Continuing on the fact that I have once again changed my position stance on nutrition and healthy eating in my last blog, I will give some general advice and tips that I have no doubt will stand the test of time. Moreover, these tips are easy to implement and integrate into your life, but you do have to make an effort to do so. I also believe that we need to stay flexible to new research because the science of nutrition (among other topics) is never really settled. New theories, hypothesis, points of view, and testing of these ideas will always happen. This is a good thing as far as I am concerned, for that is how we can better refine our approach and make adjustments that fit our lifestyle and preferences, all within the context of healthy eating.
Having said that, there are fundamental dietary principles that stood the test of time, regardless of the Zeitgeist of the moment. They are general nutritional ideas that are malleable, thus making it easy to customize your diet to your tastes in a healthful and sustainable way. So let’s begin.
Still Eat a Lower Carb Diet
I know that the latest research demonstrates that carbohydrates are not as bad as the Paleo/keto proponents make then out to be. There really is good reason for that. We do use carbohydrates as fuel, and when we are very low in glucose, the body will make it’s own through gluconeogenesis. There are some cells in the body that run only on glucose, thus we really do need some carbohydrates in our diet. I, personally, have started eating potatoes and fruit again with more frequency and I am feeling just fine. I have not gained any fat either.
However, the reason I feel it is important for everybody to try to keep carbohydrates on the lower side is because it is way too easy to overeat carbohydrates without even knowing it. Sugar and high fructose corn syrup is in almost everything these days. It really is hidden sugars that trip people up without knowing it. Furthermore, chronically high insulin levels are a big problem. Elevated insulin levels over the long haul leads to insulin insensitivity, metabolic damage, and ultimately type 2 diabetes, as well other age related diseases such a Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. This is not a small problem, and high carbohydrate consumption, especially simple carbohydrates, open up the possibility of this happening.
Another component of high carbohydrate consumption that I feel the need broach is that it is way easier to override the sense of feeling “full” when you have enough nutrition. This is known as the “appestat” introduced to me by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond in their book Fit for Life. The appestat tells the mind/body when it has enough nutrition to meet it’s needs, thus suppressing hunger. When the appestat functions properly, the individual will never have a problem of over eating and obesity (more on how the food industry uses this to their knowledge in a moment). Eating a diet mostly of simple carbohydrates will make it too easy to over eat before the appestat gives the sense of fullness. To expand on this point, Sumo wrestlers eat upwards to 20,000 calories a day(!), and the only way they can get enough calories to do the job is by eating 5 to 10 bowls of rice and drink up to 6 pints of beer every meal. Think about it this way: Can sumo wrestlers eat 20,000 calories a day if it was nothing but pork chops, pot roast and fish? Highly unlikely because of the amount of fat. Fat and protein can be very filling and nutrient dense, making it very hard to overeat, or in the case of sumo wrestlers to actually eat enough to compete.
Circulating back around to the main point: we really need to keep our carbohydrate consumption on the lower end. The average American eats at least 300 grams of carbohydrates a day, which in and of itself is simply too high. Many Americans eat even more…close to 600 grams of carbohydrates a day! There is no need for this. It should be restrained a bit. Understanding this, it would be good to keep overall daily carbohydrate consumption anywhere between 100 to 200 grams a day, maybe upwards to 250 grams a day if you are active. This is lower carb, but not but not full on keto.
Do Not Eat Industrial Seed Oils Period!
Next to the ubiquitous use of processed foods in our diet today, I would have to say that the switch from animal fats such as butter, ghee, beef tallow and so forth as well as fats good fats from vegetables such as coconut oil, avocado oil and olive oil to industrial seed oils over the last thirty years or so is having the biggest impact on our health. They are heavily processed so they are rancid even before we use them to cook. Moreover, they are polyunsaturated fats which are not as stable as saturated fats. Our bodies use fat to make the lining of our cells, as a surfactant for the lungs, and to make hormones. As ironic as it may sound, saturated fats do a better job for that. There is plenty of research demonstrating that industrial seed oil consumption leads to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia.
So what are the industrial seed oils? Canola oil, sunflower seed oil, vegetable oil, and safflower oil among others. They are the ones that are still liquid when you put it in the refrigerator. Just avoid them completely.
Choose good fats like these: butter, ghee, beef tallow, coconut oil, avocado oil and olive oil. Olive oil and avocado oil are monounsaturated fats, thus they stay liquid in cooler temperatures, but they are still remarkably stable and good for us.
Do Not Eat Processed Foods
The food industry completely changed our eating habits over the last 50 to 70 years, and only for the worse. By processed foods I mean just about everything you buy that comes in a bag or box. The more common examples are chips, cookies, gold fish crackers, mac and cheese and so on. Most frozen foods fit in this category as well. I would also put in that camp most fast food restaurants and even some higher end restaurants.
The fast food giants were doing research for a long time, dating as far back as the 1970’s that I know of (maybe even longer) about how to make their products irresistible and cheap to make. Remember the appestat that I mentioned earlier? Well, the food giants learned a long time ago about the appestat and they worked very hard figuring how to override it. What they found to work particularly well was that with just the right combination of fat, sugar and salt, the consumer will eat almost anything…and lots of it! The other very important piece to override the appestat is what to leave out, and guess what that would be? It would be nutrients that the body would use for repair, growth and overall health like vitamins, minerals, amino acids and so forth. Taking these key nutrients out tells the appestat that the body does not have enough nutrients, regardless of the amount of calories consumed. You would still feel hungry, for example, after eating a whole bowl of chips. Yet you would have consumed several hundred calories. Just knowing this makes it easy to see why we have a problem with obesity in this country that seems out of control.
But there is more. The ingredients they use are not only inexpensive, but lead to many “diseases of civilization”. They liberally use simple carbohydrates such as high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose and so on that have very low nutritional value. High fructose corn syrup, for example, can raise insulin levels and promote fat formation in the liver (called De Novo Lipogenesis), which can cause non fatty liver disease and diabetes. Another inexpensive ingredient that is very common in processed foods is hydrogenated vegetable oils. The reason they hydrogenize vegetable oils is to make it solid like saturated fats. This helps with taste, texture, mouth feel and long shelf life. Trans-fats also fit in this category, and there is plenty of research showing that these fats are unhealthy, yet they still use them liberally. I see no reason why that will ever change, so it is best to simply avoid processed foods altogether.
One final but very important point I feel compelled to make: Processed foods, according to Jason Fung, a doctor who helps people reverse type 2 diabetes through diet and exercise, says that processed foods spike insulin levels more than any other food, even simple carbohydrates! What more needs to be said right?
Eat Whole Foods
Let’s define “whole foods”. According to dictionary.com, whole food is food with little or no refining or processing and containing no artificial additives or preservatives. Another definition adds GMO free and no additives, sugars or, starches, whole grains and local grass fed beef. This is about as close as we can get to the foods that our ancestors ate back in the day. They do include whole grains in this definition, and that is fine. There can be a problem with whole grains and many raw vegetables in that they contain anti-nutrients that interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Anti-nutrients can be minimized by doing what our ancestors have done for centuries: cooking, soaking and the process of fermentation. In light of this, I would have to say that a raw food diet is not the healthiest way to go.
But think about it for a minute. If you ate whole foods that are prepared as mentioned above, wouldn’t you feel well nourished and satisfied? You would not have unrelenting cravings for sweets or an unmanageable desire to eat all day long. You would be more in balance with your energy needs and your appetite would reflect that.
Eat Animal Products
To all of the vegans and vegetarians out there who reads this and do not agree for either moral or ethical concerns, I understand. I really do. This is a personal decision, and I do not want to persuade you to change. After all, I could be wrong. I have been before and I know I will be wrong again. If you do stay with a vegan or vegetarian diet, you are aware that you have to take extra steps to insure you get all of the amino acids and vitamins/ minerals you need for good health. Keep doing that. If, however, you are contemplating whether you should go vegan/vegetarian for optimal health, I would recommend that you include animal products in your diet. Why? Because animal products are very nutrient dense. Take the extensive research performed by Dr. Weston Price. He was a dentist from Cleveland at the turn of the century (1870-1948), who decided to research what really caused dental decay and physical degeneration. He set out to study isolated human groups to see how healthy they were and how they lived their lives. He had hoped and expected to find an isolated culture living entirely on plant foods, but was very disappointed to find that no such group existed. He also noticed a big range between groups. Some, like the Inuit, ate nothing but meat and fish, while other groups, notably the agriculturists in Africa, ate small amounts of meat. No group ate only plant foods. Moreover, no matter what type of diet they preferred, all of the groups valued nutrient dense animal foods for pregnant women and children. Furthermore, all of the non western civilized peoples he studied all had good health. No dental caries, diabetes, cancer, dementia and so on. Even the Hazda that Herman Pozner studied ate animal products. As a matter if irony, the first thing that happened when he went to study the Hazda was that of two hunters coming back to camp bringing a deer! High carbohydrate diet? Sure. Vegetarian? Not a chance.
We are, after all, omnivores. Not carnivores. Not herbivores. Omnivores. Thus we should eat both plants and animals for optimal health.
Eat Fermented Foods Liberally
Foods are fermented through a process where yeast and bacteria break down sugars into organic acids, gasses or alcohol. It is a practice that goes back centuries by many cultures, especially those that lived in cold harsh climates. The main reason people ferment foods is to preserve foods for a long shelf life. There are many health benefits to eating fermented foods. For instance, fermented foods create probiotics that help maintain gut health, digestion and a strong immune system. Fermented foods also are anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-diabetic and anti-inflammatory. That is simply too many benefits to avoid eating fermented foods. If there was any category that I would call “super foods” , I would have to say that fermented foods most certainly belong.
Here are a few fermented foods to give you an idea.
- Pickled vegetables
You can make many, if not all the the fermented foods at home to save money and to create the tastes you prefer. I started making kombucha a year ago and I feel I have the recipe down to perfection now. I also started making hard cider and hard kombucha as well. We drink much less wine and other spirits now because of it. It saved us a lot of money and our gut microbiome is thanking us every day! I also started to make my own pickled veggies, and I also make homemade mustard. I am planning on making my own sauerkraut soon.
Practice a Fasting Protocol of Some Kind
There are many ways to integrate fasting into your eating plan. For example, skipping breakfast and waiting until lunch before having something to eat is the way I do my fasting. It narrows my eating window to about 8 to 10 hours, and the rest of the time I am in a mild form of fasting. This is called time restricted feeding. Another popular way to fast is choosing two days a week to only eat 500 calories in the 24 hour window, and eat normally the rest of the week. If you think about it, all religions practice some form of fasting. Whether it was by design or not, the fasting rituals the various religions practice help the flock with health and longevity. Let me explain.
For starters, if you are fasting, then the body has to find the energy it needs for the task at hand from somewhere. The body will use the glycogen stored in the liver and muscles, then it will call on the energy from the fat stores. Sometimes this happens in tandem, other times it will come more from one source over the other. When all is said and done, energy will be drawn from the fat stores to be put to use, even without exercising while you are fasting. Furthermore, fasting does allow the insulin levels to recede so the other hormones can do what they need to. Lower insulin levels also helps keep the muscles, liver and fat cells more sensitive to insulin which helps prevent metabolic syndrome. There is another major benefit to fasting: it helps the body tear down dysfunctional parts of a cell and reuse them to build new proteins. This is called autophagy, and fasting turns on the mechanisms to allow it to happen. There is considerable research on autophagy. Valter Longo is a cell biologist who spent his career studying health and longevity. He found that fasting is very beneficial for slowing down the aging process and disease prevention. He has written books and has several videos on the different fasting protocols he put together. Very interesting work indeed.
You May Still Need to Count Calories
If after you tried everything you can think of to lose that extra fat that you have been working hard to lose but it hasn’t budged, you may need to consider the old recommendation of counting you daily caloric intake and seeing where you are. As I alluded to in part one of this blog, the battle does still rage on between the calorie counting camp and the low carb/keto camp when it comes to losing fat. I would say that the majority of the nutritionists still use calorie counting as the cornerstone of their nutrition plan. Moreover, bodybuilders rely primarily on calorie counting to lose fat for a bodybuilding show. They have it as close to a science as you can get for cutting up and looking ripped, and for going on a bulk cycle on the offseason. It is a tried and true method.
I am not a big fan of using calorie counting as a way to lose fat because it is very easy to get compulsive and take the joy out of eating. Life can get pretty miserable. However, calorie counting does have merit. I think most people have no idea how many calories they are consuming daily, and they need to take a closer look at the calories on the items they do eat. There are hidden calories in many foods, particularly the processed foods, that add up. In researching for this blog, I just found out that the average daily caloric intake of Americans is 3,600. 3,600! That is far too many calories for weight maintenance. Once again, I will say with certainty that the excess caloric intake is from eating processed foods, but people have no idea how many hidden calories they contain, so simply pulling out a calorie counting book or an online calorie counting app to look those items up will be very enlightening. It can be the spark to foster change.
The world of nutrition is surprisingly tribal, territorial and dogmatic. Kind of like religion. One would get set in their belief that the way they eat is the only “right” way, and everybody else does not know what they are talking about. I succumbed to a dogmatic approach as well for quite some time. As I outlined earlier, I used to think that it was all a matter of calories in/calories out. Then I changed to the low carb camp. Oh, and I can’t forget about the whole Paleo movement. And now? Now I do keep my eye on the latest science regarding nutrition to glean any kernels of truth that I may not have known about before, but I don’t subscribe to any one rigid approach to nutrition. There are many cultures around the world that have different dietary practices, and until the last 100 years or so were pretty free from western degenerative diseases mostly associated with poor nutrition. When it comes to nutrition, I prefer to look back at what the old cultures and traditions did instead of what the “latest and greatest” is. Humans had no problem figuring out what to eat to maintain health for thousands of years. Is there not wisdom in that? On that note, I want to give a shout out to Dr. Weston Price and his website. They do articles, blogs and videos that focus on just that. Their goal is to “provide accurate information on nutrition and health, always aiming to provide scientific validation of traditional foodways”. They call it the Wise Traditions Diet, and I think the information they have regarding nutrition is priceless.
I say let’s get back to the healthy eating and lifestyle of our ancestors, and keep a skeptical but open mind to the latest research to fine tune our approach.