Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food

Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food

by Catherine Shanahan M.D.
Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food

Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food

by Catherine Shanahan M.D.


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One of the Best Health and Wellness Books of 2017 — Sports Illustrated

Deep Nutrition cuts through today’s culture of conflicting nutritional ideologies, showing how the habits of our ancestors can help us lead longer, healthier, more vital lives.

Physician and biochemist Catherine Shanahan, M.D. examined diets around the world known to help people live longer, healthier lives—diets like the Mediterranean, Okinawa, and “Blue Zone”—and identified the four common nutritional habits, developed over millennia, that unfailingly produce strong, healthy, intelligent children, and active, vital elders, generation after generation. These four nutritional strategies—fresh food, fermented and sprouted foods, meat cooked on the bone, and organ meats—form the basis of what Dr. Cate calls “The Human Diet.”

Rooted in her experience as an elite athlete who used traditional foods to cure her own debilitating injuries, and combining her research with the latest discoveries in the field of epigenetics, Dr. Cate shows how all calories are not created equal; food is information that directs our cellular growth. Our family history does not determine our destiny: what you eat and how you live can alter your DNA in ways that affect your health and the health of your future children.

Deep Nutrition offers a prescriptive plan for how anyone can begin eating The Human Diet to:

*Improve mood
*Eliminate cravings and the need to snack
*Boost fertility and have healthier children
*Sharpen cognition and memory
*Eliminate allergies and disease
*Build stronger bones and joints
*Get younger, smoother skin

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250113849
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: 05/29/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 33,840
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Catherine Shanahan, M.D. is a board certified family physician. She trained in biochemistry and genetics at Cornell University before attending Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. She practiced medicine in Hawaii for a decade, where she studied ethnobotany, as well as the culinary habits of her healthiest patients. She currently runs a metabolic health clinic in Denver, Colorado and serves as the Director of the Los Angeles Lakers PRO Nutrition Program.

Read an Excerpt

Deep Nutrition

Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food

By Catherine Shanahan, Luke Shanahan

Flatiron Books

Copyright © 2016 Catherine Shanahan and Luke Shanahan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-11383-2


Reclaiming Your Health

The Origins of Deep Nutrition

* We are less healthy today than our ancestors, despite boasting a longer lifespan.

* Nutrition science of the 1950s convinced people that the only healthy foods were relatively bland.

* An optimal human diet is full of both nutrition and flavor.

* By disregarding culinary traditions, we've predisposed ourselves to genetic damage.

Ask ten people what the healthiest diet in the world is and you'll get ten different answers. Some people swear by the Okinawa diet. Others prefer the Mediterranean or the French. But have you ever wondered what it is about all these traditional diets that makes the people living on these dietary strategies so healthy? This book will describe the common rules that link all successful diets. These rules constitute the Four Pillars of World Cuisine, which make up the understructure of the Human Diet. Throughout history, people have used them to protect their own health and to grow healthy, beautiful children.

In other words, they used diet to engineer their bodies. Most of us probably have something we'd want to change about the way we look and feel, or a health problem we'd like to be free of. What if you knew how to use food to upgrade your body at the genetic level?

Any improvement you've ever wished for your body or your health would come from optimization of your genetic function. Your genes are special material inside every one of your cells that controls the coordinated activity in that cell and communicates with other genes in other cells throughout your body's many different tissues. They are made of DNA, an ancient and powerful molecule we'll learn more about in the next chapter.

Think about it: What if you could re-engineer your genes to your liking? Want to be like Mike? How about Tiger Woods? Halle Berry? George Clooney? Or maybe you want to change your genes so that you can still be you, only better. Maybe you want just a modest upgrade — a sexier body, better health, greater athleticism, and a better attitude. When you start to consider what you might be willing to pay for all this, you realize that the greatest gift on Earth is a set of healthy genes. The lucky few who do inherit pristinely healthy genes are recognized as "genetic lottery winners" and spend their lives enjoying the many benefits of beauty, brains, and brawn. Being a genetic marvel doesn't mean you automatically get everything you want. But if you have the genes and the desire, you can, with intelligent choices and hard work, have the world at your feet.

Back in the mid-1980s, a handful of biotech millionaires thought they had the technology to bring daydreams like these to life. They organized the Human Genome Project, which, we were told, was going to revolutionize how medicine was practiced and how babies were conceived and born.

At the time, conventional medical wisdom held that some of us turn out beautiful and talented while others don't because, at some point, Mother Nature made a mistake or two while reproducing DNA. These mistakes lead to random mutations and, obviously, you can't be a genetic marvel if your genes are scabbed with mutations. The biotech whiz kids got the idea that if they could get into our genes and fix the mutations — with genetic vaccines or patches — they could effectively "rig the lottery." On June 26, 2000, they reached the first milestone in this ambitious scheme and announced they'd cracked the code.

"This is the outstanding achievement not only of our lifetime but in terms of human history," declared Dr. Michael Dexter, the project's administrator.

Many were counting on new technology such as this to magically address disease at its source. Investors and geneticists promised the mutations responsible for hypertension, depression, cancer, male pattern baldness — potentially whatever we wanted — would soon be neutralized and corrected. In the weeks that followed, I listened to scientists on talk shows stirring up publicity by claiming the next big thing would be made-to-order babies, fashioned using so-called designer genes. But I was skeptical. Actually, more than skeptical — I knew it to be hype, an indulgence of an historically common delusion that a deeper understanding of a natural phenomenon (like, say, the orbits of the planets) quickly and inevitably leads to our ability to control that phenomenon (to manipulate the orbits of the planets). Add to this the fact that a decade earlier, while attending Cornell University, I had learned from leaders in the field of biochemistry and molecular biology that a layer of biologic complexity existed that would undermine the gene-mappers' bullish predictions. It was an inconvenient reality these scientists kept tucked under their hats.

While the project's supporters described our chromosomes as static chunks of information that could be easily (and safely) manipulated, a new field of science, called epigenetics, had already proved this fundamental assumption wrong. Epigenetics helps us understand that the genome is more like a dynamic, living being — growing, learning, and adapting constantly. You may have heard that most disease is due to random mutations, or "bad" genes. But epigenetics tells us otherwise. If you need glasses or get cancer or age faster than you should, you very well may have perfectly normal genes. What's gone wrong is how they function, what scientists call genetic expression. Just as we can get sick when we don't take care of ourselves, it turns out, so can our genes.


In the old model of genetic medicine, diseases were believed to arise from permanent damage to DNA, called mutations, portions of the genetic code where crucial data has been distorted by a biological typo. Mutations were thought to develop from mistakes DNA makes while generating copies of itself, and therefore, the health of your genes (and Darwinian evolution) was dependent on random rolling of the dice. Mutations were, for many decades, presumed to be the root cause of everything from knock-knees to short stature to high blood pressure and depression. This model of inheritance is the reason doctors tell people with family histories of cancer, diabetes, and so on that they've inherited genetic time bombs ready to go off at any moment. It's also the reason we call the genetic lottery a lottery. The underlying principle is that we have little or no control. But epigenetics has identified a ghost in the machine, giving us a different vision of Mother Nature's most fantastic molecule.

Epigenetic translates to "upon the gene." Epigenetic researchers study how our own genes react to our behavior, and they've found that just about everything we eat, think, breathe, or do can, directly or indirectly, trickle down to touch the gene and affect its performance in some way. These effects are carried forward into the next generation, where they can be magnified. In laboratory experiments researchers have shown that simply by feeding mice with different blends of vitamins, they can change the next generation's adult weight and susceptibility to disease, and these new developments can then be passed on again, to grandchildren.

It's looking as though we've grossly underestimated the dictum "You are what you eat." Not only does what we eat affect us down to the level of our genes, our physiques have been sculpted, in part, by the foods our parents and grandparents ate (or didn't eat) generations ago.

The body of evidence compiled by thousands of epigenetic researchers working all over the world suggests that the majority of people's medical problems do not come from inherited mutations, as previously thought, but rather from harmful environmental factors that force good genes to behave badly, by switching them on and off at the wrong time. And so, genes that were once healthy can, at any point in our lives, start acting sick.

The environmental factors controlling how well our genes are working will vary from minute to minute, and each one of your cells reacts differently. So you can imagine how complex the system is. It's this complexity that makes it impossible to predict whether a given smoker will develop lung cancer, colon cancer, or no cancer at all. The epigenetic modulation is so elaborate and so dynamic that it's unlikely we'll ever develop a technological fix for most of what ails us. So far, it may sound like epigenetics is all bad news. But ultimately, epigenetics is showing us that the genetic lottery is anything but random. Though some details may forever elude science, the bottom line is clear: we control the health of our genes.

The concept of gene health is simple: genes work fine until disturbed. External forces that disturb the normal ebb and flow of genetic function can be broken into two broad categories: toxins and nutrient imbalances. Toxins are harmful compounds we may eat, drink, or breathe into our bodies, or even manufacture internally when we experience undue stress. Nutrient imbalances are usually due to deficiencies, missing vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, or other raw materials required to run our cells. You may not have control over the quality of the air you breathe or be able to quit your job in order to reduce stress. But you do have control over what may be the most powerful class of gene-regulating factors: food.


Believe it or not, designer babies aren't a new idea. People "designed" babies in ancient times. No, they didn't aim for a particular eye or hair color; their goal was more practical — to give birth to healthy, bright, and happy babies. Their tools were not high technology in the typical sense of the word, of course. Their tool was biology, combined with their own common sense, wisdom, and careful observation. Reproduction was not entered into casually, as it often is today, because the production of healthy babies was necessary to the community's long-term survival. Through trial and error people learned that, when certain foods were missing from a couple's diet, their children were born with problems. They learned which foods helped to ease delivery, which encouraged the production of calmer, more intelligent children who grew rapidly and rarely fell sick, and then passed this information on. Without this nurturing wisdom, we — the dominant species on the planet as we are presently defined — never would have made it this far.

Widely scattered evidence indicates that all successful cultures accumulated vast collections of nutritional guidelines anthologized over the course of many generations and placed into a growing body of wisdom. This library of knowledge was not a tertiary aspect of these cultures. It was ensconced safely within the vaults of religious doctrine and ceremony to ensure its unending revival. The following excerpt offers one example of what the locals living in Yukon Territory in Canada knew about scurvy, a disease of vitamin C deficiency, which at the time (in 1930) still killed European explorers to the region.

When I asked an old Indian ... why he did not tell the white man how [to prevent scurvy], his reply was that the white man knew too much to ask the Indian anything. I then asked him if he would tell me. He said he would if the chief said he might. He returned in an hour, saying that the chief said he could tell me because I was a friend of the Indians and had come to tell the Indians not to eat the food in the white man's store.... He then described how when the Indian kills a moose he opens it up and at the back of the moose just above the kidney there are what he described as two small balls in the fat [the adrenal glands]. These he said the Indian would take and cut up into as many pieces as there were little and big Indians in the family and each one would eat his piece.

When I first read this passage in a dusty library book from the 1940s called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, it was immediately obvious just how sophisticated the accumulated knowledge once was — far better than my medical school training in nutrition. My textbooks said that vitamin C only comes from fruits and vegetables. In the excerpt, the chief makes specific reference to his appreciation of the interviewer's advice to avoid the food in the trading posts ("white man's store"), demonstrating how, in indigenous culture, advice regarding food and nutrition is held in high esteem, even treated as a commodity that can serve as consideration in a formal exchange. We've become accustomed to using the word share these days, as in "Let me share a story with you." But this was sharing in the truest sense, as in offering a gift of novel weaponry or a fire-starting device — items not to be given up lightly. In fact, the book's author admitted consistent difficulty extracting nutrition-related information for this very reason. There is an old African saying, "When an elder dies, a library burns to the ground." And so, unfortunately, this particular human instinct — an understandable apprehension of sharing with outsiders — has allowed much of what used to be known to die away.

Today we are raised to think of food as a kind of enriched fuel, a source of calories and a carrier for vitamins, which help prevent disease. In contrast, ancient peoples understood food to be a holy thing, and eating was a sanctified act. Their songs and prayers reflected the belief that in consuming food, each of us comes in contact with the great, interconnected web of life. Epigenetics proves that intuitive idea to be essentially true. Our genes make their day-to-day decisions based on chemical information they receive from the food we eat, information encoded in our food and carried from that food item's original source, a microenvironment of land or sea. In that sense, food is less like a fuel and more like a language conveying information from the outside world. That information programs your genes, for better or for worse. Today's genetic lottery winners are those people who inherited well-programmed, healthy genes by virtue of their ancestors' abilities to properly plug into that chemical information stream. If you want to help your genes get healthy, you need to plug in, too — and this is the book that can help.

For fifteen years, I have studied how food programs genes and how that programming affects physiology. I've learned there is an underlying order to our health. Getting sick isn't random. We get sick because our genes didn't get what they were expecting, one too many times. Most importantly, I've learned that food can tame unruly genetic behavior far more reliably than biotechnology. By simply replenishing your body with the nourishment that facilitates optimal gene expression, it's possible to eliminate genetic malfunction and, with it, pretty much all known disease. No matter what kind of genes you were born with, I know that eating right can help reprogram them, immunizing you against cancer, premature aging, and dementia, enabling you to control your metabolism, your moods, your weight — and much, much more. And if you start planning early enough, and your genetic momentum is strong enough, you can give your children a shot at reaching for the stars.


In many ways, it was my own unhealthy genes that inspired me to go to medical school and, later, to write this book. I'd had more than my fair share of problems from the beginning of my sports career. In high school track, I suffered with Achilles tendonitis, then calcaneal bursitis, then iliotibial band syndrome, and it seemed to me that I was constantly fitting corrective inserts into my shoes or adding new therapeutic exercises to my routine. In college I developed a whole new crop of soft tissue problems, including a case of shin splints so severe it almost cost me my athletic scholarship.

When my shin splints got bad enough that I had to start skipping practice, I paid yet another visit to the team physician. Dr. Scotty, a squat, mustached man with thick black hair and a high-pitched voice, told me that this time he couldn't help me. All I could do was cut back my training and wait. But I was sure there was something else I needed to do. Perhaps I had some kind of dietary deficiency? Applying my newly acquired mastery of Biology 101, I suggested that perhaps my connective tissue cells couldn't make normal tendons. Like many of my own patients today, I pushed Dr. Scotty to get to the bottom of my problem. I even had a plan: simply take some kind of biopsy of the tendon in my leg and compare the material to a healthy tendon. My ideas went nowhere, as I imagine such suggestions often do. Dr. Scotty furrowed his bushy eyebrows and said he'd never heard of any such test. I'd read stories in Newsweek and Time about the powerful diagnostics being brought to us by molecular biology. In my naiveté, I couldn't believe Dr. Scotty didn't know how to use any of that science to help me. I was so confounded by his unwillingness to consider what seemed to me to be the obvious course of action, and so enamored with the idea of getting to the molecular root of physical problems-and so enthralled by the promise of the whole burgeoning biotech field-that I scrapped my plans to be a chemical engineer and enrolled in every course I could to study genetics. I went to graduate school at Cornell, where I learned about gene regulation and epigenetics from Nobel Prize-winning researchers, then straight to Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, in hopes of putting my knowledge of the fundamentals of genetics to practical use.


Excerpted from Deep Nutrition by Catherine Shanahan, Luke Shanahan. Copyright © 2016 Catherine Shanahan and Luke Shanahan. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Note

1. Reclaiming Your Health: The Origins of Deep Nutrition
2. The Intelligence Gene: Epigenetics and the Language of DNA
3. The Greatest Gift: The Creation and Preservation of Genetic Wealth
4. Dynamic Symmetry: The Beauty-Health Connection
5. The Sibling Strategy: Letting Your Body Create a Perfect Baby

6. The Great Nutrition Migration: From the Culinary Garden of Eden to Outer Space
7. Good Fats and Bad: How the Cholesterol Theory Created a Sickness Epidemic
8. Brain Killer: Why Vegetable Oil is Your Brain's Worst Enemy
9. Sickly Sweet: How a Carbohydrate-Rich Diet Blocks Metabolic Function

10. The Four Pillars of the Human Diet: Foods that Program Your Body for Health, Brains, and Beauty
11. Beyond Calories: Using Food as a Language to Achieve the Ideal Body Weight
12. Forever Young: Callagen Health and Life Span
13. Deep Nutrition: How to Get Started Eating the Human Diet
14. Frequently Asked Questions

Epilogue: Health Without Healthcare
Resources: Carb-Counting Tool, Protein-Counting Tool, Helpful Websites, Recommended Brands, Doctors in Your Area
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