Episode 14 – The Medicinal Chef with Dale Pinnock
01:59 – From battling acne to studying nutrition–Dale’s backstory
05:21 – He’s been cooking since he was four
11:09 – People are looking for reliable, evidence-based information
14:00 – How you treat your body can drastically influence susceptibility to illness
22:43 – All good diets have one thing in common
27:05 – What you should know about food shopping
32:45 – Some basic principles of healthy nutrition
35:04 – Cooking oils, essential fatty acids, and the Omegas–a detailed discussion
41:15 – Yes, you can avoid chronic inflammation
48:16 – Serotonin is not the only reason you need a healthy gut
55:53 – Dale’s top five recommendations for a positive change in diet
Welcome to the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast, where you can learn how to improve your diet, lose fat, and get fitter in a sustainable and fun way without spending hours in the gym. Here is your host, Darren Kirby.
Darren: This is Episode 14 of the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast and in today’s show, we’re going to be talking about the increasing popular subject of nutrition and how nutrition and food fundamentally affects our overall health and wellbeing. Joining me on the podcast today is someone who is hugely qualified to talk about the subject. It’s none other than the Medicinal Chef, Dale Pinnock.
Dale has been in the nutrition industry for over 25 years. He’s studied and read over 1000 books on the subject, he’s a Sunday Times Bestselling author, and regularly appears on National TV here in the UK. Dale, thanks for joining me on the podcast today. How are you?
Dale: I’m good. I’m good. How are you doing?
Darren: Very well, thank you. Very well. I’m enjoying this Autumn sunshine we’re getting.
Dale: I’m kind of sat in my office now looking out of the window and it looks great. It’s nice when the sun’s out but I hate the hot weather in this country. I love it when I’m overseas but in this country it’s murder!
Darren: Yeah, we’re just kind of not set up for it really and we’re not conditioned for it either, are we? We all kind of yearn for the hot weather and then when it comes it’s just something else to moan about.
Dale: That’s what we do best, though. It’s hardwired in our DNA.
Darren: Yeah, exactly. I think the British more than anyone, to be honest. But, yeah, we seem to be quite experts of that. So thanks very much for joining me today. I know you’re a hugely busy guy. We’ve just been having that discussion off air, so I really appreciate and respect you giving me your time to appear on the show. For people that maybe haven’t come across you before or heard of you, can you kind of give us a bit of background into yourself and The Medicinal Chef?
Dale: Yeah, totally. As you rightly said, I’ve been in this industry for 25 years now, since the 90s. Obviously, back then, in the middle of the rave scene, eating healthy probably wasn’t the number one thing on people’s minds. And when you spoke about nutrition, people sort of looked at you like you were from another planet. It’s like, ‘Oh, what? You want to lose weight?’ That was kind of the only part of the discussion around nutrition that existed then. The reason I got into it is because I had really bad acne from the age of about 10 or 11. It was the summer of leaving primary school to go up to secondary school, that time in your life when you just start to become conscious of yourself in relation to your peers, and I started breaking out like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It was like I’d been shot in the face with a blunderbuss; it wasn’t pretty.
And I tried all sorts of lotions and potions, went to lots of different doctors and specialists. Nothing really worked. And then someone lent me a book, and it was a book called Fit for Life by Harvey Diamond, which obviously if you read it now, it’s a little bit far-fetched. But back then, it was like a real cult classic health book. And (he) said to me, ‘Look, unless you change what’s going on on the inside, nothing’s going to change on the outside.’ Obviously, as a 15 year old boy, I was just like, Yeah, whatever. But to be honest, I was so desperate. If they told me to run outside at midnight on a full moon, wrapped in tin foil, and it would get rid of the spots, I’d have done it.
I read this thing cover to cover in a weekend and that was the aha moment. That was that real light bulb moment that we can actively engage in our own healthcare. There’s steps that we can take and it doesn’t have to be a passive process. And then, as you said, in the first sort of year to 18 months, I read over 1000 books. I locked myself away. I mean, I was always a bit of a social misfit anyway. I sort of grew up liking graffiti gangs and pirate radio and all that kind of stuff. I was always a little bit of a kind of a an outlandish one. So I was happy to lock myself away and do what I needed to do to kind of get the result that I wanted. And just read and read and read. Used myself as a guinea pig and the subject completely gripped me.
I mucked about at school, I didn’t get any real education to speak about. I got a few GCSE’s but I was more interested in sitting in the back of the field, smoking weed in those days, and I mucked about. I didn’t have any kind of real passion. But as I got a bit older and I was studying this subject and really getting into it, it was the only thing that ever moved me in my life. The only thing that actually made me want to dedicate myself to it. That’s when I decided to go to university. But obviously, I had to make up some old ground for lurking around. And I had to do like my access course and all that kind of stuff.
Did my first degree in human nutrition and towards the end of that degree, I was getting more interested in plant biochemistry and the things in foods that aren’t nutrients per se, but they can still deliver pharmacological benefits, should we say. The phytochemicals and these active constituents that you find in plants. The only place you could study that at that time… Now it’s included in all nutrition degrees, but back then, it was a herbal medicine degree. So I did my second degree in herbal medicine at Westminster and then from there went on to do the Masters in Nutritional medicine at Surrey, which I know you spoke to Rupy recently; he’s just started that course. He’s getting to see the hell and earth that it is. It’s a tough course.
And yeah, here I am today. I’ve been cooking all my life as well. I’ve been cooking since I was about four years old, thanks to my mom. As soon as me and my sister were old enough, she would get us in the kitchen, helping her to prepare the family meal. So preparing food and cooking has never been alien to me. When I first left school and whilst I was at university, I worked in kitchens to support myself and got experience on the job. Never trained in any kind of culinary arts, but I think it’s one of those things you either do it or you can’t and anyone can learn to cook, I think.
The preparation of food just seemed like such an obvious delivery system for the information. It’s like if you’re talking about nutrition and diet and changes that people need to make, if you’re doing a PowerPoint presentation, for some people that’s completely going to butter their muffin. For others, it’s going to bore them to tears. For most people, it’s going to bore them to tears and it’s not applicable. You start to put that information into a practical framework, i.e., showing people what to eat, then all of a sudden, it’s information they can use.
That’s really the crux of everything that I do now. It’s getting back to evidence-based information delivered in a way that people can start to apply it so they can make meaningful change to their life. And also delivering information in a way that demystifies this hellish dichotomous contradictory subject.
Darren: Yeah, I think it is fascinating. Like I said, in my intro, the ever popular subject of nutrition, which may sound ridiculous, right? Because nutrition has been around since the beginning of time. But it very much seems now, I guess with the evolution of the internet, and stuff like that and YouTube, everything is becoming much more accessible. There’s a lot more easily more consumable, understandable information out there. And I think that people are starting to question stuff. I think the proof–pardon the pun–the proof is in the pudding. Once you start to make those changes, as you said, it has such a profound effect.
We say learning about nutrition, understanding nutrition, and like I said to you before, some people are just ‘all food is food.’ It’s so not. Once you start to get it right, not that you’re probably getting it wrong at the moment, but once you’re starting to get the foods that suit you as a person, the change is just unbelievable. And I think the other thing is once you start to learn it, you then start to chip away and you want to learn more and more and more. And that’s definitely been the case for me.
I think it’s fascinating that you as a young lad at 11 years old actually took this on and consumed it all. For me, I only came to this about six, seven years ago. And like I said to you before, for me, it was just like, once I got the nutrition right and it was completely unconscious at the time, it was definitely like a cloud had been lifted. A lot of people talk about brain fog and stuff like that but it was definitely like that. Ever since then, I’ve been completely obsessed by this stuff. A lot of the content that you’re putting out, a lot of the content that Rupy puts out as well, it’s information that you can just take, just from the likes of some Instagram, stuff that you put on Instagram. You can just take that, put it into your own kitchen and start cooking and make a difference. So yeah, I think we’re in a golden age, to be honest.
Dale: We are. I think you’re right at what you said that people are starting to question it. I mean, a few years ago, maybe 2015 around about that kind of time, it really went through a mass explosion. Instagram really kind of hit its critical mass and there were glossy head, yoga pant-wearing, green-drink-wielding influencers coming at us from every feasible direction.
Now, I’m not dissing those people. I’m not having a go at them. It’s just like, I’ve kind of got issue with the industry that gave them the spotlight. Because, weirdly… I always knew that nutrition was going to explode as a subject because it’s such an obvious part of selfcare and the evidence base was evolving and it was something that always had a lot of interest around it. I knew that it was going to become a very, very mainstream thing. And especially when we had TV shows like You are What you Eat and stuff like that.
I remember one of the health shows in London and Gillian McKeith was there. She was there, she was signing books, and people were queuing around the block. So I could see what was coming. I knew this day was coming. But then with social media, nutrition suddenly, weirdly, became entwined with fashion and it became like this aspirational lifestyle. How in God’s name did kale become aspirational? It’s very, very bizarre.
All of a sudden, these people that looked a certain way and could take a very, very nice picture of a green drink, all of a sudden on like BBC Breakfast News and in every single magazine, giving people dietary advice, and it’s like, ‘How awesome. Where did they go? What Uni did they go to? Oh, they didn’t. Oh, what? Okay, did they do one of the diploma courses? No.’ Okay, so basically, they’ve got good genetics and they take a good picture and they’re giving people dietary advice. You need to sort it out. And that was one of the things that did cheese me off a little bit and I was very outspoken about it. I’m not in this thing to win friends; I’m in this thing to tell the truth.
But a couple of years of that, and as you say, people started to ask questions. There was a backlash against the influencer culture and people were like, okay, nutrition clearly has a real key fundamental role in our health. The data to support that, it’s absolutely unequivocal. You have to be a moron or from another planet to believe that diet and nutrition has zero influence on our health. You have to be just not of this world. So people got that. But then they were like, there’s clearly a lot of nonsense and there’s clearly a lot of fad-ism and commercial element to this.
So people started demanding a higher standard of information. And I was really, really pleased to see that. You know, the likes of myself and Rupy and Hazel and Rhiannon and those guys. There’s a cluster of us that have earned our stripes. I mean, I did nine years at university, Rupy’s a doctor, for goodness sake, that’s like 12 years or whatever ridiculous amount of time it is. We’ve kind of earned our stripes to be able to give people this sort of support and it’s very reassuring that the tables are starting to turn and people are actually searching for evidence-based information now. We’re now probably at the foothill of something very, very exciting. I’m very excited to see what the next five and 10 years has got in store.
Darren: Yeah, I am. And I think you make a really valid and important point I’ll emphasize and that is: it’s amazing how if somebody puts a green juice on Instagram, automatically, if they’ve got 10,000 followers, they’re an authority. I think it’s a very dangerous thing to kind of jump on, if that makes sense, and kind of trust these people as authority. That’s why I try and get you guys on the podcast, because I’m not an expert. I’ve learned it and I understand it. I’m not educated in it, I’m not qualified in it, but you guys are.
It’s important that you guys get more of a kind of a platform, if you like, because for me, it’s gone from five, 10 years ago, it was food was related, I think anyway, to weight loss. Whereas now, it’s shifted and it’s food is related to nutrition, which sounds a bit odd, but it’s about a whole kind of encompassing, whole rounded approach to food. It’s not like eat this and you’ll lose 10 kilos, or whatever. Now it’s eat this, you’ll look better, you’ll feel better, you’ll stave off critical illness, which I think is another thing that we can talk about.
Dale: What it represents really, it represents the aspects of health care that we can actively engage in. Our lifestyle and our selfcare is our way of engaging in our own health destiny. You can’t do jack about genetics. You can’t do jack about some idiot having too much to drink and getting in the car and banging into you. You can’t do anything about that. What you can do something about is how you live day to day. How you live day to day and how you treat your body and the steps that you take can drastically influence your susceptibility to a lot of the illness that’s actually plaguing our society today.
You look at the things that are putting the most strain on the NHS. It’s not Green Parrots disease, it’s not Dengue fever. It’s type 2 diabetes, it’s obesity, it’s cardiovascular disease. It’s like the ever increasing number of cancers. And so much of that, particularly with the type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, it’s lifestyle derived. Now, I absolutely am not one of these people that throws blame around at all. It’s not just like, you’ve got diabetes, you’re a moron, you’ve done it to yourself. It’s not like that at all and anyone that is kind of that ilk maybe needs to re-evaluate it, I think.
But we’re certainly in an environment that previously hasn’t, should I say, really allowed us to understand how to take care of ourselves properly. When I was working in clinical practice, I don’t have a clinic anymore because I just prefer to do this side of things now. But when I was in clinical practice, so many people were coming to me that had these kinds of issues–cardiovascular disease, and this kind of stuff. And they were people that are wanting to look after themselves. These weren’t people that were chain smoking and living in a pub all day. These were people that were really trying to look after themselves but because the valid, reliable information wasn’t there, they were just doing the wrong thing, because they were being taught the wrong thing and they didn’t have the understanding.
So for a long time, we’ve been in an environment that has not been conducive to us being able to look after ourselves properly, unless you really go down the rabbit hole and dig a little bit deeper. But what nutrition really represents is the thing that we can do to reduce our risk of these kinds of things. And now we’ve got platforms that we’ve got, that we can do podcasts, we can set up a YouTube channel, or an Instagram page, or all of it, if you’re mental like some of us are and do all of it and realize that was probably not a good idea but you’re in it now and you can’t stop. Then you can really, really get the word out there.
So you know, it’s an important thing. It is way more than weight loss. I mean, of course, you start eating right, your body will find that equilibrium point anyway. I mean, listen, I’m 42 years old, I could not give two hoots if I’ve got a six pack. I really couldn’t care less. I’m past those days, past caring. What I care about is still being here in another 42 years doing the things that I love with the people that I love. That’s what I care about now.
Darren: That’s a really important point and that’s the approach that I take. Yeah, it’s not about the six pack. For me, it’s about being fit and healthy so that I’m there for the family. And that might sound a bit strange because you’re there for your family. But it can be quite profound. If you walk around unconsciously and you assume that the stuff that’s on the supermarket shelves in the green packets, because it’s vegan or because it’s good to you or it’s less fat, is actually right for you, if you walk around unconsciously like that, then you’re not going to be in the picture of health.
I think the other side to it is that we need to, as a nation, take responsibility for our health and not just actually… We need to be more proactive and not reactive. I don’t know what your opinion about this is and that is I think men have woken up. I don’t know whether it’s a social media element or it could be age. I mean, definitely for me, it was age. When I got to 40, it was almost like I woke up. I think men have and are taking a lot more responsibility for their diets, they’re getting in the kitchen more, they pay more attention to nutrition and stuff like that. And its’ not around the six pack kind of element. It’s around them being and doing it for their family.
Dale: 100%. We’re in such a cultural shift, like a massive cultural shift. In the last four or five years, we’re speeding into a brand new paradigm without a shadow of a doubt. And with that has come different levels of awakening, different levels of understanding that, as you rightly say, there’s certain things we can’t take for granted. There are certain things that we need to take responsibility for. And I do genuinely think that social media has changed the game a little bit for men. I think there’s just as much pressure on men to look a certain way. It’s the same that has been on women for a long time.
For a long time it was women with magazines and with fashion and this kind of stuff. Men are starting to get those same pressures now and I know a lot of men, particularly the younger guys are discovering nutrition and selfcare. Maybe from slightly more shallow or less meaningful origins, but once they discover it and realize the difference that it makes, they get hooked, and they just get deeper and deeper into the subject. And they realize that this is bigger than just a six pack. Let’s be honest, they’re probably about 22 and got a six pack anyway, the lucky devils.
I think there’s so many things. There’s so many changes in our culture that has led to what you describe. And also, I think men have always known but it’s like, if you think about the 80s and the 90s, it just wasn’t the done thing for men to look after themselves. Men sort of went to work, they went down the pub a couple of nights a week. At the weekends, they were stoic. They were burly. All of these things, all of these stereotypes were real. Older people talk about it in a light hearted way but I remember when these things were real. This was actually what the culture was like at that time, and obviously we’ve moved away from that and we’re in this brand new age.
With it has come this new acceptance and I think most people in this country realize the problem that we have, to be fair. I think most people in this country realize that we’re up the creek without a paddle when it comes to our health. Because, realistically, when you walk down the street, how many people do you see and you think they look well? Everyone is buggered. They’re completely and utterly knackered. That’s just the time that we’re in and I think people are starting to wake up to the fact like, hang on, I need to actually take some of this on board and look after myself.
Darren: Yeah, definitely. I think, as you said there I think the advent of social media, there’s far more different avenues now that this is also being shoved in our faces but it’s more prevalent when you open up an app, when you go on a social media channel, and things like that. So it’s unconsciously being fed into a lot of people and I think that the obesity thing and the type 2 diabetes, I could do a whole few hours on a podcast around that.
Because for me, just going off on a tangent, the impact that we are having on our children now is profound and we’re creating ourselves an even bigger problem. But just kind of boiling it back down to nutrition and stuff like that, there’s so much stuff now around diet, specific diets. There’s paleo, there’s keto, there’s vegan and all the rest of it. And I guess they’ve all got their place. How they materialize, I don’t really understand or know–maybe you do–but for me, if you break all of this down, a lot of it is just a healthy balanced diet. So…
Dale: You’ve got it right. You’ve hit the nail on the head there. This is something that I often say in interviews, it’s something that comes up a lot. People ask me this question, like hang on, there’s all this contradiction. On the surface, it looks like contradiction but when you look at anything, you’ve got to take a three dimensional observation of everything. Don’t just look at what’s straight in front of you. Look what’s behind it.
If you look at a keto diet, a macrobiotic diet, two polar opposite ends of the spectrum. Both, you see these amazing health transformations when people adopt those diets. You hear stories of people reversing diabetes or getting off medications, losing loads of weight, rediscovering their life, whatever. You see these amazing success stories, but the diets are different. So you think well, what the hell’s going on? Don’t look at what the people are doing; look at what they’re not doing. What’s the one thing that unifies every single one of these diets? They’re cutting out the crap that’s making them sick in the first place.
If you stop taking the poison, you ain’t going to be sick anymore. That’s really it. And all of them, all of them will be focusing on whole foods. You don’t look at any diet that’s kind of… Well, I’m sure one exists somewhere. But that’s like, crispy cream doughnuts and white bread and things like that. All of these diets will be based on whole foods. So it’s like, hang on, if you cut the crap, move over to a whole foods diet–that doesn’t have to be vegetarian, it doesn’t have to be high fat, low fat, whatever. You don’t even need to worry about that. For the biggest chunk of the population, you don’t even need to worry about that.
It’s like go to a whole foods diet and 99% of things will fall into place. Of course there’s nuances, of course there’s individual adjustments that need to be made, but yeah, work with a practitioner and make those adjustments. But for most people that are just wanting to adopt a healthier diet and actually make a significant meaningful change, drop the crap, move over to a whole foods diet. A whole foods diet basically meaning food that’s in its original state.
It doesn’t mean become a raw foodist or any of that kind of nonsense. It’s about like, when you’re using grains, go for the multi grains, go for the whole grains, go for grains that have not been refined. So brown rice, brown pasta, multi grain breads, good quality proteins, good cuts of meat, eggs, a bit of cheese. I said it. Cheese, dairy–shock, horror–into your diet. I eat all of it, I eat pretty much everything. Most of my diet is… And this is the other thing, the one thing that you will find in all of these diets is that they are dominated by plants. And I think the person that’s probably defined it the best of course, is Michael Pollan.
Michael Pollan had that wonderful saying, ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ The message there when he says eat food, like real food, whole food. Not food-like substances that are in a packet that have got more ingredients than like an A-level chemistry set. Just whole foods. Don’t stuff yourself to oblivion with it. And make plants the centre of the show.
Darren: Yeah. That’s the other thing, right? We’re talking about all these different types of diets and foods and everything else but I believe… And you know what? I’ve been as guilty as anybody. We eat too much. Our plates are way too big. We eat too much, we eat too regularly as well. Back when our parents were younger, it was three meals a day. We didn’t have access to all of this food. You didn’t walk down the high street and you could pop into a Costa, you could pop into whatever kind of bakery’s popped up. It was just basic stuff and you had it three times a day.
Dale: And people were eating bread and dripping and they weren’t fat.
Darren: Well, exactly right?
Dale: And they weren’t getting cardiovascular disease at the rates that they are now.
Darren: Yeah. This kind of comes up quite frequently–eating healthily is expensive. I don’t subscribe to that.
Dale: Absolute tosh. Absolute tosh. I’ve done three series of a TV show on it. I did the TV show, Eat, Shop, Save on ITV and that was one of the key fundamentals. For me it was Kate Hardcastle, the consumer person that was doing the actual money saving bit. I was just doing the food and the nutrition. But what we proved every single episode is people can slash their shopping bills to next to nothing.
I’ll show you one that I actually did a few years ago, it was a piece for ITV News and we were working with these two girls that were living at the YMCA in Croydon. Between the two of them, their combined weekly budget for food was £15. They were basically relying on just going to Iceland and stocking the freezer with as much of this cheap processed stuff as they could. They were running out of money, they were running out of food, and they felt awful. They just couldn’t function in the way that they wanted to. These were young women. They were 21, 22 and they just didn’t have that vitality that they should have. They weren’t able to go and grab life in the way they wanted to.
They reached out to ITV News, they just said, Look, we want to make a change, but we don’t know where to start. This is literally the money we’ve got, is there anything that we can do? And we did this piece and I said to them, how much do you get from the local market? And they said ‘we’ve never been.’ In Croydon, I mean, in the middle of Croydon, there’s a great big market, smack bang in the middle of it. So I was like, Look, this is the place to start. Took them shopping, went round the Croydon market. We filled four carrier bags with ingredients and we spent about £8.60, so they had change, right?
We went back and we cooked up a massive vat of this spinach and sweet potato curry, one of the ones that I’ve ended up cooking on TV God knows how many times since. It works out 60 pence a portion. They cooked a big vat of it and they were able to freeze portions of it. So they were starting to stockpile their own freezer with home-cooked good food, they were spending much less money, they had money to have a bit of a social life. These young girls that age, they want to be going out and doing stuff and they were able to do it. And they were able to fuel themselves with good food so they actually started to feel better. They started to feel more confident and good in themselves.
You just have to look around. If you rely on going to like these posh organic delis all the time and stuff like that, yeah, you probably will have to sell a kidney to be able to fund yourself. But if you’re sensible, if you look around. I live in Cambridge here and we’ve got loads of great markets. Like the town that I’m in, there’s a market every Thursday, we’ve got little farmers markets, there’s box delivery programs, there’s so many options that are open to you. Go to one of the value supermarkets, Lidl, Aldi, any of those. Their fruit and veggie’s wicked. The packaged stuff maybe not all that great, but the fresh stuff is really, really good. Let me tell you, it’s better than some of the higher end supermarkets and it lasts a lot longer and you can stock up on those kinds of things and save yourself some money. It will be cheaper than buying the processed crap with a brand name on it. That is for sure.
Darren: Yeah, definitely. I think processed food for me is just… I wanted to speak out of turn.
Dale: And also, one thing we need to be really clear about and candid about is, I’m not casting judgment on people that maybe are eating like that or that find themselves in a position where they feel that’s their only option. What I really want to do is anyone that’s in that position, I want to say to you that you have options. If you want to eat that kind of food and you’re enjoying that food, crack on. No problem. You go nuts. But if you feel that you’re stuck with that kind of stuff because of a strain on your budget, because of a lack of confidence in the kitchen, or time pressures or family pressures, any of those kinds of things.
If you believe that those are your only options, I absolutely implore you to look at alternatives and really try and find new ways out of it because there are so many options. If we worked with those girls that had that really, really low budget, there’s always a way. There’s always, always, always a way. If you want to drop me a line, [email protected] Tell me what’s going on, tell me what your scenario is, your situation, I’ll give you a solution.
If you’re on Instagram, send me a direct message on Instagram. I’ll give you a voice message back. Tell me what the scenario is, what are the pressures that are stopping you from eating well. Drop me a line and I’ll give you a solution. There’s always, always, always a solution, if you want to really go for it.
Darren: Yeah, exactly. I completely agree and I think once you start to be aware of that, then there’s the next stage; you’re actually taking time to kind of understand it and learn the basics. It sounds really stupid and I was thinking about this the other day. Cooking and nutrition in schools needs to be taught a lot more so that people understand the principles. What would you say are the fundamental principles around somebody that wants to improve their diet? Traditionally, they just go to the supermarket, they buy whatever foods that are on the shelves. But if somebody has stopped and said: You know what, I want to change this. There’s so much information out there, what are the basic principles that I need to be following?
Dale: Crikey! You’ve asked me a big question right there. Blimey! Some of the principles actually really are quite simple. It’s not as complex as it seems on the surface. The subject of nutritional medicine and nutrition as a science, is hellishly complex. The basics of healthy eating are very, very simple.
Some of the simple things. Your day to day carbohydrates staples, so your bread, pasta, rice, those kinds of things, swap white for brown. White bread over to multigrain granary bread. White rice for brown rice, white pasta for brown pasta, easy-peasy. With those starchy carbs as well, I would try and rein in the portion size of those a little bit. I would try half it if you can. So don’t be as starch-dominated as we’ve been taught to be but don’t go Atkins either. Just kind of go in the middle.
The type of fats that you use, the cheap nasty vegetable oils, these kinds of oils that were sold to us under the promise of being heart healthy and turned out to be anything but. Vegetable oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, those kinds of things, margarine, throw them in the bin. When it comes to cooking, just a little bit of olive oil, or a little bit of butter. Butter on your bread, real butter on your bread, cook with olive oil for 99% of your stuff.
If you do a lot of really high temperature work like roast potatoes, that kind of stuff, then go for a little bit of coconut oil. Don’t worry, I’m not one of those people that’s like: Oh, you’ve broken your leg? Yeah, just take some coconut oil. Car’s broken down, take some coconut oil. But a little bit of coconut oil because it’s stable at high temperature. But for most of your cooking, olive oil. Then…
Darren: Quickly, sorry to interrupt. Can I just ask you a question around the vegetable oil stuff? Just really this is for my own information as much as everybody else’s? My understanding is that one of the fundamental issues around those oils is that when they’re cooked at high temperatures is it the Omega sixes within the oil or the molecular structure of the oil that changes, that when it’s consumed by humans, it creates inflammation in the body?
Dale: You’ve got two things intertwined there. They’re two separate issues. A lot of these oils, yes, you can get oxidation and damage to certain structures in there that can become toxic on heating. But to be honest, that’s the least of the worries. The biggest problem with those oils is the Omega six fatty acid content. Now, here we go. You thought this was going to be a quick question! Time to strap in, unfortunately.
Essential fatty acids. These are vitamin-like substances derived from fats. Okay. The main essential fatty acids that we would have heard of would Omega 3 and Omega 6. Most people have heard of those. There’s also Omega 7 and Omega 9 as well but they’re not part of the inflammatory picture there. They’re involved in other things. So when it comes to inflammation, Omega 3 and Omega 6 are the ones to be aware of.
Omega fatty acids, the Omega 3 and Omega 6, these are metabolic building blocks. They’ve got several roles to play in the body; some are communication roles, some are structural roles. So, for example, DHA, the Omega 3 fatty acid DHA, docosahexaenoic acid, that is a structural fatty acid, predominantly. It’s involved in making the structuring like the rods and the cones in the eyes, the myelin sheath of the nervous system, key structures within cell membranes. Those are the kind of things that DHA does.
EPA predominantly is a communication fatty acid. We’ve spoken about some of the examples of structural roles that fatty acids can play, but when it comes to communication roles, the main thing that these fatty acids get turned into are a group of chemicals called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins, these are communication compounds that regulate. They’ve got a bit of a role to play in pain signalling a little bit of a role to play in smooth muscle contraction, but the main thing that prostaglandins regulate is the inflammatory response.
Three types of prostaglandins. Series 1, Series 2 and Series 3. Series 1 prostaglandins are mildly anti-inflammatory. Series 2 prostaglandins are aggressively pro-inflammatory, so they switch on and exacerbate inflammation. Series 3 prostaglandins are aggressively anti-inflammatory. Different fatty acids will be metabolized to form different types of prostaglandin and this is where this whole thing becomes relevant.
Now, the Omega 3 and Omega 6, both essential fatty acids, meaning the body can’t synthesize them itself, we need to get them from the diet. The important thing is how much of each we consume. That’s the really important thing. So Omega 6 is absolutely vital for our health in very, very small amounts. It will convert into GLA it’s got roles to play in neurological health and hormonal health, it is important, but only in very, very small doses.
The pathway that actually converts Omega 6 into those beneficial end products is very rapidly saturated. Once that pathway is saturated, that metabolic pathway is saturated, if additional Omega 6 is being fed into all of these different enzyme systems that process fatty acids, then because that one pathway is saturated, the excess Omega 6 will be shuttled down a different pathway. It will get converted over into something called arachidonic acid. And then arachidonic acid then converts over into the Series 2 prostaglandin which switches on and exacerbates inflammatory cascades. It activates inflammation.
Now, the Omega 3 fatty acids on the other hand, the EPA and the DHA, these go to form the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. So DHA will predominantly turn into a Series 1 prostaglandin, it has that mild anti-inflammatory activity, but EPA goes down the pathway that will give rise to the Series 3 prostaglandins, these really powerful anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. But then also, you’ve got another set of anti-inflammatory substances released from both EPA and DHA, but quite powerfully from DHA called resolvins. So you’ve got the Delta-resolvins that are that derived from DHA.
So this whole family of different beneficial anti-inflammatory compounds from Omega 3, a whole pro-inflammatory issue from too much Omega 6. Now, what happened when we were told to consume these heart healthy vegetable oils, because they didn’t have the saturated fat in, they were going to save us all. They were going to liberate us all, free from heart disease forever. It had the opposite effect. If you actually look, if you take World Health Organization data, and this stuff is freely available for anyone to do the maths with.
You’ve got this beautiful curve, this beautiful upward curve. As soon as people started adopting those changes around the late 80s to the early 90s, started using margarine instead of butter, vegetable oil instead of other types of oil, cardiovascular disease started going through the roof. And then when people started adopting that thing of like building the diet more around starches and cutting back on fats and all that kind of stuff, healthy starch for breakfast, healthy starch for lunch, it basically was like throwing petrol on a bonfire. Because what we did… On average, in the UK, still we consume around about 23 times more Omega 6 per day than we actually need. So what does that tell you? We’re saturating that pathway that has beneficial outcomes very quickly and we’re feeding more into that pro-inflammatory cascade. Why does that even matter? Well, this is where we get to the nuts and bolts of it.
The inflammation we’re talking about is not acute inflammation. There’s two types of inflammation in the body. There’s acute and there’s chronic. Acute inflammation is when you drop a brick on your toe and things starts to throb and to swell. That’s a repair mechanism that’s vital, that’s where you get mass vasal dilation, a whole swoop of immune cells can rush to the area and start to deal with the actual trauma or infection or whatever’s going on in that local environment. That we don’t want to quash in any way, unless it’s becoming agonizing and we kind of tone it down a little bit with painkillers.
The other type of inflammation, the chronic inflammation, this is the stuff that actually is associated with degenerative health conditions. So cardiovascular disease. We know that cardiovascular disease is inflammatory in origin. It’s inflammatory damage to the endothelium that sets the whole cascade in motion that leads to plaque formation. So the endothelium, that’s the bioactive skin that lines the inside of blood vessels. When that gets damaged by inflammatory episodes by oxidation of cholesterol, or oxidation of triglycerides that causes inflammatory damage to that endothelium. The body puts, in normal repair mechanisms, you get fibrine and that lattice laid down as if a scab was forming, that kind of stuff, and then you get cholesterol that’s just minding its own business going through the cardiovascular system, starts to get embedded in it all and eventually, you end up with a plaque in the artery.
If you can avoid some of that inflammation in the first place, then you reduce those events. I mean, there’s a hell of a lot more to it than that for preventing cardiovascular disease. But then also for people that have got established atheromas, established atherosclerotic lesions within the vessels. Toning down inflammation can make those more stable. One of the things that we talked about for patients with heart disease is actually making any lesions more stable. Stability within the vessels to actually reduce the risk of rupture and clot formation and the risk of infectious. That’s the cardiovascular element.
The big one, and this isn’t any kind of sensational claim. You can find this information in any A-level pathology textbook. This is basic stuff, basic A-level stuff. If you look at prolonged inflammation in tissues, that is one of the key drivers of the genetic changes that occur that can instigate cancer. I mean, if you think about smokers, there’s constant inflammation within the lungs, within the respiratory tract, and it’s that inflammation that eventually can suddenly just activate a certain gene. That gene becomes active, cellular replication goes mental, and a tumour forms. Inflammation is a key driver of cancer.
And then obviously, we’re starting to look in places like depression and mental health issues with regards to inflammation as well. Neuro inflammation. There’s a massive question mark over it, it’s certainly not… We couldn’t turn around and say, yes, inflammation is a driver, but some evidence is pointing to it being a possible driver, or at least an aggravating factor in those kinds of mental health issues as well.
So managing inflammation is vitally, vitally important. And one of the simplest ways to do that, obviously adopting a whole foods diet, you don’t want all of the crap that these processed foods contain that can trigger a lot of this stuff. But making that simple swap with the oils. Get rid of margarine, cut out these Omega 6 rich oils and just use olive oil. The most dominant fatty acid in olive oil is oleic acid which is an Omega 9 fatty acid, has no bearing on it. There’s a little bit of 6 in there, there’s a little bit of 3 in there. But if you take the second step, which is drastically increasing, your Omega 3 either by eating more oily fish or doing what I do and take ungodly amounts of supplements, you’re actually kind of pushing that seesaw in the right way, you’ve got more Omega 3 fats, long chain Omega 3 fatty acids. This is the next soapbox I can get on if you want me to.
The actual type of Omega 3 fatty acids, they have to be long chain, not nuts and seeds. You can eat nuts, seeds and avocados until they come out of your ears, you won’t be getting enough Omega 3. We’ll get onto that in a sec. Upping your Omega 3, reducing your Omega 6, you’re actually creating a state where you’re reducing that chronic inflammation. That was a little quick answer, was it?
Darren: For me, the information side of nutrition and stuff is an area which I’m fascinated by at the moment because of how, as you’ve just described, the diet can dramatically impact that. Just coming back to the original question around principles and stuff. You said about carbohydrates, switching it out for brown and kind of whole grain rice and you’ve obviously talked about cooking with the fats. And then we talked about having fish for the different Omega 3 fats. And then do we get onto proteins and animal based proteins and plant based proteins, what’s your kind of view around…?
Dale: Just make sure there’s protein in there. I’m completely indifferent whether it comes from a plant source or animal source. I was vegan for 20 years. I’m not anymore but I still eat predominantly plants. That’s the final part of those principles, obviously. Make plants the stars of the show. So when you look at your plate, at least half of it to be filled with plants. And when I say plant, I mean like of course, rice is a plant, it’s derived from a plant. I’m just saying like, non-starchy green leafy vegetables. Broccoli, kale, cavolo nero, brussels sprouts, courgettes, peppers, onions, aubergines, all of that good stuff. Those non-starchy things, half your plate dominated by that.
And then the other half, divide that into two. A lump of protein, probably the size of the front of your fist, and a carbohydrate serving the size of the palm of your hand. Make sure it’s a low glycaemic, multi grain, slow burn source. Done. Simple as that.
Darren: Yeah. And you know, it is as simple as that. And I think there’s lots of plate infographics you can get, but that’s a really simple way of making sure that you’ve got a good balanced diet. Again, this is another thing that’s coming to the forefront now and it’s around gut health and the fact that people are now calling it our first brain and everything else. I’ve done a gut health test and I found out some pretty profound things in it. Not that I’m unhealthy anyway. But what’s your view on gut health and how it relates to our overall health?
Dale: We need to address the brain thing, because this is absolutely doing my nut in. There’s a statement saying ‘Oh, did you know the gut and the brain are linked?’ It’s like, well, I hope so. What do you think controls peristalsis? Is there some geezer with a remote control sat in a bush across the road? I hope they’re connected.
There’s a lot of conclusion jumping around this and it’s really quite ridiculous. A good friend of mine, Dr. Alan Desmond is a leading gastroenterologist. He spends his days looking at people’s insides, in people guts day in and day out. What these guys don’t know about gut health isn’t worth knowing. When you’re working at that level, you pretty much understand what’s doing what. Let’s face it. I had this conversation with him as well and he was like, yes, he shares my pain.
There are so many people at the minute saying, Oh did you know that about 80% of your serotonin is produced in your gut? So your gut is really, really important in depression, in your mood. And that is where I bang my head on the desk. Because it’s like, well, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has multiple roles to play in a body. In the digestive system, it regulates aspects of peristalsis. It regulates peristaltic tone. So the rhythmical contraction of the gut–serotonin is one of the key drivers of that. Also, it has some role to play in maintaining localized pH and some influence on cell turnover within the gut. But that’s its main role in the gut.
Also, what nobody is talking about is that serotonin has also got a role to play in bone mineralization and the laying down of calcium onto the skeletal matrix and the hardening of these mineral deposits. What nobody’s talking about is that serotonin has also got a role to play in platelet function within the blood. You don’t hear anyone saying, oh look after your skeleton and you won’t get depressed. It’s just because the gut has become like this kind of sexy thing to talk about and it’s really like one on one makes 175 kind of thinking around it.
My simple message is: Serotonin. In the gut, it does gut stuff. In the brain, it does brain stuff. It plays different roles, depending on where it is found in the body. Let’s face it, obviously, if you’re constipated, if you’ve got agonizing pain in your digestive tract, you ain’t going to be whistling Dixie, right? You’re not going to be feeling on top of the world and you’re not going to be walking down the road with a spring in you step, are you? That’s a given.
We understand that, like, looking after your health in multiple ways is going to make you feel happier and healthier. I know that there is a link between diet and depression because I’ve written a book on it. So I’m not saying that there’s not the link; I’m just addressing this one single thing that everyone’s talking about, is this serotonin in the gut. Serotonin in the gut is there to regulate peristaltic tone. It’s to make sure everything you eat reaches its final destination. That’s what it’s there for. In the gut, it does got stuff.
If you’re worried about depression, you want to elevate serotonin in the brain. You do that by consuming good food sources of tryptophan, along with a little bit of carbohydrates so that the insulin spike that you get from the carbohydrate will push the tryptophan across the blood brain barrier and get it where it needs to be. You want to be taking additional B vitamins which are the cofactors in synthesis of serotonin within the central nervous system. You want to be making sure… All of these kinds of things.
All of these kinds of things that will directly target serotonin in the brain. So of course, you want to look after the health of the gut, absolutely. Completely and utterly! That’s where your nutrients are being absorbed from. Looking after like gut flora. We know that gut flora has a huge role in regulating immunity. It has interactions with the immune cell population within the Peyer’s patches, which is gut-associated lymphoid tissue, and it has such a profound effect that it can carry different types of signalling around the body, so it regulates systemic immunity. Absolutely. We know this. Good reasoning for looking after the health of the gut. Also, a good healthy gut is less likely to give rise to autoimmune conditions. There’s a whole list of reasons why looking after the health of the gut is important. A whole list of reasons. Serotonin is one of them.
Darren: For me, it comes back to what we were just talking about earlier, doesn’t it? It comes back to all of that stuff that you’ve just described there is way over my head, way over probably most of the people that are listening to this podcast’s head. But to boil it back down to kind of really simplify it, and that is, provided you have a good balanced diet, all of that stuff should work, shouldn’t it?
Dale: Yeah. Of course there are individual nuances. There are so many reasons why we can… Say for example is someone has had inflammatory bowel disease and has autoimmune issues. The rules change. Then they could be working with a practitioner, they could be working with a dietitian and a gastroenterologist. Their care is going to be covered. If someone has very, very aggressive IBS, they’re going to be with a specialist or certainly should be. That’s a very, very different set of rules.
We’re not talking about that. What we’re talking about is general health of the general population. And as you rightly said, yeah, just move over to a whole foods diet and for most people, that will answer most of their needs. There might be tweaks here and there. I mean, some people are more carbohydrate tolerant than others. There is also this other thing that’s bandied around at the minute which, yeah, is kind of true, but also, it’s just, to me sounds like an excuse for not studying properly and taking responsibility for getting your knowledge right.
People are saying, well, what works for one person is not going to work for the other. Well, of course, we are all genetically different, but only within the confines of the human genome. The parameters are very, very narrow. We’ve got genetic variation within the genetic sequence that is a human being. One person is not going to be like an amoeba and the next person like a chimpanzee. It’s not that drastically different. It’s like, yes, there are nuances and that can deliver some degree of influence on diet, but it’s so minimal that the consequences of not getting that right with your diet is likely to lead to a minor embuggerance rather than a cataclysmic health event.
For most people, just adopting a whole foods diet is going to solve a lot of problems. And that’s not buying into any kind of dietary philosophy whatsoever, apart from stop eating the man made processed shit, get back to what nature has given us, and just start cooking good stuff from scratch where possible, and you’re going to experience some massive changes.
Darren: Yeah, I completely agree. I just love the way you kind of summarize it. Just keep it simple. And as a human race, we love to overcomplicate things. So I’m really conscious of your time, Dale, but before we wrap up, what would you say are five key actions people listening to this can take away today to make a positive change in their diet. And I know we’ve talked about, already how you can balance your diet in terms of the principles of your diet, but what five changes would you recommend?
Dale: Number one, and we’ve talked about this, but look at where your information is coming from. Make sure that it’s coming from a reliable resource. So that’s number one.
Number two, if you’re just starting out, if you’re just thinking to yourself: I need to make some changes here. I need to get my shit together, I need to make some really positive changes, now. I will say start with where you’re at. I know it sounds ridiculous but look at what you already enjoy eating. If your favourite meal is spaghetti Bolognese, don’t give it up. Give it a facelift. Learn how to make it healthier. Learn how to make simple tweaks to the food that you love so that it turns it into a healthier option and then it’s going to be a smooth transition. Nobody says that you’ve got to suddenly become like just living on lettuce and Ryvita and sitting cross legged in the garden. It’s not about that at all. Carry on eating what you like, just learn how to make it healthier. Indulge your health. So that’s number two.
Number three, again, for people at the beginning, change one thing. Make one change at a time. Don’t suddenly wake up in the morning. If you’re living on takeaways, don’t wake up in the morning be like: Right. from now on, I’m going to be a kale-munching, raw foodist and that’s it. Because it ain’t going to work. There is probably like about half a percent of the global population that can change their lifestyle that much overnight, and usually, they’re probably psychopaths anyway. Keep away from anyone that can do it that quickly. There’s definitely something wrong in their wiring!
For most of us, we need to kind of gravitate towards change if you want change to stick. Anyone could go on a crash diet for a week. And then most people are like, you look at the new year’s resolutions and how busy the gym is. That’s why I avoid the gym in January. It’s just like, let that lot get on with it, they’re going to be bored by the second week and they’re going to be back down Maccy Dee’s. Once they’ve gone, we can go back in. You just need to look at that as a perfect illustration that when you try and do everything all at once, often you fall flat on your face, because it’s uncomfortable.
Change is uncomfortable and we need to accept that. We need to stare it in the face, of course. But we need to accept that as well and make life a little bit easy for ourselves. So I’ll just say change one thing. If that one thing is like, right, I’m going to swap my white rice for brown rice, white pasta for brown pasta, whatever, do that. Once that becomes the norm and it’s no longer a challenge, move the goalposts. Say right, what am I going to do next? I’m going to make sure that I have a good dense side salad with every meal, or I’m going to only snack on fresh fruit between meals, nothing else, or I’m going to make sure that I drink this whole bottle of water every day. Whatever it is.
Just change one single thing that’s not going to be a massive upheaval for you. Change it, once it becomes the norm, change something else. Whilst that might seem like baby steps, when you look back over six months, 12 months, your lifestyle’s changed dramatically, but you’ve done it in a way that not only is sustainable, but it’s comfortable as well. And it’s simple. I mean, to quote Tony Robbins ‘Complexity is the enemy of execution.’ If you make life difficult for yourself, you ain’t going to make the change. Simple as that. So that was number three, wasn’t it?
Number four, make plants the star of the show always. Make plants the star of the show. I’m not saying go vegan, not at all. I had a cracking steak the other night. I’m not a vegan at all but plants are the stars of the show, because that’s where you’ve got so much nutritional diversity in terms of micro nutrients, phytochemicals, dietary fibre, all of this good stuff. So whatever you do, whatever you eat, just make sure you’re eating more plants. Simple as that.
Then the final thing is, don’t worry about it too much. It’s like if you have a glass of wine or a slice of cake, or whatever, and your diet is generally good, and you’re looking after yourself all the time, and you do that once a week, it’s going to have zero effect on your overall health whatsoever. Absolute goose egg, nothing. But if you’re doing that all the time, and you eat a bit of broccoli on a Sunday, that ain’t going to cut it. That’s not going to improve your health. It’s what you’re doing most of the time that’s going to make most of the difference, so realize that you can relax a little bit as well. You don’t have to be completely obsessive about it. Otherwise, that leads to a whole different array of health issues.
Darren: You just invoke unnecessary stress, don’t you? And it becomes a chore as opposed to just a slight change. I think a couple of fundamental things you’ve said is change one thing, because change, as much as we say we can change, we don’t like change and we just generally get uncomfortable. So changing one thing is good. And obviously, don’t worry about it. Don’t stress about it. You’re going to raise your cortisol levels and all the rest of it; just keep it simple. That’s fantastic, Dale. I could talk to you for hours and hours and hours. Before we kind of finish, is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you feel I should have done?
Dale: Oh, no. That’s all good. That’s all good. The thing is, like you say, we can talk about this kind of stuff for hours and hours and hours and there is so much contradiction and dichotomy, and nutrition is one of those subjects where you say ‘well, this is the case apart from when it isn’t.’ It is one of those things where there is contradiction and that makes it infuriating as a science to study. But, no, I think we’ve covered a lot and I think if we cover any more we probably risk melting people’s brains.
Darren: Yeah, exactly. Fantastic. Well, thank you very much. How can people connect with you? Where can they find you? I know you’re all over the web, all over the internet, all over the social media.
Dale: The main website is just TheMedicinalChef.co.uk. Insta, definitely find me on Insta. I’m on there sort of constantly, much to everyone else’s dismay. That’s just @theMedicinalChef. Surprise, surprise. Face-ache, I’m on there as well. So that’s TheMedicinalChef. You see the theme here, don’t you? Starting to do bits on YouTube but I need to get my act together with YouTube. What I’ve been doing on there at the minute is just when I record my podcast is do it as a video as well and banging out on there, but I’m vowing to get a proper cooking channel going at some point. So, yeah, those are the main ones.
Darren: You mention there your podcast. I highly recommend people check out the podcast. Very easy to consume, you can consume it on the move and all the rest of it. Some great information on there. Yeah, definitely your Insta. That’s I think where I get most of your stuff from, is Instagram. You put some fantastic pictures of food and stuff up and recipes and links and all the rest of it. And also, if you want to delve deeper, Dale has actually got a good nutritional course you can sign up to and join.
Dale: Yes. A diploma in culinary medicine and if you look on CulinaryMedicineCollege.com or if you just go to my Instagram stuff, you’ll see links that link out to it. It’s a fully accredited Diploma in culinary medicine accredited by The Complementary Medical Association, the Federation of Nutritional Therapy Practitioners, and we go in through the accreditation process with BAN at the minute as well.
Darren: Fantastic. All right, Dale. That’s been an amazing hour. It’s gone over an hour, actually, and I really appreciate your time. I really appreciate the information and the knowledge you’ve shared. I look forward to catching up with you again soon.
Dale: Yeah, well thanks for having me.
Darren: No worries. Take care.
Thanks for listening to the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please hit subscribe, and I would really appreciate it if you could leave a review on iTunes. All the links mentioned in the episode will be in the show notes, and a full transcription is over at FitterHealthierDad.com.