How do you prepare food in an easy way—a way that also nourishes your body?
Deanna Appleton is a functional medicine practitioner. She has been a friend and colleague of mine for decades—but her knowledge became crucial for me when I picked up a parasite on my travels and it damaged the lining of my gut and resulted in a skin rash all over my body and face.
Deanna helped me heal my body from the inside out. She’s here to share her wealth of knowledge about how to support our body’s miraculous healing power.
In this episode, we make food easy.
You’ll be surprised how much processed food slows down your digestion and creates a toxic build-up in your body. Processed food is such a tease, because short-term it makes you “feel” full and satisfied—but it doesn’t actually provide you with any of the real nutrients that sustain your body’s energy. So, suddenly processing that “food” becomes a heavy load for your body, instead of a nutrient-restoring process.
When you cook your own food, you know exactly what’s going into your body. But sometimes that can feel like too much work and time you don’t have.
Deanna and I talk through food preparation tips, share the essential nutrients your body needs and how the right foods can heal you.
Based on what we’re putting in our bodies, the body is prioritizing wellness with the resources you’re providing to it. The nutrients you put into your body directly relate to how your body feels (in case you hadn’t noticed!).
For example, if your diet were lacking in magnesium—your body wouldn’t have the resources to optimize your muscles. You might experience muscle tension, joint aches and even have trouble relaxing or going to sleep at night.
Let’s talk through each part of your diet, the main meals to the a la carte items and snacks that help you power through. Protein, carbohydrates, fats, starches, and sugars—we’re exploring how your body processes these foods and what it’s telling you about the “fuel” you’re giving it (or not giving it).
HERE’S OUR CONVERSATION:
Doctor Neha Sangwan: I’m so excited to be doing a little after hours discussion on food with Deanna Cherone, one of my favorite functional medicine doctors and my doctor.
Deanna, I have a lot of questions for you! I’m hoping that we can journey on an exploration together—a discussion between doctors that will hopefully help a lot of people. Welcome, Deanna!
Deanna Appleton, MD: Thank you, Neha. I’m really excited to do this podcast with you and share this information with all of the people on our call.
Doctor Neha: This is gonna be amazing.
You know, I think one of the most common things that people ask me is, “How do you prepare food in a way that makes it easy and healthy?” Making healthy, real food at the end of a long day can be such a drag. What’s your secret to consistently fueling your body with healthy foods?
Doctor Deanna: There are a couple of things to think about in regard to food.
First thing is planning. You want to sit down one day a week and figure out what you’re going to plan ahead to eat for the week’s breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
The next piece of the puzzle is preparation. It might be as simple as this on a Sunday afternoon:
- Roast a chicken
- Baking your favorite medley of vegetables
- Steam some sweet potatoes
Then put them in the fridge as dishes or plate each meal individually. Just having them ready for you to pull out and reheat makes it easy.
The other thing that I love to do is to have a ready made salad. Clean all my lettuce, put it in my salad spinner, and it stays there fresh for days. Then, I’ll cut up a bunch of vegetables that I like—celery, radishes, cucumbers, carrots—and put them in little small glass dish in the refrigerator with my lettuce. And there, I have my ready-made salad. You can either buy already made dressings like Primal Kitchen, which is a great option. I love making my own dressings, though. So for example, I’ll use extra virgin olive oil + lemon or even flaxseed oil + lime. Those are my go-to options to just throw on a salad with some salt and spices, whatever spices you like.
Doctor Neha: How do you feel about apple cider vinegar in salads and dressing?
I remember, I used to do 1 cup of olive oil, 2/3 a cup of apple cider vinegar, and 1/3 a cup of liquid amino Brax. (So not soy sauce, because that has gluten in it.) Then I would crush 2-3 garlic cloves into it, and that was like my favorite salad dressing.
There’s all these ready-made or prepared foods that you can buy. There’s a whole bunch of names, but the one that comes to mind is Daily Harvest. Certain brands that are now coming out with these pre-made meals. How do you know if they are actually good for you?
Doctor Deanna: Well, I think the best piece of advice is that we want people to eat real food as much as possible.
When you cook your own food, you know exactly what you’re putting into your body, which is ideal. Obviously, there are times when that’s not an option, and you need something that’s ready-made or easy to prepare.
Someone had actually asked about Daily Harvest, and I looked into it. It’s really interesting—I love their principles regarding regenerative agriculture and organic foods, so I think supporting organizations like that could be great. They provide you something quick and easy to make. Ultimately, the idea is that we like eating “real food” and preparing our food at home as much as possible. If these places like Daily Harvest allow you to do that easily when you don’t have time, it’s a great, great option.
Doctor Neha: So, I’m in the Bay Area. I remember a long time ago, my friend Nona had something called SF cook. Now she’s evolved into creating soups and all sorts of whole foods.
This is a movement that’s been happening for about 15 years—that that companies are really starting to have responsible practices and transparency in their ingredient lists. I’d say it’s also important to make sure that the principles these companies are building their brands on align with you and where you’re headed.
It’s no secret that if you’re feeding your family the same meals over and over again, it gets old after a while. So, how do you mix in variety, creative spices and give yourself space for that variety of foods?
Doctor Deanna: Eating seasonally and eating local are good rules of thumb. Looking at the rainbow of color and try to pick different colors, so that you have a lot of color on your plate.
Doctor Neha: Great. So, Deanna, I’m wondering, how do people on a practical level, create a week’s worth of dinner with 10 ingredients? Or maybe a little more than that… How do they create a week’s worth of dinners, by interchanging these fresh, seasonal ingredients?
Doctor Deanna: I typically will choose healthy animals sources. For example, pasture raised chicken or pork, wild caught fish, and grass fed beef, lamb or bison. The meat is my protein source, which makes up about 1/4 to 1/3 of my plate.
The rest of the plate is filled with vegetables, adding that color to the plate. Sweet potatoes and/or squash serve as my healthy complex carb. So make it really simple.
You don’t need to eat a gourmet, complex meal at every sitting. I think looking at food as fuel is an easy way for us to say, “Okay, I don’t need to make this complicated. I can do this! I can feed myself really healthy food that tastes great—and makes you feel good too.”
Doctor Neha: I think that’s the right ratio. However, what if somebody’s vegan? How are they going to get protein?
Doctor Deanna: So for vegans in particular, I recommend working in a lot of different protein sources—green peas, pea protein, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, nut butters and seed butters. There’s all sorts of different price options on these items. Rice protein is also something that vegans can use. The smaller the grain, the higher the protein content, and the lower the carbohydrate content.
Doctor Neha: Like quinoa would have more protein?
Doctor Deanna: I was just about to say that amaranth and quinoa are gluten free grains that are going to have higher amounts of protein. Then there are also certain vegetables that tend to be higher in protein like broccoli, spinach, artichoke and asparagus.
I remember being at a conference with Joel Fuhrman—he’s an amazing physician who does a lot with vegetables. He said that if you eat a bunch of broccoli, you’re actually can get more protein in that than an ounce piece of beef. It’s pretty enlightening to me to hear that information.
I think the key is that knowing that if you’re going to eat vegetables as your protein source, you have to eat a lot of them. Because obviously, you know, we’re talking a bunch of broccoli versus a little piece of meat. So it’s, it’s about volume when you’re talking about vegetables as a protein source.
Doctor Neha: Another thought I had was about the new trend of keto—everything’s “no carbs.”
Why do we need carbs, Deanna? Why are carbs important?
What are people missing, if they just stay on a keto diet?
Doctor Deanna: The thing I’m going to say about carbohydrates is that they are a dirty burning fuel in the body. So they create these advanced glycation end products, leaving behind something dirty in the body.
So better fuel sources would be protein and fat—and actually, your body can make carbs from protein and fat. For people who are doing keto, I think it’s important not to vilify them and say, “Oh, you’re eating the wrong way.”
I mean, I think that there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to food, and finding what really works for you is what’s important. Sometimes the keto diet works fantastically for people, and other times, there are people that really need the carbs. So you get those carbs from whole grains and healthy starchy protein.
I hate to vilify any of the macronutrients. I think they’re important, but some people don’t process carbs as well. Especially as we age, we just don’t seem to break them down well. So it’s okay to have higher protein and fat diet, because your body will convert that into carbohydrate if or when it needs them.
Doctor Neha: So what’s your take on natural sugars, like organic fruits that have higher fructose? For example—like dates, oranges, grapes, watermelon—are those are those healthy?
Doctor Deanna: The thing that I’ll say about fruit is the amount that you can eat really depends on the state of your health and your liver health. So fructose is the sugar in fruit, and it’s processed by the liver. So it’s kind of different than, say, eating a piece of bread, which isn’t processed with the liver, because it’s a different kind of sugar.
So because we’re inundated with so many toxins in our world today, our livers are just very taxed. You’re “adding more fuel to the fire” with these higher fructose fruits, and it can be really problematic for some people. I recommend 1-2 servings of fruit per day for patients. For some of my patients, they can’t eat any fruit because of their health challenges. The fructose is just too much for their body to process.
Doctor Neha: Well, one of the things I learned, because I had a lot of yeast in my system—is that sugar feeds yeast. In order to really get the yeast out of my body, anti fungals weren’t enough! I had to actually get off all sugar. So depending on where you are from or how your life circumstances have impacted your body—I think their diet choices might change or their customs might change depending on where they are.
Speaking of hydration… What’s your opinion on kombucha?
Doctor Deanna: I’d say for people who deal well with it, it’s fine. Now, unfortunately, a lot of people have trouble breaking down histamine, so for those people it can can definitely be problematic. There are some pretty easy ways for us to tell if you’re not breaking down histamine—seasonal allergies, asthma, skin rashes, any kind of eczema, allergic type reactions tell us that you’re not breaking down histamine.
So I think kombucha great for those that tolerate it, but a lot of people don’t because of the in their inability to break down the histamine.
Doctor Neha: So tell me if somebody is vegan and vegetarian, what are they missing by just eating plants?
Doctor Deanna: So as I was mentioning earlier, it’s hard to get enough protein into your diet—period. Vegan or not.
When I talked about the amount of vegetables that you need to get enough protein—what I mean is enough protein for your body to heal, repair and detoxify. Again, it’s hard for any of us to get enough protein—it just becomes harder when you’re eating just plants, because of the sheer volume of food that you need to eat.
The other thing that I see is a lot of vegans in my practice tend to eat a lot of processed food—bread, cereal, pasta, and even the seitan and the tofu. These are all processed foods. So again, I think if we can focus on eating real food that comes directly from nature, you’re you’ll get in more of the protein you need. You just need to eat larger amounts of those vegetables to get in enough.
Doctor Neha: And what if they’re dairy free? How are they going to get protein?
Doctor Deanna: So we touched on this a little bit earlier—but green peas, pea protein, lentils and beans. The smaller grains like quinoa are going to be higher in protein, lower in carbohydrates. The nuts and the seeds are great options. Some of the vegetables with the highest protein would be broccoli, spinach, asparagus and artichokes, white and sweet potatoes (that we tend to think about related to carbs), and then brussels sprouts.
I’m going to say it again—eat real food. Like if I can get you away from having a chocolate bar, a croissant or sandwiches and instead have you eating potato, meat, and nice green vegetables—that’s going to be much healthier than the processed foods.