One of the most frequent questions people ask me is, “What should I eat?” Maintaining health through diet is one of the central principles of the Eclectic Triphasic Medical System (ETMS). The ETMS dietary approach is unique, in that it weaves together the core principles of traditional dietary wisdom and current scientific research to offer a comprehensive health supportive diet that can be easily modified for individual needs.
The ETMS Dietary toolbox applies various diagnostic lens that review the host, the microenvironment, and the disease (in cancer, for example, the cell type, characteristics such as gene mutations and growth factors, and the location). All of this must be considered when creating a personalized diet.
Every calorie we ingest either fuels the inward energy that creates, nourishes, and heals every cell in our bodies, or is used to generate the outward energy that helps us act in the world. A nutrient dense, phytonutrient rich diet provides the building blocks to create healthy cells, produces balanced energy, and helps reduce the toxic waste by-products that cause inflammation and cellular damage.
ETMS Dietary Guidelines: Getting Started
Our bodies are designed to thrive on a varied diet of whole, unprocessed foods: fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs; proteins from sea and land animals; naturally grown and processed grains and beans; and fermented foods. Despite regional and cultural differences, traditional diets throughout the world are all based on some combination of these basic foods. These foods are tied to our human evolution—they are the nourishment that has kept us healthy for eons.
With an abundance of foods to choose from, we have the luxury of crafting the perfect health-supportive diet. The ETMS approach creates a comprehensive diet for each individual that takes into account geographic location; season; energetic type (deficiency/excess, yin/yang, organ system weakness); traditional diet (ethnic background/taste preferences); the presence of chronic and/or acute conditions; nutrigenomics (diet-gene interaction); lifestyle (work/exercise); and environmental influences (toxic exposure).
Ideally, you’ll have the opportunity to work with an ETMS trained practitioner who can help guide you in the process of creating your optimal diet. There’s a lot you can do on your own, though.
The philosophy of the ETMS diet is based on the Four Golden Rules of Eating:
Quality: Eat a whole-foods diet rich in fresh, organic or wild, and preferably local foods whenever possible.
Balance: Eat a balanced diet filled with a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds and a moderate amount of high-quality protein and fats.
Quantity: Don’t overeat to the point that your total daily caloric intake greatly surpasses your calorie expenditure.
Relationship: Have a healthy relationship with the food you eat; enjoy it and be thankful. Eating healthy food, grown from the earth and prepared with love, sustains both body and spirit.
Twelve Basic Tips For Creating A Healthful Diet:
1. Incorporate an abundance of food from plant sources, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, whole-grain breads, beans, nuts, and seeds.
2. As much as possible, choose organic, locally grown foods and wild-harvested foods, including wild greens such as nettles and dandelion, wild berries, and wild mushrooms. Strive for a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables, and focus on those richest in phytonutrients: dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, root vegetables, bitter greens, tomatoes and other fruiting vegetables, berries, grapes, and pomegranates.
3. Use olive oil as your principal fat, and eat olives daily. Other healthful fats include organic pastured butter and coconut oil (in moderation), avocadoes, and fresh nuts and seeds.
4. Eat moderate amounts of high-quality dairy products (organic/pastured goat, sheep, and cow) in the form of yogurt and mostly hard cheeses.
5. Consume moderate amounts of fish, eggs, and, if desired, organic poultry. Choose wild caught or sustainably raised seafood; canned fish (sardines and salmon) are also acceptable.
6. If you are a red meat eater, eat it only one to three times a week, unless you are iron deficient; then you can eat it a few times per week until iron levels reach normal. Consume only grass-fed, organic meat or wild game meat, not commercially raised meats.
7. Your total calories from fat should range between 25 and 35 percent of your daily diet, with saturated fat comprising 7 to 10 percent of your total caloric intake.
8. Eat fresh fruit as a typical daily dessert, limit sweets with a significant amount of sugar and saturated fat, and choose sweets made with whole grains and whole-food sweetening agents such as raw honey. For those wanting to avoid caloric sweeteners, use stevia or Lo Han, a medicinal fruit used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) is rich in antioxidants and has proven health benefits when eaten in small amounts (approximately 1 ounce daily).
9. Consume fermented foods daily; including fermented dairy products (kefir, yogurt), pickled vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut), and miso. Probiotic foods support beneficial intestinal bacteria, aid digestion, and support immune function.
10. Drink a moderate amount of wine with meals (one to two five-ounce glasses per day for men and one glass per day for women).
11. Season your food liberally with fresh and organic dried herbs and spices; most culinary herbs have potent antioxidant and anti-tumor activity. Herbs and spices also add wonderful flavor to food.
12. Drink pure water (spring or filtered) and a variety of teas as your primary beverages. Black, green, and herbal teas are a good source of phytochemicals and antioxidants. Coffee is also rich in unique phytochemicals; limit consumption to 2-3 8-ounce cups daily and avoid highly sweetened specialty coffee drinks.
Planning Your Daily Meals And Snacks
There is much more to the relationship between food and health than simply calculating the minimum daily requirements of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Plant foods contain many hundreds of compounds called phytonutrients that produce multiple beneficial and synergistic effects to suppress chronic disease, promote optimal health, and extend life. An important action of these foods is that they activate cellular defenses in response to oxidative damage as well as inflammation, thereby potentiating cellular antioxidant and/or detoxification capacity.
Use the following categories as a guide to planning your optimal daily diet:
Category 1: This category includes super-medicinal foods rich in phytonutrients that help protect against cancer and other degenerative illnesses. Aim to have these foods make up 20 to 25 percent of your diet. Examples are broccoli sprouts; wild greens such as watercress and nettles; wild berry concentrates such as frozen acai or huckleberries; pomegranates; chlorella-dense supergreens; and green barley grass. In addition, anthocyanin-rich extracts from bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), and grape (Vitis vinifera) have potent protective properties.
Category 2: These foods are generally very good for you but may not be considered super concentrated and medicinal. Wild salmon and tempeh are great choices for protein and would fall into this category. A wide variety of organically grown fruits and vegetables, especially those that are brightly colored—dark leafy greens; bright orange carrots, winter squashes, and yams; and deep red, blue, or purple fruits, such as blueberries and plums—are all category 2 foods. Strive to have these foods make up 35 to 50 percent of your diet.
Category 3: These are neutral foods—neither healing nor really bad for you. Hybrid commercial whole-grain products, such as whole-grain wheat crackers, or 50 percent whole-wheat bagels, are examples of the kinds of commercially prepared foods that fall into this category. A category 3 meal might consist of egg salad with lettuce and tomato on whole-grain bread, made with commercially prepared mayo and commercially raised eggs. Neutral foods should comprise at most between 10 and 25 percent of your diet.
Category 4: These foods do not promote health but do not destroy it, either. Category 4 should always be kept under 10 percent of your diet but does not need to be an absolute zero. Foods such as whole-grain sweets and semolina pasta fall into this category.
Category 5: This includes all foods made with white sugar, bleached white flour, or hydrogenated and trans fats. These are poisonous substances and should be completely avoided. Most candy, commercially made baked goods, potato chips, fried foods, blackened meats, soda, and salad dressings made with soybean oil fall into this category and should be eliminated from the diet.
Beyond The Basics
Variations in genetic makeup, gene expression, and ethnic background contribute to our individual nutritional requirements. Other factors include how well we digest, absorb, and utilize nutrients and the total amount of food we need to function properly. Conversely, nutrition can alter both gene expression and variations in our genetic makeup.
For these reasons, a cookie-cutter approach to nutrition is not the best way to support health and healing. The following considerations will help you construct a way of eating that will optimize your health and vitality:
Know Your Ancestral Heritage
There are a number of factors that determine a person’s unique nutritional requirements. One significant and often overlooked factor is a person’s ancestral heritage, which takes into account classic Darwinian principles of evolution and adaptation. Over thousands of years of evolutionary history, people in different parts of the world developed very specific dietary needs as an adaptation mechanism, in response to many unique aspects of their habitats and lifestyles—including climate, geography, vegetation, and naturally occurring food supplies.
For example, people from cold northern regions of the world have historically relied heavily on animal protein, simply because that’s the primary food source available to them. Thus, they have radically different nutritional needs than people from tropical regions, where the environment is rich in vegetative diversity year round.
In general, if you are of Northern heritage, you will likely thrive on a diet that contains a greater proportion of animal protein. If you are of Southern European, African, or Asian descent, you will probably do better on a diet that contains more fruit and grains. It’s important to also consider your current locale: Living in Florida or in a tropical country is more conducive to eating a diet containing more raw foods. In contrast, living in Alaska or any other cold weather locale is conducive to eating more warming cooked foods.
Eat Foods In Season
As much as possible, plan your menus around fresh foods, including seasonal produce and foods that are local to your region. Not only do fresh, local foods in season taste better, they’re better for you. Food that has traveled a long distance or that has been sitting on a shelf or in cold storage has lost much of its vitality, nutritional value, and flavor.
Fruits and vegetables eaten when they are in season conveniently provide the nutrients most needed during that season. Strawberries and tomatoes, for example, are harvested during the summer and contain antioxidants that offer protection from excessive sunlight. Root vegetables, which are harvested in the autumn and winter months, are rich in complex carbohydrates that provide fuel to keep the body warm during the cold winter months. In the spring, bitter greens such as dandelion, mustard, and nettles stimulate gentle detoxification after a winter of heavier foods and sedentary living.
The following foods are especially beneficial when eaten in the appropriate season:
- Spring: Asparagus, beet greens, broccoli, dandelion greens, kale, leeks, mustard greens, peas, rhubarb
- Summer: Berries, cherries, cucumbers, eggplant, figs, green beans, melons, nectarines, onions, peaches, radishes, sweet peppers, tomatoes
- Autumn: Apples, cranberries, mushrooms, nuts, olives, parsnips, pears, persimmons, plums, pomegranates, potatoes, pumpkin, walnuts
- Winter: Artichokes, broccoli, cabbage, citrus, collards, kale, onions, sweet potatoes, winter squash
Consider Your Energetic Type
Everyone has an energetic type defined in terms of deficiency/excess, yin/yang, and organ system weakness. These are primary diagnostic tools used in traditional methods of healing, including Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Although precise evaluation is best left to health practitioners who are familiar with the subtleties of energetics, in a very broad sense you can consider yourself to be more deficient if you tend to be easily chilled, suffer from poor digestion, and have low energy. Excess, on the other hand, is characterized by heat, inflammation, and irritability.
There are a few basic guidelines that can be employed when considering energetic type. For those who are deficient, a diet of mostly cooked, replenishing, easily digestible foods (such as curries, fish, and bone broth) is best. Those who have conditions of excess will benefit more from a diet that contains a greater proportion of raw, cooling foods (such as salads, yogurt, and fruits). Of course, these modifications should be considered within the framework of the basic ETMS dietary guidelines.
Most people do best with a blend of raw (cold), cooked (warm), and spicy (hot) foods, herbs, and spices. A cleansing diet tends to emphasize raw foods, whereas a building diet emphasizes warming foods. A balancing diet is about 50/50 divided between raw and cooked foods.
Managing Chronic or Acute Conditions
Tailoring dietary recommendations for chronic or acute conditions provides the body with the precise nutritional support needed for healing. It is best not to generalize and to consider each person with cancer or any other condition individually. For example, many theories on diet therapy for cancer emphasize a raw food diet. A consultant needs to discuss with a client what is practical and plausible for them, what they like or crave, and the nature of any religious or dietary preferences or restrictions. As mentioned above, eating raw versus cooked food depends on ancestral heritage, energetic type, locale and climate. Optimizing metabolic health (such as blood sugar stability and adrenal health) are also essential considerations in eating for health and recovery.
Crafting an optimal health supportive diet is an evolving process. While the basic 12 dietary guidelines remain the same, changes in locale, lifestyle, and health require dietary modifications such as those noted above. For more information on creating a healthy diet, please refer to my previous blog posts, including: The Truth About Grains; Should You Eat Soy?; The Pros and Cons of Coffee; & Eating Healthfully on a Budget.