The Paleo Pyramid
The Paleo Diet - 1 Month On
Perhaps the biggest challenge in the process of getting my thyroid disease under control is the lifestyle changes that I need to make. Because it’s not just an under-active thyroid but an auto-immune disease it would seem there are a hell of a lot of them. Ostensibly the most daunting felt like it was going to be the revolutionary diet that my doctor insisted I go on. I’ve always been suspicious of anyone who just says ‘dairy’s bad’ ‘gluten’s bad’ but never actually explains why, but it would seem that in my case there are very specific reasons why I need to radically change what I eat. It would seem there are lots of things thyroids don’t like. First of all there are goitrogens - foods that contain these, such as broccoli, actually work to suppress the thyroid further. Then there are foods that inhibit the absorbtion of the thyroxine drugs I need to get my thyroid gland functioning again. Secondly, auto-immune diseases are actually enabled by gluten - somehow gluten is basically auto-immune disease fuel and is very readily absorbed into your blood, letting the auto-immune disease have as much fuel as it wants. These are very good arguments to me, not just hippified rants about whole food groups being bad for no discernable reason.
Of course dairy is always a contentious issue too, but one of the most powerful arguments for giving dairy up for me was an archaeology paper I read about the history of agriculture that said that historically, man only ate dairy during times of famine when the harvest failed - ie when they couldn’t afford to kill the animals or times when perhaps many of their herds had been killed or perished for some reason due to weather perhaps as they didn’t have enough other food and had to make everything go a lot further. Studying LBK era pots and dating presence of dairy fat deposits in the pots showed that dairy was only eaten for these time periods and then given up when crops were plentiful again and animals healthier. Dairy was an emergency ration not something they naturally felt should be part of their diet and I feel there is a lot to be said for that natural instinct of our earlier ancestors for what is good for the human body. Man’s natural lactose intolerance meant milk was rarely imbibed in liquid form but made instead into cheese as apparently this was easier to digest for those people who lacked lactase (needed to digest lactose). You can read more about the origins of milk and dairy in man’s diet in this International Dairy Journal here.
To resolve these and many other conflicts my doctor put me on a diet that was pretty much what is more popularly referred to as the ‘Paleo’ or stone age/caveman diet.
So what does that mean? This basically eradicates any ‘modern’ processed food from diets. No dairy, wheat, refined sugars, grains, legumes… Some fruit is vetoed too for its sugar levels as mainly nuts and berries are preferred. All meat is allowed, as long as it’s lean and preferably grass-fed to prevent dairy and nasties entering the food chain. So, nothing that man hasn’t eaten naturally for thousands of years. This has complications when mixed with a thyroid condition. Taking out all glutenous vegetables and legumes (peas, rice, beans, lentils, pulses) and just leaving mainly green vegetables, there is a conflict in that some of these green vegetables - broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach etc - are goitrogenic and unless cooked will suppress thyroid function.
At first it seems daunting and terrifying. No carbs, no comfort food. But then you start realising all the inventive yummy things you can have. For example, all casseroles (herbs, spices, garlic, onions etc are all a-ok) are good to go, as are delicious soups. No wheat and gluten or dairy seems hard but there are alternatives, and whilst the Paleo diet shouldn’t be about finding alternatives (it should be about adopting a new diet that embraces fresh food and unprocessed food), almond and chestnut flours and sweet yummy almond milk mean you can still occasionally have an illicit carb-like hit. Also nuts and dried fruit can become a good go-to snack I’ve found.
What do I miss? As someone who couldn’t go more than a few hours without chocolate I thought that it would be the brown, velvety, milky hit of heaven I missed the most, but surprisingly, the cravings that hit me when I’m walking round the supermarket are for baked goods - for cake or doughnuts or other really bad glutenous treats. (Praying they alleviate soon)
Being on this diet has turned me into a total twat when I’m in the supermarket. I almost cannot bear what comes out of my mouth. I’ve always eaten well and always been a big fruit and veg fan so I guess that’s probably one reason why this hasn’t been impossible for me - It’s not like I’m a fried food junkie trying to convert to only eating green things - but I still feel really self conscious as I hobble round the aisles, studying labels asking my boyfriend “Is this organic darling?” and exclaiming “Oh my God why have they added sugar to this it’s ridiculous!”… I sound like a food fascist… and I guess the diet is making me one, a little bit. But in a good way. I was someone who was already aware of healthy eating, of calories and food groups and nutritional values, but going Paleo has been a whole new level of education and trying to get rid of all processed food and all refined sugar alerts you to just how much seemingly inert and ‘good’ food is horrifically bad for you and crammed with extra sugar and maize starch (another no-no for Paleos as it’s a legume).
Right now it’s all a bit too soon to tell if it’s all working - sadly I was coming from a place of being far too ill to expect too much in a month. I think there are changes but they could be the drugs, they could be the diet. I expect that in all truth, the two are working together to fix how much damage this disease has done to my body over the last 4 years and it’s going to take a while to really feel all the benefits of it, but it’s a challenge I’m enjoying and a positive step I’m enjoying undertaking after being so ill for so long and bed-ridden for so long.
Obviously as an off-shoot whilst the diet has been recommended specifically for the Hashimoto’s disease, many elements of it are things that people have been recommending I try for a while to help aspects of ME, but the reasoning behind it was never as compelling for me personally. I had been tested for celiac disease and was found to be negative and trials of giving things up before never really gave me any real benefits so I just tried to eat healthily and eat a balanced diet (even if that entailed a bit too much chocolate). I’m hoping very much that such a big change will have health benefits for me across the board and if it helps the underlying ME that I still have to contend with after this thyroid business is back under control then I ain’t complaining!
I’ve started collecting my favourite Paleo recipes and snacks on a Pinterest board HERE. It’s just started but will be growing as my exploration of this strange new food world continues. My next plan is to invest in a food dehydrator to make everything-crisps!