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The Share Guide: Would you agree that
vegetarianism is ultimately the best diet?
Dr. Elson Haas: Vegetarianism, if it's done
properly, can be a very healthy diet for people--in particular as a
transition diet for those people who have consumed too much animal
foods (both dairy fat and meat) and end up having high cholesterol,
high blood pressure and the typical American degenerative diseases. But
any time we limit our diet and avoid certain food groups we run the
risk of having deficiencies and problems from those things we are
avoiding. With dietary knowledge we can stay aware of the things we may
be low in, such as protein, vitamin B12, iron, zinc and even calcium if
we are avoiding dairy products. We need to make sure we are getting all
the necessary nutrients--either through certain other foods or by
taking nutritional supplements.
The Share Guide: So you think a vegetarian
diet is a good detox or transition diet for people who still want to
eat some meat?
Dr. Elson Haas: Yes, I think it is a
balancing diet for people who have over consumed meat. But I see a fair
amount of people in my practice who have been strict vegetarians for a
long time, and many of them have trouble maintaining their health and
vitality easily because they get underweight and find it hard to keep
their bodies warm. I personally have been primarily vegetarian over the
last 25 years, but I have started eating fish and occasionally some
good quality poultry. This has helped keep my body warmer and I have
better energy. I do minimize dairy products and eggs. Diet is very
individual; people need to pay attention to their own individuality,
plus the seasons and the climate. We also need to look at the diet we
grew up on, which our body has gotten used to. Each of us needs to
create our own diet and I believe that a high amount of vegetarianism
in that diet is healthy--so that people are eating primarily fresh
fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans, some nuts and seeds, and
a small amounts of eggs and dairy products, if they can handle that.
Individuals can also add some level of animal protein if they choose to
The Share Guide: Our assistant here at The
Share Guide also does bodywork. She has mentioned to me that a lot
of the people she works on in Calistoga are vegetarian, and that they
are very soft. Her impression was that there were a lot of weak or
wimpy looking vegetarians.
Dr. Elson Haas: I see that also. It might
have to do with the level of oils in their diet. Getting the right
amount and the right quality of oils is key. Good quality nuts and
seeds (ideally raw and organic), and good quality oils such as olive
oil and flax seed oil, really help keep the tissues lubricated.
Unfortunately, there are too many junky oils and fats in foods, such as
a lot of the oils in baked goods that people consume. It's important to
realize that just as there are people who eat mostly meat and potatoes
and drink alcohol and have a body that is very congested and toxic,
there are also people who don't get enough quality protein and oils and
end up with problems. This comes back to my belief that we need to find
a balanced diet for ourselves. When we get out of balance
nutritionally, we either get congested and toxic from too much of the
junk our body doesn't process well, or we experience the opposite:
deficiency. In that case we aren't getting enough of the vitamins,
minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids that our body needs to
function optimally and to maintain healthy tissues. Whatever diet we
choose, we need to be aware that we are getting adequate levels of all
nutrients. Every one has different needs. If you are someone who is
working out a lot or doing weight training, you need more protein. If
you are trying to quit caffeine and sugar and going through a
detoxification period, then you need less protein and more high water
content foods like fruits and vegetables. The key to nutrition is
looking at what it takes to maintain balance, strength and health.
The Share Guide: There are a lot of nutrition
books that say it is very important to eat protein with
carbohydrates--for example, The Zone Diet. That plan recommends
we eat a specific percentage of carbohydrates, proteins and fat:
40-30-30. What are your thoughts on this?
Dr. Elson Haas: I don't agree. Proteins need
more hydrochloric acid output and carbohydrates need a little more
alkaline. When we eat bread or pasta, we don't release as much
hydrochloric acid and the pH balance in the stomach and small intestine
is lower. When we eat protein and charbohydrates together, we send a
mixed message to our stomach and digestive tract. We may not digest
either as well. People who have strong digestion can handle most
combinations, but people with weaker digestion may get gas or bloating
or have trouble when they eat a heavier meal. Sensitive people will do
better when they watch their food combining, which means no sandwiches
with protein, no pasta or rice with fish. It also means avoiding fruits
(and fruit sugars) with other foods, not drinking fruit juice with
meals, and not eating fruits close to other richer foods because it
will sit in the digestive tract before it empties and may start to
ferment. This is a little hard for people, but those who have
difficulty with digestion will often notice an improvement when they
food combine more properly.
The Share Guide: It sounds like what you
recommend is the opposite of The Zone Diet and those types of
Dr. Elson Haas: I believe that we should
balance our diet on a day-to-day basis rather than a meal-to-meal
basis. Most meals do have carbohydrates, protein and fat in them, but
it doesn't have to be in an exact ratio. I think one of the keys in
healthy nutrition is to make sure we eat on average 40 to 50%
vegetables in the diet. They are the healthiest food, with lower
calories, lots of nutrients, good water content, and they support good
digestion and elimination. Most people don't do this. Back in the 80's
one of the popular books was Fit For Life. It was based on food
combining, with fruit in the morning, and the other meals were mainly
vegetables with one other concentrated food, could be protein, could be
a carbohydrate. If you want ideal food combining, eat a high amount of
fruits and vegetables. One of the things about insulin resistance and
the whole idea The Zone Diet is based on--which is carbohydrate
intolerance--is that people tend to consume very high amounts of
carbohydrates…for example, juice, a waffle and a piece of fruit for
breakfast. All are simple sugars (with a little bit of complex) and
easily absorbable, so you get a quick increase in your blood sugar--and
then later a quick decrease in your blood sugar. By adding protein to
that, like nuts and seeds, or a little piece of turkey sausage with
your breakfast or protein with your lunch, you slow down the quick
absorbability of those sugars by delaying the intake, because the
protein slows down the stomach digestion. Then you don't get the
glycemic rush of that carbohydrate meal. That's the real point, rather
than you should always eat carbohydrate with protein. I want to clarify
that. There are many different kinds of diets that have come out in the
past 20 or 30 years, which I put together in A Cookbook for All
Seasons. It is based on the seasons, food combining, and getting a
balance of your diet over the entire day rather than the idea that
every meal should have a balance of the food groups.
The Share Guide: Just to clarify, it's lower
glycemic index foods that we are seeking.
Dr. Elson Haas: Yes. There is an article and
clarification and a whole chart on the glycemic index on my website.
The Share Guide: What do you think of Dr.
McDougall's program, which is vegan?
Dr. Elson Haas: That is very strict, and I
think it's a greater limitation. You have to pay close attention to
make sure you are getting a balanced diet with good quality oils, and
getting enough B12, protein, zinc, iron, calcium, etc. It can certainly
be done. It is a very healthy diet to help balance out people that are
ill. Nutrition is one of the building blocks of good health. When we
have imbalances or problems in nutrition, it affects us day-to-day but
the main effects are over 10, 20, 30 years.
The Share Guide: So it's a cumulative effect?
Dr. Elson Haas: Yes, a cumulative effect from
certain habits, including consuming a lot of caffeine, sugar or
alcohol, and a lot of the other things I talk about in the Detox
Diet. Someone who has been on the Standard American Diet (The SAD
diet) and is overweight and starts to have high cholesterol, high blood
pressure and early onset diabetes, they will benefit from reversing
that diet and getting rid of those things which cause those
problems--which I believe is high protein, high fat animal foods.
Whenever you get people to detoxify and support themselves with
nutritious food and get away from junk food, they are going to improve
their health. John McDougall has great results with people when they
are in a rebalancing state from early onset degenerative disease so
common in this culture. But when people that are 15 to 20 years old
start on this diet and do it long term, they are left with the same
problems we discussed about as a strict vegetarian earlier in our
conversation--they have nutritional deficiencies, kind of pasty with
soft bodies, yin bodies as you say. I don't think it's necessarily a
healthy diet long-term.
I think we need to balance out all these different so called fad diets,
and come up with a more basic, healthy approach like the Mediterranean
diet that Andy Weil talks about in his books. The diet I recommend in
my books gives people a whole array of food over the entire day.
Basically, you start out with fruits and whole grains in the morning,
then you have a nut or seed snack to get the oils in at midmorning.
Lunch is usually protein and vegetables, and then a light snack in the
afternoon of fruit or vegetable. Dinner is usually a starch and
vegetable or a protein and vegetable and then a light evening snack if
you need it. These are not huge meals. The focus is on creating simple
plans. The foods you choose are ideally the foods that nature provides
at that time and place. For example, in autumn we have lots of apples,
broccoli, cauliflower, etc, then in spring and summer there are more
greens. As we get into the colder climate we need more grains, nuts and
seeds and the hard squashes we have to bake. In winter we eat the
things that store well or keep our bodies warm. This is part of the
Chinese concept, the macrobiotic concept. Before we had good food
storage, shipping and refrigeration, people had to eat this way. This
is the way people ate for thousands of years before modern times. We
can say we have made improvements, but we have also created a lot more
diseases from dietary issues. Our bodies do much better on a more
natural, seasonal, peasant-type diet than on the affluent, commercial,
The Share Guide: I agree. I do want you to
know that last year for our Diet & Nutrition issue I interviewed
Dr. John McDougall and John Robbins. I liked what both of them had to
say. I feel that McDougall is being a little more spartan or hard core
and it is a hard diet to maintain. But I think all of you are wonderful
and have a lot to offer us poor lay people who are suffering at the
mercy of the processed food manufacturers. Over at Whole Foods and
other natural foods markets, you are going to find better food choices.
Dr. Haas: At natural food stores there
still is a lot of "healthy junk food," which is not as whole and vital
as you might think. For example, there are lots of chips that are a
little healthier than the supermarket variety but still not a good
choice. The foods at natural food stores have less sugar, less food
additives, less food coloring, and that's definitely a plus. But there
are also so-so choices and optimal choices when you are shopping.
Ideally we should all have gardens so we have some food available in
our own backyard.
The Share Guide: In other words, a natural
candy bar is better than a Baby Ruth, but it's still better to just go
for an apple if you want a quick snack.
Dr. Haas: Right! An apple or date and a
few raisins or something. That is a quick sugar-based choice.
Oftentimes I'll eat on the road; I'll carry a bag of almonds and 3 or 4
apples. I can eat a handful of almonds and an apple and that's to me a
wholesome breakfast that is giving me lots of nutrients, and I'm
balancing out the apple sugar with the proteins and oils in the
almonds, and they actually do digest together pretty well.
The Share Guide: I often carry trail mix and
fruit while I am on the road. You can't always find healthy food when
you are out and you need something to tide you over.
Dr. Haas: One of the keys to putting
together a healthy diet--and everyone has got excuses why it is hard to
do--is you really need to make it your wish and create what you need
before you leave the house. If you are on a special diet and you don't
take food to work, and all of a sudden at 1:30 in the afternoon you get
hungry, your choices and discrimination are going to be much less. I
work a lot with the purification process. I've written an action
article that will be on my website. It deals with the two levels of
cleaning out and incorporates two components. One is looking at SNACC
(sugar, nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and chemicals.) Most of the people
in this culture have a habit of at least one of those. Many people,
probably 50%, have more than one. Taking a break from those substances
and getting your body to detoxify to a certain level and feel what it
is like to not be hooked into those common addictions, is one level of
Then the next level is what I write about in the False Fat Diet,
book about food reactions. It doesn't refer to fats in the diet but
to the fat in your body. "False fat" is a result of the bloating and
swelling that come from food reactions that make us look and feel
fatter than we really are. It has to do with bloating, gas, and water
retention. Women experience this a little bit more than men do. Most
overweight people have some level of false fat. This comes from
overconsuming common foods like wheat and dairy products, corn, soy,
peanuts, eggs and sugar. Your body can react to these foods through the
immune system, through the biochemistry and hormones. So the next level
of clean up or purification is to take a break from any of the foods
that you are habituated to. Oftentimes people lose weight more quickly
and start to clear up a lot of the other symptoms that they just
thought were conditions, like nasal allergies and sinus problems,
indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome (one of the most common
gastro-intestinal disorders these days). Often people have yeast
overgrowth, parasites and/or food reactions, and that creates
dysfunction, gas, and bloating and occasional cramps. The doctors work
them up and don't find anything so they call it "irritable bowel
syndrome." Usually you can find something that's causing the
irritation. Oftentimes when people go through these two stages of
purification, they quickly feel better, more clear headed, their skin
looks better, and they feel more youthful and vital. Then they have the
option to say that "I like to feel this way and am willing now to do
the work." Part of the benefit is that when people get into that clear
state, and then they start to bring these foods and substances back in,
they can really see how they're affected by them.
In 1975, when I moved into alternative medicine more significantly, I
did a 10 day juice cleanse. I write about this in a couple of my books.
I felt so profoundly different: my allergies went away within 3 days,
and my weight started to come down very quickly because I was 40-50
pounds overweight. I started to have an energy, vitality, mental
clarity, perception, that was so much of a shift from how I felt before
that I said, "This is what I want my life to be like; I want to feel
like this every day!" So I knew that I couldn't go back to those old
habits of burgers, fries, sodas, junk, overeating, dairy products, all
those things. That is when I shifted more to a vegetarian diet and went
through my cleansing and detox over a couple year period because I had
25 years of a junky diet.
The Share Guide: It's surprising we survived
the baloney and white bread years of our childhood!
Dr. Haas: Our bodies are very forgiving
in youth; they can handle more. Back then we were inundated with
capitalistic marketing plans from the Dairy Council and the meat
industry, and everybody had this pushed down their throats, the parents
particularly. "Don't breast feed your kids, this formula is much better
for them." Crap like that. . .it helped people sell products and helped
these white American males make more money!
The Share Guide: They were doing that at our
expense by giving false education.
Dr. Haas: Yes, 50-75% of all these
products produced are unhealthy for human consumption. You go in your
grocery stores and everything up and down those aisles are convenient,
yes, and some of them are OK, but by and large, if people had to turn
back to what nature provides, we would have a much healthier population.
The Share Guide: I think we have been sold a
bill of goods, and that we have sacrificed health for convenience. I
think it's gong to catch up with us in the long run.
Dr. Haas: Yes, it catches up to people
The Share Guide: In your books you mentioned
that there is a certain time of the year that is best to do a detox
diet and that is springtime?
Dr. Haas: Yes. Ever since I did my
10-day Master Cleanser back in 1975, I do it every spring for 10 days
with a group of 20 or 30 people at my office. It is such a profound
experience. Springtime is naturally the time when the weather starts to
warm up a bit, particularly in California, and the greens are out there
and it is a time when your body wants to naturally lighten up and let
go of some of the density from the winter time. We invigorate ourselves
by letting the sludge of winter cleanse out of our bodies and ourselves.
The Share Guide: What month do you do your
Master Cleansing Program?
Dr. Haas: I do it mid March usually. I
cleanse into spring; I am in the middle of it by the Spring Equinox.
The Share Guide: There you have it, Readers!
This is perfect, the key cleansing time. So one could read The
Detox Diet and then find recipes that apply to that based on the
seasons in The Cookbook for All Seasons.
Dr. Haas: In all of the books I talk
about the cleansing experience. Actually, my first book was Staying
Healthy With the Seasons, which is just revised and coming out as a
21st century edition this Spring. That is really where I wrote about my
first experience and first groups that I did cleansing with. It gives
more of a discussion of the Master Cleansing experience.
The Share Guide: Good. I have a couple of
questions about other subjects such as supplements. In your book, Staying
with Nutrition, on page 544 is the "General Adult Health
Insurance Daily Supplement Program." It lists all the things that you
think we should have in our daily supplements. So I took that list into
our local natural foods store and I went up and down the aisles with
the vitamin person and chose a brand. The brand that I chose was New
Chapter. Not only did they cover this complete list, but they are what
are called "whole food supplements." Supposedly they are more
Dr. Haas: Yes, theoretically.
The Share Guide: But I have also read in some
sources that the body digests synthetic vitamins as easily as natural
Dr. Haas: No one has done what I would
consider a true study, that really shows what level you get into your
bloodstream after you take these supplements. I don't believe those
that say "Just eat a healthy diet, you don't really need supplements,"
because there are two levels of nutritional medicine. One is getting
the foods you need to support your body and not be deficient. Then
there is the next level which is therapeutic support--getting higher
levels of anti-oxidants circulating in your body. But I want people to
know I don't promote good supplements over a good diet. I think people
must look at their individual needs.
The Share Guide: So you shouldn't eat
unhealthy foods and think vitamins are going to make up for it.
Dr. Haas: That's right. You have to
take into account our exposure to pollution and chemicals in modern
society, the possible lower nutrient levels in grown foods, the stress
people are under, and the weakness in the digestion assimilation that
happens over years of bad eating. I think people benefit from some
level of insurance by taking supplements. If you are at risk for
certain illnesses in your family history, or you have certain
conditions, then you should add nutritional support. I look at vitamins
and minerals and essential fats as diet support and I look at herbs as
medicinal, therapeutic support. My approach in medicine is lifestyle
first--good diet, regular exercise, managing stress, getting good
sleep, are the keys to preventive medicine. The next level is
nutritional and natural therapies. The last level is drugs, if you
cannot correct the problem with herbs and nutrients. That is how I work
in practice and that is how people should approach their conditions and
illnesses. When people don't feel good and have chronic problems, they
should look at their lifestyle habits that might be contributing to the
problem. Always look first to natural therapies you can use--and then
resort to your medical doctor, who is going to give your disease a name
and give you a prescription. As my friend Bethany Argyle says, "doctors
specialize in giving a pill, a bill, and a refill."
The Share Guide: I know people who have been
faithfully taking cheap supplements for many years, but I have heard
that cheap drug store vitamins and minerals just go right through you
and don't really do any good. Is this true?
Dr. Haas: I don't think they go right
through you, but I think the quality is very similar to the quality of
a good diet versus a bad diet. There are hydrocarbon-based synthetic,
lower quality supplements and then there are better quality nutrients
that don't have a lot of additives or filler and aren't extracted from
lower level foods. They will cost more. One of the good examples is
vitamin E. You can get it at one of the chain drug stores: a bottle of
400IU or 1000IU vitamin E as DL-alpha tocopherol, which is not a very
active component of vitamin E. It is a synthetic based, very cheap
supplement. Or you can spend 5 to 10 times more and get what has been
used in research, and what actually works in your body as a quality
antioxidant. This is a mixed tocopherol from natural sources (that have
some D-alpha tocopherol, gamma and other tocopherols) and probably has
much more effect in your body. Most people who don't really understand
the biochemistry will buy something because it is cheaper, but there is
an aspect of looking at both quality and cost! If you want high quality
with mixed tocopherols, you might be able to find a bottle of 100
capsules for $9--$10, or you might even spend $20. I have people bring
their bags of supplements in all the time. I look at them, and say,
"Yes, this is an okay one," or "No, this one is not good." You have to
learn enough to compare one brand to another, and with similar
ingredients--as we say compare "apples to apples." A lot of people
don't do that.
The Share Guide: Many young children grow up
on a diet of french fries, pizza and Coca-Cola. What are the long term
health effects of this and how do we help our children to eat better?
Dr. Haas: That's probably the most
important question because I want to affect children. The last chapter
of my book Staying Healthy Shoppers Guide--Feed Your Family Safely
is "Nourishing our Children." The number one guideline of ten
guidelines (I have it up on my website as well) is SET A GOOD
EXAMPLE. If you eat a certain way, children will do what you do. You
may be able to discipline them momentarily, even though you may be
doing something bad for yourself. But ultimately they will pick up the
habits that they see. If you are eating chips and beer for your dinner,
they are eventually going to do that too. To get the kids involved in
balancing their diet, have them help you shop and prepare foods, and
have the right foods available in the house--that they like. A lot of
times there's cooperation and compromise that needs to happen. There
have to be some treats, although I do not encourage people to use food
and sugar treats as rewards and the end-all for behavior and love,
because we are inundated with sugar. The amount of sugar people consume
in this culture is huge, 150 pounds a year!
The Share Guide: That is the way we were
Dr. Haas: That is the way a lot of
people were raised. I have many patients that have weight issues, and
when they are feeling sad or they need some loving, they turn to food
and they turn to sugars. In Chinese medicine, one of the profound
philosophies is when we are craving sugars, we are looking for
mother--we are looking to be comforted and to be told that everything
is OK, and we seek that out in our food.
The Share Guide: What is the best method for
combating dessert cravings?
Dr. Haas: You can find healthier
desserts that aren't rich in fats and sugar. We talked about apples and
dates, maybe a little granola and yogurt if you like that. Also,
insatiable cravings for sugar can be controlled by eating better
quality proteins. Certain supplements like chromium, glutamine, and
amino acids can help your brain have fewer cravings for sugars. A lot
of these cravings are patterns and habits that we bring with us over
many years, and that surface when we are emotionally stressed. Some
people may need to seek counseling and hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy is
great at getting to those places where you first started to do these
things and what was going on. You need to give your brain a new message
so you no longer react or respond to life in that same way. How do we
get people to change, that is the key. We have learned a lot more about
what is a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle. But people are
creatures of habit and part of the key is to motivate them enough to
start something--even a week or two weeks--and if they get results,
that is positive feedback. They start to feel better, their digestion
is better, and they start to feel more vital. Their skin looks better
and their allergies diminish. That's motivation! I was a terrible
creature of habit with my diet. I had to really shift and discovered a
whole different world--I didn't know humans could feel like this.
The Share Guide: How large of a percentage of
the population do you think suffers from food allergies?
Dr. Haas: I prefer to say food
reactions; probably fewer than 10% are truly food allergies. I would
say probably 60&endash;80% of all people have some level of food
reaction and a lot of that comes from the way we combine our
foods--from stress to our digestive tract, poor digestion, leaky gut,
yeast over growth, etc., which cause us to hyper-react or over respond
to certain types of foods. As I discuss in The False Fat Diet,
there are 4 or 5 ways that we can react to food: we can react through
antibodies, by cell reaction, we can have drug-like reactions to food
such as a headache from red wine or aged cheese.
The Share Guide: For those of us that dine out
a lot, restaurant menus are challenging. What strategy do you recommend
for eating healthfully while dining out?
Dr. Haas: I avoid sugar, dairy products
and wheat. To go in a restaurant and find something, I will first make
the waitperson aware that I have food reactions, and let them know my
needs. I don't like certain kinds of sauces, and I don't want black
pepper on my food. Ultimately, you want to find restaurants that you
know are conscious about the way they cook their food. Part of the risk
is that there are a lot of hidden ingredients, a lot of sauces, things
you may not be used to eating, and cheaper quality ingredients, cooking
oils particularly. I don't think it is wise for people to eat out too
regularly. I would focus on the foods you know are good for you. You
can go to restaurants that make healthier food where you can get a good
quality salad, a piece of fish or poultry if you eat that, or get
grains and beans if you go to a more vegetarian-oriented restaurant.
But as Andy Weil has mentioned, we should really eat two-thirds or more
of our foods as home cooked meals of good quality foods.
The Share Guide: How important do you think it
is to eat organic food?
Dr. Haas: I think it important to eat
as much organic food as possible. I have on my website the
10-25 key foods to buy organic. Those are the things that
are usually sprayed directly like leafy greens and strawberries (which
are usually heavily treated if they are not organic). If you have
babies you are feeding, you want to give them as much organic food as
possible because their sensitivity to chemicals is stronger. Any foods
you eat regularly, you might want to buy organic as well. My overall
message, to summarize here, is eat as much wholesome food as possible
and avoid as much junk and chemicals as you can. That is a real basic
statement. A lot of good quality eating is common sense--and not giving
into your emotional needs, or the pressure to be like everybody else.
And we really need to pay attention to our children. Do not support
them in consuming all the sugary cereals, the candy and all the food
coloring. We want to keep them away from aspartame, and MSG, which
affects their nervous system.
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