Later this month, on July 17th, I will be featured on the FREE on-line Food & Health conference, Foods That Heal (click to register for FREE).
This insightful gathering features 20 experts on food and health from around the globe, each sharing their perspective and bit of wisdom. Hit the link and start catching some of these great sources of knowledge. Included below is a little extra bit of Q&A, to whet your appetite for goodness to come!
1- What is a food shaman? What is the role of a food shaman?
A shaman is a seeker between worlds. As The Food Shaman, I have a foot in the world of food as medicine and a foot in the world of food as cuisine. As The Food Shaman I am a seeker in this betwixt and between of prescription and pleasure. Here I become the “hollow bone” serving as the bridge between those worlds. A facilitator who, through the ceremony of the food experience, can help others achieve a new mind state.
It involves an inner process that engages your body & soul—a process that can be expressed into the physical world; seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting this world through cookery and consumption. This food experience is an experience to fill our lives with power, harmony, and beauty. Here in this elevation of mastication is the truth of our relationship with ourselves, others, and the Universe; all reflected through our shared Food Experience.
2- How is our connection with food impact our health? (food experience)
The food experience impacts our health in a myriad of ways. It affects us directly through providing the adequate nutrition to nourish and sustain our physical bodies. It can also affect us directly by dosing us with compounds and chemicals that directly and negatively impact our biology and physiology.
Just as importantly, food and the act of consumption has indirect, but powerful effects. One of these is something that has only recently been described and we are still in the infancy of really learning and appreciating all the complexities that operate around it. I am referring here, to the gut microbiome.
This is that group of approximately 100 trillion cells, the vast majority of which reside in our gut, that have coevolved to co-metabolize our food with us. What we are coming to understand is that far from what we initially thought – which was that this was a bunch of commensal organisms discreetly and distinctly separate from us and our physiology – this universe of microbes functions more like a symbiotic organ. It is in constant communication with many, if not all, of our body systems; the immune system, the brain, the endocrine system, the cardiovascular system, and so on. It is been demonstrated that these bacteria not only communicate but can actually turn some of our human genes on and off.
So what we have is this dynamic system in what we choose to eat affects the character and quality of the microbes in our gut. This in turn, has huge ramifications in terms of our health. If we understand that the development of disability and disease or the achievement of health and wellness is a result of an interaction between our personal genetics and the environment then we can appreciate the tremendous impact of the gut microbiome. These micro-organisms form the razor thin edge between what we choose to bring from the outside into our bodies, what we choose to eat, every day and its impact on our biology and well-being.
This relationship is so integrated, so interconnected and complex that our emotions, how we feel, physical and mental stressors can all serve to either positively or negatively affect our gut microbiome. And these are the soft edges, as I like to call them, of the food experience: how we eat, with whom we choose to eat, where we eat, and so on – all of these provide the proof in the tasting of the pudding, as it were. The proof that we are much more in terms of our physiology, that we are much more complex, than some single isolated reaction in a test tube.
3- In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception we have in regards to foods that contribute to health problems?
Well to put it quite simply, I think that we are far too focused on categories at the expense of examining and appreciating the impact of the quality of our foodstuffs. Some of this is rooted in the limitations of the way we’ve tried to dissect and understand the food experience.
Part of this is the result of the hyper-analytical approach of modern Western medicine. The science of nutrition is really roughly only about a century old. It derived from an approach based on a single isolated deficiency. Scurvy is the result of not enough vitamin C. And in the beginning, this met with great success; particularly when we treated diseases like rickets, pellagra, and the like.
However, the problem with our modern diet is not that we necessarily suffer from a single, critical nutritional deficiency. Yet our approach is still fixated on isolating a single agent and attributing to it a singular cause. As I intimated in the brief discussion of the gut microbiome previously, this approach fails miserably when we look at complex systems. We only have to turn to the whole cholesterol and saturated fat failure over the last half-century to highlight the catastrophe of this approach.
Another significant part of this, is that the investigation has been driven – as many things are – by big financial interests. Big snack, big soda, fast food conglomerates, industrial agricultural interests, and the like have supplied us with a culinary convenience culture. In other words, we are persuaded to evaluate a food based on some irrelevant category such as percent saturated fat, cholesterol, red meat or whatnot when what is important is what chefs have always known.
That is it is the quality of the ingredient that makes a difference.
A heritage breed, grass finished and pastured steak is not the same in terms of its composition as a steak produced from a commercial breed, fed GMO feed, and spending its life in an 8 x 10 concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO. A heritage breed, grass finished and pastured steak is not necessarily a less healthful choice than a ground turkey burger that is the result of similar industrial raising and processing. It may even be, and evidence is accruing to suggest this, that it is a healthier choice than a soy based tofu vegetarian or vegan burger that was grown in a chemical stew as a GMO varietal exposed to toxic levels of pesticides.
All meat, and indeed all ingredients, are clearly NOT the same. Every chef knows this, based on that ancient survival sense: taste. Why, when it comes to evaluating our health, do we choose to ignore this fundamental fact?
Where chefs, a decade or so ago, initiated an emphasis on fresh, wholesome, authentic foods as part of the farm to table or clean foods movement based on the fact that the food simply tasted so much better; we are now starting to observe some very profound and dramatic health consequences.
In short, quality matters more than category.
4- What is your take on counting calories?
Well, that certainly could take up an entire program! For those that are really interested I recommend one of my previous books still available on Amazon; The Fallacy of the Calorie: Why the Modern Western Diet Is Killing Us and How to Stop It. However, to summarize briefly, calories are another misdirection that has caused us to veer off course for the last half-century.
Calories were originally developed during the Industrial Revolution as a method to quantitate different fuels, primarily for steam engines. Coal has more calories than wood, and thus if you power steam engine with coal instead of wood, pound for pound, you get more mechanical efficiency.
It never ceases to amaze me that when I ask many health and nutritional professionals about what a calorie actually represents, they get it wrong. I’m often told that it represents the amount of energy we get from food, or even worse, that it represents the nutritional value of different foods.
This is completely wrong. Calories are actually a measure of heat and are defined as the amount of heat required to raise a gram of water 1°C at 1 atm. pressure. The way this was originally calculated was to place the object to be measured in what is known as a bomb calorimeter and incinerate it. The amount of heat released was its caloric value.
This in no way, shape, or form that this represents how we process food. It does not to begin to account for that when we eat, how the different components of food affect us and our gut microbiome, from a biological perspective. It in no way addresses food value; although it has become conflated to represent exactly that! The take-home message here is that calories are neither biologically nor physiologically relevant.
5- Is there such thing as “best diet” for ultimate health?
What one would think given the number of late-night infomercials, advertisements, and memes across the Internet, is that it would suggest that there are lot of “best” diets! Each one advertised as the only solution! But in truth, I find it incredibly frustrating that we are consistently being sold the next “miracle diet” or “superfood” when they are often nothing more than a way for some schemer to make a quick dollar praying on hopes and quick cures.
In my research, which includes not only The Fallacy of The Calorie, but Ancient Eats Volume 1: The Ancient Greeks and Vikings, and of course my latest book Food Shaman, I examine not only many contemporary diets but some ancient diets as well. And what I find is that there are not universal ingredients in terms of these diets. What is universal when examining these dietary approaches, is that when compared to our modern Western diet or standard American diet, they exhibit significantly less incidence and prevalence of the disabilities and diseases which plague us today.
What there is, is a universality of approach that focuses on less processed, less refined and manufactured items, and an emphasis on fresh, wholesome, authentic, and organic ingredients. I know there are many people who are proponents of plant-based diets. And I agree that the basis of many of these healthful approaches is indeed plant-based; but it is not plant exclusive. A recent study published in Journal of American College of Cardiology highlighted the fact that a vegetarian or vegan approach that contained processed and ultra-processed foodstuffs increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It is not about trying to find a singular “bad guy” nor a restrictive, exclusionary approach to foods that have sustained us for millennia.
So is there a “Best” diet?
The answer is both Yes and No.
No, in the sense that there is not a strict list of eat this, not that. There is not a single book of recipe wisdom to follow. The best diet is neither ascetic nor indulgent in practice. It is not exclusive or exclusionary in ingredients or methods. It does not merely navigate between extremes but transcends them as a comprehensive lifestyle approach.
The best diet is not a diet at all, it is an attitude. It’s a lifestyle based on local fresh agriculture; quality ingredients, recipes, cooking methods and secrets passed from generation to generation; and seasoned with a deep appreciation of the pleasure of authentic food, shared meals, and fellowship.
6- What would you say is the most harmful food we consume in today society that increase the risk of chronic disease?
Once again, I would steer us away from trying to find a single “boogie man” to blame. If we step back and look at this from a larger context, what we find is that from a physiological perspective, our gut microbiome and our own physiology is little changed from that of our ancestors hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years ago.
Our forebears ate many of these foods, which we now label as harmful, to evolve, develop incredible brainpower, and become the most dominant species on the planet. If we haven’t changed, and our gut microbiome has not changed, shouldn’t we then be asking ourselves what has changed?Clearly that answer is the composition and quality of our food. All of our food. So I would say, the most important and pertinent foods to avoid are the ultra-processed, highly processed, highly refined offerings that are so common in the mega markets, fast food restaurants, and snack foods that we are so highly pressured and often tempted to frequent.
7- If you had to pick 1 food people should add to their diet to help prevent chronic disease, what would it be and why?
Again, I think we covered that in the last question. It’s not about miracle diets or super foods or some other worthless snake oil. It is about authenticity. That requires a little extra effort, and a little extra work. But focusing your diet and your ingredients on real, wholesome, and organic foods is going to lead to profound improvements in not only your physical health but your overall wellness and well-being. We need to make sure that what we include in our daily food experience is as satisfying and delicious as it is nutritious, as scrumptious as it is salubrious, because that is what feeds our souls.
8- Do you have one last piece of advice you would like to share with the audience?
Well first I’d love to thank all the people that tuned in and shared their valuable time to hear what I have to say. And I’d encourage them if they’d like to know more to pick up the Amazon number one new release and top 10 bestseller, Food Shaman: The Art of Quantum Food, which just came out a week or so ago.
And if you only take away a few points from our discussion today I’d ask you to remember these three simple questions of anything you are considering to buy or eat:
• How is it bred?
• What was it fed?
• Where was it led?
For more info, pick up your copy of the Amazon #1 New Release and top 5 best seller, Food Shaman: The Art of Quantum Food.