Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.
Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s a plant rich diet, not a plant based diet, and that’s an important distinction. Plant based implies vegan. Plant rich means your diet’s mostly plants, and that should be 3/4 of your plate covered with colorful veggies. Welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. That’s Farmacy with an F, a place for conversations that matter. And today we’re going to help you figure out what to eat because it’s a big question on people’s mind. With all the nutrition information, with all the confusing headlines, with all the confusing studies, with all the different opinions about what you should eat, whether it’s paleo, or vegan, keto, low fat, low-carb, whatever, you make it up, carnivore diet, it’s a bit confusing out there.
So I think I’ve been trying to distill: What are the essential elements of eating well? And I was on a panel once, and I’ve shared this story before, but I’ll share it again, with a vegan cardiologist and a paleo doctor. And they were going at it like cats and dogs. And I was sitting in the middle and it was a pretty tense moment. And I sort of jokingly said, “Well, if you’re paleo and you’re vegan, I must be pegan.” And everybody laughed. I thought, “Oh, this is funny and great,” it would sort of lighten the mood. And then I began to think about it, and I was like, “Wait a minute. They are actually identical in perspective except for one thing, where you get protein, beans and grains or animal food.” That’s it. Everything else is the same, no dairy, no processed foods, no sugar, lots of fruits and vegetables, lots of good fats, nuts and seeds. Pretty much everything else is the same.
So I began to kind of look at: What are the essential nutritional principles? What are the things that we know in science? I’ve been studying nutrition for over 40 years, started at Cornell in 1980, a while ago. And that really kind of led me on this path of what I’m doing now and food is medicine. And it’s not that hard, so let’s talk about what’s important. Now you can do everything else right, you can exercise, you can meditate, you can sleep, you can take all the supplements. But unless you focus first on food, the rest of it’s going to be really hard. You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet. You can’t meditate your way out of a bad diet. You can’t sleep your way out of a bad diet.
And so we have to come up with a framework that makes sense for guiding our choices. And the pegan diet is basically the approach that I’ve created. It’s really a flexible, inclusive framework. It’s built on a few key principles, and these are central principles no matter what nutritional philosophy you ascribe to. I think they’re universal. First is focus on quality, the quality of the ingredients, the quality of the nutrients, the quality of the food you’re eating matters so much. So is a sun ripened tomato off your vine at the end of August in an organic little garden you have in the backyard better quality that an industrially produced tomato that’s designed to fit in a box and not squish and last for months on this shelf, and tastes like cardboard the same? No.
Focus on quality, whether it’s real food or whatever you’re eating. Try to get the highest quality, most nutrient dense food you can. And obviously, that means no ultra-processed food. Understand that food is information, that it’s medicine, that it’s instructions, it’s code that programs your biology with every bite. So you must understand that you’re interacting with things not just from an energy perspective, not just fuel to run your body, but instructions that code for every single function of what’s going on in your microbiome, your metabolism, your brain chemistry, your immune system, everything, and I could go on, the list goes on, is regulated by what you eat in real time.
And the last principle after quality and food is medicine and information is personalization. Not everybody needs the same diet. Some people do better on low-carb. Some people do better on low fat. Some people do better on paleo, some do better as vegan, so we have to see what works for you and we have to be smart about it. But you want to make sure you eat a diet that is very much focused on these principles. And it also follows a few other things. One, it should be low in starch and sugar, low glycemic, super, super important. I can’t stress that enough. I’ve said it forever, but it’s really important because that drives so much of the age related diseases.
Two, it should be full of good fats, avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds. If you’re tolerant of saturated fats and you don’t eat them with carbs and sugar, you can have coconut butter, coconut oil, and even grass fed butter or ghee. And make sure you eat foods that are full of phytochemicals, lots of color plant foods with antiinflammatory detoxifying, hormone balancing, energy busting, gut healing compounds. And that’s a nutrient dense diet that’s full of a longevity rich, I mean longevity producing phytochemicals, polyphenols, which are plant chemicals, antioxidants, microbiome healing fiber, probiotics, prebiotics, post-biotics, all of it. And this is designed to basically regenerate human health and planetary health, which is something you can’t separate. So our health is intimately tied to the planet’s health. Our own health is tied to the soil health. The nutrients of the soil are how we get out nutrients, so it really is a beautiful ecosystem that we learned mostly how to destroy.
But today, I’m going to talk to you about: How would you follow the pegan diet? What does it look like? First of all, it’s a plant rich diet, not a plant-based diet, and that’s an important distinction. Plant-based implies vegan. Plant rich means your diet’s mostly plants, and that should be 3/4 of your plate covered with colorful veggies, lots of colors, eat weird things, mostly non-starchy veggies. I do eat a purple sweet potato or sweet potatoes, fine. Winter squashes are fine, especially if you’re not insulin resistant or diabetic. Try to choose organic or regenerative when possible. Use the dirty dozen guide and the clean 15 guide from the Environmental Working Group, that’s ewg.org. Download those guides and you’ll learn all about which of the foods you want to stay away from that are the worst contaminated.
For example, don’t ever eat strawberries unless they’re organic, or nectarines, for example, whereas you can eat avocado or banana if it’s not organic. Also, load up on the good fats. What should you be eating? Well, nuts and seeds. Try to eat fats in their whole food forms, seeds and nuts, avocados, pasteurized eggs, fatty fish like mackerel, sardines, herring, anchovies, some wild salmon that’s small. Olive oil also is a very minimally processed oil. I try to stay away from the hexane extracted, deodorized solvent mixed refined oils that we eat are permanently refined oils. If you’re going to eat canola or soybean oil, I don’t highly recommend that, but they can be part of cooking other things if you want, only if they’re expeller pressed, only if they’re organic. Mostly they’re GMO. Mostly they’re sprayed with glyphosate. Just stay away from that.
So for cooking, I use extra virgin olive oil for no heat or low heat, avocado for higher heat, avocado oil, I like that, and extra virgin coconut oil. Also, use nuts and seeds. They are tremendous. They should be every day a couple of handfuls of nuts and seeds are help with weight loss, diabetes, heart disease. They’re a great source of minerals, fiber, fat, protein, and lots more stuff. Almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds are all great. I like pine nuts too. I put that on there.
So what about meat? Should we be vegan? Should we be carnivores? Should we be paleo? We do need protein and we need animal protein, especially as we get older, to build muscle. If you don’t have enough protein in the right forms, with the right amount of leucine, which is a very important amino acid to build muscle. You will lose muscle as you get older, and if you see people who are vegan as they’re older, they tend to be more frail and more thin, less muscle mass. And muscle mass is the currency of longevity. So you want to make sure you keep, maintain and build muscle as you get older.
And so it doesn’t mean you have to be eating 20 ounce steaks. It just means you need 30 grams, and that’s not much. It’s a palm sized piece of protein or equivalent at each meal. So make sure you’re using regenerative meat if you can. That is a company called Force of Nature, which sources regenerative raised meat from around the country or even around the world. It’s really good for you. It’s full of phytochemicals, it’s raised in humane ways, harvested in humane ways. So it’s really a beautiful way to support a growing food system that supports regenerative agriculture.
If you can, you can get grass-fed, pasture raised, organic when possible. Also, making sure that if you are plant based and vegan, you may need extra protein powder, so you’re going to be having processed food, it’s processed food which is processed protein powders. You can have ones that are just more from whole ingredients, but you have to make sure they have added animo acids, particularly leucine and particularly [inaudible 00:09:04] amino acids because you will not be able to get enough by just having the basic plant-based protein.
When you also look at fish consumption in addition to meat, it’s a great source of protein. But I would stick with the small fatty fish, sardines, herring, anchovies, mackerel, small wild salmon, high in omega-3s, low in mercury. There’s a great company out there called seatopia.fish that’s source regeneratively, aquaculture raised fish. It’s low in toxins, tastes great, low in mercury and full of omega-3s and actually great plant-based phytochemicals that come from the feed they’re eating, so check that out. If you want to learn how to lower your intake of more toxic fish, go to Environmental Working Group. You can use the Monterey Bay Aquarium Guide or the NRDC Guide for low mercury fish.
Grains, what about grains? Well, whole grains are fine for most people. I wouldn’t be eating six cups of brown rice, which is 30 grams of protein, but small amounts, a half a cup to a cup can sometimes be fine if they’re whole grains, if they’re more ancient grains, if they’re not bred to be super starchy. So I would encourage you to eat weird grains like heirloom grains, Himalayan tartary buckwheat, ancient forms of wheat if you’re not gluten sensitive like, like einkorn, emmer, or farro. But don’t have them ground as flour, except some of them may be okay like Himalayan tartary buckwheat, a small amount of flour can be fine. But you want to make sure you’re actually eating a low glycemic, protein rich, mineral rich form of whole grains, not the ones that have been hybridized and processed in the ways we eat them. So don’t eat whole grain flour.
Don’t eat flour products. And try to avoid gluten, especially in American because of many reasons. Most gluten in this country’s grown with dwarf wheat. It’s sprayed with glyphosate at the end. It’s super starchy. It has way more gluten proteins that cause celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, so I’d really reduce that. Sugar, obviously, stay away from that stuff. A little bit’s fine here and there, but as a staple, should not be part of your diet. It’s an occasional treat as a recreational drug. And also, just remember, below your neck, your body can’t tell the difference between a bowl of sugar and a bowl of cereal or a bagel.
Also, oils, eliminate most of those refined oils. All those, especially corn and grape seed and sunflower. If they’re high oleic, they can be okay. If they’re expeller or cold-pressed, they may be okay. But stick with the main oils that come from olive oil and avocado oil. You’ll be doing fine.
And dairy, what about dairy? Well, dairy typically is raised in this country with a homogenous, not homogenized, but homogenous genetic cow, which is the Holstein cow, and that’s A1 casein, it’s very inflammatory. They’re pumped full of hormones, growth hormone. They’re often milked while pregnant and you get a flood of hormones and inflammatory compounds and inflammatory forms of casein. And if you want to have dairy, try sheep or goat. Try A2 cows, which you can get like Guernsey and Jersey cows are A2 cows. And if you have the wrong kind of dairy, it’s going to drive inflammation, cancer, osteopetrosis.
Believe it or not, yes, it’s not good for your bones. That’s a whole nother conversation. You can, I think, read my blog called Six Reasons to Avoid Milk. Or you can go on and read about the David Ludwig’s article on Medium on milk, which he reviewed all the literature recently about it. It showed that it really is not a health food. I recommend mostly avoiding it. Occasional grass-fed sheep, or goat cheese, or yogurt, or milk can be fine. Ghee is fine because it doesn’t have the milk solids in it, so grass-fed ghee is also fine.
So that’s basically it. Eat real food. Personalize your approach. Think of food as medicine. Focus on quality. You can be super flexible with all that. And hopefully you can follow these principles and activate your body’s own healing response, improve your health, and use it like I have in my practice to use food as medicine and live a longer, healthier life. And I talk about all this in my new book, Young Forever. You can check it out wherever you get books or youngforeverbook.com. And that’s it for today’s health bite. Make sure to share with your friends and family on social. Leave a comment how you found your way to a way of eating that supports your health. We’d love to know. And we’ll see you next time on The Doctor’s Farmacy.
Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their find a practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.