As you may know, I recommend a low-fat diet.
This may fly in the face of current diet fads and trends that tout the benefits of “good fats” to no end. Yet, I have never found anything more powerful for health as a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet.
My program is not original. I first came to these conclusions after eating a raw food diet for a period of three years and not only failing to find any benefits in my personal health, but also experiencing a decline. My problems were those that many others have experienced on a similar program: lack of energy, blood sugar swings, mental fog, and failure to thrive. Those problems were resolved by increasing the carbohydrate content of my diet and eliminating excessive quantities of fat — whether refined (like oil) or coming from natural foods (avocados, nuts, etc.).
I initially experimented with this idea after having read many books by Albert Mosséri, one of my early mentors in Natural Hygiene. He was extremely skeptical of nuts and avocados, and recommended to avoid them in general or only consume very small quantities. He never blamed the fat specifically, but relied on his experience working with more than 4000 patients at his fasting and retreat center.
Later, Dr. Douglas Graham influenced me greatly, when he was promoting his 80-10-10 diet, before his book was published. His diet advocates getting most calories from fruit, with plenty of green vegetables, and a maximum of 10% of fat by total caloric intake. That means, for most people, less than 1/2 avocado a day, on average (and not every day, if you’re not very active or athletic).
Finally, getting up to date on the latest science in human nutrition through the work of many great doctors has reinforced my belief that a low-fat diet is best for health. The doctors and authors who influenced me the most are:
Dr. John McDougall, MD
T. Colin Campbell, PhD
Dr. Neal Barnard, MD
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD
All of those doctors, and at least a dozen more that I won’t mention today, all recommend a low-fat, plant-based diet.
What’s a low-fat diet?
Essentially, it doesn’t mean avoiding all fats. But it means getting most of your calories from carbohydrates (from whole food sources), and fewer than 10% of your calories from fat. Some people allow up to 15%.
In practice, that means:
* Do not consume any oil.
* Do not consume any food of animal origin, especially dairy products, beef, chicken and eggs.
* Do not eat more than one ounce of nuts a day, or half an avocado, on average. Eliminate those foods if you have heart disease or wish to lose weight.
When you follow such a program, your taste buds will require a bit of adaptation. It’s not that fat has much taste, but it helps carry flavors like salt or sugar. Also, when we eat a higher-fat diet, our taste buds get used to it.
According to Dr. Esselstyn, it takes around 12 weeks to adapt to a low-fat diet. Initially, you may find the food bland and unappetizing. But, after a while, you will enjoy it even more than your old food, and will even find the taste of a high-fat meal repulsive.
This entire process takes around 12 weeks, so be patient.
I can attest that it’s true. Nowadays, if I eat something that many people would consider “delicious,” I will find it extremely unappetizing if it contains a lot of fat. Unless, of course, all that fat is mixed in with sugar, which tends to fool everyone’s taste buds.
When I go to a restaurant, I always ask for “no oil” even if the recipe doesn’t mention that oil is added. Many chefs drizzle oil on top of a salad or a soup just before serving. For example, hummus at Middle Eastern restaurants often receives that oily treatment. By asking for “no oil” you can at least avoid that extra, added fat. Also, I ask for dressing on the side by default. This tends to work better than asking for “no dressing,” which often leaves the waiters absolutely puzzled.
Question of the day: How long did it take you to adapt to a low-fat diet?
I thought of sending you an April’s Fools day joke… But I can’t beat Swayze with her “I’m no longer vegan” email, so here’s a light topic for you…
Over the years, I’ve received a lot of positive comments on my work. I’ve also received some “hate mail” and plain strange emails.
Here are some from my “best of” collections of emails that left me a little puzzled, with my comments. Names have been changed.
hi Fred… I have to say that you are missing the boat… raw nuts seeds and greens were introduced in Eden.. surely God is smarter than you…. end this crap, you are accountable for every word out of your mouth.. ask God what to do.. warmly Julietta.
This person refers to my stance on limiting nuts and seeds in the diet. Obviously, I can’t argue with God. I will mention, however, that nuts and seeds, in Nature, come with a shell, and are difficult to open. That may be a sign from God that you shouldn’t eat more than a small handful a day. Just a thought…
i just wanted to let you know i once made a smoothie with raw cacao, i almost had a heart attack.. not serious but my hart was pounding wild. Felt really horrible, i found a lot of info about theobromine, it being a neurotoxine. Everybody is promoting cacao just for their own benefits. But you are for real. Thank you for that. I would like to dive more in to it. why theobromine why this suits them to feed us chocolate, (the commercials are all over the place) Morna
I don’t recommend raw cacao. If you’re going to eat chocolate, just get the regular, old, cooked chocolate. Raw cacao is likely laden with mold.
Raw cacao is a stimulant, like coffee, but I’m sure that it won’t lead to heart attacks. Theobromine is not a neurotoxin, but rather a stimulant equivalent to caffeine. That is probably what she felt when she tried her raw cacao smoothie. Also, I think cacao is one of those items that should be roasted, and not sold raw, due to the mold that can develop on the beans when they are left in the open. The whole “raw cacao” trend is one that always left me puzzled.
Fred, you sent out an email tonight stating that you hate the Winter season. Wow, that one struct me hard because the use of the word “hate” is very serious, and I couldn’t belive it would come from someone who is supposed to very much deep into nature. What’s going on with this picture? I think you need to apologise to nature and all of your members. I did not appreciate that email and hopefully, in the future you don’t send out an email like that to me anymore. I do not like the use of the word, there is too much animosity there on nature.
Here, the reader is referring to a comment I made about “hating winter.” I always said that you can’t be boring in print, so that’s why I use vivid language to make my point.
Our reader seems to think that “nature” is a person who would get upset at my use of this word. For the record: I maintain that I still hate the really cold months of winter here in Canada. I’m a tropical boy at heart. I simply won’t budge on that!
i didn’t want to post on a forum. I don’t know who to talk to. Every day for the past few weeks I’ve been blacking out.. not just when standing up, but when sitting up. I feel like I have no body.. just a floating head.. if that makes any sense. I’m doing things that make no sense.. like i went into my bedroom to get my robe to take a shower and instead of getting my robe I picked up my full length mirror and left the room with it and then couldn’t figure out what I was doing.
I started taking David Wolfe’s course on raw food.. only it’s been focused on “superfood” so I started increasing cacao in my smoothies.. adding mucuna as well and maca. I don’t know if that’s the cause.
I saw what you wrote on cacao.. could that be it? I saw David Wolfe speak yesterday at CoSM… he said the moon didn’t rotate.. after that my brain spun and I felt the need to leave. On the way there I got lost and called my husband screaming at him like a lunatic. I told him I hated him.
I’m really freaking out… I have to go rock climbing after.. but I feel like I can’t move. can’t function. is there something i can do to counteract this feeling??? I need help.
Okay, I know this one sounds kind of serious. This person eventually sorted out her problem. Obviously, I don’t advise people on medical issues and certainly recommend taking blackouts seriously, especially if you’re heading rock climbing later. I will make a comment, though: It’s never a good idea to self-medicate with natural herbs and products sold by a supplement company, advertising specific health results.
“I think very few people who subscribe to your emails will be put off by your latest rant – I, for one, am used to them and I don’t mind a good rant. It’s a sign of a passionate character.
But I have a few points of disagreement with this latest one that I am finally going to express to you. Hopefully they will not make YOU so mad you won’t pay attention to them! I am in general agreement with everything you say about food and health, and I think you are doing a wonderful thing to bring your ideas forward like you do. I’m sure you are helping many people. However… just a few points…..
First – I hadn’t heard of “breatherians” before… but the esoteric Eastern spiritual paths all know, from practical examples, that humans can live entirely without food. For years. Not from breathing air, but from living directly off of light. If the Breathairians are living without food, they may be mistaken about the source of their subsistence, but it IS possible they can live without eating. Therese Neumann, in Germany in the last century, is a Westerner who lived without food for many years… and this was ‘scientifically proven’ to be true…”
I have little to say here, except that it’s fairly strange that all the starving children of the world seem to live in sunny climates. I’m puzzled by the “scientifically proven,” which is freely given with no reference whatsoever.
We lived in San Isidro for three years, now we live in Alajuela and are trying to find the full spectrum light bulbs in Costa Rica rather than having them mailed from the U.S. or Canada. Can you sell us one in San Isidro (we come up often) or tell us if anyone does sell them in Costa Rica. If not, do they go through Customs and do you get charged for them. Thanks.
This email was regarding an article that I wrote about full-spectrum lights. As much as I love to help, it’s a little bit outside of my comfort zone to hand deliver full-spectrum lights to my readers in Costa Rica!
I, and a number of my friends have made an effort to use much more raw food in our vegetarian diet. But there is a serious problem that I have not see mentioned or dealt with before. When eating more raw foods, I and most of the people I know have had a BIG PROBLEM with VERY LOOSE STOOLS – which has stopped after eating less raw food. None of these people have a medical problem. This problem has persisted over time.
This isn’t an uncommon question from my readers, but I find the selective use of CAPS funny… To answer it, on a high-fiber diet, it’s normal to experience larger stools that are easier to pass and as many as one per meal eaten. That is the normal way humans are supposed to poop.
All right, now it’s your turn to share what the weirdest thing someone told you about your raw/vegan lifestyle!
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been eating the same meals over and over. Initially, this experiment started out of practical considerations. I was traveling and didn’t have time to prepare foods, and couldn’t rely on restaurants. When I got back home, I had a limited variety of foods left in my fridge and cupboards, so I decided to finish them first. I didn’t get tired of eating the same foods over and over, so I decided to keep this up.
I also wanted to go for a while without any overt fats (no avocado, nuts, seeds, etc.) to see if I noticed any changes from an ultra-low-fat approach.
The only meals I was eating during my “experiment” were:
1) Brown rice and black or red kidney beans (home cooked), along with diced tomatoes, chopped cilantro, steamed broccoli and/or spinach, and seasonings (no oil or fat).
2) Fruit: Either apples, oranges, or bananas.
Like I said, at first I was just finishing up my existing stocks, and I was curious as to what would happen if I only ate the same foods over and over. Some thoughts went through my head, such as “Oh I should include some salad too” or “I should also be making green smoothies” or “I should eat potatoes instead of rice and beans because tubers are more alkaline.”
But I thought to myself… what’s the worst that can happen? People have lived for years on the same foods. As long as what you’re eating contains all the necessary nutrients and calories, there should be no issues.
One day I went “off-track” and made a big cabbage salad (cabbage with lemon juice, tomatoes, cilantro, and some seasonings).
What I’ve noticed with this experience of limited food choices is that I actually enjoy it. Instead of having to worry about what I’m going to eat next, I always eat the same things.
I also noticed that I was satisfied with three meals a day and no snacks, whereas before I was eating every three hours.
My desire for variety and “excitement” around food has actually decreased and I had no cravings whatsoever for anything else.
My food budget went down dramatically. I was spending less than $25 a week eating this way (and I ate large quantities).
I even noticed that I was losing some body fat.
What the Research Says
Study after study showed that monotony in meals leads to “appetite suppression.” Some people call it the “school cafeteria syndrome,” but I believe there is more to it.
In one study, volunteers ate the same mac and cheese dish every day for five days. By the fifth day, they were consuming 20% fewer calories than on day one.
The idea is that the more times we’re presented with a stimulus, the weaker our reaction to it becomes. This process is called “habituation.” It applies not only to food, but to all sorts of things, from loud noises to mating partners (there are some interesting studies about that last one!).
Personally, I don’t think it’s fair to say that meal monotony leads to “appetite suppression.” I think it’s more the opposite. Meal variety leads to overeating. Meal monotony needs to a normal appetite that’s actually in tune with your body’s needs.
Why We Seek Variety
It seems that everyone these days is a “foodie,” seeking endless excitement in exotic ingredients and complicated food preparations. Why do we seek so much variety, when throughout most of human history, we lived on rather Spartan diet?
Maybe it’s a moot point. We seek variety because variety is available. The human brain is wired to seek novelty, because more sources of calories meant a higher chance of survival for our ancestors.
Our ancestors who were curious enough to try out new foods that they rarely came across, such as honey, whale blubber and whatnot, got extra calories in their diets. Extra calories meant survival, and therefore the “curious” gene got passed along.
Seeking food variety works really well when your main concern is not getting enough food or not enough nutrients. But, in our modern society when the main problem is getting too much, variety can become a pleasure trap. The more exciting and different our meals become, the more we seek even more excitement and variety in food, and suddenly food becomes a central focal point of our lives. And more often than not, “variety” just means more rich and calorie-dense foods that lead to health problems.
Some Myths Busted
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not necessary to eat a huge variety of foods to get all the nutrients your body needs. Hundreds of cultures around the world have done just fine on a very basic menu.
Plant foods are very rich in nutrients. As long as you include foods from different categories of foods, it doesn’t matter so much which food you choose in each category. Here are some examples of categories:
– Green vegetables
– Grains or starches
– Whole plant fats: nuts, seeds, etc.
Is it even necessary to eat foods from all those categories? I’ve known thousands of people who have lived exclusively on fruits and vegetables, with the addition of some nuts and seeds. Likewise, you could very well live on just a few sources of starch, along with green vegetables and no fruit. In all cases, as long as you get enough calories and eat green vegetables every day, you could design plant-based diets in almost any combination and still meet all of the body’s needs.
I’ve spent hours and hours on nutrition databases, trying out different combinations of simple ingredients, and always finding out that plant foods ARE complete when menus are designed in this fashion. Only vitamin B12 is missing, but this is another topic (yes, you should take a supplement). Vitamin D can be a problem, but only because of our modern living conditions.
Perhaps some plant fats are need for long-term health, due to their omega-3 content. However, remember that green vegetables do contain a small percentage of omega-3s. Even so, it makes sense to include a source of omega-3 in your diet, such as ground flax seeds.
One diet that I designed contained only brown rice, black beans and spinach.
When 2000 calories of this very basic diet are consumed, you get a whopping:
78 grams of protein (13% of total calories)
11 grams of fat (that’s without adding any overt fats, and is surely loaded with omega-3s)
65 grams of fiber (that’s more than 4 times what the average American eats!)
986 mg of Calcium (99% the inflated RDA!)
1246.2 mg of magnesium (297% the RDA)
17.6 mg of manganese (a ridiculous 766% of the RDA)
15.7 mg of zinc (143% of the RDA)
In fact, almost every nutrient is off the charts except for vitamins C and E, which are a little below recommendations. I don’t even think that’s a problem because you are getting some on this diet. A person could easily add a lousy orange per day to fill the gaps.
I don’t even think that the RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances) hold that much value. It’s never been proven that people eating below the RDAs in many nutrient categories actually develop deficiencies.
A different diet that I designed contained only sweet potatoes, broccoli and bananas.
This diet again surprised me. It contained:
- 24 grams of fat (10% of calories, with no added fats)
– 45 grams of protein (6% of calories. This is actually still adequate.)
– 13,662 mcg of vitamin A (1518% of RDA – try to beat that!)
– 759 mg of calcium, surprisingly
– 724 mg of vitamin C (805% of RDA)
Pretty much every nutrient is off the charts or adequate. Selenium is a little low (36% of daily value), but it is in most diets. I wouldn’t personally worry about it for even one second. It’s rather shocking actually that it doesn’t take that many foods to create a “complete diet.” So, why do we maintain the myth of the balanced diet?
The Human Being is Wired to Worry About Deficiencies
A few months ago, I attended a marketing event where many book authors in the alternative health movement shared ideas. I was invited by a third party to go to that event, but was not familiar with this group. It was an “invitation-only” event. If I told you who were in attendance, you would be surprised. Let’s just say that many of the big names in the natural health field were there.
One speaker mentioned that the human being is wired to worry about deficiencies, so if you want your audience to nod their head in agreement, you should frame everything in terms of “what could be lacking in your diet” rather than the other way around.
It’s true. The authors who are the most successful in this field, like Andrew Weil, always talk about nutrients that could be lacking in people’s diet. And people nod in agreement.
Yet, the biggest diet-related killers are not caused by deficiencies, but by excess.
When was the last time a friend of yours had scurvy?
Or beri-beri? (vitamin B1 deficiency)
Or kwashiorkor, which is the scientific name for protein deficiency (which can result in severe edema, and an enlarged liver)?
You don’t know anybody with those diseases because everyone you know is suffering from diseases of excess: heart disease, cancer, obesity, etc.
Yes, it’s true that some raw foodists take things to an extreme and may be lacking in some nutrients. But the only major problems that I’ve seen, resulting in death, were when calories were restricted. Even those who get 100% of their calories from raw fruits and vegetables are doing fine, as long as they consume enough calories.
Vitamin B12 can be a problem, but that’s more because of our overly sanitized society. So, between dipping carrots in a bit of rabbit dung and a supplement, most people choose the latter!
Vitamin D also tends to be low in modern people, but I think fears of deficiencies are a bit overblown there. Taking a supplement is advisable to people living in Northern latitudes.
I’m not saying that you should forgo variety and eat simple, bland meals over and over again. My point is that there are some benefits to a certain meal monotony, and that as long as you get enough calories from whole plant foods with some green vegetables, you likely will get all of the nutrients that you need.
The principle of meal repetition can be used to:
- Shed extra body flab
- Simplify your life: fewer dishes and less thinking about food
- Reduce overall food expenses and waste
- Overcome overeating and food addiction
A Few Tips
To try this approach, start with a meal or two. If you’re not already eating the same thing every day for breakfast — start. A simple breakfast is the foundation of a healthy diet. Green smoothie, fruit or oatmeal are all excellent choices.
You could simplify your lunch as well and eat the same thing every day for a week, and see how you like it.
My main recommendation is to find a few meals that you actually like, that you can repeat often. This will greatly simplify your food prep and help answer the question “What’s for dinner” without anxiety.
For example, I don’t think I could ever get tired of the same green smoothie recipe that I make over and over again (consisting of water or store-bought almond milk, bananas, lettuce or spinach, and a handful of frozen berries). Because I like it so much, I don’t feel the need to vary it often.
I also never get tired of rice and black beans, along with steamed greens, lots of diced tomatoes (canned or fresh), and sprinkled with seasoning.
Or sweet potato with squeezed lemon.
We’ve been fed the idea that nutrition is complicated and that in order to make our diet complete, we need all sorts of supplements, endless variety, and complicated combinations. We’ve also been told that a vegetarian diet requires “a lot of planning” to get all the essential nutrients. All of these statements are false. Nutrition is simple, as long as you understand the concept of eating whole foods. Get enough calories from whole plant foods, and make sure to include plenty of green vegetables, and there’s almost no way you can go wrong. For safety, however, make sure to include a B12 supplement in your diet plan.
I got some great insights after listening to a live talk by evolutionary psychologist Doug Lisle, Ph.D.
I had to to share them with you, especially one key distinction.
Everyone has experienced the feeling of failure that comes with “falling off the wagon.”
You’ve set out to complete something, and you don’t follow through. Perhaps it’s a diet or an exercise program.
At first, things are going great. But at some point, the “will” in “willpower” gets the best of you. You eat that bowl of chips, or don’t show up at the gym the day you said you would.
Why does that happen?
Essentially, humans always make decisions based on the delicate balance between immediate pleasure and future pain avoidance.
For example, let’s say that you need to go to the dentist to get a tooth fixed.
You know that going to the dentist will be painful, yet, you follow through on your decision to get the problem fixed (sometimes!) because you know that a little pain in the present will avoid you a lot of pain in the future.
In other circumstances, the immediate pleasure you may feel by eating a bowl of chips outweighs future pain. We rationalize this in many ways (“I can work out an extra hour at the gym tomorrow,” or “this little bit won’t hurt.”).
Whenever we don’t follow through, it’s because immediate pleasure outweighs future avoidance of pain (or future gains).
But it also turns out that will power is limited.
When get a certain amount of it every day, and the more we use our “willpower reserves,” the more we deplete them.
That’s why many fitness trainers recommend exercising first thing in the morning. It’s not because it’s necessarily more beneficial to exercise in the morning, versus other times during the day, but because you’re more likely to follow through if that’s the first thing you have to do in the day, versus trying to persuade yourself to exercise after a long day of work, when you’re exhausted and want a break.
What drains our willpower reserves? The biggest factor is a low blood sugar level. In other words, the “will” in willpower is glucose.
That’s why you’re always more likely to succumb to temptation when you’re hungry, because your blood sugar is depleted.
It gets harder and harder to make rational decisions about what to eat when the hungrier you get, hence the recommendation to never go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.
In other circumstances, it’s also a good idea to eat something first. If you’re having an argument with a friend or a relative, have everyone eat a banana before talking things through! That is probably the single most important thing someone can do to come to a more positive outcome.
Here are Dr. Lisles’s five tips for boosting willpower:
1) Clean your space. It’s been found that a clean space boosts willpower. So be a better animal and organize your nest better.
2) Lay out exercise clothes. The only item that can be out of place are your exercise clothes. In the context of an organized room, carefully laid out exercise clothes become an eye sore and will encourage you to take action. Also, exercise in general increases willpower because it improves glucose metabolism.
3) Always eat something healthy first. Glucose gives you more willpower, so have food available. Always keep a healthy snack in your car (A friend of mine called those the “hangry-bag”! No, this is not a typo. It’s a combination between “hungry” and “angry,” because when you’re hungry, you get angry. So keep a healthy hangry bag in your car.)
If you’re invited to eat out and you know that you will be tempted to eat something unhealthy, eat something first. Eat around 300-400 calories of healthy food before you leave, to keep the hunger monster at bay.
4) Decide Later. If you’re tempted to eat something you think you shouldn’t eat, decide later. Eat something healthy first, and then see how you feel about it. That way, it won’t be a mental torture and you’ll still be in control, making the right decision once you’ve put a few healthy calories in your stomach.
5) Go to bed on time. Getting enough sleep is key to maintaining your willpower reserves.
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.