Everybody LOVES Thai food. But let’s face it: it’s not as healthy as we think. A lot of Thai food is loaded with oil, salt and sugar.
When you’re in Thailand, food is everywhere. And lucky for us, fruit is everywhere, too! You can find street vendors everywhere who will sell you delicious cut-up fruits such as fresh pineapple, watermelon, and more.
But let’s talk about Thai restaurants for a moment. Thai food is popular everywhere in North America, and some restaurants make food that is more authentic than others.
But generally, you’ll find similar staples. So if you care about your health, what should you order at a Thai restaurant?
By far, the healthiest meal you can order is a Thai Papaya salad with a side of sticky rice. I love papaya salad, which is made with green papayas, tomatoes, green beans, and seasonings (usually fish sauce too, but you can ask to be made without it).
It can be very spicy, but you can ask for the level of spiciness that you prefer. It’s traditionally served in Thailand with a side of sticky rice, so why not go for that?
The soups, such as Tom Yum, are generally healthy, but very salty. They taste amazing, though. If you want to keep calories in check, avoid the ones made with coconut milk.
Curries are popular, but are definitely some of the richest meals you can order on the menu, due to the generous use of coconut milk and oil.
Not every Thai curry is made with coconut milk. In Thailand, many curries don’t contain any coconut milk and are much lighter. If you go to a more traditional Thai restaurant, those curries may be available.
The noodle dishes, such as Pad Thai, are generally your worst choices. Too much vegetable oil is used, so it’s very, very greasy!
You can easily order a vegetable dish in a light sauce with a side of rice in most Thai restaurants.
Don’t order the imperial rolls: they are fried. But summer rolls, when available, are wrapped in a rice paper sheet and include lots of vegetables. Those are a great choice.
So, as you can see, there’s a lot you can eat at a Thai restaurant without going totally off the wagon. Just the Green Papaya Salad with a side of sticky rice can be a great meal.
You can eat a high-raw diet without giving up the social benefits of cooked foods. All it takes is a little planning.
Check out my new book Raw Freedom, which discusses exactly how to make this flexible approach work in the real world!
I live in an area of my city where there are a lot of Italian restaurants.
I love Italian food, but it’s not always the healthiest.
But, chances are that you’ll end up in an Italian restaurant once in a while, whether it’s with your family, your spouse, on a date or for business.
So, what should you eat there to enjoy yourself, while minimizing the impact of your little indulgence?
First, it depends on whether you go to an authentic Italian restaurant or a fully Americanized one.
Let’s start with a few common dishes in authentic Italian restaurants.
Italian salads are generally fine to eat, and contain a lot of healthy greens like arugula. But, make sure to ask for dressing on the side, because they tend to use a lot of olive oil. You can ask for no dressing but it’s not a common request. So I just ask for dressing on the side, and don’t use it.
Risotto is generally loaded with butter, oil and cheese.
Gnocchi in tomato sauce is usually a good choice, though. It’s made with potatoes and the tomato sauce is not very heavy.
Pasta is a good choice, and usually in a real Italian restaurant the serving is reasonable.
If you’re going to have pizza, have a thin crust with lots of vegetables, no meat, and crumbled cheese like feta or goat’s cheese. Those pizzas tend to be the lowest in fat and the healthiest.
One of my favorite side dishes in Italian cuisine is a plate of cooked greens! It usually contains a lot of olive oil, so you can ask with no added olive oil. It might still come with some, but at least they won’t drizzle extra on top.
In authentic Italian restaurants, you’ll also find a side order of beans, or a minestrone soup loaded with beans and vegetables.
I’m personally not going to go to an Italian restaurant without having some wine (or prosseco) and some gelato as dessert. Though it’s an indulgence, it’s not a big one, because Italian gelato is fairly small. You can also ask for non-dairy versions.
Plates of fruits can be ordered in all good Italian restaurants.
Now, what about a fully Americanized Italian restaurant, such as Olive Garden?
Let’s face it. What they serve in those joints is not real Italian food. The pasta plates are about three times the size of what they serve in Italy, and the food is drenched in very rich sauces that are made in a factory.
What to Eat in an Americanized Italian Restaurant?
It’s a challenge. Skip all the appetizers.
The minestrone soup is a safe choice.
The salad is a good choice with dressing on the side.
You can also create a cheese-free vegetarian pizza if that’s something you like.
There will be usually one kind of pizza without meat or cheese.
And if you’re lucky, you might be able to order fruit and vegetables on the side.
In the end, your best option will be to go to a more authentic Italian restaurant. Enjoy!
A few years ago, I was traveling around the world with my ex-wife for about 8 months. We managed to stay 95-99% vegan the whole time, and did a fairly good job at eating a healthy diet on the road.
But let’s be honest, it wasn’t easy.
Some countries, like Australia, Germany, Singapore or Thailand, had plenty of fresh and healthy options.
Other countries like the Philippines or remote places like Fiji were much more difficult.
And I’m not talking about vegetarian or vegan traveling, because many countries around the world have vegetarian options.
I’m also not talking about touring all the raw food restaurants of the world.
I’m talking about true healthy eating, which I define as:
- Free of added oils
- High in raw
- Limited use of salt
- No harmful ingredients or cooking practices, like frying
You can eat as a vegetarian in most countries easily. But if you rely heavily on restaurants, there’s no doubt that you’re not eating a healthy diet.
Everybody loves going out to restaurants because the food usually tastes SO good.
What’s the magic there? How come the food is so much more tasty and stimulating than the food you make at home?
It’s no secret.
Every chef uses a ton of:
- Oil (and other fats)
… in almost every single concoction. Salt and oil are particularly overused.
If you actually spend some time in a kitchen with a chef, you’ll be shocked at how much salt is used in the food. It’s easily 3 or 4 times the amount you’d feel comfortable using at home, even if you’re not particularly health conscious.
Same goes for oil.
And of course, many restaurants are very meat and fish centric, and offer almost no option for vegetarians.
So how do we solve this problem?
Restaurants are a part of life. No matter how well you follow your diet at home, there will be all kinds of social pressures that will bring you to restaurants.
Some people have also jobs that require them to attend many meetings at restaurants, making this even more difficult.
Whether you’re following a raw food diet, a low fat plant-based diet, or even just a basic vegetarian or vegan diet, you’re going to have this problem. And the same goes for an omnivorous or flexitarian person trying to eat healthy.
So here’s what to do:
1) First, don’t kid yourself. Restaurant food is almost never healthy. Just watch a few episodes of any famous chef on TV and you’ll know why.
2) Eat before you go out. Unless you’re traveling and the restaurant becomes your source of calories for the day, chances are that you’re going out simply for the social aspects of it. So it’s a good idea to fill up on something healthy BEFORE you show up at the restaurant.
Research has shown than when people consume salads, fresh vegetable soups, or whole fruits before a meal, they consume fewer calories at the meal (and fewer total calories). So it’s a healthy thing to do.
I recommend filling up on fruit, a big salad, a big bowl of vegetable soup (with no salt added), or some cooked, whole grains like brown rice.
3) Avoid a few key items
- Soups: If you’re watching your sodium intake, soups are ALWAYS a no-no. They are loaded with ridiculous quantities of salt, often lots of oil, and provide very few healthy calories.
- Bread: Bread rolls are made with refined flour and loaded with salt. I say avoid them, but they’re not the worst thing you can eat, as long as you do it infrequently. In most cases you should avoid them, but in some survival situations, you better keep them around in case there are truly no healthy calories to eat on the menu!
4) Go buffet style
I know, I know, you’ve heard all kinds of horror stories about buffet and hygiene. But I say buffets are great because they give you control about what you’re going to put on your plate. Salad buffets are excellent, and you can usually make a decent meal there. Even cooked buffet will usually have a few vegetable options and plain rice.
5) Order from the sides menu
Don’t despair if you can’t find anything on the menu. If you look closely at the “sides” menu, you’ll often find many healthy items. I’ve often created entire meals from the sides menu!
6) Hack the menu
You might look at the menu and find no single dish that completely meets your requirements. But you’ll often find plenty of items, scattered throughout the menu, that could be combined together to create a dish. For example, salads listed often contain chicken, tuna, eggs, or other items you don’t want. You can ask for a “custom” salad to be creating, combining all of the healthy ingredients that you can see in all of the salads on the menus combined. If you see they serve guacamole as an appetizer, there’s a good chance they have avocados in the kitchen. So even if no salad listed includes avocados as an ingredient, you can ask if they can throw that in there as well.
7) Call in advance
This works well for fancier restaurants. If the chefs are caught off-guard, it’s not certain they can prepare foods to your liking. But if you call or email in advance, you can make sure that your requirements are met.
I’ve had success with this strategy, especially when emailing the hotels. Some chefs have responded personally, and were very eager to try something new.
Don’t over complicate things for them though. Just list some ingredients you can and can’t eat, and let them get creative.
When making all of those special requests, it’s important to tip well. I try to give a generous 25% tip whenever I make special requests.
Coming next: exactly what to order at different types of restaurants (including steak houses!).
I recently received the following question from a reader:
“How do I buy fruits and vegetables that are closest to the way our ancestors ate them? I don’t want to be eating these hybridized apples and giant unnatural strawberries, etc. How do I go back to finding original types of fruits before they were altered? How and what should I be shopping for? I trust my instincts, but my instincts tend to push me away from the extremely sweet, weird-tasting new fruits. What should I shop for and where should I be buying? I live in Illinois.”
This is an interesting question, and my answer may surprise you.
First, my follow-up question is: “Why would you want to eat foods close to the foods your ancestors ate?”
It’s probably because you’ve been told that those foods are somehow better, healthier, and more nutritious. They contained less sugar, more fiber, and perhaps more antioxidants.
You probably also have bought the common myth that hybridized foods are bad for health.
But let’s put things into perspective.
Our ancestors ate foods that they could find in their environment, and over the course of thousands upon thousands of generations, they altered these plants by selecting the ones that they preferred.
Our ancestors always preferred foods containing more calories (natural sugar), a manageable amount of fiber, and fewer natural toxins.
The plants we cultivate today are the most nutritious and digestible foods that humans ever had access to.
Trying to go back to wild foods entirely would not only be a mistake, it would actually be counterproductive. While it’s true that some wild plants are nutritious and offer some health benefits, designing a diet around wild plants would be extremely ill advised.
If you tried to live on wild fruits, such as the ones that chimpanzees live on, you would actually become sick and eventually die. That’s because humans are not adapted to live on wild plants. We are genetically adapted to foods with more available calories, fewer tannins and fewer natural toxins.
Richard Wrangham, from Harvard University, writes:
“Evolutionary adaptation to cooking might likewise explain why humans seem less prepared to tolerate toxins than do other apes. In my experience of sampling many wild foods eaten by primates, items eaten by chimpanzees in the wild taste better than foods eaten by monkeys. Even so, some of the fruits, seeds, and leaves that chimpanzees select taste so foul that I can barely swallow them. The tastes are strong and rich, excellent indicators of the presence of non-nutritional compounds, many of which are likely to be toxic to humans—but presumably much less so to chimpanzees. Consider the plum-size fruit of Warburgia ugandensis, a tree famous for its medicinal bark. Warburgia fruits contain a spicy compound reminiscent of a mustard oil. The hot taste renders even a single fruit impossibly unpleasant for humans to ingest. But chimpanzees can eat a pile of these fruits and then look eagerly for more. Many other fruits in the chimpanzee diet are almost equally unpleasant to the human palate. Astringency, the drying sensation produced by tannins and a few other compounds, is common in fruits eaten by chimpanzees.
(…) Astringency is caused by the presence of tannins, which bind to proteins and cause them to precipitate. Our mouths are normally lubricated by mucoproteins in our saliva, but because a high density of tannins precipitates those proteins, it leaves our tongues and mouths dry: hence the ‘furry’ sensation in our mouths after eating an unripe apple or drinking a tannin-rich wine. One has the same experience when tasting chimpanzee fruits such as Mimusops bagshawei or the widespread Pseudospondias microcarpa. Though chimpanzees can eat more than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of such fruits during an hour or more of continuous chewing, we cannot.
(…) The shifts in food preference between chimpanzees and humans suggest that our species has a reduced physiological tolerance for foods high in toxins or tannins. Since cooking predictably destroys many toxins, we may have evolved a relatively sensitive palate.”
I’ve spent a lot of time in Costa Rica, and I’ve had the chance to look at what monkeys eat in the wild. The monkeys in Costa Rica are not like great apes, but fruit constitutes most of the diet of some of these monkeys.
What always puzzled me is that whenever I saw the fruits these monkeys ate, and by accident some of it was dropped on the ground, it always looked far from edible to me. Whenever I tried to eat some of these fruits, I found them to be quite repulsive.
In his famous book “Guns, Germs and Steel” author Jared Diamond writes extensively on the domestication of plants.
“How did certain wild plants get turned into crops? That question is especially puzzling in regard to the many crops (like almonds) whose wild progenitors are lethal or bad-tasting, and to other crops (like corn) that look drastically different from their wild ancestors. (…)
“Many wild seeds evolved to be bitter, bad-tasting, or actually poisonous, in order to deter animals from eating them. Thus, natural selection acts oppositely on seeds and on fruits. Plants whose fruits are tasty get their seeds dispersed by animals, but the seed itself within the fruit has to be bad-tasting. Otherwise, the animal would also chew up the seed, and it couldn’t sprout. Almonds provide a striking example of bitter seeds and their change under domestication. Most wild almond seeds contain an intensely bitter chemical called amygdalin, which (as was already mentioned) breaks down to yield the poison cyanide. A snack of wild almonds can kill a person foolish enough to ignore the warning of the bitter taste.
“Since the first stage in unconscious domestication involves gathering seeds to eat, how on earth did domestication of wild almonds ever reach that first stage? The explanation is that occasional individual almond trees have a mutation in a single gene that prevents them from synthesizing the bitter-tasting amygdalin. Such trees die out in the wild without leaving any progeny, because birds discover and eat all their seeds. But curious or hungry children of early farmers, nibbling wild plants around them, would eventually have sampled and noticed those nonbitter almond trees. (In the same way, European peasants today still recognize and appreciate occasional individual oak trees whose acorns are sweet rather than bitter.) Those nonbitter almond seeds are the only ones that ancient farmers would have planted, at first unintentionally in their garbage heaps and later intentionally in their orchards.” (…)
“While size and tastiness are the most obvious criteria by which human hunter-gatherers select wild plants, other criteria include fleshy or seedless fruits, oily seeds, and long fibers. Wild squashes and pumpkins have little or no fruit around their seeds, but the preferences of early farmers selected for squashes and pumpkins consisting of far more flesh than seeds. Cultivated bananas were selected long ago to be all flesh and no seed, thereby inspiring modern agricultural scientists to develop seedless oranges, grapes, and watermelons as well.”
As we can see, humans have always had very good reasons to domesticate plants. The wild versions of most domesticated plants are either inedible, low in caloric value, or toxic.
If you attempted to live on wild plants, you would not thrive for very long. Almost every advocate of a “wild diet” still gets most of their calories from domesticated plants (and often animal products).
In the case of strawberries that are the size of small children, it’s true that sometimes the tastes of the public have pushed industry to create even bigger and tastier versions of common fruits. You may prefer the taste of smaller or even wild strawberries, but there’s absolutely nothing indicating that there’s anything wrong, health-wise, with big strawberries, as long as they haven’t been sprayed with a lot of pesticides.
Similarly, there’s absolutely no reason to avoid modern varieties of apples.
The problem with industry is not hybridization. The problem is that the marketplace has forgotten about older varieties of some plants, like apples or tomatoes. There are literally hundreds of varieties of apples and tomatoes, but only a few are available commercially. However, every single one of those varieties are still domesticated and “hybridized.” They’re just less desirable for commercial reasons, either because the fruits don’t keep as long, or some other rationale like this.
Lately, there’s been a resurgence of interest for Heirloom tomatoes. Those varieties of tomatoes generally taste a lot better, although sometimes look “weird.” They’re just older varieties of tomatoes but are certainly not anything like the wild versions. They are still domesticated plants.
Seeking to eat what our ancestors ate isn’t practical or beneficial. First of all, most of the plants they ate no longer exist. Over the course of evolution, they’ve selected the plants that best suited their needs. The initial wild varieties of those plants may still exist somewhere in nature, but you’d be shocked at how inedible those are!
A few exceptions come to mind: wild berries are generally excellent. But that may be because people, throughout history, have always picked wild berries, and “selected” the best-tasting varieties.
If you want to be healthy and stay healthy, eat foods available at health food stores, farmers markets and supermarkets. There’s nothing wrong with the organic produce sold in those places. If you have a garden, you could try planting Heirloom varieties of some vegetables, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that those foods have anything to do with what our ancestors ate, tens of thousands of years ago.
It sounds completely ridiculous. It sounds completely counter intuitive and counter productive.
But a diet composed of only white potatoes is one of the best mono-diets one can follow to improve their health and lose body fat. In this article, I will redeem the “evil” white potato as an incredible food that you can use to reach your health goals faster. I won’t suggest that you try an all-potato diet, but will list some examples of people who did, with some pretty unexpected results.
The Evil Potato
One of the first foods that someone on a diet learns to avoid, by well-meaning friends, relative, doctors, and diet books, are potatoes. Potatoes are rich in complex carbs, which turn into sugar in the body, and make you fat. Right? Well not so fast.
Nobody has ever gotten obese eating potatoes. Rather, it’s all the stuff that people put on potatoes that’s to blame. I’ll argue that displacing other fatty foods with potatoes can only result in better health outcomes.
If you only ate potatoes all day, to get all of your 2000 calories, you would get:
- 50 grams of protein, contain all the amino acids the body needs (that’s 10% of your calories)
- 2% of your calories would come from fat
- Well over the RDAs of the following nutrients: C, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamin, and zinc.
- You’d also get all of the other essential nutrients, and without falling seriously short, except in the case of vitamin E and A.
- Calcium intake would be at 200 mg, which is low, but your diet will have a super-positive alkaline balance, and you wouldn’t be at a calcium loss.
- Your fiber intake would be at 40 grams a day (the average intake is only 15 grams)
Let’s be clear that no one food is complete enough to be your only source of nourishment for a lifetime. But as a food you could live on for months at a time, potatoes are pretty close to ideal, compared to most other choices.
Potatoes have a very high satiety factor. Experiments have shown that people feel incredibly satisfied when they eat potatoes. That is why it’s impossible to get fat eating potatoes.
Let’s take a look at all-potato diets:
1) The 1927 experiment.
In 1927, a study was published by a researched name. Stanislaw Kazimirz Kon, who studied the effects of an all-potato diet on the human body. A healthy man and woman in their twenties, who were very athletic, were put on a diet where most of their calories came from potatoes. To that they added only a few fruits, and butter or oil.
Now, this wasn’t an all-potato diet, but it’s important to note that although fat was added to the diet, this fat provided no protein. Yet, on a diet where virtually all of the protein was derived from potatoes, it was found that protein intake was adequate. The entire experimented lasted almost 6 months, and the participants said that “they did not tire of the potato diet or had any cravings for change.”
2) Twenty Potatoes a Day
A couple of years ago, a potato farmer by the name of Chris Voigt got sick and tired of the “Potato-bashing” common in governmental programs, and decided to prove everybody wrong by going on an all-potato diet for 60 days in a row.
Eventually he added a bit oil to the diet. Again, oil provides no nutrients and no protein. He used salt and seasonings on the potatoes.
It’s interesting to note that even when one can eat unlimited quantities of potatoes, it still becomes very difficult to get enough calories.
On a diet composed almost exclusively of potatoes, he experienced the following benefits:
- Weight dropped from 197 to 176
- Glucose of 104 to 94
- Cholesterol went from 214 to 147
- Triglycerides from 135 to 75
- Blood pressure was 112 over 70 by the end of the experiment.
3) Paleo Promoters Go All-Potatoes
Paleo promoters are not typically big fans of carps, but recently some paleo bloggers decided to go on an all-potato diet to lose weight and body fat. One commenter claims to have followed a potato diet for 30 days, and lost in the process 11 pounds of fat, gained 8 pounds of lean body mass, and reduced his body fat by 6%.
The potato diet works because:
1. Potatoes have a low calorie density and a high satiety value per calorie.
2. Eating a diet that is composed almost exclusively of one food is low in reward, low-moderate palatability, low in variety, and has a high sensory-specific satiety. Even if you dress up your potatoes as well as you can, you’re still eating potatoes. This tends to reduce calorie intake.
3. Potatoes are nutritious enough (including complete protein) that they can be the sole source of calories for an extended period of time. However, they are not a complete source of all micronutrients and deficiencies will eventually arise.
It would be interesting if some of my readers tried an all-potato diet and shared their results, but I’m not specifically recommending it.
Now, someone could say that we could design a diet based on any one food and still get great results because it would force the person to eat less in general. But I say that it would only be possible to get such good results if the food was healthy to begin with.
An all-apple diet would probably lead to amazing health results, but people would get tired of it faster because apples are not concentrated enough in calories.
If the food wasn’t healthy to begin with, it could lead to disastrous results. Can you imagine the results of an “all-ice-cream” or “all bacon” diet? People would get tired of it much faster, too.
My point is that potatoes should not be feared. All of the hype about potatoes being junk food or too high on the glycemic index fade when faced with these facts:
1) Entire cultures in South America, such as the Quechua, have eaten potatoes as the main source of their calories and enjoyed great health.
2) Many people have tried an all-potato diet composed exclusively of basic, commercial, white potatoes, and have only experienced positive results.
3) Although no food contains every single nutrient that the body needs in exactly the right amount for all phases of life, potatoes come pretty close to meeting most requirements.
Last December, right before Christmas, I went to the TrueNorth Health Center in California to undergo a five-day water fast.
I stayed 7 days at the center (five days of fasting and two days of re-feeding), and thoroughly enjoyed my experience.
This is not the first time I fasted. I’ve done several 3-day fasts, and a long 23-day fast, back in 2005.
I find that occasional water fasting is a great “reset button” and for me acts as a powerful spiritual practice.
During a fast, I always find clarity about what I should do next in my life. In this sense, every fast has been a most incredible experience.
I didn’t do it for health reasons, although earlier last year I experienced some bouts of insomnia. During the fast, I slept like crazy!
And if you fast in a controlled environment like the TrueNorth center, you get lots of support and meet amazing people. This in itself is a good enough reason to try a water fast.
The TrueNorth Center has a team of top-notch physicians that overlook every aspect of your fast.
Dr. Michael Klaper, one of the most trained M.Ds and big-time plant-based diet advocate, works full-time here at the center.
Dr. Alan Goldhamer is an extremely knowledgeable MD who directs this center and is one of the worldwide experts on water fasting.
There are other extremely qualified health professional here as well.
The fast is fully supervised. Blood tests and a full consultation with one of the doctors insures that you’re healthy enough for fasting. And every day doctors come to check up on you.
There are daily health lectures to keep you busy, and of course you get to meet people from all over the world who are also here fasting, or during another type of cure like a juice fast.
The most incredible thing is to hear the stories of people who have fasted and recovered from serious conditions, when nothing else they tried has worked before. I’ve already heard several of those stories first-hand from people here, at different stages of their health journey.
Why Not a Juice Fast?
Some people go to TrueNorth to do a juice fast. But I find water fasting to be more powerful. Five days of water fasting probably gives you the same results as 10 days or more of juice fasting, because of the unique physiological adaptations that occur only during fasting.
1) During a water fast your body goes into full fat-burning mode. If you stay inactive during the fast there is no muscle loss.
2) A water fast activates the detox systems. Enzymatic changes occur in the body that boost your “detox systems” – getting rid of unwanted substances in the body (excess cholesterol, uric acid, and environmental toxins, etc.). These changes persist after a fast.
3) Insulin sensitivity improves during a fast. A water fast has a powerful effect on insulin, making it more effective.
4) A water fast flushes out excess sodium and dramatically lowers blood pressure. It’s the most powerful, clinically-proven cure for high-blood pressure.
5) Fasting has a normalizing effect on the autonomic nervous system. In simple terms: it lowers or eliminates stress-related problems such as anxiety and digestive disturbances.
6) Water fasting creates neuroadaptation to healthier food. After a fast, any food tastes good! Including plain lettuce. It makes it much easier to switch to a healthier, lower salt, oil-free diet. That’s certainly the reward of the faster: every simple meal after the fast tastes like heaven!
How to Conduct a 5-Day Fast
All the physicians working at TrueNorth do not formally advise anyone to fast without supervision for more than three days. And of course, many people should never fast (ask your doctor).
A five-day fast, however, is generally safe and could technically be conducted at home if you have previous experience with fasting and are in a state of good health.
During the fast, I didn’t experience any major negative symptoms. I had no nausea, no headaches, no insomnia, and no physical discomforts. I only felt a bit dizzy after the first two days when getting up, and had of course much lower physical energy, and lots of thoughts about food.
I started the fast before I showed up at the center, so by the time I arrived, I was already 18 hours into my fast. The first day is generally easy. You can be active and thoughts about food fade away relatively quickly.
The second day is more difficult due to the fact that the body has not yet shifted into fasting metabolism. I was thinking about food and finding every hour extremely long and boring! I entertained myself by watching a lot of health lectures.
Day three went similar to day 2, but with reduced hunger.
On day four I had massive cravings at night. I could not stop thinking about food!
The last day of the fast went great! I had decent energy and almost no food thoughts.
I broke the fast on the morning of day 6 with a watermelon-celery juice that tasted like heaven. I only had juice and a salad that day.
On the second day of refeeding I also had fruit and some steamed vegetables.
It took me about a week after the fast to feel like my body and digestion was fully back to “normal.” I did not have any bowel movement during the fast, but it all resumed during the refeeding period.
During the first three days of the fast, it was a mental game more than anything. Although I had no physical symptoms, my mind was tricking me into thoughts of “giving up.” I wasn’t even considering giving up, but maybe I would have if I had attempted the fast at home.
Fasting is like a marathon. It’s a mental game. But at some point, you get a “second wind” and the fast becomes easy.
Of course, fasting should never be viewed like a marathon where you’re attempting to break some kind of goal. One must fast in a very scientific matter, for health reasons only.
During the fast, I had LOTS of ideas. I wrote a lot, organized, and also slept a lot, with very vivid dreams.
I think fasting five days was a great experience that I would easily do again every year or two. Fasting 23 days, like I did at the age of 28, was much more difficult and not something I feel ready to attempt again anytime soon.
Fasting is not a “fun” thing to do by any stretch of the imagination. It’s hard work. But it yields amazing health benefits if you do it correctly.
The only fasting center that I recommend is the True North Health Center. To find out more, go to:
Note: I’m in no way affiliated with the True North Health Center. I do not get any compensation for writing this article.
A few years ago, I was at a raw food conference, and the topic of fat came up. Many of the participants came to me, after a lecture, and told me that they enjoyed the information, but they didn’t think that they ate that much fat.
In the lectures, I talked about the major health problems that raw foodists run into when they eat a high-fat diet. One of the main issues seemed to be low energy and poor insulin response. After months or years on this diet, these people could no longer enjoy fruit without seeing their blood sugar spike and crash.
When we checked their fat consumption, it was often close to 60% of total calories. To put this in perspective, the Standard American Diet (often called the “SAD Diet” for a good reason!) is around 35-40% fat.
I had people come to me, thinking they were eating a low-fat diet, but when we analyzed their intake, it was closer to 30 or 40%.
(By the way, although I have known about the problems with fat consumption for years, since my book “The Raw Secrets” came out in 2002, it was not until I worked with Dr. Doug Graham that it finally made complete sense. I recommend his book “The 80-10-10 Diet” to understand how a low-fat raw vegan diet works).
Now, you can spend all day entering numbers into a nutrition database, but I’ve got a simple system for you to track your fat consumption.
This system applies to raw or cooked vegan diets where the only calories come from whole foods. This system will not work if you consume any of the following foods:
- Restaurant foods where oil was used
– Processed foods containing oil or fat
– Animal foods
Raw foodists eating only fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds can use this system. Vegans consuming only grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds can also use this system.
It’s pretty simple.
First, let’s clarify what a low-fat diet is. Sometimes you hear in the media that “low-fat diets don’t work.” But, when we look closely at those “low-fat diets,” we find that they are around 25 to 30% fat — which is not low at all.
A low-fat diet is a diet where no more than 15% of your daily calories come from fat. There’s room to wiggle here. Some people keep their fat intake below 10%, and others like it around 15%. It’s really up to you.
First, if you eat only whole foods, you already get 5 to 7% of your calories from fat. That’s without adding any nuts, seeds, avocados, or fatty foods. Any combination of fruits, vegetables, grains and beans will contain this bare minimum of fat, from the natural fatty acids contained in those foods. By the way, that seems to be the minimum amount the body needs — so Nature didn’t make a mistake here.
The Fat Tracking System
It’s pretty simple. Most people need around 2000-2200 calories a day. More active people will need close to 3000 calories. So, just look at the numbers below, and you’ll see how much fat you can eat to stay in the target range.
2000-2200 calories diet
5-7% fat: no overt fats
10% fat: 1/2 avocado OR 1 ounce nuts (or 1 T nut butter)
15% fat: 1/2 avocado + 1 ounce nuts (or 1 T nut butter)
3000 calories diet
5-7% fat: no overt fat
11% fat: 1 avocado OR 2 ounces nuts
15% fat: 1/2 avocado + 2 ounces nuts
If you eat no added fats at all (“overt fats”), you already get 5 to 7% fat. To stay around 10% fat, you should eat no more than half an avocado (medium size, max) a day OR one serving of nuts (one ounce or one tablespoon of nut butter). If you eat both the avocado and the nuts, you’re at around 15% fat. On a higher calorie diet, the maximums are a bit higher.
Personally, I keep it very simple. I eat one tablespoon of ground flax every day, which contributes a tiny amount of fat. Some days I don’t eat any overt fats at all. Other days I’ll usually have either half an avocado or one tablespoon of tahini in a salad. And finally, some days my fat consumption is higher, maybe up to 25%. If you average everything, I’m at around 12% fat.
To get menu plans with the optimal fat intake already calculated for you, check this out:
It might surprise you to hear me say that, but I believe that white sugar is not the root of all evils, as it’s often portrayed to be.
Sure, it’s very refined. It’s unhealthy. And you shouldn’t really eat it if you want optimal health. If you eat too much of it, all hell will start to break loose in your body.
But… and here’s the big “but”: if you have a little bit once in a while it’s not going to hurt you.
Nowadays it’s fashionable in the health and fitness industry to condemn sugar and carbohydrates in general as being responsible for the obesity epidemic. You also hear all kinds of statements about sugar.
The other day I was in a health food store and two employees were chatting together. One of them said that “after you eat sugar, your immune system shuts down for four hours.”
I laughed to myself when I heard that! Not only is it not true, but it’s not even physiologically possible.
Let’s talk about one of the biggest claims about sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, namely that it’s turned into fat by your body after you consume it.
Sugar turns into fat, right?
Some animals, such as cows, have a physiology that makes it very easy for them to convert carbohydrates into fat for long-term storage. For example, cows eat grass, which is a carbohydrate that’s indigestible for humans (but they have the ability to use the energy in it), and cows can store an incredible amount of fat from this food source.
Humans are very inefficient at converting sugar into fat.
In a lecture on Fructose, Sucrose and High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Dr. James M. Rippe presented the current research on the subject. A few highlights:
- Americans consume between 100 and 150 grams of fat a day. How much body fat do they store each day from sugar intake? About one gram!
- In one study, they gave young healthy males up to 50% added carbohydrates. That’s 1500 calories above their regular diet! How much fat was produced by their bodies on this excess? 3.3 grams on average. That’s on a diet containing over 700 grams of carbohydrates.
- To put it in perspective, one pound of fat is 450 grams.
So, when you feed people an extra 1500 calories from sugar or carbohydrates, and about 3 grams of extra fat are generated by the body, where is the rest going?
It’s stored in the muscles as glycogen, and the rest is burned off as heat and energy.
You can make somebody fat by feeding them extra sugar and carbohydrates, but it’s NOT because most of that sugar is turned into fat.
It’s because it’s preventing the fat in the diet to be turned into energy.
In other words, here’s what happens:
1) People eat sugar.
2) They eat other forms of carbohydrates.
3) The average American eats between 100 and 150 grams of fat in their daily diet.
4) The carbohydrates they eat are turned into energy. Only one gram on average is turned into fat.
5) The body STORES the extra calories coming from fat into body fat, instead of burning them off as energy.
Whenever there’s an imbalance in energy (too many calories in, not enough calories out), the body will store excess calories as fat. But those calories essentially come from the fat in your diet, not the carbohydrates!
That’s why high-carbohydrates, low-fat (less than 10% of calories) programs are very effective ways of burning fat.
I saw it with my own eyes when I put my own mother on such a diet, and she lost over 60 pounds without ever gaining it back.
If you eat a healthy low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, you can get away with eating some refined sugar once in a while.
It’s not going to kill you, it’s not going to turn into fat, and it’s certainly not going to shut down your immune system.
Of course I’m not suggesting making white sugar a part of your diet. But if once in a while you have a teaspoon or two of sugar, it’s no big deal, and it’s certainly better than the same amount in oil.
I recommend satisfying your sugar cravings with fresh fruit. Once you eat enough fruit, you’ll never have a craving for refined sugar.
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Last week a met someone who asked me a few questions about diet, after seeing what I eat. The topic of olive oil came up.
I had to answer in less than a minute why the diet I promote (and try to follow as closely as possible) contains no added oil, not even the so-called “heart-healthy” olive oil.
Most people can’t fully accept that concept, because we’ve been told incorrectly over the last few decades that olive oil (and other vegetable oils) are great for health. In reality, the opposite is true!
Here’s a quick summary of the reasons why you should do your best to avoid all vegetable oils. I’ll focus on olive oil because that’s where the source of the confusion comes from, but most of these points apply to most other oils as well.
1) Oil is a refined product and the most concentrated source of calories available anywhere. One tablespoon of oil contains 120 calories of pure fat with almost no other nutrients. Refined sugar is only 50 calories per tablespoon.
The fat you eat is the fat you wear, and a few splashes of olive oil here and there can quickly add up to hundreds of extra calories that you don’t need. Worst of all, those calories are missing all the fiber and essential nutrients and are empty.
It’s been found in multiple studies that adding fat to food makes people over-consume calories without realizing it, because fat has a very low satiety factor compared to carbohydrates or proteins.
Remember: it takes 24 olives to make 1 TBS of olive oil. I don’t know about you but I’ve never once added 24 olives to a single serving of salad.
2) Oils are a concentrated source of saturated fat. Most people don’t realize that even olive oil contains almost 15% saturated fat. This fat consumed in excess contributes to a host of health problems, including arteriosclerosis and heart disease.
3) Excessive fat consumption lowers insulin sensitivity. The higher in fat your diet is, the least effective your insulin becomes. If you combine a high fat diet with a high sugar intake, you have a recipe for disaster that will lead to many health problems.
4) Vegetable oils contribute to inflammation. Omega 6 fats contribute to inflammation in the body, while omega 3 fats reduce it. But most vegetable oils have a ratio that dramatically favor omega 6 fats. We should seek to a dietary ratio of no more than 4 times the omega 6s vs. 3. Olive oil contains over ten times the omega 6 as omega 3, and many other oils are worst.
5) Olive oil doesn’t lower LDL cholesterol. It’s a myth to think that olive oil is “heart healthy.” Studies have only shown that it lowers LDL cholesterol when it REPLACES animal fats like butter. But to add olive oil (and other vegetable oils) to an otherwise healthy diet actually increases LDL levels.
6) Olive oil injures the inner lining of the arteries (called endothelium). A study conducted by Dr. Robert Vogel and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that a meal containing olive oil caused severe constrictions in arteries, contributing to heart disease. Blood flow was reduced by 31% in this study. It’s worth noting that canola oil or salmon didn’t cause this problem (however, all vegetable oils are unhealthy to some degree).
What this study found was that the protective components of the Mediterranean diet appear to be fruits and vegetables, and NOT the olive oil. Greek people only got away with eating olive oil because they consumed a lot of fruits and vegetables. They also replaced animal fats like butter with olive oil. But olive oil in itself isn’t healthy.
7) Oils release toxic compounds when heated. Many oils become carcinogenic when heated. And yes, every type of oil can withstand a different level of heart. But don’t believe for a second that nothing is happening to your oil when you start heating it. Udo Erasmus, one of the world’s most well-known experts on fats, always recommended to NEVER heat any fat. He said: “If health is what we want, water is the only oil appropriate for frying. We’re back to steaming, poaching, boiling, or pressure cooking our foods. Or, even better in most cases, eating them raw.”
What about essential fats?
It’s true, we need some fats for good health. But all whole foods contain them to a certain degree, and in the perfect omega 3/6 ratio. Additional fats should come from whole foods such as: nuts, seeds, avocados, etc. Those foods can be consumed in smaller quantities and people who want faster results should avoid them completely.
Should you believe what I say about Olive Oil and other vegetable oils? Here’s a partial list of doctors that agree with this no-oil approach:
- T. Colin Campbell
- Dr. John McDougall
- Dr. Douglas Graham
- Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
- Dr. Neal Barnard
- Dr. Joel Fuhrman
- Dr. Michael Klaper
I could list even more, but if you want more information, you can start there.
Now, does that mean you can never have a splash of olive oil? If you’re very active and burn a lot of calories, a bit of olive oil won’t hurt you. But try giving it up and you’ll notice that your taste for oil will disappear. If you crave something fatty, have a whole food like a bit of nut butter, for example.
About a week ago I wrote an article called “Why I Don’t Eat Organic Food,” which turned out to be one of the most upsetting articles I ever put out on my website.
I got a wave of anger and negative comments like never before. I even received emails that read more like death threats.
I’m used to speaking my truth and expecting opinions to differ.
But in this particular case, I feel like I need to clarify something.
So here you go:
My Stance on Organic Food – Clarified
If you think that I’m against organic food, or that all I care about is my peaches not becoming moldy and for that reason I prefer conventional produce, you misunderstood my article.
If you think that I haven’t done my research on pesticides, GMOs, and the dangers of consuming certain foods that are conventionally grown and raised, you were also wrong.
Before I tell you what I believe in, let me talk about where I live.
I live in Montreal, Canada.
I live in a very central area of the city, close to one of the best produce markets I’ve ever seen in the world. I’ve been to many great markets, including the awesome markets of California. But when it comes to the variety of exotic, tropical fruits that is available year round, nothing beats the Jean-Talon market in Montreal (except, of course, living in those tropical locations!).
So, every week I go to the market and stop at this Italian shop.
It’s an amazing experience. The owners know me by name. I know everyone on the staff.
I can walk in and go directly to their warehouse. They let me walk around everywhere as if I’m part of the staff. I’ve been going to this store for over 10 years, so they really know me. I’m the guy who buys a ton of fruit!
So, I go there and I ask them the same question: “So, what’s good this week, Tony?”
And then Tony tells me about all the great produce that they’ve received.
“Oh, we’ve got mangoes from Israel that are absolutely amazing. We’ve got these unbelievable grapes from California. Try these fresh black mission figs.”
And then Tony just goes around and slices the produce and lets me try all of it.
And then I tell him, “Okay, I’ll take a case of this, a case of that.”
Now the quality of the fruit is absolutely amazing. It’s fresh. It’s tasty. It’s the best in town. But it’s not organic.
But I buy it because I love it. Because it makes me feel great when I eat it. And because it’s the best that’s available.
Most of the fruits I buy have peels. And when it’s something that can’t be peeled, like a peach, I wash it with a special soap to make sure to remove the pesticide residues, if there are any.
I also don’t buy certain fruits that I know to be heavily sprayed, like strawberries, apples, celery, and a few other items. Peaches are heavily sprayed, but I just can’t get good organic peaches in Montreal. So I buy them from the Italian shop.
My Organic Food
Let’s now visit my local health food store.
When I lived in Vancouver, I was close to a Whole Foods Market where I would buy a lot of great, fresh, organic produce.
But in Montreal, the organic market is not as developed.
I go to my health food store and I’ll buy some lettuce, bags of organic apples (I think organic apples taste better), bananas, and many other items.
But some organic fruits are just not worth talking about.
- Pineapples are super acidic.
- Mangoes just don’t ripen properly.
- And peaches. Let’s just not talk about them. It’ll make me sad.
So if you look at all the calories I eat coming from fruits and vegetables, probably 75% of them come from the Italian market. But if you look at all the products in my house (beans, etc.), then my percentage of organic is higher.
However, here’s my point:
Organic food is great, but it’s not one of the most important factors in health.
I’ve been saying this for years.
People should first focus on:
1) Eating a plant-based diet
2) Eliminating added oils and excess fats
3) Eating most of their calories from fresh produce
4) Exercising on a regular basis
5) Getting enough quality sleep
Many people START with organic food.
They eat organic, but their diet is loaded with oil (organic olive oil!).
They eat organic, but they don’t exercise vigorously very much.
They eat organic, but they don’t get enough sleep.
What good is organic food in this context?
I say focus on the most important aspects of your health that account for 80% of your health results, and then you can think about the smaller aspects.
But, of course, if you live somewhere like California, where there’s plenty of awesome, organic produce, then by all means get it.
What will this Conventional Fruit do to my Health?
Here’s another interesting fact: Recent studies have shown that organic produce does not contain more nutrients, on average, than commercial produce.
But what about all the pesticides?
Organic produce is not free of pesticide, but it does contain fewer residues. Organic farmers often use natural pesticides.
Right now, no studies that I know of have ever shown that people consuming organic produce end up living longer and avoiding disease more than people consuming commercial produce.
We know that pesticides are bad, but the real question is: are the quantities ingested through food enough to make a difference in your health in the long term? The reality is that we don’t know for sure.
But one thing we know is that if you eat at the bottom of the food chain (i.e., plant foods) and not at the top of the food chain (i.e., animal foods), then your exposure to pesticides is very low.
Animals accumulate environmental toxins in their tissues. And that’s why animal products are the biggest source of pesticides in most people’s diets.
With produce, you can wash it away. You still might be exposed to some, but even with organic, you’re not necessarily 100% pure.
So in the end, I believe it’s best to make the right choice for you.
I haven’t changed my mind that eating organic food is not the most important thing you can do for your health. There are plenty of other factors that matter way more.
Depending on where you live, do the best you can.
Eat organic grains. They’re easy to find.
Organic apples, bananas and vegetables are generally great and easy to find.
When it comes to fruit, do the best you can.
I will keep going to my Italian market because it simply rocks. I love the shopping experience and I love the variety and quality that I get.
What choice will you make?
It’s entirely up to you, and your choice will be affected by a number of factors: your budget, your location, etc.
By the way, I’m writing this article from Berkeley, California, where I’ve been eating nothing but organic food since I arrived. Here, it’s everywhere. It’s a totally different scene than my hometown.
But what about you?
Did what I write make sense to you, or do you think I should be ostracized from the natural food world for never saying: “You should only consume organic produce and nothing else.”
Because, you see, this approach doesn’t work. If the cucumbers you can find are not organic, buy them, peel them, and enjoy them. Your health is not going to go down because of that.