Back to a Healthy Way of Eating
This post isn’t directly about memory techniques, but I mentioned in the forum that I’ve switched back to a strict way of eating, so I thought I would write about it here in the blog. I am not an expert on nutrition, and I do not make any recommendations – in this post I’m only sharing my own self-experiments. Some of my previous food experiments can be found here and here.
I’m always looking for new information and ideas about food, so feel free to leave comments below.
I wonder how many people make uncompleted New Year’s resolutions about becoming more healthy or losing weight. I’ve done it many times.
This year I tried something different – I started changing my way of life around well before New Year’s. The result is that I’ve made significant improvements to my life in advance, and reached the New Year already with a couple of months of progress.
At the moment, I choose my foods only based on nutrition, not on taste or cravings. This list is going to sound very restrictive, but I don’t think of it that way. There are plenty of things to eat in the world that don’t contain junk.
Here are my basic rules for eating at the moment:
- No meat — I feel better without meat. I do eat some fish.
- No dairy — cows milk is designed by nature to help baby cows gain weight rapidly. It is very easy to mindlessly snack on things like cheese and yogurt. I don’t see any benefit to eating those things when I can get the same nutrients from other foods.
- No rice — brown rice is my preferred food, but the rice supply has high arsenic levels at the moment. According to those charts, I was eating a lot more arsenic than is safe, so I’m cutting rice out of my diet for a while.
- No wheat — I am testing whether this helps a medical condition
- No oats — same as for wheat
- No eggs — same as for wheat
- No sugar — sugar is very unhealthy, and there is no reason to eat it. Quitting sugar is not that difficult, and has major health benefits.
- No caffeine — I feel better without it.
- No juice — juice seems to be nearly as unhealthy as soda. Removing the fiber from fruit isn’t healthy.
- No alcohol — it’s mostly unhealthy.
- No spicy food — I have not found solid research on whether certain foods are “anti-inflammatory” but I am experimenting with it. It’s likely that I will add this back later.
- No nightshade family plants — same as for spicy food.
- No processed food — I don’t buy frozen food, canned food (other than salmon), refined food, packaged snacks, or other kinds of pre-made food.
- No refined oils other than extra-virgin olive oil — I get this from a local producer to ensure that it is not fake.
- No supplements — I’m not a big fan of supplements and pills. I am currently eating a very nutritious diet, so I don’t even think about supplements. I’ve posted other comments on why taking supplements might be harmful, or at least useless.
What I do eat:
- Whole grains and seeds — amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, corn.
- Vegetables — this category provides nearly limitless options for eating
- Fish — only some occasional wild salmon and herring, because they are low in mercury.
I make sure that I get enough fat by eating an avocado almost every day. Other sources of fat are: tahini, olive oil, nuts, and fish.
Below are some sample meals. I find most of these vegetables over at Monterey Market in Berkeley, California.
This is buckwheat/kasha with black beans, avocado, steamed collard leaves, squash, and bitter melons sauteed with almonds:
I try to mix colors: orange, green, red, etc. This reminds me to eat a wide range of nutrients.
Buckwheat is very healthy, and easy to prepare. I buy green buckwheat groats and roast them in a pan:
I steam different kinds of vegetables together:
I then serve them with something like polenta:
I generally don’t like squash or sweet potatoes, but these little kabocha squashes are good:
For larger squashes, I steam them with a couple of sweet potatoes, and then puree them into soup with sauteed leeks, which help make the squash flavor bearable:
One way to make portable meals is to stuff cabbage leaves. These bowls contain onions, celery, garlic, parsnips, carrots, mushrooms, and buckwheat:
The vegetables get cooked on the stove in a Dutch oven, and the buckwheat gets roasted and boiled the normal way.
The cooked vegetables are mixed with the buckwheat and then wrapped in partially steamed cabbage leaves:
The stuffed cabbage leaves then get steamed for another 30 to 40 minutes:
Below is another typical meal, with steamed spinach and chard, pureed squash, avocado, green onions, and cilantro. I think there is amaranth under the other dishes.
There are many types of apples on sale at the moment, so I simmer them with cranberries for about 45 minutes to make cranberry applesauce:
Right before it finishes cooking, I add some dried fruit:
One other food that I try to eat frequently is bitter melon. I didn’t like it the first few times I tried it, but it becomes addictive after about the third or fourth time.
They are great when stir fried with onions, garlic, ginger, and whole almonds:
(The picture of stir-fried bitter melons above doesn’t have almonds in it, because I didn’t have any that day.)
Besides losing over 30 unneeded pounds, the strict discipline helps keep me on track in general. I do feel better, especially when I’m getting enough sleep and supplementing it with power naps.
People who are interested in different ways of eating might be interested in this article that rates diets in 2014. I don’t really follow diet trends myself — I just eat what seems most logical to me.
Like I mentioned, I am not an expert on nutrition. If anyone finds any holes in my way of thinking about eating, feel free to leave constructive criticism, or share your own diet, below.
There is also a forum thread about fitness and nutrition.
r30 20 Oct 2021
"No wheat — I am testing whether this helps a medical condition"
Do you think you are a celiac? Or wheat allergy?
I don't eat a lot of things.
What I do eat: -rice, buckwheat, millet (non-glutenous grains) -plain homemade yoghurt, milk -apples, pears, plums, nectarines -pumpkin -eggs, meat -some nuts
What I'd really like to eat are more vegetables than just pumpkin, but my digestive system can't handle them.
I also rotate the foods I eat (this one is really pain in the ass), because my immune system responses to all foods I eat (it probably recognizes partially digested particles in blood). The more I eat the same food the more it reacts to it. The reaction is also what causes my main symptoms.
6 years of experiments to get rid of horrible brain fog and exhaustion (the symptoms). I've made A LOT of progress. Some day I hope to overcome this condition (which I guess is low stomach acid caused by sth), and also be able to eat more foods (only probably not gluten, because my experiments strongly show I have celiac disease, although the test showed negative 5 years ago) and not to have rotate them.
Josh Cohen 20 Oct 2021
I didn't really know what celiac disease was until about a month ago, so it wasn't due to that. (I have never been tested for it that I know of.)
I have psoriasis, which appears to be related to "systemic inflammation". My immune system appears to be attacking me.
I removed meat due to studies like this: A fasting and vegetarian diet treatment trial on chronic inflammatory disorders
The reason for eating fish and removing wheat come from information like this.
Patients with psoriasis have been found to have an increased incidence of IgG/IgA anti-gliadin antibodies compared with healthy controls [study] and one study has also demonstrated that a GFD [gluten-free diet] for a period of 3 months improved disease severity in psoriatic patients with anti-gliadin antibodies. [study]
A small number of people who have gluten intolerance are sensitive to protein in oats too, so I eliminated oats just to be sure.
IL-17 is a cytokine, which is a protein that controls cells and activates inflammation. To understand how IL-17 works, imagine the chemical processes that keep skin healthy as a stream of molecules heading back and forth from the skin's surface. In someone without psoriasis, these molecules serve a usually healthy purpose—they move the body's immune system into action when there is a cut or a scrape, sending cells to the surface to fight infection and heal a wound.
In someone with psoriasis, those signals can be faulty. The body will overreact to an injury in the skin, or the immune system will mobilize for an unknown reason. People with psoriasis lesions, in particular, have 30 times more IL-17 than people without lesions, according to an article Bagel published in the August 2012 issue of Practical Dermatology. [link] Conversely, studies show that stopping IL-17, or reducing it, can help clear psoriasis.
I'm more interested in finding ways to control IL-17 with diet rather than with extremely expensive medications that have unknown long-term side effects and that stop working as soon as you stop taking them.
There is an interesting study about controlling IL-17 with diet here.
An emerging role of IL-17 in the inflammatory response associated with pathogenesis of neurodegeneration has been recently suggested. However, though diet represents a key factor in the modulation of inflammatory processes, evidence is not currently available on the nutritional regulation of IL-17 in humans. In a double blind, randomized, placebo controlled, crossover study, we investigated the effect of High Fat Meal (HFM) on IL-17 circulating levels in presence of a placebo (HFM-P) or with a Fruit Juice Drink (HFM-FJD) composed of pineapple, blackcurrant and plum in fourteen healthy overweight humans. Fasting in the morning subjects ingested a test meal providing 1344 Kcal. Ingestion of HFM-P induced an inflammatory response mediated by TNF-α (p < 0.001), IL-6 (p < 0.001) and IL-17 (p < 0.01). Plasma IL-17 concentration significantly increased at 1 h (+2.6 ± 1.1 pg/ml), remaining high at 4 h (+2.98 ± 1.2 pg/ml), 6 h (+2.38 ± 0.6 pg/ml) and 8 h (+2.8 ± 0.9 pg/ml) (ANOVA for time-course p=0.009). When the HFM was consumed in the presence of the FJD a marked inhibition of IL-17 response to the HFM was observed (ANOVA between treatment p=0.037). We provided, for the first time, evidence on the role of diet in modulating IL-17 production in healthy overweight subjects.
Apparently, there is some anecdotal link between nightshade vegetables and "systemic inflammation", so I cut those out of my diet for now as well.
I don't suffer with this way of eating. The strict discipline actually helps me. I believe in the logic behind it, so I feel like I am living correctly.
Are you able to eat fermented vegetables? I make my own sauerkraut, and have been meaning to expand the types of vegetables that I pickle. Would you be able to eat well-cooked collard greens (or other types of cruciferous vegetables ) that were pureed in a food processor? Just brainstorming ideas...
r30 20 Oct 2021
I can eat small amounts of salad, tomato, cabbage, beet and rutabaga. They are more easily digestable if boiled. Still, they don't work as good as other foods. I'm becoming more tolerant to sauerkraut and other fermented things, I hope to add them to my menu soon (also because they are probiotic bombs).
Others are worse. Dill, parsley and onion cause severe brain fog, carrot stomach ache, red cabbage diarrhea, and garlic burns my stomach. A lot of them I haven't tested them for a while (2 years), so they might be alleviated for some amount by now.
How did you know about the proriasis? Skin rashes? They could be allergy too. Or so maybe from family history (the wiki page said it's genetic)?
"The strictness of the diet is absolute — there are no moments of cheating or “days off”. I prefer this kind of discipline." - Same here. In fact, I have developed a fear or eating gluten (I get 10 days of severe brain fog from couple of wheat grains, last time it accidently happened in the summer). Some nights I have these horror dreams when I eat bread, and I think "Why on earth did I do it?!?". One time I realized I must be dreaming (seriously). What a sad irony :D.
Some times I do cheat with other foods though (when I have brain fog then I want to eat more, because a full stomach or sugar pang gives a momentary alleviation). But usually "eating more" doesn't repair what is caused by "eating" :D. Without brain fog I don't care if I starve or eat, I just enjoy the feeling of "pure mind racing through memory palaces":) It's addicting, just like playing a thrilling computer game non-stop 6 hours straight without bothering to go to the kitchen.
Btw, your weight loss is really impressive. How much time did it take? Were you also on low-calorie diet or just eliminated the foods?
"No supplements — I’m not a big fan of supplements and pills. I am currently eating a very nutritious diet, so I don’t even think about supplements. I’ve posted other comments on why taking supplements might be harmful, or at least useless." I've tried 4 enzyme complexes, 6 probiotics, 10 vitamin/minerals + multivitamin, 6 anticandida herbs, laxative, leaky gut healing supplements (L-Glutamine, licorice root, quercetin), even very contoversial stuff that I now don't believe in like homeopathy and peptids. Most of them had no effect at all. Some of them I had strong feeling that they worked (vitamins), but later found those were just accidentally better days, no correlation btwn vitamins and symptoms.
I don't regret trying them, because now I know they don't work for me and can sleep peacefully knowing that I've tried everything I can think of.
Josh Cohen 20 Oct 2021
If you have psoriasis, you know it. :)
The day before I stopped eating gluten I had just purchased 10 pounds of flour to start making sourdough again. Sourdough bread is one of my favorite foods, unfortunately. I'll give it up forever if it helps though.
I didn't put salad on my list, because there's something about the texture of raw, leafy green vegetables that is very unpleasant to me. I can eat it, but it takes effort unless smothered in something like blue cheese dressing, which I can't eat now. I do eat cooked green leafy vegetables nearly every day though.
Beets are great -- I steam them and then put some lemon juice and salt on them. I would like to try fermenting them next.
On this kind of diet, including the variations that I've written about before, I lose about 8 to 10 pounds per month. It was a little faster this time, but I don't know why.
I'm not specifically on a low-calorie diet. I often feel like I eat too much, but there's only so many calories that one can intake from eating a meal of amaranth porridge, beans, and carrots. I think the strict elimination of refined carbohydrates, including sugar, cuts back on the urge to snack on things all the time. Eating junk just leads to a craving for more junk. If I could eat wheat, I would be snacking on bread and crackers frequently. At the moment, I can only reach for something like an apple, a pear, or a banana.
RE: probiotics -- I'm very interested in the human microbiome: mind controlling parasites, microorganisms that affect personality and health, and even the the cutting edge. I don't take any probiotic supplements, but I eat raw sauerkraut and would like to start fermenting additional things.
Josh Cohen 20 Oct 2021
This link between microorganisms in the gut and health is extremely interesting. Here's an article that I saw today that links a potential side effect of psoriasis (psoriatic arthritis) with microbes: Joint Pain, From the Gut
A study published in 2013 by Jose Scher, a rheumatologist at New York University, found that people with rheumatoid arthritis were much more likely to have a bug called Prevotella copri in their intestines than people that did not have the disease. In another study published in October, Scher found that patients with psoriatic arthritis, another kind of autoimmune joint disease, had significantly lower levels of other types of intestinal bacteria.
Blaser argues that H. pylori and other gut microbes are so deeply involved in our bodily operations that they shouldn’t really be considered aliens. "They are part of who we are," he says. "These organisms are part of our developmental choreography; they have an enormous amount to do with how our immune system develops."
In fact, these bacteria have a powerful vested interest in controlling how our bodies respond to interlopers. Blaser and others say that it appears that many of the bugs that live inside us have thrived by modulating the immune system to avoid being recognized—and attacked—as invaders; in essence, these organisms train immune cells not to be trigger-happy. A microbiome with the wrong sorts of bugs, or the wrong ratio of bugs—a situation known as dysbiosis—may unbalance this immune system, causing immune cells to assault not only bacteria, but also the body itself.
And a section on probiotics versus diet:
"Probiotics are generally safe and almost completely untested," says Scher. "There’s this idea that you can simply replace certain bugs that are missing. I don’t think it’s as simple as that." For one, he says, it’s not clear whether most microbes from probiotics can survive the digestive process.
Scher puts more faith in modifying the microbiome through diet. He notes that some patients with rheumatoid arthritis have benefitted from cutting out meat, or adopting a Mediterranean diet (high in fish, olive oil, and vegetables, and low in meat and saturated fat), though scientists don’t know exactly why this helps. In a separate study, Finnish researchers found that a vegan diet changed the gut microbiome, and that this change was linked to an improvement in arthritis symptoms.
It seems quite possible that a human body is not as much an individual as it is a farm. :)
A Follow up on Healthy Eating (Plus Yoga) - Art of Memory 20 Oct 2021
[…] recently mentioned that I’ve been on a healthier diet again. I thought I would write a little bit more about improving my health. It’s a little bit […]
Eve 20 Oct 2021
i can't continue dieting without meat, is there some solution to insert meat in this great diet plan? Thanks Josh...
Josh Cohen 20 Oct 2021
This is not a diet plan that I am recommending to people. I'm just writing about my own personal experimentations. :)
grasya 20 Oct 2021
the food pictures makes me hungry :D.. had the time to browse around your blog and your lifestyle seems interesting ^_^