Diet 101: Intro (Balancing Macros, Cutting Allergens/Inflammatories, Going Organic & Nutrient-Dense)
Updated: Jun 26
Hello everyone, Drew here, health & nutrition coach and personal trainer. I’m here hanging out in the kitchen, thinking it’d be a good idea if I shared with you the basics of my evidence-based approach to healthy nutrition. This is a really big topic, so I’ve decided to do a series of short videos and articles that cover some of the essentials, and with today’s video and article I’d like to go over some of the underlying principles that form the foundation of this healthy nutritional approach.
Whether you’re a person in the midst of a health crisis or someone battling a chronic condition, this series is for you. Even if you are a relatively healthy person looking to prevent future illness or if you’re an athlete looking to optimize health and performance or even if you’re a healthcare professional looking to increase your knowledge base- this series is for you. If you’re eager to learn, if you’re ready for a positive change and are open to a taking a smart, holistic, integrative, personalized, evidence-based approach to get there, I’m confident the information found in this series will be used to propel you to a significantly higher level of health and well-being.
I should mention that the nutritional approach I advocate for works best when executed within a smart holistic approach.
Holistic here is merely a synonym for comprehensive healthcare, which implies that we want to consider all the primary areas that have a significant impact on our physical health. This includes psychological factors like spiritual, mental and emotional health as well as social and relational health areas, in addition to more overt physical areas like sleep, exercise, physical activity, ergonomics, nutrition, hygiene, environmental health, sexual health, drug use and medical & dental interventions. The obvious wisdom of this kind of approach is growing in popularity, not only among consumers but also among healthcare professionals and researchers.
More and more scientific journal articles like this one, from the January 2017 edition of RAND Health Quarterly, are highlighting the benefits of a smart, holistic, comprehensive approach to individual and public health. The authors of the RAND article state the obvious- “Because health is a function of more than medical care, solutions to U.S. health problems must encompass more than reforms to health care systems.” [1-7]
A smart integrative approach involves utilizing the safest, most effective, most patient-appropriate diagnostic and interventional tools from both conventional AND alternative medicine. As with a smart holistic approach, a smart integrative approach is more and more being recognized as the obvious gold standard approach for healthcare.
This 2018 review from the Cureus Journal of Medical Science argues that a smart integrative approach is vital if the American healthcare system is to be effective. The article goes on to say that “the benefits of integrative medicine are unsurprising” and that conventional care often “does not necessarily address the complexity of healing or palliative treatment necessary to fully abate… symptoms.” [8-12]
A quick disclaimer before we start discussing nutrition. I am not a licensed physician.
European and American physicians receive, on average, only 20-25 hours of formal nutritional education during their 11-15 years of medical training. [13-14]
As for me, I’ve worked as a certified health coach since 2010 and as a certified personal trainer since 2011. In the past 12 years I estimate that I’ve spent close to 5,000 hours studying nutrition. I’m probably guilty of studying nutrition a little too much!
I should mention that with this series I’m focusing primarily on foods and beverages. I may mention a few nutritional supplements, such as protein powders and fatty acid supplements, but otherwise I’ll be sticking to relatively common foods & beverages.
Are you ready? Ok, let’s talk nutrition…
First up, let’s look at macronutrients, as having a basic understanding of macronutrients is one of the keys to truly taking control of your nutrition, which plays an incredibly important role in your overall health.
There are 5 functional macronutrients: water, fiber, protein, dietary fats & carbohydrates. Every food & beverage out there can be categorized based on its macronutrient profile. These categories can be broken down as follows: no & low calorie items, high protein items, high dietary fat items, high simple carb items, high complex carb items, and “combination” items, where the food item’s macronutrient ratio for proteins, fats & carbs is closer to 1:1 for at least 2 of those macronutrients. In this series, I’ll be doing videos discussing healthy foods and beverages from each of these categories, starting with no & low calorie items. There are a few things we need to cover before we start talking about specific beverages & foods…
First, I want you to forget about calorie counting. Water, fiber, proteins, fats and carbs all display incredibly unique biological actions in the body. Assigning a calorie or energy value to these macronutrients is a gross oversimplification of how they’re used by the body. In other words, not every macronutrient is used for “energy.” For instance, proteins and amino acids are used for cellular and tissue repair and immune system support. Dietary fats and fatty acids are often a secondary energy source and are vital in maintaining the tissues of the nervous system and skin, while carbohydrates, which are broken down to glycogen and glucose by the body, tend to be the primary sources of fuel under normal circumstances.
This 2017 study highlights why simply reducing caloric intake often doesn’t equate to short or long term healthy weight loss. The authors here note a Cochrane review that concluded that “overweight and obese lost more weight when on a low-glycemic-load diet,” which is a diet that aims to keep blood glucose and insulin levels down while the body shifts to burning stored fat for fuel. Other studies in the last 5 years have shown significant differences in weight loss and other important metabolic markers between groups where the caloric intake is equivalent, but the ratio of dietary fiber, proteins, fats and carbohydrates are different. [15-19]
Because both proteins and carbohydrates are assigned 4 calories per gram whereas dietary fat is assigned 9, “calorie counting” naturally becomes a low dietary fat approach to nutrition.
The demonization of dietary fats (including natural saturated fats and cholesterol) was formally backed by the US government via the 1977 senate committee report Dietary Goals for the United States, and was further promoted via the 1980 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which has been released every 5 years since. This government sponsored low fat, low cholesterol, low salt, high carbohydrate, high starch, high grain dietary approach (which didn’t even carry restrictions for added sugars before 2015) has had ABSOLUTELY DISASTROUS results in the U.S. over the last 35-40 years. Thankfully, this clear and epic failure of industry-sponsored “science” and public policy hasn’t gone unnoticed by researchers.
This 2017 study in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology gives several examples of scientifically outdated nutritional policies, and points out that for “long-term risk of obesity, growing evidence indicates that food quality may be more relevant than calorie-counting” and that past guidelines “are generally not based on sound evidence, are confusing and impractical for the public, and invite industry manipulation and marketing of unhealthful foods.” [20-26]
Calories and macronutrients aside, with this series we’ll be focusing on relatively HYPO-allergenic, NON-inflammatory foods and beverages. Preservatives like MSG, as well as artificial sweeteners, soy products, shellfish, hydrogenated oils & industrial trans fats, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, wheat and gluten-containing products, bleached or bromated flours, many cow’s milk products and GMOs are all items I generally recommend people try to eliminate from their diet (or at least limit their intake of).
Several studies have examined the topic of food allergies, including this 2018 review from the journal Current Gastroenterology Reports, which looked at data on common allergens like soy, shellfish, wheat, peanuts, farm-raised fish and non-organic eggs & cow’s milk products. [27-28]
The prevalence of food allergies in the U.S. has increased 10 FOLD over the past 35 years. Insurance claims for anaphylactic food reaction rose an incredible 377% from 2007 to 2016, and food allergies and food sensitivities now affect more than 50 million Americans. 
Of course it’s not only allergy-related dietary items that have contributed to our obesity epidemic & national health crisis.
This 2014 review from the journal Current Obesity Reports highlights the fact that more than 4,000 novel ingredients have entered the food supply since the industrial revolution. The review also points to several studies that have linked dozens of food-found ingredients and additives to obesity, including trans fats, HFCS, sucrose and white sugar, sodium benzoate, MSG, BPA, PCBs, flame retardants, dioxins, heavy metals, aflatoxins, hormones & antibiotics given to animals , artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, chemical solvents and organochlorine pesticides. 
Thirdly, I do encourage people to choose organic versions of their foods & beverages whenever possible. Certain items like water and salt don’t fall under the organic umbrella, but for all others, choosing organic generally means a GMO-free product, a more hypo-allergenic product, a more nutrient-dense product (due in part to organic farming’s effect on soil mineral levels), and a product with less pesticide residue. Organically raised animal products also contain fewer residues from antibiotics and hormones, the use of which is prolific in conventional animal husbandry.
This 2017 review from the journal Environmental Health emphasized “several documented and likely human health benefits associated with organic food production.” A 2016 review comparing organic versus conventional agricultural methods over 40 years found that organic outperformed conventional on 10 of 12 key metrics, and a 2014 study found that “animal studies and in vitro studies clearly indicate the benefits of consumption of organically produced food” versus conventionally produced food. [31-33]
With pesticides, we’re talking about chemicals like glyphosate, which is the principle herbicide found in Roundup. Alarmingly, the use of glyphosate-based herbicides increased 100 FOLD from 1974 to 2014, and in recent years the U.S. has seen more than a MILLION pounds of glyphosate applied to farmlands every year.
Several studies over the past 5 years have sounded the alarm on glyphosate’s danger, including this 2016 study from the British Medical Journal that warned of the outdated & potentially dangerous nature of the current safety standards for glyphosate. Other studies have shown that glyphosate adversely affects human gut flora, and still others have labeled glyphosate and other Roundup-based ingredients like POEA as likely cancer causing agents. [34-37]
And fourthly, with this series we’ll be looking at a selection of foods from each macronutrient category, while focusing on foods that tend to be more nutrient dense (that is, those that have a higher concentration of the 28 essential vitamins & minerals). There will be plenty of foods I don’t mention that are perfectly healthy. Again, I’m not doing a comprehensive review of absolutely every food or beverage you might find in an American grocery store.
One website that contains a ton of collated vitamin and mineral-related research is the Micronutrient Information Center at the Linus Pauling Institute, which is currently held at Oregon State University. For those who don’t know, Linus Pauling was a 2-time Nobel Prize winner who make incredible contributions to the field of nutritional science. Truth be told, it seems like some of the more outstanding and controversial research findings have been blunted by those who run the LPI, and honestly I don’t find the site as useful as I once did. 
Well everyone, that wraps today’s topic. Let’s do a quick summary recap…
1.Understanding macronutrients (even more so than calories or food groups) is key to understanding nutrition. One of the main goals here is working toward a healthy, balanced intake of water, fiber, proteins, fats and net carbs.
2.Removing or limiting the hyper-allergenic, pro-inflammatory items in your diet is an important step in optimizing nutrition and overall health. Among other things, this often means developing a habit of reading ingredient labels.
3.Choosing organic foods and beverages, as well as wild-caught fish, pasture-raised poultry & eggs and grass fed beef, improves food quality and reduces your exposure to potentially problematic additives, contaminants and pesticides.
4.Choosing foods that are high in essential & therapeutic vitamins & minerals (i.e. nutrient dense foods) is another way to ensure that your diet is helping to supply your body’s cells and tissues with ALL of the nutrients needed to heal, prevent illness and optimize health (I'll be covering foods like these in this series).
Well that’s it! I hope you learned something helpful. For the next article and video in this series I’m covering NO & LOW CALORIE BEVERAGES, so keep your eyes peeled for that. If you’re interested in holistic health and nutrition coaching or personal training, reach out to me. I’d love to help. Until next time...
1 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568157/ (2017; “The goal of the (proposed) framework is to convey a holistic, integrated perspective on what it takes to achieve population-level health and well-being,” and “Because health is a function of more than medical care, solutions to U.S. health problems must encompass more than reforms to health care systems.”
2 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28044221/ (2017; “HIM (holistic integrative medicine) is the inevitable and necessary direction for the future development of medicine”)
3 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5508938/ (2017; wellness encompass 8 interdependent dimensions)
4 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5738174/ (2017; systems healthcare, a holistic paradigm; “To integrate systems approaches into clinical practice, emerging and current healthcare workers must be exposed to new and different training programs. Training would involve scientists, clinicians, and other providers who embrace holistic approaches that encompass care for the whole person (mind, body, and spirit) and incorporate these with information technologies. Fully-integrated systems training would therefore involve a broad range of healthcare professionals, including nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, nutritionists, and licensed providers of alternative therapies (naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists, yoga instructors and massage therapists), providing each with foundational knowledge about each others’ disciplines and to enable ideal education on behalf of patients. This integrated, trans-disciplinary approach to training is also seen in the biopsychosocial model of disease, wherein dimensions of behavior and social milieu are recognized along with biology. Ultimately, such training would lead to collaborative team-based coordinated care that will best serve our patients.”)
5 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4441185/ (2015; a smart holistic approach is the most effective approach to healthcare)
6 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004930/ (2009; study on Canadian healthcare system)
7 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221519/ (2003; holistic approach using 5 core competencies for providers)
8 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6173273/ (2018; the integrative “approach to healthcare incorporates a patient’s mind, spirituality, and sense of community into the healing process. Integrative medicine has been typically well received and the demand has been steadily increasing in primary US hospitals.”… “The benefits of integrative medicine are unsurprising.”
9 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4756775/ (2016; integrative medicine and health “reaffirms the importance of the relationship between practitioner and patient, focuses on the whole person, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapeutic and lifestyle approaches, health-care professional and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.”
10 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4630700/ (2015; “there is great global interest in an integrated approach to health”…. “In the USA, Public Health Services established National Center for Complementary and Alternate Medicine (NCCAM) in 1991. Over 50 US academic institutions have complementary medicine programs funded by NCCAM.”
11 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4623985/ (2015; IM “is a philosophy of health and healing that seeks to place patients as the preeminent players in health management, disease prevention, and injury recovery. There is an emphasis of patient responsibility, which includes a holistic approach that merges allopathic with complementary medicine.”… “Consensus is building that our current health care system is unsustainable and ineffective. Therefore, new paradigms need to be explored.”…”Conventional medicine is not meeting patients' needs. It is becoming a significant cost to society. Health care costs are >17% of the gross national product (GNP) in the United States and are expected to rise to nearly 20% by 2024. In addition, death by iatrogenic causes is the third leading cause of death in the United States, with nearly 50% of the drug errors and adverse reactions being preventable.”
12 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4048459/ (2014; “The diversity of health care settings with a CAM program is evidence of the growing appreciation of CAM relevance and effectiveness in a broad range of healthcare contexts.”
13 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4042309/ (2010 study on U.S. physicians receiving ~20 hrs of formal nutritional education in 11-15 years of medical training)
14 www.nature.com/articles/ejcn201475 (2014; European docs only receive 24 hrs of nutrition education during med school)
15 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6163457/ (2018 study on optimal, sustainable approaches for weight loss, including different outcomes when adjusting macronutrient ratios)
16 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5639963/ (2017 study “Reducing Calorie Intake May Not Help You Lose Body Weight”; high protein meals tend to solicit better weight loss results; low glycemic load diets (which reduced carb intake) showed better weight loss results)
17 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4424768/ (2015; higher fat diets [>30% of ttl calories], lower glycemic index diets & high protein diets led to better weight loss success than lower fat, higher carb, lower protein diets)
18 https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-6-44 (2007 study on history of calorie & “calorie confusion”)
19 https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/136/12/2957/4663943 (2006 study on history of the calorie in nutrition)
20 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6132234/ (2017; examples of Scientifically Outdated Policies; the guidelines “are generally not based on sound evidence, are confusing and impractical for the public, and invite industry manipulation and marketing of unhealthful foods”)
21 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542158/ (2018; a history of the war against sugar; talks about 50s-70s debate of sugar vs fat and how the anti-fat movement won out)
22 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5998735/ (2018 BMJ article; walks thru history of nutrition science; 1910s to current/2018; “For weight loss and glycemic control, decades of emphasis on low fat diets were questioned by the results of a series of prospective cohort studies, metabolic feeding studies, and randomized trials, which showed that foods rich in healthy fats produced benefit, while foods rich in starch and sugar caused harm”)
23 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK469839/ (2017; outline of the dietary guidelines from 1980 to 2015; discusses key points of emphasis of each)
24 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6129189/ (2015 article on brief history of Dietary Guidelines 1980-2015)
25 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3024813/ (2010; “Many public health recommendations are not truly evidence based… Dietary fat recommendations are a case in point, because they may have led to significant and harmful unintended consequences”)
26 https://academic.oup.com/jhmas/article/63/2/139/772615 (2008 article on Low Fat ideology & its effects on America)
27 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5940350/ (2018 review of food allergies; includes discussion of soy, shellfish, wheat, peanuts, eggs, milk, tree nuts, fish)
28 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5123910/ (2016 review of food allergies; includes discussion of soy, shellfish, wheat, peanuts, eggs, milk, tree nuts, fish)
30 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4101898/ (2014; food additives, contaminants and other food-based contributors to obesity)
31 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5658984/ (2017 review of research on organic agriculture, food and its effects on human health; “this review emphasizes several documented and likely human health benefits associated with organic food production”… “Suggestive evidence indicates that organic food consumption may reduce the risk of allergic disease and of overweight and obesity”)
32 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27249193/ (2016 review comparing organic & conventional farming methods over the past 40 years; 12 main metrics were used to compare the 2; total costs were similar while yield slightly (10-20%) lower in organic; for the other 10 metrics organic outscored conv., sometimes markedly so. Also important to note that in extreme weather conditions (esp drought), organic often outperforms conventional as it pertains to yield)
33 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4025038/ (2014; “Both animal studies and in vitro studies clearly indicate the benefits of consumption of organically produced food instead of that conventionally produced”)
34 https://jech.bmj.com/content/71/6/613 (2016 study saying glyphosate safety standards are outdated & possibly dangerous)
35 www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1383574218300887 (2019 study on glyphosate)
36 www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969717330279 (2018 study on glyphosate negatively affects gut flora in humans)
37 https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-016-0117-0 (2016 study found half-life of glyphosate in water & soil longer than previously thought, and human exposures rising)