Avocados and avocado oil had a slow road to popularity, starting with a rebranding of sorts. There’s a bit of an internet debate around the origin of the word avocado. Some reports say that it came from the word ahuacatl, which is Aztec slang for testicle. As the fruit became more popular, that association wasn’t great for marketing, so farmers changed the name to “avocado” and even petitioned dictionary publishers to update the entry. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/03008209109152159‘>2
If you’re curious of the fatty acid composition of other culinary oils, you can find them in this article.
Avocado Oil vs Olive Oil
Avocado oil and olive oil are similar in a lot of ways, but the differences may help you decide which one to pull out of your cabinet for different applications.
Avocado oil and olive oil are both high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat, which is the compound that research has shown may help reduce blood pressure, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15814269/‘>8 may benefit the immune system,https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21041432/‘>10
Both avocado oil and olive oil contain a range of antioxidants. High-quality, extra-virgin avocado oil contains lutein,https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0738081X08000126‘>12 Olive oil contains vitamin E, beta carotene, lutein, and others that have a range of benefits. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK247/‘>1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4037575/‘>3 and people new to the keto diet,https://www.virtahealth.com/blog/well-formulated-ketogenic-diet’>5
- Most accurate
- Used in therapeutic settings
- Requires a finger prick and blood sample
- Cost can add up quickly
Ketone Breath Tests
How it works:
Breath tests measure acetone. Like AcAc and BHB, acetone travels in the bloodstream. The molecules are small enough to diffuse into the lungs, where they are exhaled. This is why some people develop the distinctive fruity or metallic smell also known as keto breath.
Breath meters measure acetone in parts per million (ppm). Everyone, no matter their diet, exhales a small amount of acetone. The average non-keto dieter might only register 1 ppm. Someone following a keto diet would normally have up to about 40 ppm. Fasting can drive breath acetone up to around 170 ppm. Ketoacidosis is indicated by breath acetone concentrations of 1,250 ppm.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4737348/‘>7 This doesn’t mean that higher breath acetone readings somehow cause weight loss, though.
Acetone readings go up when the body is burning more fat, that’s true. That’s why they also go up after exercise, when the body is tapping into fat stores for energy. However, these devices can’t distinguish whether you’re burning body fat or the fat from your plate. Participants in these studies were burning body fat because they were in an energy deficit. Depending on how much fat you eat, you can maintain or even gain weight on a keto diet. Ketosis never guarantees body fat loss, no matter how you measure your ketones.
The biggest upside to breath testing is that once you have the meter, you can test as many times as you want each day for no additional cost per test. This is great for people who want to test multiple times per day.
Although breath testing does seem promising, there’s a catch. The research studies I reviewed all used mass spectrometry-based devices. These are sophisticated pieces of equipment that you won’t have at home. While there are quite a few handheld devices available online, it’s not clear how accurate they are.
The most popular device seems to be the Ketonix(R), which starts at $79. You blow into the device, which looks like a pen, and the ketone reading syncs with an app on your phone. Reviews suggest that it can take a while for the app to connect to the device and that it’s glitchy, so do your homework before purchasing. There is also the considerably more expensive LEVL device (prices aren’t currently listed on their website). In addition to the up-front cost, LEVL requires monthly sensor replacements that aren’t cheap, and it’s more finicky to use.
- Does not require blood or urine
- Unlimited tests once you own the device
- Questions about accuracy and efficacy of home-use devices
- Not reliable if you’ve recently consumed alcohol
When to Test
There’s no right or wrong time to test. For general tracking, the most important thing is that you test around the same time each day. Try to keep conditions the same, too. Ketone levels are affected by time of day, how recently you ate and what you ate, exercise, and a number of other factors. Don’t test right after a meal one day, at the end of a 16-hour fasting period the next day, and after a 10-mile run on the third day.
I think it makes the most sense to test first thing in the morning or at bedtime. If you consistently break your overnight fast at the same time, you can also test right before eating.
If you’re looking for high ketone readings to stay motivated, test at night. A test of 12 healthy men and women found that both blood and urine measurements were lowest at 10 a.m., following breakfast https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11198492/‘>9 Some folks also monitor their glucose-ketone index (GKI). This ratio reflects the relative availability of the two fuels and is especially used in cancer treatment.https://keto-mojo.com/testing-for-bio-individuality/‘>11 Athletes might test their ketones to dial in their fueling strategy.
I’ve also had readers tell me that tracking their ketones helps them stay motivated. That’s great as long as tracking doesn’t add stress or anxiety to your life. If you can absorb the information impartially, go for it. If a low ketone reading is going to send you into an emotional tailspin, it’s not worth it. Testing is not exact anyway. There’s always a margin of error.
Just remember that whether you’re trying to lose weight, live to 120, reduce inflammation, or whatever else, your diet is only one of many factors that play into your success. Chasing high ketones is almost never necessary. I know some people swear that they feel better above a certain level. If it’s true that they can feel a noticeable difference, though, they shouldn’t need to test for confirmation. Aim for a feeling, not a number.
Most of all, don’t let the results of any ketone test take precedence over your subjective experience. If you are firing on all cylinders—sleeping great, positive mood, lots of energy, feeling strong—who cares what your blood BHB is?
All that said, if you’re going to track ketones, I say don’t bother with the urine strips unless you’re only going to test for the first few weeks. If you’re planning on making it a regular thing, go ahead and invest in a blood meter. They seem to be more reliable than handheld breath meters at this point. They also measure blood glucose, which can be useful for a variety of reasons. If you don’t want to track, that’s fine too. It’s always an option later if you want more information.
Informal poll: How many of you who follow a keto diet track your ketones? What device(s) do you use? What’s your main purpose for tracking, and do you find it useful?
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You talk a lot about the evils of grains. I follow your logic on why a grain free diet is best, and I have seen weight loss and just feel better overall since heeding your advice. But there is one thing (well, more than one) that I don’t understand but hear about often. Could you explain what gluten intolerance is and why you should avoid gluten?
Excellent question. Even though we’re seeing gluten-free labeling more and more, it’s not always clear why gluten can be problematic. Because of cross-contamination, it’s not always obvious whether a food contains gluten or not. Further, gluten intolerance symptoms can masquerade as other conditions. Let’s break it all down.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a large, water-soluble protein that creates the elasticity in dough. It’s found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley, triticale, and oats. These days it’s also found in additives like thickeners and fillers used in everything from lunch meat to soup to candy. You can also find gluten in beers and vinegars that have been fermented from gluten-containing grains.
What Is Gluten Intolerance?
If your body reacts when you eat gluten-containing foods, there’s a chance you may have gluten intolerance.
Gluten Intolerance or Sensitivity Symptoms
When an affected person eats or drinks something containing gluten, the protein initiates a kind of allergic reaction in the body, resulting in some level of inflammation. The reaction can vary significantly from person to person. Symptoms include:
- Skin changes (rash, itching, scaling)
- Joint pain
- Acid reflux
- Mood changes
- Abnormal menses
- Digestive discomfort
Some gluten sensitive people show no symptoms, at least for a certain period of their lives.
Gluten Intolerance vs. Celiac Disease
In serious cases, gluten intolerance causes intestinal atrophy known as Celiac disease. Celiac disease is hereditary, and it is estimated that 1 in 10 people with a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) who has celiac disease will also have the condition.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0016508515000293‘>2 It’s considered a genetically influenced, life-long condition, with some relationship to autoimmunity.http://perfecthealthdiet.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/O-Primitivo-Cholesterol.jpg‘>1 we can’t hang our hats on it. First off, total cholesterol is limited because it’s only telling us the amount of cholesterol contained in all our lipoproteins without saying anything about what kind of lipoproteins we have or how many there are. Second, total cholesterol is limited because it’s determined by a bizarre formula – HDL-C+LDL-C+(Triglycerides/5) – that reduces various types of blood lipids, each with a different role in the body and a unique impact on our risk for illness, to mere numbers. Someone with low HDL and high triglycerides could easily have the same TC as someone with high HDL and low triglycerides, so long as the numbers work out. Whether it’s being used to predict wellness or disease, total cholesterol by itself is mostly meaningless.
Standard view: “Good” cholesterol. It’s the “garbage truck” that cleans up “excessive” cholesterol and fat from tissues, so the higher the better! Though men and women should strive for levels exceeding 60 mg/dl, above 40 is acceptable for the former and above 50 is acceptable for the latter.
My take: Higher HDL-Cs correlate strongly with better cardiovascular health. No real argument here. Higher HDLs are desirable. Just remember, it’s only a snapshot of a glimpse into the cholesterol content of your HDL particles. Among most groups tested, the TC:HDL ratio is actually a strong indicator of heart disease risk, with higher ratios corresponding to higher risks. Note, though, that no Primal Blueprint adherents were among the groups analyzed, ever.
Standard view: Get it as low as humanly possible! I want that low density lipoprotein so low as to be nearly nonexistent. Your body obviously hates you; otherwise, it wouldn’t be producing a potently toxic substance and sending it directly into your endothelial cells to form atherosclerotic plaque! Of course, we’re not actually measuring the number of low density lipoproteins, just the amount of cholesterol contained in them, but still!
My take: While a high LDL-C may indicate a problem, remember that LDL-C only indicates the total amount of cholesterol in your LDL particles. You could easily have a few large particles (good) or a bunch of smaller, denser ones (bad, might indicate poor LDL receptor activity and an LDL that likes to hang out in the blood), but LDL-C alone isn’t enough to know. It’s also just a moment in time, whereas what you’re interested in is the trend. If the trend indicates a steady rise in LDL-C, however, that could hint at poorer LDL clearance and lower LDL receptor activity (and greater susceptibility to oxidation).
Standard view: Lower would be better, sure, but you really gotta do something about that LDL! Anything less than 150 mg/dl is fine.
My take: High triglycerides correlate strongly with low HDL and smaller, denser LDL. High triglycerides, then, could indicate more oxidized (or oxidizable) LDL. The triglycerides of most Primal eaters, especially those on the lower carb side of things, usually hover well below 100 mg/dl. Triglycerides come packaged in VLDL, or very low density lipoproteins (which are calculated by dividing your triglyceride count by 5).
So, what can we learn from a standard lipid test? If we take a series of regular ol’ lipid measurements, preferably one pre- and several peri-Primal, we can get an idea of our metabolic health. Look for:
- Trends – Are your triglycerides going down over time? That’s great. Is your HDL trending up? Also good.
- Normal fluctuations – Your numbers can jump around 20-30 points in either direction between readings without it necessarily meaning anything.
- TC:HDL-C ratio – Lower is better and indicates fewer LDL particles.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19091534‘>3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19903920‘>5 If you have a lot of ApoB, you have a lot of LDL particles, which could mean the LDL receptor activity is down-regulated. Or, it could mean you’re losing weight, which can affect lipid values in multiple ways. Or, it could mean that today was a particularly “high ApoB day” and that getting it tested next week will give a different result, simply due to natural fluctuations. You just don’t know.
And that’s actually the main issue with all cholesterol readings, however advanced: They are snapshots in time. They do not capture the natural fluctuations and trends of the biomarkers. Your cholesterol was elevated today at 12 noon. What does that say about your levels tomorrow at six in the evening? Next week? Nothing. To account for natural fluctuations, get tested at regular intervals and observe the trends.
If you can’t get the ApoB test, total cholesterol/HDL ratio is a good indicator of how long LDL is hanging around in the blood and remains the best standard assessment of heart disease risk. Another good one is triglyceride/HDL ratio, which is a strong surrogate marker for insulin resistance. In both cases, lower is better. An ideal T/HDL ratio is 1:1; 2:1 is about as high as you want to go. An ideal TC/HDL ratio is 3.5:1 or lower.
Okay, so by whatever metric you want to use, your numbers are “elevated” and you’ve taken enough readers to get a general trend. It’s not just an isolated number. Should you worry?
Is High Cholesterol a Problem?
Oh, boy. There’s the million dollar question.
First off, let’s go back to the evolutionary prism. As a naturally self-regulating system, the body isn’t going to produce something that is intrinsically pathological. Maybe that could happen in really rare genetic mutations, but everyone produces, utilizes, and relies upon cholesterol. It simply doesn’t make sense that cholesterol is evil.
Adequate cholesterol isn’t available for the body’s repair system, for the uptake of serotonin, for the full initiation of Vitamin D and hormone production and their regulation of blood sugar and inflammation, etc., etc. What does your logic tell you here? Yup, nothing is running the way it should.
Let me also add that everyone’s cholesterol profile is going to be different, no matter what. And I acknowledge that a very small percentage of people out there genuinely have *true* hereditary high blood cholesterol, familial hypercholesterolemia, a metabolic condition with impaired or even lack of ability to metabolize cholesterol. This condition can have serious health consequences. By the way, this condition, in its heterozygous form affects at most 1 in 500 people. Total serum cholesterol in these folks is in the 400 mg/dl range (as opposed to the 200 recommended). The homozygous form affects about 1 in 250,000. You likely don’t know anyone in this category because their disorder almost always ends their lives at a very young age. But even the heart disease common in familial hypercholesterolemia might not be caused solely by high LDL, but by poor coagulation.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27292972/’>7 That’s right: higher LDL, less heart disease deaths. Plus, most people who have major heart attacks have “normal cholesterol.”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Sound and reliable medical research hasn’t proven that lowering (or low) cholesterol in and of itself reduces risk of death from heart disease across a population. What does this tell you? There must be some other piece or pieces to the cholesterol/heart disease story.
Based on my examination of the evidence over the years, it all boils down to oxidative stress and inflammation.
The inflammatory response and subsequent oxidative stress load is ultimately responsible for the oxidation of the LDL, while inflammatory cytokines produced at the atherosclerotic site can weaken and loosen the plaque, thus setting the stage for (and even causing) a rupture. In fact, inflammation is intimately involved in nearly every aspect of heart disease.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16470012‘>9
Furthermore, nearly every study suggests that LDL is only a true threat when it’s oxidized. What increases the risk of oxidized LDL?
- Having LDL particles that hang out longer in the blood.
- Eating too much linoleic acid (it’s the polyunsaturated fat in the lipoprotein that oxidizes).https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940560/’>11
- Failing to eat grass-fed dairy.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29190851/’>13
- Not eating extra virgin olive oil and fish oil.https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-007-1764-0_51‘>1 and a few surrounding areas, where the conditions are just right to grow and harvest the small, orange-sized fruits.
Monk fruit belongs to the cucurbit family alongside squash, cucumber, and watermelon. Fresh off the vine, the mini melons have a bitter outer rind encasing a sweet edible pulp and seeds. But unless you know someone who’s managed to cultivate monk fruit in their garden, you’re unlikely to eat a fresh monk fruit. The flesh degrades quickly, meaning most manufacturers dry monk fruit or process it so that it will make it to market.
Most monk fruit finds its way to American shelves as a concentrated natural sweetener. As always, the nature of that sweetener can vary markedly depending on how it was processed.
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Is Monk Fruit Keto?
An average serving of pure monk fruit extract contains virtually no carbs, calories or sugars, which makes it a great choice to sweeten keto desserts and drinks.
It derives almost all of its sweetness from a group of antioxidants https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0026265X14000733‘>4 the key ingredient is generally mogroside V. This is easily the sweetest-tasting of all the compounds in monk fruit. Very conveniently, your body does not metabolize it in the same fashion as simple sugars like glucose or fructose. Your digestive system does not readily absorb Mogroside V. This accounts for the “zero calorie” claims of monk fruit extract products. It spells good news for those looking to satiate their sweet tooth while avoiding calorie loading or blood sugar spikes.
Potential Benefits Of Monk Fruit
While the extraction and refining processes remove most of the original natural compounds from fresh monk fruit, research indicates that the mogrosides and other flavonoids that remain can still benefit your body. Here’s a brief look at some of the benefits (preventative and otherwise) you might enjoy using monk fruit sweeteners.
Monk Fruit May Combat Obesity
As Primal folks know, sugar (not fat) is the leading dietary cause of the obesity epidemic. And as the world has ever-so-slowly awakened to the notion that sugar might be doing the most damage, there’s been a push towards sweeteners that don’t elicit the same insulin-meddling, inflammation-elevating, liver-damaging effects as sugar. Preliminary evidence suggests that the mogrosides in monk fruit sweeteners might be just the ticket. A 2012 study showed that total mogrosides extracted from monk fruit “suppressed the increase in body weight, abdominal and epididymal fats weight” in mice placed on a high-fat diet (presumably not good fats).http://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/23/8/1894‘>6 Researchers thought that the mogrosides achieved this anti-obesity effect by “enhancing fat metabolism and antioxidative defenses.”
We need more research to verify these findings, especially in humans. But its a promising start.
READ NEXT: Does Monk Fruit Break a Fast?
There has been plenty of research into the potential antidiabetic effect of mogrosides found in monk fruit sweeteners. In one study, mogroside extracts from monk fruit administered to diabetic rats significantly eased symptoms and protected against biochemical abnormalities.https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/antidiabetic-effect-of-longterm-supplementation-with-siraitia-grosvenori-on-the-spontaneously-diabetic-gotokakizaki-rat/FC59DC2955AA96A75154985DAE6809E6‘>8
Yet another study showed that both crude monk fruit extract and mogroside V helped to stimulate the secretion of insulin in pancreatic beta cells.http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/6/360/htm‘>10 used mogroside IV, extracted from monk fruit, to inhibit the proliferation of both colorectal and throat cancer cells and suppress tumor growth. An earlier study https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf201207m‘>13
More than half of a more recent study demonstrated the ability of mogroside V to lower induced lung inflammation in mice.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3813191/‘>15 We can assume that this is at least partially attributed to monk fruit’s anti-inflammatory compounds.
Monk and Immunity
The health-giving powers of monk fruit sweeteners may even extend to immune function. In one study, scientists fed groups of diabetic mice low-dose mogrosides, high-dose mogrosides, or a saline control solution over a month.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20183321‘>17 further solidify the immune-boosting effect and prevent the growth of common bacterial pathogens like Streptococcus mutans, Porphyromonas gingivalis, and Candida albicans.
Are Monk Fruit Sweeteners Safe?
Long-term, multi-year toxicity trials the best way to evaluate safety, but so far, no tests have yet revealed anything of concern. People sometimes report digestive discomfort with monk fruit, but some say that it would be due to other things that are mixed with the monk fruit (like xylitol or erythritol) and not the monk fruit itself.
The FDA gave monk fruit products their generally recognized as safe (GRAS) seal of approval in 2010, and it’s of some note that monk fruit has been cultivated and eaten since at least the 13th century, albeit at far lower concentrations.
Limited trials in humans haven’t reported any adverse effects, and a study in mice showed that, mice who consumed high dosages did not experience toxic or mutagenic effects.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23216128/’>1 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21036373/‘>3 Many believe that the current recommended daily intake of 1,500 mg per day for adults is woefully inadequate.
Instead, the sweet spot seems to be between 4 and 6 grams per day. That’s about 2 teaspoons of fine sea salt like Redmond Real Salt or a heaping tablespoon of kosher salt. (Remember, the salt we eat is not pure sodium, it’s sodium plus chloride—NaCl.) However, individuals with salt-sensitive hypertension or kidney disease will want to consult their doctors, as these populations probably do need to restrict sodium.
Main functions in the body: Along with sodium, potassium regulates fluid volume and allows for muscle contraction and nerve impulses. Regulates heartbeat.
Dietary sources: Fruits and vegetables. Bananas have become synonymous with potassium, but a medium potato actually contains twice as much potassium as a medium banana. Avocado is a better source as well. If your diet includes a variety of vegetables and perhaps some fruit, you are probably getting enough potassium.
Recommended intake: 2600 mg per day for adult females and 3400 mg per day for males.
While sodium gets most of the attention when it comes to heart health, potassium is at least as essential, if not more so. People with higher (but not excessive) potassium intake have lower blood pressure, less risk for cardiovascular disease, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5637309/‘>5
Research also suggests that the relative amounts of sodium and potassium you eat—the sodium:potassium ratio—is as important as the absolute amounts of each. You want to avoid high levels of sodium with low potassium. On the other hand, increasing potassium intake seems to offset the supposed dangers of higher levels of sodium intake (within reason).https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24001491/‘>7 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27289164/‘>9 People with heart or kidney problems should definitely talk to their doctors, though.
Although I think supplementing potassium is generally safe, it’s also reasonably easy to meet your potassium requirements through diet alone. Potassium supplements are limited to 100 mg per dose by the FDA anyway, which is a fraction of what you need.
Considerations for Keto Folks
If you’re following a keto diet, you probably do need to supplement. When you drop your carbs low enough for the liver to start making ketones, this also triggers a (normal) hormonal response that leads the kidneys to dump water. Along with water goes sodium and potassium especially. This can lead to low blood pressure, and it’s the reason why some people feel so crappy when they first go keto—-the dreaded “keto flu.”
If you’re eating a keto diet and your workouts are suffering, or you have low energy, headaches, or brain fog, low sodium and/or potassium is the likely culprit. Some people find that they need to supplement when transitioning into keto but not once they are keto-adapted. Others feel better if they continue supplementing.
In particular, many keto folks feel better when they increase their sodium considerably—3 to 5 grams above what they get from food, or perhaps even more.
Considerations for Athletes
Electrolytes, especially sodium and chloride, are lost through sweat, so many athletes use electrolyte supplements as a part of their training nutrition. This probably isn’t crucial for the average person working up a sweat at the gym. For hard-charging endurance athletes pounding away for hours, especially in intense heat, it might be the difference between making it to the finish line or not.
If you’re taking in a lot of water during a training session, it’s a good idea to add a pinch of salt, and perhaps a bit of carbohydrate, to your water. For one thing, this increases absorption. Drinking too much water without adequately replacing sodium losses can also lead to the dangerous, even fatal, condition of hyponatremia.https://examine.com/supplements/sodium-bicarbonate/‘>11 Doses at the higher end of the spectrum seem to be more effective, but they can also cause undesirable gastrointestinal symptoms. If you experiment with this, make sure to take into account both the sodium and the bicarbonate you are adding and, if necessary, adjust your additional sodium supplementation accordingly.
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At this point, intermittent fasting isn’t a new concept, nor is it a difficult one. You take in all of your calories for the day within a limited window of time, and the rest of the day, you stick with water, maybe a cup of coffee, or tea in the morning if you feel so inclined. The idea is that giving your body a period of time “off” from digesting food allows your cells to heal and renew in other ways.
A Practice Born Because Calorie Restriction is Unpleasant
Intermittent fasting became popular because calorie restriction was found to contribute to healthy aging. A few mouse and worm studies seem to show that drastic reductions in food intake over a long period of time could prolong your life.
The research is compelling, but I’m not convinced actively restricting your calorie intake through sheer will is the true path to enjoyable longevity. I don’t want to be thin, frail, distractible, or preoccupied with food. I’d rather be vibrant and full of zest. I want to eat big strapping meals of steak and veggies smothered in butter without worrying about calories. I want to maintain muscle mass and have enough energy to go on long hikes and have the legs to still leap for high passes (over the young guys) at the end of Ultimate games. And as I appreciate the neuroprotective and autophagy-promoting qualities of calorie restriction, I’d rather not expend the mental energy and fortitude required to maintain such a regimen day-in and day-out.
Intermittent fasting is the workaround. Pushing off breakfast for a few hours gives me all of the benefits of calorie restriction, without all the misery.
Fasting is the way to have your cake and eat it too. Beyond the already proven benefits of a Primal Blueprint low-carb lifestyle, fasting once in a while seems to offer many of the same benefits of calorie restriction – you know, stuff like increased longevity, neuroprotection, increased insulin sensitivity, stronger resistance to stress, some cool effects on endogenous hormone production, increased mental clarity, plus more – but without the active, agonizing restriction.
You just eat Primally, focusing on meat and vegetables with plenty of animal fat, and skip meals on occasion. A sixteen-hour fast is on the low-but-still-effective end, or you could opt for longer, more intermittent fasts – say, a full twenty-four hours once or twice a week. Women may need to time fasts a little differently than men. More on that here.
When you’re done with the fast, eat as much as you want (which usually isn’t an issue, once you’re keto-adapted). It essentially turns into “eat when you’re hungry,” because let’s face it: eating the types of foods we evolved eating induces powerful satiety and makes eating the right amount of food a subconscious act. Fasting becomes a whole lot easier (and intuitive) when you’ve got your food quality dialed in. And I’ll come back to that little caveat at the end here.
“Fasting” was the top search term for MDA last week, and I hadn’t done a big post on it in a while, so I thought I’d do a comprehensive rundown of all the benefits (some conclusive, others prospective) you can expect to obtain from IF.
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Intermittent Fasting and Longevity
Everyone wants to live longer, but I find longevity pointless if you’re not enjoying yourself. Otherwise, life becomes dreary.
The popular c. elegans worm enjoys increased longevity with both twenty-four and forty-eight hour IFs via signaling through a gene that we all have.full PDF) from the 1940s found that varying amounts of twenty-four hour IFs (every other day, every fourth day, every eighth day, etc) prolonged the lifespan of rats without retarding or stunting the growth (as occurred with calorie restricting them). Female rats responded best to every eight day fasts, while males responded best to every other day fasts.
Reductions in brain insulin signaling have been shown to increase lifespan in animals, either by calorie restricting or actively knocking out brain insulin receptors.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21244426‘>3
Going in and pharmaceutically manhandling your cholesterol synthesizing equipment is one thing; eating real food and exercising, resulting in possible alterations to your lipid profile, is another. We don’t set out to force your blood lipids into submission, but lifestyle changes that happen to change them for “the better” are usually a good thing. Fasting brings potent changes to blood lipids in an “organic” way – you’re just letting your machinery do its thing on its own – and this is probably a very good thing.
Intermittent fasting is as effective or even more effective than calorie restriction in improving metabolic syndrome markers in overweight women, and it’s a whole lot easier to stick with.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20300080‘>5
I discussed this last week, but it can’t hurt to mention that short-term alternate day fasting wrought improvements in LDL particle size and distribution in obese adults.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20815899‘>7
Heck, intermittent fasting even helped cocaine addicts stick to their treatment and rehab program.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18184721‘>9 In fact, here’s a review of most of the animal anti-cancer evidence.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19135806‘>11 This is refreshing news. A preliminary studyhttp://ajpregu.physiology.org/content/296/1/R29.full‘>13 I’ve found this to be the case for me. If the body “needs” food right after a workout, why would hunger be blunted? This is why I tend to hold off on the eating post-workout. Every little bit helps, especially as you age.
Fasting doesn’t cause your brain tissue to waste away, contrary to what some people will tell you. It’s actually good for brain health. Any dietary restriction tends to increase neuronal plasticity and promote neurogenesis, but it was IF that had the greatest effect (with the fewest downsides).http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1471-4159.2003.01586.x/full‘>15 That is, mice who ate larger meals more infrequently saw greater increases in brain and overall bodily health. Still another study found that IF was beneficial for peripheral nerve function in mice by promoting the maintenance of the neuronal pathways responsible for locomotor performance.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21106691‘>17), which is the process by which cells recycle waste material, eliminate or downregulate wasteful processes, and repair themselves. Why is autophagy so important? It’s required to maintain muscle masshttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20104028‘>19 It reduces the negative effects of aginghttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17934054‘>21
Without the autophagy that fasting provides, you would get very few of the benefits. Fasting even increases neuronal autophagy,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21051570‘>23 (which mean better performance down the line), improved muscle protein synthesis,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20187284‘>25 (you’ll earn your meal and make more muscle out of it if you train on an empty stomach). Studies on Muslim athletes during Ramadan show no effect on performance while fasting,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19787180‘>27 in those who exercise and fast rather than just fast. When you train in a fasted state, glycogen breakdown is blunted28 and more fat is burned, leaving you more glycolytic energy in the tank for when you really need it and less body fat. Those are just a sampling of the benefits to fasted training; there are dozens more.
Mental Well-being and Clarity
A lot of health influencers will tell you that failure to eat something every few hours will cause mental fog and sluggishness, so keep a banana or a granola bar on your person at all times. Of course, this is all based on an assumption that we need to supply exogenous carbs on a regular basis to properly fuel the brain. This notion that fasting is only the province of anorexics or “caveman” has kept many people from experiencing the vast array of benefits.
I maintain that one’s comfort in handling intermittent fasting effortlessly does increase dramatically when you’ve reprogrammed those cells (and genes) to predispose your body to derive most of your day-to-day energy from fat, as opposed to constantly dipping into glycogen stores (as happens when we rely so much on refeeding carbs every few hours).
Overall, fasting just seems right. It’s like a reset button for your entire body, presumably across a large spectrum of maladies and dysfunctions. It puts your body into repair mode – at the cellular level – and it can restore normal hormonal function in the obese or overweight. Now, you don’t have to fast, but it’s definitely something to consider.
Have you tried intermittent fasting yet? Let me know how intermittent fasting has worked – or hasn’t – with your lifestyle in the comment section!
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Protein is an incredible essential macronutrient. Fat is plentiful, even when you’re lean, and there are only two absolutely essential fatty acids; the rest we can manufacture from other precursors if required. Carbs we can produce from protein, if we really must, or we can just switch over to ketones and fats for the bulk of the energy that would otherwise come from carbs. Protein cannot be made with the raw material available in our bodies. We have to eat foods containing the range of amino acids that we need.
In other words, protein is incredibly important—which is why today I’m writing a definitive guide on the subject. After today’s post, you’ll have a good handle on the role protein plays in the body, how much protein you need to be eating, which foods are highest in protein, and much more.
First, what roles does protein play in our bodies?
It helps us build muscle.
We use it to construct new cells, muscles, organs, and other tissues.
It’s a chemical messenger, allowing us to turn on and turn off genes.
It forms the fundamental substrates used to manufacture enzymes, DNA, and hormones.
It can even be a fuel source, either directly or through conversion into glucose.
Now, am I saying that the steak you eat directly becomes a thyroid hormone? Does chicken breast turn into DNA?
No. But the strings of amino acids and peptides that make up proteins are eventually broken down and cobbled back together to fulfill all the roles I describe. Every bite of protein you consume contributes toward maintenance of your physiology. And we can’t make new protein. We have to eat it.
What’s the Recommended Daily Protein Intake?
If you go by the official numbers, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDI) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, or 0.36 g protein/lb. That’s what the “experts” say to eat. That’s all you “need.” I disagree, and I’ll tell you why down below, but there’s the official answer.
Sufficient is one thing. Optimal is another. In reality, the amount of protein required for optimal health and performance is different for every population.
Protein Intake for Athletes and Exercisers
Athletes need more protein than the average person, but perhaps not as much as most fitness enthusiasts think (or consume). A 2011 paper on optimal protein intakes for athletes concluded that 1.8 g protein/kg bodyweight (or 0.8 g protein/lb bodyweight) maximizes muscle protein synthesis (while higher amounts are good for dieting athletes interested in preserving lean mass), whereas another settled on “a diet with 12-15% of its energy as protein,” assuming “total energy intake is sufficient to cover the high expenditures caused by daily training” (which could be quite high).https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1763249‘>2 One study even found benefit in 2-3 g protein/kg bodyweight (0.9-1.4 g protein/lb bodyweight) for athletes, a significant increase over standard recommendations.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17299116‘>4 Another study in women showed that a 1.6 g protein/kg bodyweight (or 0.7 g protein/lb bodyweight) diet led to more weight loss, more fat loss, and less lean mass loss than a 0.8 g protein/kg bodyweight diet.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23097268‘>6
Protein Intake When Injured
Healing wounds increases protein requirements. After all, you’re literally rebuilding lost or damaged tissue, the very definition of an anabolic state, and you need protein to build new tissue. One review recommends around 1.5 g protein/kg bodyweight or close to 0.7 g protein/lb bodyweight for injured patients.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16886097‘>8 That said, active seniors will do better with even more and evidence suggests that increasing protein can both improve physical performance without necessarily increasing muscle mass and increase muscle mass when paired with extended resistance training in the elderly.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22889730‘>10https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18175736‘>12
High Protein Benefits
Beyond supporting the basic underpinnings of human physiology, eating more protein than the RDI offers extra benefits.
As a fundamental biological motivator, hunger can’t be ignored forever. Eventually you crack, and the diet fails. Eventually, you’re going to eat. Where extra protein helps is adding satiety. Successful fat loss comes down to managing your hunger; protein helps you manage it without relying on sheer willpower.
Protein For Muscle Gain and Muscle Retention
To increase muscle protein synthesis, you need two primary inputs: resistance training and protein intake. You can lift all the weights in the world, but if you’re not eating enough protein, you won’t gain any muscle. You can’t make extra, it has to come from outside sources.
And then during active weight loss, upping your protein intake will minimize the loss of muscle that usually accompanies fat loss. In women, for example, cutting calories while keeping protein higher than normal led to better lean mass retention than cutting the same number of calories and keeping protein low.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24015701‘>14
These observations are supported by experimental studies which, according to a 2018 meta-analysis. confirm that magnesium supplementation lowers CRP levelshttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29709832/‘>15, and/or lowering chronic inflammation. It also inhibits platelet aggregation, which is itself a risk factor for heart disease.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21703623/‘>17 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2939007/‘>19 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852744/‘>21
It’s also too soon to conclude that supplementing would have any specific effects, although there is some promising evidence when it comes to hypertension. Two meta-analyses found overall positive, though inconsistent, benefits for lowering blood pressure.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22318649/‘>23 Magnesium supplementation can also be used alongside blood pressure meds to increase their effectiveness.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4586582/‘>25 Researchers estimate that 25 to 38 percent of type 2 diabetics are deficient in magnesium.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24084051/‘>27 and developing type 2 diabeteshttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29758962/‘>29
A 2016 review and meta-analysis showed that magnesium supplementation improves fasting glucose in folks with type 2 diabetes. Among folks who are at risk of developing the disease, supplementing leads to better glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. However, the authors also noted a high degree of variability in the data.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1043661816303085‘>31
Magnesium and Bone health
Low magnesium is associated with low calcium, impaired parathyroid hormone secretion, low vitamin D, and inflammation. This adds up to a perfect storm when it comes to developing osteopenia and osteoporosis. On the other hand, chronically high magnesium levels may demineralize bones and put people at risk for fracture.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10617959/‘>33, older men and womenhttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16274367/‘>35. However, magnesium levels in the blood don’t consistently correlate with bone mineral density like you’d predict.
Several studies have shown that supplementing improves bone health in young men,https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19488681/‘>37 and healthy girls.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25533715/‘>39 Although migraines are still not well understood overall, scientists have proposed a variety way low magnesium contributes to migraines, including by affecting inflammation and vasodilation, among others.
Research also points to magnesium supplementation as an effective option for managing migraines. Childrenhttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18705538/‘>41 with a history of migraines reported fewer and less severe episodes when supplementing with magnesium. One impressive study found that when people went to the emergency room with migraines, magnesium provided even more relief than drugs.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3335449/‘>43
The authors of a 2012 paper even went so far as to argue that all migraine sufferers should be taking magnesium.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19944540/’>45 Even now there aren’t a ton of studies.
In a 2017 review of 18 studies, about half reported that magnesium supplementation alleviated anxiety symptoms.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9703590/‘>51
The evidence for using magnesium supplementation to improve human performance is mixed. For example, in one study, male professional volleyball players were able to jump higher, and they had decreased lactate production, after supplementing magnesium for four weeks.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9794094/‘>59 However, another study found no benefit for marathoners.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15930481/‘>61 If true, many people may be walking around with sub-optimal magnesium levels. People who are at greater risk for deficiencies include those with gastrointestinal issues such as Chron’s or celiac disease that interfere with nutrient absorption, diabetes, kidney disease, or who take certain medications. The elderly and people with alcoholism often have low magnesium
Severe deficiencies can be indicated by low calcium and potassium levels, and by non-specific symptoms like muscle spasms and vomiting. Mild deficiencies usually have no noticeable symptoms.
The recommended daily intake for adults is 310 mg for females aged 19 to 30, and 320 mg thereafter. For males, it’s 400 mg up to age 30, then 420 mg. Pregnant women need an extra 40 mg per day.
Does Diet Matter?
Possibly. If you’re following a keto diet, you should supplement with sodium, potassium, and magnesium. You need up to an additional 300 to 500 mg of magnesium per day.
I’ve also previously considered whether folks following a carnivore diet may need less magnesium from their food, perhaps because they consume less glucose or fiber than omnivorous types. I think it’s too soon to tell, although I’m open to the possibility.
Foods High in Magnesium
Some of the best Primal-friendly sources of magnesium include:
- Leafy greens: spinach, Swiss chard
- Dark chocolate
- Nuts: almonds, cashews
- Seeds: pumpkin, hemp, watermelon
- Fish: halibut, mackerel, salmon
In addition to food sources, as much as 10 percent of our magnesium intake comes from drinking water.https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/9/8/813/htm‘>63 Still, many people use them for recovery from exercise, relief from pain or cramping, and as sleep aids.
If it works for you, by all means keep doing it. However, if you’re looking for a guaranteed way to increase magnesium levels, it’s safer to go with a supplement.
Some Important Things to Keep in Mind
We covered a lot of ground today. Before I let you go, let me point out a couple of things.
First, as with most—probably all—vitamins and minerals, there’s a sweet spot with magnesium. Too little is clearly bad, but trying to cram in more than you need is not good either.
That said, some of the experiments referenced here used doses that are well above the 350 mg UL for supplementation. Don’t go mega-dosing on your own, of course. On the other hand, if you’re considering using magnesium to help with a specific health issue, consult your doctor to see how much you might need to see results.
Though it’s clear that magnesium is a big-time player in optimal health overall, more research is needed to understand the specific benefits. My guess is that most Primal folks eating a diverse diet are getting enough magnesium. If you’re curious, use a food tracking app like Cronometer to see how much you get over the course of several days to a week.
Stay tuned next week. I’m planning to talk more generally about electrolytes and when and why you’d want to supplement. Let me know if you have any questions along those lines.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28167322 shows NLRP3
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