You Are What Y’all Did With What You Eat

I recently listened to a great webinar on one of my favorite health experts, Dr. Robert Lustig, a neuro-endocrinologist and New York Times best-selling author (Fat Chance, The Hacking of the American Mind, and Metabolical). He has been active in promoting health policy to reverse the obesity and diabetes pandemic that is engulfing our society.  

In this blog, I’ll share some highlights from this 70-minute webinar (hosted by the Commonwealth Club of California) and the two key tenets from his new book, Metabolicalthe Lures and Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition and Modern Medicine.

Dr. Lustig’s standard mantra used to be “you are what you eat” but now stands corrected with the revised statement that “you are what y’all (food industry) did with what you eat”. He is referring to food processing and the food industry that tricks you into thinking you’re eating healthily when in fact, you’re eating all the foods that are basically designed to destroy your health.

So, he has two essential rules to live by when it comes to judging ‘healthy food’. Eat foods that:

  1. Protect the liver
  2. Feed the gut

Any food that does both is healthy and any food that does neither is poison.

Protect the Liver

  • Ged rid of sugar in the diet. Sugar is like alcohol as liver metabolizes it the same way and over time, leads to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Although virtually non-existent in the 1980s, 45% of us have NAFLD today. In particular, children are what he calls the “canaries in the coal mine” as they are getting these diseases of aging. Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease used to be diseases of alcoholics and aging and now children are getting them. Dr. Lustig estimates that 20% of normal weight children and 40% of obese children have a fatty liver today and blames this on the sugary, processed foods that kids consume.
  • Eat organic and stay away from pesticide-ridden foods (eg: Round-up), excess iron and heavy metals.
  • Avoid eating too much BCAA (branched chain amino acids) – unless you are a body builder, you don’t need to consume excess BCAA as this gets converted to liver fat and results in insulin resistance.
  • Dr. Lustig advocated two lab tests to get a baseline on your liver condition:
    • ALT – 25 is optimal , NOT 40 (which is the new reference range). In 1976, the ALT upper limit was 25 but now it’s 40 because so much of the population has fatty liver disease. These reference ranges reflect the population so as the country gets fatter, the ranges are also moving up.
    • Uric acid level – upper limit is 7.0 but it should be no higher than 5.5 as this marker is a proxy for sugar consumption.

Feed the Gut

  • You need to feed the bacteria in your gut with insoluble and soluble fiber to keep it happy and avoid conditions like leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome and systemic inflammation.
  • Dr. Lustig is known as the “anti-sugar crusader” in the industry and his lecture has over 100,000 views (I watched it three times as it was that good) – here’s a condensed version. However, he claims that fruit is healthy even though it has sugar because the amount of sugar in fruit is dwarfed by the amount of both soluble and insoluble fiber which prevents sugar absorption in the gut. Insoluble fiber forms a latticework and soluble fiber forms a gel and they both act as secondary barriers to prevent early absorption of sugar getting to the liver. If your gut doesn’t absorb it early, it goes further down to the intestine where the bacteria will chew it up for consumption to feed the gut. So even if you consumed the fruit, some of that sugar was spent to feed the microbiome.
  • Processed food has no fiber and there’s a reason why the industry doesn’t like fiber. For example, an orange does NOT freeze well as the ice crystals macerate the cell walls and when thawed, becomes mushy. But if you squeeze the orange and freeze it, it’s highly storable making it easier to sell. However, in processing the orange, you’ve deprived your microbiome of all the important fiber in the fruit.
  • Dr. Lustig explains that it’s what’s been done to the food that matters. There are four classifications of processed foods known as the NOVA system, and he uses an apple to describe what each class means:
    • Nova Class 1: An apple is unprocessed and doesn’t need a food label
    • Nova Class 2: Apple slices have been minimally processed as it’s been sliced, destemmed and placed in packaging
    • Nova Class 3: Apple sauce has been crushed/cooked and may or may not have added sugar
    • Nova Class 4: Apple drink which is the juice plus preservatives and added sugar with all the fiber removed. Nova Class 4 is considered ultra-processed and the predictor of disease. He claims that if it has a logo (those juices in the boxes with a cool name on it), it’s ultra-processed.
  • Meat is another example. You would think that meat should be Nova Class 1 if you are buying from the refrigerated meat aisle in the supermarket. However, if the animal comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO), that animal had to be pumped with antibiotics in order to survive. This permanently changed the cow’s microbiome which pervades in the meat. And when we eat it, we are causing gut dysfunction by eating the ‘sick’ meat. Hence, this meat is considered “processed” because of what the food industry did to it. But it’s not on the label as the food industry does not have to disclose any of this.

It’s the Insulin, Not Just the Glucose

  • Dr. Lustig says that people think glucose is the problem but it’s insulin that drives chronic metabolic disease. Rising glucose levels are a proxy for a rise in insulin so it’s important to keep both down. Giving insulin to Type 2 diabetics to control blood sugar is not the answer and it’s important to note that insulin has two functions:
    • The first is metabolic – insulin takes up blood glucose and lowers blood sugar
    • The second is cell growth – Insulin also drives cell division and can promote coronary artery muscle division to drive heart attacks and promote breast glandular cell division to develop cancer. 
  • Dr. Lustig states that it’s not just glucose but fructose (like high fructose corn syrup) that accelerates metabolic disease and insulin resistance. Fructose goes to the brain and negatively affects cognitive and behavioral health. There’s a wealth of research and evidence on how food affects the brain and the use of sugar-free diets (ketogenic) to treat conditions like bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia.

So, what did I learn from this? First, get some baseline data on liver, fasting glucose and insulin levels as Dr. Lustig recommends so you know where you stand today.  Second, eat a whole-foods, non-processed diet with plenty of pesticide-free vegetables and fruits and clean, grass-fed meat. Dr. Lustig follows his own advice – he and his family used to go out twice a week for meals but given that you really don’t know what you are being served at most restaurants, he has cut back his meal outings to just once a month.

Want to learn more? Check out Metabolical – this book has over a 1,000 references which could not be printed as it would add 70 more printed pages so he made all the references available on the book’s website.

Natural Detox Strategies

Did you know that there are over 15,000 man-made chemicals that are in our environment that our body doesn’t know what to do with? As humans, we have not evolved enough to deal with the bombardment of these toxins from the air, water, ground and the atmostphere. We know that toxins are harmful to our biological function so what to do? Thankfully, there are a number of ways to mitigate the risks even though we may not be able to eliminate them completely. So, in this blog, I’ll share some tips on ways to keep your body optimal so it can repair and detox itself.

Clean Air

You need to note what is going into your body that is contributing to your toxin load. One of the most important is the air you breathe. Did you know that air pollution was linked to a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 in the US? If you’re a city dweller, it’s especially important to prioritize clean air in your living space. You may want to invest in an air filter for the areas where you spend most of your time – at least get one for your bedroom so you have clean air to breathe while you sleep. There are plenty of good air filters to choose from in many price ranges. Here are several to consider:

Clean Water

Even if you get tested city water where you live, the drinking water can be contaminated with disease-carrying organisms and toxins leaking into your water source from run-offs from industrial plants, factory farms and even fracking. You can search for the quality of your water in the EWG’s tap water database. Put in your zip code and it will show you which chemicals are above acceptable levels. You can also request a report from your water source on the quality of the tap – keep in mind that only certain contaminants are tested so you won’t actually know what’s in there. So, if you’re not up to solving a mystery, how about opting for a whole house filtration system if the quality of your water source is not up to par? If you cannot afford a whole house filter, invest in a reverse osmosis filter system to put under your sink for drinking/cooking and a shower filter to minimize contact with your skin. Here’s what I use:

Sweat

When you sweat, your skin’s pores open up to eliminate toxins including heavy metals and foreign chemical substances. As your body’s largest organ, the skin can flush wastes out through sweat thereby putting less burden on other organs like the liver, intestines and kidneys. So get a good workout and work up a good sweat. If you are like me and don’t sweat easily (nor want to do a lot of strenuous exercise to get there), you may want to look into a sauna. I like infrared saunas as they don’t require any special hook-up in your home. The infrared saunas use electric and infrared light to create heat waves which are absorbed by your skin. They only go up to about 150 degrees but they do a great job of penetrating through your skin to get you sweating like a pig in no time!

There are many infrared saunas out in the market today – they used to be very expensive but now they have ones for every budget. Alternatively, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, try one of the sauna blankets – this one got top ratings on Amazon.

Here’s the one I have at home – it’s an investment but it will last at least a decade with proper use.

Clean Food

Eat Organic – Organic food has more nutrients and are rich with natural antioxidants and disease fighting chemicals. If you have your own garden, you are well on your way to feeding your body with optimal nutrtion. If you cannot afford all organic, how about avoiding these dirty dozen that are the most pesticide laden?

Avoid GMOs – Many grains, grain by-products and produce are genetically modified, so always look for the “Non-GMO” label when purchasing. Here are the most prevalent genetically modified products: Soy, Corn, Canola Oil, Mik, Sugar, Zucchini, Yello Squash, Papaya

Grass-Fed or Wild Meat – Grass-fed and wild-caught meat get their diet from natural sources (not corn and other foods that these animals are not meant to eat) and as a result, have a favorable profile of nutrients and essential fatty acids. Same goes for fish – opt for fish choices like wild salmon to minimize contamination over farmed salmon.

Natural Sweeteners – Did you know that artificial sweeteners like aspartame can disrupt the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and actually promote obesity by altering the function of the bacteria that’s in your gut?  With most people trying to lose weight rather than gain, this sounds like a bad idea. But you don’t have to give up the sweets – just stick to natural sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit, allulose and erythritol. They even make tasty sodas from these sweeneters. Here’s the one I drink when I’m craving soda.

Minimize Gluten – Gluten has been linked to intestinal and neurological disorders but it’s in almost everything we eat – bread, pizza, bagels, baked products. Wheat flour being grown today has been hybridized to maximize gluten content to satisfy western tastebuds. Steer clear of gluten if possible – if you are eating out/traveling and find it impossible to avoid, take some digestive enzymes with your meal. Here’s one to have handy.

Artificial Colors and Additives – Did you know that according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there are more than 10,000 additivies that are allowed in food? It’s mind boggling what you need to know to avoid as these additives are linked to chronic health issues.  For example, studies have shown a correlation between consumption of artificial food coloring and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. There has been controversy on the safety of these artificial colors so it’s best to avoid them even if they are considered ‘safe’. The most common ones to look for are Blue No. 1, Yellow No. 5, and Yellow No. 6.

Here’s the dirty dozen of food additives you want to steer clear of.

Sleep

Your body powers down at night so it can get to work on cleaning up all the waste that’s been accumulated in your body and brain throughout the day. So, make sure you are getting adequate and proper shut-eye.

Minimize EMF

Were you aware that EMF radiation can negatively impact sleep quality as it reduces the amount of melatonin your body produces at night? So keep that cell phone powered down and away from your bedroom. If you need a device (iPad) to wind down at night like me, download the podcasts and episodes and watch them on airplane mode. I’ve got to have my nightly podcast but with the app, it’s easy to download all the sleepy material to put me under. 

Avoid Plastics

Plastics are not only littering our oceans and harming sea life, they’re harmful to our health, too. A commonly-used plastic additive called Bisphenol A is a known endocrine disruptor leading to hormone dependent cancers and metabolic disorders. Switch to glass (Pyrex is heat and crack-resistant) and or metal containers and bottles. They retain the thermal quality of the food/drink WITHOUT chemical plasticizers and other additives. 

Avoid Chemicals in Cosmetic and Personal Care Products

Were you aware that most personal care and cosmetic products sold in the US are not regulated by the FDA and do not require safety testing of ingredients as they are ‘generally regarded as safe’? There may be dangerous chemicals lurking in your makeup and personal care product so you need to take charge of what you’re putting on your skin, hair and nails. You can go to the EWG database to look up which products are safe to use. Alternatively, you can use the Redify app to scan any product barcode and determine whether it contains toxic ingredients.

Weekend Warrior Injury Prevention and Management: Part 2

As we age, our mind may say ‘yes’ but our body says ‘no’. If you love sports and activities but mostly enjoy them at the weekend, you may be a Weekend Warrior. In this blog, I will highlight some nutritional and supplement tips for injury prevention and management. You don’t have to stop doing what you love if you take stock of what your body is telling you and give it the TLC it needs to regenerate and repair.

Bromelain

Did you know that this enzyme that comes from pineapples is used as a meat tenderizer to break down the connective tissues that makes meat tough? If you want to tenderize a cut of meat fast, make a marinade with some pineapple – it will make the chewy cuts of meat more enjoyable. Bromelain’s enzyme action has been touted and widely used as a natural remedy for improving digestion and reducing inflammation. There’s a lot of scientific evidence (more than 70 studies) evaluating the benefits of bromelain on a variety of conditions including connective tissues injuries, ACL tears, sprained ankles, tendonitis, joint pain and arthritis. In this study, oral bromelain supplementation was as effective as a prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug in reducing pain, swelling and quality of life. 

Bromelain is safe for most people but if you are on blood-thinning medication or supplements, it may increase the risk of bleeding so get the ‘ok’ from your doctor before supplementing. Here’s one to try:

Collagen

Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body and vital to our health as it gives strength and elasticity to our bones, muscles, tendons and skin. As we age, our body naturally loses collagen which leads to sagging skin and achy joints. Your body needs collagen to heal and repair damaged tissue. In this study, daily supplementation with collagen peptides improved skin elasticity while improving joint function and general wellbeing. To get collagen from food, try adding beef or chicken bone broth to your diet. I use it as a cooking base in the winter for soups and stews. I prefer to make my own and store in freezable containers. Here’s a simple recipe:

https://www.thepioneerwoman.com/food-cooking/recipes/a83002/how-to-make-beef-broth/

If you decide to supplement, opt for the multi-collagen variety. Our body has over 15 types of collagen in the body so you want the most comprehensive collagen available in supplemental form. Here’s my favorite:

Magnesium

This essential mineral is involved in over 300 chemical processes in our body to support bone health and aid in the healing of connective tissues and muscles. Magnesium also impacts your muscles’ ability to contract and relax so it’s great for relieving cramps and pain. In this study, even one week of magnesium supplementation showed improvements in muscle soreness and pro-inflammatory responses after strenuous exercise.

 Some magnesium rich foods include spinach, avocado, pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate. If you need a supplement, opt for a type which has multiple forms. I use this one as it contains all seven forms of magnesium.

MSM, Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Most often sold in a combination, these three are natural components of connective tissues and support and restore cartilage tissue and joints. MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is a great source of sulfur which is critical to the proteins of muscle tissues, bones and joints. Glucosamine is a simple carbohydrate that is used to synthesize cartilage tissue and chondroitin is formed from glucosamine.  Chondroitin is responsible for structuring the connective tissue and providing strength to cartilage, ligaments and bones. These three compounds are produced in sufficient quantities in young and healthy bodies but slow down as we age which result in loss of strength and elasticity.

It is recommended that the compounds are taken together as they reinforce each other’s actions. This controlled trial shows the clinical benefit that the combination of MSM, glucosamine-chondroitin has on osteoarthritis patients.

Here are two to try:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Often called essential fatty acids (EFAs) as our body is not capable of producing its own so we need to consume it in food or supplement form. There is plenty of well-established evidence on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for supporting cardiovascular, skin and mental health, but did you know that EFAs are as effective as NSAIDS in reducing arthritis pain?  

The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are from cold water fatty fish like salmon, sardines and anchovies which can be consumed twice a week for optimal health benefits. If you are not a fan of fish or prefer to supplement, here are two high-dosage products that have been tested for freshness and purity.

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Turmeric

Known as a super spice and widely used as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, the active compounds in turmeric, curcuminoids, have also been frequently studied for their impact on joint pain. Turmeric helps heal and repair damaged tissues so the spice should be an integral part of your diet. If you’re like me and don’t cook with turmeric often, you can opt for the supplement form – look for ones that contain bioperine (ingredient in black pepper) to optimize bioavailability. Here’s one to try:

Vitamin C

An essential micronutrient, vitamin C aids in healing and is a potent antioxidant that reduces inflammation and provides immunity by supporting cellular function. There are numerous studies on the role of vitamin C to support immunity. In this randomized clinical trial, high-dose vitamin C (2,000mg/daily) and E (1,400mg/daily) reduced muscle damage and inflammatory responses in athletes.

There are so many ways to get vitamin C into the diet but if you need more than 1,500mg, you can supplement with pure ascorbic acid powder. It is inexpensive but as it can give you disaster pants on too high of a dosage, take it slow until your body can tolerate it (bowel tolerance = until you get the runs). Or if you don’t want the hassle, take the liposomal vitamin C which is more expensive but coated to prevent intestinal discomfort with good bioavailability. I take the more economical powder form at home and add it to my shake but have the liposomal capsules on hand for travel. Here are a couple to try:

Pure ascorbic powder:

Liposomal Vitamin C: