How to Grow (or Buy) Healthy Food

The [Grow] Network is pleased to publish Colin Austin’s 10 part series, How to Grow (or Buy) Healthy Food. This article is Chapter 1 of 10. You can read the other chapters here:

Chapter 1 – Diet and Health, a Personal Experience
Chapter 2 – Statistics and the Diet Controversy
Chapter 3 – Eat Right, Not Less
Chapter 4 – Finding a Diet by Self-Experimentation
Chapter 5 – Essential Nutrients for Good Health
Chapter 6 – The What and Where of Minerals
Chapter 7 – The Rhizosphere
Chapter 8 – Transferring Nutrients and Biology to Growing Beds
Chapter 9 – From Garden to Kitchen
Chapter 10 – Community Action

colin-and-xiulanI felt I needed to share my experiences in learning how to grow healthy food. But I did not want to write a dull boring instruction manual so I decided to write this as a personal story of how I tried to find solutions to Xiulan’s diabetes (my Chinese wife – pronounced shoelan). I will describe the basic principles of healthy food in three episodes.

In this first episode I write about how critical diet is to health and describe the basics of healthy food – how we have food to provide us with energy and food to regenerate our bodies. In the second episode I write about my battle to understand the total bag of worms that is the diet industry and how I learned that our modern diet has an excess of energy food but is lacking basic nutrients which are needed to regenerate our bodies and how important it is to get critical minerals such as selenium, magnesium, chromium etc. into our diet.

In the third episode I write about how to grow plants which contain these critical nutrients – how adding these minerals to the soil is essential but not enough. An active soil biology must be developed to release these minerals so they are available to the plants which embed them in phytonutrients (plant base chemicals) which are essential to health.

Naturally I am encouraging people to grow their own healthy food – but this is not enough. It requires an act of superhuman dedication to grow the full range of health plants on a continuous basis. So I also describe a free web site, www.healthyfoodassociation.com, I have set up to bring people who are concerned about their health together with growers who are willing to put the time and effort into growing genuinely healthy food.

Xiulan’s Story

fad-diets-dont-workSometimes a story really needs to be told. This is the story of how Xiulan came to Australia, contracted diabetes leading to problems with her eye sight which in turn led to her falling down a flight of steps and breaking multiple bones in her foot and how – after the operation – her foot started to turn black with the fear of amputation.

It’s a story of studying a massive amount of information on diet and health, how critical a healthy soil is to people’s health and how to grow plants with a high nutritional content.

It is a story about the chronic misinformation about diet and diabetes, how the global food companies put profit before people’s health, how multinational corporation seem to have the power to manipulate populations and the governments who should be there to protect us from exploitation and deception.

Don’t worry – it has a happy ending. Xiulan is fit and healthy – her eyesight is good and her foot is now daily better – she is out in the garden showing fit young men how to dig holes with a mattock.

But it is not just a story for entertainment – at the minimum it shows how to improve health by literally ‘growing’ healthy soil full of minerals and an active soil biology – which is the key to healthy food. And perhaps it may even create an alternative food supply system so other people can avoid fighting the battles that we have been through.

Xiulan’s Journey

Xiulan (it means show flower and comes from a specific type of orchid) was a respected surgeon in her professional life. She was trained in western medicine but has a good knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine.

I had surgery on my knee which was a disaster and left me virtually crippled. I was reluctant to have more surgery so I went to China to look for alternative medicine, and this is where I met Xiulan. She introduced me to a Chinese knee specialist who basically confirmed what I suspected – that there was no alternative but a complete knee replacement.

I accepted the inevitable and decided to come back to Australia and have the operation performed by one of Melbourne’s leading knee surgeons. Thanks to Australian Rules Football, Melbourne is the knee surgery capital of the world.

Xiulan volunteered to come back to Australia with me to look after me following the operation. If you could have seen how this slight Chinese lady pushed me around in a wheelchair you would appreciate how well she cared for me.

So, always quick to spot a good thing when I see one, I asked her to marry me.

When she first came to Australia she was fit, healthy and slim. After three years in Australia she was diagnosed with diabetes.


At that time I had no experience of diabetes and at first I thought this was just a problem for Xiulan and me. But I began to read and the statistics are dramatic.

Thirty years ago some 1% of the population was diabetic. This has now risen to some 11% and even more dramatically some 50% of the population is now either pre-diabetic or overweight. The biggest increase is in the young.

This is an issue of massive global proportions – even the bean counters recognize that this is the largest drain on our health services. The diabetes services are overwhelmed – there is simply not enough specialist staff available.

Diabetes is associated with poor diet so naturally we went to see a diabetes diet specialist. It was like a sausage factory with a standard formula for everyone.

I now know that people react very differently so diets have to be individually tuned to their physiology and psychology.

Diet it is not just about the physical aspects of food – when it comes to eating the emotional and psychological factors matter. China is an ancient country with a history extending back over 4,000 years. For much of that time famines has been a feature of life. But the worst famine occurred when Xiulan was eleven years old – in her formative years. Some 60 million people died of starvation – three times the population of Australia and more than were killed in the war.

The babies and young were the first to die. Parents would never eat their own children but it is reported that people would exchange dead corpses to eat. This is shocking to us but nothing to the psychological impact of people at that time, they are emotionally scarred. The Chinese are obsessed by food – a common greeting translates to ‘have you had rice’ or ‘have you eaten?’

Go to China and they always give you more food than you can possibly eat. When I was a kid I was told to clean my plate – that was my culture. In China to clean the plate is an insult to the host for not providing enough food.

A regimented and restrictive simple diet does not fit in with this cultural clash.

Traditional Chinese food is healthy – rice with vegetables in the South, or vegetables in the North. But that would be a very boring diet so the Chinese have developed a cuisine in which some animal fat and a wide range of herbs and spices are used to add flavor.

healthy-foodBelieve me it is very tasty. I once experimented with a vegan diet and after several months I was just bored with the plain food. I experimented by adding Chinese sausage and herbs to the vegetables and it completely transformed them into a tasty dish.

The standard diabetic diet we were recommended precludes certain food such as fats and dairy. It may be fine in theory and is certainly not meant to be a high carbohydrate diet but in practice that is exactly what happens. Carbohydrates are the worst food for diabetics, stimulating the release of insulin which is extremely dangerous.

Xiulan tried to conform to the instructions and she became extremely hungry but just could not eat any of the prescribed food. She would complain, “I am hungry but there is nothing to eat.” Eventually she would become so hungry that she just gorged on quick acting carbohydrates (junk food). Apparently they call this yo-yo eating.

The result was violent swings in blood sugar levels which are extremely dangerous and lead to violent mood swings of anger and depression.

Not Good

She began to have vision problems – fell down and broke several bones in her foot. It did not recover properly and started to turn black so amputation became a real possibility.

I blamed diet and so started extensive research into the diet, health and diabetes – and what a bag or worms I found. Not just quacks promoting their pet cure with no evidence, but highly qualified medical doctors and researchers having diametrically opposed views. But then there were the multinational food processors who seemed to have uncontrolled power, and the inability of the bureaucracy to adapt to the health challenges.

I want to write about my adventures into the wonderful, or not so wonderful, world of diet in the next episode. But just for now I want to tell you that I learned there are really two types of food.

We need food to provide energy so we can be physically active – energy food. But we also need food to regenerate our body parts – regeneration food.

Energy food is chemically simple, cheap and plentiful and generally we eat too much of it.

By contrast regeneration food is intrinsically complex. Science has identified the minerals needed and a broad spectrum of vitamins. But new vitamins are still being discovered and plants produce a whole range of phytonutrients which may have been identified but we are still not sure the exact role they play in regenerating our bodies. But these plant based phytonutrients are clearly important to our health.

We know that factory farmed fruit and vegetables grown with chemical fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides may be cheap but simply do not provide the minerals and phytonutrients essential for health. We need to add minerals and trace elements to the soil and use microbiology in the soil to convert these to intermediate soluble chemicals which can be absorbed by plants, which then produce the complex phytonutrients that are crucial for regenerating our bodies.

In the third episode I want to write about how to grow plants with these phytonutrients which are essential for health.

While I want to tell people what I have learned about growing healthy food I just do not think that it is practical for everyone to grow all the healthy regeneration food they need. So I am setting up a system where people who appreciate the need for regeneration food can get in contact with growers who take the trouble to grow food with these health benefits.

I would like to close by talking about my website www.healthyfoodassociation.com. This is a totally free web site where growers can post information on the produce they have available and promote their expertise in growing healthy regeneration food. It aims to bring consumers and growers together free of commercial hype so people can avoid the drama that Xiulan and I have been through.

Chapter 1 – Diet and Health, a Personal Experience
Chapter 2 – Statistics and the Diet Controversy
Chapter 3 – Eat Right, Not Less
Chapter 4 – Finding a Diet by Self-Experimentation
Chapter 5 – Essential Nutrients for Good Health
Chapter 6 – The What and Where of Minerals
Chapter 7 – The Rhizosphere
Chapter 8 – Transferring Nutrients and Biology to Growing Beds
Chapter 9 – From Garden to Kitchen
Chapter 10 – Community Action

© 28 July 2015 Colin Austin – Creative Commons – This document may be reproduced but the source should be acknowledged. Information may be used for private use but commercial use requires a license.

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This post was written by Colin Austin


  • Debbie N says:

    Thank you for sharing your touching story about growing healthy food. I am an elderly disabled woman who is blessed with good health except for a degenerating spine due to osteoporosis. I live on a fixed income and also appreciate your free information. I hope you and Xiulan continue to live a wonderful life together.

    1. Colin Austin says:

      Hi Debbie,
      Thanks for your kind words – eat well and keep healthy.

      1. Debbie N says:

        I will do my very best to stay healthy, as hopefully the majority of us appreciate the importance of diet in relation to living a good life.

  • tim says:

    Wonderful! My dear friend from Calgary, Canada found this the hard way: Multinational food processors ‘make stuff up’ and control ‘public’ officials. They call it maximizing profits, don’t you know. Thank you for getting the word out. Best wishes to your lovely Xiulan.

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