Without air, we die within a few minutes. On the whole, we have a limited influence on the quality of the air we breathe at home and even less at the office. There are many things we can do to minimise the pollutants released in the air from the building materials and the things we buy and use, but the outside air quality is as it is. Nonetheless, it has been shown that the concentration of harmful pollutants in the air is always greater indoors than outdoors, sometimes remarkably so: 100 times or more, (mostly for chemicals found in “cleaning” products). Therefore, as a general rule we should always maximise ventilation of our indoor spaces with fresh, outside air.
Without water, we die within a few days. And although it would be ideal to drink fresh, highly oxygenated and molecularly ordered, living water from a deep mineral spring in pristinely pure mountains unexposed to industrial pollutants, this is rarely possible. However, with a high quality water filter, preferably without synthetic materials, we can ensure proper hydration of the bodymind, and at the very least, not increase its toxic load by the addition of heavy metals, or industrial, agricultural, and pharmaceutical chemicals contained in unfiltered tap water.
Without food, we can live for a several weeks and maybe even months. Nonetheless, food provides the raw materials to build, renew and repairs all cells that constitute the bodymind. And for most of us, we freely decide what we put in our mouths and in those of our children. Therefore, we can pay particular attention to what we eat, mouthful after mouthful, and day after day. Here are four basic rules for healthy eating.
Rule 1: No Carbs
The consumption of sugars and starches is extremely detrimental to our health. It is more than well established that it is exactly this—the regular consumption of refined and easily digestible carbs—that causes the wide spectrum of disorders sometimes referred to as the diseases of civilisation: obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc…
Basically, we could say that the body wants only the necessary minimum glucose in its bloodstream. This is why there is the insulin mechanism: if glucose circulates, the pancreas releases insulin to rid the blood of it by storing it away. Insulin is one of the most important hormones, and its message to the liver, muscle and fat cells is clear and always the same: “take that glucose and store it away”.
A small amount of glucose can be stored as glycogen in the liver (about 70 g) and in the muscles (a total of 250 g in skeletal muscles). How much is stored depends on muscle mass, physical training, metabolism and eating habits, but under normal circumstances, this will not exceed more than a few tens of grams after any given meal. The rest of the glucose in the bloodstream is converted to fat, and packed in the fat cells.
While the glycogen in the liver is used for moment to moment adjustment of blood glucose concentrations, muscle glycogen is only for usage in the specific muscle, and can only be accessed by using that muscle. Fat will never be released from the fat cells while there are even relatively small amounts of either glucose or insulin in the bloodstream.
As we eat simple or starchy carbs, all of which end up as glucose in the bloodstream, more or less quickly depending on the level of refinement (on the fibre content), insulin is secreted. The more carbs we eat, the more insulin is produced, and the longer the sugar and the insulin circulate in the bloodstream. This is really bad for two reasons:
- The longer and more often insulin circulates in the bloodstream, the longer and more often all the tissues are exposed to it, and the more they grow resistant to its presence and its message. As the liver, muscles and fatty tissues gradually become more resistant, the pancreas needs to secrete more insulin to get its message across and successfully rid the bloodstream of the glucose. This, in turn, leads to increased insulin resistance, which leads to the glucose and insulin circulating even longer, and thus even more insulin secretion—the perfect example of a viscous circle. Eventually, the liver and muscle tissues become fully insulin resistant, and when the fat cells also finally reach that stage, glucose has nowhere to go: this marks the beginning of type II diabetes.
- The longer glucose circulates in the bloodstream, the more the probability of glycation increases. Glycation is the haphazard binding of glucose onto a protein or fat molecule without the control of an enzyme, and thus results in damage to the tissue. Glycation is the first step in a process that leads to the production of Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs), and although the body has a mechanism to clear out the usually highly damaging AGEs, long-lived cells like nerves and neurons, and long-lasting proteins like eye crystalline and collagen in the blood vessels and skin, tend to accumulate the most damage over time. The accumulation of AGEs in the vessels leads to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke, and the accumulation in the brain leads to Alzheimer’s disease—the diabetes of the brain, and other brain disorders.
Of all carbohydrates, fructose is probably the most damaging. Unlike any other sugar, fructose cannot be metabolised, and for this reason, goes directly to the liver, as do all other toxins circulating in our bloodstream. There, the fructose temporarily monopolises the liver, preventing it from doing anything else while being converted to fat. To find out how terrible fructose truly is, listen to this lecture by Professor Robert Lustig.
Conclusion: “No Carbs” means no simple sugars like table sugar of any colour, no honey, and no syrups of any king, especially not agave or corn syrup as they are full of fructose. It also means basically nothing sweet and obviously no deserts. “No Carbs” means no cookies, no bread, no pasta, no rice, no potatoes, and especially not fried starches like chips or fries as they are full of AGEs. And “No Carbs” also means no sweet fruit of any kind. Berries and grapefruits are fine; lemons are excellent.
Rule 2: Water 30 Minutes Before Meals
When we eat, the stomach secretes gastric acid in order to activate digestive enzymes, and break down proteins. Gastric acid is composed of 0.5% of hydrochloric acid (HCl), and lots of potassium chloride (KCl) and sodium chloride (NaCl). It has a pH between 1 and 2, and is therefore an extremely corrosive acid. The only thing that protects the lining of the stomach from the powerful gastric acid is a layer of mucus. Since mucus is more than 90% water, it is essential to ensure that the gastric mucus is well hydrated before eating. Once food has been pre-digested in the stomach for 3-4 hours, it moves into the small intestine for the digestion and extraction of nutrients. In order to neutralise the gastric acid, the pancreas secretes a watery, sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3) solution. This also requires adequate amounts of water to be available before eating. I discuss this point in greater detail in Why we should drink water before meals, and other issues related to water in Water, ageing and disease.
Conclusion: Drink half a litre (two big glasses or three small ones) of water 30 minutes before every meal, and no water during or within 2 hours after the meal to ensure optimal digestion of all nutrients. A single glass 2-3 hours after the meal is good. Drink as much as you want on an empty stomach, and wait 30 minutes before eating anything.
Rule 3: Maximise Nutritional, Mineral and Enzyme Content
If we were to stick to a single principle in choosing what to eat, it should be this: Maximise nutrient density. This is very simple: If a food is rich in nutrients and minerals, then eat it; if it is not, leave it. And since we are by mass 60-70% water and thus 30-40% of solids composed of all the naturally occurring elements, maximising nutrient density implies maximising mineral content.
The highest concentration of minerals is found in unrefined sea or rock salt, sea vegetables, seeds, nuts, eggs, and green vegetables, all of which you should try to eat as much of as possible. And it is really important to have a salt intake balanced with water intake: at least 2 litres of water and 1 teaspoons of salt per day.
Enzymes are plentiful in all raw foods. Enzymes are essential to extract the nutrients from the foods. Eating fresh, raw foods that come with their own enzymes is the best way to maximise digestibility and absorption. The enzymes in nuts and seeds must be activated by soaking them in water for 12 hours. Doing this makes them a super-healthy source of easily digestible protein.
Good quality protein is found in animal products that also contain good saturated fats. Animal protein should in general always be taken in moderation because it is insulinogenic and acidifying. Anything that is not used for building and repairing tissues will be converted to glucose, and anything that is not properly digested may putrefy, and will definitely create toxins, produce acidity, and stimulate negative immune system reactions from the presence of undigested proteins in the bloodstream. Nevertheless, you have to make sure you consume enough for your needs based on body mass and amount/type of exercise.
Conclusion: Eat as many raw vegetables as you can, especially dark green lettuces and salad greens, soaked nuts and seeds, and smaller amounts of eggs and un-pasteurized or fermented milk products like raw cheese and plain, full fat yogurt. Eat sea vegetables whenever you can. Keep animal protein consumption small (less than 1g/kg of lean body mass).
Rule 4: Lots of Fat
Fat is the perfect cellular fuel for many reasons. I think that the two most important are that it provides large amounts of very efficiently stored but readily useable energy, and that its metabolic usage does not trigger any insulin response. Fat is not only the perfect metabolic fuel when we are at rest, but also we are active. Stored triglycerides are released into the bloodstream as free fatty acids that are then transported by proteins to wherever energy expenditure is taking place. Given the compact energy storage of 7-9 calories per gram of fat, even the smallest stores in the leanest individuals can provide energy literally for days on end.
In addition to the multitude of negative effects it can have on the metabolism and hormonal system as a whole, insulin is a potent inhibitor to lipolysis (fat burning). It means that the presence of insulin inhibits the release of stored fats for energy needs. Conversely, when lipolysis is initiated and sustained, there is an accompanying decrease in plasma levels of insulin, with all the benefits that this brings. This also explains why fat suppresses hunger, because the presence of insulin stimulates it.
The best kinds of fats are those that are closest to their most natural and unrefined state. This mean the least processed. Furthermore, the best kinds of fats are those that are least likely to oxidise and form free radicals. This means the most stable and therefore the most saturated. The very best of all fats is extra virgin coconut oil. It is truly a miraculous substance, and I will write about it in greater details on another occasion. It is highly saturated (96%), incredibly stable (several years at room temperature will not turn it rancid), and the most heat resistant of all fats (smoke point of 138 C). Organic butter, and in general milk fat, is the second best choice for a primary source of fat in the diet; raw, unpasteurized butter is far better, but hard to find in some places.
Otherwise, olive oil for salad dressings is the only other vegetable oil I use daily, and recommend using, because it is the most stable (monounsaturated) and thus least harmful of all the vegetable oils, which are all composed of polyunsaturated fatty acids (contain more than one double bond in the carbon chain), and thus very unstable. Eating a lot of seeds and nuts in the whole natural state will provide a lot of polyunsaturated fats, but together with the whole food; this keeps the oil fresh and much less likely to form free radicals. One trick that I use is to try to eat saturated fats when I eat nuts and seeds, which further decreases the probability of oxidation of the polyunsaturated fats; coconut oil in particular has proven, powerful anti-oxidant properties.
Conclusion: Eat lots of fat to provide you with a lot of energy and suppress hunger. The best fats are coconut oil and butter. For salads use the freshest olive oil. Avoid all other vegetable oils, especially those that have been heated or hydrogenated as these become toxic trans fats.