“It occurred to me, that I should get my long list of nutrients from food [rather than supplements]. That if I did that, I would probably get hundreds and maybe thousands of other compounds that science had yet to name, that would be helpful to my brain and my mitochondria.”- Dr. Terry Wahls
Finally, something all endo girls from all walks of life can agree on: eat your veggies! The question is, what does eating veggies look like if you want to heal from endometriosis? For those of us who grew up counting baked beans and white potatoes as our veggies, it's harder to understand just what to eat to impact our health. Lucky for us, there's a formula.
To answer this question we look to Dr. Terry Wahls, creator of the Wahls Protocol and self-healer of the Multiple Sclerosis that had left her wheelchair bound. She’s a scientist, so Dr. Wahls ended up using her medical background to understand that we can’t even begin to unlock the secrets of nutrient content from real, whole foods, so we might as well heal with the real thing rather than supplements. Her mitochondria healing diet is known to heal everything from autoimmune to leaky gut to chronic fatigue to, well, endometriosis. And a big big big part of it is a large serving of vegetables every-damn day.
What are mitochondria and how do they become sick?
Mitochondria are the tiny factories within each cell that turns the food and air we intake into energy. They’re so big they take up about 40% of your cellular space! Now imagine just how many mitochondria we have in our bodies: trillions. So keeping these guys healthy and functioning directly translates to us being healthy and functioning. Simple enough.
The mitochondria stay healthy the same way you do: nutrition and exercise. The more micronutrients you feed these buggers, the happier they’ll be. And, the more you exercise — i.e. the more you use your muscles and bring blood, nutrients, and oxygen to them — the more mitochondria you’ll grow. That’s right, you can increase the amount of mitochondria you actually have in your body! This is the reason why you end up having more energy throughout the day the more fit you are, because you’ve built up a larger supply of mitochondria.
One of the main things that erode our lovely mitochondria is the fact we eat a surplus of poor-quality foods, and a deficit of the good kind. Empty calories like improperly prepared grains, bread, processed foods, refined flours, sugar, trans-fats, and vegetable oils, all build up in our system and burn out our energy factories. End result? Body falls apart. Sound familiar? What the mitochondria need besides quality movement is micronutrients, think vitamins and minerals. Lots of them, and a variety of them.
How to take care of your mitochondria:
Feed them! Through years of personal study, Dr. Wahls identified 31 micro-nutrients that your mitochondria need to function. She then learned which foods provide those nutrients and came up with her “9 Cups Daily” protocol (her full protocol also includes ancestral fats, bone broths, and organ meats, fyi) which supply essential nutrients we can't get elsewhere. Per day, your allotment would look like this:
3 cups of leafy green vegetables, such as kale, collards, chard, spinach or lettuce, which provide vitamins A, B, C and K. That's about one heaping plateful, much less if steamed or blended in smoothies. Why? For the tons of minerals and micronutrients condensed in these buggers.
3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, mushrooms and asparagus, because they support the removal of toxins from the body. Why? For their sulfur rich compounds, which directly support our livers' ability to detox. If you're avoiding goitrogens for a thyroid issue, you should be okay as long as you make sure to eat these types of veggies cooked, never raw.
3 cups of colorful vegetables and fruits (ideally three different colors each day), because they’re full of antioxidants. They have to be colored all the way through, so apples and bananas don’t count as colored, but berries, citrus, beets, red cabbage, peppers, and carrots do. If choosing fruit then no more than 1 pc per day. Why? For their antioxidants, which attack the free radicals that cause inflammation in your body. Plus the micronutrients of course :)
Oh my, that’s a lot of vegetables...
It's true that 9 cups may seem like a lot, especially if you’re a little lady! Dr. Wahls recommends 9 cups/day for a tall woman, but agrees a petite woman might be able to make due with 6 cups/day. If 9 seems like an unreachable goal, simply start with 6, 2 cups of each. However, if it's the fact the 9 cups seems like a lot because you're filling up on other, less nutrient-dense fare (gluten free toast, pasta, and rice) it's time to start substituting by cutting out the crap ;)
The veggies will then end up taking the place of processed foods since you might otherwise eat, since in order to meet your veggie-allotment you won’t be able to fill up so easily on processed foods. That might mean cutting out your avocado toast for breakfast and replacing it with a veggie-egg scramble with avo on top. Or removing the cup of quinoa at lunch for a heaping serving of sauteed veggies. Taking the gluten free noodles for dinner and replacing them with steamed broccoli or cauliflower, with lots of sauce and butter on top. It's taking the fillers out of your meals, and replacing them with 3 cups of 3 varieties of veggies.
If this is still too much, smoothies can easily be your friend, as long as you stay away from sweet smoothies and stick to nutrient-packed options that include fats, lots of greens, and a few berries. And remember to always eat your veggies with ancestral fats for best absorption of nutrients.
Looking for inspo? Grab The Wahls Protocol Cooking For Life Cookbook!
What about fruit?
Fruit is neat: it has anti-oxidents, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and water. Everything that veggies do except that it also has sugar. Lots of it. At the turn of the century average fructose consumption (fruit sugar) was about 15/g/day. That's akin to 1 piece of fruit per day. Now, with globalization, we can get fruit all the time, even in the dead of winter! And for many girls who are addicted to sugar yet trying to eat healthy, fruit seems like a great option at first. Sorry to say, too much sugar is still too much sugar.
Are you addicted to sugar? Imagine going an entire day or two without it ... and I mean all of it: ketchup, honey, refined flour products like pastas and breads, sweet drinks, fruit, alcohol. If you just freaked out, you're addicted ;)
That's why I recommend limiting fruits to no more than 1 pc/day, but getting all the same benefits of anti-oxidents, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and water (without the sugar) from veggies! This piece of advice seems to make some people angry (those who have been told their whole lives to eat a lot of fruit). If you feel angry about this right now, it's okay :) Take a deep breath, and just let yourself mull this one over for a while. Just try to remember: a fruit is similar to a vegetable, but with sugar in it.
The importance of local and organic: more nutrients, more probiotics
I am a HUGE proponent of farmers markets and buying local. Not only is this a much more affordable option for organic foods, but it also gets you in touch with your local food system - supporting farmers instead of corporations - plus it also allows you to buy veggies that are often more nutrient dense. That's because most small-scale, organic farms tend the soil like it should be cared for, with an emphasis on plant health and vibrancy, rather than enormous mono-cropped fields of organic broccoli from China that care only for profit.
Buying local will also force you to switch up your diet so you don't get stuck eating the same 10 foods all year long, plus it will allow you to add much more soil based probiotics (SBOs) into your diet. Yup, that's right, dirty farm-fresh plants will benefit your gut health. According to The Candida Diet website: “Soil-based organisms are ‘endospore-forming’ bacteria, which are naturally hardier and better able to withstand the challenging environment of the stomach. These means that soil-based probiotics differ from regular probiotics in two important ways:
They are much more likely to make it to the small intestine intact.
This means that a soil-based probiotic supplement needs to contain much fewer colony forming units (CFUs) than a lactic acid-based supplement. It also eliminates the need for special coatings or manufacturing techniques that are used to deliver lactic acid-based bacteria.
They colonize the gut more effectively.
This enables us to reduce our dosage to ‘maintenance’ levels much sooner, without worrying that the health benefits of the probiotics will disappear. (source: The Candida Diet)
Still, if you must buy produce at the local market, the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list is helpful for anyone on a budget! It helps us understand which conventional produce is the most toxic, and what we can let slide if we're budgeting. It's important because some of the produce on the shelves has been sprayed innumerable times, with some of the most toxic components on the planet!