Diet and Disease

by Catherine Haug, June 13, 2011

Our grandparents (or great-grandparents) understood a basic principle: You are what you eat. (Michael Pollen has added to that principle: You are what you eat eats). But somewhere along the way we decided we knew better, that we could eradicate disease with synthetic chemicals. Now we are beginning to understand that our grandparents were on to something (and those synthetic chemicals may cause more harm than good).

A recent article by Mercola is a case in point: Cancerous Cells Cannot Survive without This (referring to curcumin, from turmeric). His original title of the article was This Powerful Herb Changes Your Genes to Combat Cancer.  The hypothesis is that genes are equipped with switches that, when turned on, cause the gene to do one thing, and when turned off, to do another. And these switches are influenced by the gene’s environment. From the article:

Bad Genes?

“Having “bad genes,” does not at all mean you’re doomed to suffer some inevitable fate. Genes are merely blueprints, and these blueprints are activated and controlled by something else entirely, namely their environment.

This environmental information—which includes diet, toxic exposures, as well as thoughts and emotions, and more—can create more than 30,000 different variations from each blueprint, allowing for an astounding amount of leeway in modifying the expression or “read-out” of each gene!”

Curcumin and other health-promoting substances in food work by affecting the environment of the gene, and thus affecting which switches are turned on.

The Debate on Diet

There are so many theories as to what constitutes a healthful diet. Dietary levels of fats, carbs and proteins are at the heart of this debate. And now other substances found in foods, not just vitamins and minerals, but antioxidants, phytoestrogens and epigenetic substances like curcumin also play a significant role.

So what is one to do? How is one to know which theory is correct?

I don’t know the answer to that, other than to notice how certain foods affect my own health, and to rely on what my ancestors knew: Eat what grows in season, in your local area.

  • Eat living foods (raw, fermented) and shun foods that are synthetically treated (such as pasteurization, GMO, irradiation, chemical sprays, etc.).
  • Shun synthetic and oxymoron foods (non-dairy sour cream??? non-dairy half & half?? margarine??) in favor of the real deal.
  • Choose from a broad spectrum of in-season, locally grown foods rather than a mono-diet.
  • Grow your own when possible; buy from a grower you know and trust when you cannot grow your own.
  • Raise (and slaughter) your livestock with love, or buy from someone who does.
  • Prepare your foods properly (for example, sprout nuts and seeds, ferment your grain).
  • Respect the soil, water and air that nourish us and all we eat.

Cat’s take on a good balanced diet

I undertake this section knowing that many of you will disagree with some parts of this, and I welcome your thoughtful rebuttals in the comments section of this post. See also my newer post: New USDA diet recommendations: My Food Plate.

Protein foods

This category includes meats such as chicken, fish, beef, wild game; eggs; and protein-rich legumes. For animal-based protein, I select meat, eggs and dairy from grass-fed, humanely raised animals.

Protein is my primary diet component, because I am a protein type. And I do better on animal protein than vegetable protein. I firmly believe that my insulin resistance health issue arose from many years of eating a primarily vegetarian, high-grain diet.

The best non-animal protein source is legumes, but if not prepared properly, they can cause more harm than good. Legumes should be sprouted, or at least soaked overnight before cooking. You can eat the raw sprouts, but don’t overdo, as they still contain some toxins that are only broken down by cooking.

Soy and garbanzos (chick peas) have the most complete amino acid profile of any plant source.  Of these, I only recommend garbanzos because unfermented soy has several substances believed to be toxic, even after cooking. And no legume provides sufficient taurine for protein types like me. [See for more on taurine.]


This includes whole milk, yogurt, kefir, butter, buttermilk, cream and  cheese. For optimum nutrition, all dairy should be raw, or fermented (yogurt, etc.), as pasteurization is harmful to milk’s fats and proteins. Fermentation partially-digests the fats and proteins in milk, and restores some of the enzymes to pasteurized dairy, which helps. See Food Safety and Pasteurization for more.

I choose dairy from grass or pasture-fed dairy animals, to maximize the vitamin content and because it is humane.

Non-dairy ‘milk’ such as almond, rice and soy should be soaked or sprouted from the whole bean/nut, then pressed to release that milk (tho I don’t recommend soy because some of its toxins are not destroyed by sprouting). This is easy to do at home, and far more nutritious than buying these products in sterile, shelf-stable aseptic containers.

Fruits and Veggies

Veggies includes herbs; fresh greens; cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale; cucumbers and squashes; tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant; legumes, like green beans and peas; root veggies like carrots, radishes, beets, turnips, onions, garlic and potatoes.

Fruit includes apples, cherries, peaches, plums, melons, berries. Because of my insulin resistance, I try to consume my fruit early in the day, usually in my morning protein smoothie.

I eat most of my fruits and veggies raw, especially in the summer.

In the winter I rely on lacto-fermented, frozen or dehydrated versions because most do not grow here in the winter. I lightly braise my veggies, or stew them to make soups or stews in colder weather.

Cereal Grains

Examples in this category include cooked oatmeal and other porridges, sprouted or sourdough whole-grain bread and baked goodies.

It also includes yeasted breads and quickbreads, pie crusts, pasta, and so on, but because these are not sprouted or fermented, they are less-than-healthful and I do not recommend them.

Grains should be sprouted or soaked overnight in acidic medium (like yogurt water) before eating/cooking, and flours should be pre-soaked or fermented (as in sourdough), to maximize their nutritional value and absorbability. See my post: ‘Sourdough’ Oatmeal Porridge for an example of pre-soaking grains.

See also my post: Just How Healthful is your Favorite Breakfast Cereal?.


This is the most misunderstood and unrightfully maligned of all the food categories.

I don’t do low-fat anything, but I don’t overdo fatty foods, limiting fat in my diet to 30% of daily calories. Recent research indicates that whole-fat dairy, for example, is more healthful than fat free or low-fat versions, because the fat in dairy helps us to digest and absorb the other nutrients in the dairy products. (see my post Dairy Fat: Healthful or Not? for more).

Adding fats to high-mineral veggies (kale, cabbage, etc.) helps with absorption of the minerals. Melt a little butter on your steamed spinach, or braise your greens in olive oil. Make salad dressings from olive oil, or creamy versions from fresh or sour cream.

Adding fats to carbohydrate foods (bread, cereal, pasta, etc) helps to slow down glucose absorption and reduce insulin spikes, which is important for everyone, but especially so for diabetics.

Supplemental fats and oils: This includes supplemental cod liver, krill, or fish oil. Many people also take flax oil supplementally, but it tends to be rancid, so I prefer to add freshly-ground flax seeds to my oatmeal or smoothie.

Cooking/dressing fats and oils: This includes olive oil, coconut oil, lard, duck and goose fat, or butter for cooking; cream or olive oil for salad dressings.

I avoid corn, canola, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed oils unless they are Organic and cold pressed. Instead, I prefer to eat such seeds whole, in sprouted, soaked or fermented form (although I avoid all GMO versions and soy or canola whether GMO or not, because they contain toxic substances).

Nuts and seeds:  While these are generally included in the Protein category, I include them in the fat category because the majority of their calories are from fat.

Most nuts and seeds should be sprouted or fermented before consuming, to maximize their nutritional value. However, some seeds, such as flax, don’t sprout very well, and turn into goo. I like to add these to bread dough, so they can soften during baking to maximize digestibility.

Related articles

See my other posts on diet and health or disease (This is a long list; if you don’t have time to read all of these, just read the first one):


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