Wahls Veggie Protocol: Q&A

photo of a pile of veggies

“It occurred to me, that I should get my long list of nutrients from food [rather than supplements]. That if I did that, I would probably get hundreds and maybe thousands of other compounds that science had yet to name, that would be helpful to my brain and my mitochondria.” ~ Dr. Terry Wahls

Who is Dr. Terry Wahls?

If you aren’t familiar with Dr. Terry Wahls, check out our interview. She’s a leader in the paleo movement, having reversed her multiple sclerosis through dietary intervention. A cornerstone of her protocol is feeding the mitochondria in our bodies, with 9 cups of vegetables/fruit daily.

P.S. If you have people in your life who think paleo is a meat-only diet, feel free to direct them to this article, or any article about Dr. Wahls. Paleo people LOVE their vegetables and often eat more of them than vegans/vegetarians who get a bulk of their calories from grains.

What are mitochondria?

Mitochondria are the cell’s power producers. They convert food molecules into the energy our cells need to do their jobs. They also coordinate communication between cells, and every function in our body depends on them. Every cell contains mitochondria, and some cells contain thousands of them. You can see why Dr. Wahls focused on feeding the mitochondria, to give our bodies optimal health.

Tell me more about the 9 cups of vegetables and fruit daily.

Through years of personal study, Dr. Wahls identified 31 microntutrients that the mitochondria need to function. She then learned what foods provide those nutrients and came up with her “9 Cups Daily” protocol:

  • 3 cups (about one heaping plateful) of leafy green vegetables, such as kale, collards, chard, spinach or lettuce, which provide vitamins A, B, C and K.
  • 3 cups of sulfur-rich vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, mushrooms and asparagus, because they support the removal of toxins from the body.
  • 3 cups of colorful vegetables and fruits (ideally three different colors each day), because they’re full of antioxidants. They have to be colored all the way through, so apples and bananas don’t count as colored, but berries, peaches, citrus, beets and carrots do.

Can you eat less than 9 cups, and still gain benefit?

Any fresh vegetables you add to your diet will provide vital micronutrients. Dr. Wahls believes that 9 cups daily is the “sweet spot” for men and tall women, for optimal health. She said petite women can get by on 6 cups daily. If you can’t manage the full amount right now, start with what you can, with a goal of increasing over time. Also, remember these measurements are raw. So, if you can’t imagine eating a salad that includes 3 cups of greens, go ahead and cook your greens. They’ll reduce in size by at least half, and for some people, cooked greens are easier to digest anyway.

How should the vegetables be prepared?

She prefers the vegetables be either raw, or cooked at a low temperature, for maximum nutrient retention. If you boil or steam your vegetables, she says you should drink the water, so as not to lose any micronutrients that have leached into the water. Soup is a lovely way to eat vegetables, because you automatically drink the liquid in which the vegetables are cooked. A quick sauté is another option. That said, Dr. Wahls loves kale chips and the occasional roasted vegetable, so you can cook them that way, too, but the nutrient density is greatest in her recommended methods.

What if it’s hard for me to chew raw vegetables? One symptom of some autoimmune conditions is chewing fatigue.

In this case, she recommends juicing the vegetables in a blender. She doesn’t recommend an extraction juicer, because she wants us to get the whole foods, including the fiber. That said, some autoimmune conditions include digestive symptoms that are irritated by fiber; in that case feel free to use an extraction juicer. Like every protocol, you need to personalize it for you. Another option for anyone with a fiber sensitivity is to heal it through the GAPS Introduction diet. Many people find they can eat fiber again after 1-4 weeks on that protocol.

Do they need to be organic?

Ideally, organic is best, but we all have budgets. Buy whatever is within your means. If you buy conventional produce, rinse them with some white vinegar and water before cooking, to remove any pesticide residue. If you have the option to buy some (but not all) of your produce organic, the Environmental Working Group has a shopping list called the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen, outlining which crops have the highest and lowest pesticide use.

What’s the rule on starchy vegetables?

I asked her about this, and she said starch tolerance varies from individual to individual.  She herself does best with a lower starch diet. However, she knows both individuals and traditional cultures who have done well with high amounts of starch. She includes beets and carrots in her colored vegetable category, because they’re on the lower end of starch content and the higher end of micronutrient content. Also, the other 6 cups of vegetables (in the leafy green and sulfur categories) are automatically non-starchy and provide a good balance.

How important is variety?

Dr. Wahls recommends rotating vegetables as much as possible, simply because they each contain a unique micronutrient profile. The more variety you eat, the richer your nutrition.

Do I eat the vegetables plain or with other foods?

Always eat them with some healthy fat for better nutrient absorption. Healthy fats include avocados, unrefined coconut oil, ghee, extra virgin olive-oil and animal fats such as tallow and lard. Also don’t neglect your protein needs. The Wahls Protocol is a version of the paleo diet, which means no grains/legumes/processed foods, and she recommends some grass-fed meat or wild fish at each meal, as well as bone broth and fermented foods daily. And once/week, she recommends organ meat (for its nutrient density) and seaweed (for iodine and selenium).

What are some examples of how to eat this many vegetables on a daily basis?

  • Juice 3 cups of vegetables daily.
  • Make a huge pot of vegetable soup in bone broth for the week, and have a portion every day.
  • Have a large salad for lunch. Mark Sisson provides some great ideas for building his famous daily bigass salad.
  • At dinner, get used to a 4-6 oz. portion of quality fish or meat, with a huge side of vegetables cooked in a healthy fat.
  • Snack on berries, with coconut flakes or coconut milk.
  • It’s really not that hard.

The above answers I have gleaned from Dr. Wahls’ writings, presentations, and our interview earlier this year. Check out her website for more information.

~~~
This post is linked to the following blog carnivals:
Fresh Bites Friday, Whole Food Friday, What Am I Eating?, Sunday School, Make Your Own Monday, Natural Living Monday, Fat Tuesday, Family Table Tuesday, Scratch Cookin’ Tuesday, Traditional Tuesday, Tuned In Tuesday, Healthy Tuesday, Allergy-Free Wednesday, Waste Not Want Not Wednesday, Well Fed Wednesday, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Party Wave Wednesday, Whole Foods Wednesday, Thank Your Body Thursday, Tasty Traditions, Simple Lives Thursday, Real Food Wednesday, Wellness Wednesday,

36 thoughts on “Wahls Veggie Protocol: Q&A

  1. Wow, I can imagine 9 cups would vastly improve one’s overall health! I’m starting where I can. :)
    Thanks for sharing at A Humble Bumble!

  2. Great tips! We *try* to eat a ton of veggies and slip them in wherever we can, scrambled eggs with veggies in the morning, green juice and salads in the afternoon, and big stir fries for dinner, but I still don’t think we hit 9 cups a day!
    Thanks so much for sharing this on Waste Not Want Not Wednesday, I’ve pinned it.

  3. I have SPMS and came across this promising diet which I have started but I want to try it all raw . Will that provide enough vit B12, vit
    D and calcium?
    Thanks
    SA

    • Hi Sonya. That’s too specific a question for me to be able to answer. Everyone’s vitamin needs are different based on their current health and vitamin levels. I can tell you that although the Wahls diet recommends eating some vegetables raw, it isn’t a 100% raw diet.

  4. I watched her You Tube video and was inspired by what I saw. Started to try and incorporate greens into my diet (baby steps) and found that 1 cup of spinach in a morning smoothy had me on the road to adding greens to my daily diet. I’m not up to 9 cups by any means but I choose my meals more consciously now, adding greens and a variety of coloured veggies much more than before.

  5. Hate to be the Debbie-Downer here, but there are much easier ways to improve mitochondrial function. Plus, Ms. Wahl fails to mention the HIGH oxalate content of her juicing.

    I would instead highly recommend Paul Jaminet’s website. He also recovered completely from MS, but doesn’t need (nor recommend) eating tons of oxalate-ridden raw veggies.

    • Hi Kelly. Thanks for mentioning Dr. Jaminet. He was recently on a radio show with Dr. Wahls, where they discussed their different views on autoimmunity, and I enjoyed listening to both of them. There’s room in the community for both their voices. One correction though – Paul never had MS. He had an infection that caused MS-like symptoms, and as soon as he went on antibiotics, those symptoms disappeared. Totally different situation. Dr. Wahls actually has MS, and did a Jaminet-style paleo diet for years, but it wasn’t until she added her veggie protocol that she started to improve. So, different people respond to different programs. There’s not a one-size fits-all approach. As for the oxalates, people who are sensitive can do the Wahls protocol with cooked veggies instead of raw. It’s definitely open to adaptation. Blessings.

      • You’re very diplomatic Eileen. Having MS like symptoms and actually having MS are completely different. Simply put, Curable vs. Not. A round of a simple antibiotics vs. Possibly a lifetime of pain, mental anguish, stress, hospitalizations, confusion, narcotics, opioids, I could easily go on and on! I have MS and I’m just starting the diet and lifestyle change. The flexibility in Dr. Wahls Protocol is wonderful. Since she actually has MS she understands that each of us are completely different in our illness and what works for her will probably need some tailoring for me. As for diet assisting in his recovery, a good diet assists in any recovery from any ailment and/or maintaining health. There can be no argument there.

        • PS I love how people say, “I hate to be a [downer] here” but then go right to it! Note: you have a choice! Either step away from the post button altogether or at least check your facts first.

          • There AREN’T many other ways to fix your mitrochandria. I had a functional medicine doc put me on a protocol to do just that and it made me a lot worse, when you are already sick…you have fewer options. I looked at both Paul’s book and Terry’s and Terry’s will be MUCH easier for me to follow. Just wish I could find some meal plans w/o having to join her groups, already paid for the book so it doesn’t seem reasonable to also have to pay to get some meal plans.

          • Her book has meal plans at the end, so that can get you started. And if you’re on Facebook, there’s a free group where people are sharing ideas: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1432936326924524/ . Once you get the hang of it for a month or two, it becomes easier. Also, all of my recipes are Wahls-appropriate. The main thing with her diet is making sure you eat enough veggies. It might help to measure at first, and then after a while, you’ll be able to tell just by looking at the portion size.

  6. Pingback: Prandial Problems | No Poster Girl

  7. hiii my name is mayur and my wife was diagnosed with ms 3 yrs back i just want to know that we are vegetarians can wahls protocol still help patience on vegitables

    • Hi Mayur. The Wahls Protocol has 3 levels of the diet, and people can choose which level they’d like to do. She gives vegetarian options for level one, but there are no vegetarian options for the other levels. The book describes her reasoning behind this in detail.

    • Her recommendations vary from 6-21 oz. of meat daily, depending on gender, body size, and which level of her protocol you’re doing. (Her book has 3 levels of her diet, and the veggies protocol is part of all of them.) I eat about 9 ounces daily, myself. To answer your breakfast/lunch question, she recommends some protein at every meal, but doesn’t specify an exact amount.

  8. I stumbled across a comment about this website in a discussion on nutrition and it sounded reasoned and non-fanatic.

    My question would be …

    I understand there is a lot of difference in the quality of fruits and veggies, their ripeness, the richness of the soil that veggies are grown in – if we are doing this or something like it, how do we know what we are getting?

    • Just do the best you can. Absolutely ideal would be to grow your own organically in rich soil. After that, it’s best to buy fresh from your local farmers market. After that frozen veggies from the grocery store are often frozen shortly after picking, preserving much of their nutrition. The Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen is a helpful guide to the best choices among conventional produce, if you can’t afford organic. No matter what, don’t let perfection paralyze you. Scientific studies showing the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables have been done on conventional produce from a normal grocery store. Anything you eat is going to provide you with something beneficial. The positive choices you make beyond that, provide you even more. Just do the best you can within your locale and budget.

  9. I understand Dr. Wahls reccomends seaweed as part of her diet. What type of seaweed? Can you get the seaweed found in the grocery store used for sushi or does it need to be raw?

  10. Dear Eileen,
    I discovered your site a couple of days ago and I’m really impressed by how detailed and enlightening all your articles are!!!
    I’m an MS sufferer for almost 15 yrs and started Wahls Protocol about 1 1/2 month ago. Although I’ve read “minding my mitohondria” and ordered The Wahls protocol (didn’t receive it yet), I’m trying to get information through the net and now I realise I’m not doing evrything right…
    I try to eat 9 cups of veggies and fruit (as I live in Greece I eat mostly Greek greens like chicory, chard and in-season fruit; unfortunately most sulfur-rich veggies are off-season and can’t find them) but in my fruit salad I add 15 soaked almonds everyday. I also make paleo bread with flax seed, eggs (whites and yolks) and as I have a sweet tooth too I often make cupcakes, pancakes and other desserts using almond or coconut flour,eggs and stevia :-(
    Now that I’ve read your posts about AIP I feel I’m on the wrong path…
    Finally I usually cook my meals with our own extra-virgin olive oil (read though that olive oil should not be heated)
    Do you think that all these ‘mistakes’ are to blame for not seeing any physical improvement so far?
    I’m so puzzled! I’d appreciate your advice!!!!

    • You’re not necessarily on the wrong path. Many people improve on a regular paleo diet, without the need to take it further with the AIP, and while 1 1/2 months feels like a long time, it’s a very small amount of time compared to the 15 years you have had MS. It might take longer before you see improvement. Give it 3 months doing what you’re doing now, and just focusing on maximizing your nutrient density. It’s OK to have a treat once in a while, but you don’t want them to be a major part of your diet. So, I recommend cutting back on those and seeing if there’s any way you can broaden your vegetable intake locally. If after 3 months, you still aren’t making much progress, you have two options to consider: (1) The AIP or (2) Wahls Paleo Plus (which is the top level of her dietary protocol). As for EVOO, while it’s most nutritious in its raw state, if it’s high quality, it’s safe for cooking. However, one of Terry Wahls’ favorite cooking fats is unrefined coconut oil – extremely beneficial to the brain. See if you can find some of that to add to your diet as well.

  11. Is it possible to make a daily smoothie of some of the veggies? I think I can get some of the 9 cups in, but maybe putting 1/3 of the veggies (3 cups) in a smoothie might work. What do you think?

  12. My son and I use Magic Bullet to juice all the required greens and fruit every day, raw. I have rheumatoid arthritis and most likely my son too. After starting with this, we are feeling so much better, just started about two weeks ago, and looking forward to the future again.

  13. Hey, I just wanted to mention something that might make some changes easier for some people. When I considered changing my diet, I realized that so many vegetables a day would be easier to consider from a different standpoint; I have my starchy vegies, my lower starch vegetables, squash and fiber-dense vegetables, and leafy vegetables with vegetables like broccoli and Greanbeans. If considering starchy vegetables as a sub for grain foods… I have to say, peas and carrots, or even creamed spinach, has a lot more flavor than noodles. And for those irreplaceable dishes (spaghetti, Mac and cheese, etc.), a firm squash or vegetable with a nutty flavor run through a contraption to cut it into noodle shapes (stiring shape, thin crinkle fry shaper, curly fry cutter), should do well.

    Good luck! ;)

    • Good point, Vesta. Removing grains from the diet leaves a lot more room on the plate and in our stomachs for all these wonderful vegetables.

    • I forgot to mention; spices, in variety and abundance, added to your vegetables, along with a nice fat, can make them unbelievably delectable. So much more satisfying than an entire plateful of, say… spaghetti. A lot of flavor really adds to satiety, and these foods sit more comfortably on your tummy than more aggravating, less healthy foods. If done well, it can taste a lot better, and also feel better on your tummy, besides the health benefits.

      The point I was making is, from psychological stand point, its so much easier to consider them as flavorful alternatives or substitutions, rather than a pesky requirement to meet (or avoid, in the case of bread, etc.) . That, and they can taste so much better.

      Many joys, and all the best to everyone.

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