This group of foods is connected only by two facts: One, they are all superbly healthy foods, and two, none of them fits neatly into any of the other categories. Sure, sauerkraut and kimchi are both technically vegetables, but they’re also fermented and used as condiments. And olives are a fruit, but no one thinks of them that way. And into what category would bee pollen go?

It seemed simpler to group these misfits into their own category.

So, what we have here is a group of wonderfully nutritious foods that range all over the map, from traditional fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi, to the mineral-rich seaweeds, to juices made from green grasses, to completely modern inventions such as whey protein powder and brewer’s yeast. And though this category includes a few foods not found in our Paleolithic diets (our hunter-gatherer ancestors, for example, never came across dark chocolate bars in the wild), a list of the world’s healthiest foods would not be complete without any one of them. Eat and enjoy!

Image Bee Pollen, Propolis, and Royal Jelly

Advocates of bee pollen can be their own worst enemies, claiming that bee pollen can cure everything from cancer to hangnails. But inflated claims aside, a significant body of literature shows that bee products—particularly propolis—do have significant and documented health benefits that help explain why they have been a staple in folk medicine and healing traditions for more than 2,000 years.

Bee pollen is a phenomenally nutritious and well-balanced food that can be consumed by people and domestic animals. It’s been called nature’s perfect food because it is loaded with vitamins and contains almost all known minerals, trace elements, enzymes, and amino acids. (It actually has more amino acids and vitamins than any other amino acid–containing product like beef, eggs, or cheese.)

This makes sense because bee pollen captures the essence of every plant from which it collects pollen. In addition, bee pollen contains digestive enzymes from the bees. According to Ray Sahelian, M.D., bee pollen contains eighteen amino acids; DNA and RNA; vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, and B12; niacin; pantothenic acid; folic acid; vitamins C, D, E, and K; choline; inositol; rutin and other bioflavonoids; calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc; ten types of enzymes; coenzymes; and many other nutritional factors. Bee pollen contains flavonoids that have significant antioxidant properties. According to Mark Stengler, N.M.D., bee pollen also contains hard-to-get trace minerals such as silicon, molybdenum, boron, and sulfur. And it’s one of the few nonmeat sources of vitamin B12.

Bee Propolis Fights Infection

Propolis possesses a multitude of pharmacological activities. It’s created by the bees by mixing a resinous sap from trees with wax back at the hive. Bees use it as a kind of glue or general-purpose sealer—they coat the hive with propolis in much the same way we use paint and caulking on our homes. People began using propolis more than 2,300 years ago for many purposes, the foremost of which was applying it to wounds to fight infection. A review of the biological activity of bee propolis on health and disease published in the January 2006 Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention noted that propolis possesses antimicrobial, antioxidative, antiulcer, and antitumor activities.

Many scientific articles are published every year in different international journals related to the pharmacological properties of this amazing substance. More than 300 compounds have been identified in propolis samples, including polyphenols, and many of these compounds have surprisingly protective effects. One active compound from propolis—caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) —is known to have anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties. In a study published in the May 2006 Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, CAPE derived from propolis inhibited the cell migration and colony formation of tumor cells, providing direct evidence for the role of CAPE as a potent antimetastatic agent that can markedly inhibit the metastatic and invasive capacity of malignant cells.

Humans Benefit from Bee Susceptibility to Infection

Propolis is well known for its antimicrobial activity. It’s been shown to have an antibacterial effect (against Staphylococcus aureus) as well as an antifungal effect (against Candida albicans, or yeast), and even an antiviral effect (against Avian influenza virus). It’s really not so surprising that bee products like propolis would have such powerful antibiotic effects. Any beekeeper will tell you that bees are very susceptible to bacterial and viral infections. From a sheer Darwinian point of view, it makes survival sense that the very material that they “caulk” their hives with would be highly protective against the microbes that could easily destroy them.

One study, in the July 2006 issue of International Immunopharmacology, suggested that the anti-inflammatory activities of propolis might make it a novel therapeutic agent for asthma. (One of the flavonoids found in bee pollen is the powerful anti-inflammatory quercetin.) And a paper in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2005 found that propolis stimulates antibody production, perhaps accounting for its reputation as an immune system enhancer.

Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is a special creamy substance secreted from the nurse worker bees that stimulates the growth and development of the queen bee; without it, she’d just be a regular old worker bee. When the eggs turn into larvae, they eat this special food for only two or three days and quickly develop into large and healthy bees. But the queen continues to eat this food for the rest of her life, with the result that she grows 40 to 60 percent larger and lives about four to six years, while the worker bees live only about six weeks. These facts may account for the anecdotal reputation of royal jelly as an amazing antiaging substance that can foster health and extend life.

Royal Jelly May Be Overrated

I’m less enthused about royal jelly than I am about propolis and bee pollen, though it is a concentrated source of nutrition. Royal jelly has the appealing property of being a creamy emulsion that is strongly antibacterial, which makes it an ideal component of cosmetics and skin care products. But as some responsible experts point out, internal uses of royal jelly are less promising as the antibacterial activities disappear when the pH is raised to above 6 by the natural buffering systems in the body (which maintain a pH of about 7.4). In fact, no clear evidence exists to support claims of internal usefulness for royal jelly as a therapeutic agent—though one study showed that royal jelly (at approximately 50 to 100 mg per day) reduced total serum cholesterol and serum lipid levels. And neopterin—a substance found in humans that appears to play an important role in the human immune system—has been isolated from royal jelly.

Still, it is a greatly nutritious food—containing all the B-complex vitamins, including a high concentration of B5—plus minerals, vitamins A, C, D, and E, eighteen amino acids, enzymes, and hormones. But none of these vitamins or minerals appears to be unique to royal jelly, and there is much less published research on royal jelly than there is on propolis. Its antibacterial activity seems unlikely to be expressed when the food is ingested, yet that same antibacterial activity, along with other properties of the substance, make it a really desirable ingredient in topical preparations and skin creams.

Dark Chocolate


In a fascinating and much-discussed article that appeared in the December 18, 2004, British Medical Journal, researchers put forth an idea called the polymeal. They examined all of the research on foods and health to see whether they could put together the ideal meal (the Polymeal) that, if you ate it every day, would significantly reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease. They examined all of the research, did all the calculations, and came up with a theoretical meal that, eaten daily, would not just reduce cardiovascular risk, but reduce it by a staggering 75 percent (there’s not a pill in the world that can do that).

The ingredients of this Polymeal? Wine, fish, nuts, garlic, fruits, vegetables, and chocolate.

In fact, they even figured out the risk-reduction contribution of each of the individual foods; the actual percentage of reduction in risk for cardiovascular disease from eating 100 g a day of cocoa-rich chocolate (more about that in a moment) turned out to be a pretty impressive 21 percent.

Flavonoids in Cocoa Prevent Clogged Arteries

Cocoa is loaded with compounds called flavonoids, which are also found in cranberries, apples, strawberries, onions, tea, and red wine, placing chocolate in excellent company. There are more than 4,000 of these flavonoids in the plant kingdom. In plants, flavonoids provide important protection like shielding from environmental toxins, and when we consume plant-based foods that are rich in flavonoids, we also get a lot of the same benefits the plant gets.

The particular class of flavonoids found in cocoa are called flavanols. Cocoa flavanols prevent fatlike substances in the bloodstream from clogging the arteries. When you reduce the blood’s ability to clot, you also reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. (That’s why they sometimes tell you to take a baby aspirin—for the same reason.) All these factors make blood platelets less likely to stick together and cause clots. As a bonus, cocoa also contains magnesium, one of the most important minerals for heart health.

Flavanols in cocoa also do something else that’s very important. They modulate a compound in the body called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is critical for healthy blood flow and healthy blood pressure and is a very important compound in the area of cardiovascular health. In one Italian study, dark chocolate was shown to lower blood pressure, and the reason may well be that flavanol-rich cocoa actually supports the body’s ability to synthesize nitric oxide. In another study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was reported that dark chocolate not only decreased blood pressure but also improved insulin sensitivity in healthy people!

Cocoa flavanols have gotten a lot of attention in the nutrition world since the original edition of this book, and a big part of the reason is the Kuna Indians. The Kuna live off the coast of Panama, and they are unusual in that their blood pressure tends to stay pretty much the same throughout their lives. Unlike Americans and Europeans, the Kuna do not experience the dangerous rise in blood pressure that accompanies aging and increases the risk for heart disease and diabetes. Some researchers—including Norman Hollenberg at Harvard Medical School—think it’s because of cocoa. The Kuna Indians drink about 5 cups (1.1 L) of the stuff every day. One study, published in 2011 in the prestigious British Medical Journal, found that the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease. The researchers concluded that “levels of chocolate consumption seem to be associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders.”

Chocolate and Dementia

A number of studies have found that eating chocolate lowers the risk of dementia, and improves performance on cognitive function tests. Best of all, one of these studies found that it only took about 10 g a day to get the results.

And speaking of cognitive performance, consider this study, one of the most novel and inventive studies on chocolate I’ve ever seen. Given chocolate’s reputation as a cognitive enhancer, Franz H. Messerli, M.D., director of the Hypertension Program at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, decided to see whether there was any connection between winning the Nobel Prize and chocolate consumption! So he looked at the number of Nobel Prize awards per capita in 23 countries, and compared that with the recipient’s country’s chocolate consumption. His findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed a strong correlation between chocolate consumption and Nobel Prize winners. Granted, this is a completely whimsical, observational study which certainly doesn’t prove cause and effect, but still it’s interesting and thought provoking. And a great little factoid to have at your fingertips when you’re trying to convince stubborn friends that dark chocolate is a health food.

Eating the Right Kind of Chocolate Is Key

But here’s the thing: This endorsement of chocolate comes with a very big qualification. I am not talking about commercial chocolate bars. I’m not talking about those chewy caramel-marshmallow-nut-covered candy bars you see in the grocery store. That’s not the stuff that has the health benefits. The health benefits come from the flavanols and antioxidants, and those are found in real cocoa—in fact, that’s the stuff that makes cocoa kind of bitter. So if you want the benefits of these flavanols in your diet, you’ve got to get the real deal chocolate—high-cocoa-content dark chocolate. You’ll see the best of these bars with labels that say “60 percent cocoa” (70 percent or higher is even better). Milk chocolate and white chocolate have virtually none of these health benefits. Plus, the commercial candy bars are loaded with extra sugar, fat, waxes, and chemicals that are not what you want to be adding to your diet. And the more chocolate is processed, the more the beneficial flavonoids are lost.

The fat in chocolate is from cocoa butter and actually contains three different kinds of fat. One of them is oleic acid, which is the same monounsaturated fat found in olive oil—a very heart-healthy fat. The second is stearic acid, which has a neutral effect on the body. The third kind, palmitic acid, is probably not the best kind of fat to be eating large amounts of, but it really only accounts for a third of the fat in chocolate, and if you keep your portions small, you won’t be taking in a lot.

Remember, though, that cocoa butter is expensive. Cheap brands of chocolate replace the good cocoa butter with milk fats and hydrogenated oils, another reason to seek out the best brands if you’re interested in getting the health benefits—and the amazing taste—of real, cocoa-rich chocolate.

Chocolate Is Not for Everyone

Health benefits aside, chocolate is not for everybody. It seems to trigger addictive eating behavior in some people, and if you’re one of those, and you know who you are, then remember the old adage “know thyself” and just stay away from this food. But if you can handle it and don’t have any medical condition that would prevent you from being able to enjoy it, then having a small—remember, I’m talking small—amount of dark chocolate a few times a week is a great idea. My friend, the well-known cardiologist and nutritionist Stephen Sinatra, M.D., has said that even cardiac patients can enjoy dark chocolate regularly in moderation, if they’re not sensitive to caffeine.

I’d recommend you get the darkest, most delicious kind you can find, that is at least 60 percent cocoa, and enjoy an ounce or two (28 to 55 g) a few times a week.

Image Green Foods and Drinks

(cereal grasses: barley grass and wheatgrass; and microalgae: spirulina, chlorella, and wild blue-green algae)


If dogs happen to be a part of your family, you’ve undoubtedly seen them eat grass. Why? No one really knows. Some people believe that dogs eat cereal grasses because they contain nutrients not found in meat that are essential for the animals’ good health. One thing is for sure—grass is a rich source of nutrients, and “green foods” made from cereal grasses and algae are among the healthiest foods I know of for humans.

This unusual category—green foods and drinks—covers a lot of territory, from the perennial health food store favorite wheatgrass juice to the algae such as blue-green algae and spirulina. All have specific nutrient profiles and are used for different (but overlapping) purposes. Let’s start with the main thing they all have in common: chlorophyll. Chlorophyll, the substance that makes plants appear green, is a natural blood purifier. What does this mean? Well, consider that everything—from anaerobic bacteria to yeast and fungus—travels through the blood. Our own immune system creates complexes that attack these foreign substances, and chlorophyll assists our bodies in cleaning out the sludge that can cause damage. “Chlorophyll helps manage bacterial growth,” Sonja Pettersen, a naturopathic physician in Arizona, explains. “It helps remove unwanted residues and helps activate enzymes. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory and it’s nutrient dense.” Indeed, chlorophyll-containing plants—such as spirulina, chlorella, and wild blue-green algae—are an essential part of the healing armament in traditional Chinese medicine and other Eastern practices.

As far as chlorophyll’s reputation as a “blood builder,” there may be some scientific basis for this. The molecular structure of red blood cells and chlorophyll is virtually identical except for the center atom—in red blood cells it’s iron, in chlorophyll it’s magnesium. Chlorophyll is sometimes called “the blood of plant life.”

Then there’s the issue of acidity and alkalinity. As every gardener knows, the relative acidity and alkalinity of the soil can be determined by measuring its pH. The body also needs a balance of acid and alkaline for optimal health, and pH can be measured in urine, in blood, and in saliva. “I believe the future of preventative medicine is in managing the pH of your body,” Pettersen told me. “All kinds of things can cause acidity—stress, rock music, sugar, and many foods. But if you balance your body with alkaline substances—such as spirulina, algae, and chlorella, all ‘supergreens’ with the benefits of chlorophyll—you can maintain the pH of your body at the right level, which goes a long way toward increasing your resistance to disease. At the proper pH level, enzymes flourish and the body mobilizes all its healing forces.”

Cereal Grasses: Barley Grass and Wheatgrass Juice

Barley grass and wheatgrass are both high-chlorophyll foods that are nearly identical, although barley grass may be a bit more digestible. It’s worth mentioning that people with wheat allergies are almost never allergic to wheat in its grass stage. Cereal grasses contain many enzymes, as well as the powerful antioxidant enzyme SOD (superoxide dismutase). They also contain large amounts of the mucopolysaccharides (MPs) discussed here.


Barley grass is a great alternative for those who can’t tolerate wheatgrass. It’s milder, though bitter compared to the sweetness of wheatgrass. Young barley leaves have a tremendous ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. “Green magma,” often found in the green foods/green drinks section of the health food store, is the trade name for one well-known brand of barley grass powder.


Paul Pitchford and others note that wheatgrass juice is very concentrated, and even one ounce (30 ml) has therapeutic value. He recommends not taking more than 2 ounces (60 ml) at a time—it doesn’t increase the effectiveness. Wheatgrass juice is believed to help cleanse the lymph system, restore balance in the body, help remove toxic metals from the cells, and restore vitality. One ounce (30 ml) of the juice is believed to have the vitamin and mineral equivalent of more than 2 pounds (896 g) of vegetables, though I have been unable to substantiate this. It is also thought to contain about thirty different enzymes. It should be consumed immediately after juicing.

Microalgae (spirulina, chlorella, and wild blue-green alga)

These members of the microalgae family contain more chlorophyll than any other foods and were among the first life forms. According to Paul Pitchford in his book Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, microalgae exist on the edge between the plant and animal kingdoms. In addition to chlorophyll they contain protein, beta-carotene, and nucleic acids (RNA and DNA).


Rich with chlorophyll, protein, beta-carotene, and the beneficial fatty acid GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), spirulina also contains a pigment called phycocyanin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and which, in one study, was shown to inhibit cancer-colony formation. The cell wall of spirulina is composed of mucopolysaccharides (MPs), which are complex sugars mixed with amino acids, simple sugars, and sometimes protein. MPs contain only completely digestible nutrients, which makes them very different from the indigestible cell wall found in other microalgae and other plants.


Chlorella is similar to spirulina but contains just a little less protein, much less beta-carotene, and much more chlorophyll and nucleic acids. It has a tough outer cell wall that is believed to bind with heavy metals, pesticides, and other carcinogens, carrying them safely out of the body. Its chlorophyll content is higher than any food, and it contains higher amounts of fatty acids, about 20 percent of which are omega-3s. Unlike spirulina, chlorella does not contain phycocyanin.


This microalga grows wild in Klamath Lake in Oregon. Under certain conditions it can transform into a very toxic plant—it can cause death in animals within five minutes. However, according to experts, wild blue-green alga, has never been found in its toxic state in Klamath Lake, and the products coming out of Klamath Lake are believed to be completely safe, especially because freeze-drying denatures the toxin. (I only mention the toxicity issue in case you have visions of harvesting your own blue-green alga from the wild and you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.)

Image Kimchi

(kimchee, Chinese cabbage)


Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made of fermented chile peppers and vegetables, usually cabbage. It’s so popular in Korea that Koreans reportedly say “kimchi” instead of “cheese” when posing for pictures. In Korea, it’s served as a popular side dish, but is also used as a cooking ingredient (in pancakes, as a topping on pizza, and in dishes such as kimchi soup and kimchi fried rice). Many Chinese and Japanese eat this dish on a daily basis. Whatever you call it, it’s a nutritional powerhouse. Health magazine, a magazine I generally like, called it one of the world’s five healthiest foods. Want to know why? Read on.

The most common ingredients of kimchi are Chinese cabbage, radish, garlic, red pepper, onion, some kind of seafood (oyster or squid are common), ginger, salt, and maybe sugar. Internationally, it’s sometimes just known as Chinese cabbage. The first clue to kimchi’s health properties is its ingredients: Cabbage, onions, and garlic are not only all featured in this book as members of the elite group of 150 healthiest foods on the planet, but all three have also earned special mention (stars) for being superstars in their respective categories. All three ingredients in kimchi—cabbage, onions, and garlic—have both significant anticancer properties and significant heart benefits. (Garlic has been shown in research to reduce plaque, lower LDL cholesterol, and inhibit the proliferation of colorectal cancer cells; the indoles in cabbage fight cancer; and onions are one of four foods found to reduce mortality from heart disease by 20 percent!) And other ingredients in kimchi—chile peppers and ginger, for example—have health benefits of their own.

Why Fermented Foods Are Almost Always Good for You

Then there’s fermentation. Kimchi is always fermented, which should be our next clue to the fact that this is going to be a healthy food. Virtually all naturally fermented foods are health promoting. The healthy bacteria lactobacilli are heavily involved in the fermentation process, and kimchi is a potent source of these healthy probiotics. Various members of the Lactobacillus class of healthy bacteria have been found to support and improve immunity in a number of studies. They help control inflammation, which is an essential feature of so many degenerative diseases, including heart disease. And on top of that, they’re essential in maintaining a healthy digestive system.

So kimchi is a superstar in the world of healthy foods. According to a comprehensive review in the ISHS Acta Horticulturae #482, it has demonstrated antioxidant, antimutagenic, and anticarcinogenic activities. Pretty darn impressive for a sometimes smelly little cabbage dish! Kimchi also contains high levels of vitamins (vitamin C, the B vitamins), minerals (calcium, potassium, and iron), and dietary fiber.


First things first—everyone knows licorice as a candy, which, at least when I was a kid, was very much an acquired taste. But candy confections aside, real licorice root is a serious food and a potent herb and has real health benefits.

Licorice is a perennial herb native to southern Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean. The herb is extensively cultivated in Russia, Spain, Iran, and India. Licorice is one of the most popular and widely consumed herbs in the world. Ancient cultures on every continent have used licorice, with the first recorded use by the Egyptians in the third century BCE. The Egyptians and the Greeks recognized the licorice herb’s benefits in treating coughs and lung disease. It’s the second most prescribed herb in China, following ginseng.

Licorice Root Soothes the Throat and Lungs

The most common medical use for licorice is for supporting upper respiratory tract health. It’s known for its soothing effect on inflamed mucous membranes. Licorice root, when mixed with water or used in cough drops, soothes mucous membranes like those found in the throat, lung, and bronchial tubes. (When I was a kid, my mom would give me Smith Brothers licorice cough drops at the first sign of a cough.) According to the Materia Medica, licorice root is also used for urinary tract irritation, adrenal fatigue and exhaustion, immune-deficient states, allergies, liver disorders, and detoxification. The Japanese use a licorice preparation to control hepatitis, not surprising given that the Materia Medica suggests it is particularly good for conditions in which the patient needs immune system support and has abnormally high liver enzymes (mononucleosis, hepatitis). It is also a wonderful herb for chronic fatigue syndrome.

Licorice Makes Top Six List for Anticancer Activity

The active ingredient in licorice is a member of the saponin family called glycyrrhizin, though according to Louis Vanrenen’s excellent book Power Herbs, the plant also contains flavonoids (at least twenty-five of them), terpenoids, amino acids, lignans, and plant sterols. (Vanrenen considers licorice one of his “50 power herbs.”)

Glycyrrhizin, the most well-known constituent, is both anti-inflammatory and immune stimulating. (It may also raise blood pressure—see “Worth Knowing.”) There are dozens of published studies showing the health properties of the flavonoids and other compounds in licorice. One study shows that the flavonoids in licorice help reduce abdominal fat in obese mice. Other studies have shown glycyrrhizin to have antioxidant effects, and a number of constituents in licorice have shown antitumor activity in animal research. In fact, licorice was among six foods and herbs listed as having the highest anticancer activity according to the 1997 report “Phytochemicals: Guardians of Our Health” by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (the others were garlic, soybeans, cabbage, ginger, and the umbelliferous vegetables).

Licorice has also been known to soothe joints and support normal blood sugar. The licorice root extract produces mild estrogenic effects, and it has proven useful in supporting the stress of menopause and menstruation. Licorice also has a beneficial effect on digestive processes.

Note: Don’t confuse real licorice root—a medicinal food and herb—with most common licorice candy, much of which is really made with anise and has virtually no real licorice root content. You can find real licorice candy, and it’s delicious—but you have to look for it carefully.



Look up any nutritional textbook and you’re sure to find an entry for olive oil, with a massive number of references touting its health properties. Strangely, you don’t see as much good press for the lovely little olive from which the oil comes.

You should. It’s a great healthy little fruit, and the source of many health-enhancing compounds. Olives are an ancient food, and olive trees have been around since at least 3,000 BCE, particularly in the Mediterranean. Actually, the olive in its natural state isn’t very appetizing—it contains very bitter compounds that have to be removed by soaking and curing. Problem is that the traditional methods of fermenting—which produce a healthy and wonderful food—have become way too slow for modern times. The ancient fermentation techniques that were used to produce healthy foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, olives, tempeh, and miso have all too often been jettisoned in favor of fast, commercial techniques that don’t yield nearly as healthy a product.

Choose Your Olives Wisely

Traditional fermentation is a slow process caused by the action of yeast and bacteria, and it produces a food that is brimming with healthy compounds and active cultures that are good for you. But in today’s “faster is better” world, olives are much more likely to be treated with lye to remove the bitterness, then packed in salt and canned. Processed olives are those that have been through a lye bath; the more old-fashioned (and way better) method is to cure them in oil, brine, water, or salt. Those are known as oil-cured, brine-cured, water-cured, or dry-salted olives. If you’re willing to look, you can find the good kind in olive bars; they’re sitting in dishes, usually in the cheese section of some of the better grocery stores, and they’re olives that are still alive with active cultures that your body loves! Those are the ones to go for.

Olives and their oils contain a host of beneficial plant compounds, including tocopherols, flavonoids, anthocyanins, sterols, and polyphenols. Polyphenols are probably what give olives their taste; the polyphenols from olives have anti-inflammatory activity, improve immune function, help prevent damage to DNA, and protect the cardiovascular system. Olives and olive oil are a significant staple of the Mediterranean culture and are associated with countless health benefits, including lower incidence of heart disease and certain kinds of cancer.

The fat in olives (and olive oil, see here is largely the monounsaturated fat oleic acid, which has been associated with higher levels of protective HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lower levels of inflammation. A number of studies have shown that people who get plenty of monounsaturated fat are less likely to die of heart disease.

Image Sauerkraut



Sauerkraut combines one of the healthiest foods on the planet (cabbage) with one of most healthy forms of processing on the planet (fermentation). The resultant food is a consistent winner in the health promotion sweepstakes.

Fermentation simply refers to an ancient technique of preparation and preservation in which food is naturally “processed” by microorganisms such as bacteria that break down the carbohydrates and protein in the food and produce the final result—yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, old-fashioned soy sauce, and kimchi being terrific examples. The key to their nutritional value is twofold—the ingredients and the process. Commercial food processors have tried to standardize the fermentation techniques, and many modern mass-produced foods (canned olives, pickles) are not actually fermented but just treated with chemicals, packed in salt, and then canned. Only true fermentation gives you the amazing health benefits of the “live cultures” such as Lactobacillus, which are legion for their health benefits.

Live Cultures in Sauerkraut Help Control Inflammation

And what a list of health benefits it is. Bacteria of the Lactobacillus genus feed the “good” bacteria in your gut, creating a natural balance of gut flora that improves digestion, immune function, and the absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Various members of the Lactobacillus genus have been found to support and improve immunity in a number of studies. Many of the studies used yogurt as the delivery system for these good bacteria (known as active cultures or probiotics), but any naturally fermented food—like sauerkraut—would be expected to have the same results. These studies have found that active cultures like those found in sauerkraut have a stimulating effect on cellular immunity and can actually suppress H. pylori. Sonja Pettersen, N.M.D., a naturopath practicing in Arizona and one of my favorite doctors, explains: “By maintaining good gut flora, you’ll prevent all kinds of different diseases, especially chronic degenerative ones. Probiotics (live cultures) help control inflammation, which is a central feature of so many degenerative diseases, including heart disease. Probiotics help increase NK (natural killer) cells, a powerful immune system weapon. They increase antibodies when we have infections. They improve digestion. They have anticancer properties.” Probiotics are abundant in naturally fermented sauerkraut.

Cabbage Phytochemicals Ward Off Breast Cancer

Then there’s the cabbage from which sauerkraut comes. Cabbage—a superstar vegetable on its own—first came to the attention of researchers after they observed that women living in Eastern European countries surrounding Poland and Russia and eating four or more servings of raw or barely cooked cabbage per week were 74 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than Polish-American immigrants who ate 1.5 or fewer servings of sauerkraut per week. Researchers now believe that the likely reason for the protective effect were phytochemicals found in cabbage called indoles. Years of research have now demonstrated that these indoles in fact alter estrogen metabolism in a favorable way, one that is likely to reduce the risk of cancer.

The anticancer benefits of cabbage don’t stop with indoles, though. In a study published in the October 23, 2002, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Finnish researchers reported that fermenting cabbage produces compounds known as isothiocyanates, shown in laboratory studies (in test tubes and animals) to prevent the growth of cancer. Sulforaphane, a particularly potent member of the isothiocyanate family, increases the production of certain enzymes known as phase-2 enzymes, which can “disarm” damaging free radicals and help fight carcinogens. It’s believed that phase-2 enzymes may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. According to research from the Department of Urology at Stanford University published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, sulforaphane is the most potent inducer of phase-2 enzymes of any phytochemical known to date.

The Unique Benefits of Red and Purple Cabbage

Though a lot of sauerkraut is made from white cabbage, some is made from the purple kind, which has a whole other set of protective phytochemicals. Red and purple cabbage is a source of anthocyanins, pigment molecules that make blueberries blue and red cabbage red. They’re found in many colorful fruits such as grapes and berries. Turns out they do a lot more than make our produce pretty. Anthocyanins (a member of a group of phytochemicals called flavonoids) have considerable bioactive properties, including acting as powerful antioxidants. In one study, anthocyanins were found to have the strongest antioxidizing power of 150 flavonoids studied (more than 4,000 different flavonoids have been identified). And the anthocyanins in red cabbage were found in another study to protect animals against the damages produced by a known toxin. There’s every reason to think that they’re equally protective for us.

Anthocyanins’ ability to act as antioxidants and to fight free radicals makes them powerful weapons against cardiovascular disease. And anthocyanins are also known for their anti-inflammatory effects. Anti-inflammatory anthocyanins can help dampen allergic reactions as well as help protect against the damage to connective tissue and blood vessel walls that inflammation can cause.

Sauerkraut is also a high-fiber food with a ridiculously low number of calories—1 cup (142 g) of undrained sauerkraut provides almost 6 g of fiber for only 45 calories. It also has 150 percent of the Daily Value for the vitally important bone-building nutrient vitamin K, not to mention generous amounts of calcium, vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron.

Image Sea Vegetables



I once heard a traditional healer say that sea plants are “gifts from the sea.” She had a point. There is practically no group of plants on the planet richer in nutrients, minerals, and trace minerals. Coastal peoples all over the world have prized seaweed as a source of valuable nutrients—primarily minerals—for millennia. Sea vegetables have long been acknowledged for their ability to impart beauty and health and to prolong life.

As Paul Pitchford points out in Healing with Whole Foods : Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, the human body is nourished and cleansed by blood that has almost the same composition as seawater. According to ancient Chinese texts, “there is no swelling that is not relieved by seaweed.”

Seaweeds have a number of properties in common, and yet each has a distinct nutrient profile. Let’s first talk about them as a group. Seaweeds in general contain dozens and dozens of minerals and trace elements integrated into living plant tissue. They contain vitamins and amino acids and are particularly good sources of iodine, calcium, and iron.

Sea Vegetables Protect against Radiation and Environmental Pollutants

As a group, they are known for their ability to detoxify the body. (It’s no coincidence that one of the most popular spa treatments is a seaweed wrap.) Some health professionals feel they can help prevent assimilation of heavy metals such as cadmium as well as other environmental toxins. There’s good reason to believe that might be true. Canadian researchers at McGill University in Montreal studied a compound called sodium alginate that is present in strong quantities in brown algae. (Sea vegetables classified as brown algae include arame, hijiki, kombu, and wakame.) In their studies, it was found that sodium alginate (prepared from the sea vegetables kelp, kombu, and other seaweeds) reduced the uptake of radioactive particles into the bone. Sea vegetables appear to be very protective against radiation and environmental pollutants.

Seaweed Eaters Seem to Enjoy Lower Risk of Cancer

Seaweeds have also been studied for their possible anticancer effects. One paper published in Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology in 2005 investigated the antitumoral properties of a polysaccharide isolated from a brown marine algae Sargassum stenophyllum. And kombu and wakame are particularly rich in a substance called fucoidan, a polysaccharide believed to have anticancer activity. (To get the fucoidan in its effective form, the kombu or wakame needs to be eaten raw or dried, without heating. It’s worth noting that in Okinawa, Japan, which has one of the lowest cancer mortality rates in Japan, people eat their kombu mostly uncooked.) Breast cancer rates are lower in Japan than in Western countries, and this just might have something to do with seaweed consumption.

Seaweed is also a great source of fluorine (not fluoride), a compound that boosts the body’s defenses and strengthens teeth and bones. However, to get the fluorine you have to consume the seaweed raw—even minimal cooking causes the fluorine to be lost. Seaweed is also a good source of the cancer-fighting mineral selenium.

Separately, each brings its own particular nutrient composition and health benefits to the table.


A Japanese sea vegetable with a mild flavor, arame is dried and cut into thin strands and can be added to soups or served sautéed as a vegetable side dish. It contains between 100 and 500 times the iodine in shellfish, plus iron, vitamin A, and more than ten times the calcium of milk.


This contains the most calcium of any of the sea vegetables and is also a rich source of iron and vitamin A. It’s very tough in its natural state; you usually get it dried, but when cooked it rehydrates and expands to about five times its dry volume. Like arame and wakame, hijiki contains more than ten times the calcium of milk. It also contains eight times the iron in beef.


The kelp family includes kombu, wakame, and arame. It’s a rich source of iodine, a component of the two main thyroid hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). Kelp can contain between 100 and 500 times the iodine in shellfish, and has about four times the iron in beef.


Kombu can be used for soup stock or added to a pot of beans. It helps the beans cook faster and renders them more digestible. It contains potassium, calcium, vitamins A and C, and between 100 and 500 times the iodine in shellfish. According to natural-foods expert Rebecca Wood, kombu should not be eaten excessively during pregnancy.


Best known to sushi lovers, nori is the seaweed that wraps around hand rolls. It contains protein, calcium, iron, potassium, and more vitamin A than carrots.


This is good source of protein, iron, calcium, sodium, and other minerals and vitamins. After hijiki, wakame is the seaweed highest in calcium, containing more than ten times the calcium in milk. Like kelp, it also has four times the iron in beef.

Image Sprouts


Sprouts are the iconic symbol of what used to be known as “health food.” For many people, sprouts conjure up images of granola-eating folks in granny glasses and Birkenstocks wandering around Woodstock and growing organic food. Sprouts. Rabbit food.

Okay, so people make fun of sprouts. But all kidding aside, sprouts are one of the most complete and nutritional foods on the planet. They’re rich with enzymes and vitamins and amino acids. And perhaps most important of all, sprouts like alfalfa, broccoli, clover, mung bean, and the like contain concentrated amounts of phytochemicals that can have strong protective effects against disease.

Sprouts Are Baby Plants

When you eat a sprout, you’re actually eating a very, very young version of the whole plant. You’re eating the root, stem, and head. Different glucosinolates—phytochemicals that convert to very healthy metabolites in the body—are concentrated in different parts of the plant. Some are still in the root, others are in the leaves that are thrown away, still others are in the stem. According to one estimate, in each grocery store–size package of sprouts, there are about 4,000 baby plants, and each one can have as much or more of certain micronutrients as an entire mature plant. According to Sonja Pettersen, N.M.D., “Sprouts are one of the most concentrated sources of nutrition. They’re loaded with phytonutrients. Broccoli sprouts, for example, are densely packed with trace minerals, amino acids, and cancer-fighting compounds called indoles (see below). They pack an amazing nutritional wallop.”

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University discovered that broccoli sprouts contain anywhere from thirty to fifty times the concentration of protective chemicals found in the mature broccoli plants, including, indole-3-carbinole, one of the cancer-fighting compounds Pettersen was talking about. According to a great deal of research—including a review paper published in Integrative Cancer Therapies—indole-3-carbinole arrests human breast cancer cells as well as prostate cancer cells and may lower the risk of hormone-dependent cancers by altering estrogen metabolism. Both broccoli and broccoli sprouts are a significant source of these cancer-fighting indoles.

Broccoli Sprouts Help Our Bodies Fight Carcinogens

In addition, broccoli sprouts are a significant source of sulforaphane. (Two of the experts contributing top ten lists to this book mentioned sulforaphane as one of the important reasons for including broccoli on their lists.) Sulforaphane, a particularly potent member of the isothiocyanate family, increases the production of certain enzymes known as phase-2 enzymes, which can disarm damaging free radicals and help fight carcinogens. It’s believed that phase-2 enzymes may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. According to research from the Department of Urology at Stanford University published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, sulforaphane is the most potent inducer of phase-2 enzymes of any phytochemical known to date. In one study, sulforaphane arrested human colon cancer cells. And feeding sulforaphane-rich broccoli-sprout extracts to lab rats that had been exposed to a carcinogen dramatically reduced the frequency, size, and number of the rats’ tumors.

Alfalfa sprouts are a source of another important class of phytochemical, saponins. Saponins are a kind of natural detergent found in a wide variety of plant life, especially beans. Saponins bind with cholesterol, preventing it from being reabsorbed into the system. Studies at the University of Toronto department of nutritional science indicate that dietary sources of saponins such as alfalfa and alfalfa sprouts can be part of a chemopreventive strategy and may lower the risk of human cancers. Interestingly, cancer cells have more cholesterol-type compounds in their membranes than normal cells; since saponins can bind cholesterol, they can interfere with cell growth and division. In plants, saponins have a strong effect on the immune system, where they function as a kind of natural antibiotic, and it’s more than likely that they have a similar antimicrobial effect in the human body.

Umeboshi Plums

(umeboshi plum paste)


I first learned about umeboshi plum paste from Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., the founder of Natural Gourmet Institute for Healing and Culinary Arts and an internationally respected expert in natural foods and healing. One summer we were both speaking at the renowned Boulderfest conference for nutritional medicine, and I attended her fascinating presentation on healing foods, during which she explained that foods have expansive and contractive properties and that certain expansive conditions—such as sugar addiction and cravings—could be treated with contractive foods. The contractive food she mentioned most frequently was this umeboshi plum paste, which I could barely pronounce and had never heard of. She later told me she never travels without it and offered to give me some.

Sure enough, it was not only delicious but also had a remarkable dampening effect on my desire to go out and buy a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. The word “umeboshi” means dried plum, but it’s actually a species of apricot. It’s been used as a food and medicine in China, Korea, and Japan.

Umeboshi plums are basically pickled plums. The freshly picked plums are first washed and then dried by the sun on rice mats. The plums are also left out during the night. At that time, dew forms and softens the plums. The next day the sun again dries them, and the process is repeated for several days. As a result, the plums become smaller, and many wrinkles appear.

At that time, the plums are packed in barrels together with white crude sea salt and sometimes the herb perilla, which is high in iron, acts as a natural preservative, and imparts the pinkish color to the plums. The plums are covered by weights and are left to ferment. Though in modern times they may only ferment for a few days and nights, in the traditional methods they could be left to ferment for a full year. During fermentation—through the action of salt and the pressure of the weights—the plums begin to shrink even more, and whatever juice is left is drained out. The result is the umeboshi plum.

Umeboshi Plums Are Aspirin and Apple to Those in the Far East

Umeboshi plums are an ancient Japanese food used to balance and strengthen. They’re highly valued for their antibacterial properties and as a digestive aid. Japanese food authority Robbie Swinnerton writes, “Japanese pickled plums have remarkable medicinal qualities. Their powerful acidity has a paradoxical alkalinizing effect on the body, neutralizing fatigue, stimulating the digestion, and promoting the elimination of toxins. This is the Far Eastern equivalent to both aspirin and apple; not only is it a potent hangover remedy for mornings after, (but) an umeboshi a day is regarded as the best preventive medicine available.”

And by the way—next time you have a serious sugar craving, try dipping a chopstick or a pinky into a jar of the paste and licking it off. Remarkable stuff!

Wheat Germ


I’ll tell you right now, I’m not a huge fan of wheat. As you may have noticed, it didn’t make the list of the 150 healthiest foods in the world. (It wasn’t even on the list of contenders.) Wheat germ is the nutrient-rich core of a whole wheat kernel. And while it does have some things to recommend it—see below—it still contains gluten and needs to be completely avoided by those with celiac, and probably by those with any kind of gluten intolerance as well.

First, some definitions. Any whole grain consists of four main components. The husk, or chaff, is the inedible outer layer of a grain kernel. That generally gets thrown away. The bran is the main source of fiber in whole grains and can also contain nutrients. (Much of the bran gets removed during the processing of refined carbohydrate cereals, including those that sound healthy.) The endosperm is the main content of a whole grain; it contains protein and starch and is basically the only portion used in refined and processed grain products. And finally, there’s the germ: the smallest portion of the grain, rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

So wheat germ is pretty much the best part of a whole wheat kernel. Though it makes up only about 3 percent of the whole wheat berry, nutritionally it’s the motherlode. It’s rich in vitamin E, zinc, iron, fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, thiamin, folate, vitamin B6, manganese, and selenium. A 1/4 cup (28 g) of wheat germ contain 104 calories, more than 6 g of protein, a little more than 2 g of healthy fat, and almost 4 g of fiber.

The oil in wheat germ is also a source of a compound called octacosanol, which used to be a hot performance supplement back in the 1990s but has pretty much faded from view because it doesn’t work. While there are a couple of animal studies suggesting that octacosanol might help with exercise performance, there aren’t any human studies, and I think octacosanol as a supplement is overhyped. Octacosanol aside, wheat germ is still a nutritional powerhouse. But because it’s high in oil (good oil, but still oil), it can easily go rancid if it’s not stored properly. A jar of vacuum-packed wheat germ is fine for up to a year, unopened, but opened jars should be refrigerated and used within a few months. If you’re someone who uses flour in recipes, consider replacing 1/2 to a whole cup (64 to 125 g) of it with wheat germ to increase both fiber and nutrients.

Wheat germ has a nice nutty flavor and a crunchy texture and is great in shakes or sprinkled on all kinds for things, from cereal to yogurt. The main reason I don’t recommend it more often, or talk about it more glowingly, is because of the gluten. And although I recognize that the majority of people are not technically gluten intolerant, I still think gluten offers zero benefits to anyone—the absolute best thing you could possibly say about it is that it’s neutral for some people. For many others—including a large number of people who are unaware that gluten’s to blame for many of their symptoms—gluten is bad news. It’s proinflammatory, offers absolutely zero health benefits, and should be avoided.

Image Whey Protein Powder


Whey protein is hands down my favorite form of protein powder. Not only does it provide extremely high-quality protein, but it has a host of health benefits besides. It can help you lose weight and gain muscle, plus it provides powerful support for your immune system.

I’ll assume you already know how important protein is to the body in general, but a quick review: Protein provides the building blocks for hormones and neurotransmitters and antibodies, not to mention being necessary for strong muscles and bones. It is essential for metabolism. Without protein, you would die. (The same is not true of dietary carbohydrate, but that’s a whole different story.)

Whey Protein Stimulates the Immune System and Helps Generate a Valuable Antioxidant

On one level, whey protein is just another way to get high-quality protein into the diet and can take its place on the menu along with grass-fed beef and game, fish and eggs, and other protein sources. But whey protein powder has other properties—besides convenience—that make it valuable. It is highly stimulating to the immune system. Whey protein seems to be the best method for obtaining the building blocks of glutathione, arguably the most valuable antioxidant in the body. Glutathione is a master antioxidant—it destroys free radicals and is intimately involved in the detoxification of carcinogens. The white blood cells and the liver use glutathione to detoxify poisons in the body.

Unfortunately, it’s been difficult if not impossible to absorb glutathione from the diet or from supplements*. The glutathione in your cells needs to be made by the body, and the best way to do this is to provide the body with the amino acids that glutathione is made from. Whey protein powder has been found to be one of the richest sources of these glutathione building blocks.

Whey protein contains a number of other proteins that positively affect immune function. It contains protein fractions such as beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, and immunoglobulins, all of which have important disease-fighting effects. In one study done at the department of food science and technology at Ohio State University, it was shown that dietary whey protein protected against oxidant-induced cell death in human prostate cells. Several other animal studies have suggested that whey protein may protect against certain kinds of tumors. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that whey protein rich in alpha-lactalbumin improved cognitive performance in “stress-vulnerable” subjects (a description that would probably include everyone I know). And in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, doctors from the University of Minnesota Medical School gave otherwise healthy individuals with mild to moderate hypertension 20 g daily of whey protein and observed a significant reduction in their blood pressure levels by the end of the first week. That effect was maintained throughout the study.

Whey and the High-Protein Diet

And then there’s weight loss. Quite a few studies suggest that whey may have an impact on food intake through its effect on hormones that influence a feeling of fullness. We already know from quite a lot of research that generally speaking, higher-protein diets help people feel full and satisfied and are very useful as weight loss regimens. But all protein may not be created equal. In one study, researchers consumed a liquid meal containing equal amounts of either whey or casein. Ninety minutes later, allowed to eat freely at a buffet, the whey group consumed significantly fewer calories. Whey protein powder may well be a great tool in the battle to control appetite naturally.

Recently, researchers set up another study to see if whey protein had any special advantage over other sources of protein. They took 48 overweight diabetics and put them into one of three groups. One group had a high-protein breakfast using whey protein, one had a high-protein breakfast using other sources of protein (such as eggs, fish, or soy) and a third group had a high-carb breakfast. Calories were kept the same for all three groups.

The researchers were most interested in what’s known as glycolated hemoglobin, or hemoglobin A1C. The A1C test is a kind of long-term measurement of blood sugar, and it is usually used to diagnose diabetes. An A1C level of 5.7 or lower is considered normal; 6.5 or higher gets you a diagnosis of diabetes, while 5.7–6.4 is generally considered prediabetes. In this study, the whey protein group saw the most significant reduction in their A1C levels over the course of almost two years of follow-up. The whey protein group also had the greatest reduction in blood sugar spikes.

“The whey protein diet significantly suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin,” lead study author Daniela Jakubowicz, M.D., told Science Daily, in an article published April 2, 2016. “A whey protein drink is easily prepared and provides the advantages of a high-protein breakfast on weight loss, reduction of hunger, glucose spikes and A1C.” (The study was presented at the 2016 annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Boston.)

The benefits of whey have been known for centuries. Thanks to journalist and health reporter Will Brink, I found this wonderful aphorism dating from about 1777 that says the following: “If everyone were raised on whey, doctors would be bankrupt” (Allevato con la scotta il dottore e in bancarott). And that wasn’t the first time the health properties of whey were appreciated. According to an expression from Florence, Italy, around 1650, “Chi vuol viver sano e lesto beve scotta e cena presto,” which in beautiful Italian means simply this: “If you want to live a healthy and active life, drink whey and dine early.”

Collagen Protein Powder


Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies. It’s found in skin, hair, muscles, tendons, bones—you name it. Lately, collagen supplements have become, as they say, a thing.

So what’s the deal? And what’s the difference between collagen supplements for the skin or joints, and actual collagen protein powder?

There are at least sixteen different types of collagen, but 80 to 90 percent of the collagen in the body consists of types l, 2, and 3 (Lodish, et al, Molecular Cell Biology, 4th edition, 2002). Collagen 1 and 3—which are almost always found together—are mainly in skin. Collagen 2 is mainly in joints, although recent evidence shows it helps the skin as well. That’s not a surprise for many reasons, one of which is that the main manufacturer of collagen 2 mixes in about 10 percent hyaluronic acid in their formula, a compound well-known to improve both skin hydration and elasticity. All the collagens and the structures they form all serve the same purpose: to help tissues withstand stretching.

Years ago, we were taught that collagen supplements weren’t well absorbed when taken orally, but we now know that’s not true—at least not when you’re using high-quality collagen supplements. One ingredient manufacturer—Verisol—makes a Collagen 1 and 3 that has been tested in studies. In one study, 114 women aged 45 to 65 were randomized to receive either placebo or 2.5 grams of Verisol once daily for eight weeks. The Verisol group had a statistically significant (20 percent) reduction of eye wrinkle volume compared to the placebo group. A second study, by the same researchers, tested collagen and found it showed a statistically significant improvement in skin elasticity.

Then there’s collagen 2. The most respected ingredient manufacturer of collagen 2 is a company called BioCell. A 2015 study at the Center for Applied Health Sciences in Ohio, tested the effects of 3 grams a day of BioCell collagen in a study aimed to evaluate indices of recovery from intense exercise. The researchers looked at three blood markers of muscle tissue damage and found that the people taking BioCell collagen had “a more robust muscular recovery and adaptive response.” For collagen supplements, my recommendation is Reserveage Collagen Replenish for skin—which is all Verisol type 1 and 3 collagen—or Reserveage Collagen Booster for joints, which is all type 2 BioCell collagen with hyaluronic acid and chondroitin. I use both every day.

Which brings us to collagen protein powder.

While collagen supplements are a great way to get support for skin and bones, there’s recently been a trend toward high-quality collagen protein powders, which offer a much greater dose of the collagen peptides found in the above-mentioned supplements. They’re rich in amino acids that are important in building joint cartilage. Clinical studies suggest that 10 grams a day of pharmaceutical-grade collagen reduces pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip. One published review concluded that “Collagen hydrolysate is of interest as a therapeutic agent of potential utility in the treatment of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis,” adding that “its high level of safety makes it attractive as an agent for long-term use in these chronic disorders.” A 24-week long study in 2008, showed improvement of joint pain in athletes who were treated with the dietary supplement collagen hydrolysate.

I think collagen protein is a very promising protein powder that could work well as a high-quality protein source. Several companies make high-quality collagen protein powders. There’s not nearly as much research on collagen protein powder as there is on whey, so for the time being, whey protein powder remains my go-to protein powder.

But I consider collagen protein an excellent choice and often use it instead of whey just for variety. It might be a particularly good choice for those who are extremely sensitive to dairy.

Specialty Food Runner-Up

Brewer’s Yeast

In the old days when the only people who ate yogurt or organic foods were known as health nuts, before gyms became known as fitness facilities, and before every supermarket had a natural food department with a dizzying array of energy bars, there were only a few supplements and powders that fitness enthusiasts used regularly. One of them was brewer’s yeast.

Well, times have changed, fitness has become mainstream, and the menu of supplements, powders, bars, and things to throw into your protein shake has expanded exponentially, but brewer’s yeast still occupies a warm spot in the heart of many of those early health nuts.

Brewer’s yeast consists of the dried, pulverized cells of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a type of fungus. It’s inactive yeast, meaning the yeasts have been killed and have no leavening powder (nor can they create or promote yeast infections, because they’re essentially dead). But before the yeast were inactivated, they sucked up a lot of B-vitamins and minerals (such as chromium and selenium) and they continue to have those vitamins and minerals in their deactivated form. That’s the main selling point of Brewer’s yeast.

Brewer’s yeast also contains beta-glucans, which are sugars that line the cell walls of certain fungi and bacteria and certain plants like oats. These beta-glucans are strong modulators of the immune system and may even help stave off the common cold.

Because Brewer’s yeast is a good source of B vitamins, people often think it’s a good vegetarian source of B12. It’s not. Brewer’s yeast does not naturally contain any B12, despite what you read to the contrary. (Some manufacturers fortify their yeast with B12 to make up for this absence, but most do not.)

According to the Physicians’ Desk Reference for Supplements, high-selenium brewer’s yeast may have anticarcinogenic activity and high-chromium brewer’s yeast has putative antidiabetic activity. The PDR also notes that “beta-glucans in yeast also support the immune system.”


Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S.

Josh Axe is one of the most trusted and beloved natural medicine gurus I know. His website,, is the second most visited natural health website in the world and has more than 10 million monthly visitors. He’s a certified doctor of natural medicine (DNM), a chiropractic physician, and a board certified clinical nutritionist. He’s also the author of the New York Times bestseller Eat Dirt.

1. Bone broth: I have found bone broth to be the number 1 food you can consume to treat leaky gut syndrome, overcome food intolerances and allergies, and improve joint health and boost immunity.

2. Dandelion greens: Dandelion greens are high in fiber, vitamins C and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium iron, potassium, and manganese. You can also use the root, stem, and flowers to make a delicious and super-healthy tea, which is great for liver detoxification and for healthy skin.

3. Chicken liver: Liver is one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods on the planet. It’s high in vitamin B12 and a fantastic source of iron, vitamin A, phosphorus, and magnesium.

4. Broccoli: Broccoli consumption has been shown to help prevent cancer, benefit heart health, improve digestion, and much more.

5. Salmon: When it’s wild-caught (not farmed), salmon is one of the most nutritious foods we can consume. Not only does it contain a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids, but it’s also packed with many other vitamins and minerals.

6. Blueberries: Blueberries combat aging, contain substances that are neuro-protective, promote heart health, and benefit the skin. They’re also loaded with gallic acid, a powerful antifungal/antiviral agent that’s also an antioxidant.

7. Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut combines one of the healthiest foods (cabbage) with one of the most beneficial and time-honored food preparation methods ever used (fermentation).

8. Coconut: Coconut oil might just be the most versatile health food on the planet. It is my favorite cooking oil, and it can be used as a form of natural medicine, for natural beauty treatments, and more.

9. Cilantro: Cilantro has many known healing properties. The vitamin K and calcium content of cilantro helps to build strong bones, teeth, and hair.

10. Chia seeds: The chia seed is nutrient dense and packs a punch of energy boosting power. Aztec warriors ate chia seeds to give them high energy and endurance.

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