Janera Soerel spoke with Jared Koch for The 24th Letter before the discussion he led last weekend at the Urban Zen Wellness event in Sag Harbor.
JS: Let’s dive immediately into your book, “Clean Plates” for Manhattan. You talk about biochemical individuality. What does that mean? And how does someone start behaving like a bio-individual?
JK: In simple terms what that means is that there is more than one right way to eat. What foods, and quantities of those foods, are best for me are likely different than what is best for you. There is no perfect diet. While there are certainly several diagnostic tests that can help you discover what foods do and don’t work well for your body, none of them yet are fully conclusive—they act as a tool. The best way to start is by paying more attention to what you’re eating and how it makes you feel.
JS: Where else, besides Clean Plates, can someone learn which eating pattern is right for their body? Should we keep a food journal? How would you recommend starting one?
JK: If someone is dealing with a serious condition then I typically suggest they see a Functional Medicine Doctor. There are also many health and nutrition coaches nowadays that will help you through the process of discovering what is right for your particular circumstances. Keeping a food journal can certainly be a helpful tool for some and is worth experimenting with. To get started, I suggest keeping track of your food and beverage intake for a week or two and then take some time to go back, read it and see what you discover.
JS: Yes, that takes discipline!
JK: Yes, it does. That’s why it doesn’t work for a lot of people. It can be helpful, but it’s just one tool. Another useful thing to do is simple experiments. For example, I often suggest a breakfast experiment: for a few days have a high carb breakfast like oatmeal and fruit and notice how you feel, how long it takes you to get hungry again, etc. Then try a few days with a high protein breakfast like eggs, and then with a mixed protein and carb breakfast. If you really pay attention to how you feel, you will get a better sense of whether eating some protein or a lot of protein is helpful for you in the mornings. Also, the simple act of doing the experiment and paying attention starts to build the muscle of greater awareness.
JS: Eating healthier is a practice! And requires active engagement through research and experimentation. Fun! What about eating meat? Are human beings omnivores by design? Is eating meat bad for your health? What about our need for protein?
JK: That’s certainly a big question these days. It’s a complicated topic that’s hard to fully cover in a forum like this, especially with all of the moral and spiritual implications. That said, I think it is a very individual thing. I have had several clients whom I worked with that thrive on a vegetarian or vegan diet, and I have also had clients who weren’t doing well on a vegan or vegetarian diet and turned things around by adding some good quality meat.
The main thing I suggest is that if you do choose to eat meat, make sure you are eating as good quality as you can: hormone- and antibiotic-free, organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised. Also pay attention to quantity—portion size and frequency of consumption—and to cooking methods; overcooking meats isn’t great.
JS: We now know that meat can be acidic and alkaline. We’ve been hearing much about acidity versus alkalinity. Can you explain what that means and give examples of foods in each category? Why is balancing the two significant for our health?
JK: The fluids in your body have a pH level, which is a measurement of the concentration of hydrogen ions. 7 is neutral, 7.4 is slightly alkaline and below 7 is considered acidic. The ideal blood pH is slightly alkaline, as it is believed a lot of disease conditions—including cancer—occur in an acidic environment.
It gets a little tricky because certain foods you think might be acidic, like a lemon, are actually very alkalizing! What happens is that every time a food is metabolized in the body it gives off a substance called an ash, which either makes the blood more alkaline or acidic. That ash is really the determining factor. Most foods like fruits and vegetables are very alkalizing, while meats and sugar and alcohol are more acidic forming.
JS: Wow, so many things to consider before taking a bite! Given that so much of our food is acidic, how do you help people move away from addictions to processed foods, sugar, caffeine and alcohol?
JK: Ideally you want to get to the point where you are eating about 80% alkalizing foods and 20% acidic. With my clients, I always focus on adding good things rather than removing things. The simplest and most impactful thing to do is to simply start adding more vegetables to your diet. Find ones you like and start eating more of them.
JS: Ah, wonderful. Thank you for providing a simple solution! A member asks: You’re speaking at the Urban Zen store in Sag Harbor on Saturday. For those heading out East, which restaurants do you recommend?
JK: That’s a great question. I haven’t been to the Hamptons in a while so I was planning on doing some research before I go. I have a friend who has a juice bar called Juicy Naam that I plan to stop by, and I also would like to try Ruschmeyer’s in Montauk if I make it out that far.
JS: How can you extend Clean Plates to a wider audience to include people who cannot afford to consume local, organic plants and sustainably raised animal products?
JK: Well, we have a Clean Plates cookbook coming out in the fall that expands upon my nutritional philosophy and has great, simple recipes. We are excited because this will allow us to reach a wider audience beyond our restaurant guides to New York and Los Angeles.
That said, there are more and more restaurants offering better quality foods that are inexpensive, like Chipotle. Another example is a place called Dig Inn in New York, where you can get a full meal for $7 including tax, prepared with only local and sustainable animal products and vegetables. I believe more and more places like these will be popping up.
On an individual level, while eating local and organic produce is ideal, if you don’t have access to it or can’t afford it then I suggest simply eating more and more vegetables when possible, and slowly reducing your intake of processed foods — especially sugar. Start drinking water rather than soda, which will save money and be better for your body.
JS: Thank you Jared, talking to you has been very insightful! I look forward to continuing the conversation on Saturday at Urban Zen!