This Paleo Diet Alternative Was Developed to Help With Autoimmune Disorders

Photo: Stocksy/Ali Harper
The idea of food as medicine has long been part of doctors' treatment plans. Want to prioritize heart health? Go Mediterranean. Have IBS? The low-FODMAP food list is your new BFF. But there's one diet that doesn't make headlines on the reg, yet is still recommended for people with various chronic autoimmune disorders: the Wahls diet.

It was crafted by functional medicine practitioner Terry Wahls, MD, as a way to treat her own multiple sclerosis. After it worked for her, people suffering from other chronic autoimmune disorders—chronic fatigue, joint pain, and digestive problems ora nywhere inflammation rears its ugly head—hopped on board, too.

Here's how it works: According to Dr. Wahls, the whole point of the diet is to feed mitochondria, which produce 90 percent of the chemical energy cells need to survive and help to transport nutrients throughout the body. When your cells don't get these things, that's when she says the body starts to break down, and health can begin to deteriorate.

So, the Wahls diet suggests you skip foods that could cause cell harm such as sugar, processed foods, grains, soy, dairy, eggs, and legumes, while embracing veggies, grass-fed meat, fish, fruit, and plenty of healthy fats. I know what you're thinking: It sounds a little reminiscent of, well, Paleo.

And you're right: The Wahls diet is a type of Paleo diet. The key difference? The Wahls diet tells follower exactly how much of a certain food to eat, namely vegetables and protein. The protocol specifies that followers eat six to nine cups of non-starchy vegetables a day and four ounces of protein (fish, specifically twice a week). Plus, it has a specific focus on veggies, which Dr. Wahl posits gives the mitochondria the power it needs to convert food to energy, healing the body in the process.

What exactly does eating on the Wahls diet look like? Keep reading for five recipes from The Wahls Protocol Cooking For Life.

bacon salad
Photo: Terry Wahls, MD

1. Kale and bacon salad with root vegetables

Makes 1 salad serving; 6 dressing servings (4 Wahls veg/fruit cups)

For the salad:
1 bunch curly or lacinato kale
1 or 2 bacon slices
1/2 cup thinly sliced Brussels sprouts
1/2 cup grated or sliced raw carrots
2 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette
1/4 cup grated raw beets

For the balsamic vinaigrette:
6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the salad:
1. Cut the kale leaves from the thick stems and save the stems for another use. Roll up the leaves and thinly slice them crosswise.

2. Steam the kale leaves using a steamer basket and a sauce pan, or cook in a skillet with one tablespoon of water, and set them aside to cool. Alternatively, you can massage them with one-fourth cup apple cider vinegar or lime juice and then let them sit for 30 minutes to an hour. (Both steaming and massaging with acid reduce the natural bitterness in kale.) This should yield approximately three cups of chopped kale leaves.

3. Meanwhile, cook one or two slices of bacon on low for 10 to 12 minutes until desired level of crispness. Remove the bacon from the pan, and drain on paper towels.

4. Add the Brussels sprouts and carrots to the bacon grease and cook for three to five minutes or until tender.

5. Put the kale into a large bowl and drizzle with the dressing. Add the Brussels sprouts–carrot mixture and beets. Toss everything to coat. Crumble the bacon over the top of the salad.

For the dressing:
1. Put all the ingredients in a glass jar or bottle and shake to combine, or whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl until well combined.

2. Shake or whisk again before each use. Store in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Variation: For a meatier salad, you can add one-half cup cubed ham or Canadian bacon to the cooked vegetable mixture in the last minute of cooking, just to warm it up.

brat skillet
Photo: Terry Wahls, MD

2. Bratts skillet with sausage, mushrooms, and cabbage

Makes 4 servings

4 bratwursts
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chopped red cabbage
4 cups chopped mustard greens
1/2 cup chopped fresh oregano
2 Tbsp ghee
Sriracha or spicy kimchi to taste

1. Boil the brats for 10 minutes, then slice them.

2. Heat the ghee in a large skillet or stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, onion, and sliced brats and sauce until the mushrooms are soft and the onions are translucent, two to five minutes.

3. Add garlic and cook, stirring for two minutes. Add the cabbage and cook for five minutes more. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard greens and oregano. Cover and let skillet sit for two minutes.

4. Serve with sriracha or spicy kimchi for an extra kick.

spaghetti squash
Photo: Tarry Wahls, MD

3. Slow-cooker dairy-free "cheesy" spaghetti squash

Makes 4 servings

1 medium spaghetti squash
1 Tbsp ghee, melted
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the spaghetti squash in the slow cooker, cover, and cook on low for eight to ten hours, or until the squash feels soft. Remove the squash and let it cool until you can handle it. Cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and scrape out the pasta-like strands with a fork.

2. Alternatively, preheat the oven to 375° F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, put the halves cut-side down in a large roasting pan or on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast for about 40 minutes, or until you can easily pierce the squash with a fork. Use a fork to scrape out the pasta-like strands.

3. Put the spaghetti squash “noodles” in a large bowl and drizzle with ghee, then sprinkle with the nutritional yeast and sea salt and pepper to taste. You can also top this with your favorite bolognese or marinara sauce.

turkey tacos
Photo: Terry Walhs, MD

4. Healthy ground turkey tacos

Makes 4 servings

1 lb ground turkey
3 cups thinly slices bell peppers
3 cups thinly sliced onions
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 large lettuce, kale, or collard leaves
2 Tbsp ghee
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp taco seasoning
Salsa and/or guacamole to taste

1. Heat the ghee in a stockpot or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground turkey, taco seasoning, bell peppers, and onions. Cook until turkey is browned and the vegetables are tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

2. Serve the cilantro and hot sauce on the side, or stir them directly into the skillet. Divide the taco filling among eight large leaf wrappers (lettuce, kale, or collards).

3. Add salsa and/or guacamole. Roll up or fold up and enjoy. Alternatively, serve the filling on a bed of greens as a taco salad.

Cooking tip: You don’t need to add water or broth to the fat when you are cooking the meat for this meal.

chocolate fudge
Photo: Terry Wahls, MD

5. Wahls refined-sugar-free chocolate fudge

Makes 20 servings

1 cup coconut oil
1 medium avocado, pitted and peeled
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor. Process until smooth, then press the mixture into an 8x8-inch glass baking dish and refrigerate or place in a freezer for 30 minutes to firm up the fudge.

2. Cut into 20 squares and enjoy.

Here are more ways to fight inflammation, including how fiber plays a role.

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