Food Freedom, Part 2 - Eat Real Food


From Emotional to Practical

Previously, I wrote about my emotional journey with food and how I broke the chains of food addiction and the emotional baggage that went along with it.  Emotional wellness is a HUGE piece of the puzzle in health, wellness, and successful weight loss. 

We all know that if it were as easy as deciding to change our diet and then following through with our plan, so many of us wouldn’t still be battling our way through the grocery store, restaurants, and our own pantry!  Right? 

Yes, learning how to recognize and remove the emotional reasons behind our eating habits and cravings is super important if you want to have long-term success.  If you didn’t get to read that article, click HERE.

Another piece of the puzzle, however, is eating real foods that fuel your body and your mind, as well as help to reduce excess body weight, eliminate inflammation, balance blood sugar, and reduce your exposure to toxins – to name a few.

But this can be a very confusing landscape to traverse, Amen?! 

Part 2 of the Food Freedom Series will help you figure out which foods to focus on and which foods to reduce or just let go.  Once you’ve started recognizing & battling your emotional gremlins, this process will be a lot easier.

What the Heck Are Real Foods?

This may seem like a simple question, but with today's multi-billion dollar food industry and mega-grocery store culture leading the way in food marketing, it isn't so simple.  

And don't even get me started on food labeling - !@$^#@!!  What a racket!  So many labels are misleading - telling you your food is healthy, natural, caged-free, free-ranged, vegetarian, fresh (this one makes me laugh out loud!), and so on and so forth - when they really are not.

Before writing this post, I read Dr. Mark Hyman's latest book (it was just released on February 27th, 2018), Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?.  What a great book!  Actually, I didn't really plan on reading this beforehand; kismet just kind of took its rightful place.

Regardless, Dr. Hyman did a FANTASTIC job removing the confusion about what we should eat and what we probably shouldn't.  He states:

Decades of misguided "common sense," food-industry lobbying, bad science, and corrupt food policies and guidelines have only deepened our crisis of nutritional confusion, leaving us overwhelmed and anxious when we head to the grocery store.

Dr. Hyman takes a long, hard look at all the research & science produced over the past decades and makes an honest attempt to tease out what the experts got right and what they got wrong.  As a leading functional medicine practitioner, he wanted to know the truth for himself and his clients.

And we as readers get the benefit too!  I HIGHLY recommend this comprehensive, easy-to-navigate book for both food novices and experts alike!

Eating Real Food the Italian Way

Me eating true Italian pizza and wine in my Italian landlord's kitchen.  

Me eating true Italian pizza and wine in my Italian landlord's kitchen.  

I wanted to share a quick bit of my journey into real foods before I dive into breaking it all down.

I joined the military a couple of years after college as a performer for the U.S. Navy Bands.  I traveled all over the United States, most of Europe, and South Africa too.  This experience couldn't have come at a better time in my life!

Had I gone to Europe before my "health conversion", it would have been miserable!  I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the incredible beauty of the people, their lifestyle, and, of course, their food!  Oh how much I would have missed!

The Italians (and most Europeans, really) live to enjoy life!  Their way of life is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than ours here in America (we are more success- and work-driven), especially when it comes to food.  

Did you know that Europeans spend about 40% of their budget on food, whereas we only spend about 20% of our budget?  They really do care about what they eat AND they want to enjoy it too!

I expected this, of course, but after years of detesting "American" Italian food, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, "culinarily-speaking".  What I did know was that I wanted to live out in town (not on base) so that I could get the full Italian experience, including shopping in their grocery stores & markets.  

Now, I knew how to cook before I moved to Naples, but I really learned how to cook from my Italian landlord, Titi, and it was surprisingly simple!  I am forever changed as a diner (and as a person) from that experience.  

My perfectly wonderful Italian landlady in Naples, Titi, cooking her homemade pizza.

My perfectly wonderful Italian landlady in Naples, Titi, cooking her homemade pizza.

As you can see from the pictures above, we're clearly not eating "primally" - at least not in the way that I generally prescribe to myself and my clients.  In fact, I ate Neapolitan pizza, bread, & pasta on a fairly regular basis - whole pizzas!  And I was the skinniest and healthiest I had ever been in my life!

This didn't exactly make sense to me.  How was I able to eat all these foods that I would have normally avoided, yet not battle the cravings and the weight gain that I did in the states?  It really comes down to this notion of real food.

Real Food - No Additives, Preservatives, & Toxins

The foods in the Italian grocery stores and markets were not adulterated with pesticides and herbicides; in fact, most of them are illegal in Europe.  Preservatives in Italy were also banned (at least they were in our area of the country), and I don't think they would recognize the genetically-modified organisms (GMO) or foods we're inundated with here in the states.

Additionally, the grains they use in their pizzas, pastas and breads are NOT the genetically-altered grains the food manufacturers use prolifically in the states.  They are the real deal - the ancient grains they have eaten for centuries.  They are not laden with gluten and other additives that have proven to be so problematic in America.

Furthermore, the Italians eat tons of fresh (seriously fresh) produce - most of which comes from their own gardens and vineyards.  Friarielli, pomodori, aglio, cipolli, zucchine, and more!  I always loaded up on these flavor-loaded vegetables - most of which were grilled and doused in olive oil, salt and garlic - YUM!

I ate the fruit from the trees that hung outside my window or from the local market.  I ate fresh mozzarella di bufala and ricotta (the most amazing cheese ever!)  There is nothing like this in the States!  

It was in Italy that I truly came to appreciate the notion of real, unadulterated food.  And I truly believe their food tasted better and I didn't put on extra weight for these reasons.

Alas, what are we to do here in the States?  Have no fear, you can eat like an Italian here!

Breaking Down Real Foods

I'm going to use Dr. Hyman's book as a guide here.  I whole-heartily believe and agree with his premise and his suggestions in this book and would have given you the same information regardless.  But his breakdown is so flawless, I want to share it with you.

I still recommend reading/buying his book, however, because he goes into much more detail about what has really happened to so many of our conventional food stuffs - especially meat, poultry, dairy, and even fruits & vegetables.  He also specifically lists which foods to eat and which to avoid, which I didn't really have room for here.

As I will discuss in Part 3 of the Food Freedom Series, eating too many carbohydrates in the form of grains, legumes/beans, fruits, & processed sugars can wreck havoc on your weight, blood sugar & insulin levels, brain health, heart health, and more.

When it comes down to it, ALL carbohydrates break down into glucose in the body (i.e. "sugar").  Whole grains may cause your blood sugar to rise slower then processed grains, but your body still has to figure out where to store all that glucose if you're not immediately burning it off, and it will get stored as FAT. 

There are a whole host of other reasons to reduce, if not eliminate grains (especially anything with gluten), legumes (beans/peas), and sugar.  If you have any sort of inflammation or gut health issues (and a large percentage of you may not even realize you do), carbs & fiber can be particularly troublesome.

I know, this goes against everything we've heard for decades, but it's true.  If necessary, you can get all the vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and fiber you need from fruits & vegetables without spiking your blood sugar and causing so many other issues.

If you want to know why, book a nutrition session with me and I'll fill you in.  For now, here are some really great guidelines inspired by



Grains can be a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but you should try to keep grain intake to a minimum to keep blood sugar levels low and your fat- burning engine running at full speed. Consider them "treats" to be consumed once in awhile, that is unless you're someone who tolerates a higher intake.

If you're not so lucky or are just curious, here are some guidelines to help you wade the waters:

EAT WHOLE GRAINS: Eat the whole, fresh grain & not the processed flours that quickly turn to sugar in the bloodstream, resulting in blood sugar & insulin spikes.

ORGANIC GRAINS: Organic varieties are easier on the environment & your body. They are not coated with toxic pesticides that harm the environment & then remain on your food.

VARIETY: If you're going to try grains, vary your choices by using amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, & black or wild rice. Cut back on wheat, rice, oats, & corn, which are consistently found in Westernized diets, are usually GMO & laden with pesticides, and spike blood sugar levels.

GLUTEN-FREE: For the most part, our bodies do not know how to process gluten. It can treat it like an invader in your body, attacking vital organs and tissues causing autoimmune reactions and much more. Recent studies have also shown that gluten causes the tight junctions of intestinal epithelial cells to open to some degree in ALL people!

If you want to be on the safe side, just avoid it!  If you're you're wondering if you have a sensitivity, avoid it for a few weeks and see how you feel.  If you notice you feel better, you might be sensitive to gluten.  To be sure, reintroduce it after a few weeks and see what happens.

* As a side note, some studies have shown that people who have an imbalanced or damaged gut cannot tolerate gluten until they've healed their gut.  Curious about this process?  Check out Dr. Ruscio's newest book, Healthy Gut Healthy You.  He has created a very practical and step-by-step process that walks you through an individualized approach to healing your gut and ultimately, broadening your food horizon and weaning you off supplements.

* You have type 2 diabetes or high blood glucose.
* Your have issues with weight control or cravings.
* You suffer from food sensitivities, which can be traced back to gluten or other substances in grains.
* You have digestive issues, including irritable bowel syndrome or acid reflux.
* You have any type of Autoimmune Disease
* Blood testing shows high inflammation markers. 



Full of vitamins, minerals, proteins, soluble & insoluble fiber, and low on the glycemic scale (they don't spike blood sugar like grains do), beans have always been touted as a health food. However, they contain certain substances, lectins & phytates, that can be problematic for some, if not most people.

Lectins are a plant's natural defense mechanism (i.e. toxin) to keep predators at bay. They can wreck havoc in human bodies, causing allergies, inflammation, autoimmune disease, leaky gut, & gastrointestinal distress.

Lectins and phytates can also prevent our bodies from accessing all the nutrients in beans and legumes.  In fact, you would have to eat 3 cups of beans (123 g carbs) to get the same amount of protein in 6 ounces of salmon (0 carbs)!! They are also missing an important amino acid, leucine, which is essential for muscle growth and maintenance.

Beans do offer some health benefits, especially green peas, green beans, & fermented soy products (natto, miso, tempeh), but they are not absolutely necessary for your health.  You can get the same nutrients & fiber from other not-so-problematic foods. 


* You have type 2 diabetes or are insulin resistant.
* Your struggle with weight control or have belly fat.
* You suffer from food allergies or sensitivities.
* You have irritable bowel syndrome or digestive issues.
* You have any type of Autoimmune Disease.
* You're a man wanting to reproduce (can lower sperm count significantly).
* You have breast cancer (with the exception of moderate amounts of traditional soy foods).



To quote Hyman, "Plants are living farmacies that dispense natural substances with medicinal powers."
They are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients, which are powerful, disease-fighting substances only found in plants.

Unfortunately, the majority of produce found on America's plate are over-processed (French Fries, anyone?), over- sprayed (pesticides), & nutrient-deficient. The USDA states that the Top 5 most consumed vegetables in America are 1. potatoes (typically fried; very starchy), 2. tomatoes (underripe & possibly inflammatory), 3. sweet corn (mostly GMO & starchy), 4. onions (nothing bad here), & 5. iceberg lettuce (no nutritional value).

There are a ton of vegetables that we are NOT getting on our plate that provide powerful nutritional and healing nutrients!  Check out the following guidelines when selecting your fruits & veggies!


You should eat a diverse array of colorful produce - the more colors, the more nutrients! Think RED Peppers, heirloom tomatoes & raspberries; ORANGE pumpkin, potatoes, & squash; YELLOW/GREEN peas, avocados & greens (collard, turnip, mustard, spinach); GREEN brassicas (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, boy chop, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, & arugula; BLUE/PURPLE wild blueberries & blackberries, carrots, heirloom corn & cabbage; and WHITE garlic, onions, leeks, etc. 


1.25 billion pounds of pesticides are dumped on our produce every year!!!!  Studies have linked pesticide exposure to kidney, pancreatic, prostate, breast, & stomach cancers. Those who eat mostly organic foods were shown to have less insecticides in their urine! Why mess with this stuff?!

If you can't afford Organic across the board, follow the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen & Clean 15 list.  Just know that these lists can vary from year-to-year, and you can find printable lists & an app at


  • Eat WHOLE fruits and focus on lower-sugar varieties, such as berries & apples.  View other fruits as "treats".
  • Eat "fatty" fruit.  Avocados, coconuts, and olives are actually fruits and are remarkably nutritious & full of healthy fat.  
  • Eat "weird" fruits like pomegranates, kiwis, papayas, goji berries, snake fruit, açaí berries, gooseberries, mangosteen, or dragon fruit.
  • Buy ORGANIC.  Most soft flesh fruits, especially berries, are high on the Dirty Dozen list for pesticide residue. So stick with organic if you can.  
  • Frozen berries & fruits are even more nutritious, if they've been flash-frozen, and can be way cheaper!
  • Lemons & limes are low in sugar and high in flavor.  Use them to season dishes and your water.
  • AVOID or limit sugary fruits like grapes, bananas, dried fruits (gojis are an exception), mango, & pineapple.
  • AVOID conventionally grown apples & strawberries, which are the highest in pesticide residues.
  • AVOID fruit juice!!!  It has the same (or more) sugar as soda and all the nutrients have been stripped away.



Man has eaten meat since the beginning of time, and it was an integral part of their existence. Yet our ancestors did not battle the chronic diseases, such as heart disease & cancer, that meat has received a bad rap for causing in Westernized cultures.

So the question begs to be asked, "Is meat really to blame?"

If you look closely at non-biased research, you will clearly see that real meat is NOT the culprit. Our ancestors ate fresh meat (when they could catch it), along with PLENTY of plant foods. They did not, however, eat the excessive amounts of feed-lot meats and processed grains, baked goods, sugars, & junk that we eat today.  

If you're thinking this might actually be the problem, you are thinking correctly!  Here are a few things you should know when it comes to meat.

1. The link between saturated fat & heart disease has clearly been disproven! In fact, studies show that those who eat higher amounts of quality saturated fats have a lower risk of disease & death.

2. Meat is the best source of protein available and the only source of Vitamin B12. Yes, plant foods have protein, but it is much harder for your body to absorb, and you have to eat 3X as much to match one serving of meat. If extra carbohydrates are problematic for you (i.e. diabetes, weight gain), this may not be the best choice.

3. Cows raised in feed lots (the majority of conventional meat) are fed GMO grains, ground-up animal parts, candy, hormones & antibiotics, live in unsanitary conditions and are more susceptible to infection & sickness.

4. Cows who forage on grasses are nutritionally superior. Their meat is high in anti-inflammatory Omega-3s, CLA, phytonutrients, & numerous vitamins and minerals! 

Aim for 100% Grass-Fed, Organic &/or Pastured Meats that say "Hormone/Antibiotic Free".  These meats have a higher Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio (desired), and assorted vitamins and minerals that are deficient in CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations) animals.  However, do the best you can and don't stress if you can't buy organic/grass-fed/pastured meats all the time (I sure don't).

LOOK FOR THESE LABELS: Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, Global Animal Partnership, Food Alliance Certified, American Grass-fed Association (AGA).

Consider meat as a side dish, not the main dish, and limit consumption of processed meats, buying "uncured" varieties instead. Avoid preservatives & additives (especially nitrates/nitrites), buy local (if possible), & don't char your meat - it creates carcinogenic compounds.



Chickens raised in their natural environment are a good source of B vitamins, choline, selenium, sulfur, iron, monounsaturated fat, & palmitoleic acid (an antimicrobial). Unfortunately, the high demand for P & E has driven their nutrition and quality of life down the drain.

Sadly, the majority of chickens today are not pastured and fed the grass, weeds, bugs, & seeds they are meant to enjoy. Instead, they are kept in overcrowded dark barns full of their own manure and are fed GMO grains, corn, soy, and antibiotics to fatten them up.

Like meat, conventionally-raised chickens have a much lower nutritional value, higher amounts of inflammatory omega-6, & the highest amounts of harmful bacteria. Organic, pasture-raised P & E have substantially lower amounts, mainly because they are not given antibiotics and have better living conditions.

This makes it VERY important to purchase high quality products. However, labels for P & E are by far the most confusing, and many of them (i.e. gluten-free) are entirely unnecessary. Use the following guidelines to make the smartest purchases. 



  • DON'T BURN/CHAR POULTRY: This creates unhealthy & toxic substances. That includes not grilling over high heat to get crispy skins.
  • BAKING IS BETTER: Bake, braise, stew, or saute' chicken to 165° F to kill harmful bacteria. 



Nuts & seeds are powerhouses!  They are helpful for weight loss and preventing some chronic disease. Best of all, they are no longer considered a "fattening" food!

They are a great source of fiber, protein, & good fats, and you should eat them EVERY DAY.  However, don't overdo it and try to follow the guidelines below to maximize their nutritional value & to avoid the unhealthy, processed versions. 

  • Eat one or two handfuls a day.
  • Leave the skin on. It has high levels of polyphenols & other micronutrients shown to help prevent some chronic disease.
  • Avoid the extracted seed oils except in small amounts.
  • Put seeds in salads & smoothies, especially chia and hemp. * Eat nut butters in moderation and look at the labels!
  • Buy nuts in small quantities and store in fridge to avoid rancidity. 



Consuming healthy fats from animal and plant sources supports optimal function of all the systems in your body. It helps you to feel full and satisfied and has little to no impact on blood glucose or insulin levels.

Fat should comprise the largest percentage in your diet (upwards of 70%), but make sure to choose the fats below which help DECREASE inflammation in the body, not the highly refined, chemically altered fats that may promote inflammation, aging, and cancer.

I also want to emphasize that while eating a diet higher in healthy fats is completely healthy and does not cause high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, and weight gain, YOU MUST LOWER YOUR CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE to below 150 grams per day in order to avoid a physiological train wreck!!  

If you don't, your body will continue to burn sugar for energy and store the fat.  You have to get your body to burn the fat and not need the sugar.  I'll talk more about this in Part 3, but you can also read my post on Ketosis for more information.

Since this is such an important & confusing topic, I do want to share what is a "healthy" fat and what is not.  


  • Certified Virgin Coconut Oil
  • Grass-Fed, Pastured Butter
  • Grass-Fed, Pastured Ghee
  • Organic Avocado Oil
  • Organic Tallow (beef fat)
  • Organic Lard (pork fat)
  • Organic Duck Fat
  • Organic Chicken Fat

USE RAW (don't cook with these)

  • Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (preferably from CA)
  • Walnut Oil
  • Almond Oil
  • Macadamia Oil
  • Sesame Seed Oil
  • Tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • Flax oil (limited amounts)
  • Hemp oil


  • Soybean Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Corn Oil
  • Safflower Oil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Palm Oil
  • Peanut Oil
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Vegetable Shortening
  • Margarine & all other butter substitutes, including ones that include butter in them.
  • Anything that says "hydrogenated" (it's poison)
  • Anything else that looks fake



Sadly, all the positive milk marketing over the years has mainly been to benefit the health of the Dairy Industry, NOT YOU!  For many people, milk really doesn't do their body good!

I know this sounds like heresy, but if you look at the research NOT funded by the food and dairy industry, you will see that milk consumption can cause weight gain, bloating, acne, gas, allergies, eczema, osteoporosis, & cancer.

Cow milk today is not the cow milk of yesteryear (nor are the cows). A cup of conventional milk can contain up to 60 different hormones, plus allergic proteins, antibiotics, and growth factors.

Furthermore, even the cows are genetically "improved" to produce more milk & more meat, which stresses their bodies and makes them more susceptible to infection and disease (hence all the antibiotics they're given).

One of the main growth hormones, IGF-1, found in milk has been shown to promote cancer and is associated with chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and heart disease. 

Milk has ONE purpose for all species, including humans - to produce growth! This is definitely NOT a necessity for adults, nor is it for our children past a certain age.

Our bodies dramatically decrease production of lactase (the enzyme that breaks down milk proteins) after the age of two.  Do you think our bodies might be telling us something given that 70% of the population is milk intolerant?

Despite the government's dietary guidelines of 3 cups a day (which are backed by the $47-billion dairy industry), you can find your supply of vitamins and nutrients better elsewhere without all the associated problems.

And if you're wondering about calcium, vegetables are a better source. 

Now, all that being said, if you're going to consume milk, try to purchase grass-fed, whole milk varieties (preferably goats' or sheeps' milk) and avoid low-fat or non-fat, sugar-laden, and processed milk products from conventionally-raised cattle (low-fat milk has been associated with weight gain & obesity).

Furthermore, you should know that goats' milk is different than cows' milk. It contains a different protein (A2) that is not inflammatory, is easier to digest, AND contains MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides), which we know boosts metabolism and improves brain function.  

So, this would be a great alternative if you have to have your milk. Look for good quality, locally-sourced cheeses like Ricotta, soft goat cheese, Feta, Manchego, & Pecorino. 



Dr. Hyman goes into great detail in his book about the science behind all kinds of beverages.  So, again, I recommend you pick up his book.  But for now, use his guidelines as a roadmap of what to drink and what not to drink.


  • Water, as pure as possible (check out Berkey water filters)
  • Tea, especially green and brewed at home
  • Coffee, but don't overdo it
  • Wine in moderation ( 1, 5-oz glass/day)
  • Spirits in moderation (1, 1-oz drink/day)
  • Homemade GREEN juices, shakes, & smoothies (don't overdo high-sugar fruits)
  • Coconut water & watermelon water (check out WTRMLN WTR) - healthier, low-sugar sports/rehydration options


  • Bottled water (plastic waste)
  • Vitamin water or other "enhanced" waters
  • Waters containing flavoring, coloring, or sweeteners
  • Fruit juice (store-bought)
  • Store-bought smoothies/shakes (likely loaded with sweeteners, etc.)
  • Sugary & artificially-flavored coffee drinks
  • Sweetened or flavored iced teas
  • Milk
  • Beer (gluten & lots of calories)
  • Soda (need I say why???)



By now you probably know that I am a fan of lowering your sugar intake.  There is so much research out there now that has sugar pegged as the culprit for any number of diseases and disorders - everything from heart disease to cancer to Alzheimer's to ADHD - and the list goes on!

And when it comes down to it, sugar is sugar is sugar!  It doesn't matter if it is refined or not, your body will metabolize it as sugar once it's in your bloodstream. And, if your body doesn't need it for energy, it will store it as - you guessed it - FAT!

However, to be fair (& realistic), here are some guidelines for when you do choose to use sugar (in moderation, of course!).  I don't bake often, but if I do, I try to use the following.  I use Better Stevia in my tea & coffee, but sometimes it just doesn't work for a recipe.  So try these instead:

  • Fresh, pureed fruit or fruit juice
  • Molasses (has iron in it too)
  • Organic palm sugar
  • Date sugar
  • Coconut sugar (my personal favorite)
  • Monk fruit (a newer variety)
  • Organic maple syrup


  • Artificial sweeteners of ALL kinds (they are actually worse than sugar)
  • Sugary beverages
  • High-fructose corn syrup or any ingredients with the word syrup (except pure organic maple syrup)
  • Agave syrup, corn syrup, sugarcane, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup (sometimes called "natural")
  • Packaged foods containing added sugars (i.e. ketchup, yogurt, bread, cereal, dressing, etc.)
  • Anything with a suffix "-ose" - its a sugar!
  • Refined white sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Aspartame, also sold as NutraSweet or Equal
  • Sucralose, sold as Splenda
  • Saccharin, contained in Sweet'N Low
  • Acesulfame potassium, contained in Equal

In conclusion, & at the risk of oversimplifying the matter, the less ingredients a product has, the better!  That being said, it's up to you to look at the labels closely.  For the most part, stick with foods that DON'T need a label - they are your safest bet!

If you do have to buy something with a label, try to only purchase ones with ingredients that are recognizable and that don't include sugar or vegetable oil.

IF all of this is still overwhelming to you, it's okay.  As I always say, learning to be healthy is a process, and we all have to start the journey somewhere.

Keep this article handy.  Bookmark it on your device or print it out.  Buy Dr. Hyman's book

OR  Book an appointment with me, and I'll help teach & equip you, as well as walk you through the process of change.  That's what I'm here for!

Be looking for my next post in the Food Freedom Series - Ditch the Sugar & Burn Fat!

Until then, Ciao Bella(o)!