Monday, February 6, 2012

Building Your Own Disease-Fighting Diet

For tens of thousands of years, humans have eaten high-quality whole foods from both plants and animals. While hunter-gatherers arguably enjoyed optimal health, humans who embraced agriculture about 10,000 years ago had also figured out how to be very healthy while consuming grains.

Then humans entered into the industrial age. Through the mindless application of heavy industry to food, we started eating refined sugar, wheat flour, hydrogenated vegetable oils, chemical additives, as well as food raised/grown to produce maximum quantity, not quality.

Despite the effective infectious disease protection that came from modern medicine in the early 1900s, human diseases didn't go away, they simply shifted. Instead of dying from cholera, tuberculosis, diphtheria, pneumonia, or influenza, we are now struggling to control obesity, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and heart disease. The sad truth is that most (if not all) of the health problems that we are currently plagued with have little to do with the normal consequences of aging and more to do with the consequences of consuming modern denatured, highly processed, nutrient-poor, and toxin-filled foods.

7 Simple Rules for Healthy Eating
But there is a silver lining to this depressing news. You can inexpensively repair and reverse many health problems by making a few critical changes to your current diet (and lifestyle). They are: 

1) Prepare Your Own Meals
When you prepare your own meals, you control the quality of the ingredients used. This ensures that you are not consuming much of the 7 Deadly Foods. It also helps to control the cost of higher-quality foods and can actually save you money if you make all your meals.

2) Avoid Energy-Dense Foods/Eat High-Quality, Whole Foods
Energy-dense food have more calories per nutrient than nutrient-dense foods. Typical energy-dense foods are sugar, wheat flour, pasta, bread, breakfast cereal, candy, soda, and many engineered foods that come in a bag or box. Energy-dense foods require nutrients to be processed in the body, but return little to no nutrients of their own, which has the affect of making you malnourished over time. If you eat a lot of energy-dense foods, then switching to nutrient-dense foods (e.g., meats, eggs, vegetables, and fruit) will dramatically improve your health.

3) Avoid Toxins
Generally, animal products and fresh fruits are the least toxic foods, while plants are somewhat more toxic (depending on the plant food). Seeds are the most toxic foods. 

If you think about it, this all makes sense: Animals can defend themselves (or run away), so their bodies don't have to be poisonous; fruit is designed to be eaten (so that animals will disperse the seeds contained in eaten fruit); plants can't run away, so they have to use chemical warfare to protect themselves; and if seeds were delicious, then an entire species of plant would die out quickly once animals started eating these seeds. 

Then there are modern foods, which are filled with toxins that come in the form of sugar, modern wheat, soy, chemical additives, and trans fats. These foods are also sometimes exposed to heat, pressure, and chemical treatments that can chemically alter affected foods. 

The human body cannot function properly when constantly exposed to any toxic food. If you want optimal health, avoid the 7 Deadly Foods and eat primarily high-quality meats, eggs, (raw and cooked) vegetables, and fruit.

4) Eat Animal Products
Humans are omnivores. I'm sure that the second half of this sentence will upset many vegans, but the human body needs to eat some animal products to be healthy. Animal products are the only source of vitamin B12, which is critical for human health. Living in the West, vegans can get vitamin B12 from any health store. But if you were living off the land and unable to supplement your diet with B12, then you would die pretty quickly if you only ate vegetables and fruits.

Of course, this doesn't mean that you have to be a complete carnivore and eat nothing but meat. Just as humans can be healthy on a wide variety of macro-nutrient ratios, they can also be healthy on a wide variety of foods sources. This can mean anything from mostly vegetables with a small percentage of animal products (e.g., Kitivans, Hunza) to mostly animal products (e.g., Inuit, Masai).

Personally, I'm not for or against any kind of food. I understand that vegans and vegetarians object to eating animal products for various reasons. But humans are designed to eat both plants and animals. If eating flesh is too much for you, then eat eggs, raw dairy, and/or fish. If you are not opposed to eating flesh, then try as many different organic or naturally-raised animals as you can!

5) Choose Quality over Quantity
When it comes to food, always chose quality of quantity. Quality whole foods are full of the nutrients your body needs. Higher-quality foods also have fewer toxins to interfere with your health. It is true what they say: You get what you pay for. As such, cheap food is cheap for a reason.

As the study of epigenetics gets established, boffins are finding out that we literally are what we eat. Our DNA is not protected from the foods we eat. So if you eat poor-quality foods filled with toxins that are also damaged during preparation, it can negatively affect how your genes express themselves, causing disease. And the stress of eating nutrient-poor, energy-dense foods will also prevent the body from completely repairing this damage, resulting in chronic poor health, infections, and low energy, as well as increasing your odds of developing obesity, diabetes, and/or heart disease (and that's just the short list). (1,2)

If higher-quality foods seem too expensive, just get into the habit of making large meals that re-heat easily. For example, a $15 slow-cooked stew full of meat, potatoes, carrots, and beef broth can feed a family of 4 for several days.

6) Cook Foods Gently
While some foods can be eaten raw (e.g., fruits, some vegetables, and some meats), many foods have to be cooked to kill bacteria, deactivate anti-nutrients or toxins, and make their nutrients more absorbable. However, if you cook food too rapidly, or with too much heat, you can create toxins that can affect your health.

Here's how to safely cook your foods: (3)
  • Don't overcook foods. Nutrients in overcooked foods can bind together, causing the creation of toxic compounds. Excess cooking can also destroy heat-sensitive nutrients.
  • Avoid using high-temp frying, broiling, or direct-flame grilling. These cooking methods can generate carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) in foods. 
  • Use low-temperature cooking. Slowly cooking foods safely breaks down nutrients, resulting in a healthier, more flavorful meal.
  • Cook foods whole or with the bone still in the meat. Cooking many whole animal parts with other ingredients creates a more flavorful collection of nutrients. And cooking with bones will help keep meat moist. 
  • Keep your meat moist. Moisture keeps nutrients from binding together when they are being cooked. This results in the creation of fewer toxins and more delicious foods. Cooking meat with its natural fat (or lightly coated in oil) and/or bone(s) can help keep this meat moist.  

7) Drink Filtered Water
Water plays a critical role in many processes in the body, so it is important that you drink at least 64 ounces of water every day (this is not in addition to the water you get in your food). If you are more active, or working in a hot environment, then you will need to consume more than 64 ounces.

Drinking water from the tap is usually fine, but you want to make sure that it is filtered (inexpensive PUR or Brita filters work very well). If you prefer to drink bottled water, it should also be filtered (because 25% of bottled water is often nothing more than expensive tap water).

There's no need to follow the dubious eating plans created by some of today's diet gurus. Building your own personalized disease-fighting diet is pretty simple. First, eliminate the 7 Deadly Foods. Then replace cheap, highly-processed, nutrient-dense foods with high-quality meats, eggs, vegetables, and fruits prepared by your own hands. Next, make sure you get enough protein every day. Finally, drink a lot of water.

To really put the finishing touches on your new healthy diet, start buying cookbooks so that you can enjoy the many different ways to eat these delicious whole foods!

1. Graham, Gray, Kesten, Deborah and Scherwitz, Larry. Pottenger's Prophecy: How Food Resets Genes for Wellness or Illness. s.l. : Destiny Health Publishing, 2011.
2. Farris, Russell. Potbelly Syndrome. Laguna Beach, CA : Basic Health Publication, Inc., 2005.
3. Shanahan, Catherine and Shanahan, Luke. Deep Nutrition. Lawai, HI : Big Box Books, 2009.

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