Let’s be real. Nutrition is f***ing confusing. Mediterranean Diet, or Keto Diet? Carnivore or Vegan? High carbs or high fat?
There are too many diets, too many fads, and too many “experts”. I will be the first to tell you I am no expert on nutrition. My objective is to take in as much information as I can, find the signal — which information is factually accurate and really matters — and use it to amplify your health and mine.
Everything I thought I knew about nutrition was challenged in 2023. The knowledge gained changed my mental framework of what healthy means and what nutrition is.
For years, I agreed with the common school of thought in health & wellness:
- Want to lose weight? Consume fewer calories.
- Want to build muscle? Consume more calories, specifically protein.
- Want to be healthier? Drink less alcohol and eat reasonably well (I was a big fan of the 80:20 rule).
What is simpler than that? Nothing. Except it’s wrong. *shrug* small problem. Like a guy trying to explain that the reason the Roman Empire fell was by defeating itself, this line of thought is overly simplistic.
So, what should we do differently? Fortunately, it’s not actually that hard.
#1: Feed Your Gut
“You must feed your gut, or your gut will feed on you.” — Dr. Robert Lustig
Feel bloated often? Or like you need a nap right after eating? Chances are you have Leaky Gut. What is Leaky Gut? This is when the shit in your intestines leaks into your body (your digestive tract, including your intestines, is technically outside of your body).
What happens when your house’s sewer backs up and leaks into your house? Not very pleasant, right? Yet this happens in our bodies all the time. 93% of Americans describe themselves as occasionally constipated, and 43% describe themselves as frequently constipated. What causes constipation? Backed up sewage.
How do we prevent this from happening? Two ways:
- Eat less sugar, specifically fructose — Fructose does two terrible things to our body that act as a form of slow-acting poison:
- Some of the fructose you eat will be automatically metabolized into triglycerides, which are a major factor in the hardening and clogging of our arteries.
- Fructose will also cause the proteins that line your intestines to become permeable, meaning sewage can leak through.
- Eat more fiber — Fiber is how we feed our microbiome. Why is that important? Our microbiome keeps us healthy. How?
- Our microbiome makes short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids help prevent diabetes, reduce gut inflammation, boost our immune system, enhance our ability to lose weight, and reduce the risk of cancer.
- If we don’t feed our microbiome, it will eat the inner layer of our intestines called the Mucin Layer. Well, we need our Mucin layer. We don’t want it eaten by our gut bacteria. It helps us move food through our gut — preventing back-ups! — and helps us absorb essential nutrients from the food we eat.
How much fiber should we eat? The average American only eats about 16 grams per day. Bad news: not even close to where it should be. The amount recommended is 15 grams per 1,000 calories consumed. If you eat 2,000 calories per day, that means you should be consuming 30 grams of fiber.
I personally try to consume closer to 35 or even 40 grams per day. Why? My body feels better when I do. Simple.
What foods are high in fiber?
- Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, black beans)
- Whole grains
- Dark Chocolate (85%+; 70% does not count)
- Fruits and Vegetables
What do these foods have in common? Most of them are wonderful sources of omega-3s and protein! Surprising? I think not.
Bonus: If you are vegetarian, vegan, or lactose-intolerant, notice that none of these foods are meat or dairy.
Lose Weight. Lose Fat. NO. Secrete Less Insulin
Once again, we are launching an all-out assault on sugar (*sigh*). I love sugar… what’s better than cake and ice cream? Or a delicious chocolate chip cookie? Here’s where it becomes a major problem for our body: Insulin.
“Insulin is the fat storage hormone. We can’t begin to lose fat until we deal with the insulin” — Dr. Lustig
How do we spike our insulin? Excess, unused sugar. When we eat those two chocolate chip cookies and then proceed to go sit at our computers, our body has to do something with that glucose in our blood. What does it do? It secretes insulin to store as fat for later use. Necessary, yes. We have to get our blood glucose down. But unnecessary in that it shouldn’t happen in the first place.
What should we do instead? Moderation. Some sugar is ok. Sugar eaten in tandem with fiber will actually slow digestion and therefore, reduce the glucose spike. Moreover, the fiber will help your microbiome eat some of that sugar.
The best example of sugar and fiber? Fruit. Fruit has a lot of sugar. But it also has a lot of fiber. That fiber negates the negative effects of the sugar.
Can you still have those chocolate chip cookies? Yes. I will. But let’s have one cookie instead of two, and let’s not have it with a glass of wine (more on this later).
#3: Eat More Protein and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These two have been stressed by so many for so long that I promise not to linger here for too long. Instead, I will say this:
Look at that list of foods that are high in fiber. Apply here. Add meat, fish, and dairy to the list here if you eat those foods.
How much protein should you eat? I recommend to everyone at least 1.5x your bodyweight in kilograms, but ideally 1.7x.
- Example: 200lbs = 90.9kg. 90.9kg * 1.7 = 155 grams of protein per day (roughly 620 calories worth of protein)
How to tell if a food is high in Omega-3s? When you read a nutrition label, look under the “Fat” category. Omega-3s are the same as “monounsaturated fat”. Omega-6s are “polyunsaturated fat”. Omega-9s are “saturated fat”.
Bonus: An egg with an orange yoke (versus the more common yellow yoke) is perhaps the single best source of both protein and omega-3s on a calorie-density basis.
#4: Take Care of Your Liver
Your liver is essential for metabolizing glucose. Glucose is essential to almost every single function of the human body. Your body will physically eat itself to make glucose to stay alive if it has to — this is why starvation diets do not work! Your body will eat your muscles to get more glucose.
How do we avoid compromising our liver? Avoid building fat in the liver, a disease called Fatty Liver Disease (FLD). The liver becomes impaired when just 5% of its weight becomes fatty tissue. For the average adult, that is just 2.4 ounces of fatty tissue. Ok, how do we prevent this from happening? Three ways:
- Visceral Fat. Why is Visceral fat a major problem? Because this fat has direct access to your Portal Vein. This is the vein that transports nutrients from your intestines to your liver. In essence, your visceral fat is stealing nutrients from your body and producing something called cytokines. These cytokines are inflammatory agents and a major cause of heart disease.
- How does visceral fat accumulate? One of the primary ways is chronic stress. So, if you are chronically stressing about your nutrition, please stop it. But the other key mechanism for building visceral fat is from what we’ve already discussed: inflammation of your gut.
- Alcohol. Alcohol, whether we like it or not, is poison. In excess amounts, over long periods of time, it will kill you via cirrhosis of your liver. (Not to be an alarmist…) Does that mean I abstain from it entirely? Certainly not. Does it mean I’m extremely cautious with when and how much I drink? Absolutely. Now, why does this happen?
- Your liver metabolizes alcohol. However, it can only keep up with so much consumption. When it cannot keep up, that alcohol is stored in your liver’s own cells and leads to inflammation. Transitory if only done occasionally. But chronic inflammation if done on a regular basis.
- How much you can safely consume is where many people, including doctors, diverge. I land somewhere in the one-drink-per-day camp, but that is purely based on experience, not research. Regardless of the schools of thought, one drink per day seems to be the maximum amount recommended for a healthy liver. And that is very different than seven drinks per week. Not drinking on Monday does not mean you can get away with two drinks on Tuesday.
- Eat More Fiber. What goes around comes around. Fiber greatly reduces the workload of your liver by slowing down and regulating the digestion of sugar and preventing a backlog, therefore, preventing fatty build-up.
#5: How Much is Too Much?
I will conclude this article by saying I do not agree with most caloric restriction diets for an extended period of time — one exception being if you have metabolic syndrome and need to lose weight for urgent health reasons. The reason is your metabolic health is far more important than a few extra pounds of subcutaneous fat, which has very little adverse effect on your overall health.
Your amount of muscle is more important than your weight; your cellular health is more important than your weight; your gut health is more important than your weight. If you solve for these three things, your weight will solve itself as a byproduct.
So, with that being said, how much should you eat in a day? Here’s my formula:
Let’s take a 200-pound individual.
- We know this individual should be having approximately 155 grams of protein per day, which equates to 620 calories.
- Then you have the amount of fat per day. I usually stay close to the same as protein — 620 calories. That translates to roughly 69 grams of fat per day.
- The general recommendation is for every 10 grams of carbohydrates you consume, you should have at least 1 gram of fiber. However, I stick closer to 1 gram of fiber per every 6 grams of carbs.
- Ok, let’s assume this individual is eating 35 grams of fiber per day.
- At 10 grams of carbs per 1 gram of fiber, that would put us at 350 grams of carbohydrates, or 1,400 calories — more than double the amount of protein.
- However, at only 6 grams per 1 gram of fiber, that would be 210grams, or 840 calories.
- Now, let’s add it all up: 620 (29%) + 620 (29%) + 840 (42%) = 2,080 calories per day
This example is not perfect. But I don’t expect perfection of myself or you. Trying to be perfect yields terrible results as I talked about a few weeks ago. If you want precise recommendations for your specific body, this is where I would recommend metabolic testing. It’s exceptionally useful if you are a performance athlete who needs to hit certain weight goals, and for people who are incredibly serious about wanting to lose excess fat.
However, this general formula is what I have begun following myself over the last few days and weeks. So far so good!
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