FINE food plan, energy nutrition, Karyn Shanks, Karyn Shanks MD, food as medicine, energy healing,

Foundational Intensive Nutrition Energy (FINE) Food Plan

The Foundational Intensive Nutrition Energy Food Plan (FINE)—a Real Food Plan for Energy Nutrition

This is your foundational energy nutrition healing food plan.

In some ways this food plan is about going back to our roots. To eating real food, grown in favorable conditions, prepared simply and deliciously, shared with those we love, eaten slowly, and just enough to meet our needs.

But its also about moving forward into our age of high technology and convenience and using the positive attributes of our modern age as an asset, to improve our nutrition and ability to use food for healing. It is not about trying to mimic what we think our ancestors were doing, but more about evolution and optimizing what we have available to us for our own benefit.

The FINE food plan is an excellent real food template that provides intensive nutrition to support all of our body’s needs while eliminating foods that cause inflammation, toxicity, elevated blood sugar levels, and damage to our metabolism.

Those who eat this way get to enjoy robust energy, reversal of inflammatory conditions, clearer thinking, attainment of ideal body weight, and more joyful lives.

FINE Energy Nutrition is Not a Paleo or Ancestral Diet

The FINE Food Plan I teach is not a Paleo or “ancestral” diet. Paleo is a cultural movement that seeks to fundamentally change how people eat that has great intentions–to improve the quality of what people eat by borrowing from the heritage of some of our ancestors. There are elements that are of great value and have provided tremendous inspiration for how I think about food and what I recommend to my clients. There are also elements within the Paleo movement that are misguided.

The emphasis on eating real food and more plants by some versions of the modern Paleo diet is good. Encouraging persistent over consumption of animal products and repetitive food groups without regard to nutritional diversity, seasonal changes, and personal preferences is not good. Moreover, our Paleolithic ancestors roamed the earth before the time of agriculture and foraged, hunted, and to a limited extent, grew their food. Tribes all over the world adapted to their unique habitats and had greatly different diets as a result. Their lifestyles were completely different than our own not only in terms of types of foods consumed, but movement, relationships and stressors. Being dogmatic about protocols and strategies fit for everyone does not take into consideration our individual differences and preferences.

But our bodies—our genetics and physiologies—arose from our ancestors. And these haven’t changed. We can take lessons from what we know about them. They ate real food, they seldom consumed in excess of their needs, they moved their bodies a lot, and they lived in closely-knit communities. These are the positive attributes of Paleolithic cultures that we can capitalize on.

The FINE Energy Nutrition Food Plan is Simple:

“Eat (real) food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

-Michael Pollan, Food Rules

  • Eat real food only and always.
  • Avoid all processed and refined foods.
  • Avoid all sugars (most of the time).
  • Eat healthy fat.
  • Eat enough healthy protein to meet your needs.
  • Eat mostly plants.
  • Eat a variety of plants of many colors.
  • Feed your microbiome.
  • Eat fresh food, farm-to-table, seasonably.
  • Eat mindfully, joyfully, and socially.
  • Don’t overeat.

 In addition to these basic tenets of healthy eating it is important to avoid all harmful food—those foods and food contaminants that can promote injury or inflammation, such as food allergens, irritants, pesticides, plastics, sugars (especially high fructose corn syrup), and artificial sweeteners.

Making this Your Own: You Are Unique

What constitutes the best eating strategy? There is no one-size-fits-all food protocol that serves the needs of everyone. By understanding your unique needs and preferences with regards to nutrition, you will make your version of this food plan work for you

The optimal food plan for each of us is based on our genetics, biochemical individuality, challenges, and our needs at any given time. Our ideal food plan must also consider our desires and preferences. Food should taste good to us and be fun and joyful.

While what makes each of us unique inspires the nuances of our ideal diets, there are important considerations that apply to everyone. My FINE Food Plan is a template I use for all of my clients, tweaking and modifying it as needed to address individual needs and nuances.

Food Sensitivities and Intolerances

First of all, how do you know if you have food sensitivities or intolerances? These can be any adverse reaction that relates directly back to the food you consume.

Food “allergies” could be considered sensitivities, though they are not the same thing. Allergies involve a highly specific type of immune cell reaction to food proteins, resulting in very characteristic symptoms. Specific immune cells, upon exposure to a food allergen, immediately release chemical inflammation mediators (like histamines, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes) that cause hives, itchy skin, runny nose, sinus congestion, sneezing, headaches, wheezing, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, fast heart rate, and anxiety. On the more severe end of the spectrum of these symptoms is anaphylaxis—when the reaction is so severe that airways are compromised and one may experience life-threatening trouble with breathing and control over cardiovascular system responses. These require emergency treatment at home (Epi-pen, anti-histamines) or the emergency room.

Food sensitivities and intolerances are not the same as allergies. They do not have the potential for sudden life-threatening symptoms as allergies do, though they can cause great suffering due to the inflammation, tissue damage, pain, and hormonal and brain chemistry imbalances they can cause.

 Common Food Sensitivities and Intolerances Include:

  • Food proteins that trigger a “delayed type” hypersensitivity response by immune cells lining the gut (can be measured with serum IgG4 levels): e.g. gluten, grains, animal milk protein, eggs.
  • Foods that may not digest well (even when digestion, itself, is functioning well), leading to gut discomfort, gas, bloating, and diarrhea: foods with high contents of poorly absorbed carbohydrates referred to by the acronym, FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-,Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols). These include fructose and fructans, galactooligosaccharides, disaccharides (lactose), monosaccharides (fructose), and sugar alcohols (polyols—sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol). See appendix for complete list of high FODMAP foods.
  • Naturally occurring food chemicals that are irritating and may be difficult to remove in predisposed individuals: e.g. tyramines, histamines, oxalates, alkaloids, lectins.
  • Foods that irritate the gut lining, leading to increases in gut permeability, increased systemic toxicity, and inflammation: e.g. grains, cow’s milk, eggs, beans and legumes, night shades, nuts.
  • Processed foods with high sugar content: grains, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, other sugars.
  • Foods additives and toxins: contaminants (pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals), dyes and coloring agents, gums, damaged fats (hydrogenated, trans, or rancid fats), charred meat.

Reversing Food Sensitivities and Intolerances

If you believe you have been suffering from the effects of food sensitivities and intolerances, it will be important to follow this food plan with one hundred percent strictness. You may need a more intensive plan, that excludes additional food groups that can trigger inflammation—see the Gut-Immune Restoration Intensive Nutrition (GRIN) food plan.

It is imperative to allow ample time to reverse the irritant and inflammatory processes responsible for causing the damage, and for healing to take place. With food sensitivities, the inflammatory response to culprit foods occurs with the same vigorousness to a very small amount of the food as it does to a large quantity. Simply reducing the quantity, but not completely eliminating, the culprit food will not help, and often make symptoms worse.

If you have true immunological sensitivities to food, you may feel worse before you feel better once you’ve implemented the FINE or GRIN food plans. Your immune system remains vigilant as your body becomes accustomed to the absence of the culprit foods. This lasts just a few days to a week or so. Expect it so you will not be surprised. Treat yourself symptomatically, just as you would if you had the flu. And remember, this too shall pass.

Systemic Inflammatory Conditions and Autoimmunity

Many people have food sensitivities as part of a constellation of system-wide symptoms and problems caused by inflammation, impaired gut permeability, and autoimmunity. The FINE food plan may be a good starting place, however, it is possible that you will need to use a more aggressive strategy for a period of time. These details are outlined in the Gut-Immune Restoration Intensive Nutrition (GRIN) food plan.

Metabolic Syndrome (Blood Sugar and Insulin Regulation Problems)

For those with high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or excess belly fat (part of “metabolic syndrome” physiology), it is also ideal to follow FINE eating strategy strictly. Many of the restricted foods, such as grains (even “health whole grains”) release large amounts of sugar when digested. This leads to excess insulin release in the body. When persistent, this will induce a stress response, inflammation, increased belly fat, and a whole host of “downstream” problems that are part of the metabolic syndrome physiology. There are excellent resources listed in the appendix that discuss this in much greater depth.

For Vegans and Vegetarians

This food plan will be a challenge for you in the protein and complete nutrition departments. Without animal flesh, fish, eggs, beans, or legumes as protein sources you will have to be much more mindful of the protein content of the foods that you eat. You will likely need to incorporate healthy protein supplements into your diet, particularly if you are active (see appendix for some of my favorite protein supplements). Some important nutrients can only be obtained from animal products in levels that are adequate to support good health (vitamin B12, choline, omega-3-fatty acids, many minerals, iron, and vitamin D). Consider working with a trusted health practitioner or functional nutrition specialist well versed in this style of eating (see appendix).

Your Challenge in Taking on the FINE Energy Nutrition Food Plan

Success starts with a decision—a commitment. I challenge you to commit to six-weeks of complete strictness to the FINE food plan. Keep a food journal and carefully document your food and liquid intake as well as any symptoms. If you experience symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, or brain fog, rate them daily on a scale of zero to ten. Observe the change.

Once the six-week introduction period is over, if you decide to stray, do it mindfully. Choose your “off-plan” food carefully, eat it joyfully, and document what you did so you can observe the consequences. Many food sensitivity-related symptoms don’t occur right away, but as long as several days later.

If you are not up to a six-week trial at this time, you may benefit from shorter periods. In general, it takes six to twelve weeks to correct the immune and hormonal responses that cause symptoms. However, in just two weeks (shorter periods than two weeks may not allow you to get over the initial period of not feeling well) you may get to experience some of the benefits of eating more nutritious and less toxic food.

Remember, many people feel worse before they feel better, especially those who are making a dramatic overhaul of their usual eating plan. This will last a few days up to a few weeks. Track your symptoms carefully and hang in there. If you are concerned, talk to your health care provider before giving up.

Common Challenges and Pitfalls for Beginners Adopting the FINE Energy Nutrition Food Plan

Adopting a healthier eating strategy absolutely will challenge you. Change is always a challenge. For some of you there may be a period of intense deprivation and perhaps withdrawal-like symptoms as you move from your current way of eating to FINE. You may need to learn a whole new way of eating, cooking, shopping, socializing, eating out, and traveling. People may be curious or downright critical as you break away from the usual routine. Embrace these challenges. Understand where you are headed. Carefully observe the changes that occur as your health improves. Seek out wise counsel and support for getting through the rough patches.

  • Change Itself: Change is always hard. Some liken it to grief—there’s a mourning process as we give up what is familiar and comfortable (even when it’s bad for us!) and move into the unknown
  • Feeling Deprived: We derive pleasure and nourishment from our bad habits and favorite foods—why else would we eat them? It’s hard to voluntarily let go of the intense—though transient—benefits of our favorite comfort foods. Sugar, grains, and cow’s milk can cause real physical addiction. It’s not uncommon to crave them for several days up to a couple of weeks after elimination
  • Physical Symptoms: Expect to feel worse before better if you are making serious changes—especially with foods that commonly cause sensitivities, as well as sugar. Fatigue, headaches, lack of motivation, weakness, sleepiness, foggy head, intense cravings—even flu-like symptoms—are all fair game. They will last just a few days up to a week or two. Rest, adequate hydration, and ample “allowed” food intake will all help. Some find relief with the use of OTC activated charcoal—2 capsules between meals as needed.
  • Steep Learning Curve: For some this eating strategy will require acquiring lots of new information. You won’t be able to shop from the same isles at the grocery store or depend on the old stand-by recipes you know by heart. I promise this will be well worth it and will absolutely become second nature to you. In fact, the rules are quite simple and you’ll become quite familiar with the produce department.
  • Organization: This is key—and what most of my clients struggle with the most in the early phase of the FINE and GRIN food plans. Learn the food plan first. Then plan your meals and snacks ahead of time so your pantry and fridge are well stocked with everything you need when you need it. I swear, you’ll get good at this! Use the abundance of available resources in the appendix for ideas.
  • Not eating enough: Some people start out on this plan and do not eat enough in the early stages while they are learning. They often lose weight quickly and feel hungry, tired, and weak. This is easily remedied by careful planning so that ample food is available for all meals and snacks.
  • Social Gatherings and Eating out: It is very hard to stick to this plan at the majority of restaurants, especially chains and fast food restaurants, and at social gatherings where the other participants don’t eat the way you do now. In the beginning it is best to work on learning the fundamentals of the food plan and food preparation by eating at home. Once you are good at this, you will know how to select restaurants and know what questions to ask your server regarding ingredients you are trying to avoid. For social gatherings, you may need to eat beforehand or take your own food. Your close friends will get to know your new sensibilities about food—so tell them what you can’t eat and offer to bring a dish.
  • Travel: You will need to get savvy about how to have your needs met while away from home. This may include planning ahead for grocery stores and restaurants that can accommodate your food plan, packing and transporting food, taking healthy meal replacement products such as bars and protein supplements, or planning for accommodations where you can have a kitchen and do your own cooking. This gets tricky but is something you will become good at over time.
  • Getting frustrated and giving up: This may be due to the challenges of making change or getting organized around new skills and habits. It may also be related to feeling poorly in the early stages. It is good to know what to expect and to prepare yourself for what is to come. Read this section thoroughly and create a careful plan for yourself. Remember that failure is your best teacher. If you fall, get back up.
  • Family and friend backlash and lack of support: They may even try to sabotage your efforts at self-improvement. Or perhaps they just don’t understand and feel just as overwhelmed as you do. Share your educational materials with them and don’t forget to ask for help! In the end, this is your life, your self-care, and only you can decide what is best for you.

Let Go of the Need to Be “All Ready”

Don’t wait to begin until you are “all ready.” When are we ever ready—really ready—to step into change and our fears about what may happen next? About how hard or impossible it all is? Sure, it helps to make a plan and get organized, but we may never possess that deep sense in our guts that now is the time. However, in spite of not feeling ready, we all have the capacity to be brave, uncertain, and unsure about the outcome and still move forward. We can make the decision and step into action.

Simple Steps to Learning and Successfully Implementing the FINE Energy Nutrition Food Plan:

  • Read this chapter carefully to thoroughly review what is to come.
  • Assess your readiness for making this change at this time. Would another time be better? Would taking it on in a step-wise fashion be best?
  • Mobilize your support network of family, friends, and advisors to help you.
  • Clean out your kitchen, refrigerator and pantry of all foods that are excluded from this food plan. If they are not included that means they are not good for you. Best to get rid of them.
  • Plan meals and make your grocery list. Fill your kitchen with an ample supply of food so that you always have what you need and not go hungry.
  • Consider kitchen tools that will make food preparation easier for you (see below).
  • Keep a careful food and symptom diary, especially at first, as you are learning this new way of eating and transforming your health.
  • Look at additional resources for more in-depth reading, recipes and encouragement.
  • Work with a trusted healthcare provider.

 No Calorie Counting

Follow the simple rules for FINE eating and there will be no need to count calories. Eat your fill and enjoy what you eat. You will find that you will be less hungry during the day and eat less overall. In addition, once you have completely eliminated grains (particularly wheat) and sugar, there will no longer be the addictive relationship to food that leads to compulsive eating and unstable mood and energy throughout the day. What liberation. This is not to say that calories don’t factor into our ultimate strategy. Clearly eating calories in excess of our needs will put a stop to needed fat loss. Eating a bagful of those healthy, high fat, high calorie nuts is probably not a good idea. However, for now, as you learn, calorie counting is not necessary.

No Weighing In

Please stay off the scale during the first six weeks while you are incorporating this food plan into your life. I want your focus and emphasis to be on the quality of food you are eating and the lifestyle change involved in making this happen. Your weight is not the central issue. It is a side effect of how you are eating and the condition of your health. Weight loss is inevitable on the FINE food plan. Please focus on learning and get away from obsessing about your weight.

Foods to INCLUDE On Your Foundational Intensive Nutrition Energy (FINE) Food Plan

Healthy lean meat choices, eggs and fish:

Use only grass-fed beef options, free-range poultry and eggs, wild game and wild-caught fatty fish such as salmon, herring and sardines. Use organ meat from healthy animals. Include protein in every meal and refer to the protein counter below to determine your total daily protein need and plan your meals and snacks accordingly.

Non-starchy vegetables:

Eat mostly greens and include the multitude of other colors. Emphasize the crucifer family: cabbage, kale, broccoli, broccoli sprouts and Brussels sprouts. Include garlic and onions liberally. Minimize starchy vegetables such as carrots, yams and potatoes but do include them in small quantities, as they are rich in nutrition. A simple guideline for quantity is that veggies should take up 2/3 of your plate at each meal. There is no need to over-eat. Those with metabolic syndrome: avoid starchy veggies altogether!

Low sugar-content fruit:

Eat mostly berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc) and may include apples and pears. Pomegranate and cranberries are good options. Save sweeter fruits (peaches, bananas, pineapple) for special treats and desserts. Those with metabolic syndrome: avoid all fruit other than berries, tart apples, cranberries and pomegranate.

Nuts and seeds:

Stick to raw, fresh options and avoid peanuts (these are actually legumes and can promote inflammation). Nuts and seeds contain healthy fats, which are vital to our good health, however be aware of their high calorie content to avoid over-consumption. Ground flax and hemp seeds and whole Chia seeds provide a lot of fiber, protein and healthy fats—include these daily. They mix well in smoothies.

Bone Broth:

Make bone broth from the left-over bones of free-range chickens or grass fed cows. Include it in soups and stews, sauté vegetables with it or drink it by itself. You may add beef-derived collagen hydrosylate (see below) to increase protein content and make a substantial meal or snack out of it.


Make sure it is clean and filtered and you may include mineral or sparkling versions. Most people need a minimum of 2 quarts per day, more for highly active individuals. Include herbal tea in your tally. Caffeinated beverages promote fluid loss, so should not be counted.

Spices, condiments, food supplements:

Some of my favorite highly nutritive varieties are cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, cardamom, black pepper, paprika, ginger, rosemary, thyme, basil, Sencha ground green tea, vegetable proteins (such as hemp and pea proteins), gelatin or hydrolyzed collagen derived from grass-fed cows (to use as a protein supplement).

Healthy fats:

  • Coconut oil and coconut milk: (use the full fatted culinary version sold in cans or make your own—avoid the diluted version sold in cartons): These are rich in medium-chain triglycerides, which are important fats for structure and energy production. They are also rich in fats (lauric acid, caprylic acid, capric acid) that may have important antimicrobial effects. Use only organic, unrefined varieties.
  • Avocados, avocado oil: These contain potent antioxidants known as carotenoids, phytosteroids and polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols—all of which help modulate inflammation in the body. The oleic acid in avocados is a monounsaturated fat that reduces the risk of vascular disease.
  • Olives, olive oil: Olive oil is one of the healthiest foods on the planet. Not only is it rich in heart and vasculature-protective monounsaturated fats, but contains a diverse array of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients that have been shown to reduce inflammation, cancer risk, allergies, cardiovascular problems, osteoporosis and more. Buy only organic, unrefined varieties and store in dark containers in cool areas to prevent spoilage.
  • Omega-3-fats: (fish oil, algae-derived DHA). These have many health benefits as necessary structural fats for cell membranes and anti-inflammatory molecules. If you don’t eat fatty fish like wild-caught salmon regularly, you would benefit from supplementing with a good quality EPA-DHA extract.

Beans and Legumes:

Omit these if you suspect you have food sensitivities. Limit the amount you consume to keep the sugar content of your diet low. Use the full spectrum of beans, legumes, lentils and dals.

Foods to AVOID On Your Foundational Intensive Nutrition Energy (FINE) Food Plan:

All grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, etc.):

All grains can be irritants to the immune system as well as the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. All of today’s genetically engineered grain varieties are high in sugar content and release high levels of sugar through the digestive process.

All animal milk products (this includes cow, goat and sheep’s milk):

Animal milk is pro-inflammatory by virtue of its major protein, casein, and one of its predominant fats, arachadonic acid. Caseomorphones are produced in the digestive process of milk and behave like opiates that can cause mood and cognitive dysfunction in susceptible individuals.

All processed, synthetic foods, preservatives and additives:

These are not real food, are void of nutrition, high in calories and man-made molecules that can be harmful.

Unhealthy meats:

These include commercial corn-fed feedlot beef, commercial poultry and eggs, farm-raised fish and all large predator fish (such as tuna and swordfish). Feedlot beef are treated with the utmost cruelty and are fat, unhealthy cows and their meat contains an abundance of unhealthy fats. Fish not wild-caught and larger predator fish are suspect for pesticides or heavy metal contamination. Refer to the National Resources Defense Council’s detailed guide about choosing fish with the lowest mercury content:

Excesses of sugar:

This includes the sugar naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables (sweet fruit and starchy veggies). The literature is now huge on negative health impact of dietary sugars. We were not designed to process excesses of sugar, a well-established human toxin.

Artificial and non-nutritive sweeteners:

Avoid all sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners that add sweetness to food and beverages but have no nutritional value. These include sucralose, splenda, stevia, aspartame and sugar alcohols (such as mannitol, sorbitol, dextrose and xylitol).

Unhealthy fats:

Including all trans or hydrogenated fats, excesses of saturated fat that occur in high levels in commercial meats, damaged fats that can be found in rancid oils or fatty foods exposed to excess heat. Best to stick with raw, fresh nuts. Protect your oils from excess exposure to heat or ambient air. Store nuts and oils in the refrigerator if you don’t plan to use them within a few days. Processed and rancid fats promote inflammation and lead to tissue damage and disease.

All beans and legumes (this includes peanuts and soy):

If you have food sensitivities, gut permeability issues or are suffering from inflammatory or autoimmune disorders avoid all beans and legumes. Beans and legumes contain lectins on their surfaces, which promote inflammation along the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and irritate the immune system.

Special Considerations for the FINE Food Plan

Detoxification Support

Food is the mainstay of robust detoxification support—one of our foundational physiologic processes—transforming and clearing out toxins that we ingest or create internally. Because detoxification goes on 24/7, it is imperative that we feed it regularly—not just during our biannual cleanse, occasional juicing, fasting, or other detox strategy. We need a daily supply of healthy fats, proteins, and multi-colored plants in our diets to optimize detoxification. For a more detailed discussion, including specialized supplements to support detoxification, see Chapter Fourteen: We Avoid Toxins, Irritants, and Negative Energy.

Gut Function and Microbiome Support

We must have healthy gut function to digest our food and assimilate the nutrients they provide for us. We also must mind our microbiome, the trillions of bacterial cells that live with us in our bodies—our guts, skin, and other mucus membrane regions. In fact, we are our microbiome. Our cellular function and genetic expression are completely intertwined and interdependent. Imbalances in gut flora come about from antibiotic use and poor diets.

Basic guidelines for optimizing gut and microbiome function with food:

  • Eat in a relaxed, unhurried fashion, rather than on-the-run.
  • Chew slowly and appreciate the flavors and textures of your food.
  • Consider the use of digestive aids such as enzymes, Betaine Hydrochloric acid, digestive bitters, ox bile, or melatonin. Work with your trusted health practitioner to guide you in their use.
  • Treat gut inflammation that can disturb the absorptive capacity of the small bowel.
  • Remove food allergens and irritants from your diet through the FINE or GRIN food plans.
  • Optimize gut nutrition—the gut needs the right nutrition for optimal function. Consider the use of l-glutamine (major energy source for gut mucosal cells), in addition to optimal fat, protein, and micronutrients.
  • Feed the microbiome: non-digestive sugars from plants will provide your gut bacteria with needed fuel. Probiotic supplements can be useful for microbiome recovery


Karyn Shanks MD. The Gut-Immune Restoration Intensive Nutrition (GRIN) Food Plan. 2016.

Karyn Shanks MD. Deprivation: The Challenge of Lifestyle Change. 2017.

Karyn Shanks MD. Simple is Better: the “Rule of Threes.” 2017.

Karyn Shanks MD


Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-eight year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.

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