Episode 128: How (& Why) To Eat More Vegetables With Dr. Thomas Cowan

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Thanks for joining us for episode 128 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.

Today we are excited to be interviewing Dr. Thomas Cowan!

Dr. Thomas Cowan is an author, lecturer, and holistic family doctor in San Francisco. He’s the author of quite a few books including How (& Why) To Eat More Vegetables, Human Heart, Cosmic Heart, as well as the principal author of the Fourfold Path To Healing, and the co-author along with Sally Fallon of the Nourishing Traditions Book Of Baby & Child Care. Dr. Cowan is also the founder of Dr. Cowan’s Garden.

If you’ve listened to the podcast for any length of time, you know that we believe diversity is crucial for a healthy diet and overall health. But we also know that it can be hard to eat a nutrient diverse diet in our modern food environment.

We are very happy to have Dr. Thomas Cowan talk with us today about the importance of nutrient diversity and provide a solution to the lack of diversity in our modern diet.

Join us to hear Dr. Cowan tell us how the amount of plant matter in the diets of traditional cultures compares to the average American’s and how increasing plant diversity in the diet can impact the microbiome.

You’ll be excited to hear Dr. Cowan’s super practical and delicious way to incorporate more plant diversity into your daily diet. You’ll learn the many ways the vegetable powders by Dr. Cowan’s Garden are a beneficial addition to the diet as Dr. Cowan shares easy and tasty was to add them to meals.

Be sure to listen for Dr. Cowan’s generous offer to our listeners to try Dr. Cowan’s Garden products!

Before you tune in, can you guess the number one food for promoting a healthy microbiome? Listen now to find out!

Here is some of what we discussed with Dr. Cowan:

  • [00:03:38] What led Dr. Cowan to practice holistic medicine
  • [00:07:11] What led Dr. Cowan to create the Weston A. Price Foundation with Sally Fallon
  • [00:12:00] The importance of nutrient and plant diversity in the diet, and the three food groups that form a healthy diet
  • [00:20:31] The amount of plant matter that traditional cultures consume and how it compares to the average American’s diet
  • [00:25:01] The story behind Dr. Cowan’s Garden
  • [00:31:55] How to incorporate Dr. Cowan’s Garden vegetable powders into your diet
  • [00:36:59] Benefits of consuming Dr. Cowan’s Garden vegetable powders and how they can improve the nutrient content of restricted diets
  • [00:43:18]  How increasing plant diversity in your diet can impact the microbiome and how the vegetable powders are a practical way do to so
  • [00:49:36] Dr. Cowan’s favorite ways to use the vegetable powders


Links Discussed:


Laura: Hi everyone! Welcome to Episode 128 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is my co-host Kelsey Kinney.

Kelsey: Hey everyone!

Laura: We’re Registered Dietitians with a passion for ancestral health, real food nutrition, and sharing evidence based guidance that combines science with common sense. You can find me, Laura, at LauraSchoenfeldRD.com, and Kelsey over at KelseyKinney.com.

We have a great guest on our show today who’s going to be talking to us about nutrient diversity and why it’s so important to our overall health. We’re so glad that Dr. Thomas Cowan is joining us and we think you’ll really enjoy this episode.

Kelsey: If you’re enjoying the show, subscribe on iTunes so that you never miss an episode. And while you’re there, leave us a positive review so that others can discover the show as well!

And remember, we want to answer your question, so head over to TheAncestralRDs.com to submit a health related question that we can answer or suggest a guest that you’d love for us to interview on an upcoming show.

Laura: Before we get into our interview for today, here’s a quick word from our sponsor:

You know that we’re all about nutrient diversity here at The Ancestral RDs, which is why we’re really excited about the products at Dr. Cowan’s Garden. Dr. Cowan’s Garden makes nutrient dense, organic vegetable powders that can be added to your food to increase your nutrient diversity in an easy and delicious way. These powders are a perfect way to get valuable added nutrients if you aren’t eating as many plants as you’d like. In fact, Dr. Cowan’s Garden even uses some vegetables that are difficult to obtain like sea vegetables, perennial greens, and wild ramps. The vegetables are cooked to reduce anti-nutrient content and then they’re dehydrated on low heat to preserve their nutrients. Finally, they’re stored in Miron jars which prevent light from penetrating so the powders remain flavorful over time. Want to add more nutrient diversity to your diet? Use code “Ancestral RDS” at drcowansgarden.com for 20 percent off your order.

Kelsey: Welcome back, everyone. Today I’m very excited to introduce you to Dr. Thomas Cowan! Dr. Cowan is an author, lecturer, and holistic family doctor in San Francisco. He’s the author of quite a few books including How (& Why) To Eat More Vegetables, Human Heart, Cosmic Heart, as well as the principal author of the Fourfold Path To Healing, and the co-author along with Sally Fallon of the Nourishing Traditions Book Of Baby & Child Care. Dr. Cowan is also the founder of Dr. Cowan’s Garden, which we’ll be talking more about later in this episode. Welcome Dr. Cowan!

Dr. Cowan: Thank you. Thank you for having me on your show.

Kelsey: We’re super excited! I always love to ask people who have been through the world of conventional medicine that have a medical doctor degree, you’ve done all that schooling, but you’ve sort of ended up in this more integrated, functional medicine, holistic type space. I’d love to hear from you sort of what got you to where you are today and what inspired that journey for you.

Dr. Cowan: I grew up in a pretty academically and medically professional household and community. My father and grandfather were dentists and many of my parents’ friends were doctors. Being a good student, I was sort of groomed to be a doctor. But I must say, I didn’t like it and there was a lot of reasons. Personally I didn’t like it, but intellectually I just thought it was primitive and it’s just not very interesting.

So I decided after I went to college and I tried to do everything I could to not be a doctor, but I got very interested in food when I was about 19, which is 40 something years ago. And then I went to the Peace Corps and when I was in the Peace Corps I heard about it and was given books about it by Rudolf Steiner and Weston Price, which probably makes me the only person on earth who heard about Anthroposophy and Weston Price while living in a mud hut in Swaziland.

Kelsey: That very well may be true.

Dr. Cowan: It may be, yes. It was like kind of a revelation for me that this business of being a doctor which I always just was loathed to do, but had some sort of inkling that I should do it, or it was destined to do it, or I don’t know what exactly. It was sort of like an itch. It was like a niggling itch. I realized that the kind of doctoring that I didn’t want to do was not the only kind of doctoring there was.

And so at that point, we’re talking mid to late 70s, I realized that I could essentially be a food and more interesting doctor and I could actually try to help people. That became kind of a guiding passion in my life, particularly the food and the other things like trying to understand the heart is not a pump and all these things that I got involved in over the last 40 years.

It wasn’t like a lot of people…a lot of people come to it because of a personal illness. That’s not my story. My story was normal science and medicine just doesn’t do it for me.

Kelsey: Fair enough.

Dr. Cowan: I wasn’t going to do it unless I found another way.

Kelsey: I think that’s really interesting, actually. You are a founding member of the Weston A. Price Foundation and I’m assuming your interest in food obviously and finding Weston A. Price’s work led you to that. Tell me a little bit more about that and sort of how you got together with Sally Fallon and sort of created this really wonderful foundation that we had today.

Dr. Cowan: Again, I suppose in some ways I’m kind of a very intellectual person in that ideas drive me to a large extent. A lot of people have a lot of ideas on what good food is and what good food isn’t. So you’ll hear things like cow’s milk is for baby cows, not for people. Or people should only eat raw foods, or whatever it is.

The thing that got me interested in Weston Price is he came at it from the way that I would come at it which is go find the healthiest people that ever lived and find out what they did. Because if some of them, which is the case actually ate cow’s milk, it’s very hard for me to then like give a lecture on how cow’s milk is so bad for me if somebody is going to say, yeah but these are the healthiest people that ever lived and they drank cow’s milk.

Now you also have to get into what kind of cow’s milk did they drink? And they didn’t drink cow’s milk of sick cows who eat cardboard and other cow parts or grains and pasteurize and homogenize the milk, or drink skim milk.  There’s some devil is in the details kind of thing.

I don’t remember what the question was, but my strategy of studying food was very simple. It was find out what works and then go from there. In other words, start with facts, not theories and not sort of an intellectual approach which is I think enzymes are good, therefore people should only eat raw foods. If you actually go out and try to find a healthy long lived group of people who lived for generations on raw foods, I guarantee you’ll never find them. So if you think that’s the best, that’s completely an abstract theory of which there is literally no proof that that’s true.

Kelsey: Yeah. I love that. I think that thinking about what actually works, and going out and observing that, and then coming up with an idea of how people should eat makes a whole lot more sense than what you’re saying of kind of abstracting these bits and pieces and then coming up with some idea that because enzymes are important, that we should only eat raw foods to get those enzymes in their raw state.

I think that makes a whole lot of sense and it certainly makes sense to me that you would end up being a founding member of the Weston A. Price Foundation. That was my original question, by the way.

Dr. Cowan: Oh, right.

Kelsey: But you got us there!

Dr. Cowan: Yeah. Eventually then I read an article by Sally, and I still remember it. It was 20 some years ago and I remember thinking to myself after 15 years of studying nutrition and being a guy, guys are always sort of more arrogant than women are, I said to myself something like, damn, this woman knows more about food than I do! Which is annoying to me, so I called her up and we talked and she ended up giving her first public seminar around my practice in New Hampshire. That’s how we met, and we decided then to write a book. And then I would say we decided to start the Weston Price Foundation. It’s actually 99 percent she, and I just said, well that’s a good idea. Because she did all the work practically. I just helped a little bit.

Kelsey: I know that for me the Weston A. Price, first of all, his book, and of course the information that the Foundation puts out as well was a big part of sort of how I transitioned from just a conventional sort of dietitian to somebody who was way more into traditional food ideas and just an ancestral way of living, and eating, and just basically following that as much as we can in a modern world.

Dr. Cowan: Right.

Kelsey: I’d love to hear a bit more because I know you’ve written a book called How (&Why) To Eat More Vegetables. At the core it seems like a very simple and obvious message. But I love this book because I think that this whole idea of the importance of diversity in your plant intake and the diversity of phytonutrients that you’re taking in is a lot more complex than you might think. I’d love for you to kind of explain that concept to our listeners if they’re maybe not super familiar with the idea of nutrient and plant diversity in their diet.

Dr. Cowan: Basically for whatever reason I am like a schemer, so I get ideas and then I put them into schemes. I don’t mean scheming to do nasty things.

Kelsey: In a bad way.

Dr. Cowan: I put things into frameworks. Maybe that’s a better word.

Kelsey: Got it.

Dr. Cowan: I lived in Africa. I lived with traditional people, I studied traditional diets, I studied research on food. Trying to make it simple for people, I came out with the idea that, more or less, 100 percent of the good diets have three food groups. The food groups are number one: animal foods, which is the source of fats and proteins. It could be wild fish. It could be raw, whole milk, cultured dairy products. It could be buffalo. It could be insects, worms. I read the other day that the Kalahari Bushmen ate lice from each other’s head which was a great snack for them.

Kelsey: Yum.

Dr. Cowan: The point is they all had some sort of animal food in their diet. It’s about somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of their caloric intake. And that’s the source of fats and proteins in the diet.

The other point I made in the book is that, not to tout Weston Price so much, but I do think that really Sally Fallon and has done more to make the possibility of healthfully grown animal foods available to pretty much any American now more than maybe anybody else.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Dr. Cowan: There’s a lot of other people in the Paleo movement, etc. But now we have grass-fed meat, and good fish, and pastured eggs, all that stuff.

That category people know about. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than it used to be 30 years ago.

Kelsey: Absolutely.

Dr. Cowan: The second category I call food from seeds and this includes anything from tree nuts to usual seeds like sunflower seeds, grains, beans and all those kind of foods that come from plant seeds. These are sources of fibers, and some fats, and some protein, and other essential nutrients.

Besides the fact that I’m convinced that almond trees don’t like to grow in monoculture of almond trees, we still have reasonably good heirloom grains, and beans, and seeds, and nuts, and all those kind of foods. Of course they need to be soaked and processed like Nourishing Traditions. And that’s the second category of food and most of the traditional diets had some sort of seed food.

The third category which is really what the book is about is all people with very few exceptions ate vegetables…well vegetables and fruit…and about 80 percent vegetables, 20 percent fruit. The reason for that is these are almost like what we call vitamins or phytonutrients which are chemicals in the plants that fight off disease and give us vitamins, minerals, and other anti-oxidants, vitamin C, all those different nutrients. It’s similar to why people take multivitamins or nutrient blends.

And by the way, the idea that you should sit down and eat kale salad for lunch with only kale is completely not a traditional diet. Or to say that we’re eating kale because of the protein content, you don’t get protein from kale. You get disease preventing nutrients and chemicals from kale.

Kelsey: Right.

Dr. Cowan: The reason is because the kale plant uses chemicals to ward off predators and other disease. So humans in my view have evolved to piggyback onto those chemicals and that’s what prevents disease in us. But it’s not for building your body or for even carbohydrates for fuel. That’s not generally that’s the reason we eat them.

Now again, if you just live with a traditional people or you study, like there’s a book called Tending The Wild which is the native Californian diet, and just this week I read a book on the native diet of the Kalahari Bushmen. There was a report of an anthropologist with The Human Microbiome Project who studied, I think they’re called the Hadza people are hunter gatherers in East Africa. The average number of vegetables that traditional people eat is about 100 to 150 per year, and about 10 to 20 per day.

Kelsey: Wow!

Dr. Cowan: This includes all the different colors of vegetables, so there’s some red, and there’s some yellow, and there’s some green, and there’s some purple, sort of magic color. There’s different plant parts, so they eat tubers, they eat roots, they eat stems, they eat leaves, they eat sort of the fruit which would be like a squash would be like the fruit of the vegetable. Basically they ate small amounts of many different ones as they can.

Another aspect of diversity is a lot of them were perennial vegetables, which are vegetables that grow for many years like moringa leaves, or tree collards, or those kind of things, and the annual vegetables like kale, and tomatoes, and squash. So it was every way of diversity you could get.

If you look over the landscape, and I live in San Francisco the Bay Area which arguably is the food capital of the world. So if you don’t find it in San Francisco, you’re not going to find it anywhere. If you go to the best farmer’s market where they charge double what they charge at Whole Foods, even there you still don’t find wild vegetables, you still don’t find perennial vegetables, you still don’t find that kind of diversity that makes up a traditional human diet.

That was the idea of the book that even now that’s the category of food that is crucial for disease prevention. It’s crucial for optimal health and nobody is really addressing this. So that’s in a sense why we started that company to be able to as well as providing diversity of and colors, and genetic types, and heirlooms, we’re also trying to provide perennial vegetables and wild vegetables so that we can essentially bring our diet up to traditional standards so we’re not living in a fruit, vegetable desert anymore.

Kelsey: Right, it makes perfect sense. I’m curious just with the amount of reading and research that you’ve done on this topic, you were saying that the traditional cultures, they would eat small amounts of many different kinds of vegetables. Does there seem to be some kind of consensus or what people have observed in many different traditional cultures of an overall amount of plant matter that people are or were eating?

Dr. Cowan: When you say plant matter, you’re talking not about seeds, and grains, and beans.

Kelsey: Right. Correct.

Dr. Cowan: The way I would answer that is having lived in traditional Africa for two years, you would look at a plate and it would have a big scoop of a corn or grain and bean mixture, and then it would have a similar size scope of some sort of animal concoction of some sort, mostly stew. And then it would have a like an ice cream scoop size of all the different vegetables and roots that they picked that day. And some of the vegetables were mixed in with the corn or the maize and beans. Mind you, I don’t think corn was actually their traditional grain. They used millet and sorghum, but that was sort of modern version. It’s pretty much like I would say 20 percent to 30 percent of the plate was these vegetable dishes.

Kelsey: Got it, okay. I asked just because I think that’s a place where people get confused, too is just overall how much plant matter they should be eating. And then of course once you start talking about diversity, when you’re talking about a scoop of a vegetable matter thinking that some traditional cultures would be getting I think you said 10 to 20 different types of plants a day between the meals that they’re eating with that amount, that is a lot of diversity. Can you compare that to what is average for let’s just say the typical American now?

Dr. Cowan: There was this great article on, again, this anthropologist who is part of The Human Microbiome Project. He measured his microbiome, which is the diversity of organisms that live in your gut, which is probably one of the most important and sensitive measures of overall health. He got a number and he went down and lived with this hunter gatherer tribe. He estimates that they eat between three to four hundred different plants and animals per year and something like 15 to 20 per day. After he was there for just three days, the diversity of his microbiome improved by about 20 percent, which is shocking, actually.

Kelsey: Wow.

Dr. Cowan: That was a huge difference in just three days of eating scorpions and all these different roots and leaves that they collect. They go out and they know all the different plants that are edible and they just collect a little bit in their basket of everyone. That’s how we did it in Swaziland.

The answer to your question, there have been studies on the American diet and it’s between 20 and 40 in a lifetime.

Kelsey: Wow.

Dr. Cowan: This includes things like tomatoes, which means ketchup. It means potatoes in French fries, beef, iceberg lettuce, chicken. We eat a lot of corn, but not straight corn, corn in things. Apples, carrots. You can go down the list, maybe 40 to 50. That’s in a lifetime and most of these are you know overly hybridized sometimes genetically modified. So they’re not even reflecting the actual species that they come from.

Kelsey: Right.

Dr. Cowan: They’re weakened versions grown on impoverished soil. Some people are amazed how sick Americans are if you look at disease rates. But I’m always amazed that a human being can survive.

Kelsey: Right. Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think going back to what you were saying before is just that even if you’re going to the best farmer’s markets in the country and seeing what they have available, it’s just really nothing compared to how traditional cultures are eating.

I would imagine that that’s a big part of why you created your company, Dr. Cowan’s Garden, where you sell vegetable powder. Tell us a bit about that because I know you do some really cool things in your own garden and sort of that makes these vegetable powders really amazingly healthy for people. I want to hear a bit more about that.

Dr. Cowan: People have to understand, I’m a foodie from way back. I’m not a great chef, but I’m a good food processor, which means I grind my own flour and make sourdough bread, and I make fermented kimchi and sauerkraut, and a lot of things. I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years.

I knew about this diversity, so being the fanatic that I am, I would actually keep lists of how many different vegetables and plants I would eat in a day a year. What I realized is that to get the kind of diversity, even just of annual, so you sit down for breakfast and have leeks, and beets, and kale, and collards, and cauliflower, and broccoli, and broccoli sprouts, it was because a lot of work. I couldn’t do it except if I actually had access to growing garden.

And then I realized that I still was missing the perennial part and the wild part. I’m not saying anything negative about annuals. They are certainly part of the diet and they have a lot of good things in them. But I started growing tree collards, gynura, and Malabar spinach, and rhubarb, and ashitaba, and things that are perennial vegetables which you can’t get anywhere because perennial vegetables mine the soil and because they have to be longer lived, they have to get more of these disease fighting chemicals in their tissues. They’re sort of the super food category in the vegetable world.

I started growing them and now I got my diet up to partially wild, partially perennial, some annuals. I used to joke that if I did my practice and said everybody who comes to me has to eat this, I would end up with maybe two or three patients who could do this. To a certain extent, my whole life became revolved around that and I got access to an acre garden in Napa which is probably the best place to grow things in the world, or one of them.

And then one day I came across a restaurant that was taking these vegetables and basically dehydrating them into powders. All the research that I could read on them said that they would retain about 95 to 98 percent of their nutrients. And the flavor was amazing.

The rule that I used was I would take the food, the vegetables, and do whatever I usually do to prepare it, and then stop it at that point and dehydrate it. If you go to the pumpkin powder on the market today it’s just raw pumpkin powder, which is the reason why everybody has a bag of raw pumpkin powder stuffed in the back of their shelf which they ate once and never ate again because it tastes horrible and that’s not the way to eat pumpkins.

What I decided to do was get the best pumpkins like heirloom Hopi pumpkins because my idea as the head gardener of the group was I would go to the people who know the most about whatever kale, or pumpkins, or treat collards, or whatever. So Native Americans, they know the most about pumpkin, so I grew Native American pumpkins. Then we would bake them the same way that I make pumpkin pie, and then as soon as they were ready to eat, they would dry them at that stage and then put them in these Miron jars which preserve them.

You would end up with the best tasting pumpkin powder concentrate which you can then add to whatever food you’re eating. If you’re eating oatmeal, you can put dried pumpkin powder, dried beet powder, dried ashitaba powder. And now you’ve gone from just oatmeal to oatmeal with three different vegetable concentrates. So most, if not all, the nutrients and it’s no more difficult than opening a box of Kellogg’s Cornflakes, which I wouldn’t recommend.

Kelsey: I would imagine of course that like you were just saying, it’s practically almost impossible to get the kind of diversity that traditional cultures are getting in our current food environment. And so I think that this is a really interesting idea.

I love, by the way, that you came up with this idea after you saw someone using it in a restaurant, more I would assume there for flavor purposes more than anything else. But then that sort of clicked with you and now you can use them for both flavor but also amazing nutrition. I think that’s really, really cool.

Dr. Cowan: It was totally flavor. That’s why they did it. We have a saying with very few exceptions. I don’t know that cholla buds taste that good, but they’re a wild cactus bud that we source from this guy who’s a forger in the Sonoran Desert. That’s a wild food that nobody else seems to have access to. Everything else, if it doesn’t taste good, we don’t make it. Taste is a human beings cue into nutrients. You can ruin it by eating sugar. But if it doesn’t taste good, it means you probably shouldn’t eat it.

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. With these powders, do you have a recommendation in terms of how much somebody should be eating? I don’t know if there’s a number of the amount of different types of powder somebody should be eating every day. And then within that, of each different type of powder, how much somebody should be eating.

Dr. Cowan: Yeah. People ask that a lot and it’s a great question. With very few exceptions like recipes, like you can make pumpkin pie using the recipe in Sally Fallon’s book except instead of pureed pumpkin in a can, you can use our pumpkin powder.  We have recipes for that and how to make beet desserts with our beet powder. And on our website, we do go through that.

The rest of it is really purely culinary. So if you make eggs, a really quick breakfast would be just sort of fried eggs in coconut oil or ghee. Now if you don’t have time to cut up kale, and onions, and leeks, leeks is probably the number one food for improving people’s microbiome. All you do is you put I would say the appropriate amount of leek powder, and kale powder, and the best tasting one which is pepper salt, you sprinkle that on your eggs.

How much? A little bit, I mean a quarter of a teaspoon. Because if you put a tablespoon on, it would just taste like powder stuff. You wouldn’t do that. I mean nobody would do that. Half a teaspoon is like two or three big leaves of kale. That’s all the kale you need to eat. A sprinkling of pepper salt is probably a small pepper. And you go on like that.

We have I don’t know how many recipes in the book. We put charred eggplant on popcorn or you bake salmon and you sprinkle the top that charred eggplant powder which is eggplants that we’ve roasted on a fire and then dried and mixed it with leeks and peppers. It becomes obvious how to use them just because it’s a culinary experience. I’ve had chefs who said you could make a whole business out of just the flavor of these.

Kelsey: Right. It seems like that’s exactly maybe what that restaurant was doing, too. But I love that you’re using these heirloom type vegetables. It sounds like you really seek those out in terms of like finding maybe the oldest type of vegetables and plant matter that you can find to grow in your garden. Would you say that’s true?

Dr. Cowan: Yes. That’s 100 percent true. People also should know that it isn’t…I mean we don’t get all of our vegetables from the garden because we’re essentially too big for that now. So we get them from local certified organic farms who also grow heirloom organically sourced vegetables.

The garden has three purposes. One is to grow vegetables that we can’t find anywhere for the business. The second one is that’s probably 98 percent of the vegetables, corn, and beans, we eat. I’m eating the food that you’re getting in powders. And so I’m not going to grow genetically modified corn to make my cornbread. I’m growing blue corn that goes back to the early part of the millennia, I guess you’d call it.  It’s native Mexican corn, blue corn, green corn. That’s what I’m eating. That’s what I’m growing.

I make pumpkins and squash out of the stuff, so I get the best varieties I can usually to all this. For those who are gardeners, there’s a catalog called Baker Creek which is specialized in finding the best, oldest, most flavorful varieties on the planet. Both my wife and I, we watch chef shows and this guy makes a certain type of winter squash, so that’s what we grow.

Kelsey: Interesting. I love that. With these powders, I would assume that maybe a lot of your patients that you’re working with in your medical practice, are they using these as well and have you noticed any interesting kind of case studies I guess of people starting to use and really diversify their plant matter intake?

Dr. Cowan: It’s also a great question. We have essentially two businesses. We have this Dr. Cowan’s Garden business and then we also have a Human Heart business- Human Heart, Cosmic Heart, which that’s the title of the book I wrote on the heart. And the reason I bring that up is we were very careful and specific that the powders are food and not medicine. I never prescribe somebody eating our vegetable powders because this is a food business.

I do things like this, and I write books about it, and we even have some of them in the office. A lot of my patients hear me and I tell them about vegetables and they buy them. But I am specifically not treating people with vegetable powders because that’s a different thing. We have medicines, but those are on a different system.

Now as far as have I noticed that people are doing better, we have I don’t know how many reviews, hundreds now of improving people’s energy, their hair, they feel better, they’re whatever disease they have is better. They love the flavor. They can finally get their children to eat vegetables because you can make yummy green pasta. All you were eating was pasta before and now it has perennial grains in it. It’s an easy way to get children to add different foods to their diet.

With some things we’re compiling case studies, but I’m not doing that because I don’t want to blur the lines between food and medicine.

Kelsey: Fair enough. I think that’s admirable. I was just thinking, too, because I work a lot with people with digestive problems and disorders, conditions, and I was just thinking that these sort of powders actually would be a great use for those kind of people who can’t at least in their current state because they’ve got dysbiosis or they’ve got SIBO and they’re having trouble eating a lot of plant matter where they could include these kind of powders in their food without having to eat all these fibrous veggies that they really can’t tolerate at the moment until they sort of deal with the underlying root cause of why they aren’t tolerating those things right now.

But I would think that this would be a great way for them to get a lot of nutrition in while they’re on an otherwise maybe somewhat restricted diet just because of their tolerance level.

Dr. Cowan: Yes.

Kelsey: In a sense there, I see a really good use case for that for those kind of people.

Dr. Cowan: Yes. I hundred percent agree with that. I have a lot of people with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis and they can’t tolerate hardly any fibers. The fibers do come out and powders, but you get such a small amount and you can mix it in with other food that it doesn’t seem to cause digestive trouble that you would get with eating a bowl full of kale.

I have nothing against kale I eat it probably almost every day myself. But a lot of people with digestive problems can’t tolerate a bowl of kale. But three to four big leaves is maybe, I’m never sure exactly, but a half a teaspoon, which is easily tolerated. It is a way to get all the nutrients that you’re looking for with kale without the trouble.

I’ll tell you another use because we just this last week, it’s not on all of labels, but we did a macronutrient analysis of our powders. In other words, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Essentially the net carb of a teaspoon of kale powder, which is a lot of kale powder, is 1 to 2 grams of carbohydrates. That’s almost nothing. So if you’re on a ketogenic diet, then you could use half a teaspoon of kale powder which will give you essentially a half a gram of net carbs, which like I say is almost nothing, and get all the nutrients in it. That is a huge boon to somebody’s nutritional status on a ketogenic diet.

Even our threefold blend which combines carrots, and beets, and kale, and chard, and winter squash; so it’s roots, and leaves, and flowers so we get the entire plant so to speak; even that only has three to four grams of carbs and two net grams of carbs per teaspoon. That’s still not very much and you get all the benefit of eating five different vegetables.

Kelsey: Yeah, absolutely. That actually reminds me, you were speaking about somebody who did…I forget the organization that you were talking about…but the man who went to a traditional culture, started eating their diet for three days, and noticed that 20 percent increase in diversity of his microbiome. Again, since I work a lot with those with digestive disorders, I’m very, very fascinated by the microbiome and sort of how it affects our overall health, which is hugely of course as I’m sure you know.

I find the powders as a really interesting way to help people to diversify their microbiome which of course has widespread impact on their overall health. I would think, and again, I’d be curious to hear if you noticed this maybe in some of your patients or maybe even just family members or friends who have used your powders who maybe have things like metabolic syndrome or high blood pressure where I think the microbiome plays a really big role in someone’s metabolic health. I would think that increasing diversity would have a big impact on how those conditions are coming out in a person.

Dr. Cowan: Yes. I mean the microbiome maybe a little bit of hyperboles, but basically everything. It’s what processes our food, it’s what protects the lining. It’s actually most of the genetic material in us is not us, but somebody else, which gets metaphysical question. Some of these things are so obvious, it’s amazing it needs to be said.

But the diversity…Everybody now knows that an entire 100 acre field of wheat, or carrots, or almond trees, or whatever it is, is a sitting duck for disease. I mean everybody knows that nowadays.

The microbiome is a direct reflection of what you eat and the diversity of what you eat because each of the different things that you eat creates different organisms living in your gut. That should be no surprise because different organisms live on different food, they have their niche, etc. Eating diversity is the way to create a diverse ecosystem in your gut.

This Human Microbiome Project, which is sort of tasked with this daunting undertaking of understanding what lives in a human being’s gut, has actually found that the single vegetable or single food that promotes the best diversity, believe it or not, are leeks. Who would have thought? But that seems to be the case.

The interesting thing about that from our perspective is first of all, I like to eat leaks because I like the flavor and they’re really yummy.

Kelsey: Yeah, yummy.

Dr. Cowan: They’re a little bit of a pain to clean and all that stuff, but not that big a deal. But their taste is amazing as a powder because it’s better than onions, which is why we don’t do onions because we also want the green part of the leak. For all those people who either just don’t want to buy leeks everyday, or pick them, or clean them for breakfast, our leek powder is the nutrient content of the leaks very carefully dried and processed and it is the number one food for promoting a healthy microbiome.

I was listening to an interview of this female pediatric gastroenterologist who says that she treats her pediatric Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients with a vegetable diverse diet and telling them to eat leeks every single day.

Kelsey: Interesting.

Dr. Cowan: Which I think the only doable way of doing that is by eating our powders.

Kelsey: You’re going to have to get in touch with her.

Dr. Cowan:  It’s like I love beets. They are great food. They’re great for blood pressure. There are a lot of good things with beets. But when I think back, even me… and I say that not like I’m special, but I’m just really into food and cooking…I would eat beets maybe twice a month just because they’re just a pain. They get all over everything. They makes your hands sticky. It’s just a pain. Same with burdock root. Burdock root is one of the best anti-cancer foods there is, but I would eat it maybe once every two months. Now if you have beet powder or burdock powder, I eat it every day. It’s easy.

Kelsey: Right.

Dr. Cowan: People say isn’t it better to eat fresh vegetables? The answer is yes. So why don’t I just eat beets everyday? And I always say, right, do it for a month and tell me how you did. At the end of it see how many times did you eat beets. Twice.

Kelsey: Right. Yeah. It comes down to a question of practicality for most people.

Dr. Cowan: Right.

Kelsey: And like you said, even you, somebody who is probably spending much more time in the kitchen than the average person is having a hard time eating beets more than twice a month, you can certainly imagine that the average American is not even getting close to that. Having something that’s really practical like vegetable powders that you can just sprinkle on pretty much anything it sounds like, that just makes it super easy, super practical for somebody who can just continue with a lot of what they’re already doing, but now it’s ten times healthier for them.

Dr. Cowan: Right. I spend about 45 minutes to an hour preparing breakfast meal. Not everybody wants to do that, and I get it. I’m not sure I want to do it anymore either.

Kelsey: Yeah. So this came out of your own need for timesaving here it sounds like partially. I think being able to not deal with beats more than twice a month and yet still get it in your diet almost every day is a really amazing thing.

I actually want to ask you a bit of a personal question here maybe for you in thinking about your family as well. I know we talked about a couple of different recipes and a couple of different ways to use the powders, but I want to know your personal favorites. Maybe if you can give us like three of your top ones, ways that you like to use these.

Dr. Cowan: Like I said, I’m avid cook, but not a great cook. I’m not a chef by any means so I make incredibly pedestrian food and also repetitive. On the other hand my son, he’s a really good cook and makes great stuff.

For instance, pretty much every morning we either make or buy from a really good place bone broth. Every morning I have about five or six different vegetables from the garden. So we’re talking leeks, and Malabar spinach, and gynura, and ashitaba. These are different perennial vegetables.

Ashitaba is like the most nutrient dense plant there is. It’s in the Angelica family. So that and maybe a zucchini and pepper. I sauté those in turmeric ghee, which is ghee impregnated with turmeric, until they’re soft, and I pour the bone broth in. Then I put about four or five different powders. I’ll put a little scoop of burdock powder, I put a scoop of wild sea vegetable powder, I’ll put a scoop of beet powder, either tomato salt or pepper salt, or one of those. So I’ve got about 10 to 12 different vegetables in there. And then I simmer it for maybe five minutes, put it in a bowl with a little bit of natto which is a fermented soybean, and then I put on top of that homemade sauerkraut or salsa that I make that’s fermented.

Kelsey: Wow! You’re putting me to shame here. That’s an amazing breakfast.

Dr. Cowan: Two or three days a week I intermittently fast, so I don’t eat breakfast. The other four or five days, that’s what I have. Plus I’ll make two eggs in coconut oil and I usually like leek powder and tomatoes salt on that. So that’s my typical breakfast.

A typical dinner would be wild salmon that I put a little bit of butter, or ghee, or turmeric coconut oil on it. And I’ll put charred eggplant powder on that with leek powder. I love the flavor of leek powder, so I put that on everything.

Kelsey: Yeah. I would imagine leek powder would be very delicious.

Dr. Cowan: Even if somebody said, Tom, it’s really bad for you. I’d say well, you only live once so I’m going to eat it anyway.

Kelsey: It’s worth it.

Dr. Cowan: My wife is more the sort of dessert chef and more the special things. She made a smoothie with peaches and full fat coconut milk, and into that she put a big tablespoon of our turmeric powder which we have grown for us in Maui with a guy who’s sort of biodynamic farmer and he keeps the roots for a couple of years. So it’s really amazing turmeric powder. She may put a few other things in there. Probably she puts chocolate powder in it because she puts chocolate powder in a lot of things.

Kelsey: Delicious.

Dr. Cowan: That’s another way. I do pumpkin pie and I use fresh pumpkins that I bake, but I also put some pumpkin powder in to just accentuate the flavors. That’s another one.

When I make a salad dressing, so we’ll have radicchio or endive salad with maybe feta cheese and tomatoes. In the salad dressing will go pepper, salt, and probably some beet powder because it increases the flavor.

I have some of the other ones that I’m making out of herbs like summer savory, which we’re not ready to sell yet. But summer savory is probably the most anti-aging herb there is and there’s a few reasons why I say that. That’s going to be probably next year.

A lot of the things I do with the garden, I’ll do a trial of summer savory or tarragon and see how well that grows and how much powder it makes. I also put that on to whatever dish I’m doing. But I do the same things over and over again because that’s just how I cook.

Kelsey: Yeah. You figure out what works and you just stick to it. Nothing wrong with that. The sound that all of that sounded really delicious. I’m getting hungry now just thinking about it all. I’m excited to try that leek powder myself. You’re really making it sound amazing. Leeks themselves are delicious anyway, so I can only imagine that the powder is. It sounds like it’s better than the real thing, in your opinion anyway.

Dr. Cowan: It concentrates the flavor. We put them in these jars called Miron jars, which are thick purple glass. The urban myth is they were originally found in the pyramids and the oil was still good. And then guy in Switzerland reverse engineered it and found that they only let UVA light in which keeps whatever’s in there fresh.

Of course we didn’t believe it necessarily in the beginning. So what I did was I took two cherry tomatoes, more or less identical. I mean obviously not totally identical, but they were pretty close. We put one in a Mason jar and one in a Miron jar and just left it on the counter. In a month the one in the Mason jar was all mushy, and moldy, and all that. And the one in the Miron jar was fresh for about five and a half months.

Kelsey: Wow!

Dr. Cowan: You could still eat it after five and a half months.

Kelsey: That’s incredible!

Dr. Cowan: That convinced us that there’s something about this that actually preserves the freshness and the flavor. And frankly without the Miron jars, I wouldn’t have done this because I wouldn’t have believed that we could retain the nutrients, and the smell, and the taste. They’re the linchpin in us essentially preserving the food.

Kelsey: Right.

Dr. Cowan: The flavors really concentrate. You get leek-ness in all its full glory.

Kelsey: It sounds amazing. Very excited about that.

Well, Dr. Cowan, I have to say this was really, really fascinating to hear you talk about all this stuff. I’m sure this episode is going to be very popular with our listeners just because Laura and I, we talk about diversity a lot in terms of eating as many different types of vegetables and things that you can. But what I’m hearing from you and what of course we know to be true is that that can be hard. It’s not even a matter of our own motivation necessarily, it’s just what is available to us in our current food environment is not up to what we need in terms of diversity.

I have to say that I’m really, really excited that you have gone on this business venture to bring plant diversity to the world because I think it’s a really important and noble cause to go through with.  Thank you for that and thank you for this interview today.

And just as a reminder to our listeners, Dr. Cowan’s Garden is a current sponsor for our podcast. Just in case you missed it at the beginning of the show, you can get 20 percent off your order at DrCowansGarden.com by using the code “AncestralRDs”.  I’m about to go hop over there and order me some leek powder as well as some of these other ones, too.

I just wanted to thank you for not only giving our listeners a chance to try this out at a discount, Dr. Cowan, but again thank you so much for the interview today.

Dr. Cowan:  I really appreciate it and it was fun talking to you. I hope people try it out and give us feedback. We ask people for recipes and how did you use it. But just do not be intimidated by how do I do it? Just open the jar and sprinkle it on your food. Everything you eat will be better, I can tell you.

Kelsey: Right. It sounds like it’s fairly self-explanatory.

Dr. Cowan: It couldn’t be easier. You’ll figure it out.

Kelsey: Once you have that jar in your hand, you’ll figure it out. Perfect. Well thanks again, Dr. Cowan. It was really great to talk to you today.

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I'm a women's health expert and a registered dietitian (RD) with a passion for helping goal-oriented people fuel their purpose.

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