Medicines help to treat illness within the body, but what if we replaced filling a prescription with filling our bags at the farmer’s market with foods that can heal our bodies from the inside out? Dr. William Li, world-renowned physician, scientist, TED speaker, and author of “Eat To Beat Disease,” joins this episode to share just how much food can impact our health.
Dr. William Li provides his definition of being healthy, tips for kickstarting your health journey, and how there are five health defense systems that are crucial to our bodies. He also explains why we should explore new foods, especially in retirement, and lists foods and beverages that can be toxic to our diet. Additionally, Dr. Li shares an in-depth explanation of angiogenesis and why it’s vital to the maintenance of our body and defending our health. We wrap up with Dr. Li sharing how he takes a scientific approach to unlocking foods’ nutrients as medicine and he reveals what the future looks like for discovering these healthy foods.
Read Show Notes From This Episode (click to expand and read notes from the full interview)
- Wes says he’s a fan. Financial implications to health. Admits this is probably his weakest link in what he knows for happiness.
Adding to our diet vs. subtracting our diet.
Dr. Li is in New England, outside of Boston
Favorite song to sing? Not a big singer. Enjoys music but doesn’t sing a lot. Has been listening to different covers of John Lennon’s Imagine. It’s a song you can’t screw up. Almost anyone can sing it and make it meaningful.
Favorite core pursuit. Loves to explore food. When he travels, the first thing he does is head to a farmer’s market. Back in the day, he’d bring his camera with him. Before he’s had his first meal in a new place, he will wander through and find things that seem to call out the character of a place. Anchors his impression by the food.
Favorite instrument – been playing piano since he was 4.
Favorite book. Fiction novel by a secretive author – Trevanian. Loved the book “Shibumi.” Shibumi is a novel published in 1979, written in English by Trevanian, a pseudonym of Rodney William Whitaker. Wrote his books as movie scripts.
Favorite team. Pittsburgh Steelers.
Favorite place he’s traveled in Michigan. Only been to Detroit. He was there the moment they declared the pandemic. Before that, he went to a nice restaurant though.
All-time favorite place – A little village on the northwest coast of Greece (OIA). (Oia is a coastal town on the northwestern tip of Santorini, a Greek Aegean island.) He’s been there 35 times.
Wes asks what we should know about keeping our bodies healthy as we age. Dr. Li is an internal medicine doctor. His goal is to get people to stay on track and to get back on track if they fall off. For retirement – we so often think of retirement as – we get to enjoy our life after we put away our work. But the health component of our life is with us always. People need to understand what the definition of health is. It’s not just the absence of disease. Wrong way of thinking about it. Our health is not the absence of something. It’s the result of our own body’s health systems.
Wes asks where people can start. Practically – what does that mean from a diet perspective. Dr. Li says he is working on research for “food is medicine.” It’s common sense that the food we put in either does something good or bad for our bodies. Foods that we can put in our bodies that are good for us are very rewarding. We want good circulation, healing, metabolism, mental and emotional health. We want to protect ourselves from cancer.
Foods can activate our defenses.
There are some foods that trample on our health defenses. Wes says that we all do respond a little differently to do different food. So there’s no perfect diet that works for everyone. Dr. Li says food is one of the intimate things in our lives. Once we were born, having food was one of the first things we did.
Dr. Li’s book – Eat and Beat Disease. There are plenty of good options at the store and Farmer’s Market. Eating healthy is leaning into the abundance of foods that your own body likes. Our bodies love variety. Don’t eat more but eat more of different types.
Dr. Li tells about going to the town market in Munich. Dare to be adventurous when it comes to food.
Dr. Li’s favorite foods/beverages? He always drinks tea. Loves coffee, too. It changes by season. Right now he is really getting into tinned fish. Tinned sardines packed in oil with a little bit of pepper. Tinned tuna in olive oil and oregano. Wes says this was the last thing he thought he would say. Early in the pandemic – we all had to eat and we went to our pantries. So he thought omega 3 fatty acids. Found commonly in smaller fish that are lower in the food chain. He used to think canned tuna was cat food, and maybe it was. Laugh. Wes says he lived in Spain for a while and loved it. Dr. Li says places like Spain and Portugal – do canned fish like fine dining. Dr. Li takes whole grain pasta, boils it, and then puts a little extra virgin olive oil on it, throws in fish from a tin, capers, oregano – a Mediterranean meal from heaven.
Wes – says from a practical standpoint – finding a diet people can do. Is this the first step to explore? Dr. Li says, if you can get my book, take a sharpie and start circling the foods you like. Then take out your cell phone and take a photograph of that page and then go shopping. If you start with the foods you love that are good for you, that’s a big step. Wes likes this because he gets into a rut but he loves a good salad. But then he’ll get into a rut and it’s hard to go beyond that. Gets sick of it.
How food can activate defenses – common denominators of disease.
Angiogenesis – how the body grows blood vessels. And the maintenance. Profoundly important for connecting our health. The highways and byways of health because they deliver the oxygen we breathe.
We have 60,000 miles of blood vessels. One person has enough blood vessels to wrap around the world twice. All sorts of problems, even erectile dysfunction, can show inefficiency here. On the flip side, you don’t want to feed cancer by eating the wrong things.
Dr. Li talks about people losing their vision.
What does green tea do? Scallions? Figs?
Wes says just discovered how much he loves figs.
Dr. Li says with food you can’t cause more blood vessels than you need. Goldilocks effect. Our body lawn mows any extra ones and it will grow more when we need it. Angiogenesis keeps the Goldilocks effect. You cannot use these great foods to hurt yourself in overage. Great examples of this food: dried with fruit peel – apples, apricots. Pomegranate juice helps on the other end. It keeps the body from growing too many blood vessels because of their elijah tannins. Wes asks: what if you accidentally eat too much of the pro-vessel or anti-vessel food? Dr. Li says don’t worry about that. You can’t do that with food. Walnuts are a good source of healthy fats and an amazing source of dietary fiber.
Our bodies are 1 part human to 1 part bacteria. Most of the bacteria are in our gut. We give them room and board and we feed them. If we eat something crappy – too much sugar or preservatives or ultra-processed – not only are we not getting what we need but we’re also dumping it into our gut bacteria. That bacteria is responsible for helping keep us balanced.
Dr. Li brings up soda and diet soda being bad. Way too much for the body. Toxic for your gut microbiome. Gut bacteria don’t like artificial sweeteners either. Diet soda is really bad for you. But tree nuts – like a walnut – the gut bacteria thank you for that.
Wes says he’s going to throw out the diet coke from his house.
Wes asks about sparkling water – Dr. Li says nothing inherently bad with carbonated water. Just make sure the flavoring doesn’t have a ton of added sugar. As natural as possible.
Dr. Li goes back to talking about walnuts. Eating tree nuts can help with mortality. Your gut bacteria express gratitude. Your gut bacteria will “text message” your brain social hormones when it’s happy to tell your body it’s happy. It’s the same reason people take Prozac.
Brings up Lactobacillus Reuteri. Was really common in the gut until antibiotics were developed. It actually caps our brain to release the social hormone oxytocin. It’s a good one. It’s the one your brain releases when you see a friend you haven’t seen. Or when you have a kiss. When you have an orgasm. It’s the bacteria that are used to create the tangy flavor of sourdough bread. It’s in parmesan reggiano cheese. The real stuff. Not the mass-produced stuff.
Starfish can regenerate and salamanders can regenerate. But we’re finding out that humans can regenerate. We do it slowly and we can’t grow a new arm but things can regenerate slowly inside of us. How do we heal ourselves from the inside out? Our liver. Part of our lungs. Stem cells. We get our stem cells from the womb. Dark chocolate can call out your stem cells. (good) One study brought out men in their 60s and gave them some 80% or higher cacao dark chocolate. Cacao is a plant based food. Barley can also stimulate stem cells.
Wes asks what things we can eliminate – Dr. Li says alcohol. All the health benefits come from the stuff inside the liquid, not the ethanol. Your body has to fix itself every time you have a drink. A little bit of sugar is fine but don’t have a lot. Too much sugar overwhelms the body. Some sugar from a big juicy peach is fine. A big sumo orange is great. Skin rips off easily, too. Wes is a big fan of the next-gen apples – the combo that became the Pink Crisp Apple. The skin of the apple is good for growing vessels. The body of the apple is good for the opposite.
Wes asks about red meat – Dr. Li says food is medicine but it also brings you joy. He says you don’t have to be vegan to be a good person. Life is for the living. You’ve got to make it good. Spend most of the time eating stuff that is good for you. Once in a while, have a steak if that’s what you love.
Some of that ultra-processed food that’s supposed to be meat, isn’t great for you. Be as simple as possible.
Seafood is good for you. Fish is a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Those come from algae but a fish ate the algae. So many fish have omega 3’s. Even some shellfish. Salmon, halibut, sea bass, clams, muscles, lobster. Most of the healthy omega 3’s in the salmon are in the skin.
Gut and DNA – all kick into the immune system. Gut microbiome. Mushrooms have dietary fiber. (Pre-biotic). Bok choy. Tree nuts. Kiwi.
Probiotic foods – Kimchi. Yogurt. Sauerkraut.
DNA – Our DNA is well known to be our genetic code. There’s a 6-foot strand of DNA in one cell. The part that’s our genetic code only occupies 2% of that. The rest holds instructions and protects the body from harmful forces. When our DNA is altered that’s a mutation. Our body is hard-wired to prevent these mutations. It’s hard to prevent one but it’s much easier to fix that mutation. How mistakes does your body make in a typical day? Dr. Li says 10,000 mistakes in each person every single day. That’s why eating foods that can help our DNA protect itself is good.
When you get gas at the gas station – if you are smelling the fumes you are downwind and you are inhaling the solvents. But you don’t get cancer because your body fixes itself.
Raydon – radiation comes up from mother earth – you don’t get foot cancer because your body is fixing itself.
Citrus foods can help fix our DNA. Strawberries, Sumo oranges, lemons and limes, guava, tomatoes, red bell peppers. Kiwi. Eating one kiwi a day is enough to protect damage from 60%.
Lastly – immune-boosting foods? Our immune system is like an army of super soldiers. Blueberries can up our T-Cells. Broccoli and broccoli sprouts. A study from UNC showed people getting the flu vaccine. Some got that plus a broccoli sprout shake – those people got a 22% increase.
Wes sums up the interview and says he can’t wait to go to the farmer’s market.
Dr. Li talks some more. Gives his website. His main book is “Eat to Beat Disease”.
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