How Healthy Can You Eat? Food / Personal

Ever since we read the book In Defense of Food and watched the documentary Food, Inc. a couple years ago, our family has been trying to eat more healthy. As much as possible we avoided processed foods and began to give up our boxed breakfast cereals (most of the time), pre-packaged meals of all kinds, and anything with ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soybean oil. Mostly, we tried to eat “real food” — you know, the kind that grows in the ground rather than comes from a factory — and avoided foods with too many ingredients, or ingredient names we couldn’t pronounce.

This was fairly easy in Costa Rica because most packaged foods were imported and expensive, whereas fresh fruits and vegetables were grown locally, often organic, and could be purchased at farmers markets at great prices — and they tasted fantastic! We thought we were eating healthy already, and compared to how we used to eat back in the States, we were. But not until we arrived in Bali did we realize just how much more healthy we could become, and how much better healthy food could taste.

From the time I was a kid chewing my turkey gristle for 10 minutes before being able to swallow it, I haven’t really liked eating meat unless it had a really good sauce (but then isn’t it the sauce I’m liking, not the meat?). Anyway, since coming to Bali, we’ve become vegetarians and we’re loving it! We do eat fish on occasion, and aren’t religious about saying no to meat if it’s offered to us at a friend’s house or something. But we basically don’t eat meat.

Next, we’ve learned about the difficulty most humans have digesting wheat and dairy products. I never knew this. I’ve heard of some people being “gluten intolerant” or “lactose intolerant” but it appears that most people already are, to some degree, because wheat and dairy are not things that our bodies know how to use well. Cows milk is great for calves (that’s baby cows, not your lower leg), but not so great for humans. Despite decades of marketing campaigns proclaiming how milk strengthens bones, many experts now agree that it actually weakens them and causes other problems. This means no milk (especially pasteurized cows milk), no butter, no yogurt, no cheese, NO ICE CREAM!! What am I going to do?!

Likewise, being a lifelong lover of pasta, breads, and grains, I was disappointed to learn that eating wheat in any form may not be so good for me, and might be causing some of the indigestion I often experience. So, no lasagna, ravioli, pizza, french toast, cream of wheat, or chocolate cake?! Sounds like no fun at all.

But to help with the indigestion, and because of the great results I’ve heard of others having through this kind of diet, I thought I’d try giving up wheat and dairy for one torturous month to see what resulted. It’s only been about a week so far, and it’s actually been amazing and not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I’ve discovered many great alternatives to wheat, such as spelt, which it turns out I like even more than wheat! I’ve had spelt pasta and bread and it tastes delicious! Instead of cow’s milk, I’m enjoying almond milk, cashew milk, and coconut milk. And I’ve had some amazing desserts like raw chocolate pie with nut crusts. I’m also following a few other guidelines, like only eating fruit on an empty stomach and allowing 20 minutes for digestion before eating other foods; eating less sugar, using mostly honey or other natural sweeteners like stevia or coconut; not combining proteins with starches in the same meal; and never using a microwave.

Especially here in Asia there are so many interesting and delicious things to eat, that I’m finding I’m not missing meat, wheat, or dairy one bit. Here are a few dishes we’ve had recently, at home, at a friend’s house, and at restaurants (usually $3-5/plate):

Tempe and cashew nut curry with red rice

Vietnamese spring rolls with a spicy Thai peanut dipping sauce

Colorful minestrone soup with lots of veggies

Coconut-crusted fish in a pineapple coconut cream sauce

More yummy vegetables, red rice, and heavenly pumpkin soup

Lots of delicious fruit and vegetable juices

And so many more great meals that I didn’t take pictures of; soups and salads, wraps and pastas, curries and sauces. I’m loving food more than I ever have before, and am also feeling more healthy than I’ve felt in quite a while. It’s easy to eat healthy in Ubud with so many health-conscious restaurants like Clear Cafe (our favorite), Bali Buddha, Down to Earth, Alchemy, Kafe, Juice Ja, and several more.

As humans, we need to eat healthy food to feel healthy. But how healthy can you eat?

Brandon is a location independent entrepreneur, musician, worldschooling father, and the principal author of this blog. He's all about reaching his potential and enjoying life to the fullest in each moment.


  1. Humans have consumed meat for thousands of years and have thrived on meat, the smartest animals on our planet enjoy meat on daily basis, like Dolphins which seem all cute.

    It’s good to go low on the grains, and maybe eat potatoes with steak and veggies.
    Also nuts and fruits, but in moderation.

    Also longevity is 50% about just being in positive mood/vibe/state. So smile, listen to music, play out-doors, exercise and have fun as often as possible.

    • Moderation is certainly important. And some people will be affected by certain foods and combinations more than others. Also love the comment about being in a positive state. I think that has a huge affect on our health. Being in nature keeps me pretty positive.

  2. Jennifer Pearce Says: July 26, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    Ubud is like food heaven! I never knew it could be so fresh, delicious, healthy, and colorful. I’m glad for how much we are learning about how to eat healthier, and for how easy it is to do that here with all the options.

  3. You can make ice cream with coconut milk, and it still tastes wonderful. That way it is non dairy. Plus if you make it, you can add whatever fruits in it that you like!

  4. This is a great post. I really needed to read this. Thank you.

  5. Great to hear! We are on a similar quest. Mike has been primarily vegetarian for years and I am mostly so as well. Not die hard. Recently we watched “Forks Over Knives” and became convinced that vegan is even healthier than vegetarian. My dad told us about the documentary and is fairly strict due to his prostate cancer. The doc he sees at Huntsman Cancer Insititue says that many of the drs there are also on a vegan diet and are very familiar with the film and the related studies. Wish we could join you for a quick (or extended) visit!

  6. Do you remember me saying, as you were growing up, “Milk is for baby cows” Maybe it was just Ashley I always repeated that to, since she really loved her milk. (I don’t drink milk, though do enjoy butter and cheese). I also have not used a microwave, except on rare occasion, for decades.

    I avoid soft drinks and certain food additives whenever possible. However – I cannot claim to be eating very healthfully other than that. I WANT to – but find it so very challenging. I’ve often had the desire to become (mostly) vegetarian, but don’t know how to prepare vegetarian food that doesn’t taste bland. I’ve had it prepared by others or at restaurants and love it. But, so far, have been unsuccessful at replicating it. And none of this is helped by the fact that I really, really don’t enjoy preparing food. It’s tedious – and then requires clean up. I just like the “eating it” part :) I could eat so much healthier if I had a personal chef (or family member to prepare and place food in front of me).

    Recently I was having a conversation with a friend who is concerned about his weight and his health. I told him to move to Bali – he’d have an easy time becoming healthy there. Maybe I should take my own advice…. though, realistically, I don’t think I’m meant for a tropical climate…. or

    I don’t eat nearly as healthfully as I would like to. I am, however, attracting more vegetarians and vegans into my life who may help set me more firmly on this path. Can we do some kind of mind meld where you transfer some of your commitment and discipline and metabolism to your mother??? :)

    • Yes, I know you’ve never liked milk. I couldn’t understand why. It made lucky charms taste so much better!

      I don’t like cooking either, and if I had to prepare all the food myself, I would probably be eating less healthy. Or maybe I would get more motivated to actually cook. I’m not sure. But having a private chef and affordable restaurants around does make it much easier.

      As for the climate in Bali, it was quite hot when you were here in March, but it’s cooled down significantly since to a temperature I’m sure you’d love. Of course it warms back up again in October.

      Good luck eating healthy!

  7. We were vegetarian for a few months and really learned a lot. We did it for health reasons and got no health benefits. I guess in your 50’s it takes a whole lot more than giving up meat to make you feel good.
    I got very tired of planning out every meal even though in most ways it’s easier to fix meals with no meat because timing isn’t as critical which also means it’s kind of boring to prepare.
    At my age I’m starting the “race to the finish” and have decided I’ll be going out with a mouthful of beef wellington and a fist full of pate.

  8. I like the idea of being vegetarian… but I LOVE red meat. Steak, ribs, filet mignon… yum. I rarely eat it, though- maybe once a month? Eating healthy is something I constantly try to be better at. I don’t think I’m too bad- but I know I could be MUCH better. Yes, mom- you would always tell me that milk is for baby cows :) I am trying to switch my cow’s milk for almond milk, which I actually really like the taste of. (I just need to convince Kennedy to like it.)

    That food looks amazing! Peanut sauce is about as close to the nectar of heaven as you can get.

    • I do remember having some beef barbecued and salted by some Brazilian friends in Japan that was really quite good. I ate a lot of it. But for the most part, I’m happy passing on meat. There seems to always be more we can do to eat healthy. I still have a sweet tooth for chocolate (although I’ve switched from milk to dark) and would rather not give that up. Then again, with so many other delicious foods I’m discovering, I’m having less and less of a desire for the unhealthy options. Interesting how that works.

  9. I’ve watched Food Inc., King Corn, Fat Sick & Nearly Dead, and most recently, Forks Over Knives. I think Forks Over Knives was the most interesting as it seemed to provide the most data. I watched it last week and I’ve gone the past week just being aware of it and trying to eat more plant based foods and less processed foods and meat. I’ve felt better and lost 3 lbs.

    I just got back from a team lunch at Tucanos where the theme is generally all you can eat meat! I had a Dumb & Dumber moment as soon as I got back to work ( It seems this happens whenever I eat red meat anymore. I’ve been wondering why Mormons seem to disregard that part of the word of wisdom so much. I’m not to the point of vegetarianism yet, but I must admit its been on my mind that past week.

    • I’ve still got to watch some of those documentaries. I’ve heard Supersize Me is good, too. Congratulations on feeling better and losing 3 lbs in a week! I always wondered about Mormons and the word of wisdom, too. It’s in the hymn book and scriptures that they “eat a very little meat” but most eat a ton of it. Oh well…

  10. You certainly are right to avoid the food industry, and fructose and certain vegetable oils as well (safflower, etc.,) as well as the industrially produced milk products and gluten containing grains.

    A key factor in health is insulin. It seems that insulin is the master key behind all illnesses that are included in what is termed metabolic syndrome. So now the idea is to avoid grains and anything containing quantities of sugar. You are best off getting your carbos and other essential nutrients from fresh vegetables, your protein from organically raised animals, and you might add a supplement of Omega 3 oil from fish.

    About meat, ethical issues aside, I think the key is to avoid feedlot, grain-fed, hormone and antibiotic-injected animals. The poultry and beef industries in the States are revolting and cruel.

    Grass fed beef and lamb are completely different, and you’ll notice that in much of SE Asia, they eat a lot of poultry, which is free ranging–quite a different animal from that which results from the horrible conditions of industrial poultry raising in the US. Same goes for the eggs.

    It is very difficult to get the 1gm. per body mass weight a human needs without animal foods, including fish. Even eggs don’t quite do it. You pretty much need meat, poultry, and fish. The peoples who include animal food in their diets tend to be much stronger and healthier–see Weston Price’s book (online) for a survey of traditional cultures. My personal favorite site is Mark Sisson’s Daily Apple. A really remarkable resource.

    By the way, do you ever start to tire of the humidity and heat of the tropics, or are you a tropical person? I find the nature there is very beautiful, but since it is so buggy, you can’t get as close to it in many ways as you can in more temperate areas, and I for one really got tired of always being sticky.

    • Yes, there are a lot of chickens running around here. And when we first arrived and were eating meat, they picked up a chicken, killed it, and fed it to us the same day. Nice fresh and healthy poultry. But I just don’t like meat much, so I’m happy avoiding it most of the time.

      As for the humidity, I LOVE it! But I do have limits. Penang and most of Malaysia is too hot and humid for me. But Bali is just about perfect. Costa Rica was great, too, depending on the area and time of year. It’s not sticky at all, just keeps my skin feeling good and moist (never dries out). 22-30c is ideal for me. The bugs I’m not so fond of, especially mosquitos, which seem to love me. But I put up with them for the beautiful nature and climate.

  11. Oops–that should be 1 gram per pound of body mass.

  12. So glad that these adjustments are helping you feel better, and it’s wonderful you have so many choices there! I’ve actually been eating gluten free for the past few days. Unless you’re eating raw/fresh, it can be hard to find things to eat since foods you wouldn’t normally expect to have wheat products in them actually do. They put wheat in all sorts of things, from salad dressing to ice cream, and I wish they wouldn’t! We’ll see how long I can make it…. Loved the food pictures. Several those I would really like to try.

    • Wow, gluten free. That’s even harder than wheat free. I didn’t realize that gluten was in so many products. I guess it’s another good reason to eat fewer packaged foods, and to make your own salad dressing and ice cream. But then that takes more time… Good lck on the diet!

  13. Well, you’re in Asia, where rice is king. And rice is gluten free. So rejoice! Since you don’t like meat, at least try to eat some fish or shrimp two or three times a week :-)

    Thanks for the kind reply, Brandon!

  14. Brandon, can you see yourself settling in SE Asia? Or in the last analysis do you want to return to Central or even South America, or perhaps New Zealand or Australia? Do you plan on visiting Thailand?

    • Yes, I can definitely see us settling in SE Asia. I haven’t been everywhere in South America yet, nor to Australia or New Zealand, but for a place to live permanently, I like to stay around the equator to avoid colder temperatures. And I just love the culture and food of Asia!

      Yes, we’ll visit Thailand this November.

  15. Thanks, Brandon! I look forward to hearing about your Thailand trip. I would love to live in SE Asia–I just don’t do well in too much heat and humidity. I lived for a while in coastal Mexico, and the summers were brutal, although the winters were paradisal. I think the equator is the right recipe, as there is no seasonal change other than precipitation–and I suppose humidity levels. So I was interested in your saying that Bali was just right. Are there any pleasant and untrammeled seaside towns? I wonder if places like Chiang Mai in Thailand would be good, or perhaps one of the islands. Perhaps a place or two in Malaysia that wasn’t so hot as Penang or KL or Kuching? Would love to read your suggestions. In any case, the culture in Asia is far more interesting than in the Americas, in my view.

    All the best,


    • Definitely agree about Asian culture. I haven’t been to many of Bali’s seaside towns or other parts of Malaysia (although I thought Ipoh was a nice little town), so I can’t offer many suggestions there yet. But I’ll keep you posted as we get to Thailand. (And Vietnam in just a couple weeks!)

  16. Vietnam? Don’t overlook Dalat. Bon voyage!

  17. We also switched our diet about 3 months ago after watching Forks Over Knives. My husband was getting chronic ear infections and post nasal drip. We watched that film and one of the people interviewed also mentioned these chronic problems that were eliminated after going off of milk products. My husband hasn’t had one since he made the switch! We also rarely eat meat (we will eat wild game and fish occasionally) and we are avoiding processed sugar. I thought I would miss it all but I rarely do, and we feel SO good!

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