When I hear the word diet, my first thought is: “Here comes another weight loss program.” Yet The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates is something quite different. It’s a set of dietary protocols designed to aid digestion, strengthen intestinal function, and promote optimal health.
Until recently, I never thought all that much about my digestive tract unless it produced obvious symptoms of distress. (I’ll spare you the details!) But it turns out that our well-being depends greatly on the health of this vital metabolic system. For example, our microbiome – i.e., the community of bacteria, yeasts, and viruses that live in the gut – determines the effectiveness with which we extract nutrients from the foods we eat. It plays a role in manufacturing essential hormones and regulating metabolism and blood sugar. It also influences genetic expression and brain chemistry. The microbiome lives inside a gut lining that is one cell thick. When in the peak of health, the gut lining provides openings for beneficial nutrients to enter the bloodstream while disallowing improperly digested foods and toxins to gain access.
A healthy microbiome has billions of beneficial microorganisms and (hopefully) contends with relatively few unhealthy ones. Candida albicans counts itself among the microbiome’s chief adversaries. This invasive yeast thrives when we eat a high-sugar, acid-forming, low mineral diet – a.k.a., the standard American diet. If you’ve got a tongue coated in a white substance, you may have an overgrown population of this yeast wandering throughout your body. Candida depletes iron, selenium, and zinc, which affects thyroid and adrenal function. It also produces free radicals that cause inflammation and dampen the effectiveness of the immune system.
Our diet should support the gut’s ability to maintain tight junctions in the gut lining. When the lining becomes enflamed, these openings loosen up and start letting “bad stuff” into the bloodstream. This condition is called “leaky gut,” and it has been implicated in autoimmune disorders. Common gut lining irritants include gluten, dairy, soy, and eggs.
Finally, the body likes to maintain its body fluids in a slightly alkaline state. If we ingest an excess of acid-producing food, the body compensates by leaching calcium from our bones to neutralize it. As such, we need to learn a bit more about the foods we eat to ensure we maintain an appropriate acid/alkaline balance.
The Body Ecology Diet takes account of all of these factors in its seven principals of eating and healing:
- Balance consumption of foods that contract (e.g., meat, poultry, fish, eggs) with foods that expand (e.g., raw vegetable juice, herbs & spices, teas, kefir, oils, lemons, limes, cranberries.) Foods that neither contract nor expand (e.g., vegetables) create a naturally balanced condition.
- Include generous portions of foods that help alkalize your system – e.g., vegetables, millet, quinoa, amaranth, herbs, seeds (except sesame), lemons, limes, unsweetened cranberries, and fermented foods.
- Recognize that every individual has a distinct physiology. The optimal diet for each individual may require trial and error.
- Work with the body to help it get rid of toxins and foreign invaders. For example, a diet that eliminates sugar, starches, and processed foods helps the body starve candida albicans.
- Eat compatible foods at every meal to help the digestive system release the proper juices and enzymes at the right time. For example, fruit digests relatively quickly in the gut. When layered atop a heavy meal that requires hours of digestion – e.g., meat and potatoes – the sugary fruit will start to rot while providing a food source for harmful bacteria and yeast. Therefore, eat fruit at least 30 minutes before a big meal or several hours after one.
- Eat until your stomach is 80% full, leaving 20% available for digesting.
- Pursue the path toward optimal health step-by-step. Start by creating a healthy ecosystem in your intestines. Then bolster your energy by taking good care of your adrenals and thyroid glands. Conquer systemic infection. Then cleanse the system.
The book contains a wealth of information about the seven principals as well as specific dietary recommendations to implement them. The associated website has additional resources and offers a collection of products to aid in the journey. I found all of the information quite valuable, and I’m working toward integrating the seven principals into my eating habits.