THRIVE NUTRITIONAL PHILOSOPHY
Drawing from concepts in my first book, Thrive (The Thrive Diet in Canada and the UK), and from my more recent book, Thrive Foods (Whole Foods to Thrive in Canada and the UK), follwing are four elements of my overall plant-based, whole food nutritional philosophy.
THRIVE DIET PYRAMID
GO FOR HIGH-NET-GAIN FOODS: MAKE A SMALL INVESTMENT FOR A BIG RETURN
High-net-gain foods deliver us energy by way of conservation as opposed to consumption. Here's what I mean by that: the digestive and assimilation process is in fact an energy-intensive one. At the onset of eating, we begin spending digestive resources in an effort to convert energy stored within food—also known as calories—into usable sustenance to fulfill our biological requirements. And, as we know, whenever energy is transferred from one form to another, theres an inherent loss. However, the amount of energy lost in this process varies greatly and depends on the foods eaten.
Highly processed, refined, denatured food requires that significantly more digestive energy be spent to break it down in the process of transfer- ring its caloric energy to us:
net energy gain = energy remaining once digestive energy has been spent
While its true that a calorie is a measure of food energy, simply eating more calories will not necessarily ensure more energy for the consumer. If there were such a calorie guarantee, people who subsisted on fast food and other such calorie-laden fare would have abundant energy. And of course they dont. This is a testament to the inordinate amount of digestive energy required to convert such food into usable fuel.
(By the way, its no coincidence that the cultures that have their largest, heaviest meals for lunch are the same ones who have afternoon siestas. Digestion is tiring.)
In contrast, natural, unrefined whole food digests with a considerably lower energy requirement. Therefore, we can gain more usable energy from simply eating foods that are in a more natural whole state, even if they have fewer calories.
When I grasped this concept, I began viewing food consumption as though it were an investment of sorts. My goal became to spend, or invest, as little digestive energy as possible to acquire the greatest amount of micro- nutrients and maximize the return on my investment.
For that reason, I refer to foods that require little digestive energy but yield a healthy dose of micronutrients as high-net-gain foods:
high net gain = little digestive energy spent, substantial level of micronutrients gained
With this principle in mind, I shifted my prime carbohydrate sources from processed and refined carbs, such as pasta and bread, to fruit and pseudo grains. Both are packed with carbohydrate in the form of easily assimilated carbs, considerably easier to digest than refined grain flour. And both provide a higher micronutrient level than these processed, refined carb sources.
CHOOSE ALKALINE-FORMING FOODS
The measure of acidity or alkalinity is called pH, and maintaining a balanced pH within the body is an important part of achieving and sustaining peak health. If our pH drops, our body becomes too acidic, adversely affecting health at the cellular level. People with low pH are prone to many ailments and to fatigue.
The body can become more acidic through diet and, to a lesser extent, stress. Since our bodies are equipped with buffering capabilities, our blood pH will vary to only a small degree, regardless of poor diet and other types of stress. But the other systems recruited to facilitate this buffering use energy and can become strained. Over time, the result of this buffering is significant stress on the system, which causes immune function to falter, effectively opening the door to a host of diseases.
Low body pH can lead to the development of kidney stones, loss of bone mass, and the reduction of growth hormone, which results in loss of lean muscle mass and increase in body fat production. And since a decline in growth hormone production directly results in lean muscle tissue loss and body fat gain, the overconsumption of acid-forming foods plays a significant role in North Americas largest health crisis. However, food is not the only thing we put in our bodies that is acid-forming. Most prescription drugs, artificial sweeteners, and synthetic vitamin and mineral supplements are extremely acid-forming.
Low body pH is also responsible for an increase in the fabrication of cell-damaging free radicals and a loss in cellular energy production. Free radicals alter cell membranes and can adversely affect our DNA.
So what can we do to prevent all this? The answer is to consume more alkaline-forming foods and fewer acid-forming ones.
Minerals are exceptionally alkaline- forming, so foods with a greater concentration of micronutrients— greater nutrient density—will inherently have a greater alkaline-forming effect.
Another factor that significantly raises the pH of food and, in turn, the body, is chlorophyll content.
Responsible for giving plants their green pigment, chlorophyll is often referred to as the blood of plants. The botanical equivalent to hemoglobin in human blood, chlorophyll synthesizes energy. Chlorophyll converts the suns energy that has been absorbed by the plant into carbohydrate. Known as photosynthesis, this process is responsible for life on Earth. Since animals and humans eat plants, we too get our energy from the sun, plants being the conduit. Chlorophyll is prized for its ability to cleanse our blood by helping remove toxins deposited from dietary and environmental sources. Chlorophyll is also linked to the bodys production of red blood cells, making daily consumption of chlorophyll-rich foods important for ensuring the bodys constant cell regeneration and for improving oxygen transport in the body and, therefore, energy levels. By optimizing the bodys regeneration of blood cells, chlorophyll also contributes to peak athletic performance.
ELIMINATE BIOLOGICAL DEBT: ACQUIRE ENERGY THROUGH NOURISHMENT NOT STIMULATION
Biological debt is the term I use to describe the unfortunate, energy- depleted state that North Americans frequently find themselves in. Often brought about by eating refined sugar or drinking coffee to gain short-term energy, biological debt is the ensuing energy crash.
There are two types of energy: one obtained from stimulation, the other from nourishment. The difference between the two is clear-cut. Stimulation is short-term energy and simply treats the symptom of fatigue. Being well nourished, in contrast, eliminates the need for stimulation, because a steady supply of energy is available to those whose nutritional needs have been met. In effect, sound nutrition is a preemptive strike against fatigue and the ensuing desire for stimulants. With nutrient-dense whole food as the foundation of your diet, theres no need to ever get into biological debt.
Generally speaking, the more a food is fractionalized (the term used to describe a once-whole food that has had nutritional components removed), the more stimulating its effect on the nervous system. And of course theres also caffeine to consider, North Americans second-favorite drug (next to refined sugar). By way of stimulation, fractionalized foods and caffeinated beverages boost energy nearly immediately. But almost as quickly, within only a few hours, that energy will be gone. It is a short-term, unsustain- able solution to the symptom of our energy debt. Adrenal gland stimulation always carries a cost. Obtaining energy by way of stimulation is like shopping with a credit card. You get something you desire now but that doesnt mean you wont have to pay eventually. The bill will come. And with that bill comes incurred biological interest: fatigue. Again.
We tend to rely upon additional stimulation to deal with this second wave of weariness, which in turn simply delays the moment when we pay off our tab. But the longer we put off payment, the greater the debt we accumulate. To continue our debt/credit analogy, to simply continue to summon energy by way of stimulation is like paying off one credit card with another. All the while, the interest is mounting.
Stimulation is a bad substitute for nourishment for another reason. It makes demands on the adrenal glands, prompting the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated cortisol is linked to inflammation,9 which is a concern for the athlete (and for anyone who appreciates fluid movement). Higher levels of cortisol also weaken cellular tissue, lower immune response, increase the risk of disease, cause body tissue degeneration, reduce sleep quality, and are a catalyst for the accumulation of body fat.10 As if that werent enough, chronic elevated levels of cortisol reduce the effectiveness of exercise, activity that normally helps to keep cortisol in check. Too-high cortisol levels can actually break down muscle tissue, as well as prevent the action of other hormones that build muscle. As a result, muscles not only become more difficult to tone but strength is likely to decline rather than increase.
Not surprisingly, if we keep on overstimulating our overstressed body, without addressing the real problem behind our fatigue, things only get worse. The severity of the symptoms of stress increase so that our health declines little by little. We put ourselves at greater risk for serious disease.
Often the first symptom of adrenal fatigue is increased appetite, followed by cravings, commonly for starchy, refined foods; difficulty sleeping; irritability; mental fog; lack of motivation; body fat gain; lean muscle loss; visible signs of premature aging; and sickness.11 If this cycle of chronically elevated cortisol levels is allowed to continue, tissue degeneration, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and even diseases such as cancer can develop.
In contrast, when we use nutrient-dense whole food as our source of energy, rather than fleeting pick-me-ups, our adrenals will not be stimulated, and, simultaneously, our sustainable energy level will rise because of the acquired nutrients. Energy derived from good nutrition— cost-free energy—does not take a toll on the adrenal glands and so doesnt need to be stoked with stimulating substances. In fact, one characteristic of wellness is a ready supply of natural energy that doesnt rely on adrenal stimulation. People who are truly well have boundless energy with no need for stimulants, such as caffeine or refined sugar.
Energy derived from good nutrition—cost- free energy—does not take a toll on the adrenal glands and so doesn't need to be "stoked" with stimulating substances.
A cornerstone of my dietary philosophy is to break dependency on adrenal stimulation. As you might expect, we accomplish this by way of nutrient-dense whole foods. And not just by supplementing our diet with them but by basing our diet on them. This diet, along with proper rest through efficient sleep (efficient because of our reduced stress, thanks to nutrient-dense food), will address the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms of nutritional shortfalls.
AVOID COMMON ALLERGENS
Causing, at the very least, symptoms such as mild nasal congestion, headache, and mental fog, sensitivities to certain foods are exception- ally common. Wheat, gluten (in wheat), corn, soy, and dairy are the most common of these allergens.
A sensitivity is an unpleasant reaction caused by eating food for which the body lacks the specific enzymes or chemicals to digest it properly. Unlike an allergic reaction, a sensitivity does not affect the immune system. Food allergies often become evident immediately upon consuming the food: theres no mistaking an allergic reaction, which comes on quickly and often violently, ranging all the way from abdominal cramps and vomiting or a tingling in the mouth, to life-threatening anaphylactic shock, with swelling of the tongue and throat and difficulty breathing. As serious as an allergic reaction may be, once the allergen is identified, the solution is straightforward: dont eat the food again! The symptoms of a specific food sensitivity, however, may not become evident for a few days or even a week after consumption, making its source difficult to trace. Food sensitivities, therefore, can be extremely difficult to immediately identify and eliminate, and in these cases, the strategy of eliminating common allergens from the diet is useful.
For several years, I had what I thought to be a bad case of hay fever. Each spring I would display the classic symptoms of pollen-caused allergies: dry eyes, sinus congestion, and mild flu-like symptoms. Thinking there was little I could do short of taking antihistamine drugs, which I wanted to avoid, I just put up with it. Since these symptoms flared up at the same time each year, it seemed obvious they must be related to environmental changes because of the onset of spring and the bursts of pollen in the air. Or so I thought.
When I began learning about sensitivities to food, I reanalyzed my diet. What I found intrigued me. Each year, as the winter turned to spring, Id ramp up my cycling mileage in preparation for the coming triathlon season. And as the cycling ramped up, so did my consumption of the sports drink I sipped while logging the miles. My sports drinks base ingredient was maltrodextrin, which is an inexpensive form of carbohydrate, derived from corn. I got tested for food sensitivity, and sure enough, corn registered as one. Fresh, non-genetically modified corn on the cob didnt bother me, but corn in the highly processed state of maltrodextrin triggered an adverse reaction in my body.
From that point on, I began making my own sports drinks. You can find recipes for the original one I came up with, as well as some newer varieties, in the Drinks section in Chapter 6.
This discovery made me realize that many people have a food sensitivity—or several sensitivities—but they just dont know it. Not feeling quite up to par is their common description of their life in general. They rule out diet as the culprit since its been a constant in their life—virtually unchanged—for years. Some people, as I did, blame environmental factors, such as dust or pollen. These annoying, low-grade symptoms, or sometimes a more general state of malaise, can go on or regularly recur for years; because the symptoms make just certain activities a bit more difficult without actually preventing them, the sufferer takes no action. But it is precisely the unchanging diet that is behind the symptoms.
If you suspect you may have a food sensitivity, try eliminating the common allergens—processed corn, wheat/gluten, dairy products, and soy—from your diet. Test by removing one food at a time for a period of 10 days so that you can isolate your reactions. If your symptoms subside when you are off the food, then you will know that it causes you problems and youd be better off removing it from your diet. If you dont notice a change when you go off a food, then you can carry on eating it. Its that simple.
By the way, its unlikely youll find any processed, refined food at the supermarket that doesnt contain at least one of these common allergens. Corn and soy are particularly ubiquitous. Theyre cheap, shelf-stable, and take on other flavors well, so, in the eyes of the manufacturer, theyre the perfect set of ingredients to increase the volume of processed foods, essentially being used as filler, adding little to no nutritional value.