The 7 Commandments of Healthy Eating: What the World’s Healthiest Diets All Have in Common

BY CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP M.D.

The 7 Commandments of Healthy Eating: What the World’s Healthiest Diets All Have in Commonthe healthiest diets in the world all have a few things in common—they emphasize specific patterns of healthy eating and are centered on regular consumption of healthy foods with proven benefits for the mind and body.

Eat Well and Tend Your Inner Garden

True health-care reform starts in your kitchen, not in Washington.

— Anonymous

Though we are far more than what we eat, our bodies run best on the highest-grade fuel possible. When you pull up to a gas pump, there are three choices: regular, medium grade, and premium. All cars run best on premium. It burns better and leaves less residue. It’s the same with your body. It runs best on a diet of high-quality, healthy food.

The food you eat contains the building blocks that become your tissues and organs. When I was doing my surgical training and in the operating room regularly, I was astounded by the variations in the quality of people’s skin and tissue based on the quality of their diets. Some had resilient, strong connective tissue—these were the ones eating the healthiest diets. In others—even as young as 18—the tissue was so weak and of such poor quality that you could actually separate it with your fingers while making an abdominal incision or moving different organs out of the way. The healthy tissue required a scissors or knife to separate it. One of my professors called the weak stuff “taco tissue,” meaning that it resulted mostly from a fast-food diet high in simple carbohydrates without enough fresh produce and protein from truly healthy foods.

When skilled body workers touch people to stretch their fascia or massage their muscles, the first thing they can tell is the quality of the individual’s tissue and hence how healthy their diet is. And the quality of that tissue is vastly improved by eating an organic, whole-food diet—what most doctors consider the healthiest diet. Quality whole food—grown in soil with a high nutrient content—is vital not only for maintaining optimal health but also for recovering from illness. I like to say that eating whole organically grown food is like breast-feeding from Mother Earth herself—its the healthiest diet possible. Just as there is no substitute for breast milk as the optimal food for babies, there is no substitute for food that is directly grown on the land or in the sea.

What is the Healthiest Diet?

There is no shortage of books out there telling you what you should eat and which diet is the healthiest. The problem is that they often contain conflicting messages. For a couple of decades, the virtues of low-fat, vegan eating were extolled. Then there were and are the raw-food diet enthusiasts who say we should never subject our food to heat lest the enzymes be ruined. Now the pendulum has swung back. Fat is no longer the enemy of health that it has been made out to be for the past 40 years. The new enemy is refined sugar.

I’ve been on the front lines of the diet and nutrition movements for decades. I’ve witnessed how powerful food is as medicine. I’ve seen people experience dramatic healing by simply changing their diets. And I’ve personally tried every ‘healthy diet’ known to humanity—from low-fat vegan, to macrobiotic, to Atkins, to ketogenic. I was raised on organic, healthy foods and good supplements, long before it was popular. I’ve read nearly every health-food book, cookbook, and diet book ever written. And I’ve helped thousands of women become healthy, make peace with their weight, and learn to enjoy delicious food. Much of my interest in food and nutrition is, in addition to my role as a doctor, also the result of a decades-long battle with my weight—always thinking I was 10 to 20 pounds overweight. And I am far from alone in this.

The bottom line with healthy diets is that one size doesn’t fit all.

Different diets work for different people. Some people thrive on low-fat, vegan diets; others gain weight on them or get depressed.

So you have to experiment a bit with your diet to see what works for you. That said, there are a few tried-and-true rules for healthy eating that apply to everyone.

Rule 1: Follow the 80–20 Rule

If you’re well, you want your diet to be mostly whole, natural foods, and mostly plants, 80 percent of the time. I’m talking vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes—preferably organic. Animal food should be a condiment. And when you do eat it, animal protein should come in the form of grass-fed dairy, healthy meats like free-range chickens, grass-fed beef, naturally raised pork, and wild game to keep your diet as healthy as possible. Most people need a little animal protein in their diet to feel their best. Some don’t do well with dairy products or eggs. Almost everyone would do well to limit grains.

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The other 20 percent of the time, let yourself off the hook. Join the party and enjoy. Don’t stress about your diet or what you’re eating. Like when you step off a plane that didn’t serve a thing, you’re starving, and you can’t pass up the first bite of something you can find. Even a Cinnabon. Don’t beat yourself up for being human. The healthiest diet is the one which includes a bit of fun every now and then and compassion for yourself and your needs.

You have thousands of years of dietary evolution running through your veins, and the main thrust of that force is for you to survive—by eating the sweetest, fattiest food you can possibly find. The kind that will get you through a long winter or long period of starvation. Just don’t do it all the time if you want to have the healthiest diet possible. You’ll probably find, though, that as time goes on, you’re not going to be tempted even a little by junk food. It will simply leave your experience.

Luckily, it’s getting easier and easier to eat organic, healthy food because of farmers’ markets, farm-to-table restaurants, and companies like Thrive market, which delivers deeply discounted organic packaged food right to your door—in record time. Since organic produce can be expensive, a good alternative is to check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, which were created to give people insight on which vegetables are grown with the most and least pesticides and harmful chemicals. If you can’t buy all organic produce, shop smart and opt to spend a bit more on organic food for the items on the Dirty Dozen list. You can find the full list at www.ewg.org/foodnews.

intuitive-eating-what-food-cravings-are-telling-you-2with all the different opinions out there about healthy eating it can be confusing to know which diet is best for you. thats why distilling the essence and wisdom of all the healthiest diets into core principles (or commandments) can help you cut through the confusion and find out what is the healthiest foods and lifestyle for your body.

When trying to eat healthy, planning is key. Stock your cupboards and fridge with good, healthy produce. Spend Sunday—or your day of choice—prepping healthy food so it’s easy to grab and go. You need to have good food easily available at all times, otherwise it becomes easier to get a takeout pizza, which breaks down into sugar very quickly (believe it or not) and is just not a good dietary staple, especially if you are trying to eat the healthiest diet possible.

There are dozens of books that can help you stick to a healthy diet with sacrificing flavor or variety. I recommend everything and anything by Kris Carr or by Mark Hyman. Both Anthony William’s Medical Medium and David Ludwig’s Always Hungry? have some great information. Also David Perlmutter’s The Grain Brain Cookbook and William Davis’s Wheat Belly. Joan Borysenko’s The PlantPlus Diet Solution is a favorite of mine because it addresses the wide range of individual differences when it comes to diet. All of these books contain delicious recipes. Yes, there is conflicting material in them, but there is also a huge amount of overlap! They’re great resources to get you started on the quest to discover the healthiest diet thats best for your body type.

Rule 2: Avoid Addictive Food Additives

Most processed, packaged foods are loaded with highly addictive substances designed to make you eat too much. The biggest perpetrator of this is monosodium glutamate, or MSG. MSG is found in many processed foods and is called by many names (see the list below), perhaps the most confusing of which is “natural flavorings.” Eighty percent of all natural flavorings—even those found in foods at health-food stores—contain MSG. This is because the United States allows natural flavors to include protein hydrolysates, which can contain up to 20 percent MSG by weight.

Don’t trust something simply because it is labeled as “natural” or even “organic.” To eat a truly healthy diet these days you have to really educate yourself about ingredients.

MSG in its many guises dramatically increases food cravings and binge eating because it is an excitotoxin that stimulates the brain to keep eating, whether the food is healthy or not. In labs it’s actually used to create obesity in mice. Sadly it does the same thing in humans. This substance also can cause headaches, sweating, rapid heartbeat, chest pain, nausea, and a number of other reactions.

MSG in Its Many Guises

If you see any of the following ingredients listed on the label of something you’re considering buying, put it back on the shelf because its most definitely not a healthy food and has no place in your diet! It’s got MSG—or a replacement ingredient that your body reacts to in the same way.

+ monosodium glutamate
+ glutamate
+ hydrolyzed vegetable protein
+ yeast extract
+ gelatin
+ protein hydrolysates
+ natural flavorings
+ Senomyx (an MSG replacer)

Virtually 100 percent of conventionally produced snack foods in the middle aisles of the grocery store (even many of the foods in health food stores) are loaded with MSG. This is why you can’t eat just one—and I’m not talking one piece here.

You consume the entire bag—and then you want another one.

Even though you know you’ll feel awful the next day. Big Food knows this. And they know how to keep you hooked. Save yourself the trouble of trying to stop by not starting in the first place.

Another perpetrator sabotaging the best of intentions in eating a healthy diet in packaged foods is partially hydrogenated fats, which prolong shelf life dramatically. The problem is that all hydrogenated fats are chemically made in a lab and interfere with cell membrane and brain function. They are not found in nature (and therefore shouldn’t be part of a healthy diet!), and they interfere with normal cellular function. They are also known carcinogens.

Other addictive and harmful food additives include the artificial sweeteners aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin. The list of illnesses that have been associated with consuming these substances is too long to give in full, but it includes conditions such as hyperactivity, seizures, headaches, panic attacks, hallucinations, nausea, diarrhea, and so many others. It’s also possible that these sweeteners promote obesity and associated problems such as diabetes. Clearly they have no place in a healthy diet.

They do this by messing with the balance of bacteria in your gut.

Basically, it’s bad stuff, so avoid it.

Because packaged foods can be so detrimental to your health, the best bet is to read labels and truly educate yourself about which foods are healthy and which are not. But there are also some rules of thumb that can help guide your buying:

+ The saltier a processed food is, the more likely it is to contain MSG.

+ The more processed a food is, the more likely it is to contain MSG. Virtually all conventional powdered soup mixes are loaded with MSG. Same with bouillon cubes.

+ The more ingredients in a packaged food, the more likely MSG is present.

+ If something is sweet but not heavy on calories, it is likely to have artificial sweeteners.

+ Light, diet, and sugar-free foods likely contain artificial sweeteners.

+ The longer the list of ingredients, the higher the chances that a food isn’t good for you.

Rule 3: Get Smart about Gluten

Everywhere you look you find foods made with wheat. But wheat is not what it used to be. In his book Wheat Belly, cardiologist William Davis points out that the wheat we’re eating today is a far cry from the healthy, unhybridized wheat of 50 years ago; it has been genetically modified almost beyond recognition. Wheat, and most other gluten-containing grains, also contain a protein called gliadin—along with others—which is toxic to many cells in the body. When gliadin is ingested, some of it inevitably gets into the bloodstream. The immune system then marks it for destruction, but because gliadin is very much like thyroid tissue, that immune response can adversely affect the thyroid gland as well as the gliadin. This sets up an inflammatory response that destroys thyroid tissue and works against the benefits of an otherwise healthy diet. People with thyroid problems, including Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, should avoid gluten completely. Not just a little. Completely.

I have a good friend who has had a long history of hypothyroidism. She followed a diet plan with no gluten for a month and lost 20 pounds. She also felt fantastic. On a family vacation, she ate a muffin. And gained 10 pounds. Within two days. She has a Ph.D. in nutrition and is a nurse. She didn’t make this up. That one muffin set her system back for months and sabotaged her efforts to maintain a healthy diet. She learned that she has zero tolerance for gluten. Many other people have found the same thing, despite it being an otherwise healthy food.

We used to think that gluten sensitivity was very rare, and we diagnosed it only in those with true celiac disease. But with all the changes in wheat and in our diets, and the vast amount of refined flour that is consumed daily by so many—in the form of pretzels, crackers, pasta, and bread—I’d say that the majority of people don’t tolerate gluten well at all and should eliminate grains from their diets as much as possible—that is if they are seeking to maintain the healthiest of diets. Doing so very often eliminates things such as joint pain, excess weight, sinus problems, and allergies of all kinds—and that’s just for starters. Neurologist David Perlmutter has shown, unequivocally, how bad grains are for the brain. His groundbreaking book Grain Brain tells the whole story.

Many people have completely cured their epilepsy by following a grain-free diet. Grain consumption is also associated with dementia down the road. Part of this is from the fact that grain products are rapidly converted into sugar. And we now know that Alzheimer’s disease is actually type 3 diabetes. That’s right—it’s related to high blood sugar.

While you may be tempted to go out and get a test—because you just love bread and can’t imagine giving it up from your diet—keep in mind that gluten intolerance isn’t going to show up on standard medical testing. So don’t waste your time or money trying to find out whether you’re gluten intolerant. Trust me on this: Just eliminate all grains from your diet for two weeks. Then add some back and see what happens.

There are some gluten-free grains, like kamut and quinoa, that are delicious and genuinely healthy foods to boot. Just use them in moderate amounts, not as staple foods. You can also enjoy pastas made with beans, such as organic black bean spaghetti. A whole new world of flavor and health opens up when you eliminate gluten and it can dramatically improve your health.

However, a word of caution about gluten-free products. Responding to market pressure, many companies are now making gluten-free foods in which they substitute potato starch or tapioca for the wheat to try and make it healthier. I finally read the label on some gluten-free bread I was truly enjoying, which claimed to be made from millet and chia seeds. Here’s what the label said: water, tapioca starch, brown rice flour, millet, egg whites, corn syrup, cane sugar syrup, potato starch, dry molasses, cornstarch, and a bunch of other chemicals. No wonder I liked it so much! It was kind of like eating candy. The bread was made primarily from sugar—or foods that quickly became sugar.

I now mostly stay away from gluten-free breads and baked goods of all kinds unless they are made from genuinely healthy ingredients. Just like my bread, many of these foods are packed with sugar. So don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because it’s a gluten-free cookie it’s good for you. It isn’t. There are some healthy gluten-free options, but many of them aren’t found at a regular grocery store. I have discovered a delicious locally baked bread to eat now and again. Check out these ingredients: unbleached white flour, water, stone ground rye flour, water, yeast, caraway seed, and salt. That’s it. This is clearly the healthier dietary choice all around.

Rule 4: Not All Sugar Is Bad

We are all born with a natural sweet tooth. Breast milk is essentially healthy sugar water, with all kinds of amazing immune properties added in by Mother Nature. The same force of love that gave us our sweet tooth has also provided a healthy and natural way to satisfy our cravings and still maintain a healthy diet: fruit. Take a moment and think about how symbolic that word is in everyday language: The endeavor bore fruit. Be fruitful and multiply. The fruit of the womb.

Yes, I know that there is sugar in fruit. But it’s not the same as the concentrated refined sugar that’s added to everything from soups to soft drinks, creating unhealthy foods not found in nature. Healthy fruits contains all kinds of antioxidant nutrients and fiber that are good for us. Anthony William points out that the sugar in fruit leaves our stomachs very quickly and goes to our cells to be burned as fuel, which is what we are seeking on a healthy diet.

In his book Medical Medium, Anthony has an entire eye-opening chapter on the health benefits of fruit. He also extols the virtues of—wait for it—potatoes. Not the “loaded” baked potatoes with sour cream, bacon bits, and butter. Just the nice out-of-the-ground potatoes found around the world, especially the small, organic red-skinned or multicolored ones. Until I heard Anthony’s take on fruit and potatoes and their health benefits, I had been avoiding both—except for berries and an occasional apple—for years because of my concerns about sugar. It turns out the healthiest diets can integrate these foods with issue.

My intellectual knowledge about “all sugar is bad and makes you gain weight” was so ingrained that I was actually afraid to try the detox cleanse in Anthony’s book. That cleanse is basically raw fruits and vegetables for 28 days. But I finally did a version of it, and it turned out to be very satisfying. I say that I did a version of it because I couldn’t tolerate the coldness of that health food during a Maine winter—so I just baked some potatoes, onions, and sweet potatoes for my evening meal and enjoyed this with a salad containing lots of greens dressed with a delicious avocado, orange juice, and cilantro dressing. Other than that potato, I ate raw all day. For short periods of time this is one of the healthiest diets you can embark on. Each morning started with a smoothie of frozen healthy fruits like wild Maine blueberries, bananas, peaches, organic strawberries or raspberries, apples, and maybe some healthy foods and vegetables like spinach or barley green powder. And a couple of dates. With a splash of lemon juice.

I found this way of healthy eating so satisfying and delicious that I didn’t want to stop—and I haven’t. I just add some occasional healthy meats like fish or chicken now. And dishes made with beans. All my former cravings for sugar, caffeine, baked goods, and grains just disappeared. I found that Anthony was right: When you let nature feed you the fruits she has chosen for you, your body says, “Yes. Thank you.” My morning superfood smoothies have now become a staple of my diet. They also get rave reviews when I serve them to my guests who often incorporate them into their healthy diets.

Now that you know that fruit is not your enemy, what about other sugars and sweeteners? Some are okay. Some are not. A little honey or maple syrup now and again is okay. Also date sugar. As for the noncaloric sweeteners, it’s best to opt for a little stevia. Emphasis on a little in our to keep your diet as healthy as possible.

Stevia is all natural, derived directly from the stevia plant, and has no adverse effects. Its sweet leaves have been used for centuries as part of many of the healthiest diets from ancient cultures, and over the past decade or so, all kinds of products containing stevia have become available, including the soda known as Zevia, sweetened with Truvia, a stevia extract. It’s also an easy health food to grow in your own garden, which is a plus because you can control exactly how it’s produced.

You may be asking why you have to stick with just a little of it if it’s got so many benefits.

While discussing stevia with endocrinologist and obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig, author of Always Hungry? Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells and Lose Weight Permanently, and his wife, whole-foods chef Dawn, I learned that in many individuals, the intense sweetness of stevia may be a culprit in preventing weight loss. Fat cells have “taste buds” on them as part of monitoring their environment. The mere taste of sweetness may increase insulin production, which signals fat cells to continue to store fat. Many people are dieting to lose weight and so this can be counterproductive, even on an otherwise very healthy diet.

After I met with the Ludwigs, they suggested that I eliminate stevia—and all other sweeteners, including healthy fruits—for two solid weeks so that my taste buds could reset. I realized that I was pretty addicted to sweetness, so this presented a challenge. To help me, they suggested that I add more healthy fats to my diet to increase satiety. I reluctantly agreed to say good-bye to sweets, and after two weeks, my taste buds had reset dramatically. Fruit tasted incredibly sweet to me—far sweeter than ever before. And my desire for stevia in my iced tea and coffee decreased dramatically. I found this to be an excellent way to reset your body’s eating habits to be more healthy and balanced.

I now use only one or two drops—a lot less than the entire dropperful I used to use. And I am healthier as a result. Plus my sweet cravings are gone.

Other than the relatively healthy sweeteners listed earlier, it’s best to avoid sugar because eating it spikes your blood sugar levels, which is bad for your health. The damage that comes from repeatedly spiking your blood sugar is slow and inexorable. It is the baseline cause of cellular inflammation, which contributes to all sorts of health problems even on the healthiest diets.

Keep in mind that diets that are low in fat are rarely the kind that keep blood sugar stable. Diets that cut out fat are not very satisfying because they just don’t taste good. In order to improve the taste and satisfaction, a lot of sugar is usually added, which is counterproductive to maintaining a healthy diet and eating habits. Just like with gluten-free products.

Rule 5: Know the Skinny on Fat

Fat is not the enemy it has been made out to be. We need healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado, seeds and nuts, and, yes, even butter. Saturated animal fat is okay too if the animals had a good life, were grass-fed, and were not raised on antibiotics. Why do we need fat? Because our brains and the cover on all our nerves are mostly fat. If we don’t supplement the fat in our bodies, it degrades and the organs that depend on it lose their ability to function well. This is why people on very-low-fat diets tend to get depressed. It’s like their wiring gets frayed. Healthy fats have a very important role to play in the healthiest diet.

When Dr. William Davis, the author of Wheat Belly, was on my Hay House radio show Flourish!, I asked him how he went from being an invasive cardiologist (doing angiograms and stents) to teaching about health. He started with his own personal experience, explaining that he went to a cardiology conference and listened to a well-known researcher extol the virtues of a low-fat, vegan diet, explaining that this was the best form of healthy eating. The talk was so impressive that he decided to follow this type of low-fat diet—and he gained 30 pounds and became diabetic.

He quickly realized that fat wasn’t the enemy, and this eventually led him to the research on wheat, which became the basis of Wheat Belly, which links blood-sugar-spiking wheat to his ill health. The fat that has been demonized over the past 40 years isn’t associated with cholesterol and heart disease—it all goes back to the inflammation caused by unstable blood sugar levels. As I mentioned in the last section, low-fat diets are often not very satisfying. But if you add healthy fats to your diet, you not only feel satisfied but you support the health of your brain and nervous system.

Friendly Fats

Incorporating more healthy fats into your diet will give you the necessary ingredients to maintain a happy mood and good brain health. Here are some of my favorite healthy fats that you should eat regularly if you want to have the healthiest diet possible:

+ Avocado and avocado oil
+ Coconut oil
+ Flaxseed oil
+ Grass-fed butter
+ Mayonnaise made with avocado oil
+ Organic extra virgin olive oil
+ Organic nut butters of all kinds

The one type of fat you absolutely must avoid is partially hydrogenated fat, like the kind found in many packaged baked goods and in margarine. This fat is not found anywhere in nature and has no place in a healthy diet.

It is a fake fat that doesn’t get rancid. It is used in many prepackaged products because it extends shelf life. But do you really want to eat a product that doesn’t expire until after you likely will?

Rule 6: Cultivate the Right Germs to Ward Off the Bad

This is a big one: It is crucial that each of us learn how best to tend and feed our inner garden—our gut microbiome—the trillions of cells that line our guts and live in the openings of our bodies to protect us. When our microbiome is robust and healthy, it naturally keeps germs from becoming dangerous. In fact, healthy bacteria in our bodies—including healthy probiotic bacteria in fermented foods and in a healthy gut—actually contain what are called bacteriocins, good bacteria that attack pathogenic bacteria and keep everything under control. A healthy microbiome is the very best protection against disease and is a key part of the healthiest diets known. The health of our microbiome is so crucial to brain health that David Perlmutter, author of Brain Maker, has founded an entirely new medical society to study it.

We are at a crucial moment in human history as we emerge from the antibiotic era, realizing that the “war on germs” has had some dire and unintended consequences and sabotaged our best efforts at healthy eating and living in many ways.

First and foremost is the fact that massive quantities of antibiotics are fed to livestock all over the world to make them grow bigger, faster. In fact, the majority of all antibiotics produced are for livestock. Plus, too many doctors—often caving to the demands of their misinformed patients—still prescribe antibiotics for conditions like the common cold, simply because patients have come to expect the antibiotic prescription. The end result is that we now have a global problem with superbugs—bacteria in our food supply and our bodies that are resistant to every known antibiotic out there, including the truly potent “last resort” ones. Pretty soon, the post–World War II miracle that saved so many lives and ushered in the era of modern medicine will have to undergo some radical changes.

So how do we counteract this war on bacteria? We need to eat healthy foods that are loaded with probiotics—bacteria that contribute to a healthy gut, as well as a healthy genital, urinary, and respiratory tract. Make healthy fermented foods (which contain probiotics) a regular part of your diet. Commercial yogurt often has way too much added sugar. So stick with plain yogurt and sweeten it with stevia and berries. Kefir is also good, as are sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi. The canned varieties don’t contain what you need to maintain the healthiest diets. Choose products that are in the refrigerated aisle of the grocery store and that are 100% raw/unpasteurized or make your own. There are so many good books and websites available about how to make fermented foods that you shouldn’t have a problem finding them. In addition, you might want to add a good probiotic to your daily regimen to keep your microbiome in good shape. I especially recommend additional probiotics when traveling, because the stress of travel tends to kill off healthy bacteria.

Choosing a Good Probiotic

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when searching for a probiotic to help balance your microbiome and amp up the numbers of good bacteria in your body.

Diversity of Strains: A good probiotic should contain at least two different strains of healthy bacteria, such as lactobacillus and bifidobacterium (e.g., B lactis, B bifidum, B longum). A combination of these two strains will support both the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract.

Potency: Probiotic potency is measured in CFUs (colony forming units). This figure should be listed on the label.

Five billion CFUs is the low end for a daily maintenance dose. I’d suggest looking for something more in the range of 12 billion to 50 billion CFUs. And make sure this potency is guaranteed until time of expiration.

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In addition to eating fermented food and taking a probiotic as part of your healthy eating regimen, you can add to your healthy bacteria by turning to Mother Earth herself. Eat produce right off the tree or out of the ground.

Anthony William points out that there are millions of healthy bacteria on produce right as they are harvested. If you pick it and eat it from those sources whenever you can, you’ll be seeding your ileum, a specific part of the small intestine, with healthy bacteria that go a long way to protecting your health. It may be challenging to do regularly, but if you are interested in the healthiest diet possible, it’s something you may want to consider—that is, regular trips to the farm!

Rule 7: Supplement Your Diet with the Right Stuff

In addition to probiotics, I take a number of other supplements, and I have for decades. There is absolutely no way that one can get optimal nutrition from food alone, even on the healthiest of diets. Even when you eat healthy, organic food most of the time, soils in which foods are grown have been depleted, so it’s not as nutrition-packed as it used to be. Also, food loses nutrients when it’s shipped or stored. You would have to eat enormous amounts of food to get anything close to optimal nutrient levels even on a strict healthy diet.

So here are the nutrient supplements I believe everyone needs:

A good multivitamin/mineral: Look for supplements that are NSF GMP registered and pharmaceutical grade with guaranteed potency on the label. Evaluate your supplement based on the CAPPS formula: Completeness, Absorbability, Potency, Purity, Safety. I personally use USANA products and have for years. I have toured the facility in which they are produced and know all the nutritional scientists who make them. I like them so much that I’m actually an independent USANA distributor now. But USANA isn’t the only good brand out there. I also like Metagenics. If you can’t get these or if you’re already using something and want to find out how good it is, consult the Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements by Lyle MacWilliam.

Iodine: We need around 12.5 milligrams per day which is hard to get even on a healthy diet. If you have thyroid problems, start very slowly. Maine Coast dulse seaweed is a great source. I also use a type of liquid iodine called Survival Shield. One to two dropperfuls a day (available online).

Vitamin C: Try to get 1,000–5,000 milligrams per day. I keep a large bottle of 1,000-milligram capsules of pure ascorbic acid at my house at all times. The brand I use is Pure Encapsulations. This vitamin is an über-antioxidant that is so potent at stopping infection that it was used decades ago intravenously to cure polio. Great to supplement any healthy eating plan with.

When I feel a cold coming on—or feel run down in any way—I literally grab a handful of these vitamin C capsules. Sometimes I take up to 50 a day.

You know you’ve reached tissue saturation when you get loose stools. Bowel tolerance varies among different individuals. Some can’t tolerate more than 2,000 milligrams per day. But here’s what you need to know: One mosquito bite will cause your serum vitamin C to plummet. So will one cigarette—or even secondhand smoke. So vitamin C is a kind of all-purpose natural preventive medicine cabinet!

Vitamin D: We need 5,000 IU (international units) per day to maintain an optimal blood level of 40 to 85 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter). It sometimes takes far more than 5,000 IU per day to get your blood levels optimal. Test kits for home testing are available at www.grassrootshealth.net, a site that houses the most cutting-edge vitamin D research in the world. Note: Optimal levels of vitamin D decrease your risk of cancer, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS) by 50 percent! Regular sun exposure—working up to 20 to 30 minutes, three times per week, over as much of your body as possible during the summer months, also greatly reduces your risk for cancer and other health problems. The sun is a health food just as much as veggies and fruits and one that should play a major role in the healthiest diets!

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Thirty minutes of sun exposure will give you about 10,000 IU of vitamin D production underneath your skin. Avoid sunburn; research now shows that the increased risk of skin cancer from sun exposure is greatly outweighed by the other health benefits of sunlight. And the adverse effects of avoiding the sun are so robust that lack of sunlight has been compared to smoking as a risk factor for diseases ranging from cancer to tuberculosis. Getting sun regularly (and fresh air for that matter!) is an essential part of any healthy diet.

Magnesium: Most people are deficient in magnesium—even those on the healthiest diets, which is essential for many different enzymatic reactions in the body and for providing energy to your cells. Magnesium is also necessary for optimal nerve conduction. You can take magnesium in pill form—1,000 to 2,000 milligrams per day.

Magnesium glycinate pills are very absorbable. You can also ingest this supplement in a drink. There are little packets of magnesium, called CALM, which you can put in water to drink. Quite delicious.

There are many others, of course, but this is a good baseline.

You can up your magnesium intake and relax your body and mind all at the same time with an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salt is actually magnesium sulfate, and it can be used as a magnesium supplement. Simply dissolve one to two cups of Epsom salt in a nice warm bath, and then soak for 20 luxurious minutes, which is ample time for the magnesium to be absorbed through your skin. Eating healthy can be relaxing too!

The Joys of Food and Eating

While the rules we’ve just talked about cover the “what” of healthy eating—what you should put in your body so it has the building materials it needs—there is also some magic in the “how” of healthy eating.

The age-old custom of breaking bread together—even if you skip the bread—aids digestion and adds ceremony, pleasure, connection, and love to a meal. What sounds better? Downing your perfect healthy green juice as you dash for the subway or sitting down and calmly enjoying a cup of tea and a healthy meal with good friends? Studies have shown that when you eat with others, even if they are strangers, your digestion improves. Dr. Mario Martinez points out that rituals of pleasure—enjoyed every day—are a key component of the lifestyles of healthy centenarians, some of whom also enjoy a daily cigar or a glass of whiskey.

If you associate eating with pleasure and health rather than guilt and frustration, you can experience the true joys of healthy eating.

Countries like Spain, France, and Italy are masters at this. And when pleasure is your focus, you can be happy with yourself as you are now. Fulfillment in life should not be based on your size—even though many people live this way.

My daughter and her husband both went on a rigorous weight loss diet and weight-training program starting six months before their wedding. They looked spectacular. Both had six-pack abs and better bodies than they had ever had. So what did my daughter learn?

That she can have a bikini body that looks like it’s out of a magazine. What else did she learn? Keeping that body was a full-time job. It was a career. It meant weighing and measuring all her food and spending hours per day in the gym. And never just ordering what she wanted at a restaurant. It wasn’t worth it, and it didn’t make her happy. So is that the healthiest diet? I am not so sure. She now has a new baby, and a new life. And her body looks fantastic. It’s not the magazine-perfect body she had before, but she doesn’t care. She’s happy and healthy.

The concept of “ideal weight” is kind of like the research on happiness. Everyone thinks they’ll be happy when they get the right job, the right mate, and the right house. But the truth is that happiness has to come first. Then and only then will you be in a position to attract the right mate or eat the healthy foods that truly sustain you while maintaining optimal health. In other words, you have to figure out what’s “eating you.” When you attend to what’s eating you, you’ll finally know how to feed your body and stick to one of the healthiest diets known—the one that you love and. And if you stick with healthy whole foods most of the time, you’ll be fine.

I’m healthy, a normal size, and I no longer weigh myself.

This article on the healthiest diets and foods is excerpted with permission from Making Life Easy: A Simple Guide to a Divinely Inspired Life by Christiane Northrup M.D.

About The Author

Christiane Northrup, M.D. is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness, which includes the unity of mind, body, emotions, and spirit. Internationally known for her empowering approach to women’s health and wellness, Dr. Northrup teaches women how to thrive at every stage of life. Visit her website: DrNorthrup.com

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