Gluten-free, Paleo, grain-free, low-FODMAPs, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, GAPs, raw, liver detox, low-salicylate/amine/glutamates, high-fibre, high-protein, low-carbohydrate, anti-Candida, low-oxalate, alkalising, Weston A Price, vegetarian…how do you sift your way through?
Some of these diets can be questionable, especially the way they are described or interpreted on some websites or by less experienced practitioners.
But most of these diets can be helpful – even ideal – for some people for short or long periods of their life. It is rare that one diet will cover all of your needs for your whole life. So where do you start in working out what diet will suit your body’s needs right now?
There is a wealth of information on the Internet about ideal diets for gut health, thyroid health, autoimmune disease, hormone-balancing, weight loss, best energy, you name it, as well as testimonials from people who are convinced of the benefits of these diets. There are sites galore promoting interstitial cystitis diets, IBS diets, diets for SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), anti-Candida diets. But sometimes, the wealth of information can leave you feeling no closer to figuring out what is right for your body’s needs at this stage of your life.
Let me give you a simple formula to work out what is right for you.
Listen to your body.
This may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how often people ignore it. These are just a few of the comments I hear all the time:
“I feel bloated if I eat too much wheat”.
“Too much dairy gives me diarrhoea”.
“When I eat eggs, they go straight through me.”
An integrative nutritionist can help you joint the dots on factors in your history that give important clues. For example, chronic sinus issues are often associated with a dairy intolerance, as is bedwetting in children and acne (in fact, a 2014 review in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dermatology) comments on the link between acne and dairy, which requires further investigation). The link between gluten sensitivity and thyroid disease is also well established in the research.
Don’t ignore these clues! Without wishing to oversimplify, it is important to start somewhere – and following the already-established links is a good place to start.
Testing, testing, testing
Going in the direction that has helped others with your condition is only a starting point at best – and at worst, it can take you for a ride on the “health website merry-go-round”, where you half-follow one diet after the other without ever systematically measuring the results.
Working with a practitioner experienced in testing is essential. Choosing the right tests is important, as is choosing the right order of tests. Which are most important? Which ones should you prioritise? Are there key ones you should include before a dietary change? (One example is in making sure you do the right testing before you try going gluten-free.) Some of the key tests in establishing what kind of diet is appropriate to your body include:
- IgG food sensitivity testing
- Lactulose breath testing
- Fructose breath testing
- Coeliac screening
- Bioimpedance (Body Composition) testing
In some cases, further important information is gained from tests such as:
- Functional Liver Detoxification Profiles
- Hormonal Testing
- Autoimmune marker testing, such as thyroid antibodies
- Adrenal Hormone Testing
- Red Cell Essential Fatty Acids
A functional medicine practitioner will be able to order any of these tests that are appropriate to your situation. Much of this testing is done through what is known as “functional pathology” as opposed to “general pathology”. This usually means reasonable out-of-pocket expense. Some of these tests can cost a few hundred dollars. However, they will probably save you far more in consultation and supplement expenses, not to mention medical expenses over the years as undiagnosed problems turn into more serious medical conditions.
Put your history and test results together with a skilled functional medicine practitioner or integrative nutritionist.
It’s important to find an experienced practitioner to help you navigate the territory. This may be a naturopath, a clinical nutritionist or a medical doctor. Look for someone who uses or understands the terms “functional medicine”, “nutrition medicine” or “integrative nutritionist”. Generally, if they provide rebates, the rebates will be under naturopathy, not dietetics.
Self-treating is a minefield, even when you have good knowledge and awareness of your body. In fact, functional medicine practitioners (FMPs) often see other FMPs to help them with their own health!
Improving your health through optimal nutrition is anything but a one-size fits all approach. It requires commitment on your part, a skilled and experienced functional medicine practitioner, and the careful collection of information from your history, your symptoms and specific testing. The great news is, you’ll find that the effort pays off, helping you achieve the best health possible.