimination of plant foods can be a game changer for some people with more significant mental, physical or neurological illnesses. Some people require a dramatic level of bioavailable nutrients to have significant healing progress, which this diet provides in abundance. Additionally, having a very clear and simple list of foods to eat without having to remember components of different plant foods or track macronutrients can be easier for some. Many people use it as a short term elimination diet (4 weeks to 6 months) and then slowly begin reintroducing plant foods to assess sensitivities.

Cons: This is an extremely restrictive diet and can feel distressing and monotonous for some. For more mild health concerns, this level of restriction is unnecessary and can lead to an unhelpful or dogmatic mindset around food.

Primary targets: Any severe mental, physical or neurological health condition such as anxiety, depression, OCD, tics/Tourette’s, movement disorders, seizure disorders, Autism, Bipolar, psychosis, severe autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s, lupus, mast cell activation (with some low histamine adjustments), severe digestive issues such as SIBO and diverticulitis, severe cases of skin disorders such as eczema or psoriasis, and cancer

Paleolithic Ketogenic

Eliminate all processed food and food additives including sugar and refined seed oils.

Eliminate all plant foods including mushrooms. Also eliminate dairy and honey.

Eggs and seafood should be eliminated temporarily and then reintroduced after 4-6 weeks.

Focus the diet on ruminant meat (beef, bison, and lamb) and animal fats (tallow, lard, ghee, bone marrow, raw suet). Organ meats must be consumed weekly, including liver, kidney, and brain. At least twice as much fat as protein must be consumed (100g of fat for every 50g of protein), and amount of fat can be increased depending on need. Some people due up to 4x the amount of fat to protein (200g of fat for every 50g of protein).

Pros: This is the ultimate elimination diet. While extremely restrictive, the complete elimination of plant foods can be a game changer for some people with more significant mental, physical or neurological illnesses. Some people require a dramatic level of bioavailable nutrients to have significant healing progress, which this diet provides in abundance. Additionally, having a very clear and simple list of foods to eat without having to remember components of different plant foods can be easier for some. Many people use it as a short term diet to really jumpstart healing (4 weeks to 6 months) and then slowly begin reintroducing plant foods to assess sensitivities.

Cons: This is an extremely restrictive diet and can feel distressing and monotonous for some. For more mild health concerns, this level of restriction is unnecessary and can lead to an unhelpful or dogmatic mindset around food. Tracking macronutrients is important so that you eat the proper ratio of fat to protein can be difficult or triggering for some. The need to consume such a high amount of fat can be difficult for some people’s gallbladder function.

Primary targets: Any severe mental, physical or neurological health condition such as anxiety, depression, OCD, tics/Tourette’s, movement disorders, seizure disorders, Autism, Bipolar, psychosis, severe autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s, lupus, mast cell activation (with some low histamine adjustments), and cancer

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