Author Kevin Gianni explains healthy balance when it comes to food. (Photo: Getty)
Author Kevin Gianni ironically went from scarfing Twinkies and Mountain Dew to running RenegadeHealth.com, a popular website that promoted a diet of raw, vegan organic food. The problem is that the supposedly healthy food, eventually made him sick. To gain back his health, Kevin decided to eat whatever he wanted that fell into the whole foods, mostly organic category; but this surprisingly caused him to gain weight and deal with chronic pain.
Frustrated by these two extremes of supposedly healthy diets, he set out in an RV with his wife Anne Marie, founder of an organic skincare company, to find out what really works. In his new book, appropriately titled Kale and Coffee, Kevin dishes on what they learned while driving cross country, experimenting with different diets and researching how to provide his body with optimal nutrition, yet still enjoy life. The book offers simple steps to help you enjoy a long, happy, healthy life, and clear, glowing skin to boot.
Yahoo Beauty: How did your wellness journey begin?
Kevin Gianni: I was introduced to David Wolfe around 2003; I’d always been into fitness, but nutrition wasn’t really my thing. What he was sharing was simple, yet new to me. I had never thought that some foods (superfoods) could get me more nutrition than others. I then started a vegan diet because it sounded like a good idea, health-wise.
What benefits did you notice?
In the beginning I felt amazing. I could run faster, further and I was in the best shape of my life. This is what normally happens to people, they clean up their diet and feel great; but for the most part, only for a while.
So the benefits didn’t last?
I started to lose my speed running. Then I was having a hard time getting out of bed, was easily agitated, and my sex drive disappeared. I was 30, so none of these things should have been happening. I finally went to see Dr. James Williams, who suggested I get off the vegan diet. I said no at the moment, but eventually gave in.
So you ditched the vegan lifestyle and as you say, “went to the opposite extreme,” but not exactly back to Twinkies- unless they were organic?
After stopping the vegan diet, I became disillusioned with the health experts and gurus and their messages. So I essentially said, f*#k it, I’m going to eat what I want. I might as well enjoy my food — So I ate whatever I wanted as long as it was organic. I felt better for a while, but then became bloated, tired, sluggish, short of breath and 223 pounds. (In my raw food days, it was the opposite — 160 pounds.) So I noticed that this approach didn’t work either.
Author Kevin Gianni explains healthy balance when it comes to food. (Photo: Kale and Coffee)
And this sparked the idea for your latest book Kale and Coffee?
The idea of the book was to find out if I could bring in the best of both worlds. All the good from my health food eating days and some of the debauchery from my whatever goes diet. I figured there was a place where I could settle in, lose weight and still not deprive myself of some of life’s pleasures — like salt, coffee, wine, and bread, etc.
What inspired you to travel across the country, speaking to both doctors and regular folks?
At the time, I was filming our Renegade Health Show at home and I was getting bored. I sensed our viewers were as well. So one night, my wife Annmarie and I were talking about how to make the show more interesting. She suggested getting an RV and traveling around to meet all the people we’d like to interview, and in just a few months, we were on the road.
What was your most surprising discovery on this health journey?
How ridiculously different a food from one source can be from another source. John Williams, from Frog’s Leap Vineyards, was one of my favorite people to interview, he’s like a naturopath for grape vines. Organic grapes definitely have less sugar than many of the conventional wines grown in the US and even in Europe; more sugar and non-organic grapes means higher alcohol content and less micronutrients. 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.
And you discovered the same was true for food?
My research suggests that it’s possible for two pieces of steak to 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. The grass-fed, grass-finished cut could be high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils while the conventional cut could be low in omega-3s and high in more inflammatory omega-6 oils. So one T-bone could make you inflamed and the other could be closer to having the anti-inflammatory benefit of taking a fish oil supplement. You can’t look at the food on our plate and tell if it’s nutritious, you need to know the source.
If food is medicine and Americans make some crappy food choices, what swaps do you recommend for what you call “frankenfoods?”
GMO, processed foods, these all fall into frankenfoods. In terms of swaps, the best way to go is to simply upgrade your food to organic and remove as much food in a box as possible. I know it’s lame and easy, and not sexy, but it works. The other swap I’d suggest is to swap out your breakfast with a green smoothie. Within days, you’ll be feeling better, trimmer and have more energy. I drink a green smoothie every day now. I don’t feel right without it. There’s a physiological aspect to it too. If you drink one in the morning, you make green smoothie decisions later. When you eat pancakes, you make pancake decisions the rest of the day.
I love that, pancake decisions! I completely know what you mean. Can you spill your best recommendations for foods that are the most nutrient dense and filling that the majority of us can eat without any issues?
Blueberries and raspberries and cherries are high in antioxidants. Superfoods like seaweeds, fermented foods, and bone broths are all packed with nutrition. As for filling — leafy green and root veggies are the way to go. You can eat as much as you want until you’re full, and for the most part still lose or maintain your weight.
And your favorite green smoothie recipe?
A half a head of lettuce or a massive handful of spinach; half a bag of frozen mangos or peaches; half a bag of frozen cherries, blueberries or raspberries; one scoop of rice protein powder; and water. Lots of fiber, lots of folate, tons of antioxidants and a bit of protein.
And your favorite smoothie ingredients for glowing skin?
Cucumbers have a nice amount of silica which is great for skin. Add avocados, hemp seeds or chia seeds (soaked first) for healthy fats. Citrus like limes or lemons are great for Vitamin C. Leafy greens provide folate which is fantastic for healthy skin.
What were the top three things that you discovered about health, that are relevant to everyone?
- Drink a green smoothie or green juice daily.
- Once you think you have your health down, it will change. So be ready to adapt.
- Work with a coach, a practitioner, a doctor — because sometimes you just don’t see what’s happening to you as clearly as someone else can.
You mention, ”I’ve followed the wrong health gurus,” what do you mean by that?
Sometimes you don’t see what’s happening to yourself. You don’t listen. So you let the guru’s information guide you, not what your body is saying. You really have to reach down and ask the difficult questions. Does what I’m doing feel right? Does my body agree? Gurus and experts, for the most part, have a narrow view of the human body, nutrition, and exercise. They almost always teach what works for them and don’t understand when it doesn’t work for someone else. And, as we all need to know, many times they don’t always do what they say behind the scenes.
Ha! Absolutely, my mentor always taught me not to teach yoga from my practice, but to each individual student’s level. And I’ve seen those gurus eating hamburgers behind closed doors after preaching veganism, so I know what you mean.