Brain Food - Adopting the Wahls Diet

If you could prevent the onset of  illnesses like cancer, type 2 diabetes and dementia wouldn't you want to? How far would you go to keep you and your family healthy?

Dr. Terry Whals, a physician, reversed the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis by eating a diet rich in micro-nutrients.  She researched the elements human bodies need to maintain cell health and figured out which foods to eat and how much.  She calls it the Wahls Diet (tm).

The Whals diet in a nutshell:

Once you eat your nine cups of fruits and vegetables with a serving of meat and minerals you can eat additional food if you need it for calories.  

The kicker I didn't include in my nutshell: no gluten, eggs, dairy, aspartame or MSG.

I first became interested in Terry Wahls after hearing her TED talk.

If you haven't watched it before it is well worth a listen.  She makes a persuasive argument that how people eat and live directly affects their health.  This is not a new idea.  The new and titillating part comes when she suggests simple changes to diet and lifestyle will prevent and possibly reverse many physical and mental health problems like:
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • arthritis
  • cancer
  • autism
  • depression
  • learning disabilities
  • obesity
  • nerve degeneration diseases like multiple sclerosis
Dr. Whals continues to do research and treat patients through diet.  She's the primary internal medicine physician for a traumatic brain injury clinic as well as a internal medicine physician working in a teaching hospital.  She has a website if you are interested in more: www.terrywahls.com. I watched several of her videos on youtube and read quite a bit online.  Wahls won me over because she has several videos on growing your own food!  I bought her book Minding My Mitochondria 2nd edition a couple months ago.  Here's a nice synopsis if you're interested: Food as Medicine.

The book explains in more detail how she, as a research physician and person with M.S., went about learning how to recover brain health.  Then she outlines her diet and shares recipes.

First Dr. Wahls tried taking vitamin and mineral supplements to treat her M.S. and had some success.  When she switched to eating food with those vitamins and minerals she had much better results.  She went from being wheel chair bound to walking and riding a bike within a year.

What I took away from the book is the Standard American Diet is loaded with calories for energy but deficient in nutrients for building and maintaining the 100 billion neuron cells in our brain and body.  If we eat enough nutrients our DNA contains the wisdom to heal our bodies.
Only you can provide your body with the building block for your cells so that they can do the work of restoring your health and vitality. 
- Dr. Wahls
What I like about this diet is the science behind it.  Whals has researched and identified elements in cells and their quantities and deduced what and how much we need to eat to make sure our bodies are well supplied. This is not an eat like a caveman because cavemen were healthy.  Although there are many similarities between paleo diets and the Wahl's diet. This is not a diet to lose weight where it boils down to "eat less".  Although if you follow her diet I would image a healthy weight would come as part of it.

I also like that Dr. Wahls says she doesn't know all the answers.  She points out there are probably many unidentified micro-nutrients that meat, vegetables and fruit provide for our bodies.  By eating a varied diet and meat from animals who also ate a varied diet we will give our bodies everything they need to function well. We don't have to wait until we have serious health problems to think about health. 

I have a baby and right now all the food she gets is through my breast milk.  As she builds her brain and body I don't want her to lack any of the nutrients to develop and be healthy.   This little girl makes me more proactive for myself.

I decided come the new year, after holiday baking and traveling were done, I'd take a serious stab at Dr. Wahls' recommendations. My goal is to do a month of her diet and see how I feel.  Over the next month my recipes and posts will be based on the Whal's Diet and my experiences. It's going to be an experience.  I'll learn how to cook some organ meats, fit nine cups of fruits and vegetables into our meals, give up gluten(!) and dairy(!).

 Whals doesn't include eggs in her diet and I'm not sure why.  Until I understand why, I am still eating them. If anyone knows please leave me a note in the comments.

The husband is on board so far as he's willing to eat what I cook.  It's up to him if he chooses to give up the gluten and dairy.  His favorite foods are bread and cheese so we'll see.

What do you think?  Have you tried to increase your meal's micro-nutrient content?  Have you gone gluten and/or dairy free?

My other posts in this series:

Brain Food: Breakfast Skillet Inspired by Dr. Wahls
Brain Food: Warm Butternut Chickpea Salad - Recipe
Brain Food: What I ate today on the Wahls Diet
Brain Food: Sardine Avocado Citrus Salad - Recipe
Brain Food: 5 Strategies for the Wahls Diet 
Brain Food: Sauerkraut and Cabbage Soup - Recipe
Brain Food: Liver and Onions - Recipe (Guest posted on Spain in Iowa)
Brain Food: One Teaspoon of Minerals a Day

For more recipes and ideas visit my Wahls Paleo Pinterest Board.


  1. This sounds difficult! Wahls' TED talk is persuasive though. I'm going to try to eat one big leafy salad everyday, at least one bright color everytime I eat, I'll inject sulfurous foods where I can and see if I can procure some organ meets. I already eat mainly grass-fed meats. what about sea weed though? Where do you incorporate that? What does it taste like? I'm looking forward to the rest of your blog posts this month!

    1. Do you live anywhere near a Trader Joes or a Whole Foods? I know those stores sell it dried. Seaweed has become super trendy lately and so it is much more accessible. I've see kids at my son's elementary school eating dried seaweed for snacks.
      I'm not much of a fan, but I think it is more of an acquired taste. The ones I have tried have a very bold, fishy/salty flavor. Maybe there is something to pair it with to tone it down a bit.

    2. I think there is a Whole Foods in Ft. Wayne but not Trader Joe's. When we traveled for the holidays I stopped by an Asian market and picked up lots of dried seaweed and mushrooms. I have no idea what any of them are or what they will taste like, but they were all under $2 a pack so I guess I'll find out.

      You Californians are way ahead of the curve. Here in small town, middle America I'd be surprised if people know that seaweed is the black stuff wrapping sushi. I'd be surprised if more than half have even tried sushi.

  2. I believe she doesn't use eggs because of an allergy. I'm sure you could e-mail her for clarification.

  3. I predict more energy, better moods as your month progresses. Food is the source of healing (or worsening disease).

  4. As I understand it, from following Dr. Wahls on FB and watching many videos, the eggs are because many have an allergy/intolerance to them (the same with nightshades). So, she recommends that you try leaving them both out for a period of time (I think 2 weeks), and then re-introducing them, and see how you do. I think it's probably a good test to do with any "questionable" foods that you might be eating. Leave them out if you have a problem with them, but you can eat them if you don't. Personally, we have chickens who we feed really well, and I don't react to the eggs (although I do react to store-bought eggs), so I include them. I figure they're yet another good source of sulfur, along with everything else good about them. I know I feel better when I do include them, so I figure that's a good indicator.

    That's something that I appreciate about Dr. Wahls. She's not legalistic about all of this. She gives guidelines to follow. And if you use your head, and follow the guidelines, you can figure out what works for YOU. I know that for me, I don't quite follow everything strictly (although grain-free, legume-free, I'm very, very strict about), but I focus on the important things, all those 9 cups of veggies/fruits, and I experiment with what works for my body, and I'm doing well. Really, the only thing that I've not been strict about (after being strict for many years before starting the Wahls' diet, and also for several months while eating the Wahls' diet), is to add in very high quality grassfed, raw milk products (mostly yogurt and kefir). This has been a very healthy addition - FOR ME.

    1. As I read through what Dr. Wahls and her team have published in her book and online I see an attitude shift. Where she sounds really strict in her early writings, now she sounds more like you in that folks should find what works for them.

      I respect that. It makes me feel better as I work to incorporate her protocol into my life.

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I think it's so cool that you're doing this experiment. A lot of people are confused by the Wahls Diet, because it continues to evolve, based on what she learns in her medical practice and clinical research. One of the reasons I interviewed her for my blog was to clarify her program for my readers. She suggests adopting the diet in phases now. It looks like you're doing phase 2? Phase 1 is giving up the sugar & processed foods and adding in the 9 cups of veggies. Phase 2 is giving up gluten, soy & dairy. Phase 3 is going paleo (no grains, legumes or heavy starches.) Phase 4 is personalizing it for you - figuring out your specific food intolerances and supplemental needs. She says not everyone needs all phases, and easing into it helps people adjust their habits a little at a time. It's a cool idea:


  7. Hi, I just found your blog through the wahl's fb page. I have a question I can't seem to find the answer to, do you know where courgettes (zucchini) fit in? Are they sulphur foods? Or do they not come into any of the three categories?

    1. Zucchini and other summer squash don't count towards any specific color or sulfur. There are quite a few foods like that including: Eggplant, green peppers, artichoke, avocado, fennel, celeriac, parsnips, green beans, summer squash, okra, kiwi, green grapes, pears, apples, bananas, cucumbers.

      My food journal down load has more specifics:

    2. I was afraid you would say that! So they don't count at all towards my 9 cups???? I might as well stop eating them then, since I'm struggling to get all the 9 cups in, I don't want to be eating anything that isn't absolutely delicious or fits into the 9 cups.
      I think kiwi fruit should count in there some where, since it is highly coloured all the way through, but I guess it can't really come under leafy greens. Just greens perhaps?
      Thanks for the reply!

    3. Dr. Wahls does make the point to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables as you never know what unidentified nutrient in one of them might be vitally important.

      In Minding My Mitochondria there is a food log in the back appendix. I believe it is an earlier version than what she currently advocates for. In that version it is the same 9 cups of fruit and veg, but divided differently.

      - 3 cups leafy greens
      - 1 cup sulfur (onions or mushrooms)
      - 3 cups of bright colors (red, blue/back, orange/yellow)
      - 2 cups of any fruit of veg

      I don't know if that's helpful...

  8. Thank you for this really informative submit. ive been trying to shed weight for about one week now but im even now baffled what to accomplish first or exactly where to start out. you simply aided to set my priorities to shed weight. thank you.

    Patricia Joyner
    Author of best food for weight loss website

  9. What I took away from the book is the Standard American Diet is loaded with calories for energy but deficient in nutrients for building and maintaining the 100 billion neuron cells in our brain and body. Mike

  10. Pretty late comment, but Broccoli & Cabbage are sulfurous foods, not leafy greens. Also, Kale counts as either :)

  11. A little late to this forum, but Broccoli & Cabbage are Sulfuric Foods, not Leafy Greens. Kale, however, counts as both.