Saturated fat…here is part three, where we will discuss the research on the topic.

Recap

In part one I discussed the problems with relying on science in general. Some people like accepting the “scientific consensus” on something because it seems safe to go along with majority opinion. The problem with this strategy is that you don’t end up doing the research yourself. When you do, you may find something the majority did not. Also, the conventional point of view regarding all public health related matters is not always based on evidence. We could debate that all day.

In part two I described the idea of food synergy, and why this is a missing link in nutrition science research.

In this final segment I will share what the actual research shows regarding saturated fat intake and cholesterol intake on your health. In addition, I will show you how to find this research easily.

What is the research question?

We will shortly go to pubmed to search for studies on saturated fat and cholesterol consumption. Before we go to pubmed, let’s first clarify our research question. The research question I am answering in this post is “what is the effect of saturated fat and cholesterol intake on cardiovascular disease (CVD) and all-cause mortality?” This is a specific question. “Is saturated fat bad for you” is NOT a specific question. In the research world you need specific questions for a few reasons.

For one, a specific question is easier to study and the results are easier to draw a conclusion from. If we were to design a research study to answer if saturated fat was good for you in general we would probably be answering a lot of other specific questions. We could assess if it’s good for your health, which leads to more specific questions about health. But we could also ask if it makes you feel good to eat it, which is an entirely different question. If we didn’t ask specific questions, and say just designed a survey that asked people if they thought saturated fat was good for you, and they could answer in an open ended way, our data would be quite jumbled and not as meaningful to interpret.

The effect of saturated fat, if any, on cardiovascular disease outcomes and all-cause mortality asks two different questions. The first question is looking at saturated fat and cardiovascular disease outcomes. We could define those outcomes as total heart attacks, deaths from heart attacks, number of strokes, deaths from stroke, and diagnosis of cardiovascular disease.

The second question asks if there is a relationship between saturated fat intake and all-cause mortality. All-cause mortality means death from any cause. Smoking, being sedentary, and eating a standard American diet (high sugar, high amount of processed foods, low antioxidant intake) increases your chances of dying in general from any cause. Generally, unhealthy things make you die sooner, so that is the idea this question is getting at.

Death from a specific cause or any cause is arguably the most important outcome from a medical standpoint. I personally care about all the things leading to death (because we may be living somewhat longer in modern times but it’s questionable if we are healthier), but getting wrapped up in the details sometimes isn’t very fruitful. Drugs for example may reduce risk factors for a disease but make you die sooner from that disease through some unknown mechanism or from some other disease, making the drug pointless.

The other research question is the same, but we will replace saturated fat with cholesterol to get this: “what is the effect of cholesterol intake on cardiovascular disease and all cause mortality?”

What is cardiovascular disease…

The next point I want to make before discussing the research is that cardiovascular disease is sometimes interchanged with heart disease and neither are a single entity. There are a multitude of afflictions affecting the heart, including coronary artery disease (CAD), peripheral artery disease (PAD), ischemic heart disease (IHD), angina pectoris, stroke, arteriosclerosis, hypertension, cardiomyopathies, aortic aneurysm, congestive heart failure, and valvular disorders. Many of them may involve atherosclerosis (plaque build up inside arteries, impeding blood flow). Cardiovascular disease affects the heart, either due to a dysfunction with the heart itself, plaque buildup in the coronary artery, or plaque buildup throughout the vasculature, making it harder for the heart to do its job.

So what is heart health?

In general, if something improves heart health it helps the heart do its job better. If you have lower extremity artery disease (LEAD), something good for promoting blood flow in the lower extremity arteries may improve the return of blood to the heart which could help it pump more effectively. In congestive heart failure, depending on what is causing it, treating that root cause will help the heart pump blood better, reducing stress on the myocytes (name of the cells composing the heart). Off the top of my head, I’m thinking maybe beet juice could help with this, as it promotes blood flow and nitric oxide signaling (many things do this), which dilates the arteries, enhancing blood flow. This might work. It depends on the type of CHF and cause, along with the individual person.

What is mostly true is that many heart diseases can be prevented by not smoking, limiting alcohol intake, exercising regularly, and eating a varied diet rich in antioxidants and nutrients. Most of the diseases that kill people most likely can be prevented this way.

Finding the research

Let’s go to pubmed now and look for some research. I’ve learned a few things from my research classes about getting a good search result here. It takes practice. So watch first what happens when I type in “saturated fat” in the search box.

Not bad actually, when you have “best match” chosen (circled). If you chose instead “most recent” you would get less relevant results. Try it out yourself. We will definitely look at articles 2 and 4 (check marked).

The thinner circles at the bottom bring up the next subject. Instead of pouring through individual studies, we can look for systematic reviews or meta-analyses. Dr. Uman defines these two terms in her article as follows:

“Systematic reviews, as the name implies, typically involve a detailed and comprehensive plan and search strategy derived a priori, with the goal of reducing bias by identifying, appraising, and synthesizing all relevant studies on a particular topic. Often, systematic reviews include a meta-analysis component which involves using statistical techniques to synthesize the data from several studies into a single quantitative estimate or summary effect size (Petticrew & Roberts, 2006).”

Reviews just review what’s out there, and a meta-analysis takes a bunch of studies, pools their data, and performs a new statistical analysis.

Refining the search

We will now search “saturated fat intake cardiovascular disease all cause mortality,” checking just systematic reviews and meta analyses. 13 results show up.

Not bad. Now we will go one step further and go to the advanced search. Click “advanced” below the search box. We are now going to tell the search feature to look for all studies matching two different search phrases. You can simultaneously search for two things at once with one search by using the phrase OR. My search query is now “saturated fat intake AND cardiovascular disease OR saturated fat intake AND all cause mortality.”

17 results! WOW. Just kidding…the 4 additional studies here aren’t really answering our question. So in this case the advanced search wasn’t necessary.

Now let’s compare this to google searching. To my surprise, there is one article (circled below) that did not show up in my pubmed search results. I’ll have to ask my professor about that. One of the other articles that shows up was in my search results.

We will talk about the article shortly. Next, let’s click on “scholarly articles” (where the arrows are pointing). To my surprise, most of the articles on the first page aren’t answering my question.

I’m not interested in flavonoid intake google! Well atually I am but not right now. I am drinking some pour over coffee I made myself and there are flavonoids and polyphenols in there.

Article discussion time

One of the articles google found was not in my pubmed search. This article is titled “Food Sources of Saturated Fat and the Association With Mortality: A Meta-Analysis.” The researchers here set out to answer a few different questions. They were interested in whether or not a high consumption of foods containing saturated fat increased all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, or cancer mortality. They found a slight inverse association with milk, a low positive association with meat, and a moderately positive association with processed meat consumption. In general they said the evidence is too weak to support the idea that eating meat promotes mortality from all causes. They reviewed 26 different studies. That study deserves a separate post. I will keep it brief here as we still have to talk about cholesterol after this.

The second study I want to discuss is titled “Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies” (it’s a free article). They answered the same questions I want to answer (we can decide if their answer is definitive or not) and a few more. They look for an association with saturated and trans unsaturated fat with all cause mortality, CHD mortality, CVD mortality, CVD incidence, ischemic stroke, and diabetes incidence. They found no association with saturated fat and all cause mortality or cardiovascular disease. For trans fat though it’s a different story; they differentiated between natural trans fats (the ones found in grass fed meat and milk) and industrial trans fats (products of hydrogenation of vegetable oils commonly found in processed foods). Total trans fat intake was associated with a statistically significant increase in all cause mortality. Ruminant trans fats were inversely associated with diabetes (but no association was seen with cardiovascular disease). This association was the strongest out of any other association in the study, and warrants a future post.

There are plenty of other articles like these you can find from the pubmed search we went through. In general it seems as if there is no association whatsoever with saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease or all cause mortality. In part four we will discuss the strength of these findings and come to a conclusion on whether or not we should agree with this.

Cholesterol intake

Using the methods above, I searched for “cholesterol intake cardiovascular disease.” I found a paper titled “Dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” This paper answered many questions. One of them was if cholesterol intake had an effect on VLDL (very low density lipoprotein). This is one of the “bad” cholesterols, but it’s not so simple. They evaluated three different trials to answer this question and basically found no association. They also didn’t find much association with cholesterol intake and other serum lipids in general.

They found six different trials investigating cholesterol intake on coronary artery disease (CAD). Only one (a study in a Japanese population) found a statistically significant association. For the rest no positive association was found. Cholesterol intake also had no effect on death from CAD, except in one study where an effect was seen in men who consumed about 430 mg of cholesterol per day. This study had more vegetarians than omnivores, so there could be something else mediating this relationship. 430 mg of cholesterol a day is about a few eggs worth. This may sound alarming but it’s not, as it was just one study, and many other factors could have potentiated this positive relationship. I will have to look into that study separately.

Other studies they evaluated found no association with cholesterol intake and any CVD. Whether its CAD or CVD the results are pretty consistent that there is no positive relationship between cholesterol intake and those diseases. I don’t think they answered all cause mortality so we will just skip over that for now and say don’t worry about it!

Conclusion: In general when studies are discussed we should look at their methods, the population studied, and the outcomes they assessed, in more detail. Here I am just sharing the overall conclusions from some of the most robust analyses on the questions we chose to answer. If there was a huge effect of eating more saturated fat, which is naturally found in milk, cheese, butter, meat, and coconuts, on your heart health, we would expect to see its effect in such large studies where tens of thousands of people are evaluated. There is strength in numbers; the larger the population size the stronger the conclusion from statistical analyses one can draw.

The downside is that individuality is lost. What about meat eating among those who follow a paleo diet versus meat eating in those who follow a standard American diet versus those who eat meat in moderation and try to be healthy but aren’t strict about following a diet? Those are all different populations and I’d have to do more digging to see if studies have been done on these populations. For now, it’s settled. Saturated fat won’t kill you. Eating cholesterol doesn’t cause heart attacks and likely has no relationship with all cause mortality. Emphasize whole food once again and try to connect to nature as much as you can. Choose grass-fed meat whenever possible. Choose pasture-raised eggs. Be proactive about what’s going in to your dinner plate. I know I could even improve in that with my busy lifestyle! I have a quiz tomorrow morning I have barely studied for!

In part four I will talk more about statistics and how to draw conclusions from studies like the ones we analyzed. Hope you learned something.

Stay tuned!

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I read the blood type diet years ago. I then read the Genotype Diet, an updated version of that book. In the latter one, naturopathic physician Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo devised a litany of physical measurements to determine what type of diet is best for one’s health in addition to the detailed reasons he outlined supporting his Blood Type Diet book published years before.

His work, based off of years of research and experimentation, was deemed debunked. People read about it online in press articles and decided that it wasn’t worth looking into. The BTD was now unscientific, just like all naturopaths apparently! Dr. Michael Greger, a highly biased vegan-diet-promoting doctor who cherry picks scientific studies and who I have even found to manipulate data to support his viewpoints published a critique. There was one on quackwatch too which is not a site I find trustworthy, to say the least.

As I have outlined in previous posts, like in a recent one about the saturated fat myth, science is often unable to study the complexities of reality. The study that “debunked” the blood-type diet did not really use the blood type diet. Dr. D’Adamo’s response to it addressed this and much more. His critique included that skeptics tend to never express curiosity. They come from a place of dismissiveness.

This was part of his response:

“A look at the core data used in the PLOS Study [1] debunking the Blood Type Diet (BTD) finds support for the researcher’s conclusions that if your experimental subjects eat potato chips, sandwiches, pizza, ‘beans,’ mac-and-cheese, French Fries and processed meat products while doing 13.7% of the Blood Type Diet, their final cardiometabolic markers will probably not vary much by blood type.”

If you want to learn about the blood type diet one day and read about how it was debunked but never do any research beyond that yourself, you have not honored your curiosity. You have not followed the scientific method. You have relied on “science” that someone else did to arrive at your conclusion about how things work. And you are wrong.

End of story.

I am not going to provide a detailed explanation on why I like the blood type diet. The main reason is that it is idividualized and based on trial, error, and lots of experimentation. Although I have no idea why some types can eat manchengo cheese and others cannot, I am open to the idea that some types may be more sensitive to certain proteins. I think that was his theory but I’ll have to save this discussion for a future post. There may be flaws to it but unlike other diets, it was devised by someone who seemed to put in more time and effort into it than people usually do it diet books. Based on these observations I do not think that the blood type diet debunking study came anywhere close to debunking the success stories people have had with it.

 

In part one, I rambled about how modern science has flaws and thus cannot be trusted in nutrition research sometimes. With saturated fat and cholesterol science, the research is often on people who have unhealthy lifestyles. As a result, red meat has become the villain. Eggs and steak aren’t bad for you folks. From these studies people will say eat more fruits and vegetables for nutrition. Eggs and meat are some of the most nutrient-dense foods out there. Have you ever eaten a steak and felt like your brain worked better afterwards? I have. That is science folks. Science isn’t just going to pubmed and finding articles to support your theories. That’s reading science. Doing science involves experimentation. Your career description does not need to read “scientist” for you to practice science. Your career may be listed as “scientist” and you may not be doing science sometimes because of your biases.

Knowing that I feel better sometimes from eating meat shows me that on some level it is good for me. In other ways, it certainly may not be good for me and I am open to multiple possibilities. Unfortunately people with their heads up their asses call this anecdotal evidence, ranking it too low to be considered legitimate on the hierarchy of evidence. BULLSHIT! I am completely opposed to that idea. Anecdote is often not reliable. But it can become reliable with careful experimentation.

Now one way eating lots of red meat may not be good for me is because I am only eating the muscle component of the animal most of the time. I am not eating the collagen-rich parts like organ means and making broth from the bones. Lately, I’ve been lazy and have been feeling too busy in medical school to devise a holistic nutrition plan for myself that involves organ meat consumption and use of the whole animal. I don’t farm and am not as connected to my food as I should be. Modern science that concludes meat consumption in Americans on the standard American diet is bad for everyone is also coming from a place of extreme disconnectedness to food. We are modern and fashionable but disconnected to the dirt underneath the cement underneath the carpet underneath the sock underneath our feet supporting our bodyweight.

So that in a gist is part one. In this post I will go through a different thought experiment to prove to you why you cannot rely on studies on meat consumption.

Why epidemiological studies on saturated fat consumption should not be trusted

First of all, these studies actually show no association with heart disease. STILL however people condemn saturated fat. Like HELLO PEOPLE. READ THE LITERATURE YOURSELF. Nevertheless, back in the day when the sugar companies made fat the public enemy to increase the epidemic of obesity in America while profiting off of sugar sales, people went on low fat diets. Large studies like the Nurses Health Study (NHS) and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS) have attempted to answer questions about how to live healthfully. Briefly, epidemiology is about studying a population (like nurses in the NHS) and attempting to find a pattern between a factor in their lifestyle and an outcome. Outcomes might include death for example which is the most important one, or maybe a risk factor for death like low HDL and high triglycerides.

Now, it’s clear that low fat diets don’t do much for your health except in certain situations. I only believe in individualized and intuitive eating for optimal health. I believe in the Blood Type Diet by Dr. D’Adamo. It’s individualized. I don’t believe in Whole30. That is a one-size fits all kapha-reducing weight-loss program (kapha is basically like obesogenic in Ayurveda. Diets that eliminate heavy foods are kapha-reducing from that perspective and I think the lingo is easy to understand. People who diet and exercise too much lower their kapha and yin to unhealthy levels and suffer health problems). Whole30 caught on because people mistakenly associate weight loss with health (even medical students fall for this trap). Only true in some cases. Like the person on the standard American diet.

So take my diet. I will make a dinner like in this photo frequently.

Dinner: random vegetables, garlic, meat, some other spices perhaps.

I’ll take some healthy oil, like coconut oil, toasted sesame oil, butter, ghee, and NOT canola oil, corn, safflower, or soy oil (avoid vegetable oils as if your life depended on it) and heat it up. I may have spices on the pan already dry roasting like cumin. I add vegetables to it like onions and tomatoes perhaps. I may add some more spices. I will add more vegetables and meat and salt and just cook that food.

I will eat this meal with some type of carbohydrate like rice (brown, red, and white) or buckwheat noodles or starch-rich yellow potatoes. Once in a while I’ll have lentils (daal made bengali style, one of my comfort foods) with this meal to reduce carbohydrate consumption (unfortunately my extended family despite eating a spice-rich diet that protects DNA also enjoys a high white rice diet without accompanying physical activity resulting in obesity and diabetes).

Now please tell me this. Has a study ever been done evaluating how the effect of cumin, coriander, black pepper, onions, spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes, cooked together in a meal with RED MEAT the VILLAIN hurts my health? HAS THAT STUDY THEN CONSIDERED THE REST OF OUR LIFESTYLES (LIKE EXERCISE HABITS, STRESS, ETC.) AND BEEN ABLE TO PROVIDE AN APPLICABLE CONCLUSION FOR MY HEALTH???

The WHOLE POINT, or RAISON D’ÊTRE (I love how expressive the French are with anger) of epidemiology is to find something that APPLIES TO THE GENERAL POPULATION. When the grandfather of epidemiology found in 1853 after meticulously tracking the public water supply in London that water contaminated with people’s shit and piss was causing the vast majority of illness from cholera, he found something applicable to the whole population. There were two water companies in town. One had pipes right next to shit and piss and the other did not. The ratio of illnesses was like 71:5. Pretty god damn obvious there. Correlation does not equal causation in epidemiology. But to common sense, it does. When the correlation is that high and people are dying of cholera, you should just assume causation.

Meat consumption fortunately doesn’t cause people to drop dead like drinking eight glasses of shit and piss-infused water (might as well call it tea at this point or a tincture) does. Unfortunately, it is harder to find cause and effect relationships with foods, herbs, exercise, and so on. You can exercise and still be unhealthy if the rest of your lifestyle is. So if we cannot rely on epidemiology to tell us if meat is healthy how can we answer the effect of meat on our health?

Synergy

The answer to this question lies in the concept of synergy. When you mix red with blue you get purple. Purple contains both red and blue, but the effect it has on you when you look at it is not simply a mix of the effect of viewing the color red and viewing the color blue. Purple is a relaxing yet luring color to me. I associate it with mysticism (what do you feel when you see purple?) Red is more fiery, sensual, and loud. Blue is cooling, stable, and chill, yet powerful. Of course, this is very subjective but hear me out (science actually is more subjective than people realize). The feeling I get when I look at something purple is not the feeling I get from viewing blue plus the feelings I get from viewing red divided by two. The effect is entirely different. It is new. it is not 1 + 1 = 2.

Thus, when determining how eating red meat and spinach together affects health, we should expect some additive properties (one plus one equals two), some cancelling effects (one minus one equals zero), and some novel synergistic effects (one plus A equals god knows what) that cannot be explained by adding together studies looking solely at meat consumption with studies looking solely at spinach or dark leafy green consumption (or n of one experiments where you just eat meat and see you how feel and just eat spinach and see how you feel then add those up and average them–of course adding up qualitative things to average makes no sense but you get the point). Add stress to the equation and physical activity and you have more room for synergy. There are a million, literally, additional factors that can affect this process.

Red meat itself has so many synergistic compounds in it. Yes there is some saturated fat and cholesterol. Rats and mice fed high cholesterol and high saturated fat diets may end up with clogged arteries, but that is not because just of the saturated fat and cholesterol but because of the unnaturalness of the diet, the inability to process those fats and metabolize them like humans do, and for a variety of other reasons. Regardless that diet does not contain vitamin B12 found in red meat, or alpha-lipoic acid a powerful anti-aging anti-oxidant compound, nor does it contain L-carnitine which helps shuttle fatty acids to the mitochondria for fat oxidation, nor does it contain carnosine another energy-promoting anti-aging nutrient, nor does that diet contain heme-iron which is a highly absorbable and digestible form of iron, nor does that disgusting abominable diet off of which so much catastrophe has ensued from inapplicable laboratory research contain the other combination of B-vitamins in red meat, nor OLEIC ACID THE HEART-HEALTHY fat in OLIVE OIL of which there is almost as much of as saturated fat in red meat (Gary Taubes talked about this a lot and although I think his low-carb hysteria wasn’t entirely true he is a pioneer in nutrition science without even having a degree–goes to show you who you can trust, as while he discusses the evils of carbohydrates the Dean of nutrition programs at top universities condemn organic food and tell you breakfast cereal from Kellogg is healthy because it is enriched with vitamins but mainly because those companies are affiliated with the university somehow…yea don’t study nutrition at a big university or become a registered dietician if you aren’t ready to swallow conventional bullcrap), nor the omega-3 fatty acids present in GRASS-FED beef, and how there is actually less arachidonic acid in grass-fed meat, as well as more vitamin E. Oh man, the list goes on and on.

I’m taking a nutrition class right now that discusses the effects of supplemental minerals and vitamins on health. The studies have examined one nutrient at a time but your body never works that way. Yea sure supplemental vitamin C may reduce this this and that but the whole food will do the same and more things many of which are unpredictable due to the concept of synergy.

Conclusion on synergy

I have rambled a lot so here is the take away about synergy, which was the entire point of part II. Synergy happens when you eat a whole food versus a supplemental vitamin. Red meat for example contains many vitamins and minerals, antioxidant and anti-aging compounds, and omega-3 fatty acids if grass-fed. The synergistic effect of this on your health cannot be predicted from studying the scientific literature on each one of these single nutrients. You may gain an idea but will not know the exact effect.

Part of the reason why you’ll never know is because the synergy also involves how the whole food interacts with the WHOLE YOU. You are a combination of your genetics and environment. Nature and nurture. Your stress levels, physical activity, social actiites, personality, overall happiness, television usage, phone usage, and other factors will affect how red meat affects you physiologically and energetically. This will sound like mumbo jumbo to people who only know how to think reductionistially, like my former self years ago. But lets look at physical activity. Eating carbohydrates after exercising has a different effect than eating those same amount of carbohydrates resting. Although other factors don’t have such noticeably strong effects, there is something happening. I honestly ate dinner today while psychologicaly stressed about something that happened to me reently at school. I very likely did not digest that food as well as I would have if I were at peace mentally, as the mind is connected ot the heart which is connected to the lungs, which is connected to everything else. Indeed as I tried to fall asleep I realized I hadn’t eaten enough and this was mildly stressful as it’s harder to fall asleep. I practiced some stress reduction techniques and slept well.

Final statements for part II.

I am once again not citing any literature, because that is a diversion from doing science yourself. You must take it upon yourself to practice observation, hypothesis formation, experimentation, analysis, then reproduction and expansion of previous experiments, to form valid concludions about what works for your health. Unfortunately, no one is going to figure it out for you.

The studies are limited in design by how much they can truly see. A good scientific study has to have a simple research question that can isolate the effect of one treatment/condition. In this case that would be say, red meat consumption. That study will not factor in exercise, smoking, and all the other factors. The statistial analysis will aim to remove those variables but still, the conclusion will not apply to the guy like me who exercises, eats spices, vegetables, meditates from time to time and tries to be healthy and eats meat. I’m too rare, even though my I shouldn’t be as my diet should be much much better. It’s just that those studies will look at average people who really aren’t doing much for their health. Of course, if red meat was a potent neurotoxin, we would see an effect no matter what and it would be strong. But when the effects aren’t like that, it gets way murkier and that’s why I have shied away from analyzing that kind of literature. I still read nutrition science literature from time to time but always think about how applicable it truly is to the general population. Not much usually I don’t think.

That’s it for part two. In part three I will share the latest research on the subject of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. Stay tuned!

On a recent instagram post about red meat, where I suggested that meat is not bad for you, someone commented that I was a charlatan and that the science was in consensus about the health dangers of red meat consumption.

Now I’ve received comments like this before, from having a youtube channel and discussing non-mainstream views on health. Calling naturopaths quacks and charlatans is done without thought by those who get their medical education from the internet or spend too much time believing what they learned through conventional routes of medical education.

What I did find interesting was the term he used–“scientific consensus.” It reminded me of the scientific consensus that climate change is happening.

Without reading the literature on climate change I am inclined to believe that the scientific consensus is onto something. I’ve heard many times that the sea level is rising, glaciers are melting, and animals are going extinct because of climate change. I can believe that. I’ve watched planet earth on netflix and short films by National Geographic that have clearly shown me that there is a change in the climate. Beyond that, I have no idea as I have not studied the details. I just recycle and aim to reuse what I can.

But is there a scientific consensus that red meat consumption is bad for your health? Well, I am going to break down the science for you, without citing it, because it’s a huge waste of time. If I cite research for you, I will have you making the same mistake the Instagram commenter did. Instead of talking about science that has been published, we are going to think about our own unique scientific experiment (in part two especially). If I cited research that shows no association between saturated fat consumption and all-cause mortality, you might be more likely to believe me, but would you keep reading and be stimulated to construct the big picture as we will do now? I doubt it. Most likely, people will say, “okay cool I can eat red meat” and move on. Well yes you definitely can but here’s why.

Why people think red meat is bad

The two bad things in red meat that are mistakenly attributed to be the cause of its alleged negative health effects are saturated fat and cholesterol. Since pharmaceutical companies have successfully spent billions of dollars convincing patients that cholesterol is a bad guy and that lowering it will improve cardiovascular disease outcomes, red meat seems like a bad idea. It’s mind-boggling that all of this is a huge lie.

The other day a middle-aged gray-haired male was reading side effects of a statin his doctor was interested in him taking at an Indian restaurant where I indulged in a buffet after fasting. This man was also seeing a naturopath, since we were in Oregon where a lot of insurance companies cover naturopathic primary care (they do what MD’s do, and prescribe some herbs along the way depending on how naturopathic they are; unfortunately many have compromised their values but that is another discussion). I started a conversation with him.

“Have you heard of red yeast rice (RYR)?”

“Ah yes, I have! What are your thoughts on that?”

“Well, I recommend it. It actually contains lovastatin. 40 mg of RYR will contain about 10 mg lovastatin, while working just as well as 40 mg of lovastatin. You also get other compounds in there so instead of just one that blocks the crap out of one enzymatic pathway you have more than just one mechanism of action. Furthermore, since you use less statin, you have less muscle cramping and more CoQ10, an important mitochondrial factor that aids in energy production and declines with age. See if you’re on a statin you might have less exercise tolerance because of your reduced CoQ10. It’s just a theory as there aren’t a whole lot of studies on this but exercse is very good for heart health so it’s ironic to me that being on a statin can inhibit your ability to derive the benefits of something you should be doing for your health.”

This individual was very happy I spoke with him.

People who like listening to the “scientific consensus” tend to place too much trust in published research and don’t seem to investigate the matter on their own. They hope that things are right but there are always missing pieces of information. They will say that statins have shown reduced risk of major adverse cardiovascular events and that the benefit of treatment outweighed the risks. It sounds wonderful, but they don’t think holistically, as I attempted to demonstrate above in my conversation with this man. If we are interested in health, we need to go beyond outcome measures and look inwards.

That should answer whether or not saturated fat is bad for you. The research shows X, or Y, or Z, but doesn’t consider everything in between. Research may have shown in the past that a high fat diet fed to mice led to increased aortic plaques and a reduced lifespan. Substitution of the saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats diminished this increased adverse effect. Although compelling, we don’t eat the way mice and rats do in these studies. And that’s why the large studies have found no effect from saturated fat consumption and heart attacks (to be discussed in part three).

Studying a real diet is often too complicated for research purposes. Research must have clearly defined outcome measures, interventions, populations, and control groups. What goes on your plate is not as clearly defined as a saturated fat.

In part two of this segment, I will begin the discussion on why red meat actually isn’t bad for you with an emphasis on holistic thinking. This post was meant to I guess get the thinking process started. Stay tuned!

Coffee pops up in the news every now and then, especially when large population-based studies like the one we are about to discuss are published. Usually people have no reason to fear, but skeptics exist.

There has been research showing increased mortality in folks consuming upwards of 6 cups of coffee a day. The thing is, those people smoke a lot more. Once the effects of smoking are removed from the equation (in a type of statistical analysis called a regression analysis) these ill effects disappear.

The study, titled “Association of Coffee Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality in Three Large Prospective Cohorts,” investigated the relationship between smoking and coffee consumption on mortality (death). They also looked at cause-specific mortality: deaths from specific diseases.

So here’s what happened. They took data from three different prospective cohort studies. These types of studies take a group (a cohort) of ideally randomly selected people, take some kind of measurement or collect data from a survey, then check up with them way later in the future and see what happened to them. In this case they looked just at death (these people were followed up for a long time).

The researchers collected data from three different studies: the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII), and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS). These large studies began collecting data many years ago. They consist of medical professionals like nurses and doctors. The details if you are interested are listed under “study population” in the paper. It’s very important to know what population was studied when you read a paper and then ask yourself if the results of the study are generalizable to the rest of the population.

The NHS collected data from women only, and the HPFS, men only. Together, these three studies followed over 200,000 people for 28 years and 4,690,072 person-years (the amount of people times the number of years, something like that) of follow-up.

Here’s what they found:

Proportion of those who never drank coffee and never smoked:

  • NHS: 63%
  • NHS II: 80%
  • HPFS: 71

Proportion of those who drank >5 cups/day of coffee and never smoked:

  • NHS: 24%
  • NHS II: 35%
  • HPFS: 25%

All-cause mortality (death from any cause):

There were five total groups based on amount of coffee consumption: 0 cups per day, less than one cup a day, between 1-3 cups, between 3-5 cups, and over 5 cups a day.

A lot of associations tend to follow a non-linear curve, meaning the effect of whatever is being studied doesn’t simply go up with higher doses of it (or down with higher doses or lower doses). In fact for exercise and all-cause mortality the curve is J-shaped; those who don’t exercise at all have increased mortality, then those that exercise moderately have decreased mortality, and the heaviest exercisers see a small increase in their mortality but not as much as the non-exercisers (it’s a sideways J..I’ll add it in here later perhaps as an update).

The shape of the curve for coffee consumption and all-cause mortality is similar; those who consume a lot of coffee see a slight increase in their mortality, and those that drink moderately see a decrease in their mortality relative to those that do not drink coffee at all.

The thing is, those people who drink a lot of coffee smoke more too.

As a result, increased lung cancer and respiratory disease cases were observed in the groups that drank more than even 1 cup of coffee. Once this relationship was studied in never smokers, there was no more trend for lung cancer with increased coffee consumption. Smoking in this case is a huge confounding variable; it interacts with what we’re looking at making it harder to see a true effect from what we are interested in studying.

All right, well there you have it! I will update this post later with some more statistical information and pictures, but for now, all you need to know is that these three large prospective cohort studies found that drinking between 1-5 cups a day reduced mortality rates from all causes as well as cardiovascular disease (death rates among coffee drinkers was cut in half for those who suffered from diabetes and neurological diseases as well as suicide).

This means that without respect to individuality, or personalized medicine, or constitutions, overall, a cup or five of java is likely to help you live longer. Your chances of death are around 10-20% less from any cause if you are a regular coffee-drinker (For the exact numbers you need to look at the hazard ratios, provided in the tables at the bottom of the paper around page 50 onwards. You will see that the HR’s are between 0.8-0.9. If the HR is 0.9 for 1-3 cups a day of coffee then it means the risk of death is reduced by 10%).

Now I find those people who never drank coffee to be pretty interesting people. Would they live slightly longer if they drank coffee? See that’s not a question that this paper can really answer. You can say that those people who did drink coffee died less often than those who did not drink any coffee whatsoever. But to say that those people who did not drink any coffee at all would live longer is different because as usual the chicken and egg question comes up.

Are the people who don’t drink coffee genetically different than those who prefer coffee? What about those people that drink more than five cups of coffee a day and smoke a lot? Are those people constitutionally different? This is interesting to me because I like the personalized aspect of medicine; it allows us to fine tune information from large studies like this and think about the greater context of a god damn person (excuse my language).

In general, since there were a large number of people in the study, it is assumed that they are mostly similar and that they would actually live longer with coffee. But since no genotype analyses were done I think that question is unanswerable. My 23andMe results did tell me that I have some gene that predicts that I would consume less caffeine than average, so there is a genetic basis to this. Also those people that smoke and drink a lot of coffee perhaps need more stimulation. There are theories that differences in the dopamine receptor subtype 2 are responsible for explaining these differences.

Furthermore, the population studied was probably more stressed out than the average population I would imagine as they are mostly nurses and doctors. How does that add to the equation? Maybe those that drank coffee were better able to withstand the stresses of their job better than those that did not drink any coffee at all. Stress can cause free radical damage and if you’re not taking anything to alleviate that then those free radicals could accelerate the aging process. Also, those that drank the most coffee drank fewer sugar-sweetened beverages. They did do some separate analyses looking at that I believe but didn’t find anything noteworthy to report. But if those people that didn’t drink any coffee drank more sugar, we have another confounding variable to add to the equation, because this data almost makes it sound like if you DON’T drink coffee you will die sooner than those people that do drink coffee.

Out of all the mechanistic explanations for why coffee may prevent mortality, I can tell you there is a substitute. Antioxidants? Well a gazillion things have antioxidants. Big whoop. Caffeine is a stimulant and improves circulatory function? Big whoop a bunch of things did that.

And that is one problem with interpreting large studies like this: you study what most people do and you don’t study what is possible because that is something fewer people do and there aren’t enough of them to inform larger studies. What is nice thogh is that if there is a one-size-fits-all effect from anything and you see it in a very large sample, something is very likely to be actually going on.

So with that being said, coffee is definitely good for you especially considering that risk of cardiovascular disease-related deaths was less in those that drank a lot of coffee because those people smoked more too (if I find the exact statistics on that I will share but I don’t see it anywhere in the paper).

If you don’t drink coffee are you at risk of dying sooner? No, unless you consume more soda or take part in unhealthy activities. People who drink coffee may need to move around more and be more active in general so the anti-sedentary factor likely plays a large role as well.

Anyway, I hope you learned something and are interested in the big picture like I am!

I will soon discuss different types of coffee preparation methods as well as the results of my new pour-over filter…it should arrive tomorrow. Stay tuned, check out the gram, and sleep well because that is really important. So don’t check out the gram with or without nightmode on your phone right before bed in the dark unless you want to suppress your melatonin and GH production!

 

Once upon a time the nutrition blogosphere I enjoyed participating in was lit with a debate on whether or not fasting was hurtful to your metabolism. The age old adage that eating six meals a day was better for your metabolism was spit on by the intermittent fasting (IF) enthusiasts. They argued that short term fasting had no effect on your metabolism, because in the long run you would be receiving the same amount of nutrition.

Theories are wonderful, but if they don’t hold up in practice, they are useless. Theories like these are rampant in the nutrition science world but real life practice will tell you what works best.

Maybe the theory is true. But what if there are other factors that lower metabolism that are affecting the intermittent fasting enthusiast? It is still useless to hope that the theory will work because those other confounding factors need to be sorted out.

Here’s a little bit of a backstory:

I swallowed the intermittent fasting bug whole. I started fasting for 18-22 hours (sometimes 24) five days a week. The successful IF trainers however seemed to advocate 16 hour fasts. By the 16 hour period, I decided that I could go longer. I had a lot of energy. This was because my body, young and fresh, had a lot of reserves, or yin. Whether or not you like the concept of yin and yang, it’s a nice model for what’s about to happen.

With time, I had less and less energy from fasting; my yin was being depleted. I talk about this in an old youtube video of mine (enjoy the ponytail look I am sporting).

I remember the FIRST DAY I tried intermittent fasting. I was apprehensive and honestly a little bit nervous (I know pretty innocent and cute back then). I was scared of not eating for so long.

After a few hours, working at the grocery store, I exclaimed in my head: “this is like crack!!!” (I was probably 18…me and my friends thought jokes like that were funny but I guess my sense of humor is much more refined now…I sound like a snob don’t I).

I felt so energized. Stimulated. Intense. Excited. Scattered but I felt focused. I never felt anything like it.

That feeling was my fresh young body, relatively unstressed, living a simple life under a steady roof, activating a healthy stress response to the stressor of fasting. This stress response serves to tap into existing energy stores (adipose tissue and glycogen) to raise blood sugar levels.

From an energetic perspective this makes a whole lot of sense. If you don’t have food at the moment, you need to find some or you will die of starvation eventually. Being able to have MORE energy from fasting is a pretty cool way to deal with not having food.

I regularly started fasting for 18-22 hours. The more the better I figured. But I didn’t want to fast for too long because I was afraid of losing muscle mass and strength. Unlike other IF’ers, I didn’t take any amino acid supplements to prevent muscle breakdown. I wanted to be all natural. My stubbornness taught me some important lessons about health and about myself.

Working Out While Fasting

My goal with IF was body recomposition, or getting shredded. I wanted abs and muscle. I also was intensely focused on improving my vertical jump and 100m dash times. My training involved low-rep strength training and explosive lifting emphasizing my lower body. Deadlifts, squats, lunges, and various plyometrics were my mainstay. For my upper body I just lifted everything heavy, including bicep curls which didn’t make my arms any bigger (my arms really don’t grow easy…my ideal physique is a well-built athletic look…basically Andy Whitfield in Spartacus).

After 16-20 hours I would work out TRAIN. I released a lot of aggression in the gym in my college days. I looked forward to working out intensely and posting on this forum about my progress.

Eventually, the high from fasting faded. My workouts became less aggressive.

Energetically it felt like I was getting beat down from these workouts and the fasting whereas previously I felt like I was on TOP.

This little distinction may not make much sense scientifically, but that’s exactly what I felt. I would perform my deadlifts calmly and try to survive the weights more instead of destroying the workout metaphorically.

Fast-forward to the present day and heavy weight lifting sometimes makes me lightheaded. I am intolerant to the training regimen I had before that kept me at 10-11% body fat with decent abs and some impressive lifts.

The Stress Equation

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The rigors of school, a part-time job with a commute, and some financial stress meant that I had a lot more stress than a full-time athlete. In addition I didn’t have regular massages or sports medicine doctors taking care of me. I did everything myself which takes more energy. I trained however very often and very intensely, and I would have trained even harder if I had more time. I had the drive of a champion, and this led to me burning out completely to the point where I literally became intolerant to intense exercise.

Even playing some tennis would make me lightheaded after a while. The mechanisms are beyond the scope of this post, but I can share some theories. When you lift heavy, your blood pressure rises a LOT. The systolic value gets to the 400s (reference definitely needed; I read it a while ago). Something in the nervous system is responsible for raising that blood pressure adequately. Without adequate recovery, that thing in the nervous system got tired. I was not able to raise blood pressure as much and started feeling light headed. I never came close to passing out but I had to sit down and sometimes I saw stars.

I would also experience some lightheadedness from simply standing up. I knew I had a problem so I eventually lowered the intensity and frequency of my lifting and solved those problems. I haven’t attempted any heavy deadlifts in a while and don’t plan to still. I remember my resting blood pressure declined to 100/55 mmHg back in those days of adrenal fatigue. Now I’m back at around 120/80 and have more energy.

The point here is that the stresses of intense exercise training compounded the acute stresses of fasting. The amount of cortisol my body had to secrete to deal with that type of training while FASTED was probably very very high.

Not only did that high not feel as good, I felt worse from fasting. I would feel strangely calm, tired, and not as focused. If fasting is good for you why should you feel like shit?? I realized I needed to end my fasts when I started feeling these symptoms. I INSTANTLY felt better. The changes in my mood and energy levels were night and day when I ended those unhealthy fasts in a stressed state and ate some food, no matter what it was.

Incomplete Theories

Fasting and strength training was supposed to be an acute stress. The blogosphere enjoyed this idea of acute stress. It was better than endurance training long term which in theory could evoke a chronic stress response. I swallowed the pill and realized this was a short-sighted view. Clearly for me dieting and very intense strength training became a chronic stress. I knew this wasn’t healthy but I kid you not, I did not know how to fucking stop. I use strong language because this was a very interesting period of my life.

Back to the Main Question: Do Regular Meals Improve Your Metabolism?

This post was supposed to be about regular meals and your metabolism. Unfortunately I am not the type of person that can keep things succinct but I’m working on it.

So, in the short term, not eating any food for a long time can lower your metabolism. At first your metabolism is increased, but after that high goes away, your body will slowly shut down. Then, you will die from starvation.

Similarly, going on a low calorie diet to lose weight also lowers your metabolism. This is manifested by cold hands and feet and a general decline in vitality. It’s a smart thing for your body to do in order to compensate for the reduction in calorie intake. Your libido also slows down because your body doesn’t want to raise a child if there isn’t much energy to do so.

Skipping one meal however probably won’t do much to slow down your metabolism. You will simply want to eat more later.

But if you do it all the time, maybe eating more later won’t be enough. Maybe that chronic stress (assuming that it does in fact become chronic) is NOT adequately balanced by simply eating the same amount of calories later. If you ate regularly, you’d receive the same amount of calories but would you have the same level of stress? I am not sure but I suspect that there would be more stress. I should look into the literature to find more answers to this.

I can tell you this though. I crave sugar after my first meal of the day when I fast. This won’t happen if I eat regularly. Who knows, maybe I eat the same amount of sugar overall in one day, but I crave an Izze or another kind of fruit soda usually after I fast. I’ll eat a meal but my stomach won’t be able to fit too much food so I become hungry quickly after. Then sometimes I need to take a nap.

Clearly something is going on that involves my body trying to undo the damage from the stress associated with fasting. Everyone is different, but my body is a bit stressed out too so maybe it’s more intense.

The Microcosm Within the Macrocosm

I believe that things that happen on a very small scale (the microcosm) resemble things that happen on a very large scale (macrocosm). Something a cell is experiencing may be analogous to something you are experiencing in your body.

Me skipping breakfast today in this example is the microcosm. Me starving to death is the macrocosm. The action of skipping one meal, versus every meal till death, is very different. But it resembles starvation quite a bit as well.

Thus, doesn’t it make sense that on a microcosm there are cellular changes occurring that directly resemble the changes occurring in starvation?

I think it does. It’s debatable for sure but it makes sense to me based on my experiences, which I trust more than the rabbit hole you can go down from trying to understand the literature.

Conclusion

My goal is to STOP skipping breakfast. I don’t want the microcosmic changes of skipping one meal anymore. I feel full but want sugar. I feel like there’s something missing. I am in graduate school and am recovering from years of intense lifting which caused adrenal stress. I need to make a concerted effort in healing my metabolism.

image

I don’t skip breakfast anymore to lose fat. I do it due to time constraints and because I know I can handle it and I’ll have a little high off of it. My body just needs more rest than stimulation, so for my metabolism’s sake, regular meals, including even a tasty cinnamon roll I snacked on for breakfast, is better than just the coffee I’d normally drink.

In addition, the regular meals will prevent the fatigue, distractibility, and stress I experience when the hunger from not eating does NOT lead to a seemingly healthy stress response. How can that be good for me? It’ll take a while to have the full answer on that, but for now I trust my instincts on that one.

Newsletter

I’ll be starting up a newsletter again. In it I’ll share my brief opinions on trending health topics. The goal is to avoid confusion and help arrive at true health. I am also working on a free guide on how to stop being confused about health. It’ll be the first ever written book from me and I can’t wait to share it with you. I will let everyone on the email list know about it. If you’re interested sign up below and you’ll hear from me soon.

I’ve been on websites that attract the type of person who is vehemently against pseudoscience. Most of the time, they fail to realize that they are also doing pseudoscience. The following example of “evidence-based” medicine is no more than an example of pseudoscience, defined as an incomplete understanding developed from an incomplete set of evidence and data. The actual definition according to merriam-webster is “a system of theories, assumptions, and methods erroneously regarded as scientific.” That works too.

Now let’s clarify something real quick. I don’t think orange juice was banned. However, the articles that reported this story used orange juice in the picture. 100% orange juice. That is a completely different thing from “juice.” Juice could include koolaid. Another article called it “fruit juice” and included a quote from a parent who commented how he didn’t see 100% juice as a bad thing. Clearly, there is some CONFUSION here on drinking 100% fruit juices and thus I am mad.

Here is the story. As you can see, the concern is that more kids these days due to obesity are developing NAFLD, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This is when your liver is unable to process glucose and fat and basically becomes fat itself. There is impaired glucose regulation and obesity is a major risk factor. Therefore, we should be asking: “what causes obesity?” The doctor who was cited throughout the story claimed that fructose leads to NAFLD. There IS certainly evidence to support this. However the evidence incriminates SSBs–sugar-sweetened beverages. We’re talking about the drinks I grew up with like caprisun, koolaid, and tang. Sodas and energy drinks are also SSBs. 100% orange juice or 100% fruit juice is NOT an SSB. Fruit punch is an SSB.

And that sums this up. There isn’t any link between drinking 100% fruit juice and NAFLD or obesity. Obesity certainly is not caused by drinking some fruit juice. Kids are also very active and may crave some sugar and a cooling beverage like a 100% fruit juice is not unhealthy. Koolaid and other sugar sweetened beverages? Definitely limit those.

I DRANK A MUSCLE MILK TODAY!
What did those artificially flavored synthetic chemicals in the watery-soup of a proteinaceous muscle-building drink do to my body?

Years ago, specifically, say, 5 years ago, when I was super into whole foods only diets and did not eat out, drink alcohol, consume artificial things, the idea of consuming Muscle Milk never crossed my mind.

But after burning out my adrenals from lifting too heavy too often, and after being so rigid in my diets that I was not a normal person and achieved no health benefit from doing so, I’ve learned something really simple about food: it’s not that simple and it’s not THAT important. Yea you feel good when you eat healthy foods, but we don’t know what’s healthy.

Most people’s ideas about a healthy diet is something that is catabolic: it breaks down tissues in the body because of the low calorie content. A healthy diet should actually have a good balance between anabolic and catabolic substances. You don’t need to eat salads and granola: that’s something you should eat if you’re 100 lbs overweight.

That being said, I chose between the lesser of two evils today. It was either drink some Muscle Milk because that’s what’s available at the gym, or eat nothing because I don’t have time to get an actual meal. I’d much rather make my own whey protein shake because it tastes way better than Muscle Milk but the nutrients in there gave me energy.

I walked into my lab class feeling energized. My stress levels were lower too (stress hormones go up after intense quick workouts!).

If I hadn’t taken this, I would have been less healthy. I would have been stressed. No meditation wouldn’t help. I need calories. The protein isolates helped my muscles recover.

The findings we’ve made from reductionist science has allowed a product like this to be successful on the market. I bet you I could drink it every day (not worth it though imo) and not have any issues!

If you understand this you’re golden. If it disturbs you, perhaps you’re too rigid with your food habits. Perhaps you wonder if having something artificial will take a year off your lifespan. It won’t. It won’t because food is not that powerful. But eating bad foods day after day and living OUT OF BALANCE will take quality years away from your life.

By drinking the Muscle Milk, part of me achieved a healthful balance, and I felt great.

I ate so clean that I was a lean mean clean eating machine.

My meals were devoid of added sugars, added salt, sugar-sweetened beverages, empty calories, vegetable oils, and were pretty bland. I ate brown rice with eggs for dinner basically. Sometimes I added a little ketchup.

For snacks I would eat a bag of nuts. Or maybe some cheese. Both were low-carb options. I might eat some fruit too. For breakfast I would either eat a few eggs or make a smoothie with some lettuce and melon.

I also was into superfoods, like spirulina, maca powder, goji berries, and the like. None of these things are foods. Those were just marketing terms designed to get you excited about what these unpalatable things will do for your health. Maybe they’ll make you feel great but they are supplements. That was the clean eating myth.

The premise of clean eating

People who are into clean eating are usually into weight loss or lowering their body fat and going to the gym. I’ve noticed that many of them are young and have caught the bug. The media infected their brain and they live in Western society.

People who defend clean eating acknowledge the obesity rates and cite it as a way to escape from that. In reality it’s just an addiction and a lifestyle engendered by a desire to change body shape and composition. When you want to change how your body looks, it can get so bad that you’ll eat the craziest things to get there.

So I see a lot of young people and sometimes older people with the bug talk about clean eating but they all seem to be interested in going to the gym and staring at themselves in the mirror quite often.

Where clean eating fails

Clean eating isn’t therefore about health. It’s about looks and it’s a product of Western culture and consumerism. If lifting weights and working out a lot and then having a low body fat percentage is healthy, then it would work. People who are naturally lean can eat whatever they want. That’s healthy.

Clean eating supports that “eat less move more” mantra. That just doesn’t work forever, and it may be a bad idea for young healthy individuals.

It may certainly improve the health of people who are obese. But the research hasn’t shown it to help people who aren’t obese. Mediterranean diets have been studied in the literature and definitely the epidemiological research shows that avoiding really bad foods and lifestyle habits like drinking often, smoking cigarettes, and eating fast food is going to be better (duh). But that doesn’t support clean eating from an evidence-based standpoint.

That doesn’t matter though because more importantly, clean eating also isn’t instinctual or based on our body’s internal feedback. When we eat, our bodies tell us how we feel about the food: how filling it is, how much energy we have, and if we want to eat it again. By convincing ourselves that eating clean is going to be better for us (as i’ve done), we won’t listen to what our bodies are telling us. And then in the long run, we may end up with imbalances.

This is what clean eating really looks like.

IG: @sbcahealth

That’s an old post of mine on instagram.

So I hope you agree that clean eating isn’t the same as healthy eating. However, the USDA and most places you learn about nutrition probably think they’re the same, because the USDA’s healthy eating index basically tells us to eat more grains, fruits, dark leafy greens, seafood, nuts, and avoid saturated fat and sugar. It’s boring and uninstinctual that’s why few people do it. People try to eat healthy for 30 days at a time (like that new diet book that came out) because afterwards, their bodies tell them they’re out of balance.

The really “dedicated” people (idiots actually), won’t listen to their bodies. They won’t make excuses. They think they’re working hard by trying to get a six pack in the gym at 5 AM. And they will likely have elevated stress hormones and in the long run that will cancel out any potential benefit from being physically active. Only their positive attitude, as long as it isn’t destroyed by stress hormones, keeps them going.

Physical activity by the way, as referred to in the literature, and as recommended by doctors for patients who desperately need it, is about walking, hiking, being outside, and not sitting down as much, and doing some moderate exercise. That has been studied in the literature. Going hardcore in the gym has not. Hey, that doesn’t mean the gym is bad. I’m really against that type of dismissive evidence-based thinking because it’s unscientific. However, it says something about human nature. Most people listen to their bodies, and don’t workout that hard when they do workout. 

And I think that’s healthier than being ‘dedicated’ and having rigid fitness goals. Add clean eating to this and it’s a recipe for disaster. I did it for years and developed adrenal issues which I’ve been healing on and off for a year since I let go of lifting as heavy as possible. It’s just that at my age (24), I have a lot of energy and can quickly get addicted for some reason to physical activity. Maybe it’s genetic. Maybe it’s because I started playing various sports as a young kid. Now that I follow my body though, I feel a lot better.

So what is healthy eating?

I will cover this in more detail in a separate post, but healthy eating CAN indeed include some of the things the research has shown, but if it is based entirely on that, the subjective intuitive aspect will be missing. And for something so intuitive, nutrition science is completely unnecessary to achieve perfect health and to look great naked.

And the other thing is, many different diets could be healthy. So it’s hard to say what healthy eating really is. We know what unhealthy eating is but there is a lot of delicious room for making eating healthy. Beyond healthy, food should be nourishing. If you eat beans, low fat dairy, small portions of meat, and salad as your dinner, that may be perfectly healthy according to the USDA, but is it nourishing? Probably not as much as full-fat dairy, more meat, and foods you really crave.

So enjoy this picture of a curry I made with some lamb and quail eggs (I normally don’t eat quail eggs but found them in an asian grocery recently) and lots of spices. I ate it with white rice, which I prefer taste-wise over brown rice, like the vast majority of people in the world.

IG: @sbcahealth

P.S. When I was a lean mean clean eating machine, I would never have agreed with this stuff. But I didn’t know what I was doing to my body. There are certainly people who believe in clean eating and going to the gym who are listening to their bodies, but the whole ‘dedication’ and ‘fitspiration’ mindset can lead to doing way too much for what is healthy to achieve something that is just a trend among a certain group of people.

If you want to read more content like this, subscribe to my email list (below) to be notified of when my guide to stop being confused about health comes out. For being a subscriber, you’ll get it for free. It will cover how to think about health, where to get information from, how to analyze ideas, and several myths.

Carpe diem.

I’ve wondered how to live “naturally” for a while. I probably got into it when I started learning about the paleolithic diet and how humans used to just roam around like gorillas and munch on leaves, dig up starchy tubers, devour wild berries, and hunt game.

It sounded like an awesome lifestyle to idiots like me who wanted to live “naturally.” I mean it’s actually a shitty lifestyle. Life today is way better, let’s just establish that as a fact. We don’t have to spend hours searching for food like animals do. We can do fun things with our time and just buy food to save time. Now buying food all the time will likely not lead to the best health, but I’m just saying; we have more time because we don’t have to spend all day hunting and being hungry.

But that life could be wicked fun too. What if you were part of a community that did everything together? The men went out and found food. Women made crafts and such. Kids played all day long and learned from the elders. It could be a very abundant lifestyle filled with more joy than people experience in today’s hyperstimulated environment. I don’t go out hunting with people I could call family and just chill all day. I have to work in order to buy food so I don’t die. I study because I have the choice to and it’s my passion; but it takes a lot of energy. I don’t have basic skills that I would have if I was a hunter-gatherer. I live in a city away from family, alone.

I eventually realized something. There is no one natural lifestyle. Culture also influences lifestyle, and it’s hard to call anything “natural.” Your best bet at figuring out what’s “natural” today is studying what extant hunter-gather tribes and other indigenous people do. But still, among those people are many permutations of what is natural. We have the ability to define natural, with our intellect. We can pave the way.

In contrast, you could easily study the natural lifestyles of various animals. Lifestyles would differ depending on the species, but there would be some predictable elements. With humans, the only predictable elements are that we shit, eat, sleep, and reproduce. But how we do those things can differ depending on culture. We defecate in toilets today, but “naturally” you could just use a hole in the ground and some buckets with water to clean yourself. We shower in the shower, whereas poor people in India bathe in the Ganges river.

There is no natural.

Nevertheless, it’s still inspiring to watch this documentary on gypsies in northern India. They are so happy, at least as portrayed in the film.

The men go out and look for cobras, honey, meat, and the women make crafts and do other things.

I think even though there is no real natural, there are shared elements among indigenous people’s lifestyles. One is that they walk a lot to find food or whatever. They do a lot of chores. They spend lots of time with their kids. They spend lots of time outdoors. They have a strong sense of community and family. They play. They certainly don’t eat processed junk food. They take things slowly and aren’t in a rush to accomplish things either per se. They have passion. In this case, the featured gypsies make all their own clothing and take pride in their dance. People travel from all over the world to learn dance from this beautiful people.

So let’s make a list of the elements that comprise a natural lifestyle:

  • Traditional diet with fresh foods
  • Time spent outdoors and in the sun
  • Community and family
  • Responsibility
  • Passion/crafts/arts
  • Play

And if the assumption we hold is that a natural lifestyle is a healthy lifestyle, then these elements comprise a healthy lifestyle as well. I see no reason to disagree that a natural lifestyle with those elements is a healthy one.

However, when we get into the semantics of diet, as some people do when discussing a natural lifestyle, we forget the more important parts. We can thrive on a variety of diets. But we need social circles and community, play, passion, and the other elements listed as well for a healthy existence. There’s no point getting caught up over what exact diet we should consume.

So in conclusion, the advocates of “primal” living definitely have some of these elements down. I understand and share their desire to live naturally. They just want to be healthy and want to get away from the mundane lifestyle they were living before. They may have rigid diet beliefs, but I have to agree that the thought of having all these elements in my lifestyle is a beautiful and inspirational one that puts a smile to my face. I think I have the passion element, but it’s accompanied by stress.