Eat To THRIVE
Is There One “Diet” That Fits All?

Dr. Al Danenberg Nutritional Periodontist

May 22, 2022

 

For many, a terminal cancer diagnosis is the end of the road. When I was given 6 months to live, I had nothing to lose, and everything to gain. My methods were, and still are, unconventional by today’s standards. But they worked! One of the biggest components to my success is my diet.

The Standard American Diet[1] isn’t good for any of us. It causes inflammation and many health problems. In contrast, my diet on paper looked great before my diagnosis with multiple myeloma. Since then, I’ve learned to make subtle adjustments that made all the difference.

To be healthy, exceptional, and empowered, we must eat not only to survive, but to THRIVE. Don’t fall for the gurus claiming to have created the “best diet” or categorically demanding you to “eat this to cure…” That’s not how it works.

Instead, let’s look at which nutritional factors really matter, backed by both science and evolution.

Our species has evolved over the last hundreds of thousands of years to dominate the animal kingdom. One main reason for this success has been the consumption of specific foods. And our DNA has evolved to be the blueprint which guides us.

So, to answer the question, “Is there one diet that fits all”, I respond with a resounding, “YES!”

A “diet that fits all” follows the guidelines of our DNA. But this lifestyle way of eating is not strict in many aspects. It allows for significant variation within its basic requirements.

Let’s take a journey – a journey of our species over hundreds of thousands of years. And let’s investigate our most basic human blueprint – our DNA.

 

Human Journey

Humans have evolved for approximately 2.5 million years. For the first 2 million years or so, our ancestors primarily ate elephants and other very large animals – predominately the fatty tissues as well as muscle meat, organs, and collagen parts. In addition, they perfected ways to crack bones to savor the bone marrow and brain tissues.[2],[3] Then, as large mammals began to diminish around 300,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens turned to medium-sized animals. But all along, our human ancestors were predominately carnivores who relished fat.

And now this fact has been proven by a group of researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel and at the University of Minho in Portugal. They published their cutting-edge research in March 2021 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

The researchers stated, “It is hard to convince a devout vegetarian that his/her ancestors were not vegetarians, and people tend to confuse personal beliefs with scientific reality. Our study is both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary.”

The investigators used genetics, metabolism, physiology, morphology, and archaeology of tool development to settle the question: “Were Stone Age humans specialized carnivores or generalist omnivores?

The scientific team came to this conclusion: Stone Age humans were specialized carnivores until about 20,000 years ago. Then, some plants were brought into their diet.

The scientists based this statement on facts:

  • Human stomach acidity is extremely acidic, indicating a meat diet in which the acid not only would kill harmful bacteria that was decaying meat but also would break down animal protein.
  • Human fat is stored in large numbers of small fat cells like other carnivore predators, whereas omnivores have few but large fat cells. Humans can make use of these high fat reserves by rapidly turning them into fatty acids and ketones for energy when needed.
  • Areas of the human genome are closed off to enable a fat-rich diet, but the areas of the omnivore genome are open to enable a sugar-rich diet.
  • Archaeological evidence supports a meat-based diet.
  • Stable nitrogen isotopes in the bones and teeth of prehistoric humans point to consumption of meat with a high fat content.
  • Specialized tools for obtaining and processing vegetable foods only appeared more recently along the evolutionary continuum.

 

Our DNA Blueprint

99.9% of each of us is the same![4],[5]

But for the most part, what makes you the person you are and what makes me the person I am is the remaining 0.1% of our DNA. Modern man (homo sapiens) has gone through a lot over the course of evolution. Life was harrowing.

About 100,000 years ago, the average lifespan was between 30-35 years.[6] Early deaths were caused by infant mortality for various sanitary and medical reasons. Then there were uncontrollable virulent infections, accidents, tribal warfare, being eaten by wild animals, and a host of environmental factors that we aren’t exposed to today. Over the course of many millennia, our DNA has been slowly mutating and is continuing to evolve and perfect itself.[7],[8]

As the basic blueprint for our existence, our DNA knows what it needs, and it certainly knows what it does not need. So, don’t fool with this genetic motherboard.[9]

At one extreme in our Blueprint, our DNA is very clear about what it requires to stay alive. At the other extreme, it is just as forceful in telling us what it can’t tolerate.

Basically, she says, “Give me what I need, and you will thrive. But force me to deal with toxic elements which I cannot destroy, and which accumulate in my body, then you will die.”

It’s that simple. In that regard, all humans are the same.

 

One Extreme

At one extreme, our basic needs are clear. We must breathe clean air; eat nutritious food; and drink untainted water. Neglect any of these three requirements, then surely we will be doomed.

 

The Other Extreme

At the other extreme, our blueprint is just as clear. If we put toxic substances into our body on a continuous basis, we will suffer. Make no mistake about it. If we insist on challenging our DNA by putting stuff into our body repeatedly that we never evolved to detox, digest, or rid itself of, then our human machine will suffer, deteriorate, and die.

 

Everything In Between

Our DNA Blueprint is the written story. But how the story can be told and will unfold is controlled by our environment and lifestyle. We have many options between the extremes of our blueprint.

Our food and the way we live can “turn on” or “turn off” our genes. If we have a genetic predisposition to a disease, we can manipulate our environment and diet to “turn off” those bad genes. Although our genes are our blueprint, we can do things to improve our future health or sickness.[10] The way each of us lives our life will determine to what degree we survive and to what degree we thrive. All of us can flourish by making choices that will improve our overall health. And Health is Empowering!

 

A Diet for All

Starting about 12,000 years ago, farming slowly ushered in what would become a dramatic change in the human diet and in human development. Over time, farming forced humans to eat more and more processed foods and less and less nutrient-dense, animal-based foods. These abrupt changes along with various agricultural and food processing chemicals have been major factors in the development of chronic diseases. And these changes are contrary to “Mother Nature” and go against our DNA Blueprint.

An animal-based diet consists of eating muscle meat, organs, cartilage, bone marrow, and animal fat from animals which have been grazed on organic grasses and humanely treated and butchered. An animal-base diet also includes some fruits and a few vegetables that are low in antinutrients.

Antinutrients are chemicals created by plants that our body does not digest completely and can accumulate to become toxic to our gut and our overall wellness. The majority of these antinutrients fall into the categories of phytates, oxalates, and lectins.

I’ve detailed my thoughts on this type of diet in my mini eBook titled, Better Belly Blueprint. Generally, 70% or more of the volume of a plate of food should consist of animal products, and less than 30% could be some plants that are low in anti-nutrients (i.e., phytates, oxalates, lectins).

This way of eating is not a “diet” that comes and goes. It is a lifestyle. It is the one diet that is right for almost everyone. It provides all the nutrients our body requires in a bioavailable form. It is the one diet that our DNA requires for survival and overall wellness. However, in rare circumstances, some individuals cannot eat this way because of unique medical dysfunctions.

This way of eating offers many options, but it adheres to the concept that humans have evolved as omnivores leaning toward carnivores. All foods that conform to this way of eating are totally acceptable.

 

Your Choice

If you are doing well, feeling healthy, and you have no medical issues that you want to improve, then continue doing what you are doing. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Now, I say that with a caveat. What if you could feel even better? Maybe you don’t have cancer, but you do experience an afternoon slump post lunch on a regular basis. Or you’ve been noticing that you feel more stressed than usual. More fatigued. Occasional stomachaches or headaches. Listen to those small cues. Your body will nudge you when something is off. If you ignore those nudges, they can escalate into bigger issues.

Just because you don’t have any health problems now, that doesn’t mean you can neglect your diet or go on autopilot. Take it from someone who has been in hospice ready to die but has come back from the edge. Don’t wait until your body is screaming at you.

If you want to improve your overall wellness, your energy levels, and your physical and mental being, consider an animal-based diet along the lines I have described – approximately 70% animal foods and 30% fruits and a few select vegetables. Be mindful of where your food comes from. You don’t have to change your ways overnight. Start incorporating small changes and take notice of how you feel.

As a matter of fact, the 2020-2025 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) includes guidance for feeding infants and toddlers from birth to 24 months old. These evidence-based guidelines emphasize the vital role of foods rich in iron and zinc (including meat). Iron-rich red meat, such as beef and lamb, are ideal first foods to help meet an infant’s nutrient needs starting at approximately 6 months old. And this 2022 article explains the importance of introducing animal meat immediately following breastfeeding.

At the end of the day, it’s all about feeling your best and becoming your best.

I’m available if you need me. I offer one-on-one coaching, and I share the wealth of information I’ve learned on my cancer journey on my website through blog posts.

 

[1] https://drdanenberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Standard-American-Diet.pdf

[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S104061821500097X?via%3Dihub

[3] https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/advances/5/10/eaav9822.full.pdf

[4] https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/fact-sheets/Genetics-vs-Genomics

[5] https://www.amacad.org/publication/unequal-nature-geneticists-perspective-human-differences

[6] https://medium.com/@frederic_38110/gerontology-how-long-will-you-live-4c9fd2704377

[7] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/human-evolution-dna-natural-selection-dna-genetic-mutation-why-a8641536.html

[8] https://humanorigins.si.edu/education/introduction-human-evolution

[9] https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-dna

[10]  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6275017/

 

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6 Comments

  1. Al, do you ever mention what those non-toxic vegetables and fruits are?

  2. How do you reconcile the fact that some of the vegetables that make the toxic list have also been shown to contain compounds that have strong anti-cancer properties or other documented health benefits? Sulforophane in cruciferous vegetables is one I am thinking of. Allicin in onions is another. Anthocyanins in purple vegetables and fruits is another. Lutein and zeaxanthin in carrots/kale/spinach is another. Curcurmin in turmeric root is another. I’d like to see some evidence that the anti-nutrients in these plant foods outweigh their beneficial properties. I have not seen a good discussion/analysis of that by anyone.

  3. I don’t have a Kindle, is there another way to read your book?

    • Hi Teri: You can download the Kindle App to your mobile phone or tablet for free. When you order the eBook on Amazon, it will automatically be sent to your Kindle App that you already downloaded.


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