The Whals Protocol

The Whals Protocol was an awesome book I recently read…you should to! You don’t have time? Read this summary instead!!


Dr. Terry Wahls wrote The Wahls Protocol How I Beat Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine. There are more than 400 pages of great nutritional information in this book, but who has time to read that? I have summarized the first part of the book here. Even if you don’t have an autoimmune disease, her health principals are useful for everyone.

Chapter One – The Science of Life, Disease and You

This chapter gives great detail about how the mitochondria function and why they need all the vitamins and minerals listed below for all the reactions that take place. Mitochondria are in every cell in the body and are the workhorse for energy. Dr. Wahls also talked about the brain, cells in the brain, protective mechanisms of the brain, and how this system can go awry.

Mitochondria are responsible for making ATP, or energy. When they are working properly your cells have the energy to function properly and reduce free radicals that cause cellular damage. Cellular damage leads to disease and aging. If your diet is not rich in thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacinamide (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), minerals (especially sulfur, zinc, magnesium, iron, and manganese), antioxidants, L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, creatine, and coenzyme Q10, than your mitochondria are not able to function properly and cellular damage will occur.

Signs of mitochondiral starvation:

  • You experience fatigue
  • You eat a high sugar/starch diet
  • You are over 50 years of age
  • You are on a statin drug
  • You take prescription or over the counter medication regularly
  • You take diuretics and meds to lower stomach acid (these interfere with the absorption of minerals)
  • You have chronic migraine or tension headaches
  • You have a chronic disease.

Micronutrients your brain needs: thiamin (vitamin B1), folate (vitamin B9), cobalamin (vitamin B12), omega-3 fatty acids (DHA), and iodine. For proper neurotransmitter function your brain cells need: certain amino acids, sulfur, and pyridoxine (vitamin B6).


Chapter Two – Conventional versus Functional Medicine

This chapter looks at the conventional (or what I would call the traditional) view of medicine versus the functional view of medicine. An autoimmune disease is a condition in which the immune cells become confused and begin attacking cellular structures of the person’s own body, auto = self. Conventional medicine would say that the body has lost the ability to recognize its own internal protein components but they don’t know why. The treatment conventional medicine would offer a patient with an autoimmune disease is a medication that suppresses the immune system. Functional medicine looks more deeply at the reasons why the body has lost its tolerance to its own proteins in the first place. I think of functional medicine as getting to the root of the disease and treating it, rather than covering up a symptom of a disease. One functional medicine theory of autoimmune disease is that the proteins get oxidized from a sugar molecule, heavy metal, or even a bacteria/virus and make it look like a dangerous invader. Diets high in carbohydrates (the standard American diet or SAD) are a big contributor. Functional medicine would treat an autoimmune disease by optimizing the body’s environment rather than restricting normal immune activity through medications. The way to do this is infuse the body with nutrients it needs and remove the things that cause harm.

Chapter Three – Getting Focused

Chapter three is all about journaling. Although this is very important and I think you all should journal when/if you decide to change your diet, I will spend my time on the meat of the protocol.

Chapter Four – The Wahls Diet 101. This chapter is an overview of the Wahls Protocol, Wahls Paleo, and Wahls Paleo Plus

1) Level I Wahls diet: the most basic level kick-starts your system by infusing it with intense nutrition and removing dietary elements that could be contributing to your decline.

2) Level II Wahls Paleo: the next level and the level many people chose to stay. It provides more structure to further eliminate dietary elements that can compromise gut health. This is where I (Jennifer) am striving to be.

3) Level III Wahls Paleo plus: this most challenging level is also the most therapeutic for those with an autoimmune disease. It is particularly beneficial for anyone with neurological or psychological issues as well as those with a history of cancer. I (Jennifer) would like to do this diet for 1-2 months a year to starve any potential cancer cells in my body. Cancer can only utilize glucose where your body and brain can utilize fat, which is converted into ketone bodies for energy. If you eat a ketogenic diet, or high fat and very low carb diet, you can starve the cancer cells.

All of these diets are designed to maximize the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential fats your brain and mitochondria need to thrive. Dr Wahls has used what she has learned in functional medicine, her own review of the medical literature, and an emulation of the diet that humans ate as hunter-gatherers. The idea behind the hunter-gather or Paleo nutrition is that it most closely resembles our ancestors diet and best feeds our bodies. I am not going to go into detail about the Paleo diet and why it is better than the American diet at this time.

The main difference between the Wahls diet and other Paleo-type plans:

  • Nutrient density: all levels of the Wahls diet plans are rigorously and meticulously nutrient-dense. The diet is formulated to ensure maximum vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • A high level of fat: the Wahls Paleo and especially the Wahls Paleo plus ramp up the healthy fats, not just lean meats which is recommended in most Paleo type diets. The brain is 60-70% fat and our brain needs healthy fat to form myelin.
  • Emphasis on local: locally grown foods are more nutritious because you are likely to consume them close after harvest. Food shipped from across the globe has far fewer nutrients.
  • No gluten, no dairy, no eggs, few if any legumes: legumes and gluten free grains have antinutrients and are best to avoid. I actually still eat eggs and dairy but I understand why the Wahls Protocol excludes them.

Level I: The Wahls Diet

Nine cups of fruits and vegetables every day broken down as follows:

  • Three cups of tightly packed raw or cooked leafy greans (kale, collards, chard, Asian greens, and lettuces (the darker the better)
  • Three cups of deeply colored vegetables and fruits such as berries, tomatoes, beets, carrots, and winter squash
  • Three cups of sulfur-rich vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, brussel srouts, turnips, radishes, onions, and garlic
  • Gluten free and dairy free. If you have an autoimmune disease you are more likely to have a leaky gut that will leads to gluten and dairy proteins in your body and could be contributing to your autoimmune disease. 20-30% with European ancestry have the DQ2 or DQ8 genes, which put them at risk for developing gluten sensitivity.
  • Organic, Grass-fed, Wild-caught. Organic, grass-fed and grass finished, and wild caught meats have a better omega-3 omega-6 fatty acid (FA) ratio. There are more omeg-3 FAs that help decrease inflammation. Omega-6 FAs are plentiful in the American diet (fried food, soy/canola/vegatable oils, farm raised meat).

Level II: The Wahls Paleo Diet.

The above with the addition of the following:

  • Reduce all non-gluten grains, legumes, and potatoes to just two servings per week. Grains and legumes contain phytates, which are antinutrients and decrease the absorption of nutrients and minerals from the other foods you eat.
  • Add seaweed or algae and organ meats to your diet. Seaweed adds critical minerals and organ meats add coenzyme Q10, both of which play a critical role in proper mitochondria function.
  • Add fermented foods, soaked seeds and nuts, and more raw foods. Cooking often destroys enzymes in foods. Raw fruits and vegetables, fermented foods (lacto-fermented sauerkraut, pickles, and kombucha tea), soaked and sprouted nuts and seeds, raw protein (sushi, steak tartare and ceviche) are the most enzyme rich foods.

Level III: Wahls Paleo Plus

The above with the addition of the following:

  • Eliminate all grains, legumes, and potatoes
  • Consume at least 6 cups of vegetables, divided evenly between greens, color, and sulfur rich (less vegetables to decrease carb load further)
  • Reduce cooked starchy vegetables and fruit. Limit cooked starchy vegetables to no more than twice a week. You will need to add a generous amount of fat such as coconut oil to cooked starches like beets or winter squash. Limit fruit to one serving per day. Eat deep colored vegetables like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, ect over white fleshy fruit like apples, bananas, pears, grapes, peaches, pineapples, mangos.
  • Add coconut oil and full fat coconut milk. High fat and low carb diets provide the optimal nutrition for your brain and heart health. Your body is using ketones to fuel it instead of glucose.
  • Eat just twice per day and fast 12-16 hours a day. Fasting allows your body to focus on processing and eliminating toxins, making hormones, and healing. I (Jennifer) caution you if you are having problems with your thyroid.

This is a lot of information to digest but I posted it in a way that you can use it as a reference. I am striving toward the Wahls Paleo diet. After I finished Ironman Canada, I had some thyroid dysfunction and I am not convinced it has completely resolved so I strive to eat a decent amount of carbs but I get them through sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, apples, my gluten free oat breakfast on occasion and quinoa on occasion. I also eat eggs and full fat organic dairy. I have come to the conclusion for myself that I do not have sensitivity to these foods (unless I eat gluten, then I have a sensitivity to dairy). Kerrygold is a great brand of butter and cheese. It comes from happy cows in Ireland. I will post my oat breakfast too.

Chapter Five: Mastering the Wahls Diet. This chapter goes in depth through the Wahls Protocol. Embrace yourself! I think this is the meat of the book. I will go through the Wahls Protocol and why each part is important.

Part One: The 9 Cups of vegetables

  1. The 3 cups of leafy greens are an excellent source of B vitamins (especially B9 or folate) and also vitamins A, C and K. Think green-BACK green leafy vegetables are high in vitamins B, A, C, K.
  • B vitamins are needed for healthy nervous system. IE vitamin B9 or folate is needed to make meylin, the fatty insulation around your nerves
  • A vitamin percursors are needed for healthy retinas (in your eyes). It is also important in immune cell function and helps improve bone strength and flexibility/elasticity in your skin.
  • Vitamin C is crucial for immune cell function as well as healthy skin and gum tissue. It is also a potent antioxidant to help reduce the risk of cancer.
  • Vitamin K is converted in your gut by health-promoting bacteria to more active forms that work to reduce your risk of high blood pressure and calcification (hardening) of the blood vessels and heart valves. It is also important in the production of myelin.
  • Greens include: arugula, beet greens, bok choy and other Asian greens, all colors of chard, chicory, cilantro, collard greens, dandelion greens, endive, escarole, all types of kale, all types of lettuce except iceberg, mizuna, mustard greens, parsley, radicchio, radish leaves, spinach, tatsoi, turnip greens, watercress, wheatgrass.
  1. The 3 cups of colors include fruits and vegetables that are deeply colored all the way through. The deeper the color, the higher the concentration of antioxidants. Fruits that are white on the inside do not count.
    • Green color: artichoke, asparagus, avacados, green beans (avoid in Wahls Paleo Plus or WPP), green cabbage, celery cucumber with skin, green grapes, green peas (avoid in WPP), honeydew melon, kiwi, limes, okra, green olives, green peppers, snow peas (avoid in WPP), sugar snap peas (avoid in WPP), zucchini with skin
    • Red: beets, blood oranges, red cabbage, cherries, cranberries, red currants, red grapefruit, red grapes, red peppers, radicchio, red raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, red tomatoes, watermelon. Higher carbohydrate: commercial juices (avoid on WPP), dried cranberries, pomegranate
    • Blue/purple/black: aronia berries, black berries, blueberries, black currants, eggplant, elderberries, black grapes, purple grapes, purple kale, black olives, plums, black raspberries
    • Yellow/orange: apricots, carrots, grapefruit, golden kiwi, lemon, mango, muskmelon, nectarines, oranges, papaya, peaches, orange and yellow peppers, pineapple, pumpkin, summer and winter squash, sweet potatoes, tangerines, yellow tomatoes, yams. Higher carbohydrate: acorn squash, commercial juice (avoid in WPP), dried apricots/pineapple (avoid in WPP), figs, cooked sweet potatoes
  2. The 3 cups of sulfur rich vegetables are high in antioxidants and contain sulfur, which help eliminate toxins. Sulfur helps your joints, skin, hair and nails. For example MSM helps with joint pain. Sulfur rich vegetables contribute to blood vessel health. The following are sulfur rich vegetables.
    • Cabbage family: kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips and greens, rutabaga, radishes.
    • Onion family: onions, garlic, chives, leeks, scallions, shallots
    • Mushroom family: all types. Rich in sulfur and B vitamins
    • Also: asparagus, bok choy, daikon, kohlrabi, mizuno, mustard greens, tatsoi, watercress

There is cross-over between groups, be sure to count the vegetable in only one group.

Part Two: Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free

You may not be aware of this, but gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity affects one in three people and possible even more. No human has the enzymes needed to break down gluten proteins. These gluten proteins in combination with a leaky gut can lead to a world of hurt in your body. Gluten and casein (the protein found in dairy) interact with the same receptors in the brain as narcotics! They all cause our dopamine levels to rise and make us feel good. Refined sugars and processed foods are also addictive. They stimulate our pleasure centers in our brain to make us feel good. Unrecognized gluten or casein sensitivities have been associated with a wide variety of health problems including: allergies, asthma, autism and other brain disorders, chronic migraine, eczema and other skin disorders, infertility, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, psoriasis, psychiatric disorders and thyroid disease. Gluten proteins leak into the blood stream and your body forms antibodies against it. The antibodies then start to attack other areas of your body and cause the above diseases.

Sources of Gluten:

  • Barley and anything containing it including most beer (NOOOOO!!!!), as well as barley malt and malt extract including malt vinegar
  • Bulgar (the wheat grain in tabouli salad)
  • Cereal containing wheat, barley or rye
  • Couscous
  • Matzo flour/meal/bread
  • Panko
  • Pasta made from semolina and or durum
  • Rye and anything containing it
  • Seitan (pure wheat gluten)
  • Udon noodles
  • Wheat and anything containing it (wheat bran, wheat germ). Most bread, bagels, crackers, muffins, cookies, cake and pastries
  • Wheat cousins: spelt, triticale, faro, Kumat, einkorn
  • It is also hidden in: deli meats, condiments, communion wafers, salad dressings, soups, soy sauce, and even cosmetics, medications and envelope glue!

Wahls diet approved grains and starches: amarath, arrowroot, buckwheat, chickpea flour and other legume flour, coconut flour, corn (but it is genetically modified unless you buy organic, more on this in another post), flax meal millet, nut flours, oats if they are labeled “gluten free”, packaged foods labeled “gluten free”, potato flour, quinoa, all types of rice, sago, sorghum, soy flour (but it is genetically modified unless you buy organic), tapioca, teff.

Part Three: Organic, Gress-Fed, and Wild Caught

Locally grown organic is best when it comes to vegetables. However, sometimes this just isn’t possible. Then Environmental Working Group Website has a list of clean fifteen (which are vegetables ok to buy non-organic) and dirty dozen (vegetables recommended to buy organic). They update this list yearly based on levels of herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals in the vegetables each year. They also hav an app you can download on your phone for ease of use while shopping. Local farmers markets (even if not certified organic) are even better because they were likely picked just prior to you consuming. It cost a decent amount of money to become certified organic, so small local farms are not going to have the resources to get that stamp on their products. You can often talk to the farmers and ask what herbicides or pesticides they use on their crops. Local food co-ops are a great resource for local crops with low levels of chemicals.

Now is a good time to talk about omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids (FA). The typical American diet has a ratio of 25-30:1 of omega 6 FA to omega 3 FA. Ideally our diet should be more of 1-3:1 omega 6 FA to omega 3 FA. In general, omega-6 FAs are pro inflammatory and omega-3 FAs are anti-inflammatory. Grass fed, grass finished meet has a higher omega 3 FA content than grain fed. Even grass fed and grain finished can have a higher omega 6 FA content than grass finished meats. This is why it is important to get grass fed, grass finished. Understandably, sometimes this is not possible. However, toxins are stored in the animal fat, so if you are unable to get grass fed meat, it is recommended to remove the fat. Wild caught fish have fed on algae and plankton, which makes them rich in omega 3 FAs. When the fish are farmed, they are fed grain, which makes them rich in omega 6 FAs and low in omega 3 FAs. This is why wild caught fish is best.

In summary:

  • Consume 9 cups of vegetables and fruit daily – 3 cups of each green leafy, sulfur rich, and bright color.
  • Eat grass fed or wild caught fish, 6-12 ounces per serving depending on your size and gender. Minimize processed meats like sausage, ham, bacon, salami. If you must, chose gluten, nitrite, and monosodium-glutamate free products
  • If you are a vegetarian, consume adequate calories and you should take 2 tablespoons of flax, hemp, or walnut oil. You may eat soy as long as it is non-GMO. Fermented soy like pickled tofu, tempe, natto or miso is best
  • Gluten free grains are ok in moderation
  • Enjoy in moderation:
    • Apples, bananas, pears. These should only be enjoyed after your 9 cup goal
    • Nuts and seeds and their butters up to 4 ounces a day
    • Non-grain alcohol (wine or gluten free beer) up to one per day
    • Honey, molasses, real maple syrup, and cane sugar up to 1 teaspoon a day
    • Omega 3 oils (flax, hemp, walnut) cold only, do not cook with these
  • Forbidden foods:
    • All gluten containing foods
    • All dairy containing foods
    • Eggs
    • Non-organic rice or soy
    • Cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners
    • All trans fat, hydrogenated oils, omega 6 rich oils (corn, soybean, canola, cottonseed)
    • Preservatives and flavor enhancers including monosodium glutamate
    • No microwaved or irradiated foods

WOWOA! That was a brain full of information. Use this as a resource. Try not to feel overwhelmed. When taking steps to a healthier lifestyle it is important to do it slowly. Back in October of 2013 I decided to embark on the journey of healthier living. I decided to cut out gluten from my diet. It took me about 4 months to get it out of my house and learn the big sources of gluten. I began reading food labels. I slowly purged the gluten containing foods in my home. I couldn’t afford to throw everything away (or at least I didn’t believe I could afford too) so I decided that all the food I purchased from here out would be gluten free. I strived to reduce the amount of chemicals I was putting in my body by reading food labels carefully. I attempted to avoid MSG, carrageen, and sulfites (unless naturally occurring). I began eating less packaged foods and more vegetables and fruit. I also started consuming full fat coconut milk from the can from Trader Joe’s (the can is BPA free)!


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