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March 2002
Dietary Diversity

The Satya Interview with Joshua Rosenthal


Joshua Rosenthal
is a holistic health counselor and the founder and director of the unique Institute for Integrative Nutrition (formerly known as Gulliver’s) in New York City where he also teaches. Now in its tenth year, the Institute trains over 200 counselors a year in the practice of what they call Integrative Nutrition, which is a broad-based approach to health that avoids affiliation with any one dietary theory. Angela Starks asked Rosenthal about his own and the school’s philosophies, and learned that the food on our plates isn’t the only kind of nourishment that we need.

You say that vegetarianism or veganism isn’t for everyone. Why is this?

Most people who teach nutrition have a theory or what I’d call a dogma: advocates of the Atkins diet say everyone should eat meat, vegans say everyone should be vegan, macrobiotic people say everyone should be macrobiotic. I studied all the different dietary theories, but it is not about the theory, it is about having respect for the individual and that we are all very unique. There is no one way of eating that fits for everyone. Some people do well on a vegan diet; some people do very well eating meat.

If someone is Puerto Rican it’s very different than if they are European; if they are African American it’s different than if they’re Swedish. The intestinal system, like all parts of the body, is made up of the foods that the individual and their ancestors have been eating all along. The intestines have therefore become highly efficient at digesting those specific foods, and if you keep giving it those foods it knows how to deal with them. You may need to make adjustments, but the more someone’s parents were vegetarian the more easily they can be vegetarian too.

Well suited to vegetarianism or veganism are people who have blood type A, B or AB (especially A). To explain this very briefly: the theory is that A blood type evolved after people killed off most of the wild animals they ate for food and started to grow food to survive; and B evolved when people lived in places like India and Afghanistan where there was not much good land to grow food, so they had to rely on animal milk. A is best suited for veganism; B can best digest dairy. Human bodies evolve as reality changes, and eventually there may be a C blood type.

Also suited to a vegetarian diet are people who are young and physically active because that increases nutrient absorption; and people whose ancestors come from a “third-world” type of diet. Other people who are suited to it are those who—and this is where I was at—are grossed-out by the mere thought of eating an animal. But such people need to know what they are doing, so another prerequisite is education about nutrition; they need to understand things like “where do I get my protein?” and “what am I craving and why?”

More suited to eating meat and dairy are blood type O people whose ancestors ate meat; and people who don’t educate themselves about nutrition nor have time to prepare food for themselves.

But wouldn’t you say that everyone needs to be more educated about nutrition?
There are different health problems for people who eat meat, people who eat junk foods, and people who are vegetarian/vegan. Everyone needs education—thanks for clarifying that. It just tends to be that people who overeat meat haven’t woken up yet to the subtleties of food. It’s not just that they eat meat—they also tend to eat processed food. They haven’t recognized the importance of food—unlike the average vegetarian. Once you are awake, you are more likely to think “I should learn about this.” Vegetarians and vegans are more sensitive in general and notice that they feel different.

What are some of the pitfalls that you see newly-converted vegetarians falling into?
They may eat too much chemicalized artificial junk food; people think that just because it’s in a health store it must be healthy.
For me personally, in many ways I was healthier before I became vegetarian. That diet didn’t suit me, therefore I started to feel cold and spacey. You want to be in the world, not out of it, so I ate way too much yogurt and peanut butter whose ‘heaviness’ made me feel grounded, but overdoing these foods ultimately made me less healthy.

I don’t have a strong digestive system so I used to find that my whole life was centered on food. That’s fine, but if I’d continued that way I wouldn’t have formed the Institute. I’d be basically living in a tree or kind of on the fringes of society, because I wasn’t able to have such a clear kind of energy on a strict vegetarian diet.

But I want to make sure that I say that I really believe in people being on a vegetarian or a semi-vegetarian diet. I’m certainly not against individuals eating small amounts of meat; it’s just that, with the increasing population, it is totally unsustainable for our planet for people to be eating lots of meat. That’s the bottom line.

So, although there’s no single perfect diet for everyone, there is nonetheless a limit to the amount of meat and dairy that anyone should consume?
Meat is known to cause various diseases, and a lot of health problems improve when people stop having meat or dairy even for just a week or month. Besides, most meat that people eat in America is poor quality; Europeans will not even allow it into their countries.

If you are going to eat animal food, start lower on the food chain with egg or dairy. If you are eating meat, try wild, lean animals who have been moving around and are healthy.

Basically, our philosophy is that most people should eat a semi-vegetarian diet with sufficient protein. If they are eating animal foods, it should be of good quality and small quantity. I recommend that meat eaters have small ‘homeopathic’ amounts as often as desired.

What are your thoughts on the Zone diet and the Atkins diet?
I think that we can learn from everyone and everything. I learned from the Zone diet, for example, that it was helpful for my energy level to include protein in most meals. The problem with the Zone diet is that people get carried away; they turn it into a high protein diet or they are led to believe they now need to measure their food, to use willpower to control how much they are eating and to eat the Zone diet’s own packaged food products.

Relatively recently, they came out with something called the Soy Zone to address the needs of vegetarians. But I don’t go for that because a lot of people are allergic to soy.

The big thing in nutrition—especially in America—is weight loss, and with the Atkins diet you will lose weight. A lot of times I get overweight clients who are eating a vegetarian diet and when I increase their protein and lower their carbohydrates they lose weight and they are happy. So you can apply principles from the Atkins system to a vegetarian diet.

What sort of diet do you follow yourself, and why?
Most of my food is vegetarian, but it isn’t rigid. It’s seasonal: in the summer I eat much more fruit and raw food, and in the winter I tend to have more animal protein.

I don’t decide my food from my head. Animals in the wild don’t refer to books. So after all my education—even though it was important at the start—I just trusted my body. I let go of all the dogma and said to myself, “let’s just go for it and see what happens.” Then I did some interesting things, like eating more animal food in the winter. But this was a progression over 10 years; in the beginning I would get sick even just looking at animal foods. Now I will incorporate a little egg into a breakfast of mostly vegetables. I’m amazed this breakfast will carry me for six hours, whereas before I would need another meal.

I prepare most of my food myself. I used to depend on a restaurant or someone making food for me because I didn’t really know how to take care of myself. However, when someone who loves you makes food for you, the effect is like a prayer, way beyond protein, calories, and carbohydrates. It’s healing.

There’s also a big difference in having food that’s raw or freshly cooked. It still has what I call vibrational energy. Everyone today is looking for more energy. We are vibrational beings and when the food carries a strong and harmonious vibration it strengthens us.

Tell us about your concept of “Primary Food”.
I used to have a natural foods store in Canada, and my customers had a certain look and were into all the right foods. But at the movie theater next door, people were just buying popcorn and eating whatever they wanted, and in a way they seemed healthier and better adapted to society. That’s when it first piqued my curiosity, and I ended up with this theory that although food is very important—because food creates our blood, and the blood creates our tissues, cells, thoughts, feelings and our future—I call that food ‘secondary.’ Because what’s Primary are certain things in life that feed us even more than food. There are times when we are in love and don’t even need to eat because everything feels great, or if you’re working on an assignment you forget about eating. But if you are lonely and you haven’t had a hug for weeks, then all the food in the world isn’t going to feed that hunger. Almost no nutrition theory addresses Primary Food, so I brought this in to serve people and give them better results. I think it’s unfair to say “eat well and your life will work out.” You need to have the same kind of education around relationships as about food. It’s a truly holistic approach.

Why did you rename your school the Institute for Integrative Nutrition?
I had experienced myself and other people in nutrition trying to push their theory in a rigid and dogmatic way and not recognizing that diversity is what life is about. When it comes to food, it’s much more helpful to listen than to talk. I have a Master of Science degree in Education; I studied how people learn and I specialized in counseling so I look at what effects change in people. You should try to hear the person, what their concerns are, whether it’s your client or your mother. It’s not that your mother wants to be unhealthy, but if you just start cramming information it won’t work. She’s not trying to be sick; she’s just in fear, and so much information has been fed to her, that with a little bit of patience you can help her out. Integrative nutrition is like having respect for different religions and people’s choices.

Anything else you would like to add? Some advice for our readers about vegan or vegetarian nutrition?
I would say trust yourself and encourage others, especially young people, to believe in themselves. It’s okay to make mistakes. Even if everyone is telling you this wall is blue but to you it looks yellow, stay true to what you believe in.

Remember that there is no perfect diet. The diet is ever-changing, even for the same person. I guarantee that the food you eat today is very different than what you ate two or three years ago. People don’t have the foresight to understand that what they eat two or three years from now will also be different from today. It’s a journey, not a destination. And if the same diet that got you healthy today stays the same for too long it can cause you illness. It’s a fascinating field. It’s amazing though, that people overlook the one thing that is so simple: life itself.

The Institute for Integrative Nutrition
is located at 120 W. 41 St. in Manhattan. The school hosts free orientations for prospective students to discuss career opportunities and learn about the curriculum. Upcoming orientations are on Friday, March 15 and Sunday, April 29. For information, call (212) 730-5433 or see


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