I was never big on diet plans since I could always lose a few pounds by simply skipping a few meals. However, when I decided to be an entrepreneur about five years ago, I had to forego health insurance, and I knew I couldn’t afford to get sick for a couple of years! This resulted in an incredible journey of discovering simple yet profound, new but ancient truths about body, medicine and health. In that process, I lost a few pounds, gained a lot of energy, brought down my cholesterol and blood sugar by pretty hefty numbers, and got rid of many annoying ailments such as IBS, lactose intolerance, back pain, insomnia and frequent spells of cold and flu. In fact, I haven’t had a cold or a flu in four years – without any help from flu vaccines. Friends who have not seen me in a couple of years swear that I look younger than before.
You already know from the title that the diet involves non-GMO food, but if there is one truism about Mother Nature, there is no “one magic pill for an ill.” So unlike the “low-carb” or any other slogans, my suggestions won’t fit in a bumper sticker; but it’s a diet full of variety, taste, colors and flavor – something you can joyfully eat for the rest of your life. In this article, I will describe my food adventure and the holistic solutions I found to work for me. Some tangential observations are made on the political and the corporate system as well since they determine our food and health care. Of course, I have to say the obligatory legal stuff: I am not a doctor and this is not to be taken as a medical advice.
Going back five years, as I was wondering how not to get sick, I started by consulting a few of my friends who are doctors. They all had the same response: eat well, workout and get your health insurance back! The scientific consensus and what they teach in the best medical schools in the U.S. are these: food and exercise cannot really cure any diseases, although they can better your chance for being healthy.
I found this logic to be a bit perplexing. I kept thinking if bad food can make you sick, why can’t good food heal you? And also, isn’t it the fact that every single cell in our body was made from food? Don’t we lose tens of millions of cells every minute and all those cells have to be remanufactured from the food that we eat? I thought of all the proverbial sayings such as “You are what you eat”, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food” and “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use; when diet is right, medicine is of no need.” Finally, how about the fact thatmore than 50% of the prescription drugs that Big Pharma sells us are actually either derived directly from plants or just beneficial plant compounds reproduced in the lab?
My next step was to visit some of the official, mainstream health websites such as Mayoclinic and the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). The NLM hosts the world’s largest biomedical library, and the credentials are just too long to list here. I searched for some common spices, herbs and medicinal plants and read up on their benefits.
The first thing that surprised me was that NLM acknowledged that these plants have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. However, immediately following that, they ranked the effectiveness. Without fail, for every single herb, spice or plant, every benefit was played down, being listed under the categories of “possibly effective for” or “insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for.” The standard claims in all these pages were that more studies need to be done. With all the resources of mankind, can’t they give us a definite yes or no if, for example, Neem can help diabetic patients, or Turmeric can alleviate pain?
What really raised a red flag in me in were the concluding “Side Effects” sections. Whereas in the benefits sections, the authors could never be certain about the effects of the plants, in the side effects section, they knew precisely what the plants were capable of. In the side effects section, for example, the authors were certain that Neem or bitter melon can reduce blood sugar. In fact they say that if you are taking any diabetic medication, you should avoid Neem or bitter melon since the blood sugar can drop too much. Hello!
Even more surprising is a separate database of scientific studies which apparently nobody reads. In this, there are thousands of studies that show plants curing all kinds of diseases, including cancer! For example, there are studies showing Neemreducing breast tumors or Neem oil preventing mutation of cells or being useful in the treatment of malaria, just to cite a few of the many studies. Similar studies on benefits are also listed for common vegetables, fruits, spices and herbs.
Logic was taking a beating in these websites. I thought for a moment, “Could it be that doctors, scientists, Big Pharma and the government could be colluding to sell us expensive healthcare when cheaper solutions are available?” Whatever the reason, I could see that the prevailing wisdom was broken. Americans are spending close to $3 trillion on healthcare and have nothing to show for it except for #1 ranking in obesity, cancer, allergies, autoimmune disorders etc. 70% of Americans are on some prescription drugs. While Americans represent 5% of world population, they account for about 80% of painkillers and psychotropic drugs in the world. About a million children under the age of 5 are on psychotropic drugs.
A quote I read online really made me think: “People are fed by the food industry which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the health industry which pays no attention to food.”
So I decided to go to all the “alternative” websites and forums. Some of them had exaggerated claims, especially when they also had supplements to sell you. Then there are forums where hundred people would have hundred different solutions to a health problem. Although it was confusing, I felt more comfortable with these forums since the people had no agenda or monetary motives.
Bottom line, I was reading a lot and still feeling very confused. But I kept going.
My first breakthrough came when I found a solution to a minor but lifelong, chronic problem: dandruff. I had been to many doctors, tried all kinds of expensive shampoos, but to no avail. When I told a friend about this, she said as a matter of fact, “You should use hair brushes as opposed to combs.” Although skeptical, I figured that it was a $10 investment worth giving it a try. To my utmost surprise, within two weeks, I was dandruff free, and have been so since then! Rather than medications and prescription shampoos, all my scalp needed was a daily massage and good blood flow.
Feeling empowered by this experiment, I decided to see if I can replace my cold/flu medicines with natural cure. After all, humans have battled this silly virus for hundreds, if not thousands, of years without using Nyquil and Tylenol. I survived my first flu using nothing but home remedies, with turmeric as the painkiller, hot Mexican peppers as the decongestants, and ginger/honey tea for cough. I have since then devised my own “flu vaccine” which is a soup with about twenty ingredients including carrots, tomatoes, seaweed, mushrooms, peppers, garlic, ginger, turmeric root, tamarind and all kinds of spices and herbs. I have been flu-free for more than four years.
I got rid of dry skin and possible psoriasis just by eating lots of nuts, drinking lots of water, and using coconut oil as moisturizer. I also learned a little bit about Ayurvedic medicine and my body seemed to fit the type of body called “Vata” which generally tends to have dry skin.
The next problem, lactose intolerance, was solved by drinking milk – raw milk that is! Milk and dairy products used to cause havoc in my stomach, and I can never forget the first time I drank raw milk and kept waiting for the terrible consequences, only to be pleasantly disappointed. A couple of days ago, there wasan article in New York Times about the great benefits of raw milk. Of course, this is so weird when we have SWAT-style police raiding raw milk distributors in many parts of the country.
I was also starting to understand the mind-body connection. I suspected that my perennial back pain might be related to my mental stress. Meditation seemed worth trying. There was a free meditation center in San Francisco that taught me some basic skills. I got rid of the television from my bedroom and used my bed only for sleeping – no smartphones or tablets allowed either. These, along with some stretching exercises, completely got rid of my back pain, and I began restfully sleeping for 8 hours.
There was, however, one stubborn ailment that persisted: IBS.
By this time, I had learned that our gut has trillions of bacteria that play an enormous role in our mood, happiness, immunity and more. So I knew I had to overcome IBS that had been bothering me for more than 10 years.
After much trial and error and process of elimination, the culprit seemed to be restaurant food. I always ate out a lot, simply because I didn’t know how to cook. As a guy, I had just simply assumed I never had to cook in my life!
With much chagrin, I decided to try cooking. Within a week, the changes were dramatic; within a month, the IBS had completely disappeared! As ecstatic I was, I couldn’t figure out what was so bad in the restaurant food. After all, I ordered lots of veggies, avoided the desserts, and even had reduced my daily soda intake. I suspected that it might be the oil used in cooking, and so I asked the owner of the restaurant that I visited a lot, and he said, “Canola oil.” I decided to look up what was so wrong with the “canola plant.”
That was the first time I ever came across the word “GMO.” Canola oil comes from genetically modified rapeseed plant (“Can” in Canola stands for Canada).
People are much more aware of the dangers of GMOs right now, but five years ago, it was very hard to find any real information on GMOs. As a person with a Master’s degree in engineering, I was naturally inclined to believe in the wonders of science and technology. However, the more I learned about GMOs and the history of Monsanto, the more I realized that it was something far more sinister.
When I read how lawyers, lobbyists and executives from Monsanto (and the food industry and Big Pharma) were basically in charge of the FDA, the EPA and the USDA, I was flabbergasted! With doubled enthusiasm, I started learning about our political system and slowly started to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
This learning process was so fascinating that I forgot to watch television anymore. Rather than sitcoms, sports and movies, I was watching documentaries. At some point, I realized I was paying Comcast extra money for no reason, and cancelled my cable. It was a wonderful decision, by the way!
Soon, this passion and new found wisdom had to be shared. I started writing articles for various blogs, wrote a book on GMOs and even gave a well-received speech in front of hundreds of people in San Francisco during the March Against Monsanto. I have also met, in this journey, so many wonderful people that I would have never met.
In less than a year, just with food, I brought down my cholesterol by 60 points – contrast this with the fact that cholesterol drugs are the #1 prescribed drugs in America. My triglycerides went down by 40 points, my sugar level became normal, and I lost 4 inches around my waist. Furthermore, I have not bought a single over-the-counter medication in the last 4 years!
In summary, my pursuit of non-GMO diet has given me great health, energy, spiritual discovery, political insight, friends who are socially conscious, and a new-found passion for writing.
Many people struggle with weight and other health problems, and if I could help a few, it will be wonderful. As I said before, I am not a doctor, but if I were to share my “food/health wisdom,” these would be the takeaways:
1) Vegetables, fruits and grains are not just vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and carbs – what I call as the “Famous Five.” However, there are thousands of unnamed, unknown and vaguely-understood compounds, enzymes, phytochemicals and antioxidants in plants. Describing our food simply by “Famous Five” is like saying, “What is New York City like? Oh, lots of roads and buildings” – an incomplete and a shallow description. And be very skeptical of vitamin supplements – synthetic vitamins are not even close to the real vitamins you would get from nature. If you lived near a big city, you can easily have 20-25 different types of vegetables and fruits every week. If you include shopping at local farmer’s markets, you will start appreciating seasonal veggies and fruits as well.
2) Our body is completely made of materials from plants. Even if you eat meat or fish, eventually they get their nutrition from plants. We actually share a lot of our DNA with plants. Even a banana shares about 50% of its DNA with humans!
3) Our processed food – I call them “fake food” – is very low in or devoid of nutrition. There are tens of thousands of chemicals added to our food that have never been tested (or the tests are not revealed). It may seem shocking at first, but the food industry is run by financiers and lawyers who care about the “shelf life” of their product and not your life.
So what is processed food? Pretty much anything that comes in a box, can or a bottle is processed. This also means anything that has an advertisement budget is twice as. Ever seen a TV ad for garlic? It is one of the best things in the world.
In general, follow this simple rule: if you can’t pronounce the ingredient in your food, don’t eat it! The fewer the ingredients, the better. One ingredient is the best!
4) Forget “low-this” and “no-that.” Ever see wild animals and birds on a diet? As the book Skinny Bitch says, “When you see fat-free and low-fat, think chemical sh*t storm.” Remember that there are scientists whose jobs are to create addictive chemicals that fool your senses.
5) Try to eat only organic food, or as your grandparents called it … “food.” You would not believe the amount of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and other crazy chemicals that are in the “conventional” food. Thanks to GMOs, the use ofpesticides and herbicides have skyrocketed. Some of the GMOs are even actually classified as “pesticides.” You can’t wash these toxins away. Organic food also has much more nutrition than conventional food.
6) If you eat meat, you must switch to organic meat. If you have not watched documentaries such as Earthlings, just know that the chickens, pigs, cows, turkeys etc. live under horrific, barbaric conditions; they are given hormones, antibiotics, steroids and GMOs that make them miserable in their artificially shortened lives. As for fish, go with wild fish and/or small fish such as sardines.
7) Please forget fast food. Fast food should be relabeled as “nasty, gross, carcinogenic, artery-clogging, hormone-disrupting, diabetes-causing, environmentally disastrous, cruel-to-animals, labor-exploiting, unsustainable, chemical-filled” food-like stuff.
8) As for grains, stick to only organic and whole grains. SAD or Standard American Diet has only 10% of the fiber that we used to get hundred years ago. Eating only whole grains, along with vegetables and fruits, will ensure you get the right amount of soluble and insoluble fiber.
9) Our FDA is pretty corrupt, but one thing they got right was “9 servings of fruits and vegetables.” They did label ketchup as a vegetable – an act of abomination, but get 6-9 servings of organic fruits and vegetables every day for a week, and you will feel the difference.
10) As for cooking vegetables, steam them, bake them or cook them in water. Never fry anything; briefly stir-frying in organic oil is okay. Cooking at high temperatures permanently destroys the enzymes. I make my own French fries at home by boiling pieces of potatoes first and then gently stir-frying in olive oil and then adding some paprika for flavor.
11) Make friends with spices and herbs. They add amazing flavors and health benefits to your food. Make them a part of your daily meals. In English, unfortunately, the word spicy generally means “hot.” Truth is, spices come in all different flavors, “hot” being only one of the many.
12) Learn to enjoy things that are bitter, sour, spicy, pungent or astringent. Really!
13) Avoid all sodas, sugary drinks and even juices (the only juice I drink is organic carrot juice.) The average American gets about 150 lbs. of added sugar every year. If you are low on sugar, eat some fruits like bananas or grapes to satisfy your craving.
14) Drink water, plenty of water. Another great substitution is herbal tea. And avoid drinking coffee after 10 am. It stays in your body much longer than you would assume. Sorry, Starbucks junkies!
15) Carry with you nuts and fruits when you leave home for work, school etc. This will help you deal with the snack-attack.
16) Get a water filter for home and a BPA-free water bottle to carry water with you. Buying bottled water is a waste of money and, goes without saying, environmentally catastrophic.
17) Eat your meals at regular times. Have dinner around 6 pm. Go to sleep by 10 pm. If you have breakfast around 6 am, it means you have fasted for around 12 hours. This is a simple and a healthy way to lose some weight.
18) “If you eat well, sleep well and sh*t well,” half of your chronic health problems will be gone.
19) Experiment. All the time. There is the innate caveman or cavewoman inside you who knows what food is right and good for you. You can also research online, both scientific papers as well as alternative websites.
20) Take a spiritual/meditative approach to food. Enjoy the preparation and the cooking process. This is also a great antidote for A.D.D. in all of us, especially for children. Children will also love the food, even vegetables, if they participate in cooking – psychologists call it the “IKEA effect.” Try making pizzas, muffins and even bread at home from scratch and see how everybody is excited! Cooking is also a wonderful way to bond with friends and family – in fact, all over the world, cooking and eating with family friends was always the norm, a norm that has been disrupted in the last few decades. And eat slowly, enjoying every bite, savoring all the flavor.
Another reason for cooking: this is a great opportunity for us to actually create something and take a break from being pure consumers.
21) One of the concerns that people have about organic food and non-GMO food is that it is expensive. My friend says I eat Versace vegetables, Fendi fruits and Gucci grains! But the same friend doesn’t think twice about going to a fancy restaurant or buying $15 cocktails or spending money on cholesterol medications – the phenomenon known to social psychologists as “mental accounting.” As somebody said, “if you think eating healthy is expensive, you haven’t priced cancer lately.”
22) Check out my video on YouTube for more practical tips on creating a GMO-free diet and home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fJfMcGeK9Y
23) These items should be in your kitchen all the time (all organic, preferably): fresh garlic, fresh ginger, onion, different types of peppers, black pepper, cayenne pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, paprika, nutmeg, sage, rosemary, basil, oregano, good organic oils (such as extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil) and pure, raw honey. Fresh fruits and nuts are also must-haves. You can get dozens of different types of lentils and beans that never go bad and serve as amazing, tasty and varied sources of nutrition. Fermented food such as kimchi, miso soup, apple cider vinegar and yogurt are great additions as well.
24) As for medicinal plants, I haven’t done too much experimentation, but I sparingly use maca, ashwagandha, ginseng, triphala and milk thistle.
25) Last, but not least, exercise. If you are too busy, find creative ways to burn energy: park in the farthest spot, take the stairs rather than the elevator, go for quick 10-minute walks after meals etc.
To be comprehensive, the art of food requires encyclopedic volumes. Don’t be disheartened. I used to be completely ignorant and scared of food, cooking and the kitchen in general. Start slow, with baby steps. Even if you start off by having organic oatmeal and organic fruits for breakfast, it’s a great leap forward. Be patient and don’t look for quick fixes. We are obsessed with losing weight, forgetting what is good for all the internal organs. If you eat right, you will lose weight, slowly but steadily, and will be able to maintain the ideal weight forever. More importantly, you will literally feel happier as your intestinal gut flora reaches an optimal state; your skin and hair will look better, you won’t easily catch cold/flu, and if you keep track of your progress through blood tests, you will see tangible, positive results. Eating well not only means that you will enjoy great health but you will save money, spend more quality time with your friends and family, and will also be contributing to a clean, sustainable environment and the world.