Food: What the Heck Should I Cook?

More than 100 Delicious Recipes--Pegan, Vegan, Paleo, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, and More--For Lifelong Health


By Dr. Mark Hyman, MD

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The companion cookbook to Dr. Hyman’s New York Times bestselling Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?, featuring more than 100 delicious and nutritious recipes for weight loss and lifelong health.

Dr. Mark Hyman’s Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? revolutionized the way we view food, busting long-held nutritional myths that have sabotaged our health and kept us away from delicious foods that are actually good for us. Now, in this companion cookbook, Dr. Hyman shares more than 100 delicious recipes to help you create a balanced diet for weight loss, longevity, and optimum health. Food is medicine, and medicine never tasted or felt so good.

The recipes in Food: What the Heck Should I Cook? highlight the benefits of good fats, fresh veggies, nuts, legumes, and responsibly harvested ingredients of all kinds. Whether you follow a vegan, Paleo, Pegan, grain-free, or dairy-free diet, you’ll find dozens of mouthwatering dishes, including:
  • Mussels and Fennel in White Wine Broth
  • Golden Cauliflower Caesar Salad
  • Herbed Mini-Meatballs with Butternut Noodles
  • Lemon Berry Rose Cream Cake
  • and many more
With creative options and ideas for lifestyles and budgets of all kinds, Food: What the Heck Should I Cook? is a road map to a satisfying diet of real food that will keep you and your family fit, healthy, and happy for life.


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Throughout this book, you’ll see helpful icons that identify important aspects of each recipe. Everything in this book follows my Pegan Diet guidelines, so all recipes are made of real food ingredients and are gluten-free, low-glycemic, and free from unhealthy fats. Most recipes are also grain-free and dairy-free, but not all of them, and many are vegan as well. Look for the following icons to identify certain ingredients right off the bat:

= Vegan = Contains Grains = Contains Dairy

A Little Help from My Friends

You’ll notice recipes contributed by my good friends and colleagues who have realized the amazing impacts of the Pegan Diet in their own lives. I love sharing recipe ideas from others because sometimes one unique ingredient, or even a familiar one used in a creative way, can be the doorway to a new favorite meal. My recipe contributors include:

Chef José Andrés

Dave Asprey

Dr. Rupy Aujla

Mark Bittman

Chef David Bouley

Gisele Bündchen and Tom Brady

Chef Marco Canora

Kris Carr

Hugh Jackman

Dr. Deanna Minich

Dr. Mehmet Oz

Gwyneth Paltrow

Dr. David Perlmutter and Leize Perlmutter

Dr. Drew Ramsey

Cam Sims

Mark Sisson

Dr. Terry Wahls

Danielle Walker

I’m so grateful to these wonderful folks for joining me in sharing the goodness of real food.

I hope you are beginning to think more about your own food philosophy, identifying your personal beliefs and goals, and seeing where there is room for improvement when it comes to your dietary choices. As you read on, you’ll learn much more about food quality, labeling, smart shopping, and healthful food prep to revamp your kitchen and your health.


I learned to love cooking in the 1970s, when many people thought Betty Crocker was a real woman. She was actually invented by the food industry to get mothers to incorporate processed food into home-cooked meals—remember “Just add one can of Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup to your casserole”? It was the era of Tang (the drink of the astronauts in the Apollo space missions), Fleischmann’s margarine, and bright orange Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. And who could forget the TV dinners? My favorite thing to do after school was to heat up the meat-like substance, grainy mashed potatoes, and overcooked peas and carrots of a Swanson Salisbury Steak dinner, set up my TV dinner tray (yes, it was a thing), and watch Superman and Batman.

We weren’t perfect, but despite the Western world slowly opting for convenience, in my house we were committed, for the most part, to eating fresh, real whole food. My mother made home-cooked meals with fresh ingredients from our suburban garden (a true anomaly at that time). She was taught by my deaf grandmother, Mary, to “buy fresh, eat fresh.”

My mother, Ruth, who grew up in New York in the 1930s in a Jewish family, told us stories of our great-grandmother Fanny, who would buy a live carp every Passover and keep it in the bathtub until it was time to make fresh gefilte fish. My mother and father lived in Europe for eleven years just after World War II. I was born in Barcelona and lived there until I was four years old, and I remember the smells and sounds of the food markets. Every day my mother would go to the local markets and buy real food—nothing processed, packaged, or wrapped in cellophane. There were no grocery stores, just little stands—a “farmers’ market” before there was a name for such a thing. She brought that sensibility to the suburbs of Toronto, where I mostly grew up. Our backyard was a mini-farm with plum, apple, and pear trees and a beautiful vegetable garden. I loved that I could just walk outside for a snack. I absorbed cooking skills from my mother and ate whole foods before they were referred to as such. There was no soda, candy, or junk, except of course for Oreo and Chips Ahoy cookies—and my afterschool TV dinners!

For me, cooking has always been synonymous with community and connection. My earliest food-related memories are of learning how to make chicken soup on Friday nights and latkes (potato pancakes) for Hanukkah. My mother taught me the basic building blocks of cooking: how to crush garlic and peel onions, when to cook what so that everything would come out perfect at the same time. It is what humans have done for millennia—transmitting the skills of gathering, preparing, and making food in community from generation to generation.

When I went to college, I moved into a group house with seven other health-minded people (okay, we called them hippies in those days). We each had to make dinner for eight people one night a week. We ripped up our lawn and turned our whole backyard into a big garden where we composted our scraps. We won our school’s composting and recycling of the year award (in 1979, before it was cool) and our prize was a three-gallon tub of Cornell ice cream! This was where I developed my culinary chops and honed the art of cooking: chopping, seasoning, sautéing, baking, roasting, designing menus, and creating plant-rich dishes that not only tasted good but were good for us. We made our own bread, yogurt (yes, we were hardcore), and even maple syrup from the old maple trees in front of our house. Every night we ate together, shared stories, and talked about what we were learning, breaking bread and building friendships that have lasted a lifetime. Food is medicine, but community is medicine too.

Most importantly, I learned how to eat well and eat real food without a lot of resources. In college and medical school, I had $300 a month to pay for rent, food, and entertainment. We went to farmers’ markets, shopped in bulk, and made amazing meals from simple fresh ingredients. In my medical residency, I lived on $27,000 a year while supporting a wife and two children. Even thirty years ago, that wasn’t much for a family of four. Still, we made home-cooked meals most days of the week and delighted in our time spent together making food and connecting over dinner. Family dinners were a priority, a time to stop, cook together, eat, talk, and connect.

My love affair with cooking grew out of my mother’s commitment to buying, making, and eating real food; she found joy in making food for others, in seeing happiness on their faces as they ate yummy food in celebration of life, family, and community. Unfortunately, this is not the case for most people.

Today, the food industry has hijacked our kitchens, not by accident, but by design. It has rebranded cooking as a chore, a burden, drudgery. “You deserve a break today.” Nonsense. It’s a con job to get us to buy prepared, processed foods. Many of my patients report feeling too stressed and too tired to cook, and on the rare occasions when they have the energy to cook, more often than not they are confused about what to cook. They are victims of the food industry initiative to subvert the American kitchen (and increasingly, the global kitchen), and they are not alone. We now have two generations of Americans who do not know how to cook, who have swallowed Big Food’s propaganda that cooking is a difficult, time-consuming, expensive, onerous chore from which only they can save us. It’s a lie. Don’t buy it. Cooking and eating food are essential acts that make us human and connect us to what is real and important: the earth, nature, family, and community. Preparing and cooking food, for me, has always been a source of joy, nourishment, connection, and exploration. And with a little practice and guidance, it can be for you as well.

Cooking simple, whole foods isn’t actually all that time-consuming—it can take less than an hour a day. And it’s not that expensive, either. Studies show that it costs about a dollar more per day to eat real, whole foods. And when you count the price society pays for processed food—the harm it brings to our health, economy, climate, and environment—it is clear that real, whole foods are the far less expensive choice, both for our wallets and our bodies.

Our world has evolved into a place where processed junk foods are ubiquitous and cheap, and real, whole foods have somehow become luxury items. With easily available cheap foods and so much confusion around food in general, it’s no wonder people reach for what’s easy. The system we have was not created by accident. It is the result of massive efforts by the food industry to confuse the public. The industry subverts legitimate science by funding biased studies and deploying them to adversely influence food policies set forth by our government; it funds public health institutions that were originally designed to protect us, making them ineffective and even dangerous; and it drives behavior and attitudes about food with tens of billions in food marketing. Our confusion about food is manufactured, and the system is rigged.

This is why I wrote my last book, Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? Way too many people are confused about what constitutes proper nutrition, and way too many people have been sold the idea that cheap, fast food benefits them by eliminating the question of what to eat—meanwhile it has been destroying public health. We’re also up against huge disparities in food accessibility within our country: Many people lack the resources to buy the right foods—6,000 communities lack the ability to buy fresh foods and 20 million children start their morning without breakfast. Populations like these are really struggling.

On the other hand, 40 percent of Americans are obese and 70 percent are overweight. This inequality is only more frustrating when you consider that 40 percent of our food supply (about $480 million worth) is wasted and thrown into landfills, contributing to climate change. It’s clear there is work to be done to level the playing field when it comes to providing healthy food and nutritional resources for people everywhere.

And then there are the never-ending diet trends, the black and white guidelines full of unsustainable rules for finding your ideal weight and getting that beach body you’ve always dreamed of. It’s no wonder people become confused about what eating well really means. The research is so heavily influenced by industry (just $1.5 billion goes to independently funded studies, versus over $12 billion to industry-funded studies every year) that even I was confused. Until, that is, I dug into the studies: who funded them, how they were designed, what conclusions could accurately be drawn from them, and how they fit into the overall body of research.

I’ve spent much of my career researching nutrition and experimenting with my own dietary framework. I wanted to fully understand the impacts of nutrition on a deeply personal level. Through decades of working with patients of all ages and in many states of health, I’ve seen the unique needs of the human body as well as its amazing ability to heal and regenerate when given the right food. It’s astounding that the most important thing we need for a healthy, vibrant, successful life—how to care for and feed our bodies—is never taught in school. We’re never taught to put the right kind of gas in our own tanks, but when we do it is powerful medicine that can keep us running at an incredible level.

The diet wars also drive confusion by framing concepts of Paleo, vegan, low-fat, low-carb, raw, keto, and more in opposition to each other. That’s why I came up with the Pegan Diet—a mashup of Paleo and vegan—as a spoof on the extremism. While sitting on a panel at a medical conference, discussing the importance and discrepancies of modern nutrition, I found myself between one doctor who was a strict vegan and another who was passionately Paleo. Each had different views on why their diet was the one and only way to optimal health. When it was my turn to talk, I joked that the best description of my dietary beliefs must be “Pegan”—and the Pegan Diet was born.

I examined the concept and it actually made sense: a plant-rich diet of whole foods that are low-glycemic, rich in phytonutrients, good fats, fiber, and more. It is an inclusive, nutrient-dense, sustainable way of eating for life; it’s fun and irresistible deliciousness.

Increasingly, consumers want transparency and authenticity. They want to eat food that helps them thrive and that is light on the planet by promoting sustainability and even helping reverse climate change. This consumer-driven food movement is growing and working to change food production, processing, and consumption patterns. Even Big Food companies are shifting their products, removing bad ingredients and trying to adapt (which can be hard for many).

It’s not perfect but it’s a step in the right direction, driven by consumers who are voting with their dollars and purchases. The choices we make at the market have a far bigger impact than you might imagine. For example, many large corporations listened to consumer pleas for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled, and thus removed themselves from the association working to block that process. Our choices not only drive positive shifts in Big Food, they support local economies and help communities thrive while we reap the benefits in our own health. With a little bit of planning and some helpful hacks, you can make simple, nutritious Pegan meals at home that are delicious and affordable. This book will show you how. Eating real food may not always be as convenient as other, less healthy options, but how convenient is illness and the cost of drugs, medical care, and disability? Hospital and medical bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy and many crowdfunding platforms are used to help struggling people pay their medical bills.

Most of the diseases that land people in the hospital or cause suffering and disability are lifestyle diseases. But lifestyle can also prevent and treat chronic disease. Food is more powerful than any drug when it comes to reversing disease (in fact, most drugs don’t prevent disease, they merely manage it). Most diseases associated with aging are driven by food (bad food), but good food can often cure them.

One sixty-five-year-old woman in one of our Functioning for Life groups (at the Center for Functional Medicine) had type 2 diabetes and had been on insulin for ten years, plus she had heart failure, early kidney and liver failure, high blood pressure, and was morbidly obese. After three days of eating real food, she was off her insulin. After three months, she’d lost 43 pounds, reversed her heart failure, improved her kidney and liver function, and gotten off all her medications. After six months, she’d lost 63 pounds and counting. Good nutrition is not only about avoiding disease later, but about thriving now. Most of us don’t know how bad we feel until we start to take care of ourselves and feed our bodies nourishing whole foods. The truth is that the key to a vibrant, thriving, happy, successful life, the foundation that will help us have energy, focus, and the ability to be present in our lives, starts at the end of our fork and in our kitchens.

If I had one “medicine” to take with me anywhere in the world to heal people it would be food. My patients are often shocked and surprised when their “incurable illnesses” are healed by a change in diet. It seems almost magical. But real food contains thousands of molecules, each designed to regulate and optimize the functions of your body—your gene expression, hormones, brain chemistry, immune system, gut microbiome, and more.

Let that sink in.

But food matters in ways that go far beyond personal health. Promoting the consumption of real whole foods can help us reverse America’s epidemic of chronic disease and end the burden it puts on our economy and government (imagine if we had $3.4 billion more every year for programs that uplift communities and society). Eating the right foods can also address social justice issues, poverty, violence, educational gaps in learning, and even national security (70 percent of our military recruits are not fit to fight because of poor fitness). And eating food grown in ways that restores soil and sequesters carbon can help us contribute to the fight against climate change. We can change the world we live in by eating “food,” not food-like substances, and we can improve the health of future generations and our planet in the process.

Last but not least, food brings us together. The simple acts of shopping, chopping, cooking, and eating have for centuries been at the center of human communities, whether it was the family, tribe, village, or neighborhood. I’ve had patients come in who are doing everything right—eating well, exercising, managing stress—but they are socially isolated and alone. As humans we crave connection, understanding, and the feeling of belonging. I believe food is a vital piece in helping us all achieve a sense of community in our own lives, and I hope you’ll use this book to cultivate that through joyful and delicious gatherings. Create dinners for friends at home, have them help cook or bring their own homemade dishes for a potluck. Maybe create theme-based supper clubs for deep conversations about things that matter.

We have been brainwashed to think cooking is difficult, time consuming, and expensive. That’s a lie propagated by the food industry. And now with wholesale stores and discounted retail whole foods companies like Thrive Market, cooking real food is affordable—all you need is a little practice. Cooking skills are an essential but a lost art. If you’re rusty, or just learning how to cook, using recipes like those in this book can help you learn the basics: how ingredients work together, how to add them in the right order and get the timing just right. Knife skills, sautéing, baking, and roasting can be learned very quickly. If you have a body, cooking is as important for your health as brushing your teeth or cutting your fingernails. Take the time to cultivate culinary skills, be creative, have fun, put on happy music, and invite your friends, family, and kids to participate. The average person spends eight hours a day staring at screens. Cooking is a real activity, so get your hands messy, touch it, feel it, understand it, experiment, and try new things.

Let this book be your go-to guide for making food that looks good, tastes good, smells good, and is good for you. Let it help you bring people you love, or people you’d like to get to know better, together over tasty meals and inspiring conversation. Cooking is a revolutionary act, one that can heal you, your community, and even the planet. We have the power to change our world one bite at a time.

Wishing you health and happiness,

Mark Hyman, MD

Part I

Learning How to Eat


Food is a fundamental part of life, a need every human has in common with every other human. It’s our fuel, yes, but it is so much more. It is information that transforms our biology with every bite, activating our potential for healing or creating imbalance that causes disease. Real, whole food contains biological instructions that promote health. It can optimize your gene expression, balance hormones, reduce inflammation, enhance brain function, and even improve the microbiome—the critically important ecosystem of bacteria in our gut. Our bodies perform all of these amazing functions with little to no conscious thought on our part. Food is the most powerful tool we have to take control of our health. Choosing the wrong foods leads us down a road of chronic disease, while choosing the right ones prevents illness and can even cure it.

Food is also very personal, and it means different things to each of us. We each have our very own food philosophy, a set of dietary principles that, consciously or not, dictate our daily choices. The way we choose to eat not only reflects the level of care we have for our health, it reflects the level of care we have for other humans, animals, and the environment. Every bite of food is a vote. We vote for our health, our communities, our farmers, our environment, our climate, and even the health of our economy. Food is connected to almost everything that matters to us.

Still, many of us are confused about what to eat. The science seems to be all over the place. Vegan, Paleo, keto, high-carb, low-carb, low-fat, high-fat, lectin-free, flexitarian, raw foods, and on and on. What’s an eater to do? The good news is there are some commonsense nutritional principles, backed by good science, on which most experts agree (believe it or not).

The truth is, there is more agreement than disagreement about the healthiest way to eat. This cookbook is your road map to ending nutritional whiplash. It is full of practical guidance on what and how to eat based on scientific data infused with common sense. The recipes are yummy, nourishing, and easy to prepare, and they will help you and your family thrive.

The Social Implications of Food

Food is not just a tasty morsel at the end of your fork. It connects you to almost everything that matters: the soil in which it was grown or raised, the health of our climate and environment, the humans who helped grow it, the humans along the supply chain from field to fork, and our nation’s public health status and economy. It even relates to our children’s ability to focus and learn at school.

Food is a deeply personal choice, but it is also profoundly political. Our food purchases matter. Imagine if for one day the whole world ate nothing processed—no fast food, only organic or regenerative whole foods cooked at home with love and community. Big Food and policy makers would take notice. The collective food movement has already affected big companies. For example, the public outcry over GMO labeling and Big Food lobbyists influenced some of the biggest food companies (Nestlé, Unilever, Danone, Mars) to quit the Grocery Manufacturers of America because they were obstructing GMO labeling efforts and other important policies to improve the food system.

Our current federal food policies encourage Big Food to put private profit over public health. Despite the food system being the biggest national and global industry (over $1 trillion in the US and $18 trillion a year globally), we have no integrated, coordinated set of food policies. In fact, we have many agencies governing our food system, and their goals are often at odds with each other.

For example, the government tells us to eat five to nine servings of fruits and veggies a day. Fruits and vegetables are known as “specialty crops,” and they receive just 1 percent of the more than $25 billion the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) spends to support agriculture. The other 99 percent of the USDA’s current funding goes to support commodities (corn, wheat, soy, etc.); those government subsidy–supported crops are turned into processed, high-sugar, high-glycemic, toxic, industrial foods that have been proven to increase chronic disease and death and which our dietary guidelines tell us to avoid. If we all followed our government’s advice to eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day, 50 percent of our diet should be fruits and vegetables and plant foods. Yet only 2 percent of our agricultural land is used for these crops, while 59 percent is used to grow commodity crops, the raw materials for processed food. And if USDA subsidies were designed with the government’s dietary recommendations in mind, a much larger percentage of the funding would support the production of healthy fruits and veggies instead of commodities destined to become junk food. Plus, we spend about $85 billion through our food stamp program (SNAP), most of which goes to pay for processed food, including over 30 billion servings of soda for the poor every year.

Then Medicaid and Medicare pick up the tab for chronic diseases that our misaligned government policies create. This sounds crazy, but it’s true—and it’s only one example. Instead of throwing up our hands, my colleague Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and I took action to change this. We worked with an enlightened congressman, Tim Ryan of Ohio, who, along with one of his colleagues, requested that the Government Accountability Office, an independent arm of Congress that evaluates the effectiveness and economic impact of government policies, review all of America’s food-related government policies and make recommendations for change. It won’t solve everything, but it will make the problem clear.

Currently, obesity and type 2 diabetes account for $3.4 trillion a year in direct and indirect medical costs, or almost 20 percent of our entire economy. This epidemic of diabesity is blamed on individuals: It’s a matter of personal responsibility, people say. Just eat less and exercise more. It’s a lack of willpower, a personal failure. In the face of a toxic nutritional environment jam-packed with foods designed to be addictive, relying on willpower to stay healthy is like using a thimble to bail water out of a sinking ship. What we eat is a result of what is grown, made, advertised, and sold.


On Sale
Oct 22, 2019
Page Count
320 pages
Little Brown Spark

Dr. Mark Hyman, MD

About the Author

Mark Hyman, MD, is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, the chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine, and founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center. He is the author of numerous New York Times bestsellers including Eat Fat, Get ThinThe Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet, The Blood Sugar Solution,  UltrametabolismThe Ultramind Solution, The Ultrasimple Diet, and coauthor of The Daniel Plan and Ultraprevention.

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