10 health tips I learned in Costa Rica


Jan prepping the evening meal.

I’m recently back from 18 days in the incredible jungle of Costa Rica. My husband and I returned for a second year, to attend a nutrition, yoga and cooking retreat with our friends and teachers nutritionist John Bagnulo and chef Jan Buhrman of The Diaeta Way. 

This year we did two back to back retreats. The first was on heart health. The second week on gut health.

You may remember the retreat last year was the impetus for me to finally give up sugar and it inspired my decision to refocus on helping others move away from the sweet stuff as well.

I’ve taken the last few weeks to re-enter back into daily life and reflect on my learnings. Much of what we learned not only applies to gut and heart health, but are strategies for reducing inflammation and eliminating toxins, which are two of the main sources of overall poor health and chronic disease.

I want to share these nuggets with you. They are based on the latest nutritional science and research. Whether you have a health condition, or are generally healthy and want to prevent health conditions down the road, these are fundamental nutritional principles we should all be following.

Here are the top 10 takeaways from my retreat that can be used by anyone as starting points for health, vitality and longevity:


John teaching us about heart and gut health during our morning lecture.

1. Eliminate grains (except for white rice) – Grains have high levels of naturally occurring toxins like lectins and phytates which can cause inflammation. These anti-nutrients also cause malabsorption of trace minerals which are so important for our immune system and reducing inflammation. Many grains also contain gluten which causes digestive issues and is harmful to the gut lining. Instead stick to white rice that has been allowed to cool so the starch is not a simple sugar but a resistant starch that is beneficial for gut health

2. Keep fructose levels low – Aim to keep fructose to below 25 grams per day. Fructose interferes with good gut health, is inflammatory to the kidneys, toxic to the liver and contributes to many health conditions. Fructose has been called the silent killer. Eliminate foods containing table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, and minimize the use of honey, molasses, and maple syrup. Fruit is also a high source of fructose, so stick to whole fresh or frozen berries, citrus fruit, and kiwi. Check out my Sugar Shift for help with this step. Registration closes tomorrow.

3. Eat more good fats – The the good fats are saturated and monounsaturated fats. Research now shows, these fats are safe to consume even in large quantities because they are chemically stable and not easily oxidized. Our body prefers to use these fats as fuel over glucose and so are good for our muscles and our brains. Try to get between 2 tablespoons of healthy fat with every meal. Butter, coconut oil, and olive oil.

4. Limit intake of omega 6 fats – In the North American diet it’s very easy to overdo it on the omega 6 fatty acids. We eat five times more omega 6 fats and less omega 3 fats than we should. These polyunsaturated fats (the bad fats) are highly toxic and can cause liver disease, atherosclerosis, obesity, allergies and asthma, bowel disorders, mental illness and cancer. The primary sources of omega 6s are vegetable oils; conventionally grown eggs and chicken (grain fed animals); nuts and seeds. Balance out the omega 6 and omega 3s by: eliminating high omega 6 vegetable oils; use more low omega 6 oils like butter and coconut oil; take a fish oil supplement; eat low omega 6 animal protein such as fish, shellfish, beef and lamb.

5. Boost intake of fermentable fibre – Fermentable fibre has so many health benefits – improves insulin sensitivity, heals the intestine, relieves constipation, prevents colon cancer, minimizes ill effects of diabetes, reduces inflammation and heals tissue. The best source is grass fed butter and you can also get it from vegetables such as chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, yams, dandelion greens, leeks, onion and garlic. You do not get fermentable fibre from grains. Aim to get between 35-75 grams a day.

6. Eat more resistant starch – These are the starches that are resistant to digestion and very important for good gut and colon health. When cooked most starches turn into simple sugars (not good) but if you cook a starchy food and let it cool the starches come back together and become resistant again (good). The best sources of resistant starch are cooked and then cooled – white rice, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains, squash, pumpkin, yucca.

7. Eat more eggs, fish and organ meats – Forget flax, chia and goji berries. Eggs, shellfish and liver are the new super foods. Eggs and their yolks should be eaten daily for their are high sources of micronutrients like choline, folate, vitamin A, selenium, and B12. Fish and shellfish can be eaten daily to balance the omega 6s and 3s. And organ meats such as liver once a week for vitamin A, choline, folate, magnesium.

8. Stay hydrated – We all know we should drink more water but most of us are walking around dehydrated. Each day you should aim for half your body weight in ounces from fluids. This includes water, tea, coffee, fruits, vegetables, broths (not juice, pop, sports drinks or alcohol)

9. Cook at lower temperatures – Cooking at high heat can damage food and lead to oxidation and the formation of toxins. Always cook under 325 degrees. In order of preference, here are the best methods for cooking 1. Steaming 2. Sautéing in water, butter or coconut oil. 3. Sautéing in olive oil 4. Frying/roasting/baking – cook under 350. 5. Boiled with water thrown out. 6 Microwave.

10. Fill in the gaps with supplements – Because we have been: so depleted by anti-nutrients; and are exposed to so toxins; and it’s hard to get everything we need from food, some of us may need to supplement. I am no expert on supplements and it is best to check with your doctor, naturopath or nutritionist for their recommendations. Generally, most people could benefit from vitamins D, K2, C, iodine, magnesium, a good probiotic, and a fish oil high in omega 3.


What amazing friends we made.


I know this is a daunting list of health changes to make. I’m not recommending you tackle all of these all at once. But pick the ones you think might be easiest for you and slowly integrate them over time.

My 8 week Sugar Shift program starting next week, tackles a number of these recommendations. The guided group provides all the support, expertise and tools you need to detox, repair, heal and maintain new levels of health and wellness. This is your last chance to join. Registration closes tomorrow. Sign up now. 


  1. Genevieve Kennedy on April 2, 2015 at 12:05 am

    Hi Michelle, Thank you so very much for sharing. I enjoy all of the emails I receive and I am excited about reading and trying to make another good habit of eating healthy. Fond Regards, Genevieve

  2. Peter Gravel on April 2, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Hi Michelle

    Very interesting articles, Costa Rica program looks amazing. Elisabeth Gold and I are wondering … Cold Rice – cold? Room temp? And how do you enjoy cold white rice?
    Have you heard of the Pauling Therapy for heart disease. I had a mild heart attack (two stents) 1 1/2 years ago, stopped my Statins, off everything but aspirin, taking Pauling Therapy. Wondered if your familiar.


    • Michelle on April 2, 2015 at 11:39 am

      Hi Peter. Yes the rice can be room temp and you can add warm foods over top, or add on some melted butter and Braggs. I am not familiar with the Pauling Therapy. What is the theory behind it?

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