What conditions is this diet best for?
The Dr. K diet is aimed at treating autoimmune Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, primarily, but also any autoimmune disorder. This diet is recommended by Dr. Datis Kharrazian DHSC DC MSNeurosci, and corresponds with his book, Why do I still have thyroid symptoms? Dr. Kharrazian, or Dr. K, as he is known, is considered one of the leading experts in non-pharmaceutical applications to chronic illnesses, autoimmune disorders, and complex neurological disorders.
The stated goal of this dietary program is to decrease gut inflammation, reduce pathogenic bacteria in the gut/restore healthy gut bacteria, and repair leaky gut. Dr. K states that, “by calming inflammation in the gut, you will be able to better calm inflammation throughout the body and brain, including autoimmune flare-ups.”
What are the main tenets of the diet?
What foods are eaten?
- Most Organic Vegetables: including anise, artichoke, asparagus, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chives, cucumbers, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, parsley, radishes, rhubarb, shallots, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, water chestnuts, watercress, yams, zucchini
- Fermented foods: including kimchi, kombucha tea, pickled ginger, sauerkraut, unsweetened coconut yogurt. You must make your own or buy one of the few brands that are genuinely fermented (not made with vinegar) and free of sugars or additives
- Meats: including beef, chicken, fish, lamb, turkey. Fish should be ocean caught with a low mercury content. Swordfish, most tuna, and king mackerel are very high in mercury. Select hormone-free and antibiotic-free chicken, turkey, and lamb. Select beef that is grass fed, hormone free, and antibiotic free. Best choice are grass-fed and pastured meats from a local farm. Second best is organic. Avoid factory-farmed meats that contain antibiotics and hormones. For a source of good meat near you, Dr. K recommends the Weston A. Price Foundation as a resource, as well as ordering through his Resources page.
- Low Glycemic Organic Fruits: including apples, apricots, avocados, berries, cherries, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, peaches, pears, plums
- Coconut: including coconut butter, coconut cream, coconut milk, coconut oil, unsweetened coconut flakes, unsweetened coconut yogurt
- Noodles: brown shirataki yam noodles (sold in Asian grocery stores). Avoid the noodles that also contain tofu
- Herbs and Spices: including basil, black pepper, cilantro, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, sea salt, thyme
- Other: apple cider vinegar, herbal teas, olive oil, olives
What foods are given up?
- Sugars: including agave, candy, chocolate, corn syrup, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses, sucrose
- High Glycemic Fruits: including bananas, canned fruits, dried fruits, mango, pineapple, raisins, watermelon
- Grains: including amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, couscous, kamut, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, spelt, wheat, wheat germ
- Nuts and Seeds: including almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds
- Gluten-Containing Compounds: including barbecue sauce, binders, bouillon, brewer’s yeast, cold cuts, condiments, emulsifiers, fillers, chewing gum, hot dogs, hydrolyzed plant and vegetable protein, ketchup, soy sauce, lunch meats, malt and malt flavoring, malt vinegar, matzo, modified food starch, monosodium glutamate, nondairy creamer, processed salad dressings, seitan, some spice mixtures, stabilizers, teriyaki sauce, textured vegetable protein
- Dairy Products and Eggs: including butter, cheeses, cow milk, creams, frozen desserts, goat milk, margarine, mayonnaise, sheep milk, whey, yogurt (except coconut)
- Soy: including edamame, miso, soy milk, soy protein, soy sauce, tempeh, tofu
- Fungi: edible fungi and mushrooms
- Alcohol: all alcohol
- Beans and Legumes: including black beans, lentils, peanuts, peas, pinto beans, soybeans
- Nightshade Foods: including eggplant, paprika, peppers, potatoes, Tabasco® sauce, tomatillos, tomatoes
- Other: canned foods, coffee, processed foods
A primary recommendation is to eliminate gluten and all foods which can cross-react with gluten, for those who do not find relief with just eliminating gluten. These foods include dairy, chocolate, coffee and sesame. Grains and legumes are eliminated for a few reasons. First, they contain lectins, which are protein-based compounds that have been shown to damage the GI tract and can bind to both insulin and leptin receptors.
Insulin and leptin are both hormones. Insulin is critical to proper blood glucose metabolism and is the primary hormone regulator of both carbohydrate and fat metabolism. Leptin regulates appetite and sends the signal of satiety, or being full. The two hormones also work together in appetite regulation. Since lectins bind to these hormones’ receptors, they are can disrupt normal function of insulin and leptin, leading to insulin and leptin resistance, which contributes to excessive appetite, weight gain.
Excessive weight gain and insulin resistance increases inflammation, which is counterproductive to restoring health and down-regulating autoimmunity. There is also an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s/dementia with insulin resistance.
Dr. K also advises that grains and legumes contain saccharides (sugars) that feed harmful intestinal bacteria, which contribute to increased intestinal permeability. Intestinal permeability is a problem for those with autoimmunity and is even thought to be a cause of autoimmunity, since it allows whole proteins and food antigens to pass through the intestinal barrier, leading to an inflammatory immune response and therefore food sensitivities that contribute to, perpetuate and/or cause autoimmunity. Dr. K includes corn as food to exclude, as the gluten protein in corn is similar to gluten from wheat and can evoke an immune response.
Meal frequency/portion sizes:
No specific recommendations given, although Dr. K is an advocate of blood sugar management via snacking and eating balanced meals and snacks. He recommends not letting oneself get too hungry, which leads to a blood sugar crash and subsequent over eating/blood sugar spike.
What supplements are recommended?
On his website, Dr. K discusses modulating nitric oxide and supporting the integrity of the glutathione pathway through nutrient supplementation. He gives names of supplements, however no dosing. One would need to work with a qualified health practitioner to direct dosing and administration. The supplements he lists for modulating nitric oxide, in order to quiet autoimmunity by dampening the TH-1 and TH-2, TH-3 and TH-17 immune pathways and have them behave appropriately. They are as follows:
- Huperzine A
- Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine (Alpha GPC)
- Xanthinol niacinate
Dr. K uses these compounds synergistically in an emulsified, drinkable solution, along with glutathione recycling, which he does not elaborate on. Again, consulting a qualified health practitioner who is knowledgeable about such a program for autoimmunity is highly recommended.
Will this diet require shopping at a specialty or organic grocery store, or buying the diet’s pre-packaged food (aka, is this diet going to be very expensive to sustain)?
There is no pre-packaged diet food, per se. Dr. K recommends a high quality diet. Meat should be free-range or grass fed, with no antibiotics or hormones. Fish should be low mercury and ocean caught. All vegetables, fruits and other plant foods should be organic. Much of the food will require shopping at a grocery store which provides mostly organic food. The noodles recommended will require going to an Asian market. Eating naturally grown, organic/chemical-free is more expensive than eating conventionally, however, one must contemplate the value of avoiding the pitfalls of conventional animal products and produce, regardless of and especially with autoimmunity. With diet being the most important aspect of healing or calming autoimmunity, food must be a priority and adjustments must be made.
Cutting out grains and replacing them with vegetables is typically more expensive. Grains are cheaper than vegetables and are very filling, so the absence of these will be noticed on many levels, including financially. However, it can be very beneficial to increase vegetables, and eliminating or at least decreasing grains can help clear the path. If this way of eating brings relief and restores health, one can and should find ways to make it work.
What other autoimmune diets is this similar to?
Dr. K’s diet for autoimmunity is similar to:
- Dr. Seignalet
- Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
- Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet (GAPS)
All of these diets place an emphasis on high quality meats, animal products and produce and recommend elimination of grains and legumes to protect and restore gut health and support optimal glycemic (blood sugar) control. They are all similar as well to a comprehensive elimination diet for improving gut health, decreasing inflammation/autoimmunity and supporting detoxification/biotransformation.
Questions for your doctor:
- Is there anything I should consider before beginning this diet, from a medical or safety standpoint?
- Would you recommend any diet and lifestyle changes, including nutritional supplements, to compliment this diet?
- Should I consult, or can you recommend a qualified nutrition professional for help with dietary planning and input on nutrition lab recommendations, supporting gastrointestinal function/healing and nutritional supplement advice?
About the Author
Angie King-Nosseir MS, RD is an Integrative and Functional Registered Dietitian, with a passion for walking with people along their path toward health transformation. Angie has a Master’s degree in Nutrition, is a Certified LEAP Therapist, corporate wellness health coach, freelance nutrition and wellness writer, and certified yoga instructor. She is trained in Functional Nutrition and Medicine through the Institute for Functional Medicine and in Food as Medicine through the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.