Wednesday, August 10, 2016

On supplements

I am often asked what, as an holistic nutritionist, my position on supplements is.

The topic is quite complex and I cannot reply with a simple “yes their good”, “no their not”. What makes nutrition a very fascinating science is that the answer is always “it depends”.

This is not what people want to hear so chances are that half of the readers will stop reading NOW and look for another blogger who dispenses a more manicheistic opinion. But if you made it to this sentence thanks for your confidence, let me explain.

The correct way to supplement

Supplements are indeed useful in certain circumstances, Even I myself prescribe supplements to resolve some important deficiencies. Some fundamental things to consider are:
  • nobody has the same needs. The recommendation to swallow multivitamin pills like candies is based on the desperate need to sell medicaments to people that wouldn’t otherwise fund Big Pharma
  • supplements are meant to unlock tricky situations where diet alone cannot help. These cases must be identified correctly with the help of a registered dietician or nutritionist (and not by the pharmacist whose main interest is to sell you something)
  • supplements are a temporary solution, not a daily habit to keep all your life in the hope to make to 100yo

Let’s take for example the group of vitamins B:
  • some people may need more vitamins B of this group: (B1, B4, B6, B12)
  • others may require a second group of vitamins B, formerly called vitamins G (B2, B3, B8, B9, choline betaine, lipotropic factors)
The typical multivitamin just tries to provide a good amount of all the vitamins based on the daily recommended values, this obviously cannot work for everybody and to some people this unbalance may even exacerbate their issues. Would you walk in somebody else's shoes? Of course you can give it a try but I am pretty sure it won’t feel good.

Properly prescribed supplements, on the other hand, can be helpful to unlock tricky situations. One typical example I mention is the condition related to low gastric juices' acidity, with all the cascade of issues that this represents:
  • GERD (yes: Gastroesophageal Reflux is caused by lack of acids, not excess of them)
  • bloating
  • SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth)
  • leaky gut (and so allergies and food sensitivities)
  • and last but not least, impaired nutrients absorption

The last one is important: in order to produce stomach acids the body needs a number of nutrients, one of these is zinc. The irony is that to be able to absorb zinc you need stomach acids. It is a vicious circle and clearly diet alone cannot fix this, supplementation with zinc, digestive enzymes and additional acids is required. And that’s just ONE example, it should start to be clear why do-it-yourself diets don't work.

Then, why not taking supplements all our life anyway?

A-ha… I see where you come from: you want skip the boring healthy food and try to make up for the missing nutrients with pills and fortified snacks. Nutrients need cofactors to be properly absorbed and used in metabolic processes. Some are more famous than others (Vit-C and iron, Vit-A-D3-K2 and calcium, …). Others are less obvious, one example for all.

Ascorbic Acid is a molecule that the FDA decided to call Vitamin C. It is a very important nutrient for our body and although everybody thinks its role is just to calm the symptoms of a flu, its deficiency causes much worse conditions: bleeding gums, epistaxis, poor collagen health (and so weak cartilages, wrinkles…), poor adrenal glands function, etc. It was therefore decided a minimum quantity, called RDA, that everybody should take in order to avoid health complications, and so far so good.

Small problem now: ascorbic acid needs co-factors to be used in metabolic processes. These cofactors are a countless plethora of phytonutrients contained in the plants that naturally contain ascorbic acid itself and are definitely not found in a supplement. If you overdo with isolated ascorbic acid, and especially in the ambit of a poor diet, you can deplete your body’s stores of cofactors, with the consequence that, even in presence of ascorbic acid, you can show symptoms of Vit-C deficiency. How cool's that?

Reality check: the true Vitamin C is not ascorbic acid, but instead ascorbic acid with all its co-factors.

To conclude, the perfect supplement for Vitamin C (ascorbic acid and co-factors) are fresh fruits and vegetables. This holds true for most other nutrients:
  • Vit-A (it needs carotenoids to be used in metabolic processes)
  • Vit-B12 (like zinc, it needs good levels of stomach acids to be absorbed later in the small intestine)
  • Vit-D3 (must be in balance with Vit-A and Vit-K2), never take isolated D3 supplements, take fish oil instead
  • Vit-E (l-alpha-tocopherol is one molecule among many others with similar and complementary functions, most multivitamins contain only this one)

Quality of the supplements

Another issue with supplements is the quality of nutrients contained. I’ll go quick on this paragraph:
  • Vit-D3 (cholecalciferol) is often replaced by Vit-D2 (ergocalciferol)
  • Vit-B12 (methil-cobalamine) is almost always replaced by ciano-cobalamine
  • Vit-K2 (menaquinone) is rarely found in supplements, what you'll find instead is Vit-K1 (phylloquinone). Both are important, but are not interchangeable
  • And finally, vitamins produced per synthesis may present the rests of the solvents used in the production process (yummy...) 

Good supplements exist indeed, they are extracted from plants or from the organs of animals (glandular therapy). They contain the good vitamins and possibly even some cofactors, however they are more expensive: wouldn’t it be a better idea to invest that money in organic food?

Not only micronutrients

Protein powders, BCAA and multivitamins are the heritage of a “gym diet” that was very popular in the 80ies and 90ies. Bodybuilders supplemented for various reasons:
  • because of the wrong idea that the more proteins one eats, the bulkier they will get
  • because their low-fat diet, rich in refined carbs and lean meat (white rice, eggs white, chicken breast), left them seriously deficient in most vitamins and minerals

The “gym diet” recently lost some terrain thanks to the growing awareness of people on the importance of seasonal local produce and nutrient-dense food. Unfortunately some experts are trying to reintroduce them back, often for personal gain: either they have their own gamma of supplemental products or are planning to release it soon. I won’t point the finger: I’ll let you, the reader, the pleasure to rethink the claims of nutrition experts in this new optic.


Another trend are the superfoods, at least these are natural. Every year a new product is launched onto the market with a list of alleged health benefits. I’ll go quick on this one because I consider it the least of the problems: I myself enjoy goji berries sometimes, but not because I believe they have some magical properties. It's because I like them, and blueberries are not available all year long.

Typical characteristics of superfoods are:
  • they are newly discovered, often coming from some exotic location
  • consequently, none of your ancestors ever heard about them but in spite of this they did pretty fine (if you are here...)
  • sometimes they have some intriguing story behind: the monk who lived of goji for example, or the grain found in a hidden chamber inside a pyramid which had been planted and miraculously sprouted… c’mon give me a break!
  • it is cheap to produce but overly expensive for you to buy. Ah, the power of marketing!
  • for some reasons I never understood, they can grow at any latitude and altitude but you still have to import them
  • you are likely to forget about it after some years (mangosteen juice anyone?)


To be clear, I don’t think I walk on waters, but I am pretty sure I can swim better than many experts out there.

These days, with the help of internet and social platforms, the trend is the promotion of quick solutions to achieve health or higher performances (weight loss, clear skin, immune system strengthening, athletic performances, mental clarity, etc).

People don’t want to be sick and I can definitely understand it, that’s why I am so strict on my diet of nutrient-dense properly grown and prepared whole food. Eating liver is not very popular and most people would prefer a combo hotdog/multivitamin instead. The second option may still be better than hotdog alone, but in the optic of what we discussed this would limit your ability to fully express your genetic potential so… why?

In health, stay tuned!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Six pack is the new black

Why is there a picture of the latest Tarzan in blog?

I was looking at the trailers of this movie (which I think I’ll go see by the way) and stumbled upon a series of articles about the draconian program that the actor underwent in order to get in shape for the role.

Four months of chicken breast and crunches… in short, the old school: low-fat/high-protein and no-pain-no-gain. The actor also mentions that one day he started crying and the nutritionist that was following him opted for an emergency cheat day.

I am not surprised, but I am also a bit perplexed.

Not surprised because: put me on a low-fat diet and ask me to exercise more than 45 minutes just for one day and I would start crying myself: ok for the exercise part, but I’d rather fast than eating tasteless food, as you probably noticed in the picture section of my Facebook account “Alex The Foodie”.

Perplexed because: I think it is pretty much clear to everybody that this paradigm never really worked if not in the short term, which is what the actor was looking for anyway: get an 8-pack quickly and stay fit for the time needed to make the filming.

I personally think it is a very wrong approach and, at the risk of making this article a celebration of my own life-style, I believe that some words must be said. Summer is quickly approaching and I expect a lot of males ready to do anything to exhibit a 8-pack at the beach (some would be happy with a 4-pack).

Now. The actor is almost my age, we also share the same name, so… nice abs Alex! I am not going to say that the result was not worth the effort: I am saying that the same result could have been achieved without even trying, just using a different approach.

The diet

As a certified Nutritional Therapy Consultant, I’d like to focus on the part “without trying”, this is my favourite aspect of the diet I follow and advocate, which is (sorry for being repetitive) a properly prepared whole food based nutrient-dense diet which follows the traditions.

Traditions from all the world, without exceptions, made use of animal fats, they included raw and cooked vegetables, didn’t know what the word refined meant but knew how to process the food in order to optimise the nutrient absorption (soaking, sprouting, fermenting). And had what I consider the ultimate nutritional element that every recipe should contain: taste.

This is where the tarzan-diet fails in my opinion: if punishing oneself and allowing an occasional binge-cheat day with pizza and tiramisu is not sustainable for as short as 4 months to an actor who is being paid to do it, why should it work for the average Joe? Then, what happens when you decide not to follow it anymore? Exactly, you become fatter than before, the well known yo-yo effect.

But there is more, and it goes beyond aesthetics. I don’t yet have enough details on the diet, however, if the nutritionist that followed Tarzan wanted to have some credibility beyond the successful weight loss achievements, he must have realised that his client was starving to death, and I am not speaking about calories, but nutrients: minerals, vitamins and essential fatty acids. These are found in real food, and humans, especially those exercising hard, have increased requirements of them.

Which is what the chicken diet doesn’t provide: one theory about the extinction of the Neanderthals proposes that they died of malnutrition when mammoths disappeared and they started eating rabbit and other smaller game. Lack of essential nutrients means a weaker immune system and infertility, all the conditions to become endangered: if your ancestors ate fatty meat for millennia and you suddenly switch to low-fat or vegan, you can’t expect to thrive as a species. Think the panda, an animal that is still physiologically and metabolically a carnivorous but eats bamboo shots…

In short, the nutritionist has probably also prescribed supplements, I think this is not sustainable in the long term neither: synthetic vitamins are not the same as the real stuff. They can be useful to temporarily solve an emergency situation, but not as a replacement of a well-balanced diet.

I'll come back again on the details of my diet, so far I always spoke in general and never published many recipes or a complete meal plan.

The workout

As for the exercise part, this is another interesting one: while it is true that I don’t exercise much in terms of time, those 30-45 minutes I do every day are quite tough.

One thing I can say already: I haven’t done a single crunch in the last 4½ years, yet my core has never been that strong.

The autor of this blog, on April 2016
(but pretty much the same any time of the year)

I haven’t done curls or lateral raises neither, and of course I didn't use machines.

As a MovNat Certified Trainer and Animal Flow Certified Trainer, I disregarded any exercise that works muscles in isolation, and concentrated instead on primitive movement patterns like crawling, balancing, walking, running, jumping, climbing and the occasional swimming session.

Which, if you think, is what a real life Tarzan would have done all his entire life... there are no treadmills, rowing machines, kettlebells or barbells in the jungle and the last thing I think when I see a liana is doing double-unders. Instead, there are obstacles: and in order to go forward you need to swim across a river, crawl under branches, balance on fallen trees, walk on uneven terrains while avoiding hazards, run from predators (or to preys), jumping obviously and climbing for sure. The Tarzan yell is optional.

I am not a proponent of exercising in Nature for everybody, I myself like controlled environments: the natural setting can be interesting, a real challenge that can be thrown in occasionally. But the focus must be on the human body and this is always with us, whether we exercise in a gym, in a city park or even at home. The best we can do, which I grant you is pretty much enough, is to reproduce these very movements and keep challenging ourselves by altering the volume, the intensity and the complexity of the exercises. And have fun in the process, if the workout is not fun, you’ll always find an excuse not to do it and will end up bingeing on pizza and tiramisu.


A nutrient-dense diet and a tough but playful program of exercises that honour our generic heritage is all we need to get/stay in shape and do it while maintaining or becoming healthy.

While Tarzan is clearly a fictional character, fortunately there are still few isolated groups of people eating and moving like our primitive ancestors did: they don’t binge on chicken cutlets, powdered whey and BCAAs, they are clearly not vegan and they would look at you amused if they saw you performing crunches or wasting hours on the elliptical trainer. They are here to witness that, either with a perizoma or in suit and tie, we are humans. The more our lifestyles vary from what our genetic code expects, the worst we will do.

Stay tuned, like the Facebook page of my Movement Factor Geneva and… don't forget to crawl.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Low-carb for life?

It's been long since my last article. A big thanks to all the people that kept reading and sharing my blog during the last months. The statistics are clear: I received an average of 50 visits per week from all over the world including countries I never intended to reach, which is not bad at all for a blog that hasn't been updated for 6 months! This makes me really motivated to restart writing.

Today I stumbled upon this article on the benefits of a low-carb lifestyle, with particular reference to high-performance training while in ketosis.

Low-carb diets live periodical periods of popularity, sometimes longer sometimes shorter. They seem to be very in vogue these days and many people are going low-carb or even zero-carb, often following the recommendations of a gym pal for whom it worked.

Let me first say something: I am one of those who believe that the food pyramid is completely wrong and the base should not be made of starchy carbohydrates, followed by sugars, up to a tiny pyramidion on the top to represent fats. Carbohydrates are indeed important, but so are fats and proteins, as I explained in my article on balance.

Back to the article that convinced me to return to animate this blog, I agree with most of the points, but there are some important details worth adding.

First, the things I agree with

Massively increase the fat you burn
[...] our energy stores are deeper if you’re running on fat

Both are obviously true, being fat-adapted is wonderful: I am fat-adapted myself although I avoid ketosis (it gives bad breath and the sweat smells like nail polisher).
The good news is that you can still be a fat burner while staying on a “moderate carb diet”. Let me paraphrase this: you can get the best from both worlds and this is even more wonderful than being in ketosis: humans are equipped with an hybrid engin and as such this is how we should use it.

You hold less water weight on a low-carb diet.

True with a caveat: you must eat healthy fats, which is what saturated fats are anyway. Rancid and oxidised poly-unsaturated fats will cause inflammation and consequently water retention. This is the reason why the paleo diet doesn’t work for those doing it wrong (paleo bread, paleo muffins, paleo pizza crust…). Eat real food!

Get your carbs from non-starchy, nutrient-dense veggies
like broccoli, bok choy, fennel, and kale.

The second part is common sense and as my clients know, this is what I preach.
The first part, avoid starches, is half-true: they should be avoided when you are inactive, but are almost a must after (and not before) an intense workout. Glycogen stores in the muscles and possibly also the stores in the liver are depleted, that’s the ideal moment for a reasonable carb-refill: insulin sensitivity is at its top, you’ll spare aminoacids and the little insulin produced will promote muscle repair and growth.

But now the interesting part.

The dark side of being low-carb…

… especially when protracted for long periods and even more if you are into a high-intensity physical discipline.

1. Adrenals health

Low blood sugar triggers a response from the alpha-cells of the pancreas to release glucagon, this very important hormone helps in maintaining glycemy within acceptable ranges. Constantly low blood sugar levels caused by a low-carb diet sometimes are too much and, just like the beta-cells of the pancreas that release insulin to remove sugars from the blood, the alpha-cells can slow down. Enter the adrenals.

The adrenals are emergency glands, despite being small they play several fundamental roles to keep us alive. Critically low blood-sugar levels are indeed an emergency (you may go comatose…), and the adrenals respond by producing cortisol and adrenaline.

The first is an anti-inflammatory hormone, so far so good. It also activates the liver to convert fats and amino-acids (and therefore proteins) to produce glycogen through a process called gluconeogenesis. In other words, it impairs muscle growth and potentially triggers muscle break-down. I am not sure how studies can show that being in ketosis promotes muscle growth in the long period. My take is that other factors play a role in this, like the fact that fasting activates the release of HGH but again: you are cheating your endocrine system to bulk-up, are you sure you want to do this on a regular basis?

Adrenaline, too, activates fats conversion in the liver (good news: it doesn’t break down amino-acids), it also impacts the brain by raising alertness, this is the reason why, once you are truly fat-adapted, fasting gives you mental clarity. It is an highly addictive sensation so I am not surprised that many low-carbers feel so enthusiastic about their peculiar diet. And if this were not enough… caffeine by-passes all processes and directly stimulates the adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline. And the disaster is just around the corner, the two poor emergency glands that Nature intended to be reserve soldiers, are now fully employed on the front line in a fight for survival. The biggest problem of long periods of low-carb (and excess of caffeine, the two usually go together) is that adrenals too may fail: they are emergency organs and should be used occasionally, if you keep over-stimulating them why shouldn’t they fail?

Adrenals also produce sex hormones, in particular testosterone. If you keep them busy producing cortisol and adrenaline (emergency hormones) they won’t bother producing libido-enhancers, that’s definitely not the right moment. This is dedicated to you guys: having a belly that looks like Batman’s carapace is useless if… (I let you finish the sentence). My case is well supported by a consistent number of guys complaining about this on several forum. By the way, it is perfectly possible to show a 6-pack even on high-carb diets, as several vegan athletes seem to confirm.

2. Thyroid health

I will never repeat it enough: the food you eat is not just calories and anti-oxidants. When you eat you are sending messages to your body which will respond accordingly.
Low-carb diets are a clear message that famine is coming: less variety is never a positive sign. So it is time to down-tune the metabolism in order to burn less. One of the many ways to burn less is to limit the thyroid output which, as some of you may already know, is a situation where you don't burn body fat anymore, no matter how little you eat.
In addition to a reduced output from the thyroid, the liver also needs glucose to convert T4 into T3. Low carb diets will definitely make you lose weight quickly in the first weeks/months. You’ll get it back later with the interests.

3. Insulin resistance

Yes, as strange as it seems, your muscle cells can become insulin resistant not only by eating too much sugar (for periods too long), but also eating too little of it (for periods too long). This mechanism is designed to save glucose for the brain and from a survival point of view this makes sense big time: it is more important to avoid going into coma rather then outrunning Usain Bolt in the 200m.

Final words

For decades we have been told that fats are bad. Fortunately, recent studies and the honest reanalysis of old studies that have been deliberately hidden because they didn’t conform with Common Wisdom, are putting this fad to an end. Although people still find counterintuitive that eating fats won’t make you fat, there is a growing awareness of this and that can only be a good thing.

On the others side, it seems humans can’t live without a villain to hate, it must be evolutionarily hardwired in our brains. This time it is the turn of carbohydrates: will it last just some years or, like it happened with fats and cholesterol, shall we re-discover ourselves sicker than ever in 4 decades from now?

I am back writing: stay tuned, do you exercises dutifully and have some baked potatoes with your roasted duck!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Toxins, toxins everywhere

Sometimes, when I have a meal with others, I experience the Nutritionist Dilemma: should I tell them that the food they are eating is utterly unhealthy? Examples include fast food, chips and treats loaded with tons of refined sugar, colorants, hydrogenated vegetable oils and soy lecithin. Up to the allegedly healthy options like zero-fat cheese cream, soy yogurt, tofu, pasteurized fruit juices, crackers with 7-cereals, roasted nuts, meal-replacements, etc.

With all my good intentions of course, I don't want to be condescending or sarcastic. I just want to help people. And the response is the most frustrating and disarming claim a nutritionist can hear:

If you pay attention to everything, you don't eat anymore

Case closed, eat your healthy stuff, let me eat my poison.

One of my professors said that "doing lectures in social events is not efficient anyway". In his long experience as a nutritionist he knows what I am getting used to, little by little.

The mindset problem

We live in a polluted world. Some toxins are 100% natural (just think about the Amanita phalloides), some are man-made. Some substances are healthy in moderation and toxic in excess (Vit-A for example). In short, we cannot eliminate all types of pollution and toxins from our lives. Even now, most of you are sitting in front of a laptop (WiFi network), and probably have one or more cellphones within meters, if not in their pockets (microwaves).

Speaking about food, even an iceberg salad from the most organic produce contains toxins, both natural and artificial. How does this situation fit in the "frustrating and disarming claim" above? Easy: since we are already getting our daily load of toxins unwillingly... we should do the best choice possible in the cases were we have control of the situation. The good things we choose to eat should be good enough to counterbalance what we are not in control of.

I prepared a short (pun intended) list of common sources of toxins. It is obviously not complete, these are just examples. The goal is to raise awareness, stimulate the curiosity and have the reader do their own researches.

Let's start with the...

Ingredients, of course

Some food is not suitable for human consumption. Again, think about poisonous mushrooms or those delicious-looking red berries you saw in the woods: some food can kill you in days if not even hours. Some toxins are more vicious and kill you very slowly, in years. Surprisingly enough (well, to be honest I am not surprised anymore), some of them have even been promoted as health food.

I'll go now through a quick list, I think there is little-to-no need for explanations and everybody will pretty much agree on it. If not, just let me know.
  • Soy and derivatives (how could I not mention it...). Even if you don't eat tofu, fake-meat, soy milk or soy yogurt, this legume is found everywhere in pre-packaged food, either in the form of oil, flour or just lecithine.
  • Grain-fed meat from animals which should be fed grass. These animals are often filled with antibiotics to cope with the diseases to which they are easily subject due to their awful diet.
  • Rancid vegetable oils, just check my post on fats in case you missed it.
  • Plastic bottles, technically not an ingredient, but may leak into the water we drink. Plastic bottles are a source of xenoextrogenes and BPA. Choose glass whenever possible.
  • Styrofoam and plastic cups, plastic spoons, again can become ingredients by leaking cancerogenic molecules into your hot coffee.

Some healthy food may be/become toxic if not properly prepared or just eaten in excess. Notable examples are:
  • Some cereals (wheat, rye, oat, barley), proper preparation include soaking, fermenting or sprouting in order to eliminate phytic acid, lectins and to start breaking down gluten. Pasta, biscuits, pizza, grissini and white bread are the wrong way to eat cereals. Sourdough and oatmeal soaked overnight are the traditional and healthy ways.
  • Meat, charred meat is in fact cancerogenous, that's the bias of almost every study that proves how bad red meat is. Proper cooking techniques include stewing, boiling and slow roasting. Btw, meat can even be eaten raw if you trust the source.
  • Fish, due to the delicate ω-3 fatty acids, should never be cooked too long of too violently.
  • Cruciferae (broccoli, bruxelles sprouts, cabbage, ...) contain goitrogens, which impair the absorption of Iodine, thus causing thyroid issues in those people predisposed to. While most people can safely eat moderate amounts of them raw, for some others it is imperative to cook those vegetables to get rid of the goitrogenic effect.
  • Nuts and seeds, as I keep repeating, are not suitable for roasting. This is particularly true for nut flours, where the surface in direct contact with the air is augmented. Eat them rigorously raw. Further improvements include soaking them overnight to eliminate phytic acid.
  • Pulses (beans, chickpeas, green peas, lentils) are a great food which has unjustly been banned from the paleo diet because they contain phytates and saponins. Proper preparation includes soaking and cooking. Hint: never start from the fresh seeds, they must be dried and re-hydrated in order for the trick to work. As for nuts and cereals, the seed must think it's time to sprout.
  • Pseudo-cereals like quinoa, and amaranth contain saponins: again, soaking or at least pre-washing them before cooking will improve their health benefits (and their taste...). Unfortunately not many people know it.
  • Liver, is such a superfood with so many vitamins and bioavailable iron that eaten in excess may be toxic. In the same way you can overdo seaweed (iodine) and brazilnuts (selenium).
  • Red wine, I consider drinking a personal choice, however everybody with few exceptions agrees on the health benefits of the occasional glass. One thing people must realize is that the benefits of resveratrol have a upper limit, on the contrary the damages of ethanol are unlimited. Try not to reach the break-even point (translation: drink only one glass and occasionally). 

Food additives

When you buy prepared meals you can be sure of one thing: there are food additives. Colorants, preservatives, plenty of added sugar for sure, emulsifiers (often soy lecithin) and of course flavor enhancers, with MSG being probably the less dangerous.

I have been working on a list of food additives and their safety for my own use. I think that this subject is big enough for a dedicated post and probably even a printable handout that I will share with pleasure once I am done.


I am always surprised how surprised people are when I tell them that anti-stick cookware is not safe. I think that everybody already digested the fact that teflon is pretty much toxic, some people (including me...) even digested their share of teflon chips. Why should the new generation of cookware made with the same polymers used to make teflon... be any less unhealthy? That's the sad truth: silverstone is another name for teflon, what changed is the process to produce it, which justified the change of name. Ah, the power of patents...

Silicon has become a recent favorite, especially for cookies, muffins, cakes, etc. Flexible, non-stick, easy to wash, my grandma would have loved it. However from a health point of view silicon is very controversial and despite my researches I still do not have a clear opinion on its safety. In doubt, I prefer to avoid it, anyway I don't bake that much...

Aluminium cookware. Neurotoxic. Enough said.

Plastic containers in microwave oven... self-evident.

Ok Alex, once again: what should we use?

I am a big fan of cast iron cookware and through the years I replaced everything in my kitchen. According to me there is hardly a better choice: they can be used with any type of heat source including the oven. They distribute heat evenly and keep food hot long time on the table. They are not non-stick and if you try to cook fat-free you'll immediately notice it but that should not be a problem: after reading my previous articles you should not fear fats anymore. Last but not least... they will literally last centuries, if properly used of course.

Stainless steel is a good choice for an all-purpose frying pan or cooking pot. Definitely cheaper than cast iron, it is also thinner and may not deliver heat as evenly, but in general works very well for soups or for making bone broth (I want to see somebody lifting a 10 liters cauldron made of cast iron full of boiling water). It tends to leak iron, which may be good for some people, but also nickel, especially when in contact with acid food like tomatoes. And some people are sensitive to nickel.

Glass is a 100% safe and relatively cheap choice if you cook in the oven. Great for baked potatoes à la provençale, tartiflette, ratatouille, but also lasagne, moussaka, eggplants alla parmigiana, stuffed peppers, roasted fish... Sorry I have to stop here, I'm getting hungry.

Ceramic... that's a tricky one. In my opinion that's the best choice for cooking in the oven. It is refractory so it cooks food evenly without the risk that it stitches on it. The enamel however must be certified to be lead free.

Earthenware pots... oh yes! Crockpot, gwetch, tagine. Terracotta is another excellent choice for slow cooking. The lack of enamel and thus the porosity of the surface keeps the food moist and prevents a lot of flavors from being dispersed. I believe everybody seriously interested in cooking should own at least one (I have five). Again, the risk is lead poisoning, so don't use the first cheap crockpot, only quality products.

Skin products

Toxins, toxins everywhere... not just in our dishes. Let's talk about balms, creams, shampoos, shaving foams and soaps. Quick question first:

Would you eat your moisturizer or drink your shampoo?

As obvious as the answer is, the fact is that you are already eating it. The skin is one of our lines of first defense against pathogens and chemicals, however some chemicals are able to leak through. Just think about cortisol creams and nicotine patches. Why shouldn't it be the same with any other product you put on your skin?

Objection: they tested the creams and they are safe. I wish I could be so optimist. Tests don't last enough to show the side effects of prolonged use. The ultimate guinea pig is always the customer.

Objection: I don't want wrinkles. Neither do I. Skin health is important and that's exactly the reason why it should be approached the correct way.

Let's get practical Alex, no moisturizer, no soap, no shampoos. What then?

Products like Alep's soap or the original Marseille soap are made with three ingredients: oil of olive, oil of bay and lye. Both are extremely efficient for cleaning skin and hair and work wonderfully as shaving foam, too.

For skin care, one thing people are missing is that the skin is the mirror of what happens inside your body. If you don't fix the root cause you'll never get rid of the effects.
  • Dry skin is an indication of chronic dehydration and/or essential fatty acids deficiency. It may also be that you are using a soap that is too aggressive or just take too many showers.
  • Adult acne often reveals SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth). I would check this first, before using hormones based creams...
  • Wrinkles, while it is true that they cannot be prevented indefinitely, they can be postponed: nutrients like glycine (bone broth, collagen, chicken skin, ...) and Vit-C all contribute with surprising efficiency to keeping the skin young, brilliant and healthy looking. The side effect will be healthy joints, tendons and ligaments, and.... tastier meals!
The subject is very big and can't be fully covered here (for example, butter and coconut oil are good moisturizers and I personally don't mind eating them). I hope I conveied the Big Idea.

I am not an expert of skin care products but I am a nutritionist and I like working inside-out. I promise I will dedicate a post on this, maybe with the help of somebody.


This is an interesting one. Sweat is one of several pathways our body employs to eliminate toxins (the others are urine, feces and the breath). Important centers are the lymph nodes which are located under the armpits, which incidentally is also a place where we sweat a lot.

I won't develop this topic any further, I'll just leave you with some food for thought: does it really make sense to prevent your body from sweating and thus from detoxifying? What would be instead a better solution?

Dish cleaning products

Sometimes you do indeed eat soap, this happens if you wash your dishes and don't rinse them carefully. It has been calculated that, over a lifetime, the average person drinks a couple of liters of the stuff, drop by drop and day after day of course. Still, this is yet another poison we deliberately add to our diets when in fact we have the choice not to.

Sometimes, the best way to convey an idea is irony. One comic situation I always have in my mind is a mother screaming in a high-pitched voice:

Oh my goodness there is still some food on the dishes!
Let's wash it away with a petroleum-based poison!

And by the way, if you wash your dishes with bare hands, chances are that you are absorbing some through the skin, too.

Ok, Alex, we got it. So we leave the dishes dirty until next meal?

I never said that, there is in fact an alternative: cleaning them with edible products. My favorite cleaning agents for dishes and cookware are cheap vinegar and lemon husks (also good for brushing, very useful for the cast-iron grill). People are often skeptic about their effectiveness until they try. Then it is just a matter of making it an habit.

Volatile compounds

I skip tobacco if you don't mind, because that one is obvious.

The quality of the air we breathe is very important and just the fact of living in cities already gives us a decent daily dose of toxins (particulate matter, benzene, etc). We can't do much to fix it, except building a hut in Tibet and live like a hermit eating yak butter and potatoes until we reach the age of 120: it is proven to work, it is just not my ideal lifestyle, I believe it isn't yours neither.

We are not looking to be perfect, we are looking to do our best. The best we can do in this case is to avoid supplementing with additional toxins where we are in control. Examples of daily toxins most of us deliberately add to their air are:
  • Insecticides: those sprayed in the air are clearly the most dangerous. For a micro-droplet you actually need to kill a mosquito, you disperse a consistent quantity of the product. Guess who is breathing it? My take: run after the mosquito and kill it by physical means: the benefits are that you will be doing some cardio, too.
  • Eau de toilette, air scents: this one may not be obvious because people think that those products are tested and therefore safe. They are not. The fact that they don't kill you on the instant doesn't mean they are 100% harmless. Think of allergies, asthma, migraines... why are they becoming more and more diffused? For perfumes the problem is double since it is put directly onto the skin (see above: creams, soaps, shampoos...).
  • Hair spray: those copolymers of polyvinylpyrrolidone and polyvinyl acetate stitch to your hair, what do you think they do to the mucosa of your respiratory tract? With all my heart: stay away from it.
  • Nail polishers and thinners: they easily melt a crust that could bravely tolerate water, alcohol, vinegar, bleach and other solvents for one entire week. It is also very volatile so chances are you are inhaling every drop of it. Acetone and methanol are both extremely toxic, there are however alternatives which don't contain them. I found some products but won't list them here because I don't like doing ads, just be informed that they exist. I let the pleasure to find them to those interested, it's a girl thing anyway ;)
  • Cleaning products: although green alternatives exist (I manage to clean 99% of my house with just water, vinegar and alcohol), sometimes something stronger is needed. In these cases, make sure you wear gloves and possibly a surgeon mask. You may feel funny at the beginning but it is better than feeling sorry at the end.
  • Fabric softeners: I wasn't much a believer of this but after I read some studies of how conditioners stay in the tissues of clothes and bed sheets after the spin phase, how they keep sublimating for days, and their potential effects on heath, I am seriously considering not using them anymore.
  • Paraffin candles: cheap (and sometimes scented with chemicals) they are in fact made with a derivate of petroleum, so nothing I would breathe happily. Good alternatives, although more expensive, are beeswax candles. Think it this way: candles are great to create a warm and romantic ambiance... use the real thing!
  • Incense... I understand the charm of those exotic smelling scents and the feeling of enlightenment many New Agers get from burning them in their bedrooms or even at the office but... get real: fumes they are, therefore cancerogenic.
  • Paint thinners, glues and other solvents: many people like DIY. That's fine, it is a great hobby. Unfortunately it comes with a price and I am not referring to the costs of the materials and tools. Fumes of paint thinners and solvents are toxic and potentially cancerogenic, moreover the proximity to the source and the fact that often bricolage is done in a poorly aerated location makes you inhale quantities of it. If you really like bricolage and can't renounce to it, consider doing it outdoors.

Done? No way. The list is obviously an example, it could be much longer but again: it is the concept that is important. Smart people can figure out the missing bullet points just by looking around in their living rooms, while stupid people won't change their habits no matter how complete my list is.


The post is over, now I can finally ask:

How many of you removed the cellphone from their pockets
while reading this article?

But why? Anyway we live in a polluted world!

Exactly: the fact is that keeping a source of microwaves close to the reproductive organs is a choice, and we can choose not to. Shouldn't it be the same with the food we eat, the cookware we use, the creams we spread on our skins and the volatile compounds we deliberately release in the air?

Stay healthy and... stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


I have been asked explanations on my reluctancy to use nut flours as a replacement to traditional flours in preparations such as muffins, bread, pizza-crust, etc. As well as alternatives to milk such as white concoctions based on soy, rice, almond, coconut, etc. Topic what I intended to develop anyway, so it is with pleasure that I satisfy the request.

Just one recommendation: feel free to share your perplexities, approvals, disapprovals, etc in the comments area, not because I don't like being asked in the corridor or via email, it is just that this way it will be possible to animate an open discussion. If you feel embarrassed, remember: there are no stupid questions... and even for the almost-stupid ones, you can still post as anonymous ;)

Let's begin...

Nut flours

I already mentioned in one post that I am not an avid grain eater and I recognize that modern wheat has some problems. Notable problems of modern wheat are: higher gluten content (compared to the wheat of 100 years ago), and pesticides of course. Additionally, the way wheat is prepared today does not follow the traditional preparations (sprouting, soaking, lacto-fermentation).

Although my take is that gluten allergy and gluten intollerance are a bit exagerated by the media and often even by people pretending "to have it", the problem stays: gluten is inflammatory.

Let's face it, who right in their mind wakes up in the morning and says:
  • "I want to start the day inflamed"
... and eats some food that inflames? It is not a joke, it is a serious question and the answer is: anybody having bisquits or slices of white bread for breakfast.

Another problem with cereals are phytates. Phytic acid is a compound that binds some essential minerals (calcium, iron, zinc, ...), thus limiting their absorption in the gut. In short: bread may have iron and zinc, but you won't absorb them, bringing to a silent epidemic of mineral deficiencies.

In the health movement, and in particular in the gluten-free and paleo, wheat has been abolished. And that's fine, you can live without bread, pasta, bisquits and pizza. I do very well with just two or three homemade rye sourdoughs per year and I confirm that cereals are not such an important brick in the food pyramid.

The problem is that some people can't psychologycally get rid of the cravings for the treats and commodity foods they are leaving behind. Check any blog about paleo recipes and you'll see that nine dishes out of ten are treats with alternative paleo-approved ingredients. Enter nut flours.

Nut flours are nuts (very popular is the one from almonds) which are ground and used for preparations as a replacement for traditional flour: bread, muffins, pizza crust.

Why do I keep saying that they are not a healthy replacement? Let's analyze the content (100g, bleached almonds):

Proteins21.9 g
Carbohydrates19.9 g
Fats, total50.6 g
Saturated fats3.9 g (7.7%)
Monounsaturated fats32.3 g (63.8%)
Polyunsaturated fats ω-30 g (0%)
Polyunsaturated fats ω-612.1 g (23.9%)

If you have read my post on fats it should be obvious where I am going: the fats contained in almonds are easily oxidized with heat. Rancid fatty acids are inflammatory and potentially cancerogenic, to which I prefer gluten that is just inflammatory.

Even unroasted, the obvious unbalance between ω-3 and ω-6 does not really make it a good food to abuse, unless you are also eating plenty of cold water fish.

Will almond flour at least save you from phytates? Not even that: in the same amount of ground flour, almonds contain three times the phytic acid as wheat.

So, what's the solution?
  • The first is obvious: don't bake at all. There are literally dozens of thousands of recipes that do not involve baking, theoretically you can eat a different recipe every meal for the rest of your life and enjoy variety in the process.
  • Bake with other replacements. Some people claimed success with tapioca (cassava flour) as well as with plantain. In my quest to speak only about things I know, I tried both: tapioca makes a very gummy texture, not something I will ever become a fan of. However, tapioca is an excellent replacement to wheat flour in pancakes or to thinken sauces. The texture from plantain is more acceptable but won't inflate much, expect a very compact bagel from it.
  • Follow the traditions. Ditch refined modern wheat without much regret and use instead whole rye from organic produce. Take your time to knead a sourdough, let it lacto-ferment for 36-48 hours and bake it. Rye contains a milder type gluten and the lacto-fermentation process makes it more digestible even for people with REAL gluten intolerance. Rye also contains much more phytase than any other cereal, seed or nut: phytase is an enzyme that is activated with soaking and destoys phytic acid (yes: you absorb iron and zinc from rye sourdough).

Alternatives to milk

This is not the long awaited post in defence of dairy. Not yet. Today I am speaking about milk replacements and why I would be very careful with them.

Milk replacements are juices from nuts, cereals or pulses that are write or ivory in colour and have a ratio of proteins, fats and carbohydrates that mimics that of animal milk. There are also cheese and yogurt replacements, examples are: tofu, soy yogurt and almond feta... these too have a P:F:C ratio that looks appealing.

In our culture we have been brainwashed to believe that what matters are the macronutrients and some milk/dairy replacements look pretty fine from this point of view. Unfortunately it is not the way it works, nutrient density is what really matters.

Some considerations about alternative milks:
  • Vegetable milks don't contain Vit-A, Vit-D3, Vit-K2 and Vit-B12 (all of them are of animal sources and milks are no exception).
  • Even when fortified with calcium, the same cannot be absorbed and utilised by the body due to the lack of liposoluble vitamins.
  • Even considering milk from grain-fed cows, the balance ω-3:ω-6 is still better than vegetable milks. Grass-fed milk is clearly an even healthier choice.
  • CLA is only found in animal milk (traces are found in some mushrooms).
  • Raw milk also contains enzymes and natural probiotics that are not found in milk replacements. These enzymes play an important role in the digestion of milk and in gut health.
  • Rice milk is high in sugars and pretty low in proteins.
  • Coconut milk is a fairly good replacement for heavy cream and I use it a lot in South-Asian recipes and curries. It is however just this: a thickener for sauces with plenty of medium chain triglycerides which lacks fundamental micronutrients. In other words: don't drink a cup of coconut milk for breakfast thinking "it does a body good".
  • Soy and all its products deserve a dedicated article, the health issues coming from its consumption will make you think twice before having a single serving of it ever again.

Should everybody start drinking gallons of raw full-fat grass-fed milk right away? Obviously no, I don't do it neither. My point here is that people should not drink gallons of vegetable milks thinking that they are healthier that raw milk from grass-fed animals or traditional aged cheeses (parmesan, pecorino, gruyère, asiago, cheddar, gouda... just to name a few).

One important point I cannot discuss here (but I will, in a dedicated article) regards caseins allergy, lactose sensitivity and milk intolerances in general. They exist, although much less widespread than we have been led to believe. Obviously, for those people, both milk and some types of dairy products are definitely taboo, but that should not be a green light to nut milks for the reasons I mentioned above.


I realize that my posts are getting longer and longer. If you arrived to the end of this: thanks, sincerely. It costs me time and effort to write them but as I see the increasing number of visits, I know I am doing a good job helping people to get oriented in the confusion that reigns in today's nutrition.

In fact I'll tell you something: you didn't need to read it all, the picture on the top is already a good summary: the food pyramid should be about eating real food, replacement are not. That's the core message of the whole article and what I hope stays after you read it.

Eat well and... stay tuned!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Approach to nutrition

Warning: this article is a bit... boring. But I feel it is required both to introduce my future posts about myth busting, and also to justify my position against those diets that are based on dogmata.

The Big Idea

Nutrition is a science which studies the interactions of living organisms and their food, the metabolic processes involved in the phases of digestion and assimilation, and finally: the ability of the body to utilise the nutrients. If everybody involved in nutrition and dietetics stitched with this, we would be doing great and reliable research in this field.

Unfortunately this is not what is happening nowadays.

There are many reasons why research in the field of nutrition keeps bringing contradictory results. Some are political, some are economical. Often money is not even involved and that's probably the most sad of the reasons: people choose a dogma and try to justify it by tweaking the researches (if they are researchers) or pretending it works if they are just adopters of a particular diet.

Why do I say that dogmatism is the saddest of the reasons? First of all exactly because there is no money involved: were they at least getting an economical advantage!!! Ok, seriously now: the problem with dogmatism is that people are lying to themselves, that's why I find it sad.

Inconsistencies of the results

Nutrition is the most controversial of sciences. There are so many ways to alter the conclusions of a study that you can prove... basically anything:
  • cherry picking of data: just decide in advance what you want to prove and choose the data that support your thesis. Notable examples are the Seven Countries Study or the more recent China Study, the manifesto of vegetarians and vegans.
  • ignoring alternatives: this is when the proponents take in consideration the current way and their way, no alternatives. The risk is that some of the alternatives are better than what is being dogmatized, so must be ignored a priori. An interesting example is the comparison between CAFO and a plant-based diet which depends on agriculture: the quality of food and the environmental impact of the second is obviously better. The proponents forget to mention that holistically managed livestock have an even better impact on the environment. Another example is how we came to the conclusion that salt causes high blood pressure (hint: the quality of salt matters).
  • bad comparisons: any diet is better than the Standard American Diet, this is matter of fact. When you read that people on a plant-based diet are healthier, the comparison is always with fast food... ever wondered why the claim isn't: people on a plant-based diet are the healthiest (hint: it is not true). The same critique can obviously be done for any other diet.
  • biases, the most common is the healthy person bias. When people decide to follow a particular regimen for health, independently which one, that's definitely not the only radical change they will do in their lifes, for example: ditching junk food, stop smoking, reducing coffee/alcohol, doing sport. Most researches are highly biased because of this, with the result that any diet do in fact provide benefits. Some researches claim that "proper adjustent have been done to take into account blah blah...". I personally find that with a pool of 30 subjects, adjustment is just another word for messing around with statistics...
  • messing around with statistics and mathematics in general: this is the most difficult to debunk and requires some analytical skills. In general, playing with numbers permits to achieve incredible results. In case you were wondering how is it possible that in order to produce 100 grams of hamburger you need to waste 2300 liters of water.
  • generalizations, this is another interesting one: saturated fats and trans-fatty acids cause cardiovascular disease. True, I myself agree. What about saturated fats alone? This is also the way milk has recently become the number one villain. I promised I was going to dedicate a post on this, and I renew my promise.
  • concentrating on the benefits while ignoring the side effects, one example is the study of the Seventh Day Adventists, they may in fact have less heart problems, but alas... have higher rates of cancer.
  • studies too short, sometimes the side effects arise after years, I am thinking for example of the hormonal imbalances caused by prolonged low-carb diets, or the deficiencies in vitamins and essential fatty acids of a 100% vegan diet. Paleo diet itself hasn't been around long enough to test its validity in the long run.
  • the case study, taken as an example that the dogma works and everybody should do the same. I already mentioned that everybody is different, and I am pretty sure that in this world there are people with genetic adaptations who can do extremely well on a high-fat diet (Inuit), or a 100% animal protein diet (Masai), or a grain-based diet (European Alps), or the grandma who lived to 116yo eating bacon every day. Even a plant-based diet may work sometimes: rare but existing, some Freaks of Nature don't become insulin resistant despite a high-carb diet, can efficiently convert carotenoids into Vit-A and ALA into DHA, and have soil bacteria in their guts that produce Vit-B12. Isolated cases are not the proof that it works for everobody.
  • relying on outdated and wrong results just because they support what we want to prove now, like considering dietary cholesterol the direct cause of high blood cholesterol and a risk factor for CVD, and come to the conclusion that butter and yolks are bad (hint: butter and yolks are healthy).
  • bad raw data... this is usually the case of studies that base their sources on phone calls or questionnaires: questions difficult to understand, question with double senses (do you eat dairy, yes I eat cheeseburgers and cheesecake), weird aggregation (do you eat red meat, bologna, pepperoni, sausages), etc.
I could probably write an endless papirus of examples (observational studies, lack of double-blind, placebo effect...), but I stop here. I wanted to present some common fallacies just to make you, the reader, aware that: yes, indeed it is possible to manipulate a research and trust me, it is done regularly.

Some words on dogmata, and conclusions

Political and economic interests drive the research in nutrition. Diets also fall victim of dogmatism.

Ethics and love for animals is a very noble thinking, but unfortunately the lack of reliable science behind a vegan choice make it a very questionable option from a nutritional point of view. I often read studies on the alleged benefits of a plant-based diet because I still want to believe that it is possible. My great disappointment is that all the researches are flawed, so the question is: if a plant-based diet is so good... why cheating?

Ditching grains and dairy a priori for dogmatic reasons is an insult to the hundreds of generations that subsisted on them, and opens the door to grotesque substitutes like breads from nut flours or nut milks, both definitely less healthy than the food they are meant to replace. But apparently that's ok, as long as the dogma is honoured.

Personally, as I already mentioned, my choice falls on Traditional Diets. I believe that, with an eye to their biochemical individuality and before trying the latest fads, everybody should first attempt to honour the diets of their own ancestors which is, just to be clear, 150 years ago.

I hope my position is clear and understood, although I don't expect everybody to share it. I wanted to publish this post anyway so that I can link back to it in future ones when I'll speak about myth busting or I will present my analysis of researches.

If you are a regular reader you probably guessed already that the post ends with a friendly: stay tuned!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How to strengthen your immune system

"Let food be thy medicine"
(Hippocrates of Kos)

Today I'd like to write a special post dedicated to the food, herbs, spices and the behaviors which help improving the immune system. Autumn has come, and with it the first people with couch, flu, cold, etc... which is really unfortunate: if you get sick for a drop of temperatures from 25°C to 16°C, what will it happen when they drop to -10°C?

The following list has been compiled during the last two years (exactly, I didn't make it up for this occasion). I took ideas from other blogs and from some "heal yourself with plants" books. I also analyzed the contents of some naturopathic supplements for the immune system.

Clearly, I checked the evidence behind them and discarded those which weren't supported: you won't read many homeopathic advices in my blog. I hope it works for you just as fine as it is working for me.

Let's begin. First and probably most important point:

Heal your gut

You probably read it already, but it is worth repeating that 80% of your immune system is in your gut. People never take this seriously. If you have an unhealthy gut, you can't expect to be one-hundred-percent healthy. Let's say (ok, this is just to make a joke) that you can expect to be 20% healthy at best.

Seriously now: these foods have shown to improve the immune system and should become regular in your weekly rotation.
  • Fermented dairy, preferably from raw milk. Consider learning how to ferment milk at home and make it an habit, trust me: you don't look back anymore after it becomes an habit. Don't focus on one specific strain, you want to enjoy a variety of different fermented dairy products:
    • Yoghurt (Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Steptococcus thermophilus)
    • Bacteria from the Bifidum family
    • Milk kefir
  • Sauerkraut: that's another home made probiotic that you definitely want to learn to prepare yourself. Not only it is fun and tastes great, but it is also the real thing (what you find in supermarkets is likely to be boiled cabbage in vinegar). Fermenting cabbage and making fermented pickles with shredded roots was our grandparents' way to preserve vegetables during winter. They didn't know, but they were also keeping their guts healthy and turning on their immune system to face the cold season. There was no such thing as paracetamol, at the time.
  • Kombucha: it has recently become a trend, and I believe for a reason. My take is that, once again, you should learn to prepare kombucha at home to be sure of the final result. I personally tested some kombucha drinks I bought in health stores and tried continue their fermentation at home. I didn't succeed, meaning that the bacteria and yeasts in the bottle were pretty dead: it was just a bottle of sugary tea that, maybe, had some living organism inside. Homemade stuff is also cheaper by the way.
Good healthy bacteria don't just need to be regularly re-introduced in your GI tract, they also have to be properly nourished in order to thrive. This is were a low-carb diet or a no-carb diet shows its fallacy: you need a proper source of prebiotics, like resistant starches or soluble fiber (see my post on carbohydrates).

Bone broth

Once again, grandmothers knew it better. Bone broth is one of the foods that should become regular in your kitchen, at least during autumn and winter. Bone broth is an excellent source of:
  • Glycine (an aminoacid that is fundamental to heal the gut and maintain it healthy)
  • Easily absorbable proteins
    • they don’t stress the digestive tract and the liver, thus saving more energy to dedicate to the immune functions
    • don't forget that antibodies are made of proteins
  • Easily absorbable minerals
One error you can do with bone broth is to prepare it when it is too late, when you are already sick, that's what people usually do. Bone broth works on prevention as well and that should be your focus.

And before anybody asks me: no, dissolving gelatin sheets or chemical broth cubes in hot water is not the same. You have to start from the bones. Get you hands dirty!!!


Here is an interesting super-food. Shellfish contains ready and easily absorbable:
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, EPA, DHA)
    • Omega-3 are essential precursors of PG3, a water soluble hormone that fights inflammation
  • Zinc: it plays an important role in several metabolic reactions in the body, including digestion and the modulation of the immune system of course
  • Vit-B complex (especially B12)

Liposoluble vitamins (A, D3, E, K2)

Liposoluble vitamins are fundamental for maintaining a working immune system (and not only the immune system... but that's the focus of today). They act as anti-oxidants and immunoregulators. Vit-E also contributes to the conjugation of fatty acids into anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.

Sources that should never be missing in your weekly schedule are:
  • Eggs, with yolks of course
  • Grass-fed dairy products (especially butter), unless there are known allergies or sensitivities
  • Oily fish (mackerel, sardines, herrings, anchovies, salmon, tuna)
  • Vegetables containing beta-carotene (carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, ...)
  • Oil of olive
  • Liver, as I said in my last post, liver is the ultimate superfood

Spices, herbs and other anti-viral food

Sometimes the best defence is the attack. The following are powerful disinfectants that also taste good. It shouldn't be difficult to include some or even all of them in your recipes or daily habits.
  • Raw garlic (kills virus, bacteria, protozoa and even worms, nature's true antiseptic for excellence)
  • Ginger (another excellent anti-viral, use it pickled, tea or freshly squeezed on an indian curry)
  • Horseradish (food for though: why is sushi paired with wasabi?)
  • Propolis (a formidable anti-microbial, anti-viral and anti-mycotic, it also modulates the immune system)
  • Hot chili peppers
  • Celery, raw
  • Green tea
  • Turmeric
  • Fresh (not dried) mushrooms: maitake, reishi, shiitake
  • Raw honey


  • Iodine, is proven to support the immune system and is also an anti-bacterial and anti-viral agent
    • Seaweed (preferred)
    • Iodine supplements 
  • Selenium, supports the iodine and helps chelating heavy minerals (mercury in particular)
    • Brazilnuts
    • Kidneys

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Although I am a huge proponent of locally grown and seasonal produce, I must admit that sometimes you need to accept the compromise and buy imported food. Fresh fruits and vegetables are irrenunciable sources of essential and non-essential nutrients that support immune functions.
  • Coloured fruits and vegetables, they contain
    • Flavonoids
    • Polyphenols
  • Sources of Vit-C
    • Freshly squeezed juice of lemon, orange, grapefruit
    • Bell peppers
    • Kiwi
    • Persimmon (a late-autumn/early-winter fruit, so technically "in season")
At this point you may be tempted to get Vit-C supplements. This is a huge mistake, BigPharma knows it is a huge mistake, but has interests in having you believe that Vit-C supplements are a great idea.

The fact is that proper utilisation of Vit-C by the body requires a number of co-factors, usually found in the food containing Vit-C itself. Taking isolated Vit-C without the co-factors depletes the body's stores of these co-factors, thus making Vit-C unusable in metabolic processes.

Herbs and supplements which support the immune system

This is probably what you already read every year in the magazines and what your pharmacist will try to sell you as the panacea that will grant you total immunity against all seasonal ailments.
It is not that they don't work, they do indeed have some role in reinforcing the immune system. However that's what they are: supplements. Optimal health is always supported by the nutrients found in everyday's food, not some magic pill.
  • Echinacea
  • Astragalus
  • Codonopsis
  • Siberian ginseng
  • Catnip
  • Elder flower
  • Liquorice

Avoid things that weaken your immune system

As one of my teachers keeps saying (I hope he is reading): most of the results are from what you remove, not what you add. Here is a list of things that you may reconsider in your diet.
  • Processed food
    • Process food is deprived of nutrients; as we saw before, a working immune system cannot prescind from the nutrients that support it
    • Your focus should be on nutrient-dense whole foods, properly grown and prepared 
  • Seed oils rich in omega-6
  • Bad fatty acids
    • Trans-fatty acids
    • Hydrogenated fatty acids
    • Rancid fatty acids, for example baked seeds and nuts, especially nut flours
  • Alcohol
    • The immune-depressor action of alcohol works in multiple ways, stay away from it if your objective is avoiding cold and flu
    • The myth that some grappa "disinfects the throat" is just an excuse to drink one extra shot; not only it doesn't work, it irritates and inflames the throat even more
  • Insulin spikes
    • And therefore sugary treats, I always wondered why they are so popular during winter despite their nefast effects on the immune system...
  • Gluten
    • Inflammatory. Enough said.
  • Soy
    • This will always be in the list when I mention things to be avoided

Lifestyle changes

Some changes are everyday life's tips, some are pretty obvious but as they say in Latin: repetita juvant.
  • Wash your hands frequently
    • Although some sources advise to eat dirt to train your immune system, I definitely don't buy it
    • Not washing hands is usually the flagship of people following a primal/paleo lifestyle. I have good news for you: chimps have been seen washing their hands and I am pretty sure they are more paleo than any human has ever been ;)
  • Reduce stress, get good sleep, learn to relativize
    • The way stress impacts the immune system is very complex and  really goes beyond the scope of this already long post
  • Get a moderate and adequate amount of exercise
    • Both no exercise and excessive exercise weaken your immune system
  • Spend time outdoor
    • Pathogens thrive in closed environments, especially crowded places. Enjoy time outdoor even in cold weather: fresh, pure and oxygenated air is less likely to harm you than warm, humid and stagnating air.

Remember: it is a lifestyle

A important thing to remember is that a strong immune system is something that is cultivated all year long. You can't expect to achieve stainless-steel health in one week, just because you heard a co-worker coughing and want to avoid contagion in a desperate last-minute effort, this is not the way it works. That's why I am publishing this article in advance so that you can be ready for winter.

It is a lot of stuff and it takes some organization and some change of habits to be put it into practice... but in my opinion the reward is totally worth the effort.

More cool stuff coming soon, as I always say: stay tuned!