“Eat food, mostly plants, not too much”
This quotation from the best-selling book “In Defense of Food“, investigative journalist Michael Pollan sums it up perfectly:
- Eat REAL food. Not something that was made in a factory or a lab. No processed food. No chemicals. No added sugar, salt or fat. Eat what your grandparents would recognize as food.
- The science is clear that the more PLANT BASED your diet is, the healthier you will be and the more you can prevent or reverse disease. Keep clean (not factory-farmed) animal products to less than 10% of your calories.
- We simply eat TOO MUCH. Eat less, eat less often and respond to true hunger, not emotional or habitual eating.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
WHAT AND HOW WE EAT
LEARN ABOUT YOUR FOOD
Over the millennia, food (providing sustenance and physical survival) and sex (ensuring procreation and genetic survival) have been the 2 main drivers of evolutionary behavior. Both strongly stimulate the dopamine (pleasure) receptors in our brains. For these same millennia, we ate food in its natural form, whole, unprocessed and mostly raw. Modern man has been around for about 200,000 years but it is only in the last 200 or so, o.1% of our existence, that industrialized, hyper-processed food has existed. For more on the history of food, click here: THE HISTORY OF FOOD and WHY WE NEED TO GET BACK TO A WHOLE FOOD PLANT BASED DIET. Today’s food, and the resulting drive for pleasure, has unfortunately been hijacked by an industrial food system which maximizes taste by adding salt, sugar, fat as well as countless additives and chemicals to make us crave them more. As a result, we have become addicted to eating. Food is so available to us that we don’t even have to think about it anymore. You can get snacks at the checkout counter of even the hardware, electronics and hobby stores! We blindly just eat whenever we want, whether we are hungry or not, not knowing in most cases what we are eating, where it came from, how it got there, how it was grown, how it was raised or how it was slaughtered. We don’t think about how it got from its origin to its ultimate destination, on our forks or in our hands. This disconnection is not healthy and if we just took some time and thought about our food even a little bit, we would end up much healthier.
If dairy is bad, does that include yogurt, eggs and almond milk? Although these sound like stupid questions, since all dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, whey and casein) come from lactating cows, eggs come from ovulating chickens and almonds grow on trees, you’d be surprised how often I get asked these types of questions. I’ve had Ivy League educated people ask me these questions. They are not uneducated, they just exemplify how little most people think about the foods they put into their mouths or where their foods come from. If you start to pay attention to what you eat and how food impact on how you feel, you would be much better off.
Although it is clear that a plant-based diet is the healthiest way to eat, there is no real evidence that consuming some animal products is harmful to your health, as long as you keep consumption to less than 10% of your total calories. That having been said, from a nutritional standpoint, there is a huge difference between factory farmed animal products and those which came from pasture-fed free-range and ethically-raised animals. As mentioned above, we have lost touch with our food, how it is grown or prepared and where it came from. A Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is an Animal Feeding Operation (AFO). These are farms in which animals are raised in confinement, that have over 1000 “animal units” confined for over 45 days a year. 99% of animals raised for production of the meat, dairy and eggs sold in our stores come from such “operations”. In these facilities, animals are essentially tortured, fed a completely unnatural diet of corn, soy (97% of soy produced in the US is fed to animals in CAFOs) and chemicals and then they are unceremoniously slaughtered eventually ending up in our stores and on our pates. You may not like to see or know about this but it’s a simple fact. Supporting these practices supports the unethical treatment of animals, contributes to the continued deterioration of our environment and leads to poor health. There are a number of resources you can use to learn more about such practices. Just go to You Tube and there is an endless stream of videos, often obtained in secret since it is illegal in many states to video such facilities, even on public property. There is a reason animals are transported mostly at night; the companies don’t want the public to see how these animals are treated.
“Glass Walls” Paul McCartney. Reveals animal cruelty.
“Cowspiracy”. Documentary about animal cruelty and the impact of animal agriculture on the environment.
For more on the history of food, click here: THE HISTORY OF FOOD and WHY WE NEED TO GET BACK TO A WHOLE FOOD PLANT BASED DIET.
READ FOOD LABELS and PACKAGING INFORMATION
Whether they are whole foods like fruits and vegetables or packaged, prepared foods, most things have some kind of label. In learning about your food, it is important to read whats on the container or on fruits and vegetables. This includes 1) PLU (product look up) stickers, 2) nutrition facts labels, 3) ingredient lists and any 4) product claims or labels.
PLU STICKERS are 4-5-digit unique product identifiers. These identify the food, its source and growing method. They are explained in other places on this side in greater detail but in a nutshell, if it has 4 numbers, it is conventionally grown and probably contaminated with numerous chemicals. A 5-digit number starting with “9” means it’s organic. If it starts with a “3” it means that it has been irradiated. A 5-digit number starting with an “8” means it is genetically modified so avoid it. Most countries require that products be labeled if they contain GMO ingredients but sadly, in the US, labeling a product as GMO is not required so who is going to advertise that their product is not as healthy? Stick as much to organic food as you can. Use the pneumonic “8 you hate. 9 is fine”. At least stick to the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists of foods to absolutely buy organically and ones which are OK to buy non-organic.
- 4 digits = conventionally grown, meaning with chemicals
- 5 digits starting with 9 = organic = no chemicals and no radiation. There are loopholes. See the section on organic for clarification.
- 5 digits starting with 3 = irradiated
- 5 digits starting with 8 = genetically modified
NUTRITION FACTS LABELS. The Nutrition Facts label provides detailed information about a food’s nutrient content, such as the amount of fat, sugar, sodium and fiber it has. Although this sounds great, you have to have a PhD and magnified vision to understand these labels. The food companies intentionally make them hard to read by doing things like making the font tiny and capitalizing all the ingredients so they are hard to separate out. This label is required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on most packaged foods and beverages. Any food that makes any kind of claim such as “Gluten Free”, “Sugar Free” or “All Natural” must have a label. Some foods which do not require a label include:
- Raw fruits, vegetables and fish are exempt from nutrition fact labeling. They may have a PLU instead which identifies the food and its source.
- Foods that contain insignificant amounts (insignificant means it can be listed as 0 but not actually zero) of all required nutrients.
- Foods that fall under this exemption include tea, coffee, food coloring, various other chemicals, etc.
- Foods with total packaging surface area available for labeling of less than 12 square inches.
- Small businesses are exempt if they have either less than $50,000 of food sales (and any amount of total sales) or less than $500,000 of total sales (and any amount of food sales). Why? Who knows?
- Low volume food products. Companies claiming the exemption must employ fewer than 100 full-time employees and sell fewer than 100,000 units of the product per year. Why? Again, who knows.
- The wine industry is exempt, which is unfortunate because of all the chemicals used in the wine making and bottling process.
As far as nutritional content is concerned, please be aware that these amounts and percentages are based on a single serving and a 2000
calorie-a-day diet. A package of crackers may have 10 to 20 servings in it. The nutritional information may not look so bad, except that it’s based on 5 crackers! Also keep in mind that a serving of meat or fish is approximately the size of a deck of cards! As far as calories are concerned, the average American consumes more than 3000 calories a day rather than 2000. In general, you want the fat, sugar and salt content low. Carbohydrates are OK as long as the ratio of carbohydrate to fiber is around 5:1. We all need more fiber.
RDA and RDI. What is Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)? This is confusing and can actually mean different things. In general, the Recommended Daily Allowance is what our government feels is what the average person should be getting at a minimum, in their diet of whatever it is that they are measuring. It is based on a bell curve and they usually way overestimate what the average person really needs. The number is basically 2 standard deviations form the middle upwards so that 97.5% of people are accounted for. This is obviously an extreme overestimation for the average person, let alone a person on the lower end of the bell curve. For example, lets look at protein for which the RDA is 0.8 gram per kg of weight. This calculates out to about 45 grams for an average woman and 55 grams for an average man based on a 2000 calorie a day diet. The real average should be about 30 grams. It may not seem like a lot but meal after meal, day after day, it puts a lot of added stress on your body to metabolize and depending on the kind protein you consume, animal (worse) vs plant (healthier), it can make a big difference in your health. Consider that the average American consumes 2-3x the RDA or protein, as well as fat and sugar, it’s no surprise we are the unhealthiest developed country in the world.
ALL the values on a nutrition label can have a significant, allowable “fudge-factor”. For example, what a label indicates as a total amount of calories per serving can be off by as much as 20% in either direction. Be assured that the vast majority of the claims are on the lower end, meaning that what ever a label claims, its caloric content is probably much higher. In addition, if an amount of a substance is below a certain level per serving, it can be claimed on the label as “0” or zero. Labels can claim “zero trans-fats” yet still contain those damaging chemicals. See below for more specific examples.
RDI. Recommended, or Reference, Dietary, or Daily, Intake = the minimum required not to be deficient. These numbers were established over 100 years ago when people died of lack of nutrition. Today, people are dying from overnutrition. 100 years ago, significant deficiencies, including protein and overall calorie deficiencies, were common. Today, RDI is not the optimal amount and this is an important point. Both RDA and RDI represent the absolute minimum amount most people need so they are not deficient, but this is also not the optimal amount. Just barely being above the minimal amount is not good. Too much of something is also potentially dangerous. Also keep in mind that isolated supplements are not the normal way we should get our nutrients. Whole food can be looked at as a symphony rather than a group of isolated, individual instruments. Get you nutrition from whole foods if possible.
INGREDIENT LISTS AND PACKAGING CLAIMS. Foods with more than one ingredient must have an ingredient list on the label. Ingredients lists are used by food manufacturers to deceive consumers and trick them into thinking products are healthier (or better quality) than they really are. The power of what is labelled on packaging is not lost on the food companies. Just putting “Contains Protein!” on the front of the package makes it 30% more likely that a consumer will buy that product.
The order of the ingredients in the list is based on their proportion or percentage in the component however the actual percentage is not marked. A food could be 30% or only 5% of the food. Theoretically the lower something is on the list, the less of that ingredient there is. However, this is also deceptive since tiny amounts of certain substances may be very toxic. A tiny amount of arsenic is still arsenic and will harm you. As a general rule, the top 3 ingredients account for the majority of what is in the food.
Food manufacturers use a number of tricks to deceive consumers when it comes to their food ingredients. One of the most common ones is to distribute sugars among many ingredients so that sugars don’t appear in the top three. For example, a manufacturer may use a combination of sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, brown sugar, dextrose and other sugar ingredients to make sure none of them are present in large enough quantities to attain a top position on the ingredients list. There are over 58 different names for sugar. ALSO, notice how the only nutrient which does NOT have a “% of daily value” indicated on nutrition labels is sugar! Here is an example: Smucker’s Strawberry Jelly lists strawberries as the first ingredient however the next 3 ingredients are different types of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup and sugar. By using 3 different forms of sugar, they can separate them out. Together however, sugar would be #1.
Dairy uses the nickname technique as well. Other names for dairy include “casein” which is the main protein in dairy or “lactose” which is the main sugar in dairy. Both are used as substitute, alternative names for dairy. You MUST read labels since dairy products (whey, casein and milk solids) are tasteless and often added as bulking agents to many processed foods. Depending on the amount, companies are even allowed to leave these products off the ingredient list.
Sugar has nearly 250 different aliases and artificial sweeteners, they do add to the addictive nature of sugar and the sweet taste. Although artificial sweeteners may not add calories, they do destroy the intestinal wall leading to increased permeability, leaky gut and contributing to autoimmune diseases by allowing foreign proteins to enter our bloodstream and tissues.
Emulsifiers, chemicals like polysorbate-80 and carboxymethylcellulose are added to many foods as preservatives and to improve texture and “mouth feel”. There are many different types of compounds in the category and they are also added in various combinations in order to bypass FDA-imposed limits. These are dangerous compounds linked to many diseases like obesity, chronic inflammation, autoimmune disorders and even cancer. There is a lot more about these compounds in the section below about food additives.
Salt, often labeled as preservatives, has at least 10 different names. One simple clue is that if it has the word “sodium” in its name, it’s added salt. 85% of the added salt in our diet doesn’t come from from what you add while cooking or eating, it’s from the additives in processed foods and what is injected into meat, especially chicken.
Another example of this is Palm oil, arguably the absolute unhealthiest of all oils. In fact, the original name for saturated fat is palmitic acid, named after the oil obtained from palm fruit. It has at least 22 different names or aliases. Some of the common names Palm oil goes by include: palm oil, palm kernel oil, generic “vegetable oil”, palmate, palmitate, stearic acid and sodium laurel sulfate. Click here to see a much more extensive list, as well as to see a lot more information about Palm oil.
Another deceptive technique is “label padding” where the list of ingredients is padded with minuscule amounts of great-sounding ingredients. It’s commonly used by junk food manufacturers who want to jump on the health food bandwagon. You also see this in personal care products and shampoo where companies claim to offer “herbal” shampoos that have practically no detectable levels of real herbs in them. In foods, companies pad the ingredients lists with healthy-sounding berries, herbs or superfoods that are present in minuscule amounts. Having “spirulina” appear at the end of the ingredients list is practically meaningless. There’s not enough spirulina in the food to have any real beneficial effect on your health.
A third deceptive practice involves hiding dangerous ingredients behind innocent-sounding names that fool consumers into thinking they’re safe. For example, “natural flavor” is used to describe Castoreum, a the yellowish secretion of the castor anal sac. This secretion is also used in perfume. Another example is the highly carcinogenic ingredient sodium nitrite, sounds perfectly innocent, but it is well documented to cause brain tumors, pancreatic and colon cancer. Carmine sounds like an innocent food coloring, but it’s actually made from the smashed bodies of red cochineal beetles. Nobody would eat strawberry yogurt if the ingredients listed “Insect-based red food coloring” on the label, so instead, they just call it “carmine.” Similarly, yeast extract sounds like a perfect safe food ingredient too, but it’s actually a trick used to hide monosodium glutamate (MSG), a chemical taste enhancer used to excite the flavors of overly-processed foods, without having to list MSG on the label. Lots of ingredients contain hidden MSG.
What’s in a name? Maybe nothing. The food product name can have nothing to do with what’s in it. Brand-name food companies make products like “Guacamole Dip” that contains no avocado! Instead, they’re made with hydrogenated soybean oil and artificial green coloring chemicals. This is perfectly legal and allowable by our FDA. Food names can include words that describe ingredients not found in the food at all. A “cheese” cracker, for example, doesn’t have to contain any cheese. A “fruit” product need not contain even a single molecule of fruit. Don’t be fooled by product names printed on the packaging. These names are designed to sell products, not to accurately describe the ingredients contained in the package.
There is no requirement for food ingredients lists to include the names of chemical contaminants, heavy metals, bisphenol-A (BPA), PCBs, perchlorate or other toxic substances found in the food. As a result, ingredients lists don’t really list what’s actually in the food, they only list what the manufacturer wants you to believe is in the food. This is by design. Requirements for listing food ingredients were created by a joint effort between the government and private industry (food corporations). In the beginning, food corporations didn’t want to be required to list any ingredients at all. They claimed the ingredients were “proprietary knowledge” and that listing them would destroy their business by disclosing their secret manufacturing recipes. It’s all nonsense, of course, since food companies primarily want to keep consumers ignorant of what’s really in their products. That’s why there is still no requirement to list various chemical contaminants, pesticides, heavy metals and other substances that have a direct and substantial impact on the health of consumers. For years, food companies fought hard against the listing of trans fatty acids, too, and it was only after a massive public health outcry by consumer health groups that the FDA finally forced food companies to include trans fats on the label.
Late in 2018, after being sued by activists groups, the FDA banned the use of 7 artificial flavors from food products. This occurred only because of public pressure. Although this is a positive thing, the companies have 2 years to comply and they do NOT have to reveal which of their products contain these carcinogenic compounds! So for the next 2 years, you may be unknowingly consuming banned, cancer-causing chemicals but the companies get away scot free because of a loophole. Nice. Seven is a good start, we just need to get the other 10,000 chemicals banned as well. Or, you can just not eat processed food containing “artificial” or “natural” ingredients. Which do you think is easier?
Food companies have also figured out how to manipulate the serving size of foods in order to make it appear that their products don’t contain harmful ingredients like trans fats. The FDA created a loophole for reporting trans fats on the label: any food containing 0.5 grams or less of trans fats acids per serving is allowed to claim ZERO trans fats on the label. Exploiting this 0.5 gram loophole, companies arbitrarily reduce the serving sizes of their foods to ridiculous levels, bringing the trans fats down to 0.5 grams per serving. Then they proclaim on the front of the box, “ZERO Trans Fats!” In reality, the product may be loaded with trans fats (found in hydrogenated oils), but the serving size has been reduced to an unrealistic amount. Studies have shown that just 2 grams of trans fat a day doubles your risk of dementia so this cutoff is actually very significant. In addition, trans fats may have removed only to be replaced with other chemicals made from trans fats like monoglycerides.
With respect to serving size, if a serving is less than 0.5 gm, it’s ingredients can be labeled as “zero”. The problem is that the serving size is unrealistically small. For example, canned oil sprays will often claim “zero calories” or “zero fat” but keep in mind that this is per serving. Sprays bottles are required to indicate what a serving is and, in the case of sprays, how long one must spray to get a serving. One well known spray claimed that a serving was 1/3rd of a second of spraying. Who the heck sprays for 1/3rd of a second? DON’T BELIEVE LABEL CLAIMS!
Beware of any packaged food making any kind of claims on the front. A popular children’s cereal mad a splashy claim of having “1/3rd less sugar” meanwhile, on the back, the nutritional information indicated that it had a lot more salt, much less fiber, less whole grain and more harmful fats than its predecessor.
FOOD FORTIFICATION aka “ENRICHMENT”. When food gets processed, much of the nutritional value is stripped away. To make up for it, food makers add all kinds of vitamins, minerals, herbs and other nutrients into products to try to make them seem healthier. Although some of these additives may seem healthy, their amounts are often so minuscule that they are completely irrelevant. Fortified junk food is still junk food. The truth is that artificially created vitamins and minerals are laden with chemicals, used during their purification process. In addition, using artificial fortifications may block your absorption of natural vitamins and minerals from whole foods. A classic example of this is vitamin E.
Fortification started with adding iodine to salt in 1924 to help combat the relationship between iodine deficiency and thyroid goiter formation. This was followed by adding Vitamin D to milk in the 1930’s and then wheat being fortified with niacin, iron, histamine and riboflavin in the 1940’s. Calcium was added to many products in the 1980’s and then folic acid, deficiencies of which were linked to neural tube defects, was added to many grains in the 1990’s. Today, even juice is fortified with calcium and even omega 3s.
TIPS FOR READING INGREDIENTS LABELS
- Remember that ingredients are listed in order of their proportion in the product. This means the first 3 ingredients matter far more than anything else. The top 3 ingredients are what you’re primarily eating.
- If the ingredients list contains long, chemical-sounding words that you can’t pronounce, avoid that item. It likely does contain various toxic chemicals. Stick with ingredients you recognize.
- Generic terms like “natural flavoring” or “spices” are just made up terms for lab-produced chemicals like “flavor enhancers”.
- Don’t be fooled by fancy-sounding herbs or other ingredients that appear very far down the list. The actual amount of those ingredients in the product is likely minuscule.
- Remember that ingredients lists don’t have to list chemical contaminants. Foods can be contaminated with pesticides, solvents, acrylamides, PFOA, perchlorate (rocket fuel) and other toxic chemicals without needing to list them at all. The best way to minimize your ingestion of toxic chemicals is to buy organic, or go with fresh, minimally-processed foods.
- Look for words like “sprouted” or “raw” to indicate higher-quality natural foods. Sprouted grains and seeds are far healthier than non-sprouted. Raw ingredients are generally healthier than processed or cooked. Whole grains are healthier than “enriched” grains.
- Don’t be fooled by the word “wheat” when it comes to flour. All flour derived from wheat can be called “wheat flour,” even if it is processed, bleached and stripped of its nutrition. Only “whole grain wheat flour” is a healthful form of wheat flour. (Many consumers mistakenly believe that “wheat flour” products are whole grain products. In fact, this is not true.)
- Most bread labeled as “whole wheat” is simply white bread with brown coloring added to it. The FDA allows this labeling practice.
- Don’t be fooled into thinking that brown products are healthier than white products. Brown sugar is just white sugar with brown coloring and flavoring added. Brown eggs are no different than white eggs (except for the fact that their shells appear brown). Brown bread may be no healthier than white bread, either, unless it’s made with whole grains. Don’t be tricked by “brown” foods. These are just gimmicks used by food giants to fool consumers into paying more for manufactured food products.
- Watch out for small serving sizes. Food manufacturers use this trick to reduce the number of calories, grams of sugar or grams of fat believed to be in the food by consumers. Many serving sizes are arbitrary and have no basis in reality.
PACKAGING CLAIMS. Be careful of packaging claims. These can be deceptive and intentionally hide unhealthy ingredients. Here are some examples.
- “Natural” and “Fortified” are just distractions from the garbage that is in most packaged foods.
- “Refined”. When a food is refined, 95% of the fiber is removed.
- “Whole Grain”. Food manufacturers can label something as “whole grain” if it contains only 15% actual whole grains. That’s 85% refined! Other similarly deceptive labels are:
- “whole grain”
- “100% wheat”
- “cracked wheat”
- “seven grain”
- “Enriched”. This basically means the most of the nutrients have been removed but some chemicals have been added back.
- Non-GMO does not mean that it is organically grown. Often, non-GMO foods have as much if not more chemicals than other foods. ALSO, there is a specific list of genetically modified plants. If a product is not genetically modified, labeling it as such is just a marketing ploy. See the GMO section below for a full list.
- Even the term “organic” is deceptive as it only describes how it was grown or, in the case of meat, what it was fed. Organic rice, grown in arsenic-contaminated soil like in the Southern US states or Texas, can still claim to be “organic” even though it has more arsenic in 1 serving than the FDA says is safe in 1 year’s worth of exposure. There are soil requirements but they only go back 3 years. Also note that “Made with organic ingredients” means that only 70% of the components have to be organic. 30% can be conventional garbage. Although the USDA Organic label isn’t perfect, it’s the best guide we have.
- “USDA Organic”. As mentioned above, this label is not perfect but it is the best we have. Just be aware that a product labeled as USDA Organic can contain as much as 5% non-organic ingredients. Click here for more information about this rule “Nonorganic Ingredients – 5% Rule”. This includes things like citric acid, ascorbic acid, xanthan gum and even synthetic products. However, they still must meet these three initial criteria that the certified organic ingredients also meet by definition:
- Must not contain genetically modified ingredients (GMO’s)
- Must not be irradiated (exposed to ionizing radiation)
- If they are agricultural, they must not have been fertilized with sewage sludge.
- “Low-fat” or “Low Calorie” usually means “loaded with sugar or refined carbohydrates”. Here are a few examples of actual products:
- Oreo Cookies – 160 calories and 3.5 tsp of sugar VS “Reduced Fat” Oreos – 150 calories and 3.5 tsp of sugar
- Quaker Granola Bars – 100 calories and 1.75 tsp of sugar VS “Reduced Calorie” Quaker Bar – 90 calories and 1.75 tsp of sugar
- “ZERO Trans fats” often means that they do have trans fats, just a small enough amount per serving that they can claim it as zero.
- “BPA-free” means that the plastic compound Bisphenol A (BPA) was not used in the packaging or lining of a product. It does not mean it is healthy or safe. It says nothing about other plastics used. Most BPA is replaced with BPS, a similar compound with similar bad effects on health.
- There is a difference between “Organic” and “USDA Organic”. The latter is an official label and certain specific criteria need to be followed. Although USDA Organic doesn’t guarantee that it is completely clean and you must always wash fruits and vegetables, it is certainly better than conventional food. USDA Organic also address what an animal product is fed. Those products must also be non-GMO and organic as well.
- “Made with Real Fruit”. This deceptive claim on many children’s snacks usually means that the “real fruit” is in the form of fruit juice concentrate which is fruit, boiled down into a sugary syrup. It could also contain more sugar like high fructose corn syrup.
- “Contains Pro-Biotics”. This label is completely unregulated and you should never believe it. The definition of a probiotic is simple: Live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host. By definition, there has to be proof of human benefit which, even with actual probiotic supplements, is almost never shown.
- “Gluten-free”. Many products advertise this label despite the fact that they never had gluten or are not made from any gluten containing foods. It’s just an advertising gimmick. In addition, the VAST majority of people do not need to avoid gluten. It’s a healthy part of what we eat.
“Feeding You Lies” Vani Hari. Fascinating book about the food industry and the illusion of labels on packaging.
BIO-ENGINEERED (BE) – NEW GMO LABELING.
Most of the world requires that companies label their foods if they contain ANY genetically modified components. The US does not but that will officially change, but not in a mandatory way until 2020. This may on the surface sound like a good thing, but there are many loopholes favoring the food industry and it will likely only cause more confusion for consumers. For more information about this, see the GMO section below (or click here). The new terminology replacing GMO is “Bio-Engineered”, shortened to BE. The most recent label is said to look lie this:
OTHER IMPORTANT LABELS YOU MAY SEE.
The “Organic” label indicates what you can’t do when you grow fruits and vegetables, such as use most chemicals like pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and fertilizers, use genetically modified seeds or irradiate food. Although there are rules about soil quality, they only require that no banned substances be used for the previous 3 years. Some contaminants, like arsenic heavily used as a fertilizer and now banned, take decades to clear. In addition, many organic farmers use manure to fertilize their crops from non-organic sources which can be contaminated with chemicals and medications. It also does not have any requirements with regards to what you SHOULD do to restore the soil, which occurs when you use regenerative farming techniques or bio-dynamic growing practices.
Many people think “natural” is synonymous with organic. Just hearing the word “natural” gives you a touchy-feely sense of lush green meadows and happy heifers—you want to wrap it up, take it home and lap it up. But in reality, when you see the term “natural” it only implies the food is minimally processed.
According to the USDA, “food that is labeled ‘natural,’ does not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives and the ingredients are only minimally processed.”
However, they may contain GMO’s, hydrogenated vegetable oils, antibiotics, growth hormones and other noxious chemicals.
Irradiated food should have the “Radura” label on it.
There are a number of organizations who evaluate and label products based on much more than just organically grown produce. Issues of not only soil regeneration but also animal and even farm-worker welfare are worthy issues to consider when making purchasing choices. They also consider safe working conditions, fair wage and gender equality. A few such organizations and certifications are listed below.
The Global Animal Partnership (GAP) has 5 levels of certification and labeling. GAP4 and GAP5 are the most meaningful. https://globalanimalpartnership.org/
Regenerative Organic Certification (RGO)
is a great organization which looks at soil, animal and farm-worker welfare. https://regenorganic.org/
This label is possibly the most important one as it not only assures that a product is organic, it also assures that the farm also:
- manages the soil in a regenerative manner (no till, cover crops… see below for more)
- treats employees safely and fairly
- treats animals ethically
RGO is the hardest certification to obtain but the most thorough.
Fair Trade USA: https://www.fairtradecertified.org
Fair for Life: http://www.fairforlife.org
Animal Welfare Approved: https://foodanimalconcernstrust.org/
Certified Humane and Certified Humane Pasture: https://certifiedhumane.org/
Below, in the section discussing Organic foods, there is a description of some of the labels associated with some legitimate organizations.
When investigating products and companies, be aware that some companies might have 1 or 2 products they produce in an apparent healthy and ethical manner trying to make the company look like they are being socially and environmentally responsible, but the overall picture is less responsible. Do your research.
RECEIPTS. Also discussed elsewhere on this website, the issue of the harmful effects of handling cash register receipts bears repeating since we are offered receipts with every shopping or purchasing experience every single day. These receipts ALL have significant levels of BPA, a known hormone disruptor. Just handling a receipt for a brief period of time increases BPA levels in the blood which can be measured. Absorption goes up by 100x if your hands are wet of if you recently used hand sanitizers. I appreciate that we need to review these receipts but minimize your exposure.
LURKING ANIMAL PRODUCTS
Veganism, a nutritional philosophy of not eating any animals or animal products, is growing worldwide. The number of U.S. consumers identifying as vegan grew from 1% to 6% between 2014 and 2017, a 600%. That’s still a pretty small portion of the total, but other data reveal growing interest in plant-based foods by consumers who don’t consider themselves vegetarian or vegan. It can be challenging at times to be strictly vegan if you consume processed foods, or simply take regular vitamins. It is amazing how many products available on supermarket shelves and in our daily products actually contain ingredients derived from animals. Below are a few ingredients to look out for if you want to eliminate all animal products from your diet.
GELATIN. It is used in most cases as a thickening and congealing agent and is derived from boiling skin, tendons, ligaments and bones, usually from pigs and cows. It is found in such products as:
- Ice cream
- Fruit gelatin
- Countless other products
ISINGLASS is a pure form of gelatin, made from fish bladders and is used as a clarifying agent in most beer and wines. Some brands like Guinness and Sam Adams have made the switch to other methods. A great site to check if your beverage is vegan is www.barnivore.com
BONE CHAR. Although not an ingredient, like isinglass, it is used in the processing of food, specifically sugar. Sugar, especially cane sugar, can be processed with bone char, which acts as a decolorizing filter. The bones are obtained from cattle bones from Argentina, Afghanistan, Brazil, India and Pakistan. Some sugars do not use bone char. Some clean sugars include: Turbinado, demerara, muscovado, beet and coconut.
BEESWAX and HONEY. Beeswax can be found in candies and many beauty products. Commonly used in lip balms or lotions, beeswax is an ingredient that many vegans avoid. The wax is produced by worker bees in hives and is used to build honeycombs. Honey is used as a sweetener in a variety of products and is a popular enhancement for tea. But if you’re sticking to the true definition of vegan foods, honey should be avoided.
CASEIN, WHEY or MILK SOLIDS/BYPRODUCTS. Casein is the main protein derived from animal’s milk, usually cow or sheep, and is the main component in cheese making, during which the second most common protein whey is removed. Sometimes casein and whey will be listed as an ingredient in non-dairy food items, such as soy cheese or coffee creamer, but many non-dairy items exist which do not contain casein. Casein can be listed as casein, calcium caseinate, or sodium caseinate. Whey is often added to protein powders.
CONFECTIONER’S GLAZE on candy. Also listed as resinous glaze, shellac, natural glaze, or pure food glaze, this glaze comes from the hardened resinous material secreted by the lac insect (not the most appetizing source). It is mainly harvested from the trees in which these insects reside. You can most likely find this ingredient on candies that have a super glossy sheen, which is a result of confectioner’s glaze.
CYSTEINE in Bread Products. This ingredient, often sourced from feathers or even human hair, is a dough conditioner listed in some pre-packaged breads and baked goods. Check labels carefully for this ingredient as it may be hiding in the ingredient lists of white and wheat bread.
Food IQ Test
From the book “Feeding You Lies” by Vani Hari. These are all deceptive labels allowed by the FDA.
- “No Sugar Added” is the same as “sugar free”. FALSE. “No sugar added” simply means that there were no added sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are still present, like lactose in yogurt. “Sugar free” however is extremely deceptive. First of all, they can contain up to 0.5 grams of sugar per serving (and serving sizes can be manipulated). Secondly, artificial and chemical sweeteners like maltodextrin, don’t count and can be added freely by food companies. Thirdly, they are heavily processed which means that they cause as much of a sugar spike in the blood as consuming pure glucose.
- “Lightly Sweetened” foods can have as many as 100 grams of sugar per serving. TRUE. Just to compare, in a 20 oz. bottle of Mountain Dew, there are “only” 77 g. of sugar.
- “All Natural” foods may contain preservatives, GMO ingredients, added sodium and high fructose corn syrup. TRUE. That label means nothing of credible value.
- “Multigrain” means the food is healthier than “Whole Grain” or “100% Whole Wheat”. FALSE. Whole grains are not refined. Multigrain simply means that different types of grain were used nut they are probably refined.
- “Made with Whole Grains” is a healthier choice for getting nutrients from grains. FALSE. The reality is that the proportion of actual whole grains may be minute. The rest may be refined. There is no rule about how much of the grain needs to me whole in order to make that claim. Choose products which say “100% Whole Wheat” or “100% Whole Grain”.
- “A Good Source of Fiber” indicates the it’s as good as the fiber found in whole grains or vegetables. FALSE. The food industry considers “functional fibers” equivalent to those found in whole, unprocessed foods but that is simply not true when it comes to health. An example is Metamucil. It gives you big poops but does nothing for your microbiome like real natural fiber does.
- “Made with Real Fruit” products may have no real fruit in them. TRUE. Syrups, concentrates and other processed products are considered “fruits” according to the FDA. It’s like Pizza is considered a vegetable serving at school because it has tomato sauce!
- “Cholesterol Free” also means that it is “Fat Free”. FALSE. The two are completely different molecules. A cholesterol free product could be loaded with fat. It’s a deceptive label and the companies assume that the public is too stupid to know the difference. Unfortunately, people are not stupid, they just don’t know the difference.
- “Fat Free” products can still contain 0.5 mg of fat per serving. TRUE. In addition, the food companies are allowed to manipulate what a serving of their product is so when a realistic amount of a food is eaten, you could end up with a few grams of fat. In addition, just because something has less fat does not mean that you will lose any fat. The sugars that usually replace the fat do just as much damage.
- “Fat Free” products may contain as many or more calories as their full-fat versions. TRUE. Many fat free products are loaded up with sugar to make up the taste and texture lost by less fat.
- “No Trans Fats” means just that. FALSE. Although the FDA banned partially hydrogenated oils from foods, they did not ban artificial additives which also contain trans fats! How stupid is that? An example of such products are emulsifiers called monoglycerides and diglycerides.
- “Gluten Free” really means that the product does not contain gluten, MAYBE. However, the way it is marketed, it is perceived that gluten is evil and that by avoiding it, one will be healthier or will lose weight. Gluten is neither evil, nor will avoiding it lead to weight loss. Despite the fact that true gluten allergy or sensitivity affect less than 1% and 3% respectively, almost 30% of adults avoid or significantly limit its consumption. Often, gluten-free products have more calories and chemical additives than gluten-containing products so be careful.
- “Dairy Free” does NOT have a regulatory definition and often products labeled as dairy free actually contain milk or milk proteins like whey.
- “Nondairy” DOES have a regulatory definition but ironically, it STILL allows for milk proteins, like casein, to be used.
- “Lactose Free” simply means that the main sugar in milk lactose, has been removed but all the other component of milk may be present including the other main inflammatory sugar galactose.
- “Sodium Free” does NOT mean that it doesn’t have sodium. Ultimately, read the nutrition facts and the sodium content but here are some categories:
- “Sodium Free” = less than 5 mg of sodium per serving.
- “Very Low Sodium” = <35mg
- “Low Sodium” = <140mg
- “Reduced Sodium” = level of sodium is reduced by 25%
- “Light in Sodium” = level reduced by 50%
- “No Salt Added” = no salt is added during processing but there could be plenty of naturally occurring sodium, or sodium from other sources.
- “Grain Free” does means that there are no grains, such as corn, wheat, rice, corn barley or oats but is does NOT mean that it is gluten free since it can still contain gluten from additives or from processing contamination.
- “Wheat Free” is not the same as “gluten free” since although it may not contain wheat, it it may contain many other gluten-containing products.
EAT LESS, EAT LESS OFTEN and EAT SLOWLY
Before discussing these topics further, let me just say that if you follow a whole foods, plant based, low fat, low salt and low sugar diet, you do not, ever have to think about how much or how often you eat. This type of diet is full of all the nutrients you need including fiber which is very filling. You can’t eat too much. It’s a very freeing, wonderful, healthful way to live. It’s also more compassionate and saves the environment all at the same time. It’s ALL GOOD!
Food is everywhere. It used to only be found in grocery stores. Now you can get food (almost exclusively processed junk) in the checkout line at hardware stores like Home Depot, at gas stations, at the book store like Barnes and Noble and even electronic stores like Best Buy. We simply have too much access to food and we eat too much. Portion control is critical. Even though the quality of the calories we eat is important, the most important factor in achieving weight loss is how many calories we consume. In 1960, the average American ate ~2000 calories a day. Today, the average is ~2500 calories a day. Although 500 calories does not sound like a lot, it translates into 1 pound a week or 4 pounds a month or 48 pounds a year. Year after year. In addition, those extra calories are composed of 38% processed sugar and 60% fat mostly from dairy and oil sources; not good calorie choices. Add to that our decreased activity level and it’s not surprising that our obesity rate is surging. We eat what we see so it helps to put less food on your plate and don’t take seconds. Dinner plate sizes have increased by 30% in the last 40 years so it’s easy to overfill your plate! Caloric restriction (eating less) has been shown in every single animal model do decrease chronic disease rate and extend life. The Okinawans, one of the Blue Zone populations who live the longest and have the lowest rate of chronic disease, have a saying: “Hari Hachi Bu” which means “eat until you are 80% full”. Ancient Chinese medicine recommends that “Man should endure 30% hunger and 70% fullness”. 70% of Americans like to eat “ad libitum” which means they ate as much or as often as is desired. Even our perception of satiety the feeling of being full, is distorted. Despite eating a similar amount of saturated fat, the French are not as heavy as Americans because they rely on internal cues and eat until they “no longer feel hungry”. Americans on the other hand rely on external cues and will eat, for example, until “the TV show they’re watching is over”! Watching television while you are eating is not a good idea. It takes away from the joy and pleasure of eating and distracts from the social aspect of eating. You tend to overeat when you are eating distracted by the television.
In the last 50 years, humans have doubled their feeding frequency. The average American eats 7x a day! And 10% eat as many as 15x a day!!
DON’T EAT WHILE DISTRACTED. People who eat while they are distracted by the TV, a computer or other device, are shown to eat more, even after they are full, even if they eat slowly. The brain, when overwhelmed by visual media, is less able to send those satiety (I’m Full so STOP eating) signals.
A portion of meat is considered the size of a deck of cards! It’s not that much. Overall, portion sizes have quadrupled (4x) since the 1950’s. In addition, industry has done a good job packing more calories into each portion size.
SLOW DOWN. Chew your food. Digestion starts in the mouth. By consciously spending more time chewing, you improve nutrient breakdown and absorption and slow down eating which allows the stomach to fill at a rate that allows your brain to respond to the feeling of being full. The stomach lining has stretch receptors and it takes about 20 minutes after being stimulated for the signal to get to the brain. When you eat too fast, you overeat, don’t appreciate your food as much and spend less time with family and friends. Aim to chew your food at least 20 times. Another trick to slow down your eating is to put your fork down next to your plate whenever you have a mouthful of food. This prevents you from putting more food in before you’ve chewed your food properly. Chewing your food, rather than drinking a smoothie, has also been shown to increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus (memory center) of the brain.
In addition to stretch receptors, there are calorie receptors in the walls of the small intestine. These also send signals to the brain indicating that you have consumed enough calories. When you overeat, or eat too quickly, stomach emptying into the small intestine slows down so those calorie receptors may not get activated until you’ve consumed too many calories already.
One last type of receptor are the protein receptors which re located in the small intestine as well as the pancreas. When these receptors re triggered, a signal is also sent to the brain to stop eating.
All three receptors, the stretch, caloric and protein receptors, send their signals to a part of the brain stem called the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) via the Vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body.
Chewing your food, as opposed to drinking the same food in the form of a smoothie, has also been shown to stimulate neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) in the hippocampus, a small organ located within the brain’s medial temporal lobe and forms an important part of the limbic system, the region that regulates emotions. Consuming the same food in a smoothie does not have the same beneficial effect. The hippocampus is associated mainly with memory, in particular long-term memory. The organ also plays an important role in spatial navigation. The more you chew, the faster the neurogenesis. Slow neurogenesis is associated with depression, poor memory and dementia. Fast neurogenesis is associated with happiness and improved memory.
When you get stressed, do you bite your fingernails? There might be a reason for this: chewing also reduces stress. During stressful situations, chewing might increase the expression of glucocorticoid receptors in the hippocampus. Glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid receptors play key roles in modulating the stress hormones released by the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis.
Studies of teeth and skulls of our ancestors reveal that our jaws have become 20% in the last 300 years and that as we started to eat more processed foods about 200 years ago, crooked teeth and dental caries started to develop. As we started chewing less, our faces and our teeth have changed. These changes in jaw shape and size also correlated with smaller nasal passages, impacting on proper breathing.
Our ancestors would go days without eating and they certainly didn’t eat 3 square meals a day. Because we eat so much and so often, we have forgotten what real hunger feels like. Our eating patterns are not based on nutritional needs, but on habits and emotions. It takes at least 4-5 hours for your stomach to make enough hydrochloric acid for the next round of digestion so your body isn’t even ready to digest if you snack. STOP SNACKING. Even healthy snacks. Eating less often also allows your internal organs like your pancreas to rest. One of the causes of Type 2 diabetes is overworking the insulin producing beta cells of the pancreas. They simply poop out, slowly stop producing insulin and eventually die.
Skipping meals occasionally is fine but never skip breakfast. Skipping breakfast results in poor blood sugar control later in the day and increases risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and all-cause mortality.
Some of the benefits identified when eating less and following a time-restricted eating regimen, especially including not eating or drinking anything within 2-3 hours of sleep include:
- Less reflux and heartburn. If there is nothing in the stomach, there is nothing to reflux up.
- Decreased core temperature resulting in better sleep. With no digestion going on, the body temperature drops.
- The gut repairs itself leading to less inflammation and less “leaky gut” which is what allows foreign material into your bloodstream.
- Less joint pain. Again, this has to do with repair processes that are allowed to occur without sharing energy with digestion.
- Better blood sugar control. Melatonin, which is the sleep hormone, slows insulin function. If you have xc sugar in the blood when you sleep, the body can’t transport it properly.
- Better heart health.
- Healthier microbiome leading to all the great things associated with that.
- Improved mitochondrial health. These are the “energy generators” of our cells. Impaired mitochondrial function and length leads to shorter lifespan in every animal model studied.
- Improved muscle mass. The body is better able to repair damage leading to better muscle repair which is where growth and strength come from.
- Less infectious disease through better skin and mucous membrane repair.
- Reduced risk of cancer secondary to less inflammation, less cell damage and more tissue repair.
- Decreased risk of cognitive decline and dementia, again by allowing the brain to repair itself properly.
There is a 1000 calorie increase between feeling satisfied and feeling full. Slow down, wait and it will catch up. There is 2000-3000 calorie difference between felling full and feeling stuffed. Eating at an all-you-can-eat buffet often results in a 4000 calorie excess. All these calories, meal after meal and day after day add up. To burn off 4000 extra calories, a typical male needs to run 29 miles and a typical female, 44 miles!
FASTING and TIME-RESTRICTED EATING
Our bodies and physiology evolved experiencing periods of fasting. Simply put, there were times when we could not find food and our bodies responded by going into “protection mode” by initially burning through the stored glucose in our bodies, followed by using fat as an energy source. This is why we were designed to store fat for reserves when excess calories were available. We did not evolve constantly eating however and this has resulted, in part, to the obesity crisis we have worldwide today. During those “down times”, when food was not available, our bodies also became very good at “cleaning house”, getting rid of all the waste, dead and dying cells and restoring our bodies functions. This is particularly important at night, when most of our restorative functions occur, which is any eating or drinking within a few hours of going to sleep is a bad idea. Our bodies should be focused on restoration, not digestion.
The ONLY dietary strategy which has shown significant improvement in not only lifespan, but health-span, in EVERY single animal model, from yeast cells to primates, is one which restricts calories. In particular, calories from animal proteins. In particular, the “essential” amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Caloric restriction has also been shown to be very beneficial in humans.
Fasting and dietary restrictions have been a part of religious practices for many years: Catholics fast before Easter and only eat fish on Fridays; Muslims don’t eat at all during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan. Hindus don’t eat beef and Jews don’t eat pork or combine dairy with beef (keeping things Kosher). Although we attribute religious significance to these practices, they are probably rooted in practical, nutritional concepts which made survival more likely. The health benefits of fasting have in recent years gained a lot of popularity and there is a lot of excellent research pointing to health benefits. Modern concepts of fasting started in 1877, when Dr. Henry Tanner, a physician in NYC, discovered its benefits by coincidence. He suffered with debilitating arthritis, insomnia and asthma to such a degree that he decided to kill himself by starving. At that time, it was thought that humans could not survive without food for more than 10 days, since this seems to be what happens in all other animal species. To his surprise, by the 5th day, he felt much better. He continued for a full 10 days and felt the best he had in decades. He became a proponent of fasting for health and lived to 90.
Occasional fasting and time-restricted eating (eating all your food within an 8-12-hour window) has been shown to decrease chronic disease and extend life. Every single animal model that looks at restricting calories, including now in humans, have shown decreased rates of chronic disease and increased longevity. The basic principle is that our bodies burn glucose preferentially for energy and all biologic processes. When all the glucose is gone, our bodies go into “emergency mode” and start doing things to plan for survival like burning fat for fuel, and clean up junk in the body. After 13 hours of fasting (other than consuming water), we usually run out of consumed glucose and we start to burn stored fat. Also, at that stage, growth hormone production increases and stays elevated until about 16 hours at which point autophagy starts to occur. Autophagy is the biologic phenomenon where your body starts to clean up dead and dying cells along with other toxins. This process continues until about 24 hours. The “sweet spot” for intermittent fasting occurs between 18 and 24 hours of fasting since this is the time period that sees the greatest drop in insulin and increase in lipolysis, the breakdown of fat. There are studies that show that after 3 days of strict water fasting, stem cells actually start to be generated. Please DO NOT do this without medical supervision. Click A Guide to Intermittent Fasting for more information about fasting. There are a number of studies also showing the benefits of Fasting Mimicking Diets which are designed to mimic a fast with the same benefits biologically but without the discomfort of absolute water fasting. Some studies even show significantly enhanced results from chemotherapy in cancer patients. Click Fasting-Mimicking Diets for information. Please keep in mind that these diets must be done under a doctor’s supervision. Even one 24-hour fast will result in improved insulin function if you have insulin resistance (which most people have but don’t realize it). There are clinics dedicated to medically supervised water fasts. A well-known one is True North Health Center. There they routine do 1 week to 1 month water fasts. The longest known fast was in 1966 (recorded in 1971), when a 27-year-old man survived on water and supplements for 382 days and shrank from 456 to 180 pounds. He suffered no deleterious long term effects. During that time, he was able to function normally and even work. He only regained 16 lbs afterwards.
BE CAREFUL OF ROUTINELY FASTING FOR TOO LONG. There is evidence that regular, daily time restricted eating beyond 12 hours may contribute to biliary stasis (slowing of the flow of bile) leading to stones. If you fast regularly, keep in closer to 12 hours.
Lastly, BLACK COFFEE. Does it break the fast? The simple answer is YES, but it also depends on why you are fasting. From a gut health perspective, anything that goes into your gut, impacts on the microbiome in some way. From a caloric and insulin-response perspective, it probably doesn’t since it doesn’t elicit an insulin response of any significance if it is black coffee and contains no calories or sugars.
Here is another great article about what happens (and when) when you fast: THE 5 STAGES OF FASTING
FOOD TIMING and OUR BODY CLOCK
Our bodies run on circadian (timing) rhythms based on evolution over hundreds of thousands of years. There is a Central Master Clock in our brain which primarily responds to the patterns of light. From an evolutionary perspective, the light source was the sun rising and falling but modern culture has developed artificial light both in the form of ambient light and the light emitted from all of our devices. This artificial light wreaks havoc on our central clock causing a myriad of problems, not just with sleep quality but hormonal deregulation. Each cell and organ in our body also contains a clock which responds to nutritional signals both from when we eat and what we eat. These two clock systems interplay and synchronize continuously.
A great example of how timing can impact on metabolism has to do with shift workers. Not only do long-tern shift workers have much higher rates of all kinds of diseases like diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, even short duration changes can be impactful. Within 3 days of switching from working a day job to a night shift, healthy volunteers became prediabetic. Another example of the impact of food timing on metabolism has to do with skipping breakfast, mentioned above. Breakfast starts and revs up our metabolism. People who regularly skip breakfast have poorer insulin function throughout the day and gain more weight than those who regularly skip breakfast. Skipping dinner on the other hand, allowing for a longer overnight fasting period, do much better with respect to weight loss, insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular disease among other things. People who eat the same amount but start earlier and end earlier in the day lose more weight than those who start and finish later. There are studies that even show lower cancer recurrence rates in people who eat earlier and allow a longer overnight feeding break. We were meant to fast overnight. That’s when our bodies regenerate. There is a reason the first meal of the day is called “breakfast”. It’s when you break the fast.
“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”
As mentioned above, time restricted eating and fasting can help a lot. Click A Guide to Intermittent Fasting for more information about fasting and time restricted eating.
DIETS DON’T WORK IN THE LONG TERM
First of all, do not confuse a Whole Foods Plant Based Diet and a traditional “diet” like the Atkins Diet, Whole 30 or the “Grapefruit” diet. The former is a nutritional philosophy and a pattern of eating, usually followed regularly for a lifetime by large groups of people or entire societies. This includes being Vegan (no animal derived products at all), Vegetarian (usually meaning no meat but may include dairy and eggs) or Standard American Diet (composed mostly of animal products, processed foods and less than ideal amounts of fruit and vegetables). The latter types of “diets” are “quick fix” approaches, meant to get short term gains but are not meant to be long term plans. In 2019, 17% of Americans admitted to being on some kind of a diet aimed at losing weight. That’s nearly 1/5th of the country! This is up by 3% from only a few years ago. The majority are women and most are over 40.
Simply put, Diets don’t work. They may result in some positive changes in the short term but long term, they are not sustainable and/or they are actually unhealthy and even dangerous. Diets, especially “crash” diets put our bodies into a state of starvation and the body responds by going into a protective, preservative mode. Metabolism slows. Sugar and fat utilization decreases. We burn fewer calories. When these sorts of unsustainable diets end, the body has to re adapt but in the meantime, you gain back the weight you may have lost even often overshooting where you were before. Evidence of the power of “quick-fix diets” however is the continuous reinvention and renaming of diets every few years.
A study published in the journal American Psychologist reviewed 31 diet plans and their success rates. After reaching their goal weights, at least 66% of the dieters regained not only the weight lost on the diet, but most gained even more weight than they had initially lost. This was seen on every diet to one degree or another. The actual numbers are undoubtedly more discouraging given the fact that in 8 of the studies, 50% of the dieters did not participate in the follow-up surveys, and in many other studies, the follow-up was done remotely (not in person), with no true measurements of weight by an independent party.
The NIH (National Institutes of Health) recognizes over 250 diets. In the 1960’s, there was Metrical. In the early 2000’s, it was South Beach, Atkins and the Grapefruit diet. Then came Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Slim Fast, Medifast and Jenny Craig. Now everyone is going Paleo, Ketogenic or trying Whole30. Again, they will all help initially but that is mostly because of fluid loss, overall fewer calories consumed and elimination of a lot of sugar and processed foods.
Although these programs at least get you started thinking about what you eat, many of them promote consumption of nutrient poor, calorie rich processed foods and shakes which are not healthy in the long term. Again, you consume fewer calories for short periods of time so you lose weight. You’ll lose weight only eating Twinkies (it’s been done) but that is by no means a healthy long term-diet.
Americans try an average of 5 diets in their lifetime. For women, it’s 7. These diets all promise you the body you’ve always wanted along with great health, fast. 95% of people on conventional diets regain all the weight back or more within 5 years.
Although some of these plans do teach you about food basics, portion sizes and at least get you thinking about what you eat, most of the time, the shakes and powders and pills and meal plans they inevitably try to sell you don’t work in the long run. There is little to no science supporting long-term benefits of any of the latest diet fads, including ketogenic and paleo diets. There are studies showing the benefit of true ketogenic diets for kids with uncontrolled seizures and even adults with other brain disorders, but only for those specific groups of people and long term studies still show overall deteriorating health. Most diets work in the short term because people eat less, cut out the sugars and processed foods, eat more vegetables and often start some kind of exercise program simultaneously. In most cases, the rapid weight loss is mostly fluid loss but may also be from increased fat metabolism, as is the case with true ketogenic diets, but again, they are not sustainable and have inadvertent side effects. Here are a few additional comments about diets:
- For weight loss, diets don’t work in the long term! Yes, you lose weight, but 95% of people who lose weight by dieting regain it in 1-5 years. Since dieting is a temporary food plan, it won’t work in the long run. Moreover, the deprivation of restrictive diets leads to a diet-overeat or diet-binge cycle. Your body doesn’t want you to starve and it responds to overly-restrictive diets by slowing your metabolism making it harder to lose weight.
- When we put on weight, the body tries to hold onto it since from an evolutionary standpoint, we did our best to keep fat in reserve for times of starvation. Once the weight is there, it gets harder and harder to lose and with each subsequent “yo-yo” event, the weight stays on more and more.
- Fad diets can be harmful. They may lack essential nutrients. Moreover, most don’t teach you anything about healthy eating. Often when you’ve “completed” your fad diet, you simply boomerang back to the unhealthy eating patterns that caused your weight gain in the first place! This is the beginning of “yo-yo dieting,” which can bring its own health problems.
- Overly restrictive diets can take all the pleasure out of eating! Again, they are not sustainable either.
- Dieting, along with the frequent and compulsive weighing that accompanies it, can lead to eating disorders. People who diet are 8 times as likely to develop an eating disorder as people who don’t, even if their diet is unhealthy. Arguably, eating in a way that leads to obesity is an eating disorder in and of itself.
- Unscrupulous people peddle magic weight-loss potions such as “special” powders and pills, to desperate people. This costs them their money and time at best, and fatal health consequences at worse (think “fen-phen,” the diet drug that caused fatal heart valve problems and heart attacks). Every diet product claims it will be wondrously effective “if used simultaneously with a healthy diet and regular exercise program”. Skip the magic potions and powders. It’s the healthy eating and exercise that are actually the effective ingredients.
- Obesity and being overweight can be conditions that are caused by early life trauma. There is well-documented research on the obesity-trauma connection. In one early study of 286 obese people, half had been sexually abused as children. In these cases, overeating and obesity weren’t the central problems, but attempted solutions. For these people, therapy might be necessary to achieve healthy weight loss. It could help clients identify the feelings and situations behind emotional over-eating and replace it with healthier self-care patterns. A much larger study of over 17,000 people provided further documentation of the links between adverse childhood experiences and unhealthy behaviors like smoking and drinking. There were also links between overeating and mental, emotional, and even medical disorders later in life.
EVERY MEAL COUNTS
Although the difference in your overall health between eating well 90% of the time and 95%, or even 100% of the time is not terribly significant, don’t be fooled into thinking that “cheat” meals are completely insignificant. In addition, “moderation” is a slippery slope and as functional medicine pioneer surgeon Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn puts it, if you want moderate disease, follow moderation in your lifestyle choices. What you eat, every time, has an immediate, significant and long lasting impact on health. Each and every meal. Saturated fat has a particularly insidious effect and this very unhealthy fat is the one of the main components of the Standard American Diet.
Saturated fat is found almost exclusively in animal products and processed foods, by way of certain plant oils like coconut and palm oil..
Just one meal with saturated fat can have the following impact, beginning within minutes and lasting for many hours and, in some cases, days:
- Cognitive Function. Many studies have shown that memory, reactivity and distractibility all become impaired after a fatty meal. These effects are almost immediate and can last for many hours. Saturated fat leads to intestinal cells releasing endotoxin (see below) which then gets absorbed, crosses the blood brain barrier and impacts on brain function.
- Arterial / Endothelial Function is impaired for up to 7 hours, usually peaking at 4 hours. Arteries become stiffer, narrower and less reactive. The endothelium, the innermost layer of cells in our arteries, stops producing nitric oxide, which relaxes arteries. This stiffness, along with other effects on clotting, account for many post-meal heart attacks and strokes.
- Blood Clotting increases. Platelets, the cells in your blood responsible for clotting, become stickier leading to more arterial clots resulting in heart attacks and strokes.
- Insulin Sensitivity worsens. Just one fatty meal impacts on how insulin functions, impairing its ability to usher glucose from the blood into cells leading to elevated blood sugar levels. It’s impaired function also increases fat storage in the liver. This effect can last for a few days! The vast majority of diabetics have poorly functioning insulin because of the fat in their diet. Even in those who must inject insulin, the insulin the use works less efficiently because of fat.
- Testosterone levels drop significantly within hours leading to fewer and weaker erections, in addition to other effects of low testosterone like low energy. Although we think of testosterone as the “male” hormone, women also have testosterone in their bloodstream and men have estrogen.
- Endotoxin release. As mentioned above, saturated fat leads to bacteria in the gut releasing excessive amounts of endotoxin which causes a slew of inflammatory effects on the body. Endotoxin is a pyrogen (something which causes inflammation and fever) lipopolysaccharide molecule which makes up part of certain bacteria’s outer cell wall. It gets released when the bacterium dies or if it is “threatened” as a protective response.
- Sexual function. Elite athletes fed only one animal based meal had a significant decrease in erectile function. They had 5 fewer erections, softer erections with smaller circumference and their erections lasted 11 minutes, vs 45 minutes in those same athletes when fed a plant based meal the next day.
NON ALCOHOLIC FAATTY LIVER DISEASE (NAFLD)
NAFLD is a reversible condition where too much fat, almost exclusively from a poor diet, results in excessive fat deposits in the liver. Although NAFLD is reversible, if left untreated, it will progress to liver inflammation (hepatitis) and eventually permanent scarring (cirrhosis). 1/3rd of adults are affected by this condition which is not surprising since 43% of Americans are obese and another 30% are overweight. As many as 78% of obese children already have NAFLD, again not surprising since 20% of kids under 20 years of age are already obese.
Thanks to this obesity crisis, NAFLD is now the most common cause of liver disease as well as the main reason requiring liver transplantation in the US.
The 3 main sources of the fat in NAFLD:
- Excess sugar in our diet. Especially sugar sweetened beverages. Just one beverage a day increases the risks of developing a fatty liver by 45%.
- Excess fat in our diet, particularly animal fat and especially saturated fat. Even a single high fat meal leads to increased liver fat and drops insulin resistance by 25% within 4 hours.
- Fat spilling over from our own fat stores.
You have 65% lower odds of developing NAFLD simply with with regular legume (bean) consumption and those consuming plant based diets are 50% less likely to develop NAFLD regardless of sugar consumption.
CROWDING OUT UNHEALTHY FOOD IS EASIER THAN CUTTING IT OUT
It’s simple math: if you fill up on plant food (i.e. fiber), you fill up the stomach and there is less room for the bad stuff. And you don’t even need to eliminate your favorite foods, just “veganize” them. Here are some examples:
- Eggs – Flaxseed meal, chia, agar (seaweed), applesauce or egg replacers in baked goods.
- Cow’s milk – Plant milks like soy, oat, almond, hemp, macadamia, cashew or rice.
- Butter – extra virgin olive oil. Many other plant based “butters” are available also.
- Mayo with eggs – hummus, avocado or vegan mayo.
- Ground beef or chicken – jackfruit, vegan “meats” like Impossible burger, lentils/beans.
- Bacon – thinly sliced tempeh.
- Tuna or Chicken salad – chickpea spread. Lots of recipes available.
- Meat – wild mushrooms, tofu or seitan.
- Yogurt (dairy) – soy or nut yogurts.
- Parmesan cheese – nutritional yeast or nut based cheeses.
- Scrambled eggs – scrambled tofu with turmeric and namak kamala salt (sulfur tasting).
- Meringue (eggs) – aquafaba (chickpea brine from cans).
- Cream (dairy) – cashew cream.
- Honey – agave (cactus) or maple syrup.
COOK DINNER AT HOME and EAT TOGETHER
On average, Americans eat out 18 times a month (4-5 times a week) and the most commonly eaten meal is hamburgers which the average American eats 3 times a week. It’s even more frequent for people living in urban environments. This number has steadily gone up over the years. Given the amounts of fat, sugar, salt and processed foods that are consumed during such meals, that amounts to over 30% of the calories people take in. For the first time, we are now spending more on eating out than on the food we buy for our homes. Even when we eat at home, a lot of what is “made” includes processed foods like frozen pizza and Mac N’ Cheese. Half of fast food eaten by children is eaten at home.
In addition to being really important in improving social and familial interactions, the simple act of preparing meals and eating at home makes you appreciate food more since you prepare it yourself. It also allows you to control what goes into your food like less salt, fat, sugar and chemicals. Studies show that the more you cook at home, the healthier you are and the lower the rate of chronic disease with the those cooking at home the most having as much as a 50% decreased mortality risk compared with those who eat out the most.
Sharing a meal is also an important opportunity to spend time with family and friends and is beneficial physically and emotionally. Smartphones and devices are part of our culture today, whether we like them or not, but try to at least make meal time, at home and when dining out, “device-free time”. Nothing is sadder and more disturbing than seeing a family out to dinner with all family members on their separate devices.
Turn the TV off. Eat as a family and spend some time just talking about the day. Distracted eating leads to overeating and bad food choices.
BUY FRESH FOOD OFTEN
Although we already shop and buy WAY too much unnecessary stuff in general, when it comes to food, you should still shop often. Don’t buy a lot, but shop frequently. Sure, it takes more effort and it’s easier to buy in bulk from stores but it’s worth the extra effort in the long run. Shopping this way is how you keep food fresh and more nutritious. You buy less and actually waste less. Food waste accounts for almost 50% of the waste stream in the US and is the largest component of landfills. Americans throw out almost 60% of the food we produce and buy (worldwide, we waste 1/3rd).
There is a reason food tastes so much better in other parts of the world. In most other places, whether by restaurants or private citizens, food is purchased almost on a daily basis from local markets, butchers and fish markets who get their products from local farmers, ranchers and fisherman. When you buy local, especially from farmer’s markets or smaller local food chains, you eat it sooner (lettuce for example loses 90% of its nutrition within 24 hours of being harvested) and you also support local, organic, biodynamic or regenerative farmers.
As far as nutritional content goes, the longer out you go from when food is harvested, the lower the nutritional value. For example, a study was done on broccoli, looking at how much of a drop in certain nutrients occurs based on some typical transit times, 7 and 10 days. The following decreases were noted:
- 71% and 78% drop in glucosinolates, the cancer-fighting phytonutrient.
- 51% and 62% drop in flavonoids, potent antioxidants.
- 44% and 51% drop in synaptic acid derivatives, phytonutrients involved in nerve function.
- 73% and 74% drop in caffeyolquinic acid derivatives, another potent antioxidant phytonutrient.
FRUIT vs VEGETABLES
The single most important determinant of gut health, where 70% of our immune function resides and the site of production of 90% of our brain neurotransmitters, is the amount and variety of plants we eat. There are over 300,000 known edible plants in the world but unfortunately, 75% of the food eaten by humans comes from the same 12 plant species and 5 animal species. According to the World Health Organization’s study on the Global Burden of Disease, the single most impactful aspect of poor health is the lack of fruits in the diet. Less than 10% of Americans consume the minimum daily recommendations of both fruit and vegetables, and that’s the minimum. If you are concerned about which is better, fruit or veggies, you are already way ahead of the game. But here is a little information.
First of all, let’s get our definitions straight. These vary depending on whether we are talking about strict botanical vs culinary definitions.
Botanically speaking, a fruit is a seed-bearing structure that develops from the ovary of a flowering plant, whereas vegetables are all other plant parts, such as roots, leaves and stems. By those standards, seedy outgrowths like apples, pears, squash are all fruits. Anything with a seed is a fruit. Roots such as beets, carrots, potatoes and turnips, and leaves such as spinach, kale and lettuce, and stems such as celery and broccoli are all vegetables.
By the strictest of definitions some of what we consider vegetables are actually fruit and vice versa.
Some common vegetables which are actually fruit include:
- String Beans
- Legumes (beans)
In 1893, the US Supreme Court decided that tomatoes would be considered a vegetable. Why? Because at the time, import taxes applied only to vegetables and not fruits. So based on how it was used by people, and to generate more tax revenue, the court decided how we perceive this popular plant.
Examples of fruit which are actually vegetables are much less common but one is rhubarb.
Bananas are technically neither a fruit or a vegetable. They are herbs, and there are hundreds of varieties worldwide.
Packed full of phytochemicals, minerals, vitamins, as well as healthy protein, fat and carbohydrates, all edible plants are important. This also includes, in many cases, the skins and peels. For example there is more nutrition in the skin of a carrot than the flesh. Think about that the next time you reach for a bag of baby carrots. Apple skins are another great example.
The biggest health boost however comes from the fiber. There are as many different types of fiber as there are plants and this is what feeds the healthy gut bugs the most. There is NO fiber in animal products (meat, fish, eggs, dairy…).
Eat as much variety of both fruits and vegetables as you can. Keep them as clean as possible. Choose organic when possible but all plants need to be washed well. The Environmental Working Group makes up a list every year of the plants which have the highest and the lowest chemical contamination so you should at least follow those. The links to these lists are below.
EAT the SKIN, STEMS, LEAVES and USE the PEEL
The skin/peel of plants is what protects the flesh from the elements like the sun, rain, wind as well as predators like insects. As a result, there are numerous compounds in the skin and peel, natural antioxidants and pesticides, not found in the flesh and many of these compounds are quite nutritious for humans. In fact, the peel often can be more nutritious, with higher levels of antioxidants, minerals and phytochemicals, than the flesh. Unpeeled fruits and vegetables have up to 33% more fiber than those without the peel. And antioxidant levels in the skins of fruits could be up to 328x higher than those found in the flesh. 3 great examples include grapes, apples and even carrots. Baby carrots are thought of as a nutritious snack, but without the peel, their nutritional value is significantly diminished. It is imperative that all fruits and vegetables, even organic ones, be washed to remove any chemicals and wax coatings, but otherwise, eat the skin. It’s great for you. As an aside, eating the core is also a good idea. Just like animals do, fruits and vegetables have a microbiome which can be beneficial to us. In an apple, for example, there are microbes on the skin but most of them are in the core.
Some peels may be quite thick but can be incorporated in various ways into the diet.
ORANGE/LEMON PEEL. Most of us toss our orange peels on our way to the main event, the fruit inside. But the peel offers plenty of benefits. It contains hesperidin, a polyphenol that may have anti-cancer benefits. And that wonderful aroma that you smell when you peel an orange comes from the citrus oil, limonene, in the peel, which has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits, specifically for skin cancer. Lemon zest contains compounds called salvestrol, Q40 and limonene, which are known to have antioxidant properties, and lemon peels have 5-10x more vitamins than the juice itself.
APPLES. There is truth to the old adage that “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. In addition to being rich in magnesium, it is also very high in the antioxidant quercetin as well as the potent phytochemical ursolic acid, extremely beneficial to the function of the endothelium, the thin layer of cells which line all of our arteries and keeps them relaxed and pliable. However, the bulk of both compounds is in the skin! In addition, fruits and vegetables have their own microbiome, which we benefit from. It is mostly in the skin, as well as the core, so don’t be afraid to eat the whole thing.
TOMATOES. Tomato skin has a high concentration of the flavonoid naringenin, which could decrease inflammation and protect against some diseases, although more research is necessary. Other research also shows cooking tomatoes with the skin on increases the availability of some nutrients, too.
KIWIS. Kiwi skins are surprisingly edible and in traditional cultures, they are eaten with the peel, just like an apple. The kiwi skin has lots of vitamin C, and eating it triples the amount of fiber. Try slicing it really thin to warm up to eating the fuzz, she suggests.
CUCUMBERS. You’ll want to keep the skin for the vitamin K, fiber and potassium, but you can do without that waxy layer. Cucumber skins can be waxy, so be sure to wash well and even use a paper towel to rub off the waxy layer.
EGGPLANTS and ZUCCHINI. Keep the eggplant skin on if you want the extra fiber, flavonoids and magnesium. Another reason to keep eggplant skin and zucchini skin on too is because of water. Both zucchini and eggplant have a high water concentration. Zucchini is 95% water, and eggplant is 92% water. The skin of these veggies is where most of the nutrients are found.
POTATOES. The peel of potatoes contains fiber, iron, vitamin C, potassium and folate. Instead of stripping away those nutritious benefits, use a vegetable brush to scrub the potato gently before cooking.
PUMPKINS and WINTER SQUASHES. Pumpkins (technically a fruit) and winter squashes have skins you can only eat if you cook and soften them,
ALWAYS PEEL THE FOLLOWING.
PINEAPPLES, PAPAYAS, MANGOES, BANANAS, MELONS and LYCHEE are tropical fruits that you should always peel. These fruits have skins that are either difficult to chew and digest, or downright inedible.
AVOCADOS, GARLIC and ONIONS
Like tropical fruits, avocado skin is tough to digest and not something you should eat. Avocados are a good source of fiber, potassium, folic acid and monounsaturated fats. As for garlic and onions, the peel is not especially beneficial or tasty, so it’s worth taking that layer off.
STEMS AND LEAVES. Even the stems and leaves of most fruits of most vegetables have nutrition. In some cases even more. For example, the super healthy beta glucans in mushrooms are in higher concentration the stem of a mushroom than in the cap. The cancer fighting phytonutrients in broccoli are present in the same amounts in the stems as they are in the florets. The leaves of root vegetables like beets are phenomenally healthy. Even carrots greens can be used in things like sauces and soups. ALL EDIBLE and SUPER HEALTHY.
FRESH vs FROZEN vs CANNED vs JARRED
The bottom line is that however you get your fruits and vegetables, adding more is good. That having been said, there are some differences.
ORGANIC OR NOT. In the end, eating a fruit or vegetable, regardless of how it was grown is better than not eating it however, for things you eat regularly, follow the Environmental Working Groups (EWG) “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists. I do buy as much organic as I can since it also supports the cause of increasing demand and thus production of organic products.
FRESH is best, but only if local. The farther it travels, the more nutrients get depleted. Minerals don’t but vitamins and phytonutrients do, as much as 70% drops within a week of harvesting. Buying local also supports local farmers.
FROZEN. In many cases, frozen can be more nutritious than fresh, especially if it has traveled a long distance. Frozen produce is usually frozen on site, right after picking/harvesting. Freezing does not reduce nutrient content at all and this can be a great way to quickly add some fruits or vegetables to a meal.
CANNED is again better than not eating a fruit or veg however, be mindful of the lining of cans. Most have a plastic lining (BPA) and even BPA-free cans are usually lined with some other kind of plastic like BPS and many other variations on the BPA molecule. The chemicals leach out in especially acidic produce like tomatoes, soups or pickled products. Although one can argue that one can may only contain tiny amounts of chemicals, it only takes tiny amounts of these hormone disrupting chemicals for there to be an effect. GLASS BOTTLES or JARS are better.
DRY. Legumes and beans are particularly good to get dry. They are easy to store, are much cheaper and lose no nutritive value. This is also true of grain, nuts and seeds.
FOOD CRAVINGS and POST INGESTIVE FEEDBACK
The way most people eat today is completely unnatural. Manufactured foods. Processed foods, stripped of nutrients, in some cases with nutrients added back to “fortify” them. Artificial sweetener, flavors and tens of thousands of chemical additives. And for the most part, these foods have only appeared in the last 100 years. It is NOT natural!
We evolved over hundreds of thousands of years eating foods in their natural, unprocessed state. We drank almost exclusively water for hydration. We ate foods, most of them raw, without processing or any chemicals added. We did eat meat, mostly opportunistically (found by accident), and we focused on the more vitamin rich organ meats like liver and pancreas, rather than muscle, the traditional “meat” people eat these days in massive amounts.
“Flavors” were truly natural and were typically associated with specific foods. An apple tasted like an apple because it was an apple. A banana tasted like a banana because it was a banana. Over time, our brains evolved to associate flavors and textures with various foods, as well as with their various macro (proteins, fat and carbohydrates) and micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) amounts. Our brains learned that when you ate certain foods with particular tastes and textures, it would logically expect all those nutrients, even anticipate them, and there would be physiologic reactions in response. This is called Post Ingestive Feedback.
Today, everything is different. Modern chemistry has allowed us to isolate the compound which makes something taste the way it does. Apple “flavor” is a chemical, as is “banana” flavor.
Our original “cravings” were associated with nutrient deficiencies our bodies were smart enough to determine. An example of this is an apple. High in the mineral magnesium, if our bodies sensed a magnesium deficiency, it would trigger an apple craving. The same with potassium deficiencies and bananas. In the last 100 years, as foods have changed on a massive scale, the vast majority no longer being natural but manufactured, our brains have not evolved at all and still respond to those same triggers and crave those same foods.
Another example is how people respond to diet beverages. To make beverages sweet, artificial sweeteners are used, which are many times, as much as 1000x, sweeter than regular table sugar, which is already sweeter than fructose, the naturally occurring sugar in fruit and vegetables. This amplifies the brain’s response to the sugar, releasing even more insulin, expecting that sugar will need to be stored. But there is no sugar! Unfortunately, insulin also triggers fat cells to take up and store fatty acids, so they lead to more weight gain. In addition, artificial sweeteners disrupt the protective lining of the intestines greeting inflammation and leading to all kinds of additional hormonal disruption.
The bottom line is that you need to stick to foods “made by God, not by man”. There are thousands of untested food additives and chemicals in the foods we have manufactured or processed. In addition, even our fresh food is sprayed with chemicals to prevent pests from eating them, make them ripen faster (which reduces flavors and nutrient value) as well as transport better and have a longer shelf life. Although much better for you, even USDA Organic foods are allowed to contain some chemicals and many get cross contamination from adjacent, non-organic farms or crops. Eat whole foods, but also make sure to wash them well.
MEAT and DAIRY ADDICTION
In addition to the salt and fat we crave in cheese, dairy contains opioid-like compounds, casomorphins, which are the breakdown products of casein, the main protein in dairy (80%). Whey, initially a throw away product from the cheese making process, is the other well-known protein, is now used commonly in protein shakes. These compounds bind to the same serotonin and dopamine receptors in the brain as heroin and morphine and have approximately 10% of their activity. Blood in meat, including fish, also have opioid-like compounds known as hemorphin, which is derived from animal hemoglobin, and serorphin, which is derived from animal serum. When participants were given Naloxone, the heroin overdose reversal medication, meat eaters’ drive to eat meat was reduced. The same was seen with sugar addicts.
OPIOIDS IN FOOD
As mentined above, one of the mechanisms which result in our food cravings are the opioid-like compounds they contain. Opioid receptors are widely distributed in the central nervous system and peripheral tissues. Opioid receptors are part of the endogenous opioid system, which is the body’s internal system for regulating pain, reward, and addictive behaviors. It consists of opioid substances produced naturally within the body (called endogenous opioids) and their receptors, into which opioids fit like keys into locks. Exogenous peptides, derived from food proteins, also exert opioid-like activities. Some of these foods include:
- casomorphins (milk),
- gluten exorphins (wheat)
- rubiscolins (spinach)
- soymorphins (soybean)
- Blood in meat, including fish, also have opioid-like compounds known as hemorphin, which is derived from animal hemoglobin, and serorphin, which is derived from animal serum, the clear part of blood when red blood cells are removed.
Milk-derived opioid peptides are the most common and most potent ones (10% as potent as heroin or morphine) in food. In addition to the effects food-born opioid compounds have on the brain, they also influence gastrointestinal functions such as gut motility, hormone release, appetite, mucus production, and local immunity. In healthy states, food-derived opioid peptides could benefit both the nervous and digestive systems, whereas in pathological conditions, the gastrointestinal permeability change and opioid excess may contribute to pathogenesis of some disorders.
When participants in a study were given Naloxone, the heroin overdose reversal medication, meat eaters’ drive to eat meat was reduced. The same was seen with sugar addicts, although the opioid effect of sugar is different from the direct effect of opioids. The resultant addictive behavior, however, is the same. It happens in the animal world as well. If you give a cocaine-addicted rat the choice of cocaine-laced water or sugar water, they will always choose the sugar water.
Over 100 diseases have been definitively linked to consumption of processed food and the WHO has stated that poor diet has a greater impact on poor health and premature death than smoking.
From the 1970’s to the late 1990’s, the 4 foods which have increased the most in terms of human consumption are:
- Flower (essentially sugar).
- High fat dairy.
- French Fries.
The amounts have doubled in those 20 years and the amounts have only increased since then.
In a nutshell, the food industry has created a worldwide population of food addicts. As industrialization progressed over the last 100 years, our ability to “make” food, along with some unfortunate nutritional mis-information, has led to our obesity and chronic disease crisis. We know that the tobacco industry employed techniques to addict people to smoking (they were able to convince 2/3rds of Americans in the 50s that it was OK to smoke), they now employ those same techniques in the food industry. Most food companies are owned by the tobacco companies, or merged with them forming massive conglomerates.
What is the maximum amount of salt, sugar and fat we can put into a product before consumers will reject it? This is called in the food industry, the “bliss point”.
The Addiction Business Model, used by the tobacco industry, is now used in food. The 5 As.
- Ramp up Addictive qualities of a product, but you hide it. Maximize the “bliss” point.
- Layer on Advertising everywhere. As soon as the tobacco industry started buying up food companies, advertising on TV exploded. TV advertising during saturday morning cartoons increased from 160 to over 560 on one station alone in 7 years.
- Make it Available everywhere so people see it and have multiple opportunities to purchase and consume them. You can buy processed foods in almost every retail store.
- Make it Affordable. Think “the Dollar menu” at McDonalds.
- Aim at the youngest age. The earlier you addict them, the more potent the addiction.
Addict them and then constantly provoke them.
When you consume sugar, salt and fat (SSF), especially sugar, you activate all the reward centers of the brain, drawing away blood flow from the frontal lobe, where reasoning and rational judgment is made. Impulse control diminishes. The earlier a child becomes addicted to processed food, the deeper the addiction. With SSF, all 4 reward mechanisms are activated:
The brain recognizes your taste buds or palate being stimulated by sugar, salt and fat within ½ a second. It takes the brain 10 seconds to recognize tobacco and 10 minutes to recognize cocaine.
In 1963, a tobacco company bought Hawaiian Punch and immediately the sugar content increased. The documents described how they were going to “transfer their tobacco marketing to kids”. There is a reason that juice boxes were developed in the same shape and color as cigarette boxes. It gets them used to the shape and increases tobacco addiction rates. Howard Moskowitz is an American market researcher and psychophysicist. One of his more pathetic contributions to nutrition is figuring out that if you add sugar, people become more addicted to products. Before his involvement, tomato sauce was just that, tomato sauce. After him, a half cup serving of sauce ( a tiny amount for most people) had the equivalent amount of sugar as 2 Oreo cookies (13 grams). He was also involved in the development of other products like Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper and Cadbury Schweppes. The executive responsible for the line of Lunchables for kids was quoted as saying that he would never feed his own kids Lunchables because of the salt and sugar content.
Kids are born craving sugar. That’s why human breast milk has lactose in it. It keeps them coming back and fortunately breast milk has tons of healthy nourishment in it. It also helps them bond with their mother. The food companies took advantage of this innate craving by ramping up the sugar content of their products. The younger you addict a child to SSF, the deeper the addiction. As soon as the tobacco companies bought a baby formula company, the sugar content increased by 52%. The same happened with Kool Aid, Capris Sun and Hawaiian Punch. Liquids, just like flower products, are a much faster delivery mechanism. They use cartoon characters as well as media icons to increase the enticement.
There are 11 addiction characteristics accepted by the Academy of Addiction Medicine and listed in the diagnostic manual, DSM-5. Although developed for more “traditional” addictions like drugs and alcohol, 100% of these characteristics apply to food addiction as well. The criteria for a substance use disorder are:
- Hazardous use: You have used the substance in ways that are dangerous to yourself and/or others, i.e., overdosed, driven while under the influence, or blacked out. We have all heard of the “carb coma”.
- Social or interpersonal problems related to use: Substance use has caused relationship problems or conflicts with others.
- Neglected major roles to use: You have failed to meet your responsibilities at work, school, or home because of substance use. Needing to get a “food fix” and leave the office leads to decreased productivity.
- Withdrawal: When you stop using the substance, you experience withdrawal symptoms.
- Tolerance: You have built up a tolerance to the substance so that you have to use more to get the same effect. This is definitely seen with sugar, salt and fat. As we continue to consume, our brain readjusts to the levels we are accustomed to and we need more and more to get the same fix.
- Used larger amounts/longer: You have started to use larger amounts or use the substance for longer amounts of time. The average American has increased annual sugar consumption from only a few pounds in the 1900’s to over 152 pounds today.
- Repeated attempts to control use or quit: You’ve tried to cut back or quit entirely, but haven’t been successful.
- Much time spent using: You spend a lot of your time using the substance. People keep thinking about their next meal. The average American eats 7 times a day, and as much as 15. That is an enormous amount of time just eating.
- Physical or psychological problems related to use: Your substance use has led to physical health problems, such as liver damage or lung cancer, or psychological issues, such as depression or anxiety. The most common cause for liver transplant in the US today is Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), all caused by a poor diet rich in sugar, salt and fat.
- Activities given up to use: You have skipped activities or stopped doing activities you once enjoyed in order to use the substance. “I’d rather stay home, watch Netflix and eat pizza”.
- Craving: You have experienced cravings for the substance. When someone who is addicted to sugar is given Narcan, the heroin overdose reversal drug, their sugar cravings go away, albeith temporarily.
If you have 2 or 3 of the characteristics, you have a mild addiction. 4-5 characteristics = a moderate addiction and if you have 6 or more, you have a severe addiction
It’s not that people don;t want to lose weight. They just can’t. In fact, 87% of Americans choose to consume “calorie reduced” foods thinking that it helps them lose or at least maintain their weight. Sadly, 99% of weight loss leads to regaining weight.
An important key to weight loss is getting involved in a community. When you get a community involved in treatment, a 5th neurotransmitter, oxytocin, is secreted. This is the most important one as it reinforces love and social bonds. This includes programs like 12 Step with drugs and alcohol addiction. It’s also why diet programs like Weight Watchers help. Having a community is very helpful. A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. These neurons have more potent signals than do the addictive neurons which is why observing and being in the midst of certain behaviors can change how we behave, both good and bad.
When you engage in addictive behavior, dopamine is released but it has to cross the neuronal synapse and bind to the dopamine receptor. When the brain is flooded with dopamine, the receptors downregulate, folding in on themselves like a wilted flower. Fewer receptors are available and more and more frequent dopamine hits are needed to get the same result. This is partly why people who have recovered or are still struggling with a drug addiction, have such poor pain tolerance. Their pain perception is distorted because of malfunctioning receptors. Ironic that someone who is so addicted that they inject themselves can;t handle having an IV placed in the emergency room.
Below are some great resources about food and specifically processed food addiction, along with a food addiction self-quiz
LIMIT LEFTOVERS and STALE FOOD
In addition to the above reasons to buy fresh food, the longer prepared foods sit, the more they become oxidized and histamine levels increase.
OXIDATION. As foods sits and become stale, they start to oxidize (free oxygen molecules bind to proteins). An example of this is how an apple starts to turn brown as it sits on the counter top, even within just a few minutes. Some oxidation is fine and not harmful but more and more results in damaging free radical formation which cause tissue damage. Antioxidants work by counteracting these effects. Stale food, leftovers, freezer-burned foods… they should all be limited or replaced with fresh foods. As oils sit around, especially if they are exposed to light, they start to become stale so you should keep bottles in the dark. Another example is dried herbs which can go bad the longer they it around.
HISTAMINE. Histamine is the compound responsible for allergic reactions. It is produced normally by certain immune cells but it can also be consumed by certain foods. Histamine forms when certain bacteria or yeasts transform the amino acid histidine into histamine. Since ALL foods, whether from an animal or a plant, contain protein and ALL the amino acids in varying proportions, ANY food can form histamine under the right conditions. Generally speaking, aged and fermented foods or beverages contain the highest levels of histamine, while fresh foods contain almost none. For more information about histamine if food and how to follow a low histamine diet, click here.
BECOME A “LOCAVORE”
At the end of World War 2, 45% of the food Americans ate was grown in our backyards. That was equal to half of all commercially produced fruits and vegetables nationally. Today, homegrown food only represents 0.1% of the food Americans eat. Kansas is the most agricultural state in the US. 90% of the land is dedicated to farmland. Despite that, 90% of the food that Kansans eat is imported and ¼ kids go hungry daily. The least we can do is support small, local farmers who are still trying to provide for us.
Buying locally grown food, especially if it is organic, chemical free or grown using biodynamic methods, is great for a variety of reasons:
- Local food is healthier. The faster it gets from the farm to your table the better. Food which travels far loses up to 45% of its nutrients.
- Less gas is used in transport leading to fewer greenhouse gas emissions polluting the atmosphere. This one can be a bit deceptive however. Only 6% of the greenhouse gas emissions created by the industrial food industry, both animal and fruit or veg, comes from transportation. In addition, most food is transported internationally by boat, which has a relatively smaller carbon footprint than air transport, which is much more global warming gas producing, but only accounts for 0.16% of food transport. 80% comes from land and resource use. It is actually be better for the environment to buy organically grown vegetables from South America than locally raised, grass fed beef. WHAT you buy still matters the most. More plants and fewer animal products.
- It helps to preserve local jobs and supports local farmers.
- Local food tastes better. Less refrigeration, less preservatives, less time, less manipulation and fewer chemicals are used.
- It preserves local farmland and wildlife. If local farms are supported, they are less like to sell to developers.
- It’s better for the environment. Well managed farms conserve soil fertility, protect water resources and keep carbon from the atmosphere.
The monster agro-chemical companies would have us believe that they are feeding the world and solving starvation but this is simply not true. They only account for 28% of the food produced on the planet and when you consider that the bulk of what they make, like soy and corn, is fed to livestock or goes into producing such poor “foods” as high fructose corn syrup, the amount of “food” for humans they produce is much less. The fact is that 70% or more of the food consumed by humans is generated by small, local farmers, growing their produce and animals on farms smaller than 5 acres. In addition 40% of those farmers are women. Support them!
Shop at farmers’ markets. The food is obviously fresher, more likely to be chemical free, tastes better and is also seasonal. We evolved eating seasonally. There is something unnatural about getting whatever we want whenever we want it because it is grown in a hydroponic indoor plant, even if it’s blueberries. These markets also support local farmers and businesses which usually farm using healthier soil regenerative techniques so it’s better for he Earth also. Click here to find a farmer’s market near you. Another great resource is Local Harvest.
Join a CSA. This stands for Community Sponsored Agriculture. Basically, you pay an annual fee and for that, every week during the harvest season, you get a basket of what happens to be growing on that local farm at that time of year. It doesn’t get any fresher or natural than that. To find a local CSA, click here.
GROW YOUR OWN, indoor and out. Nothing is going to be cleaner and more organic than what you grow in your own garden. It’s fresh, seasonal and takes the least amount of time to go from from being harvested to being eaten. Having a garden also gives you an appreciation for what goes into growing food and also connects you with the environment. Compost your own and reuse it.
In the US, farmers have been forced to leave this honorable and vital job because of the growth of the industrialized system. It simply becomes too expensive for farmers to keep up. In the US, we have fewer farmers than we have people incarcerated in our prisons! In Mexico, because of this phenomenon and the disappearance of peasant farmers and small business entrepreneurs, 1/3rd of the Mexican economy has become one based on crime. Drugs, gangs, money laundering, even prescription drug production and smuggling. Many small farmers who stop farming end up moving from their urban homes into big cities looking for jobs. They basically become “environmental refugees”. We lose 6-8000 small family farms a year to the chemical industrial agricultural system. Suicide rates among farmers is at an epidemic level.
The American Dairy Coop, the largest co-op of dairy farmers, collects milk from all over the country and sends it out to producers. Their dividend checks are at an all-time low and include in the envelope, a phone number for a suicide hotline.
30 years ago, the promise of the chemical agricultural industry was to feed the world. Instead, today in the US, the world feeds us. We have lost our food autonomy.
100 years ago, people died from lack of nutrition. Today, most people die from overnutrition. The simple fact is that we have access to whatever food we want, from anywhere in the world, whenever we want it. If you want an apple, despite the fact that they are harvested in the fall, you can have it. If you want an avocado in the middle of the winter in New England, despite the fact that it grows in warmer climates, you can get it. Same goes for just about any food you want. Quite simply, we did not evolve this way.
Our digestive systems and bodies evolved eating the foods that we had available to us when we found them. Locally and seasonally. Our microbiome responded in kind and shifted, seasonally, based on whatever food we ate. This was the natural order of things. Our weight fluctuated based on the seasons, increasing intelligently in the fall, storing fat for the winter, when food was naturally more scarce. The fat not only supplied insulation against the cold, it acted as an emergency source of energy.
Our bodies and brains evolved to crave the foods during the seasons which we needed to survive. Whilst today, that natural drive has been hijacked by constant availability and lab-created hyper processed and calorically hyper-dense “franken-foods”.
Focus on locally grown, and if possible, seasonally available whole foods, whenever possible.
A great resource for seasonal food information is the Seasonal Food Guide website.
COOKING – HOW WE COOK MATTERS
Although there are significant differences in terms of cancer-causing compounds when meat is cooked, how we cook other foods, including some vegetables, can be just as important. In a nut shell, the dryer and the hotter the cooking method, the greater the risk of forming cancer causing agents like acrylamide and glycotoxins like Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs). These are considered gerontotoxins (aging toxins) which accelerate the aging process. The typical age “age spots” on the skin of people as they age are felt to be related to AGEs (no link between names!). When you follow a diet which promotes less AGE formation, skin spots tend to improve as well.
AGEs are highly oxidant molecules formed by the natural process in which sugar in the blood attaches to proteins or fats. Although AGEs are formed naturally in the body since all you need is heat, sugar and protein or fat, the majority comes from cooked food. The amount of AGEs in the body depend on the type of food consumed and how it was cooked. Animal food sources, high in fat and protein, are AGE rich and prone to new AGE formation during cooking, especially with high heat. Carbohydrate rich foods such as fruits and vegetables have much lower levels of AGEs, even after cooking.
AGEs are produced when high fat, high protein foods, mostly in meat but even in some plant foods like tofu and nuts, are exposed to high, dry heat, like broiling, roasting, BBQing or frying. Using liquid-based methods such as boiling, steaming or frying using little to no oil, just liquid like water or vegetable broth, is the safest. Limit toasting or roasting nuts. AGEs cross link proteins together, causing tissue stiffness, oxidative stress, and inflammation. In the brain, they may contribute to dementia; in the eye, cataracts and macular degeneration. In the arteries and heart, hypertension, atherosclerosis, heart failure, and stroke; then anemia, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and muscle loss. In addition, they suppress sirtulin activity. Sirtulins are enzymes that act as switches turning off harmful genes which cause aging. For tips on how to cook without oil, click here.
AGEs are also formed in patients following ketogenic (high animal protein and fat and low carbohydrate) diets. One of the common ketones formed on such diets is acetone, which is oxidized in the blood into acetol, a precursor for the production of methylglioxin, a potent AGE creator. This toxin is responsible for nerve and blood vessel damage in out-of-control diabetics with high blood sugars.
Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. HCAs and PAHs have been found to be mutagenic, meaning they cause changes in DNA that increase the risk of cancer. HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine or creatinine (substances found in muscle) react at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over a heated surface or open fire drip onto the surface or fire, causing flames and smoke. The smoke contains PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats. HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods other than meat cooked at high temperatures. PAHs can be found in other smoked foods, as well as in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes.
Although you might think that chicken, erroneously thought to have less cholesterol and fat than red meat, is healthier than read meat. It’s actually not. Grilling chicken actually produces almost 2x as much HCAs than steak (1400 mg/100 gm of chicken vs 810 mg/100 gm of red eat).
HCAs have fancy acronyms like PhiP, MelQx and IFP. PhIP (2-Amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine) is one of the most abundant heterocyclic amines (HCAs) in cooked meat. PhIP is formed at high temperatures from the reaction between creatine or creatinine (found in muscle meats), amino acids, and sugar. PhIP formation increases with the temperature and duration of cooking and also depends on the method of cooking and the variety of meat being cooked. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program has declared PhIP as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”. It is also one of the most potent estrogen mimickers.
Interestingly, if you marinade your meat in something containing extra virgin olive oil and herbs, especially garlic, you decrease the HCA production from high heat cooking by almost 90%. The potent antioxidants in the evoo and garlic counteract the HCAs.
Avoid microwaving starchy foods. The high heat also creates AGEs from carbohydrates. Microwaving overall is safe. It does NOT make food radioactive and does NOT change the nutrient profile of food all that much. In fact, microwaving can be safer than frying or barbecuing but it is still heating foods too high temperatures. Microwaves DO give off small amounts of radiation so don’t sit there staring at the microwave screen with your face pressed up against it but a few feet away, and all the radiation drops off dramatically. NEVER microwave anything in plastic though. Harmful chemicals do leach out into the food you are cooking. Use glass.
Get rid of non-stick cookware. If they are shown to generate chemicals which kill birds (definitely proven), they can’t be healthy for us either. Nonstick may be convenient and easier to cook in and clean up afterwards, but they are simply unsafe. Chemicals leach out and get into our foods. Choose ceramic (now available in non-stick products), glass or stainless steel. Cast iron cookware is OK if used occasionally but overuse leads to too much iron absorption which may be linked to greater risk of dementia. The same goes for copper and aluminum pots and pans as well so I would avoid those.
NEVER cook in plastic. Not the oven, microwave or boiling. Plastics leach chemicals into foods, especially when heated. Many of these chemicals are called “hormone disruptors” and wreak havoc on our endocrine system. They cause cancer, infertility and weight gain. Also, avoid putting plastic containers and lids into the dishwasher. The high heat weakens the plastics making it easier for the chemicals to leach out. If you must use plastic, wash them by hand.
MICROWAVE OVENS – CONVENIENT BUT POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS
Percey Spencer was a scientist who was working on radars for the military in the 1940’s. He noticed that the microwaves he was exposed to melted the candy bars in his pocket, despite the lack of heat. This connection led to his research on the potential for microwaves to cook foods. 7 years later, he developed the first “radar range”. It was used in a Boston restaurant, weighed 700 lbs. and cost $5000. The name was eventually changed to Microwave Oven and the first home versions became available in 1967. The ease with which it cooked food led to a dramatic rise in its popularity. It helped women free up time and helped the explosion of women entering the workforce. As with every convenience however, there is a hidden price to pay. In the case of microwave ovens, it is nutritional quality and health hazards.
What is a microwave? It is a low energy wave of energy, second in power to radio waves. Microwaves are produced by a device called a magnetron which generates the microwave field. The waves bounce around inside the oven and cause dielectric (electronic) heating by causing the electrons in water molecules to shake violently. The shaking causes friction, rips apart the molecules and generates heat. Although all food has some amount of water in it, the less it does, the less and the slower a microwave heats it up.
Water molecules are already vibrating. Microwaves agitate and rip apart water molecules, disrupting the natural vibration of the water and in doing so, destroy what contains the water, meaning, the various nutrients they contain. Microwaves disassociate and destroy water. At a deep enough level, food is being changed on a molecular level by microwaves.
Broccoli loses up to 97% of their antioxidants when microwaved. Steamed broccoli however, loses only 11%. Asparagus loses vitamin C when microwaved. Only 60 seconds of microwaving garlic eliminates almost all of the enzyme allinase which is responsible for many of the health benefits of garlic. In 6 minutes of microwaving milk, 40% of the B12 is rendered useless because of the unfolding of proteins. Breast milk lost numerous helpful enzymatic activity through microwaving. Breast milk vitamin content is also eliminated by microwaving.
Humans are mostly water. About 70% at birth and 50-60% my middle age. Being close to microwaves is not healthy since, although only a small amount, some microwaves escape and cause the same molecular disruption, leading to not only cellular, but DNA changes as well.
The degenerative nature of microwaved food seems to impact on human health. Some findings include increases in WBC, indicating the body’s immune response, as well as decreases in RBC. Cholesterol irregularities have also been measured. Microwaves have also been shown to impact on the EM field of the heart. The same frequencies have also been shown to increase blood sugar levels.
Radiating your food is not good. Use the stove. Use the steamer. Use the toaster. Although all forms of heating change the nature of food, they do so to a much lesser degree. In some cases, cooking food actually increases their nutritional value. A good example is lycopene in tomatoes, the levels of which can go up more than 10x when they are slowly stewed.
REDUCING HEALTH RISKS FROM EATING COOKED MEAT
Although all foods, including fruits and vegetables, produce various harmful, cancer and inflammation-causing compounds when cooked dry, at high heat, animal products (all of them including fish, poultry, eggs, dairy and of course red and white meat) contain significantly greater amounts than plants do. It’s simple as that. These are concentrated form the environment and are introduced thought the contaminated grains they are fed. We pump them full of additional chemicals. They concentrate in their flesh and accumulate the higher you re on the food chain (roe example a small sardine has less pollutants than the salmon which eats the sardine). You can’t get around it. In addition, cooking meat creates additional cancer-causing compounds as well. Here are some ways to reduce the risks:
- Meat Type. Processed meats are the worst. Bacon, cold cuts, jerky, sausage, smoked meats… They are classified as type 1 carcinogens by the World Health Organization. Red meat however has been classified as type 2a which means that it probably causes cancer.
- Temperature. The higher the worse. Cooking under 260 degrees like boiling or microwaving is safer. Broiling, pan-frying and barbecuing are the worst. Breathing in BBQ smoke, which is filled with many toxic chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, acrylamides and aldehydes, has been linked to cancer but even being around BBQs regularly has been associated with increased cancer risk from absorption of these chemicals through the skin.
- Turning it over frequently lowers risk. This avoids the char and overcooking in one spot.
- Crispy, charred crusts are bad. Keep the meat pale and soft. Cooking meat rare lowers risk as long as it is cooked through.
- Spices and vinegar containing marinades lower carcinogen formation.
- Avoid gravy.
- Stick to 1 serving (a deck of cards is ~ 1 serving!).
- Eat vegetables and fruit with the meal lowers risk as well by adding carcinogenic plant phytonutrients.
Although processed meats and red meat are more commonly known to contain cancer causing compounds, all animal products have been shown to contain cancer causing chemicals. In the case of processed meat, it’s mostly the nitrites. With red meat and other cooked meat, it’s also the compounds produced during the cooking process. All animal products, including dairy, poultry fish and eggs are contaminated with various environmental and man-made toxins. Some of the pollutants include heavy metals, PCBs and dioxins. These get absorbed in the tissues and concentrate the higher up an animal is on the food chain. So, for example, an anchovy or sardine contains small amounts of these chemicals but a salmon which feeds on these fish in the wild, has much higher levels because of its own exposure in addition the exposure from the animals it eats. Heavy metals can be cleared out of the body within a few months after discontinuing exposure but PCBs take decades to detoxify from the body! Within 3 months of discontinuing poultry, meat, fish and eggs from test subjects’ diets, there was a 30% drop in heavy metals including mercury, cadmium and lead. When considering organic meat, despite being fed only organic feed, there was very little difference in the contamination of carcinogenic compounds when compared with conventional meats. This is because there is still so much contamination in our environment that you can’t get away from it and that cooking the meat produces cancer-causing compounds regardless of where the meat comes from.
Researchers in Europe tested both organic and conventional meat for 33 different carcinogens. The degree of contamination was so great that they recommended that children not consume more than 5 serving of beef, pork or chicken a month (once a week) in order to stay below what the EPA recommends as a “safe” level of exposure. In the US, chicken is 10-20 times more contaminated than in other countries. After rice, chicken is the second highest source of arsenic poisoning.
More than 100 years ago, cancer causing viruses were identified in chickens. Recently, a multiple cancer causing polioma virus was identified in meat which is linked to colon, lung and breast cancer in humans. These viruses are not destroyed by cooking or pasteurization. Recent investigations identified 3 different kinds of polioma viruses in ground beef. Studies show that workers in the meat industry are at greater risk of dying from cancer.
COOKING – WHAT WE COOK WITH and EAT ON MATTERS
After spending considerable time choosing and preparing nutritious food for your family, it can be frustrating to learn that the products we are using to cook, bake, eat and store food may actually put your families’ health at risk. Materials such as Teflon, BPA, lead, aluminum, phthalates, and melamine are commonly found in everyday kitchenware products yet have been tied to disturbing health issues. There are many safer alternatives as well as things you can avoid.
- Avoid plastic whenever possible when it comes to food and beverages. Hard plastics can contain BPA, which is a developmental, neural, and reproductive toxin. Scientists have linked very low doses of BPA exposure to cancers, impaired immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes and hyperactivity. It can be transferred from plastic into food and drink. A recent study, found that even BPA-free plastics contain synthetic chemicals which can migrate into food. Of the 9.2 billion metric tons of plastic humanity has made since plastic was invented, not one molecule has degraded! In addition, half of all that plastic is single-use! We are killing our selves and our planet.
- If you must use plastic in the kitchen:
- Choose BPA-Free, PVC-free plastic.
- NEVER heat in the microwave. “Microwave-safe” only means that the plastic won’t actually melt. In addition, the extreme heat of the oven will increase transference of chemicals.
- Do not store fatty, greasy or acidic foods in plastic. More chemicals are transferred.
- Do not use scratched, badly worn or cloudy plastics for your food and beverages.
- Hand-wash plastics to avoid wear and tear.
- DO NOT put plastic containers or lids into the dishwasher. The high heat weakens the plastics allowing chemicals to leach out more easily.
- Avoid hard plastic melamine dishes. They are made by combining the chemical melamine with formaldehyde (which is considered a known human carcinogen). Studies have shown that formaldehyde (embalming fluid used for cadavers) can leach from dishware into food.
- When it comes to food storage, safer materials include: glass, 304 grade stainless steel and food-grade silicone, all of which do not leach chemicals into your food.
- When it comes to dishware, glass is a great choice, followed by ceramic dishware with lead-free glaze. If you are concerned about breakage, food grade silicone, high quality 304-grade stainless steel and bamboo or wood containing food-safe finishes are all safe options.
- COOKWARE. Avoid Teflon and any other chemical non-stick coatings. Teflon is a coating manufactured using perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is considered “a likely human carcinogen.” When heated, cookware coated with Teflon and other synthetic non-stick surfaces emits fumes that can kill birds and potentially sicken people. Over heating of non-stick pans and any scratching or chipping of the materials can cause these chemicals to be released. Choose ceramic or stainless steel pots and pans. You can still heat and even fry foods but it just takes a little more attention, a little lower heat and a little more cleaning afterwards, but it is worth it when avoiding toxins, day after day
- Avoid aluminum cookware. Aluminum is a soft, highly reactive metal and can migrate in measurable amounts into food when used for cooking. About 20% of aluminum levels in humans’ blood comes from cookware. Aluminum has been linked to brain disorders as well as behavioral abnormalities and is considered a toxic substance. Many companies are switching from aluminum to Anodized aluminum. In this treatment the aluminum is dipped into a chemical bath to create a more durable layer, so that the aluminum can’t as easily leach into food. However, the anodization can break down over time, so it’s still not the safest choice for cookware.
- Iron Cast Pans. As an occasional pan, that is fine. If you use one daily, iron levels can become a problem so be careful.
- Avoid plastic utensils and accessories when cooking as these can melt or flake with extreme heat or wear down over time potentially causing chemicals to migrate into food. Instead choose stable materials such as: wood, bamboo, silicone or stainless steel.
- The safest materials for cookware and bake ware include: glass, high quality 304 grade stainless steel, cast iron and Xtrema ceramic cookware.
- When using stainless steel cookware, know that deeply scratched and pitted pans can cause metals (nickel and chromium) to migrate into food in trace amounts. These are not toxic elements, so there is not really cause for concern unless you have a specific allergy or sensitivity. But to play it safe, avoid frequent use of abrasive materials with stainless steel cookware.
- Use non-toxic cleaning products. Avoid bleach, ammonia and synthetic fragrances and dyes. Simple options include water with some added citrus, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. Baking soda is also great when washing fruit and vegetables.
- Filter tap water for drinking and cooking. Find a high-quality filter that can remove heavy metals, chlorine, VOC’s and other contaminants. Lastly, buy products from reputable manufacturers or individuals who can answer your questions. We thoroughly screen all of the manufacturers whose products we sell and verify that they are free of known toxins and meet all safety requirements.
Some good cookware site include:
“Our Place” which has some nice cookware and a great ceramic pan.
THE INTERESTING CASE OF LARON SYNDROME
People living in remote villages in Ecuador have a mutation that some scientists feel is the key to longevity. The villagers are very small, generally less than three and a half feet tall, the result of a genetic mutation which leads to a poor response to and low production of growth hormones. This rare condition is known as Laron syndrome or Laron-type dwarfism. Laron syndrome is caused by mutations in the GHR gene. This gene encodes growth hormone receptor, which is a protein found on the outer membrane of cells throughout the body. Growth hormone receptor is designed to recognize and bind growth hormone, which triggers cellular growth and division. When growth hormone is bound to the growth hormone receptors on liver cells, specifically, insulin-like growth factor I (IgF-1), another important growth-promoting hormone, is produced. Mutations in GHR impair the function of growth hormone receptors which interferes with their ability to bind growth hormone. This disrupts normal growth and development of cells and prevents the production of IgF-1 which causes the many signs and symptoms of Laron syndrome.
Although they do have a number of medical conditions like hypothyroidism, the condition does not appear to affect lifespan and is actually associated with a reduced risk of various cancers and type 2 diabetes. In fact, these populations don’t have a single reported case of breast cancer. No one with Laron syndrome has ever even had diabetes.
We normally produce IgF-1 during childhood as a growth stimulant, but its levels go way down after adolescence since naturally, growth is no longer required, just maintenance. However, in people eating a lot of animal protein, meat and dairy, IgF-1 levels are stimulated to rise, produced by the liver, which leads to more and more rapidly growing cancers of many sorts. The hormone doesn’t just stimulate muscle growth, but cancer cell growth as well. In addition animal products contain IgF-1 in them as well. This is particularly true of dairy and is one of the reasons why whey protein, a dairy isolate which used to be a throw-away byproduct of cheese production, is popular with bodybuilders.
OTHER REASONS TO AVOID MEAT
According to the World Health Organization, there is enough evidence worldwide to categorize processed meats (sausage, bacon, lunch meat…) as a class 1 carcinogen, meaning that it definitely causes cancer. It’s in the same class as tobacco, asbestos and plutonium. Meat in general, red meat specifically, is category 2a, meaning that it probably causes cancer. If that is not enough of a reason to limit your meat consumption, here are a few other reasons:
- TMAO. There is a lot more about this toxic substance below (click here) but in a nutshell, this compound is formed by unhealthy bacteria in our gut and causes inflammation, vascular disease and contributes to diabetes. It’s formed from compounds found exclusively in meat. Carnitine in red meat and choline in eggs gets converted into TMA by bacteria in the gut and the TMA gets converted into TMAO in the liver. TMAO is found as an individual compound in fish as well. No conversion needed. The bacteria which make this conversion grow in the gut exclusively in people who eat meat and fish regularly. If you give meat to a plant-based person, because they lack the bacteria which makes TMA, they don’t form TMAO.
- RED MEAT ALLERGY. A bite from the Lone Star Tick can cause people to develop an allergy to red meat, including beef and pork. This specific allergy is related to an antibody developed to a carbohydrate called alpha-gal which is found in all mammals except apes, including humans. If you have been bitten by this tick and have developed anti-gal antibodies, when you eat red meat which does contain the gal carbohydrate, you can develop a lethal anaphylactic (allergic) reaction leading to death. In addition, a new virus called the Bourbon Virus has been identified which gets transmitted by the Lone Star tick and can be lethal, independent of the allergic reaction.
- RED MEAT ALLERGY AND HEART DISEASE. In addition to the allergic reaction that occurs, the IgE antibody which is formed also causes a massive rise in atherosclerosis, independent of other atherogenic risks like elevated cholesterol, lack of exercise and diabetes.
- Neu5Gc ANTIBODIES. N-Glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc) is a molecule found in most nonhuman mammals, in other words, the meat we eat, both red and white. Humans cannot synthesize Neu5Gc because we lack an enzyme Cytidine monophospho-N-acetylneuraminic acid hydroxylase (Cmah) that converts Neu5Ac, which we do produce, into Neu5Gc. When we eat meat, we form antibodies to Neu5Gc which cross reacts with proteins in our blood vessels. This autoimmune reaction results in inflammation specifically targeting blood vessel walls and atherosclerosis and heart disease.
- Leucine. Although all foods contain all amino acids, including leucine, meat and dairy are very high in this amino acid, almost 10x more. It activates the high-energy biochemical pathway known as mTOR (Target of Rapamycin). mTOR is actually an enzyme which is is naturally occurring but when overstimulated, causes problems including a) fatty acid accumulation, b) chronic liver glucose production and export leading to elevated blood glucose levels, c) increased insulin secretion, in part from the elevated glucose, but also independently causing many problems, d) increased beta cell (pancreas cells which make insulin) production, again leading to more insulin in the body which is not a good thing and leading to e) eventual beta cell death.
- Heme Iron. Iron is necessary but too much iron leads to various diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, liver damage as well as destruction of pancreatic beta cells and glucose dysregulation in adipose (fat) cells leading to diabetes. When we consume iron from plants, our bodies are able to regulate iron absorption and stop absorbing it when we don’t need anymore. The iron we get from meat, and dairy, however is a form of iron called heme iron and our bodies cannot regulate levels of this form, so it builds up and builds up the more you consume. As little as 5 mg of dietary heme iron can elevate type 2 diabetes risk by a whopping 224%. There i plenty of iron in plants, especially lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, raisins, quinoa and fortified breakfast cereal. To further increase absorption of non-heme iron from plants, adding a vitamin c source like citrus helps.
- Nitrates and Nitrites. These are compounds added to meat because they act as antimicrobials and enhance color and flavor of cured meats. In food, as well as in your gut, nitrates are converted into nitirites and eventually into N-nitroso compounds, known to cause oxidative stress and are toxic, increase the risk of all-cause mortality by 15%. It is partly why the WHO categorized meat, in particular processed meats, as a “class 1 carcinogen” indicating that they definitely causes cancer, putting them in the same class as plutonium, arsenic and smoking. In contrast, the nitrates obtained from plant foods such as beets and greens, do not have this same effect. In fact, they are extremely beneficial, reversing arterial damage by producing nitric oxide which relaxed arterial smooth muscle walls. Nitrates from plants are not converted into N-nitroso compounds.
- Sodium. This is also added to meat and dairy as a preservative and flavor enhancer. Known as many things such as sodium benzoate, sodium acetate and at least 8 other “sodium…” nick names, they are found in just about any packaged or processed food. Sodium increases blood pressure, damages the inside of arterial walls (the endothelium) and promotes hardening of your arteries. A single pinch of salt impairs the flexibility of blood vessels as much as 50% within an hour of eating a meal and a quarter tsp. impairs blood vessel dilation by 75%. In addition, added salt in an independent risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
- Combinations. In the same way that a glass of mil can have the milk from hundreds of cows mixed in together, one beef patty can have the meat of 100 cows in it. Wat if one of those cows had a terrible disease like Mad Cow Disease? It may sound like it’s fairly diluted but the microbe that causes this life ending condition is VERY infectious and only a few particles is all it takes.
- Meat and dairy addiction is real. In addition to the salt and fat we crave in cheese, dairy contains opioid-like compounds, casomorphins, which are the breakdown products of casein, the main protein in dairy (80%). Whey, initially a throw away product from the cheese making process, is the other well-known protein, now used commonly in protein shakes. These compounds bind to the same receptors as heroin and morphine and have approximately 10% of their activity. Blood in meat, including fish, also have opioid-like compounds known as hemorphin, which is derived from animal hemoglobin, and serorphin, which is derived from animal serum. When participants were given Naloxone, the heroin overdose reversal medication, meat eaters’ drive to eat meat was reduced. The same was seen with sugar addicts.
PLANT PROTEIN IS CLEAN PROTEIN
We have been duped into believing that protein can only be derived from meat but that is patently wrong. Not only do plants provide more than enough protein, it is cleaner protein. Animal protein disadvantages include:
- Cholesterol. There is NO cholesterol in animal products.
- Contamination, which occurs exclusively in animal products. When plants are contaminated, it is universally from groundwater contaminated from animal farms, or their manure which is used as fertilizer. Here are the top 4:
- E. Coli
- Drug and antibiotic residues. These are used to treat and prevent infections as well as to fatten animals up. All those drugs end up in you also.
- Hormones. Both naturally occurring and injected or fed to them.
- Extreme overuse and destruction of land and water in order to produce animal products.
- Global warming gases. Most recent estimates are that as much as 82% of global warming gases and resultant climate change are a result of industrial animal agriculture.
- You get a guilty conscience because of the torture and death.
Plant protein, on the other hand, is chalk full of good stuff:
- Fiber. There is none in animal products.
- It’s 100% cholesterol free.
- Antioxidants and plant nutrients are plentiful.
- MUCH less pollution of land and waterways (unless used for animal feed).
- No pathogens (unless contaminated by animal industry).
- Minimal impact on global warming.
- Minimal animal suffering (yes, an occasional rabbit or mouse gets killed during harvesting).
Plants are sometimes accused of having less complete protein. First of all, this is untrue. There are a few which have all the essential amino acids anyway. Secondly, the notion of complete proteins is ridiculous since the body breaks down everything you eat, absorbs it and then reassembles them as needed. If you consume a variety of plants, you will get all the amino acids you need. Although all plants have protein, particular stars are:
- Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas…)
- Nuts, nut butters and seeds (hemp, chia, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame).
- Meat alternatives (burgers…)
- Grains like quinoa and amaranth. Other whole grains are also great.
- Soy products.
- Hummus (chickpeas)
PLANT PROTEIN vs ANIMAL PROTEIN
It is pretty clear that most people consume not only too much protein (most consume more than double the RDA) but also the wrong kind of protein. Countless studies have shown that, assuming you consume a generous variety of plants, which is easy to do, plant proteins are significantly healthier for you. This is in part because of the proportions of healthier amino acids they contain but also because of what comes packaged along with animal protein, namely heme iron, saturated fat, cholesterol, hormones and all the chemicals. All plants contain all amino acids, both essential (ones we cannot make ourselves) and non essential. Although some animal products contain a greater proportion of essential amino acids, the body can store amino acids so you get all that you need from plants as well.
Just substituting 3% of animal protein with plant protein can have a significant impact on improving health and reducing all cause mortality risks. In a review of many studies involving many thousands of patients over decades, the following was found
- Overall, both men and women had a 10% risk reduction in premature death.
- When replacing red meat, women had a 15% reduction and men a 10% reduction.
- Replacing white meat led to no significant change in women and a 5% drop in men.
- Eggs substitution led to a 21% drop in women and 24% in men.
- Dairy substitution led to a 5% reduction in both sexes.
These improvements were seen even if the saturated fat content was the same. Some of the more significant factors when it comes to risk reduction include cholesterol (there is none in plants), heme iron (plants have non heme iron) and cooking methods and production of toxic compounds like HCAs.
FILTER YOUR WATER!
You can live for many days, even weeks without food, but only 3 days without water. It is crucial for proper cellular function and metabolism. Please check out my more extensive section on how important water is for health (click here).
We are composed of water. 95% of our molecules are water. Babies are 70% water and as adults, we are 50-60% water. You bet it’s important!
Water is arguably the most important part of our diet we should keep as clean as possible. 70% of even treated municipal water samples revealed contamination with glyphosate, the weed-killer in Roundup. PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid), the chemical used to make various products including Teflon for non-stick pans, is found in an even greater percentage with some studies showing 100% contamination in people tested. Studies on humans have found almost 100% of people have PFOA in their bodies, all thought to have come from contaminated water (thank you Dupont!). Another contaminant which is ubiquitous is Chromium 6. This toxic compound is used as a rust inhibitor and anti-corrosive and is used extensively in industry, especially the clothing industry. Studies show that 66% of municipal water sources are contaminated with this compound. It is estimated that more than 500 million tons of heavy metals, solvents and toxic sludge make their way into the global water supply every year. Chlorine water helps prevent bacteria from growing in municipal water, that same chlorine kills the healthy bacteria in your gut and this is not good. In addition, fluoride, commonly put into the water supply, is also not as healthy as we think. There are many good brands of filters. I use one by a company called Aquasana. Look below for more information about less expensive but effective filters. People who don’t drink enough water have increased risks of various cancers, but specifically bladder cancer. Avoid plastic bottled water since chemicals leach out which disrupt hormone function and cause cancer. Stick to stainless steel or glass refillable bottles when possible. Don’t get too preoccupied with “alkaline” or “vitamin” water. Plastic water bottles have been recently shown to not only leach out chemicals, but they actually have tiny particles of plastic floating around which you them consume and break down. One study found as many as 2,400 pieces of microplastic in eight fluid ounces of bottled water. The specific impact of this is not clear but consuming plastic can’t possibly be good for you.
In addition, more than 100 different pharmaceutical drugs, including narcotics and contraceptives, have been detected in our water supply. Another study identified 38 different pollutants in water bottle samples from 10 different manufacturers. These included nitrates, radioactive isotopes, ammonia, fertilizers, solvents, de-greasing agents and propellants. If you must drink bottled water, the best rated ones are Smartwater (produced by vapor distillation with some added electrolytes) and FIJI (collected from a natural artesian source in the Fiji Islands). 33% of Americans don’t drink their tap water and only drink bottled water. 60% of Americans regularly drink bottled water. The numbers are staggering. In the US, we use 70 BILLION water bottles a year and 60% of those are consumed at home. 92% of them claim health and safety reasons for choosing bottled water. They are NOT safer than your tap.
FLUORIDE and CHLORINE IN MUNICIPAL WATER. Chlorine is added to water to deal with organic material like bacteria and animal waste, including human waste. The problem is that when chlorine combines with organic materials, toxic compounds known as Trihalomethanes are produced. These can be filtered out but it costs money so as a cheaper alternative is to just put MORE chemicals in the water, in this case, ammonia. This, however, leads to production of other toxic compounds called Chloramines. In addition, ammonia makes chlorine less effective. As a result of that, bacterial diseases increase. A good example is Legionnaire’s Disease. Thought of as an airborne microbe, it’s actually water born. Even the CDC, Centers for Disease Control, has had outbreaks of this disease in buildings opened up after the Covid-19 lockdown. Sitting water was not treated properly and people got sick.
Fluoride is a medication. It was put into the water supply with the idea that it would help the general population have stronger teeth and bones. Although there is some evidence that it may help a bit, proper nutrition and exercise are more effective. From a general population health perspective, they help but only because the vast majority of people do not seek, or can’t afford proper dental care and have a poor lifestyle. Most industrialized countries have actually banned the use of fluoride, but not in the US. In Germany, fluoride is used as a medication to treat hyperthyroidism. It shuts the thyroid gland off. Fluoride has been found to contribute to thyroid dysfunction. In the parts of the UK where fluoride was added to the water supplies they saw higher levels of thyroid disease in that population and lower levels of thyroid disease in the population that didn’t have fluoride in their water supply. Is there any surprise that we have an epidemic of thyroid disease in our population? As far as chlorine is concerned, not only does it kill the bacteria in water, it also kills the bacteria in your gut.
FILTER YOUR WATER!
CHEMICALS and PHARMACEUTICALS. Municipal water supplies may be “potable”, meaning, they can be consumed because bacterial contents have been eliminated and you won’t get diarrhea however potable says nothing about the chemicals in the water. There are over 120,000 commercial chemicals out there (with dozens added daily) but only 70, that’s seventy, are regulated by the EPA. What’s worse is that not one single new drug has been added to that list in the last 20 years! A glaring example if what happened in Hoosic Falls, NY where it was noted that a disproportionate number of people were getting sick with a variety of conditions including lymphomas. A suspicious citizen urged the township to check the water but they refused to do anything more than the standard tests. He went on his own and tested the water for other chemicals and it was found that the water was massively contaminated with PFOE, the cancer-causing chemical found in Teflon. The town’s main industry was making Teflon-coated cookware! Blood testing of the people in the town found 100% contamination with this harmful chemical.
Monitoring of the water and reporting of problems with contamination is a “self-reporting”, voluntarily system. It’s like the hen guarding the hen-house. What happened in Flint, Michigan, is only one of many example of water contamination. In 2018, there were 80,000 self-reported water violations in the US. The true number of municipalities with contaminated water is far higher. Flint was not the only lead crisis. Newark, Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and Milwaukee all had lead contamination crises.
41 million Americans’ water supply comes through the faucets in their homes. 56 different pharmaceutical chemicals have been identified in water supplies all over the US. These include:
- Chlorine and Fluoride
- Muscle relaxers
- Antibiotics, including penicillin and tetracycline
- Pain relievers including Tylenol, Aspirin and Ibuprofen
- Mental health prescriptions from Prozac to Valium
- Hormone replacement medications
- Lead and arsenic
A study of fish from the Great Lakes, the main fresh water supply to millions of people, revealed more than 50% contamination with various psychiatric medications. If it’s in the fish, it’s in the people.
A great site to find local spring water is FindASpring.com.
To check you local municipal water quality, enter your zip code at the following Environmental Working Group website: www.ewg.org/tap-water.
DISINFECTION BY-PRODUCTS. In our efforts to minimize microbial contaminants in water, a new kind of contamination in the form of “disinfection by-products” has evolved. The chlorine added to drinking water, crucial for maintaining microbiological safety, interacts with natural organic matter from the water’s source, creating chlorinated compounds that can not only result in off-flavors and smells, but pose a public health risk. More than 600 disinfection byproducts have so far been identified. Long term ingestion of chlorinated drinking water results in a 27% increased risk for bladder cancer. There is also some evidence of increased risk of certain types of birth defects. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 17% of bladder cancer cases in the United States are due to these disinfection byproducts in drinking water. Countries could prevent the formation of disinfection byproducts in the first place through better initial removal of source water’s “natural organic matter”. Some countries in Europe such as Switzerland, have newer, well-maintained drinking water systems that can distribute tap water free from residual disinfectants. But the cost to upgrade the infrastructure of even a small city here in the U.S. could run in the tens of millions. As the Flint tragedy revealed, we seem to have trouble keeping even frank toxins like lead out of the tap.
Nearly 40% of Americans use some sort of water purification device. Other types of filtration systems are also helpful. Two of the most common approaches are pour-through pitchers, like ZeroWater, Pur and Brita, and refrigerator filters like those made by GE and Whirlpool. Tests show that they are similarly effective. In-line fridge systems remove more than 96% of trace organic contaminants, edging out the three pitcher filters. ZeroWater brand caught 93%, PUR pitchers got 84% and Brita was last catching only 50%. All of them peter out as the life of the filter approached its end. Reverse osmosis systems can work even better, but the cost, water waste, and loss of trace minerals doesn’t seem worth it.
For more information about water, click here.
Before moving forward with this topic, let me say that it is always better to get your nutrition from whole foods, mostly fruits and vegetables. ALL the vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and carbohydrates, not to mention fiber, you can get from fruits and vegetables. Plant foods have 65x the amount of antioxidants as animal products, which also contain no fiber.
“Supplements” should be considered just that, supplements. They supplement, or add to, a diet but you should NOT consider them replacements or gap-fillers. You can’t make up for a crappy diet by taking a bunch of pills. They will NOT make up for a poor diet or other unhealthful lifestyle factors like smoking, drinking too much, being over stressed, seeping poorly and not moving more.
That having been said, the estimates are that ~90% of Americans are deficient in some vitamin or mineral. In fact, examining fossil records of humans dating back thousands of years ago, mineral deficiencies were common, even back then, without all the processed foods of today. Some people argue that because our food has been so genetically modified and our soil is now so nutrient poor that the vitamins and minerals are significantly diminished in them. Although this is probably true, the fact is that getting your nutrients from clean, whole fruits and vegetables is still the best source. There is more and more evidence of this but eating whole fresh fruits and vegetables is still better than taking supplements.
Nutrient depletion from food overall has been diminished by about 15%. In practical terms, in order to get the same amount of nutrients out of the 5 florets of broccoli, you need to eat 6. Don’t rely only on supplements. Eat the whole food.
It’s not just about vitamins and minerals. Fiber and thousands of phytonutrients (plant chemicals) are also consumed when you eat whole food which you do not get in a pill. Eat plenty of varied fruits, vegetable, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains and you’ll be fine. Just like with medications, supplements can make biochemical markers look better but do not change long term outcomes. An example of this are niacin and folic acid, both of which make cholesterol markers look better but have not been shown to decrease heart attacks or longevity. You still have to do the hard work of living and eating better.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) theoretically oversee the dietary supplement industry in the US. Although the FTC regulates marketing practices, it defers to the FDA which is supposed to oversee drug claims. Unfortunately, the FDA only investigates specific supplements AFTER there have been reported detrimental health effects. In 1990, there were 19 deaths associated with a supplement which contained the amino acid tryptophan. It was sold as a dietary supplement promoted to help with problems ranging from insomnia, depression, overweight and stress to premenstrual syndrome. After these deaths, the FDA sought to have greater power to oversee the supplement industry but there was such a public outcry over “government intrusion into personal nutritional choices” that those attempts were shot down. More letters were sent to government official complaining about this “supplement bill” than did protesting the Viet Nam war!
Presently, the following mind-boggling policies are in place:
- Supplement companies do not need FDA approval before a drug is marketed.
- They can make whatever health claims they want without approval.
- They do not need to prove efficacy or even safety before they are sold to the public.
As a result, there are many supplements on the market which do not contain what they advertise and can have ingredients which are not good for you. Some studies have revealed almost no traces (0%) of the advertised active ingredients in most samples tested! In 2017, the supplement industry in the United States surpassed $37 Billion dollars in annual sales (up from $4 billion in 1994). There is clearly so a lot of money to be made and wherever there is money to be made, there is unscrupulous behavior so if you do take supplements, do your research and make sure they are from reputable, independently tested sources. Although not all more expensive supplements are of any value, the better quality ones probably are more expensive because the companies use better quality materials, production techniques and have third party verification, all of which costs more.
Supplements can also be dangerous, just like prescribed medications. Between 2008 to 2011, the FDA received 6,307 reports of health problems from dietary supplements, including 92 deaths, hundreds of life-threatening conditions, and more than 1,000 serious injuries or illnesses. They add that the due to under-reporting, the real number of problems may have been far greater.
Each year in the US alone there are an estimated fifty thousand serious adverse events connected to supplement consumption. In 2013, as many as 20% of cases of drug-induced liver injury were due to herbal and dietary supplements, up from 7% in 2004. What’s more, those patients, unlucky enough to have a liver failure after taking herbal pills, are much more likely to require a transplant than are those who have damaged their liver by taking prescription drugs.
First of all, about 25% of supplements may have contaminants in them introduced in the production cycle. These include heavy metals such as lead or mercury or pharmaceuticals. As of 2014, over 500 supplements have been found to be tainted with pharmaceuticals, including amphetamine analogues or alprazolam (Xanax).
Second, we may simply not know how exactly the supplement works in the body. Prescription drugs have to undergo lengthy safety trials. Supplements don’t. They are also practically unregulated. In the US, the FDA does not review their safety before they end up in shops. In the European Union, supplements are considered a “foodstuff,” and their control is very difficult, especially considering that many of them are sold online. In Canada, “natural health products”, which include vitamins, minerals, herbal remedies, and so on, must be assessed for safety by Health Canada, but the process is primarily paper-based, and the evidence submitted by manufacturers doesn’t have to be particularly robust. Another issue is that of drug interactions and side effects. Supplements are active substances and can interact with your prescription pills just the way regular pharmaceuticals do. And yet, one in six people who take prescription drugs also take at least one dietary supplement. Large, dangerous doses are also a common problem with both herbal supplements and vitamins. Some toxic substances are basically poisons at high dosages yet beneficial to health in small quantities.
A 2015 investigation by the NY Attorney General revealed that only 21% of the herbal supplements tested, from “reputable”, well known companies, actually contained the DNA of the plants advertised on the label. Some of the products were contaminated with other substances like rice, beans, pine, citrus and even house plants!
As a general rule, for the vast majority of people, assuming you eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, you do not need supplements. There are some exceptions to this rule (like vitamin D, B12 and omega 3 fatty acid deficiencies) and if you are a strict vegan or take certain medications, there are some additional considerations but more on this later. The nutrients you get from whole fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, grains and legumes are ALWAYS better than what you can get in a pill or a powder. Whole foods provide all the nutrients in the proper combinations that maximize health. Supplements are isolated versions, in some cases artificial versions of the real thing. Some supplements can even be dangerous. Take Vitamin E for example. There are actually 8 types of vitamin E in whole foods. They are in proper proportions and get absorbed in appropriate amounts. Vitamin E supplements supply only one form of Vitamin E and high concentrations of this one form will block absorption of the other 7 types from natural sources. Taking Vitamin E supplements are actually harmful and have been linked to increase risk of prostate cancer. Another example is vitamin C. You can get the same amount of vitamin C found in a lemon from a pill, but the lemon also provides citric acid, iron, potassium, B Vitamins as well as many phytonutrients. These compounds all interact synergistically improving the nutritional value of the vitamin C. A third example if beta carotene. Some studies showed that lung cancer patients did better if they consumed large amounts of vegetable containing beta carotene like carrots and peppers. Studies on beta carotene supplements however, showed a higher death rate because of lack of absorption of alpha carotene.
The value of whole food is more than additive. This is called nutrient synergy. 1+1 = 3. A third example is beta carotene (found in orange and red vegetables). Beta -carotene supplements inhibit myeloperoxidase, which increases formation of damaging hydroxyl free radicals. The opposite happens with beta carotene obtained through whole foods like carrots. Dietary beta carotene inhibits inflammation whereas supplements increase it.
Vitamins and minerals do get excreted in the urine, hence the argument the vitamins just give you expensive urine. Antibiotics and chemotherapy also get excreted in the urine so that argument is not really valid when it comes to their potential benefit in specific cases. What is important however is to split up your vitamins throughout the day if possible (take less more often) so that blood concentrations are more level throughout the day.
If you do take a multivitamin, get it from a reliable, third-party tested source. It is also important to make sure they don’t contain any additional metals like iron and copper. You get plenty of those from foods, including plants, and there is evidence that all the extra metals contribute to dementia, memory loss and cognitive decline. I do take a multivitamin from Dr. Furhman.
Some common vitamin deficiencies include:
- OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS. This is actually the MOST COMMON nutritional deficiency in both plant-based eater and omnivores! Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are called “essential” fatty acids because our bodies do not produce them and we must get them from our diet. Omega 3s consist of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Although both are important, Omega 3s are particularly important for a variety of reasons. They have been shown to:
- Lower all-cause mortality.
- Prevent telomere shortening (a biological measure of aging).
- Improve learning and memory.
- Delay brain aging by repairing damage and preventing atrophy (shrinkage).
- Reduce inflammation.
- Improve cholesterol by increasing HDL (the good kind) and lowering Triglycerides (one of the bad kinds).
- Increase cell membrane fluidity including in neurons which helps with focus and attention.
A great, high quality source of all three of these together is from a company called Alpine Organics. Traditionally, humans consumed omega 3 and 6 fatty acids almost in a 1:1 ratio. With the advent of food-processing and the rise in consumption of various plant oils high in omega 6 fatty acids, the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 has shifted favoring the omega 6 which is not good. The ratio in most diets these days is closer to 1:25 which is way too high and is extremely pro-inflammatory.
Omega 3 fatty acid can be found in cold-water fish like salmon, herring and anchovies but just like the cows who don’t make calcium but get it from the grass they eat, fish don’t make omega 3s but get it from eating algae which is the principal producer of omega 3s. Fish oil supplements are essentially fish, put through a press to squeeze out the oil. They might concentrate the oil, but they also concentrate all the other heavy metals, pollutants and contaminants in the fish. In addition, billions of fish are killed annually to make fish oils which have actually not been shown to provide any cardiovascular benefit at all. There are cleaner and healthier options for omega 3s like walnuts, flax seeds and algae, the original source. A better approach to make the balance more even between the omega 3 and 6 is not to increase the good omega 3 but to eliminate or limit consumption of high omega 6 foods. These would include all animal products including dairy and anything with vegetable oils like canola oil, sunflower oil, palm oil, safflower oil… all oils found in higher amounts in processed foods.
As far as algae sources of omega 3s go, try to get a supplement which is not produced in the ocean but from a well controlled, on-shore facility. This first ensures sustainability and secondly, avoids all the ocean contaminants.
The top plant sources of Omega 3 fatty acids are:
- CHIA seeds. Grind them for better access to the nutrients.
- BRUSSELS SPROUTS
- ALGAE OIL or SPIRULINA and CHLORELLA (the sources of the oil in the first place)
- HEMP seeds.
- FLAX sees. These must be ground. Their shell is too tough to break down.
- PERILLA seeds.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is very common, affecting 70% of Americans. Another 28% are “insufficient”. That’s is just about all Americans. The most common risk factors include:
- lack of sun exposure since it is generated on the skin when cholesterol molecules, exposed to UV rays, get converted into vitamin D and then get absorbed.
- older age, since vitamin d metabolism decreases with age,
- being overweight or obese, since vitamin d is fat soluble and less of the vitamin d is bio-available, by almost 50% as compared with healthy weight people.
- as well as those who have darker skin tones, because of the increased melanin which is a natural sunscreen.
It is actually a hormone that’s produced by our skin in response to sunlight exposure. UV radiation converts a form of cholesterol in the skin into an inactive e form of Vitamin D. Once absorbed in the skin, it travels to either the liver or kidneys where it is converted into its active form. Vitamin D is not just a hormone of calcium regulation, it also aids in bone health by Magnesium and Phosphate absorption. It’s also a hormone of fertility, immunity, and brain function. It also assists in elimination of cancer cells. The vitamin D receptor is found in most tissues in the body, including the brain, and upwards of 2,000 genes may be regulated by vitamin D. Within 24 hours of vitamin D exposure, we can change the expression of hundreds of genes. 70% of American adults are Vitamin D deficient because of our sedentary, indoor lifestyles. Vitamin D deficiency leads to various cancers (doubles the risk if you have a level under 20) and contributes to osteoporosis since vitamin D is essential for proper calcium absorption, immune dysfunction, dementia, diabetes, heart disease and even depression. Childhood Vit D deficiency increases Type 1 diabetes risks by 80%. Vitamin D deficiency has been shown in some studies to raise cancer risk to a greater degree than smoking. Vitamin D deficiency also contributes to weight gain by negatively affecting the hormone Leptin, which regulates the hunger/fullness center of the brain. Low vitamin D levels also cause food cravings to increase. The best source of Vitamin D is the sun. Vitamin D obtained through sun exposure lasts twice as long as the vitamin D you obtain from supplements. It is produced by conversion from cholesterol molecules in the skin which then gets absorbed. Try not to wash or bathe for a while however otherwise it won’t get absorbed. Full absorption actually takes 48 hours. Get out more and get some sun exposure. Be aware that sunscreen with an SPF as low as 9 will stop 99% of vitamin D production. Vitamin D deficiency can cause a slew of side effects so get checked if you are indoors a lot. A great source of dietary vitamin D are mushrooms like shiitake and simple button mushrooms as well as yeast, like nutritional yeast. They however mostly provide D2. To get D3, the more beneficial form, from food sources, you must look to some greens but mostly fortified foods like soy and almond milk or fish, like salmon and sardines. Don’t be fooled by products that advertise that they are fortified with vitamins however, including D. It would take 4 gallons of vitamin D fortified milk to get the RDA for one day. Ideally, you want to shoot for a blood vitamin D level of 50 or higher. Fatty fish are also a source of vitamin D.Sunshine and Vitamin D. About 10% of the sun’s output is UV radiation, necessary to form Vitamin D through a photosynthetic process in the skin. The WHO reports that only 15 minutes of casual sunshine exposure on your hands, arms and face a few times a week is enough to maintain normal levels of Vitamin D. This is also assuming you do not use sunscreen which blocks Vitamin D production. It also assumes that you do not wash or shower immediately. It needs to absorb and it takes 48 hours to fully absorb. Most of it gets absorbed within the first 12 hours though. There are a few other factors impacting on vitamin D levels:
- Age. A 70 year-old produces 4x less than a 20 year-old.
- Weight. Since Vitamin D is fat soluble, excess weight results in less Vitamin D available in the circulation.
- Skin tone. Darker skin individuals produce much less Vitamin D than Caucasians.
In addition to assisting in calcium metabolism, it is important for proper immune function.
- It assists in T cell movement throughout the body. Those are the cells responsible for orchestrating our immune response.
- It helps produce antimicrobial substances in the skin, lungs and gut, preventing infections.
- It suppresses excessive inflammatory responses from cells known to be overactive in many autoimmune disorders.
- It keeps Natural Killer (NK) cells functioning normally. NK cells are vital in cancer cell surveillance.
Independent of Vitamin D, the blue wavelengths of sunlight improve T Cell function and movement. Sunlight also helps to develop Tregs, T regulatory cells, also very important in proper immune function.
Despite less sun exposure, our immune system is ramped up in the fall and winter months as a protective mechanism against more exposure to microbes like Influenza and the myriad of cold viruses we are more exposed to.
As far as supplements go, D3 is the best form to take and if you are vegan, keep in mind that most forms of Vitamin D come from sheep’s wool. There are vegan supplements which are produced from plant lichen. ADDENDUM: There is some controversy about the health benefits of vitamin D supplementation and even the whole idea of vitamin D deficiency in general. As mentioned above, it is always better to get your nourishment from natural sources including a whole food, plant-based diet. It’s important to read both sides of the story and make sure you are aware of who is actually funding any particular study. Telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces. Without the coating, shoelaces become frayed until they can no longer do their job, just as without telomeres, DNA strands become damaged and our cells can’t do their job. Although telomere length decreases with age, they shorten much faster when you eat animal products. Vitamin D levels have also been associated with telomere length. The lower your level, the shorter your telomeres.
- Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient involved in the metabolism of every cell in our body. It is particularly important in nerve and bone marrow cells (which make blood cells) keeping those cells healthy and facilitating production of DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia which makes people tired and weak. B12 is produced by anaerobic (they don’t need oxygen to survive) microbes which live in some soils and the grasses which grow in them. The main source of Vitamin B12 is from meat since animals, at least those who graze on grasslands, eat the microbes and it gets into their intestines where they are able to reproduce and survive. Since B12 comes from soil microbes, you can get B12 from plants but only if you do not wash them. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you are much more likely to be B12 deficient although some meat-eaters also develop poor B12 absorption. It stores for weeks in tissues but once deficient, many side effects ensue including anemia and neurological conditions so it is important to have this checked and take a supplement if you are too low. The precursor to B12, methylmalonic acid, rises as B12 levels drop off and do so much earlier than bloodwork would show a B12 deficiency. B12 has also been shown to help reduce the frequency of canker sores (ulcers) in the mouth, even in people not deficient in the vitamin. Beta glucans, compounds found in mushrooms and nutritional yeast, have also been shown to be helpful with cancer sores. In order for B12 to be absorbed, your gut must be healthy and have sufficient amounts of healthy bacteria which help maintain the lining where Intrinsic Factor, a transport protein, is produced. Any gut disruption, like Inflammatory Bowel Disease or a poor microbiome, can impact on B12 absorption. The cyanocobalamin form is the best form to take as a supplement since it’s the only form which breaks down into the 2 active forms, methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin. Please note that drugs, both prescription and over the counter, can impact on B12 levels in the body. Two very common ones are:
- Stomach Acid reducers. Pepcid, Prevacid, Nexium, Zantac and even ones like Tums. Stomach acid is necessary to remove the B12 from its binding protein. After 50, people naturally produce less stomach acid. You don’t have to add to the problem by reducing acid levels further. If you have reflux, fix the reflux and don’t mask it with drugs. For more information about reflux and how medications affect the body, click here.
- Metformin, the most commonly prescribed diabetes drug. This drug impairs the absorption of B12.
- CoQ10. This nutrient is made by the body but levels start to decrease after 40. It is an important antioxidant but its main role is as a co-factor in production of ATP, the energy molecule in mitochondria, the powerhouses of our cells. If you take a statin for elevated cholesterol, it is imperative that you take this supplement since these drugs decrease the production of Coq10 in the body by as much as 40%. Although not found in high quantities in food, there are some food sources of Coq10 like: Vegetables (spinach, cauliflower and broccoli), Fruit (oranges and strawberries), Legumes (soybeans, lentils and peanuts) Nuts and seeds (sesame seeds and pistachios), Organ meats (heart, liver and kidney), some muscle meats (pork, beef and chicken), fatty fish (trout, herring, mackerel and sardine) and some Oils (soybean and canola oil). Some of the benefits of CoQ10 include:
- Heart Failure. It improves heart muscle function.
- Fertility. It reduces oxidative stress and improves ovarian egg quality and sperm quality
- Skin Health. Reduces oxidation.
- Headaches/Migraine. By improving energy production in brain cells.
- Exercise Performance.
- Diabetes. Mitochondrial malfunction is linked to insulin resistance, the basic problem in diabetes.
- Cancer Prevention. As a potent antioxidant, it helps cellular repair and protection.
- Brain Function overall.
- Lung Function. It’s been shown to improve lung function in asthma and COPD.
- Periodontal Disease.
Some other vitamin deficiencies sometimes seen in both meat eaters and those on plant-based diets:
- IODINE. Found in sea vegetables (kelp, dulse, nori), potatoes, bananas, prunes, corn, green beans, strawberries. A standard piece of nori, used to roll sushi, contains 40 micrograms, almost 1/3rd of the daily RDA. Some argue that dairy is a good source of iodine. It is if you are OK with the iodine being a contaminant from the iodoform cleaning agents used to clean the cow’s udders! Iodine is also put in the cow’s feed. There is no iodine which naturally occurs in dairy. Iodine is in standard table salt in usually enough quantities for most people (if you use table salt).
- ZINC. 62% of adults are deficient. Easily found in beans, legumes and while grains.
- IRON. From leafy green vegetables, whole grains, lentils and peas. Iron from plant sources is a much cleaner form called “non-heme” iron. The iron you get from animal products, “heme-iron”, is extremely inflammatory and builds up to a greater degree than plant based non-heme iron which self-regulates. It’s called heme-iron because it comes from heme which is the iron-containing molecule which gives red blood cells their red color.
- VITAMIN K2. Green leafy vegetables. Vitamin K2, which helps direct calcium absorption into bones and redirects it from arteries. Vitamin K2 has been shown to help with limiting calcium deposits in coronary (heart) arteries. K2 also stimulates Osteocalcin, also known as bone gamma-carboxyglutamic acid-containing protein (BGLAP), which is a non-collagenous protein hormone found in bone and dentin (in teeth). Osteocalcin is secreted solely by osteoblasts (bone-building cells). It is also implicated in bone mineralization and calcium ion homeostasis. Osteocalcin acts as a hormone in the body, causing beta cells in the pancreas to release more insulin, and at the same time directing fat cells to release the hormone adiponectin, which increases sensitivity to insulin.
- MAGNESIUM. Crucial for proper sleep and cellular function, 85% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. Sources include whole wheat, spinach, quinoa, almonds, cashews, black beans, edamame, peanuts, tofu, sesame seeds. Apples contain significantly less magnesium than they did 100 years ago. Deficiencies are difficult to identify since simple blood tests only measure the 1-2% of it which is circulating in the blood. Most of it is in the cells or bones. This mineral is extremely important for good quality sleep. While there are many forms of magnesium available. The most common are magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate. Magnesium citrate is most helpful for GI conditions like constipation whereas the glycinate form is more useful for conditions like anxiety, insomnia, chronic stress, and inflammatory conditions. Magnesium deficiency occurs for many reasons in addition to decreased amounts in food. Some causes include:
- Antacids. They decrease stomach acidity, necessary for proper nutrient absorption.
- Carbonated beverages decrease Mg absorption.
- We use up more of it:
- too little sleep
- sugar consumption which uses up Mg to break it down
- We excrete more of it through over consumption of coffee and tea as well as through the use of diuretics for blood pressure.
- VITAMIN E. 95% of adults are deficient. High in nuts and seeds, avocados, red pepper, mangoes, greens, it is better to get Vitamin E from natural sources since there are actually 8 forms of it, all absorbed as the body needs them. Supplements usually only have 1 or 2 forms, which actually blocks the absorption of any natural forms of vitamin E.
- FOLIC ACID. 50% deficiency rate. High in leafy greens, citrus fruits, beans, whole grain breads, cereals and pastas, rice. In addition, all the alcohol consumption in our society inhibits the enzyme MTHFR which breaks down folate into its active form, methylfolate.
- VITAMIN B3. This B vitamin stimulates the production of a co-factor Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD), which is involved with cellular energy production. It has a similar function as CoQ10. NAD starts to decline after 30 years of age. There are 3 forms of supplemental B3: Niacin, Nicotinamide, also known as niacinamide (NAM) and Nicotinmide Riboside (NR). Although all 3 increase NAD levels, Niacin and NAM have unwanted side effects. Niacin causes significant flushing and NAM down-regulates sirtuins, a family of proteins that play a role in aging by regulating cellular health. NR on the other hand has no flushing and actually impacts positively on sirtuins. The usual dose is 300 mg a day.
- RESVERATROL. Resveratrol is a plant compound that acts like an antioxidant. Its main rejuvenating mechanism seems to be associated with the activation of sirtuins also. The top food sources include red wine, grapes, some berries and peanuts. It’s concentrated mostly in the skins and seeds of grapes and berries. These foods are healthy to eat for a variety reasons also including fiber and other nutrients but you can’t drink enough wine to make much difference so don’t start pounding the wine thinking that it’s good for you! Resveratrol also has reported benefits with blood pressure, cholesterol, dementia, insulin sensitivity, joint pain and even in protection against cancer. Resveratrol has even been shown to reduce the production of the inflammatory compound TMAO when eating meat. Click here for more on TMAO.
COMMON SUPPLEMENTS NOT TO TAKE
- CALCIUM. The majority of calcium supplements out there are basically crushed up shells and absorption and amounts vary wildly. Calcium supplements often contain very high levels of calcium. It gets quickly absorbed, levels spike in your blood and stay that way. This rapid and sustained level can remain for up to 8 hours. This causes a hypercoagulable state, causing increased clotting in the blood which raises the risks for heart attack and stroke. People often take them to help keep bones strong but this is just not the case, especially if taken in isolation. Calcium is very important for many things like healthy bones, muscles and nerves but how you get it is equally important. Vitamin D helps with absorption as do other minerals like magnesium. It’s better to get your calcium naturally from sources like nuts, seeds and leafy greens. You can also take fortified plant milks like almond or soy. Dairy is not a healthy source of calcium. In addition to all the hormones you consume with dairy, the amino acid profile acidifies the blood which actually leads to more osteoporosis. Excessive amounts of calcium in the blood also suppress the liver and kidney’s conversion of the inactive form of Vitamin D into it’s active form. Vitamin D also assists in cancer cell elimination so cancer rates are higher in people who take excessive amounts of calcium, including the calcium we absorb from dairy. If you do choose to take calcium, take it with food. Taken on an empty stomach definitely contributes to kidney stone formation. This happens less when taken with food.
- FISH OIL. commonly taken for heart health and for brain health, neither condition has ever been shown to be improved with fish oil. In the mean time, you are consuming something undoubtedly contaminated with heavy metals like mercury, plastics and other pollutants, not to mention contributing to the death of billions of fish unnecessarily. A much better source of the healthy Omega 3s you get from fish oil can be obtained from algae oil (the original source for fish anyway), flax and chia seeds as well as walnuts.
- ASPIRIN. Although this is a “miracle drug” for certain people with a significant cardiovascular history, it is still the drug which causes the most complications and deaths worldwide. In those who take aspirin regularly, 1 in 15 will have a complication and 1 in 556 will die. Only take it if you really need and discuss this with your doctor.
- VITAMIN E. As mentioned above, there are 8 different types of vitamin E, all important and absorbed in proper proportion from natural sources. Supplements usually only have 1-2 types which actually prevents the absorption of the other 6-7 types from those natural sources. In addition, they have been linked to increased risk for prostate cancer.
- Vitamin A. Studies have shown that smokers given Vitamin A supplements actually had higher rates of lung cancer. Another example of how isolating nutrients from foods, rather than letting the symphony of nutrients in foods working together, can be dangerous. Great sources of vitamin A include: sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, greens like kale, peas and cantaloupe.
- PROBIOTICS. They do NOT help. See below.
PROBIOTICS. They are essentially useless and potentially harmful, especially if you continue to follow unhealthy gut practices like taking antibiotics and eating foods which harm the microbiome. Although some people with unhealthy guts could potentially benefit, it should be under the guidance of a GI doctor and if you have a healthy gut, they are definitely more damaging than beneficial.
First of all, most of the microbes in a probiotic supplement are dead already, not surviving manufacturing, storage, transport… and those which are alive are destroyed by the strong stomach acids. The ones which might survive, tend to pass right through into the colon anyway and are excreted without any effect. Most contain only a few (as few as 3) species of bacteria whereas there are as many as 30,000 species in the normal human intestinal tract. They rarely contain more than a few billion bacteria, most of which are already dead because of improper storage and we have trillions in our healthy intestines. It’s a drop in the ocean. They are also produced in the GI tracts of cows, which have a completely different type of digestive mechanism with different microbes than humans do. We are not compatible. If you have a healthy gut and eat a whole foods plant-based diet, probiotics can actually cause problems, even leading to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). There are now studies that show that whatever bacteria from probiotics survive the transition into the gut might compete with and inhibit the growth of the naturally occurring healthy microbes. Some people take them when they are on antibiotics. Studies actually show that taking probiotics actually delay gut recovery rather than help it. The only exception to this is if you have a history of C. Diff (Clostridium Difficile) infection after antibiotics. Those patients may benefit from probiotics while on antibiotics but they are prescription-grade formulations of probiotics. Some studies show that taking N-acetylcysteine (NAC), the supplement form of cysteine, may be protective. NAC is an amino acid that helps the body create and use protective antioxidants. It also diminishes the degree of mitochondrial damage and free radical formation caused by the antibiotic, without the antibiotic losing its potency to attach the target microbe.
Probiotics: How they work and how they don’t. First of all, we still don’t know what they do exactly and how individuals benefit. Each person’s microbiome is unique and so how they interact with probiotics is also unique. With the exception of fecal transplants, there is no evidence that probiotics “colonize” the intestine. The are allochthonous members, meaning, they only take up very transient residence and only if so cured regularly. One of their proposed mechanisms of benefit is that they make nutrients more available for absorption as well as producing bioactive compounds which strengthen immunity and shift away from inflammation. Probiotics do interact with immune cells, dendritic cells, gut cells, dietary nutrients and the existing bacteria, directly and indirectly delivering benefits. Some transient microbes help to tighten the gut barrier. Others trigger neurotransmitters stimulating muscle contraction for better intestinal motility.
Also keep in mind that whatever benefits they provide, those benefits go away within a week or two so you have to keep taking them. They do not help to re-populate the microbiome.
PRE-BIOTICS. Much more important to gut health and recovery are prebiotics, foods which maintain a healthy gut microbiome and studies show that those eating whole foods, plant-based diet with lots of probiotic foods fare much better when they take antibiotics. There are prebiotic supplements which are non-digestible and non-absorbable foods that promote the growth and/or activity of the beneficial probiotic bacteria in the intestinal tract. It’s better however to get them from the source. Lots of fruits and vegetables are great for the gut but Some better prebiotic foods include:
- Greens, especially dandelion greens
- Garlic and onions
- Artichokes, specifically Jerusalem Artichokes
- Bananas, the less ripe the better
- Oats and Barley
- Flax seeds
If you do choose to take a probiotic, follow the following principles:
- Make sure it is from a reliable, third party-monitored source. The probiotic industry is a $60 billion market so there is a lot of money to be made selling garbage supplements.
- It should contain at least 30 billion organisms per dose.
- The better ones are refrigerated which keeps the bacteria alive longer. The best however are available by prescription from a doctor.
- Make sure there is a variety of organisms including various strains of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces boulardii (which is actually a gut-friendly yeast).
- Take it before bed. Assuming you have not consumed anything for at least 2 hours before you go to sleep, this is when stomach acids are at their least acidic levels so they won’t destroy the probiotic bacteria you are hoping make it into the intestines where they can then reproduce and repopulate your gut.
- Make sure it has a time-release capsule. Again, it has a better chance at surviving your stomach acids.
- Keep it dairy-free.
- Make sure that it has little if any binders and fillers like lactose and cornstarch which can cause bloating and cramping.
- Check the expiration date.
- A well-researched and proven product comes from a company called Seed. They make a supplement which contains both a prebiotic component and a legitimate probiotic component. https://seed.com
POST-BIOTICS. These compounds are the metabolic waste produced by the healthy bacteria in out gut after they consume and break down fiber. Common ones are short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as butyrate and acetate. Although you might see them on store shelves as supplements, they are not effective unless produced naturally by consuming high fiber foods like fruits and vegetables. Just a reminder that animal products contain no fiber.
ASPIRIN was originally derived from the herbs meadow-sweet and willow bark and later synthesized by the pharmaceutical industry to create a patentable product. When natural compounds are synthesized in a laboratory and then marketed as drugs, they typically cause side-effects that the food and herb sources do not usually cause.
Aspirin is definitely a “wonder drug” and has saved many at-risk people with stroke and heart attack prevention however it has become overused. Unfortunately, the list of side-effects of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (also called NSAIDs) is lengthy and not worth the risk for most people who do not really have legitimate risk factors such as a history of heart disease, a previous stroke or advanced diabetes. Complications range from gastrointestinal irritation to death. The drug most frequently causing accidental death and drug-related complications worldwide is actually aspirin. Many studies have failed to show that ASA has no benefit with respect to preventing heart attacks or strokes unless you’ve already had one of these devastating events or are at extremely high risk. Aspirin has been shown to lower TMAO levels (see below for more on this inflammatory and damaging molecule). There are some studies showing that taking a low dose (not regular dose) aspirin may lower your risk of dying from cancer, specifically colon cancer, by up to 33%. However, the effect is more pronounced in populations whose diets are primarily whole food, plant based since there are many foods that contain salicylates or salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin. Consuming aspirin in this form is much safer and does have therapeutic effect. Some of these foods include:
- Turmeric, paprika and especially cumin (which has the equivalent of 1 baby aspirin’s worth of salicylates)
- Apples, Peaches, Plums and Prunes Avocados
- Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries
- Broccoli and Cauliflower
- Chili peppers
- Dates and Figs
- Eggplant, Cucumbers and Zucchini
- Grapefruit, Kiwi, Grapes and Cherries
- Radishes and Spinach
- Willow bark
In terms of antioxidants plant can have as much as 33x more antioxidants in them than meat products.
CALCIUM SUPPLEMENTATION. As a general rule, even if you do have significant osteoporosis, calcium supplements do nothing and can actually be harmful. Our bodies regulate calcium very tightly because of how important it is. Too much in the blood can cause problems so we actually absorb very little of it. Dairy consumption is not as good a source of calcium as fruits and vegetables. In fact, there is a direct correlation between dairy consumption and osteoporosis. The societies where the most dairy is consumed have the highest rates of osteoporosis, not the lowest. The same is true with animal protein consumption. The more meat you eat, the more osteoporosis is seen. This is because of the increased acidifying amino acids in animal proteins vs plant proteins which are less acidifying. Calcium is the main mineral the body uses to neutralize the acidifying animal proteins.
Calcium supplementation can contribute to heart disease. Excessive, unmetabolized calcium can get deposited in the walls of arteries, including the coronary arteries. A test known as a CT Cardiac Calcium Score is a 15 second scan of the heart which can identify potentially dangerous calcifications and early plaque formation. These calcifications can be worsened by excessive calcium supplementation.
Excessive amounts of calcium in the blood also suppress the liver and kidney’s conversion of the inactive form of Vitamin D into it’s active form. Vitamin D also assists in cancer cell elimination so cancer rates are higher in people who take excessive amounts of calcium, including the calcium we absorb from dairy.
For more information about calcium and it’s metabolism, check out this PDF: CALCIUM METABOLISM
TRANS FATS – 7 Foods That STILL Contain It
We have know since 1970 that trans fats are extremely unhealthy however, the FDA did not ban trans fats until June of 2018!. Though the amount of trans fats in food have declined in recent years, they are still found in some products, such as fried or baked foods and non-dairy coffee creamers, due to certain exemptions to the ban. The ban does not take full effect until the end of 2020 and many foods can still take advantage of loopholes to continue using these products.
Trans fats are a form of unsaturated fat. There are two types: natural and artificial trans fats.
Natural trans fats are formed by bacteria in the stomach of cattle, sheep and goats. These trans fats make up 3–7% of the total fat in dairy products, such as milk and cheese, 3–10% in beef and lamb and just 0–2% in chicken and pork. They do not occur in unprocessed fruits and vegetables.
Artificial trans fats are mainly formed during hydrogenation, a process in which hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to form a semi-solid product known as partially hydrogenated oil. As a solid, it is more spreadable and usable making it more appealing to consumers. A classic example of this is margarine.
Studies have linked consumption of trans fats to heart disease, inflammation, higher “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower “good” HDL cholesterol levels . Natural trans fats are also harmful but not to the same degree as the manufactured ones.
In addition, trans fats:
- Increase vascular inflammation.
- Accelerate development of atherosclerotic plaques in all blood vessels.
- Contribute to dementia development and progression.
- Directly impair pancreatic beta cell response to glucose in the blood resulting in impaired insulin sensitivity.
Though the FDA’s ban of trans fats went into effect on June 18, 2018, products manufactured before this date can still be distributed until January 2020, or in some cases 2021. Additionally, foods containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving are labeled as having 0 grams of trans fats. In addition, there are many products not considered trans fats but once heated or broken down, they become trans fats. These are not banned! An example is partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil.
Therefore, while food companies are reducing the trans fat content of their products, a number of foods still contain artificial trans fats. To reduce your intake, it’s best to read ingredients lists carefully and limit your intake of the products listed below.
Here are 7 foods that still contain artificial trans fats.
- VEGETABLE SHORTENING. Shortening is any type of fat that is solid at room temperature. It’s often used in cooking and baking. Vegetable shortening was invented in the early 1900’s as a cheap alternative to butter and is typically made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. It is popular for baking due to its high fat content, which produces a softer and flakier pastry than other shortenings like lard and butter. In recent years, many companies have reduced the amount of partially hydrogenated oil in their shortening making some shortening trans-fat-free. However, it can be difficult to tell if a shortening is completely free of trans fats, as companies are allowed to list 0 grams of trans fat as long as a product has less than 0.5 grams per serving. To find out if shortening contains trans fat, read the ingredients list. If it includes partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, then trans fats are present as well.
- MICROWAVEABLE POPCORN. Air-popped popcorn is a popular and healthy snack food. It’s full of fiber but low in fat and calories. However, some varieties of microwavable popcorn harbor trans fats. Food companies have historically used partially hydrogenated oil in their microwavable popcorn due to its high melting point, which keeps the oil solid until the popcorn bag is microwaved. In addition, microwavable bagged popcorn bags are lined with plastics which are known endocrine, hormone, disruptors. Pop your own!
- MARGARINE AND VEGETABLE OILS, especially if the oils are hydrogenated. As hydrogenation solidifies oil, these partially hydrogenated oils were long used to make margarine. Therefore, most margarine on the market were high in trans fats. Fortunately, trans-fat-free margarine is increasingly available as these oils are phased out. However, keep in mind that some non-hydrogenated vegetable oils may also contain trans fat. To reduce trans fat consumption from margarine and vegetable oils, avoid products that contain partially hydrogenated oils or choose healthier oils such extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil.
- FRIED FOODS. Anything fried, like fried chicken, battered fish, hamburgers, french fries and fried noodles, can all hold high levels of trans fat which can come from a few different sources. Firstly, restaurants and takeaway chains often fry foods in vegetable oil, which can contain trans fats that soak into the food. Furthermore, high cooking temperatures used during frying can cause the trans fat content of the oil to increase and each time the same oil is reused for frying, the trans fat level goes up.
- BAKERY PRODUCTS such as muffins, cakes, pastries and doughnuts, are often made with vegetable shortening or margarine. Shortening helps produce a flakier, softer pastry. It’s also cheaper and has a longer shelf life than butter or lard. Until recently, both vegetable shortening and margarine were made from partially hydrogenated oils. For this reason, baked goods have traditionally been a common source of trans fat.
- COFFEE CREAMERS. Non-dairy coffee creamers, also known as coffee whiteners, are used as a substitute for milk and cream in coffee, tea and other hot beverages. The main ingredients in most non-dairy coffee creamers are sugar and oil. Most non-dairy creamers were traditionally made from partially hydrogenated oil in order to increase shelf life and provide a creamy consistency. However, many brands have gradually reduced trans fat content in recent years. Despite this, some creamers still contain some partially hydrogenated oil.
- OTHER SOURCES. Trans fats can also be found in smaller amounts in a range of other foods, including:
- Potato and corn chips
- Meat pies and sausage rolls
- Canned frosting
To reduce your intake, make sure to read labels and check ingredients lists for partially hydrogenated oil — especially when buying any of the foods above.
At the end of the day, the best way to avoid trans fats is to limit your intake of processed and fried fast food. Instead, eat a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein.
Every week, a new latest and greatest “superfood” seems to come on the market. Something grown in some remote corner of the planet or some concentrated supplement that will cure every ill and malady. Be careful with these types of products and claims. Most of them do not stand the test of time or scientific scrutiny. There are a few of these foods however that are very nutrient dense and pack a lot of good healthful things in a small package. They have shown benefit over time in properly controlled scientific studies. The best foods are outlined in the G-BOMBS and Daily Dozen lists mentioned on the What To Eat page. Some additional superfoods include:
- GREENS. Undoubtedly the most important food to include in at least 1, if not all of your daily meals. They are all good. Spinach, kale, beet greens, chard, bok choi and especially dandelion greens are incredibly nutritious.
- CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES. Named after their “cross” shaped leaves, these are truly superfoods. The contain one of the most potent beneficial compounds sulforaphane. Glucoraphanin, it’s precursor, is released when the raw foods are chewed. It is then converted into sulforaphane by the enzyme myrosinase, which is destroyed by cooking. Sulforaphane turns on genes which reduce inflammation and phase 2 detoxification. It turns on NRF2, a transcription factor, which turns on over 500 genes which do such things as remove toxins, decrease inflammation and capture free radicals.Cruciferous vegetables include:
- Bok choy
- Broccoli (and broccoli sprouts have the highest concentration of sulforaphane)
- Brussels sprouts
- Collard greens
- WasabiThere are glucoraphanin and myrosinase supplements which are essentially dried and powdered broccoli sprouts.
- BEANS. The one food ALL the Blue Zone societies consume daily. For every 20 gm (only 1/8th of a cup or 0.7 oz.) increase in legumes, there is an 8% decrease in premature death. How is that for a superfood!
- GARLIC and ONIONS. The most potent cancer fighting vegetables there are, especially garlic. The potent beneficial compound Allicin is generated when the sufoxyl (sulfur based) compound Alliin is broken down by the enzyme Alliinase. This enzymatic reaction occurs after the garlic clove has been “traumatized”, releasing the two precursor compounds from ruptured cells and takes about 10 minutes for maximal effect so it’s always better to wait about 10 minutes after you crush and peel your garlic before you chop it up and cook with it. Allicin helps boost NK (Natural Killer) cell, a type of lymphocyte, number and function. It also reduces inflammation by reducing cytokines. It also boosts our own ability to make antioxidants, specifically, glutathione, cytochrome p450 and superoxide dismutase. Garlic also dampens the cytokine reaction as well. A European study showed that those who consumed the most garlic and onions had the lowest rates of colon cancer (56% risk reduction), ovarian cancer (73% reduction) and prostate cancer (71% risk reduction) along with the lowest cardiovascular, autoimmune disease and diabetes rates.
- TURMERIC. A yellow spice commonly found in the Indian spice curry. The actual compound is called curcumin. Although powdered is good, it is most potent when eaten in its raw or bulb form in a dish. Dietary strategies, including the use of black pepper (piperine), can boost blood levels of curcumin from the spice turmeric by up to 2,000%. approximately 5% of the spice turmeric is composed of an active compound called curcumin, about 5% of black pepper by weight is comprised of this compound called piperine. Curcumin is responsible for the yellow color of turmeric and piperine for the pungent flavor of pepper. Piperine is a potent inhibitor of drug metabolism. One of the ways our liver gets rid of foreign substances is making them water soluble so they can be more easily excreted. But this black pepper molecule inhibits that process. Curcumin is an anti inflammatory by acting like a hermetic, like exercise. It is slightly toxic to us and turns on many anti inflammatory genes and inhibits the proinflammatory ones. Turmeric contains not only curcumin but also a compound called aeromatic tumerone which stimulates neural stems cells to differentiate into neurons
- SPICES AND WEIGHT LOSS. Turmeric, actually a member of the ginger family, zingiberaceae, is a root from which the spice comes from. Although it contains many micronutrients, the best well known, most studies and most potent is curcumin. In addition to it’s known anti-inflammatory effects, it also upregulates the activity of adiponectin, a satiety hormone, decreasing appetite. It also improves insulin sensitivity, reducing blood fats and preventing fat storage. Ginger, the main member of the zingiberaceae family, contains a micronutrient called zingerone which has been shown to stimulate the activity of hormone sensitive lipase, the enzyme responsible for ushering fat out of cells and increases the breakdown of that stored fat.
- CHIA, FLAX and HEMP seeds. High omega 3s with a complete amino acid profile, including the ones our bodies can’t make. Flax seeds have 160x more lignans, which are a large group of polyphenols found in plants. Some examples of lignans are enterolignans, enterodiol and enterolactone. These have been linked to colon and microbiome health.
- MORINGA OLEFIERA. Leaves from this tree, called the “vitamin tree”, contain more than 46 antioxidants.
- AMLA. (Indian Gooseberry). Extremely high in antioxidants and helps quite a bit with blood sugar control.
- BERBERINE. This plant nutrient helps with blood sugar (at least as well as the most frequently prescribed diabetes medication metformin), lowers cholesterol and triglycerides and is a potent anti-inflammatory. Metformin is being looked at as a “longevity” medication, providing anti cancer benefits in addition to it’s impact on blood sugar. Some studies show that taking both berberine and metformin together may have compounding beneficial effects. For more on this, click here: Berberine and Metformin for Longevity
- MUSHROOMS. “Nature’s Recycler”, mushrooms have been known to break town car tires and nuclear waste. They contain potent healthful compounds and boost immunity. Many have been shown to improve immune function and even have anti-cancer effects. They contain compounds which inhibit the enzyme aromatase, which is important in the production of estrogen. Aromatase inhibitors, like the chemotherapeutic drug tamoxifen, are used to treat breast cancer by inhibiting the production of estrogen in postmenopausal women. They also inhibit the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis), essential for cancers to grow and spread. Interestingly, we are closer genetically and physiologically to the fungi family than fungi are to the plant family. Click here for more information about Mushrooms. They should be cooked since they contain small amounts of the toxin agaritine. A few raw mushrooms are fine, but not too many. All you need is a few minutes of cooking to destroy this compound. Mushrooms significantly increase IgA in saliva and mucus membranes of the gut and respiratory tree. IgA is the first line of defense. Mushrooms contain the compound ergothionine, which protect mitochondria, a cells powerhouse, and cellular DNA.
- BARU NUTS. This extremely nutritious nut comes from Brazil. It is the most nutritious nut available and has the added benefit of having much less fat than all the other nuts and seeds (1/3rd less calories/fat) . It has 320% more antioxidants than almonds. It is a complete food in that it contains all essential and non-essential amino acids. More information about this nut.
- CILANTRO and PARSLEY. These are great detoxifiers, especially in removing heavy metals from the body.
- DANDELION ROOT and MILK THISTLE. These herbs are great at supporting the liver and kidney, both of which are important in detoxifying the body.
- BEETS. All forms. They contain betaine, a phytonutrient which prevents the build-up of an amino acid called homocysteine, an amino acid which harms blood vessels and contribute to heart disease, stroke or circulation problems. It also contains and helps in the release of nitric oxide, a compound which helps relax blood vessels. Beets and beet juice have become popular in the athletic world because of how much it helps with circulation and oxygen transport.
- POMEGRANATES and CRANBERRIES. They have very high antioxidant levels and have been shown to support a healthy layer of gut mucus. They also promote the growth of acromancia, an ancient and extremely beneficial gut bacterium. This bacterium helps improve insulin sensitivity and lowers cholesterol in the blood. Pomegranates, along with other foods such as raspberries, strawberries and walnuts contain ellagic acids and ellagitannins, compounds which are converted into urolithin A by acromancia and other gut-healthy bacteria. Urolithn A was shown to induce mitophagy, which is a selective recycling of mitochondria by autophagy, a process that cleans defective mitochondria following damage or stress, and tends to become less efficient during aging.
- SEA VEGETABLES. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, vegetables from the sea, like seaweed and dulse, are very healthy. Algae is the original source of all omega 3 that end up in seafood. recent studies have shown that regular consumption of seaweed dramatically decreases the duration and frequency all ulcers and herpes-related infection. These include significant activity against Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) 1 (associated with oral ulcers), HSV 2 (which causes genital ulcers), HSV 3 (Chicken Pox and Shingles) and HSV 4 (also known as Epstein Barr Virus which causes Mononucleosis). Make sure you get these from organic sources however since the oceans are so polluted. The one sea veg to be careful of is spirulina, an algae. It has a toxin which may be harmful.
- SOY. A special note about soy which has been demonized by many. In countries like Japan and China, where for thousands of years they ate a lot of rice and soy, there was little breast cancer and diabetes. As soon as they started westernizing their diet and consuming fewer of these products, those western diseases started to creep up and approach our levels now. Soy is VERY healthy. Not only does it NOT cause breast cancer, it’s protective against it with those consuming the most soy having the lowest rates of occurrence, but the lowest rates of recurrence. It also protects against prostate cancer, ovarian cancer and heart disease. All forms are good including edamame, tofu, soy milk and tempeh. You SHOULD keep it organic since most of the soy grown is conventional and sprayed heavily with chemicals. It is also better to stay away from hyper-processed forms of soy such as soy isolates, often found in processed foods and plant protein powders.
- TARTARY BUCKWHEAT. Although more like a grass, this grain is similar to common buckwheat It is gluten-free and is very hearty having been grown mostly in the cold northern Chinese climates. As a result of the harsh climates it has been grown in, it has developed very advanced survival mechanisms including having a very high concentration and variety of protective phytochemicals. It’s reported to have 100x the phytochemical content of any other plant.
- SPICY FOODS. Capsaicin is the chemical compound which makes foods spicy. It was first isolated from chili peppers in crystalline form in 1878. In addition to causing the well known side effect of burning mucus membranes, it increases secretion of gastric acid and stimulates the nerve endings in the skin. All spicy foods contain capsaicin and the degree of “spiciness” can be measured. It is called the Scoville Scale. Capsaicin binds to receptors in the mouth called vanilloid receptor I (VRI) receptors, which are a type of pain receptor. They respond to extreme temperature as well as mechanical stimulation such as pinching or cutting. Stimulation of these pain receptors in the skin sends a signal to the brain that “protection is needed’. As a result, compounds, such as endorphins, are generated which try to protect us from the pain. These receptors also respond to chemical stimuli, like capsaicin. The capsaicin tricks the brain into thinking that there is some kind of trauma, and thus the protective response gets triggered. As part of this protective mechanism, it also helps with generalized pain relief because of how it tricks the brain into thinking it is under attack. Capsaicin has been shown to be protective against the development of CAD. It also has been shown to convert beige fat to brown fat (the metabolic type) which burns belly fat (the storage kind) , which helps with weight loss. Studies show that those who consume spicy foods regularly have lower premature all-cause mortality, as much as 14% in one study.
SPROUTING, FERMENTING and SOAKING – ANCIENT FOOD “HACKS”
Without the benefit of science, ancient cultures had to figure things out by trial and error. They did not have the benefits of our vast knowledge of science, however their acquired knowledge set the foundation for what we know now. For example, 2500 years ago, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, recommended Willow bark for pain relief. It turns out that Willow bark has high concentrations of acetylsalicylic acid, otherwise known as ASA. Modern day Aspirin is derived from Willow bark. Another example is Milkweed, a favorite food of Monarch butterflies, it was traditionally used to treat warts and it turns out that Milkweed contains a potent antiviral, suppressing wart growth. Here are a few examples of ancient wisdom which we benefit from today.
- SPROUTING. Sprouts are simply the healthiest foods you can eat. They pack the most nutritional content of any food. They are cheap, easy to grow, highly nutritious and they really allow people to connect with their food. There isn’t a single health condition that sprouts won’t hep ameliorate. Grains and legumes are commonly sprouted foods and doing so, vitamin and phytonutrient content increases dramatically. Think about it. A seed contains everything it needs to produce the plant. An acorn grows into a massive oak. With soy beans, soaking increases vitamin a and c levels by 300% and 500% respectively. Wheat, when sprouted, has as much as 190% increase in antioxidant levels. Sprouting wheat also makes them more tolerable for those sensitive to gluten, which is broken down. Broccoli sprouts have 10-100x higher concentrations of the cancer-fighting compound sulforaphane, as compared to fully grown broccoli florets. Proteins from sprouted vegetables are also much easier to digest. Lastly, sprouting reduces the levels of antinutrients like phytic acid and lectins by 87%. You can easily and inexpensively sprout at home with minimal equipment or effort and can buy various sprouted products, like bread. A great source for learning about sprouts and how to easily grow them at home is Doug Evans’ book “The Sprout Book“.
- FERMENTATION. Fermentation generates many beneficial bacteria, the most important of which is lactobacillus. In addition to tasting good, fermented foods are fantastic for your gut and microbiome. They also help to reduce cholesterol as well. Sauerkraut, kimchi and sourdough bread are some examples. Liquids like kombucha were also helpful when there was non-potable water around. Today, they are another good source of beneficial bacteria. It is very easy to ferment foods. Basically, take a cabbage, cut it up, put in clean water with some salt and let it sit. That’s pretty well it. A great resource for fermenting is Nourished Essentials.
- SOAKING. Soaking nuts and beans helps remove many compounds such as tannins, antioxidants which can be good for you, but in excess, can affect the liver and cause anemia. Walnuts are a good example. Soaking them for only 2 hours removes about 50% of the tannins. Soaking also lowers phytates in foods. Phytates can impact on mineral absorption so too much phytate can cause deficiencies. Just like tannins, phytates do have a beneficial role in health, like cancer prevention. Soaking chickpeas for example, lowers phytate levels by 50%. Cooking them also does the same thing. Soaking beans can also reduce sugars in beans which cause gas. Lastly, soaking does reduce cooking time which is energy efficient.
Food waste is a shocking phenomenon. 40% of the food Americans buy gets thrown out and the average American household loses $1500 a year on wasted food. It’s an environmental issue not only because of the volume of garbage food generates (food waste is the largest component of landfills) but that decomposing, wasted food, both animal and organic, produces a tremendous about of methane leading to global warming.
The number is shocking and staggering. Food waste results in 160 billion pounds of wasted food which ends up in landfills and accounts for $168 billion in wasted money. It accounts for at least 20% of methane produced leading to global warming.
The amount of food which is thrown out because of “blemishes” and “deformities” (we love our food looking just right) could feed all the people who are starving in the world many times over!
From an environmental perspective, the single most impactful thing we can do to reverse climate change is stop wasting food. In Paul Hawken’s amazing book “Drawdown” he goes over the top 100 things contributing to global warming and how we can fix it. Food waste is #3 however, if you add in the added gasses generated by the food waste in landfills, and food waste is the largest component of what goes into landfills, it becomes the #1 solution.
OTHER NUTRITION-RELATED ISSUES
ALLERGY vs SENSITIVITY
Allergies to foods, medications and the environment are becoming more and more common. In the last 30 years, seemingly in the same timeline as our ever-increasing use of pesticides and herbicides as well as food additives and preservatives, we have seen an explosion of both allergic reactions to foods and food sensitivities. Some of the symptoms of food intolerance and food allergy are similar, but the differences between the two are very important. Eating a food you are intolerant to can leave you feeling miserable. However, if you have a true food allergy, your body’s reaction to this food could be life-threatening. Both are becoming more and more common. About 10% of Americans have a significant food allergy an an additional 20% have a food sensitivity. That’s almost 1/3rd of the population having some kind of issue with food and that excludes gluten allergy (Celiac disease) and lactose intolerance, which affects 75% of adults.
Digestive System vs Immune System
A food intolerance or sensitivity takes place for the most part in the digestive system. It occurs when you are unable to properly breakdown the food. This could be due to enzyme deficiencies, sensitivity to food additives or reactions to naturally occurring chemicals in foods. Symptoms often consist of bloating, cramping, diarrhea but can also include systemic symptoms such as achiness, brain fog or headaches. Often, people can eat small amounts of the food without causing problems. Causes of food intolerance include:
- Absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food. Lactose intolerance is a common example (see below).
- Irritable bowel syndrome. This chronic condition can cause cramping, constipation and diarrhea.
- Sensitivity to food additives. For example, sulfites used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods and wine can trigger asthma attacks in sensitive people.
- Recurring stress or psychological factors. Sometimes the mere thought of a food may make you sick. The reason is not fully understood.
- Celiac disease. Celiac disease has some features of a true food allergy because it involves the immune system. However, symptoms are mostly gastrointestinal, and people with celiac disease are not at risk of anaphylaxis. This chronic digestive condition is triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains.
A common example is lactose intolerance. As we age, most people (as many as 70%) stop producing the enzyme lactase which breaks down the main sugar in dairy, lactose. This loss of enzyme levels typically stats by 2 years of age, around the same time that most babies have stopped breast feeding. Without this enzyme, the sugar hangs around the gut and bacteria start to break it down leading to the frequent symptoms of bloating and cramps.
A food allergic reaction involves the immune system. Your immune system controls how your body defends itself. For instance, if you have an allergy to cow’s milk, your immune system identifies cow’s milk as an invader or allergen. Your immune system overreacts by producing antibodies. There are 5 different types of antibodies all resulting in different types and severity of reactions.
The reaction we think of most often is the kind of immediate reaction involving Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, causing an often-immediate allergic reaction. Each antibody is unique to each invader and can be thought of a “radar” for each type of allergen. The next time you are exposed to this invader, the immune system can respond faster and more robustly to defend itself. Unlike an intolerance to food, a food allergy can cause a serious or even life-threatening reaction by eating a microscopic amount, touching or inhaling the food. The classic example is peanut allergy, seen more and more commonly. Symptoms of allergic reactions to foods are generally seen on the skin (hives, itchiness, swelling of the skin). Gastrointestinal symptoms may include vomiting and diarrhea. Respiratory symptoms may accompany skin and gastrointestinal symptoms, but don’t usually occur alone. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that happens very quickly. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include difficulty breathing, dizziness or loss of consciousness. Without immediate treatment, usually with an injection of epinephrine (adrenalin) and expert care, anaphylaxis can be fatal. A simple blood test measuring levels of these specific IgE antibodies or skin tests measuring you reaction can help determine these but because there is such an obvious fast reaction often these tests are not necessary.
Allergic reactions to foods involving the other types of antibodies (IgG, IgM or IgA) are more common but because their symptoms are not as immediate, dramatic or obvious, they can be misdiagnosed. Symptoms can consist of fatigue, brain fog, joint or muscle aches, rashes or headaches, including migraines. These allergies are more difficult to diagnose. Blood tests are much less reliable and often, the only way to figure them out is to do detective work. This is usually in the form of an elimination diet. You eliminate the potential food and see how you feel. One of the problems is that it can take as short a time as a week to notice improvements however, as is the case with gluten or dairy sensitivities, it can take weeks or sometimes months of strict elimination to notice a difference. This is partly because of the complexity of the reaction and partly because of how much these products are used in all of our processed food products.
One other issue to add is the breakdown of the gastrointestinal barrier. There are some chemicals (like glyphosate in Roundup) and food (like gluten) which are known to breakdown the defensive barrier formed by the cells which make up the intestinal wall. In doing so, they allow proteins and compounds not meant to cross into our bloodstream to do so setting up our immune system to react to even more things it was not meant to react to. There is much more on this issue in the Microbiome section below.
Keep in mind that perceived food intolerances are either disruptions in the microbiome or simply, chemicals, compounds or sugar in the processed foods they are eating which are causing the problems. More than 20% of people alter their diets because of perceived adverse food reactions. Many people self-diagnose food allergies or food reactions but in most cases, they are blaming the wrong thing. A classic example is intolerance of beans. In the vast majority of cases, their intolerance is simply a disrupted microbiome. If you lack the healthy bacteria which digest legumes, you will have a reaction. The same is true for many plant foods. A study of almost 1000 children found that 1/3rd of parents reported food allergies in their children but when actually tested, less than 5% actually had an allergy.
DRUG REACTIONS MASQUERADING AS ALLERGY. Another reason to consider organic food, especially soy, is that the chemical used to grow conventional foods can cause numerous reactions, in addition to all the gut disruption that they cause. What is perceived as an allergy, may actually be a reaction to one of the hundreds of chemicals used to grow the food.
“All Disease begins in the gut” Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine.
We are learning more and more about how important out gut, it’s resident microbes, along with our entire microbiome is. The intestinal wall and the entire surface of our body surfaces, including our skin, mouth, nose and even sinuses form the first main line of defense between what we are exposed to and ingest and the inside of our bodies. It’s a long and winding complex tissue system which simultaneously wards off pathogens while letting in important nutrients. As such, maintaining a proper barrier is crucial. The organisms that live in us and on us are much more important than we have appreciated in the past.
Before the 1850’s when Louis Pasteur, after whom the term “pasteurization” was named, discovered bacteria, we had no idea what caused the most common causes of death like pneumonia tuberculosis and influenza (the flu). Before Pasteur’s discoveries, we thought the cause of these conditions was an “evil spirit” or “vaporous exhalation” known as Miasma. There were some scholars however who had notions of microorganisms though. For example, in 36 B.C., Roman scholar Marcus Terrentius Varro published a book entitled “On Agriculture” where he warned against raising animals near swamps due to the theory that “certain minute animals, invisible to the eye, breed there and, borne by the air, reach the inside of the body by way of the mouth and nose and cause diseases that are difficult to get rid of”. In 1546, Italian physician Girolamo Fracastoro published a book “On Contagion and Contagious Disease” in which he detailed his theory that tiny, rapidly multiplying, disease-causing creatures, microorganisms, spread from person to person through touch, or when carried by the wind.
Before Pasteur, Austrian surgeon Ignatius Semmelweis noted that pregnant women attended to by doctors and medical students had much higher rates of death from “child red fever”. Women who gave birth in the streets had better outcomes. He finally made the connection that when doctors and medical students went from the autopsy room to the delivery room, without washing their hands, maternal death rates were higher. When he introduced the concept of hand washing, the numbers plummeted. He was ridiculed for proposing the concept of infection, was thrown out of the medical community and died in an insane asylum, unfortunately from an infection. Both Pasteur and Semmelweis believed in the concept of the bug being the culprit. This was in contrast to the concept of fostering a healthy “milieu interior” or “inner terrain” promoted by contemporary scientists Antoine Dechamps and Claude Bernard. Pasteur, the father of modern germ theory, finally acknowledged, on his deathbed, that the internal environment, now known as the microbiome, was more important to health than combating the microbe. He stated the following: “Bernard was right. The pathogen is nothing; the terrain is everything”.
We really did not know much about the gut microbiome until 2006 when lab technology allowed us to analyze things in more detail. In the year 2000, there were only 74 articles published on the microbiome. In 2017, more than 9,600 research articles emerged. We went from in 2006 recognizing about 200 microbial species we knew occupied the gut and interacted with human cells to 15,000. Now we estimate that the number of different types of microbes may be as many as 36,000 species. And that is just bacteria. More than 500 species of bacteria have been found in the human mouth, with any individual’s mouth commonly containing 25 species or more. A milliliter of saliva (about one-fifth of a teaspoon) contains up to 100 million oral bacteria. Our microbiome is also made up of over 300,000 species of parasites, helminths (worms), 5 million varieties of fungi and more viral species than we can keep track of. Viruses change and mutate so fast that the list keeps changing. In total, you have more than 5 pounds of microbes in your GI tract. The microbiome is as unique to every individual as your fingerprint. Our genetic composition is littered with DNA and RNA from viruses which have inserted themselves over the millennia. There are 1031 viruses in the air, oceans and soil. Each. Although there are general classes of good and bad microbes, the exact balance is unique to each individual. In fact, 60% of what makes up stool (poop) is actually bacteria.
The microbes also consist of fungi, and other bugs like spirochetes. They all live in harmony assuming there is proper balance. Fungi, like candida, are normal components of all areas of the microbiome, especially the skin. Many people get concerned about “candida infections”. This is way overblown. There can be imbalances of any microbe, including candida, but consider that 50% of normal, healthy people, will grow candida from a simple mouth swab. Non-bacterial microbes like yeast overgrow when bacteria get wiped out, like when you take antibiotics or eat animal products like meat and dairy, which are even greater sources of the unhealthy antibiotics we consume. Fungi also overgrow when sugars are consumed. Not the complex sugars from fruits or vegetables but the sugars added to all the processed food people eat. Processed, added sugars are not digestible and are used by fungi and unhealthy bacteria as energy and to thrive.
There are basically 5 types of microbes making up the “gut microbiota”. In total, we have around 40 trillion in total. They consist of:
- Bacteria – 30,000 or more varieties
- Viruses – millions of varieties
- Parasites – 300,000 types
- Yeasts / Fungi – 5 million varieties
- Archaea (a very ancient type of microbe)
Together, their genetic material is referred to as the microbiome.
Viruses are not technically considered microbes because they are not technically living. They are basically packed genetic information which infects a “host cell” and the instructs the cells DNA to make proteins, destroy itself but mostly to make copies of itself, package up that genetic material and then release it. There are trillions of different viruses which are normal part of our microbiome.
Although there are microbes everywhere along the GI tract, there are different amounts in different locations and by far, the majority are in the large bowel (the colon), although the mouth comes in at a close second. The microbiome is also not only in the GI tract, which extends from the nose and mouth all the way to the anus, but it also includes our skin, the largest organ in the body, and all the other areas where we have lining like the bladder, urethra, vagina and even the uterus.
- NOSE and SINUSES. This is often the first location where foreign invaders arrive. The nose and sinuses act as a big filter, humidifier and air warmer but there is also an intimate, complex microbiome which exists there. When the nose is stuffy and inflamed, it may not just be an infection or allergies, especially if it is continuous. It may be inflammation from an imbalance of the microbes in your nose. The nose, and particularly the sinuses, contain enzymes which produce nitric oxide (NO), a gas which relaxes the smooth muscles which line our arteries as well as the lining of the lungs. Improper sinus/nasal microbial balance leads to lower or no NO production impairing proper gas exchange. There is evidence that the more time you spend outside, breathing in healthy air filled with pollen, as well as microbes, the healthier the sino-nasal microbiome.
- MOUTH. Home to over 1000 varieties of microbes, the concentration of bacteria alone is about 109(1 billion)/ml in the saliva. Each healthy, well cleaned tooth can have 100,000 alone. Bacteria are SUPPOSED to be in the mouth. There is some breakdown of food which starts here. Using mouth rinses actually leads to some nutritional deficiencies. Floss and brush. That’s all you need.
- STOMACH. Because of the extremely acidic environment, there are significantly fewer bacteria ~ 103-104 /ml (1000-10,000). Although not much digestion occurs in the stomach, many enzymes are activated by stomach acid activity.
- SMALL BOWEL – This is made up of the Duodenum, Jejunum and Ilium and is where protein, fat and carbohydrates are broken down and absorbed for the most part.
- DUODENUM and JEJUNUM (first 2 segments of the small bowel). There is relatively little digestion in the small bowel and bacterial concentrations are similar to those of the stomach at ~ 103-104 /ml (1000-10,000). These areas are however where many enzymes, mostly coming from the pancreas, start acting to break down foods. Very little fermentation occurs here. The vast majority of fermentation, actual digestion, occurs in the lower end of the small bowel and large bowel.
- ILIUM (third part of the small bowel). 108/ml (100 million).
- COLON (large bowel). This is where the actin is an the concentration of bacteria alone is ~1011/ml (100 million). Here, fermentation of food occurs and gases like Nitrogen and Methane are produced. This is where fiber is broken down.
- SKIN. One of the largest organs based on surface area (after the gut), the skin is not just dead tissue acting as a barrier. Here too there exists a complex microbial community keeping us protected and healthy. Our obsession with moisturizers, sunscreens not to mention hand sanitizers impacts greatly on these microbial communities.
We may be born with a sterile gut, 100% human but by the time we are 3 years old, we are 90% microbial. You are only 10% of your body. From a genetic material standpoint, our human DNA only accounts for 1% of all the DNA in and on our bodies. There are 20,000 human genes but as many as 20 million microbial genes. Your gastrointestinal tract, skin and various other surfaces contain and are covered in at least 10x more cells (over 100 trillion) than all the rest of your cells combined! These cells consist mostly of microbes. The majority of these microbes inhabiting our gut are bacteria but they also include fungi like candida and an ancient class of organism called archaea which are similar to bacteria and exist all over the world, even in the most extreme environments like volcanoes. Archaea have been around for 4 billion years, before there was even breathable oxygen on Earth, making them one of the oldest species on the planet. They are very hearty and have been found surviving in volcanoes, deep sea sulfur gas and lava vents and deep in the ice. Our microbiome also includes viruses which number in the quadrillions. Despite the significant number of microbes in our intestines, their total combined weight only amounts to about 3 pounds.
These organisms do a lot more than just digest food. The gut has 500 million neurons, 5x more neurons than the spinal cord. It’s called the “enteric nervous system” or “the second brain” and accounts for the sayings like “Gut Instinct”, “Gut Feeling” or “Follow your Gut”. More than 30 different neuropeptides are generated in the gut. For example, the gut cells produce 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates our mood, memory, sexual desire, social behavior as well as apatite, digestion and sleep and is responsible for gut motility (the rhythmic movement of the intestinal muscles). There is some debate about how much of that serotonin actually crosses the blood-brain barrier but it is clear that serotonins precursors, 5HT does cross that barrier. 40-50% of the dopamine (another 40% is made by the kidneys, not the brain) and 90% of melatonin, the sleep hormone, are also made in the gut. The digestive system has more nerves than the entire spinal cord. In addition, 70% of our immune function occurs in the gut. There is a well established population of immune cells named the GALT, Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue. The GALT also produces more than 50% of our circulating antibodies. 100% of our T regulatory cells, a specialized sub-population of T cells that act to suppress immune response, thereby maintaining homeostasis and self-tolerance, are located in the lining of the gut. Hormones, as many as 26 different kinds, are also produced by the microbes in our gut. Its importance can’t be overstated. Our pancreas makes more than 17 different types of digestive enzymes (not just insulin) but the bacteria in our gut generate over 1000 different kinds.
On the other end of the compound spectrum is amyloid. The waste product which, when allowed to build up too much in the brain, leads to Alzheimer’s disease, is also produced in the gut. It is generated by inflammation, and just like with the healthy compounds like serotonin, dopamine and melatonin, when levels of amyloid are abnormal, caused by an unhealthy gut, digestive function becomes even more severely impaired. In the same way that amyloid disrupts the nerve function in the brain, it also impacts on nerve function in the gut.
In women, 1 course of antibiotic increases the risks for a major depressive event and a generalized anxiety even by 24% and 17% for the next year!. 2 rounds, increases the risks for those events by 54% and 44%!. Why? Because 15% of the cells lining the gut are enteric endocrine cells, meaning, they produce hormones and neuropeptides. 90% of the serotonin and 40% of the dopamine in our bodies is produced by these cells in the gut, not the brain. Another 40% of the dopamine is generated in the tubules of the kidneys. When the gut is damaged, which occurs with antibiotics, those compounds are not generated and your psychiatric resilience is reduced significantly. Other significant contributors to poor gut health are such common things like anti-inflammatories, acid reducers as well as a poor diet contaminated with lots of chemicals, especially glyphosate from Roundup. There is evidence that probiotics cause just as much damage to the diversity of the gut flora as antibiotics do because of the “mono culture” aspect of them. It’s a $40 billion a year industry.
The gut microbiome also impacts on GABA in the brain. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the mammalian central nervous system. It plays the principal role in reducing neuronal excitability throughout the nervous system which may be the reason why the gut microbiome seems to affect mood. Beneficial bacteria in the gut will increase GABA receptors in the brain to alleviate mood disorders like chronic depression. Low levels of GABA are linked to depression and mood disorders. It was demonstrated that administration for 4 weeks of Lactobacillus, a beneficial gut bacterium, to mice, promotes consistent changes in GABA receptors in specific brain regions with accompanying reductions in anxiety and depression-related behaviors.
There is a bidirectional flow of neuronal information between the gut and the brain. The connection is made via the Vagus nerve. In the brain, it originates in a part of the brainstem (one of the most ancient, “reptilian” parts of the brain) called the medulla oblongata. This are plays a crucial role in such automatic functions as breathing and sneezing. In addition to impacting on gut function and receiving information from the gut, the vagus nerve interfaces with the parasympathetic control of the heart and lungs. Short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), compounds discussed more below, are compounds made by beneficial bacteria in our gut and they send messages via the vagus nerve back to the brain signaling that the gut is healthy. If these compounds are not produced, as you find in a low-fiber, high animal product diet, this signal is missing. SCFAs also travel directly via the bloodstream to the brain.
An important, recently identified microbe known as Akkermansia, is an exceptional immune system booster. You can’t take it as a probiotic. It has to come from within. Pomegranates triple the amount in just 1 month. Cranberries help too. They are also vulnerable to antibiotics which wipe them out within 48 hours (Biaxin), taking 3-4 weeks to reset themselves but only if supported with a healthy diet. A study was done looking at response to chemotherapy in cancer patients with respect to presence or absence of Akkermansia. If you have it, you respond. If not, you don’t.
Oxalobacter formigenes is an oxalate-degrading anaerobic bacterium that colonizes the large intestines of numerous vertebrates, including humans. O. formigenes and humans share a beneficial symbiosis. Many antibiotics kill O. formigenes increasing your risks for developing kidney stones. Some greens, like beet and spinach, contain high levels of oxalates although most people tolerate them just fine however, some, prone to getting kidney stones, need to make sure they keep their microbiome healthy.
The beneficial bacterium Lactobacillus uses cobalt and magnesium rather than iron to survive. This is one of the reasons it is so valuable. It does not need to compete for iron which is what the vast of the other microbes rely on. It’s found in many fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi but it is also found in sourdough bread.
The gut microbiome and the brain have direct communication via the Vagus nerve. With a healthy gut, the signals work appropriately. With an unhealthy gut, the signals are not, tending towards stimulating over eating and craving, addictive eating behaviors.
It is estimated that 70% of gut species are pathological, meaning unfriendly, and are in constant battle to overtake the good bacteria which don’t colonize (get comfortably established) and need to be continuously replenished. It’s only the healthy bacteria which make the compound butyrate, a short chain fatty acid (see below for more on these compounds) which heals the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. The balance between the gut microbes is dramatically impacted by the foods we eat, medications we take and even our stress level.
One course of antibiotics kills 60% of your healthy bacteria, which then affects proper immune function and nutrient absorption. It can take a month to recover. Some microbiome researchers suggest that it can take many months, even years for the microbiome to fully recover from antibiotics depending on the duration and frequency of treatment. In addition, Non steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like Motrin and Aspirin can break down the gut wall also contributing to a poor microbiome. Other common medications which impact on the gut include birth control pills and acid reducing medications.
Our pancreas only produces 17 digestive enzymes but the gut microbiome, when healthy, contains thousands of different enzymes.
EXERCISE increases the amount of beneficial bacteria there is in the gut which make SCFAs. Exercise also reduces cortisol. This is our stress response hormone and starts to naturally go up i the early morning, around 5 am. It ebbs and flows over the course of the day in response to stress. Persistently elevated levels of cortisol however damages the microbiome. Exercise also enhances the tight junctions in the gut wall preventing leaky gut and gut inflammation. Emotional stress can reduce the amount of the good bacteria, partly by impacting on cortisol levels.
Chronic alcohol consumption also alters the gut microbiome. This alone contributes to inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) which contributes the the cirrhosis (scarring) which occurs in the liver. This chronic liver inflammation is a significant contributor to liver cancer as well.
Healthy gut bacteria thrive on fiber which is why it’s an important part of our diet. There are many types of fiber digested by different types of bacteria. When fiber is broken down, short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are formed which are the “missing piece” in the modern Western diet. These SCFAs have numerous beneficial effects such as: preventing leaky gut, type 2 diabetes and cancer. They help the immune system work better and lower cholesterol levels. The more fiber you consume, the better. Once you improve your diet by increasing dietary fiber from fruits and vegetables, it takes about 28 days for the microbiome to adapt and start producing SCFAs.
The three major SCFAs, propionate, butyrate, and acetate, each play a unique role in the body.
- Propionate can lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, protect against buildup of the atherosclerotic plaque in arteries, and improve digestive health. It also activates immune cells.
- Butyrate is a main form of energy for gut cells in the colon, and it promotes a healthy colon, as well as having anti-inflammatory effects. It also stimulates angiogenesis to nurture wound healing, and it guides stem cells to morph into different types of organs.
- Acetate is released into peripheral tissues where it stimulates leptin, which suppresses hunger. 16
Other microbiome metabolites can also promote health.
- The bacteria Lactobacillus plantarum , for example, produces metabolites that stimulate an anti-inflammatory response by intestinal stem cells. This can decrease inflammation in the gut and set the stage for intestinal healing. In studies of kimchi, the spicy fermented Korean condiment contains Lactobacillus plantarum which has been discovered to produce a bacterial product that protects against influenza A infection.
- Lignans are plant polyphenols that serve as prebiotics. They are metabolized by the gut microbiome to produce bio-actives known as enterodiol and enterolactone which have been shown to suppress the development of breast cancer.
- P-cresol and hippurate are also metabolites made in the gut that reduce stress and anxiety (they can be enhanced by eating chocolate).
- Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland found that a diet rich in whole grains and fiber causes bacteria to produce indolepropionic acid, another metabolite that protects against type 2 diabetes.
Bacteria are very good at adapting to their environment. Within an hour, you have doubling of certain bacterial populations and within 24-48 hours, you start to have die-off of other, beneficial bacteria. These changes are at the species level. It has been well established that switching from a high fiber (plant-based) diet to a more “protein-based” or, in other words, meat-based (Standard American) along with a high proportion of refined carbohydrates, microbiome changes occur quickly. You have loss of bacteria which ferment fibers and you get an overgrowth of putrefactive bacteria, those which ferment amino acids. AAs, simple sugars and fats are mostly absorbed in the small intestine but some of them make their way to the large intestine. Some of these putrefactive bacteria have been linked to colon cancer. Their number is much higher in colon cancer patients. These bacteria produce the compounds putricine and cadaverine, which are genotoxic agents (they damage DNA in colon cells). If you are consuming the type of fermentable fiber which facilitates the growth of lactic acid producing bacteria (Lactobaccilus, Bfidobacteria, S. Mutans, S. Thermophillus), it limits the growth of putrefactive bacteria.
The #1 predictor of a healthy gut is the amount and variety of plants you consume.
You should shoot for consuming 30 different kinds of plants a week.
Plants are the only source of fiber, and there are 100s of types of fiber, in various combinations in the various plants we eat.. You do NOT get any from animal products. There are over 300,000 different plants which humans can eat. Our microbiome is capable of digesting all of these although not simultaneously. Out biome adjusts to what we feed it. The more varied our diet, the more varied, and the healthier, our microbiome. The less varied your microbiome, the greater your risk of developing coronary artery disease, heart failure and diabetes. The Hadza, a tribe in Tanzania, are thought to have one of the healthiest gut microbiomes and they have microbes in their guts which are not seen at all in people western culture. Their diet consists almost exclusively of plants and they. Have around 8000 different consumable plants to choose from. The average Hadzan eats around 2000 different types of plants over their lifetime and about 100-150 grams of fiber a day. The average American only consumes only 14 grams of fiber a day and the bulk of that comes from only 3 vegetables: corn, rice and wheat. As mentioned above, you should shoot for as much variety of plants you can, 30 per week is an ideal goal. If you consume fewer than the same 10 ever week, that can also contribute to dysbiosis by only propagating those bacteria which consume those plants and their fibers. Variety of plants leads to the vast complexity of your microbiome. The more complex, the better.
Eating sugar, meat and dairy adversely changes the balance of gut microbes feeding unhealthy ones allowing them to overgrow. Whole fruits and vegetables, including “live” foods like fermented and pickled foods promote the growth of healthy bacteria. These foods are called “pre-biotics”. There is a list at the bottom of this section.
The more fat you eat, the more fat you absorb. On the surface this sounds pretty logical however, when you eat a high fat diet, especially if you consume a lot of animal products, you develop a microbiome makeup which favors fat-metabolizing bacteria. As a result, you can absorb as much as 200 additional calories a day from the foods you eat. That’s 1400 calories a week, almost an entire days-worth of calories from a healthy diet. It quickly adds up.
COMMON THINGS THAT DAMAGE THE MICROBIOME
- Processed food. Highly refined foods feed unhealthy microbes and destroy the gut lining.
- Alcohol. It breaks down the gut lining in addition to adding processed sugars.
- Smoking. It impairs blood flow to the gut capillaries impairing mucosal integrity and function.
- Sugar sweetened beverages. Again, the sugar and other chemicals wreak all kinds of havoc.
- Lack of diversity in your diet. The single most important predictor of gut health is the amount and variety of whole fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- Antibiotics. 1 course of cipro for example, commonly prescribed for urinary infections, wipes out 50% of your healthy gut and it can take months, if not years to recover. JUST 1 COURSE!.
- Antacids. Stomach acids kill unhealthy bacteria but keep all the gut microbes in check. Chronically reduced acid allow bacterial overgrowth in the stomach and small intestine. They affect how we digest proteins and absorb nutrients.
- Probiotics. See the Supplements section above.
- Stress. Chronic stress leads to continuous production of hormones such as cortisol which turn down the digestive process and impact negatively on gut microbes
- Too little or too much exercise. Both lead to physical stresses.
- Lack of sleep. There are a variety of mechanisms where lack of sleep impacts on the body, including digestion and the balance of healthy gut microbes.
- C-section birth. The baby loses out on being exposed to all the vaginal and perineal microbes which kick-start populating the gut, which is sterile at birth.
- Living in urban environments. The lack of exposure to the microbes found in nature leads to a limited gut microbiome.
- Hyper-cleanliness and using too many antibacterial chemicals. When you are too clean, you don’t let our bodies develop a balance of microbes or an immune response to them.
- Food additives like emulsifiers. These also break down the cellular structure of the gut wall.
- Artificial sweeteners. They are detrimental to both the gut microbes and the gut lining.
- Tri Methyl Amine Oxide (TMAO). This damaging compound is found naturally in some deep water fish but comes primarily from our diet. It’s converted from choline and carnitine from such sources as red meat and egg yolks. It is also added as a “nutrient” in many protein, “muscle-building” shakes. There is more about it below but it is very damaging to the gut, not to mention causing atherosclerosis and unwanted promoting clotting.
- Anything high in fat: Butter, lard, red meat, processed meat, fried foods, dairy. What happens when you eat fats
- The liver secretes bile which helps to break down the fat so you can absorb it and use it for energy. Bile is toxic to healthy bacteria however so healthy bacteria diminish.
- Bile causes growth of bile-tolerant bacteria which break down the bile forming secondary bile acids which are associate with inflammation and colon cancer.
- Bile irritates the lining of the gut. This allows bacterial particles and other proteins not meant to cross the gut barrier to cross it and lead to inflammation
- Carnitine and Choline in animal products (eggs, cheese, chicken, red meat) are broken down in the bacteria and forms TMAO (Tri Methyl Amine Oxide) in the blood. TMAO is associated with build up of coronary artery plaques which leads to cardiovascular disease. It alters how we metabolize cholesterol. TMAO spikes within hours of eating meat if you eat animal products regularly. However, if you follow a plant-based diet, the gut bacteria are altered into a form that does not produce TMAO and even if you eat an occasional piece of meat, TMAO levels stay low.
- Chewing Gum. This very common habit impacts in a number of ways on the body.
- Artificial sweeteners damage the gut lining directly.
- All the other added chemicals are harmful in many ways.
- They stimulate production of excessive amounts of digestive enzymes, when they are not needed. This leads to increased inflammation.
- Excessive chewing leads to inflammation of the jaw joint, aka, the TMJ (temporal-mandibular joint).
- Aerophagia, swallowing excessive amounts of air, contributes to gas and bloating.
- The flavors in gum stimulate cravings and lead to excessive eating.
LEAKY GUT is a condition most common associated with gut disruption. A healthy microbiome is crucial for a healthy gut lining. When the lining breaks down, particles of food and even microbes, are exposed to the immune system which recognizes them as foreign, leading to inflammatory reactions and even autoimmune diseases. Contributors include:
- Medications like antibiotics, NSAIDS, acid reducers, metformin (the most commonly prescribed diabetes drug) and even antihistamines.
- Gluten, if you have Celiac disease or true gluten sensitivity
- Eating excessively large meals.
- Eating large amounts of fats, especially saturated fats.
- Fructose, without fiber. This is essentially all processed foods and sweetened beverages.
- Snacking and grazing. The gut needs to rest.
- Over-sanitized environments.
Dysbiosis does not only affect the intestines, but also the nose and mouth. Mouth rinses, especially those which contain alcohol and chlorhexidine kill beneficial bacteria allowing the bad ones to overgrow. Sugary drinks also impact on bacterial balance. Studies have shown that those who use mouth rinses have no increase in the arterial-relaxing compound nitric oxide (NO) which comes from dietary nitrates from fruits and vegetables.
24% of over 1000 marketed drugs were tested and were shown to have a negative impact on the gut microbiome. They include some commonly prescribed drugs as antibiotics, NSAIDS like ibuprofen and aspirin, acid reducers, metformin (the most commonly prescribed diabetes drug) and even antihistamines.
Probiotics: How they work and how they don’t. First of all, we still don’t know what they do exactly and how individuals benefit. Each person’s microbiome is unique and so how they interact with probiotics is also unique. With the exception of fecal transplants, there is no evidence that probiotics “colonize” the intestine. They are allochthonous members, meaning, they only take up very transient residence and only if so cured regularly. One of their proposed mechanisms of benefit is that they make nutrients more available for absorption as well as producing bioactive compounds which strengthen immunity and shift away from inflammation. Probiotics do interact with immune cells, dendritic cells, gut cells, dietary nutrients and the existing bacteria, directly and indirectly delivering benefits. Some transient microbes help to tighten the gut barrier. Others trigger neurotransmitters stimulating muscle contraction for better intestinal motility.
The benefit of probiotic supplements is a bit controversial given how few bacterial they contain relative to the amount in your healthy intestinal tract. Some think they are useless and even potentially detrimental however if you are on an antibiotic for some reason probiotics may help a bit. Most contain only a few (as few as 3) species of bacteria whereas there are thousands in the normal human intestinal tract. They rarely contain more than a few billion bacteria, most of which are already dead because of improper storage and we have trillions in our healthy intestines. The best ones are refrigerated since this helps keep the bacteria alive and should contain at least 30 billion colonies per pill. Supplements overall are not well-regulated and many contain no active ingredients at all so do your research. In addition, 99% of probiotics are produced from the digestive tracts of cows, which are ruminants. Their GI tracts are different from our so it stands to reason that their GI microbes are not the same either. The probiotic market is over $36 billion a year so they will tell you anything to sell more product.
Yogurt might claim to be good for gut health but be careful. Most brands are loaded up with added sugars which promote unhealthy gut bacteria. In addition, the dairy is just not good for you in addition, to the fact that dairy itself contains lactose, a form of unhealthy sugar. Lastly, most brands are not actually fermented but hav some bacteria sprinkled into them at the end just so they can claim they contain “active cultures”.
One should not think that only the gastrointestinal tract has microbes. Your skin, which is actually the largest organ in the human body, has trillions of bacteria and other microbes covering the surface as well. They serve many purposes and our obsession with cleanliness is actually making us more vulnerable to infections and less healthy. Soaps not only kill too many of the healthy microbes on our skin, they are actually causing cancer. Many commercial soaps have various cancer-causing chemicals in them, most commonly triclosan. I am not saying that when you are around sick people or go to a public bathroom you shouldn’t wash your hands! However, we are a little too obsessed with sterility. This is also part of the reason for the explosion of environmental allergies seen in most developed countries.
There is strong evidence that a poorly functioning microbiome is responsible for various diseases including many autoimmune diseases including Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Celiac disease. The fact is that 33% of us carry the gene which makes us susceptible to developing Celiac disease yet only 1% of the population develops it. Studies have shown that transplanting the gut bacteria from mice with celiac disease into mice which do not leads to those healthy mice developing the disease. In humans, human fecal (poop) transplants from healthy donors help re-establish a healthy gut in patients suffering from various intestinal conditions including C. Diff (clostridium difficile). Your microbiome health is extremely important.
Prebiotics are foods that promote a good gut microbiome. They have many benefits including:
- Better Gut Health and Improved Digestion
- Enhanced Immune Function
- Lower Inflammation
- Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
- Aids in Weight Loss
- Protects Bone Health
- Regulates Hormone Levels and Mood
The top 3 pre-biotic foods are:
- onions and garlic (raw preferably but cooked also OK)
- whole grains like oats and barley
- greens, especially dandelion greens, kale, spinach, arugula and chard
A list of other great prebiotics includes:
- fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles or kimchi
- bananas, especially green ones.
- brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, Brussels sprouts…)
- sourdough bread, which have an extremely beneficial bacteria lactobacillus
- Rye bread and Pumpernickel bread (made from rye flour). They are rich in resistant starch, a type of fiber that helps gut microbes produce butyrate. There are 6 different mechanisms through which the gut microbes are supported by it and harmful bacteria are diminished.
- flax seeds (make sure to grind them)
The mycobiome represents the fungal part of the greater microbiome (like an ethnic community which makes up a larger community of people in a city). The foods which promote a healthy mycobiome include all of the above but a few standouts are:
- Brussels sprouts and other brassicas
- garlic and other alums
- lentils and other beans and legumes
- apple cider vinegar
Keep in mind that the GI tract starts at the lips and mouth and also includes the nose and sinuses. Your mouth and sinuses are filled with normal, natural microbes and the mouth is where digestion starts. We are obsessed with mouth cleanliness. Too much so. There are studies that show that chronic use of “antibacterial” mouthwashes increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 50% because they kill beneficial bacteria which help with blood sugar metabolism. Also, mouthwashes negate the beneficial blood pressure effects of high nitric oxide foods like beets and greens whose effects can be measured within an hour of consumption. Brush and floss regularly but stop tongue brushing and using mouthwashes. Keep the toothpaste as natural and chemical free as possible. Here is a link to some great ones.
This is how influential gut bacteria can be or metabolism and health. If you take the gut bacteria from an obese mouse and transplant it into the gut of a skinny mouse and change nothing else, the skinny mouse becomes obese. What’s even more interesting is that if you take gut bacteria from an obese human and transplant it into the gut of a skinny mouse and change nothing else, the skinny mouse becomes obese as well. What this tells us is that the gut microbiome controls how we process and even metabolize food.
The following 3 condition must occur for someone to develop Celiac disease:
- They must have been exposed to gluten. 100% of humans fit this criterion.
- The must carry the gene predisposing them to developing Celiac Disease, which ⅓ of humans carry.
- There has to be a change in the gut lining and microbiome which sets up an environment for an inflammatory reaction to occur causing the body’s immune system to produce the antibodies leading to Celiac Disease.
When you damage the gut, you change how genes are expressed and how the immune system reacts which it to go on attack.
When a baby is born, they GI tract is sterile. From day 1, it gets introduced to microbes which colonize the gut and set up its microbiome which is fully adult-like by the age of 3. During pregnancy, the vaginal microbiome changes to one more similar to the mother’s gut microbiome. As a result, during vaginal childbirth, the baby is already getting a good dose of healthy gut bacteria. This does not occur during a cesarean delivery. This is why some obstetricians have started to swab the mouths of cesarean delivered babies with mother’s vaginal secretions. Sounds gross but it makes sense from a microbiome point of view. Breast feeding is also very important with respect to microbiome. Breast milk contains over 100 different types of human milk oligosaccharides. These have no clear nutritional value for the baby but they are crucial since they feed the healthy gut bacteria allowing them to flourish. These oligosaccharides should be considered prebiotics.
The three most important issues impacting negatively on a child’s microbiome during the first 2 years of life are:
- Cesarean delivery, rather than vaginal. Kids born via Cesarean section develop a microbiome more similar to mother’s skin rather than her vagina and GI tract.
- Antibiotic treatment. It can take a month for the gut to get back to normal after a round of antibiotics.
- Bottle Feeding as opposed to breastfeeding. Breast milk contain healthy bacteria and viruses which are passed along to the baby to help populate their gut. It also contains oligosaccharides which feed healthy gut bacteria.
When these three occur, there is a significant increased risk for such conditions as: Diabetes (both type 1 and type 2), Obesity and Allergies, because of immune system disruption.
The most import thing that impacts on the microbiome after early childhood is the foods we eat. Medications do play a role as well but the #1 predictor of a healthy gut is still the diversity of the plants one consumes. Not animal products. The plants.
Fiber should not be looked at as one isolated type of compound. Each plant has a different type of fiber which makes it up. The soluble portion of the fiber dissolves in water and passes through the small intestine into the large intestine where it is transformed by the gut bacteria into SCFAs like butyrate, propionate and acetate. SCFAs help good bacteria to grow in the gut, prevent leaky gut, communicate directly with the immune system and prevent colon cancer. Butyrate in particular is extremely important as it improves the health of the cells lining the gut leading to a healthier mucus layer. This mucus layer separates our immune system from what is inside the gut. When this mucus barrier is thin or missing, our own immune system starts to have access to the gut bacteria, identifying it as foreign leading to inflammation which impacts negatively on the body as a whole. Butyrate also impacts on the enterocyte (gut wall cells) genes causing them to make less cholesterol (a natural process). It also crosses the blood brain barrier improving mood.
In an unhealthy gut microbiome, more TMA (Tri Methyl Amine) is produced by bacteria. The TMA is then converted in the liver into TMAO (Tri Methyl Amine Oxide). TMAO causes inflammation, causes platelets to become stickier leading to strokes and heart attacks and increases the risks for Diabetes and Heart Failure. TMAO is found naturally in fish but most of it comes from the compounds choline and carnitine, found in meat, especially red meat, eggs and dairy. These compounds are the precursors to TMA. In people who eat a plant-based diet, even if they are given red meat or eggs to eat, they do not produce TMAO because they lack the unhealthy bacteria which lead to its production. Omnivores on the other hand have a measurable spike in TMAO when they consume animal products since they have these unhealthy bacteria populating their microbiomes. What is most important to note is that after only 28 days of discontinuing to eat animal products, meat eaters’ microbiomes changed enough that they no longer produced TMA when challenged with animal products. The gut, and the body in general WANTS to heal and does so very quickly when given the correct, healthy ingredients!
Taste bud sensitivity and neuro-adaptation are driven by your gut.
Although dietary improvements will have some immediate effects, real stable gut health can take 1-2 years. In animal models, positive gut microbial changes occur within a day of improving your diet. In humans, positive changes start to occur in as little as 5 days.
95% of serotonin in the body is produced in the gut. Serotonin impacts on mood and energy levels overall but in the gut, it also impacts on motility. Changes in the gut microbiome leads to changes in the amount of gut serotonin is produced which leads to changes in mood and gut motility (IBS). Serotonin is produced in a circadian pattern, starting to be produced at 4 am. When we mess up the relationship between gut bacteria, serotonin production gets out of whack then the rhythm of our intestine. When it’s too slow, you get constipated. When it’s too fast, you get diarrhea. In both cases, you impact on pain, nerve sensitivity, and you influence mood making people anxious or depressed. For years, we thought that people’s anxiety and mood threw their gut off when all the while it was the other way around.
Elimination diets can make you feel better in the short term but that may not be good for your gut in the long term. Its better to follow a FODMAPs elimination diet first. FODMAPS (Fermentable Oligo Di Mono-saccharides And Polyols) are short-chain carbohydrates that some people can’t digest. They reach the far end of the intestine where the gut bacteria reside. See below for more information about FODMAPs.
Probiotics do not stay in the colon. They pass right through. In fact, most of them don’t even make it out of the stomach where the strong acids destroy them anyway. They may be marginally helpful but they do not create lasting change. If a probiotic works, it bolsters up the good bacteria temporarily but only for a few days. Some studies actually show that probiotics can actually be as harmful to the gut lining as taking a 2-week course of antibiotics. See the “supplement” section above for more guidelines about probiotics.
Muscle is an organ system in constant communication with the rest of the body. The gut is also in contact with muscle. With an inflammatory gut profile, you increase intestinal permeability which causes leakage of lipopolysaccharides, also known as lipoglycans and endotoxins. They are large molecules found in the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria. These endotoxins fire up the immune system leading to loss of muscle mass. When you hear of someone getting a bad infection and developing “sepsis”, this is the endotoxin which causes that severe, life-threatening reaction. Butyrate, one of the SCFAs from prebiotic fiber, reduces intestinal permeability. This leads to less endotoxin crossing the gut barrier and results in less inflammation which leads to increased muscle mass. It’s a feedback loop. Exercise does improve gut health by increasing the populations of bacteria which produce SCFAs so that more butyrate is produced. Can only get prebiotics from plant food.
There are a number of companies and services now offering microbiome analysis. They will actually analyze the microbial composition of your intestinal tract (by essentially analyzing your poop) and give you recommendations about what to eliminate and what to add into your diet to improve your microbiome. One such company is Viome.
SLEEP AND THE GUT. Your intestines repair themselves at night, just like the rest of the body. All the toxins we consume, knowingly or unknowingly, cause damage to the gut lining. As much as 10% of the gut regenerates at night. To assist in this repair, gastric acid and saliva secretion decreases at night. In addition, gut motility (the contraction waves which move material through the gut) decreases substantially at night. This is partly why you should go to bed on an empty stomach. You do not need to be expending energy on digestion. Eat nothing with in 2 hours of sleep. If you struggle with reflux, also avoid all liquids, including even water.
GUT MICROBES AND ESTROGEN LEVELS. Scientific research has demonstrated that gut microbes regulate many aspects of human physiology, including intestinal permeability, the absorption of nutrients from food, and immunity. However, recent studies suggest that gut microbes play another crucial role in the human body by regulating circulating estrogen levels. Estrogen plays many vital roles in the human body. It regulates body fat deposition and adipocyte differentiation, female reproductive function, cardiovascular health, bone turnover, and cell replication. Gut dysbiosis has the potential to alter the estrobolome, the collection of microbes capable of metabolizing estrogens, disrupting estrogen homeostasis, and impairing these processes, promoting the development of chronic diseases.
The estrobolome modulates the enterohepatic (gut-blood-liver) circulation of estrogens and affects circulating and excreted estrogen levels. Normally, if there is excess estrogen in the blood, the liver packages it up along with carrier proteins, sends it into the gut where it is then excreted along with your stool. Microbes in the estrobolome produce beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme that deconjugates estrogens into their active forms allowing it to get reabsorbed into the circulation leading to elevated levels of estrogens. Beta-glucuronidase activity produces active, unbound estrogen that is capable of binding to estrogen receptors and influencing estrogen-dependent physiological processes.
When the gut microbiome is healthy, the estrobolome produces just the right amount of beta-glucuronidase to maintain normal, healthy estrogen levels. However, when gut dysbiosis is present, beta-glucuronidase activity may be altered. This produces either a deficiency or an excess of free estrogen, thus promoting the development of estrogen-related diseases like
- PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian disease)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Breast, Endometrial, Cervical, and Ovarian Cancer
- Prostate Cancer
Diet and lifestyle factors that are commonly known to disrupt the gut microbiome also have the potential to disrupt the estrobolome. Antibiotics and hormonal contraceptives have been found to alter both the gut microbiota and estrogen levels within the body, suggesting that they may have an adverse impact on the estrobolome. Diet is another important factor that may affect the estrobolome. A large body of research demonstrates that diet significantly impacts the gut microbiota; considering that the estrobolome is part of the overall microbiota, it is also likely to be affected by the foods we choose to consume. The best predictor of gut health is the variety of fruits and vegetables one consumes. Fiber, which you only get from fruits and vegetables is crucial to gut health. Excessive amounts of animal products disrupt the gut microbiome.
THE GUT AND CHOLESTEROL. It’s not just cholesterol. It’s LDL and even more important is the particle size. Small, dense particles are the problem. LDL is not actually cholesterol. It’s actually a lipoprotein which transports cholesterol. LDL transports cholesterol to your cells. Liver, kidney, muscle… because every cell needs cholesterol to make the cell membrane as well as support metabolic functions like hormone production. When the LDL gets to the cell, the cholesterol gets cleaved off and the LDL then goes back to the liver and gets recycled. The LDL is now smaller since it donated the cholesterol.
HDL brings the cholesterol back from the cells or damaged atherosclerotic arteries back to the liver. HDL is important if you have too much of the bad, mostly small dense cholesterol around.
In the gut, the 100 trillion gut bacteria are busy metabolizing the foods we eat, making them into amino acids, fatty acids, extracting and even making vitamins and minerals… We also have the highest concentration of immune cells in the gut. This is because the gut is actually the biggest exposure we have to the outside world. As such, it needs to have the most robust immune system available to respond to potential foreign invaders. They are separated by the git barrier. When this barrier is broken down, our immune cells start to kill the bacteria in our gut, which it thinks is foreign. This results in the release of endotoxin. Endotoxin is a type of pyrogen, or fever-causing agent, and is a component of the exterior cell wall of Gram-negative bacteria, like E. coli (see image). Endotoxin is a lipopolysaccharide or LPS, consisting of the lipid A portion containing fatty acids and disaccharide phosphates, core polysaccharides and O-antigen. The lipid A portion of LPS is the cause of the molecule’s endotoxin activity. While lipid A does not directly harm any tissue, the immune cells of humans and animals alike see it as an indicator for the presence of bacteria. Thus, these cells stimulate a response that is meant to fend off the unwelcome intruders. This reaction is entirely innate, i.e. no previous exposure to endotoxin is required. When there is a lot of endotoxin present in the blood, toxic shock can occur. When in the bloodstream, endotoxin binds to LDL cholesterol which has a very high affinity for it. In fact, whenever we are inflamed, our production of LDL increases to deal with the increased amount of endotoxin which is circulating in our bloodstream. This is why you should do LDL blood levels over a few days or at times when you are not stressed or ill. The LDL may be artificially high, a result of the body’s attempt to soak up the endotoxin. The receptor to which the endotoxin binds to on the LDL particle also happens to be the same receptor which binds the cholesterol particle which was just “donated” to the cell. This results in the LDL particle not being able to get back to the liver or metabolism, allowing the endotoxin bound to its surface to remain in circulation causing an inflammatory response by our immune system. The inflammatory response leads to the formation of a foam cell, essentially an LDL particle with all these immune cells stuck to it, leading to plaque formation.
So, saturated fat, which does increase LDL cholesterol, is not such a bad thing unless there is chronic inflammation at the level of the gut. It all goes back to the gut. The mucin, or mucus layer, separates the immune system from the bacteria in the gut. Mucin is produced by the single layer of cells, enterocytes, making up the gut lining. In order to produce mucin, the enterocytes need energy, primarily in the form of short chain fatty acids (SCFFAs) which are produced by the healthy, commensal bacteria in the large bowel, when they ferment the fiber we consume, exclusively from fruits and vegetables. The SCFFAs consists of compounds such as butyrate, acetate, propionate and lactate. Up to 90% of these SCFFAs go straight to the gut cells to produce mucin. These SCFFAs are also known as “post-biotics”. Postbiotics are essentially the metabolic waste of healthy bacteria which result from consumption of fiber which these bacteria break down.
When you replace healthy carbohydrates, the healthy whole fruits and vegetables where fiber comes from, with refined carbohydrates and sugars, other unhealthy bacteria which thrive on these simpler sugars overgrow. They basically occupy the space normally taken up by the healthy bacteria. The more sugar you eat, the more insulin resistance occurs at the level of the gut cells. As a result, they can’t use the sugars for energy and can’t produce mucin. In fact, the remaining mucin actually gets broken down.
Great sources of the fiber so important for gut health include oats, barley, mushrooms and just about any other whole fruit and vegetable you can consume. There are many types of fiber including inulin, which comes from things like leeks, onions, garlic and artichokes and pectin, which comes from apples.
I mentioned at the beginning of this section Louis Pasteur, the French biologist and microbiologist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. What is less well known is that he had an ongoing debate with another well-known French physician and physiologist, Claude Bernard who was one of the first to suggest the use of blind experiments to ensure the objectivity of scientific observations. Bernard originated the term “milieu intérieur” (internal environment), and the associated concept of homeostasis (balance). Pasteur was convinced that the microbe caused the disease whereas Bernard insisted that it was the internal environment, i.e. the health of the patient, which dictated the severity of the disease resulting from infection. Pasteur finally conceded in his later years that in fact, Bernard was correct and that the milieu was more important. It’s all about your health. Drugs don’t make you healthy, they only manage your disease. Only YOU can reverse your diseases.
Look at this document for more information on the microbiome and how important fiber is for microbiome health: FIBER and the MICROBIOME
PEANUT ALLERGIES and AFLATOXIN
Peanut allergies are on the rise and the exact cause is not clear. Ultimately, it probably has to do with poor gut function allowing peanut proteins to cross the barrier leading to an immune reaction. Some people blame aflatoxin. Aflatoxin is a mycotoxin, compound produced by a fungus which grows during the storage of peanuts. They also can grow on grains and other stored plant products. They are poisonous carcinogens and mutagens that are produced by certain molds like Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, which grow in soil, decaying vegetation, hay, and grains. Although this can be a concerning contaminant causing many physical side effects, including severe allergic reactions, roasting and processing into peanut butter can reduce the amount by almost 90%. The issues of rising peanut allergies has more to do with changes in the microbiome and the introduction of peanut proteins to our immune system through a damaged and leaky gut.
Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in grains like wheat, rye, spelt and barley. Of the gluten-containing grains, wheat is by far the most commonly consumed. Gluten consists of two main proteins, glutenin and gliadin. Gliadin is responsible for most of the negative health effects from gluten. When flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form a sticky network that has a glue-like consistency. This glue-like property makes the dough elastic and gives bread the ability to rise when baked. It also provides a chewy, satisfying texture. Interestingly, the name gluten in Latin means “glue” and is derived from this glue-like property of wet dough. Because of its texture, it’s used in many processed foods to give them the same texture, feel and bulk.
For centuries, wheat flour was used to make adhesives. Although other flours were also used, the gluten in wheat flour crossed-linked proteins making it very sticky. It was called paste. It is the origin of the word pastry, which is primarily made from wheat flour, as is the word pasta, whose name also originates from paste. When pasta is cooked too much, it becomes sticky and gooey. The Italians prefer their pasta less cooked, also known as al dente, loosely meaning “with a little bite or crunch”.
Before going on, it is important to appreciate that gluten is a healthy nutrient for the VAST majority of people and should not be so obsessively avoided. It provides fiber, an extremely important and sorely lacking component of our diet and it’s also a pre-biotic. In fact, a prospective study of 100,000 people showed that the more gluten was avoided, the more likely people were to suffer a heart attack.
Gluten also has some important healthy functions in the body. It boosts immune function and has been shown to help lower triglyceride levels. In addition, it adds nutrients that feed healthy bacteria in the intestinal microbiome keeping it healthier. If you are going to eliminate gluten from your diet, it is very important that you get some other healthy grains such as quinoa, sorghum or faro. In addition, be clear and understand why you are avoiding it. Almost 70% of adults are avoiding or significantly trying to avoid gluten. The “gluten-free” label has become a marketing ploy by the food companies. “Gluten-free” does not mean “healthy” and often means it is filled with other additives like extra sugar, fat and chemicals. The true incidence og gluten sensitivity is quite low, less than 5 % of the population. In a review of 10 different studies looking at people who claimed to be gluten sensitive, only 16% really were. What was more interesting was that 40% of the people who thought they were eating gluten but were not, had symptoms. This is called the “nocebo” effect. Put simply, it’s the development of symptoms when you expect to, even though there is really no reason to.
CELIAC DISEASE (CD) is a condition where people develop true, significant reactions to gluten. Аlthough thought of as an allergy to gluten, it’s actually an autoimmune reaction, like Rheumatoid Arthritis and Type 1 Diabetes. There is much more on Celiac Disease on my Diseases page. It is diagnosed by measuring antibodies to gluten in the blood although these can be falsely negative. The definitive diagnosis is made with a biopsy of the intestinal lining during an endoscopic procedure.
The following 3 condition must occur for someone to develop celiac disease:
- They must have been exposed to gluten. 100% of humans fit this criterion.
- The must carry the gene predisposing them to developing Celiac Disease, which ⅓ of humans carry.
- There has to be a change in the gut lining and microbiome which sets up an environment for an inflammatory reaction to occur causing the body’s immune system to produce the antibodies leading to Celiac Disease.
Some people are also gluten sensitive meaning they don’t have a true allergy but have bad reactions to gluten like bloating, diarrhea or constipation, or even more generalized symptoms like arthritis, headaches or fatigue. This diagnosis is a little more difficult to make and is basically done by elimination and reintroduction of gluten and assessing symptoms.
Although gluten allergy and sensitivity are not that common (~1% and 3% of the US population respectively), they are on the rise. Celiac Disease (true gluten allergy) has gone up by 400% in the last 50 years, basically since the introduction of genetically modified wheat.
There are 3 main issues with gluten:
- First, it is put into almost all processed foods and too much of anything is not good.
- Second, one of the proteins that make up gluten, gliadin, breaks down the intestinal lining in almost everyone. It breaks down the tight junctions between cells. Tight junctions are like cellular glue. This barrier breakdown can allow other molecules, like not completely digested foods, to enter the body potentially allowing inflammatory reactions to occur and can cause a variety of other symptoms. This causes a condition called “leaky gut”. Gliadin by itself is also very inflammatory.
- Thirdly, gluten breakdown compounds known as gluteomorphins are opioid compounds and are addictive, just like heroin.
The main source of gluten in our society is wheat. In 1960, a genetically modified and drought-resistant form of wheat, dwarf wheat, was introduced and became commercially available. Ironically its developer Norman Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his creation since it would help stamp out world hunger. Little did they know how much damage it would actually cause. Dwarf wheat was bio-engineered to have a much higher concentration of gliadin, an inflammatory protein, and it also contains amylopectin A, a “super starch” which raises blood sugar to a much greater degree than healthier wheat starches. This results in higher insulin levels resulting in insulin resistance which eventually results in diabetes. Since its introduction, the vast majority of the wheat grown in the world is in this form (some estimate that it represents 99% of global wheat acreage).
Modern dwarf wheat is also preserved with calcium propionate, a compound known to be neurotoxic though to contribute to many diseases including ADHD. If that wasn’t enough, in addition to contamination from regular pesticides and herbicides during the growing season, glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup) is used to dry out the wheat and kill any leaves which then make harvesting the wheat easier. This is all legal and condoned by the USDA but not by most other countries.
Modern wheat is also considerably less nutritious than wheat humans consumed before. Some of the known deficiencies include zinc, copper, iron, magnesium and selenium. They are also lacking essential amino acids because of pesticides used on them.
Gluten issues are seen much less commonly overseas (more than 10x less), especially in Europe. This is because the wheat they use is of heirloom varieties and not dwarf wheat. In addition, their wheat is non-GMO, free of pesticides and has a much lower gliadin and amylopectin A concentration.
If you have an autoimmune disease (thyroiditis, arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, lupus, multiple sclerosis…), allergies or have symptoms that no one can figure out, consider trying a gluten-free diet for a few weeks. In addition, you should try to buy only whole wheat products which are organic. Be careful of the “whole wheat” label however. There are legal ways that producers can call their products “whole” when they are really just watered-down versions of poor-quality grain products. As far as hypothyroidism is concerned, about 5% of patients also have Celiac disease. The gluten molecule is similar to thyroid cell surface molecules so antibodies to one can overlap with the other.
GLUTEOMORPHINS. There are compounds in gluten called gluteomorphins, or gliadomorphins. These are opioid-like compounds which are similar in structure to morphine and affect the brain and body in much the same way as this powerful and addictive drug. They are intermediate byproducts of gluten metabolism that can create feelings of euphoria. Gluteomorhpins can be addictive and even trigger strong withdrawal reactions in some people when gluten is removed from the diet. One of the reasons people become addicted to processed foods is because gluten is almost universally found in the manufactured foods. People are literally addicted to these unhealthy foods.
Until fairly recently it was believed that gluten was the primary protein responsible for triggering an immune response in the body but we now know that gliadin is actually the primary culprit. We now know that it is not one single protein in wheat that causes reactions in people. Over 100 proteins have been identified that can cause an immune response. These responses do not typically occur in whole wheat products, just the processed forms found in commercial and packaged foods.
Gluteomorphins result from incomplete digestion of the gluten protein. This impaired ability to fully digest gluten is caused by inadequate levels of the enzyme that cleaves gluteomorphin peptides into smaller peptides. This enzyme is called dipeptyl peptidase IV (DPP IV).
Another peptide similar in both structure and effect to gliadorphin is casomorphin, also a morphine-like compound that results from incomplete breakdown of casein, a milk protein found in dairy products. DPP IV also acts on casomorphin, which is also a seven amino acid peptide with proline in the same positions.
OTHER FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO GLUTEOMORPHIN PRODUCTION
- GENETIC ISSUES. Genetic deficiencies in DPP IV may contribute to the formation of gluteomorphins. Autistic children are thought to be deficient in DPP IV, which leads to high levels of gluteomorphins in children who consume gluten. Gluteomorphins have also been found in the urine of autistic children. Gluten-free diets sometimes can help autistic children.
- CANDIDA. Candida albicans is a yeast normally present in small quantities in the intestinal tract. In healthy individuals, candida levels are kept at normal levels by beneficial bacteria. When those friendly bacteria are low or wiped out by antibiotic use or a plant and fiber-poor diet, candida can proliferate out of control. This is often seen in a condition called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). Overgrowth of candida can lead to hypochlorhydria.
- HYPOCHLORHYDRIA. Adequate levels of hydrochloric “stomach acid” are necessary for the beginning stages of protein digestion. Without adequate stomach acid, or hypochlorhydria, proteins like gluten and casein may not be digested properly. Strong stomach acid initiates a series of digestive cascades that turn on many other digestive processes. Pepsin, produced by cells lining the stomach which is also required to digest proteins like gluten, relies on adequate stomach acid for activation. If stomach acid is inadequate, pepsin is not activated and gluten metabolism suffers. Another component of digestion that relies on adequate stomach acid is the secretion of various pancreatic enzymes that help digest food. When stomach acid is low, these enzymes are not released into the small intestine to help with digestion and the ability to digest proteins like gluten is impaired. Acid levels do tend to decrease with age however a much more common cause for lower acid is self-induced. Heartburn, reflux and indigestion medications like H2 Blockers (Pepcid, Zantac, Tagamet or their generic equivalents) or the even more potent Proton Pump Inhibitors, PPIs (Prevacid, Nexium, Protonix, Dexilant or their generic equivalents) are all available without a prescription and are the most widely used drugs in the United States. Their chronic use results in malabsorption of many minerals and macronutrients including calcium which is why they are linked to increased osteoporosis along with many other problems. People would rather eat like crap and take a medication which has downstream side effects than improve our diet and lifestyle.
- DYSBIOSIS. A third cause of impaired protein digestion is dysbiosis, an imbalance of microbes in the intestines. Dysbiosis can lead to overgrowths like candida and also plays a direct role in the final stages of gluten breakdown which takes place lower in the intestines. Imbalances in gut flora inhibit the body’s ability to cleave short gluteomorphin peptides into their individual amino acids.
Common Foods That Contain Gluten
- Pastas: raviolis, dumplings, couscous, and gnocchi
- Noodles: ramen, udon, soba (those made with only a percentage of buckwheat flour) chow mein, and egg noodles. (Note: rice noodles and mung bean noodles are gluten free)
- Breads and Pastries: croissants, pita, naan, bagels, flat-breads, cornbread, potato bread, muffins, donuts, rolls
- Crackers: pretzels, goldfish, graham crackers
- Baked Goods: cakes, cookies, pie crusts, brownies
- Cereal & Granola: corn flakes and rice puffs often contain malt extract/flavoring, granola often made with regular oats, not gluten-free oats
- Breakfast Foods: pancakes, waffles, French toast, crepes, and biscuits.
- Breading & Coating Mixes: panko breadcrumbs
- Croutons: stuffing, dressings
- Sauces & Gravies (many use wheat flour as a thickener) traditional soy sauce, cream sauces made with a roux
- Flour tortillas
- Beer (unless explicitly gluten-free) and any malt beverages (see “Distilled Beverages and Vinegars” below for more information on alcoholic beverages)
- Brewer’s Yeast
- Anything else that uses “wheat flour” as an ingredient
Foods That May Contain Gluten. These foods must be verified by reading the label or checking with the manufacturer/kitchen staff.
- Energy bars/granola bars – some bars may contain wheat as an ingredient, and most use oats that are not gluten-free
- French fries – be careful of batter containing wheat flour or cross-contact from fryers
- Potato chips – some potato chip seasonings may contain malt vinegar or wheat starch
- Processed lunch meats
- Candy and candy bars
- Soup – pay special attention to cream-based soups, which have flour as a thickener. Many soups also contain barley
- Multi-grain or “artisan” tortilla chips or tortillas that are not entirely corn-based may contain a wheat-based ingredient
- Salad dressings and marinades – may contain malt vinegar, soy sauce, flour
- Starch or dextrin if found on a meat or poultry product could be from any grain, including wheat
- Brown rice syrup – may be made with barley enzymes
- Meat substitutes made with seitan (wheat gluten) such as vegetarian burgers, vegetarian sausage, imitation bacon, imitation seafood (Note: tofu is gluten-free, but be cautious of soy sauce marinades and cross-contact when eating out, especially when the tofu is fried)
- Soy sauce (though tamari made without wheat is gluten-free)
- Self-basting poultry
- Pre-seasoned meats
- Cheesecake filling – some recipes include wheat flour
- Eggs served at restaurants – some restaurants put pancake batter in their scrambled eggs and omelets, but on their own, eggs are naturally gluten-free
Distilled Beverages and Vinegars. Most distilled alcoholic beverages and vinegars are gluten-free.
Wines and hard liquor/distilled beverages are gluten-free. However, beers, ales, lagers, malt beverages and malt vinegars that are made from gluten-containing grains are not distilled and therefore are not gluten-free. There are several brands of gluten-free beers available in the United States and abroad.
Other Items That Must Be Verified By Reading The Label Or Checking With The Manufacturer
- Lipstick, lip gloss, and lip balm because they are unintentionally ingested
- Communion wafers
- Herbal or nutritional supplements
- Drugs and over-the-counter medications (Learn about Gluten in Medication)
- Vitamins and supplements (Learn about Vitamins and Supplements)
- Play-dough: children may touch their mouths or eat after handling wheat-based play-dough. For a safer alternative, make homemade play-dough with gluten-free flour.
The food industry is very clever and great at hiding ingredients in their processed foods. Just like with sugar, which has more than 50 different names on packaging labels, wheat and gluten goes by many different names as well. Names that you need to look out for:
- Abyssinian hard
- Binder or binding
- Cake flour
- Cereal binders/binding
- Cereal protein
- Edible starch
- Enriched flour
- Food starch
- Graham flour
- Gum base
- Hydrolysed wheat protein
- Modified food starch
- Modified starch
- Special edible starch
- Thickener or thickening
- … and finally, anything with the word ‘wheat’ in it (except buckwheat which is a member of the rhubarb family)
BREAD and PASTA. The term “Sitting down and Breaking Bread”, demonstrates how vital bread has been to humankind but bread is also a classic example of how processing can be bad. There is a reason gluten sensitive people can travel to Europe and eat the food with significantly fewer reactions. The food is healthier and fresher. Traditional bread is made from 4 ingredients: salt, wheat, water and yeast. Traditional bakers will take up to 3 days to make a loaf of bread, allowing the bread to rise for 12 or more hours which give the yeast, which do have the enzymes capable of fully breaking down gluten, more time to break down the indigestible parts of gluten. Humans lack the enzymes to completely break down gluten but yeast does not. In the US and many developed parts of the world, mass made bread is only allowed to rise for 2 hours leading to residual indigestible fragments which cause inflammatory symptoms. In addition, preservatives, oils, sugars and many other additives are put in man-made bread leading to a longer shelf life but a toxic soup which causes inflammation and disease in humans. Traditionally made breads go bad in 1-2 days! Now that’s fresh. Lastly, pesticide regulation is significantly stricter in other parts of the world. Again, fewer chemicals going into the body. Lastly, in the US, we use an extremely hybridized form of wheat called Dwarf Wheat. In ancient times, wheat was tall and gluten composed only 4% of the protein. During the Renaissance, we started hybridizing wheat to increase yields and the proportion of kernels to the shaft increased, also increasing the percentage of gluten to 8%. Today’s modern Dwarf Wheat is almost 12% gluten. The wheat genes have also been manipulated to produce addition starches which give the wheat more texture but are also more difficult for humans to break down and digest. THE BOTTOM LINE, stick to fresh, whole, unprocessed food, not processed foods!
Here is a great reference about the importance of real wheat in our diet: “Eat Wheat” by Dr. John Douillard.
Before discussing this category of foods, I would like to make something clear; FODMAP foods are the healthiest foods there are. They are crucial to a healthy gut and the more we are learn about the gut, or microbiome within it, the more we appreciate how vital it is to overall health. People who have problems when consuming these foods don’t have a problem with the food, they have a problem with an unhealthy gut which can’t handle digesting these foods. Fix the gut and you can start to enjoy the benefits of these foods once again.
Many people struggle with digestive issues. There are many causes including eating too much processed food, too much refined sugar, lactose intolerance, gluten issues, specific food sensitivities, too much meat and not enough fiber from fruits and vegetables. In some cases, tiny carbohydrates (sugar molecules) found in certain foods can be the cause. They can be thought of as a subset of fiber. These carbohydrates are Fermentable Oligo Disaccharides Monosaccharides And Polyols, commonly known as FODMAPs. Monosaccharides are the simplest sugars. Examples include glucose (dextrose), fructose (levulose), and galactose (the precursor to lactose found in dairy). Monosaccharides are the building blocks of disaccharides, such as sucrose and lactose and polysaccharides, such as cellulose and starch. Polyols are sugar molecules with an alcohol attached to them and are found in artificial sweeteners and many fruits.
FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that some people can’t digest and they reach the far end of the intestine where the gut bacteria reside. The gut bacteria then use these carbohydrates for fuel, producing hydrogen gas and causing all sorts of digestive symptoms. FODMAPs also draw liquid into the intestine, which can cause diarrhea. Although not everyone is sensitive to FODMAPs, this can occur among people with irritable bowel syndrome or IBS. A study was done however comparing symptomatic relief from a low FODMAP diet as compared with adding a yoga regimen. The yoga group did better!
The FODMAP diet was actually first developed to treat a condition known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO. The fundamental problem in this condition is that, primarily because of poor intestinal mobility from a poor diet, bacteria not usually found in the small bowel overgrow and fermentation, usually occurring in the large bowel occurs leading to bloating and pain. Eliminating the FODMAP foods helps with symptoms but it is just a temporary measure used until the gut bacteria readjust to a normal level and diversity.
HOWEVER, for most people, being unable to process FODMAPS is not really the problem. The real problem is that their westernized diet, low in FODMAPS or fiber foods, has created an unhealthy gut microbiome. As you transition to a healthier diet with more fiber, your gut bacterial composition changes to one that is healthier and capable of digesting these foods. These foods, along with their breakdown products, are really healthy and necessary. All you need to do is go slow and transition and be patient. For help with such a dietary transition for you gut, look at this course run by the Happy Pear.
A Low FODMAP diet MUST be thought of as a temporary measure to provide some symptomatic relief and not as a long–term dietary strategy. What’s good about it is that it eliminates sugars, including artificial sweeteners, processed foods and dairy but eliminate many healthy foods such as legumes, beets, broccoli and asparagus. The best predictor for a healthy gut is the variety of fruits and vegetables you consume and limiting all the FODMAP foods can lead to problems such as:
- Increased inflammation as evidenced by elevations in some of the markers such as IL-8 and IL-6 (interleukins)
- Decreased diversity of gut microbes leading to dysbiosis.
- Decreased levels of the beneficial bacterium Bifidobacterium
- Lower levels of healthy short chain fatty acids which have a slew of benefits including gut wall protection.
- Nutritional deficiencies such as: B12, Zinc and Iron.
Common FODMAPs include:
- Fructose: A simple sugar found in many fruits, vegetables and added sugars.
- Lactose: A carbohydrate found in dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt.
- Fructans: Found in many foods, including gluten grains like wheat, spelt, rye and barley. These are often the actual cause of gluten “sensitivity”.
- Galactans: Found in large amounts in legumes.
- Polyols: These are the most “combustible” and consist of sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol and mannitol. They are found in some fruits and vegetables, and often used as sweeteners in “sugar-free” products like chewing gum.
For some people, FODMAPS pass through most of the intestine unchanged. When they reach the far end, they get used as fuel (fermented) by the gut bacteria that reside there. This is usually a good thing, and is actually how dietary fibers feed the friendly gut bacteria, leading to all sorts of benefits.
However, the friendly bacteria tend to produce methane, whereas the bacteria that feed on FODMAPs produce hydrogen which this can lead to flatulence (gas), bloating, stomach cramps, pain and constipation. Many of these symptoms are caused by distention of the gut, which can also make your belly look bigger. FODMAPs are also “osmotically active,” meaning that they can draw water into the intestine and contribute to diarrhea.
Digestive disturbances are known to cause stress and are strongly linked to mental disorders like anxiety and depression so eliminating them and improving bowel function can help with these conditions.
Foods High in FODMAPs. Here is a list of some common foods and ingredients that are high in FODMAPs:
- Fruits: apples, applesauce, apricots, blackberries, boysenberries, cherries, canned fruit, dates, figs, pears, peaches, watermelon.
- Sweeteners: fructose, honey, high fructose corn syrup, xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, sorbitol.
- Dairy products: milk (from cows, goats and sheep), ice cream, most yogurts, sour cream, soft and fresh cheeses (cottage, ricotta, etc.) and whey protein supplements.
- Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, fennel, leaks, mushrooms, okra, onions, peas, shallots.
- Legumes: beans, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans.
- Wheat: bread, pasta, most breakfast cereals, tortillas, waffles, pancakes, crackers, biscuits.
- Other grains: barley and rye.
- Beverages: beer, fortified wines, soft drinks with high fructose corn syrup, milk, soy milk, fruit juices.
Foods You Can Eat on a Low-FODMAP Diet
Keep in mind that the purpose is not to completely eliminate FODMAPs, because that is extremely difficult. Simply minimizing them is considered sufficient to reduce digestive symptoms.
Just because a food does not contain FODMAPs does not mean that they are healthy to eat so be careful. Before you start blaming your symptoms on some healthful foods since they contain FODMAPs, make sure you have eliminated all the unhealthy foods out of your diet already like processed foods, sugars, dairy and make sure you are eating plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables. Some foods are okay to eat on a low-FODMAP diet:
- Most herbs and spices.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, peanuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds (not pistachios, which are high in FODMAPs).
- Fruits: Bananas, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, grapes, kiwi, lemons, lime, mandarins, melons, (except watermelon), oranges, passion-fruit, raspberries, strawberries.
- Sweeteners: Maple syrup, molasses and stevia.
- Dairy products: Lactose-free dairy products and hard cheeses (including brie and Camembert).
- Vegetables: Alfalfa, bell peppers, bok choy, carrots, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, ginger, green beans, kale, lettuce, chives, olives, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, spinach, spring onion (only green), squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, yams, water chestnuts, zucchini.
- Grains: Corn, oats, rice, quinoa, sorghum, tapioca.
- All meats, fish and eggs, except if they have added high-FODMAP ingredients like wheat or high fructose corn syrup.
- All fats and oils.
- Beverages: Water, coffee, tea, etc.
How to do a Low-FODMAP Diet
Many commonly consumed foods are high in FODMAPs. It is generally recommended to completely eliminate all high-FODMAP foods for a period of a few weeks. This diet does not work if you only eliminate some high-FODMAP foods, but not others. You need to avoid all of them. If FODMAPs are the cause of your problems, then you may experience relief in as little as a few days. After a few weeks, add some of these foods back one at a time. Then you can figure out which one of them was causing your symptoms.
SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, or SIBO, occurs when the bacteria in your small intestine get out of balance and overgrows.
As mentioned above, the bacteria in your GI tract, which make up your gut microbiome, play a vital role in your immune system, thyroid function, bone health, and overall health. However, most of your gut bacteria is meant to be located in your large intestine and colon, where they help to break down food, synthesize vitamins, and eliminate waste. When these “healthy” bacteria, normally found in the large intestine and colon, colonize the small intestine, SIBO occurs. SIBO can also be caused by an overgrowth of otherwise normal bacteria in the small intestine itself. The bacteria ferment food producing CO2, Methane and Nitrogen. All cells in the body produce CO2 but methane and nitrogen are only produced by gut bacteria during fermentation. These can be measured in “breath tests” however they are inaccurate.
Our stomach make acid whenever you eat or even think about or smell food. When the acid gets into the small intestine, it gets neutralized by bicarbonate, produced by the pancreas. The stomach is acidic but the small intestine is alkaline. The stomach has a mucus layer which protects us from the acid. If that rhythm of acid and bicarbonate gets disrupted, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) results because it’s not normal to have an alkaline stomach which happens when you take antacids.
The excess bacteria feed off of the undigested food in your small intestine. In particular, they love to feed on sugar, simple and complex carbohydrates, starches, and alcohol. As the bacteria feeds, it causes the carbohydrates to ferment, which produces hydrogen as a byproduct. Hydrogen can in turn feed single-celled organisms in your small intestine called archaea, which then produce methane as a byproduct. So when you have SIBO you have excess levels or hydrogen, methane, or both in your digestive system.
Risk factors for SIBO include:
- Multiple courses of antibiotics. Probably the most common cause.
- Probiotics can also cause SIBO
- Acid reducing medications like Tagamet, Pepcid, Nexium and Prevacid.
- Oral contraceptives.
- Moderate alcohol consumption.
- Overuse of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) like Motrin, Ibuprofen, Aleve, Naproxen…
- Low stomach acid. This is much more common than you would think and is usually the result of eating too much fat.
- Irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s Disease.
- Celiac disease (long-standing).
- Prior bowel surgery.
- Diabetes mellitus (type I and type II).
- Organ system dysfunction, such as liver cirrhosis, chronic pancreatitis or renal failure
Although limiting overall carbohydrate consumption can help control, SIBO, it’s really the unhealthy carbs that cause most of the problems. There are 4 steps to treating SIBO:
Step 1: Identify and Treat the Underlying Cause. THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP. You can do all the following steps and feel better but if you don’t identify and fix the underlying cause, it will come right back. The MOST common cause is a poor, fiber poor and animal product rich diet. Many systemic diseases can also cause SIBO. Common ones include Hypothyroidism, Liver and Kidney disease as well as Diabetes which affects at least 1/3rd of Americans.
Step 2: Starve the Overgrown Bacteria. Remove the foods that feed the bacteria in your small intestine, including sugar, alcohol, and carbohydrates. This includes the usual suspects, such as bread, cookies, cake, and cocktails, as well as complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and legumes. Ultimately these foods are broken down into sugar in your gut, which feed the bacteria. During this time, you’ll eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables, leafy greens, lean proteins, and healthy fats, with minimal fruit. Many of these foods are healthy and may be re-introduced later but for the treatment period, they may need to be minimized.
Step 3: Attack the Bacteria. There are some antibiotics that can be used to attack the bad bacteria in the small bowel. This is very controversial. Some of the antibiotics include: Xifaxan and Neomycin. These antibiotics kill the pathogenic bacteria with the least amount of disruption to the good bacteria in your microbiome.
If you are treating your SIBO at home, as many have done successfully, there are protocols such as Microb Clear™, which can help. This specific one is a blend of magnesium caprylate, berberine, and extracts from tribulus, sweet wormwood, grapefruit, barberry, bearberry, and black walnut which can work to kill off the bacteria naturally. You can also consume these ingredients separately on your own as well.
Step 4: Restore Your Good Bacteria. The final step is to restore the good bacteria in your gut to support a strong immune system and optimal digestion and nutrient absorption. Proper nutrition with lots of pre-biotics described in the microbiome section are a great way to start. Probiotics can help but when it comes to SIBO you want to be particularly careful because certain probiotics can actually add more fuel to the fire.
There is more about SIBO on my “Disease” page.
Another clear example of the importance of the gut microbiome has to do with the production of TMAO. (Tri Methyl Amine N-Oxide). This is a compound which is the end products of the activity of unhealthy bacteria in the gut. In an unhealthy gut microbiome, more TMA (Tri Methyl Amine) is produced by bacteria which overgrow based on a diet rich in animal products. The TMA is the compound responsible for the “dead fish smell” attributed to bad gas (flatulence or farts). The TMA is taken up into the bloodstream and then converted in the liver into TMAO (Tri Methyl Amine Oxide).
It is a compound highly correlated with heart disease as well as kidney disease. High levels are associated with a 23% increased risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks, strokes, as well as heart failure death and a 55% increased risk of all-cause mortality. The more TMAO in your body, the greater the risks. TMAO interferes with cholesterol metabolism in the gut, liver and arterial walls. In the presence of TMAO, there is increased deposition and decreased removal of cholesterol from arterial walls. It also increases inflammation leading to rupture of arterial plaques leading to clot formation. TMAO also increases platelet activation leading to more risk of blood clot formation. One of the mechanisms that aspirin helps prevent blood clots is in fact by decreasing TMAO levels. TMAO has recently been found to directly damage the arterial endothelium, the thin layer of cells which line our arteries. Among other things, the endothelium makes nitric oxide which helps relax arteries and is crucial for arterial health. It also contributes to arterial wall fibrosis (scarring).
TMAO also significantly increases the risks of developing Type 2 Diabetes kidney disease and it impacts on platelet function, increasing the risk of forming blood clots.
TMAO does exist naturally in the flesh of fish, shellfish and crustaceans (it’s the compound which gives seafood its distinctive odor as it is decomposing) but mostly it is made in our own liver. It is converted from the compounds choline, lecithin and carnitine found in high concentrations in fish, meat (especially red meat), eggs and cheese, into trimethylamine and then oxidized in the liver. Choline is also found in many energy drinks. The conversion from choline into trimethylamine is done by bacteria in the gut. The growth and overabundance of these bacteria is a result of eating a diet high in animal products. Even the healthier “grass-fed, pasture-raised” meat (which accounts for less than 2% of the meat sold in the US) generates TMAO.
Some vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts are high in carnitine however TMAO is not generated when these plants are consumed. In fact, when you eat these along with meat, less TMAO from the meat is generated.
One concerning source of TMAO precursors is carnitine which is added to protein powders, often promoted a “muscle-building” and exercise supplements. These are NOT healthy.
In people who eat a plant-based diet, even if they are given red meat or eggs to eat, they do not produce TMAO because they lack the unhealthy bacteria which lead to its production. Omnivores, on the other hand, have a significant 6x spike in TMAO when they consume animal products since they have these unhealthy bacteria populating their microbiomes. When meat eaters stop eating animal products, after only 28 days, they no longer produce TMA when they eat some meat. That’s how fast the gut microbiome can improve.
It takes about 4 weeks to either turn down TMAO production by eliminating animal products from the diet and the same amount of time to turn up production if you foolishly decide to start eating animal products.
As far as the TMAO in fish is concerned, it is actually a survival molecule for them. It is primarily found in deep, cold water fish like cod, tuna and sea bass where it acts as an “anti-freeze”-like molecule which protects their muscle.
SPECIAL MEDICAL SITUATIONS AND PLANT BASED DIETS
Switching from a Standard American Diet (SAD) to a plant-based diet or even just cutting back on animal products and increasing fruits and vegetables a bit has very rapid and powerful effects. Most people notice dramatic improvements in their health and blood-work values within a few short weeks. The more plant-based you are, the more dramatic the effect. Changes can be so rapid that there are some very potentially dangerous situations that can develop even within days. These potential interactions occur when patients are taking Insulin, coumadin or have advanced kidney disease or food allergies. Please let your doctors know that you are planning to improve your diet and lifestyle so they can monitor your health.
- FOOD ALLERGIES. This is pretty simple to understand. If you have a known severe allergic reaction to a specific food, that reaction will persist regardless of how healthy a diet you are following. Please respect your old reactions and if you have questions, talk to your doctor or allergist. If your reaction is more of a sensitivity, that might actually improve.
- INSULIN. If you are a Type 1 or Insulin-dependent Type 2 diabetic, the rapid lowering of your blood sugar when switching to a plant-based diet can lead to dangerously and life-threateningly low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) within days unless immediate adjustments are made to your medications. Many oral blood sugar medications can be stopped quickly but Insulin, which is injected, MUST be slowly and carefully adjusted and closely monitored by your endocrinologist or primary care physician. If you are a Type 1 diabetic, you will always need to inject insulin. You may need less than before but you will die without it. In some cases, you may have to transition more slowly so your body can adapt.
- COUMADIN (Warfarin). This is a blood thinner taken to prevent blood clots. It is often taken if you have had a stroke, deep vein thrombosis (DVTs), atrial fibrillation or clotting issues. When food high in vitamin k, like leafy greens, are consumed, the vitamin k interacts with how the coumadin works resulting in either blood that is too thin or to thick. This can be quite dangerous as blood can be so thin as to cause spontaneous bleeding into any organ or can cause thickening of the blood with subsequent clot formation. This does not mean you can’t ever have greens! It just means that you have to make the transition carefully, possibly having your coumadin dose adjusted until a new steady state is achieved. Once there, you need to be fairly regular with your diet. For more information, click here. As far as some of the newer blood thinners like Xarelto or Pradaxa, these same dietary considerations do not apply. You can eat ll the plant-based foods you want and they will not impact on blood levels of the drug, they will however improve your life!
- KIDNEY DISEASE. Although too much of any kind of protein taxes the kidneys which has to work harder to filter it out, animal proteins are much harder on the kidneys than plant proteins are. However, if you already have significant kidney issues, you need to be aware of how changing your diet quickly can impact on your health. Patients with kidney disease have problems with electrolyte imbalances, especially when it comes to potassium (K). Foods rich in potassium need to be introduced carefully and blood-work monitored frequently. These include potatoes, avocados, tomatoes, kidney beans, dried fruit, bananas, salmon, acorn squash and leafy greens.
FOOD SAFETY, QUALITY AND INDUSTRY
We have unfortunately overgrown and hybridized our foods to the point that they are less nutritious than they used to be. In some cases, dramatically less nutritious. In addition, we have depleted the soil of many nutrients because of destructive farming practices and the massive overuse of herbicides and pesticides.
There are over 4000 varieties of potatoes in South America but in the US, we only cultivate 150 varieties of which 6 account for 75% of the potatoes consumed. Another example of our restricted diet has to do with apples. In 1900, we cultivated over 115 varieties and now we are down to 6 accounting for 90% of the apples consumed.
Over the last 150 years, we have lost 1/2 of our topsoil. Until 1900, farmers respected the land and agricultural practices which allowed the soil to regenerate like crop rotation and soil rest. At the turn of the century, with increasing agricultural demands, farmers abandoned such regenerative farming practices and grew as much crop as was possible. This resulted in the “dust bowl” in the 1920’s and 30’s. Then came the petroleum industry from which sprouted the fertilizer industry. This gave farmers a reprieve as they could once again grow green crops but since the soil degradation was not addressed, food quality continued to suffer.
- Apples have lost 85% of the magnesium they used to contain.
- Organically grown apples have 300% more vitamin C and 61% more calcium than ones grown conventionally.
- Apples from 1950 had 26x more iron than today’s apples.
- Spinach grown organically has 7x more calcium and 177x more potassium than conventionally grown spinach.
- Conventional tomatoes have virtually no lycopene, even the red ones.
- Organic tomatoes have as much as 97% antioxidants than conventional ones.
- Oranges have 1/8th the amount of vitamin C they used to have.
- Even MEAT is less nutritious, containing less than half of whatever beneficial nutrients they may have contained.
- Modern wheat is 19-28% lower in Zinc, Copper, Iron and Magnesium than wheat from 50 years ago.
- Essential amino acid levels have been severely affected. The commonly used herbicide Roundup works by turning off the enzyme pathway which allows plants and beneficial bacteria to form these essential compounds. Plants and bacteria are where humans and ALL other animals get these amino acids. More on this in the section on pesticides below.
Also, around 1900, traditional stone grinding of grains to make flour was replaced with steel grinding which made flower much finer and also much less nutritious. It led the way to more and more processed foods being developed all having a significant impact on the rate of a variety of diseases including cancer, whose rate steadily increased for the next 75 years in a row. With the discovery of minerals and vitamins, we also discovered that the foods we were producing were becoming more and more deficient in them. Along came “Fortification”. Once we were able to artificially synthesize these vitamins and minerals, we started adding them back into our foods, artificially making them seem more nutritious. What a crazy cycle.
In addition to poor soil, the chemicals we use impact significantly on food quality. Some organic foods have been shown to be significantly more nutritious than those grown conventionally. Some examples are:
- Apples: 300% more vitamin C and 61% more calcium than non-organic apples.
- Spinach: 7x more calcium and 117x more potassium than non-organic spinach.
- Tomatoes: 97% more antioxidants than non-organic varieties.
To get all the nutrients you need, you must eat lots of different fruit and vegetables, eat the rainbow and change things up a lot. Also, eating seasonally has some definite advantages. We just did not evolve eating blueberries all year round.
Although it is always better to buy organic and some organic foods have higher concentration of nutrients, it’s still better to eat a vegetable or fruit than not to. Still, by eating organic, you increase your antioxidant consumption by 30%.
WILD FOOD VS CULTIVATED FOOD
As mentioned above, our cultivation of foods have made them less nutritious. When a vegetable grows wild and is exposed to the elements, they have to develop protection strategies so the amounts of phytonutrients are much higher, especially in the skins. A few examples are below:
- APPLES: the wilder the apple, the better. Crab apples, such as Sikkim or Siberian crab apples have 97% more phytonutrients than the highest cultivated apple the Gala which has twice as many phytonutrients than Red or Golden Delicious apples. Fuji apples are in the middle.
- GREENS/LETTUCE: The most popular lettuce American eat is iceberg lettuce. Americans eat 450 metric tons a year. The outer leaves of a head of lettuce have 100x more antioxidants than the leaves on the inside because of the increased exposure to the elements. Iceberg lettuce contains 40x less phytonutrients than one of the top greens, dandelion greens. the next most concentrated green is spinach, which has almost 10x less antioxidants than dandelion greens.
- CARROTS: Purple/Yellow carrots have 2x as many phytonutrients than Purple/Orange ones and 25x more phytonutrients than regular Orange carrots. Baby carrots have even fewer nutrients than the carrots they were carved out of because the skins are gone. The skins have almost as much nutrition as the rest of the carrot.
- SALMON: High in the healthy omega 3s, these cold water fish don’t make omega 3s, they get it from the algae they eat, in the same way cows don’t make calcium but get it from the grass they eat. Farm raised salmon do not eat any algae and as a result have very little if any omega 3s. They are fed antibiotics which promote growth and other fish along with GMO soy and corn, completely unnatural.
For more information on food nutrition, especially wild food, read “Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health” by Jo Robinson.
MEDICATIONS AND NUTRIENT DEPLETION. One of the under-appreciated aspects of medications is how they can deplete nutrients from our bodies. Below is a chart showing some examples.
Here are a few more examples of common drugs’ impact on nutrient deficiencies:
- NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs like Motrin, ibuprofen, Naproxen, Aleve)
- Vitamin D, B6, K, Folic Acid, Calcium, Zinc and iron
- Birth Control Pills
- All B vitamins
- Acid reducers like Zantac, Prevacid, Nexium…
- folic acid
- Vitamin K
- Antibiotics. By killing healthy bacteria, there is a tremendous impact on nutrient absorption and production.
Nothing is healthier or tastes better than fresh organically grown food from your own garden or from locally sourced farms. This may not be practical for most people but you should try to buy as much organic food as you can. The official term “USDA Organic” only pertains to food items. Be careful of any other products advertising that they are “organic” since it may not mean anything. When you see the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic label, it tells you that the food or agricultural product has been produced through USDA regulated methods that began with the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). The overarching philosophy is that these USDA regulated methods must protect ecological balance and biodiversity. In 2000 the regulations were completed and are now governed by a department of the USDA named the National Organic Program (NOP). Although buying and consuming as much organic food as you can is extremely important, “organic” does not equate with 100% clean and healthy. See the end of this section for more information about some misconceptions about the organic label. The degree of contamination and the diseases caused by the chemicals the agricultural and food industries use is astounding. This is a link to a list of the diseases caused by just one of those commonly used chemicals: Diseases Associated with Glyphosate.
If you see the “USDA Organic” or “Certified Organic” seal on your food, the item must have an ingredients list and the contents should be 95% or more certified organic, meaning free of synthetic additives like pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes. In addition, they must not be processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, or genetic engineering (GMO), according to the USDA. The remaining 5% may only be foods or products with additives on an approved list. These stringent rules are why organic foods cost up to three times as much as those produced by conventional methods.
This label is not perfect but it is the best we have. As mentioned above, a product labeled as USDA Organic can contain as much as 5% non-organic ingredients. Click here for more information about this rule “Nonorganic Ingredients – 5% Rule”. This includes things like citric acid, ascorbic acid, xanthum gum and even synthetic products. However, they still must meet these three initial criteria that the certified organic ingredients also meet by definition:
- Must not contain genetically modified ingredients (GMO’s)
- Must not be irradiated (exposed to ionizing radiation)
- If they are agricultural, they must not have been fertilized with sewage sludge.
“Certified Organic” isn’t the only label you’ll see though. You may also see “100% Organic,” which means all of the ingredients must meet the guidelines above.
Keep in mind that 2 ingredients in foods that are exempt from needing to be organic, even for something labelled as 100% organic or USDA Organic are water and salt.
Another label is “Made With Organic,” which means that the ingredients must contain 70% or more organic ingredients, the USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the package, and the remaining 30% of the ingredients may not be foods or processed with additives on a special exclusion list.
The organic label applies to how a food is grown and processed. Where and in what kind of soil it’s grown in is not part of the equation and this can be crucial. Although there are requirements that the soil be chemical free, it only goes back 3 years. A perfect example of why this is misleading is US grown rice, both white and brown. The rice grown in Texas and many southeastern states is grown in soil so contaminated with arsenic (which is retained for decades) from years of previous pesticide and fertilizer, use that only one serving often exceeds an entire year’s worth of recommended dose allowance of arsenic. It can be labelled as “USDA Organic” as long as it fulfills the above-mentioned criteria but it’s still toxic because of the soil it was grown in. Rice from California or actually even China and India are safer options.
Another issue has to do with manure, which most farmers use. In many cases, farmers use manure from non-organic sources and there is no requirement for using manure from organic sources to be labelled USDA. The fact is that when manure is composted, many compounds are broken down but many medications such as antibiotics, do get excreted into the manure and does not break down. That having been said, USDA organic, still reads to less chemical exposure than conventionally grown food.
When you read a bar-code on a fruit or vegetable, a quick way to know if it is organic or not (and hence GMO free) is to see if the number starts with a 9 and has 5 numbers. Anything with 4 numbers is NOT organic. In addition, bar-code numbers which begin with 690-695 indicate that the products were grown in China, where agricultural practices are much less regulated. In addition, 9 digit codes starting with an 8 mean they are genetically modified – not good.
In many cases, you can’t just wash or even peel the chemicals away.
Some are designed intentionally to penetrate through the skin and get into the flesh since this is where some parasites reside. Others are injected directly into the actual stems and even the root system, for example with strawberries (which is the #1 most contaminated food on the dirty dozen list) and potatoes so they are definitely getting absorbed into the flesh. A 2018 survey of conventionally (non-organically) grown strawberries revealed that 99% were contaminated with chemical residues and 20% had at least 10 different types of chemicals identified. The average was 7.8 chemicals, compared with 2.1 for all other produce. The highest contamination identified was with 22 different chemicals on ONE strawberry! There were up to 81 different kinds of pesticides and herbicides identified. Overall contamination was up from 2015 and 2016. It’s getting worse, not better. Conventional tomatoes have had up to 35 separate chemicals isolated on them but conventionally grown apples had as many as 50 different chemical residues on them including 16 known hormone disruptors, 6 carcinogens and 5 neurotoxins.
Although organic is still much better than conventionally produced products, the label doesn’t mean it’s 100% clean and safe. There are about 32 stipulations before something can be labeled as USDA organic. Not one stipulation addresses the soil quality or nutritional composition. Some agricultural areas have been so contaminated over the years with pesticides and weed killers that 75% of water, rain and even air samples have measurable glyphosate (active ingredient in Roundup) in them. That means that the rain falling on organic crops or the water supply used to water them is contaminated, transferring those chemicals onto the plants and crops. Some samples of organic food have shown close to 20% of the levels of chemical residues on them as those found on conventional crops. There are also some unscrupulous farmers who will pay crop duster pilots under the table to do undocumented passes over their crops. They basically lie about how clean their products are. The answer is WASH ALL PRODUCE THOROUGHLY. Assume that “organic” means that they are only 80% cleaner than conventional.
In addition, some antibiotics are permitted. Specifically with apples and pears, there is a devastating bacterial infection called Fire Blight, caused by the microbe Erwinia amylovora. This infection can destroy an entire crop in only one season. To prevent this, farmers are allowed to use certain antibiotics against this disease and can still claim the USDA Organic label. Another reason to wash all, even organic, produce.
A comment on USDA Organic labeling of animal products. What this label guarantees is that the food (plant and animal) has been grown or raised chemical free, drug free, not genetically modified and has not been irradiated (common practice with conventional foods to limit microbial contamination). It does not however guarantee anything about how the animals were raised, treated or slaughtered. They might still come from abusive factory farms. Labels can be deceptive and although they give us guidelines, they should not be counted on 100%. There is an organic “loophole” when it comes to chickens. The USDA considers chicken to be organic as long as producers do not use any drugs after the second day of life. That means that they can still inject eggs and one-day old chicks with antibiotics, which they do, and still label the meat as “USDA Organic”.
Another important point to make is that modern farming practices in general, whether organic or conventional, are both equally destructive on the soil, depleting them of nutrients and rendering them sterile. Although organic farmers may not use as many chemicals, the still aggressively till of the soil (use mechanical means to mix it up in order to remove and bury weeds and aerate the ground. This kills many of the earthworms, vital to natural aeration and also remove the fungi and mycelia crucial for soil health. This practice is just as destructive. as spraying chemicals as far as soil health is concerned. Mono-cropping, growing only one crop on a parcel of land, is also nutrient depleting. A better form of farming is called regenerative farming, described below.
Here is a more detailed information about the adverse effects of glyphosate along with the history of soil depletion and the use of chemicals: History of Soil Depletion, Chemicals and Disease Risk.
As mentioned above, the “Organic” label indicates what you can’t do when you grow fruits and vegetables, such as use most chemicals like pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and fertilizers, use genetically modified seeds or irradiate food. It does not however specify what kind of soil it’s grown in or what you SHOULD do to restore the soil, which occurs when you use regenerative farming techniques or biodynamic growing practices (see below).
If you can, choose organic cotton products. Cotton is the most heavily sprayed commercial agricultural product, much more than even soy and wheat. In addition organically grown cotton uses 90% less water to grow than conventional, chemically sprayed cotton.
There are a number of organizations who evaluate and label products based on much more than just organically grown produce. Issues of not only soil regeneration but also animal and even farm-worker welfare are worthy issues to consider when making purchasing choices. They also consider safe working conditions, fair wage and gender equality. A few such organizations and certifications are listed below.
The Global Animal Partnership (GAP) has 5 levels of certification and labeling. GAP4 and GAP5 are the most meaningful. https://globalanimalpartnership.org/
Regenerative Organic Certification is a great organization which looks at soil, animal and farm-worker welfare. https://regenorganic.org/
Fair Trade USA https://www.fairtradecertified.org
Fair for Life http://www.fairforlife.org
Animal Welfare Approved https://foodanimalconcernstrust.org/
Certified Humane and Certified Humane Pasture https://certifiedhumane.org/
GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS (GMOs)
The massive chemical companies have made statements over the decades about how important genetic modifications can and would be to humanity for example by making them more drought resistant, higher in nutrients and heartier leading to higher yields. The fact is that NONE of these have occurred. In fact, the exact opposite has happened. Yields have continuously declined, resulting in more chemicals used to grow crops, nutrient values have diminished and they are no more resistant to droughts than they were 30 years ago. What the have managed to create are crops which are resistant to the effects of chemicals like herbicides and pesticides, leading to more chemicals being used and poisoning us and our environments and crops which are actually capable pf producing their own pesticide, BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), in every cell of the plant.
Avoid genetically modified foods as much as possible. Many crops like corn, soy and canola oil are often genetically modified. This is often done by mixing genes of completely unrelated species including plant, animal bacterial and viral DNA. This is different and more dangerous than traditional cross breeding of animals and plants. Animal and even human gene sequences have been spliced with plants to make them grow bigger and survive harsh climate. This is extremely dangerous. In theory, these crops have been developed in order to increase yields to help feed the growing worldwide population. The chemical companies claim that they are trying to create crops which are drought or climate change-resistant in order to “feed the growing population”, but this has simply not become a reality. Although the companies claim that the crops are successful, the facts actually show the opposite. GMO crops are LESS fruitful than those using conventional crops while simultaneously destroying the land and adding more and more chemicals to the planet. Make sure that you get non-GMO Project Verified products. Other non-GMO labels are unregulated and may mean nothing.
GMO. In Brazil, soybeans were engineered to contain a gene from Brazil Nuts. As a result, people with nut allergies became allergic to soybeans.
The label on the right assures that a product is not genetically modified (non-GMO) or doesn’t contain genetically modified components. Although this is the most reliable label, items can still contain some GM products, as long as it is less than 1% GMOs.
A short list of USDA approved genetically modified crops include:
- Cotton (90%), used both as a textile but also as cotton seed oil, used in MANY food products.
- Soy (94%)
- Corn (93%)
- Canola (90%)
- Squash (32%)
- Papaya (50%)
- Beets, for sugar (95%)
- Alfalfa (30%)
- Apple Plum
- Salmon (the only animal so far)
- WHEAT is NOT allowed to be genetically modified but Roundup is still used heavily on it as a drying agent just priro to harvesting!
If you read about other products labelled as “non-GMO”, this is probably a marketing ploy. A bag of beans can be labelled “non-GMO” but there are no GMO beans so this is deceptive.
The biggest concern with GMOs is that because they are made more resistant to chemicals, more pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are used on them making them super contaminated and very unhealthy. It’s not clear how unhealthy the actual genetic manipulations are to humans, but there is no question of their devastating effect on our health and the environment from pesticide and herbicide overuse and cross contamination of clean farms and crops. Also, accidental release of genetically modified animals into the wild can cause nightmarish problems with the natural order of the animal kingdom. GMO pollen contaminates nearby farmland leading to cross breeding out of control.
Most other developed countries (at least 54 of them) require by law that all food companies identify on all of their products whether or not they contain any genetically modified substances. Some countries have outright banned all GMO foods. Unfortunately, the US does not require GMO labeling. When you see it, it is completely voluntary, so you don’t see it. You will only see it if the product does not contain GMOs since this is good marketing and will sell more product. You will certainly not see any indication that there are GMOs in the food though in the US. At least 60% of processed foods in the grocery store contain genetically modified ingredients. Although this would be the ethical and transparent thing to do, this is bad marketing and not in the company’s interests. Pretty sad.
The stickers on produce are identifiers called Price Look Up (PLU) numbers. Each item has a unique, internationally approved identifier. Most produce items have 4 numbers which means they are conventionally grown using pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. If a produce item has 5 numbers but starts with an 8, that means it is genetically modified (GMO) and also probably was grown with chemicals and you should avoid it. You will probably never see this sticker however since food companies are NOT required to disclose that their products are, or contain, genetically modified ingredients. Why identify your product as dangerous if you don’t have to? It’s bad business! If it has 5 numbers and starts with a 9, it is organic and is OK.
Monsanto, the company responsible for most of the GMO research and development and chemical contamination of our crops was recently purchased by a German company, Bayer, who have their own line up of new genetically modified seeds of course resistant to their proprietary chemicals. LibertyLink is a BASF owned brand of seeds for use in agriculture providing tolerance to Liberty herbicide and glufosinate (a.k.a. Liberty or Basta).
For more information about GMOs visit the Environment page or some of the links on the bottom of the page.
GMO Seeds. 70% of the seeds sold worldwide are controlled by 3 companies. 1) Bayer (new owners of Monsanto), 2) Dupont and 3) Chem China. All three companies started, and continue to function, primarily as chemical companies and not surprisingly, they also develop and sell the pesticides and herbicides which their seeds/plants are not affected by. Quite a monopoly.
GMO and PET FOOD. We feed our pets the same garbage we often feed ourselves. Even more! Much of the pet food is basically soy, corn or wheat or products fed those grains. Pet foods have even a greater impact on pets than on humans. Of all domesticated animals, the highest concentration of glyphosate, the ingredient in Roundup, used extensively in GMO and Non-GMO alike, was found in the urine of dogs who had 50x the concentration of glyphosate as humans eating a conventional, non-organic diet. Dogs have the highest cancer rate of all domesticated pets. One veterinarian’s experience is that 70% of the pets with a number of different chronic issues improved or had resolution of symptoms by simply switching to a non-GMO, organic diet.
For more information on pets and contaminated pet food, click here.
NEW LABELING FOR GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMOs)
Most of the world requires that food companies label their products if they contain any genetically modified components. The US does not impose such requirements however in 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture established the first-ever federal guidelines for labeling genetically modified organisms or GMOs. Although this might seem like a win for consumers who want to know where their food comes from and how it’s made, it will likely lead to confusing and misleading labels. These GMO labels are going to fail to provide clarity for consumers while offering major loopholes for the pesticide and the agrochemical industries.
One example is that the acronym GMO, which has been prevalent for years and most Americans who care how their food is produced are aware of its meaning. But the agricultural lobbyists have convinced the USDA to change the terminology, and henceforth, GMOs will be officially referred to as “BIOENGINEERED FOODS” or “BE”. This is a term with which the general public is completely unfamiliar. It’s a blatant, transparent attempt to re-brand GMOs to avoid detection and it is a “fake labeling bill”. Here are some issues to consider:
- Most of the products that would be called non-GMO by most people would not actually be labeled at all. The USDA requires that a product be testable only in its final form which means things like high-fructose corn syrup, which might come from 100% GMO corn, can’t be verified from the final test and the product would not require labeling. The same goes for ingredients like corn oil.
- There are a number of new of genetic modifications now present, some already introduced and some waiting to be introduced, with many more still being developed. These new types of organisms are manufactured by a process called “gene editing”, which is very inexpensive and are not subject to labeling. It’s so inexpensive that companies are trying to quickly edit genes, patent them and introduce the products before the patent expires or regulations can be imposed.
- Milk, meat, and eggs from animals that are fed GMOs won’t be labeled.
- If a product has less than 5% contamination of GMOs, that can go unlabeled.
- The deceptive symbol will be used to promote GMO content in addition to bio-engineered content. The word “BE” can be in the symbol and no one knows what BE is.
- This “fake labeling” scheme is not even required until 2022.
- Companies can also use QR codes, which are those complicated pixelated patterns that you have to use your smartphone take a picture of, navigate to a website and then navigate within the website to figure out the GMO content. Or there may be phone numbers or text numbers or URLs listed on the page you have to follow to get the information. These are ways to slow down and basically deter someone from looking to see if, in fact, the product contains GMOs.
Furthermore, companies that have been resistant to going with reliable third-party, non-GMO verifiers, like The Non-GMO Project, may start labeling their product non-GMO simply because it meets the criteria by the USDA for not being labeled. A company selling a 100% genetically engineered high-fructose corn syrup may declare their product as non-GMO because it’s not defined by the labeling scheme as such!
All this confusion will cause people to stop trusting any self-certification verification like The Non-GMO Project.
The new label will feature a stylized landscape with a crop sprouting under a blue sky, ringed by a green circle, and the word bio-engineered or the letters BE. The new symbol is deceptive and features farmland, a healthy plant, and a sun as the new symbol for GMOs, which are now to be called “Bio-engineered”. This paints a pretty picture of a much darker and more dangerous reality. The symbol implies that any product bearing this label is natural and healthy, but these products are exactly the opposite
YOU ARE WHAT YOUR FOOD EATS
What your food uses as energy and consumes to grow, whether plant or animal, is almost as crucial as what food you eat. This does not only involve the chemicals used in the food we feed the animals, the chemicals used on the plants we grow but also in the quality of the soil we grow it in.
PLANTS. Obviously, any chemicals used in the form of fertilizers to improve soil quality, herbicides to kill weeds growing around the crop plants or pesticides, fungicides and antibiotics sprayed to kill “pests” which may eat or kill the crop plants are bad. Plants absorb all this material. The soil it is grown in matters a lot. For example, even USDA Organic rice grown in the southern states and Texas is massively contaminated by arsenic because the soil it is grown in is massively contaminated and soil quality is not a consideration for the Organic label. I serving has more arsenic than the USDA says is safe in a year of exposure! We have used so much Roundup that it can be measured in 75% of rain samples in agricultural states so even organically grown crops absorb chemicals from the rain.
- FEED. The vast majority of animals are fed genetically modified and pesticide laden corn and soy, neither of which are their natural food sources. This includes fish in fish farms. Most of these chemicals are fat soluble and get concentrated in their flesh and you consume these chemicals when you eat the meat. It then gets concentrated in your fat which is why even chemicals banned 30 years ago are still found in almost all humans on the planet, even newborn babies.
- FEED ADDITIVES.
- Arsenic is added to chicken feed as a growth stimulant.
- Beta Agonists. The last months of their lives, cattle and pigs are put into cramped feedlots and fed these drugs. These are known as sympathomimetics, meaning they mimic and stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which increases their physical and emotional stress resulting in stress hormone secretion by stimulating the fight-or-flight response. In so doing, the animals gain more weight by storing more fat faster and can be taken to market quicker. They also bind to cellular receptors stimulating more muscle growth. 60-80% of U.S. fed cattle and pigs are raised with a beta-agonist drugs which are put into their feed. 2 such drugs are Zilmax (also known as zilpaterol hydrochloride, made by Merck Animal Health) or Optaflexx (also known as ractopamine hydrochloride, made by Elanco Animal Health). Their use accounts for up to a 2% increase in meat production which equates to approximately 33 additional pounds of beef, and 6-7 additional pounds of pork. This results in about 360 million additional pounds of beef a year! With an estimated 700 million pigs receiving a beta-agonist, an additional 4 billion pounds of pork would is produced annually!
- Growth hormones are still routine given to 80-90% of American and Canadian livestock, imports of which have been banned since 1989 by the European Union.
- Antibiotics. Used also as growth stimulants as well as to deter infections, 80% of the antibiotics used in the US is actually fed to animals. 75% of these antibiotics pass unprocessed into their manure, making its way into the water table and can be measured in most municipal water supplies. So you’re either eating them or drinking them.
- DRUGS. Although they are not “fed” these compounds, they do make it into their flesh and ultimately into you.
- Antibiotics. In addition to putting it directly into the feed, many get injections of antibiotics.
- Growth hormones.
- Topical antiseptics, bactericides, and fungicides used to treat surface skin or hoof infections, cuts, and abrasions.
- Ionophores, which alter rumen microorganisms to provide more favorable and efficient energy substrates from bacterial conversion of feed and to impart some degree of protection against some parasites.
- Anti-parasite drugs.
- There are other drugs that modify the gastrointestinal environment to reduce the likelihood of rumen foaming and bloat in cattle, organic and inorganic water treatments that reduce the chances for water or fish infection in aquaculture, and miscellaneous drugs and compounds used with the advice of veterinarians to treat specific conditions.
Although not fed to live animals, many chemicals are also used after slaughter to prevent rot or bacterial, viral or parasitic contamination. You consume these. Some common ones include:
- CHLORINE. Chicken from the US is also banned by the European Union because of the practice of dipping the chicken meat into chlorine “baths” to kill bacteria.
- AMMONIA. “Lean, finely textured beef” (LFTB) was made from unwanted beef “trim” and treated with puffs of ammonia gas to retard the growth of E. coli. This is the “pink slime” seen oozing out of processing tubes and bound for U.S. dinner tables and the National School Lunch Program. Ground beef is also treated with anhydrous ammonia “followed with carbon dioxide treatment.” Neither treatment appears on the meat label.
- CARBON MONOXIDE. Gases like carbon monoxide are used to color meat an unnatural red even as it was aging on the shelf.
- BACTERIOPHAGES. An under-reported way in which Big Food kills meat pathogens, especially antibiotic-resistant pathogens, is with bacteriophages. Phages are viruses that infect and kill bacteria, essentially turning the bacteria cell into a phage production factory until the bacteria cell bursts, releasing hundreds of copies of new phages, which go on to infect and kill more bacteria. Phages, discovered in 1919, were used to treat bacterial infections but fell out of favor when antibiotics became widely available in the 1940’s. Antibiotics had the advantage of attacking more than one bacterium at the same time and were not usually recognized by a patient’s immune system, so they could be used over and over in the same person to fight bacterial infection without producing any immune response. They are mostly sprayed on the hides or feathers of live animals to reduce bacterial count before slaughter. While phages are certainly “greener” than antibiotics, there are two reasons many food activists do not laud the development. Bacteriophages accommodate rather than reform the high-volume, low-ethics factory farming and do not clean up drug excesses. The other reason is phages could become yet another tool of factory farming. Cattle and other livestock operators could use phages to make animals gain weight without risking antibiotic resistance, observed a recent documentary.
- Other “safe and suitable” ingredients you don’t know you’re eating unless you’re a chemist:
- CETYLPYRIDINIUM with PROPYLENE GLYCOL for bacterial control. While cetylpyridinium is a germ-killing compound found in mouthwashes, toothpastes and nasal sprays, in meat production it is combined with propylene glycol to treat the surface of raw poultry carcasses or parts (skin-on or skinless).
- SODIUM OCTANOATE, POTASSIUM OCTANOATE (OCTANOIC ACID) and either GLYCERINE and/or PROPYLENE GLYCOL and/or a POLYSORBATE surface active agent, also to kill germs.
- PROTEASE produced from the mold Aspergillus for tenderness.
- SODIUM TRIPOLYPHOSPHATE is an anti-coagulant for use in recovered livestock blood which is subsequently used in food products. Seafood like scallops, shrimp, hake, sole or imitation crab meat may be soaked in sodium tripolyphosphate to make it appear firmer, smoother and glossier. It is a suspected neurotoxin as well as a registered pesticide and known air contaminant in the state of California.
HUMAN BREAST MILK. This phenomenon of “once removed” health extends to babies as well. What mother’s consume and take into their bodies gets passed along to newborns. Here are just a few examples:
- Many chemicals in our environments are fat soluble. This means that once absorbed into our bodies, they are stored in fat until the fat is removed. Wee, breast milk is very fatty and these chemicals do get passed down to our infants. Chemicals banned more than 30 years ago can be measured in newborns. It gets there through mothers circulation and through breast milk. Check out the video “10 Americans” on you tube.
- A mother’s diet will affect the types of fat and amount of saturated fat in her breast milk which gets passed along to the nursing baby. An Australian study compared heart imaging studies on infants and showed that there was measurable coronary arterial narrowing in those newborns whose mother’s ate a predominantly animal based diet full of saturated fat as compared with no narrowing if the mother ate a plant-based diet with little to no saturated fat.
- Mothers who consume dairy products have more issues with colicky babies. Removing the dairy wold often resolve the colic.
To be able to claim that something is USDA Organic is quite difficult. Some farmers don’t bother trying but still approach farming in a natural way. Bio-dynamics is a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition. Similar to organic gardening, it does not utilize any chemicals or pesticides and stresses the inter relationship between all plants and animals. Bio-dynamically grown products are as good as USDA Organic. Because they are often local farms with fewer resources, sometimes their products are a little more expensive. You should always wash them however because sometimes manure is used as fertilizer which can cause E. Coli contamination.
There is no question that organic produce, grass fed beef and wild caught fish are much healthier to consume than conventionally grown produce using pesticides, industrial, mass produced beef or farm-raised fish are. One would think that they should also be better for the planet. However, these organic, grass fed farms are actually worse for the environment than their less healthy counterparts are, at least on mass scale. It has a lot to do with land and resource efficiency and utilization. Industry can just do it more efficiently and cheaper.
A sad fact is that our food is less nutritious partly because of how we grow them but also because of the depleted soil we grow them in. The way we grow the vast majority of fruits and vegetables, organically or conventionally, is not good for soil health. We are losing topsoil at a rate 13x greater than it can replenish itself.
WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF TOPSOIL TO GROW FOOD IN!
Estimates are that, worldwide, over the last 150 years, we’ve lost between 35 and 75% of the topsoil on the planet. Under the Obama Administration, the Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a report that unless there are dramatic changes in trends, there will be NO topsoil left by the end of the century. Between 25-40% of the legacy CO2 in our atmosphere threatening human existence came from soil exploitation, and most of this is within the last 50 years. The forces that created this can be reversed as well.
The key is photosynthesis, the process that plants use to create energy and grow. The plants are the key. More specifically, the interaction between the plants and the billions of microorganisms a thimbleful of soil is how soil is formed. When you pull up a plant, the “dirt” you see in the roots is newly formed, rich soil. The little hairs on the roots and the micro-aggregates of dirt are all newly created soil.
Before the modern agricultural age, we ate foods which grew wild and grew in symbiotic relationships with each other and all the animals (and their excrement), plants and bugs around them. Now, most produce is “mono cropped” meaning, we grow vast areas of single crops which make them easier to grow and to harvest. Only 10 counties in the entire US produce more than 10 varieties of fruit or vegetables. There are no wild animals grazing those areas. No natural waterways nourishing them. This practice inevitably drains the vital nutrients from the soil which we then need to replenish. It impacts on how water flows through our lands and how or environment evolves. When the buffalo of the great plains roamed the West, the topsoil was 10 feet thicker than it is now. It takes 500 years of wild environmental evolution to create only 1 inch of healthy, nutrient rich topsoil! In a recent flood, Austin, TX lost 1-2 inches in just one weather event!
Regenerative agriculture is an approach to food and farming systems that rejects pesticides, artificial fertilizers and aims to regenerate, not just sustain topsoil, increase biodiversity, improve water cycles, enhance ecosystem services, support bio-sequestration, increase resilience to climate fluctuation, and strengthen the health and vitality of farming and ranching communities. Regenerative agriculture is based on applied research and thinking that integrates organic farming, permaculture, agro-ecology, agro-forestry, restoration ecology and holistic management. On a regenerative farm, biological production and ecological structure grow more complex over time. As living soil deepens, yields increase, nutrients increase and external inputs become less necessary. These types of practices are rare and only practiced on fairly small scales however they are working and making a difference. It is possible to grow and raise our food this way but it takes an extreme mind shift and desire by both people and industry for it to occur.
The fact is that 70% of the world’s population is fed by local, small peasant farmers using traditional farming practices. There are over 2 billion small-holder farmers (plots of land less than 5 acres) worldwide, the majority being women feeding their families and communities. We do not need chemicals or GMOs to feed the planet. It is a myth that chemicals help and in fact, crop yields have gone down with chemicals while destroying the soil and causing innumerable health problems. Most farmers increase their yields and subsequent profits within only 1 year of converting from conventional to organic farming. Better yet are regenerative farming practices which allow the soil to re-establish itself and become healthy again.
Within only one growing cycle, properly done regenerative farming can almost reverse crop productivity to pre-chemical use levels. Very quickly, there is a return of fungal elements, micro rhizomes, bacterial diversity and the earthworms return. The Earth recovers quickly when it’s given the chance to do so. From a global warming perspective, the largest CO2 consumer in the soil are the fungi. One of the main reasons that we even have global warming is that we have killed and sterilized almost 98% of arable land worldwide. If we only converted 5 million acres (~7800 square miles) into regenerative farms, we could reverse global warming and halt climate change. To put that in perspective, there are almost 7 million square miles of arable land worldwide. It couldn’t take much but it does take some effort.
How does CO2 play a role?
In 1800, before the industrialized revolution, there were 270 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. With the burning of fossil fuels and industrialization of agriculture, carbon, stored in the carbon sinks (see below) started to get released. About 50 years ago, there were about 350 ppm and now there are 415 ppm. Each ppm represents about 2 billion tons of carbon that was released in some way, either through the burning of fossil fuels or through the destruction of soil and the respiration of CO2 because of destructive agricultural malpractice. Fossil fuels are basically old trees and plant matter which became fossilized.
What are carbon sinks? These are reservoirs where carbon can be stored. In the planetary carbon cycles, the carbon in the atmosphere can make its way into the fossil fuel reserves, the oceans (leading to acidification), it can make its way into the above biomass (trees, grasses, animals…) or into the soil itself.
The GAIA hypothesis is The theory that the living planet creates conditions conducive to the perpetuation of life on the planet. This works unless things are dramatically thrown off kilter. If that happens, Venus or Mars happens, meaning, planets do have the capacity to die.
Estimates are that, worldwide, over the last 150 years, we’ve lost between 35 and 75% of the topsoil on the planet. Under the Obama Administration, the Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a report that unless there are dramatic changes in trends, there will be NO topsoil left by the end of the century.
Between 25-40% of the legacy CO2 in our atmosphere threatening human existence came from soil exploitation, and most of this is within the last 50 years. The forces that created this can be reversed as well.
The key is photosynthesis, the process that plants use to create energy and grow. The plants are the key.
100s of millions of years ago, there were 6000 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. It was a hot and steamy planet. The plants happened around 400 million years ago. Back then, there was no soil. Just rock and atmosphere. The right combination of plants and microorganisms led to soil creation. Plants working together with fungi archaea, bacteria… let to the production of soil. There are more microbes in a thimbleful of soil that there are people on the planet. There are more microbes in a handful of soil than there are stars in the universe. At the root-tip, the rhizosphere, the place where biology meets geology, there are even 100s of x more microorganisms than the 6 billion. The amount of life that is converting solar power, water and CO2 through photosynthesis to create plant sugars (carbohydrates), capture energy from the sun. Plants use CO2 to create sugars from carbon.
Plants can capture carbon but not nitrogen. Microbes however are able to capture nitrogen which the plants need. The bacteria on the other hand, need the sugars that the plant can provide. They exchange these elements. They coexist symbiotically. The tips of the root, the rhizosphere, is where the signal comes from.
As soon as we start to pour on synthetic fertilizers containing synthetic nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, the plant gets lazy and no longer has to work to gain these nutrients. It just soaks it up from the chemicals. The biological activity of the soil diminishes. The interaction between the plant and the soil, along with all the microbes diminishes. The carbohydrates are rich in carbon. The carbon rich molecules pour through the root tips in the biological exchange with the microbes, nematodes, fungi, earthworms… Those organisms then excrete these nutrients and die, forming the humus and soil. But if plants stop pouring their carbohydrates through the roots, that exchange stops. The soil creation process stops. The carbon sequestration process stops. Fertilizers not only speed up plant growth but they also speed up the growth of microorganisms. The overstimulated micro-organisms need to feed on something, and they start to use up the carbon and other minerals in the soil. It’s like cancer cells consuming the nutrients in the body so they can grow. As the mineral content in the soil deteriorates, the nutrient content of plants decreases as well, in the order of 40-80% less than they used to have.
Regenerative Organic Certification is a great organization which looks at soil, animal and farm-worker welfare. https://regenorganic.org/
This label is possibly the most important one as it not only assures that a product is organic, it also assures that the farm also:
- manages the soil in a regenerative manner (no till, cover crops…)
- treats employees safely and fairly
- treats animals ethically
Another great organization educating the public and actually doing something to encourage regenerative agriculture is: The Carbon Underground. There, you can actually help by “adopting” a meter of soil. Click here to donate.
For more information about regenerative agriculture, please look at this document: REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE.
“The Biggest Little Farm” This is an amazing and beautyful documentary about how a couple from the city convert a few hundred acres of dead, monocropped California dirt back into an organic, regenerative farm by using plants, insects, animals and Mother Nature’s wisdom. This shows the power of biodynamic and regenerative farming.
Non-GMO vs ORGANIC
Although avoiding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is important, do not be confused by the difference between Non-GMO and Organic. There is a BIG difference.
In a nutshell, if it is USDA Organic, it MUST by law also be Non-GMO. The reverse however is not necessarily the case. In fact, many food companies will label their foods non-GMO specifically to hide the fact that they are not organic, assuming the public is not smart enough to know the difference. Non-GMO foods can actually be quite bad for you since they may be significantly contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals which are not part of the Non-GMO labeling criteria. Below is a chart outlining the basic differences. Click 10 Reasons Why You Should Choose The Organic Food for the whole article.
11 reasons why “Organic” beats “Non-GMO” every time (from the book The Food Babe Way by Vani Hari).
- Certified organic foods are also non-GMO. USDA organic regulations prohibit any genetically modified (GMO) ingredients in a certified organic product. Avoid GMOs at all costs. Buying organic is one of the easiest ways to do it. NOTE: The USDA Organic label certifies that 95%-100% of the ingredients are organic, so there is a slight chance that (up to 5%) of non-organic ingredients are in the product however they are not supposed to be GMO. There are still some tricky loopholes, so that’s why you need to look for “100% certified organic” or a “Non-GMO Project” verified label to ensure it’s GMO-free. Note that even Non-GMO products allow for 1% GMO content.
- Organic crops cannot be grown with synthetic pesticides, and contain much lower pesticide residues overall, but not zero. Organic regulations prohibit certain toxic pesticides from being used on crops, but there are no special restrictions for non-GMO crops. So, non-GMO crops can be grown the same as other conventional crops and can still be laden with toxic pesticide residues, including organophosphates that are linked to lymphoma and leukemia. A bag of non-GMO potato chips can contain residues from up to 35 different pesticides used on conventional potatoes, several of which are known carcinogens, suspected hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, or reproductive toxins. Also non-GMO produce (like strawberries and celery) are on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen Guide as the most contaminated with pesticides. While natural pesticides are allowed on organic crops, it’s been shown that organic produce has very low levels of pesticide residue compared with conventional crops, and by eating organic you can significantly decrease your exposure to pesticide residues (source).
- The most widely-used herbicide on the planet, Glyphosate (the toxic ingredient in Roundup) is prohibited on organic crops. Non-GMO crops such as wheat can be pre-harvested with glyphosate. This herbicide is a toxin that can accumulate in your body the more you are exposed to it. It has been linked to kidney disease, breast cancer, and some birth defects. According to Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at MIT, glyphosate is largely responsible for the escalating incidence of autoimmune and other neurological disorders that we are experiencing. There are many non-GMO products on the market that contain wheat and seem healthy, but they could be laced with glyphosate. For instance, whole-wheat breads and non-GMO cereals that aren’t organic (like Grape Nuts) may contain glyphosate residues.
- Organic ingredients aren’t processed with toxic hexane. Most conventional oils (canola, soybean, corn) are extracted with the neurotoxin hexane, and some residue has been shown to remain in these oils. Hexane is also used in the processing of many soy ingredients like soy protein and textured vegetable protein, and testing done by The Cornucopia Institute has found residues in some of these ingredients. Industrial exposure has been linked to brain tumors and nerve damage. The FDA does not set a maximum residue level for hexane, and no one knows for sure how much residue is being consumed by the American public. There’s nothing prohibiting these ingredients in non-GMO products, but hexane-processed ingredients are banned from products with the USDA Organic seal.
- Organic crops are prohibited from being fertilized with sewage sludge. Conventional non-GMO crops can be treated with “bio-solids”, which is literally the treated waste that’s flushed down the toilet, and waste from hospitals and industry. This waste can be contaminated with such things as heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, pathogens, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and dioxins. It’s basically a toxic chemical soup! It’s been shown that some of these contaminants are absorbed into (or remain as residue on) the crops that we eat. These residues have proven deadly to cattle that have grazed on crops fertilized with bio-solids, and it certainly isn’t something we should be eating.
- Organic meat isn’t produced with growth-promoting drugs, like ractopamine. Packaged non-GMO foods may contain meat that has been raised on growth-promoting steroids and drugs. Residues of some of these drugs have been found in meat and it’s been shown that eating products with traces of ractopamine can lead to an unacceptable level of risk of diseases of the cardiovascular system.
- Organic animals aren’t fattened up with growth-promoting antibiotics. The overuse of growth-promoting antibiotics is creating superbugs that could threaten the entire human population. Antibiotics have been used for years, not just to fight infection, but to fatten up farm animals. This use is polluting our environment, water and food supply. Studies show that antibiotics have the same consequences for us, and can fatten us up too. This is because antibiotics kill off healthy bacteria in the gut, beneficial microbes called probiotics that influence how we absorb nutrients, burn off calories, and stay lean. Scientists have found that lean people have more of the good, anti-obesity bacteria in their guts, compared to people who are overweight. Growth-promoting antibiotics are only being used to increase industry profits and the best way to stop these practices is to refuse to buy products made with them.
- The non-GMO label claim is unregulated. Essentially anyone can say that their product is non-GMO, because the FDA has not set any standards to regulate the use of this claim on a label. This is not to be confused with the Non-GMO Project label, as they have a process for verifying whether products are non-GMO, and I feel that their label can be trusted (just as Whole Foods will only label products as non-GMO if they carry the Non-GMO Project verification label or are certified organic). However, some food manufacturers have been caught red-handed with unverified claims on their packages that say they are “non-GMO” when they really aren’t. As no independent 3rd party testing is required to verify their claims, there is some corruption going on. For instance, when Consumer Reports tested Xochitl tortilla chips with a non-GMO claim on the bag, they found GMO corn in them. Since most of these non-verified products have not been 3rd party tested and there are no government regulations, it’s not a reliable label claim.
- Organic foods prohibit many of the chemicals known as “obesogens” that trigger our bodies to store fat. Organic foods can make you stay thin. Antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, and synthetic preservatives are just a few of the chemicals that researchers have defined as obesogens. As reported in the New York Times piece, “Warnings From A Flabby Mouse”, exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals can cause weight gain. This is important because many of the synthetic pesticides that can be found on non-GMO conventional crops are endocrine disruptors. Also, the sewage sludge fertilizing some of these crops has been shown to contain endocrine disruptors. Minimizing your exposure to obesogens by choosing an organic diet may be the boost you need to lose weight and keep it off.
- By choosing organic food you’ll automatically avoid most of the sickening ingredients. Chemicals like synthetic preservatives, synthetic pesticides, growth hormones and antibiotics are not used in organic food. These are the chemicals that can make you tired, wreak havoc on your skin, make you feel fat and miserable, even though you’ve been dieting and exercising like crazy. They may also put you at risk for life-shortening diseases like cancer.
- Organic products can’t be fertilized with sewage sludge. Non-GMO and conventional crops can be fertilized with “biosolids”, a polite term for shit. This is sewage flushed down the toilet including waste from hospitals and industry, contaminated with chemicals, antibiotics, medicines and biohazardous waste.
Organic products are not perfect. Some of them contain suspect chemicals too. While it’s best to choose organic unprocessed food whenever you have the opportunity, it’s still very important to read ingredient lists on organic packaged products. Some organic and non-GMO products contain unnecessary additives and non-organic additives that can be detrimental to your health and waistline. Look for (and avoid) these ingredients in organic and non-GMO foods:
- Hidden MSG. Although monosodium glutamate is prohibited in organic food, they can use other forms of free glutamic acid such as Yeast Extract, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Textured Protein. These chemicals are excitotoxins and can greatly influence how much you eat.
- Carrageenan. Animal studies show that carrageenan causes gastrointestinal inflammation and higher rates of intestinal lesions, ulcerations, and even malignant tumors. Food grade “undegraded” carrageenan is contaminated with “degraded” carrageenan (the kind that’s not considered “food grade”). The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the National Research Council of the United States have both determined that degraded carrageenan is a carcinogen.
- Unhealthy Oils. Non-GMO canola oil is used in some products, but canola oil consumption is linked to vitamin E deficiency and a shortened life span in animal studies. Sunflower and safflower oils are very high in omega-6 fatty acids, and not the healthiest oil to use.
- Natural Flavors. These are not so “natural”, as they are created in a lab, may contain addicting chemicals and up to 100 secret ingredients.
INDUSTRY & GOVERNMENT INFLUENCE ON OUR FOODS
The impact and influence of food companies on our government policies and daily lives can’t be understated. Only 4 corporations control 85% of beef production, 80% of pork production and 60% of the chicken industry in the US alone. Only 3 companies control 1/2 of the agricultural seeds used worldwide and only 10 companies make 90% of the worlds processed foods. One half of the average Americans grocery bill goes to 5 grocery corporations and 1 in particular, Walmart, gets 1/3rd of it. The food industry has one goal: sell as much food as possible to make as much money as possible. Estimates suggest that the food industry generates 2-3 times as much food as the American public is even able to consume. Just like the tobacco industry in the 60’s and 70’s, the meat, dairy, egg, food and industrial agricultural industries of today have powerful lobbies and millions of dollars to spend on advertising to promote their products and develop “foods” that people crave and easily get addicted to. In fact, the food and agricultural industries have the largest and most powerful lobbies, averaging 187 lobbyists per congressman in Washington. I go into this more below but in the first 6 months of the Trump administration, 133 registered lobbyists were appointed to government positions.
One of the tobacco companies’ CEOs famously stated in a company memo that “Our product is doubt”. They were able to convince enough people for decades that smoking was not as harmful as everyone thought. As a result, people continued to smoke despite clear evidence of the dangers of smoking. It took over 7000 (yes 7000) articles linking smoking to cancer and COPD before the Surgeon General made a public statement in 1964 finally acknowledging these links. At that time, the average American smoked 1/2 a pack of cigarettes daily! Since the public announcement of how bad smoking was, average tobacco use has steadily decreased. That brave Surgeon General lost his job by the way because he bucked the system.
And they are STILL at it.
Although the smoking rate in the US today is about 15% (it was more than 50% in the 1950s), 75% of today’s smokers come from low income neighborhoods. Why?
- Tobacco companies have genetically engineered tobacco to be twice as addictive.
- They heavily market disproportionately in low income areas.
- They give tobacco coupons to those who receive food stamps.
- The hand out free cigarettes in low income housing areas
Many of the biggest of today’s food companies are owned by tobacco companies. They employ the same sneaky, addicting strategies to food that they use in tobacco. Some examples are:
- Philip Morris Companies (brands include: Marlboro, Merit, Basic, Virginia Slims) has almost 50% of the US tobacco market. They also own Kraft Foods, Inc., the largest U.S. food company (Oscar Mayer, Jell-O, Post cereals, Maxwell House) and Miller Brewing Co., the No. 2 U.S. brewer (Miller and Lowenbrau).
- R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (brands include: Winston, Camel, Doral, Salem). Owned by RJR Nabisco Holdings (Oreo, Ritz, Snackwells).
The “Big Food” companies follow the same playbook of lies and deception as their parent “Big Tobacco” companies. They just needing to lie a little bit and shed just enough doubt on how bad their products are for people to be confused and frustrated enough to keep eating the way they are eating. People like to hear good (or equivocal) news about their bad habits.
The food industry uses terms like “mouth feel”, “bliss point” and “craveability quotient”. These refer to how enjoyable and subsequently addictive particular foods are. Food companies employ “craveability” experts; chemists, psychologists and food engineers, whose job it is to create foods that have the right combination of salt, sugar, fat and flavorings that people will crave and become addicted to and will keep them coming back for more. Pepsi actually has harvested human taste buds and uses them in labs to test their foods.
These products create addictive responses in the same way that heroin, Demerol and morphine do. Frito Lay’s Potato Chips tempted people with their advertising campaign: “Bet you can’t eat just one!” You can’t because you’re addicted and need to continue to eat it to feel good. In fact, there are a number of scientists who used to work for the tobacco industry in the 1970’s trying to increase the addictive properties of tobacco who now work in the food industry. Chemicals are added to foods partly to make them more addictive and partly because they are cheaper, even if they are not healthy.
Since 1997, every single member of every single governmental body tasked with reviewing food chemical additive safety has had some financial ties to the chemical industry. In fact, in many cases, they were often evaluating the chemicals the companies that pay them produced. How is that for bias and influence.
There are more than 8 separate, independently functioning government agencies which are involved in government food policy. They do not communicate with each other and are often in conflict with respect to recommendations. The largest, and most known is he United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). One of its duties is to oversee the American farming industry. Its duties range from helping farmers with price support subsidies (otherwise they would all go out of business), to inspecting food to ensure the safety of the American public. It is also tasked by congress to promote US agricultural interests like meat, dairy and commercial crops like soy, wheat and corn. This make its job impossible to perform in an objective manner since it can’t on the one hand say the meat and dairy are unhealthy to consume while promoting those industries from a financial standpoint. The USDA also formulates the dietary guidelines for US citizens. The first “food pyramid” came out in 1992. The original one, designed by nutritionist Luise Light, who the USDA hired to come up with recommendations, was rejected because it focused too much on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, all the healthy things. The grain, meat and dairy industries, those heavily subsidized by our government, were not happy with this and heavily lobbied to alter it which the USDA did, focusing on grains, meat and dairy as most important. Dr. Light warned that the dietary approach the government was promoting would lead to dramatic increases in obesity and diabetes and it turns out, she was 100% correct. In 2011, the USDA replaced the “food pyramid”, the standard for a number of decades, with “MyPlate” in hopes of promoting healthier eating. It did so only after they were sued by a group of doctors (the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine or PCRM) since they would not respond to pleas by doctors to update the recommendations with healthier choices. Every few years, the USDA convenes, by invitation only, an advisory committee to make any changes to its recommendations. In 2014 such a committee was convened but 42 of 46 invited speakers represented industry. How is that for industry influence.
The USDA had an internal newsletter that promoted “meatless Monday” at work. There was such a political firestorm about the mere suggestion of not including meat and dairy that the newsletter was retracted within hours.
The food industries fight tooth and nail to minimize any bad press, advertising or legislation to protect the public from their unhealthy products. 3 of the largest lobbying firms in Washington, DC work for the food industry. They don’t just hide the truth, they outright lie and make completely ridiculous claims. For example, the Salt Institute made a statement that by reducing salt, healthcare costs for caring for the elderly would increase because they would live longer. The dairy industry has been lobbying to make it illegal for alternative milk products like soy milk and almond milk to use the term “milk” on their packaging because it would confuse the public into not buying cow’s milk. The same attempts have been made to limit the us of words like “mayonnaise”, arguing that it must contain eggs to be able to use this term or even “meat”, obviously trying to link this word to only animal sources of protein.
Many states have “food disparagement” laws which forbid public criticism of the food industry. Some states also have what are called “ag gag” laws. Gag laws protecting the agricultural industry. These laws make it illegal to videotape agricultural farms and buildings, even if standing on public land.
According to documents acquired by Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the American Egg Board, a governmental body, advised agriculture giant Unilever, makers of Hellman’s Mayonnaise, how best to pursue action against Hampton Creek, a company which produced dairy-free mayonnaise alternatives. In uncovered emails, they “joked” about having Hampton Creek founder Josh Tetrick killed and paid one of the largest PR firms Edelman to buy coverage praising industrial farming on food blogs in response. The board also discussed ways to have Hampton Creek’s products pulled from the Whole Foods supermarket chain. When these documents surfaced and became public, rather than apologize for their shameful, threatening and frankly illegal behavior, they lobbied the government to change the FOIA regulations making it harder to gather such documents. Their attempts were fortunately not successful.
The US government is required by law to promote American agricultural products (meat, dairy and commodity crops) regardless of their health implications. In fact, The USDA (Department of Agriculture) was founded for this very reason. In 2000, a program called “Triggering the Crave” was started to help food and beverage companies promote these products. It specifically was created to target people who were cheese eaters to get them to eat more cheese. Companies like Pizza Hut are incentivized by the government to put more cheese in their products (Pizza hut by the way has a pizza that contains 1 lb. of cheese per serving!). Subway used to have 2 sandwiches that did not have cheese on them. They don’t anymore and you specifically have to ask to have it removed. When you pull up to Taco Bell, there is a reason that they ask you without prompting whether you are interested in a Cheese Quesadilla. They are encouraged to do so by these government incentives. The USDA also runs a commodity checkoff program which collects funds through a checkoff mechanism from producers of a particular agricultural commodity and uses these funds to promote and do research on that particular commodity. Essentially, a portion of the profits from the sale of products like beef and dairy go right back into advertisement for those products. Whatever “research” is done is usually subsidized by industry rather than independent research labs. Dairy Management Inc., a shell company that the USDA uses to manage the checkoff program for dairy, has assigned 6 full time employees to McDonald’s where the sit around and think up advertising strategies to increase dairy use in their products.
The dairy lobby is as powerful as any other in Washington and it pumps millions of dollars into advertising campaigns. It floods our schools with free milk and promotions about how healthy milk is. It isn’t. The US government is tasked by law to promote American agricultural industries like dairy and meat production. It gives fast food companies incentives if they promote dairy which is why Pizza Hut has a pizza on its menu that has 1 pound of cheese per serving! It is also why Subway removed 2 sandwiches from their menu that did not have cheese on them. US taxpayers (you and me) bough $11 million-worth of cheese in 2017 which the dairy industry could not sell. That is only a small part of the $23.9 billion in subsidies that the agricultural industry, primary the livestock and dairy sectors, receive a year. In 2017, there were 1.2 billion lbs. of excess cheese rotting in the US and over 180 million gallons of milk were dumped by dairy farmers who could not sell it because of decreased demand.
Recently, evidence emerged that the sugar industry had paid scientists in the 1960’s to implicate saturated fat, and not sugar, as a cause for heart disease. While the revelations are stunning, food industry funding of nutrition research is more common than consumers may realize. A review of 168 nutritional studies in year alone identified that 156 of them (92%) showed biased results that favored the sponsor’s interests. A 2007 review of 206 studies that looked at the health benefits of milk, soda and fruit juices found that those sponsored entirely by a food or beverage company were 4-8x more likely to show positive health effects from consuming those products.
Our government gives huge subsidies to the meat, dairy, egg and commodity crop (CORN, used to make high fructose corn syrup, WHEAT and SOY) industries. 99% of subsidy money goes to these industries. These same industries pollute our environment, poison our air and water and mistreat animals raised on factory farms. The ratio of subsidy amounts given to these industries compared with any support given to farmers who grow fruit and vegetables is a pathetic 500 to 1. The cost of fruits and vegetables have gone up by 40% while the price of soda has gone down by 40% since the 1970’s!. Our government further poisons its own people through the food stamp and processed food programs it provides. They make it too easy for people to buy processed junk-food rather than healthier whole food alternatives. For example, the vast majority of food purchased by the food stamp program (used by more than 42 million Americans last year) was processed food, not whole fruits or vegetables. 20% of all of Coke’s worldwide profits and the majority of its US profits were from the food stamp program. Wal-Mart, whose founders are among the richest Americans ever, received $135 billion from the farm bill to purchase discounted processed food for its stores.
46 million Americans, including ¼ of all kids, are on food stamps. 100 million Americans, almost ⅓rd of the US population, live at or below the poverty line. SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the program formerly known as the “food stamps” program. Although SNAP sounds like it has nutrition as a priority, it actually doesn’t. People who receive food stamps have no requirements, or even information about which foods to buy and which are nutritious. It is the biggest food program the government pays for. Almost 1 trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000) are dedicated to the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government. The comprehensive omnibus bill, covering a number of diverse and some unrelated topics, is renewed every 5 years or so and deals with both agriculture and all other affairs under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture. Beginning in 1933, the Farm Bill has included titles on commodity programs, trade, rural development, farm credit, conservation, agricultural research, food and nutrition programs, marketing, etc. It is highly controversial and impacts on international trade, environmental conservation, food safety, and the well-being of rural communities, most of which have agriculture as their primary industry.
75% of the Farm Bill budget is spent on food stamps alone. 75% of that is spent on junk food, 10% of it alone, 7 billion dollars, is spent on soda. That’s 31 billion, 8 oz. sodas a year. As mentioned above, Coca Cola makes the majority of its profit in the US from the sale of it’s products via food stamps! All this junk food contributes significantly to disease, and it targets the most vulnerable people, the poor.
The public pays for this food travesty in 4 ways:
- Subsidies (financial support) from the government. Other than commercial crops like soy, corn and wheat, the only farming industries which receive subsidies are meat and dairy. No other fruit or vegetable crop gets any financial support. If the meat industry did not get the support it does, a hamburger and dairy products would cost as much as 10x more. Twinkies contain 14 subsidized products and NONE of them are healthy.
- The second way we pay is through the destruction of the environment and its significant contributions to climate change. Wasted water, extinction of animal species, use of chemicals… the list of damage is significant.
- We pay for the SNAP program, supporting the continued purchase and consumption of junk food by the poor.
- Finally we pay through Medicare and Medicaid, the health insurance which supports the elderly and the poor. All the chronic diseases are caused by or significantly worsened by an unhealthy bad diet. Treatment of these avoidable and reversible conditions account for 90% of healthcare dollars spent.
Here are 2 examples of how the industry has had an impact on food additives and how hard they have fought against regulation, Trans fat and sugar.
In 1993, the Harvard Nurses’ Study found that high intake of trans fat may increase the risk of heart disease by 50%. A decade later in 2003, Denmark banned all trans fats in food. It took another 10 years, though, before the U.S. even started considering a ban. All the while, trans fats were killing tens of thousands of Americans every year. Why, if so many people were dying, did it take so long for the U.S. to suggest taking action?
One can look at the fight over New York City’s trans fat ban for a microcosm of the national debate. Opposition came, not surprisingly, “from the food industry, complaining about government intrusion, likening the city to a “nanny state.” Yes, a ban on added trans fats might save 50,000 American lives every year, which might save the country tens of billions of dollars in healthcare costs. The industry actually argued that if people eating trans fat die early, Medicare and Social Security would save millions if not billions of dollars. The same argument ironically was used by the tobacco industry when more restrictions were placed on them back in the 1980, “smokers may actually cost society less than nonsmokers, because smokers die earlier.” It took many decades and over 7000 studies linking smoking to cancer and heart disease before the government finally acknowledged the serious health links to smoking.
Trans fats have been made illegal in only 4 countries worldwide: Sweden, Denmark Switzerland and, surprisingly, the United States. Canada and Britain have put significant reductions in place. The WHO has called for a worldwide ban by 2023. That having been said, in the US, various food additives which don’t start off as trans fats are converted into trans fats when cooked and this is not mentioned on food labels.
SUGAR in CEREALS
There have been calls to ban the advertising of sugary cereals to children for nearly 50 years, a product that Harvard nutrition professor Jean Mayer referred to as “sugar-coated nothings.” In a Senate hearing on nutrition education, he said, “Properly speaking, they ought to be called cereal-flavored candy, rather than sugar-covered cereals.”
The Senate committee invited the major manufacturers of children’s cereals to testify. They initially said yes until they heard what kinds of questions were going to be asked. One cereal industry representative candidly admitted why they decided to boycott the hearing: they simply didn’t “have persuasive answers” for why they’re trying to sell kids breakfast candy.
In the Mad Men age, before the consumer movement was in bloom, ad company executives were more willing to talk frankly about the purpose of their ads and how they felt about aiming the ads at the “child market”. A quote from an executive director of Kellogg’s ad firm: “Our primary goal is to sell products to children, not educate them. When you sell a woman a product and she goes into the store and finds your brand isn’t in stock, she will probably forget about it. But when you sell a kid on your product, if he can’t get it, he will throw himself on the floor, stamp his feet, and cry. You can’t get a reaction like that out of an adult”. Pretty pathetic.
Sugary cereals are the #1 food advertised to kids. The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative was launched, in which all the big cereal companies pledged they would only market “healthier dietary choices” to kids. The candy industry signed on as well. Despite that pledge, after the initiative went into effect, kids actually saw more candy ads. Hershey, for example doubled their advertising to children, while at the same time pledging not to. Only 2 countries have some kind of restrictions on junk food advertising targeting kids: the US and Syria! We’re in good company. As evidence of what advertising restrictions can do to improve health and decrease healthcare costs, one needs only look at Chile. Facing the health and subsequent healthcare costs, the Chilean government enacted a number of laws which have had a tremendous positive impact. These include:
- Food Labeling. All cereals and “junk foods” have to have warning labels that they are bad for your health, just like cigarettes and alcohol.
- They instituted an 18% sales tax on all soda.
- They banned all cartoon characters on cereals. No Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam or Flintstones characters.
- NO junk food advertising between 6am and 10 pm on all radio and TV media.
- All junk food and soda banned at schools.
The cereal companies themselves set their own definitions of ‘healthier dietary choices”, not the government or a scientific organization. Fruit Loops or Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs, consisting of up to 44% sugar by weight are what they classified as “healthier dietary choices.” What they did is basically just set the limit based more on what they were already selling, than what might be “best for children.” According to them, there are no unhealthy choices. They’ve since revised that down to allow only cereals that are 38% sugar by weight. But even at that level, that means kids are effectively eating 1 spoonful of sugar in every 3 spoonful’s of cereal!
The Federal Trade Commission tried stepping in in 1978, but the industry poured in so many millions of lobbying might that Congress threatened to terminate the entire agency’s funding should they try to interfere with Big Cereal, demonstrating just how powerful market forces are compared to those that can be mobilized on behalf of children’s health. The political “post-traumatic stress” induced by the aggressive attacks on the FTC led to a 25-year gap in federal efforts to rein in food marketing targeting children. Finally, the Inter-agency Working Group, a consortium formed by the Federal Trade Commission, CDC, FDA, and USDA, was formed and recommended “voluntary principles…designed to encourage stronger and more meaningful self-regulation,” with the radical suggestion of not marketing children cereals that are over 26% pure sugar. Not a single one of the top ten breakfast cereals marketed to children would meet that standard! General Mills shot back that such proposed nutrition standards were “arbitrary, capricious, and fundamentally flawed.” No surprise, since literally every single cereal they market wouldn’t make the cut. To suggest voluntary standards would “unconstitutionally” violate their right to free speech under the First Amendment. The FTC pointed out that suggesting voluntary guidelines does not violate the constitution. One grocer’s association called the proposed nutrition principles the “most bizarre and unconscionable” they had ever seen. That’s how freaked out the industry is, though, at even the notion of meaningful guidelines.
So, what happened? Again, agency funding was jeopardized and the FTC called the inter-agency proposal off.
At every level of government, the food and beverage industries won fight after fight, never losing a significant political battle in the United States. “We just got beat,” one of the child advocacy organizations said. “Money wins.” And it took lots of money; $175 million of Big Food lobbying, but apparently enough to buy the White House’s silence as the inter-agency proposal got killed off. As one Obama adviser put it, “You can tell someone to eat less fat, consume more fiber, more fruits and vegetables, and less sugar. But if you start naming foods, you cross the line.” “I’m upset with the White House,” the chair of the Senate Health Committee said. “They went wobbly in the knees. When it comes to kids’ health, they shouldn’t go wobbly in the knees.”
The food industry spends millions to support their businesses. Follow the money. We see the advertisements, the marketing, everywhere. What is invisible however is scarier. Millions are spent lobbying our lawmakers. Big Agriculture, Big Food, Big Dairy… they spent $500 million just on the present farm bill alone. They are present at every level of government. There is also a “revolving door” of jobs. In the first 6 months of the Trump administration, 133 registered lobbyists were appointed to government positions. 60 of them had been active lobbyists in the last few years and 36 had lobbied agencies directly related to their new government roles. The recent FDA head Scott Gottlieb took a position with Pfizer! A sugar lobbyist, Kaylee Zach, was an adviser on the dietary guidelines. Before that, she was the main lobbyist for the Corn Refiners Association, which represents the largest producers of high fructose corn syrup. And before that, she was a lobbyist for the Snack Food Association, nicknamed “Sugar’s voice for sugar, fat and salt”. She should have been deemed inappropriate since she had so many conflicts of interest, but she was not.
The American Beverage Association sewed 12 times to try to prevent the banning of BPA being used in cans because it would cost too much money. They won on a federal level but some states have banned it individually.
Talk about industry influence! Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis was purchased by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. As a result, all research done there is not dependent on public funding, the traditional funding source for the vast majority of research done in the world. Now, they essentially have unlimited funds, but it comes at a cost. They do what their “benefactors” are interested in. Up until the 60’s-70’s, 90% of research, especially when it came to nutritional studies, were done by academia, meaning university and publicly funded organizations like the government. That has changed and today, more than 90% of studies are done by private industry. And there is NO requirement that they publish their results, favorable or unfavorable to their cause.
The food industries also have aggressively blocked GMO labeling laws. 64 other countries have GMO labeling laws including all the European Union countries and even China and Russia. A few states like Vermont, Maine and Connecticut have passed GMO labeling laws but it caused a big outcry from the food industry. Big food spent more than $143 million to block GMO labeling.
“Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” Michael Moss
Describes how food companies create addictive “food” and poison the population.
MEAT AND DAIRY ARE THE NEW TOBACCO
Many of the big tobacco companies now own food and cattle companies. They have only one interest: sell more beef and dairy. And at whatever the cost. As we saw during the senate hearings about the collusion of the tobacco companies in the 70’s and 80’s, they are using the same tricks to dupe people into believing that meat and dairy are good for you. If there is a study which shows that meat or dairy are healthy, then you bet that the study was probably funded by big agg, the National Egg Association or the Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
THE MEAT INDUSTRY COSTS YOU MONEY
The estimates are that if the beef industry was not subsidized by tax dollars, that “Dollar Meal” would likely be a “10 dollar meal”. Taxpayers subsidize the meat and dairy industries to the tune of $38 billion dollars. Between 1995 and 2009, taxpayers doled out $160 billion in subsidies but 2/3rds of American farmers received nothing. It all went to big business. Growing cheap crops for industry is also big business. Over 300 million acres in the US are used to grow soy and corn (50/50) for animal feed. Only 14 million acres are used to grow plants for human consumption. Despite a 2019 report that the US was sitting on a 1.4 billion pounds of cheese surplus as well as millions of gallons of wanted milk being dumped, mostly because of less demand, taxpayers incentives to continue to pump out more dairy products continue.
10 COMPANIES CONTROL WHAT YOU BUY
There are 10 companies which control almost all processed food you buy. The list has changed over the years since, like the seed and agro-chemical companies which used to number in the hundreds and are now consolidated into 4 worldwide, the conglomerate into massive super-companies. The 10 largest include:
- General Mills,
- Associated British Foods, and
As an example of the massive number of products, just look at Coke. It’s not just Coke. They own over 500 beverage lines. Here are some of the brands you may be surprised are owned by this, the largest global beverage company in the world.
- Coke, the most popular beverage on the planet (Pepsi is #2)
- Diet Coke
- Coke “Zero”
- Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, Lemon Coke…
- Coke “Energy”
- Coke “Life”
- Coke with Coffee
- Mello Yello
- Seagrams Soda
- Blue Sky
- Burn (energy drink)
WATER and “HYDRATION”
- Vitamin Water
- Topo Chico, Mexican sparkling water.
- Aquarius, Japanese brand
- Lohas, Japanese still water
- Tum-e Yummies (kids flavored water)
- Minute Maid brand juices
- Simply brand juices
- Innocent juices and smoothies
- Fa!rlife dairy products
- Ades brand juices
- Honest Kids
- Mojo Kombucha
- Del Valle
- Bacardi Mixers
COFFEE and TEA PRODUCTS
- Georgia Coffee
- Barista Bros.
- Dunkin’ Donuts coffee drinks
- Honest Tea
- Gold Peak
- Peace Tea
- Ayataka Tea (Japanese brand)
NON-BEVERAGE COMPANIES OWNED BY COKE
- Columbia Pictures
SUGAR AND THE OBESITY CRISIS
It Started in 1977 with the McGovern Report. George McGovern was a US senator who was the sole chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs from 1968 to 1977. At that time, the committee looking into Americans’ worsening health was concerned about rising medical costs. The first guidelines for “Dietary Goals For the United States” came out as a result of those committee meetings and reported that our our diet had become “overly rich in fatty meats, saturated fats and cholesterol and sugar”. Reduction in consumption of such foods was strongly recommended.
The egg, dairy and beef associations were concerned about the impact this report would have on their sales. They united and flat out rejected the McGovern Report, even demanding a re-write. Despite Governor McGovern’s protests, the guidelines were revised with the words “reduced intake” even being permanently removed from the report. Instead, they encouraged the public to buy leaner foods with “less fat”. This heralded the start of the “low fat” and “reduced fat” craze in the 1980’s.
Reducing fat impacts on the taste and texture of foods. Americans love foods that taste good and have a good “mouth feel”. That’s why we like sugar, salt and fat. To maintain the taste and texture, the companies replaced the fat with sugar and various thickening chemicals. Between 1977 and 2000, American doubled their consumption of sugar as a result of those food alterations. That’s when the real addiction and resultant obesity crisis started.
Sugar is poison. It’s a chronic, dose-dependent liver toxin. A small amount of sugar in the diet is fine but the average American consumes 10 tablespoons a day (160 lbs. a year). Diseases like diabetes, heart and liver disease and strokes are all driven by sugar. Fructose, the sweet part of sugar, can only be processed by the liver. When the liver is overworked, the pancreas produces excess insulin, the storage hormone. In addition to allowing sugar to enter cells where it is used for energy, it is also stored as glycogen but excess amounts are stored as fat. High levels of insulin also block the brain from producing the satiety (fullness) signal. Your brain still thinks you are starving. You feel crappy, tired, lazy and of course, hungry. The behaviors stereo-typically associated with obesity, “fat and lazy”, are the result of, not the cause of the sugar we eat. Of the 600,000 food items available in American supermarket shelves, 80% have added sugar.
Sugar is in everything, including seemingly “healthy” things. Here are a few comparisons:
- Coke – 9.75 tsp VS Odwalla fruit drink- 9.25 tsp
- Gushers Gummy candies – 6.5 tsp VS Yoplait yogurt – 6.5 tsp
- Oreos – 3.5 tsp VS Luna Bar – 3.5 tsp
- M&Ms – 7 tsp VS Prego Tomato sauce – 12.5 tsp
Sugar has at least 50 alternate names on nutrition labels. Some include sucrose, glucose, fructose, dextrose, dextran, lactose, maltose, invert sugar, turbinado sugar, maltodextrin, sorghum syrup, rice syrup, treacle, any “juice” including fruit juice, caramel, diastatic malt, ethyl maltol, honey, molasses, agave, muscovado, panocha, sorbitol and the worst of all, high fructose corn syrup. They are all absorbed exactly the same. It is so complicated, and the sugar industry has so much influence, that sugar is the ONLY nutrient on food nutrition labels which is not expressed as a “% daily value”.
Processed starches like white bread, breakfast cereals, processed potato and white rice products (not whole rice or potatoes) are digested into glucose literally in an instant in the intestinal tract. They are metabolically identical to sugar and all its alternate identities. The sugar consumed from fruit, although chemically the same as the fructose from unhealthy sources, does NOT have the same effect on the body because of the fiber and other nutrients they contain. Fruit juice however has all the fiber removed so it is just as bad as soda.
Artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, Splenda and even a natural “0 calorie” sweeteners like Stevia are no better. They trick the brain into thinking that you are consuming something which also contains other nutrients leading to unnecessary hormonal. As a result you produce more insulin and they make you crave more food. They confuse the brain since they contain no fat, protein or fiber, usually associate with naturally sweet things like fruits and vegetables. As a result, various hormones are secreted which cause disruption in various systems, resulting in weight gain.
The American Heart Association suggests a daily allowance of 6-9 tsp (~25-50 gm). (1 tsp of sugar = 4 grams). A typical American child’s daily added sugar consumption is closer to 40 tsp (160 gm). A typical daily meal breakdown with respect to tsp. Of sugar is as follows:
- Cereal – 3 tsp.
- Orange juice, or some other kind of juice – 5 tsp.
- PB&J Sandwich – 8 tsp.
- Soda 10 tsp.
- Snack like Nutella & Go – 5.75 tsp.
- Salad dressing – 1 tsp. (the salad itself has 0)
- Pasta – 0.25 tsp.
- Pasta sauce – 1.75 tsp.
- Soda – 5.75 tsp.
Hyper Processed foods including sugars are 8x more addictive than cocaine. Tests on cocaine-addicted rats shows that when given the option, 90% of them would choose sugar-water rather than water laced with cocaine. This is why people crave and are addicted to these foods. Our “reward center” is stimulated in the same way the cocaine or heroin “rewards” the brain. The food industry know this, takes advantage of it and profits from it. We start our kids on these poisons in infancy with milk substitutes and baby foods. The food industry knows that the earlier kids are exposed to sugars, the sooner they become addicted and crave their processed foods. You can’t go anywhere and not be bombarded with their addictive products. Our brains are constantly tempted and triggered to crave these foods. They are often right at the eye level of our kids. They add toys, carnival-like features, bright and flashy packaging, cartoon characters, play areas at McDonald’s… It’s all to do one thing; sell more addictive food and as early as possible. The food industry calls the drive to crave certain foods the “craveability factor”. They refer to the point of craving the “bliss point”. The mere fact that such terminology exists is sad, insulting and unethical.
In 2002, the WHO put together a document known as TRS 916 (Technical Report Series 916). In it they specifically state that sugar is the main cause of metabolic disease and obesity. They further went on and stated that people should limit their sugar consumption to less than 10% of their total consumed calories. Sugar companies went ballistic and heavily lobbied for US representatives do something to prevent this document from being released by the WHO. Democratic representative John Breaux and Republican representative Larry Craig put pressure on the Bush administration to do something to prevent this WHO document from coming out. The Bush administration agreed and said that the WHO was too tough on the food industry. (It’s sad that there can be bipartisan support of the sugar industry which causes disease and death in our population but no partisan cooperation to improve the health of our nation!). Tommy Thompson, the head of Health and Human Services at that time, actually flew out to the WHO headquarters in Geneva and extorted the WHO by telling them that if they published this document, the US would withhold the $406 million dollars that were promised as a donation to the WHO. They relented and references to the harmful effects of sugar have been omitted from their health documents to this day.
Lobbyists for the sugar industry recommend that 25% of calories in your daily diet should come from sugar, 2.5x higher than what the WHO had recommended in their original report. Food labels today do not list the “% daily value” for sugar.
In the early months of the Obama presidency, Michelle Obama chose childhood health and obesity as one of her major health initiatives. She was very vocal about improving diet by limiting sugar and fat. Various food companies became nervous and “volunteered” to help. They did so by distracting from the food and focused more on increasing exercise. Although the food companies agreed to improve the quality of processed foods, they really didn’t do anything at all. The “Calorie Commitment” was introduced as a ruse to make it appear that they were lowering calories while actually simply adding different products labeled as “lower fat” but they had as many calories as before. Eventually, Michelle Obama changed the focus of her speeches emphasizing more exercise and not talking as much about better nutrition.
The US Department of Agriculture was initially created to help farmers thrive by promoting their products. In the aftermath of the McGovern Report, The USDA also inherited the responsibility of providing dietary guidelines to the US public, a clear conflict of interest. You can’t simultaneously promote products which make people sick and educate about healthy eating simultaneously. Their lean was clearly towards continued support of agricultural products, not health.
As the fat was removed from foods in the 1970s, it was used to create more cheese. Rather than cut back on dairy/cheese production, the government started helping dairy producers to sell more cheese by heavily marketing it. In 1995, Dairy Management was created as the marketing arm of the dairy industry. It flooded the market with advertising about cheese. The dairy isle was overwhelmed with various forms of cheese and incentives were given to fast food companies to promote cheese consumption.
BREAKFAST CEREALS and SUGAR
The American Medical Association started warning people about excess sugar consumption over 75 years ago, based in part on our understanding that “sugar supplies nothing in nutrition but calories, and the vitamins provided by other foods are sapped by sugar to liberate these calories.” Sugars aren’t just empty calories. They are negative nutrition. The more added sugars one consumes, the more nutritionally depleted one becomes.
Given the totality of scientific evidence, the FDA decided to make processed food manufacturers declare “added sugars” on the nutrition facts label. The National Yogurt Association strongly opposed this requirement since they needed additional sugars to increase their products’ taste since plain yogurt is pretty gross. The junk food association questioned the science, whereas the ice cream industry seemed to imply consumers would be too stupid to use it, so, better leave it off. The world’s biggest cereal company, Kellogg’s, took a similar tact, opposing it so as “not to confuse the consumer”, and should the FDA proceed with such labeling against their objections, added sugars should at most be “communicated in a footnote.” Their goal is to provide consumers with “useful information so they can make informed choices.” This from a company that describes their Froot Loops as “packed with delicious fruity taste, fruity aroma, and bright colors. Made with whole grains and ‘lightly sweetened,’ a good source of fiber.”
Lightly sweetened? Froot Loops has more sugar than a Krispy Kreme doughnut…. Froot Loops is more than 40% sugar by weight.
The tobacco industry used similar terms, such as “light,” “low,” and “mild” to make their products appear healthier before they were barred from doing so. Now, sugar interests are fighting similar battles over whether their “healthy,” “natural,” and “lightly sweetened” terminology is similarly deceptive.
One of the ways the cereal companies responded to calls for banning sugary cereals was to fortify their junk food with vitamins and minerals. General Mills defended products like Franken Berry, Trix, and Lucky Charms for being fortified with essential vitamins. Sir Grapefellow was a grape-flavored cereal complete with sweet grape starbit marshmallows but it was “vitamin charged.” Sugary breakfast cereals are not a complete food even if fortified with eight or 10 vitamins.
Plastering nutrient claims on the box can create a “nutritional façade,” acting to distract attention away from unsavory qualities, such as excess sugar content. The majority of parents have been found to misinterpret the meaning of claims commonly used on children’s cereals, raising significant public health concerns. Ironically, cereal boxes bearing low-calorie claims were found to have more calories on average than those without such a claim.
Not surprisingly, candy bar companies brag about their protein content because it has some peanuts, but it’s also a candy bar, with 50 grams of sugar, just like Froot Loops could be considered breakfast candy, as the same serving would have 40 grams.
Unfortunately, consumers believe front-of-package claims and perceive them to be government-endorsed, and use them to ignore the Nutrition Facts Panel on the back. There’s been a call from nutrition professionals to consider an outright ban on all front-of-package claims. The industry’s short-lived Smart Choices label was met with disbelief when it was found adorning qualifying cereals like Froot Loops and Cookie Crisp. The processed food industry spent more than a billion dollars lobbying against the adoption of more informative labeling, a traffic-light approach, railing against the suggestion that “any food might be too high in anything.”
LAB-GROWN MEAT and FISH CELLULAR AQUACULTURE
There has been a lot of interest recently in lab-grown meat and fish. These technologies use cells taken from living animals (who are not harmed in the process of harvesting) which are then replicated and “grown” in labs under sterile conditions. There are many companies working on projects like these and there are many meat and other food products, like fish, gelatin and eggs that are now being developed. In 2015, there were 2 or 3 companies working on this. In 2018, there were at least 15 companies now fully incorporated and at least another dozen also developing these technologies. No products are yet commercially available since they are prohibitively expensive but this will change in the very near future as the technology improves. There are estimates that there will be commercially available products by 2021.
As an example of how much interest there is in this subject, the biggest investor in lab-grown meat is actually Tyson Foods, the largest meat company in the world. They appreciate that the present inefficient and unsustainable system of factory farming and agriculture will not support our overpopulated planet’s demand for meat much longer and they see this as a viable plan for the future. The CEO of Tyson recently said “We don’t want to be disrupted (referring to their decrease in business as the growing movement against meat increases). We want to be part of the disruption”. They want to be thought of as a “protein” company and not a “meat” company.
Some people are bothered by the notion of lab grown foods. New technologies have always taken time to become accepted. People used to be against ice when commercially available ice came was developed. We have to do something to feed the ever-growing population and to help our quickly decaying environment. Lab grown meat would provide answers to both of these problems.
These technologies are not only important, they are essential if the human race is to survive. We simply can’t keep up with the growing demand based on population growth. We have already maxed out our land use for animal agriculture. These technologies will save the planet if implemented in time. An example of the difference between conventionally grown and lab grown meat, to raise a chicken to slaughter weight takes 6 weeks (a pretty crazy feat all by itself) and a huge amount of resources. Growing the same amount of chicken meat in a lab from actual chicken cells takes only 6 days. Although these technologies are expensive now, the costs are dropping very quickly. In 2008, it was estimated that just half a pound of lab-grown beef would cost $1 million. Then, on August 5, 2013, the first lab-grown hamburger was eaten. It cost $325,000 and took two years to make. Just two years later, the same amount of lab-grown beef costs about $11 to make. This a link to an article about the industry: “The Advent of Lab-Grown Meat“.
MODERATION DOESN’T WORK
A word about moderation. Moderation should only apply to things that are good for you. Playing the piano is good for you but not if you’re playing 16 hours a day and you have become an antisocial recluse. Eating carrots is good for you but not if that is the only thing you eat. Exercise is great for you but over-training or doing marathons every week become destructive. If something is known to be bad for you, why would you accept any amount of it? Is a little heroin better than no heroin? Are 2-3 cigarettes a day better than a pack a day? Although I do believe that the more plant-based your diet is the healthier you will be, there is little substantive scientific evidence that being 100% whole food vegan is any more of an advantage than having a diet with less than 10% of your calories coming from animal products. Before all you omnivores get too excited, what this amounts to practically speaking is only 2 meals a week, or more frequent meals with much smaller amounts of animal products at each meal. “Everything in Moderation” is a slippery slope. St. Ignatius said in the 1500’s that “Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation”. More recently, to paraphrase Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD of the Cleveland Clinic, “Moderate improvement in diet only leads to moderate improvement in disease”. If you have an advanced disease or multiple chronic conditions, consider being stricter with your diet. Once things have settled down and you have eliminated some medications you can slowly reintroduce some occasional animal products if you must.
An example of where “moderation” was used in a study is one where the link between meat consumption and diabetes were examined. In Americans, both men and women who ate the standard, meat-heavy diet, their risk of diabetes was 70x greater than in those eating a plant-based diet. In those consuming a “moderate” amount of meat, the risks of developing diabetes dropped to 23x. A significant drop indeed but it was still a 23x increase as compared with a plant-based diet.
Moderation is all about perception. Surveys of people and moderation usually find that what people perceive as moderation, consists basically of whatever those particular people are consuming.
Although small changes over time lead to big gains in the long run, the more you improve your diet and lifestyle, the greater and faster your improvement will be. Dive in. In order to see real benefit, you need to make real change. When it comes to addictive behaviors, which includes eating patterns and habits, it is often better to “go cold turkey” and change completely. When you move slowly, change is also slow and not as rewarding. When you see and feel the change, you are more likely to keep up with it and continue to improve. When a drug addict or alcoholic tries to quit, they don’t do so incrementally or “in moderation”. It has to be all or nothing. Otherwise, there is always a taste of what you crave and quitting altogether becomes impossible. Having “reward” days or meals may be OK if you have the discipline to follow a healthful diet the rest of the time but if all you are thinking about is that reward, it becomes counterproductive and you are more likely to reward yourself more often.
An example of how moderation does not work is seen in the impact processed meat has on cardiovascular disease. The biggest jump in morbidity is seen when you go from 0 servings to one serving a day. The more you add, the worse the disease however the difference becomes smaller and smaller. The best amount of processed meat is NO processed meat. Moderation is a bad idea.
RECYCLING AND COMPOSTING
- ALL the plastic that man has ever made, is still around. NONE of it has broken gone away and it is either in the ground, in the oceans. in our food or in our bodies.
- 90% of what you put in the recycling bin gets thrown out. Either into landfills or into the oceans.
- Only 66% of paper gets recycled and 31% of landfill waste is actually cardboard.
- 27% of glass gets recycled.
- 8% of plastic gets recycled.
- Single-stream bins reduces recycling by 25% because of cross contamination.
- REFUSE: If you don’t want or need it, don’t get it. An example are straws at restaurants. Ask the server not to bring you one with your beverage.
- REDUCE: We need much less than we think we need. Although a little less convenient, choose to buy loos-leaf lettuce rather than plastic containers filled with salad. Buy loose apples rather than a bag of them. It’s a little more work but every little bit of less garbage and plastic helps. In addition, we buy way too much than we need and often buy in bulk leading to wasted, rotten food. The largest portion of landfill waste if food and on average, half the food produced in the US gets thrown out. Buy less. You may have to buy food more often but it will be fresher and you are more likely to waste less. Although 70% of people go to the grocery store with a shopping list, only 10% adhere to it. Do not “impulse buy”. This applies not only to food but to everything we buy. The average American throws away 82 lbs. of clothing a year. We buy way too much stuff we just don’t need.
- REUSE: Everything can be re-purposed or replaced with something used. Swap anything single-use with reusable things like plastic cutlery, beverage containers or grocery bags.
- RECYCLE: If you must, recycle, but be aware that only 6-9% of what you put in the bin actually gets recycled! In fact, in 2018, China, the country we send the most recycling to, only actually recycled 1% of what we sent them. The have discontinued ALL recycling imports from the US citing that our recycling is too contaminated with garbage and it’s filling their landfills (or is getting dumped into the oceans). Most gets thrown out by the countries we ship our recycling to, which is the vast majority of it. In fact, some countries, like China, are no longer accepting our recycling which is leading to massive stockpiling of recycling and unfortunately, most of this gets thrown out to make room. Each country and even local municipalities have their own specific rules about recycling but here are a few general notes, comments and tips:
- Clean all glass, cans and plastic as much as you can. If they are soiled, they’ll get thrown out.
- Disposable coffee cups are not recyclable. The plastic lining (yes they are lined by plastic!) makes them too hard to recycle. In fact, if only one cup is found in a bin, many places will just throw out the whole containers contents rather than try to filter through it.
- Styrofoam is NOT recyclable.
- Most caps and lids are still not recyclable.
- Grease on a pizza container results in it getting filtered out and put into landfills. Paper should be clean.
- Paper towels are not usually acceptable.
- Just because something has a recycling symbol on it does not mean it is recyclable. In general, 1-7 are accepted.
- Aluminum foil can be re-used but it can also be recycled if not too soiled.
- Coffee pods (K-Cups) and creamers cannot be recycled unless the aluminum top and inside paper filter are removed and separated. The plastic part is not recyclable.
- ROT: Compost everything you can. Organic matter does NOT compost in landfills so don’t put it in the garbage. There is not enough oxygen organic waste to decompose because there is too much compression from all the garbage. Landfills decompose very slowly by anaerobic (non-oxygen) decomposition creating methane and they contaminate the earth by leaching chemicals.
A great resource about what and how to recycle is www.How2recycle.info.
Want to grow a garden indoors, check out Aggressively Organic. They provide an affordable solution for small spaces.
As crazy as it sounds, hotels worldwide throw out 5 million, almost completely unused bars of soap, a DAY. That’s 2 billion a year! There is an amazing soap recycling program, providing recycled soaps to poor and underprivileged people worldwide: www.projectecosoap.org
Another crazy statistic is that worldwide, airline passengers generate 5.7 million tons of garbage in 2016. Bring your own water container. Refuse the packaged foods and snacks. There is a lot that can be done to cut this down.
A few great references to learn how to reduce plastic use along with waste in general are:
ANTIBIOTICS and AGRICULTURE – THE HISTORY
The 2 biggest events which have extended Humans’ life expectancy were the evolution of proper sanitation systems (18th and 19th centuries) and the development of antibiotics (only the last 70 years). Prior to the beginning of the 20th Century, infectious diseases accounted for high morbidity and mortality worldwide. The average life expectancy at birth was 47 years (46 and 48 years for men and women respectively) even in the industrialized world. Today life expectancy ranges from the mid 60’s in poorer, less developed countries, to the 90’s, lifestyle depending of course. Click here for a reference. Although antibiotics have undoubtedly cured many life-threatening infections and saved many lives, one could argue that because of their overuse in humans, but mostly in the agricultural industry, they have contributed to much more illness and resulted in many more deaths than it has saved. Their overuse has resulted in the creation of a number of drug resistant organisms which might well be the downfall of Humanity. The World Health Organization sites drug-resistant infections as the most concerning problem facing humanity. Not global war or climate change.
Antibiotics have been used for millennia to treat infections, although until the last century or so people did not know the infections were caused by bacteria. Various molds and plant extracts were used to treat infections by some of the earliest civilizations. The ancient Egyptians applied moldy bread to infected wounds. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that scientists began to observe antibacterial chemicals in action. German physician Paul Ehrlich noted that certain chemical dyes colored some bacterial cells but not others. He concluded that, according to this principle, it must be possible to create substances that can kill certain bacteria selectively without harming other cells. In 1909, he discovered that a chemical called arsphenamine was an effective treatment for syphilis. This became the first modern antibiotic, although Ehrlich himself referred to his discovery as ‘chemotherapy’, the use of a chemical to treat a disease. The word ‘antibiotics’ was first used over 30 years later by the Ukrainian-American inventor and microbiologist Selman Waksman, who in his lifetime discovered over 20 antibiotics.
The discovery of penicillin was made in 1928 by Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) who was doing experiments on the bacterium Staphylococcus, a normal skin microbe. He opened his lab windows one day, introducing penicillium mold from outside which contaminated his petri dishes and he noted that some of them died as a result of the contamination. He found that the fungus Penicillium notatum proved extremely effective even at very low concentrations, preventing Staphylococcus growth even when diluted 800 times, and was less toxic than the disinfectants used at the time. It was first tested on humans in 1941 and Ernst Chain and Howard Florey purified the first penicillin, penicillin G. It was first used in 1942 during World War 2 and it undoubtedly saved many thousands of lives. It was dubbed the “miracle drug”. In 1949 and it became widely available outside the Allied military and again, it saved many thousands of civilian lives from mortal infections.
During the war, there was a constant demand for meat to feed the military and the meat industry was encouraged to expand to meet this need. That guaranteed market disappeared after the war was over. In addition, there were problems with crop failure after the war in Europe and Asia. To make up for both of these problems, the agricultural industry started looking for ways to save money. In other words, try to continue to maintain the increased capacity but cut costs at the same time. They switched from feeding pulverized fish feed from the California coast (highlighted in John Steinbeck’s famous novel “Cannery Row”) to using cheaper grains which were not as nutritious. This heralded the “supplement” industry.
In 1948, a scientist named Thomas Jukes, who was forking for the pharmaceutical company Lederle Labs, was working of supplementing animal feed. He did an experiment where he fed newborn chicks various established feeds and compared their growth with chicks fed the leftover, throw-away remnants from the formation of the antibiotic tetracycline. He found that despite being fed less nutritious feed, the “residue”-fed chicks grew almost twice as much as any other group. They found that there were small traces of the antibiotic still in the remnants and this was felt to be responsible for this “growth promotion”.
Within 5 years, livestock growers were using it in their productions, feeding their animals more than 500,000 pounds a year. Today, the US uses more than 30 million lbs. of antibiotics in livestock including chickens and other poultry, beef, pork, sheep and even fish. Worldwide, over 260 million lbs. are used. The vast majority of these antibiotics are not used to treat disease but to promote growth and prevent disease.
With EVERY dose of antibiotic, the bacteria have an opportunity to develop resistance to an antibiotic. If you are treating a life-threatening infection, the risk may be worth it but as a growth stimulant or as a preventative means, we are playing Russian Roulette. The bacteria will eventually win. Humans will lose.
Before the development of antibiotics, most people didn’t die of the lifestyle-diseases people die from today. Most didn’t lie long enough to develop those diseases. Most died of injuries; gored by an ox, injured during a battle, crushed in an industrial accident as was common in the early days of such factories and, most of the time, from the infections which finished those injuries off.
In an instant, usually lethal infections became curable literally within days. This has been a “golden era” of medicine because of antibiotics. This era has lasted barely 70 years and now we are on the precipice of the end of this era with the development of antibiotic resistance. People are already dying of infections, not responsive to antibiotics, at a rate which is rapidly approaching epidemic levels.
Bacteria compete against each other, just like any other organism, for resources and food. They compete by producing lethal compounds directed against each other. Other bacteria develop defenses against that attack. Antibiotics were developed to attack bacteria and in a similar way as occurs in nature, bacteria develop defenses to thwart our attack. They develop such resistance quickly. The first antibiotic discovered, Penicillin, started to become ineffective within 2 years. Resistance to Vancomycin in 16 years. Imienem in 13 years and a more recent antibiotic, Daptomycin in only 1 year!
We are constantly playing “leapfrog” with bacteria and it is frightening coming to an end. Some pharmaceutical companies are no longer developing antibiotics because they just lose money doing so. There are over 100 different antibiotics on the market. Some microbes are resistant to all but 1 or 2 and a few are resistant to all of them.
In 2000, a single case of Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC) was identified in a hospital in North Carolina. This microbe is resistant to all but 2 antibiotics. By 2015, cases spread to all but 3 states in the US, South America, Europe and the Middle East. In 2008, an Indian patient was identified in Sweden with an infection resistant to all but 1 antibiotic. The microbe causing this infection carried a gene mutation known as NDM-1. This stands for a gene that produces New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase in certain bacteria which is a substance that destroys the commonest types of antibiotics. This gene mutation has now spread to China, Asia, Africa, Europe, Canada and the US.
In the US and Europe, more than 50,000 people a year die from infections not treatable with antibiotics because of resistance. Worldwide, the estimation is that 700,000 deaths (2015 data) occur because of resistance. They also predict that if we can’t get this under control, by 2050, the worldwide toll will be over 10 million deaths a year.
If we lose antibiotics, all of the following would also be lost:
- Any protection for at risk , immunosuppressed individuals like:
- Cancer patients
- HIV and AIDS patients
- Transplant recipients
- Premature babies
- Any treatment which involves implanted devices (1 out of 6 would probably die):
- Stents for heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms, kidney infections…
- Pumps for diabetes and pain management
- Dialysis catheters
- Joint replacements (think of all the hips, knees and shoulders are implanted yearly).
- Surgery in general since many procedures rely and proven to be safer with a prophylactic dose of antibiotics.
- No heart operations
- No prostate biopsies,
- No cesarean sections…
- We would have to fear now routine infections:
- Strep throat. Can lead to heart failure and joint destruction. George Washington died of an infection caused by Strep.
- Skin infections will lead to amputations.
- Giving birth had a 1% death rate from infections alone, even in the cleanest hospitals.
- Pneumonia killed 30% of kids.
If you knew that ANY injury could lead to death from infections, would you live you life the way you do now? Would you ride a mountain bike, let your kid slide into 1st base, climb a tree… In fact, the first person to receive penicillin, a British police officer named Albert Alexander, whose infection resulted in him losing an eye and oozing pus from his skin, became infected by simply going into is garden and scratching his face on a thorn.
We have done this to ourselves. In only 70 years.
- Penicillin used to be sold over the counter in the 1950’s in the US. Antibiotics are still available that way in much of the developing world.
- In the US, 50% of antibiotics given in hospitals are given unnecessarily.
- 45% of out-patient antibiotic prescriptions in doctors offices are inappropriate and not indicated.
- HOWEVER, the majority of antibiotics used are for livestock and fish farms, not to treat illnesses but as a growth stimulant and to prevent infections because of horrible, stressful and unsanitary factory-farm living conditions. In the US, 80% of the antibiotics used are for livestock, not Humans.
- Even in agriculture, antibiotics are used for crops like apples, citrus and pears to prevent infection.
- Some herbicides, like glyphosate found in Roundup are actually antibiotics and are used not only to kill weeds but also as a drying agent to make harvesting easier.
THIS WAS NOT ONLY PREDICTABLE, IT WAS PREDICTED.
The father of the antibiotic era Alexander Fleming, the scientist who first identified penicillin, predicted this catastrophe. He was given the Nobel Prize in 1945 for his discovery and shortly after, he said in an interview “The thoughtless person playing with penicillin treatment is morally responsible for the death of the man who succumbs to infection with penicillin-resistant organism. I hope this evil can be averted.” He was concerned specifically that antibiotics, given at too low a dose, would allow resistance to develop more rapidly and he was exactly right. That is exactly what the meat and agriculture industries do. 2 years after his comments in 1947, penicillin-resistant staph arise in hospitals first in Great Britain, then Australia then in the US in 1955.
This same issue with resistance seen in humans was also seen in animals. The first signs were in dairy. Kids, who naturally drank a lot more milk than adults, started to develop penicillin allergies because there was so much penicillin in the milk they were consuming. Cheese makers started complaining that they could not make cheese since the antibiotics were killing the beneficial bacteria they used to ferment the cheese. Then there was an outbreak of drug-resistant staph in southern England with over 100 people getting ill with 6 deaths. The a a drug-resistant outbreak of E. Coli broke out in Yorkshire killing 13 children. In 1969, Britain was the first government to restrict antibiotic use in the agriculture industry and took growth promoters completely out of farming. What did the US do since we were the agricultural power in the world and were the first to use antibiotics and growth promoters in the industry and use the most in the world? Unfortunately, NOT MUCH! Not until 2017, when after decades of consumer pressure, was some minimal regulation implemented.
In 1976, Dr. Stuart Levy staged the first US experiment proving that antibiotics in feed was a grave threat to human health. He set up an experimental chicken farm outside of Boston. He fed one small group of chickens on the farm antibiotic-laced feed and very soon, those chickens started to develop drug-resistant bacteria in their intestines. Those same resistant bacteria started to appear in the intestines of the non-antibiotic fed chickens and then eventually, the human farm family became colonized with the same drug resistant bacteria. That recognition resulted in… NOTHING! The next year, when the FDA tried to withdraw the licenses that it granted to growth promoters in the 1950’s, powerful congressmen, under the influence of and beholden to the even more powerful agricultural industry (meaning they were paying them), threatened to hold the FDA’s entire budget hostage and forced it to back down. It stayed that way, allowing resistant bacteria to flourish and allowing people to become sick and die.
This is a 2014 map showing how drug resistant salmonella from just one California chicken processing plant caused more than 600 people to get sick in 29 states, including Puerto Rico. The CDC estimates that for every diagnosed case of food-borne illness, there are another 30 that go un-diagnosed. So in reality, this outbreak probably sickened close to 20,000 people.
We can try and try and try to keep developing new effective drugs, but evolution always wins. Bacteria produce a new generation every 20 minutes. It takes drug companies 10 years to create a usable new drug. Every time we use an antibiotic, regardless of what setting it is in, we give the bacteria billions of chances to crack the codes of the defenses we’ve constructed. There has never been a drug they have not overcome.
Is it hopeless? Maybe not but it would take extreme effort on everyone’s part. Here are some examples of what we would need to do:
- The livestock, fish and agricultural industries would have to stop using antibiotics. If not voluntarily, then by force with legislation.
- Systems monitoring use of antibiotics and disease outcomes can be implemented to better tailor treatments.
- Gate-keeping monitoring systems requiring a second look at all prescriptions ordered could be implemented.
- Surveillance systems monitoring resistance worldwide could be implemented.
- People have to stop expecting and demanding medications for themselves and their children. We need to be patient and trust that most illnesses get better on their own. It may be inconvenient, but it’s necessary.
- We can refuse to purchase animal products and produce known to have come from farms where antibiotics are used. As mentioned above, it was not until 2017 that after public pressure, followed by some institutional fast food companies like McDonald’s starting to speak up, did the government implement some minimal regulation. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.
HOW TO INTERPRET RESEARCH STUDIES & UNDERSTANDING “RISK”
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Whether it was actually acclaimed American author Mark Twain or 1800’s British Prime Minister Benjamin Diraeli who first coined this phrase is up for debate but the fact is that it is absolutely true. Statistics are more often times confusing and contradictory rather than helpful and illuminating. Regardless of your interests and beliefs, you can find support and “proof” for your position somewhere based on some study which in most cases has manipulated and cherry picked data. This is particularly true of nutritional and lifestyle studies trying to correlate behaviors and disease.
Just because someone on the web has 1 million followers does not make them an authority. Anyone can say anything about anything almost without any oversight and you can always find something, even legitimate studies, supporting a particular view or opinion. People always like to hear good, or even equivocal news about their bad habits. In addition, studies and outlandish claims must always be taken from a 30,000 foot view. There are legitimate, well controlled studies that show that smoking helps diminish the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. On the surface, this may seem good but when you consider that it does so by impairing your immune system, dampening the inflammatory response, the benefit is ludicrous. Smoking also causes you to lose weight so should we promote it as a legitimate weight loss strategy? Beware of the message and the messenger.
In today’s world of conflicting interests, flawed science, and sensationalized media, it’s important to question new claims and findings, especially when those findings could have serious implications for your health. One of the most important things you can do is to read the scientific literature yourself. The web is a huge resource although this can be a double-edged sword since anyone can put anything up on the web without any scrutiny or oversight whatsoever. Google does have a search engine called Google Scholar that is helpful for finding studies and papers. It pulls results from online journals and databases around the web, and is pretty good about only providing papers from trustworthy sources. PubMed is also a great place to look for trustworthy articles.
Pubmed – The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) library of scientifically verified studies. 2 other such sites are:
At the broadest level, we can categorize research into either review papers or original research.
Review papers draw on prior published research on a specific topic and use that research to form their own broader conclusions. Reviews will usually give you some helpful background on a topic and they’re generally much easier to read and understand than original research which comprises anything that is based on the researcher’s original findings, whether through experiments in a lab or population-wide data collection. This graphic (seen below) illustrates some types of studies you’ll encounter.
Experimental studies are the only type of study that can potentially establish causation (cause and effect), because the researchers actually manipulate variables instead of just observing a sequence of events. Randomized controlled trials are the ‘gold standard’ of scientific research. Observational studies are the other main type of original scientific research and are often criticized for inferring causation from correlation.
Cohort studies look at a group of people with similar characteristics (a ‘cohort’) who are free from the outcome being studied (cancer, heart disease, elevated cholesterol… for example). The people in the cohort are measured for different risk factors at baseline, and then followed over a period of time to see what happens to the outcome. Researchers can see if having a certain risk factor at baseline increased people’s chances of developing the outcome in the future. Cohort studies can be further broken down into prospective (looking into the future) and retrospective (looking at the past) studies, based on when the study was conducted in relation to when the data was collected. A retrospective cohort study would use data from the past to define a cohort and measure baseline risk factors, and then look at present-day data to see which people in the cohort already developed the observed outcome.
A case-control study on an outcome would divide participants into two groups based on whether they have the measure (the ‘cases’) or not (the ‘controls’). Researchers would then look back in time using existing data to see if they could pinpoint any factors that could potentially explain the different outcomes.
Cross-sectional studies observe a population at a single moment in time, measuring both the occurrence of the outcome in question and various risk factors. For example, researchers might look to see if populations who live closer to polluted urban areas have a higher rates of cancer.
When researching a topic, begin with review articles. The authors have already done the hard work of rounding up relevant studies and drawing conclusions from them, and reviews are a great starting point for looking deeper into the original research.
Here are some questions to ask and things to watch out for when reading research studies:
- Was the study short-term or long-term? Many interventions are only effective in the short run, and have completely different effects over the long term. An example of this are ketogenic diets. They improve many parameters in the short term but long-tern, they actually cause harm.
- Was the study done in vitro or in vivo? In humans or animals? Clearly, an in vitro study (one done in a petri dish or test tube) isn’t necessarily generalizable to living beings, and studies done in animals don’t necessarily apply to humans. An example of this is the effect of soy on breast cancer. The only such studies were on mice at levels of soy consumption which were almost impossible for humans to consume. Massive amounts of soy may be bad for mice, but typical amounts consumed by humans are actually protective.
- Was the methodology strong? If a trial isn’t randomized, double blind, or placebo-controlled, its results might not be as dependable. In observational studies, it’s vital to ensure that different variables are controlled for. You should also watch out for general cluelessness and dishonesty. Some things to consider are: who funded the study (the Egg Board has a bias to promote studies showing the eggs are good for you), do the authors sell anything on their websites, are the authors funded by companies (this might take some digging)…
- Did they use surrogate markers or end points? Surrogate markers, such as cholesterol numbers and other lab test values, are often used to measure the effectiveness of a treatment. However, changes in surrogate markers don’t necessarily translate to changes in overall disease outcomes. If a study uses values from a blood or urine test to measure success rather than using disease progression or mortality, it’s good to be wary. An example is how recent reports in the press claim eggs do not contribute to elevation in cholesterol levels. The studies were biased (sponsored by the Egg Board) and flawed. Their cohort all ate eggs regularly and simply had a few more added to see the difference. If you never eat eggs, you will definitely see an increase. If you eat 3 a day, increasing to 4 will not have an impact.
- Absolute risk or relative risk? Sometimes, scientists like to use relative risk to make their results sound more impressive. If a treatment reduces the risk of a disease from 2% to 1%, the absolute risk reduction is 1%. Treatment or no treatment, your absolute risk of getting the disease is pretty small. However, you could also truthfully say that the treatment reduces the risk by 50%. This sounds more impressive, but it gives a skewed impression of how valuable the treatment actually is. A great resource explaining this further is from the mayo clinic. Click here to see the site.
- How significant is a risk reduction or increase anyway? As a general rule of thumb, statistical significance occurs if there is 2x increase or decrease in whatever you are measuring or following.
This equates to a 100% difference. The larger the number of subjects, the more significant an improvement is, even at lower percentage levels. This is an online tool to calculate % difference. Just as an example of a reliable cause and effect statistic, smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer by 2500%. That is a 25x increase.
- Be careful of grandiose, broad sweeping claims. Any claim that there is a miracle cure from some newest and greatest superfood should make you immediately suspicious. Anyone who says that kale will fix a broken arm is probably exaggerating a bit!
Again, you can find studies and case reports to support whatever you want, if you look hard enough and overlook the details. Although I strongly believe that a whole food, plant-based diet is the healthiest one
overall, a small amount of animal food sources will probably not cause you harm, as long as you keep your percent of calories from animals to less than 10% of your total. Those who question the validity of data and studies which promote the benefits of plant-based diets and the downsides of consulting animal products argue that the highest quality studies, those which are long-term, double blinded, placebo controlled, cross-over trials have not been done. Those studies will never be done. It takes decades and lifetimes to see how nutrition impacts on health. What we must do is look at 2 things: the balance of available studies and examine the places where people enjoy the greatest lifespans and health spans. Using those criteria, the more plants you eat and less animal products you eat, the better off you are.
Additional helpful links and documents:
Wellness and Lifestyle Basics Handout – Wellness and Lifestyle Basics Handout