Most of us are “getting old” too soon and settling for far less energy and vitality than we deserve.
Through instinct, animals stay lean and vital in the wild despite eating as they please whenever food is available.
With a bit of practice, you can do the same.
In this interview, you’ll learn how to tweak your lifestyle and habits to make your Wild genes thrive.
Gray Graham has been an international consultant and teacher in the field of clinical nutrition for twenty years. In 2001, Gray founded the Nutritional Therapy Association, which has gone on to certify over 1,400 nutritional therapist practitioners. Gray is also the lead author of the book Pottenger’s Prophecy, and an expert in epigenetics.
On this show, you’ll learn:
- How you can literally reprogram your genetic expression to live longer
- Why what you eat has massive implications on the health of your children
- Why being 100% Paleo or 100% vegan might actually be hurting you
- What nutrition has to do with sexual dysfunction, and more!
GRAY GRAHAM: WHY CATS DON’T EAT MARGARINE
Abel: Can you give us a primer on “epigenetics”?
The concept has been around for a while, but it wasn’t really accepted by conventional genetics. I was introduced to it when I got into the nutritional business about twenty-one years ago.
My mentor, Dr. Bob Curry—one of his first assignments was for me to go to the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation and read two books that profoundly changed my thinking on nutrition forever. The first was Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston Price, which is a book that everybody should read, but for every healthcare practitioner it should be mandatory. And the second one was a book about Dr. Francis Pottenger, who was a medical doctor, and he did this ten-year study with cats. He was the first person to prove, in cats at least, that what you eat not only affects your health, but it affects the health of your offspring, their offspring, and their offspring.
“What you eat not only affects your health, but it affects the health of your offspring, their offspring, and their offspring.”
That’s the beginning of the story for me, because in my previous life, I had been involved in work that had me in schools. I was in the map business, so I was in a lot of schools over a long period of time, and actually saw a kind of change in the look of the children.
When I was in middle school, which was in the sixties, children looked a certain way. And let’s face it, middle school, junior high school kids are always a kind of a motley-looking crew. But fifteen years later, when I’m in those schools, it’s another generation, and they look decidedly different. Fifteen years later, they look different again. And even then, I thought the look of people is kind of changing, but I didn’t really put it together until I read Pottenger’s book.
Pottenger actually did the studies in a couple of different ways, but basically the premise was, he would take one group of cats and feed them only what he considered a whole raw natural diet for cats. It consisted of cod liver oil, raw meat, and raw milk, and then he varied the meat and the milk parts in a number of different studies. The results were always the same. What he found was that when you fed the cats an improper diet (the more processed, the worse), the more degenerated their kittens became, and their kittens and their kittens.
So when I read the book and then I looked around at the world, I thought, “Oh my gosh, we’re a bunch of Pottenger’s people,” because we’re degenerating as a race in America faster than anybody. We have the most highly processed diet. So in the cats, the things that happened were they changed structurally, their faces became more narrow and they had crowded teeth, so I see that. Gosh, when I was in school, maybe one kid in twenty would have braces. But today, when my son was going at that same age, every single child in his school had braces. So that’s the effect of several generations of processed foods.
The other thing that he found was there was sexual dysfunction, that the cats on the processed foods either lost interest in sex or their sexual behavior became abnormal (for cats).
MALNUTRITION = SOCIAL DYSFUNCTION?
One of the most profound things, which I think that has so much relevance today, is that the cats became desocialized. They either became reclusive or aggressive, and sometimes both. They would be very reclusive. Then when they would socialize, they’d be very aggressive.
So when you look at all these horrible tragedies that are happening, from Columbine on, and when they defined those children, it’s almost always the same. They were socially maladapted, they’d become reclusive, and then they turned horribly violent. And I remember when Columbine happened—it was so shocking for everybody, and they had days and days of talking heads, talking about, “Oh, it’s the video games; it’s bad parenting,” and really, nobody even talked about the food that our children eat, that their children ate.
There was one clue. They were interviewing the mother of one of the friends of those two young men, and she said they were just like all the other kids. She said, “They’d come over here and I’d give them soda pop and chips, and they’d watch movies and stuff like that.” Perfectly normal. So the key is the soda pop and chips. That’s not the type of nutrients that will support good mental health. And particularly, from a generational perspective.
Abel: There is so much to talk about here. But this is a new concept for a lot of people – thinking about diet, or how diet could have genetic implications. And not only only for you, but the lives of your progeny.
I know. Your unborn children and grandchildren. So let me just make epigenetics, the concept, as simple as I can. When Pottenger did his work, it was completely rejected by science, because at that time, genetics said you only pass down characteristics through your genes, and the genes changed very, very slowly over long periods of times as they adapted—the Darwin effect of evolution. So this idea that you could pass on nutritional deficiencies was completely unacceptable to science. They just completely rejected it. It wasn’t until so much later, about the time that Pottenger was doing his work, that the term “epigenetics” was coined, and it was practically unknown.
So the big things that happened is that there was an epidemiologic study in Överkalix, Sweden, that actually showed the same phenomena in humans. But basically, what epigenetics means is “above the genes.” So we do know that over long periods of time, we adapt based on our environment and our diet, and you can see that around the world. The diet that, say, the Inuit people have adapted to, and the diet that the Great Barrier Reef islands have adapted to are very different, yet they’re both very, very healthy—these significantly different diets. In terms of fat, in terms of content, in terms of glycemic index, and everything. But those changes do happen slowly over many, many, many generations. So that’s our genetic destiny, but our epigenetics change very quickly.
The meal you eat will change the expression of your genes.
So many people use their genes as a cop-out. They go, “Well, I’m diabetic, but my dad was diabetic, and my grandfather was diabetic. So it was my genetic destiny.” But that’s simply not true. Because if you go back two or three more generations, nobody was diabetic—they didn’t have access to the foods that cause diabetes, the sugars and the highly refined starches.
Scientists argue about this, so we’ll take the range. Only between 2 percent and 10 percent of the diseases that plague us today are genetic. So that means that 90 percent to 98 percent are actually epigenetic. It does have to do with your genes, but it has to do with how your genes are expressed.
EPIGENETICS – HOW TO TURN YOUR GENES ON AND OFF
So what we know now is that genes can be turned on or off. Good genes can be turned off, and bad genes can be turned on based on what we do in our environment. Primarily our food, but the other powerful factors are exercise and toxins. We know now that there are so many, with all the herbicides and pesticides and industrial pollution and stuff, and those things also have a powerful ability to switch genes on and off.
In some ways it’s a powerful message, because it puts us back in control. We’re not victims of our genes. We have control of them, but we have to take back that control.
Abel: Every meal that we eat, every bit of exercise that we do, and in fact, every thought that we have, can have an effect on which genes we are actually expressing. That is powerful. But at the same time you have the immediacy of saying, “If you don’t do this, then your children will suffer.”
Yeah, and I think that’s very clear now. I’m talking a little bit about that Överkalix study, because I think it really gave us another profound lesson. It basically just showed that the phenomena that Pottenger showed in the cats also happened in people. There was a Swedish epidemiologist, and he got connected with a British medical geneticist, and they had this trove of data from a little town in the far north of Sweden called Överkalix. They kept immaculate records. This town was also very isolated from the rest of the world in the winter. So in the summertime, they had transportation primarily by the rivers, and there were some roads. But as soon as the winter set in, the rivers froze over and the roads were closed down. The only food they had was the food they produced in their community.
So they kept these meticulous records about their crops and about the failure and success of their crops, so they could tell when they had abundance or scarcity of these particular nutrients. And then the other things they kept meticulous records on were their birth and death rates. So they meticulously combed through all of this data, and what they found was that there is a time in our life when our epigenetics—or when our genetics—are being set based on our diet. It’s a time of life called the slow-growth period. So for girls, that’s between the ages of eight and eleven, and for boys, between the ages of nine and twelve. So it’s that time just before puberty.
What they eat at any time in their lives will of course affect their health and the health of their progeny to some degree, but what they eat during that very critical time has a profound effect. So the original hypothesis was that when people didn’t have enough food, when the crops failed, then the children would be undernourished and their progeny would be less healthy. But what they actually found was the opposite. When the grain and potato crops failed, the grandchildren of the children experiencing their slow-growth period during that time of crop failure lived up to thirty years longer than the children who came of age when those crops were abundant.
And what did they die from? For those people who came of age during times of abundance, their grandchildren had a higher propensity toward obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. So does that sound familiar to anybody?
Now, I had a disagreement with my coauthors. I’m from the Price-Pottenger—Weston A. Price— mindset, and their previous background was research director for Dean Ornish and his studies. And so they had come from a low-fat, vegetarian perspective. And so here’s our disagreement. They said, “what you can see is that when people don’t each much, they live longer.” There’s really nothing in those records that said people didn’t eat that much. What it said is that the potato and the grain crops failed.
Now the other things they ate were pork and salmon, and of course in the summertime, they had access to some greens and some berries, but that was very seasonal, because this was so far north. I’m thinking about it logically. Now this isn’t what the scientists have said, but let me ask you this, Abel. If you were growing potatoes and grains and raising pigs and catching salmon, and the potato and grain crops failed, what would you be eating?
Bacon and salmon. The first thing they would do if they didn’t have the feed to sustain them through the winter? They would slaughter the pigs and preserve them. Fortunately, both salmon and pigs can be preserved, when appropriately cured, for significant periods of time. I’m certainly not going to sit here and say definitively that it was the carbs making this huge effect. But I think if you look at a lot of the data that we have today, and if you look at the significant changes away from protein and healthy fats since the seventies, and then you look at the results of children today, my gosh. The Center for Disease Control said almost fifteen years ago now that of children born after the year 2000, 35 percent would become diabetic in their lifetime. Which is an amazing figure if you think about it.
After fifteen more years, it looks like it’s going to be even worse. United Health Care did a study, and they said that 50 percent of the people in America will be diabetic or pre-diabetic by 2050. So I don’t know what to say, except that we’re in a lot of trouble and we have to change things.
Pottenger had two messages: When you gave these cats inappropriate diets, they degenerated over three generations. But actually the way the study went is that each generation, he would measure the physical parameters of their health, and after they died, he would autopsy them and he would take a look at their internal organs and things. But that experiment only lasted three years, because the cats that were given the processed milk products, after the third generation, they couldn’t reproduce anymore.
So is that a problem we see today? Something like 16 percent or 18 percent of Americans can’t conceive and bear children without medical intervention. But in the cats, they either lost sexual interest, they had sexual activity but they didn’t conceive, or they conceived, but the kittens were stillborn. So what Pottenger did at that point, was he said, “Well, I guess that’s the end of the road for this experiment.” But he got to thinking: by the same process, could you regenerate the cats?
So he started giving all the cats the control cat diet, and sure enough, just by making that change, the cats that couldn’t conceive and couldn’t bear any offspring were able to conceive and bear offspring—but their offspring weren’t as healthy as the control kittens. He continued to feed them a whole food diet, and their kittens were healthy and their kittens were healthier.
Here’s the lesson: We can turn this thing around. It’s a process. It took three generations to degenerate the cats, but he was able to regenerate the cats in four generations, to the point where they were as physically, emotionally, and structurally perfect as the control cats.
Abel: This is a totally unfair question—but in America, where do you think most of us are generation-wise if we extend the metaphor of Pottenger’s cats?
Of course it’s not as absolute, because all the cats were carefully controlled, either given the whole food diet, or partially processed, or more processed, or even more processed. But I’d say, basically, of children today, those children born after the year 2000 who are now teenagers, they have just come through their own slow-growth period. I’d say they’re pretty much third generation. Narrowed faces, and they all wear braces. Look at the stats; how many boys are diagnosed with ADHD? The rate of autism is going through the roof. And then you look at these constant problems, like how many kids are so mal-socialized, they cannot even really attend public schools. So a lot of the homeschooling today, some of it is for personal choice—I’m not denigrating homeschooling and I think it can be a good idea—but a lot of times it’s because the kids can’t appropriately socialize. So, I can say we’re pretty close to the third generation, and I think people can’t even grasp the consequences.
Should we be providing healthcare? Should we not be providing healthcare? It’s not even an issue. The real fact of the matter is that healthcare is so expensive, and people are so sick, that nobody can afford to pay for it. People can’t afford to pay it on their own. With our government, our productivity isn’t enough to pay for it. So we have to change our health, because the healthcare costs are burying us as a country. I mean, that’s one of the reasons General Motors went bankrupt. They could no longer sustain the cost of healthcare for their employees and their retirees, and you’re seeing that more and more.
Abel: A lot of people, when they first get started eating Wild / Ancestral / Weston A. Price—they’re just like, “Wow, real food is expensive. I don’t think I can do this.”
If you are comparing the cost of real food to the junk at Walmart, I can see how you would come to that conclusion. But if you consider the price of your medications, the price of your doctor visits, the price of all the things that are going to happen to you for the next few decades, and all the things that are going to happen to your children—the cost of healthcare—all of a sudden, you are comparing dramatically different numbers.
If you look at me before I started eating this way, I went to the doctor because I got sick all the time. And I was taking many medications, because my doctor said it was necessary based upon my genetic issues and family history.
Just skip ahead to now. I literally have not been to the doctor (except to get bloodwork done because I want to keep track of that myself) in three years. And so, if you look at it, no matter how much money you spend on eggs, organic veggies, and at the farmer’s market, that isn’t even close to the amount of money that even someone in their twenties like me would have been spending at the medical establishment over three years. So I think that’s a really good point: including nutrition, lifestyle, and medical costs in the same category is a good way to reframe this whole dietary change.
Well, unfortunately, in Washington State, proposition 522, which would have mended the labeling of genetic foods, was defeated because the food companies (Monsanto, Cargill, DuPont, the Grocer’s Association) put in some $20 million to the $3 million or $4 million that was raised by people who just want know what’s in their food. That cheap food is very profitable for big food, but it’s very, very expensive for us.
In his book, Michael Pollan said that in the 1950s we spent 18 percent of our budget on food and 5 percent of our budget on healthcare, and today we spend 9 percent of our budget on cheap, processed industrial food, which is only half the price, but now we spend 19 percent of our funds on healthcare (I think I got these figures right). So you’re either going to spend it on the food and stay healthy, and get food that tastes better, that makes you feel better, and gives you vitality. Or you save it on the food and you spend it on healthcare.
Only a fool would consciously make that choice: “Oh, I’ll eat cheap food and then I’ll just take hypertensive medications, and glucophage, and inject myself with insulin, and take statin drugs with the savings.” Who would make such a crazy choice? But that is actually the choice that people are making.
Abel: I take joy in going to the farmers market every week and giving cash to farmers; there’s something very different about it from going to the doctor’s office and giving cash to a doctor. I mean, there are some great doctors out there and they deserve every cent they get, but there are a lot of doctors who make tons of cash at our expense.
So, when it comes to the question of what you choose to spend money on, what you are choosing to support, that’s an interesting dichotomy between those two options. And I can tell you, spending my money on truffle butter, blood sausage, duck and pastured eggs? It’s amazing. And these people are shiny-eyed. You can see the health of the farmers you’re buying this stuff from, which you can’t always see in the doctor’s office, unfortunately.
I know. When you go into a hospital it’s the sickest people you ever will see—not just the people that are there, but the people that are working there.
The food in the hospitals is crazy, and good food is not really that expensive. So I’ve been quite involved in this movement, and one of the things I’ve done is started the Nutritional Therapy Association and created a whole new class of natural healthcare practitioners called NTPs or Nutritional Therapy Practitioners. One of my early graduates, we did some videos on her, and she’s a low-income person. She was raising three children on her own on a nurse’s pay and stuff, and so obviously finances were a problem. But she’s shown how you could take a chicken, an organic chicken that costs $10 (it sounds like a lot for a chicken, but these are big chickens that were raised on a local farm by a farmer that we knew) and feed a family of four for essentially a week on a $10 chicken.
What does it cost to go to McDonalds to get a Big Mac, a shake, and some fries? It’s costs about $10, and it totally denigrates your health. People say, “Well, I don’t have the time. I’m so busy. I don’t have the time to cook.” But even that is not a legitimate answer. There are a lot of really healthy things you can make yourself for a fraction of what it costs to get cheap, sick, fast food. So it’s all just excuses.
Once people really get it, that you can take control, you can bring your food purchases back to a local, sustainable model, and you can enjoy the food more. It’s going to taste better. It’s going to make you feel better, and it’s going to support your local economy—it’s just a win, win, win situation. Or you can go to McDonalds or Jack in the Box and you can get genetically modified buns with beef that’s been feedlot raised with antibiotics, and ketchup that’s full of high-fructose corn syrup, and you really do pay a lot for that in so many ways.
Before I got into this field I was addicted to fast food too, and I remember going to the McDonalds and thinking, “Oh man, I love the smell of those french fries.” But really, the only reason I go to McDonalds now is if I’m driving down the freeway and have to go to the bathroom. It’s the only legitimate service McDonalds plays in America today is providing restrooms that are relatively clean. But you walk in there and the smell of that rancid grease almost makes you puke. Once you’re healthy, you realize that’s really not good food.
WHY IS PROCESSED FOOD SO BAD FOR US?
Abel: That’s so true. We went to local fairs growing up, and those little fried food trailers have probably been clattering around with the same vat of grease for the last twelve years. Fast food and fair food used to smell so good, but if I go to fairs or franchise restaurants now, that chemically, rancid, salty smell of fast food… what used to make me salivate now makes me nauseous. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it, but if you get away from that stuff for a few months and just focus on eating real food, that’ll happen to you too.
It sounds bad, but you want it to be that way, because then you’ve built such an appreciation for the quality of food. And your body knows. If you get out of your body’s way, if you follow that natural intelligence, if you’re eating real food, your body knows in the same way that a dog, in a lot of cases, will simply refuse to eat some type of low-quality food.
That’s right. When I’m teaching my class it’s the one thing I talk about: All lower animals have the sense to only eat food. So for example, margarine, which is not food. A cat won’t eat it, rats won’t eat it, flies won’t eat it. If you take a stick of margarine, which is highly processed hydrogenated vegetable oils that are really poisonous, and put it on a windowsill and then you take a stick of butter and put it right next to it, the butter will become moldy, flies will come on it. If the cat could get to it when it’s still fresh it’ll eat it, but nothing will touch the margarine, because they are all picking their foods based on their instinctual knowledge.
We have within us that same instinct. In the nutritional therapist classes, we do what’s called lingual-neuro testing. But what we’ve done is we’ve replaced our instinctual ability to choose our food with our intellect. So now we don’t choose based on what our body’s telling us. We choose based on what our mind’s telling us, and so we make these bad decisions. We eat margarine. That’s why I tell everybody that no lower animal, only humans and stupid dogs, eat margarine. Because there are some dogs that if you eat it, they will eat it. Because that’s just what they do. They too have lost their ability to differentiate, but no cats, no other animals will eat margarine, except for us and stupid dogs. Smart dogs won’t even eat it.
Abel: That reminds me of the viral picture of butter and margarine side by side and left out for a while. And the butter has all these ants that have basically annihilated the stick of butter, and then the stick of margarine, there are a couple of dead ants on it and it’s perfectly intact, that’s all. That’s all that’s happened. It’s shocking.
Now, I’d love to hear you talk about what precisely happens when a food is processed. What’s going on there? Why is it bad?
There are so many different types of processing. There are types of ancestral ways of processing food, like fermenting and drying. They not only can preserve the integrity of the food, but in some cases, culturing vegetables or things like that can actually enhance the quality of the food. But everything in modern food has really become about shelf life and profitability. So they use the cheapest ingredients; they do everything they can to make it so it won’t spoil. And the one universal thing about spoilage is that something can only spoil if it has the vitality to support microbial organisms. If it won’t support the life of a bacteria or yeast, then it can’t spoil.
So sugar… if you take a piece of sugar cane and juice it, and you leave that juice out, it will spoil, because it’s full of vitamins and minerals. It’s got things like chromium and B vitamins in it, and it will sustain life. But if you completely refine that, it won’t sustain life. A pound of sugar will last almost forever. And the same is true with flour.
The reason we have white flour is because when we invented these processes for milling our grains in mass quantity, if you left the outer layer and the germ, then they would have a propensity to turn rancid and spoil very quickly. But when you turn it into white flour it’ll last for years.
The same with this whole processed oil thing. It shows we’re making progress. It’s very slow, but margarine and the hydrogenated oils have been around for eighty-five years, and this week, just this very last week after eighty-five years, the federal government, in their infinite non-wisdom, has finally decided that these are toxic and they shouldn’t be in the food supply. So we now know definitively how long it takes the federal government, the people that are supposed to protect our food, to figure out that a food is toxic and it’s killing people. And that’s about eighty-five years.
If anybody is relying on the government to protect our food supply, you’re going to be waiting another three or four generations.
Abel: That’s the key word, three to four generations.
That’s right. And in the places where they’re getting rid of the hydrogenated oils now, they’re replacing it with things that are probably as bad or maybe even worse—these interesterified fats may be worse than hydrogenated fats for all the same reasons. But don’t worry, within eighty to eighty-five years, the federal government should figure that out and then make the food makers take that out of our food supply. We have to take control. You cannot trust the government to guide you there. They’ve been highly manipulated by big food and big agriculture, and people need to start using some common sense, and get back to our local, sustainable food sources.
Abel: Listeners sent me a bunch of emails about that. They say, “You need to watch this. Soylent Green, coming out in the seventies, is incredibly prophetic. Like I said, forty years ago, about this fake food made out of soy being sold to everyone as the new health food and marketed in all these crazy ways.” My Lord, that’s exactly what happened.
I know, it’s crazy. There’s a little skit about how most things end up in our food supply. It’s usually some waste product that nobody knows what the hell to do with, and they’re looking at this little story about how we got hydrogenated cottonseed oil in our food supply. Well, probably started somewhere where there are a couple of executives from a major cotton gin and they’re looking at these huge piles of cotton seeds stacking up outside the factory…
They’re think, “What the hell are we going to do with all these cotton seeds?” One looks at the other one and goes, “I don’t know, you know, cows won’t eat it, they’re too smart. Well, what we could do is we could turn it into oil, hydrogenate it, and tell people it’s a health food. Well, tell them it’s a polyunsaturated fat that’s good for them, and I’m sure they’ll buy it.”
Unfortunately, that’s true.
Soy does have one redeeming quality, and that’s that it puts nitrogen into the soil. That’s one of the reasons farmers started growing so much of it. There was not much demand in our culture for soy, and so they took this, in the best of circumstances and barely acceptable or mediocre food, and they highly processed it and tried to put it in every imaginable concoction and tell us that it’s good for us. I am not a complete soy hater. If you’re Asian and your ancestors have been eating soy for ten thousand years, and it’s properly prepared, which of course in our culture, it never is, and fermented, it can be a healthy food. But for somebody of northern European descent, and particularly the way it’s prepared, it really doesn’t have any place in our diet.
HOW DOES PALEO FIT INTO YOUR GENES?
Abel: Yeah, absolutely. Now one thing that’s really interesting, and you touched upon this earlier, is the Ornish camp. So, could you comment a little bit on the differences between, say, the Weston A. Price approach and then the low-fat approach?
We can spend an hour just talking about variations in diet. In Ornish’s program, he never really just took a dietary approach. He always took a multifaceted approach, which I am not denigrating, but he took a very low-fat diet, and then he took appropriate exercise, meditation, and social interaction, and put all those things together, and he did show, there’s no doubt about it, that he could reverse heart disease and then he could stop or reverse the progression of slow-moving cancers.
But having said that, I don’t really agree with his diet, though there are redeeming parts to his diet. One of the redeeming parts is that there was almost no processed food in it. So, I think, here are my general words of wisdom: any diet that doesn’t have processed food, whether it’s low-fat or high-fat, is healthier than any diet that does contain processed food, whether it’s low-fat or high-fat.
One of the things that always ends up happening with vegetarian studies is they’ll take a group of vegetarians, say maybe Seventh-Day Adventists or something, who are eating the whole nutritious vegetarian foods, and then they’ll compare it against an American diet, where they’re eating feedlot red meat, and they’re eating hydrogenated oils, and they’re eating refined grains. The standard American diet. So they’re comparing a low-fat or vegetarian non-processed food diet with a high-fat processed food diet, and it’s not a fair comparison.
I think there’s also a distinction that people need to make, which is the difference between a diet that will sustain a person over the long period, a healthy lifetime diet, and a therapeutic diet—because we do know that there are times when diets, like a macrobiotic diet or a vegan diet, can be therapeutic for some people for a period of time. But that does not mean that it’s the diet for that person for their life. Have you ever had Ann Louise Gittleman on your show?
Abel: Not yet!
She’s always up for talking about these things, too. Ann Louise and I are pretty good friends. She wrote, Beyond Pritikin and the Fat Flush Plan, and a number of other things. But anyway, I was talking to her and her partner, James, and James was a Texas rancher and had gotten cancer. I believe it was colon cancer, but I wouldn’t swear to it. But anyway, he rejected the idea of chemo and radiation, and he went on a macrobiotic diet, and lo and behold, he cured his cancer.
When people make a dietary change, and it works for them, and they feel better, that’s good. But sometimes they make the mistake of thinking, “Well, it worked for me during this period of time, so this is the diet I should maintain for the rest of my life.” And that’s what James did.
But what he found was that, though it cured his cancer, over time, he started to lose his vitality. And he finally came to the conclusion that the diet that was right for him when he had cancer was not the diet that would sustain him forever. So he went back to a more balanced diet, a non-macrobiotic diet, but a diet that was a nutrient-dense, whole food, balanced diet that included meat and was low-glycemic, and he got his vitality back. So, he cured his cancer and he has his vitality. I think that’s what we all want to look for is the diet that will sustain us over the long period.
Abel: That’s such a good point. And I also wonder, too, the implications of what you’re eating and what you’re NOT eating. Obviously, the cats that ate a processed diet experienced damage, but was that because they were eating foods that damaged them, or was it because they weren’t eating enough of nutritious foods that nourish them?
Well, I think it’s probably both. The most famous study was one where all of the cats got a base of raw meat and cod liver oil, so obviously a very good base diet, and then the other half of their diet was either raw milk, pasteurized milk, condensed milk, or sweetened and condensed milk. And what you can see is each one of those is more processed with heat, processed with heat and condensation, and processed with heat and sugar added.
I would say, “My gosh, if the PETA people got hold of Pottenger today, they’d rip him, because that’s a cruel and horrible thing to do to a cat—to give it milk that’s not only condensed, but also processed with sugar added. Who would do that to a poor, innocent cat?” But then again, that’s exactly what we’re doing to our children.
They’ll have a breakfast of sugar-frosted Cocoa Puffs, and low fat milk, and they’re basically getting the worst of the Pottenger diet. So, it’s really both of those things. It doesn’t have the nutrients they need to sustain themselves, the nutrients are denigrated by the heat, and then you add things like sugar, that actually disrupt the normal glycemic control mechanisms of the body. So it’s just a horrible combination, and it is the diet in America: highly processed with lots of sugar added. That’s what most people are eating, even though they don’t necessarily realize that.
Abel: It’s an interesting distinction. Most people assume that if you have success with a diet or if you go vegan, Paleo, South Beach, whatever, that it’s because of the diet that you’re getting better, when in many cases, I think people tend to overlook that it’s that they’re not pummeling their bodies with toxins and bad food that’s damaging them anymore. So even if they ate nothing, or some of these people who have great success with juice fasts or eating almost nothing for a long period of time—it’s not because cayenne and maple syrup and lemon juice are great for you, in and of themselves, necessarily. It’s because you’re not eating Taco Bell anymore.
That’s one thing. I know I’ve been criticized for being a bit harsh on vegans. I don’t mean to be, but I know people are desperately seeking health. Here’s what I see happen so often is that people are eating this highly processed, standard American diet and it’s wrecking them. So they go on a vegan diet, and it’s clean, hopefully. I went to the Evergreen State College for several years, not that long ago, and there was a lot of vegan junk food. So that’s really the worst alternative of all.
But for the most part, the raw food vegan movement, they’re eating raw, whole foods, and for most of them, they get their vitality back. They lose weight, their complexion clears up, their sex drive returns. They just generally feel better, their allergies clear up, etcetera, etcetera. And so they go, “I’ve found it. I’ve found my place in the universe. I’m a vegan. I’m a raw food vegan.”
As time goes on, though, that diet eventually turns on them, because they do tend to be very high-glycemic or low in B vitamins, collagen, or other critical nutrients found in animal foods.
One of my friends got on the vegan thing, and she’s like, “I feel great. Pottenger, you’ve always advocated a raw food diet.” And I said, “Well, I do advocate a raw food diet,” but I said, “Drink some raw milk and eat some raw eggs and have some raw liver and stuff like that, along with pecans and the pumpkin. All the other raw things you’re doing are wonderful, but you need to balance it based on your genetics as a Northern European-descended person with these other raw foods. Then, I’m all for it.”
I don’t want to be critical, but what happened was she felt better. Then, eventually, her blood sugar became disregulated. She started to get moody, and then she started to gain weight again. Unfortunately, a lot of times, people go, “Oh gosh. Vegan doesn’t work for me, but I’m just not being a good enough vegan.” So they just try harder and harder to be a better vegan.
Having said that, I recently had a student in one of the classes I just graduated, and he’s been a vegan for thirteen, fourteen years. It completely saved him, and he’s doing fine. So he just seems to be an individual for whom it works. But he’s very, very diligent about it. He eats no processed food. He’s very careful about getting the protein that he needs, etcetera.
I feel I’m really qualified to tell how somebody’s doing, because what I teach are these physiological tests that measure how people are doing in life, and he’s doing great. So, our agreement was that I’ll support his veganism as long as his veganism is supporting him. We talked about some of the things I had observed, and he agreed that if he saw those things happening, that he would shift his diet, start including animal products again, because his goal was to be healthy. He wasn’t on a religious quest. He was on a health quest. And I think that’s fair.
I’ll probably get some bad blogs on this one—but Paleo doesn’t work for everybody. There are a group of people for whom good, properly prepared grains can be a healthy part of their diet. Not most people, but some people. Are you familiar with Gary Nabhan’s work? He wrote a book called Why Some Like It Hot.
Abel: A little bit, yeah.
He helped shift my thinking a little bit on that, as a person who has become a bit inflexible in my thinking about what could be healthy for people. I’ve come over to, “You got to get the grains out. What you need for breakfast is protein.” But I had observed that for some people, it was wonderful, and for some people, it wasn’t. One particular couple—he was a medical practitioner and she was his nutritionist. He had some huge blood sugar issues going on, and I got him eating three eggs and just a little bit of cultured veggies and some other protein, and he was like a new man. But for her, it didn’t work. It wasn’t until she added some high-quality grains back in that she really felt her very best again.
Anyway, in Nabhan’s book, he really does explain that phenomena that we do adapt over time to the food that’s available in our environment. Just like an Inuit person can eat a diet that’s 80 percent, 85 percent fat and thrive. If you were to take an Asian person or a Great Barrier Reef islander, for example, who mostly were eating fruits and low-fat fish, and you switched those diets, neither one of them would thrive. Because they’ve evolved for tens of thousands of years on those types of diets.
In my book I talk about—quoting Nabhan, actually—that if you take indigenous Australian people, the Aborigines, and try and give them milk, 78 percent of them have no ability to digest lactose as adults. But if you take a Fulani herdsman from Africa—they’ve been consuming dairy for thousands of years, and still, 28 percent of them are lactose intolerant. But if you take the Swedish population, whose ancestors have been consuming dairy product for somewhere in the vicinity of twelve thousand years now, only 2 percent of them don’t have the ability to digest lactose. So we do adapt. We adapt slowly.
The other Nabhan says very clearly is that whenever we make a major shift in our diet, there are horrible consequences in the short term, and it takes many, many generations to adapt. I think the biggest argument for Paleo is that part of the problem is our grains have been so denigrated through hybridization, and now, genetic modification, that they are not the grains that we’re adapted to.
Abel: Exactly. So one of the reasons I identify with Paleo isn’t because I’m “100 percent Paleo,” and anyone who listens to this show knows that very well. It’s more because, if you’re telling people that you eat in a particular way, then saying “ditch grains” works, because if you’re going to get grains today, it is so complicated to not only source them, but treat them correctly in the way that they’re supposed to be fermented or sprouted. And all of this gets really, really complicated, so it’s shorthand to say, “Try Paleo at the beginning. We can sort out all the intricacies a bit later.”
So I think, in terms of a diet that people could identify with, it’s one that works fairly well, and it’s a good launching pad into taking control of your own health. To be honest, it’s a very complicated lifestyle. It takes a little while to get a handle on all the ins and outs, but it’s the best thing you can do for your health.
WHERE TO FIND GRAY GRAHAM
One of my biggest projects is the Nutritional Therapy Association. So, we started a profession, nutritional therapy practitioners and nutritional therapy consultants, and we train in conjunction with community colleges in our own venues around the country, and around the world.
You can get more information on that whole movement at nutritionaltherapy.com. You can also find me on Twitter @NTAtraining, on Facebook @NutritionalTherapyAssociation, on YouTube at NTA School, as well as on Pinterest and Instagram.
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