In order to boost your immune system, replenish your mineral and vitamin stores, and triple charge your healing capability you need a new diet, one that is incredibly nutrient dense.
As we continue on the path of healing, the next step during and after healing leaky gut is loading up with all the nutrients your body needs to thrive. The anti-inflammatory "endo diet" is great, but often it's nutrient content in't even close to what your body needs to thrive.
How is a Nutrient Dense Diet Different than a USDA "Healthy Diet", or even the "Endo Diet"?
Nutrient density refers to the concentration of micronutrients per calorie of food. Foods with high nutrient density supply a wide range of vitamins and minerals (or alternatively, high levels of a specific, important vitamin or mineral) relative to the calories they contain.
That's why it's important to understand that a government approved "healthy diet" can be terribly poor in nutrients. If you follow the USDA recommended high grain diet you would be filling up on 6-10 servings of grains a day (mostly, if not all, in processed forms), meaning you're missing 6-10 servings of nutrient dense options that could be filling up your stores. The USDA also recommends low-fat, which goes hand in hand with high sugar - meaning increased hunger, cortisol levels, and inflammation.
Moreover, the governments RDA for vitamins and minerals in based on the lowest amount needed before acute deficiency symptoms occur! So if you're just barely meeting your government quota for vitamins and minerals, you could still be dangerously close to depletion. Indeed, micronutrient deficiency is increasingly showing up as a major underlying problem with chronic disease.
Just how nutrient poor is our population? According to the USDA, pretty poor. According to one analysis using NHANES data on the American population:
70% are deficient in vitamin D,
60% deficient in vitamin E,
45% deficient in magnesium,
38% deficient in calcium,
34% deficient in vitamin A,
25% deficient in vitamin C,
8% deficient in vitamin B6,
8% deficient in folate,
8% deficient in zinc,
and a smaller percentage (less than 6%) didn’t consume enough thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B12, phosphorus, iron, copper, and selenium.
Just to note, the above deficiencies even came from people still eating fortified cereals and grains and any multi-vitamins they may be taking! With 63% of calories coming from processed foods, that's a large gap that could be filled with nutrient dense foods.
Vitamins and Minerals 101: The Essentials
There are 24 listed essential vitamins and minerals, 12 of each, and are called essential because your body needs them in order to function properly. That means they’re essential to have abundant amounts in your diet. Any deficiency (or overabundance) of either can cause an imbalance leading to a number of symptoms, and setting up an environment prone to disease.
Your essential vitamins include A, B’s (riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, folate, B12, B6, niacin, pantothenic acid and biotin), C, D, E, and K. Minerals include calcium, chromium, copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, selenium, sodium and zinc to name a few. Why do you need them? Because without any of them you’d be dead, and without enough of them you might develop something like, well, endo.
Not surprisingly, the human body needs a lot of vitamins and minerals to function properly! Even the chemical reaction that takes place in your body to turn a carbohydrate into energy, for example, uses a variety of vitamins and minerals for each chemical reaction. That means if you’re eating carbohydrates without nutritional content (white rice, bread, pasta) OR eating way too many carbohydrates in general, your body is actually losing nutrients as it struggled to be properly fueled. This is precisely how you can become stuffed yet starved.
Many people feel they can eat poorly, or not enough, and still get the amount of nutrients they need through a daily multi-vitamin. Sadly, if that were anywhere near true we wouldn’t have no much chronic disease and deficiencies on our hands. Your body is an amazing creation, but it certainly isn’t simple, and taking a laboratory pill full of synthetic vitamins and minerals cannot do for your body what whole foods do. That’s why I'm a firm believer in getting most everything you need from real food, foods with nutrients that you’re body can assimilate and absorb rather than just flow out, and utilizing customized supplementation only when appropriate.
Fit, Obese, or on the "Endo Diet" - You Can Still be Malnourished
Many people attach "malnourished" to starving. As you're learning, this common misconception true at all. In today's world you can be both stuffed and starved. Simultaneously, per above, you can think you're eating really healthy and still be getting no where near your daily quota of nutrients. Even still, it's really easy to be malnourished on a "endo diet", from removing so many things from your diet without adding nutrient dense alternatives in.
That's why it's really important to check in with yourself and see if you have essential vitamin and mineral deficiencies by tracking your daily nutrient intake to see what nutrients you're missing. Unless you work with a nutritionist, you're going to have to look into this questions yourself, but don't worry, it's not that hard. First, take a look in the proverbial mirror and ask yourself which of the following sounds like you:
Do you have muscle fatigue when doing normal activities?
Is your hair brittle, dry, or break? Does it never seem to grow?
Do you have ridged or spoon shaped nails? Are they brittle and break often?
Do you have cracking or inflammation at the corners of your mouth, or often get mouth sores?
Do you have diarrhea often?
Would you describe yourself as often irritable, angry, or even apathetic, none of which you didn't use to be?
Do you get cold very easily and find it hard to warm up?
Do you get sick a lot? Chronic sinus or ear infections, or colds or the flu?
All of these can be signs of malnutrition. Even if you're getting enough calories, fats, and proteins, your body needs a host of essential vitamins and minerals every single day to complete even the most basic of functions. If you aren't getting them in the form of whole foods, you're going to find your body extremely depleted (yes you can take a multi but that doesn't necessarily mean your absorbing what's in the pill, more on that later ;)
To find out just how many nutrients you're getting daily, it's a good idea to invest in a week of food tracking. Food tracking isn't hard, but can be a little bit time consuming at first, especially if you make your own whole food recipes since you have to add in the ingredients. That being said, it's still a great way to get a snapshot of what you're putting in your body so you have an idea what your average nutrient levels are. You don't necessarily need to get all your daily quota of nutrients in every day, but you should be averaging a proper amount each week or month. How to know? CRON-O-Meter is a free site that tracks vital nutrients, something many other "calorie-counters" don't do. Now you can track how much vitamin A, B's, C, D, E, and K you're getting, along with calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, zinc, and more. At the end of the week do a snapshot and see what you're really missing out on. These nutritional holes may be a key missing piece to your health puzzle!
Note: If you have a history of eating disorders or a poor relationship with food, it might be best to skip food tracking (or again, work with a nutritionist) so you don't allow an unhealthy obsession with calories to take over. Healing will come from focusing on infusion of nutrients rather than restriction.
Nutrient Density: The politics of nutrition
Just like the news, information on health is skewed depending on who's handing out the info. That's why a governmental list of "nutrient dense foods" will look so different than the foods acknowledged on ancestral health sites as nutrient dense. Why? Because the USDA deems a food nutrient dense if it's high in antioxidants and omega-3's, while penalizing foods on the nutrient density scale if they are high in a) calories, b) saturated fat, or c) sodium. Why this is "political" is because neither calories, saturated fat, or sodium is bad for you! In fact you need all three to function. That means any calorie dense food - such as fats and proteins - will be immediately axed from the list, even if they're insanely rich in nutrients.
That's why we follow the list below on the left, based on the amount of essential vitamins and minerals per serving, and are the foods that will quickly fill up your nutritional reservers if you're depleted. This list might also terrify you if you've vowed to never eat "inflammatory" dairy or meat ever again... don't worry, the right kinds will aid in healing you rather than unravelling you. The list on the right is a politically correct list, based on low calorie foods high in anti-oxidants and Omega-3s. Don't get me wrong, blueberries and spinach are great but they're probably not the missing key to reversing your auto-immune disease. For that we need the big guns of nutrition!
Heal Endo Nutrient Dense Foods (The Big Guns of Nutrition)
Butter from grass-fed cows
Liver from grass-fed animals
Eggs from grass-fed hens
Cod liver oil
Whole raw milk from grass-fed cows
Whole yoghurt or kefir
Grass fed beef
Greens, a wide variety
USDA List of Nutrient Dense Foods (fits perfect with a low-fat, USDA recommended diet)
Tea (green or black)
The Ancestral Nutrition Solution: eat like your ancestors
Ancestral Nutrition is the solution to the modern day epidemic of too much food, not enough nutrients. This diet is based on real human nutrition, no fad diets, extremism, or supplements here. It's all about whole, nourishing, healing foods that have been the cornerstone of human diets for, well, until about 100 years ago really. That means no white flours (even gluten free ones), sugar, pasteurized milk, low-fat foods, vegetable oils or convenience items. It's about pastured meat and eggs, pastured and raw milk and cheese, cold water fish, fresh veggies and fruits, and lots of high quality fats.
The man who re-introduced this diet to the West was a dentist, of all things, by the name of Weston A Price. In the early 1930s, Price traveled around the world studying the health of indigenous populations not yet touched by western civilization. His initial goal was to understand good dental health, but his research led him much further. From studying teeth, Price learned that cavities and crowded, crooked teeth (actually the result of deformed dental arches) are caused by nutritional deficiencies rather than genetic defects. And wherever he saw beautiful straight teeth he found strong, well-formed bodies, resistance to disease, and high fertility.
Dr. Price was fascinated with why these people were thriving while his own "tribe" back home was degenerating. When Dr. Price analyzed the foods used by isolated peoples he found that, in comparison to the American diet of his day, they provided at least four times the water-soluble vitamins, calcium and other minerals, and at least TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins, from animal foods such as butter, fish eggs, shellfish, organ meats, eggs and animal fats—the very cholesterol-rich foods now shunned by the American public as unhealthful (And this was 85 years ago ... imagine how many less nutrients we're getting today with our depleted soils).
The groups Price studied eating their traditional diets didn't battle with degenerative diseases like the less-robust (if not flat-out-sick) modernized people back home living on white flour, pasteurized milk, low-fat foods, vegetable oils and convenience items filled with extenders and additives.
Traditional diets, no matter where in the world he studied, instinctively included what the body needed — including 10x the amount of fat-soluble vitamins, vitamins A and D, vital to health because they are necessary for mineral absorption. Without them, we cannot absorb minerals, no matter how abundant they may be in our food.
What's even more nutrient dense than the normal Weston Price model is the Weston Price fertility diet protocol for pre-conception, pregnant, and nursing mothers, and is the perfect foundation for a superbly nutrient dense diet. It's chock-full of every nutrient your body needs to regulate hormones, strengthen health, increase fertility, and even make a baby. It's precisely what our immune-ravanged and nutrient depleted bodies need to overcome endometriosis. If humans evolved and thrived on this type of diet without autoimmune, obesity, degenerative and cardiovascular diseases, I think it's safe to say that eating as mother-nature intended is truly healthy.
The New Endo Diet:
I recommend starting this diet only after you've addressed your leaky gut issue, especially if you have GI issues or a lot of allergies. That's because if you've battled with gut permeability for a long time and have adverse reactions to, say, egg whites, eating a lot of nutrient dense eggs will do your body more harm than good until you heal your gut. If you need to take a step back to Leaky Gut Priority #1 click here.
Now, to start infusing your body with everything it needs to heal, chose from the following food choices. It's important to really follow the guidelines though when I say pastured or grass-fed or pastured animal products, since it's true that these items can cause terrible inflammation if from factory farm or grain fed choices. If you can't find pastured it's better to avoid eating them at all.
Protein: Fresh, pasture raised meat of all varieties; organ meats from pastured animals; fresh eggs from pastured poultry. seafood from deep sea waters; fresh shellfish; fish eggs.
Fats: Fresh butter and cream from pasture fed cows, preferable raw and cultured; lard and fats from pastured animals; extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil
Dairy: Raw, whole milk and cultured dairy products, such as yogurt, kefir, and raw cheese, from pasture fed cows and goats.
Carbohydrates: fresh or cooked fruit and vegetables should make up the bulk of this, plus fermented vegetables, organic whole grains property prepared to remove phytates (such soaking grains overnight and rinsing them before cooking), soaked and fermented legumes, sprouted or soaked nuts and seeds.
Beverages: Filtered and/or mineral water, lacto-fermented drinks, teas, meat and bone broths
What you avoid like the endo-plague:
Processed or refined flour products (even gluten free ones).
Factory farmed or grain fed (including organic grain) meat, eggs, dairy, or other animal products.
Vegetable oil including safflower, canola, corn, or soy (check your condiments to make sure they're not added!),
Table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other processed sugars. It's important to also limit natural sweeteners (like honey, agave, maple syrup, and even fruit) to a minimum. A sweet is still a sweet.
Plus, obviously, any artificial sweeteners, flavors, or weird preservatives.
What do I cook?
The scariest part of this diet may be the realization that you're going to have to fold a huge dose of cooking into your life. If you're a novice in the kitchen don't fear, there's so many fun ways to learn these days, whether it's a cooking class or a youtube video. Not to mention the AMAZING recipes out there. Go ahead a click the link below to see a few of my favorite cookbooks, sites, and more to help you on this new Endo Diet journey. (I highly recommend Hemsley and Hemsley)