Diet for Health, Part 1: General Recommendations

by Catherine M. Haug,  Jan 2007; updated Feb & Aug 1007; Jan 2014; and April 2019

There is a lot of conflicting information about diet. For example, one day you hear coffee is bad for you; the next day you hear coffee is good for you. What are you to believe, on this and other dietary claims?

One thing on which almost all practitioners agree, is that our diets should consist of whole foods.  A whole food is one in its natural, minimally processed form.  You can grow it in your garden, raise it on your farm, fish it from ocean, lakes or streams, or prepare it in your own kitchen.  It can be a single ingredient, or a recipe made up of whole foods. It can be cooked or raw.  It can also be isolated from the original whole food by a traditional (non-industrial) process; for example cream or butter, separated from the original milk.

But what is a whole food?

Note to self: update links to my old iWeb site when such site is moved to my blog in: Local vs Organic, pH Blues, and Food as Medicine sections.

General Diet Recommendations

What is a “whole food?”

A whole food is a natural member of the fungi, plant or animal kingdom, or is a naturally separated part of such a food. For example, a chicken breast, a tomato picked form the plant, cream separated from whole milk, or chopped, fresh celery. It can also be a fermented food, such as sauerkraut.

A whole food is not a chemical manufactured in a lab or industrial facility.  Neither is it a ‘natural food’ isolated from the whole food by industrial process; for example, corn oil.

A healthful whole food is not from an animal fed an unnatural diet; for example, beef fed a diet of corn and other grains, instead of their natural diet of native grass. Such an unnatural diet produces meat that has a different fat and protein structure, not to mention the devastation such a diet has on the poor animal’s health.  

A healthful whole food is not genetically modified (GMO), nor an animal fed GMO feed.  GMO foods are hard to spot because they are not required to be labeled as such.  Foods that are definitely not GMO usually state so proudly on the label.  Dr Mercola writes, “you have a 75% chance of picking a food with genetically modified ingredients when you’re at the supermarket.  This is because at least 7 out of every 10 items are GMO.”  

Refer to Whole Foods: What they Are, Which Are Not for more on Whole Foods.

Raw & Living Foods

Are they the same thing?  Yes and No.

A Raw Food is one that is eaten in its raw, uncooked state.  It is also a living food, but if it is way past its prime, it doesn’t have much life left in it.

A Living Food is one that is full of life. It can be a raw food, or a fermented (cultured) food.  Fermented foods such as lacto-fermented pickles, chutney and sauerkraut are examples, as are cultured dairy products like yogurt and kefir. (NOTE:  Pickled foods canned with vinegar are not fermented and living foods, and are not recommended.)

Living raw is becoming a fad these days, with people striving to eat 85% or more of their food raw or living.  But I don’t think its necessary to go that far (and if it becomes obsessive, it can be harmful).  Just try to have a raw or living food with each meal and sometimes as the entire meal (think salads or smoothies).

Not all foods are healthful in their “raw” state; for example wheat and other grains, legumes and seeds. These all contain “anti-nutrients” to protect the seeds from being consumed by birds and other animals (including humans) until they can germinate. These anti-nutrients, such as lectins or trypsin-inhibitors, which can interfere with the absorption of other nutrients, and/or cause intestinal distress or worse symptoms. The good news is that sprouting them converts them from a dormant to a living food; it blocks or breaks down the anti-nutrients, making the nutrients more available for absorption. Sprouting also produces more vitamins in the living food.

While they can be eaten in the sprouted state, most legumes still contain trypsin inhibitors, so if you intend to eat more than just a few sprouts, it is best to cook them. 

Alfalfa sprouts pose another health problem.  They contain canavanine, an “anti-nutrient” that suppresses the immune system and contributes to inflammatory arthritis and lupus.

Many raw veggies are difficult to digest in the raw state; wheatgrass being one example.  Juicing these vegetables increases their digestibility, provided you consume only the juice.

Cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc.) contain goitrogens, substances that inhibit thyroid function, in the raw state.  Lightly cooking them (steam or stir-fry) deactivates the goitrogens.

Local & Organic

In addition to selecting whole foods, it’s important to choose Organic (or better) foods whenever available.  But not all organically-grown foods are labeled as “certified organic” because the grower opted not to go to the cost and trouble of getting the certification.  Your best choice is always locally- & organically-grown produce, whether certified or not. Or grow your own, organically.

A 5-year EU study found that organically-grown produce is far more nutritious than non-organically grown produce. (7D)  For example:

  • Organic fruit and vegetables contain up to 40 percent more antioxidants
  • Organic produce had higher levels of beneficial minerals like iron and zinc
  • Milk from organic herds contained up to 90 percent more antioxidants.

See also:

Shoppers Guide to Pesticides (and Other Problems) in Foods

The Dirty Dozen (10A) lists 12 foods you should definitely choose Organic, to avoid the cadre of pesticides or additives present in these commercial foods.  Animals concentrate pesticides from the food they eat, in their animal fat.  For this reason, non-organic butter has the highest concentration of pesticides of all foods; non-organic meats come next.  Both have a much higher concentration of pesticides than fruits and vegetables.  So if your budget is limited, it’s best to spend your money on organic meats and dairy products.

The Top 4 Contaminated Foods

These are listed not only because of pesticides, but also because of added hormones, GMO, and antibiotics.  You’re better off choosing Organic or local, pasture-fed meats and dairy; and Organic, free-trade coffee.

  1. Butter has highest concentration of pesticides of any single food, when NOT organic (7E)
  2. Meats (choose instead: Organic, pasture raised and finished)
  3. Milk and milk products choose instead: local whole and raw from pastured dairy; also cultured is excellent). Do not choose ultra-pasteurized.
  4. Coffee (choose Organic free-trade)

Choose Organic for the following 13 foods

These conventionally grown varieties had the highest pesticide load of the 43 fruits and veggies listed in EWG’s Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce (10B).  Over 43,000 pesticides were measured (see Dirty Dozen (10A) and Dr Andrew Weil (7D)):

  1. Peaches 
  2. Apples
  3. Bell Peppers
  4. Celery
  5. Nectarines
  6. Strawberries
  7. Cherries
  8. Lettuces 
  9. Grapes 
  10. Pears
  11. Spinach
  12. Potatoes
  13. Tomatoes

12 Foods with lowest pesticide load

To save $$, skip Organic for the for 12 foods with lowest pesticide load when conventionally grown (of the 43 fruits and veggies listed in the Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Then use the money you saved for purchasing from the Organic list above. But of course, if you can find and afford Organic varieties, so much the better. (See also Mercola or Dr Andrew Weil (7D)).

  1. Broccoli
  2. Eggplant
  3. Cabbage
  4. Banana
  5. Kiwi
  6. Asparagus
  7. Sweet peas (frozen)
  8. Mango
  9. Pineapple
  10. Sweet corn (frozen)
  11. Avocado
  12. Onion

Improving your health with diet and digestion

Tips for Healthy Digestion

The first 5 are from Ty Bollinger (TTAC); sources are lost for the last 2.

  1. Take probiotics. Probiotics help balance the “good” and “bad” bacteria in your digestive system.
  2. Drink plenty of water. You should be drinking at least a gallon of clean (filtered) water daily.
  3. Learn how to manage stress. Stress is a major contributor to gastrointestinal upset.
  4. Supplement with digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes break down the foods you eat into substances that your body can use for maintenance and repair.
  5. Eat more “living” foods. “Living” foods are foods that haven’t been processed, cooked, or pasteurized. [Especially fermented foods, just a bit each day.]
  6. Supplement with digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes break down the foods you eat into substances that your body can use for maintenance and repair. [Cat’s note: While your body makes digestive enzymes, they are not always enough, or have been used in other parts of your body to clean tissues, etc..]
  7. Eat more “living” foods. Living foods are foods that haven’t been processed, cooked, or pasteurized. [Cat’s note: Especially fermented foods, just a bit each day]. See also Raw vs Living Foods above.

Fueling the Fine-Tuned Engine

There seems to be a lot of controversy over “recommended diet;” that is, on the relative proportions of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Diet experts can’t seem to agree on the proportion of energy (calorie) sources for healthy people who want to lose, gain, or maintain weight. The two popular extremes are:

  • low carb / high fat / moderately-high protein (such as the Atkins Diet or the Ketogenic Diet);
  • high carb / low fat / moderate protein (such as the Pritikin Diet);

with many variations in between.  Some restrict carbs to those that are low on the glycemic index scale — that is, high in fiber (such as that recommended by Drs Mercola and Rosedale (7A)); some even exclude whole grains (as Dr. Mercola).

The recommendations for people with certain health problems, such as diabetes or clogged arteries, are in an even greater quandary, as their immediate health is directly affected by their diet from meal to meal. Diet experts can’t seem to agree on the proportion of energy (calorie) sources for healthy people who want to lose, gain, or maintain weight.  Some believe in low carb/high protein/high fat at one extreme (Atkins Diet); while others believe in high carb/moderate protein/low fat at the other extreme (Pritikin Diet). 

Back when I first wrote this article (2007), Dr. Mercola advocated diet by nutritional (metabolic) type, which means one diet does not fit all. (He has since advocated the Ketogenic diet, writing a best-selling book on the subject.)

  • Protein types do best on a low carb / high fat / moderate protein diet, while
  • Carb types do best on a high carb / low fat / moderate protein diet.

However, he makes a distinction between good carbs and bad carbs for both diets. Bad carbs are anything from grains (although I don’t know how he feels about sprouted grains) to highly refined foods and sugars. Good carbs include fruits and veggies but which are best for you depend upon which nutritional type you are.

(refer to Mike’s Calorie And Fat Gram Chart For 1000 Foods for information on calorie, carb, fat and protein content of many foods)

To Carb or Not to Carb

2014 update: After starting a ketogenic eating plan to reset my metabolism (and regain insulin sensitivity), I’ve concluded that, for me, hi-carb foods (grains and dried legumes) should be minimized; when I do eat grains (no more than 1 – 2 times a week when on a cyclic-ketogenic diet (CKD), they should be sprouted or soaked whole grains, or whole grain sourdough; legumes should also be sprouted or soaked for cooking. I’ve never really done well with dried legumes, so eliminating them (mostly) has not been difficult. And when I do indulge – such as hummus – I make it with sprouted legumes. See Ketogenic Diet for more. 

Grain-based Carbs

Cat’s recommendations (see text below the bullets for more detail):

  1. Refined and processed grains (white or whole wheat flours) should be avoided;
  2. Grains and pseudo-grains should be whole and sprouted or fermented (sourdough);
  3. Eat butter (or other good fats) and protein foods with your unrefined whole grains.

It used to be the dietary bad guy was saturated fats; and in many circles, these are still considered to be bad for health, despite growing evidence to the contrary.  But lately,   carbohydrates (especially grain-based carbs) have replaced fats as the vilified ‘bad guy’. This is because of the diabetes epidemic, and our American over-consumption of simple carbs and sugars.  Many ‘diet experts’ admonish that we should forgo all grain-based carbohydrates as well as sugars, to avoid spikes in insulin levels.  They mean giving up not only the white foods like white flour, sugar and potatoes, but also whole-grain breads and cereals.  

I think this is too extreme; whole grains provide many important nutrients for health (such as fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants) but are at their most nutritious when sprouted or fermented, and should only be eaten in this form. This is how they were consumed from Biblical times until the late 1800s when humans figured out how to separate the endosperm (white) from the bran and germ (brown) parts of the grain. 

Today’s diet experts often ignore:

  • that consuming whole grains with good fats and proteins slows down the absorption of the sugars and thus avoids insulin spikes. So, go ahead, eat a slice of sprouted whole grain toast with butter, as part of a balanced diet. But do avoid all white-flour products.
  • the beneficial effect of sprouting or soaking of grains, nuts and seeds, which makes all the nutrients more digestible and bio-available, and breaks down much of the anti-nutrients present in these foods (lectins, phytates, etc.).  For example, sprouting causes release of enzymes that break down the complex starches and proteins into simpler vegetable sugars and peptides, which are very easily digested, without causing insulin spikes.  Breads and cereals made from sprouted grains have fewer allergic effects and are more nutritious than non-sprouted grains. See Working with Grains, Flours and Starches Menu for articles about sprouting, soaking and fermenting grains, nuts and seeds

Whole grain-based carbs certainly can provide important nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  But many carbs, especially processed-foods made with white flour and sugar, provide little nutrient value, and can have a devastating effect on health.

Fruits and Vegetable Carbs

Carb foods are not limited to grains. They also include fruits and vegetables, which almost all nutritional experts agree are a very important part of the daily diet, though some argue against those with high glycemic index.

The carbs in fruits and vegetables are far easier for our systems to digest, as we all produce ample quantity and variety of enzymes required to break down the sugars present in fruits and veggies. However, whole fruits are far more healthful than fruit juices.

While the fiber in most fruits and vegetables is not digestible by humans, it does help to keep our digestive tracts clean and functioning, and may be better for us than grain fiber. One such fiber, known as inulin (or FOS) is especially important, as it provides food for the good microbes (probiotics) that reside in our gut. Inulin can also help normalize cholesterol levels, especially lowering VLDL and triglycerides.

Inulin is found in not-ripe bananas (mostly green, with no black areas on peel), and also in almost all root veggies, such as beets, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, sweet potatoes, kohlrabi, artichokes. But not in white potatoes.

And, of course, fruits and vegetables are also rich sources of vitamins, minerals, cofactors, antioxidants, and other phyto-nutrients.  Some fruits, such as grapes and plums also provide probiotics.

pH Blues

The degree of alkalinity of foods and other substances is measured by the pH scale (1 – 14):

  • acidic:     pH of 1 – 6.9;
  • neutral:  pH of 7 — such as distilled water;
  • alkaline: pH of 7.1 – 14.

Many practitioners recommend eating a balance of acidifying and alkalizing foods to maintain  the health of your system.  See my article on Food Combining for lists of acidifying and alkalizing foods, and a food combining graphic. Additionally, here are some charts of acidifying/alkalizing foods, on the web:

The alkalinity of foods is determined by the quantity of ash (minerals) left after all else has been burned away; thus acidic foods like oranges are actually alkalizing because they contain a lot of minerals. 

The pH of urine or saliva is a good indicator of general health, because the pH of these fluids reflects the pH of the cells and extracellular fluids in your body.  The pH of both ranges between 6.5 and 8.0.  It is largely dependent on the health of your digestive tract, especially your colon, which in turn is dependent on your diet, but it also varies with time of day. The ideal pH of each segment of your digestive system is unique. (See also GastroDigestiveSystem or GDS (13) for more about this):

  • saliva ranges between 6.5 and 8.0 (slightly acidic to alkaline);
  • esophagus is pH 6.8 (slightly acidic);
  • stomach is pH ~ 2 (highly acidic);
  • duodenum is pH ~ 6 (slightly acidic);
  • small intestine gradually increases from pH 6 (slightly acidic) to about pH 7.4 (slightly alkaline) in the terminal ileum;
  • large intestine drops to pH 5.7 (acidic) in the caecum, but gradually increases to pH 6.7 (slightly acidic) at the rectum.

If the pH is too acid or too alkaline, you cannot assimilate all the nutrients from your diet, and the flora in your gut get out of balance, leading to a diseased state. The urine of most Americans is too acidic (pH of 5.0 – 6.0), primarily because we eat too much meat-source protein (highly acidifying) and too few fruits and vegetables (alkalizing).  This is corrected by reducing meat protein intake, and eating more alkalizing foods, including fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and sprouted grains.

Here are related articles on my old iWEb site (NOTE: I will eventually move these to a new blog on catsfork.com), based on information from Walter Last’s website (14):

A diet high in alkalizing foods >> an acidic gut >> proliferation of probiotic (good) bacteria >>  increased assimilation & absorption of nutrients from foods >> increased urine/saliva (and systemic) alkalinity.

Conversely, a diet high in acidifying foods >> an alkaline gut >> proliferation of putrefactive (bad) bacteria and candida >> decreased assimilation & absorption of nutrients from foods >>decreased urine alkalinity.

For more on pH, refer to my articles on (update links when moved to new blog):

  • Gut Health (in Health-Metabolism section on my old iWeb site), and
  • Candidiasis (in Health-Disease section on my old iWeb site.

See Regulating Acid-Alkaline Balance for more. < Link?

Foods as Medicine (Nutraceuticals)

Today, much is being made today of the health benefits of certain foods, and the harmful nature of others.  In some cases the same food appears in both lists (like coffee, chocolate and wine).  This happens because researchers isolate one chemical (or chemical complex) in a food and then study what it does for health.  Thus, one scientist might study the antioxidants in wine and say that wine is beneficial for health, while another scientist might study the alcohol in wine and say that wine is bad for health.

What is one to believe; which report is more important?  My answer is that we should not really believe either as the final answer, as the truth is somewhere in between and transcends either extreme.  When you drink a glass of wine, you’re not drinking a glass of antioxidants, and you’re not drinking a glass of pure alcohol.  You’re drinking an ancient, time-tested beverage that, when used in moderation, not only makes you feel good, but also supports your health.

To me, the truth is in the synergy of all the parts working together to become something greater than they would be if singled out.  That is the beauty of life.

So, when you read, for example, that blueberries have more antioxidants than other fruits and so are the best fruit for colon health (7B), that doesn’t mean you should forgo all other fruits and eat only blueberries.  I believe one gets the most from a diet that provides a wide variety of foods.

For part 2 and 3 of this series on diet, go to:

References:

  1. westonaprice.org/modernfood/codliver-manufacture.html
  2. (3) womentowomen.com/digestionandgihealth/acidalkalinefoodchart.asp#alkalizing
  3. (4) blcwebcafe.org/urinaryph.asp
  4. (5) rense.com/1.mpicons/acidalka.htm
  5. (6) caloriecountercharts.com/
  6. (8) Mother Earth News October/November 2007
  7. Mercola:
    1. (2) mercola.com/2001/jul/14/insulin.htm.for Dr. Ron Rosedale article
    2. (7) articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2007/08/18/eating-blueberries-slashes-colon-cancer-risk.aspx
    3. (9) articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2007/11/06/the-real-reasons-you-want-to-avoid-genetically-modified-foods.aspx
    4. (10) articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/08/12/12-foods-you-don-t-have-to-buy-organic.aspx?source=nl and www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART02984/12-Foods-You-Dont-Have-to-Buy-Organic.html 
    5. (12) articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/10/01/Which-Organic-Label-Should-You-Trust.aspx
  8. (11) thewolfeclinic.com/acidalkfoods.html 
  9. SCD: media.btvc.webfactional.com/media/editor_uploads/2013/11/btvc_legalillegal_list.pdf
  10. Environmental Working Group (EWG):
    1. ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php
    2. ewg.org/release/out-now-ewg-s-2018-shopper-s-guide-pesticides-produce
  11. Mike’s Calorie And Fat Gram Chart For 1000 Foods: caloriecountercharts.com/
  12. PubMed: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10421978″>ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10421978
  13. gastrodigestivesystem.com/digestion/digestion-ph
  14. Walter Last’s Health-Science-Spirit Website: health-science-spirit.com/”>health-science-spirit.com

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