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Planet, Heal Thyself: The Revolution of Regeneration in Body, Mind, and Planet
by Jordan Rubin
Learn More | Meet Jordan Rubin
The Circle of Life: Real Nutrients from Real Foods Create Real HealthWith six children under our roof, and all but one under the age of twelve, we gravitate toward G-rated movies whenever the kids watch videos.
A perennial favorite is The Lion King, the animated Disney classic that was released twenty years ago. This heroic coming-of-age story follows the epic adventures of a young lion cub named Simba who struggles to accept the responsibilities of growing up and coming to grips with his destined role as king of the jungle.
Simba’s father is King Mufasa, the revered ruler of the animal kingdom. As a father, Mufasa feels that it’s important to teach his son about the “Circle of Life,” or the delicate balance of nature that bonds all animals together. Early in the movie, Mufasa and Simba are walking through the savannah when they have this conversation: Mufasa: Everything you see exists together, in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance, and respect all the creatures—from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.
Simba: But, Dad, don’t we eat the antelope?
Mufasa: Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass. And the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.
The Circle of Life applies to the humans inhabiting this planet as well, although we don’t have any natural predators and the chance of being eaten by killer whales, sharks, crocodiles, tigers, and, yes, lions is beyond miniscule. Even though we’re at the top of the food chain, we are highly dependent on what’s beneath us—all the way to the ground. And it’s from the ground where real foods receive real nutrients to create real health.
Just as the savannah—a grassy plain in tropical and subtropical regions—supports the antelope and lion alike and all creatures in between, the soil on our farms and ranches provides the nutrients that we need to survive. Our existence is dependent upon thriving, living topsoil, which is made of composted materials that become humus over time, or what we call soil organic matter (SOM).
Soil organic matter is a component of soil made from the cells and tissues of plants and animal residues at various stages of decomposition. Or, looked at another way, soil organic matter is the amount of organic compounds in the soil that is not clay or rock. When you have the right percentage of soil organic matter in dirt, you’ve got real nutrition for the planet because the soil organic matter provides food for the microbes that builds and/or maintains the health of topsoil. Not everyone thinks about our relationship with the soil, but the real “circle of life” happens beneath our feet.
Since the latter half of the 20th century, though, our soil has taken a metaphorical beating, resulting in fake nutrition for the planet. Fake nutrition comes from crops that have been fertilized with a shower of isolated chemical compounds that are supposed to grow plants bigger, better, and faster. What these chemical fertilizers do, however, is pillage the soil by destroying the microbiology and the organic matter within the soil, harming vital nutrients. The blame can be laid at the feet of “Big Ag” and the three synthetically made minerals—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—that have radically changed the nature of farmland dirt in the last fifty to sixty years.
Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—a triumvirate that goes by the acronym NPK—are three of the six primary nutrients or macrominerals that plants need to sustain continued growth, although there are also dozens of other trace minerals essential to the vitality of plant life.
Nitrogen helps plants make the proteins they need to grow and is a component of chlorophyll, the substance that gives plants their green color. Phosphorous, a key player in the photosynthesis process (the transformation of solar energy into chemical energy), stimulates the root system and helps the plant set buds and flowers. Potassium improves the plant’s vigor, promotes blooming, and helps plants resist disease.
In addition to these three main nutrients, plants also need calcium, magnesium, iron, and sulfur as well as micronutrients or trace minerals such as boron, copper, cobalt, and molybdenum to reach their full potential in the plant kingdom.
When these elements are found in rich, dark topsoil, plants experience steady growth and have a far better chance of fighting off pests and disease. When NPK fertilizers are employed, however, plants tend to experience fast, showy growth, which is why they are popular with home gardeners, even though concentrated amounts of NPK fertilizer create the “all show and no go” phenomenon and often “burn” plant life or a backyard lawn. If you’ve ever tossed too much NPK fertilizer onto a section of grass, then you’ll recall how that spot of lawn quickly turned brown and died.
The agriculture industry relies heavily on NPK fertilizers because they tend to plant the same crop on the same land year after year, so farmers feel they have to “goose” their fields by putting back these building blocks of soil into their farmland. What they’re doing, however, is applying the same Band-Aid over a wound that grows bigger and bigger with each passing year.
We’ve now reached the tipping point where the use of NPK fertilizer is ubiquitous and ingrained in the minds of farmers and home gardeners alike. Consider this lead sentence from an article entitled, “Don’t Let Your Plants Go Hungry” on the gardeners.com website: According to the Gallup Gardening Survey, less than half of the country’s home gardeners use any kind of fertilizer on their lawns or gardens. What’s unfortunate about this statistic is that it means gardeners aren’t getting as many flowers or as much produce as they should. And they’re probably struggling with disease and insect problems that could be avoided. Wellfed plants are healthier, more productive, and more beautiful.
Excuse me? “Well-fed” plants are healthier and more productive, even more beautiful than plants and produce grown without NPK fertilizers?
That’s a mirage. Come hang out at an organic or biodynamic farm that practices permaculture principles during growing season, and I’ll show you vibrant fruits and vegetables that will blow your mind and build your body with real nutrition.
Bottom line: NPK fertilizers do more harm than good. High levels of NPK fertilizers cause the loss of certain plant species, contaminate local drinking water supplies, and prompt the overgrowth of algae in rivers and streams. But their greatest danger is creating an imbalance of nutrients in the soil that causes a depletion of other important minerals such as calcium, copper, and magnesium.
Introducing Real Nutrition
Just as there are real and fake nutrients to feed the soil, there are real and fake nutrients in our food. Real nutrition comes from nutrient- dense foods such as kale, red cabbage, spinach, blueberries, strawberries, mangoes, and hundreds of other organically grown fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and legumes as well as sustainably produced animal foods such as wild-caught salmon, pasture-raised organic beef, dairy, and eggs. Real nutrition comes from foods grown in healthy soils that haven’t been sprayed with NPK fertilizers or pesticides and herbicides.
Real nutrition comes from foods that contain no refined or processed grains, no chemically enhanced oils and fats, and no artificial sweeteners. Real nutrition comes from free-range chickens laying eggs and grass-fed cows, sheep, and goats producing organic meat and dairy products. I’ve always said that you’ll never go wrong eating foods that God created in a form that is healthy for the body.
Just as conventional wisdom says that you need to douse your flowerbeds and garden plots with NPK fertilizer to get the most out of your land, those in the commercial food-producing businesses are constantly researching how they can grow, harvest, transport, process, and mass-produce foods faster and cheaper than the other guy. The major food conglomerates are constantly assessing how they can gain a leg up on the competition. One marketing advantage they like to advertise is that their boxed, bagged, or prepared food has been “fortified” with certain vitamins and minerals.
Commercial bread, even some “wheat” sandwich breads and dinner rolls, is made from enriched wheat flour, which is an oxymoron than ranks right up there with “boneless ribs,” “jumbo shrimp,” and “natural chemicals.”
Wheat flour comes from wheat, of course, and for thousands of years, wheat grain has been a staple of human existence in fresh bread and porridges, and baked bread has been a bulwark against hunger since biblical times. Wheat cultivates easily, stores for years in kernel form, and, when milled into fresh flour, contains beneficial nutrients—although, as we’ll discuss later, modern wheat and other gluten-containing grains pose a health risk for many people.
For centuries, the milling process was simple: following the harvest, the wheat grain was ground with a mortar and pestle—a stone club striking grain in a stone bowl—to produce flour. The invention of stone mills powered by water or wind (that’s why they have windmills in the Netherlands and waterwheels throughout the rest of Europe) made the labor-intensive process easier. The movement of the stones crushed the entire kernel of grain, which is made up of three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Bread produced from these whole grains in ancient times was tremendously healthful.
The advent of the Industrial Revolution changed everything. In the 1870s, the invention of the modern steel roller mill dramatically altered grain milling. Compared to the old stone methods, this new milling method was fast and efficient. Instead of mashing everything together, one could “separate the wheat from the chaff” by breaking up the bran, the germ, and the endosperm at a fraction of the cost of hand-milled wheat.
The cost of wheat flour dropped so dramatically that every class of people in the rapidly growing cities could afford the newfangled “fancy flour.” Hailed as a sign of progress, the wide availability and acceptance of modern flour shuttered stone mills in windmills and waterwheels throughout the Western world. White flour became our first processed food and jump-started an industrial food system that led to the production of breads, rolls, crackers, breadsticks, doughnuts, cakes, muffins, and cupcakes in large factories that were shipped to various stores many miles from the point of consumption. Sandwiches—the idea of sticking meat between two pieces of bread— caught on, and the first commercially packaged sliced bread was introduced in 1928, thus giving birth to the saying, “The best thing since sliced bread.”
The trouble with the sliced bread was that industrial milling eliminated the bran and germ—the parts of the wheat kernel rich in fiber, proteins, vitamins, lipids, and minerals. This was done to avoid having the flour turn rancid, prevent the development of mold and fungus, and extend the shelf life of the flour and any baked products. To give flour its bright-white color, the wheat stalks were rinsed with various chemical bleaches that sounded like a vocabulary test from high school biology class: nitrogen oxide, chlorine, chloride, nitrosyl, and benzoyl peroxide.
What food manufacturers were doing was taking a healthy food that had been served to families for centuries—usually in the form of bread, pasta, or baked goods—and turning it into one of the most highly allergenic, difficult-to-digest substances on the planet. As I’m fond of saying, the whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.
The major food manufacturers in the 1930s knew about the loss of essential nutrients, so they began working on ways to produce “enriched flour,” which is another oxymoron. Why have a manufacturing process that removes the bran and the germ, which contain fiber and nutrients that the body needs, only to add something back to take their place?
No one was asking that question because the American Medical Association’s Council of Foods and Nutrition and the Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry issued a statement in 1938 supporting the fortification of flour and staple foods to combat deficiency-related diseases.
At the time, bakers began to voluntarily enrich bread with high-vitamin yeast (which is actually a decent source of nutrients), and by the start of World War II, approximately 75 percent of flour and white bread produced in the U.S. was voluntarily enriched with thiamin, niacin, iron, and dry milk.
Fast forward seventy-five years, and today it’s hard to find commercial flour that hasn’t been “enriched” with isolated and synthetic vitamins and minerals such as folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamine.
None of those nutrients compare with the quality and potency of the vitamins and minerals found in bran and germ, but the medical establishment and U.S. government’s insistence that enriching flour and dairy products dramatically reduces diseases caused by vitamin deficiencies has carried the day.
Everywhere you look on supermarket shelves and dairy cases, you’ll find foods and products that are “enriched” and/or “fortified.” Examples include vitamin D in milk, fruit juices, and soymilk; folic acid in pastas, rice, and flour; calcium in a variety of dairy products as well as soymilk; and iron (niacin) in breakfast cereals. But enriching foods with synthetic nutrients reminds me of the story about a thief taking your wallet with $100 in cash and handing you a few bucks so you can buy bus fare for the ride home. It’s a lopsided deal not in your favor.
Enriching and fortifying our foods is one more example of fake nutrition that started with fertilizing our fields with NPK fertilizers. I prefer to focus on obtaining real nutrition for the planet and the people, which is accomplished by consuming real food produced from rich topsoil that has experienced the short- and long-term breakdown of organic materials. Fake nutrition for the planet and its people is the application and consumption of isolated chemicals that look like nutrients but are made in a laboratory.
Judith DaCava, author of The Real Truth About Vitamins & Antioxidants, explains why it’s far better to eat whole foods than consuming foods and supplements made from synthetically created vitamins and minerals that were fractionalized by the manufacturing process. Whereas the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes in real foods work together in synergistic fashion, “fortified” foods and nutritional supplements made from synthetic chemical sources react very differently in the body and cause major imbalances.
When you consume whole foods in their natural state, the body is better equipped to “grab” the vitamins and minerals it needs and excrete the rest, while the same nutrients from fortified foods and synthetic supplements cause the body to react as if they were chemicals and even toxic substances, which force the body to react with little opportunity to eliminate the unused material.
So yes, I said it: the synthetic, isolated, chemical vitamins and minerals found in fortified foods and nearly all nutritional supplements can be toxic. Examining this statement, one would logically ask: How have we strayed so far in our quest to feed our bodies the nutrients we need? Do We Need to Supplement?
It’s easy to think that consuming foods with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals is the end all and be all of living healthy. There’s no doubt that vitamins and minerals are essential to good health, but I think we can all agree that today’s foods lack the nutritional punch they carried more than fifty years ago for reasons that I’ve described: soil depletion, the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and the rise of processed and manufactured foods. Is it possible that our quest to obtain vibrant health through the consumption of vitamins and minerals has us barking up the wrong tree?
Many of us try to cover our bases by taking nutritional supplements, which offer a concentrated source of nutrients that today’s plant and animal foods don’t always provide. In doing so, we may be missing out on real nutrition.
The classic definition for vitamins is that they consist of a group of multifaceted organic substances that regulate metabolism and are required in our daily diets for normal growth and maintenance of life. In reality, though, vitamins are extremely complex substances needed for the human body to work correctly.
The scientific discovery that vitamins and minerals exist isn’t that old—just a hundred years or so. Before the 1920s, scientists and learned men and women could only make educated guesses that there had to be something microscopic in foods that sustained us. After all, even the most casual observer of the human condition understood that food was a source of energy and sustained life.
Since time immemorial, sick people had called upon medicine men, elders of the tribe, and experienced mothers to “prescribe” certain foods to cure whatever ailed them. Folk medicine helped the ill and the ailing get well, and various healing modalities sprung up organically among people groups across the globe, especially in the Far East and Asia. What may surprise you is the fact that these ancient peoples did not focus on vitamins and minerals to attain and regain their health.
Traditional Chinese medicine is perhaps the oldest of all these healing modalities, operating under the belief that the processes of the human body are interrelated and connected to the environment around us. Established thousands of years ago before the birth of Christ, traditional Chinese medicine’s central belief is that “life energy,” or qi, flows through a number of channels, or meridians, throughout the body by following major veins and arteries and the way they connect to internal organs.
Chinese traditional medicine is also popular in Japan and Taiwan, where it has been adapted to the local culture and is known as kampo medicine. Besides employing acupuncture, kampo medicine relies primarily on the prescription of herbal formulas.
Another ancient healing philosophy comes from India, also practiced for thousands of years. Called Ayurvedic medicine but also known as Ayurveda, this traditional health system emphasizes re-establishing balance in the body through diet, lifestyle, exercise, and body cleansing. Based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit, the primary focal point of Ayurveda is promoting good health rather than fighting disease.
Closer to home, the healing traditions of many of the indigenous Native American tribes learned that by mixing herbs, roots, and other natural plants in their habitat they could heal various medical problems.
The reason I’m bringing up these various traditional medicines is that the tribal elders, medicine men, or learned practitioners never looked upon a sick or weak person and said, “Oh, you’re deficient in vitamin C” or “The color of your skin tells me you’re not getting enough zinc.” Even before vitamins and minerals were discovered, they somehow knew that certain botanicals, herbs, and spices—as well as other natural compounds—had healing properties that could not be denied.
For example, the Ayurvedic medical practitioners of yesteryear weren’t concerned with the vitamin and mineral content of the herb The Circle of Life: Real Nutrients from Real Foods Create Real Health known as ashwagandha, but they did know somehow that ashwagandha contained substances beneficial to human health.
Today we call these substances phytonutrients. In the case of ashwagandha, modern science has determined that this Indian herb has thirty-four natural phytonutrients ranging from 4-Beta-hydroxywithanolide to withanolide-E. These phytonutrients include antioxidants known to reduce inflammation as well as acting powerfully as a stress reducer.
Turmeric, a bright yellow root native to India and obtained from a plant in the ginger family, has curcuminoids (natural compounds) that are powerful phytonutrients that reduce inflammation, promote brain health, and boost immunity.
Closer to home, Native Americans discovered that pinkish-purple coneflowers called echinacea helped during times they were feeling under the weather with modern studies showing a reduction in time and severity of colds and flus. The tribal elders didn’t know about the presence of certain compounds such as alkamides that supported immune response, but that’s not my point.
What I’m attempting to draw attention to is that before nutritional supplements were widely available, before vitamins and minerals were discovered, there were phytonutrients in plants and herbs that demonstrated extraordinary health and healing properties. I call them phytonutrient complexes or NewTrients. After nearly twenty years of nutritional research, my contention is that by consuming a diet rich in phytonutrients, or NewTrients, one can truly achieve vibrant health.
So in a Lion King sort of way, I’m going to show you how nutritional supplements have come full circle in the last one hundred years.
Back to the Future
I would hope that even the most casual observer of his or her health would agree that the enzymes, minerals, and microorganisms found in today’s foods don’t measure up to what our ancestors ate many generations ago. Have you tasted a tomato lately?
The idea that our foods lack nutritional zip gained steam right around the time when rapid changes were happening in the way we manufactured and produced food in the 1920s and 1930s. A few health-minded individuals of that time figured out that the new, processed foods showing up in markets were detrimental to good health because they were produced from storehouses of refined white flour and processed sugar.
Out of this development came the idea that we should supplement our diets with the missing nutrients. It was during the Great Depression that we started to see the first “multivitamins” on the market, which were actually dried foods. One such dried food supplement that became very popular was a blend of wheat and barley grasses that could be mixed into your favorite juice or milk. These cereal grasses, as they were known, gained a following rather quickly.
Desiccated liver tablets also became popular, thanks to Charles Atlas—one of the first bodybuilders and fitness buffs to make a name for himself. He promoted taking desiccated liver tablets, a dried or dehydrated form of the organ meat that was reputedly ten to one hundred times higher in nutrients than muscle meat. While nutritional supplements made from dried food closely resembled the foods from which they came, they utilized crude drying methods. When it came to cereal grasses, they were difficult to digest and absorb due to their high fiber content and lack of enzymes.
Once dried food supplements such as wheat grass and desiccated liver made a mark, though, their popularity spurred the development of nutritional supplements made from nutrients that were “extracted” from foods, including various plants such as carrots, acerola cherries, and alfalfa. These provided higher levels of nutrients per serving but were expensive to manufacture.
At the time, in the pre-World War II years, biochemists had discerned that there were thirteen vitamins and divided them into two primary classes according to their solubility in water or fats. Those that dissolved in fat, or were fat-soluble, were vitamins A, D, E, and K. Those that dissolved in water, or were water-soluble, were vitamin C and a group of molecules referred to as the vitamin B complex such as vitamin B1, B2, biotin, and folic acid.
Biochemists were learning that vitamin C strengthens tissue such as collagen (this is how vitamin C received its name) gums and muscles, and the body called upon this nutrient to promote healthy skin and support the immune system. They also discovered that vitamin C was mainly found in citrus fruits like rose hips, strawberries, acerola cherries, green and red peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, and cabbage.
As I mentioned earlier, extracting vitamin C from fruits and vegetables was costly. Biochemists such as Albert Szent-Györgyi of Budapest, Hungary and C.G. King at the University of Pittsburgh were able to extract hexuronic acid—what vitamin C was called in the early days—from citrus fruit and paprika. After Szent-Györgyi put the citrus and paprika through two dozen steps of isolation, purification, and crystallization, he produced a white crystalline powder of even greater purity that he named “ascorbic acid” because it prevented scorbutus, the formal Latin name for scurvy.
The scientific community credited Szent-Györgyi for being the first scientist to successfully “isolate” vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid and awarded him the Nobel Prize in 1937. News of Szent-Györgyi winning science’s most prestigious award turned him into an overnight celebrity in Hungary and around the world. A Time magazine feature story dated November 1, 1937 said, “In his own backyard, this far-traveling researcher found that paprika was the best source of vitamin C on earth.” As winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, Szent-Györgyi collected $40,000, worth $600,000 in today’s dollars. Despite this ingenious scientist’s best efforts, however, ascorbic acid in crystalline form was a far cry from the vitamin C complex contained in the original citrus and paprika.
When the United States went to war in the early 1940s to fight the Axis powers—Germany, Italy, and Japan—research of nutritional supplements was put on the back burner. Following the war, chemical scientists got back to work and discovered many new ways to “isolate” or synthetically replicate nutrients in the laboratory.
Let’s take a look at the B vitamins. Vitamin B1 was the same as thiamine. Vitamin B2 was isolated as riboflavin, B6 came out as pyridoxine hydrochloride, and vitamin B12 came in as cyanocobalamin.
These synthetic versions dropped the price of vitamin supplements to a level that made them readily affordable to the masses. Manufacturers didn’t expect—or desire—that consumers would understand the fine print on the labels affixed to the back of the bottle. For example, if a bottle of chewable vitamin C tablets listed ascorbic acid as its first (and therefore main) ingredient, no one was any the wiser that this compound had been created in a laboratory. If someone picked up a bottle of vitamin E and noticed the main ingredient was dl-alpha tocopheryl, she had no idea she was taking a synthetic version.
As author Judith DaCava pointed out, the body doesn’t absorb isolated, synthetic vitamins and minerals very well, which led to the development of the next generation of supplementation—chelated minerals and new forms of vitamins. Chelated minerals were combined chemically with amino acids to form “complexes.” For instance, you can purchase chelated calcium or chelated chromium with the idea that these minerals will be better absorbed by the body than isolated, synthetic vitamins and minerals.
Chelated minerals had a good run until fermented nutrients took supplementation to the next level. This was the idea that we needed to go back to multi-complexed nutrients to supplement our diets. Was it possible to develop “whole food” nutrients that came close to food without the bulk of the food?
I gave it a try as I formulated dozens of nutritional supplements that contained ingredients produced by yeast and bacterial fermentation. Fermented vitamins and minerals were made by adding isolated vitamins and minerals into a living yeast or bacterial culture, and with the help of certain amino acids, they created a “whole food” complex. While certainly a step in the right direction, these microorganism/ nutrient complexes were essentially the combination of a single-celled organism and an isolated/synthetic nutrient.
In the last few years, I’ve been seeing extracted or concentrated nutrients in supplements lining health food store shelves. These nutrients, labeled as organic, start with foods and herbs and undergo multiple processing and purification steps without the use of chemical solvents. The organic vitamin and mineral supplements available today are well formulated and devoid of chemicals, but they are highly purified and processed, which makes them a far cry from the food from which they came.
After nearly twenty years of research on human nutrition, I believe if I had to choose one of the previous vitamin/mineral iterations, I’d have to go with the dried food supplements of old. But in my recent nutritional developments, I’ve stumbled upon a few age-old secrets that I believe will change the way we supplement our diets forever.
To complete the nutritional supplement “circle of life,” while paying homage to the ancients, I have felt compelled to go back to the nutritional drawing board and develop a real-food supplement solution to provide key phytonutrients, or NewTrients, in a form that the body can truly use while respecting the environment from which the food came.
When I talk about real nutrition supplements, I believe in the utilization of ancient, artisanal techniques. In the last two years, I’ve been researching and developing what I believe will be the next great movement in nutritional supplementation—the real food movement. I believe, as the ancients have taught us, that food truly nourishes our bodies. The closer our supplements are to real-foods, the closer we will be to vibrant health.
Before I reveal this amazing nutritional discovery, I think it’s important to lay out a dietary roadmap that can benefit everyone reading these words. The main theme of Planet Heal Thyself is revealed in ten principles outlined in the following chapters. In addition to consuming real nutrition, you will learn how to unlock and even transform the nutrients found in the most healthful foods and how you can incorporate them into your daily diet.
By following the principles I call the Get Real 10, you can begin a transformation in body, mind, and planet.
For more information on Real Food Nutrients, I invite you to visit www.PlanetHealThyself.com.
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