Diet and lifestyle Archives - Baobab Health

How to extend your life by 13 years: The future of medicine in this post

How to extend your life by 13 years: The future of medicine in this post

A recent study published in the Journal Circulation found that adopting the following six healthy lifestyle habits can extend lifespan by about 13 years and quality of life, on average:

1) Not smoking
2) Getting adequate, restful sleep (7 – 8 hours)
3) Maintaining a healthy BMI
4) Not drinking excessively
5) Doing at least 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity
6) Eating a healthy diet (loosely defined – assumed as a minimally processed diet consisting of both plant and animal foods)

That’s no small effect! 13 years is a long time. Nothing fancy here and no magic bullet sold by a superficial instagram model. Doing healthy habits consistently is what increases longevity and health.

I would even add to this list and put in:

– stress management techniques
– having meaningful social connections with family and friends
– having fun and spending time in the sun and nature

Despite this information, very few Australians are engaging in this list of the top six health behaviours. We know this because when these behaviours are not followed, chronic disease ensues and chronic disease is our major health concern at the moment.

Chronic diseases like dementia, heart disease, cancer and lung diseases caused by smoking are the main causes of death in the developed world. Not shark attacks, not car crashes and not pianos falling on people’s heads. The main thing that is killing us prematurely are chronic diseases that are largely in our control to prevent. They can be significantly reduced and also TREATED by doing healthy diet and lifestyle habits consistently. And while it is true that despite the chronic disease rates, the average lifespan has increased due to medical advancements that keep us alive, however our quality of life into our old age is reduced by fragile bodies and minds.

But why do people struggle to follow these simple habits?

Most people KNOW they should be engaging in these behaviours. It has been repeated to us over and over again through various sources.

I can guarantee you that anyone who smokes these days know that it increases their risk of disease and death significantly. They just need to look at the packaging.

So why is it so uncommon that these behaviours are followed?

The problem is not the INFORMATION, it’s BEHAVIOUR. And the mistake we’ve made—and continue to make—is assuming that just providing more information is enough to change people’s behavior. However, that is not it, we need health practitioners and health programs (in schools and workplaces) that are willing to engage with people in treatment plans that help the CHANGE their behaviours, which are hard to do, despite people knowing the information. The choices we make around our health are not always logically driven, which is why people engage in unhealthy behaviours. Therefore, providing “logical” information is not the answer, we need to help people change their behaviour cycles.


Simply telling people in a consult room (under time pressure) that their behaviours are unhealthy and they need to change them is not going to elicit the desired result. It is not like they haven’t heard it before.

What people really need is to be coached on HOW to change their behaviours in measurable and sustainable manner. This is the future of medicine. No magic pills and no shmick products sold by profit driven companies

This also takes time, more than a quick 15 minute consult, which most doctors have for consults. So even if they wanted to help people change behaviors, they are pressured for time, especially in bulk billing services where they must hit a certain number of patients per day for government funding.

Changing your diet and lifestyle ain’t fancy and it can’t be “sold” as a product, but it will work. Better yet, it will save lives, increase longevity and health into our old age. The combination of modern medicine with healthy diet and lifestyle behaviours is a recipe for a long life! consistency and time

I often wonder what is the point of life. I will never know the answer, however one thing is for sure, seeking out the things that make me happy sure does feel good and I would love to live as long as possible to enjoy all the goodness with an abled body and mind. Because really, at the end of the day, through all the materialism and crap of our modern world, if you don’t have your health, what do you have? Without your health, you can’t live your best life, even if you had all the money in the world. This is why I love helping people change their behaviours to increase their lifespan, longevity and quality of life.

It is not too late to change these behaviours, extended your lifespan and decrease the risk of disease. Start now by finding someone who can help you change your habits.


Nutrition for injuries and surgery

Nutrition for injuries and surgery

Sporting injuries and resulting surgeries are caused by a whole multitude of factors.

Injuries and surgery can often be a chaotic experience. No one likes them and they can be a huge setback for any athlete. The inflammation that results from injuries and surgery (i.e. incision and anaesthetic effects on the body) is often painful, uncomfortable and sometimes extremely debilitating.

In my experience as a Naturopath, I have found that in the recovery/rehab process, little emphasis is put on diet and lifestyle modification, and how it can help or even hinder recovery. It is usually based around pain and anti-inflammatory medications, as well as physical rehab (depending on the type of injury or surgery).

After an injury or surgery, every athlete wants to resume normalcy in their lives as soon as possible and get back to competing. The good news is that implementing certain nutritional strategies, lifestyle interventions, as well as evidence based herbal and nutritional supplementation, can help speed up the recovery process and decrease the risk of a repeated injury.

Note: The general principles in this post can also be applied to the general lay person in order to optimize recovery from both injuries and surgeries.

Nutritional strategies for recovery.

Caloric intake:

When addressing optimal nutrition for injuries, it is important to first look at a person’s caloric intake. Too few calories when healthy can lead to injury; too few calories during recovery can prevent an athlete from getting healthy.

Energy needs increase during acute injury repair. In fact, basal metabolic rate (BMR)* may increase by 15 to 50% based on the severity of the trauma.  For example, sports injury and minor surgery may increase BMR by 15-20%, while major surgery and burn injury may lead to a 50% increase in BMR.

*BMR is the minimum amount of calories to support the energy needs of a person. It depends on age, sex, height and activity levels.

Obviously an athlete will have to eat less during injury recovery than during training and competition. Yet if they return to baseline intake, they may be under-eating. Thus, it is important to eat enough calories to support healing, while not eating too much leading to weight gain.

If a person is eating based on hunger cues, they may under-eat during recovery. They might lose lean mass, heal poorly, and progress slowly. Therefore, an athlete should try to eat before they feel hungry and make sure the quantity is slightly less than what they would normally eat.

Meals should ideally be separated by around 3-4 hours. While it is important to eat enough calories to support energy needs, it is also important as to what types of foods these calories are coming from.

Ideally, an individual should try to eat more whole, unprocessed foods such as lean meats, fish, eggs, dairy, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, whole grains, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats like coconut oil/milk/yoghurt/cream, butter, animals fats, avocado, olive oil and nut/seed oils. These foods contain many beneficial nutrients that can help control inflammation and support healing/recovery. Eating lots of processed and refined food may exacerbate inflammation and decrease healing/recovery.

Furthermore, whole foods are nutrient dense, providing lots of important nutrients to support healing and recovery. The nutrient density of whole foods will also help an athlete feel fuller for longer, so they don’t overshoot their caloric intake, leading to weight gain.


Injury repair requires more protein. Injured athletes should aim for 2-2.5 g of protein to per kg of body weight. A lay person should aim for 1.5-2g/kg.

To ensure a quick recovery, it is important to get this higher protein intake consistently. At the minimum, injured athletes should be taking in 1.5g of protein per kg of body weight. Protein is extremely important for tissue repair and injury healing. Adequate protein intake after an injury or surgery has been shown to increase collagen deposition and improve recovery.

Protein is also important to ensure a person maintains their muscle mass while they are injured or recovering from surgery because muscle loss is a serious issue problem due to the under use of muscles. When the body doesn’t need something, it gets rid of it, unless adequate nutrients are provided to maintain that tissue. Furthermore, lean protein sources such as meat, fish, eggs, whey protein powder and seafood have many other beneficial nutrients that can helps support healing and recovery.

Sometimes, people can find it hard to consume enough protein from whole foods due to how filling high protein meals are. Also, due to time constraints, they may not be able to always sit down and eat a large protein meal. This is where protein powder and protein shakes can become very useful.

You can add a protein shake in between your meals (or in place of meals like breakfast, perhaps) to boost your overall protein intake.

Protein shakes should consist of what a balanced meal should look like. It should consist of a protein, carb and fat source, as well as some veggies. Here is a good example of a recipe:

  • 1 scoop of a high quality whey, egg or beef protein powder. Animal proteins are more bioavailable and better absorbed than plant proteins. Make sure to find a protein powder without carbs.
  • 2 fists of spinach (vegetable).
  • A healthy fat source like coconut oil OR coconut cream/milk/yoghurt OR avocado OR nuts OR pure nut butter (fat).
  • Frozen berries, banana or any frozen fruit of your choice (carbs).
  • cinnamon and vanilla extract for taste
  • water OR milk as a liquid

(try different ingredients to see what suits your taste buds, just as long as it has a vegetable source, protein source, fat source and carb source)

Protein shakes can be a source of additional calories if you’re trying to aid recovery, or a means of boosting protein without adding calories.

To get a rough idea of protein amounts in food, 1 palm of meat or fish tends to contain roughly 30-60g of protein. Also, one egg contains 6g of protein.


Eating healthy fats from foods and oils like coconut oil, coconut cream/yoghurt/milk, olive oil, nut/seed oils, butter, avocado, fish, nuts, nut butters and seeds can help control inflammation due to the important anti-inflammatory nutrients that these foods contain. Fish is a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals. It is also the best food source of omega 3 fatty acids, which are very important in modulating inflammation. When injured or recovering from surgery, an athlete should aim to eat fish 2-3 times a week. This is a healthy habit even if one is not injured.


When an athlete is injured or recovering from a surgery, because they are more sedentary than usual and their energy needs decrease, they may want to reduce their carb intake slightly. The carbs that an individual does consume should be from whole-food sources like rice, whole grains, fruits, beans and legumes, wholegrain bread, sweet potato, potato and pumpkin, as these are also packed with beneficial nutrients to support healing and recovery.

Obviously carb intake would become higher once the athlete gets back into training, as this is the most important fuel source for athletes who engage in long bouts of moderate to high intensity work, like footballers. Eating low carb while training hard can lead to fatigue, poor performance, delayed recovery and many other negative health impacts.

Fruits and vegetables:

Fruits and vegetables are packed with plant chemicals called phytonutrients, which can help manage inflammation that results from injuries or surgery, due their anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory actions. They can also help maintain the health of the connective tissues that the body makes to repair the damaged tissue from an injury or a surgery. Therefore, at each meal, it is important for an athlete to eat a vast array of fruits and vegetables, which they should be doing even if they are not inured, as we all know that these are good for our health and performance.


Ideally, every meals should consist of a protein source, vegetable source, healthy carbohydrates and fat source.

When cooking meals, ideally we want athletes to cook using healthy fats (e.g. olive oil, coconut oil, butter), using olive oil and vinegar for salad dressings and flavouring their foods with salt, pepper, herbs and spices rather than with sauces like tomato, BBQ, sweet chilli etc. This is because processed sauces contain oils and sugar that may increase inflammation in the body.

All meals should ideally be home cooked, however if the athlete does decide to eat a meal out, they should try to pick healthy options with a good source of protein and vegetables.

The protein and vegetable source should not be in a burger, on pizza, in a pasta, deep fried and in a pie, with lots of sauce and oils.

Supplementation strategies recovery.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A helps to decrease post-injury immune suppression, and assists in collagen formation. Collagen is the main protein that makes up our bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Studies have shown that collagen cross-linkage is stronger with vitamin A supplementation and repair is quicker.

Supplementing with 10,000 IU daily for the first 1-2 weeks post-injury is probably ideal. Some people are concerned about possible vitamin A toxicity with supplementation. However, toxicity only occurs in the backdrop of a vitamin D deficiency. Therefore, supplementing with 3-4,000 IU would be ideal.

Also, Vitamin A is hard to get from the diet as it only really exists in significant amounts within liver, therefore eating liver twice a week would decrease the need for supplementation.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential in the production of collagen. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant and immune system modulator, and research suggests that vitamin C can help people recovering from surgery and injury. Supplement with 1g- 2 g/day during periods of injury repair. Vitamin C supplements can be bought from your local health food store.


Zinc is required for over 300 enzymes in the body and plays roles in DNA synthesis, cell division, and protein synthesis — all necessary for tissue regeneration and repair after injury.

Zinc deficiency is common in athletes and has been associated with poor wound healing, therefore it would be a good idea to supplement with 15-30 mg per day, especially during the initial stages of healing. Zinc supplements can easily be bought from your local health food store.

Here’s a brief list of the vitamin and mineral supplements that help with acute injury recovery:

  • Vitamin A – 10,000 IU/day for 2-4 weeks post-injury (with 3-4,000 IU vitamin D)
  • Vitamin C – 1000-2000 mg/day for 2-4 weeks post-injury
  • Zinc – 15-30 mg/day for 2-4 weeks post-injury

Nutrient deficiencies: It may also be important to screen for common nutrient deficiencies such as iron, which can be commonly low in females due to their periods, poor absorption and potentially low intake via their diet. Iron is easily tested on a blood test and is vital for wound healing due to its function in carrying oxygen to tissues on red blood cells.


Curcumin is the active ingredient of turmeric (spice). It is a potent anti-inflammatory and has been shown to decrease inflammation associated with injuries/surgery.

Curcumin has a poor oral bioavailability when consumed in tumeric and thus should be enhanced with other agents such as black pepper extract, called piperine. This is unless you want the curcumin in the colon (as it is a colon anti-inflammatory and can help with digestion), in which case you wouldn’t pair it with an enhancement.

Doses up to 8g curcuminoids in humans have been shown to not be associated with much adverse effects at all, and in vitro tests suggest curcumin has quite a large safety threshold.

For any systemic purpose (requiring absorption from the intestines into the blood), then an oral supplementation of curcumin in the range of 80mg-2g would be required assuming an enhancement. 1-2g until the individual is fully recovered is recommend for injury/surgery repair. Curcumin is poorly absorbed inherently, and one of the following is mandatory to enhance absorption into the intestines:

  • Pairing curcumin with black pepper (piperine)
  • Curcumin phytosomes complexed with phosphatidylcholine (Meriva or BCM-95)
  • Curcumin nanoparticles (THERACURMIN)


Garlic has been shown to inhibit the activity of the inflammatory enzymes. While eating additional garlic is likely a good strategy, garlic extracts may be required for more measurable anti-inflammatory effects. Typically recommended dosing is 2-4 g of whole garlic clove each day (each clove is 1 g) or 600-1200 mg of supplemental aged garlic extract. Supplemental garlic is readily available from health food stores.

Amino acids:

Supplementing with the following amino acids can stimulate collagen deposition and injury healing.

Arginine: 7 g, 2x per day

HMB: 1.5 g, 2x per day

Glutamine: 7 g, 2x per day

Combined administration of 14 g arginine, 3g HMB (a metabolite of leucine), and 14 g glutamine in two divided doses (two doses of 7 g arginine, 1.5 g HMB, and 7 g glutamine per day) for 14 days has been shown to significantly increase collagen synthesis and decrease muscle loss in adults. These amino acids typically come in supplemental formulas together.

What about NSAID’s?

After an injury or surgery, it’s very common to use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, celecoxib, etc. This is in order to reduce pain and inflammation. However, some research suggests that in some cases, NSAIDs might hinder injury healing. NSAID’s may impair the healing of ligament injuries, muscle strains and even bone injuries in the mid-term.

In the acute phases following an injury we don’t want to completely suppress inflammation, as it is a very important part of the healing process. This means that NSAID’s may not be ideal. We want to modulate inflammation, because excess inflammation is also not good. Modulating inflammation can be done using the nutritional and supplemental strategies listed above, as these foods/nutrients that have anti-inflammatory properties are not nearly as powerful as a pharmaceutical drugs.

NSAID’s may become helpful a few weeks after surgery or an injury, in order to manage pain when the individual begins rehab. This is so it is possible to take a joint, muscle or bone through its normal range of motion so the scar tissue deposits properly.

Wrap up.

Injuries and surgery can be a bit chaotic at times, however trying to implement these strategies will go a long way in improving healing and recovery. Apart from nutrition, it is also extremely important that athletes get enough sleep (7-9 hours), abstain from alcohol and manage their stress levels (decreased sleep, alcohol and increased stress can increase inflammation in the body and delay healing, as well sleep is a time of regeneration for the body). Some athletes may have certain habits around smoking or drinking alcohol, which must be kept to as little as possible because these factors can increase inflammation, impair immune function and impair healing. Any factors that increases inflammation in the body and impairs immune function will ultimately decrease healing of the body.

It also goes without saying that the athlete should engage in some form of physical rehab (e.g. physio, exersize physiologist, strength coach etc). There are many physical rehab processes available to athletes in order for them to get back to their sport and it is usually the fist port of call during injury recovery with little emphasis on diet, supplementation, sleep and stress. However it is important to note physical rehab will be greatly enhanced in terms of its positive outcomes, if the athlete is getting adequate/restful sleep, managing their stress and having a solid diet and supplement regime. Injury recovery requires a multi-faceted approach for the best outcomes, faster recovery and decreased risk of re-injury.

The toxin is in the dose: hormesis and health

The toxin is in the dose: hormesis and health

Hormesis is a biological phenomenon whereby a beneficial effect (improved health, stress tolerance, growth or longevity) results from exposure to low doses of an agent that is otherwise toxic or lethal when given at higher doses. It is the idea that when we are exposed to small stressors in our environment it causes our body to up-regulate its detoxification and stress handling mechanisms in order to prepare our body for the next stressor that comes along. I like to think of it as what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

The idea of hormesis seems to be essential for an organism’s health and ability to thrive. Without acute stressors that challenge our body, we become less robust and more susceptible to illness.

There are certain elements in our environment, which have been shown to have a hormetic effect on our bodies. These include things like exercise, eating fruits and vegetables, fasting and alcohol consumption. These elements, in the right amounts, cause small amounts of oxidative stress and inflammation, which leads to an up-regulation of our detoxification, anti-inflammatory and anti-stress mechanisms, making them become more efficient and more powerful, in order to deal with other more harmful stressors in our environment. The body is highly adaptable to stressors as it is essential of our survival and evolution.


Exercise is a stressor on the body. It causes inflammation and oxidative stress. However, the reason why it provides the health benefits that it does, is because the acute, short term stress of physical activity can lead to our bodies up-regulating our anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanisms, as well as making our bodies more efficient in things like energy production, in order to prepare the body for the next stressor. This is why when you “train,” you feel improvements in your capacity to do certain physical activities. Your body up-regulates certain mechanisms to make you more efficient at carrying out certain physical tasks, therefore making you more robust.

However, these new adaptations will only last if you continue to “stress” your body slightly and give it new stressors to adapt to. Take strength training for example. When you lift weights in the gym, you are actually causing muscle damage and stress to your muscles. But, with adequate nutrition and rest, your body rebuilds these muscle fibres and makes them bigger and stronger in order to deal with the next session. This is how people put on muscle. This is also why if you don’t progressively overload your body (increase the weight and reps), you will not grow more muscle fibres. The body continuously needs harder stressors in order to adapt.

It must be noted that hormesis only occurs when the stressor is applied in the right amount. The stressor needs to cause a slight stress on the body, without overwhelming it. All of the elements that can have hormetic effects on the body, can also be harmful and toxic to the body if exposed in too high amounts. As mentioned above, exercise is beneficial to health in the right amounts, however if you over train, it can overwhelm the bodies stress coping mechanisms leading to negative health effects. This is the idea that the toxin is in the dose and our grandparents were right when they said “everything in moderation.”

Fruits and vegetables.

Many people think that fruits and vegetables are beneficial to our health because they contain plant nutrients called phytonutrients that have anti-oxidant effects in our body. However, most of these plant nutrients are actually pro-oxidants, whereby they cause oxidative stress and inflammation in our body. These pro-oxidants are chemicals that the plants use to protect themselves from sun damage, microbes, insects and animals. Plants can’t run and don’t have claws or teeth, so they have developed some extremely potent chemicals that help protect the plants from predators and damage.

This is why some plants are totally poisonous to humans. However, the plants that are edible, which are our herbs, spices, fruit and vegetables, also contain mildly “toxic” compounds that cause stress on the body when ingested, however the stress is not large enough to overwhelm the body and therefore have a beneficial hormetic effect.

Rather than killing us or making us sick, however, these compounds promote adaptations that make us healthier and stronger and may extend our lifespan. Our bodies recognise these phytochemical as slightly toxic, and we respond with an ancient detoxification process aimed at breaking them down and flushing them out.

Consider fresh broccoli sprouts. Like other cruciferous vegetables, they contain an antifeedant called sulforaphane. Because sulforaphane is a mild oxidant, we should, according to old ideas about the dangers of oxidants, avoid its consumption. Yet studies have shown that eating vegetables with sulforaphane reduces oxidative stress.

When sulforaphane enters your blood stream, it triggers release in your cells of a protein called Nrf2. This protein, called by some the “master regulator” of aging, then activates over 200 genes. They include genes that produce antioxidants, enzymes to metabolize toxins, proteins to flush out heavy metals, and factors that enhance tumor suppression, among other important health-promoting functions.

Based on this information, while fruits and vegetables are undoubtedly beneficial to our health and people who eat more fruits and vegetables tend to be healthier than those who don’t. However, it may not be ideal to make them the only foods that you eat (e.g. vegans and vegetarians). You need balance and like I said before, hormesis is based on the notion of everything in moderation. In the right amounts, the pro-oxidants in fruit and vegetables may up-regulate our anti-oxidant and detoxification mechanisms, however in excessive amounts, it may overwhelm our anti-oxidant mechanisms causing inflammation and therefore dysfunction in the body. This is why a balanced diet like this, is important for health.

This may also be a reason as to why supplementation with anti-oxidants found in plants may not be so beneficial to our health because they decrease our bodies own ability to produce its own anti-oxidants.

Periodic fasting.

Intermittent fasting is a general term used to describe a variety of approaches that change the normal timing of eating throughout a day, with short-term fasts used to improve overall health. In other words, the one consistent theme of intermittent fasting is that individuals periodically fast for a longer duration than the typical overnight fast.

Some approaches to intermittent fasting include skipping one meal of the day, extending the duration of the overnight fast to anywhere from 12 to 20 hours. This may also be referred to as time-restricted feeding because it shortens the feeding window. Some people prefer whole-day fasts that usually involve fasting for 24 to 30 hours, performed anywhere from once to twice per week to just once or twice per month. Most of the research on intermittent fasting more specifically uses alternate-day fasting, where participants fast for 24 hours every other day, alternating days of eating without restrictions.

Intermittent fasting has been shown to have some great health benefits such as weight loss, decreased cardiovascular risk profile, decreased inflammation and increased brain health. But like all things hormetic, fasting too much and not eating enough to support our body’s energy demands is obliviously harmful and detrimental to our health.

Processed food.

Although there are no studies done on this topic, the ingestion of processed food every so often may be beneficial to your health. It can help build your tolerance to it, so when you go out with mates, you don’t feel sick after eating a slice of pizza. I am not saying processed food should form the foundation of your diet, however, if the foundation of your diet is mostly whole, unprocessed, nutrient dense foods, then the occasional ice cream or your favourite chocolate may be beneficial to your health, especially if it is consumed in social settings. It’s about applying the 80/20 rule.


I’m sure you have all heard that small amounts of red wine can be beneficial to our health. This is because red wine contains some of those pro-oxidants that I spoke about in the fruit and vegetable section. However, alcohol in general is also a pro-oxidant and requires detoxification from our body due to it’s toxic effects on various systems of the body.

Alcohol in moderation can have beneficial effects on our detoxification mechanisms, keeping them primed and tuned. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation. Alcohol is something that tends to bring people together, therefore consuming modest amounts of alcohol in the context of good company can be very beneficial to health. This is because social connection is also so important for our health.

However, like all things, alcohol needs to be consumed in the right amounts for it to have its beneficial effects. Binge drinking and frequent consumption, especially in the backdrop of an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, can be very damaging to health.

Lastly, there is also good reason to argue that occasional smoking of straight tobacco (without the chemicals in cigarettes) can also be potentially beneficial through hormesis.

Wrap up

Acute stressors play an important role in our health. Not only does this apply to our physical health, but it also applies to our mental health. Finding ways to challenge your body and mind acutely can lead to positive health benefits, both mentally and physically. It can help you become a more well-rounded, robust individual. So don’t be afraid of challenging yourself mentally and physically. Get out of your comfort zone once in a while; it is beneficial for your health. Don’t get stuck in a constant state of comfort as this leads to stagnation and lack of growth.

I like to go to travelling by myself every so often to destinations that are off the beaten track. Being alone, taking responsibility for myself, adventuring and forcing myself to meet other people is not always “comfortable,” but I feel like it has helped me develop and grow as a person for the better.

Are you carbohydrate tolerant or intolerant?

Are you carbohydrate tolerant or intolerant?

We all know someone who can eat carbohydrates all day, everyday and not gain a kilo. However, I’m sure we also know those people who so much as look at carbohydrates and they put on weight. But why is that? Well, it may be due to different peoples carb tolerance based on their genetic profile.

Carb tolerance. What is it?

All humans have a gene called AMY1. This gene codes for the enzyme amylase, which is responsible for carbohydrate digestion in the mouth. Research is starting to show that there are variations in the number of copies of AMY1 genes between people. The genes can range from two to sixteen copies. The more AMY1 genes you have, it means the more salivary amylase. More salivary amylase means you break down carbs more effectively, immediately.

As soon as you bite into a carbohydrate rich food, your AMY1 genes go to work based on taste receptors that detect carb in take. And again, if you have more AMY1 genes, your carb-digestion will be more efficient.

Observational research has demonstrated that individuals who have more copies of this gene, produce more amylase enzymes and have lower BMI’s. If you have more than nine copies of AMY1 then you are eight times less likely to be obese compared to someone who has fewer than four copies of AMY1. In other words, more amylase equals less body weight. And vice versa.

There are a few mechanisms as to why more amylase production is correlated with lower body weight. Firstly, the more amylase means more digestion of carbohydrates in the mouth. This means foods may taste sweeter and feel richer. As a result, people with more amylase might feel satisfied eating less. This also helps explain why eating slowly generally promotes weight loss (or maintenance). The more slowly we eat, the more we digest in the mouth. This in turn might lead to feeling “satisfied” with less food.

Secondly, people with more AMY1 copies tend to have a better insulin response after the ingestion of carbohydrates, meaning that the glucose is taken up into cells more efficiently and use the glucose for energy production, rather than lingering in the blood causing high blood glucose levels, which eventually form fats.

Thirdly, different amylase concentrations essentially result in different rates of carbohydrate absorption of the same food, or a different glycemic index for each person eating a given food. Therefore, to a carb tolerant person, a banana may be low GI, where is to a carb intolerant person, it may be high GI.

All of these findings can potentially explain why cultures like the Japanese have high carbohydrate diets and are relatively lean. Population studies have shown that Japanese people have more copies of AMY1 (average 7). Variations in these genes probably played an evolutionary purpose at some point in human development, where cultures that had higher carbohydrate diets like the Japanese and pacific islanders (from fruit) needed more of these genes to handle their high carbohydrate diet.

This makes a lot of sense if you think about it. After all, if you eat more starch, you need more of the enzyme that breaks down starch. However, in our modern world, with the high carbohydrate foods readily accessible to everyone, people who have less copies of these genes are more likely to put on weight, become insulin resistant (i.e. diabetes), have increased triglycerides, increased blood lipids and increased blood glucose levels. Also, they are more likely to develop diseases like diabetes and heart disease. It is also important to note that there are variations in carb tolerance between people is on a spectrum, rather than just being tolerant or intolerant.

Lastly, I’m not saying that this one genetic variation is the only factor at play to weight gain and disease development, however it is definitely an interesting contributing factor.

What to do?

If you think you may be carb intolerant and may have a lower amount of AMY1 genes as you struggle with your weight and blood glucose levels, try these strategies:

1. Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly. It may sound simple. (And this strategy is far too often overlooked). But by eating slowly, you give whatever amylase you do have more time to break down the carbohydrates you just ate.  This puts you in the same position as someone with more amylase who eats faster.

2. Use probiotics. Studies suggest that lower amylase (and associated obesity) might be related to negative changes in the gut flora. This is interesting because we know our gut bacteria play a role in gene expression. Therefore our gut bacteria can either turn on or turn off these AMY1 genes. Poor gut flora can cause a down regulation of these AMY1 genes, therefore decreasing a persons carb tolerance. So if you already have a low number of copies of this gene and you have poor gut flora, it can cause a decrease expression of AMY1. This demonstrates how our diet and lifestyle can influence the expression of our genes, because we know that our diet and lifestyle has a profound impact on the composition of our gut flora. It is said that genes load the gun but the environment pulls the trigger. It means that many of our genes are not set in stone. Just because we have a predisposition doesn’t mean this will be expressed, unless we engage in poor diet and lifestyle habits.  Because of this mechanism, probiotics can’t hurt, as we do know that poor gut health is closely related to many diseases including obesity. Repairing the gut flora may also be a large part of a weight loss program. I have also written extensively about gut health here.

3. Keep eating healthy carbs. This means high-fiber, nutrient-rich foods like beans, legumes, potato, sweet potato, minimally processed whole grains, and colourful fruits and vegetables. People with lower amylase may benefit from eating slightly fewer carbs than people with high amylase, but going super low carb probably isn’t the answer.

4. There is a big difference between processed and refined carbs compared to whole-food carbs like potato and sweet potato. Whole-food carbs are more nutrient dense and lower in calories, therefore you feel full after less amount of calories, even if you are more carb intolerant. However, processed and refined carbs are high in calories but low in nutrient density, which means you will have to consume higher amounts to feel full as calorie density has little effect on satiety, where is nutrient density does. This is obviously a large problem for a carb intolerant person based on the mechanism explained in this article and it can lead to overshooting their caloric intake. Therefore, most people can tolerate a modest amount of whole-food carbs in their diet, some might have to be a little more careful.

5 ways to manipulate carbohydrate intake to achieve certain health goals

5 ways to manipulate carbohydrate intake to achieve certain health goals

The 4 pillars of health include diet, sleep, stress reduction/mindset and exercise. Addressing these 4 key areas, for most people, would lead to a significant improvement in their health, from how they feel to how they look.

When looking at diet specifically, if people simply ate more nutrient dense, unprocessed/whole-foods foods and less processed foods, regardless of how much protein, fats or carbs they ate, they would see huge differences in their health. However, for some people, adjusting macronutrient ratios (e.g. low carb or high carb) can help achieve a specific therapeutic effect and may be helpful in some situations.

Carbohydrates are a macronutrient that is commonly adjusted in people’s diets to help achieve certain therapeutic effects. The most common is for weight loss purposes.

In this post I want to outline a few situations where adjusting carbohydrates in a persons diet may be of benefit.

1) When could a very low carb approach be useful?

A very low carb diet usually means carbs are eaten at amounts of less than 50g per day. This would usually mean that a person would get most of their carbs from fruits and vegetables. More higher carb foods like grains and starchy vegetables (e.g. sweet potato) would have to be very limited and in very small amounts.

Glucose from carbohydrates is the main fuel source for the brain and nervous system. Fat cannot be used for energy production in the brain, therefore, when there is a lack of carbohydrates in the diet to support the needs of the brain and nervous system, the body has a backup plan where it converts fat stores or fat ingested into ketones.

Ketones can be burnt for energy in the brain and nervous system. The body will also break down muscle protein, which can be converted into glucose and ketones. This is why on a low carb diet it is important to eat adequate amounts of protein in order to retain muscle mass.

One can know if they are in ketosis by checking their urine using keto sticks and a person’s breathe usually smells of acetone during ketosis, as ketones are acidic.

A very low carb approach and ketosis has been shown to be helpful in people who have neurological issues like dementia, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, ADHD, autism, and Parkinson’s. When the brain burns ketones for energy production it has a neuro-protective effect on brain cells. The brain seems to metabolize ketones better in these conditions.

2) When could a low carb approach be useful?

 A low carb diet can be used to help control blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity in those who have full-fledged type 2 diabetes or are pre diabetic (metabolic syndrome). This is because carbs (glucose) require insulin to help glucose get into cells. Therefore, reducing the need for insulin can help to improve insulin sensitivity.

It can also be used for people who want to try and lose weight. Reducing carbs, by default, leads to a decreased intake of calorie dense, processed foods, and leads to a net increase in protein intake, which is our most satiating nutrient. Therefore allowing people to feel fuller for longer, decreasing the chances of over eating. It also, prevents muscle loss, which can occur during weight loss.

Despite this, in order to lose weight, one must be in a caloric deficit. Whether a person decides to go low car or low fat, over the long term, it actually does not matter for weight loss. As long as the person is in a caloric deficit, they stick to the diet and they eat adequate amounts of protein. Reducing carbohydrates in a caloric deficit, simply allows the body to burn body fat as a fuel source.

Lastly, a low carb approach could be used for women suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This is because a low carb diet helps to improve insulin sensitivity and insulin resistance, which is one of the core features in PCOS. Insulin resistance in women up-regulates enzymes that convert estrogen to testosterone excessively and high testosterone levels in women lead to the symptoms of PCOS such a amenorrhea/oligo-menorrhea, acne, abnormal body hair growth, hair loss and infertility.

Eating on a low carb protocol would be around 150g of carbs per day. This is the most common form of low carb eating and it is enough to fill the liver with glycogen.

For a person on a low carb diet, it is important that they make sure they are eating enough fruit and vegetables. This is because fruit and vegetables contain soluble fiber, which is food for our good bacteria in our gut. I mention this because sometimes people go on low carb diets where they end up restricting a lot of fruits and vegetables, which in turn compromises the health of their gut and the composition of our gut flora is essential to health.

It must be noted that some people feel really good on a low carb diet and others feel really average. This may be due to differences in genetics, as well as changes in the gut micro-biome. Decreasing carbs can lead to a decrease in gut bacteria that produce serotonin for the brain. Low serotonin levels in the brain can lead to arb cravings as carbohydrates increases serotonin.

3) When can a moderate carb approach be useful?

A moderate carb diet is usually considered to be 250g of carbs per day. For a reference, average Australians eat over 300g. This approach doesn’t impair muscle performance and it confers the metabolic benefits of a lower carb intake in people who are diabetic and/or overweight/obese.

A moderate carb diet should be followed for individuals who are generally healthy, they exercise moderately or don’t exercise at all and want to maintain their weight.

Furthermore, a moderate carb approach should occur when a low carb or very low carb approach could be harmful or detrimental. There are a few instances where a low carb intake could be problematic. These include:

1) People who are chronically stressed. Chronic stress raises cortisol levels and reducing carbohydrates can also lead to increased cortisol levels. This is because cortisol is released to break down muscle in order to use the protein to convert to glucose. When a person is chronically stressed it would not be ideal to raise cortisol levels any further. If this does occur, it is vital that extra protein is incorporated into the diet in order to prevent muscle loss. Stressed people also have fluctuating blood glucose levels.

2) People who have hypothyroidism. This is where a person’s thyroid gland is functioning at a less than optimum level, causing a reduction in metabolic rate, as the thyroid gland regulates our metabolism.

Insulin is important for the conversion of inactive thyroid hormones (T4) to the active form of thyroid hormone (T3). Insulin is raised when we eat carbs because insulin is needed to help shuttle glucose into cells. Therefore eating carbs is essential to healthy thyroid function and long-term low carb diets can lead to hypothyroidism.

This is why on a low carb diet it is important to do a carb reefed every so often. Hypothyroid symptoms from a low carb diet can usually result in symptoms like weight gain, cold intolerances, hormonal issues, reproductive issues, cognitive issues, fatigue, hair loss and sleep issues.

3) Over exercising and not eating enough carbs to sustain workout loads can increase stress and cortisol levels in the body. Chronically high cortisol levels have a whole host of detrimental health effects.

4) When can a high carb approach be useful?

A high carbohydrate diet is often necessary for athletes and very active people. Carbohydrates are the most efficient fuel source for our bodies during high intensity exercise.

If your activity levels, sport or training regimes include long bouts of high intensity cardio, strength work or both, then carbs are essential. The only time where a high carb diet may not be ideal for athletes is those who are involved in power sports like power lifting, which requires maximal strength for very short periods of time. For these individuals, a high carb diet may lead to weight gain as their energy needs are less.

Fat is an inefficient fuel source to be burnt for people working at a high intensity. It requires more oxygen than carbs to produce energy for the body. Therefore if you are an athlete that performs at a moderate to high intensity for extended periods of time, then not eating enough carbs can decrease performance. It can also lead to negative health effects as this is seen as a major stressor to the body. Symptoms can include weight gain, fatigue, decreased recovery time, muscle loss and hormonal issues that effect sexual and reproductive wellbeing.

A high intake of carbohydrates is important for putting on muscle, as insulin is an anabolic hormone, which is increased by eating carbs.

Lastly, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding then a high carb diet may also be necessary as glucose is an important fuel for the fetus’s growth. Also, pregnancy and breastfeeding is a time where energy needs increase, therefore they need to be supported. You may want to caution against a high carb diet if you have gestational diabetes or were diabetic before pregnancy.

5) Eating carbs only at certain times or days (aka targeted or cyclical ketogenic dieting)

Everyone has actually tried a low-carb diet before. That’s because everyone’s low-carb between meals.

Most people are only low-carb for around ten hours, eight hours of sleep plus a couple more hours. Others are low-carb for many years. But there’s actually a standardised low-carb diet that falls between those extremes.

Its called the cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD), which basically involves low-carb weekdays and carb refeeds on the weekend. This diet is especially beneficial for athletes or those interested in fine tuning body composition, since you can drastically lower calories for most of the week then fuel exercise with carbs for a day or two. CKD is just one form of intermittent carbohydrate restriction, which has shown benefits in a few trials.

There’s one other way you can restrict carbs, by only eating carbs around workout time (TKD, or targeted ketogenic diet). All of these diets are ways to play around with energy restriction based on timing, with the most popular form being intermittent fasting.

You can also modify carb intake in creative ways other than just eating less every day. For example, eating less on certain days, not eating much carb when you’re not working out much, or just fasting for a large portion of the day.

Wrap up.

As you can see, manipulating carbohydrate intake can be useful in certain situations to achieve certain therapeutic effects. But as I’ve said many times on my blog, when it comes to nutrition, there is no one size fits all approach. When changing your diet you should stay flexible. Keep an eye on how you feel and react to the changes and adjust accordingly. Keeping some kind of food diary can help.

Also, if you are manipulating carb intake to treat a certain condition, monitor if your symptoms improve. It is important that the carbs you are consuming are of good quality from whole, minimally processed foods such as whole grains, beans, legumes, potato, sweet potato, pumpkin and fruits. These foods provide many beneficial nutrients beyond their calories.

Lastly, it is also important that even though you are changing your carb intake, the rest of your diet needs to be balanced.

6 instances that require a higher protein intake

6 instances that require a higher protein intake

Protein is our most satiating nutrient. We all know that full feeling after a nice juicy steak. It is a vital macronutrient, because protein forms all the building blocks of our body and is especially important in maintaining muscle mass and bone mass, which are crucial for our health and ageing.

Unless an individual has some form of dietary restrictions like vegetarianism/veganism, most healthy people get enough protein to meet their daily needs in order for their body to function. However, some people in certain cases may not eat enough protein because the demands for protein intake increase.

The circumstances where a persons protein needs increase include individuals trying to lose weight, the elderly, the chronically ill, people with blood sugar issues, athletes and people under stress.

I would also like to mention that you may have heard that high protein diets cause kidney disease and cancer? This is not true. The kidneys filter out the by products of protein metabolism, therefore increased protein intake, requires more work from the kidneys. A person with healthy kidneys will have no problem with this extra load, however people who already have kidney issues, the high protein diet may exacerbate their condition.

Therefore a high protein diet is completely safe for people with no kidney issues, however studies show it may be an issue in those with pre existing kidney disease.

Furthermore, there’s no evidence that high protein diets increase the risk of cancer, as long as you’re eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet. For more information, read this article I wrote on the topic.

1) People trying to lose weight.

Protein is our most satiating nutrient, therefore it makes us feel full more easily, compared to carbs and fats. If we feel fuller, we are more likely to eat less and lose weight.

Also, when we lose weight, because we are eating below our caloric needs, our body is in a catabolic state, where it is breaking down tissue in order to use for energy and other functions in the body. Therefore people who are on a caloric restrictive diet, are at risk of losing muscle mass unless they feed the body with adequate amounts of protein.

The more extreme the caloric deficit, the higher the protein needs become. There is also research to suggest low-carb diets are effective for weight loss not because they are low in carbohydrate, but because they are high in protein.

2) People with blood sugar issues (high blood sugar and fluctuating between high and low).

High-protein diets have been shown to have a stabilising effect on blood sugar. They have also been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, which therefore has a positive effect on blood glucose and blood lipid markers like cholesterol and triglycerides. Stabilising blood sugar swings have been shown to have a positive effect on mood and sleep.

3) Athletes and people who train hard.

Protein is the nutrient required to build and rebuild muscle. If you want to add or maintain muscle mass, which is extremely important for any athlete, then you require more protein. Hard training breaks down muscle and therefore the body needs more protein to repair and build the muscle back stronger in order to deal with the next training session.

4) The elderly.

As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass, therefore a higher protein diet in the elderly can help maintain muscle mass, which will in turn support health. Maintaining muscle mass in old age is important for strength, mobility, bone health and organ health, as muscle acts as an organ reserve. Increased protein and strength training is a great combination to support healthy ageing, mobility and reduce the risk of falls.

5) The chronically ill.

Being chronically ill is a huge stress on the body. Therefore, without enough dietary protein, the body will break down its own muscle. A higher protein diet can help to prevent further tissue breakdown and reduce the adverse effects of chronic illness.

6) People who are under a lot of stress.

As I mentioned above, protein has a stabilizing effect on blood sugar. High stress levels can lead to hypoglycemia or other blood sugar imbalances. Increasing protein intake—especially in the morning—can stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day. This will decrease the risk of sugar lows causing jitteriness, agitation and mood swings. It can also improve sleep, and sharpen brain function.

If you’re chronically stressed, the tissues in your body literally starts to break down. Therefore adequate protein can help buffer this situation.

What to do now?

If you fit into any of these categories, obviously you want to increase your intake of whole-food proteins, such as meat, fish and eggs. It’s always best to meet nutrient needs from whole food.

We can get technical with protein amounts in grams and what percentage of your calories should come from protein, however turning food into math can be extremely annoying and time consuming. Therefore, I typically recommend people to judge their protein intake using their hands.

A male who is healthy and does not fit into the categories above should typically eat 2 palms of protein dense food at every meal (3-4 meals per day). However, a male that fits into one of the categories listed in this post, may want to add an extra palm or two of protein at each meal.

A female who is healthy and does not fit into the categories above should typically eat 1 palm of protein dense food at every meal (3-4 meals per day). However, a female that fits into one of the categories listed in this post, may want to add an extra palm or two of protein at each meal.

Stay flexible and keep a tab on how you feel.

Sometimes, people can find it hard to consume enough protein from whole foods due to how filling high protein meals are. Also, due to time constraints, they may not be able to always sit down and eat a large meal. This is where protein powders and protein shakes can become very useful.

You can add a protein shake in between your meals (or in place of meals, perhaps) to boost your overall protein intake.

My protein shakes usually consist of:

  • 1 scoop of a high quality whey, egg or beef protein powder. Animal proteins are more bioavailable and better absorbed than plant proteins. Make sure to find a protein powder without carbs.
  • 2 fists of spinach (vegetable).
  • A healthy fat source like 1 TBS of coconut oil OR 1/4 avocado OR hand full of nuts OR 1 TBS of pure nut butter (fat).
  • Frozen berries, banana or any frozen fruit of your choice (carbs).
  • cinnamon and vanilla extract for taste

For some extra taste you can add things like cacao or mint leaves. They too have some great health benefits.

Protein shakes can either be a source of additional calories if you’re trying to put on weight or aid recovery, or a means of boosting protein without adding calories if you’re trying to maximize weight loss or metabolic function.

It is important to get a good, quality protein powder that is manufactured in the right way. Some people don’t tolerate whey protein too well, therefore it is important to source an alternative protein powder that is bioavailable.

Bioavailability refers to how completely absorbed the protein is. In general, plant proteins like pea and rice are much less bioavailable than animal proteins like whey, egg and beef. Therefore, if whey does not sit well with you, find a good quality egg or beef protein.

Here is a good quality whey protein made from cows raised on a pasture. It is made from hydrolyzed whey protein. Hydrolyzed means that it is “pre-digested” and broken down into smaller peptides that are easier to absorb, and thus more bioavailable than most other proteins. It is low in carbs.

What do all of the fad diets often have in common?

What do all of the fad diets often have in common?

There are so many different diet camps these days proclaiming that their diet is the healthiest to help you achieve your health and fitness goals. From paleo to vegetarianism/veganism. If you were to listen to all of these diet camps and food dogma, your diet would probably look something like this:

However, little do you know that all of these diets have two things in common? The first is that they all push people to eat more whole, unprocessed food. Secondly, those who follow these diets are likely to be more conscious about their diet choices.

Focusing on these two habits can make a huge difference to anyone’s health and help them reach their goals. People who eat mostly whole foods and are conscious about their diet choices, tend to be healthier than those who don’t.

I’m sure you have heard it before where people tell you the immediate difference they felt after going on a certain diet like a juice cleanse. This happens because when switching from a really crappy diet that is high in processed foods to any of these diet camps, the person will automatically begin to eat healthier, more nutrient dense food and eat less of the other crap. However, after a while these people can run into issues, because the diet is too restrictive, therefore they miss out on certain food groups to gain important nutrients.

Research shows that individuals who eat and adhere to a diet that mostly consists of whole, minimally processed, nutrient rich foods such as meats, fish, eggs, dairy, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, whole grains, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats like coconut oil, butter, animals fats, olive oil and nut oils, tend to be healthier than those who don’t.

Humans have always eaten a wide variety of foods depending on where they lived in the world. This means we are adapted to eat all kinds of foods. This is clearly demonstrated by examining the traditional diets of various tribes and ethnic groups throughout the world. For example, the Arctic Inuit and African Masai ate traditional diets that were very high in fat and animal products with very few vegetables. Conversely, the Kitavans in the South Pacific ate traditional diets that are low in fat but very high in vegetables and starchy carbs. Crazy differences here, yet all of these traditional cultures were relatively healthy people with minimal incidences of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, etc.

This is only possible because the human body is amazingly adaptable to a host of different dietary conditions. What all these traditional diets have in common is that they are based around minimally processed, whole, nutrient dense foods.

So although the different diet camps (e.g. paleo or vegan) may focus on different macronutrients ratios, they all encourage the eating of more whole foods.  And that may be one of the most important nutrition interventions of all, regardless of the protein, carb, and fat breakdowns.

This however does not mean you should sit in a diet camp. Because a lot of the time they are very restrictive and demonize other healthy/wholefood groups, which I believe is not helpful, even harmful. A prime example is the demonization of meat by vegan/vegetarianism. Red meat is a nutrient dense food in the context of a good diet. As I have mentioned, the goal is too eat more quality types of food and to eat a wide variety, rather than sticking to restrictions such as low carb, low fat or vegetarian. This will ensue you get a wide variety of benefits from various types of foods.

Obviously, certain macronutrient ratios can be tailored to help people achieve certain goals (e.g. athletes), however for the general person, they should focus on eating lots of whole foods in the form of both plant and animal sources.

To sum it all up, just focus on eating as much whole, minimally processed foods as possible and I am sure you will see a huge change in your health. Read this post to get you started.

Does the perfect diet exist?

Does the perfect diet exist?

There are so many diets and diet fads out there to follow. Each proclaiming that their one is better than the rest. But I believe that the best diet is the one that is most suited to the individual. It is a diet that fits into the individual’s personal lifestyle and aligns with their health goals.

Now don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that if you love chocolate the foundation of your diet should be centred on chocolate. However, for the average person, in order to improve their health, body composition and feel better, it does not really matter how much protein, carbs and fats they are eating. What really matters is the type and quality of these nutrients.

Research shows that individuals who eat and adhere to a diet that mostly consists of whole, minimally processed, nutrient rich foods such as meats, fish, eggs, dairy, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, whole grains, fruit, vegetables and healthy fats like coconut oil, butter, animals fats, olive oil and nut oils, tend to be healthier then those who don’t.

Humans have always eaten a wide variety of foods depending on where they lived in the world. This means we are adapted to eat all kinds of foods. This is clearly demonstrated by examining the traditional diets of various tribes and ethnic groups throughout the world. For example, the Arctic Inuit and African Masai ate traditional diets that were very high in fat and animal products with very few vegetables. Conversely, the Kitavans in the South Pacific ate traditional diets that are low in fat but very high in vegetables and starchy carbs. Crazy differences here, yet all of these traditional cultures were relatively healthy people with minimal incidences of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, etc.

This is only possible because the human body is amazingly adaptable to a host of different dietary conditions. What all these traditional diets have in common is that they are based around minimally processed, whole, nutrient dense foods. They also contain a balance between animal and plant based foods.

If you were to follow all of the claims that are made by all the different diet camps you would starve because they all conflict with one another. However, the one thing that all of the diet camps do have in common is that they make people more conscious of their food choices and although they may focus on different macronutrients ratios, they all encourage the eating of more whole foods.  And that may be one of the most important nutrition interventions of all, regardless of the protein, carb, and fat breakdowns.

A healthy diet goes beyond what you put in your mouth.

Food plays many different roles in our society, and has done so for thousands of years. These roles go far beyond health and nutrition. For example, food brings people together and we can form certain memories around food.

Therefore, when assessing a person’s diet, while it is important to look at what the individual is eating, it is more important to address the array of factors that influence that person’s food choice.

Many factors dictate our food choices such as sleep deprivation, stress, cost, nutrition, health and body composition goals, variety, environment, culture/religion, taste, mindset, emotional state, memories surrounding a particular food and socio economic status.

What is the point of discussing this? Well, it is clear that the factors that compel us to make food choices go far beyond health and nutrition. This is why many fad/weight loss diets fail to give clients long lasting results because they do not take into account these considerations. Apart from them being unsustainable due to their complexity, difficulty of implementation and lack of caloric intake, they rarely address any of the factors that impact our food choices, therefore setting the person up for failure.

The context in which we consume food is sometimes more important than what we are actually putting in our mouths. For example, eating a pizza once in a while with good company is very different to consuming a pizza every time you come home stressed from work and don’t have time to cook a nutritious meal.

There is more to health than diet and nutrition.

While diet is very important to health, if you are obsessed about your diet and neglect the other factors that contribute to overall health, it is unlikely to you will be healthy. I have seen if far too often where people obsess over their diet and follow a really strict diet regime, yet they still suffer from health issues because they are stressed, their relationships are a mess and following their strict diet actually causes them stress as well as isolates them from others. This is an issue because social connection is a vital part of our health and food is a good vehicle to bring people together. Food is awesome and should be enjoyed accordingly, therefore although the foundation of your diet should be whole, unprocessed, nutrient dense food, there is always room to enjoy yourself on occasions like family dinners or birthdays. Save your “splurge” for these special events.

Restrictive diets cause guilt around food.

Following a restrictive diet creates food dogma where there is certain foods that are “acceptable/good” and food that is “unacceptable/bad”. This causes a lot of guilt when a person strays from the diet and eats unacceptable/bad foods. Feeling guilty after eating food is not healthy and is counter productive. It can cause unwanted stress and I have written extensively how stress in any form is harmful to your health.

Why do people feel and look better when they change to these diets?

We all know that one person who changed their diet drastically and went paleo, vegetarian or on a juice detox. These people see good results that are noticed by friends and family. They then start to preach about how amazing their new diet is and how others should try it.

Firstly, just because something worked for your friend doesn’t mean it will work for you. There are examples of people following a wide range of different diets and are thriving, however just because that person is thriving on a specific diet, does not mean it will work for you. When it comes to nutrition, there is no one size fits all approach and a good diet is one that suits the individual best.

Furthermore, many of these individuals feel and look great because they drastically change their diet from eating processed and unhealthy food to a more whole-food, nutrient dense diet. Regardless if you go vegetarian or paleo, if you switch from a poor diet to a diet with more wholesome, less processed foods, of course you will feel better. However, these individuals often run into trouble down the track as the diet may not be sustainable due to the fact that it may cause health issues such as extreme weight loss (if it severely restricts calories) and nutrient deficiencies, especially if the diet is very restrictive.

Wrap up.

A one-size-fits-all “best diet” approach doesn’t work. Strictly following a list of “good” and “bad” or “allowed” and “not allowed” foods is problematic for most people. In the long-term, it’s tough to be consistent on a strict diet regime like Paleo. Sure, most people can follow it for weeks or months. Maybe even years. But decades? That’s unlikely. A good diet is flexible and sustainable, in order to suit the individual. It also doesn’t restrict certain foods or food groups. It permits the consumption of a wide variety of whole foods, both plant based and animal based, with some small indulgences along the way to keep on track and prevent binging.

How to maintain your diet and lifestyle habits during stressful times?

How to maintain your diet and lifestyle habits during stressful times?

Sometimes our lives get hectic. It is the nature of the modern world we live in. We get busy and overwhelmed. All of a sudden it becomes harder to maintain our healthy diet and lifestyle habits like sleeping, exercising, managing stress, making time to have fun and spending time with our friends and family.

During difficult times we all have a tendency to abandon our practices entirely, which inevitably makes things worse. However, it’s much better to simply cut back to a level that you can manage. Try do the most important things that give you your best bang for your buck.

For example, you may really prioritise your sleep over everything else as this is vital for your energy levels, recovery from stress and it has a huge impact on your food cravings (i.e. being sleep deprived increases the craving for sugar and palatable foods due to your fatigued brain wanting an energy hit).

You may cut back on exercise. Therefore, you may reduce the amount of times you maybe exercise per week and maybe even reduce the duration of your workouts.

Furthermore, with your diet, instead of cooking each meal from scratch, you may look to cook larger meals less frequently and eating more leftovers.

Also, reaching out for support from friends and family can be very important to try and help take some load off you in times of stress.

Lastly, don’t beat yourself up. Try your best with what you can and when your stressful period passes, get back on track.

The Paleo diet: Nothing special, just a another diet promoting more whole-food consumption

The Paleo diet: Nothing special, just a another diet promoting more whole-food consumption

The foods that the paleo diet promotes are no doubt good for you and if most people ate in this way we would certainly see a dramatic decrease in obesity and chronic disease rates. If a person switches from a poor diet with lots of processed and refined foods, and eats more whole-foods that are promoted in the paleo diet, of course they will feel better. However, my issue with the paleo diet is the premises on which the diet is built are wrong and therefore leads to the avoidance of some very healthy foods. Furthermore, it also creates food dogma that is inherent to sitting in a diet camp.

Like most diet camps, the premises on which these diets are built are often wrong. For example, vegetarians and vegans claim that their dietary choices are more morally correct, environmentally sustainable and healthier, however this is not true.

Paleo encourages us to eat like our ancient ancestors did before the agricultural revolution, which occurred 10,000 years ago, when humans were still hunter-gatherers and we moved around to source our food. Specifically, the paleo dietary model encourages us to base our diets on the following foods:

  • animals (especially a “whole animal” approach, including bone marrow, cartilage, and organs),
  • animal products (such as eggs or honey),
  • vegetables and fruits,
  • raw nuts and seeds,
  • and added fats (like coconut oil, avocado, butter, ghee).

The agricultural revolution allowed humans to settle in communities with a constant food supply, however paleo advocates claim that before we started eating grains like wheat and barley before the agricultural revolution, humans were healthier and had less disease. They proclaim that 10,000 years is not enough time for our bodies to adapt to eating grains, which is a relatively recent addition to our diet in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, paleo humans did eat more protein, more omega 3, more fruits and vegetables and more vitamins and minerals, however they were not the model of health. They suffered and died “early” deaths from infections, wild animals, war, famine the weather/elements/climate changes.

Some research also does suggest that our paleo ancestors maybe did suffer from chronic diseases like atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

However, it is likely they didn’t suffer from as many chronic diseases as we do today because they didn’t live long enough to be effected by them. Modern medicine (especially to treat infections), hygiene practices, sanitation, spaced out living quarters, disease control methods, decreased war, and increased infrastructure leading to increased accessibility of food, water and shelter from the elements, has significantly increased life expectancy. Especially in the developed world (some of these factors are large causes of death in developed nations therefore reducing life expectancy).

Because of this, some may argue that it then leads to an increased risk of chronic diseases. However, in saying that, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the combination of modern medicine and modern living with good diet and lifestyle practices, is a recipe for a long and healthy life in most cases. And chronic disease may only manifest in well into old age when the body naturally slows down.

Paleo tells us to avoid grains (even “whole grains”) as well as other agricultural foods like beans and legumes.

Dairy is also typically off limits too, though some guidelines allow these foods. If you tolerate dairy well, meaning you are not lactose intolerant or have any allergies, dairy can be extremely healthy and offers some great nutritional/health benefits.

We already know that processed foods and refined grains aren’t good for us, hence they are right to be avoided. But what about whole grains and legumes?

Paleo advocates say that legumes contain high concentrations of anti-nutrients like lectins or phytates. These are plant chemicals that are produced in plants as protective mechanisms. Supposedly, they reduce nutrient absorption in the body, as well as other health issues.

These chemicals have only been shown to cause issues in animal studies when animals are fed high amounts of these anti-nutrients in isolated forms from raw legumes. However, in humans, we don’t consume these anti-nutrients in isolated forms, we consume them in food and most people cook their legumes. Research suggests that the benefits of legumes outweigh their anti-nutrient content and cooking eliminates most anti-nutrient effects. Moreover, some anti-nutrients (like lectins and phytic acid) may even be good for us (e.g. anti-oxidants).

As for grains, Paleo proponents say grains can lead to inflammation (mainly due to gluten) in the body and inflammation underpins many chronic diseases.

This can be true for people with celiac disease (about 1 percent of the population) and for those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. But a substantial body of reliable research suggests that eating whole grains improves our health as they are a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. At the very least, whole grains appear to be neutral when it comes to inflammation.

Lastly, the “Paleo diet” is purely a term used to market a mixture of “clean” and “high fat, low carb” diets. The foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate thousands of years ago are very different to the foods we eat today. For example, we eat cows and other domesticated animals, but our ancestors hunted wild game and ate/used every bit of the animal. Also, due to cultivation, varying growing conditions, food transportation and farming, our fruits and vegetables that we consume today are very different to the wild forms of the fruits and vegetables that our paleo ancestors ate.

Our paleo ancestors had very different diets depending on where they lived. Each population of hunter gathered, developed a genetic make up, that required specific amounts of nutrients depending on their environments. The food sources available to them, provided adequate amounts of these specific nutrients.

Wrap up:

The Paleo diet has a lot of good qualities. It emphasises eating whole foods and removing processed foods, which is why studies done on the Paleo diet show great results because adding these foods consistently into a persons diet could make huge changes to your health. It is also probably one of the most nutrient dense diets and when it is done well, it covers most nutrients.

However, the premises on which it is built can lead to avoidance of some healthy foods and when it comes to nutrition and diet, there is no one size fits all. Strictly following a list of “good” and “bad” or “allowed” and “not allowed” foods is problematic for most people as it can cause guilt around food and is likely to be unsustainable.

So instead of sitting in a diet camp, maybe you could make small changes to your diet such as trying to replace the processed foods you eat with more whole-foods. Small changes done consistently can be very effective and consistency is more important than any food list or evolutionary theory. Here is a good guide to trying to get your diet back on track.