By Dr. Mercola
If you want to increase your energy, boost your mood, lose weight, and lower your risk of chronic disease, there's no doubt that tending to your diet should be a priority. But figuring out what to eat to be healthy may seem overwhelming.
There is no one-size-fits-all diet for everyone. Your age, health, gender, and lifestyle all play a role in determining how much protein, healthy fat, and carbs you need, for instance. In addition, it's important that your diet is one you find satisfying and can stick with.
The best eating plan is one that encompasses a variety of foods. This keeps your meals interesting and also increases your ability to get the nutrients you need, at appropriate levels, from your food. My nutrition plan describes this type of "diet." What you'll notice is that it's not a diet at all, but rather a way of life.
What you'll also notice, if you browse through the plan, is that allows you the freedom to customize your meals to your individual likes and dislikes, while guiding you toward truly healthy food. The fact is, even though there's no diet that's right for everyone… there are certain foods that come close.
The 7 foods that follow are my top examples. These foods are universally healthy and, in the vast majority of cases, should be part of your meals on a frequent basis.
The 7 Best Foods
1. Grass-Fed Beef and Beef Liver
Factory farming both agriculturally and for animals has seriously perverted not only the health of the animals but secondarily the health of those that eat them.
Ditching your grain-fed CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) beef in favor of grass-fed beef will result in far better nutrition (and less exposure to antibiotics and pathogenic bacteria).
A joint effort between the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Clemson University researchers determined a total of 10 key areas where grass-fed is better than grain-fed beef for human health.1 In a side-by-side comparison, they determined that grass-fed beef was:
Lower in total fat
Higher in beta-carotene
Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin
Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium
Higher in total omega-3s
A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84)
Higher in CLA (cis-9 trans-11), a potential cancer fighter
Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)
As for organ meat, it is a nutritional powerhouse, loaded with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other compounds vital to your health – and in which many Americans are deficient.
Liver in particular is packed with nutrients, which is why predatory animals eat it first and why it has been so highly prized throughout history. The most significant nutrients in liver are outlined in the following table:2
B complex, including B12 and folate (folic acid)
Minerals, including a highly bioavailable form of iron
Fats (especially omega-3 fats)
Choline (another B vitamin, important for cell membranes, brain and nerve function, heart health, and prevention of birth defects)
Trace minerals such as copper, zinc, and chromium
CoQ10 (essential for energy production and cardiac function; potent antioxidant; animal hearts offer the highest levels of coQ10)
Vitamin E (circulation, tissue repair, healing, deactivation of free radicals, and slowing aging)
Pre-formed vitamin A (retinol)
An unidentified "anti-fatigue factor"
Purines (nitrogen-containing compounds serving as precursors to DNA and RNA)
2. Dark Leafy Greens
Consuming a variety of fresh organic greens is one of the best things you can do for your body. Topping the list in terms of nutrient density are watercress, chard, beet greens, and spinach—but adding other gorgeous leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, collards, dandelion leaves, mustard greens, and escarole will just add to your overall nutrient infusion.
Greens like spinach and kale are loaded with cancer-fighting antioxidants including beta-carotene, vitamin C, and sulforaphane. Spinach provides folate, which research shows can dramatically improve your short-term memory.
Eating folate-rich foods may also lower your risk for heart disease and cancer by slowing down wear and tear on your DNA. Some leafy greens, including collard greens and spinach, contain vitamin K1, which is good for your veins and arteries.
Beet greens are even higher in iron than spinach and strengthen your immune system by stimulating your body's production of antibodies and white blood cells, while protecting your brain and bones.
When preparing your veggies, use quick, gentle cooking methods (only cooking to a tender-crisp, not mushy texture) to preserve the most nutrients. Also try to eat a good portion of them raw, which will allow you to receive beneficial biophotons. Two of the best ways to get more raw vegetables into your diet include:
- Juicing: Juicing allows you to absorb all the nutrients from vegetables, allows you to consume an optimal amount of vegetables in an efficient manner, and makes it easy to add a variety of vegetables to your diet.
- Sprouts: The sprouting process increases nutrient content and bioavailability of nutrients. Sprouts also contain valuable enzymes that allow your body to absorb and use the nutrients of all other foods you eat. They're very easy to grow at home and a powerful low-cost strategy to improve your health.
3. Pastured Eggs
True free-range eggs, now increasingly referred to as "pasture-raised," are from hens that roam freely outdoors on a pasture where they can forage for their natural diet, which includes seeds, green plants, insects, and worms. Testing3 has confirmed that true pastured eggs are far more nutritious than commercially raised eggs.
The dramatically superior nutrient levels are most likely the result of the differences in diet between free ranging, pastured hens and commercially farmed hens. In an egg-testing project, Mother Earth News compared the official US Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs with eggs from hens raised on pasture and found that the latter typically contains the following:4
2/3 more vitamin A
3 times more vitamin E
2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
7 times more beta-carotene
Eggs are also a valuable source of high-quality protein and fat—nutrients that many are deficient in. And I believe eggs are a nearly ideal fuel source for most of us. In addition to high-quality proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals, eggs contain two amino acids with potent antioxidant properties -- tryptophan and tyrosine. Egg yolks are also a rich source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which belong to the class of carotenoids known as xanthophylls. These two are powerful prevention elements of age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness.
Ideally, you'll want to eat your eggs as close to raw as possible. Keep in mind that the closer to raw you eat them, the more important it is to make sure the eggs are truly organic and pasture-raised, as CAFO-raised eggs are far more prone to be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella. As long as you're getting fresh pastured eggs, your risk of getting ill from a raw egg is quite slim. If you choose not to eat your egg yolks raw, poached or soft-boiled would be the next best option. Scrambled or fried eggs are the worst, as this oxidizes the cholesterol in the egg yolk.
4. Fermented Foods
Fermenting is one of the best ways to turn ordinary vegetables into superfoods. The fermenting process (also known as culturing) produces copious quantities of beneficial microbes that are extremely important for your health, as they help balance your intestinal flora and boost your immunity. When fermenting vegetables, you can either use a starter culture or simply allow the natural enzymes, and good bacteria in and on the vegetables, to do the work. This is called "wild fermentation."
Personally, I prefer a starter culture, because you have more control over the microbial species and can optimize it to produce higher levels of vitamin K2 (certain probiotic strains can produce more K2 than others). For the last two years, we've been making two to three gallons of fermented vegetables every week or two in our Chicago office for our staff to enjoy.
Just one quarter to one half cup of fermented food, eaten with one to three meals per day, can have a dramatically beneficial impact on your health. The culturing process produces hundreds if not thousands of times more of the beneficial bacteria found in typical probiotics, which are extremely important for human health.
Yogurt and kefir made from grass-fed raw milk are two additional examples of fermented foods. Kefir is a traditionally fermented food that is chockfull of healthy bacteria (probiotics). Far from simply helping your body to better digest and assimilate your food (which they do very well), probiotics influence the activity of hundreds of your genes, helping them to express in a positive, disease-fighting manner.
Friendly bacteria also train your immune system to distinguish between pathogens and non-harmful antigens, and to respond appropriately. This important function prevents your immune system from overreacting to non-harmful antigens, which is the genesis of allergies. Probiotics can even help to normalize your weight, and lack of beneficial bacteria in your gut may play a significant role in the development of type 2 diabetes, depression, and other mood disorders, and may even contribute to autism and vaccine-induced damage. In addition to beneficial probiotics, traditionally fermented kefir also contains:
Minerals, such as magnesium
Essential amino acids (such as tryptophan, which is well-known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system)
Vitamins B1, B2, and biotin (B7)
Please beware that pasteurized products will NOT provide you with these health benefits, as the pasteurization process destroys most of the precious enzymes, bacteria and other nutrients. This is why it's important to make your own kefir or yogurt at home. As mentioned, you can get many of the same (and likely superior) benefits, by making fermented vegetables as well. For a very small investment (five or six medium-sized cabbages and other veggies to taste, celery juice for brine and, if you like, starter culture that produces high levels of vitamin K2), you can easily make up to 14 quart jars of fermented vegetables, which are an ultimate superfood. You can use these six steps to make fermented vegetables at home.
5. Grass-Fed or Pastured (Not Pasteurized) Raw Butter
Good old-fashioned butter, when made from grass-fed cows, is rich in a substance called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is not only known to help fight cancer and diabetes, it may even help you to lose weight, which cannot be said for its trans-fat substitutes (i.e. margarine). Butter is a rich source of easily absorbed vitamin A (needed for a wide range of functions, from maintaining good vision to keeping the endocrine system in top shape) and all the other fat-soluble vitamins (D, E, and K2), which are often lacking in the modern industrial diet.
Butter is rich in important trace minerals, including manganese, chromium, zinc, copper, and selenium (a powerful antioxidant). One Swedish study also found that fat levels in your blood are lower after eating a meal rich in butter than after eating one rich in olive oil, canola oil, or flaxseed oil.5 The scientists' main explanation is that about 20 percent of butterfat consists of short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which are used right away for quick energy and therefore don't contribute to fat levels in your blood. Therefore, a significant portion of the butter you consume is used immediately for energy.
The very best-quality butter is raw (unpasteurized) from grass-fed cows, preferably certified organic. (One option is to make your own butter from raw grass-fed milk.) The next best is pasteurized butter from grass-fed or pastured organic cows, followed by regular pasteurized butter common in supermarkets. Even the latter two are healthier choices by orders of magnitude than margarines or spreads. Beware of "Monsanto Butter," meaning butter that comes from cows fed almost entirely genetically engineered grains.6 This includes Land O'Lakes and Alta Dena.
6. Wild Alaskan Salmon
Research suggests that eating oily fish like Alaskan salmon once or twice a week may increase your lifespan by more than two years, and reduce your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 35 percent.7 This is because such fish is an excellent source of animal-based omega-3 fats. Compared to those in the lowest percentiles, those with omega-3 blood levels in the highest 20 percent were 27 percent less likely to die of any cause, 40 percent less likely to die of coronary heart disease, and 48 percent less likely to die of an arrhythmia.8 To maximize the health benefits from fish, steer clear of farmed fish, including farmed salmon.
Levels of omega-3 fats are reduced by about 50 percent in farmed salmon, compared to wild salmon, due to the use of grain and legume feed. High levels of contaminants are also common in farmed salmon, which is why I recommend wild Alaskan salmon. Seafood labeled "Alaskan" cannot be farmed. Alaska does an incredible job at protecting their brand integrity when it comes to seafood, in addition to ensuring quality and sustainability. If you don't see the "Alaska" label or a logo from the Marine Stewardship Council, the seafood you are buying is likely farmed. If you're not a fan of salmon, you can get many of the same health benefits by eating anchovies or sardines.
About 100 species are being studied for their health-promoting benefits, and about a half dozen really stand out for their ability to deliver a tremendous boost to your immune system. In fact, some of the most potent immunosupportive agents come from mushrooms, and this is one reason why they're so beneficial for both preventing and treating cancer. Long-chain polysaccharides, particularly alpha- and beta-glucan molecules, are primarily responsible for the mushrooms' beneficial effect on your immune system.
In one study, adding one or two servings of dried shiitake mushrooms was found to have a beneficial, modulating effect on immune system function.9 Mushrooms are not only capable of bolstering immune function and potentially fighting cancer. Aside from being rich in protein, fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, and minerals, mushrooms are excellent sources of antioxidants. They contain polyphenols and selenium, which are common in the plant world, as well as antioxidants that are unique to mushrooms. One such antioxidant is ergothioneine, which scientists are now beginning to recognize as a "master antioxidant."
I highly recommend adding a variety of mushrooms to your diet, including shitake, maitake and reishi. As a caveat, do make sure they're organically grown in order to avoid harmful contaminants that mushrooms may absorb and concentrate from soil, air and water. Also, avoid picking mushrooms in the wild unless you are absolutely sure you know what you're picking. There are a number of toxic mushrooms (all mushrooms are edible, but some of them just once—a mushroom joke), and it's easy to get them confused unless you have a lot of experience and know what to look for. Growing your own is an excellent option and a far safer alternative to picking wild mushrooms.
A Step-by-Step Plan for Dietary Success
A full 80 percent of the health benefits you reap from a healthy lifestyle can be attributed to your diet, with the remaining 20 percent coming from exercise. The challenge is that dietary advice can be a bit of a moving target. It needs to be regularly revised based on new research and wisdom from personal explorations of applying this research.
My free comprehensive nutrition plan, helps you benefit from the information that has taken me more than 30 years to compile The plan is updated with recommendations such as the addition of fermented vegetables as a source of healthy probiotics and using intermittent fasting and high-intensity exercise to really optimize your health. I encourage you to go through it from the beginning, as this plan is one of the most powerful tools to truly allow you and your family to not only optimize your diet but also to take control of your health.