Choosing the Right Diet Plan When Mold or Chronic Illness is in the Picture
It is impossible not to see all of the different diets that are advertised everywhere. From television to social media, magazines, podcasts, and more, information about the “best diet” for weight loss, food intolerances, hormones, candida–you name it–bombard us. It is incredibly confusing to know which one, if any, is right for your personal needs and health goals. And, while we have addressed diet in these articles and reiterated the importance of eating clean, unprocessed, and organic foods, and antifungal diets for those dealing with mold, we have not done much of a deep dive on the subject itself. In today’s article, I want to review some of the more popular diets and eating plans that are currently making headlines and suggest my thoughts on those who MIGHT benefit from one or another and how one might assess this information to determine if one is right for you. I especially want to help those of you reading who are currently healing from mold or environmental illness utilize diet information to your benefit. As with all that we write here, everyone has individual needs so these are generalizations, but they may be a starting point if you are looking to improve your health.
Eating Better to Feel Better
I thought the easiest way to present this information would be to list some of the more beneficial diets that I have researched and utilized with my patients and to categorize them by the health concern each was primarily designed to address. The wonderful and important thing to focus on here is that improving your diet in any way and consciously choosing better nutrition for your body addresses multiple health concerns simultaneously and can lead to a healthier weight, improved immune response, and upgraded health overall. The bottom line here is that food really can be medicine and should always be a key component to solving any health issues you are having.
Diets for Improved Cardiovascular Health
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is an eating plan that is based on research studies sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). It was designed to support healthy blood pressure. It allows abundant fruits and vegetables while limiting saturated fats, trans fat, sodium, and cholesterol. It also emphasizes whole grains, nuts, poultry, and fish. The American College of Cardiology reported that the DASH diet decreased systolic blood pressure in people with early hypertension.
The Mediterranean Diet supports cardiovascular health also, with similar food limitations as the DASH diet for saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and especially sugar. There is an emphasis on incorporating heart-healthy fats into this diet–and obviously, as illustrated by its name, extra virgin olive oil is one of them. A review published in 2020 in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet had decreased incidences of myocardial infarction and overall cardiovascular disease.
Diets for Gastrointestinal Health
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) was originally recommended for patients with celiac disease but may help other GI issues as well. It avoids the harder-to-digest carbohydrates, including all grains. With this diet, there is reduced inflammation and stress on the digestive system. The SCD diet has also been shown in some studies to promote “good” bacteria in the intestines and decrease pathogenic bacteria so that flares are lessened for people with inflammatory bowel diseases.
The Low FODMAP diet is used in many GI conditions. FODMAPS stands for fermentable oligo-, di, monosaccharides, and polyols. Studies have shown that these foods can worsen digestive symptoms, particularly in patients diagnosed with IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome. High FODMAP foods draw water into the GI tract, causing food that should have been digested in the small intestine to reach the colon, which leads to gas and bloating. There are three stages of this diet: restriction of all high FODMAP foods for 2-6 weeks, reintroduction of higher FODMAP foods to determine the tolerability, and then personalization based on the results. Participants in studies of this plan showed statistically significant decreases in bloating and distention as well as improvement in fecal inflammatory markers.
Diets for a Healthy Inflammatory Response
When we consider that many health conditions are the result of excess inflammation, a healthy inflammatory response diet is geared toward supporting the body’s ability to heal by avoiding foods that trigger inflammatory symptoms. These diets typically emphasize fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and dietary fiber while limiting sugar, trans fats, and processed meats. An example is the AIP diet or autoimmune protocol diet. The AIP diet focuses on foods that support normal intestinal permeability, maintain gut integrity, and promote a healthy inflammatory response. This diet begins with an elimination phase of common trigger foods, such as gluten, nuts, seeds, nightshade vegetables, eggs, and dairy. This is followed by a reintroduction phase in which the individual notes any symptoms that worsen when a certain food is reintroduced. In a study published in 2017 in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, the 15 patients studied all had reductions in inflammatory markers when following the AIP diet.
Vegetarian and Vegan
Eliminating meat and/or animal products may be related to personal belief systems on eating animal flesh/products or simply the preference for a plant-based diet. A person can enjoy wonderful health by eating a plant-based diet. A caveat is that anyone adhering to these plans must take measures to make sure nutritional needs are being met by taking supplemental Vitamin B12, and also possibly additional calcium, iron, and zinc. Certain amino acids, most notably taurine, may also need to be augmented.
The Paleo diet is based on the hunter/gatherer diet. It emphasizes whole foods and avoids sugar, grains, legumes, and most dairy. Additional mineral support may be helpful. In a 2021 article in Nutrients, researchers found paleo diets are associated with lower body mass index, waist circumference, systolic blood pressure, and triglyceride levels.
The ketogenic diet (Keto) was originally used for treatment-resistant epilepsy and is also used for weight loss. Carbohydrates must be limited to induce ketosis, which causes fats to be the primary fuel instead of carbohydrates. Healthy fats need to be emphasized in this diet. There are no calorie restrictions as fats tend to be more satiating. Research has shown that Type 2 diabetic patients on the keto diet lost more weight and had better blood sugar control than those on a standard calorie-controlled diet.
Diets for Mold Illness
If you have mold-triggered illness and are already following a Candida/antifungal type of diet, then implementing the strategies of any of these diets can be done depending on other underlying medical factors, food preferences, or belief systems. As with any radical dietary change please do so with the approval of your health care provider and possibly employ the services of a reputable nutritionist who can support and guide you. Mold illness cause changes to mineral and nutritional status that often need to be monitored and tested to make sure you are both getting what you need and are able to absorb the foods you are eating.
With any diet, there need to be foundational nutrients that support the system. These include multivitamins, Fish Oil, Magnesium, Probiotics, and Vitamin D. If you are vegan or vegetarian there are Omega 3 oils made from seaweed that can be found such as Ovega (available on Wellevate.me/susantanner). Additionally, excellent enzymes and phospholipids can be found on the Micro Balance website as well as other healing supplements.
Finally, if any diet that you are following makes you feel worse, not better, then there is a reason for that. Specific testing for food allergies/sensitivities as well as in-depth looks at individual biochemistry may be necessary! All diets need to be nutrient balanced as well as possible for your lifestyle. There are many books, publications, and websites for most of these diets. The diets I have suggested in this article are just a few to help you get started. I always suggest doing your own research and learning as much about any diet as you can before making any drastic changes.
Thank you very much, Dr. Tanner. The world is a better place because of you – especially those of us with mold illness, GI and inflammatory issues.
Thank you so much!