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Dr. Mark Hyman’s Food Fix Prescription

Dr. Mark Hyman’s Food Fix Prescription

Child: Welcome to my Mommy’s podcast. This episode is brought to you by Wellnesse. That’s Wellnesse with an E on the end, which is my new personal care company that is dedicated to making safe and effective products from my family to your family. We started with toothpaste and hair care because these are the

Child: Welcome to my Mommy’s podcast.

This episode is brought to you by Wellnesse. That’s Wellnesse with an E on the end, which is my new personal care company that is dedicated to making safe and effective products from my family to your family. We started with toothpaste and hair care because these are the biggest offenders in most bathrooms, and we’re coming after the other personal care products as well. Did you know for instance that most shampoo contains harsh detergents that strip out the natural oils from the hair and leave it harder to manage over time and more dependent on extra products? We took a different approach, creating a nourishing hair food that gives your hair what it actually needs and doesn’t take away from its natural strength and beauty. In fact, it’s specifically designed to support your hair’s natural texture, natural color, and is safe for color-treated hair as well. Our shampoos contain herbs like nettle, which helps strengthen hair and reduce hair fall, leaving your hair and scalp healthier over time, and scented only with natural essential oils in a very delicate scent so that you don’t have to worry about the fragrance as well. Over time, your hair gets back to its stronger, healthier, shinier state without the need for parabens or silicone or SLS. You can check it out along with our whitening toothpaste and our full hair care bundles at wellnesse.com. An insider tip, grab an essentials bundle or try auto-ship and you will lock in a discount.

This podcast is sponsored by Four Sigmatic, my source for superfood mushroom products that are a big part of my daily routine. In fact, about 80% of the dirt under your feet is actually mycelium or mushrooms. And mushrooms have a wide variety of health benefits, everything from immune support, and improved sleep, and they’re also a great source of B vitamins, and vitamin D. Mushrooms are considered anti-inflammatory due to a compound called ergothioneine and are considered safe and beneficial to consume regularly. In my house, we often start the day with Four Sigmatic’s Mushroom Coffee with Lion’s Mane and Chaga. It tastes just like regular coffee without as much caffeine and no jitters. The Lion’s Mane and Chaga help with energy and focus, like I said, without the jitters, or the acidity of a lot of coffee. I sip other products of theirs throughout the day, like their Chaga or Cordyceps or Lion’s Mane Elixirs, and I often wind down at night with their Reishi Elixir or Reishi Cacao, and I notice a measurable difference in my sleep when I do that. As a listener of this podcast, you can save on all Four Sigmatic products by going to foursigmatic.com/wellnessmama and using the code “wellnessmama” to save 15%.

Katie: Hello and welcome to the Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com. And this episode is with someone I have known and been friends with for a long time, who is doing incredible work in trying to change the future of health for our kids in the food culture in our country, especially in schools. I’m here with Dr. Mark Hyman, who is a practicing family physician and also an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in the field of functional medicine. He is the founder and the director of the UltraWellness Center, the head of strategy and innovation at the Cleveland Clinic for functional medicine, a 13 times New York Times bestselling author, and all of his books will be linked in the show notes, and board president for clinical affairs for the Institute for Functional Medicine. He’s also the host of one of the leading health podcasts, “The Doctor’s Farmacy,” and a regular medical contributor to a lot of television shows and networks including “Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” and has been a co-host on “The Dr. Oz Show.” Today, we are talking specifically about how the food industry actively preys on our children both in advertising and media and in the school systems, and what we can do about it. Thankfully, we are seeing some positive changes, but Dr. Hyman has a lot of measures in the works to address some of the problems we’re still seeing. And he gives practical advice in this episode on what we can each do in our own homes, our own communities, and on a grassroots level to start to see wider change. It’s great episode so buckle up, and let’s join Dr. Mark Hyman.

Dr. Hyman, welcome. Thank you so much for being here.

Dr. Hyman: Thanks for having me.

Katie: I’m so excited to chat with you again. Your other episode was so well received, I’ll make sure that’s linked in the show notes. If you guys haven’t heard it, it’s a must listen. And today we’re talking about a topic that is so near and dear to my heart, and I know to that of many people listening, which is the food industry and how they target children and specifically what we as parents and educators can do about it. So, to start broad, I know this is an area that also is a big concern to you, from what you’re seeing and all the work you do, how does the food industry prey on our kids?

Dr. Hyman: Well, it’s actually frightening. I’m 60 years old. And when I was a kid, there was that one kid in the class, Erica, who was a little overweight. And now it’s 40% of kids. When I was in medical school, there was no such thing as type two diabetes. It was called adult onset diabetes. Today we have kids as young as two or three years old having adult onset or type two diabetes, or have one in four teenage boys having pre-diabetes or type two diabetes. I mean, just kind of try to grok that fact. I mean, one in four teenagers have pre-diabetes or type two diabetes. So how did this happen? It happened because the food industry targets, maliciously targets children through all sorts of different marketing tactics, and infiltrates schools.

So, the first aspect is pervasive. It used to be bad through television advertising, and through happy meals and through insinuating cartoon characters into marketing and kids could identify name brand foods before they could barely walk and ask for them screaming from their parents from the grocery cart. But now we have far worse marketing, which is called stealth marketing, which, I mean it was a report by the Institute of Medicine before social media, talking about the threat to our children from marketing, and how 50 countries have restricted marketing to children, but not the United States. And then we saw the advent of social media, which is far worse and insidious because it doesn’t even seem like an ad. In fact, there were 5.4 billion Facebook ads last year for children on junk food. There are advert games that are free games that are embedded within the Facebook and other social media platforms that seem like these free games, but they’re actually embedded with all these stealth marketing for junk food and fast food. And it’s just so pervasive.

The good news is there are some companies that are unilaterally changing. And the first time I saw this was recently last week when Unilever decided they were going to limit any marketing of ice cream to children, which is a step. It’s certainly necessary to do a lot more. So, the marketing to children is targeted. It’s specific. They take even little two year olds and put them in MRI brain scanners and try to see which images most maximally stimulate their brain for enticement to buy the food, which is terrifying to me that they’re using neuroscience to target little children, and the government does nothing about it. The FTC should control the airwaves and marketing. But the food industry is so active in lobbying against any type of restrictions in marketing to children that this has never happened.

And, like I said, in many other countries, they’ve done this. In Chile, they’ve eliminated any cartoon characters from all the marketing stuff to kids. So, “Tony the Tiger,” is dead. “Toucan Sam” is no longer. They’ve eliminated any advertising and marketing in any media, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. for anything targeted to children for junk food. And they’ve put in warning labels on the front of boxes. So, on your Frosted Flakes, there’s warning labels on the front of the box so kids will see it and everybody knows. So, there are countries that are doing this. But they deliberately prey on kids. They spend literally billions and billions and billions of dollars. Every average kid sees up to 10,000 ads on television, although now it’s on social media. And then there’s all this embedded stuff. Like on “American Idol,” you’ll see them drinking these large things with Coca Cola. I can guarantee you it’s probably water in those, but they pay for placement. At sports events, they’re having athletes, who are their idols, drink things that they would never actually drink, because it would inhibit their performance, like LeBron drinking Sprite. So, we see it’s pervasive in our culture. And the school thing I can talk about too, but I thought I’d take a breath.

Katie: Yeah, that makes so much sense. And, definitely, I’ve noticed that with TV ads, and then now with social media, and that’s something I limit with my kids. And I think you’re right, other countries are much more aware of this and some parents are really aware of this now and making an effort in their own homes and on the screens their kids are exposed to. And I think you’re right, the school thing is even more insidious and hard to believe. I think a lot of parents especially have trouble believing that there could be any kind of actual like lobbying or anything going on in our schools and that there could be any kind of ill intent there. But when we look at school meals objectively, what are we finding as far as what kids are actually eating in schools?

Dr. Hyman: Well, 50% of schools have name brand, fast food restaurant foods in the cafeteria. So, for example, it’s McDonald’s Monday, Taco Bell Tuesday, Wendy’s Wednesday and then 80% of contracts with soda companies. And there’s advertising placements in bathroom stalls and gymnasiums and chairs. I mean, literally, in kindergarten they have little Coca Cola red chairs. And they basically like to get their customers, hook them early, and keep them for life. And they are very good at it and they’re very successful at it and it’s why there’s been a real attempt to try to limit this in schools although the schools have no real budgets so they depend on these payments from big food companies. So, for example, Domino’s Pizza, based on these new guidelines for the school lunch decided they were going to create this smart slice pizza which is just a little bit dumbed down pizza with a little less fat, and a few vegetables on it. And it’s like a healthy pizza and they give $8 million in schools in Texas to do this. And it’s kind of a joke. It’s crossing both lines, Democrat and Republican. The former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar is from Minnesota and in that state Swanson is the biggest pizza school manufacturer. So, any kind of school lunch pizza comes from Swanson for the most part, which is in Minnesota, and that’s why she lobbied to get pizza to be considered a vegetable, which is ridiculous. But because tomato sauce is on the pizza, it’s considered a vegetable. And that’s why you see the potato lobby lobbying for french fries being a vegetable. So, the two most abundant food eaten in terms of vegetables in this country are french fries and ketchup or tomato sauce in pizza.

So, the schools are really hampered by the inability to get their budgets met without the big food companies, so it’s a little bit on the government. And also the school lunch guidelines have been watered down. The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act which Obama implemented was in a step forward in improving school nutrition and improving school nutrition guidelines. The Trump administration recently rolled that back because they said kids were not eating the healthy food and they put back the junk food. They mandate dairy. For example, you have to have milk with every single lunch with a kid or else you can’t get school lunch funding. And the evidence on milk is very weak. In fact, a recent editorial and review paper in the “New England Journal” by David Ludwig from Harvard questioned a lot of our assumptions about milk as a health food for kids and, in fact, how it may cause significant issues like type one diabetes, allergy, and digestive issues, autoimmune issues, and skim milk which was promoted because it’s low fat may lead to more weight gain and more osteoporosis later in life.

So, I think we really are bamboozled by the food industry, which has infiltrated our government policies and has driven schools to be giving kids foods that is one, not good for them, two, causing them to be obese and three, according to the CDC, significantly impairing their cognitive functions. So these kids’ academic performance, it’s not just the obesity, it’s their academic performance that’s suffering. And they have poor grades in school, they’re less able to pay attention, they have poor problem solving skills, they have more absenteeism, and it’s because the food they’re eating is essentially causing their brains not to work.

Katie: Wow, that’s really unbelievable. And for me, part of the reason I got into this health and wellness world to begin with was reading, when my first son was born, that for the first time in two centuries, his generation was going to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. And the article I read talked about the rise of cancer and heart disease and diabetes. But when I look at these statistics, it doesn’t even make mathematical sense that we’re seeing such a rapid rise in all of these conditions across the board in one generation. And I know you’ve written about this and talked about this, but we’re even seeing fatty liver disease in children from what I understand, which is completely unheard of. Can you explain what fatty liver disease is and why it’s so absurd that we’re seeing this in kids?

Dr. Hyman: Yeah. You know, fatty liver is something that was not that even common in America in general, except if you were an alcoholic. When I was in medical school, that’s what we saw. And then there’s this rise of fatty liver throughout the country where 90 million Americans have this condition called fatty liver which is sort of like fog around your liver essentially, it’s because we eat a lot of starch and carbohydrates. How do they get ducks to have fatty liver, they give them lots of corn and they force feed them starch, and that’s what we’ve done in this country. So, sugar, particularly high fructose corn syrup, because fructose is a bigger driver of fatty liver, causes this phenomenon in the liver where it accumulates fat. So, we think fat comes from fat, it doesn’t. Fat in your body comes from sugar and starch that you eat.

And so these kids drinking soda, the average kid has 34 teaspoons of sugar a day. That’s a lot of sugar. And one 15 ounce soda has, I’m sorry, 20 ounce soda has 15 teaspoons of sugar, so it’s like 2 20 ounce sodas a day, plus. And I think that is driving this phenomena called fatty liver which causes inflammation in the body, increases for heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation. In fact, there are kids that are teenagers that are on transplant lists, liver transplant lists, because they’re drinking soda and that is terrifying. Particularly the Hispanic community is much more susceptible to fatty liver because of their genetics, and it’s just a rampant problem that is threatening the future of our nation and the future generations.

Katie: Yeah, that is really scary and somewhat unbelievable. So, as parents, you mentioned that there are very few restrictions on what goes into schools and even in the marketing in the U.S. And I can see the huge problem with funding and schools needing funding obviously to operate. So, what can we as parents do, both individually to help our own kids and in the school system and in our communities as a whole, to start to try to reverse this problem?

Dr. Hyman: I think the first thing is, make your home a safe zone. Just make your home a safe zone. Most of us are able to control what’s in our home and if your kid gets into trouble outside, well, at least it’s less. So, teach your kids how to cook, buy real whole food in your home, have fun with them in the kitchen, make it a party. And kids love it. I started cooking with my kids as young as a year old and they would make a big mess, and yet they loved it. Now, my son’s a chef, my daughter cooks food and I think they’ve learned about nutrition at home. Family dinners are so key. Having family dinners where you cook and eat real whole food at home. And it doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have to take a long time, it doesn’t have to be expensive. And it’s really doable. I worked full time, I was a single parent, and I did cook real food at home. And there are simple ways to do it. I’ve written a bunch of cookbooks and there’s just a lot of ways to make it really easy, fun, and simple. So that’s the first thing.

And teach your kids, here’s how to read labels, here’s what these ingredients are, here’s why you shouldn’t have trans fat, here’s why you shouldn’t have foods with high fructose corn syrup. Let’s go on a treasure hunt and see what the labels show. So, there’s a lot of fun ways to do that.

And the next thing you can do is to work with your local schools. And there’s great examples of how parents have done this across the country. There’s groups like Conscious Kitchen that implement healthier school lunches in schools and help work with schools and school systems. There’s a group in Boston called My Way Cafe, which has really been an amazing model where they’ve taken schools that have deep fryers and microwaves, which is… Most of the kitchens in America, in schools, aren’t really kitchens. They’re basically reheating or deep frying factories, where they take food that’s made in another factory and reheat it or deep fry it, as opposed to cooking real food. And she showed how by putting kitchens in schools, you could get delicious meals made that were designed by top chefs that kids would love and eat, within the school budget for school lunches, and within the school nutrition guidelines and able to do it in a way that is reproducible. And so these kids eat better food, they do better in terms of academic performance, they’re happier, there’s less destructive behavior. And this is now being scaled up across Boston and all the city schools and she wants to do this throughout the country. So, there’s lots of ways you can do that.

But I think for you as a parent, the most important thing to do is be educated yourself, teach your kids at home, start early, and don’t get them hooked on junk. I saw this incredible little video, it was going around social media of a baby eating ice cream for the first time. And the baby had a bite of ice cream and you could see the eyes literally bug out of its head. And then it literally reached over and grab the ice cream and shove it in its face. And I think the image of that is very much like an addiction model where these kids literally get addicted to these foods. They’re designed to be addictive. They want more and more of them. They get hungry and hungrier. And it’s really a tragedy because we’ve created a generation of kids who don’t know how to cook, who can’t identify vegetables, who are addicted to junk food and soda and are threatening their life expectancy. And if a kid’s overweight, their life expectancy is 13 years less. I mean, that is horrible.

Katie: Yeah, that really, really is astounding. And like you said in the beginning, it’s completely unheard of that we’re seeing this in kids and especially at the rates that we are seeing this in kids. And I know that there have been many efforts throughout the years, different politicians, and even just people working within communities and nationwide trying to change the school lunch programs. Do you think that it’s actually possible and realistic at this point that we could create change that would fix some of these problems?

Dr. Hyman: Absolutely. I mean, I think that it’s got to happen. I’m working on a campaign called the Food Fix campaign, which is an educational lobby effort within Washington to actually help change our policies so we can move forward and have more intelligent policies and support change throughout our health care and food systems. So, implementing food as medicine as a principle throughout everything, including school lunches, health care, reforming dysfunctional government policies like SNAP and health care reimbursements for food as medicine, school lunches, food stamps, and then, of course, supporting the general agriculture. So, we’re really focused on a bigger strategy and a bigger campaign to help change the food system. And I think it has to happen. And it’s happening around the country. Schools are often controlled by local or state governments, and they actually have a lot of autonomy in doing this. So, I think that there’s models where this has been done, and I think they just need to be scaled up.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. I know we’ve seen other countries, especially in Europe, really start paying more attention and regulating. And there’s been a lot of news about how so many things are allowed in the U.S. that are not allowed there. And I’ve been recently formulating personal care products for my company Wellnesse and seeing that same thing. There are so many ingredients used in the U.S. that Europe has completely banned. Do you think we will ever see a shift in the overall culture where we’ll start to see more awareness at a nationwide level? Or is it really going to be up to us on a grassroots level to get these things changed?

Dr. Hyman: I think grassroots is always where it starts. And I think that if you look at the history of movements, they always start peripherally in communities with people who care about these issues and want to move forward. And if people really are doing this themselves, it’s driving the market. For example, breakfast cereal, most breakfast cereal has wheat in it. Most of that wheat is sprayed with glyphosate or Roundup or weed killer. And in Cheerios, there’s more weed killer than there is vitamin D or B12, which are added to the cereal, okay? So that’s why consumers are talking about this. They’re becoming aware of it. They don’t want this for their children. And that’s why Kellogg’s has committed to remove glyphosate from their cereal by 2025. That’s why General Mills has committed to a million acres of regenerative agriculture. It’s not out of self-interest, because they think it’s a good thing. It’s out of self-interest because they realize that people aren’t going to buy their cereal anymore unless they change it. So, I think there’s really an amazing change happening in the marketplace, but it’s really driven by us.

Then, of course, we do need to lobby with our local congressmen and senators and actually go meet them and talk to them. And you can get a whole parent group, if you want to go have these conversations. There’s a lot of ways to get involved. There’s a great guide online called foodpolicyaction.org, which you can see where your congressman and senator is rated and you can actually get an idea of what their voting record is based on their food and agricultural votes, and you can vote them out of office. And that happened with two congressmen and senators who were quite apparently hostile to doing anything to change food for the better in this country. And they were outed by a social media campaign. So that’s very, very good.

Katie: Wow. Yeah, absolutely. And I will say, to focus on the positive for a minute, even in the 13 years that I’ve been in the health and wellness world, it has changed for the better. And a lot more, what I would call actually truly healthy things are available in stores and certainly online than they used to be. And there’s so much more awareness now than there used to be. And I think you’re right. These companies may not respond to, like the rules or regulations, but they will respond to money. And so if we all vote with our dollars, like you’re saying, I think we will continue to see those kind of changes. I’d love to talk about the food stamp program a little bit as well, because I know this is another area where I’ve had friends and talked to people who have been on food stamps, and the options that are available to them are extremely limited and not very nutritious. And at the same time, when someone really needs those food stamps, they also just need food. So, how do you think we can start to address that problem as well?

Dr. Hyman: Well, I think that’s a real big issue. So, we have a program in this country called food stamps or SNAP, which has been around since ’64 when Johnson implemented it to help deal with food insecurity and hunger in America, which is a good thing. The problem is that unlike other food programs, like school lunches or women in fits and children’s programs, there are no nutrition guidelines within it. So, in other words, you can buy anything. You can buy soda, junk food. In fact, the food stamp program is the biggest program in the country. It’s one of the biggest bills, the Farm Bill which should be called the Food Bill is about $900 billion, about $735 billion is for food stamps or SNAP. And of that, 75% of that is for junk food and 10% or $7 billion is for soda, which is basically 30 billion servings a year.

The sad thing is, 46 million Americans are on SNAP, about 60 million are eligible and 1 in 4 SNAP recipients is a kid. And so what’s happened is that these communities are maliciously targeted by the food industry, by heavy duty advertising when the SNAP comes out for soda and other really poor quality foods. And there’s often access issues as well and food deserts and so forth. So, we really have a situation where our biggest government food program is actually causing the people who use that food to become sicker and fatter and die younger. And I think that really is a shame. And I think there’s a lot of groups that oppose changes to SNAP, for example, Feeding America and others, which are good intentioned in terms of addressing hunger, but they’re not recognizing the harmful effects of the food on these populations. And they actually are funded by the food industry. So, on the board of these social groups called Feeding America and others, there are big food and big ag companies wanting to preserve the status quo and not change the SNAP program to improve the quality of nutrition in there, which is really unfortunate and terrifying.

Katie: Yeah, you’re right. That absolutely is. And yeah, I think, to focus on the practical action points like we’ve been talking about, I think it’s extremely overwhelming when we just think about how big of a problem all of this is and what it would take to actually fix it completely across the board. But I think like with any problem, we can all do so much in our own homes, like you’ve talked about, and in our own communities. And I think if we start there, the problem seems much less overwhelming. And, of course, even in school systems, many of us have the ability to send food with our kids, or to vote even in the school system to not purchase those things. And we have the ability to help those in our own local communities. I know in our local area, there are community gardens, there are outreach groups that work on providing food to the hungry that is actually nutritious and making sure they can get access to fresh fruits and vegetables and clean sources of protein. And I think things like that are a great first step.

I know our first podcast, we really went into how foods are shaping this chronic disease epidemic that’s happening not just in the U.S. but in the world, but I want to talk about this because to me, this is such an important issue, and if we don’t make these changes, the statistics of what we’re facing is pretty dire. I know that you’ve talked about how our diet is now the number one cause of death in the world. And right now we have a panic about so many other health problems, and yet people are still over consuming sugar and drinking soda in large amounts. So, let’s talk about the long term effects of this and how our diet is truly one of the biggest causes of chronic disease right now.

Dr. Hyman: Yeah, well, people don’t understand this. I think chronic disease as a thing is sort of vague and people don’t get what’s really happening. And what has happened over the last 40 years since the sort of advent of the food pyramid and this incredible push for low fat foods and increased starch and sugar, the food companies responded by producing huge amounts of processed foods with low fat and tons of sugar and starch. And that led to this rise in obesity. So, when I graduated… Sorry, when I was born, there was 5% rate of obesity. When I graduated medical school, it was less than 20%, now it’s 42%. And every year it’s going up and up and up. And now we have 75% of Americans overweight. A few years ago it was 65%. And it’s not getting better. And this is driving a whole range of diseases we call chronic disease that affects 6 out of 10 Americans and 4 out of 10 have 2 or more of these, whether it’s heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, dementia, depression. These are all diseases that are caused in part by food.

In fact, the Global Burden of Disease study, which was a big study done in Europe, looking at the role of food and health found that ultra processed food which is essentially made from soy, wheat, and corn ingredients that are turned into lots of different size, shapes and colors of processed food, which is the raw materials from almost processed food, that people who consume those, it leads to 11 million deaths a year. Now, I think that’s an underestimate. That’s like a holocaust every year. I’m not eating enough good food and too much bad food. And it’s a totally preventable thing. So, imagine if there was 11 million people dying a year from coronavirus. We’ve got like three 3000 people who have died, which is terrible, but it’s nowhere near the 2,300 people that die every day in America, every day, from preventable heart disease alone. So, we haven’t really grappled with this overwhelming explosion of chronic disease in this country, we haven’t really recognized it, and we certainly haven’t connected it to food. And food is the biggest cause of death in the world today, period. It’s not smoking, it’s not infectious disease, nowhere close. Three quarters of all the deaths in the world are caused by chronic disease. And most of those are caused by food.

So, I think it’s really important for us to sort of take a step back and look at what we’re doing and look at the food, how we’re growing food, what we’re growing, and actually what’s going on. So, I think that’s really, really important for people to understand. And I think if we face this head on, we can start to change our policies to produce better food on the farms, that’s better for the environment, that’s better for the climate, that creates better food for humans, more profitable for farmers, and actually starts to move the chain of overeating in a positive direction.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it really is important to look at those numbers. That still always blows my mind when I hear numbers like 2,300 people a day, just from heart disease. And I think there’s so much kind of confusing information in this as well. And I’d love to just from your perspective as a doctor and someone who works in the trenches every day with this, get some general rules that we can use in our families, in our own food decisions of what constitutes, like you said, good food versus bad food because some of them like processed food, sugar, those are relatively obvious, but there’s so much information right now, people saying we should all be plant based for the sake of our hearts, for instance, or things like that. So, what are your general kind of food guidelines that you personally follow and that you would give to your patients?

Dr. Hyman: Yeah, that’s great. Well, I think I’ve been doing this for a long time and studying nutrition for 40 years and have seen all the trends come and go, whether it’s low fat, low carb, high fat, low fat, keto, paleo, vegan, vegetarian. I was a vegetarian for 10 years. And I think that it’s super confusing for people, which is why I wrote a book called, “Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?” and another book called “Food: What the Heck Should I Cook?” to help you if you want to cook. And these books lay out the science of what we know. And it’s really quite simple. The truth is that most people who are trying to seek towards healthier diets, whether you’re paleo or vegan or keto, you actually have way more in common with each other than you do with a traditional standard American diet, which is 60% ultra processed food. So that’s just the beginning.

The principles are quite simple. It’s eat whole foods. So, if you can recognize it, know where it came from, and it’s basically what your great grandmother would have probably eaten, that’s a good start, right? That’s the first thing. So, eat whole foods. And then second is, eat a lot of plant foods, what we call a plant rich diet. And it doesn’t have to be all plant based but it should contain probably 70%, 80% plants, lots of non-starchy veggies, a little bit of fruits, lots of good fats, avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds, lots of those nuts and seeds which are helpful. Make sure if you’re eating beans, and you’re overweight, eat the low starchy beans, like lentils, for example or lupini beans. If you’re going to eat grains, stick with whole grains, not refined grains or flour. So, you can say, “Well, I’m having whole wheat flour,” that’s terrible. I would not do that, it’s just like sugar in your body. So, if you want to eat wheat berries, fine. But try other kinds of grains like black rice and buckwheat and quinoa and things that may have more protein and more nutrition.

If you’re going to eat animal protein, make sure it’s raised in a regenerative or sustainable way or organic way that is not causing harm to the environment or climate, that’s not using antibiotics and hormones and pesticides, and actually is creating benefit to the environment and climate through using methods that actually build soil called regenerative agriculture. And I think those are really simple principles. And then the last one is obviously, stay away from things that aren’t food, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, food additives, hormones, GMO foods. I think that’s something people don’t want to willfully eat. Nobody’s suggesting we should have more of those. Nobody would say, “Well, you should add a little pesticides to your salad,” like it’s a good plan. No, we should not be eating anything with that in it, if we can.

Starch and sugar are pretty harmful. I think people should really stay away from that as much as possible. And when I mean that I mean, refined flour and refined sugars of all kinds. So, I think that’s an important thing. They can be considered as an occasional treat but not as a staple. And then a lot of refined oils, probably we should be not eating. So, those are the basic principles. Dairy is a big question. I think, if we’re having dairy products like sheep or goat, or try to have more heirloom cow dairy, but it’s very hard to find and I think there’s some real problems with the monetization of our dairy industry, the homogenization, pasteurization, the breeding of cows that creates more inflammatory issues within their milk, which drives people into more inflammatory diseases. So, I think we really just have to look at what’s really possible through just a more sensible approach to diet that’s based on good science.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely agree. And I think such an important point that you made is that, if we focus on what we have in common instead of dividing ourselves amongst the little differences we disagree on, we will probably see change so much more quickly. Because even if it’s vegan versus paleo, for instance, we all agree that factory farms are not a good thing. We all agree that over spraying and mono crops are not good things. And if we united around those things, we would actually probably be able to affect change much more quickly. And I see this in the mom world so much, and that’s always my encouragement is, at the end of the day, we all want to leave a better world for our kids. And so if we could focus on the 90% we agree on we would get so much farther than if we argue about the little things we don’t agree on, whether it’s how long to breastfeed or how you should discipline your children, and we can make so many positive changes.

Dr. Hyman: Yeah, I mean, I basically jokingly came up with this concept called the pegan diet, which is really about making a joke about paleo and vegan, saying they have far more in common with each other than they have differences, right? They both agree that we should eat whole food. They both agree we should eat lots of vegetables. They both agree we should probably avoid dairy. They both agree we shouldn’t be eating a lot of chemicals and additives and we should be eating good fats. And the only difference is where you get your protein from, beans or grains or animal food, that’s it. And everything else is pretty much the same. So, there’s far more in common with each other than they have everything else and that’s why I sort of jokingly came up with the pegan diet concept as a way of poking fun at it, and just really funny.

Katie: Yeah, I agree. And that’s kind of a starting point I always mention as well, if you just need general rules, I think if we all just avoided the refined oils, sugar, and processed flours, that alone would probably do so much to reduce some of these trends that we’re seeing, and yet those are such a huge part of the American diet. And it boggles my mind when I hear things like pizza, and french fries, and ketchup are the most consumed vegetables. Like that alone is so, so telling of what we’re facing right now.

Dr. Hyman: Absolutely.

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Katie: So, to kind of move towards just community action steps and things… I know we’ve talked about things we can do in our own homes. Are there things parents can do that you’ve seen work to be involved at the school level or at the community level that actually can lead to policy change as well?

Dr. Hyman: There’s been a lot of efforts across the country that have really improved school lunches, and parents have been active in many of these things. And I think that we see that we can make a big difference. And I mentioned My Way Cafe in Boston, I mentioned the Conscious Kitchens. There’s a lot of groups that actually have done so much to show that it’s possible to actually get kids to eat healthy food that they’re not going to throw out, that’s going to be delicious, that they can do. So, I think there’s simple things that can be done. Parents can try to infuse salad bars in the schools. They’ve done this in the Cincinnati public schools, salad bar in schools. There’s groups that are partnering with local farms, farm to school programs which are great, which you can help advocate for. There’s ways to focus on these farm to school programs in a really great way. There’s school gardens that you can do at your school. So there’s the Edible Schoolyards from Alice Waters, Kids Gardening, Food Corps, Big Green, these are nonprofits that are all working towards helping kids actually learn how to grow food in their schools. There’s also cooking skills that can be brought in, you can have cooking classes, or something called Cook Shop and Common Threads, Recipe for Success that are all around the country doing really great things in schools. So there’s a lot of models out there. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

But I think if you’re not happy with your school lunches and your kids’ food, it’s important to make sure that you are an active parent and go in. And I think parents can do this collectively. And I think you can get a lot of models. Conscious Kitchens is a great group that actually teaches parents and schools how to actually get this done. There’s all sorts of great models like Wellness in the Schools, which is an alternative menu for New York City public schools that has fewer processed foods, more plant-based options, more fresh salads and dressings, no sugary drinks. So there’s a lot of ways to do this. And there’s a lot of models for how to do it.

Katie: I agree. And as a homeschooling mom, too, I think my encouragement would be, even as we should all be working towards these changes in the school systems that, like you said, it’s also very much possible and wonderful to start at home. And I’m a big fan of, especially this time of year, it’s a great time to start, everyone growing their own garden at home if they’re able, even if the school isn’t willing to have a garden or even if there isn’t a community garden, because then our kids are getting to see firsthand where food comes from and start to understand that and also makes them so much more likely to eat those foods. I’m a big fan of a course online called “Kids Cook Real Food” that walks kids through all of the basic cooking skills, but from a real food perspective, and I think that’s something that parents can easily implement at home. And if we give our kids these skills, I see it in my kids every day, they can cook an entire meal on their own. And then they are so excited to eat it because they put in that time, they understand where their food came from. And of all the life skills we can teach our kids, that’s such a valuable one. And one that so many people… Like I went to college with so many people who didn’t know how to cook at all.

Dr. Hyman: Absolutely, 100%. And I think that that is what’s really going on in this country, is the food industry has hijacked the American kitchen, has encouraged generations of Americans who don’t know how to cook to eat convenience foods. Convenience is king, you deserve a break today. Those are the messages we get. And cooking is a drudgery, that housework is a drudgery. And I think that, unfortunately, for busy parents and people that are working two jobs, it’s definitely hard but I know that it can be done. And I think that if we actually take back our kitchens by teaching our kids how to shop and cook and eat real food that’s delicious, it will set them up for life. It’s one of the most important things we can do as parents. And I think we shouldn’t be afraid to sort of learn ourselves to… I mean, there’s so many YouTube videos, for example, on how to cook. It’s not that hard. So, I think it’s super important for people to take ownership.

Katie: I absolutely agree. Are there any other resources, both ones you’ve created, or ones that you think are great online where you would point people and I can put links in the show notes to keep these things moving forward and to keep learning?

Dr. Hyman: Yeah, so I if you go to foodfixbook.com, I have a whole guide called the Food Fix Action Guide based on my book “Food Fix: How to Save Our Health, Our Economy, Our Communities, and Our Planet — One Bite at a Time.” And in that action guide, it’s really clear what you can do as a citizen, how you can be involved if you want in your political process, what businesses can do and what policies need to change. So, I think it’s really important for people to realize they have a lot that they can do, and should do to actually change the way our food system is run and to actually take advantage of what they can do in their own homes and communities to really transform their health and their family’s health.

Katie: Love it. I will make sure that is linked in the show notes and I’ll also link to our first episode which was also really, really helpful and practical. Another question I’d love to ask toward the end, is if there’s a book or a number of books besides your own that have really had a dramatic impact on your life in some way? If so, what they are and why?

Dr. Hyman: Oh, wow. I mean, sure. I mean, there’s a few books that I read that were really impactful. One was on Walden Pond by Henry Thoreau, which really had an impact on me as a teenager and shaped my way of thinking about how to sort of go for what you dream and live a life of meaning and purpose and connected to nature. And so that’s really been one of the essential things in my life that I’ve focused on, is how to sort of live in a way that’s got integrity and service and that’s connected to nature and just goes after your dream. So that’s been a very powerful one. I think another one I read when I was younger, a few books that sort of shaped my thinking about food and the food system is by Wendell Berry called “The Unsettling of America,” that had to do with this end of our farm community, the industrialization of our food. And he said, “We have a food system that pays very little attention to health and a health industry that pays very little attention to food,” so that speaks to that. And I think there’s other books that I read called, “The Soil and Health,” which was by Sir Albert Howard, which talked about… He was the father of organic agriculture and talked about the connection between the health of the soil and health of humans. He said, “The problem of health in soil, plant, animal, and man is just one great subject.” And I think that has been the guiding philosophy of my life and has helped me do the work I’ve done. So, really, it’s really these books that have helped me think about things quite differently.

Katie: I love that. I’ll make sure those are all linked. And I think that that quote is so important too about a health care system that doesn’t care about food and a food system that doesn’t care about health. And what I’ve realized in my own health journey is that the answer to that is each of us becoming our own biggest advocate for health both in our own lives and in our communities. And that doctors, especially people like you who understand both sides of that, can be such an asset in that but at the end of the day, we are each individually responsible for ourselves and for our family’s health. And we should partner with doctors and professionals who are able to help us, but we’re the ones making the daily choices, day in and day out, like we talked about today, with our kids’ lunches and with what we’re growing in our own yards, and cooking in our own homes. And that to me, that’s where the real change actually starts and the lasting change actually happens. And I know that you’ve said similar things, from the doctor’s perspective is that we do need to be active advocates as patients and not just expect to outsource this to our doctor. We have to take that personal responsibility and at home as well.

Dr. Hyman: Absolutely, I think we can’t wait for the government to fix it, although we do need to make them fix it. I think FDR said it very well. He said, “When someone came in and said, could you please change this or do this, he says, ‘Go out there and make me do it. Make it impossible for me not to do this because of the political pressure you’re going to put on me through your voices, your votes, your actions, petitions, whatever you can do.’” I mean, there’s a great example in my book “Food Fix,” about a woman named Vani Hari, who is a mother and an activist and decided she was going to go after bad ingredients in food that nobody was really going after. And so for example, Kraft macaroni and cheese in Europe has no artificial dyes or chemicals, where in America, the same company makes the food with artificial dyes and chemicals, and there’s no reason for that. And she basically embarrassed them out of them, and had them change it. And she did the same thing with all sorts of different companies like Subway, which put in a product called azodicarbonamide in its bread, which makes it nice and fluffy, but it’s banned in many countries. And she went there and pretended to eat her yoga mat, which is a yoga mat ingredient and embarrassed them to get it out and many other big companies got azodicarbonamide out of their food.

So there’s activism that we can do. And it’s something that is possible for each of us to be engaged when we feel discouraged, but I wouldn’t… I think mothers are probably the most important force in the universe. They care about their children and want them to be healthy. And so there’s a lot of activity that they can do to make a big difference.

Katie: I agree. And I said that since the beginning as well, that I think moms are the biggest potential force for good. And, again, if we can focus on the things we agree on, I think that we have the power to make a lot of these changes very, very quickly. And I also love that quote, about making them change it. I think, when we vote with our purchasing power, which we have as mothers, an extreme amount of purchasing power, that we really will start to see those changes. And I love that there are people like you really spearheading these efforts and talking about this on a national scale. And I’m just so appreciative of your work and with what you’ve shared today, and with all the projects that you have and the work to try to improve this.

Dr. Hyman: Oh, thank you so much. I really appreciate that. And I think your work is great. And I think we’re on the course to changes. I see massive, massive changes that are happening in the government, locally, at a state level. I mean, I literally just had dinner with our governor’s wife. And their state is really focused on improving nutrition, school lunches, changing farming. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of things that really inspire me.

Katie: Me too. And I think, yeah, as for all the work we still have to do, it’s encouraging to look back and see all the positive that’s happening. And just I appreciate all that you’re doing. Thank you for your time today and for sharing and for all the work that you do.

Dr. Hyman: Of course, thank you so much.

Katie: And thanks as always to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable asset, your time, with both of us today. We’re so grateful that you did, and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the “Wellness Mama” podcast.

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.



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