It’s one thing to eat a food and to get sick soon thereafter. We learn very quickly to not do that again. It’s another thing to eat foods that slowly but surely chip away at our health and wellness. We hardly notice their debilitating effects and then, once noticed, we often fail to connect the dots back to the foods we have been eating. If you suspect that your foods may be causing health problems, beyond the most obvious of hazards, then this Provision will assist you to dig a little deeper and to clean up your diet even more.
You may remember the story of the giant, wooden horse, made famous in the ancient works of Homer and Virgil, which was presented by the Greeks as a gift to the city of Troy, purportedly ending a military siege that had lasted for ten years. Suspicious that it might be a trap, the gift was closely inspected by the leaders of the city. Finding nothing, they accepted the gift and brought it inside the city walls. Celebrating the end of the siege, the people of Troy fell into drunken revelry which gave the Greek soldiers, hiding inside the horse, their opportunity to come out and open up the city gates, allowing the rest of the Greek army to enter and destroy the city.
Ever since that legendary battle, no less crafty than the ruses of many a modern adversary, the Trojan Horse has become the symbol of things that look harmless but carry within them the seeds of great destruction. We need to watch out for those things, and we certainly need to avoid bringing them into our lives.
This task is never more challenging than when it comes to foods. Years ago I can remember visiting with a family in Kingston, Jamaica. For breakfast they cooked ackee, the national fruit of Jamaica, along with salt cod, pork fat, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and herbs. The dish had the look, feel, and taste of scrambled eggs, thanks to the ackee, even though there were no eggs in the dish.
“This fruit will make you very sick, you know,” my hosts informed me as we sat down to eat. “You have to know when to pick it, and what parts to eat. The rest you have to throw away. You can’t even drink the water in which the fruit is cooked.” Hearing that, I was glad they knew what they were doing • and I waited until they took the first bite.
That’s what Michael Pollan calls the omnivore’s dilemma, in his book by the same name. As creatures who can eat just about anything, and who as a species have certainly stuck just about everything in our mouths at one time or another, figuring out what is good and safe to eat takes a considerable amount of knowledge, wisdom, and experience. The knowledge has to be carefully gained and faithfully passed around, from one generation to the next, to prevent too many people from making the same tragic mistakes, over and over again.
When it comes to ackee fruit, of course, those mistakes become evident rather quickly. The “vomiting sickness of Jamaica,” as it is sometimes described, makes it easy to connect cause (eating ackee) with effect (vomiting). Poison mushrooms, which can be deadly and are often disguised as edible mushrooms, make that connection even more painfully obvious. When pain and sickness happen soon after ingesting a food, people quickly learn to steer clear of the Trojan Horse. It may look, smell, and taste good, but that is never the end of the story.
Food has to be digested in order to do us any good. In the case of poison mushrooms, they do a better job of digesting us than of us digesting them. Which serves to illustrate an important point: from a functional point of view, the inside of the gastrointestinal tract lies outside of the body. What goes into your mouth, passing through the stomach and intestines, is not part of you. The tomato in your hand is no more a part of you than the tomato in your gut; which is why the undigested part gets pushed out in your stools.
For health and safety, then, the intestinal barrier (IB) is no less important than the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB is a membrane that controls the passage of substances from the blood into the central nervous system. It is a physical barrier that protects the brain from most, but not all, of the many chemicals flowing around the body. Alcohol is one notable exception that the BBB cannot stop, as the people of Troy tragically demonstrated so long ago.
In a similar way, the IB is responsible for controlling the passage of substances from the inside of the gastrointestinal tact to the rest of the body. A leaky IB can be as dangerous to health and well-being as a leaky BBB and, in fact, there are increasing indications that a leaky IB lies behind many autoimmune disorders.
Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, occur when the body loses the ability to discriminate between self-proteins and non-self proteins. In other words, the body loses the ability to tell the difference between its own molecules and the molecules of foreign invaders. As a result, the immune system makes the mistake of attacking both self and non-self at the same time. As anyone with an autoimmune disorder knows all too well, this can lead to incredible pain, disability, and even death.
What causes the body to make such a terrible mistake? That’s the question of the hour when it comes to medical research, and the answer is a complex combination of many hereditary and environmental factors. One such factor is a leaky gut. In these individuals, the IB does not work properly. Under normal circumstances, the IB keeps 98% of dietary proteins inside the gut, allowing only 2% to enter the body without being digested. The body is designed to handle that level of contamination.
When the IB becomes leaky, however, increasing amounts of undigested food proteins and molecules pass through the IB and enter the peripheral circulation of the body. Overwhelmed by the circulation of both self and non-self molecules, the immune system doesn’t know what to do. Over time, it starts to attack everything in sight.
From this vantage point, one can see the importance of avoiding foods that break down or slip through the IB. It’s just not good for undigested bits of kidney beans or birthday cake to be floating around in your elbow. Unlike ackee fruit and poison mushrooms, however, the foods that increase gut inflammation and permeability do not necessarily produce immediate or near-immediate reactions such as vomiting, pain, or death. Like the soldiers in the Trojan Horse, these foods wait for the opportunity to strike. They release their minions slowly, building up their forces, until the body is destroyed in the attack.
That’s why I call these foods Trojan Foods. They may look, smell, and taste good, and they may produce no obvious negative effects in the short run, but in the long run they are taking their toll on the body. They are best avoided altogether, or at least minimized, in order to promote optimum wellness.
By now you are probably wondering, “So what are these dangerous foods?” The answer may surprise you, because they are the staples of modern diets. Most people eat them every single day, and they get through life just fine, they would say, with the normal aches, pains, and problems. What they don’t realize, however, is that many of the “normal aches, pains, and problems” are not “normal” at all. They are induced by the foods we eat, and the longer we eat Trojan Foods the more problems we are likely to have.
There are many factors in foods that can increase gut inflammation and permeability. In addition to alcohol, which goes through the IB as easily as it goes through the BBB, one of the best known and researched factors that can cause gut inflammation and permeability (along with a variety of other problems) are glycoproteins called lectins. There are different types of lectins, some of which occur naturally in the human body and not all of which are harmful. Many lectins in food, however, are known to allow partially digested food proteins and remnants of resident gut bacteria to spill into the bloodstream. Those are the ones to watch out for.
The principal foods that contain significant amounts of hazardous lectins, in descending order, are:
- grains, especially grains containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley, and oats) but also corn, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, and rice;
- legumes, especially dry beans such as lima, soy, kidney, and peanut;
- dairy products, especially from cows that are fed corn and other grains rather than grass; and
- nightshade vegetables, such as white potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, tobacco, and peppers.
How’s that for ruining your appetite! Anyone who suffers from autoimmune diseases (e.g., lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Grave’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis), disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal problems (e.g., ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, gas, diarrhea, Crohn’s disease, colitis, Celiac Sprue disease, and chronic Candida), diabetes, or failure to thrive would do well to avoid these foods and their byproducts (e.g., sauces, spreads, oils, and vinegars) entirely.
If you are not willing or able to completely eliminate all of these foods, the next best step is to eliminate one or more of the food categories. You may not want to eliminate the nightshade vegetables and legumes, for example, but you can still eliminate the grains and the dairy products which feed on grains. That is what we do in our house, and it seems to work very well.
Especially since the lectins and other anti-nutritional factors in legumes can be largely removed and inactivated through proper preparation. Dried beans should be soaked over night, the water drained off, then rinsed and drained again before cooking. After cooking, the water should be drained off and the beans rinsed for a final time before adding to salads, soups, or other recipes. Common beans with the highest lectin content, in descending order, are lima, soy, kidney, scarlet runner, winged, horse gram, jack, and peanut. One should always be careful in the preparation and eating of these beans.
Even the most ardent of legume champions recognize their limitations. “There are several disadvantages of legumes as protein sources,” notes Dr. Weil in his book Eating Well for Optimum Health. “They may be toxic raw; most require long cooking to make them palatable and digestible, and many contain resistant carbohydrates that cause flatulence and other digestive problems. They may also carry residues of toxic agrichemicals.” Still, he recommends eating a wide variety of organic soy foods and other legumes since the benefits, he believes, outweigh the risks.
To get a sense of how true that is for you, you may want to conduct your own experiments • eliminating and reintroducing foods while keeping a log of any changes you notice. The problem, as already noted above, is that Trojan Foods do not typically produce immediate effects. They build up over time, generating small and almost imperceptible problems before creating big ones. It’s easier to just eliminate them and then to stay on the wagon.
One other reason it’s good to steer clear of all foods containing significant amounts of toxic lectins, or at least one other reason to eat only organic foods, is that genetically modified foods are modified by splicing lectins from one plant family to another. Such contamination makes it very difficult to know which foods are safe and which foods are harmful.
Fortunately, the LifeTrek Optimal Wellness Prototype makes it clear that we can live very well without grains, legumes, dairy products, or nightshade vegetables. There are plenty of other fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, grass-fed meats, wild fish, nuts, seeds, and eggs to eat. So why not stay with the foods our bodies were designed to eat, rather than to challenge our bodies with foods that make it hard to be well?
Coaching Inquiries: Do you or does anyone in your family have any of the problems mentioned in today’s Provision? Are there times when the problems are better, and times when the problems are worse? What patterns do you notice? Do they follow your consumption of toxic lectins? How could you reduce your intake of grains, legumes, dairy products, and nightshade vegetables? Who could join you in the quest for health?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob..
I didn’t realize that white potatoes that have turned green or that have greenish sprouts were poisonous, nor dangerous enough to cause death or to put a person in a coma. Thanks for the warning! (Ed. Note: Rotten potatoes are even more dangerous, so much so that they should be discarded rather than trimmed. Perhaps that’s why rotten potatoes have such a noxious and repugnant odor. It’s nature’s way of warning us to stay away.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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