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Foundations of Integrative Health

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Foundations of Integrative Healing Manual
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Foundations of Integrative Healing Manual
PART 2: PRACTICE

Food

 

There are millions of divergent opinions about what we should be eating. Many of these opinions are backed with all the medical credentials one could imagine. Yet, we are as lost as ever when it comes to food. There’s nothing close to a consensus on the ideal human diet, and the more we learn, the more we seem to drift further apart. 

After all these years– living in the most intelligent society in the known universe – isn’t it odd that we still aren’t any closer to understanding what we should eat? There’s more information than ever on food, and in some ways, this is a blessing. We know what each nutrient does with striking accuracy. But it’s also a curse in other ways because the explosion of information has been fuel for vigorous disagreement about what we should be eating. 

We are the only species that has this problem. Birds, ants, deer, fish, and all animals never think about what they should eat, and all seem to live consistently with high levels of vitality. As a species, our definition of food appears to be “Things we can eat that don’t immediately kill us.” A better way to think about food is to ask ourselves, “how can I eat to make my body feel most optimal.” 

Food is not a simple subject. How could it be? The human body is the most complex equipment in the known universe. Fueling it optimally is no small undertaking.

After learning the intricacies of digestion, gut biome, and immunity, it should be evident that rigid diet philosophies are a limited tool. We might lean on them temporarily as a crutch while learning to walk by ourselves. But in the long term, we’ll always run into their limitations.

All of these are reasons why we will take a different approach to teach you how to think about food. Daily, patients ask us, “is x food healthy?” “Should I eat x?” Rather than trying to memorize which foods are healthy and unhealthy, it’s better to learn how to think about food to navigate choices on your own. 

There are two meanings of the word “diet.” The first implies a temporary eating period, as in, “I’m going on a diet this month.” The second implies the food intended to be eaten by a species, as in, “A squirrel’s diet is made up of shrubs, leaves, nuts, and seeds.” It’s a much better approach to focus on the second form of the word, as in the type of food a species should be eating. This gives us a much broader, comprehensive understanding of what food is.

What is Food? 4 Universal Laws

Humans, singularly amongst all 800,000 animal species, are out of touch with our bodies and nature. It’s absurd to imagine squirrels in the wild sitting around talking about what they should be eating. Every other species knows exactly what to do; they don’t have to think about it. 

Humans were designed to be able to eat a wide variety of things and there is a tremendous evolutionary advantage to this. If a drought came and grapes and blueberries were no longer available, it’s a huge evolutionary advantage to be able also to eat nuts and seeds. But just because we can eat something doesn’t mean it’s an optimal food for us

For a moment, let’s put on a new lens altogether. Let’s imagine we are just another animal, forced to eat what is naturally available to us on Earth. After all, we are the only species that processes our food to any degree. And you don’t see animals in the wild suffering from type 2 diabetes or chronic fatigue.

For something to be considered food for a species…

1. A substance must contain valuable nutrition. 

You might be saying to yourself, well … duh. Who would ever eat something with no nutrition in it? Actually, this happens so often that we even have a term for it. It’s called junk food, which occupies more than 70% of our grocery aisles. 

In nature, there are no empty calories. Everything that grows from the Earth contains both calories and nutrients. When an animal gets an intuition from its body to eat, it’s looking for both calories and nutrients. The average person walks around with 2-3 months of extra calories in the US. And while the body is looking for nutrients, we continue giving it empty calories. Your body sends the brain a message that says, “I need nutrients,” and the average person takes out a pint of ice cream. They still don’t get the nutrients they need, so an hour later, the body says, “I need more food!” When the body gets only calories, we continue going back for more and are never satiated.

We keep getting messages to eat because we’re looking for nutrition (not just calories) and not getting it. When the body gets the real nutrients it needs, we no longer have deep, uncontrollable cravings for food. 

2. Food must be non-toxic to that species.

This also seems somewhat silly. Why would anyone consume something toxic to them? Actually, we also do this all the time. Almost everything we eat today contains substances that are toxic to the body and directly contribute to the disease process. Coffee, alcohol, herbs, and processed foods all contain known toxins. For things to be real food for a species, it should contain zero toxic things in the body. Anything toxic to the body isn’t really food.

There are several substances we consume with high levels of toxins that have become normalized. Coffee contains an excitotoxin called theobromine. Theobromine is also found in raw chocolate & cacao. And while these foods might not immediately cause perceivable damage, they are far from essential foods, and we can certainly survive without them. What our bodies need are whole, real foods. 

If you frame the question as, “is there anything in cacao good for you?” The question is, of course, yes. But if you reframe the question to, is there anything in cacao that’s toxic to you? The answer is also yes. It might be something you’d consider eating if there wasn’t more whole, complete food available to you. But what we are searching for is what’s truly optimal for the body. All the more optimal foods for us have naturally lower occurring toxicity profiles. This isn’t to say we should altogether avoid these foods. If you don’t mind a slight brain fog and dragging yourself around a bit the next day, that’s fine. But we should at least make a conscious choice.

Many people are surprised to learn that all herbs contain toxicity. It’s their toxicity profiles that elicit healing powers in most cases. That’s why practitioners will advise you to take echinacea only when you’re sick and not long-term because it contains toxic compounds. And while herbal medicine is beneficial, it can also become a crutch for many who refuse to make diet changes. If we don’t remove huge levels of toxicity from our food, no amount of herbal medicines will heal us.

3. It must make its nutrients available to us in its natural state:

Food for a species shouldn’t need processing to make its nutrients available. There are countless examples of this. Coffee may be the best example. We don’t consume coffee beans in their natural state; they are highly processed (de-pulped, dehydrated, fermented, and roasted) to put them in a state we can drink. The nutritional value of natural coffee beans picked and eaten right from the tree is entirely different from what we drink at Starbucks. Yes, even the processed coffee beans will have some beneficial nutrients, but often at the expense of added toxicity through processing.

Here’s an interesting observation: every chemical that elicits addiction is processed. We don’t get addicted to coffee beans as they are grown in nature. We get addicted to their processed form. We don’t get addicted to coca leaves; we get addicted to its most active ingredient, processed and distilled. We don’t get addicted to raw sugar cane picked and chewed; we get addicted to processed white sugar. We don’t get addicted to grains; we get addicted to processed alcohol. Nobody in recorded history has ever become addicted to cucumbers. That’s because all substances, as they are available in nature, are inherently non-addictive. 

4. Things that appeal to that species’ senses.

 We often take for granted that many foods that appeal to all five senses exist in nature. These foods grow at eye level in colors that are beautiful to the eyes–artists have been painting pictures of fruit for centuries– and also smell delightful. They grow at eye level and are easy to eat. And it’s no coincidence that these foods have great nutrients and antioxidants and contain no toxicity at all.

Actually, this is how every other species survives. They don’t think about their food at all; they simply respond to their senses, eating what nature presents to them. 

 

What is Human Food?

These 4 principles remind us how far we’ve deviated from our original nature. However, there’s more to this story. It’s actually our unique ability to cook and digest a wide variety of foods that has given us our evolutionary advantage. You might say eating a lot of different foods is our superpower.

From examining nearly a century of research on food, a few things are clear:

  1. There’s no such thing as a single ideal human diet. 99.9% of our DNA is shared with all humans, suggesting there is one single way we should all be eating. However, we know that 90% of our microbiome is unique, even among immediate family members. And that means at any given moment, the foods that will digest optimally for you might be wildly different from someone else, based on the current state of your microbiome.
  2. What is an optimal food choice depends on a huge number of factors. What is a good food choice one moment might not be the right choice the next. A variety of factors come into play when determining what will digest optimally. These factors include:
    • Nutrient Interactions – Food pairings and the chemicals present in our digestive tract will change the way nutrients are absorbed. For example, heme iron is better absorbed from many plants when mixed with vitamin C. Curcumin, the active ingredient in Tumeric with a strong anti-inflammatory effect is made more bioavailable by piperine, an active ingredient in black pepper. On the reverse, Phytates (phytic acid) in whole grains, seeds, legumes, and some nuts—can decrease the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium.
    • Time of the day – Our digestion is most active in the middle of the day, making it best to eat a larger meal at lunchtime and smaller meals for breakfast and dinner.
    • Current Season – Our metabolisms respond differently in different seasons and better digest certain foods better in each season. For example, our bodies favor bitter and astringent foods in the spring, as they grow more prevalently during this time. We favor heavier, starchier foods in the fall as our bodies gear up for winter with an extra layer of fat.
    • Locality – There’s a reason certain foods grow in certain regions. Eating local food is a critical determinant of health.
    • Fitness & activity levels – What is an ideal nutritional profile is very different for someone who’s highly active vs. someone who’s not. 
    • Life Events – Life events like pregnancies, menopause, injuries, and illnesses will all shift the type of food we need.

The problem with mass-marketed diet philosophies is they all fixate our attention on what’s different. No one would ever buy a diet book called “Pretty Much The Same As That Other Book, With A Few Clarifications.” This is a marketing strategy; it’s called differentiation. Differentiation is one of the first and most essential principles in marketing; it teaches us to highlight what’s different about the product, using a unique feature as the hook point to draw people in. 

But what if we concentrate on their similarities instead of focusing on the differences in major food philosophies? Woah, that’s a new approach! When we do this, what you find will surprise you; major diet philosophies have a lot in common, sharing a reasonably straightforward, common foundation. You might say 70% of what they advocate for is the same. Where they do differ, they tend to disagree on a small number of food groups, primarily gluten/wheat, meat, and legumes. But most science suggests that when we get the foundations right, the rest doesn’t seem to have much significance in our health outcomes. Taking this approach, you begin to develop a simple and common sense picture of food, with ample wiggle room for personalization.

So what do just about all the major food philosophies have in common?

1. Removal of processed food.

2. Large quantities of organic, whole, plant-centered foods.

3. Reduction of sugar and high glycemic foods.

4. Smaller portions of “filler foods” like bread, rice, and most grains.

5. Dramatic reduction or total removal of dairy.

 

That’s it! Five simple things. However, getting these five things right is no small undertaking; they are deceptively nuanced. It may be simple to understand; however, eating to your ideals is particularly challenging when cooking for family or when eating out with friends. Also, just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.

These four simple principles are the foundations of whole-food plant-based diet protocols, anti-inflammatory diets, autoimmune diets, and paleo diets. (note* we intentionally omitted diets that are intended to be short-term, like ketogenic and FODMAP diets, as these are not intended to be practiced long term).

 

1. Removal of processed foods.

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before. You remove stuff that’s processed in a factory, like TV dinners. You remove chips and switch them with all-natural crackers with minimal ingredients. While this is a good start, there’s much more to eating a genuinely unprocessed food diet. 

Most people think about processed foods as if there are two categories:

  1. Processed Foods.
  2. Unprocessed foods.

However, all processed foods exist on a spectrum of processing. This is essential to understand to get a good foundational diet in place. This is perhaps the single most important healing practice, with far more research and evidence than anything else in this manual. Avoiding processed foods is not as simple as avoiding foods with harmful ingredients. In reality, the vast majority of all foods (even the health bars with just a few ingredients) are still processed.

 

The Processed Food Spectrum:

Lowest Processed – Pick and Eat

On the lowest end of the processed food spectrum are foods that, in nature, could literally be picked and eaten right from the vine. They can be chewed, swallowed, and moved down your digestive tract without issues. This is how every other species on Earth eats food. Every wild animal eats only what nature presents and appeals to their senses in a natural environment. You don’t see monkeys taking wheatgrass shots. Monkeys only eat things that grow around them, which they can pick and eat immediately. We are the only species on Earth that cooks food, processes food, and combines food. 

This isn’t to say we should only be eating raw fruits and vegetables. Humans are blessed with incredibly sophisticated digestive systems that allow us to extract nutrients from various plant and animal life. It’s likely our unique ability to extract nutrients from huge varieties of food is why we have such large brains.

It’s a demonstration of nature’s magic that the foods nature presents to us have the most remarkable healing properties. Oranges grow right at our eye level; their color stands out to us, their blossoms tickle our noses, delight our taste buds, and deliver us excellent nutrients, antioxidants, and hydration. 

We often take for granted that nature creates a variety of foods that would be highly appealing to us if we were consuming them like every other species on the planet. Fruit is beautiful to us; it smells great, and it tastes great in its natural form. We don’t walk past a field of wheat plants and start drooling. These are nature’s way of signals to us as to what are our safest, most optimal foods. 

Lowest Processed foods:

  • All fruits
    • Apples
    • Oranges
    • Bananas
    • Stone Fruits (peaches, pears, plums)
    • Berries (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries)
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Leafy Greens (spinach, arugula, spring greens)
  • Asparagus
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Avocados

Almost No Processing: Pick and Cook

These are foods that don’t appeal to our senses naturally and require cooking for us to digest properly. These foods are still ideal as they need no additional processing; we can simply take them from the Earth, heat them, and eat them. 

Think about cauliflower for a second. You wouldn’t walk past a cauliflower, potatoes, or wheat patch and start salivating. It doesn’t necessarily appeal to us in its purely natural form. However, humans discovered thousands of years ago that simply heating foods is a magical formula that makes food significantly easier to digest and active nutrients more bioavailable.

Should I Cook my vegetables?

The science around this question is divided, and it’s best to look at each individual vegetable. There are nutritional benefits and drawbacks to cooking food. Generally, cooking breaks down indigestible fibers (good) and reduces vitamin c (potentially not good).

Both Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda believe strongly that you should only eat cooked vegetables. This includes carrots, celery, cabbage, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, beets, kale, cauliflowers, tomatoes, bell peppers, and zucchini. In both these traditions, the only vegetables eaten raw are leafy greens like arugula, romaine, sprouts, and other leafy greens. The only vegetables that can be eaten raw are cucumbers, but cucumbers are actually fruit.

Many people eat kale or spinach raw, thinking they are extra healthy. You should generally cook spinach, kale, and collard greens, as they contain cellulose (indigestible fiber) and something called oxalates, which can make your throat scratchy after eating them. 

Cooking many vegetables makes their active ingredients more bioavailable to us. A 2002 study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that cooking actually boosted the amount of lycopene in tomatoes. Another study showed Mushrooms retain more antioxidants when cooked. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Food Science found carrots and celery actually become healthier with cooking. Cooking and pureeing carrots (with the skins on) can multiply their antioxidant power threefold! Roasting can also boost nutrients.

As raw vegans argue, cooking plants does remove Vitamin C. Vitamin C levels do decline by 10 percent in tomatoes cooked for two minutes—and 29 percent in tomatoes that were cooked for half an hour. Again, this is a trade-off to consider. 

You can use all this to make your own decisions, but mixing up your raw/cooked vegetables is a safe bet. We suggest mixing cooked/raw vegetables for easy-to-digest veggies like tomatoes, carrots, and celery, while always cooking harder-to-digest vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and potatoes. 

Very Minimal Processing – Pick and Sort

The next level up the processed food spectrum are foods that require a minimal factory or technological process. These processes can alter the food in two ways:

  1. Making them edible. But also…
  2. Drastically changing the quantity we can consume them. 

Let’s imagine you’re living in the year 3000 BC, right around the time humans were first arranging themselves in organized civilizations. Imagine you’re living in a small rural hunter/gather village, a place that cultivates some food through farming but primarily lives off of foraging, hunting, and gathering. 

This week in the village, there’s a giant hurricane, and you can’t leave your house for three days. You don’t have time to stock up on food, so you don’t eat for three days. When the storm is finished, you go outside, and it’s the first sunny day all week. WOW, are you hungry! Walking outside the village to where you usually find your food, you come to the top of a bluff overlooking the valley where you forage food, and you see three food options:

  1. A walnut tree. 
  2. A mango tree grove.
  3. A wheat field.

Which of these are you going to run to first? I bet you didn’t say the wheat field. No way are you going to spend the entire rest of the day harvesting wheat, taking it home with you, grinding it down into a powder, then waiting for it to bake in the oven into your bread. You likely chose the mango grove. No doubt! Because when it truly comes down to it, the foods we are most drawn to are the foods that are designed by nature for us to be eating. You may also choose the walnut tree, depending on your mood, but also consider that to eat the walnuts; you’d have to climb a huge tree, pull each shell down individually, crack its hard, irritating shell and eat it. This is why it’s essential to consider both how processing allows us to consume certain foods (like bread), AND also changes the quantity at which we can consume others (like walnuts). 

In times of desperation, when no other food was available, you could pull some wheat down and eat it to survive. And while it probably wouldn’t taste good and might cause indigestion, it would keep you alive. 

We’ve got so caught up and asking ourselves questions like, “are whole grains healthy for us?” Immunologists who study autoimmunity would tell you wheat can trigger a chronic immune reaction. Gastroenterologists studying the gut biome will tell you that whole grains give us helpful prebiotic plant fibers, so there is no consensus on this question. 

However, this all misses a crucial insight; that the context of wheat changes entirely in their natural form. 

We often ask ourselves the wrong question. If we ask the question, is this healthy for me? We often aren’t able to find a clear answer. We get a totally different answer when we reframe the question to, “What amount of this food is optimal for me?” Another good question is “How would I be consuming this food in an environment free of factory processing?” This allows us to see it from a truly natural context. 

In the case of wheat, everyone’s answer might be a little different. We might consume wheat on occasion when nothing else was available. You might chew on it occasionally to clean your teeth and give you something to distract you. But one point of consensus, no matter which angle you study the body, is wheat and grains need to be consumed much less. Each American consumes, on average, 53 pounds of bread per year. 

Wheat, quinoa, or anything else that requires us to pick sort, and process, might have been something you chew on to clean your teeth. It might have been a food you’d have eaten in times of desperation. But if you had other choices available to you in nature, it wouldn’t be an optimal choice. Mice, deer, birds, and rabbits eat wheat and grains, and this is a quality food source for them as they have completely different digestive systems. To a mouse, a grain of wheat might look, smell, and taste like a giant steak! 

Nuts and seeds:

Nuts and seeds are also contextually similar to wheat and grains. Yes, nuts and seeds are consumable in their natural form. Yes, they are packed with lots of valuable nutrients. However, consider the context of how we’d consume them in their natural state, free from processing. 

Although nuts and seeds are “natural food,” our ability to process foods allows us to consume them in most people’s levels and quantities. For this reason, there’s a big difference between eating nuts and eating nut butter. If you had a craving for walnuts thousands of years ago, you’d have to climb a massive tree, pick each one individually, crack open its hard shell, and eat it. You might be able to eat a couple of tiny walnuts slowly over 10 minutes, but you wouldn’t be able to take massive handfuls of them. 

Additionally, today’s nuts and seeds are likely very different from what they were thousands of years ago. As pollution and toxic chemicals in farming increase, plants have had to devise new strategies for dealing with these toxicities. Nuts and seeds have increased phytic acid, a potentially harmful chemical often used commercially as a preservative. Phytic acid has been shown to decrease the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium.

You can remove phytic acid and optimize nuts and seeds for digestion by sprouting them. Here is a link to a comprehensive guide for sprouting foods

Sprouting means soaking them in water for a period of time, dehydrating them, or cooking them at a low temperature in the oven. There are many reasons nuts and seeds need to be sprouted:

  1. Sprouted nuts and seeds are easier to digest than raw nuts and seeds because the soaking process releases their enzyme inhibitors.
  2. Sprouting allows your body to absorb the nutrients better.
  3. Raw nuts and especially raw seeds contain moderate levels of phytic acid. Phytic acid is often referred to as an anti-nutrient because it blocks the absorption of certain minerals into the body. When you eat foods with phytic acid, it binds to minerals in your digestive tract and makes them indigestible. This includes Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, Chromium, and Manganese.

 

Legumes and Beans:

This is a contentious topic, and different health paradigms have differing viewpoints. Legumes and beans have been shown in a laboratory setting to initiate inflammatory chemicals. Doctors and researchers who study the immune system and autoimmunity recommend restricting all legumes and beans, at least for a set period. 

Gastroenterologists and GI specialists often encourage eating cooked beans and legumes as they are a great digestive fiber and protein source. This issue is also intertwined with meat consumption, as a complete nutritional profile requires either legumes/beans or meat as a primary source of protein and vitamins. It would be nearly impossible to get a complete nutritional profile without meat or legumes/beans.

Sprouting Legumes

Ayurveda encourages the consumption of sprouted legumes only. In India, which has a rich history of legume-based dishes, they will always sprout and pressure cook their leagues to break down the lectins in the legume. Lectins are part of the plant’s immune system. Legumes have gradually developed harsher lectin content as plants are grown with harsher chemicals and exposed to more environmental pollutants.

Soaking, sprouting, and cooking beans and legumes can neutralize the lectins and make consuming these foods significantly less inflammatory. To truly break down the lectins in legumes and beans, you need to soak them, and pressure cook them. One of the best purchases you will make this year is an Instant Pot, which you can use to pressure cook your legumes. It’s one of the best $90 you can spend. If you have a problem digesting legumes, this usually does the trick. 

Suppose you still have significant food sensitivity issues and continue to have persistent symptoms on the autoimmune spectrum. It might be a good idea to altogether remove legumes and beans for a limited period, like 30 days, and see if it makes a difference. If you are going to include legumes in your diet:

  1. Make SURE you soak them overnight.
  2. Buy an instapot, and always pressure cook them.
  3. Speak to your doctor and Wisdom nutritionist about creating a strategy for this.

 

Rice, Quinoa:

Rice and quinoa are other foods that tend to creep up in our diets and consume large portions on our plates. Americans eat 26 pounds (12kg) of rice annually, while Asians consume 300 pounds (136kg). There are many different types of rice as well.

Quinoa has tons of beneficial fibers but has also been associated with higher inflammatory markers. 

  1. Notice if it starts to creep up as a “filler food,” and reduce your quantities.
  2. Use basmati rice (it’s significantly lower GI), or high quality rice like black forbidden rice or whole-grain brown rice.
  3. Make sure you soak and wash your rice or quinoa heavily before eating it to wash off the starches.

 

Summary on grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans. 

The science around most of these foods isn’t completely settled. So with these foods, our best guidance is to:

  1. Sprout them. Use this sprouting guide.
  2. Make sure they don’t creep up to more than ¼ of your food plate at any meal. Rather than eating half a plate of rice, take just ¼ cup. Instead of eating a giant bowl of oatmeal every morning, have it as a small side along with fruit in the morning. Instead of eating an entire jar of peanuts, sprinkle sprouted nuts and seeds on a soup, or eat a small handful of them, so they don’t bog down your digestive system. Avoid huge amounts of nut butter of any kind; they should be treated as a delicacy.
  3. If you have nagging sensitivities and suspect a food intolerance, try eliminating the food for 30 days and see if anything changes. 

 

Meat: 

Meat is a highly contentious topic, and frankly, both sides of the argument take you down a rabbit hole of compelling research. When you look at the body from different angles, you get different answers as to whether or not meat is healthy for you. If you look at it from the perspective of the nutrient profile, meat is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. However, when you look at it from the gut-biome angle, meat elicits certain inflammatory microbes like Bilophila wadsworthia, Alistipes, and Bacteroides, which produce toxins like amines, sulfides, and bile salts. 

The decision to consume meat is a personal one. However, if you do, we recommend you ALWAYS follow the following:

  1. Always consume organic meat. For red meat, grass-fed and chicken always free-range. 
  2. Never make your meat more than ¼ of your plate. 
  3. Limit meat consumption to once a day. 

 

Medium Processing – Middle Aisle Foods

Now, back to processing. Many staple foods have become so common that we forget how they are processed. These are the foods that live in the center aisle of grocery stores. We want to move towards completely eliminating these foods as much as possible. Take two staple foods as an example, ritz crackers and cheese:

Ritz Crackers

The following are the ingredients in Ritz Crackers: 

  • UNBLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON THIAMINE MONONITRATE {VITAMIN B1}
  • RIBOFLAVIN {VITAMIN B2}, FOLIC ACID) 
  • CANOLA OIL 
  • PALM OIL
  • SUGAR 
  • SALT
  • LEAVENING (CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, BAKING SODA) 
  • HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP 
  • SOY LECITHIN
  • NATURAL FLAVOR

Consider for a moment that each of these ingredients, every single one, went through a significant factory and or laboratory process. It’s as if this “food” has been manipulated by various chemicals to trick our taste buds. 

We often forget to appreciate just how much staple foods require processing. Take cheese, for example. The cheese started as milk, likely from cows on a factory farm loaded with GMO, hybridized grain, and soy, and pumped with antibiotics. The milk was likely extracted using a milking machine. The milk would then be brought to another facility where it would be heated extensively to pasteurize it and then bleached to give it its white color (did you think milk was naturally that white?) Next, it would likely be brought to another facility where proteins are added to coagulate the milk and turn it into cheese. After that, many synthetic chemicals like sorbic acid are added to it to preserve it on the grocery shelf. Next, the cheese would be packed in plastic wrap and stored for weeks or months in a refrigerator before being used. 

Generally, anything that is sold to us in a package is going to be similarly processed. Even foods that are labeled “all-natural,” “Organic,” or “Minimal ingredients,” still require a significant amount of packaging. 

Some foods to watch out for:

  • “Health food bars” like Cliff Bars, Kind Bars. Ideally, we wouldn’t be eating any nutritional bars.
  • “Healthy crackers” like whole-wheat Triscuits.
  • Pre-packaged protein Shakes or smoothies. These tend to have tons of additives and unnatural sweeteners. 
  • “Healthy” alternative or gluten-free brands like Hippie, Harvest Snaps, Late July etc. 

If you are going to go for snack food, a good rule of thumb for these products is to buy the smallest, most obscure local brand you can find. As food brands get larger, they are forced to add more processing to their foods to keep their processing down. 

Snack food brands we love:

 

Highly Processed – “F U Foods”

We refer to these as F U foods, because they don’t even pretend to be healthy. These are the highest processed, most damaging foods you could consume. This includes:

  • Any and all fast food. This includes: Mcdonalds, Burger King, Subway, Jimmy Johns, Panera Bread, KFC, Taco Bell, Panda Express. Generally, if a restaurant has more than a couple locations, they are going to be serving you highly processed food.
  • Pre-packaged dinners that come in the frozen food section like: Pre-made ravioli or meatballs, frozen-food section pizza. 

Make no mistake, it is IMPOSSIBLE to reverse a chronic condition while consuming these foods. Eating a single meal of highly processed foods can throw off your biology for a long, long time. These foods must cease to exist in your life for you to reverse a chronic disease. 

 

2. Ample quantities of organic, whole, plant-centered foods.

The exact proportions differ, but there’s a general consensus that more organic, whole, plant foods are ideal. Plant foods contain the vitally important prebiotic fibers that create fertile soil for a healthy microbiome. They contain polyphenols which are a vital source of antioxidants. 

A healthy plate of food varies significantly but should look more like this:

 

And less like this:

 

More like this:

 

And less like this:

 

3. Reduction of sugar and high GI foods.

Sugar is arguably the deadliest substance on Earth. Diabetes was the ninth leading cause of death globally, leading to 1.5 deaths (and many more from indirect causes). Studies have demonstrated white sugar to be more addicting than cocaine. 

Sugar and high GI foods cause a spike in blood pressure, which raises the body’s insulin levels. Chronically elevated insulin levels, which lead to Insulin insensitivity, wreak havoc on the body and have been linked to every major chronic disease. There are several great GI index charts to help you map and reduce the influxes of your blood insulin. We’re aiming for a gradual reduction of our total GI levels over time. This is undoubtedly one of the hardest parts of changing our diet, as sugar is highly addicting. A slow, gradual approach to lowering your GI index is best. If you need something faster, try Mark Hyman’s ten day blood sugar reduction program.

 

4. Smaller portions of “filler foods” like bread, rice, and most grains.

It usually goes like this: we read an article about the health benefits of whole grain rice. It starts with a small, delicious portion. You get accustomed to the comforting feeling of having a full stomach, so it seems you increase the dosage every night. You look up after a few months, and suddenly rice is making up ⅔ of your plate!

While there’s some disagreement on specific types and amounts of grains, rice, quinoa, rye, and wheat, there is a consensus that the amounts should be reduced, at least in proportion to the other whole foods.

One thing to consider is that although rice, quinoa, and wheat technically are “whole foods,” they still require an industrialized system for you to be able to consume them in the levels we do. If we didn’t have specialized tools and processing, you wouldn’t have access to giant cups of rice and quinoa. If you were picking them yourself from a field, they might be something you chew on from time to time to clean your teeth.

Your plate should look more like this:

 

And less like this:

 

More like this:

 

And less like this:

 

 

5. Dramatic reduction, or total removal of dairy.

Humans are the only species that drink milk after their infancy. Even cows don’t drink cow’s milk after they’ve matured. Dairy is highly inflammatory, highly processed in most instances, and has been linked to hormone imbalances. The conventional sales pitch for dairy is that the calcium and vitamin D is necessary for our bones, but the gig’s up: actually, studies suggest it has exactly the opposite effect.

Because dairy milk is pooled together in large tanks, virtually all dairy milk contains this pus. An udder infection called mastitis is widespread in dairy cows and causes pus to leach into milk. A liter of milk can have up to 400,000,000 somatic cells (pus cells) before it is considered unfit for people to drink. Lactose intolerance is also common, affecting about 95 percent of Asian Americans, 74 percent of Native Americans, 70 percent of African Americans, 53 percent of Mexican Americans, and 15 percent of Caucasians. Symptoms include upset stomach, diarrhea, and gas.

Historically, we’ve been sold milk as necessary for building bones. However, research shows that dairy products have little or no benefit for bone health. According to an analysis published in the British Medical Journal, most studies fail to link dairy intake and broken bones or fractures. In one study, researchers tracked adolescent girls’ diets, exercise, and stress fracture rates and concluded that dairy products and calcium do not prevent stress fractures. Another study of more than 96,000 people found that the more milk men consumed as teenagers, the more bone fractures they experienced as adults. Learn about how to build strong bones on a plant-based diet. 

 

Shopping List, Cooking & Recipes:

 

PRODUCE DEPARTMENT

  • Fresh Vegetables
    • Potatoes
    • Sweet potatoes
    • Onions
    • Garlic
    • Squash
    • Broccoli
    • Cauliflower
    • Cabbage
    • Celery
    • Cilantro
    • Spinach
    • Lettuce
    • Carrots
    • Radish
    • Avocados
    • Other available seasonal veggies

Fresh Fruit

  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Melon
  • Pineapple
  • Other available seasonal fruits

 

DRIED FOODS OR BULK FOODS SECTION

  • Whole grains
    • Rice
    • Quinoa
    • Millet
    • Steel Cut Oats
    • Buckwheat 
  • Legumes
    • Lentils (All types)
    • Beans (Black beans, pinto beans, chickpea, cannellini beans, navy beans, etc.)
    • Split peas
  • Nuts and seeds (seek out raw)
    • Flax and/or chia seeds
    • Hemp seeds
    • Almonds
    • Walnuts
    • Cashews
  • Dried Fruits
    • Raisins
    • Dates (used as a sweetener)
    • Figs
  • Other
    • Cacao nibs or powder (for those who need a healthy chocolate fix!)

 

REFRIGERATOR SECTION

  • Fermented Foods
    • Miso (for soups and salad dressing)
    • Sauerkraut
    • Kimchi
    • Pickles
    • Yogurts
    • Kombucha

 

FREEZER SECTION

  • Frozen fruit
    • Frozen wild blueberries
    • Other frozen berries
    • Frozen mango
    • Frozen pineapple
    • Frozen cherries
    • Other frozen fruit
  • Frozen vegetables
    • Frozen peas
    • Frozen spinach
    • Frozen kale
    • Frozen mushrooms
    • Frozen corn

 

CANNED/PACKAGED FOODS

  • No-sodium or low-sodium canned beans (for convenience)
  • No-sodium or low-sodium canned tomatoes
  • Raw Organic Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Healthy snacks (please see our list of healthy snack foods above)

INTERNATIONAL FOODS SECTION

  • Coconut aminos or Liquid Aminos (used for dressings, replacement for soy sauce)
  • Thai curry paste (seek out sugar-free option like Thai Kitchen and Mae Ploy)
  • Nori (for easy veggie wraps/sushi)
  • Dulse flakes (iodine-rich seaweed, that is a delicious topping to a salad)
  • Hot sauces (seek out sugar-free options like Organic Yellowbird Hot Sauces)

 

COOKING OILS

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Cold-Pressed)
  • Unrefined Coconut Oil (Cold-Pressed)
  • Avocado Oil (Cold-Pressed)
  • Organic Ghee – Our Favorite

OILS FOR DRESSINGS (UNCOOKED)

  • Sesame Oil (Cold-Pressed)
  • Macadamia Oil (Cold-Pressed)
  • Walnut Oil (Cold-Pressed)

 

ONLINE STORES

 

OUR FAVORITE RECIPE SITES: