I love reading about nutrition theory and there is no shortage of viewpoints on how to eat healthfully. The Body Ecology Diet‘s focus is on maintaining a healthy intestinal tract populated with beneficial bacteria and void of high levels of unhealthy yeast.
The book’s focus is on the condition candidiasis, which is an overgrowth of the yeast candida albicans. Candidiasis is normally recognized as a yeast infection of the mouth, genitals, or other moist areas on/near the outside of the body. Among alternative nutrition thinkers, however, candida albicans is believed to commonly overgrow within our intestines, where it feeds on sugar and is blamed for a number of symptoms. Author Donna Gates writes that given the right conditions, candida puts toxins into your bloodstream, overgrows in the intestines, and can expand into blood and organs causing problems such as:
- Poor memory
- A spacey feeling in one’s head
- Muscle aches
- Constipation and diarrhea (probably not at the same time 😛 )
- Mucus in stool
- Food sensitivities/intolerances
- Chronic rashes/psoriasis
I don’t understand the mechanism by which all of these issues could be impacted by an unhealthy gut, but some of them do make sense to me. For example, I believe that immune reactions I have to certain foods can precipitate “spacey” feelings that I sometimes get in my head, so it’s not a stretch to believe that intestinal health can mediate or cause the same reaction.
It is well established that our intestines need ample bacteria to function properly. Products such as Activia, a cultured yogurt product made by Dannon with active bacteria, are marketed at consumers to help them with healthy digestion. Gates would not advise consuming a product like Activia, however, because of the sugar in it.
Below: A vegan yogurt with active bacteria. Yum!
Eating low-sugar cultured foods with probiotic qualities, such as apple cider vinegar, raw sauerkraut, and homemade cultured vegetables can produce similar benefits according to Gates. Cultured vegetables are made by shredding cabbage, perhaps adding other vegetables, and letting it sit in and airtight container to ferment for several days, during which friendly bacteria produce and the vegetables soften and reach a different level of deliciousness.
Bacteria in the intestines
- help break down and absorb nutrients
- synthesize vitamins needed by the body
- may alleviate numerous health issues such as ulcers, allergies, lactose intolerance, diarrhea (1)
What NOT to Eat
The Body Ecology Diet specifically discourages eating sugar and a number of other foods which are purported to foster growth of yeast in the gut. The main idea is to avoid foods which have sugar, can ferment in the gut and produce sugars, or have yeast in them. Among the foods to avoid on the Body Ecology Diet are:
Antibiotics are also a major cause for candida overgrowth, according to Gates, since they kill of the healthy bacteria and allow yeast to take hold.
One principle of The Body Ecology Diet that I can get behind wholeheartedly is the idea of eating until you are only 80% full. This is an idea that Michael Pollan writes about in In Defense of Food and one that comes from Okinawa, Japan. If you overeat, then you create conditions that lead to indigestion and fermentation.
The other 80/20 rule in The Body Ecology Diet is to eat 80% of a given meal as vegetables and save 20% for other food types (protein, grains, etc.). This recommendation is in discord with the USDA and other diet plans which recommend about 50% grains as the basis of a healthy diet. Gates claims that minimizing grains will minimize acidity in the body and reduce wear on the digestive system.
Other random notes from the book:
- I love this: A great analogy is to think of your intestinal tract like the roots of a tree – it’s where nutrients are absorbed and therefore is the foundation of health.
- Foods which lead the body to a more acidic condition should be minimized. Acid forming foods include animal-based foods, flour products, sugar, beans, nuts, alcohol, and oils.
- People with body ecology imbalances often overeat due to cravings for sugar, bread, and dairy. This is due to the body’s desire to consume energy in a misguided attempt to get real nutrients and also to satisfy the yeast overgrowth.
- Follow Body Ecology Diet food combining rules to avoid fermentation in the gut (e.g., only eat fruit by itself).
- After reading this book, I believe it is very possible that overuse of antibiotics and over consumption of processed foods could be a primary cause of the increase in food allergies in the western world.
- If you can wake up in the morning without having to brush your teeth due to bad breath, that is a good sign that your digestive tract is in good shape.
A lot about The Body Ecology Diet feels intuitive – caring for your digestive tract, minimizing sugar and refined foods, eating cultured foods, maximizing vegetables. It’s not terribly discouraging that the book doesn’t have much in the way of credentialed professionals or medical boards endorsing it. It does mean, however, that you may take it’s recommendations with a grain of salt.
The rules around what you can eat, when, and with which foods do seem complicated and discouraging. Gates writes that it’s most important to try and adhere to the diet as much as possible without getting bogged down in the rules.
Like any diet, take what makes sense to you and what works for you and keep it. Throw out the bits you can’t live with or that don’t give you results. I would say the same thing about any recommendation, no matter where it comes from.
(1) Understanding Nutrition, 12th ed. Whitney and Rolfes.