A few years ago, I wrote a post describing all the things that avowed Primal eaters can learn from plant-based or even vegan dieters. Sure, we’re diametrically opposed on the role of animal foods in human health, but there are still relevant takeaways.
Carnivores are much closer to Primal eaters on the dietary spectrum, The Primal Blueprint posits that animal foods—meat, fish, fowl, shellfish, eggs, and dairy—represent the most nutrient-dense, most crucial component of the human diet. Carnivore takes that and runs with it, to its logical conclusion: Animal foods are so nutrient-dense and so important that we should eat them to the exclusion of everything else.
I don’t exactly agree, but I see where they’re coming from. And there’s a lot we can learn from the carnivore movement. I’ve got 8 takeaways today.
1. That a Steak Really Isn’t Going To Kill You
I’ve covered these arguments dozens of times on these pages. But it’s truly heartening to see hundreds and thousands of anecdotal reports from people who are thriving while eating two, three, four ribeyes a day for months and even years on end. When you see that, even though it’s “just” a collection of anecdotes, it gets really hard to think that eating a big grass-fed ribeye whenever you want is really going to give you cancer or diabetes or whatever else malady they’re trying to pin on red meat.
2. That More Fiber Isn’t Always the Answer
Of all the food components out there, fiber is the one that really trips me up. I still can’t quite get a handle on it. Is it important? Is it harmful? Is it useless? There’s conflicting evidence at every turn. My hunch—and reading of the anthropological and scientific literature—tells me that some prebiotic substrate is a good thing for healthy human guts, but it also tells me that fiber can be harmful in certain situations and in certain gut biomes. After all, we aren’t living like the Hadza, eating antelope colon sashimi and never touching soap. We live relatively sterile existences. Our guts are not ancestral, no matter how many quarts of kefir we quaff.
What carnivore offers is evidence that fiber isn’t always the answer. And remember that animal proteins can offer prebiotic substrate in the form of “animal fiber” (bones, tendons, connective tissue, gristle) and—if you consume dairy—milk oligosaccharides.
3. That Oxalates May Be An Issue
You know that strange feeling you get on your tongue and gums after a big serving of spinach? Those are oxalates, an anti-nutrient found in many if not most plant foods. They can bind to minerals and form crystals, the most infamous being the calcium oxalate crystals which are the most common type of kidney stone. Yeah, not fun.
The carnivore movement has seized on oxalates as a reason not to consume plants. Many animals have the adaptations to digest and nullify large amounts of oxalates. Humans, by and large, do not. There are exceptions, such as the Hadza whose guts harbor oxalate-degrading bacteria, and likely others yet to be discovered. And there’s definite variation even among humans living in industrialized settings—not everyone gets kidney stones because they ate creamed spinach. But it’s a good idea for the average human to at least be aware of oxalates.
Thanks to your newfound awareness of oxalates, you can figure out ways to reduce their impact if you still want to consume them.
You can choose low-oxalate plants. Kale is quite low in oxalates compared to other leafy greens, as are collard greens. Same goes for others in the brassica family, like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower: all low in oxalate.
You can improve your calcium metabolism. Eating enough vitamin A (retinol), vitamin K2, and vitamin D will improve your calcium metabolism and leave less of it hanging around to bind with oxalate and form crystals. Eating enough boron (or supplementing with it, as it doesn’t appear in many foods) can also reduce the formation of calcium oxalate stones.
Drinking about 4 ounces of lemon or lime juice in your water throughout the day will also reduce the formation of calcium oxalate stones.
I don’t mean for this to become a “what to do about oxalates” post. But without the carnivore movement’s broad transmission of the oxalate issue, many people wouldn’t even think about them.
4. That Meat Truly Is the Ancestral Foundation Of the Human Diet
I mean, we knew this. We knew that our hominid ancestors have been eating meat and marrow for over three million years. We knew that our meat-eating is probably what helped set us apart from our primate cousins, that calorie-dense and easily-digestible meat allowed us to shrink our guts and grow our brains. We knew that of all extant and known populations on earth, not a one was vegan.
But the carnivore movement makes you feel it. By eating exclusively meat and not just surviving but apparently thriving on animal foods alone, they force you into a reckoning of their historical primacy in the human diet. Now, not everyone thrives. The drop outs, well, they drop out. We only see the success stories—but that’s true for any diet, including Primal. The drop-outs from diets like Primal or carnivore tend to be less catastrophic and numerous than the drop-outs from veganism or fruitarianism, but they’re definitely out there.
5. That the Best Elimination Diet Might Be an All-Meat One
I wrote a post recently about the Autoimmune Paleo diet, a highly-restrictive but effective elimination diet used to identify trigger foods in autoimmune patients.
Going carnivore might just be a bare-bones version of the same thing. It eliminates all the same foods, plus more. And because it’s more of a scorched-earth approach, it’s simpler. You just eat meat and meat byproducts like bone broth, and nothing else. Such stark boundaries are somehow more digestible to a certain type of person. Less wiggle room, less to think about, less to get wrong.
That’s basically what Robb Wolf recently did to treat lingering gut issues: he ate meat and drank bone broth. For the full story, check out his recent appearance on Dr. Paul Saladino’s podcast.
6. That Phytonutrients Aren’t the Only Way To Induce Hormetic Stress
There are other ways to induce hormetic stress besides plant polyphenols. You can fast. You can exercise. You can expose yourself to cold or heat. You can expose yourself to “meat carcinogens” (yum). However, phytonutrients are good to have around. If you aren’t eating blueberries and broccoli because “those hormetic stressors aren’t the only game in town,” you’d better be doing the other stuff. You’d better be using the sauna, fasting, training hard (but smart), and going out into the cold.
7. That Strong Physical Performance Is Possible Without Tons Of Exogenous Carbs
You only have to look as far as Dr. Shawn Baker breaking rowing records, squatting 500 pounds for reps, and doing box jumps that would shame someone 30 years his junior to know that elite performance is possible—at least in one person—on a carnivorous, carb-free diet. It’s not “supposed” to be possible for anyone. Is Baker a genetic freak? Is he the only person for whom it’s true? I doubt it.
Now, glycogen is helpful. But you can manufacture glucose from amino acids and deposit it as glycogen, which you’ll be getting plenty of from all the protein you eat on a carnivore diet. This might not be the most efficient path for all elite athletes, but the carnivore movement shows that it’s at least possible for some.
8. How To Choose the Most Nutrient-Dense Animal Foods
There are the carnivores who eat steak and assume they’ve covered all their bases, and then there are the carnivores who eat steak and eggs and salmon and liver and kidney and marrow and mussels because they want to ensure they’ve covered all their bases. The former group will say something about “nutrient requirements going down on carnivore,” which may be true, but do all nutrient requirements drop across the board equally? Meanwhile, the latter group might agree with the former about nutrient requirements, but they’ll probably also want to be safer than sorrier. They can tell you all about the vitamin C content of fresh liver, the manganese in the mussels, the selenium in the kidney, the long-chained omega-3s in the salmon, the choline and biotin in the eggs, and the B-vitamins and creatine in the steak.
I’d listen to the latter group, personally. In figuring out the best way to obtain maximum nutrient density through animal foods alone, they can provide a roadmap to anyone who wants to include the most nutrient-dense animal foods in their omnivorous diet.
Diets aren’t ideologies. They aren’t religions. You don’t have to accept everything. You can pick and choose what works for you, especially if it actually works for you. You can heed these lessons contained in the post without actually going full carnivore, just like you could incorporate some of the lessons learned from vegans without going anything close to vegan.
Thanks for reading, everybody. What have you learned from the carnivore movement? Let me know down below in the comments, and have a good week.
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It’s Giving Tuesday, and while I know the world is full of good causes, today I’m highlighting one close to my heart. It’s one I’ve contributed to significantly because it matters on so many levels.
I’ve spent nearly 14 years working against the tide of misinformation out there around human health and agricultural agenda. Diana Rodgers has worked tirelessly and creatively for the same purpose. She’s just launched a crowdfunding campaign to finish what I think will be one of the most groundbreaking, revolutionary documentary films ever—one that has the power to turn the public conversation around health and ecology. But she needs support to finish and distribute this film, and that’s why I’m sharing her campaign today.
Read more and watch her video to see for yourself.
Diana’s film, Sacred Cow: The Case For Better Meat, details the movement toward the greatest revolution in agriculture—a regenerative food system that supports the human need for a nutrient dense diet and the ecologically sound farming methods that mirror and contribute to the natural health of the land itself.
Diana is a licensed, registered dietitian who’s spent the last 17 years living on a working organic vegetable and pasture-based meat farm, and all of her experience and study comes to bear in the film she’s created—a critical message that challenges the prevailing and destructive food system that undermines our individual health, our economic viability, and our environmental sustainability…and champions the intersection of nutrient dense food and regenerative food production for the good of human health and the good of the planet.
Below is Diana’s note. Watch the video. Read more on her site. Share her work and her crowdfunding campaign—and, if you can, contribute. Let me know what thoughts her work inspires for you. Thanks for reading today, everyone.
It’s official: I’ve just launched the crowdfunding campaign and I could really use your help!
As you know, I’ve been working super hard for the last three years on this project, without much of a break. It’s been a struggle at times, but it’s finally coming together – all because of you. Without you, this never would have happened! Thank you.
Please get in there and check out the new video with footage from the film, read about the film’s progress, pre-order my book, get a shirt, or pick up some meat!
Research shows that campaigns that have early funding are the most successful, so if you’re planning on giving, I could really use your help today!
It would be incredible if everyone on this list would share with your friends and family. Let’s make this go viral!
All of the funds raised will go towards marketing the film so as many people as possible can access it easily. Click here to donate now.
Thank you so much for your support!
P.S. If you were forwarded this email, please sign up here, so you can be the first to know of any updates (or fun campaign surprises!). I’d love to have you in this community!
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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering one question from a reader. It’s all about synthetic peptides, small chains of amino acids with potentially huge effects on your health and physiological function. In most cases, these synthetic peptides are based on naturally-occurring compounds found in the human body. Scientists isolate the “active component” of the compound and whip it up in a lab by stringing together the right amino acids. Many of these peptides are available for purchase online, strictly “for research purposes.” But people are using them.
Are these safe for humans? Are they effective?
Mark, I would love if you did a write-up on BPC-157 and LL-37 with regards to gut health. I’m surprised with all your articles on collagen peptides you haven’t written once about “synthetic” peptides. Thanks!
Let Me Cover PBC-157 First….
BPC-157 is a partial reconstruction of a string of 15 amino acids that’s already found in Body Protection Compound, a naturally occurring healing compound the body produces. Its creators took the natural BPC and figured out the most “biologically active” section of its amino acid chain, then synthesized that section alone. You can find the real thing in human stomach juice (and presumably throughout the body doing its job). You can buy the synthetic version online.
What Does BPC-157 Allegedly Do?
It enhances healing and recovery from injury. In one study, BPC-157-treated Achilles’ tendon tissues were more resistant to injury, spread more quickly on a petri dish, and recovered faster than untreated tendon tissues.
In another rat study, their cecums—the beginning of the large intestine—were perforated. Applying BPC-157 enhanced healing, stopped bleeding, and sped up recovery.
It counteracts NSAID toxicity. BPC-157 blocks aspirin-induced bleeding and improves healing of NSAID-mediated lesions in the gut, brain, and liver.
Another rat study even used BPC-157 to improve healing from a spinal cord injury. BPC rats regained functional autonomy, had better control over their tails, and were less spastic.
It can treat periodontal disease, reversing inflammation and reducing bone loss.
It can treat colitis, reducing gut inflammation and restoring mucosal integrity.
Briefly looking through all the anecdotes online, most people are using this peptide to heal joint or tissue injuries, which seems to be the best use. Ben Greenfield swears it healed his tennis elbow and hamstring damage. I even saw one person who used it to improve brain health and function after years of stimulant abuse. Some research does show that BPC-157 can restore dopaminergic function in the brain. Some are even reporting restored sensitivity to stimulants (although using a healing peptide just to restore your ability to get high off Adderall again seems counterproductive).
What Are the Downsides?
It must be subcutaneously injected for maximal efficacy. This isn’t as hard as it looks (millions of diabetics do it every day) but some people are really nervous around needles. Orally-active BPC-157 is available, but I’m not sure how it compares.
There is the small problem of the total lack of published human studies. If there are any, I didn’t see them. The animal studies are impressive, though, and the fact that the peptide chain does naturally occur in our bodies suggests it’s relatively safe, but we don’t know for sure.
A big problem is that you can’t verify the purity of the products available online. You have to read reviews, know the right people, and do the research. These aren’t legally intended for human consumption, so there’s no testing authority regulating the safety and content of these products.
Now For LL-37….
LL-37 is an anti-microbial peptide found naturally in people. It’s heavily involved in the immune response, and its role in health isn’t very clear. It isn’t consistently “good” or “bad.” For instance, its presence can suppress tumor growth in colon and gastric cancer, but it’s been shown to promote tumor growth in ovarian, lung, and breast cancers. But it’s also able to bind to and negate the effects of lipopolysaccharide, the bacterial endotoxin secreted by many gut pathogens, and selectively target apoptotic white blood cells while leaving viable ones unaffected.
Why Are People Using It?
There are online forums populated by people who are using this peptide to heal gut issues, deal with inflammatory diseases, and treat autoimmunity—or, they’re at least buying the peptide, injecting it, and hoping that it works and not always following up with the results. I’m skeptical about using these as justification to experiment. As one recent paper put it, LL-37 is a tiny peptide with huge effects:
Some of the functions of LL-37 are anti-inflammatory, particularly those involved in blocking Gram-negative signaling pathways through TLR4. However, in the context of the inflammatory response, this peptide may also provide proinflammatory signals that can propagate inflammation, stimulate type I IFN production, and result in induction of autoimmune diseases. Further research is needed to fully understand the big effects of this little peptide on immune system function so that potential therapeutic uses can be explored.
Sticking Points With LL-37
Much of this could be a guilt by association situation: LL-37 is often found elevated at disease sites and in diseases states because it’s part of the inflammatory response. It isn’t necessarily causing the disease. But the immune response is a delicate one with huge ramifications. I’d be very careful with injecting a peptide that the body normally produces in times of acute inflammation. That sounds a lot like trying to attempt top-down regulation of innate immunity—a decidedly bottoms-up process. Probably better to wait for human trials rather than rely on positive anecdotes from unsourced forum posts. I’m not saying these people aren’t helping themselves with this compound. I’m saying the risk of complications or unwanted effects would be too high for me.
That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading and be sure to comment down below. Do you have any experience using these synthetic peptides? How about any others?
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Older people (and those headed in that direction, which is everyone else) are really sold a bill of goods when it comes to health and longevity advice. I’m not a young man anymore, and for decades I’ve been hearing all sorts of input about aging that’s proving to be not just misguided, but downright incorrect. Blatant myths about healthy longevity continue to circulate and misinform millions. Older adults at this very moment are enacting routines detrimental to living long that they think are achieving the opposite. A major impetus for creating the Primal Blueprint was to counter these longevity myths. That mission has never felt more personal.
So today, I’m going to explore and refute a few of these top myths, some of which contain kernels of truth that have been overblown and exaggerated. I’ll explain why.
1) “Don’t Lift Heavy: You’ll Throw Out Your Back”
Obviously, a frail grandfather pushing 100 shouldn’t do Starting Strength right off the bat (or maybe ever, depending on how frail he is). That’s not my contention here. My contention:
Lifting as heavy as you can as safely as you can is essential for healthy longevity. That’s why I put it first in the list today. It’s that important.
For one, lean muscle mass is one of the strongest predictors of resistance to mortality. The more muscle a person has (and the stronger they are), the longer they’ll live—all else being equal. That’s true in both men and women.
One reason is that the stronger you are, the more capable you are. You’re better at taking care of yourself, standing up from chairs, ascending stairs, and maintaining basic functionality as you age.
Another reason is that increased lean mass means greater tissue reserve—you have more organ and muscle to lose as you age, so that when aging-related muscle loss sets in, you have longer to go before it gets serious. And that’s not even a guarantee that you’ll lose any. As long as you’re still lifting heavy things, you probably won’t lose much muscle, if any. Remember: the average old person studied in these papers isn’t doing any kind of strength training at all.
It doesn’t have to be barbells and Olympic lifts and CrossFit. It can be machines (see Body By Science, for example) and bodyweight and hikes. What matters is that you lift intensely (and intense is relative) and safely, with good technique and control.
2) “Avoid Animal Protein To Lower IGF-1”
Animal protein has all sorts of evil stuff, they say.
Methionine—linked to reduced longevity in animal models.
Increased IGF-1—a growth promoter that might promote unwanted growth, like cancer.
Yet, a huge study showed that in older people, those 65 or older, increased animal protein intake actually protected against mortality. The older they were and the more protein they ate, the longer they lived.
Meanwhile, low-protein diets have been shown to have all sorts of effects that spell danger for older people hoping to live long and live well:
- Slow the metabolism, increase insulin resistance, and cause body fat gain.
- Impair the immune system and make infections more severe.
- Reduce muscle function, cellular mass (yes, the actual mass of the cell itself), and immune response in elderly women.
- Impair nitrogen balance in athletes.
- Increase the risk of osteoporosis.
- Increase the risk of sarcopenia (muscle wasting).
And about that “excess methionine” and “increased IGF-1”?
In both human and animal studies, there’s a U-shaped relationship between IGF-1 levels and lifespan. Animal studies show an inverse relationship between IGF-1 and diabetes, heart disease, and heart disease deaths (higher IGF-1, less diabetes/heart disease) and a positive association between IGF-1 and cancer (higher IGF-1, more cancer). A recent review of the animal and human evidence found that while a couple human studies show an inverse relationship between IGF-1 and longevity, several more show a positive relationship—higher IGF-1, longer lifespan—and the majority show no clear relationship at all.
3) “You’re Never Getting Back That Cartilage—Once It’s Gone, It’s Gone”
Almost every doctor says this. It’s become an axiom in the world of orthopedics.
But then we see this study showing that people have the same microRNAs that control tissue and limb regeneration in lizards and amphibians. They’re most strongly expressed in the ankle joints, less so in the knees, and even less so at the hip—but they’re there, and they’re active.
I’ve seen some impressive things, have been able to personally verify some stunning “anecdotes” from friends and colleagues who were able to regrow cartilage or at least regain all their joint function after major damage to it. Most doctors and studies never capture these people. If you look at the average older person showing up with worn-down joints and degraded or damaged cartilage, how active are they? What’s their diet?
They are mostly inactive. They are often obese or overweight.
They generally aren’t making bone broth and drinking collagen powder. They aren’t avoiding grains and exposing their nether regions to daily sun. They aren’t doing 200 knee circles a day, performing single leg deadlifts, and hiking up mountains. These are the things that, if anything can, will retain and regrow cartilage. Activity. Letting your body know that you still have need of your ankles, knees, and hips. That you’re still an engaged, active human interacting with the physical world.
4) “Retire Early”
This isn’t always bad advice, but retiring and then ceasing all engagement with the outside world will reduce longevity, not increase it. Having a life purpose is essential for living long and living well; not having one is actually an established risk factor for early mortality. And at least when you’re getting up in the morning to go to work, you have a built-in purpose. That purpose may not fulfill your heart and spirit, but it’s a purpose just the same: a reason to get up and keep moving.
Retiring can work. Don’t get me wrong. But the people who retire early and make it work for their health and longevity are staying active. They’re pursuing side projects or even big visions. They have hobbies, friends, and loved ones who they hang out with all the time.
The ones who don’t? Well, they are at at increased risk of dying early.
You don’t have to keep working a job you hate, or even a job you enjoy. You can retire. Just maintain your mission.
5) “Take It Easy As You Get Older”
As older people, we’re told that sex might be “too strenuous for the heart” (Truth: It’s good for it). We’re told to “take the elevator to save our knees.” They tell us “Oh, don’t get up, I’ll get it for you.”
They don’t tell me that because, well, I’m already up and doing the thing. I’m active and obviously so. I don’t take it easy.
Stay vigorous, friends. Stay vivacious. Don’t be foolhardy, mind you. Be engaged.
“Take it easy” quickly becomes “sit in the easy chair all day long watching the news.” Don’t let it happen.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t rest. Rest is everything. Sleep is important. But you must earn your rest, and when you have the energy, take advantage of it. Don’t rest on your laurels.
As you can see, there are tiny kernels of truth in many of these myths. We should all be careful lifting heavy things and pay close attention to technique and form. Everyone should care for their cartilage and avoid damage to it. No one should continue working a job that sucks their soul and depletes their will to live if they can move on from it. And so on.
What we all need to avoid is sending the message to our brain, body, and cells that we’re done. That we’ve given up and our active, engaged life is effectively over. Because when that happens, it truly is over.
Someone asked me when aging begins. How old is “old”?
I think I know now. Aging begins when you start listening to conventional longevity advice. As I said on Twitter earlier today, healthy aging begins when you do the opposite.
Want more on building a life that will allow you to live well into later decades? I definitely have more on that coming up. A perceptive reader shared the news in one of the Facebook groups already, so let me mention it here. My new book, Keto For Life: Reset Your Biological Clock In 21 Days and Optimize Your Diet For Longevity, is coming out December 31, 2019. I’ll have more info, including a special bonus package for those who preorder, in just a few weeks. In the meantime, you can read more about it here on our publisher’s page.
That’s it for today, friends. Chime in down below about longevity or any other health topics you’re thinking about these days. What are the most egregious aging myths you’ve heard? What do you do instead? Take care.
Karlsen T, Nauman J, Dalen H, Langhammer A, Wisløff U. The Combined Association of Skeletal Muscle Strength and Physical Activity on Mortality in Older Women: The HUNT2 Study. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017;92(5):710-718.
Malta A, De oliveira JC, Ribeiro TA, et al. Low-protein diet in adult male rats has long-term effects on metabolism. J Endocrinol. 2014;221(2):285-95.
Carrillo E, Jimenez MA, Sanchez C, et al. Protein malnutrition impairs the immune response and influences the severity of infection in a hamster model of chronic visceral leishmaniasis. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(2):e89412.
Castaneda C, Charnley JM, Evans WJ, Crim MC. Elderly women accommodate to a low-protein diet with losses of body cell mass, muscle function, and immune response. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995;62(1):30-9.
Gaine PC, Pikosky MA, Martin WF, Bolster DR, Maresh CM, Rodriguez NR. Level of dietary protein impacts whole body protein turnover in trained males at rest. Metab Clin Exp. 2006;55(4):501-7.
Wu C, Odden MC, Fisher GG, Stawski RS. Association of retirement age with mortality: a population-based longitudinal study among older adults in the USA. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2016;70(9):917-23.
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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering six questions from some of my Twitter followers. Yesterday, I asked the community for questions and got some great ones in return. For instance, how much oily fish should one eat each week? And how does diet and nutrition influence posture and coordination? Third, how should a low-carb diet affect acid reflux? Fourth, is there a good replacement for whey protein? Fifth, does milk with your coffee break a fast? And sixth, how does one stop viewing and using food as an indulgence? I’ll get to the rest next time.
I’m wondering, should the average person limit oily fish per week? Kresser says eat up to a pound. Masterjohn says fish PUFA should be no more than 4-8 ounces per week.
I’ll defer to the Chrises on matters concerning biochemistry, but here’s how I look at fish consumption:
It’s very self-regulating. I’ll go on wild salmon benders where I’m eating it every single day for a week or two, then none for awhile. Back in Malibu, I used to have my fish guy save King salmon heads for me, which I would then roast—the things were huge, fatty, and extremely filling. Between the brains, the cheeks, the collars, and all the skin, I reckon a King salmon head had about 20-30 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. Maybe more. Every time I ate one of those I didn’t feel like even looking at fish (or fish oil) for a week or so.
Ancestral background matters here. Your average Inuit is going to have a very high tolerance of (and likely requirement for) dietary long-chained omega-3 fatty acids because that’s the environment his or her ancestors inhabited. As someone of Northern European ancestry, I have a higher baseline tolerance for and requirement of long chained omega-3s; my ancestral food environment was very high in cold fatty fish. Someone with South Asian background is going to be better at converting shorter-chained omega-3s (ALA) into the long chained ones, so they don’t need to eat as much marine fat as a guy like me.
What is the influence of diet and nutrition on posture and coordination?
First and foremost, the micronutrients and macronutrients in the food we eat help program and provide substrate for the hormones, neurotransmitters, proteins, and energy used to coordinate movements and maintain posture. Every physiological process has a physical corollary; a good diet full of vital vitamins and minerals and absent toxic foods is a diet that supports good posture, energy generation, and movement.
One specific example is thiamine, a B-vitamin. Extreme thiamine deficiency is a disease called beri-beri, characterized by nerve tremors, difficulty moving, and extreme fatigue (among other serious symptoms). Almost no one in developed nations gets beri-beri anymore, but low level thiamine deficiency is common enough and can most likely result in deficient neuromuscular coordination.
I know that a diet deficient in collagenous materials (collagen powder, connective tissue, bone broth, skin) will worsen the health and resilience of your bones, tendons, ligaments, and fascia—the connective tissues that support and enable your mobility.
And finally, a diet that results in low energy levels, unwanted weight gain, and bad aesthetics will worsen your mental health and leave you down in the dumps—itself an independent predictor of poor posture.
But this is a difficult question to answer with specific references to individual nutrients or foods because no one I’m aware of is running studies on the connection between diet and posture. Just know that “it matters.”
Perhaps I’ll revisit this in greater depth.
What is a low-carbber to do if he deals with acid reflux? I’m told that a high fat diet aggravates symptoms… and it has for me. Is there any way I can stick to a healthy diet without having to resort to a “conventional wisdom” reflux plan?
That’s pretty strange. Normally, low-carb diets are great for acid reflux. There’s actually a lot of evidence showing that low-carb is the best diet for the condition, even a “cure.”
However, there’s also evidence that high caloric density within meals (in other words, huge meals) can worsen GERD severity and high fat intakes can increase the frequency of acid reflux episodes.
How do we square this evidence away?
In one study, the very low carb (under 20 grams a day) anti-GERD diet that treated obese individuals allowed unlimited meat and eggs with limited portions of hard cheeses and low-carb vegetables. That’s a standard Primal diet, but it doesn’t say anything about the fat content of the diet. If you’re eating ribeyes, that could be a pretty high-fat diet. If you’re eating sirloin, that could be a very high-protein and moderate-fat diet.
I’d stay low carb, but try eating more protein and not overeating. Avoid huge meals; don’t drink melted butter.
I’m allergic to whey protein. What can I use instead?
Does coffee with milk impact fasting effects on keto?
It depends on how much milk you’re using.
Milk itself is rather insulinogenic, owing to its lactose and protein content. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but anything more than a few tablespoons will effectively “break the fast.” I’d opt for heavy cream over milk. It tastes better in coffee, provokes a much lower insulin response, is mostly just fat, and thus allows the fat-burning metabolism of fasting to continue relatively unabated.
Hello Mark! Thank you for everything! – Question – what can be done to change how food is viewed? As life – not as a indulgent part of our lives?
That’s a good one.
You have to LIVE. You have to stop mulling over the thoughts swirling through your head. You have to go outside and do the things you’ve been considering doing.
I know people who have all the knowledge they’d ever need to know (and some they wouldn’t) about health and human happiness and nutrition and productivity and business, yet they act on very little of it. Instead of taking the lessons to heart and living out the conclusions of the latest study, they just move on to the next bit of research.
Food, like any substance or activity that triggers the reward systems of our brains, can fill a void in a destructive way. Fill that void with meaning, with love, with purpose and direction. The food will still taste good (or even better), but it won’t become an end in itself.
That’s it for today, everyone. Take care. Be well. And write in down below with any further questions or comments!
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Fact: I (Jenn) am not a pregnant vegan. But we know that we have pregnant readers who are (or who like to eat vegan meals regularly), which is exactly why we’re sharing this excerpt from the book Your Complete Vegan Pregnancy. The book shows vegan moms-to-be everything they need to know regarding keeping themselves and their babies strong and healthy through all three trimesters. Read on for how much protein to eat and the best vegan sources to get it when pregnant. Really great info if you are vegan — or just looking to eat more plant-based! How Much Protein…
The post Vegan and Pregnant: How Much Protein You Need & How to Get It appeared first on Fit Bottomed Girls.
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Busy summer days call for easy, healthy snacks and add-ins — you know, healthy goodies that are easy to grab when you’ve got one foot out the door, or toss into yogurt or a salad when you want a little extra nutrition but don’t have the time to do a bunch of chopping. Happily, I’ve had a few tasty options cross my desk in recent weeks, so although I can’t actually share my snacks, I can share the deets on the treats I’ve been noshing on. Barùkas: Supernuts of the Savannah Want a snack that’s not just good for you,…
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For this week’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions from readers. First, is the reduced protein efficiency in older adults due to inactivity, or is it something inherent to the aging process, or both? Second, how does a person know if they’ve actually “earned” any carbs? Does everyone on a keto diet earn carbs by virtue of exercising, or is there more to it? And finally, how can a hardgainer with a packed schedule all week long and limited gym time maintain what little muscle mass he’s managed to gain?
Let’s find out:
Interesting observation on protein needs and training in Sunday with Sisson – general consensus is that older folks need more protein as they age but maybe that’s because they are less active and not simply a result of aging.
That’s probably part of it, but it’s not all of it.
In studies where they compare resistance training seniors who eat extra protein with resistance training seniors who don’t, only the seniors eating extra protein gain muscle mass.
Now, it may be that a lifetime of inactivity degrades your ability to utilize protein, and if these older adults had always lifted weights they would have retained their protein efficiency. But maybe not. As it stands, all else being equal, an older adult needs more protein to get the same effect, even if he or she is lifting weights.
Enjoyable read. As someone who lives a ketogenic lifestyle, and who is athletically active, I am not sure exactly how to go about consuming the carbs I’ve “earned.” I rarely run into problems with athletic energy, at least not below anaerobic threshold. Not sure that eating more carbs will improve my performance. And, if they would improve my performance, how does one go about calculating earned carb replacement without losing the fat burning benefits of ketosis?
It sounds like you’re in a good place.
When I say “eat the carbs you earn,” I’m talking to the people who do run into problems with athletic energy, poor performance, insomnia, and other symptoms of exercise-induced stress. Typically, the people who “earn their carbs” are doing stuff like CrossFit, high volume moderate-to-high intensity endurance work, martial arts training, and team sports.
I doubt extra carbs will improve your performance if most of your training takes place in the aerobic zone. But if you wanted to experiment, you could try a small sweet potato immediately after a workout where you passed the anaerobic threshold.
That’s the best way to determine if you’ve earned carbs. Eat 20-30 grams after a workout and see if you enjoy performance gains without gaining body fat. There’s no consumer-friendly way to directly calculate carb debt; self-experimentation is it.
I recently took a job that has me out of bed at 4am and not home until 6pm Monday Through Friday. Is there an efficient way I can maintain muscle mass only lifting weights Saturday and Sunday? I’m a hardgainer at 5’10” and only 140lbs. I’m afraid giving up my 5 day split will ruin what muscle I’ve been able to gain.
Any hardgainer has to eat, and eat, and eat. Increase your food intake. Just eat. Stick to healthy Primal fare, but pack in the food. Meat, milk, veggies, potatoes, rice, eggs, avocados, fruit. Throw some liver in, too (old bodybuilder staple). It doesn’t sound like fat gain is an issue for you, so I’d take advantage of that and just consume calories.
As for training, get some exercise snacks in during the week.
As soon as you wake up, do a quick superset of pushups. Do as many pushups as you can. Wait 30 seconds. Do as many pushups as you can. Wait 30 seconds. Do as many pushups as you can. There you go. That shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes in the morning. Can you squeeze that in?
Repeat this every morning with a different exercise. Pullups, bodyweight rows, kettlebell swings, handstand pushups, dips, bodyweight squats, goblet squats, reverse lunges, reverse weighted lunges. Just choose one thing to do every morning, cram as many reps as you can using the same format (max reps, 30 s rest, max reps, 30 s rest, max reps). Buy any equipment you can if you choose to use weights.
When you get home at night, do the same thing with a different exercise. Morning pushups, evening KB swings, etc. That way, you get about 10 minutes per weekday of intense strength training without impacting your sleep or schedule in any real meaningful way.
Make sure your sleep hygiene is rock solid. Dim those lights at night, turn on f.lux or night mode, wear the blue blocking goggles, get to bed (ideally) by 8:30, 9 to give you 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep. Sleep is essential for gaining lean mass (and staying healthy in general).
On the weekend, hit the weights hard on both days, hitting the entire body. Go high volume/reps. If size is your goal, dropping the weight a bit and focusing on range of motion and a high rep count (10-15 per set) is very effective.
Food, sleep, reps. Good luck!
Thanks for stopping in today, everybody. Additional thoughts for these folks—or questions of your own? Share them below.
Tieland M, Dirks ML, Van der zwaluw N, et al. Protein supplementation increases muscle mass gain during prolonged resistance-type exercise training in frail elderly people: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2012;13(8):713-9.
The post Dear Mark: Protein Efficiency in Seniors, Earned Carbs, Hardgainer with Limited Time appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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As you and millions of other people embark on new dietary journeys, you’re going to hear a ton about calories.
“Calorie counting is everything.”
“If you aren’t counting calories, you won’t lose weight.”
“Just eat less calories than you expend.” For one, it’s “fewer.” Two, that’s not the whole picture.
These statements aren’t wrong exactly, but they offer an overly simplistic picture of the relationship between weight loss and calories. They ignore context. And context is everything, especially when you’re talking about calories and weight loss.
Most people (even many scientists) believe that the body composition challenge is a relatively simple equation: to lose weight you must reduce calories (either eat less or burn more), to gain weight you must add calories (eat more or burn less), and to maintain weight you keep calories constant (eat and burn identical amounts). Calories in over calories out.
Right away, it sounds preposterous. Are people really maintaining perfect caloric balance by dutifully tracking and comparing their intake to their burn? Are they walking six fewer steps lest they lose an extra ounce off their midsection?
Are All Calories the Same?
The truth is, it’s more like a complex equation where you have to factor in many other very important variables:
- Am I getting calories from fat, protein, or carbs?
- Am I getting my calories through whole foods or refined processed foods?
- Are my glycogen stores full or empty?
- When’s the last time I exercised?
- Am I insulin-sensitive or insulin-resistant?
- Am I trying to lose “weight” or lose fat?
- How’s my stress level?
- Am I sleeping enough?
The answers to all those questions (and more) affect the fate of the calories we consume. They change the context of calories.
Ideally, all that complexity is handled under the hood. That’s how it works in wild animals. They don’t calorie count. They don’t think about what to eat or how to exercise. They just eat, move, sleep, and somehow it all works. I mean, they die, often violently, but you don’t see obese, metabolically-deranged wildlife—unless the obesity and metabolic derangement is physiological, as in bears preparing to hibernate. Somehow they figure it out. They’ve delegated the complex stuff to their subconscious.
This is generally true in “wild humans,” too. Hunter-gatherer groups by and large did not and do not show any evidence of metabolic derangement, obesity, or the other degenerative trappings of modern humans living in civilization. They are fully human in terms of physiology, so it’s not that they have special genetic adaptations that resist obesity. They’re living lifestyles and eating diets more in line with our evolutionary heritage. They’re moving around all the time, not going through drive throughs. They’re eating whole unprocessed foods that they have to procure, catch or kill.
What they don’t have is the ridiculous concept of calories and macronutrients floating around in their heads, informing their dietary choices. They don’t even think about food in terms of calories, or movement in terms of calories expended. Metabolically speaking, they consume their calories in the proper context.
But you? You might have to think about context. You might have to answer those questions and create the proper context.
Most people do not think about context. They home in on the number of calories the food database claims the food they’re eating contains, plot it against the numbers of calories the exercise database claims the exercise they’re doing expends, and then wonder why nothing’s working. That’s why “dieting doesn’t work”—because, as practiced in accordance with the expert advice from up high, it doesn’t. Almost invariably, the people who see great results from strict calorie counting, weighing and balancing, those types who frequent online weight lifting forums and have the freedom to spend hours perfecting their program, have the other relevant variables under control without realizing it.
They’re younger, with fewer responsibilities—and less stress and fewer disruptions to their sleep.
They’re lifting weights and training religiously, creating huge glycogen sinks and maintaining optimal insulin sensitivity.
They’re eating a lot of protein, the macronutrient that curbs hunger and increases energy expenditure the most.
They’re eating mostly whole foods.
They’ve had less time on this earth to accumulate metabolic damage.
Not everyone is so lucky.
Fat burning, glucose burning, ketone burning, glycogen storage, fat storage, gluconeogenesis, and protein turnover—what we do with the calories we consume—do not occur at constant rates. They ebb and flow, wax and wane in response to your micronutrient intake, macronutrient intake, energy intake, exercise and activity habits, sleep schedule, stress levels, and a dozen other factors. All of these energy-related processes are going on simultaneously in each of us at all times. But the rate at which each of these processes happens is different in each of us and they can increase or decrease depending on the context of our present circumstances and our long term goals. All of these processes utilize the same gene-based principles of energy metabolism—the biochemical machinery that we all share—but because they all involve different starting points and different inputs as well as different goals or possible outcomes, they often require different action plans. We can alter the rate at which each of these metabolic processes happens simply by changing what and when we eat and addressing the non-dietary variables. We can change the context.
But don’t controlled trials demonstrate that a “calorie is a calorie”?
People hear things like “in controlled isocaloric trials, low-carb diets have never been shown to confer a metabolic advantage or result in more weight loss than low-fat diets.” While often true, they miss the point.
People aren’t living in metabolic wards with white lab coats providing and precisely measuring all their food. They’re living in the real world, fixing their own food. Free living is entirely uncontrolled with dozens of variables bleeding in from all angles. In the lab situation, you eat what they give you, and that’s that. The situations are not analogous—real world vs. controlled lab environment.
In real world situations…
Why a Calorie Isn’t Just a Calorie
The macronutrient composition of the calories we eat alters their metabolic effects.
The metabolism of protein famously increases energy expenditure over and above the metabolism of fat or carbohydrate. For a given caloric load, protein will make you burn more energy than other macronutrients.
Protein is also more satiating than other macronutrients. Eat more protein, curb hunger, inadvertently eat less without even trying (or needing a lab coat to limit your intake).
Protein and fat together (AKA “meat”) appear to be even more satiating than either alone, almost as if we’re meant to consume fat and protein in the same meal.
The isocaloric studies tend to focus on “weight loss” and discount “fat loss.” We don’t want to lose weight. We want to lose fat and gain or retain lean muscle mass. A standard low calorie diet might cause the same amount of weight loss as a low-carb, high-fat diet (if you force the subjects to maintain isocaloric parity), but the low-carb approach has been shown to increase fat loss and enhance muscle gain. Most people who lose weight with a standard approach end up losing a significant amount of muscle along with it. Most who lose weight with a low-carb, higher-protein-and-fat approach lose mostly fat and gain or retain most of their muscle.
Take the 2004 study that placed overweight men and women on one of two diets: a very low-carb ketogenic diet or a low-fat diet. The low-carb group ate more calories but lost more weight and more body fat, especially dangerous abdominal fat.
Or the study from 1989 that placed healthy adult men on high-carb or high-fat diets. Even though the high-carb group lost slightly more body weight, the high-fat group lost slightly more body fat and retained more lean mass.
Both describe “weight lost,” but which is healthier?
Whether the calories come in the form of processed or whole food determines their effect.
We even have a study that directly examines this. For two weeks, participants either supplemented their diets with isocaloric amounts of candy (mostly sugar) or roasted peanuts (mostly fat and protein). This was added to their regular diet. After two weeks, researchers found that body weight, waist circumference, LDL, and ApoB (a rough measure of LDL particle number) were highest in the candy group, indicating increased fat mass and worsening metabolic health. In the peanut group, basal metabolic rate shot up and neither body weight nor waist size saw any significant increases.
Your current metabolic state determines the effect of calories.
In one study, a person’s metabolic reaction to high-carb or low-carb diets was determined by their degree of insulin resistance. The more insulin resistant a subject, the better they did and the more weight they lost on low-carb. The more insulin sensitive a subject, the better they did and the more weight they lost on low-fat. Calories were the same across the board.
In another study, insulin-sensitive obese patients (a rarity in the general population) were able to lose weight on either low-carb or low-fat, but insulin-resistant obese patients (very common) only lost weight on low-carb.
Whether you exercise determines the effect of calories.
If you’ve just finished a heavy lifting workout followed by a sprint session, your response to a given number of calories will differ from the person who hasn’t trained in a year.
Training: Your muscle glycogen stores will be empty, so the carbs you eat will go toward glycogen storage or directly burned, rather than inhibit fat burning. Your insulin sensitivity will be elevated, so you can move protein and carbs around without spiking insulin and inhibiting fat release. You’ll be in hypertrophy mode, so some of the protein you eat will go toward building muscle, not burned for energy.
Not Training: Your muscle glycogen stores will be full, so any carbs you eat will inhibit fat burning and be more likely to promote fat storage. Your insulin sensitivity will be low, so you’ll have to release more insulin to handle the carbs, thereby inhibiting fat burning the process. You won’t have sent any hypertrophy signals to your muscles, so the protein you eat will be wasted or burned for energy.
How you slept last night determines the effects of calories.
A single night of bad sleep is enough to:
- Give you the insulin resistance levels of a diabetic. Try eating carbs in an insulin-resistant state and tell me a “calorie is a calorie.”
- Make the reward system of your brain light up in response to junk food and dampen in response to healthy whole food. The more rewarding you find junk food, the more your brain will compel you to eat more of it.
- Reduce energy expenditure. Your “calories out” drops if you sleep poorly.
And those are just a few important variables that determine the context of calories. There are many more, but this post has gone on long enough…
The Take-Home Message
If calorie-counting works for you, great! You’re one of the lucky ones. Own that and keep doing what you’re doing. You’ve clearly got a good handle on the context of calories.
If calorie-counting and weighing and measuring failed you in the past, you’re not alone and there’s a way forward. Address the variables mentioned in this post that need addressing. Do you need better sleep? Do you need to manage stress better? Could you eat more protein or fat, eat more whole food and less processed food, or get more exercise, or lift more weights, or take more walks?
Handle those variables, fix those deficiencies, and I bet that your caloric context will start making more sense. The trick isn’t to increase the number of variables you plug into your calories in/calories out formula. It’s to make sure all your lifestyle and dietary ducks are in a row so that the caloric balance works itself out.
By understanding how these metabolic processes work, and knowing that we can control the rates at which each one happens through our diet (and exercise and other lifestyle factors) we needn’t agonize over the day-to-day calorie counting. As long as we are generally eating a PB-style plan and providing the right context, our bodies will ease into a healthy, fit, long-lived comfort zone rather effortlessly.
So, what’s your caloric context looking like? Thanks for reading today, everyone.
Pontzer H, Wood BM, Raichlen DA. Hunter-gatherers as models in public health. Obes Rev. 2018;19 Suppl 1:24-35.
Claesson AL, Holm G, Ernersson A, Lindström T, Nystrom FH. Two weeks of overfeeding with candy, but not peanuts, increases insulin levels and body weight. Scand J Clin Lab Invest. 2009;69(5):598-605.
Volek J, Sharman M, Gómez A, et al. Comparison of energy-restricted very low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets on weight loss and body composition in overweight men and women. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004;1(1):13.
Mccargar LJ, Clandinin MT, Belcastro AN, Walker K. Dietary carbohydrate-to-fat ratio: influence on whole-body nitrogen retention, substrate utilization, and hormone response in healthy male subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989;49(6):1169-78.
Cornier MA, Donahoo WT, Pereira R, et al. Insulin sensitivity determines the effectiveness of dietary macronutrient composition on weight loss in obese women. Obes Res. 2005;13(4):703-9.
Ebbeling CB, Leidig MM, Feldman HA, Lovesky MM, Ludwig DS. Effects of a low-glycemic load vs low-fat diet in obese young adults: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2007;297(19):2092-102.
Benedict C, Hallschmid M, Lassen A, et al. Acute sleep deprivation reduces energy expenditure in healthy men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(6):1229-36.
***This article was substantially revised from the original version, which you can read here.
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I always feel better when I start my day with a good serving of protein. I remain satisfied for a longer period of time, my energy levels are higher … it’s just a really simple way to show myself a little love before the demands of my day take over. Except, well. It’s not like most of my typical breakfasts are exactly complicated, but even a basic smoothie requires a few ingredients, plus the cleaning of the blender, so although I can whip one up in very little time, it’s still a far cry from grab-and-go. And sometimes, I really just…
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