For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering a reader question about beans. But it’s not just about beans. It’s about something called the Bean Protocol, a rather new dietary approach that many of my readers have expressed interest in. The Bean Protocol is supposed to improve the liver’s ability to clear out toxins, thereby preventing them from recirculating throughout the body in perpetuity. Today, I’m going to discuss where it fits in a Primal eating plan.
Have you heard about this “Bean Protocol”? From what I can tell people are eating tons of beans and getting great results. It’s supposed to remove toxins from the liver or something else that only beans can do.
What do you think?
I did some digging around. I read the Bean Protocol coverage over at PaleOMG, where Juli has been following the protocol for several months now and seeing great results. There’s a Bean Protocol E-course that I did not sign up for, but I think I have a decent handle on the topic.
How to Do the Bean Protocol
Here’s the gist:
- No caffeine
- No sugar
- No dairy
- No gluten
- No processed food
- No factory-farmed meats; no fatty meats
- Eat 6-8 half-cup servings of beans or lentils a day.
- Fill the rest of the food with lean meat, leafy green vegetables, alliums (onion, garlic, leek, etc), and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower).
What’s Supposed to Happen on the Bean Protocol
The soluble and insoluble fiber in the beans binds to toxins which the body can then flush out more easily. Without the fiber from the beans, your body can’t process and excrete the toxins, so they simply recirculate, stay in the body, and sometimes express themselves in the form of acne and other diseases. Adherents credit the bean protocol for fixing longstanding issues like acne, Crohn’s, and many other conditions.
Is this true? Is there any evidence of this in the scientific literature?
Well, there isn’t much direct evidence for beans improving liver clearance of toxins, but there is circumstantial evidence. For one, prebiotic fiber is good for liver health. There are plenty of studies to support this.
Synbiotics (a combination of probiotics and prebiotics) and BCAAs taken together improve hepatic encephalopathy, a feature of liver failure where the liver fails to detoxify excess ammonia.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28583137/‘>2 Inulin also increases bile flow.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21815229/‘>4
The Bean Protocol also emphasizes cruciferous vegetable consumption. The crucifers, which include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, can exert beneficial effects on liver health. Sulforaphane, one of the most prominent compounds in cruciferous vegetables, has well-established effects on toxin clearance. It can speed up the clearance of airborne pollutants and counter the carcinogens formed from high-heat cooking.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2959165/?tool=pubmed‘>6
Back to Basics
By emphasizing lean meats and eliminating sugar, alcohol, and industrial food, you are eliminating the major causes of fatty liver in the diet: sugar, seed oils, and alcohol.
My point is not to disparage the Bean Protocol. I think it has some merit. My point is to point out that beans alone probably don’t explain the benefits people are seeing. There’s a lot more going on than just beans.
Lectins and Phytic Acid in Beans
Okay, okay. So while beans aren’t the only (or even necessarily the best) way to obtain prebiotic fiber to modulate gut bacteria and improve liver health and therefore toxin clearance and metabolism, they are promising. But aren’t beans bad for you? Aren’t they neolithic foods full of lectins and anti-nutrients that are anything but Primal?
Lectins are anti-nutrients and beans do have them. Studies show that they can damage the intestinal lining, prey upon already-damaged intestinal lining, and prevent the body from repairing that damage.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25599185‘>8 People have actually been hospitalized from lectin poisoning.http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2621.1990.tb06789.x/abstract‘>10
Most of the research indicting legume lectins used animals consuming large amounts of raw lectins. Those people who got lectin poisoning ate undercooked kidney beans. Don’t eat raw or undercooked beans and make sure they’re soaked overnight. Canned beans are also prepared pretty well.
Okay, what about phytic acid?
Phytic acid is the primary storage form of phosphorus in plants. When you eat a food containing phytic acid, it can bind to several other minerals, like calcium, magnesium, and zinc, and prevent their absorption. Diets based entirely in high-phytate foods can thereby lead to nutrient deficiencies. As legumes are one such high-phytate food, people are justifiably cautious about basing their diet on them.
Soaking legumes is really good at reducing phytic acid. In one study, cooking straight up without soaking reduced phytate by 20%, cooking after soaking in the soaking water reduced it by 53%, and cooking after soaking in fresh water reduced it by 60%.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12887152‘>14 That basically takes care of the problem.
If you want to really eliminate phytic acid you can sprout your legumes. You can also buy pre-sprouted beans.
What about the carb content of beans?
Legumes are higher in carbs than many other Primal foods but not as high as you might think. The musicality of the legume partially offsets its carbohydrate density. All those sugars and fibers being digested by gut bugs and producing the farts are carbs that you aren’t consuming as glucose. If you pay attention to “net carbs,” you’ll love legumes—at least compared to something like potatoes or bread.
Which, by the way, is why legumes appear to be so helpful in the Bean Protocol.
A half cup of cooked black beans has 20 grams of carbs with 7.5 coming from fiber.
A half cup of cooked chickpeas has 30 grams of carbs with 5 coming from fiber.
A half cup of cooked pinto beans has 22 grams of carbs with 7.7 coming from fiber.
A half cup of cooked lentils has 20 grams of carbs with 7.8 coming from fiber.
And much of that fiber, remember, comes in the form of galactooligosaccharides, that same prebiotic shown in studies to improve gut health and even increase lead excretion. But these are also FODMAPs, which, depending on your gut biome, can be helpful or painful. Some people won’t be able to handle the gas, some will get downright painful bloating, while others will get huge prebiotic benefits. Your mileage may vary, so just figure out what works.
Are beans actually nutritious, though?
Legumes aren’t nutrient-dense compared to something like liver or oysters, but they’re more nutrient-dense than grains and many other foods.
Again, a half cup of beans isn’t very many carbs. Maybe 20 grams, with only two thirds of that turning into glucose. You’ll get a lot of food for your gut and a decent whack of some important nutrients like folate, copper, magnesium, and manganese. That half cup of black beans provides 32% of your daily folate requirements, 20% of copper, 14% of magnesium, and 17% of manganese. A half cup of lentils provides 45% of your daily folate requirements along with 28% of copper and 21% of manganese. Not bad for a measly 20 grams of carbs.
A Plea: Lentils
If you want to try the Bean Protocol and insist on doing the 8 servings a day version, I’d recommend you go with lentils.
A cup of standard lentils gets you:
- 40 grams carbs, almost 16 g fiber.
- 230 calories.
- 18 grams protein. Legume protein can’t replace animal protein, but it can offset some of your requirements.
- 90% of folate.
- 28% of vitamin B1 (thiamine), 25% of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), and 21% of B6 (pyridoxine). B vitamins generally aren’t issues for folks eating Primal, but they can’t hurt.
- 55% of copper.
- 17% of magnesium.
- 43% of manganese.
Lentils added to a meal slow gastric emptying, which should keep a person fuller longer.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29767425/‘>1 They were getting “more” out of their food simply by chewing it up more.
Heed your salivary amylase levels: How much salivary amylase you produce is determined by your genetics, with historically agricultural (and thus starch-consuming) populations tending to possess more copies of the salivary amylase gene than other populations. There’s no good way to test salivary amylase gene status because the commercial genetic analysis sites don’t cover it. You’d need a more specific (and expensive) test for that. Ancestry can be a rough proxy; try to match your carb intake with the carb intake (and thus amylase copies) of your recent ancestors. But whatever number of amylase copies you (might) carry, chewing more times per bite will increase the efficacy of the salivary amylase you do produce.
As for meat and other animal foods which salivary amylase doesn’t affect, chewing is still important because it breaks apart the fibers and makes the nutrients contained therein more accessible to protein-digesting enzymes (proteases) in the stomach.
Mechanical Digestion, in the Stomach
Leaving the mouth, the food travels down the esophagus on into the stomach, where hydrochloric acid and a protein-degrading enzyme called pepsin break the food down into a big semifluid mass of partially-digested food components, water, enzymes, and acid known as chyme. The stomach walls undulate (move up and down) and mix the chyme,
How to Optimize Stomach Digestion?
Get your thiamine. Thiamine is a B-vitamin involved in hydrochloric acid production. If you want optimal stomach acidity—and you definitely do want it—you need to be replete in thiamine. The best source of thiamine is pork.
Watch the antacids. While heartburn meds can make a person feel better in an acute case of heartburn, they do so by inhibiting production of hydrochloric acid, which makes the stomach more alkaline and worsens your digestion in the long run. Pepsin cannot work without adequate acidity.
Try bitters. Post-meal bitters stimulate production of hydrochloric acid and assist many of the digestive organs, making the whole operation run more smoothly. But they must be bitter. Covering up the bitter flavor with something sweet mitigates the beneficial effect on digestion.
Get enough sodium. Low sodium levels reduce hydrochloric acid production. Make sure you’re salting your food to taste, as our moment-to-moment desire for salt is a good marker for sodium requirements. As long as you’re not eating packaged junk food, you won’t crave too much salt.
Try supplemental hydrochloric acid. A little betaine HCl, especially with protein meals, can really help if your acid production is too low. If you take betaine HCl and you feel a burn, you probably don’t need it.
Since the stomach is too acidic for amylase to work, the chyme migrates down to the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine immediately after the stomach where the pH is more alkaline. The pancreas produces protein-digesting enzymes as well as amylase and delivers them to the duodenum, where the full range of digestive enzymes can get to work liberating nutrients for absorption down the line. This is also where bile is introduced to assist in fat digestion.
Eat meals rather than graze. The human digestive system operates best when it encounters whole meals with plenty of time between subsequent meals, rather than a steady stream of incoming food. It even tries to enforce this; when a bolus of chyme enters the duodenum, the opening leading from the stomach to the duodenum tightens up to prevent more food from coming in. Overriding this with constant snacking will only impair your digestion and back things up.
Go for a walk. A short walk after eating speeds up the transition of food from the stomach through the duodenum into the small intestine. It “gets things moving,” in a good, beneficial way.
Small Intestine Digestion
After softening up in the duodenum, the chyme passes on into the small intestine where the bulk of nutrient absorption occurs. All along the intestinal walls lie villi — microscopic finger-like projections that increase the surface area of the intestinal lining and pluck nutrients from the passing slurry to be absorbed and assimilated. (You may have heard of villi in the context of gluten. Gluten can wipe out the villi in some people, leading to nutritional malabsorption.)
Optimize your serotonin. 95% of the serotonin in our body occurs in the gut; it’s one of the primary regulators of intestinal peristalsis — the muscular contractions that move and mix food through the digestive tract.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19332970‘>3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21418261‘>5http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2004.02274.x/abstract‘>7 I created Primal Probiotics with precisely these probiotics to tip the balance in your favor.
Get Primal Probiotics here
Digestion must be approached as a single unit. You don’t just pick one of these tips to try. You do them all, together, if they apply to you.
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When the ancient Greek father of medicine, Hippocrates, said “All disease begins in the gut,” he was probably right. Poor gut health has been linked to a broad range of diseases and health conditions, from depression to diabetes, cancer to obesity, and autism to autoimmune disease. Search the medical literature and you’ll probably find links between the gut and any illness you can imagine.
So—all the world’s health issues solved, right? Not exactly.
Gut health is one of those topics that gets more complicated the deeper you go. The more you read about gut bacteria, the less you realize you know and the less you realize anyone knows, even the researchers. It’s infinite onions, all the way down. The layers never stop, and exposing them eventually makes you want to cry. (Speaking of which, onions are actually a very good food for gut health).
All that said, the scientific community is honing in on the signs and symptoms of an unhealthy gut. We know how to heal an unhealthy gut, or at least improve gut health. An incredible amount of research has determined the best foods for gut health, and we know the worst foods for gut health. We understand that gut health comes down to supporting healthy gut bacteria and avoiding leaky gut. Top-down micromanagement might not work yet, but big-picture, bottom-up intervention does.
Gut Inflammation: Signs of an Unhealthy Gut
Some of the signs are obvious. Others are more pernicious. Not all of these will apply to someone with unhealthy gut bacteria or leaky gut, but some will.
Chronic Constipation, Bloating, and/or Diarrhea
Everyone gets a little constipated now and then. We’ve all had the runs, and we’ve all felt bloated after a particularly large meal. As long as these conditions are acute—as long as they’re brief and transient—they don’t indicate any serious gut inflammation. It’s when constipation or diarrhea or bloating endure and become chronic conditions that you should pay close attention. Chronic constipation, bloating, and diarrhea are signs of an unhealthy gut biome.
Obesity or Overweight
Although the connection hasn’t been established as causal, there is a consistent and significant association between obesity/overweight and poor gut health. If you are obese, you very likely have room to improve the health and function of your gut.
Food Intolerances and Allergies
If the integrity of your gut is compromised due to excessive gut inflammation or missing gut bacteria, undigested components of the foods we eat can slip past the intestinal barrier and into our bodies where they trigger an allergic reaction. This appears to be a necessary step in the development of a food allergy, and a 2011 review concluded that an overly leaky gut facilitates this transportation and leads to the inducement of allergy.
Depression and Anxiety
Researchers have long puzzled over observations that mental health conditions like depression and anxiety often present with common gastrointestinal complaints like constipation and diarrhea. It’s not just circumstantial: gut bacteria produce large amounts of neurotransmitters like serotonin, interact with neural pathways involved in anxiety and depression, and help form the gut-brain axis.
Animal studies show that replacing the gut bacteria of anxious mice with gut bacteria from fearless mice makes the anxious mice more brave, while giving bold mice bacteria from anxious mice makes them more anxious. In human subjects, a probiotic supplement (containing L. helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) reduces measures of anxiety and depression, and by some accounts, 35% of depressed patients have leaky gut.
Skin Problems (Eczema, Psoriasis)
In the last section, I told you about the gut-brain axis. There’s also a gut-skin axis: a constant interplay between the health of your gut and the health of your skin. People who have eczema are also likely to have leaky gut, while psoriasis patients show clear signs of unbalanced gut bacteria.
One of the world’s premier autoimmune disease researchers, Dr. Alessio Fasano, considers poor gut health a necessary pre-condition for all autoimmune diseases. It’s a similar situation to the allergy/intolerance issue: a leaky, inflamed gut allows outside proteins and other food components into the body, the immune system mounts an immune response to deal with the invaders, and this response gets out of hand and redirected toward the body’s own tissues.
Okay, so how does it all happen? Apart from food, which I’ll get to later on…
What Causes an Unhealthy Gut?
There are many potential causes of poor gut health.
Stress can directly induce leaky gut (PDF) and stress can take many forms, as we all know. Bad finances, marital strife, unemployment, too much exercise, lack of sleep, extended combat training, and chronic under-eating all qualify as significant stressors with the potential to cause leaky gut, especially chronically and in concert with one another.
Sleep is restorative, and restorative sleep means you’re lowering stress and improving gut health. If your circadian rhythm starts to shift, starts getting a little dysfunctional, your gut health soon follows.
Inadequate Dirt Exposure
Too sterile an environment causes too sterile a gut. We are made to spend time in nature, feet and hands getting dirty, exposed directly to the natural soil teeming with trillions of bacteria. We’re meant to eat produce directly from the ground, and nature didn’t intend for us to always wash it. (That said, if you didn’t grow it yourself, it’s best to wash your produce.) Exposure to healthy soil may even bestow upon us anti-anxiety gut bacteria—gut microbes that actually make us less anxious.
Not Enough Exercise (or Too Much)
Exercise has been shown to directly improve gut function, increasing the production of beneficial short cain fatty acids by gut bacteria. When you stop training, the gut benefits cease.
Just don’t do too much. An acute bout of intense training causes a transient rise in leaky gut that subsides and even improves several hours after the session. This is fine. This is normal. This is adaptive. But if you start stringing together intense training sessions without adequate rest, the exercise becomes a chronic stressor and the transient rise in leaky gut starts looking more permanent.
Too Many Antibiotics
Antibiotics are great at killing pathogenic bacteria attacking you, but they also tend to be indiscriminate. They do not distinguish between friendly bactieria and harmful bacteria in your gut biome. The broad spectrum antibiotics we commonly take also wipe out the bacteria living in our guts, leading to gut bacteria imbalances and poor gut function.
After addressing the major causes of poor gut health, is there anything you should avoid eating? Are there foods you should focus on eating to improve your gut health?
What Are the Worst Foods for Gut Health?
The worst foods for gut health are no surprise to regular readers of this site, but that doesn’t make them any less important to avoid.
When we eat refined carbs like grains or sugar, glucose is immediately released into the digestive tract, increasing the concentration of carbohydrate available to your gut biome. This concentrated influx of dense carbohydrate into the gut produces an inflammatory microbial population that increases production of bacterial endotoxin and increases leaky gut. Meanwhile, the lack of prebiotic fiber means your beneficial gut bacteria have no food to consume.
Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, causes your body to release zonulin—a chemical messenger that tells your intestinal junctions to open up. Many people can handle this increase in zonulin, but if you’re already suffering from poor gut health or are sensitive to gluten, the zonulin response may be strong enough to trigger leaky gut.
What Are the Best Foods for Gut Health?
- Fermentable fiber
- Red wine
- Skin, bones, and broth
- Fermented foods
- Resistant starch
- Onions, garlic, and leeks
Without food, your gut bacteria suffers. And the best food for your gut bacteria is fermentable fiber, found in many different plants. Asparagus, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, and alliums like garlic and onions are your best bet.
Besides being delicious, high-cacao dark chocolate is an excellent source of prebiotic fiber (fiber your gut bacteria can consume) and prebiotic polyphenols (plant compounds that also feed your gut bacteria).
Name a berry and it’s been shown to improve gut health. Strawberries feed the gut biome and improve the gut function of diabetic mice. Blackberries restore gut health and trigger neuroprotective effects. Eating blueberries leads to compositional changes to the gut bacteria linked to improved metabolic health. And black raspberries have been shown to cause “anti-inflammatory” bacterial profiles in the gut.
Skin, bones, and broth
Skin, bones, and broth offer gut health benefits in a number of ways. First, they provide “animal fiber,” collagenous and gristly substrate that our gut bacteria can digest and prosper on. Next, they offer ample amounts of gelatin, which can help repair damaged gut lining. In a pinch, collagen can fill the gap.
This is an obvious one, but it’s incredibly important and more complex than you probably think. First of all, fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, and dozens of other varieties seed our guts directly with beneficial probiotic bacteria. That has real benefits—though they don’t “form colonies” and you do have to continually eat fermented foods for the full benefit. Some fermented foods also have the ability to “train” your resident bacteria to digest new compounds. One example is fermented milk: in one study it didn’t colonize the gut but led to increased microbial expression of carbohydrate metabolizing enzymes in the existing bacteria.
Resistant starch isn’t like other starches. Our stomach acid and digestive enzymes cannot break it down, but our gut bacteria can digest it. Multiple studies indicate that resistant starch consumption generally leads to an increase in “beneficial” colonic bacteria and a reduction in “pathogenic” colonic bacteria, including a boost to bifidobacteria and a decrease in firmicutes and a huge boost to butyrate production. The best sources of resistant starch are green (unripe) bananas and raw potato starch.
Meat usually doesn’t pop up on these lists, but that’s a huge mistake. Red meat especially provides ample B-vitamins required for energy generation and general physiological maintenance, including gut function. It’s a nutrient-dense “safe” food for even damaged guts who need to be careful about the plant foods they eat. And if you’re eating a significant amount of meat, you’ll have less room to eat the refined carbs and refined sugar that really cause gut issues.
Pistachios are the most potent nut for improving gut health. Other nuts like almonds are good too, but pistachios produce a biome richer in butyrate-secreting bacteria which is extremely beneficial to several body systems.
Onions, garlic, and leeks
Onions, garlic, leeks, and other members of the allium family offer concentrated doses of fructo-oligosaccharides, some of the best-studied and most beneficial fermentable prebiotic fibers in the plant kingdom. Plus, they’re delicious, and humans have been eating them for thousands of years (if not longer).
Some people will react poorly to some of the foods listed in the “Best” section. If your gut health is compromised and your gut bacteria dysfunctional, you may very well have trouble consuming fermentable fiber, resistant starch, berries, and other fibrous foods without bloating, gas, stomach pain, constipation, and diarrhea. Please read my article on FODMAPs to understand how to work around this issue and maintain your gut health.
Thanks for reading, everyone. If you have any questions about gut health or the info contained in this post, let me know down below!
Bell DS. Changes seen in gut bacteria content and distribution with obesity: causation or association?. Postgrad Med. 2015;127(8):863-8.
Tordesillas L, Gómez-casado C, Garrido-arandia M, et al. Transport of Pru p 3 across gastrointestinal epithelium – an essential step towards the induction of food allergy?. Clin Exp Allergy. 2013;43(12):1374-83.
Perrier C, Corthésy B. Gut permeability and food allergies. Clin Exp Allergy. 2011;41(1):20-8.
Foster JA, Mcvey neufeld KA. Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression. Trends Neurosci. 2013;36(5):305-12.
Hidalgo-cantabrana C, Gómez J, Delgado S, et al. Gut microbiota dysbiosis in a cohort of patients with psoriasis. Br J Dermatol. 2019;181(6):1287-1295.
Allen JM, Mailing LJ, Niemiro GM, et al. Exercise Alters Gut Microbiota Composition and Function in Lean and Obese Humans. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2018;50(4):747-757.
Petersen C, Wankhade UD, Bharat D, et al. Dietary supplementation with strawberry induces marked changes in the composition and functional potential of the gut microbiome in diabetic mice. J Nutr Biochem. 2019;66:63-69.
Marques C, Fernandes I, Meireles M, et al. Gut microbiota modulation accounts for the neuroprotective properties of anthocyanins. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):11341.
Lee S, Keirsey KI, Kirkland R, Grunewald ZI, Fischer JG, De la serre CB. Blueberry Supplementation Influences the Gut Microbiota, Inflammation, and Insulin Resistance in High-Fat-Diet-Fed Rats. J Nutr. 2018;148(2):209-219.
Pan P, Lam V, Salzman N, et al. Black Raspberries and Their Anthocyanin and Fiber Fractions Alter the Composition and Diversity of Gut Microbiota in F-344 Rats. Nutr Cancer. 2017;69(6):943-951.
Mcnulty NP, Yatsunenko T, Hsiao A, et al. The impact of a consortium of fermented milk strains on the gut microbiome of gnotobiotic mice and monozygotic twins. Sci Transl Med. 2011;3(106):106ra106.
Haenen D, Zhang J, Souza da silva C, et al. A diet high in resistant starch modulates microbiota composition, SCFA concentrations, and gene expression in pig intestine. J Nutr. 2013;143(3):274-83.
Martínez I, Kim J, Duffy PR, Schlegel VL, Walter J. Resistant starches types 2 and 4 have differential effects on the composition of the fecal microbiota in human subjects. PLoS ONE. 2010;5(11):e15046.
Liu Z, Lin X, Huang G, Zhang W, Rao P, Ni L. Prebiotic effects of almonds and almond skins on intestinal microbiota in healthy adult humans. Anaerobe. 2014;26:1-6.
Ukhanova M, Wang X, Baer DJ, Novotny JA, Fredborg M, Mai V. Effects of almond and pistachio consumption on gut microbiota composition in a randomised cross-over human feeding study. Br J Nutr. 2014;111(12):2146-52.
Gibson GR. Dietary modulation of the human gut microflora using prebiotics. Br J Nutr. 1998;80(4):S209-12.
The post 6 Signs of an Unhealthy Gut, 7 Likely Causes & the Best Foods for Gut Health appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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While some keto or low-carb proponents claim fiber is useless at best and actively harmful at worst, I come down on the side that says fiber is probably helpful for most people. Some folks have persistently better responses to low- or no-fiber keto diets, and I won’t argue with that—I’ve seen it happen and I’ve read the studies where de-emphasizing fiber can actually improve constipation, for example.
I’ll just say that I have an opposite reaction, and, most importantly, I love eating a variety of plant foods that also happen to contain a ton of great nutrients in addition to fiber.
Do I buy into the idea that fiber is important because it is every human being’s responsibility to produce as much colonic bulk as humanly possible? No.
Do I think we should be consistently pushing the limits of our digestive tracts, performing feats of bathroom heroism so momentous they border on Herculean, and making sure the toilet bowl buckles beneath us? No.
The real value of fiber lies not in its coarseness, its tendency to form colonic bulk, to keep us topped off. The true value lies in its fermentability. A fermentable fiber is a prebiotic fiber—fiber that feeds our gut bacteria.
I will, however, explain why we need to be feeding our gut bacteria. Our gut bacteria form a physical barrier against incursions and colonization by pathogenic bacteria; they take up room along the gut lining so pathogens can’t. If we don’t feed our gut bacteria with prebiotics, it won’t be around to protect us. After antibiotic treatment where both good and bad gut flora are indiscriminately targeted and wiped out, pathogenic obesity-promoting bacteria take advantage of the open space. That’s a worst-case scenario, but it shows what can happen when the harmony of the gut is disturbed by antibiotics or, to a less extent, a lack of fermentable prebiotic fibers.
Gut bacteria also convert antinutrients like phytic acid into nutrients like inositol. The almond meal-obsessed keto eater would do well to have a powerful gut biome set up to convert all that phytic acid to inositol.
Now, some writers will come up with specific blends of fibers, powders and gums to create the “optimal” prebiotic diet for your gut bacteria, but that’s pretty silly. The gut is a complicated place. We’ve barely begun to even identify all its inhabitants. To think we know the precise blend of isolated fiber that will make them flourish, and then act on that, is a mistake.
1) Almonds and Pistachios
Nuts are usually favored in health-conscious circles for a few reasons. They like the monounsaturated fat. They like the mineral profile, or the complete protein, or their ability to dissemble into nut meals and form baked goods. But what gets short shrift is the fiber content. Now, I can’t speak for other nuts, but almonds and pistachios in particular contain fiber with potent prebiotic effects. People who eat almonds and to an even greater extent pistachios end up with improved gut bacteria profiles.
2) Green Bananas
Ripe bananas are difficult to squeeze into a ketogenic diet. The green banana—an unripe one—is mostly resistant starch, a type of starch that cannot be digested and travels untouched until colonic bacteria metabolize it. It’s one of the best stimulators we know of butyric acid production. And sure, you could do a spoonful of raw potato starch to get your resistant starch, but the beauty of the green banana is that it also provides potassium, another nutrient that some find difficult to obtain and stay keto.
3) Wild Blueberries
Blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries, and strawberries are all loaded with fiber, and you should eat them. They’re lower carb than you think, they’re loaded with polyphenols, and topped with some real whipped cream they make a fantastic dessert. But wild blueberries are special. They’re smaller than other berries, which increases the amount of skin per ounce you get, and skin is where all the polyphenols and fiber lie. Heck, even the blueberry’s polyphenols have prebiotic effects on the gut biome.
A few years ago, I wrote a whole post on mushrooms. Suffice it to say, they’re quite wonderful, bordering on magical. I did not discuss the fiber they contain. It turns out that all the various mushroom polysaccharides/fibers, including beta-glucans, mannans, chitin, xylans, and galactans also act as potent prebiotics that improve the health of the host.
Your standard avocado has about 12-15 grams of fiber, if you eat the whole thing. I
Great with chili powder, salt, and lime juice, jicama is about 11 grams of carbs per cup, but half of those are inulin, a potent prebiotic fiber with a tendency to really ramp up butyrate production.
Onions are another fantastic source of inulin. They go into almost every dish of every cuisine, so there’s no excuse not to be eating onions.
I’ve been known to treat garlic like a vegetable, roasting an entire cast iron pan full until brown and sweet and chewy. They’re another great source of prebiotic fiber.
Broccolini is a major part of my favorite meal of the day—my Big-Ass Keto Salad. Broccoli (and cruciferous vegetables in general) has been shown to have modulatory effects on the gut biome.
12) Dark Chocolate
13) Animal Fiber
Obligate carnivores like cheetahs who don’t eat any plants (willingly) still have gut bacteria. These gut bacteria thrive on “animal fiber,” the gristle and cartilage and other bits of connective tissue that comprise a good 20-30% of the walking weight of a prey animal. Humans are not obligate carnivores, but eating the entire animal has been a mainstay of advanced hominid existence for millions of years. I find it very likely that something, someone, somewhere inside our guts is breaking down the animal fiber we eat—so you’d better be eating some!
Not so tough, is it? It’s not like I’m suggesting you load up on bran muffins, psyllium smoothies. I don’t want you dumping flax meal into everything or munching on those awful fiber gummies. Just eat some basic, healthy, low-carb plant matter—foods that don’t really scream “fiber”—and the rest will take care of itself.
What’s your favorite low-carb source of fiber? Let me know down below.
Thanks for reading, everyone.
Hernández E, Bargiela R, Diez MS, et al. Functional consequences of microbial shifts in the human gastrointestinal tract linked to antibiotic treatment and obesity. Gut Microbes. 2013;4(4):306-15.
Ukhanova M, Wang X, Baer DJ, Novotny JA, Fredborg M, Mai V. Effects of almond and pistachio consumption on gut microbiota composition in a randomised cross-over human feeding study. Br J Nutr. 2014;111(12):2146-52.
Jiao X, Wang Y, Lin Y, et al. Blueberry polyphenols extract as a potential prebiotic with anti-obesity effects on C57BL/6 J mice by modulating the gut microbiota. J Nutr Biochem. 2019;64:88-100.
Jayachandran M, Xiao J, Xu B. A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(9)
Nielsen ES, Garnås E, Jensen KJ, et al. Lacto-fermented sauerkraut improves symptoms in IBS patients independent of product pasteurisation – a pilot study. Food Funct. 2018;9(10):5323-5335.
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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions. First up, what can a person do to help their gut recover its barrier function after too many antibiotics? Are there any foods, supplements, or dietary strategies? Second, what can explain rapid fatigue during sprint sessions on a keto diet? Is this simply part of the deal, or are there modifications you can make? And finally, what do I do when I know I’m going to get a bad night’s sleep?
Mark – any idea how to cure leaky gut caused by overuse of antibiotics. Tried raw dairy for a month to no avail.
First of all, check out my post on leaky gut. Read through it and follow my suggestions for preventing and treating intestinal permeability. It’s a great place to start.
Then, let’s look at some other interventions that have been shown to improve recovery from antibiotic therapy. While most of the studies referenced don’t explicitly describe antibiotic-induced leaky gut, anything that improves gut function and restores healthy gut bacteria will also normalize leaky gut—since it’s the eradication of native gut bacteria that causes antibiotic-induced leaky gut.
Fermented dairy. You tried raw dairy. What about fermented dairy? While raw dairy has its merits, it’s fermented dairy that just works for recovery from antibiotics. Yogurt is a good option to try, although the evidence is a bit inconsistent. Kefir is probably better; it’s been shown to improve patients’ tolerance to triple antibiotic therapy during treatment for H. pylori infection. This is even worth consuming during antibiotic therapy, as many of the probiotic bacteria found in fermented dairy show resistance to common antibiotics.
Fermented vegetables like sauerkraut are also must-eats. The fermented cabbage contains ample amounts of L. plantarum, a bacteria strain that’s been shown to prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea in piglets (another omnivorous mammal). Good options exist in stores (check the refrigerated section; shelf-stable pickles and kraut aren’t lactofermented), and even more are available in farmer’s markets, but the best way to get the most bacteria-rich vegetable ferments is to make your own.
Supplemental probiotics are fantastic here, too: large doses of the desired microorganisms delivered directly to your gut. Some of the strains used in Primal Probiotics, like B. clausii and S. boulardii, have been shown to be effective against antibiotic-related diarrhea, so that could be a good choice.
Don’t forget the food for your gut bugs: prebiotics. You need to eat fermentable fibers and other prebiotics like resistant starch to support the growth and maintenance of the helpful bacteria that improve gut barrier function. Consider eating cooked and cooled potatoes, unheated potato starch, leeks, garlic, onions, green bananas, apples, pears, berries, and pretty much any fruit or vegetable you can get your hands on. Plenty of them are low-carb enough to work on a keto diet, if that’s your desire. Oh, and dark chocolate is a great source of fiber and polyphenols, which have prebiotic effects in the gut.
Incorporate intermittent fasting. Going without food for a spell gives your gut a break and induces autophagy, which can help with tissue healing.
Get dirty, too, to introduce potentially helpful bacteria. Go out and garden. Go barefoot at the park (do your due/doo diligence, of course) and practice tumbling, or roughhouse with your kids (or friends). Don’t immediately rush to wash your hands all the time (unless you’ve been handling raw meat and/or dog poop).
Whatever you do, don’t stress too much about the antibiotics you had to take. Stress is awful for gut health and you’ve already taken the antibiotics—which were probably necessary—so that ship has sailed.
If probiotics with prebiotics aren’t helping (or making things worse), you might want to try going the opposite direction—removing all plant foods and doing a carnivore diet for a few weeks. While I have doubts about the long term viability and safety of eschewing all plant foods, enough people have written to me about their great experiences resolving gut issues with a bout of carnivory that it’s worth trying.
When on a strict keto plan, why do I become so quickly fatigued while attempting a HIT sprint workout?
The first five seconds of a sprint are primarily powered by phosphocreatine (or creatine phosphate), a “quick burst” energy source that burns hot but disappears quickly. This is the stuff used to perform max effort Olympic lifts, short sprints, and other rapid expressions of maximum power. It doesn’t last very long and takes a couple minutes to replenish itself. A keto diet doesn’t affect our creatine phosphate levels. If anything, it should improve them if we’re eating meat.
After five seconds, anaerobic metabolism of muscle glycogen provides the lion’s share of your energy needs. The longer your sprint, the more glycogen you’ll burn. The less glycogen you carry in your muscles, the shorter your sprint. Because once you run out of creatine phosphate and glycogen, you’re left with aerobic metabolism—great for longer distances, not so great for max effort sprints.
Keto dieters tend to walk around with less glycogen in their muscles. If that’s the case, longer sprints will be harder.
If you want to keep sprinting:
Do shorter sprints. Try a 10-second hill sprint rather than a 20-second one. Really go hard. Heck, you can even do 5-second sprints and derive major benefits; just do more of them and make sure to recover in between. There’s no rule saying you have to sprint for 20-30 seconds.
Take longer rest periods. Give your muscles a chance to replenish more creatine phosphate (and take creatine or eat red meat and fish, which are the best sources of dietary creatine).
Eat 20-30 grams of carbs 30 minutes before a sprint session. See if it helps. Alternatively, you can eat the 20-30 grams of carbs after the sprint session to replenish lost glycogen stores (without really impacting your ketone adaptation, by the way).
Most people figure out their sprinting sweet spot while doing keto. They may have to play around with the dosages, durations, and rest periods, but you can usually make it work. Be open to trying new permutations.
If you knew you were going to have a poor nights sleep, what measures would you take to reduce some of the damage?
I would exercise hard that night. Normally, a bad night’s sleep tanks your insulin sensitivity the next day, giving you the insulin resistance and glucose tolerance of a diabetic. A good hard interval session the night before a bad night’s sleep, however, counters the next-day insulin resistance.
I would make the most of it. Don’t dawdle. Don’t beat yourself up because of the impending sleep deprivation. It’s going to happen. You have to accept it, not let it destroy you.
Enjoy it. A little-known acute treatment for depression is sleep deprivation. That’s right: a single night of sleep deprivation has been shown to ameliorate depression in patients with clinical depression. Sometimes the effect lasts up to several weeks. It’s not a long term or sustainable fix for clinical depression, obviously, and you can’t do it every single night—chronic sleep deprivation is a major risk factor for developing depression—but it can improve your mood if you give in to it.
I would set out a jar of cassia cinnamon. I always add cassia cinnamon to my coffee in the morning after bad sleep; cassia cinnamon the day after a bad night’s sleep attenuates the loss of insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.
That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for writing in and reading! If you have any input on today’s round of questions, let me know down below.
De vrese M, Kristen H, Rautenberg P, Laue C, Schrezenmeir J. Probiotic lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in a fermented milk product with added fruit preparation reduce antibiotic associated diarrhea and Helicobacter pylori activity. J Dairy Res. 2011;78(4):396-403.
Bekar O, Yilmaz Y, Gulten M. Kefir improves the efficacy and tolerability of triple therapy in eradicating Helicobacter pylori. J Med Food. 2011;14(4):344-7.
Erginkaya Z, Turhan EU, Tatl? D. Determination of antibiotic resistance of lactic acid bacteria isolated from traditional Turkish fermented dairy products. Iran J Vet Res. 2018;19(1):53-56.
Yang KM, Jiang ZY, Zheng CT, Wang L, Yang XF. Effect of Lactobacillus plantarum on diarrhea and intestinal barrier function of young piglets challenged with enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli K88. J Anim Sci. 2014;92(4):1496-503.
Jitomir J, Willoughby DS. Cassia cinnamon for the attenuation of glucose intolerance and insulin resistance resulting from sleep loss. J Med Food. 2009;12(3):467-72.
The post Dear Mark: Antibiotic Recovery, Sprinting on Keto, Preparing for Bad Sleep appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering several questions drawn from the comment board of last week’s post on fasting vs carb restriction. First, how do I square my recommendations with the successful reports of potato dieters losing weight on a high-carb tuber diet? Second, is Leangains optimal for mass gain? Third, how do I use extra virgin olive oil, butter, and ghee? Fourth, could exogenous ketones help a man with dementia, MS, and seizures? Fifth, how should a woman with stalled weight loss integrate fasting?
Walter Sobchak asked:
If “carbs” are so bad, how do people eat only potatoes and lose large amounts of weight? Andrew Taylor (SpudFit.com) and Penn Jillette (Penn & Teller) are two high-profile people, but there are lots more. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend an unbalanced diet of only one food, but the point is that potatoes are a natural food and are not inherently detrimental.
I agree that potato-only diets are a quick weight loss hack.
Potato-only diets work well because they’re so monotonous. When your only option is a plain potato, it’s extremely hard to overeat. It’s the combination of fat and carbohydrates that’s so easy to overeat, and that causes the most metabolic problems.
Potatoes are surprisingly nutrient-dense. They have complete protein, containing all the necessary amino acids. You won’t be bodybuilding on all-potatoes, but there’s enough protein in there to stave off muscle loss for a week or so.
I could recommend the potato-only diet, ditch the keto/low-carb/Primal talk, and people who listened to me would still lose weight. But they’d miss out on all the other benefits, not least of which is the delicious food. In short, the potato-only diet isn’t the worst thing out there, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a long-term strategy.
Mattias Carlsson asked:
I have a question for advice if someone know. According to most sources I find the so called anabolic window persist at least 24 hours after resistance training. How can then an intermittent fasting with 8 hour eating as in lean gains, from what I understand, be optimal on training days. It seems to me that a bit of overeating on carbs and protein during all this time would be most beneficial?
I don’t know that it’s optimal for sheer mass gain. But it does seem to strike a nice balance between “gains” and “staying lean.” You may not bulk up as quickly as you would cramming food in your gullet. You will gain lean mass without gaining so much of the squishy mass that normally accompanies what passes for “gains.”
Michael Levin wondered:
Question: EVOO, Ghee and grass-fed butter–which to use when and for what?
EVOO: salads, marinades, sautéing. It’s actually far more resistant to heat than most people think; the polyphenols protect against oxidative damage.
Butter: Cooking eggs and other breakfast items, melted with broccoli/shrimp, finishing steaks and reduction sauces.
Beth Olson asked:
What are your thoughts on exogenous ketones? My dad has MS and dementia and seizures way too often. Should we try adding these?
I can’t give your dad any medical advice. You can talk to his doctors, however, and show them this study where exogenous ketones reduced seizure activity in mice. You can show them that coconut oil and MCT oil—two other routes for generation of ketones—have shown efficacy against cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
I suspect exogenous ketones can help. I also suspect they’d be far more helpful on top of a low-carb, high-fat diet with plenty of healthy lifestyle modifications.
That’s the thing with dementia: there isn’t a pill that fixes everything, or even a single intervention. In the one study that actually got major results, researchers had Alzheimer’s patients undertake a dramatic diet, exercise, and lifestyle shift. Here’s what each subject did:
- Eliminate all simple carbs and follow a low-glycemic, low-grain (especially refined grains) diet meant to reduce hyperinsulinemia.
- Observe a 12-hour eating window and 12-hour fast each day, including at least three hours before bed.
- Stress reduction (yoga, meditation, whatever works for the individual).
- Get 8 hours of sleep a night (with melatonin if required).
- Do 30-60 minutes of exercise 4-6 days per week.
- Get regular brain stimulation (exercises, games, crosswords).
- Supplement to optimize homocysteine, vitamin B12, CRP levels.
- Take vitamin D and vitamin K2.
- Improve gut health (prebiotics and probiotics).
- Eat antioxidant-rich foods and spices (blueberries, turmeric).
- Optimize hormone balance (thyroid panel, cortisol, pregnenolone, progesterone, estrogen, testosterone).
- Obtain adequate DHA to support synaptic health (fish oil, fish).
- Optimize mitochondrial function (CoQ10, zinc, selenium, other nutrients).
- Use medium chain triglycerides (coconut oil, MCT oil). You could possibly use exogenous ketones here too.
Bring that study to your dad’s doctors and see what they have to say. If they aren’t blown away by the possibilities and open to give it a try, I’d be shocked. Hopefully your dad is game. I’d love to hear how it works.
Lisa Chupity asked:
I went Primal/Paleo back in March of 2012. I lost the 15 pounds I wanted to lose. In 2015, 7 pounds crept on, and for the life of me, I can’t lose ‘em! April of this year, I went Keto. I track my macros, and do my best to keep my carbs to 20 grams per day, tho I don’t beat myself up if I have 24. I haven’t lost an ounce! I’m going to have to do the IF thing, I’m sure. As it is, my breakfast is bone broth (1 1/2 cups) and a mug of Coffee with Brain Octane in it. Lunch is yer basic “Big Ass Salad”. Dinner is good, too, and within Keto guidelines. I try to keep my caloric intake to ~1600 calories/day.
To add to the mess, I have Multiple Sclerosis, so stuff like Cross Fit is outta the picture. I can manage some stationary cycling, and some Pilates, with lighter modifications. Any advice?
If you try IF, do the “early restricted feeding” rather than late. You’re already doing a kind of “fast” in the morning, just drinking broth and coffee with MCTs, and it doesn’t seem to be working.
Eat some fat and protein for breakfast with a few carbs. Eggs and bacon with a side of cantaloupe or berries. An omelet with spinach and onions and cheese. Steak and greens and half a banana. Emphase whole-food fat and protein. Have coffee and broth, too, if you like. This and lunch should be your biggest whack of calories.
Eat your Big Ass Salad for lunch. Drop dinner, or make it really light and no later than 5 or 6 PM.
Terry Wahls has a great Primal-friendly MS protocol. Check out her Ted talk and go from there if it interests you.
Good luck and keep us apprised of your results.
That’s it for today, folks. Take care, be well, thanks for reading and writing!
The post Dear Mark: Potato Diet, Lean Gains, EVOO/Butter/Ghee, Exogenous Ketones, and Early IFing appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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