Ask multiple nutrition experts about a ‘best diet’ and you’ll get different recommendations, all claiming to be the most effective, along with compelling reasons and maybe some evidence supporting their position. Paleo, ketogenic, no fat, high fat, low carb, blood type, high protein, Atkins, the Zone, South Beach, etc. The list goes on.
It’s common knowledge that we are what we eat. If current health conditions and disease are a measure of our dietary effect, we’re failing miserably. Heart disease is still the number one killer, closely followed by cancer (1 in 2 men, and 1 in 3 women now get it). Diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and obesity are all epidemics. Properly prescribed drugs are now the #4 killer in the U.S. That’s right.Properly prescribed. You might say drugs don’t have anything to do with foods and nutrition. But consider this: if we are healthy and vital due to a truly health-promoting, disease-reducing diet, drug prescriptions are reduced.
Studies confirm our population doesn’t consume a truly health-promoting diet, in spite of what most think as ‘balanced’. It’s not that we don’t have the information. There’s no shortage of scientific studies and data on nutrition and health. Insulin resistance, trans fats, acrylamide, cellular inflammation, high cortisol, membrane integrity, brain and nerve regeneration, mitochondrial biogenesis (cell energy and ATP production), thermogenics (fat-burning), and genetics are just some areas advancing the diet and nutrition landscape. So although there’s an avalanche of newly discovered information that has contributed to our understanding of health, fundamental questions remain for the average person: what should I eat, and what’s an ideal diet?
To answer this, let’s define the qualities and effects of a health-promoting diet, or what I call Food for a Healthy Life. It should be high in naturally-occurring vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids, fiber, enzymes, and structured/hydrating water. It should have a favorable healthy fat profile, be easily digested, minimally processed (if anyl), have a limited adverse effect on the planet ecosystem, and be sustainable for future generations. It should naturally detoxify our cells of waste and environmental toxins, reduce inflammation, support cell energy production, support endocrine balance, and be alkaline in nature. In short, it should reduce the risk of all chronic diseases and extend our longevity. Is there a diet that checks all these boxes? Yes. It’s simpler than you might think, andit’s not some trendy diet fad that will be soon forgotten. The best news is it’s backed by decades of solid scientific evidence.
*This information has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. If you have questions, concerns, or a medical condition, see your physician.
Diets that Don’t Promote a Heathy Life
To better appreciate a health-promoting diet and the associated life-giving foods, it’s important to know that certain diets and foods can wreck your health and keep you sick. Most diets have serious flaws. These include diets with excessive protein and/or fats such as the modern day paleo, low carb, and ketogenic diets. First let me say these diets can have short-term benefits, such as in epileptic seizures, temporary weight management, blood pressure, sugar imbalances, and more. However, history shows these diets were not meant to be consumed indefinitely, and long-term effects have not been studied. In fact, recent scientific analysis of primitive skeletons reveal we were primarily plant eaters, not meat-eaters as various books and ‘authorities’ believe.
Paleo, various low carb, and ketogenic diets diets are currently the trend. These diets are correct in emphasizing removal of high-glycemic foods such as all refined flour products, sodas, and sweets. These promote insulin resistance, sugar imbalance, cell inflammation, hormone imbalances, immune compromise, and depletion of nutrients. However, their high protein and/or fat content is not suitable for long-term health. Here’s why.
High protein intake creates cellular acidity, a serious dietary contributor to modern-day health problems. It also has a congesting effect on the kidneys (ask anyone with kidney disease) and reduces lymphatic drainage. If you have any concern about cancer, know that protein, especially animal-based sources, stimulates the mTOR pathway, which signals cancer to grow faster.
High fat intake, even from healthy fats, can slow liver detoxification and cleansing ability, can be difficult to digest, and is challenging on the gallbladder and pancreas.
Low carb diets are a problem, at least most of them. They’re often too high in protein and/or fats, and eliminate the healthiest foods on the planet: abundant fresh fruits (more on this later).
High carb intake is a problem when it’s from the wrong type of carbohydrates. This includes refined simple carbs in pasta, bagels, muffins, croissants, cookies, cake, jam, jelly (including ‘fruit juice’ sweetened), and most crackers. Even if they are ‘whole grain’, flour products are considered processed and are not part of an unrefined, whole foods diet. For more information on this, read my book, Supercharge Your Cell Vitality, a free download on my website. Exceptions include flour products made from beans, legumes, or nuts. These have a lower glycemic and insulin index, and are typically less refined than grain-based flours. Examples of this include almond flour, coconut flour, lentil flour, and others.
This is a big subject, so let’s simplify it. Rather than analyzing diets and explaining inherent weaknesses, this section will focus on the best foods to eat and the reasons why. I’ll finish with meal/menu suggestions to get you started on a healthy path. It comes down to some very basic concepts that you need to know. Concepts you’ll want to embrace as part of your way of eating if you truly want to maximize your health and vitality for the rest of your life.
NOTE: Not all foods are suited for everyone. Food allergies or intolerances, digestibility, cost, availability, preparation time, and taste are all considerations. If there are concerns, see a licensed health care professional trained in nutrition. However, the following foods can, as the old saying goes, ‘add years to your life and life to your years’.
- Fresh Fruit
Fruit is Mother Nature’s best healing and cleansing food, and is healthy any time of year, even if it’s not seasonal. Beneficial properties of fresh fruit include a high concentration of electrolytes, antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, live enzymes, structured (easily absorbed) water, flavonoids and polyphenols. They’re also among the most easily digested foods.
Remember this: physics tells us our bodies are primarily energetic and electrical in nature, and fruits are by farthe most ‘electric’ of all foods.
Whatever you’ve heard about fruit being bad due to sugar, ignore it. The naturally-occurring fructose is bound with other essential, life-giving ingredients, and creates very little impact on blood sugar and insulin. In fact, many advanced anti-cancer and diabetic food programs include a large amount of daily fresh fruit. Nobody ever got sick, developed disease, or died early because they ate too much fresh fruit!
Certain fruits are best suited to help reduce and heal chronic cellular acidity, kidney congestion and lymphatic compromise. These are considered by many authorities to be root causes of disease. Ideal fruits for this include the astringent varieties such as red or purple grapes (with or without seeds), melons of all types, berries of all types (especially WILD blueberries – usually frozen), lemons, limes, and tangerines.
The fact is nearly everyone benefits with more fresh fruit in the diet. Options include:
- Snacks – try an apple, pear, banana, or orange, even when you are on the go.
- Fruit salads – for breakfast, dessert, or in a sealed container to take with you when you are out. Options include grapes, berries, mango, banana, apple, etc.
- Topping for green salads – try orange or tangerine wedges, sliced pear or mango
- Chunky homemade apple sauce or a slurry of mixed fruits in a blender or food processor. They make great additions on top of or mixed into a non-dairy yogurt, rolled oats, unsweetened granola, or straight from a bowl.
- Fruit-based shakes/smoothies – see my Smoothie Recipes article on my website for information. Bananas andberries make a good base, but any fruit can work. Fresh is best, but frozen works good too. High-speed blenders like a VitamixÒ, NutribulletÒ, NinjaÒ, or others work great, but any heavy duty blender will work fine.
Fresh fruit is nature’s healthiest food. Period. Aim for a minimum of 5 servings a day or more (one serving = approximate size of your fist). Got digestion problems? Try eating fruit alone (especially melons), or between meals at least 30 minutes before or 2 hours after meals. You might try bananas, papayas, and pineapples which all aid digestion. Additionally, fruit and protein at the same meal aren’t ideal as they can ferment, creating gas and bloating.
- Fresh Vegetables
Along with fresh fruits, fresh veggies are among the top foods for health, healing, and longevity. Although not as ‘electrical’ in nature as fruits, veggies remain a top choice for cleansing, and a healthy body. Vegetables have a good amount of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals, as well as amino acids (protein building blocks) – thus are well suited for building and repair.
Surveys show our consumption of vegetables is inadequate. The typical response of ‘I eat lots of salads’, or ‘I have a vegetable with dinner every night’ is thought by many to be sufficient. However, according to the National Academy of Sciences, a much higher intake is required for optimal health. Evidence shows our ancestral way of eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet provides the blueprints! In fact, when it comes to fruits and veggies, a minimum of 9 servings a day (combined total) were found to reduce or eliminate the risks of all chronic degenerative disease. Think about that one for a minute.
The Most Important Information for Vegetables
1) Buy fresh, organic, local, and seasonal whenever possible
2) Eat them either raw or lightly steamed (the two best methods), lightly sautéed, or lightly stir-fried. If stir-frying, use a liquid base of water or broth, then add a little oil at the end if desired. Whichever method, don’t overcook! See my book Supercharge Your Cell Vitality for more information.
3) If you live in a hot climate, consider a higher % of raw veggies. If you live in a cold climate, try a bit more lightly cooked.
4) Poor digestion? Consider juicing or steaming veggies. Spice it up! Add fennel, coriander, cardamom, ginger, or cumin. Introduce raw later on once tolerated.
5) Eat a variety of colors for a wide spectrum of beneficial nutrients and flavonoids.
6) Aim for a minimum of 5 servings aday. Start with less if needed, build up later.
7) Crazy healthy veggies include: artichokes (frozen hearts are OK), asparagus, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, cilantro, cucumber, any green leafy veggie (especially arugula, kale, and spinach), mushrooms (especially shitake and maitake), purple potato, seaweeds, sprouts (especially broccoli), squash, and yams. The list is more extensive, but these are some top choices.
In 1991, the NIH and NCI launched the ‘5 a Day for Better Health’, a nationwide nutrition and education campaign, fully aware of the data that nine daily servings of fruits and veggies was ideal. It’s believed nine was just too difficult for the average person accustomed to convenience and processed foods. Fast-forward to today, and here are the results:
- Grains, Beans, and Legumes
There’s controversy on these foods, depending on the source. Lectins, enzyme inhibitors, and phytates are found in these foods (and others) and can impede digestion, absorption of nutrients, and create inflammation. On the surface, it seems we should stay away from them. Many people do with varying degrees of benefit. However, the secret to keeping these wonderful foods in the diet without the negative aspects is soaking! Just soak these foods overnight (at least 8 hours or more) in a large bowl of water. Use enough water to cover the food by at least 2 inches or more. A double soaking is better ifyou have the time, soaking for 8 or more hours, discard the water, then repeat. Never use the soaking water. Soaking breaks down the enzyme inhibitors and lectins, which are mainly found in the skins and outer coverings. Now the grains, beans, or legumes are ready to be cooked. Still skeptical? Remember this one fact: Dan Buettner and his research team (National Geographic ‘Blue Zone’ books) found the number ONE common food among the world’s longest-lived population groups is BEANS. For more information on cooking methods, read my web book, Supercharge Your Cell Vitality. The best sources are heirloom and organic varieties. These include:
- Wild or black rice
- Steel cut oats (does not require soaking, plus they get too mushy)
- Adzuki, navy, pinto, black, and garbanzo beans
- Split pea (yellow/mung dal is integral to kitcharee, a wonderful Indian dish)
- Lentils- Cashews (don’t require cooking)
These foods have more benefit when used in moderation (a few servings a week). Vegetarians or vegans may need to include more. Find out what works for you. These are best consumed in their whole form, not as flour products.
Ideally, keep fat consumption to a maximum of 15-20% of your diet. Less is better when cleansing or on a weight releasing plan. As I list in my web book, there are a number of unhealthy as well as healthy fats. BEST FATS include:
- Raw nuts & seeds (sesame, macadamia, almond, pumpkin, sunflower, walnut, chia, and flax). The nutrition benefits are maximized when soaked too.
- Coconut oil (for cooking), extra virgin olive oil (for salads), ghee (in moderation, for cooking), and avocado oil.
- Avocado (as slices, guacamole, in smoothies for extra calories), and olives.
This is possibly the most misunderstood of all the foods. Protein is associated with health, vitality, strength, blood sugar balance, and more. How much should you eat? It depends on your metabolism and other factors. An average adult should consume around 40-60 grams a day, and a good visual is about the size of a deck of cards. We may require more during situations like pregnancy, extreme athletic activity, and severe burn or wound healing. More research is found in The China Study book. When performing a cleanse, the amount should be reduced further.
Ultimately, most of us eat far too much protein. Most chronic diseases have a strong correlation to excess protein intake, mainly from animal sources. Why animal protein? It has a higher acid ash residue, creates more metabolic waste, is higher in hormone residue (even organic) and environmental chemicals. If you eat animal protein, aim for a maximum of one serving a day. Checking your first am urine and saliva pH can give good information about body chemistry as well as your protein metabolism (see my website article titled pH: Why You Need to Know).
Best sources of protein include:
- peas, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, small amounts of grains, small amounts of fermented organic soy (miso, tempeh)
- animal sources include small amounts of wild Alaskan salmon, Icelandic cod, sardines, anchovies, herring, rainbow trout, calamari, and organic turkey
- ‘superfoods’ are great additions to smoothies or other foods, including Hawaiian spirulina, chlorella, barley grass juice powder, bee pollen, and maca powder
I mentioned some issues with excess protein on page two, under ‘High Protein’ diets, and it bears repeating. Excessive protein intake (I consider 90g or more excessive) has a slow, chronic, insidious congesting effect on the kidneys, which are absolutely critical to the health and function of our all-important LYMPHATIC SYSTEM, the great sewer system responsible for removal of cellular waste. Healthy kidneys contribute to healthy lymphatic drainage, thus reducing disease potential. The kidneys are under appreciated in standard medicine. Standard blood kidney tests like BUN, eGFR, creatinine, and protein typically won’t reveal this problem as these are later-stage abnormalities. Bottom line: don’t pig out on protein if you want to live a longer, healthier life.
Putting it All Together – A Sample Day of a Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Diet
- A large bowl of chopped fruit (apples, banana, orange, grapes, berries or others)
- A papaya or two sliced mangos, with fresh-squeezed lime.
- A fruit-based smoothie (see Smoothie Recipes article on my website). Leave out protein if you wish. Add ½ avocado for extra calories if desired.
- The Detox Drink (see The Detox Drink article recipe on my website).
- A bowl of organic steel cut oatmeal, cooked with 1 cup wild frozen blueberries, ½ chopped apple, 1 tsp. chia seeds, 1 tsp. fresh milled flaxseed, and added cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger powders (optional).
- Unsweetened coconut, cashew, or almond yogurt with ½ c rolled oats and berries.
- A pasture-raised poached egg, topped with sliced ½ avocado and salsa. Note: eliminate eggs if you have chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, an autoimmune condition, arthritis, or cancer. Eggs may feed pathogens which drive these issues. If this is your situation, substitute the egg with 2 slices of organic turkey bacon.
- A large salad – romaine, spinach, or other leafy green plus chopped cucumber, celery, tomato, cilantro or parsley, red bell pepper, and avocado. If protein is desired, try ½ c garbanzo or kidney beans. If you feel you need some animal protein, consider ½ can wild Alaskan salmon. If more calories are needed, add some sliced olives, and/or 2 Tbsp. of raw nuts or seeds of your choice (sunflower, sesame, walnut, almond, pumpkin)
- A fruit-based smoothie; a large bowl of fresh fruit; a bowl of veggie chili
- An organic veggie burger patty topped with avocado slices, pickles, lettuce, tomato
- Some steamed greens (broccoli, bok choy, chard, kale, etc) plus wild rice or beans.
- Same options as lunch
- Baked wild Alaskan salmon or Icelandic cod or other acceptable fish, with large salad orsautéed greens or stir-fried mixed veggies (carrot, snow peas, kale, broccoli, mushrooms, onion, celery, zucchini, or others). Add a baked potato or yam if more calories are desired.
- Veggie soup, miso soup, or bone broth (see my web article recipe)
- Wild rice or quinoa with any type of squash and a salad
- Kitcharee (kichadi). A tasty Indian meal of yellow mung dal, rice, herbs (veggies optional) – see online recipes or reference section for Ayurvedic cooking.
- Ground organic turkey burger (no bun) with steamed or sautéed veggies or greens
- Guacamole or hummus with raw mixed veggies (cucumber slices, baby carrots, sliced bell pepper, broccoli or cauliflower, cherry tomatoes; or try a handful of green olives
- Raw almond butter, tahini, or cashew butter on rice cakes or sliced apple
- A piece or two of fresh fruit (best option). Orange, apple, banana, pear, grapes.
- A handful of raw almonds, cashews, walnuts, macadamia nuts, pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds (hint: can make trail mix by adding organic raisins or cranberries, and dried coconut)
- Unsweetened coconut yogurt mixed with raw nuts/trail mix or a sliced banana
NOTE: For those with serious health concerns, NO ANIMAL PRODUCTS should be consumed. ZERO. Otherwise, for overall best health, keep animal products to a maximum of 2 servings a week, total (see above sources), but less is even better. These are some of the many options for a health-promoting, disease-reducing, WFPBD. In general, focus on less protein (especially animal sources), less fat, and emphasize fresh fruits and veggies. For more recipes and eating options, see my reference section at the end of this article.
Dietary Cleansing & Detox
Ancient civilizations used regular fasting or cleansing diets for disease management, and to maintain optimum health and vitality. Think of these as a ‘rest’ for the body organs and cells, and helps it clear metabolic waste, improve lymph drainage, and support ‘autophagy’ (destruction and clearing of unwanted, old, decaying cells). We’re always exposed to toxins from the environment and from normal cell metabolism, so it makes sense to have fasting or cleansing diets a regular part of our lifestyle.
Here are various levels of deep cleansing diets for short duration orlonger term. Duration can be a single day, a weekend, a week, or longer, depending on your health goal, your state of health (longer cleanses are more challenging if poor nutrition status), or your constitutional strength. Frequency can be monthly, seasonally, or twice a year. I don’t recommend long-term diet cleanses, as they can be difficult to maintain, and most people need to start slow on less aggressive cleanses to gradually detoxify the body and minimize adverse reactions like headache, fatigue, joint pains, rashes or blood sugar imbalances. However, for those with chronic health conditions, the right cleansing diet, when used properly, and if done repeatedly over time, can yield near miraculous results.
Number one (1) is the deepest cleanse diet, number seven (7) is least. Find what works for you.
1) Water fasting (not recommended unless medically supervised)
2) The Master Cleanse fast (see my web article for details)
3) Water, non-caffeinated herb teas, and raw fresh fruits
4) Water, non-caffeinated herb teas, raw fresh fruits, green veggie juices
5) Water, non-caffeinated herb teas, raw fresh fruits, green veggie juices, veggies (mostly raw)
6) Water, non-caffeinated herb teas, fresh fruits, green veggie juices, veggies (cooked), raw nuts/seeds
7) Intermittent fasting. Consists of 12-20 hours of no food. Involves delaying breakfast by several hours (ex: first morning food at 11am) OR eating dinner earlier (ex: nothing after 5pm). This usually involves two meals a day and some calorie restriction, which can have an amazing effect on the body as research shows. See www.mercola.com for more information, and type in ‘intermittent fasting’ in the search field.
For detailed cleanses that I have found work really well over the years, consider either
The Nine-Day Cleansing Diet or The 28-Day Healing Cleanse found in the article section of myweb Learning Center. They’re easy, cheap, proven, and can be shortened if needed.
Can’t find organic produce?
Don’t eat from the Environmental Working Group ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of conventional foods. These typically have the highest residue of herbicide/pesticide/fungicide residues. Focus more on their ‘Clean 15’ list of foods, which have the least contamination. The list is published annually (www.ewg.org).
The Bottom Line
If you’ve heard about, tried, or are currently eating a certain diet, ask yourself these fundamental questions about the foods you eat:
1) Can they make me look, feel, and function better? What about 10 years from now?
2) Can they reduce my risk of most chronic diseases and an early death?
3) Have the long-term effects been proven?
4) Are they healthy for me and my planet?
Although further research is needed to answer these questions, you don’t have to wait. Look to the longest lived, happiest people in the world for answers. In addition to some other lifestyle factors, they all have a common dietary pattern. They mainly eat a whole-foods plant-based diet (WFPBD).
For many of us, shifting our food intake to a WFPBD can take time. We are accustomed to a certain way of eating. These patterns may be old and deep. Habitual eating, comfort foods, convenience, food addictions, boredom, food familiarity, the old pocket book, and adopting foods from our childhood are just some of the reasons why we eat what we do. However, transitioning to a WFPBD will, over time, nourish us with foods we were designed for. Be patient, and cut yourself some slack. Changing the diet for life isn’t always easy. But the payback can be better than you ever imagined.
To your vibrant health,
Greg Barsten, DC, MS, RH (AHG)
The China Study, second edition, by T. Colin Campbell, Thomas Campbell.
Whole – Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, by T. Colin Campbell.
Life-Changing Foods, by Anthony William.
The Perfect Formula Diet, by Janice Stanger.
Everyday Raw, by Matthew Kenney.
Forks Over Knives – The Plant-Based Way to Health, by Gene Stone, T. Colin Campbell.
Eat to Live – Quick & Easy Cookbook, by Joel Fuhrman, MD.
Healing with Whole Foods, second edition, by Paul Pitchford.
Detox: Your Deep Tissue Cleansing & Regeneration Guide, by Dr. RobertMorse.
Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, Mary Enig.
The Blue Zone Solution, by Dan Buettner.
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, by Caldwell Esselstyn, MD.
The Ayurvedic Cookbook, by Amadea Morningstar.
The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org)