Kale and Coffee? Interview with My Favorite Health Renegade

kale-and-coffee-kevin-gianniHi Everyone—today we have a special treat for you . . . my friend Kevin Gianni, author of the new book Kale and Coffee agreed to answer some of my questions about his new book. When I received the advance copy of his book, I devoured it in three days. I think you will agree with me that this is an awesome health book, full of inspiring and funny stories, and just pure pleasure to read. Do me a favor and support Kevin by picking up a copy of his book right here, and let us know in the comments section what you think about Kevin’s health philosophy—and also if you have additional questions for him! Thanks!

Xo Dr. Sara

Dr. Sara: Many of your ideas were new to me despite my medical training, and I want our readers to know that doesn’t happen too often when I read a book about health! Let’s focus first on some of the counterintuitive or little-known concepts that you encountered on your path to health. What is the most surprising discovery? What’s the most undiscovered concept, that not enough folks know about but was profound in your arc?

Kevin Gianni: For me, this has been an 11-year journey, so there have been a lot of surprise endings. I’ve messed up more than once. I’ve stuck with diets that weren’t working for too long. I’ve self diagnosed myself with the wrong ailments. I’ve followed the wrong health gurus. So discoveries came all the time, and sometimes when I wasn’t ready to face the reality of my situation — at that time, poor health.

I think the discovery that keep on giving to me is that these days, our food isn’t always what we think it is. All salt isn’t the same. Two cups of coffee may not be alike. One steak can be nutritionally different than another that looks exactly the same.

I love that steak example. To play it out, say there are two steaks on the table in front of you. Both look the same and feel the same. One is from an animal raised on a factory farm. The other from a grass-fed, grass-finished ranch. The one from the factory farm, nutritionally, will have much higher omega-6 fats and much lower omega-3s. So essentially, this could cause inflammation if you eat it. The grass-fed, grass-finished cut, could have significantly lower omega-6 and much higher omega-3 fats. This steak, could actually be anti-inflammatory. It’s crazy. They both look like steak, but one can inflame you and the other is completely healthy. This is the same with coffee, wine, and a bunch of other foods and drink that I explored in the book. When you look at food this way, you start to realize that it’s possible we’ve gotten much of our science wrong and in some ways it’s freeing. Maybe you can actually eat some things you enjoy and they might not be so bad for you — in fact some may be beneficial. It’s a good place to be in, it allows you some wiggle room.

Dr. Sara: Early in your book (page 31), you wrote: “We have to change the way we determine what to eat to live long and be healthy. You don’t need to identify your own genome. But you do need to monitor closely how your body reacts to what you eat and what you do.” Can you say a bit more about what you monitor yourself with how your body reacts to food and what you do? The reason I ask is because I’ve known you for a few years, I see you at least once per month, and you’re a bit of a minimalist. Don’t you agree? You only do something – a new health behavior – if it really swings big doors for you. I would love for you to describe the smallest hinges that swing big doors for you.

Kevin Gianni: Almost everyone knows the one or two biggest things that are affecting their health. They know it almost intuitively. This is completely non-scientific, but I’ve had the opportunity to interview dozens of cancer doctors — some more conventional than others — but almost every one of them has expressed to me that when you ask a patient “what do you think caused your cancer?” they have an immediate answer. It could be diet or lifestyle or it could be more emotional issues — bad relationships or unable to overcome the death of loved one. Whether they’re right or not, I think the biggest take away is that each person already knows what to do, it’s just a matter of bringing it up to the surface — admitting it so it’s real.

So the thing that swings the biggest doors is being honest with yourself that those things exist, then being brave enough to address them. It’s hard and I still fool myself, but I’m getting better at reading my own BS.

Dr. Sara: You mention early on in your book that your pregnenolone was barely measurable on a raw vegan diet. I had a similar experience, which we discussed maybe on our first meeting. Can you explain why that’s important, how you felt with super low preg, and what animal protein did to your level? What’s your pregnenolone now?kale-and-coffee-kevin-gianni-1

Kevin Gianni: You can probably explain pregnenolone better than I can at a molecular level, but to keep is simple, it’s a grandmother type hormone, it helps produce many other hormones and cholesterol so you can function like a normal human being. With low pregnenolone, at least from my own personal experience, you have wild mood swings, low sex drive and extremely low energy. My experience was just that. I would lie in bed wondering if I had cancer or something as equally bad, because I’d never felt so weak in my life for so long. After my diet adjustments, which include going back to eating a non-vegan diet, I brought my pregnenolone up from single digits to mid 100’s.

Dr. Sara: Which shift in your health were you most resistant to change? What made you adopt it long term as a habit?

Kevin Gianni: Definitely switching out of a vegan diet. I was vegan for 6 years and it became my health identity. I spoke about not eating meat in at least 100 cities and towns across the United States and Canada. I was entrenched. But my blood test results showed that my hormones and cholesterol were extremely low and I needed to do something different. When Dr. James Williams, my health mentor and doctor, gave me the news, I resisted. In fact, I lived [with] my fatigue that the low hormones created for months after. Finally, I decided I did need to do something, so I went to the health food store and got a 32-oz container of goat’s yogurt. I figured this was the best way to be as non-vegan as possible and started to eat it straight out of the container. In 5 minutes, I had eaten the whole thing. My body craved it. In fact, I ended up eating 64 ounces almost every day for about 2 months. It revived me. My energy came back, sex drive increased, and my moods weren’t as volatile. After that I was convinced — vegan wasn’t for me. So my diet is now still strongly plant based, I only eat animals from super-organic sources, and I try my best to avoid gluten and excess sugar and all those other things that affect my body and mood. So to answer your question more directly, I was able to adopt the change because it simply worked. I had evidence that I was broken and the change fixed me. This is why I think functional blood tests are so valuable — they give you objective data to make better decisions.

Dr. Sara: I heard a rumor that a few pictures were edited out of the final version of the book – can you share a few with my peeps?

Kevin Gianni: Yeah, they totally edited them out. I was a little disappointed, because I think the photos really added to the experience of the book. I know you’ve picked up a book where you see those dozen or so extra white pages in the middle and immediately opened to that section to see the pictures. Anyway, your readers are lucky, because they get to see behind the scenes here.

  1. The shopping cart of a raw foodist, in case anyone was curious.
  1. Our 15,000 foot high campsite, deep in the Peruvian Andes. I had hoped to find out what kind of food grows up there, instead I determined that I’m extremely averse to camping in below zero temperatures.
  1. Sebastian, our Q’ero friend, preparing the watia to cook traditional Peruvian potatoes.
  1. Trust me, I’ve tried every diet there is.
  1. John Williams’s junk-food-free vines. You can see there’s no irrigation lines strung between each one.
  1. My son Hudson and his monster truck helping me with these last few edits, so please excuse any typos.

Dr. Sara: Let’s schmooze over booze. On page 126, you offer a nice, juicy list of proof that alcohol can be healthy. I’m sure my community will be doing the happy dance to hear me cheer you on. You spent time at Frog’s Leap Winery, one of my faves in Rutherford, CA. You described the importance of terrior, a “French word loosely defined as the way the entire ecosystem influences the crop,” in this case, grapes. They dry farm at Frog’s Leap, and their vines live longer with yield 4 to five times longer than conventional vines. But grapes are also one of the most toxic fruits in terms of pesticides and fertilizers, ranked #5 on the Environmental Working Group’s list of the “Dirty Dozen.” Did you find in your research that drinking organic wine, or even biodynamic wine, is better – does it provide any measurable difference in outcome for people?

Kevin Gianni: John Williams, from Frogs Leap, was one of my favorite people to interview. He’s like a naturopath for grape vines, but instead of Lipid Panels, he uses Brix scales. Organic grapes definitely have less sugar than many of the conventional wines grown in the US and even in Europe these days. More sugar and non-organic grapes means higher alcohol content and less micronutrients. So it doesn’t take too much analysis to determine that regardless of the health benefits of wine, if you’re going to drink it, you might as well get some of the benefits from the organic and biodynamic brands like Frogs Leap. As I mentioned above with the two pieces of steak that look exactly the same, but if one is grass-fed, grass-finished and the other is conventionally grown, the two could give dramatically different health results. So one t-bone could make you inflamed [from the omega-6s] and the other could be closer to having the anti-inflammatory benefit of taking a fish oil supplement [from the omega-3s]. It’s shocking to think this way, but it’s entirely possible. So why would it be different with wines from organic or non-organic grapes? To me, improving your diet is about upgrading your existing one first, then seeing what else you can do — so if you’re drinking wine, go with the organic ones — then decide where to go from there.

Dr. Sara: You refer to thought agility and idea density on page 180-181. Can you explain what they are and why our readers may want more?

Kevin Gianni: In the chapter where I talk about this concept, I tell a story about my grandfather, who seemingly had done all the wrong things for his health over the years, but still has lived to be 95 years old. His secret sauce, I think, is how he used his brain. He was always busy, curious, engaging in debate and working even into his 90’s. He, without knowing it, incorporated thought agility and idea density into his everyday life.

Thought agility is essentially exercise for your brain. Idea density is how frequently you exercise your brain. I use the exercise analogy, because almost everyone gets it. If you don’t exercise frequently and stay agile, it’s very likely you’ll die younger. But this also applies to mental exercise. In the book I cite two scientific studies that have proven that thinkers live longer. What this means is that if you create a habit of thinking, being curious, and learning new things, it’s extremely likely you will live longer than those who do not.

Dr. Sara: You have two kids now – if you had to simplify your health philosophy down to just a few sentences, what would it be?

Kevin Gianni: Be patient. I’ve had incredible health and not so great health over the last 10-12 years. The one thing that is constant is that, eventually, things come back into balance. Having kids has made me understand that sometimes there isn’t much time — but I’ve been able to tell myself that this is OK for now and at the right moment, I’ll get back on track. (Now if you have a serious health challenge, this doesn’t even come close to applying to you.)

For me, it’s a process of Assess, Detox, Retox and Repeat. Assess yourself honestly with either blood tests or by simply asking yourself how you really feel. Then detox from the thing that is causing you unrest. After, it’s inevitable that you’ll re-tox again — you’ll slip back a little, and when you notice you’re doing that, repeat the cycle. Once you’ve mastered, say your late-night-eat-a-bag-of-corn-chips habit, you then move on to the next thing. The idea is that you don’t do everything at once. You get better, day by day, week by week.

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Sara Gottfried MD About Sara Gottfried MD

Sara Gottfried, MD is the New York Times bestselling author of the new book, Younger: A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years. Her previous New York Times bestsellers are The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet. After graduating from Harvard Medical School and MIT, Dr. Gottfried completed her residency at the University of California at San Francisco. She is a board-certified gynecologist who teaches natural hormone balancing in her novel online programs so that women can lose weight, detoxify, and slow down aging. Dr. Gottfried lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two daughters.