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By David J. Getoff, CCN, CTN, FAAIM
As we look at our history of food use for guidance about how to eat today, we must decide just how far back we wish to go. Should we look to our preagricultural hunter-gatherer ancestors who ate what the earth provided for them to fish, trap, hunt, dig, or pick? Perhaps we should only go back to the time before we had stores, electricity for refrigeration and freezing, and packaged “foods” that will seemingly remain “fresh” for years.
I have heard many health proponents say that if you wish to remain healthy, you should only eat foods that are located near the outer walls (the perimeter) of the supermarket. While I agree with this in principle, in practice, it is not always so. The perimeter of the supermarket is almost always where you will find eggs, fresh meats, fish, and fresh, raw vegetables and fruit. However, very little of this is organic, some of the vegetables are almost pure starch, and most of the fruit is too high in sugar for even weekly consumption. But at least these foods do not consist mostly of empty calories with added chemicals, like what lines the shelves in most of the other aisles.
Sadly, a great deal of the produce has been picked weeks prior and stored in special ways to make it look freshly picked. The nutrient content was already very low due to hybridization, deficient soils, and the use of incomplete and inadequate chemical fertilizers, and it likely declined further in storage.
In fact, the word “fresh” has become meaningless these days. It used to mean that the animal was killed and butchered very recently, the eggs were collected that day or at least within the week, and the produce was picked within a day or two of appearing on the shelves. Not anymore! The “fresh” produce you just bought in your local market might have been picked two weeks prior and 8,000 miles away in another country. Your “fresh” apples might have been in a low-oxygen storage facility for the previous six months. A great deal of the “fresh” fish may have been frozen for months and is really just freshly thawed. Ask the fish counter salesperson to check which, if any, of their “fresh” fish and seafood has never been frozen and, if they know, when it was caught.
If we returned to eating like our not-so-distant ancestors who grew much of their own food, got milk from their own cows grazing in grassy pastures, and gathered eggs from their own pastured chickens, it would be a gigantic improvement. Dr. Weston A. Price studied many different cultures around the globe whose people were in exceptional health. None of them bought food from stores. None of them had electricity or refrigeration. But they did have exceptional health into old age. It seems that we, in our industrialized societies, have traded our health for what we call convenience. Being sick or in pain, requiring drugs daily to suppress symptoms, losing memory function and reflexes, getting out of breath easily, and generally not feeling like you can enjoy life most days is what I would call inconvenient! I guess I am among the minority of Americans who are willing to sacrifice some of the “modern conveniences” in order to keep a solid hold on our health and all our faculties as we get older.
Thankfully, people are finally becoming interested in the more nutritious foods of our ancestors. Foods that used to be taken for granted, such as eggs from pasture-raised heirloom chickens (older, classic breeds, not hybridized for higher production or larger eggs) or pasture-raised beef and lamb, are finally coming back. The better health food stores carry organic, birth-to-death grassfed beef and lamb – some of which is even from animals that are slaughtered humanely – as well as eggs from chickens raised organically in pastures, with worms and insects a major part of their daily diet.
Today, in our fast-paced society, nutrient-dense and truly healthy foods have been replaced with easier-to-prepare, longer-lasting, chemical-laden, low-nutrient foods. Our bodies must break down and assimilate all the nutrients we can manage to get from our food. Anything that is done to “preserve the freshness” or extend the shelf life of a food is in direct opposition to the healthy functioning of our digestion and absorption processes.
The easiest way to look at it is that we should be eating truly fresh whole foods that, left alone, would rot quickly, loved as they are by bacteria. We just need to eat them even more quickly than the bacteria do. In Southern California, we are blessed to have local farmer’s markets in various counties. I try to get most of my fresh produce at these markets from the actual farmers, whom I can ask whether the cauliflower and broccoli were picked early that morning or the day before.
I divide food into many groups, rather than using the meaningless ones specified by the USDA. I use enough different food groups that my students and patients will not get confused. These groups are described below:
Animal Protein: Red meat, fish, eggs, and birds (poultry). Good sources of animal protein include 100 percent grassfed beef, lamb, and bison; 100 percent pastured organic eggs and chicken; and wild-caught, low-mercury fish. I want the animals raised for human consumption to have a diet as close as possible to what they would have been eating in the wild. This makes their fats the healthy ones we need and helps minimize the amount of environmental chemicals in their bodies.
Dairy: Milk, cream, butter, ghee, yogurt, kefir, and cheese. Milk is the only food (if clean, unprocessed, and raw) that is so nutritionally complete that it can be the sole sustenance of a species for its first weeks, months, or, in some of the healthiest traditional human tribal populations, two or three years of life. I see no reason why people should not continue to consume it as they age, unless they cannot properly digest it or cannot find good quality raw milk from organically raised, pastured cows. In my practice, I find very few individuals who have any reaction to organic, whole raw milk from healthy grassfed cows.
Nuts and Seeds: Macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, filberts, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, almonds, and some other nuts, and even peanuts (which are actually legumes and not nuts). Cashews are a high-starch nut, so they are not as healthy as the others, plus many people react to them. Seeds include pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, and hemp seeds (the latter of which I do not eat).
Historically, hemp has never been consumed as a food. Since I do not feel it is wise to play the role of a guinea pig, I prefer not to eat things that no population ever ate before me. This includes hemp oil, hemp seeds, hemp “milk,” and hemp protein powder. I prefer the foods that have been consumed for centuries.
Fats and Oils: I include here just the ones I consider healthy: butter and ghee from grassfed cows, lard from heirloom pastured pigs, coconut oil, bright orange palm fruit oil that is sustainably harvested, macadamia oil, extra virgin olive oil,* walnut oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, and peanut oil. These should always be organic and, in the case of oils, pressed at temperatures of 120° F or below.
It is very sad, but here in the US, where corporations have tight control over government regulatory agencies, these agencies are no longer protecting us, even though that was their original purpose. In the fats and oils industry, this means that the term “cold pressed” does not ensure that the oils did not reach high temperatures during their manufacture. It only indicates that a heating device was not used. The process of pressing oils out of nuts, seeds, and grains requires extremely high pressures. A great deal of heat is produced during this process unless it is done very slowly and with adequate temperature control. Most of the best-known brands of cold-pressed oils allow their products to reach temperatures that I feel are too high (above 120° F) during the pressing process, but they are still completely within their legal rights to label these oils as “cold pressed.”
Sadly, few Americans have ever tasted high-quality nut or seed oils. If you were to taste supermarket brands of corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, and “vegetable” oil, all would taste quite similar, since their original flavors have been pretty much destroyed during their high-temperature deodorizing process. You and your taste buds may have been deceived for decades into believing that salad and cooking oils don’t really have distinct flavors, just slightly different textures or viscosities. One of the extra benefits of exploring truly healthy foods is the more distinct flavors you get to experience.
Whole Grains: All grain and grain-like seeds, including but not limited to rice, barley, wheat, rye, quinoa, amaranth, teff, and millet. All of these are approximately 75 percent starch, which your body converts into sugar and, sometimes, triglycerides. The faster they are converted into sugar and the less nutrition they contain, the more unhealthy I consider them to be. The less starch, sugar, and alcohol you consume, the better your body can regulate your blood sugar level, and the lower your current and future risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain will be.
Foods in this group are not required for long-term health, since there are no essential nutrients in any of them that we cannot get from nonstarchy foods. Moreover, I don’t consider whole grain bread, pasta, muffins, or crackers to actually be whole grain anything. Once you grind the grain or seed into millions of tiny particles that we refer to as flour, you have massively increased the speed with which the body converts it to sugar. It is also worth mentioning that oxygen can damage flour easily, as its protection has been ground away. It is a powder and not a whole grain.
Beans (Legumes): Mung beans, kidney beans, Anasazi beans, lentils, etc. These are yet another group of food that is about 75 percent starch, but since they convert into sugar much more slowly than other starches, they are less harmful. Only whole grain barley converts as slowly as beans. Mexican refried beans that are traditionally cooked with a good amount of lard convert even slower, since fats slow down the conversion process.
If you have had a blood test called hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) and your number from a US lab is 5.3 or below, you can probably handle a small portion of beans or whole grains once a week without it slowly pushing you toward diabetes (although if your number is 5.4 or above, I wouldn’t recommend it). Of course, this is only if you are not also eating other starches. I will occasionally put a small amount of green, red/orange, or black lentils or some heirloom barley in my stews.
Soybeans: Since soy is often a harmful food, I do not lump it in with the other beans.† Soy can be far more problematic than just being difficult to digest and causing gas production, which are the problems associated with other beans. Unless it has been adequately fermented, soy can disrupt and unbalance human hormone levels, causing various possible health problems. In addition, the vast majority of soybeans are genetically modified. Many people react to soy without knowing it.
Adequately fermented organic soy products from reputable companies, although not required in any way for long-term health, do not appear to cause problems in most individuals. These would include tempeh, miso, natto, and the really good fermented and gluten- or wheat-free tamari sauces, which are higher quality versions of soy sauce.
Regular refrigerated health food store tofu is not fermented. If you want the original Chinese fermented tofu, also known as fermented bean curd, you will usually find it in glass jars on Asian grocery store shelves (not refrigerated).
It is the US, not Asia, that has massively promoted soy products. Soy milk, soy ice cream, soy cheeses, and soy protein powders are American products and did not originate in Asia – the Asian cultures knew better, their people having eaten soy for thousands of years in its fermented forms. The only soy foods that have good research supporting their benefits are the fermented soy products miso and natto.
We have hurt many children by feeding them a food-like product called soy milk. In reality, milk is a complete, animal-based protein with animal fats and some sugar that comes out of the nipple of a mammal and is intended to feed its young. Since soybeans, almonds, and rice kernels do not either give birth or nurse their young, it is a bastardization of the English language and should be a violation of good food regulations to call the white liquids made from them soy milk, almond milk, and rice milk. None of these liquids will ever have the nutrients required to be the sole source of food for a healthy youngster of any species.
Vegetables, Starchy: I consider vegetables to fall into two very different food groups. The first is the high-starch vegetables, and most of us would benefit from eating less of these. People with cancer, diabetes, or hypoglycemia and those who are overweight would be better off cutting them out almost completely. Starchy vegetables include all colors and varieties of potatoes, yams, corn, pumpkin, parsnips, and rutabaga, and all hard-skinned winter squash, such as spaghetti, butternut, Tahitian, kabocha, and acorn.
Vegetables, Nonstarchy: These are perfectly fine to eat unless you have a difficult time digesting their fiber or you have a reaction to any of them. These “good” vegetables include lettuces of many varieties, tomatoes (which, botanically speaking, are a fruit), cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, regular artichokes, and many different peppers (another fruit). Peppers are a great deal healthier if you eat them when they are ripe and, by that, I mean vine ripened. There is no such thing as a ripe green pepper. A green pepper is one that was picked too soon, since more time on the plant means less money for the grower. It is for this reason that many people say that green peppers do not agree with them but that every other color is fine.
Fruit: Sadly, some believe that fruit with its “natural” sugar content is somehow a healthy sweet. Trust me, your body does not agree with that idea. Fruit is loaded with sugar (fructose), and unless you run or bike a few miles after eating it, this sugar will not be used for energy. It will instead travel into your blood, where it may be converted into triglycerides and raise your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. It will definitely raise your blood’s fructose level, and fructose causes insulin resistance, which, when severe enough, is referred to as type 2 diabetes.
People continually say, “But we have been eating fresh fruit throughout our history. How can it now be bad for us?” The answer is exceedingly simple and straightforward. First, the fruit available to our distant ancestors did not contain anywhere close to the amount of sugar found in our modern hybridized varieties. Second, before agriculture – which means for most of human history – the vines, bushes, and trees that produced the only available and not-so-sweet fruit were few and far between. Third, the fruit-bearing trees and plants that did exist only had ripe fruit for about four to twelve weeks each year. No one could go to their nonexistent stores, fruit stands, refrigerators, or freezers to get more. So, the amount of fruit consumed, with its low sugar content, did not cause health problems. Our ancestors were also a great deal more active than we are today, and so they burned a great deal more calories.
It is my belief that the healthiest fruits are those berries that are the same color inside and outside, since the pigments have antioxidant and other health-promoting properties. Which berries or other fruit, if you slice them in half, will be the same color throughout? Raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, cranberries, boysenberries, wild (not cultivated) blueberries, elderberries, and cherries. For those who don’t have diabetes or cancer, a healthy dessert a couple of days a week might be a small bowl of wild, organic blueberries bathed in organic heavy cream, unless you are lucky enough to have access to grassfed, raw heavy cream.
Sweeteners: I divide sweeteners into natural and artificial sweeteners, and we will cover the natural ones first. To begin with, the vast majority of natural sweeteners are simply composed of different combinations of various types of sugar. By this, we could mean sucrose, which is our granulated white table sugar, or fructose, maltose, or lactose, which are other natural sugars. We might mean substances that are processed from natural sources and that contain an assortment of sugars along with a trace of nutrients—for example, corn syrup, rice syrup, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, molasses, palm sugar, coconut sugar, and barley malt. As far as your body is concerned, they are all sugar. If you ask a type 1 diabetic about sweeteners, they are likely to tell you that the only seemingly different one is fructose, which is the sugar in corn syrup and agave nectar and is one of the many sugars contained in fruit.
Why might a diabetic tell you that fructose-containing sweeteners are different? Because although fructose is an extremely damaging sugar and causes both type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease, it does not all get rapidly converted by the body into glucose. This means that, while it is raising your risk for those two conditions, it is not doing much to raise your blood glucose level (the one your doctor measures), and so you might call it a more hidden killer. Of all the fructose-containing sweeteners, the one highest in fructose and therefore the most harmful in my view is agave nectar. Agave nectar has even more fructose than high-fructose corn syrup!
Although fruit can be harmful, fruit juice is far worse for two reasons. First, it contains none of fruit’s natural fiber, which slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Second, no one would eat four or more apples in 60 seconds, but they might very well, in that period of time, drink a glass of apple juice that contains all the sugar from four or five apples and rapidly spikes their blood fructose. A 12-ounce glass of apple or grape juice has just as much health-damaging sugar as a 12-ounce can of soda pop, and these days a 12-ounce can or glass is considered small, even though it contains 10 to 14 teaspoons of sugar!
There are a handful of natural sweeteners that do not have any effect on our blood sugar nor do they feed cancer cells or cause diabetes. These sweeteners fall into two groups. The first are called sugar alcohols, the name having to do with their chemical structure, as they are not alcohols. The older sugar alcohols are sorbitol and maltitol, both of which have been used in dietetic and diabetic candies and chocolates since I was a child. Both cause diarrhea if more than a couple of candies are consumed. The newer ones, which have found their way into packaged foods in the last twenty or so years, are erythritol and xylitol. These are less likely to cause loose stools when eaten in small amounts, so they are being used more in “sugar free” chocolates and protein bars. Xylitol made from organic birch seems to be the best type. The xylitol made from GMO corn is more likely to cause gastrointestinal issues. I consider both erythritol and xylitol to be acceptable (although not my favorites), as long as they are consumed in quantities that cause no gastrointestinal effects.
The healthiest natural sweeteners are stevia, yacon syrup, and luo han. Stevia, from the leaf of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, is a green herb that contains many steviosides and rebaudiosides. These complex natural compounds, named after the plant, are 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar when they have been extracted and purified. They do not promote diabetes, cancer, or obesity and have been approved and used in Japan for far longer than in the US. Many years ago, the sugar and artificial sweetener industries pressured the FDA into banning stevia in the US to protect their markets. Eventually, since it is a safe natural herb used in many countries, the FDA was forced to end the ban. Depending on which steviosides or rebaudiosides are extracted, or if the whole plant extract is used, chlorophyll included, the taste can vary greatly from brand to brand.
Because it is so much sweeter than sugar, pure stevia powder must be diluted or cut with some other substance in order to make it easier to use. Some companies use organic erythritol for their diluting powder, which I feel is a good choice.
I’ll give you three hints about using stevia. First, try different brands to see which one you like the taste of best. The second is to start off with a very small amount and then increase the amount in tiny increments, tasting it after each increase, since if you put in too much, it will be bitter. The third is that stevia’s slight herbal taste goes away completely when it is used in a sour food. Therefore, if you use stevia to sweeten either yogurt or fresh lemonade, most people will not realize it was not sweetened with sugar.
The next great natural sweetener does not come from a leaf but rather from the underground tuber of the yacon plant. Yacon syrup has the flavor and color of a mild molasses, and most people like it. The yacon tuber looks like a potato but contains no starch. It gets its sweetness from a nondigestible fiber called fructooligosaccharide (FOS), and so has basically no calories and no effect on your blood sugar level.
The last natural healthy sweetener is luo han from the Chinese luo han guo fruit. Like stevia, the concentrated powdered extract can be over 200 times sweeter than table sugar.
There is one more product that many of my patients like. It is called Lakanto® Monkfruit Sweetener. You can use it to replace sugar in your recipes at a one-to-one ratio. It is non-GMO erythritol with luo han added to make the sweetness level equal to that of sugar. Without this boost, erythritol is only about 70 percent as sweet as sugar. I use the other three, as I try to avoid the sugar alcohols for gastrointestinal reasons, but many have no issues with it and really love the Lakanto.
This brings us to the plethora of artificial sweeteners. What is the purpose of consuming a chemical that, prior to being manufactured in a laboratory, had never before existed on our planet or in the human body? The best answer I can come up with is that – due to misleading marketing, untrue advertising, and ignorance on the part of both the consumer and most medical professionals – millions of people think it would be better for their health and waistlines to use an artificial sweetener rather than a natural sugar-based sweetener. However, the results of two well-designed research studies clearly proved that the artificial sweeteners used did not produce any weight loss when compared to natural sugars. As my mentor and nutrition expert Jonathan V. Wright, MD, would say, putting into your body an alien molecule that does not even aid in weight loss and is loaded with published side effects is not a good idea.
Why every dinner is a breakfast
All you need to do in order to make a healthy meal is to put together a protein source with adequate fats, and, if you wish, add in one or more nonstarchy vegetables seasoned so that you will enjoy their flavor. What? You mean like eating steak or chicken or fish and vegetables for breakfast? Why not? It brings in what your body is asking for, even if you can’t hear it.
How about hard boiling four or five eggs, shelling them, and adding some healthy mayonnaise (I make my own) and a few tablespoons or more of a low- or no-sugar organic pasta sauce with whatever additional spices you enjoy? Cut the eggs into small pieces, mix it all up, and you will have a delicious bowl of inside-out deviled eggs. All I am trying to get across is that companies advertising breakfast cereals have programmed us to believe that sugar-laden, starchy foods are “breakfast foods,” when, in fact, they should never be thought of as healthy foods at all. If you eat a healthy meal, it should hold you, without hunger returning, for five to seven hours or sometimes even longer.
For most people, a wholesome and complete meal would be five to eight ounces of really high-quality, not overcooked animal protein with all the fat that should be there, and some nonstarchy vegetables. Please leave the yolks in your eggs and the fat on the grassfed beef, lamb, or bison. Adding some additional healthy flavor by putting grassfed butter or ghee, extra virgin olive oil, or maybe organic, raw, grassfed cheese on your vegetables is a great idea. Then season it all with the organic herbs and spices you like best.
Healthy food choices
Strive for good food in as many categories as possible. Remember that no designation ever means the same thing as a second designation. For example, “organic” does not mean that the food is pastured or grassfed, nor does “grassfed” or “pastured” mean that is organic. You need to see every word you are looking for, or you need to phone the manufacturer or the ranch and ask questions – not the store!
Here is a list of some of the good foods to include in your diet. Please note that all of the fish must be wild caught, and everything except the fish should be organic. Organic designations are not used with fish.
- Meats: grassfed and grass-finished beef, lamb, and bison
- Fish: salmon, canned sardines, flounder, haddock, mahi mahi, Pacific mackerel, scallops, and shrimp
- Poultry: pastured (not free range, a meaningless designation), organic, and, if available, heirloom varieties (with the skin, please)
- Eggs: pastured and organic (see the egg scorecard at cornucopia.org)
- Cheeses: any from organic, raw, grassfed milk that are made below 110° F
- Other dairy: organic, not ultra-pasteurized, preferably grassfed milk and heavy cream, and plain, full-fat organic yogurt. Raw, grassfed dairy is best, if it is available in your state.
- Nuts: raw, organic walnuts, macadamias, pine nuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios, etc. Cashews have too much starch.
- Sweeteners: stevia, yacon, and luo han; also acceptable if you have no reaction to them are non-GMO erythritol and birch xylitol
- Seasonings: miso (make sure it was actually fermented), garlic, unrefined sea salt, products containing organic herbs that are individually listed on the label, which does not contain the word “spices.” In the US, manufacturers can add MSG, wheat, and other adulterants if they use the general term “spices” on the label.
- Vegetables: all nonstarchy vegetables you have no reaction to (locally grown, organic, and picked ripe, if possible)
- Fruit: wild organic blueberries, or raspberries or blackberries (not strawberries). No more than one apple a day as a dessert.
- Frying oils and fats: coconut oil, grassfed ghee, palm oil, lard
- Lower temperature oils and fats: extra virgin olive, walnut, macadamia, and avocado oils, and grassfed butter (always try for organic). All of these are great for making salad dressings and mayonnaise.
For my health, I am willing to spend the additional money for organic food, grassfed and grass-finished beef and lamb, pastured organic eggs and chicken, and wild-caught low-mercury fish. I do this to increase the number of years I will live and the good health I will have while living them. Eating this way can greatly improve the chances that you will keep your memory function as you age, and can help ensure that you retain good muscle tone, skin tone, and reflexes. Is organic food really more expensive than conventional food, as some say? That depends on how much value you put on feeling great and having lots of energy, a good memory, and a body that is truly healthy.
Adapted from Abundant Health in a Toxic World by David J. Getoff, CCN, CTN, FAAIM (AuthorHouse, 2018).
About the Author
David J. Getoff is a board-certified clinical nutritionist, traditional naturopath, and fellow of the American Association of Integrative Medicine. He is vice president of the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation. David maintains a private practice in San Diego, California, and has contributed numerous articles in past issues of the Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing. His website is www.naturopath4you.com.
* Most inexpensive extra virgin olive oils are, in fact, not extra virgin olive oil. Read the book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller (www.extravirginity.com).
† I recommend people read Kaayla Daniels’ book The Whole Soy Story.
Published in the Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing
Summer 2018 | Volume 42, Number 2
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