IBD & the Paleo Diet

January 29, 2013 at 7:58 pm 1 comment

If you’re like me, cooking special foods to help your loved one with IBD feel good is like a second nature. IBD patients have different needs than those who can tolerate normal diets.  There are a lot of different diets that IBD-ers try as a way to help reduce symptoms and enable them to live pain-free lives- SCD, low-fiber, low-residue, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc. Today, I will be focusing on one specific diet: the Paleo diet.

According to the Food Lover’s Kitchen, the Paleo, or “paleolithic,” diet

“…is based upon the idea of eating the foods our bodies were designed for through thousands of years of evolution. These foods were available to early people through hunting and gathering [meat and fish, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables].”

The Paleo diet involves:

  • Higher protein intake
  • Lower carbohydrate intake and lower glycemic index
  • Higher fiber intake
  • Moderate to higher fat intake
  • Higher potassium and lower sodium intake
  • Net dietary alkaline load that balances dietary acid
  • Higher intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and play phytochemicals

What does this all mean?

Essentially, while following a Paleo diet, you can eat meats, fruits & vegetables, nuts & seeds (except peanuts), healthy fats, herbs, spices & seasonings, as well as other key foods, like coconut milk, almond milk, brown mustard and vinegar.

You cannot eat grains, legume, dairy, processed foods, alcohol or starches.

Additionally, it is recommend that while on the diet, you consume organic grass fed meats, wild caught fish, and pasture raised poultry.

How does the Paleo diet help those with IBD?

According to the Four Hour Work Week, grains are the culprit causing malabsorption issues and that affects our health and well-being.

Here is the explanation provided on that site about how grains are bad for our gut:

“1. Damage to the gut lining. If the gut is damaged, you do not absorb nutrients. We need healthy villi and microvilli to absorb our nutrients, be they protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, or minerals.

2. Damage to the gall bladder and bile production. If you do not absorb fats and fat soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, K, and other nutrients, you will have problems utilizing any minerals you do absorb, to say nothing of the nutrient deficiencies from inadequate essential fats.

3. Phytates tightly bind to metal ions and make them unavailable for absorption. Analytical chemists actually use purified phytates in experiments where it is necessary to quantify the amounts of metal ions like calcium, zinc, or iron in a sample because the phytates bind to these metals tighter than just about any other molecule. The same thing happens when you eat phytates, and this is not a good thing for bone health or iron status.

4. Open door for autoimmunity and cancer. Once the gut lining is damaged, we are at exceptionally high risk of autoimmune disease, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and several types of cancer, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The pancreas is assailed by grain-induced inflammation due to CCK problems and elevated insulin levels. This inflammation is a potential cause of pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).

Why does all this happen? Because grains are pissed that you want to eat them and they are willing, and able, to fight back.

Additionally, a recent study from the University of Chicago shows that certain saturated fats that are common in the modern Western diet (and not in the Paleo) can initiate a chain of events leading to autoimmune disorders like IBD.

According to a press release about the study,

“Researchers at the University of Chicago found that concentrated milk fats, which are abundant in processed and confectionary foods, alter the composition of bacteria in the intestines. These changes can disrupt the delicate truce between the immune system and the complex but largely beneficial mix of bacteria in the intestines. The emergence of harmful bacterial strains in this setting can unleash an unregulated tissue-damaging immune response that can be difficult to switch off…

The researchers worked with a mouse model that has many of the characteristics of human IBD. Genetically deleting a molecule, interleukin 10, which acts as a brake on the immune system’s response to intestinal bacteria, caused about 20 percent of mice to develop colitis when fed a low-fat diet or a diet high in polyunsaturated fats. But when exposed to a diet high in saturated milk fats, the rate of disease development within six months tripled, increasing to more than 60 percent. In addition, the onset, severity and extent of colitis were much greater than that observed in mice fed low-fat diets.”

I couldn’t find any scientific research on IBD and the Paleo diet (if you have any, please send me the link!). However, from reading that explanation and the new study, it makes sense that the Paleo diet could help control the symptoms of Crohn’s and UC by eliminating grains and eating all organic foods. I mean, I know a lot of people who swear by a gluten-free diet to help manage their disease.

The one thing with the Paleo diet for IBD-ers to watch is the consumption of vegetables and fruit. The diet depends a lot on a high intake of non-starchy vegetables and fruit (making up 35-45 percent of your daily calories). If you have trouble digesting vegetables and fruits, make adjustments to your specific diet. Some find it easier to digest cooked vegetables and fruit. Experiment with the diet to see what works for you; just make sure your heath comes before strict following of the Paleo diet guidelines.

The Bottom Line

Each IBD patient is different and what works for some may not work for another. For example, Dan has no food limits as he doesn’t seem to have triggers aside from dairy. However, my friend Julia is eating gluten-free because gluten aggravates her Crohn’s.

Only you know what works and what doesn’t work for your body. There are lots of diets out there- follow the one that works best for you.

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Entry filed under: Diet.

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