Getting Started - The High Level Overview
Q.What is ERFA’s nutrition philosophy?
A.Humans are omnivores, which means real food for humans is ideally comprised of plants and animals such as vegetables, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, healthy fats, fresh fruit, nuts and seeds. We were not designed to eat manmade food. An estimated 70 percent of our modern diet is now comprised of grains, sugar, refined vegetables oils and other high-carbohydrate and processed “food-like products” – and it’s making us fat, hangry, sick, and wrinkly! ERFA teaches you how to build your meals around clean protein, healthy fats and nutritious carbohydrates while moderating your carbohydrate intake and insulin response.
Q.What’s the difference between ERFA and other diets like keto, Paleo, and Atkins?
A.Instead of looking for the subtle differences between all of these dietary approaches, I prefer to focus on what’s similar about them. Most eating strategies that work long term advocate building meals around nutrient-dense, whole food (real food) while keeping processed food and sugar to a minimum. All of these approaches have more similarities than differences.
Q.What’s wrong with grains, especially whole grains? Haven’t we been eating them for thousands of years?
A.Grains are simply a cheap source of calories that are easily converted into glucose. They have minimal nutritional value, stimulate excess insulin production due to their high carbohydrate content, and contain “anti-nutrients” that compromise digestive and immune function, promote systemic inflammation, and inhibit the absorption of vitamins and minerals.
Grains have formed the foundation of the human diet since the advent of civilization because they are easy to harvest and store. Today, they are processed into all manner of high-profit packaged, baked, and frozen goods.
While highly refined “white” grains and sugar are universally agreed to be unhealthful, even whole grains promote excess insulin production and have minimal nutritional value in comparison to “real food.” Whole grains also contain higher levels of anti-nutrients than refined grains do, making them potentially more problematic to those who are sensitive.
Q.What's the deal with gluten and why should we avoid it?
A.Gluten is a form of lectin present in wheat (rye and barley, too) that can trigger an inflammatory response in the body. Lectin proteins present in grains can damage the delicate lining of the digestive tract, exacerbate insulin resistance, promote autoimmune disorders in sensitive people, and also disrupt leptin signaling, which leads to increased appetite and increased fat storage.
Celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance, but it’s been argued that everyone is sensitive to gluten at some level.
Problems associated with gluten ingestion include compromised vitamin D and calcium absorption and hormonal disturbances such as compromised thyroid function.
Grains are also high in phytates, which, when consumed in excess, compromise vitamin and mineral absorption.
Q.Gluten-free products are so expensive. Are they really worth the extra money?
A.My recommendation is to stay away from gluten-free products. Not only are they expensive, they don’t provide much in the way of nutritional value and can interfere with your health and weight management goals as I outline in this article. If you eat “the plate,” you will be eating 100 percent gluten-free.
Q.Why are fruits and vegetables separated in your plan?
A.Many eating plans lump fruits and vegetables together, but I like to think of vegetables as mandatory and fruit as optional.
Fruits are high in nutrients but they are also high in fructose – a natural sugar that makes them sweeter (and more enjoyable!) than vegetables. Fructose is more easily converted into fat in the liver than are other forms of carbohydrate, potentially interfering with body composition goals. Fruit – especially dried fruit – can also be easy to over-consume for many people. For all of these reasons, fruit is considered optional in ERFA’s plate and should be moderated by anyone who has weight release as a goal.
Q.What fruits are best to consume?
A.Emphasize locally grown, in-season, high-antioxidant, low-glycemic fruits, like berries in the summertime. Choose organic for fruits with soft, edible, difficult-to-wash skins (berries, apples). Conventional is fine for produce with protective covers (banana, watermelon). Remote, conventional, off-season fruit is not recommended, and GMO products should be avoided.
Q.Won't all this saturated fat and cholesterol give me heart disease?
A.The short answer is NO.
For the past several decades, fat has been wrongly vilified for everything from weight gain to heart disease. But what gets overlooked in this oversimplified “fat is bad” sound bite is that we actually need the correct fats to live! We cannot survive without them.
As with most blanket advice, there’s more to the story. And in the case of fat it turns out that there are different kinds of fat. Yes, some fat is bad and should be strictly avoided (think: trans fat, or partially hydrogenated fat as it often goes by on the ingredient label). But unsaturated and even saturated fat are integral to the health of your brain, cell walls, and important hormones throughout your body. Provided your intake of refined sugar and simple carbohydrates is low, saturated fat and cholesterol are safe to consume.
The best fats to consume are olive oil, avocado oil, coconut products, avocados, butter (if dairy tolerant), ghee (clarified butter), nuts and seeds, lard, and tallow.
Q.What’s wrong with canola oil? I thought it was healthy?
A.Highly refined industrial vegetable and seed oils – such as canola, sunflower, safflower, soybean, and corn oils – should be strictly avoided because they easily oxidize when exposed to light, heat, and air. Accordingly, they inflict direct damage at the cellular/DNA level and are linked to systemic inflammation, heart disease, cancer, and accelerated aging. They are often rancid before leaving the store shelves due to prolonged time in the bottle and inferior processing methods.
Learn more in this article.
Q.Are egg whites healthier than the yolks?
A.A pastured egg is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, especially the yolk! Eggs are high in protein, iron, selenium, chlorine, riboflavin, phosphorus, and vitamins A, E, and K2. The oft-maligned yolk is actually where the nutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory agents are most abundant. If you’re going to throw out your yolks, please save them for me!
Q.What are the best fish and seafood choices? I’ve heard fish from Asia should be avoided.
A.Provided they are sustainably sourced, fish and seafood are wonderful options for protein and anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids. Oily, cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring (SMASH) are the best choices.
Unfortunately due to unhealthy commercial farming methods, polluted waters and objectionable harvesting techniques, it’s important to be choosy about the source.
Opt for wild-caught fish and avoid farm-raised fish, unless it’s Coho salmon or trout, and avoid all fish (farmed or wild-caught) from Asia. Likewise, avoid large predatory fish such as shark or king mackerel, which tend to be tainted with high levels of mercury.
Q.Is it okay to eat dairy? I love my cheese!
A.Full-fat dairy can be a healthy, delicious, convenient source of beneficial fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins, and high-quality protein – particularly if it’s grass-fed, raw, and/or fermented. Not all dairy is healthy, however, and for many people dairy is inherently problematic, mostly owing to the presence of lactose (a milk sugar that is difficult for many adults to digest) and casein (a protein that can be allergenic to many).
I recommend avoiding all non-fat and low-fat dairy products on account of the high carbohydrate content as well as the potential allergenic and immune-compromising concerns with lactose and casein. I recommend consuming only high-fat dairy products, preferably organic (to avoid hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, and GMOs common in conventional dairy), and ideally raw and unpasteurized. Fermented dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and kefir are acceptable, as their anti-nutrient concerns have been mitigated in the fermentation process.
Q.How will I get enough calcium and stave off osteoporosis if don’t eat dairy?
A.There are many non-dairy sources of calcium such as chia seeds, salmon, sardines, almonds, Brazil nuts, and dark, leafy greens. Interestingly, people often absorb these non-dairy sources of calcium even better than dairy sources.
Food for thought: World health statistics show that osteoporosis is most common in the countries where dairy products are consumed in largest quantities.
Q.How will I get enough fiber on this program?
A.Daily fiber requirements are between 25-35 grams per day. The food industry would have us believing that the only way to get fiber is with a steady diet of whole grains. While whole grains do provide some fiber, they are lightweights compared to vegetables and fruit. As a comparison, 1000 calories of whole grains contains ~25 grams of fiber; 1000 calories of fruit contains ~40 grams; and 1000 calories of vegetables contains ~185 grams of fiber! You will easily achieve your daily fiber requirement by eating vegetables and fruit.
While obtaining adequate fiber is important for healthy intestinal function, a grain-based diet can deliver an excessive amount of fiber, which can result in nutrient depletion and digestive irregularities.
If getting enough fiber is a health concern for you, be confident knowing that eating reasonable amounts of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds provides plenty of fiber to ensure digestive health, as it has for two million years.
Q.Do I need to count calories? How will I know if I'm eating enough?
A.Realize that the “calories in/calories out” paradigm, which our entire diet and fitness industry is built around, has been failing us miserably for decades. As long as you eat “the plate,” you will be getting all the calories, vitamins, minerals and fiber you need without worrying about the tedious and impossible task of perfectly matching your caloric intake to your energy expenditure.
Weight management is less about calories and more about how those calories impact hormonal signalling throughout the body. One thousand calories of jelly beans creates a totally different cascade of hormonal signalling than one thousand calories of broccoli. One will make you fat; the other will make you full.
If you’re looking for something to track in the beginning, consider tracking your daily carbohydrate intake with an app like My Fitness Pal. But after you get the hang of eating real food when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re satisfied, you’ll be able to trust yourself to eat just the right amount for YOU.
Q.Why are spices so important?
A.Cooking with high-antioxidant herbs and spices can offset potential oxidative damage or carcinogenic compounds created during the cooking process. Herbs and spices, such as turmeric and cinnamon, not only add flavour, but also enhance health by imparting their antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties.
Q.What are your thoughts on coffee and tea?
A.Water (with or without lemon), herbal tea (white, green, and black are high antioxidant), and a moderate amount of coffee (bulletproof coffee with butter/ghee, coconut, or MCT oil is a favourite for many) are among the best beverage staples. Kombucha, fermented tea, is another great beverage choice. Learn more in this article.
Q.What is the low carb flu?
A.As your body adjusts from burning readily available glucose to relying more on fat, there is sometimes a temporary lag before everything is functioning efficiently. This can lead to symptoms of mental fog, fatigue, irritability, and headaches, which are collectively referred to as “low carb flu.” Think of this as your body’s withdrawal and detox period as you kick your sugar addiction to the curb! While this can be a significant hurdle to overcome, rest assured that it is only temporary (less than four weeks) and can be mitigated by adding back some healthy carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes or fruit. Burning fat for fuel is a slightly more metabolically complex process, but an entirely natural one.
Some folks will experience it, and others will not. There is some suggestion those who relied heavily on carbohydrates previous to the lifestyle change may have a tougher time, but again this isn’t always the case.
Q.What is this awful taste in my mouth? Why does my pee smell?
A.These symptoms are also part of the low carb flu. Remember that although unpleasant, these symptoms are actually encouraging because they’re a reflection of your body getting better at burning fat. Rest assured they are only temporary.
Q.My bowel movements have changed since eating real food. Is this normal?
A.Yes! Any changes you notice in digestion and bowel movements can be normal at the beginning. Give your body some time to adjust and remember to stay hydrated by drinking enough water.
Q.When will my cravings go away?
A.Because we are hard-wired to appreciate the tastes of sugar, fat and salt, they will likely never go away completely. Doritos and Oreos will probably always taste good! That said, when you satiate yourself with real food (e.g. blueberries instead of ice cream, butter and salt on your veggies instead of chips), you teach yourself to prefer real food. Learn more in this article.
Q.What will I eat for breakfast if I’m not allowed to have cereal, toast and pancakes anymore?
A.Just to be clear, you can have anything you want! Seriously. My food recommendations are designed to help you feel your best with the least amount of suffering, struggling and sacrifice. On that note, you won’t see any foods that negatively impact food cravings, hormone balance, digestive function, inflammatory status, recovery, mood, or energy levels. But you are always the boss!
My favourite breakfast is a couple of eggs any style topped with sautéed veggies, salsa and avocado. I’ve also broadened my breakfast horizons by eating anything that I’d have for lunch or dinner (hello, leftovers!). In a pinch I’ll throw together a nutrient-dense green shake (watch my 1-min video recipe here). And my kids love these pancakes made with alternative flours like almond or coconut flour.
What About? - The Nitty Gritty Details
Q.Should I be buying grass fed meat and organic produce?
A.This is really a personal choice. While it is ideal to seek out clean, organic food, it’s also important to strike the right balance for you given your finite resources. Please don’t go into debt or stress yourself out trying to eat only organic food. But if you have the means and desire to do so, you won’t be disappointed. How you make decisions along the food quality spectrum are highly personal given your unique situation.
Maybe you believe in eating organic food but you don’t have the money to fully make that leap right now. No problem. Just do the best you can given your current means. Maybe pick one or two food items (humanely raised animals from your local farmer, or fruits with edible skins like apples and strawberries that are sprayed heavily with pesticides) and see how that goes for a while. You can always purchase more organic food as your budget allows. The most important thing at first isn’t to worry about doing everything to the letter, but to just start doing something(eating more whole food and less processed food) and up the ante whenever you feel ready for a new challenge. To see where best to spend your energy in this area, check out the clean 15 and the dirty dozen.
Q.Do I really need to make my own salad dressings? I don’t have time for that.
A.Much like my stance on organic food, making your own condiments, dressings and sauces from scratch is ideal, but not if it’s going to stress you out!
Many seasoned real food eaters have enough on their plates without worrying about when they’ll find the time to whip up regular batches of mayo and ketchup. The thought of this sends them into overwhelm.
Yet many others gain peace of mind knowing their dressings and condiments are free from refined vegetable oils, sugar and other chemical additives that make commercial products less-than-ideal choices. Low-fat options – often chosen by well-intended health-conscious eaters – are typically doused with sugar to make up for the missing fat.
Good news: Some excellent, high quality products have recently entered the marketplace such as Primal Kitchen, available at most specialty stores.
Q.What is leaky gut syndrome?
A.More scientifically known as intestinal permeability, leaky gut syndrome is when unwanted substances, like partially digested food, toxins, and bacteria pass through the small intestine into the bloodstream. This is usually caused when lectins (natural plant toxins) damage the delicate lining of the small intestine and make it more permeable, triggering autoimmune conditions and other symptoms such as gas, bloating, and irritable bowel syndrome. Some other less obvious conditions related to leaky gut syndrome are anxiety and depression, acne, eczema and psoriasis, allergies and food sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies, migraines, brain fog and excessive fatigue.
Q.Do I have to give up alcohol altogether?
A.Let me start by saying that alcohol has zero nutritional value. It’s pro-inflammatory, it inhibits proper digestion and nutrient assimilation, and promotes leaky gut syndrome. And finally, alcohol makes fat reduction efforts even harder for two reasons: 1. It’s a “first to burn” calorie source, meaning all other calories are more likely to be stored as fat while your body deals with the alcohol, and 2. It’s an appetite stimulator.
But I know you’re going to drink anyway. Hey, so do I from time to time.
If you’re going to drink, red wine is your best bet due to its antioxidant benefits. But please don’t take up a red wine habit for the health benefits — just eat the grapes!
Q.Do I need to take any supplements?
A.Supplements are always “in addition to,” not “in replace of.” Supplements do just that…they supplement an already good diet and unfortunately there is no supplement that will give you a free pass out of eating real food.
That said, our food supply isn’t as pure as it once was and you can protect against any nutritional gaps by taking a high quality multivitamin, a vitamin D supplement, an omega-3 fish oil, and a probiotic, especially during times of stress or after a round of antibiotics.
Q.I keep hearing about the gut microbiome. What is it and why is it so important?
A.The gut microbiome is considered a “second brain.” We have ten times more bacteria in our digestive tracts than cells in our bodies, and these tiny bacterial allies play a critical role in regulating digestion and immune function, as well as helping to defend against infection and inflammation. They also produce nutrients and vitamins.
Good health is dependent upon maintaining a healthy balance in the gut between good bacteria and bad bacteria. You can help gut health thrive by consuming prebiotics (resistant starch like green bananas, asparagus, onions, and leeks) and probiotic foods (fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and probiotic supplements). Antibiotics kill all forms of bacteria, making them lifesavers, but in the aftermath of a course of antibiotics, good bacteria must be nourished and rebuilt to prevail over the bugs we are constantly exposed to.
Our immune system becomes resilient from constant exposure to germs, which means we should second-guess the obsession modern culture has with cleanliness.
For more on the microbiome, check out this interview with naturopathic doctor, Dr. Michelle Durkin.
Q.What about couscous?
A.Couscous is often thought of hand-in-hand with quinoa, but couscous is most definitely inferior. It has a high inflammatory response, high carbohydrate load, incomplete protein, low fiber content and is essentially devoid of vitamins and minerals. Nothing about couscous is really appealing and I can’t think of any good reason to consume it.
Q.Are processed foods really that bad? What about in moderation?
A.Aside from being full of preservatives, additives, hidden sugar, grains, and simple carbs, processed foods are way too easy for our bodies to digest, which means that when we eat them we’re not maximizing our energy expenditure mechanisms and we’re stimulating excessive insulin production in the process.
Whenever possible, avoid the ubiquitous offerings in boxes, wrappers, and packages in favour of real, whole, natural food with few ingredients on the label. Or better yet, no label at all.
Real World Application - How to Make This Work in Your Life
Q.I want to eat real food but my spouse/kids are reluctant. Is it still possible?
A.Yes. I understand how difficult it can be to make different choices than those around you and I applaud you for “going against the grain.” Remember why you’re doing this – maybe it’s to feel more energetic, lean, strong or confident. Your spouse and kids will benefit so much and might even become curious or inspired about what’s making you feel so good. I’ve noticed that leading by example is the best way to inspire positive change in others. As challenging as it can be, resist the urge to “force” them into your way of eating.
Q.How do I eat at a restaurant, while travelling, or away from home?
A.All restaurants have real food choices if you look carefully and make some requests. Meat, vegetables and salads are standard servings on all menus. Take an active stance on classic fillers – pass on the complimentary bread basket; decline the rice or potato and ask for a double serving of vegetables; request meats to be grilled instead of fried in vegetable oil; get salad dressings on the side to control serving amounts, or better yet ask for olive oil & balsamic vinegar instead of industrial dressings.
When travelling, plan ahead. Take food with you in containers so you are not relying on the first fast-food option that you find. Pack pre-cut vegetables, trail mix, fruit, cheese and hard boiled eggs that all travel easily. Find a grocery store and fill the hotel fridge with eggs, veggies and fruit so you aren’t always eating out.
Q.How do I stop feeling somewhat deprived, especially in social situations?
A.Deprivation is a mindset. If you choose to focus on what you can’t have you will probably feel deprived a lot of the time. By simply changing your focus you can change your mindset. You can adopt an abundance mentality, identify and transcend any excuses, change the words you use, and focus on progress rather of perfection.
Q.What about alcohol? Do I have to cut it out forever?
A.Let me start by saying that alcohol has zero nutritional value. It’s pro-inflammatory, it inhibits proper digestion and nutrient assimilation, and promotes leaky gut syndrome. And finally, alcohol makes fat reduction efforts even harder for two reasons: 1. it’s a “first to burn” calorie source, meaning all other calories are more likely to be stored as fat while your body deals with the alcohol, and 2. it’s an appetite stimulator.
But I know you’re going to drink anyway. Hey, so do I from time to time.
If you’re going to drink, red wine is your best bet due to its antioxidant benefits. But please don’t take up a red wine habit for the health benefits — just eat the grapes!
Q.I'm an athlete. Aren't I supposed to eat a lot of carbohydrates?
A.There are exceptions to be made if you are an athlete doing intense training sessions. An increased amount of carbohydrates will be required before, during and/or after hard training sessions or races.
Q.Is chocolate milk a good recovery drink?
A.Chocolate milk has been heavily marketed as a recovery drink simply because it fits the profile of some research studies. Those studies show that a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio is beneficial for muscle recovery after a hard workout. While chocolate milk does fit the 4:1 profile, the content of the carbs and protein aren’t really what the researchers had in mind when conducting the studies. Ideally you would get the carbs from a less refined source like fruit or vegetables that also include vitamins and minerals to aid the recovery. The protein should be in the form of branch chain amino acids, such as those found in eggs, meat or a high quality protein powder. With chocolate milk, the sugar is highly refined white sugar, and the protein is dairy protein (like casein) that some people find hard to digest. When eating dairy, it is suggested to be as full-fat and least-processed as possible, but the milk in chocolate milk is usually heavily processed skim or 1% milk.
Q.What about Gatorade or other performance drinks?
A.They can have a place during prolonged, intense endurance events lasting longer than 90 minutes. Think marathon, not your 12-year old’s recreational soccer game!
Q.What about my morning oatmeal? I can't give that up.
Q.I'm a vegetarian. What adjustments do I need to make to ensure I get enough protein without overdoing the carbs?
A.Vegetarians will have to make some modifications to the real food suggestions outlined in this program. Since you don’t eat animal protein you will need to include higher quality plant sources of protein like lentils & chickpeas, as well as quinoa in order to meet your protein needs. You could also include unprocessed soy like tempeh, miso, and natto as well as edamame. If you tolerate dairy, plain Greek yogurt can also be a good choice.
Q.I eat a lot of soy products. Is that okay?
A.Soy, which has become one of the largest crops in the world and is used in countless processed foods, is not only high in lectins, but has also been shown to have phyto-estrogen properties (estrogen-like effects when ingested, in both men and women, that can disrupt normal sex hormone cycles). This is due to the presence of agents called “isoflavones” in soy products. Isoflavones are also believed to cause goiters (and enlargement of the thyroid gland), interfere with normal menstrual cycles, and harm the healthy development of infants who drink soy formula.
Furthermore, the USDA confirms that 94 percent of all soy grown in the USA is genetically modified, one major purpose being to make it resistant to the powerful pesticide product called Roundup. This Roundup Ready genetically modified soy has elevated levels of pesticide residue in the form of glycophosphate and its principal breakdown product, Aminomethylphosponic acid (AMPA). Genetically modified soy also shows an inferior nutritional profile to organically grown soybeans.