This post may contain affiliate links.
Thanks for joining us for episode 52 of The Ancestral RD podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show!
Sean Bissell is the author of The First Diet. He’s also a dad to two boys, a husband, and a nutrition nut who lives in the Seattle area. At age 20, Sean began having debilitating headaches. Doctors discovered after giving Sean a CAT scan that he had significant plaque buildup in the arteries leading to his brain. But the doctors did not have any solutions to solve this problem. Sean obsessively researched the condition and found that the plaque was a result of specific substances in his diet. He took steps to reverse the damage and after changing his diet, his headaches stopped. That success triggered a lifelong dedication to the study of health to help himself, his boys, his wife, and anyone who’s interested to thrive.
Are you confused about what a healthy diet is these days? With the overload of conflicting information about which foods are healthy and which are not, popular strict diets, and confusing studies, the act of eating can turn into a stressful situation.
After his own health scare, Sean began researching and cooking his way to health. His book The First Diet provides a refreshing way to approach nutrition offering guidelines to help you determine your individualized approach to eating.
Today Sean shares what he learned about nutrition that is biochemically compatible with human physiology and what the first human diet would have looked like. Listen to our discussion of easy to understand explanations about controversial foods such as carbohydrates, fats, and sugar to support metabolism and start peeling back the haze of confusion surrounding eating. Equally as important, you may be surprised to learn that diet is not the most important determinant of health!
Here are some of the questions we discussed with Sean:
- What happened as far as what your diet was, and then what diet you changed to help reverse that damage in your brain?
- How long were you on the low carb, Paleo diet, and what was your experience with that diet?
- What’s your opinion about sugar and a high carb diet? Why do you recommend not only people eating a high carb diet, but also not being afraid to have sugar in their diet?
- One of the things that you mentioned in the book is that people who are anti carbs tend to talk about de novo lipogenesis as being a reason that carbs are bad, that you can turn carbs into fat, and any time you over eat on carbs it’s going to get turned into fat. Is that totally true?
- Is the problem with sugar just that it’s always combined with fat? Or do you think there’s any problem with eating sugar at all?
- What kind of problems have you seen in people that are doing an inappropriately low carb diet?
- Can you tell our audience a little bit about how eating a high carb diet affects the metabolism?
- How did you come up with the recommended limits for fat, and what’s the reason for keeping fat at those levels?
- Is there a specific reason that you think avoiding omega 6 and omega 3 fats is a good way to go for the average person?
- Tell our audience a little bit about your philosophy about diet and how you came to the conclusion that diet is not as important as a lot of people make it out to be?
Laura: Hey, everyone. Laura Schoenfeld here and unlike usual, Kelsey Marksteiner is not with us today. She’s actually on somewhat a vacation/retreat to California for a health retreat that she’s working at. So today instead of talking with Kelsey to a guest, I’m actually going to be interviewing our guest on my own. But before I get started, let’s hear a word from our sponsor.
Alright, so I am really excited to have our guest on with us today.
Sean Bissell is the author of the First Diet. He’s also a dad to two boys, a husband, and a nutrition nut who lives in the Seattle area. At age 20, Sean began having debilitating headaches. Doctors discovered after giving Sean a CAT scan that he had significant plaque buildup in the arteries leading to his brain. But the doctors did not have any solutions to solve this problem. Sean obsessively researched the condition and found that the plaque was a result of specific substances in his diet. He took steps to reverse the damage and after changing his diet, his headaches stopped. That success triggered a lifelong dedication to the study of health to help himself, his boys, his wife, and anyone who’s interested to thrive.
So welcome, Sean. Thanks for being on here with me today.
Sean: Thanks, Laura. I’m excited to be here. I really enjoy your podcast.
Laura: Thank you, and I was introduced to your work from a fellow dietitian who had your book with him when he came to interview me and my mom for a documentary on the omega 6 fat issue. I was saying to Sean before we got on the call that I read this book in a two hour flight from Raleigh to Miami basically. It was a very quick read and I really enjoyed it. And I just thought the information that you provided in the book was presented in a way that not only seemed from a biochemical perspective really accurate, but it was very… I don’t want to say approachable, it sounds a little strange to call a book approachable. But it just gave you the bare basics to follow a generally healthy diet and didn’t take it to that level of extreme where it starts to confuse people or starts to give people anxiety about whether they’re doing something right or not.
After I read that book, I thought it be really great to have you on the podcast to talk to you a little bit about your nutrition philosophy and how you came to follow the diet that you do follow since it’s a little unique, and we’ll talk about it.
But first what I want to talk to you about is your experience with a typical Paleo diet. Actually, let me back up for a second. So with your plaque buildup in the arteries in your brain, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Sean’s interview, I think it would be great to hear…or I’m sorry not interview, his work…I think it would be great to hear what happened as far as what your diet was and then what diet you changed to help reverse that damage you were having in your brain.
Sean: I mean first of all, thank you for that incredible intro. I really appreciate it. I’m glad that you were able to read the book that fast. My point of the book was make it slippery, so to speak. I wanted to just make it really easy to absorb and understand while still getting everything that you needed to know in there. So I like that.
Laura: Which is very challenging, so I applaud you for being able to do that.
Sean: Thank you and I appreciate that you read the whole thing. That’s great.
But the going on to the point of that whole scary experience with the plaque in the arteries going to my brain, that was a while ago. That was back when I was in college and that was a good like I want to say 15 years ago, maybe 14. I was out of college. I kind of went into the wide world of having to figure out what to eat on your own, not being under the wing of my mom cooking food for our entire family. I just went and ate cafeteria food at the cafeteria.
And then I ended up changing schools due to having a better program at another school. And when I changed to the other school, I joined a fraternity and at that fraternity there was a…we hired a chef and did that on the very cheap because nobody wanted to pay a ton for a chef. I guess you can loosely call her a chef. I liked her, she was a self-admitted heroin addict and she was in treatment for that. But she did not care much about our nutrition at all and just ended up deep fat frying everything. Everything was totally artificial like margarine and everything came out of a package or was frozen. There was just deep fat fried every single thing you could ever think of.
And to make matter worse, I started getting into lifting weights and trying to keep up with the body builders in my fraternity. They kind of took me under their wing, and alongside of that body builder’s mentality is you got to eat a ton of food. So I ended up eating even more of that not so great food. I just started just having these huge like brain freeze times ten headaches while I was lifting in the gym. I’d end up on the floor, and nauseous, and just dizzy, and just curled up in a ball, and just my head just felt like it was in a crazy brain freeze. I didn’t think of anything at the beginning. I though that’s just what happens. People push through it. I must have been working out right.
Laura: Oh my gosh.
Sean: Yeah. I mean it’s still prevalent, that idea. You go to some of these group coaching classes and you see people doing the same thing. I mean I really didn’t think I had an issue. I just thought I wasn’t strong enough.
Laura: Fit enough.
Sean: Yeah, exactly. Then they got just so bad that there was obviously something wrong. I went and saw a doctor because of it. They flipped out because the symptoms were I guess enough where they thought I needed a brain scan. That gave me the result of the plaque in my arteries. But weirdly enough, doctors, they don’t usually give nutritional guidance and they didn’t have anything that they recommended I do. So I was just on my own.
The biggest change that I made though that helped my health and turned it around was honestly just cooking for myself and doing research, just getting off of that food. I didn’t really know what I was doing in the beginning, although I was researching a ton. But I stopped eating that food and I started going to the store, and using my own money, and cooking a long side of the chef, which was weird. But I just wasn’t eating their food and I was using the kitchen to make my own.
That made a big difference, not right away, but I was pretty convinced that it was due to what I referred to in the book as cold weather fats. Cutting those out, I mean basically all of our deep fat fryers were using huge vats of soy oil, like partially hydrogenated soy oil. That was a very significant factor in the overall calories of my diet.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Sean: That was one of the biggest contributors. Beyond that, I think I was severely low in vitamins and minerals. I don’t think I was getting many at all really, just with all the processed food. Getting that in check also helped as well. Does that kind of make sense? I kind of feel I went on a tangent.
Laura: No, that’s great. When you say cold weather fats, can you describe what that means to the audience?
Sean: Yeah. It’s a little tricky to describe. In the book The First Diet, it starts out explaining that the first human remains were found in Ethiopia, which is right around the equator around 200,000 years ago, it was dated at that. So they think around 200,000 years ago was the first humans were evolved, and we evolved around the tropical areas of the world around the equator. In that area, it’s very warm. It’s warm and you’re warm blooded too. Your internal temperature is around 98.6 degrees. So those fats that are compatible with our bodies are growing in that area, and those fats are mainly found in like palm trees, and animals, and foods like that. You see coconuts in the tropical areas, you see avocados in tropical areas. They’re more stable in warm weather and those are monounsaturated fats and saturated fats.
If you move away from the equator and you go north or south, you find fish like salmon. Imagine if a salmon were to be made of saturated fat. If you put saturated fat in the refrigerator, like the cold water, it would freeze up.
Laura: Turn solid.
Sean: Yeah. If you’re a fish, you don’t want to turn solid in the water, you need mobility. So they are more of cold weather fats, which are stable in the cold. Those are chemically less stable than saturated and monounsaturated fats and they don’t do as well in warm temperatures. Does that makes sense?
Laura: Yeah. So when we say warm temperatures, we’re not just talking about the weather that we live in. We’re also thinking about our body temperature. Is that right?
Sean: Yeah, great point. It doesn’t matter if it’s freezing outside and you eat cold weather fat because when you put it into your body, that fat is now 98.6 degrees because it’s inside you.
Laura: Yeah. I think that’s something that people don’t necessarily think about I know on both ends of the spectrum when we talk about nutrition. The Paleo community may not think that high levels of omega 3 fats, for example, would be an inappropriate to eat in our diet because a lot of people that are new to Paleo or on the cross fit kind of nutrition plan, they’re taking multiple grams a day of fish oil capsules and everyone just thinks that’s the super healthy thing to do.
And on the other hand, in the conventional nutrition world, you have people saying that saturated fats are bad for you because they’re going to clog your arteries. And the polyunsaturated fats like vegetable oils, canola oil, soybean oil, those kind of things, are the healthier fats to use.
I know the most recent dietary guidelines reduced the restriction on fat as far as a percentage of calories, but also it is still even more to this day promoting those omega 6 fats. So it’s almost like they’re saying don’t worry about eating fat, but eat omega 6 fats, which cold potential be even worse than someone avoiding fats in general, in my opinion and maybe your opinion as well.
Laura: The whole omega 6, omega 3, saturated, monounsaturated fat, I’d love to talk a little bit more about that in a minute.
As far as your diet is concerned, so you were eating this really bad, nutrient poor, super artificial foods diet and your fraternity. Then you started cooking for yourself. I think I remember in the book you saying at some point you were on a low carb Paleo type diet for a while. Is that right?
Sean: Yeah because what’s weird about getting into nutrition is you start researching and looking around and you find like oh wow, there’s the Paleo diet, there’s the Mediterranean diet. I was curious and I wanted to try a lot of different things. One of those things that I tried was the low carb Paleo approach. That was less born out of research and more born out of me going to cross fit and just finding that everybody was doing that. So lots of really strong, very athletic people on this low carb Paleo approach, it must be good right?
Laura: Right. How long were you on that approach, the diet for?
Sean: I would say I did not put a marker around the edges when I started and stopped, but probably a year.
Laura: What was your experience with that diet?
Sean: At the beginning, it’s great because I mean I’m not going to go into why. I think you know why. There’s this little honeymoon period that seems to happen with low carb. But you lose some body fat and especially if you’re working out, and you’re not eating as much inadvertently but just because of restriction of, oh wait, I can’t eat that, I can’t eat that, I can’t that. But you get a little bit more energy, you feel like you’re losing a little bit of weight, and you feel kind of special because you know this knowledge that nobody else knows and you’re elite like all the other people. It just feels great at the beginning.
Then you start to zonk out, or I don’t know what you would call it, but you like bonk at the gym. You start to just like hit a wall. You have lower energy all of a sudden out of nowhere, you get more tired. It just sort like crashes I guess is the dumb but good way to put it.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Sean: You were doing the low carb thing for a while too, right?
Laura: Yeah, I mean I don’t know if I was recently doing anything that was specifically low carb. I know I did a short bout of low carbing in college and I definitely had that experience where the first six months it was great. I lost I think like 10-15 pounds very easily, which at that time I didn’t really have that much weight to lose. I got super lean. And when that happens you suddenly feel like, oh this is the holy grail of nutrition, this is perfect working this way. Then I was doing some cross fit, and again, got exposed to the Paleo diet and then added that component into it. It was funny because when I first switched to Paleo, I think I was getting 50 percent of my calories from nuts.
Sean: Oh wow.
Laura: I just had this massive bag of almonds and stuff. So I just didn’t know what else to eat a lot of the times. This was when I was just starting my nutrition program and that was like my convenience food. When you’re in grad school, you can’t just be cooking all day, you know?
Laura: If I didn’t have anything to eat, I would just go get this bag of nuts and just eat it until I wasn’t hungry anymore, which is funny because now I think I might have nuts like twice a week at most, or something. And it’s maybe like a tablespoon of nut butter in a smoothie, if that. Things have changed, for sure.
But for my own experience, I’ve been training with a strength and conditioning coach for the last year. Carbophobia is what I call it when you’re afraid to add carbs in because of all the rhetoric around carbs and sugar and all that. It’s something that even as a nutrition professional, and even knowing what I know about nutrition, it’s really hard to get over that. And I don’t even mean from a I’m still afraid of carbs perspective, I just mean you basically have to retrain yourself how to cook because a lot of times if you’ve been on a low carb Paleo diet for a while, you just get used to doing like meat and vegetable and bunch of fat. Trying to remember how to make carbs that actually work for you from a gut health and a nutrient density perspective, it can be very challenging.
But for me, and this is something that one of the reasons I connected with your book so well because I kind of discovered this macronutrient ratio for myself, having a very high carb, moderate protein, lower fat Paelo diet has actually really been almost miraculous for my performance at the gym. I have a joke running with coach now that I PR every time I work out. It’s sort of a joke, but it’s also true because literally the last, I don’t know, month, every workout that I’ve gone to has included at least one PR.
I attribute that partially, not 100 percent, but significantly to the fact that I’m trying to get at least 200 grams a day, even on off days. Then on my training days, I try to get closer to 250-280 grams of carbs in a day, which coming from a Paleo approach definitely takes a lot of thought and preparation. Knowing what carbs are in what, and knowing what volume of food you have to eat to get there, also being a little bit liberal with sugar. So not being afraid to add sugar to things that appropriately would taste good with sugar, or having lots of fruit, or I have a pile of bananas on my kitchen table that’s probably like 15 bananas right now.
So it’s one of those thing that for me, having a background in the Paleo diet, and being a nutritionist, and going through a typical RD program where they teach you that the Food Pyramid is the way to eat and that saturated fat is bad for you, there’s a lot of conflicting information that I‘ve been exposed to over the course of the last, I don’t know, 5 plus years of me really being into it. It’s taken a lot of self-experimentation and also work with my clients to figure out that carbs and low carb diets honestly, my experience is that for the vast majority of people, especially anyone who’s active whatsoever, they’re not really something that works long term and it can usually cause problems in people, especially if they’re doing things like cross fit or high intensity interval training. My personal experience and my experience with clients shows that carbs are very, very misunderstood in the Paleo community and that’s one of the reasons that I really liked your book a lot because it was just such a different approach to carbs.
Let’s actually talk about carbs a little bit because carbs are one of those hot button topics in Paleo always. I feel like we’re still at the point where eating carbs is still considered radical in the Paleo world. Sugar is something that you write about in your book that I don’t think a lot of Paleo people would be okay with. So I would love to hear your opinion about sugar, and a high carb diet, and why you recommend not only people eating a high carb diet, but also not being afraid to have sugar in their diet.
Sean: Yeah. I mean it’s kind of funny that we call it a high carb diet because if you do look at general population, even the diabetes recommendations for people with diabetes, I mean type 2, they’re not like low carb recommendations. I mean going to 200 grams of carbohydrates a day, in my mind it’s not high, but coming from a low carb perspective it defiantly seems high.
Laura: Right. Well for me it seems high because of the volume of food that I eat on a high carb diet.
Sean: Yeah, I mean which is nice though, right? It makes you feel like you’re eating more. But maybe that’s an inconvenience, like you said, for some people.
Laura: For me, sometimes it is. I will say the one convenient thing about being low carb is you can just like put some coconut oil in a beverage and get through a couple hours of not having food. Whereas when you’re on a higher carb diet, and you’re like oh my gosh, I have to eat like two cups of sweet potatoes at this meal to get the carbs I need. It’s like I don’t’ even know if I have room for that right now. It’s been an adjustment.
Sean: I’m glad you’re feeling better in the gym though. That’s really good.
Laura: Oh, yeah.
Sean: And making more PRs. That’s great. You got some good pull ups lately I hear.
Laura: Yes, well that was something I never saw coming.
Sean: Just magical carbs.
Laura: Chin up fuel. I mean it’s serious. It sounds silly. I like to talk about this with our audience because I have so many clients that they, I think they get the idea that carbs are not bad for them. But when they start to add carbs back in, it’s still like we’re looking at they’re eating 140 grams of carbs per day and they think that’s a high carb diet.
For your book, you recommend that everyone should be eating, and when you say everyone, I mean we’re talking about mostly everyone. We’re not talking about people that have epilepsy that need a ketogenic diet that they need to control their seizures.
Sean: Oh yeah, general, general.
Laura: There’s a lot of therapeutic applications and ironically we just had an interview with a ketogenic diet expert. So I don’t want people to be confused and think we’re like not on the same page here. But for the average person for a health maintenance approach that doesn’t have any serious health issues that need a low carb diet, you recommend a minimum 200 grams a day, which I think a lot of people listening would think is just outrageously high. That being the minimum, I’m sure you would say certain people would go up to like 3 or 400 grams per day.
Laura: Why did you come to the conclusion that this higher carb approach was the right way to go for the average person?
Sean: Well carbs are very supportive of your metabolism and that is one of the major points of The First Diet is keeping your metabolism strong or potentially increasing it if it’s low right now. Carbs support your metabolism in a lot of different ways. First off, I mean there’s probably too many to go into right now, but let’s try to hit some high points. Number one, your muscles are the biggest driver of your metabolism in terms of the energy usage that you are going to be going through in a day.
Laura: And that includes at rest. So even when you’re sitting on the couch.
Sean: Yeah, absolutely. Your muscle needs a lot more energy just to stay around. So that’s why people with a lot bigger muscle mass can eat a lot more and not gain any weight. If they stop eating so much, they kind of start to shrivel up and they get smaller because it’s the first thing that goes, is your muscle a lot of times because it just really metabolically expensive so to speak. Carbs preserve your muscle because your body runs or wants to run on carbohydrates.
Your brain just runs through about 120 grams of carbohydrates in any given day just kind of hanging around. That can go up or down a little bit, maybe a little bit more if you’re thinking really hard or something like that. But just generally around 120 or so. There’s no storage capacity for carbohydrates in your brain. It’s not like a muscle where it just absorbs them. So running through them all the time and it needs carbs.
It’s going to start pulling from other areas of your body to try to get them, and if you don’t’ have any in your body, you’re going to start to convert your muscle into carbohydrates through a process of gluconeogenesis. That’s either going to take it from your muscles directly, or it will just use the protein that you eat in your diet and convert it. Your body’s going to get carbs no matter what, unless you’re on a ketogenic diet which is hard to maintain as you probably know from that interview, even if you’re eating protein much at all it’s going to convert to carbs and knock you out of ketosis.
Sean: So even people on a low carb diet, they probably don’t, unless they’re legitimately in ketosis which is hard to maintain. You have to like go really low carb, really low protein, really high fat. Is that what you understand as well?
Laura: Yeah, and it can get even more complicated when you throw stress hormones into the mix.
Sean: Yeah, because it can catabolize your muscles, right?
Laura: Right. And when your cortisol is high, it’s going to be asking your liver to do more gluconeogenesis.
Laura: And then that can kick you out of ketosis. Ketosis is one of those things that I think people assume it’s a lot easier to be in ketosis than it is.
Sean: Yea, it’s tough.
Laura: I think that’s a good point when you’re thinking about what the body’s preferred fuel source is. Because I think in the Paleo community we hear a lot of people saying, yeah, fat is your body’s preferred fuel source, and you want to be fat adapted, and all that stuff. But it doesn’t really make sense why your body would jump out of fat burning as fast as it could as soon as carbs are available.
Sean: Absolutely. If your body really wanted to use ketones, it would be making them more often. And any chance it gets, it wouldn’t pop itself back out.
Sean: I mean if you want to say something is the preferred fuel source just because it’s available, then alcohol is the body’s preferred fuel source because you drink alcohol that’s going to go first into energy. I don’t think the ketones argument holds up under that type of umbrella.
But anyhow, if you’re low carb and you’re eating protein, that protein just going to get converted back to carbs to just to fuel your brain. So you’re not getting the protein you think you’re getting through your diet to build muscle to support your metabolism, and you might be losing some muscle because you’re not supporting the mechanisms to keep yourself in an anabolic state.
Sean: Insulin, which is oftentimes an evil subject as well, but that helps build more muscle, it helps shuttle nutrients into your cells, it helps bring glucose into your cells, it helps keep yourself in a more anabolic state which is good. You don’t want that all the time, but you want an ebb and flow.
Laura: Right. Was this your book that was saying how a lot of people refer to insulin as the fat storage hormone? Or am I think this was something else I was reading?
Sean: I think it is mentioned in the book, so that could be.
Sean: I’ve heard it more than just my book.
Laura: Maybe I was actually looking at someone else’s books that was talking about what insulin does and they refer to it as the storage hormone. I’m like, you guys know that that’s not the only thing that insulin does, right? It’s not just there to store fat.
Sean: Well, fat can get stored in your cells without insulin. It doesn’t need insulin to get into your cells.
Laura: I think it would only need insulin to create fat from glucose. Is that right? To be able to turn the glucose that you eat in excess into fat, it would need to have insulin there to do so?
Sean: You need insulin to get it into your cell in the first place. The only place it’s going to turn into fat is inside your cells. You would need it. High levels of insulin does kind of lock up fat in your system and it doesn’t let it back out again. So that’s I think why people think that it’s the fat storage hormone meaning that it keeps fat in your cells while insulin is elevated. But if you’re not eating 24 hours a day, and if you eat and your insulin goes up temporarily to store those carbohydrates and to keep yourself in an anabolic state, and then it will go back down again, and then it will let out some fat, and it will use your fat to do things like make more hormones or burn it for energy. Then you eat again, it goes back up. It’s like a tide.
Sean: Rising and falling. You don’t want a stagnant pool. Stagnant pools end up getting algae, and weird stuff, and frogs, and it starts to get stinky. You want movement in your body, like exercise. You want things to go up and down. You want your insulin to go up and then back down. You want your blood sugar to go up and then back down. I mean you want it to move around.
Sean: Artificially keeping it low is probably not a good idea.
Laura: Yeah and I think a lot of people that I’ve worked with experienced the issue they become insulin resistant because they’re not having enough of that insulin response after they eat. And then when they do eat carbs, then they’re blood sugar shoots through the roof because they are slightly insulin resistant. Then that actually adds into that perpetual belief that oh, well that just means I can’t tolerate carbs because whenever I eat carbs my blood sugars go crazy.
And it’s hard to explain to people that if you’re coming from a low carb approach and you want to switch over to a moderate to high carb approach, you have to give your body some time to be ready to deal with that influx of carbs that it hasn’t been dealing with for however long you’ve been on the low carb diet. That’s something we struggle with some of your students in our Paleo Rehab program who are trying to add more carbs back in because they get very gun shy when they are testing their blood sugar and they see it jump up after a higher carb meal than what they’ve been eating and it can really scare people.
The other sad part of that is I think people have been misled as far as what a high post prandial blood sugar reading is. We’ve had a couple of students that we’ve had to correct because they were really worried that their blood sugar had jumped up to 120 after they ate, like an hour after they ate. And we were like, that’s totally normal!
Sean: Yeah, that’s pretty normal.
Laura: So you don’t have to worry about that! It’s just been an interesting reeducation process. I feel like, like I said, your book does a really good job of explaining how this all works from a very basic biochemical level because as I’m sure you’re aware, biochemistry can get very complicated.
Sean: Oh yea. I didn’t want to go in the weeds because that’s where people get lost and confused and think they have a magical pill because they found that this converts to this or something.
Sean: And they don’t look at the big picture. Like oh wait, that doesn’t matter, wait, never mind.
Laura: And looking at how the body stores glucose and understanding that, and actually I’d love to talk about this a little bit, understanding that it’s not easy for the body to turn glucose into fat. Actually let’s talk about that.
Sean: Sure, yeah.
Laura: One of the things that you mentioned in the book is that people who are anti carbs tends tend to talk about de novo lipogenesis as being a reason that carbs are bad, that you can turn carbs into fat and any time you over eat on carbs, it’s going to get turned into fat. Is that totally true? Or is there some nuance there that’s being left out?
Sean: There seems to be, like you said, just this belief that you eat too many carbs and they just turn into fat. If you look, just go Google it, just simply Google the scientific term for that. Don’t ask the question to Google. Don’t say like…
Laura: Do carbs make me fat?
Sean: Yeah, don’t do that because you’re going to get a bunch of people talking. Go look at a paper or something. Go look at the definition of de novo lipogenesis and that is what you need to look at. You will find that it’s very rare that it happens in humans and that it takes a lot of energy to make that even happen in the first place. You have to cram a ton of glucose through your mitochondria, through the krebs cycle, and then start to throw off all the building blocks for it to build a piece of fat, and then that has to happen only when you are completely full on your reserves of carbohydrates in the first place.
Laura: And that means when you talk about your reserves, you mean not only are your liver glycogen stores full, but also your muscle glycogen stores are full too.
Laura: So like you were saying in the book, eating carbs in excess as long as you’re not eating a ton of fat on top of them, is actually quite difficult to do, right?
Sean: I think it is. Yeah. I mean the problem creeps up when you start thinking that carbs are donuts, and carbs are French fries, and things that have a lot of fat along with the carbs. That combination can get you into trouble. High carb, high fat, if you’re doing too many calories, then you’re going to run into trouble there.
Laura: Which I think most Americans, that’s the kind of diet that there following. They’re doing both high carb, and high fat, and too many calories. I think that’s where this sugar question comes in, if sugar’s really that bad for you. Maybe you can speak a little bit to this about, in your book you mention that it’s very hard to overeat on pure sugar. So what do you think the problem, if there even is a problem with sugar, is it that it’s just always combined with fat? Or do you think there’s any problem with eating sugar at all?
Sean: I mean yeah, there’s a problem with eating sugar. But I don’t think sugar by itself is bad. But if you overeat on anything, you’re going to run into trouble. If you overeat, that’s just common sense, right?
Laura: Mm hmm.
Sean: But, I think a lot of people think that sugar is bad because of fructose. Because if you look at sugar, sugar in the technical sense is only two molecules shoved together. It’s glucose and it’s fructose. Glucose is the same thing as you find a sweet potato essentially. Glucose is the same thing as you find in rice, and bread, and all those other types of starches.
Laura: And in your blood whenever you eat anything that has carbohydrates in it.
Sean: Yeah, in your blood. Yeah, absolutely.
Laura: Clearly not a toxin.
Sean: Yeah, well I mean that is what gets confusing is that you’ll read a news report that says eating a potato turns into sugar in your blood. And they’re just twisting terminology because blood glucose is referred to as blood sugar, but it’s not the same thing as table sugar, which then gets everyone confused. It would be more accurate to say eating a potato turns into blood glucose in your blood. Anyhow, it’s definitely not a toxin.
But fructose is what makes sugar sweet. It’s what makes fruit sweet. It’s what makes honey sweet. It’s a sweet tasting sugar. That’s why potatoes don’t really taste sweet is because they don’t really have any fructose in it. Fructose is what gets the bad wrap I think. People think that fructose will spike your insulin, that it will spike your blood sugar, that it goes and does all these bad things.
Another Goggle search will just…all you have to do is say what is the glycemic index of fructose, for example. That will tell you what it does to your blood sugar on a general basis. You’ll find that it’s basically the same as a carrot, or a little bit less. So eating a potato is going to spike your blood sugar more than eating a banana, or even eating table sugar. A sweet potato versus table sugar, I think a sweet potato is going to spike it more than table sugar. I’m not sure how the whole sugar spikes your insulin thing started, but it has less of an impact on you insulin that other things because fructose does not stimulate insulin.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Sean: A lot of things will tell you that fructose goes straight to your liver, so it’s a toxin because alcohol goes straight to your liver, and alcohol is a toxin, and other toxins will go straight to your liver. Well, MCT oil goes straight to your liver too. I mean there’s a lot of things that will go straight to your liver. It’s a processing organ. One of the things that goes to your liver is fructose, but it goes there to help restore your glucose because fructose converts to glucose and it’s gets stored in your liver. When your blood sugar dips, the first place that your body is going to go to get more blood sugar is your liver.
Sean: If you don’t have enough in there, you’re going to start pulling from your stress hormones and other places to liberate whatever it has available.
Laura: And you’ll have to make sure I’m right about this since my biochemistry classes were a couple years ago, but I believe that the carbohydrate, or the glycogen stored in your muscle generally can only be used by your muscle. So if your brain needs glucose, and your blood sugar is dropping, and you have all this glucose stored in your muscles, that’s not where the glucose is coming from.
Sean: Not nearly as easy.
Laura: So your liver really needs to have as much glucose as possible stored so that when you’re blood sugar does begin to dip, it can bring it back up.
Sean: Yeah. So that’s one of the main benefits of sugar is if you get fructose and your diet, it’ll go straight to your liver, it’ll fuel up your liver, it will get it nice and full of carbohydrates so when your blood sugar dips, it’ll come to the rescue and help you with less stress than otherwise. If they’re all, like you said, all the carbohydrates are locked up in your muscles, that’s great for working out.
Sean: But not so great if in the middle of the night you’re waking up in a cold sweat because you might be low on carbs and you’re trying to, you got an adrenaline response.
Laura: Right, and I think for a lot of people that experience hunger and shakiness in between meals and they believe that oh, it’s because I eat too many carbs and I should be running on fat as my fuel source because that’ll help me not be hungry between meals. My personal theory is that the reason why people are not hungry between meals on a low carb is not just because of the glucose thing, but I also think they’re stress hormones in general are higher.
Sean: Oh yeah.
Laura: And stress hormones definitely reduce appetite. So if your liver is full of glucose or glycogen, not all the time, obviously it’s going to get emptied out occasionally. But if it’s generally got enough in there to keep your blood sugar steady in between meals, then you shouldn’t be having these blood sugar dips where you feel like hypoglycemic in between meals.
Sean: Yeah. You theoretically have a lot less and I think it works in the real world for sure.
Laura: It’s funny because I think a lot people in the Paleo community believe that a high carb diet would cause hypoglycemia between meals because your sugar burning.
Sean: Yeah because they think it crashes. Yeah your sugar burning, you crash or whatever, and insulin goes up and then down. That’s what we kind of want. If your liver is going and working the way it should be, then you are going to run into periods of time where your blood sugar runs on low, but then your liver kicks in and brings it back up again. That’s the whole checks and balance, the whole process is supposed to work that way. But if you’re trying to cheat the system by artificially limiting things in your diet and you think you’re smarter than your body, you might run into some problems.
Laura: Now what kind of problems do you see, or I should say, have you seen in people that are doing an inappropriately low carb diet?
Sean: A lot of times they think they’re doing better because they do get that stress hormone response. At the beginning when you lower carbs, you’re almost guaranteed to have higher stress hormones. Higher stress hormones can make you feel really good. People love roller coasters and that sure liberates a ton of stress hormones.
Laura: Or coffee.
Sean: Yeah. That’s got caffeine in it which has its own unique effect, but it can increase stress too. There used to be weight loss pills that are now illegal that were synthetic stress hormones, like ephedra is basically synthetic stress hormone. It’s also an appetite suppressant. When you use those, you feel good, you get hyper, you run around, you feel like on top of the world, and you’re not hungry.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Sean: That’s a lot of times what happens with people with low carb. But then if you keep using those stress hormones or those weight loss pills, people get into trouble. People have died using them. You’re not going to die from a low carb diet probably. They’re corrosive to your system over time. People just start to wear out. They start to crash. They start to feel like inappropriately wired all the time. They might have problems sleeping. They might just feel like they’re just running on fumes all the time, kind of anxious. Like a weird combination of being tired and energetic all at once. They just crash and burn and don’t know why.
Sean: Then they eat carbs, and then they get tired. You know? Because they’re like oh man, carbs make me tired. But it’s because a lot of times your body’s like oh man, I can reduce my stress hormones for a minute.
Sean: And I can relax. And you’re tired now, but that’s how you really should feel.
Laura: Right. I’m really glad you mentioned that because we have so many people in our Paleo Rehab program that they start to implement the diet recommendations we make and they’re like, I don’t understand, I feel so much more tired eating these carbs. And I’m like that’s because you’ve been running on stress hormones for however long, and your body is finally able to reduce those, and now you feel exhausted.
Sean: And you’re going to need some time to catch up probably.
Laura: Right. And that’s another one of those things that happens when switching from a low to a higher carb diet, that people just get freaked out. They’re like I feel more tired, my blood sugar is spiking, like there’s all these things that happen, which ironically you get very similarly severe symptoms when you go from a high to low carb diet. But everyone just says that’s the low carb flu, that’s your transition from sugar burning to fat burning and it’ll go away. I don’t really understand why the opposite is not given as much leeway as far as saying that’s okay, it’s just the high carb exhaustion that happens, just don’t worry, it’ll be okay in couple weeks. That’s important for people to remember.
Sean: It totally is. But there’s also a lot of bias because everyone knows of the food coma, right? People think that’s a thing that just happens. I think they just pigeon hole it in with the food coma. Maybe that’s just my experience, but I don’t know. It is weird that it doesn’t go both ways so much.
Laura: Right. You have these people that have symptoms of tired but wired, or maybe they’re just feeling tired all the time.
Sean: I like that. Tired but wired.
Laura: Well, I didn’t come up with that.
Sean: I’ve never heard that. That’s cool.
Laura: Their performance in the gym if they are exercising is suffering. Maybe they’re actually gaining weight, even if they’re calorie resisting, which I think is very confusing to a lot of people because there’s a lot debate about whether or not calories are important for weight loss. Obviously a lot of people in the Paleo community would say that they’re not. I don’t agree with that. They’re on these low carb, low calorie diets and gaining weight and they don’t understand why. They’re sleeping like crap and they wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep.
We see these symptoms all the time in our patients. A lot times in our Paleo Rehab group, this is what they experiencing. And it’s really kind of, it’s almost silly to me how easy it is to fix when you start getting these people back on carbs. It almost makes it seems like, I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe it when somebody comes to you thinking that they have like….This is a true story. I’ve had a client that came to me thinking that he had the beginning stages of multiple sclerosis because of all the neurological and muscular symptoms he was having. We got him on a high carb diet, and he’s now back to normal.
Sean: Wow. That’s pretty cool. That’s easier than going and trying to do some crazy thing.
Laura: Seriously. Well because he had come to me wanting to do a ketogenic autoimmune Paleo approach. I was like, I don’t know if that’s a really good idea for you. He’s so excited how good he’s feeling and it was such an amazing transformation.
It’s just one of those things that you don’t see that on these Paleo blogs that are showing these before and after, and oh I went from garbage western diet to a Paleo diet and now I’m feeling so much better, which I think there are a lot of positive changes that come from changing the quality of food, the type fats that you cook with, the nutrient density of your diet. But when we’re looking at strictly macronutrient consumption, I think the carb intake thing in the Paleo community is really warped. People will say that Paleo is not low carb, which I think we’re getting into semantics about whether it’s low carb or not.
I know from a practical perspective when you’re on a Paleo diet, eating even a moderate carb, which like we were saying 200 grams of carbs a day, is difficult if you’re not eating really large meals. I know a lot of the women I work with, women being on this diet mentality and thinking that overeating is going to make them fat and that women shouldn’t eat more than 1200 calories in a day, you combine that with low carb diets and it’s just a huge disaster.
I think people who are interested in learning more about why sugar is something that your body likes to run on and how it works from a storage perspective, a metabolic perspective, talking about de novo lipogenesis being a difficult thing for your body to do, and I’ve had these conversations with my trainer before, where if you think about what happens when you overeat on carbs, a lot of times it actually makes your metabolic rate go up. I know you wrote about that in your book. Can you tell our audience a little bit about how eating a high carb diet affects the metabolism?
Sean: Yeah, multi-faceted again. But in the short term, more carbs is going to convert your thyroid hormone into a more active version from T4 to T3, which I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with. That means that when you have more T3 in your system, you’re going to have a higher metabolic rate. That’s what happens. It bumps your metabolism up. That’s one of the factors.
Another one is if you’re truly over eating and you really are just pushing a ton of carbs into your system, you are going to start to have a little bit of that fat conversion happen. That’s going to be really hard to do. You’d have to be really trying. But if you do that, the studies show that it’s an inefficient process and it wastes energy. About 30 percent of the carbs that you eat just turn into heat and that makes your metabolism go up. So you’re just wasting energy trying to turn that into fat. That bumps your metabolism up as well.
Sean: Those are two of the bigger factors that if you’re really cramming carbs in, you might start to have some conversion to fat and that’s going to make you have a higher metabolic rate because you’d be burning.
Laura: Yeah. And I laugh because assuming you’re keeping fat under control…for me just trying to get 300 grams of carbs in a day using whole foods is an effort. It really actually requires me to purposefully eat meals that I’m like I don’t really think I’m hungry, but I could probably have two bananas right now.
Laura: And try to get closer to that 300.
Sean: I doubt you’re going to be making any fat with 300 because you’d have to be at a point that you’re already completely full on carbs and eating more. I mean during the day you’re burning is constantly burning that fuel so you’re going through about 120. You have to be just like cramming it. Yeah.
Sean: I think you know that. Yeah.
Laura: Where it becomes it tricky with the Paleo diet, and we should probably talk about this a little bit, is the fat question. With Paleo, they’re fighting against this low fat approach where people would just be eating like fat free foods all the time. As we know, there’s a lot of nutritional value to high quality fats, a lot of vitamins that come from fats, especially from things like liver and egg yolks, and butter, those kinds of things that have nutrition in them. I always laugh that the use of coconut oil in the Paleo diet because not that I’m anti coconut oil, but it’s pretty much, like there’s no nutritional value to coconut oil other than it being pure fat.
Sean: Yeah, it’s basically the white sugar of fat.
Laura: Exactly. I love when people say oh white sugar is just empty calories. I’m like, well technically coconut is empty calories too.
Sean: Yeah, and just as refined.
Laura: Mm hmm. So when it comes to fats in your book, your fat recommendations are a lot lower than what the typical Paleo diet would be recommending. I don’t think we would call it a low fat diet based on the percentage of calories that you’d be getting from fat. But when I have tried to eat the amount of fat that you recommend, I know noticed that I basically have to be very, very sparing about adding in fat to the food that I’m eating.
Tell us a little bit about why you recommend your fat…and give as much detail as you want about the actual recommendations in the book. But you do have recommended limits as far as the fat is concerned. How did you come up with those, and what’s the reason for keeping fat to those levels?
Sean: That’s a great question and there’s references all throughout the book. There’s a ton of references at the back. There’s a couple references that I use to base that fat recommendation on, and it’s based on the oxidative rate per day. I think actually in the study it’s per hour and then I extrapolate it out to about 24 hours that a general man or women goes through in a day. Basically when you eat fat, its stored on your body. That’s the way it works.
That’s why if you go and pick up some omega 3 fatty acid eggs, how do you think those got in the eggs? It’s because the chickens are eating that fat. They eat flax seed or something. And that’s why if you get a pig that’s raised on natural foraging and going out, it’s going to have a different fat composition than if you feed it soy feed all day. The fat that they eat is the fat that they store on their body in the same basic chemical composition.
When you eat fat, it’s stored on your body. It’s very rarely used for energy right away. It’s not like when you eat some coconut oil, that it’s just going to give you instant energy, except the MCT oil is part of the coconut oil. So maybe that’s a bad example. Butter, let’s say butter, not going to be used for energy right away. It’s going to be mostly stored on your body. You’re going to have much more of a possibility of gaining fat, the more fat that you eat. It’s kind of a weird concept to explain. It’s tough. You want to be eating as much food as you can because low calorie is going to give you low energy.
Laura: Mmm hmm.
Sean: Too high calorie is going to make you gain weight no matter what you’re eating.
Sean: But you can get away with higher amounts of calories if you’re a higher carb and not gain fat if you keep your fat within reasonable levels where you’re going to be burning pretty much all the fat that you’re eating in a day. If you’re cycling though that much fat in a day, if you’re burning that much just by hanging out and by walking around and things of that sort. If you eat that same amount fat in a day, you’ll equal out to nothing. That is the basis of the recommendation. Does that make sense?
Laura: Yeah and I think the fat question gets a little complicated when you think about the micronutrition in your diet, and how much fat we really need to provide the micronutrients, and what counts as an essential fat versus an unessential fat. I know this is where the omega 3 to the omega 6 ratio gets a little tricky because I think the average understanding of it is you should just eat more omega 3 fats to balance your omega 6 fats, whereas I believe your book really talks about limiting both of those types of fats as much as possible.
Sean: It does, yes.
Laura: That includes omega 3 fats, which is a little more controversial position to take where you would say don’t eat a ton of fatty fish, and don’t take fish oil. I know we have a lot that we can talk about on this podcast.
Sean: Oh yeah, yeah. For sure.
Laura: We’ll have to have you back on, but is there a specific reason that you think avoiding those fats is a good way to go for the average person?
Sean: The main reason in which I think it is a good idea to limit those fats is that there’s a process called lipid peroxidation, which you’re probably familiar with as well.
Laura: Well I’m sure our listeners, probably maybe 10 percent of them may have heard of that before, unless they’re big Chris Masterjohn readers, right?
Sean: Yeah, okay. So I guess let’s talk about lipid peroxidation. So really that concept is, the idea is that lipid peroxidation means that the lipid, the fat, is oxidizing and it’s kind of like snapping a piece of that fat off. This happens when a free radical hits a fat that’s not really chemically stable, like an omega 6 or omega 3 which are not very stable fats. When a free radical hits them, a piece can break off and that piece can then hit another piece and cause a chain reaction. When these happen, it’s kind of like little mini explosions or mouse traps kind of snapping. These fats are usually inside of the cell membrane of your cells. When they snap, and break, and cause explosions, it can damage your cell wall or it can damage your mitochondria. Mitochondria is really responsible for your metabolic rate and your cell walls are very important to keep intact. You don’t want damage there.
When you eat polyunsaturated fats like the omega 6 and omega 3, more the omega 6. Omega 3 can get oxidized really fast because it’s so unstable it just gets used right away or just blown up. But the omega 6 oftentimes will just get into your body and it will become part of your body. So the more omega 6 you eat, the more you’re made of, and the more your cells are made of, and the more just body fat that you have around you is made of it, and the more unstable you become as a person that is 98.6 degrees because you’re warm and that stuff doesn’t do well in warm environments. If you look at a picture of the chemical structure of omega 6 and omega 3, you’ll see that it’s just like tons of little branches going out like a tree almost. If you look at a saturated fat, it’s just a big long bar.
Sean: Like a steel rod. It’s very strong. So saturated and monounsaturated are less susceptible to lipid peroxidation, much less. If you’re made up of more of those strong, stable, temperature resistant types of fats, then you’re going to be less susceptible to having lipid peroxidation just kind of going around your body having problems with that oxidation.
Sean: Was that a good explanation? Did you have any questions about that?
Laura: Well, I know I understand it very well. Sometimes it’s hard when you are so well versed in this information to know what makes sense to the average person versus a nutritionist or a biochemist.
Sean: Yeah. Do you have anything to add?
Laura: Well I think one thing that people should remember is that when your body creates fat from carbs, if it’s doing any sort of de novo lipogenesis, it’s going to be creating saturated fat. If you think about the nutrients that your body is going to be making on its own as glucose and saturated fat, and it can recycle amino acids and stuff. But you would think these are going to be the most safe and stable in your body compared to things like… the reason why omega 6 and omega 3 fats are called essential fats is because our body does not create them. But essential just means we have to get a little bit of it from our diet. And I don’t remember the exact percentage, but I know Chris Masterjohn has written about the amount of fatty acids, or fats that we need to take in to meet that need for omega 6 and omega 3 fats because we do have to get a little bit of it from our diet.
Laura: Which is not hard if you eat chicken with skin on it, or some almonds, or things that just naturally have a small amount of polyunsaturated fats in them. But I think he said it was something like, it was either one percent of our calories or even maybe .1 percent of our calories.
Sean: That’s pretty low.
Sean: I wouldn’t worry about…I think keeping it low is a good idea, but obsessing about keeping it low I think is a bad idea. Because the real world damage that it can cause is….it’s significant, but if you’re paying attention to it at all and keeping it relatively low, I don’t think it’s going to cause any like… you’re not going to see any effects from it in any real significant way in short term.
Sean: In long term, it can cause problems if you’re using a ton of them or if you’re relying on them.
Laura: Right. Which I think the average American is.
Sean: Yeah, that’s the problem.
Laura: But the average Paleo person is not, which I do believe that’s one of the benefits of the Paleo approach is that it does reduce the omega 6 fats provided you’re not being dumb like I was and eating half your calories from a bag of nuts.
Sean: Yeah. Well even nuts are better than like what I was doing in the fraternity which was just refined soy oil in a deep fat fryer. Nuts are even better because they have some vitamin E. Salmon is even better because it’s got some antioxidants in it that can help from oxidizing those things. What you really want is to prevent those from oxidizing and causing cell damage. If you’re eating the omega 6 or omega 3 alongside in a natural format like nuts or like salmon for example, they have a lot of antioxidants in there because otherwise those things will just go bad sitting on the shelf.
Sean: But it doesn’t mean it’s optimal, but it’s a way better choice than say fish oil which has been stripped of everything and it’s just waiting to be oxidized.
Laura: If it hasn’t already been oxidized during the processing.
Sean: Exactly. Yeah, it’s probably already oxidized. Then same with any seed oil or any refined omega 6 or omega 3 are really the probably the biggest issue. Natural forms, still not an insanely awesome idea, but way less of a deal than refined, in my mind.
Laura: Right. So we don’t want people to feel like they should be avoiding salmon.
Sean: No. I ate salmon last week. You got to be realistic.
Laura: Right. And I think like you said, there’s a lot of antioxidants in these foods. The vitamin E protects against the damage on the omega 6 fats. This is a great segue for one of the other things I wanted to definitely talk about today, is taking nutrition too seriously. So one of the things loved about your book, which I found really refreshing, was some of the chapters that you wrote about nutrition as an approach to health. And you have a chapter that’s called, “Don’t Worry About Being Perfect.”
Laura: And you have a chapter that’s called, “Nutrition Is Not Everything.” Which honestly, I think most diet books are not going to say that the diet is not the most important thing, or that you shouldn’t take it so seriously that you’re ignoring the rest of the factors that affect your health.
This is something that we talk about in our Paleo Rehab program all the time. We had Chris Kresser as a guest Q&A participant last week and he was actually, and this actually surprised me because I feel like he comes across as being someone that has a lot of very specific guidelines about diet, and supplements, and that kind of thing. But he was even saying that the diet is not the most important factor if you looking at things like sleep, and stress, and social connection, and outdoor exposure, that kind of thing. I was surprised that he was suggesting that nutrition is not the biggest piece of the puzzle here.
Tell our audience a little bit about your philosophy about diet and how you came to the conclusion that even though we know having a nutrient dense, calorie and macronutrient appropriate diet is helpful for promoting good health, and energy, and that kind of thing, why is it not as important as a lot of people in the Paleo community make it out to be?
Sean: It is important, but it’s a piece of the puzzle. It’s like a stool. I’ve never used this analogy before, but what the heck. You know, the three legged stool thing. I’ve heard people use it, so I’m going to use it for other things. You take a piece of the three legged stool out and it doesn’t stand as strong because you still need all….it’ll still stand up a little bit, but it’ll wobble. All three are required to support it really well. None of them are the most important. But you need all three to make that stool stand up.
The same thing applies for nutrition. You need a good a diet, you need to make sure you get all of your macronutrients like your protein, carbs, and fats figured out. And you need to get all your micronutrients, your minerals, and your vitamins. The First Diet definitely talks about all those in a lot of detail and you can really get 100 percent or more of all your micronutrients just through diet, and pretty easily.
Laura: Amazing, right, that we don’t need supplements to survive?
Sean: I still do some supplements. But yeah, it’s easier than you think if you rely on the right foods.
Laura: Right, as long as your paying attention.
Sean: Yeah. But that being said, you don’t need to freak out about it. Because if you do, then…I mean the entire approach of The First Diet, and I’m sure yours too, is to help people support their metabolisms and stay out of the stress zone, like make it so you’re supporting your body through your nutrition. But if you then go and stress yourself out psychologically by freaking out about am I doing this right, or is this the right food, or I can’t eat this food at this party or whatnot….
Laura: Or oh my God, I had some sugar. I’m going to get cancer, or something like that.
Sean: Yeah, then you’re defeating the entire purpose. You just added psychological stress. There’s studies that show that insulin resistance can be caused by stress. There’s a known effect that happens after surgery, people become insulin resistant for a period of time due to the stress. There’s actually some people trying to sell in the medical community like a glucose boosting drinks to do before the night of the surgery instead of fasting to help prevent that because it can help keep your glucose up and reduce insulin resistance. But you can also find another study, or more than one study showing that psychological stress create insulin resistance.
That’s two sides of the same basic coin, insulin resistance caused by and corrected by diet through glucose drink, and caused by stress through being cut open on a surgical table, and also through just thinking about bad things can cause psychological stress which does the same thing. So they’re all connected.
Laura: Yeah. Or sleep is also one of those things. Sleep deficits cause insulin resistance as well.
Sean: Yeah. They’re so all together and to pretend that they’re not is really losing out on the big picture and can totally cancel out all the good stuff you’re trying to do through diet just by not sleeping enough, not keeping your stress levels low in your mind, and not having a social connection with people.
If you decide to not go to a party because they’re going to be having deep fat fried soy oil stuff that caused my…maybe contributed to my initial problems, I’ll still go to that party and eat that food now because I know that doing it once, or twice, or infrequently is not a big deal. And I’d rather have fun with my friends than freak out about eating that stuff.
Sean: It matters more about what you do in the long term than what you do in the short term.
Laura: Exactly. Yeah that’s a great point. It’s funny, I went out to dinner with my parents for my birthday last night and we had a pretty funny meal because we had oysters, we had chicken liver pate, and like all these really….
Sean: That sounds awesome.
Laura: These naturally foraged, like hand foraged mushrooms, all these really awesome super foods. And we were trying to figure out all the different plates we wanted to get because it was one of those shared plates type of restaurants. My dad was like oh, these fried shrimp sound really good. And my mom was like we shouldn’t eating fried foods, it’s got omega 6 fats. I’m like oh my gosh, mom, it’s my birthday. I don’t care, let’s just get the fried shrimp.
Sean: Good job.
Laura: The funniest thing was that when the waitress asked us at the end of the night what the favorite part of the meal was, my mom was like ahh, the fried shrimp.
Sean: There you go.
Laura: It’s one of those things that obviously we don’t want to be eating all the time because, as you experienced, it can cause health problems. But to avoid social situations, or for me it turns into something like hey I need to run and get some food. I don’t have time to cook for myself, or I don’t have enough groceries right now, and I’m just going to go to the Whole Foods hot bar and get some food. I have some friends that won’t eat at Whole Foods because they cook their food in canola oil. And I’m like, alright, if it’s going to come down to me not eating anything or me eating a good, solid meal from Whole Foods that’s generally really healthy with like grass fed animals, and organic starches and vegetables, and there’s just a little canola in there, I’m like it’s not that big of a deal.
Sean: Yeah. I mean, what’s more stressful on your body? Not eating and then maybe worrying where you’re going to get your next food or if you’re going to have to go then find something else, and then go hunt it down or cook it? Or just relax and play into the moment and compromise a tiny bit? You’re going to probably be better off with what you did, just the hot bar is fine.
Laura: Right. I think it’s something where you mention that party situation, I see that happening with my clients all the time. It’s really just upsetting to see that happening in people’s lives where they turn into social recluses because nobody eats the way that that they do. I’m not saying that you should just throw caution to the wind and just say well, forget it, I’m just not going to care at all and I’m just going to cook with soybean oil, and I’m just going to eat refined wheat products. Just not caring at all is not what we’re saying here. But determining are there things that you absolutely need to avoid? Like say you’re Celiac, we don’t say well oh if your friends invite you out to pizza, just do it because you’ll be fine.
Sean: Oh yeah. That’s different. You’re going to be upset if you do that.
Laura: Yeah. So there’s definitely specific issues and this where, I mean I hate to always plug working with a nutritionist, but I think this is where working where working with someone to figure out what your deal breakers are when it comes to eating are. And this is something I help my clients with is determining if there are foods that they absolutely need to be avoiding without any exceptions. I think that list tends to be a lot shorter than people think it needs to be. Just being really self-aware about, okay, yeah I have Celiac disease so I absolutely can’t have gluten and that’s not something that I’m going to play around with. But maybe I can have some fried shrimp once in a while if it’s a gluten free shrimp. It’s just determining where your wiggle room is, and not being afraid to enjoy that wiggle room, and determine how important it is to avoid a certain food in a given situation.
Sean: Absolutely. And if you can find that, and you can come to terms with it…I was kind of stuck in a little bit of that myself, maybe a lot of that, where I would try to not eat this or try to be like inconspicuous about not picking up that piece of food or whatever at a social event, and trying to not be awkward about it, and all that kind of stuff.
What’s weird is the more you learn about nutrition, the more you see the big picture, and how things really affect you, and what the big picture is, not the small little pieces that can scare you in the weeds, that’s where the snakes hide out is in the weeds. But if you see the big picture, if you’re like way above floating and you really see it, that’s what liberates, at least for me. Then I’m like, oh wait, okay, it doesn’t matter that much. I really can do this and end up better off.
Sean: Legitimately better health because I’m not worried so much. It’s fun to get to that point, but it’s weird how you almost have to go through the weeds. There’s a journey that’s involved in that process of really trusting yourself because it’s not going to work if you just go and eat the food and you’re still worried psychologically about it.
Sean: Oh man, I ate that. I listened to this podcast and they say go to the party and eat the food and now I’m still worried that I ate the food. That’s not helpful.
Sean: You have to really get to the point where you’re cool with it. That’s where it kicks in.
Laura: Yeah. I think on the flip side of that, knowing what actually is worth, I don’t want to say worrying about. I hate to use the word worry, but knowing what’s worth being more strict about can really be helpful. Because for me, there’s certain foods that I know really bother me as far as my gut is concerned. Like pizza is one of those examples that there’s very few pizza types that I can eat without having GI distress after. There’s this one pizza place near me that is, they make this from scratch, they grind their own grains, it’s super homemade.
Sean: That’s cool.
Laura: Yeah. It’s delicious. I think it’s like one of the best pizza places in the whole state, which I guess for North Carolina it’s not saying a whole lot. But it is really good. I’m from New Jersey, so I’ve had good pizza before. But for me, if someone was going to say, let’s go get pizza at Domino’s, I’d be like, really, no, I don’t want that. It’s going to make me feel like crap. It’s not good.
Sean: That’s like a legit reason.
Sean: You’re going to feel grounded and confident and then it won’t make you feel weird.
Laura: Exactly. That’s kind of the example. I’m’ not saying pizza as a food is terrible and you should never eat pizza, but you might be more specific about which types of pizza you’ll eat, or how often you’ll eat pizza.
Sean: And you’re not judging somebody else for eating that pizza. You’re saying, for me it doesn’t work. I don’t care if you eat it. It’s not like no one should eat sugar, no one should eat pizza. It’s a different, at least for me, that’s a different feeling.
Laura: Right. I think having that confidence of knowing what works for you and what doesn’t work for you, and not feeling like you’re not sure that oh well, I’ve heard gluten is bad for me, but I really want to have that cake at my sister’s wedding. Like that kind of situation where you’re just feeling all this guilt and anxiety about eating that may not even be a problem for you, I think is where a lot of that stress comes form.
Sean: You should be focused on that wedding.
Sean: Not the cake. Don’t worry about the cake.
Laura: Right. Or have some and don’t worry about if maybe you’re going to have a little GI issues tomorrow. Like we said, if you have celiac disease we don’t say go eat the cake and don’t worry about it. But I’d say the average person having a little of a food that’s not optimal every now and then, and honesty, I think individual tolerance for dosage is a huge things too because some people can have pizza once a week and they’re fine, and maybe it’s once a month.
Sean: Yeah. Self-knowledge, right? Just figuring out what it is.
Laura: Exactly. And I think people think tend to want to turn to the gurus to get the information about tell me exactly what to eat and exactly what not to eat. And that was something I really liked about your book was the focus was, okay, here’s some basic nutritional recommendations as far as essential vitamins and minerals, essential protein intake, essential fat intake. So basically saying, here’s what your body absolutely, well as far as we know from the scientific perspective, this is what your body absolutely needs to function normally. And once you’ve met those needs, where you go from there as far as the extra is concerned, it’s not that big of a deal. And obviously avoiding the foods that are specifically very harmful like the trans fats, and artificial flavors, and things that things that could potentially cause issues with whatever chemical sensitivities people have.
But just not thinking that there’s specific one diet that is the answer for everyone’s health issues and really being engaged in the self-discovery process in determining okay, what is my optimal diet right now? And that can change. Maybe your exercise will change and then the amount of food you eat is shifted, or the amount of carbs you eat is shifted. Just not thinking that there’s one diet that the answer and that if you go off of that approach that you’re going to have cancer when your 40 or something.
Sean: Yeah. Realizing that is kind of like…just saying that though without having a ton of knowledge sounds freeing but it can also be overwhelming because too much freedom can be really difficult to deal with.
Sean: At least for me, if you have a blank slate, you don’t’ know how to paint. It’s like what do I even paint? I don’t know.
In The First Diet, I did my best to give a list of food that were available at the time that we know that we evolving as humans and that were available to us that we know. And magically, and I think it’s not really magically, it happens to be this is what people do well on and what we evolved on. But the list of foods will get you those same good fats, and carbohydrates, and sugar, and protein, and also magically get you all your vitamins and minerals. And it will do it in a really small amount of calories, not that you should eat small, but the bonus of that is you have a ton of wiggle room on top.
Sean: You already hit your all you vitamins and minerals, now go play and go have some white rice, or some white refined sugar, or white coconut oil, whatever. You can do what you want.
Laura: Yeah. That’s actually one of the things that I really enjoyed reading about your book, was your list of food recommendations. I was like, hey, this actually looks exactly like my shopping list.
Sean: It’s not mind blowingly different. They all fit together like a puzzle piece to just hit everything.
Laura: Yeah. The main thing I’d say after your book, I got super dedicated to was, like I said, hitting those carb goals that I was not really taking as seriously as I should have been. Then also the liver recommendations. As an ancestral nutritionist, you would think I’m eating liver all the time, but honestly I don’t love it.
Sean: I don’t either. I take the pills. I just take liver pills.
Laura: Well, I figured out a way to make chicken liver that tastes good. The chicken liver we had at our restaurant last night was phenomenal and the waitress said, oh well I think they just grill it and they just blend it together. They don’t put in a lot of other things in there. And I’m like no, that can’t be true.
Sean: I doubt it. Yeah. No one would buy it.
Sean: People would be disappointed when they did.
Laura: Certainly wouldn’t pay the price that we paid for it.
Laura: But it was one of the things that I kind of was like, okay, fine I’ll eat the liver. It’s not that big of a deal. The way I’ve been doing it is I make a big thing of pate and then maybe I have like three rice crackers with two or three tablespoons worth of the chicken liver on it while I’m cooking before dinner. And it’s just like a little bit every day as opposed to having a slab of liver on my plate.
Sean: I think it’s better anyway, at least for me. I do better when I eat a little every day. I think the B vitamins give you a boost and those are water soluble and you just get rid of them.
Sean: So if you keep a constant supply of them going, it at least for me, it feels better.
Laura: Well I think from a culinary perspective, it’s nice to just have little bit at time.
Sean: That too, yeah.
Laura: But, yeah. I think that’s something for me, from a heath and performance at the gym perspective, the combination of eating lots of carbs and lots of fruit, and also being a little more consistent about getting that liver in. That plus being really… paying a lot of attention to sleep and cutting out TV at night, I literally feel a new person. It’s kind of crazy.
Sean: That’s awesome.
Laura: So that’s why I love your book and I love the recommendations. I think they’re super simple, which in nutrition is really nice because usually nutrition books are really complicated and they have all these rules you have to follow, and these really arbitrary rules. Which I think your does not have these arbitrary rules that like don’t eat this because it’s whatever.
Sean: I’m glad you feel that way because that’s what I was trying to do.
Laura: Yeah. Well you just give this great list. I mean honestly, I’m looking at the list right now and I’m like all of these fit on a Paleo diet. These are not, I mean other than I guess sugar that that are not “Paleo,” or white potatoes, or rice, or anything like that. But I love that it’s really just a basic approach to nutrition that gets the essential nutrients in there so that way you’re functioning normally and it can help keep your body fat appropriate. You give some information about what a weight loss approach would look like if somebody does need to lose weight. And you did talk a little bit about fitness and lifestyle things, which again, I was reading and I’m like well, that’s basically exactly what I do for my workouts.
Sean: I wrote this book for you, no.
Laura: I know, I know! It’s funny I was like maybe that’s why I like it so much because I feel like he’s talking to me about here’s all the great things you’re doing. I was like patting myself on the back while I was reading.
Sean: This is bordering on confirmation bias.
Laura: Maybe, maybe. But I like said, it’s one of those things that it took me a while to get out of this low carb, calorie restriction approach that I was doing before and it was it was, honesty for me, it just gave me confidence that adding really in those carbs and adding in those nutrient dense foods was the right way to go.
For me, even as a dietician, which you would think I would always be thinking about this kind of thing, it gave me the confidence and the feeling like it was worth putting the effort into and all that extra noise that comes from the alternative health community about foods that are kill you or whatever, it was just not that important. I feel I could talk about this information all day.
Sean: I could too. I could write a book on it!
Laura: Oh my gosh! You should totally do that! But it was really great to be able to talk to you about this today. I think we definitely have you on again in the future to get into a little bit more about some of the specific guidelines that you talk about and some of the research that you read that helped create the guidelines since this isn’t just you being like well, this makes sense, and I’ll do this. You actually have a lot of research backing up your recommendations which is important. Obviously we like simplicity, we like easy to follow information, but we want it to be accurate.
Sean: Yeah. For sure.
Laura: I really appreciated the balance there. So if people are interesting in reading this book, it’s called The First Diet and you can get that on Amazon. We’ll link to that in the show notes.
Any last words that you’d like to leave our audience with about health and nutrition?
Sean: Just I’m very impressed with both you and Kelsey, and your ability to kind of see both sides of a lot of different situations when you give recommendations. You’ll also talk about maybe some of the bad things that might happen with those recommendations. And you’re not living in a bubble and pretending that everything you say is going to work for everybody which I think is a big problem in the nutritional sphere. So no, I want to just to thank you having me on, and thank you for doing what you’re doing, and being level headed and smart about things, and I appreciate it.
Laura: Ironically, sometimes I see that as self-doubt.
Sean: No, at least from my perspective, keep doing it. It’s smart.
Laura: Healthy self-doubt.
Sean: It’s really good. People need to know.
Sean: It’s so much better.
Sean: Not everything is going to work for everyone and you see that.
Sean: It’s perfect, it’s great.
Laura: Well thank you! Sean it’s been really great having you on. We’d love to have you on again. Like I said, well defiantly share your book The First Diet with our audience and I’d love to have people read that. Let us know if you have any questions about the book. We’ll see you guys here next week. But thanks again Sean!
Sean: Thank you! See ya!