The concept of healing diets has been around since at least the time of Hippocrates, the Greek physician in 400 BC, who stated: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Food is the first place to start when trying to heal the gut, and the gut is the first place to start when you are trying to heal the body.

In addition, the gut is known as the “second brain”, so healing the gut can help to heal the brain, including mood disorders and neurological disorders.Using Food to Heal

Using food to heal is a multi-faceted approach consisting of:

  • Switching to a healing diet
  • Making lifestyle changes
  • Incorporating the right types of foods, herbs, and diet
  • Eating good quality fats
  • Searching for foods specific for gut healing and detoxification
  • Eliminating food allergies and food sensitivities
  • Taking enzymes to improve digestion
  • Supplementing prebiotics and probiotics to increase gut flora
  • Eating organic foods

Food can be a very powerful healing tool for the body and the brain.

Healing Diets

Sometimes more than one diet is necessary especially if your child has a chronic disease or disorder, even a neurological disorder.

If your child does not show a significant amount of improvement on a particular diet, then try another diet.

Keeping the gut clean and not continually having your child eat foods with toxins and chemical preservatives will help facilitate healing the gastrointestinal tract more efficiently.

Sometimes changes are subtle and on a deeper biochemical level that are not always visible to parent.

Good quality foods to which your child is not sensitive are very healing to the gut.

Below are the most commonly used healing diets:

  • Elimination Diet:  This diet takes major allergenic foods out of the diet at the same time then adds them back in one by one so you can determine if certain foods are contributing to your child’s symptoms.
  • Gluten and Casein Free Diet (GFCF): This diet can help children with autism, ADHD, SPD as well as those with asthma and allergies improve their symptoms.
  • Vegan: All animal products including eggs, milk and honey are prohibited. Because there is less saturated fat in this diet, high blood pressure may improve. Protein intake is important for vegans because there are limited sources, so supplementing with vitamin B12 may be necessary. In addition, the high amount of carbohydrates relative to protein may cause insulin resistance and weight gain in some, although not everyone experiences this issue.
  • Vegetarian and Pescatarian: Vegetarians do not eat meat; pescatarians eat fish, but not poultry or red meat. These diets can lower the risk for chronic diseases because of the high intake of fruit, vegetables and fiber and healthy fats from fish and a lowering intake of saturated fats from beef and chicken. However, as with a vegan diet, there is a need to focus on enough protein, zinc, iron, calcium and vitamin B12.
  • Paleo: This diet avoids processed foods, sugar, legumes, grains (including corn), potatoes and dairy but does allow for the consumption of sweet potatoes and honey. The paleo diet promotes taking healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals and may have cardiovascular benefits. However, there may be a deficiency of calcium, vitamin D and fiber, so be sure to include lots of animal protein and fats for a good source of vitamin D and lots of cruciferous vegetables because they are rich in vitamin C and calcium. A low-sugar and low-fruit Paleo diet (see ketogenic diet below) is an excellent way to control high blood sugar.
  • Autoimmune Paleo: This version of the paleo diet eliminates additional foods that the standard Paleo diet does not: eggs, seeds, nuts and nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant). It emphasizes a higher consumption of antioxidant-rich foods and is an excellent way to control inflammation.
  • Ketogenic Diet: This diet is similar to the paleo diet but does allow for the consumption of dairy and peanuts (a legume) while eliminating sweet potatoes and honey from the diet. The daily limit for “net carbs”, the remainder of the total amount of carbohydrates in grams minus the amount of fiber in grams, is between 20 grams and 50 grams, which means that most fruit needs to be eliminated. In general, higher amounts of fats versus carbohydrates are consumed. Because this diet forces the body to run on ketones rather than glucose, it is well documented to help those with seizures, high blood sugar and diabetes.
  • Mediterranean: This diet includes plenty of olive oil, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, beans, whole grains and some dairy products. It has been shown to prevent diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline.
  • Raw Food: This diet avoids meat, dairy, processed foods and cooked foods while enjoying raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Because foods are not cooked, there is a higher nutritional value in non-cooked foods, especially of vitamins C and B as well as of plant-based enzymes. However, cooking destroys harmful bacteria, so a child with a compromised immune system should avoid unpasteurized products and juices.
  • The Whole 30: This diet removes grains, dairy, legumes and added sugars and sweeteners from the diet for 30 days. A challenge with these foods can help determine if these foods are triggering food intolerances and sensitivities.
  • The Failsafe Diet: This diet eliminates additives, salicylates, amines and high levels of free glutamates. This diet is not suitable for those with food allergies but is well tolerated for those with food chemical sensitivities, autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder and learning disabilities.
  • Specific Carbohydrate Diet: This diet was developed by Elaine Gottschall to stop the vicious cycle of malabsorption and microbe overgrowth by removing the source of energy to the microbes: sugars and certain carbohydrates. By doing so, inflammation decreases, the digestive system heals and the immune system can return to normal.
  • GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) Diet:  The GAPS diet was developed by Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, who used it to recover her son from autism. It is similar to the paleo diet and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet but allows for homemade, fermented dairy as well as eggs and some legumes. All fruits and vegetables must be well cooked. This diet emphasizes bone broth and fermented foods.
  • Body Ecology Diet: This diet was developed by Donna Gates to heal the gastrointestinal system. While it does allow for the consumption of gluten-free grains, they must not be combined with protein in the same meal. In addition, very few fruits are allowed. By emphasizing an acid/alkaline balance, food combining and fermented foods, expansion/contraction and the “80/20 rule”, the gut is allowed to heal.
  • Feingold Diet: This diet, developed by Ben Feingold MD back in the 1970’s, is the original diet that showed that removal of certain foods and ingredients can improve a child’s allergies, mood, behavior and attention. It calls for the removal of artificial colors, artificial flavors and preservatives as well as foods containing high amounts of phenols and salicylates, which includes natural foods.
  • Low Glutamate Diet: An excess of free glutamate, found in processed foods as well as some natural foods), can cause brain fog, seizures, problems with attention and focus and symptoms of autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder.
  • Lutein-Free Diet (Sarah’s Diet): This diet theorizes that children with autism crave opioid-producing foods (gluten and casein-containing foods) as a way to reduce the stress of the immune reaction to lutein, which are found in colored fruits and vegetables.
  • Low Oxalate Diet (LOD): Oxalates are molecules found in food that join with calcium to create crystallized “stones” in the body that then contribute to inflammation. Unbound oxalates can interfere with sulfate and iron absorption and can impair brain function. Eliminating foods that are high in oxalates such as Swiss chard and spinach can help.

Learn more about healing diets and foods here.

Healing Foods

Depending on which healing diet you choose for your child, some of these healing foods will or won’t be allowed:

  • Fermented vegetables and foods:
  • Bone broth from chicken, turkey, red meat or fish bones
  • Good quality fats (please note that vegetable oils and trans fats are not listed):
    • Avocados and avocado oil
    • Nuts (no peanuts, which are not nuts)
    • Seeds
    • Dark chocolate
    • Eggs
    • Butter
    • Ghee (clarified butter)
    • Wild fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines
    • All coconut products
    • Cold-pressed olive oil
    • Chicken schmaltz
    • Beef tallow
    • Pork lard
    • Duck fat
    • Olives
    • Grapeseed oil
    • Hemp oil
    • Cod liver oil
    • Sesame oil
    • Borage oil
  • Algae and seaweeds:
    • Wakame
    • Dulse
    • Kombu
    • Chlorella (fresh water)
    • Spirulina
  • Leafy green vegetables:
    • Kale
    • Mustard greens
    • Arugula
    • Watercress
    • Beet greens
    • Collard greens
    • Mescaline greens
    • Dandelion greens
    • Parsley
    • Cilantro
    • Escarole
    • Endive
    • Scallions
    • Leeks
    • Romaine and other dark-green lettuces
  • Cruciferous vegetables:
    • Brussels sprouts
    • Kale
    • Collard greens
    • Bok choy
    • Cabbage
    • Broccoli
    • Cauliflower
    • Broccoli rabe
    • Broccoli sprouts
  • Root vegetables:
    • Rutabaga
    • Onions
    • Sweet potatoes
    • Parsley root
    • Yucca
    • Yams
    • Turnips
  • Mushrooms
    • Shiitake
    • Maitake
    • Porcini
    • Reishi
    • Turkey tail
    • Oyster
  • Antioxidants-rich foods:
    • Pomegranate arils
    • Goji berries
    • Wild blueberries
    • Dark chocolate
    • Pecans
    • Artichoke
    • Elderberries
    • Raspberries
    • Blackberries
    • Currants
    • Acai berries
    • Cranberries
    • Strawberries
    • Mangoes
    • Cherries
  • Seeds:
    • Flax
    • Sesame
    • Hemp
    • Pumpkin
    • Chia
    • Sunflower
  • Nuts:
    • Almonds
    • Walnuts
    • Pine nuts
    • Filberts
    • Brazil nuts
    • Cashews
    • Macadamia nuts
    • Chestnuts
    • Pecans
  • Grains:
    • Millet
    • Amaranth
    • Quinoa
    • Wild rice
    • Buckwheat
    • Gluten-free oats
    • Teff
  • Protein:
    • Lamb
    • Turkey
    • Chicken
    • Beans
      • Kidney
      • Adzuki
      • Black
      • Pinto
      • Navy
      • Lima
      • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
    • Peas
    • Mung beans
    • Lentils
    • Wild game
    • Wild-caught fish
    • Seafood
    • Venison
    • Buffalo
    • Bison
  • Sweeteners:
    • Raw local honey
    • Manuka honey
    • Stevia
    • Xylitol
    • Maple syrup
  • Condiments:
    • Apple cider vinegar
    • Balsamic vinegar
    • Cocoa
    • Carob
    • Mustard
    • Himalayan salt
    • Paleo ketchup
    • Paleo mayonnaise
    • Paleo salad dressings
  • Other fruit:
    • Lemon
    • Limes
    • Apples
    • Pears
    • Pineapple
    • Melons
    • Bananas
    • Oranges
    • Grapes
  • Other vegetables:
    • Asparagus
    • Radishes
    • Zucchini
    • Cucumber
    • Celery
    • Sprouts
    • Artichoke
    • Beets
    • Tomatoes
    • Eggplant
    • Fennel
    • Carrots
    • Summer squash
    • Winter squashes

Healing Herbs

Herbs have been used in traditional medicine practices for millennia. Here are some of the most common healing herbs:

  • Ginger (for nausea)
  • Turmeric (for inflammation)
  • Garlic (to support the immune system)
  • Cinnamon (to lower blood sugar)
  • Hot pepper (to stimulate the liver)
  • Thyme (for sore throats)
  • Oregano
  • Holy basil (to reduces stress)
  • Horse chestnut (for hemorrhoids)
  • Rosemary
  • Kudzu (to counter alcoholism)
  • Sea buckthorn (for dryness)
  • Chamomile (to aid digestion)
  • Ginseng (for energy)
  • Hops (for calming)
  • Licorice root (to balance blood sugar)
  • Nettles (to support kidneys)
  • St. John’s Wort (to counter depression)
  • Slippery elm (to heal leaky gut)
  • Echinacea (to support the immune system)
  • Goldenseal (natural antibiotic)
  • Mullein (to support the lungs)
  • Kava (for anxiety)
  • Lemon balm (for digestive calming)
  • Herbal marshmallow (for a sore throat)
  • Chasteberry (for PMS)
  • Calendula (for skin soothing)
  • Black cohosh (for hot flashes)
  • Ashwagandha (to support the adrenals)
  • Hibiscus (to lower blood pressure)
  • Milk thistle (to aid in liver regeneration)
  • Sage (for colds)
  • Green tea (to support immune system)
  • Dill (to aid detoxification)

Foods That Promote Detoxification

Lemon water first thing in the morning supports liver detoxification, and here are other foods that aid the removal of toxins form the body:

  • Beets
  • Brazil nuts
  • Goji berries
  • Seaweed
  • Onions
  • Sesame seeds
  • Basil
  • Ginge
  • Pineapple
  • Avocados
  • Artichokes
  • Broccoli
  • Collard greens
  • Dandelion
  • Dill
  • Cinnamon
  • Apples
  • Fennel
  • Green tea
  • Kale
  • Garlic
  • Mung beans
  • Parsley

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