It’s not about protein, it’s about balance
Despite what you may think, I’m not the guy that’s going to tell you to eat lots and lots of protein. Protein is definitely necessary though, protein is an essential part of the diet. But, it does not make any other aspect of the diet less important. The bulk of your diet should be plants and healthy fats, but also include protein. What I am suggesting is that if you don’t eat a balanced diet, with plants fats and proteins, you will most certainly have metabolic dysfunction.
They are just rumors
Almost everyone has heard all the negatives about protein especially red meats. And because of that many people do not want to eat it on a regular basis. One of the comments you will hear most is that red meat is high in fat, and that somehow the consumption of fat also makes you fat.. You will also hear that the regular consumption of red meat can cause chronic disease and osteoporosis. And if you dig hard enough you will find someone preaching that you can get kidney damage when you eat too much red meat. And of course there is some medical evidence of this to a certain degree, but you aren’t hearing the full story. What these people are implying is that all proteins are the same and if you eat enough of it you should expect these negative consequences.
Grass fed, organic only
The first point I need to differentiate with you here is that not all meats are the same. Even some of the scientific studies are now finally differentiating meat sources. A cow raised in a pasture allowed to graze freely on grasses is much different than a cow raised for market that gets pumped full of corn at a feed lot. The cow raised on grasses has a meat composition that is higher in healthy fats, free of harmful antibiotics and hormones, and devoid of potential triggers for the immune system. In comparison, the cows grown on feed lots turn out to be “heifers”, speaking figuratively of course. They are fatter, less healthy and have excess hormones. Thus, choosing a grass fed source of meat is superior. Moreover, if you view food through the prism of the Paleo Diet, the only source of meat is grass fed. Inherently if you are living off of the land, there is not another option. So having established where our meat should come from and that it should be consumed as part of a balanced diet, let’s talk about the importance of protein. Don’t buy into the notion that you are better off eating only plants. Yes, most of the diet should come from plants. I will even pose that some a very small segment of the population does better with limited protein from meat. Yet, this is the exception rather than the rule.
Protein = Amino Acids
Protein broken down into Amino acids is a very vital part of our biochemistry. The Paleo Diet, a diet that helps restore metabolic function, can only do so with adequate protein. Adequate protein insures that the biochemical processes in our body that depend on the amino acids that come from protein are supplied. To make this more tangible, let me give you just a handful of the uses of dietary protein and why it is so important.
We need protein to function
Your gastrointestinal tract is arguably the most important system in the body. Protein fuels the regeneration of the gastrointestinal tract, a process that happens daily. You may think this is counter intuitive as some will say that excess protein causes constipation. It does, when not part of a balanced diet. Let’s not digress on that point though. Not only does the gastrointestinal tract need proteins, but so does nearly every tissue in your body. We are protein based structures. Several of our neurotransmitters and hormones are derived from proteins such as serotonin and thyroxine (thyroid hormone). Protein helps make us efficient. It is integral to energy production and metabolic rate. This happens not just through hormones like thyroxine that come from proteins, but also as a virtue of just consuming the Paleo Diet. The right selection of foods increases metabolic rate. The fact is that I am just scratching the surface of all of the uses of protein and why it is absolutely critical that you consume regular amounts.
Arguing against the merits of protein and suggesting that the diet should contain limited amounts of it neglects basic biochemistry. In fairness, the diet should be mostly plant based, but there should also be adequate consideration given to protein consumption as part of a Paleo Diet. So ease your mind. Rather than feel guilty about the consumption of protein, take pleasure in it and know that you are giving your body what it needs.
Diet is the core concept of health.
There are a lot of topics that I discuss with my patients but one of those topics I bring up most often. And I wouldn’t be surprised if I was driving them crazy with how much I discuss it. But it’s important, I keep bringing it up because it is for their benefit, their health. I feel it’s important they know. It would be on me if they don’t know, and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I weren’t telling them and reminding them. It is the core of their makeup and it determines how they feel and function on a daily basis. I am referring to none other than diet, the core concept of health. And when I say diet I don’t mean diet as in lose some weight diet, but rather diet as in the things you eat on a daily basis, your daily diet.
The Paleo diet and the media.
Recently I’m sure you have heard some things about the Paleo diet in the media. The thing that bothers me about that is that the Paleo Diet is being portrayed as a “diet” and being lumped together with Atkins, the sprinkles, Weight Watchers etc. Although those diets may or may not be effective, the Paleo Diet is not a diet. You don’t start eating Paleo to lose weight (although it is a nice side effect). The Paleo Diet is a diet as in a way of eating for the rest of your life. I often refer to the Paleo Diet as the Paleo Lifestyle, because that is what it is, it’s a lifestyle, it’s permanent. So while I do appreciate all of the attention the Paleo Diet is getting lately in the media, when seeing or hearing anything about it, keep in mind, it’s not a diet, it’s a way of eating and living.
The Paleo Diet
You may say to yourself, “this guy is on a crusade with this diet talk.” The truth is that I am really not. I am not the “banner carrier” for any particular movement or diet. I am a promoter of truth and like it or not, the Paleo Diet is truth. When I say that it is truth, what I am in fact saying is that the Paleo Diet is the closest dietary pattern that aligns with how our body functions. Routine consumption of the Paleo Diet is able to be maintained indefinitely without concern for any ill effects to health or difficulties in maintaining it. In fact, it does just the opposite. Those that transition to the Paleo diet see great improvements in their health as well as find it easy to maintain.
The Paleo diet and the media.
Recently I’m sure you have heard some things about the Paleo diet in the media. The thing that bothers me about that is that the Paleo Diet is being portrayed as a diet it is being lumped together with Atkins, the sprinkles, Weight Watchers etc. The Paleo Diet is not a diet, you don’t start eating Paleo to lose weight (although it is a nice side effect). The Paleo Diet is a diet as in a way of eating for the rest of your life. I often refer to the Paleo Diet as the Paleo Lifestyle, because that is what it is, it’s a lifestyle, it’s permanent. So while I do appreciate all of the attention the Paleo Diet is getting, when seeing or hearing anything about it, keep in mind, it’s not a diet, it’s a way of eating and living.
This is why the Paleo Diet is such a natural fit for functional medicine. The focus of functional medicine is restoring the normal function of the body with precursors that it needs. Nothing is more central to this idea than diet. Eat the wrong foods and your diet works against you damaging your health. However, if you eat the right foods, your body maintains its function and you stay youthful and vibrant.
The best foundation is getting the right nutrients
When working with my patients initially, I am placing significant emphasis on getting the right nutrients in them and modifying their diet to meet their needs. This is a core concept in functional medicine. After all, if my patients are not starting off with a good foundation, how can they expect to get better? That foundation centers on the Paleo Diet. It provides the basis from which everything else can improve. Once the foundation is established, healing can take place.
Traditional medicine overlooks diet.
Functional medicine is a far different mindset than traditional medicine. Traditional medicine has long neglected the concept of food being core to healthcare. You can see this in the way that it is practiced daily. In routine clinical care, food is not a part of the treatment model. At best, mention is given to changing the diet with little instruction as to what that actually is. I see patients coming into my clinic having realized that their diet is central to their health and needs to change, but not having an idea of where to start.
After years of medical evolution, here those of us that are on the cutting edge of healthcare find ourselves having come full circle using the best medical technology to reinforce the basics such as diet.
“If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”
“An old-fashioned vegetable soup, without any enhancement, is a more powerful anti carcinogen than any known medicine.”
– James Duke M.D.(U.S.D.A.)
The new wave of medicine
I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard of Functional Medicine. It’s quickly on the rise and becoming the preferred method for healthcare by more and more people. I have been practicing Functional Medicine for over 10 years now, and I am happy to say that all the attention it is finally getting is very well deserved. Finally people are starting to realize that treating the underlying problem, what is causing your symptoms, is better and more logical than just slapping a “band aid” on the problem. Functional medicine is the new wave of medicine, and it’s not just for internal issues but also for muscle and joint issues as well.
Time for change
Let me introduce you to the concept of functional medicine just in case you are not familiar with it. The concept is so simple it is hard to believe everyone does not think this way in healthcare. I bet if you ask a hundred people on the streets here in the Houston area, not one of them would know what you are talking about. How can that be? How is it that there is a changing paradigm in healthcare happening around you and you don’t know about it? It is not your fault, but rather ingrained models of healthcare that are ready for a change. You can imagine in a city with a medical center as well recognized as Houston, change might come slow.
What is Functional medicine?
Functional medicine is the idea of providing the body the constituents that it needs to allow it to function as God intended it to. When the necessary precursors are given to the body, the biological systems will work as they should. Such constituents might be as simple as antioxidants and minerals, but nonetheless they are what is required for normal physiologic function. The end result is that allowing the systems of the body to carry out their role provides a restoration of function. When function is restored, the symptoms that manifested are alleviated.
Medicine is usually just a band aid.
Functional medicine is a different mindset than traditional medicine. Patient symptoms and complaints drive the majority of healthcare. The burden on the healthcare system is not derived from acute injuries, but from chronic conditions. Chronic ailments are a manifestation of a change in function of the body. With this change come symptoms. Classic approaches to symptoms have revolved around masking the symptoms with medication or the use of surgery to remove the offending problem. These approaches to medicine, while necessary in some case, don’t often address the underlying issue.
Functional medicine gets to the root of the symptom. The underlying cause.
In contrast, functional medicine looks at the symptom in a much different manner. The symptom is the alarm. Something is wrong and action needs to be taken. When patients present with a symptom, as a practicing functional medicine doctor, I begin to ask why. Why does a person have joint pain? I may determine that it is due to dysfunctional muscles that need support. Why are the cholesterol levels going up? A possible explanation for my patient might be that their stress is on the rise causing an increased demand for cholesterol to support hormone production.
Functional medicine is the way healthcare should be.
Having decided to become a functional medicine doctor means that I have also decided to think out side of the box. It’s in my nature. I just have to know and determine why. Rather than being restricted and limited to the algorithms of traditional healthcare, I decided to brand myself as a doctor my patients can trust and rely on to get to the root of the problem, one that will take the time to look at the whole picture and listen carefully to what patients are telling me. I also spend a lot of time with each patient usually 45 minutes to an hour. It’s important to hear what patients are saying to me so that I can accurately test them, assess their needs them and design a comprehensive protocol that specifically fits their needs. One size does not fit all. So you see, the movement has already begun. Functional medicine, is being backed by more and more research, and will become increasingly established as part of the medical system, even in cities with medical traditions such as Houston.
The Affordable Care Act
For a long time now we have known that we need a change in Healthcare. It seems more people are getting sicker, and that increases the demand on services and its getting harder to pay for these services. And now we have the the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, which promises to insure a new paradigm in medicine. The one thing the new healthcare law has in common with the current administration of medicines, is that they are both designed to alleviate symptoms rather than treating the underlying problem.
Sick care or Wellness??
Our state of healthcare has many many problems, the the problem that stands out the most is that people are treated for being sick. “Sick care”. When we need to be focused on “Wellness”. This is just one of the reasons that the new healthcare system will do very little to fix you health problems. The idea of the new legislation is to make care available to everyone. In theory, this is a good idea, but follows the way of socialized medicine, which by all accounts is a system patients do not want to be seen in. Moreover, clinicians are limited in their ability to deliver care in such a system due to restrictive guidelines. The question must be asked, “What kind of care are we talking about delivering?” The emphasis of a doctor visit is to attend to your immediate needs, not guide your health down a path of wellness. How is this acceptable?
The focus of medicine has to change if we expect the burden of healthcare that each of us shares to go away. Medicine needs to take on a new image. That image is functional medicine. Functional medicine is based on the idea that if all aspects of the body are functioning as intended, health abounds and sickness is subdued. The body is an integral system with all areas dependent on each other. To understand how to support health, a doctor must have the time to listen to your concerns and procure a better understanding of your health limitations. This is not our current model. The current model, even with the new legislative oversight, limits the doctor-patient interaction to insure that everyone is seen. Everyone may be seen, but at what cost?? Both financially and as it relates to your health.
Your ailment is just the starting point to find out whats really wrong with you.
Finally people are starting to recognize Functional Medicine, people are starting to understand how functional medicine can keep you away from the Doctor. Wellness is the future. Taking care of yourself, getting tested eating correctly instead of “dieting” this is the future. To prevent sickness. It is the only way to limit or remove what we spend on sick care. If we use it less, it costs us less. If you keep thinking that you should only see a Doctor when you are sick, or ailing, the wellness message will continue to be lost. Functional medicine points out a different path. We need to focusing on wellness from before time of conception until passing.
If you could imagine having a Doctor focus on every aspect of your life, how you feel inside and out, what you eat, what is your outlook on life, are you satisfied, how much do you exercise. That is Functional Medicine, this is the future. Most people still view Functional Medicine as something new and unusual, but less so now. People are educating themselves more, they are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Literally. The reason it’s changing is because people want someone to care about the way they feel. Someone that will really listen to them and look a little deeper. One size does not fit all, antidepressants do not heal everyone. Not everyone that cannot sleep needs medicine. What are the reasons? Why does this person feel this way? These are the questions that need to be asked. You don’t have to be a prisoner to the constraints of limited, system oriented care. You don’t have to wait until Functional Medicine is popular, you can do something now. You can see a Functional Medicine Doctor, and find out why you feel the way you do, and how to fix it forever naturally.
Window into our bodies
Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to just look in to how your body functions through a window? Or even better, if we could just visually see how our bodies are affected by what we do and eat? Then we could see how certain actions are healthy and will make our organs and tissues last longer, or maybe we will see how smoking and eating the wrong things weakens our bodies. At one time these questions were theoretical. But now in this modern day things are different, what we once could only imagine, we are now very capable of.
What age are you really?
How are you aging? That is the question. Are you aging fast or slow? To answer this question, you have to know your chronological age vs. your biological age. Chronological age is easily determined. It is your age. The missing variable has been determining biological age. There was no standardization to suggest how your body was functioning as a product of age. Traditional lab markers gave at best insinuations about your biological age, but nothing definitive. Yet, with the upsurge of research in the field of genomics, we began to learn about telomeres. If you are not familiar with Telomeres, you are going to want to know them.
What are Telomeres?
In short telomeres are the tips of your chromosomes, or genetic material. They are predictive of biological age. The longer they are the better your biological age. In contrast, shorter equals faster aging. You can now literally determine if your body is older than what the calendar says, or if you are younger.
Without question, everyone wants to be younger biologically than chronologically. If you are younger than your chronological age, you want to maintain. If you are older than your chronological age, you will want to make changes. But how do you know you are doing the right things to help you age slowly.
This is where functional medicine finds its role. At the center of anti-aging and rejuvenation is functional medicine. Functional medicine as the name implies centers on restoring function to the body. As it relates to telomeres, better function equals longer telomeres. Vice versa, longer telomeres equal better function. As an example, take blood sugar. When blood sugar rises routinely, secondary inflammation is created and telomeres are damaged. The prolonged shortening of telomeres also makes it more difficult to control blood sugar. It becomes a vicious circle. Cycles such as this are not broken by a single intervention aimed at symptoms, but rather a comprehensive approach targeting all possible areas of contribution.
Balance is the key
Many things are known to influence the length of the telomere. These include hormone balance, low levels of inflammation, proper exercise, sleep, a good diet, and a balanced nutritional state. The focus of functional medicine is to realign the health of the body. To illustrate this point, a good diet with proper exercise at some point will become limited in its ability to support long term health if you are not getting adequate sleep. The key to preserving your telomere length is balance. Yet to achieve balance, you must equally manage all aspects of your life and understand the interplay that they have. As a paradigm focused on creating synchrony between all aspects of health, functional medicine is well poised to help you protect your delicate telomeres.
Are Nuts Part Of The Paleo Diet?
Recently I was asked to review an article on the Paleo Diet. Someone had asked the author, a Paleo Diet advocate, about eating nuts. Just like in grains and legumes, nuts tend to be high in phytates. Legumes and grains are not considered Paleo foods and should definitely be avoided. How does one justify the consumption of nuts when grains and legumes were high in phytates as well and are not recommended, especially since nuts are often recommended as part of the Paleo Diet.
The author diplomatically provided sound science and logic to show that the amount of phytates in nuts can at times be higher than that found in grains and legumes, but that nuts are not considered a staple of the diet. In those instances were grains and legumes are commonly eaten, they are eaten on a repetitive basis, thus making the total accumulation of the phytates from these foods substantially higher. The level of phytates accumulated from eating nuts alone is not likely to be a problem. Therefore, the primary concern of phytates interfering with mineral absorption becomes a non-issue.
The bigger point is not whether phytates, or even grains and legumes for that matter, are a problem. The bigger issue is that if you look hard enough you are going to find some issue with nearly all food categories. Therefore, the idea is not to avoid a particular food grouping, but rather to eat it on a moderate level, or stated another way, to diversify the consumption of food. One thing I have learned from practice is that the body is not a fan of extremes. Too much is often just as bad as too little. Neither is an ideal state for the body. Stated another way, we call too little deficiency, and too much toxicity.
Too Much Of Anything Is Not Healthy
As a real world example, let’s take something that nearly all Paleo eaters like, meat. For simplicity, let’s use a chicken breast. A chicken breast is a protein source, and as such it is made up of amino acids. Just by the name, you can see that these are acidic. Lack of adequate protein consumption hinders detoxification, promotes muscle wasting, reduces our metabolic rate and impairs our ability to produce some of our hormones and neurochemicals. Clearly stated, it is essential. In opposition, too much protein, or an imbalanced amount of protein in the diet relative to other food categories has a tendency to make the body more acidic. Higher levels of acidity, as noted through urinary and salivary pH assessment can promote the onset of some chronic diseases. However, when protein is consumed in moderate amounts throughout the day with sufficient amounts of vegetables and fruits, the acidifying nature of proteins is kept in check by alkalizing effects of potassium.
Keep the diet diverse as possible and try to avoid extremes. You are more likely to stay balanced in your diet when you consume a variety of foods. I have often noticed that Paleo eaters have a tendency to be extreme in their actions. I personally think sometimes it just goes with the mindset. But instead of extremes, if you try to stay in the middle of the road and practice a more central line of moderation with your Paleo Diet choices, you will maximize the health promoting benefits that the Paleo Diet aims to provide.
Paleo Diet Low Carb?
It has been a while now since the low carb craze hit the United States. Yet, here we are many years later still talking about it. There must have been something to the ideas of Dr. Atkins. Indeed there was. He knew that an abundance of carbohydrates was not ideal for normal human function and that decreasing their intake could lead to weight loss. As weight loss is always a hot topic, the low-fat-fad grew. A few other popularly named diets even followed, all with same basic premise of cutting back the carbs in the diet. Included in this category is the Paleo Diet. However, I am here to proclaim this as a fallacy by those that do not eat Paleo.
Why Do We Need Carbohydrates
The Paleo Diet cannot be low carbohydrate. The whole premise that we should eat low carbohydrates goes completely against the way that our body functions. There are two very simple reasons that we should be eating carbohydrates. Foremost, our body’s primary energy source is carbohydrate and second, most of the diet should come from plants, which are denser in carbohydrate.
We Need Balance
We have to eat carbohydrates. Even those individuals that subscribe to the low carbohydrate diets know this. The key, as is often understated, is that the body needs balance. Too many carbohydrates are a problem, but so are too little. As is typical of human behavior, we go to the extremes, leaving rational thought behind. However, let’s take a simple look at the need for carbohydrates. Your body burns glucose for energy. If glucose is not available, protein and fat are used for energy, the latter being preferential. However, their use is precipitated by the conversion to glucose. The need for glucose is extremely high in the brain as it is the only macronutrient that allows proper function.
Moreover, when glucose is absent in sufficient quantities, the hormone cortisol is produced to maintain adequate blood levels. Cortisol is produced at the expense of other hormones. Add to this that many of us are already suffering from low cortisol levels due to chronic stress. Bottom line is that as this scenario plays out, hypoglycemia / low blood sugar functional can set in with accompanying hormone dysfunction. Do you have the mid afternoon lull in energy, get irritable when you don’t eat and get headaches or brain fog sometimes? You may already be headed down this path and don’t even realize it.
Plants Are Carbohydrates
Apart from any of this, most of your diet as a Paleo eater should be plants. Plants are carbohydrates. Granted, not all plants are the same. Nuts are higher in fat and protein, and beans / legumes have a reasonable amount of incomplete protein. That aside, the rest of the plants that you should be eating are carbohydrates. The carbohydrates differ in quantity and composition, but nonetheless, they are carbohydrates. Yams and butternut squash are higher in carbohydrates than say broccoli and asparagus. However, the makeup of both is a carbohydrate. When you consume a balanced diet of both carbohydrate dense and sparse plants, your total carbohydrate consumption is likely to look far more balanced than if you were to consume a diet higher in grains. Grains are of course carbohydrate laden.
So as you can see, the Paleo Diet cannot be a low carbohydrate diet by its nature when implemented correctly in a balanced fashion. Can you eat low carbohydrate on the Paleo Diet? Sure you can. I would even argue that there are times that “low carb” is the best approach. But this is not the premise of the Paleo Diet. The Paleo Diet is about eating real foods as you would find them in nature, including those that have more carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables and fruits. For Paleo success, the answer is not no / low carb, it is balanced carbs.
It’s All About the Science, Not Mantra
Foremost, you may find it odd that the Paleo Doctor, who so strongly advocates the Paleo Diet, is getting behind the benefits of a strict vegetarian diet. To that point, ideology is not important, but the facts derived from science are. As it relates to gut function, science suggests that vegetarians have a hand up on the typical Paleo Diet mantra of high protein and high fat. While often applied as high protein and high fat, the Paleo diet is not in fact meant to be high protein or high fat. Rather it is a diet founded in the consumption of unrefined foods that remain in their natural living forms with high nutrient density.
What the Vegetarian Can Teach the Paleo Diet Person
Let me be clear from the outset here, I am not recommending a vegetarian diet. However, there are some things that people that follow, or that are just learning to follow, the Paleo Diet,could take away from a proper vegetarian diet that is high in living plant based foods. When consumed as it was intended, a vegetarian diet supplies high quantities of the food group that should predominately be the diet. Vegetarians have it right by consuming vegetables and fruits. These should be the greatest percentage of the diet. However, where they have it wrong is that it should not be the only part of the diet. Key micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (protein) are absent from the diet.
The Importance of the Gastrointestinal Tract
The gastrointestinal tract is the fundamental system of the body. Through it we are able to begin to turn food into the necessary components that our body needs to stay functional. Likewise it also acts a regulator of the immune system, helps manage cholesterol and glucose to help control body weight and fat, and helps control inflammation. Most of this is done through the action of the beneficial bacteria of the gut, the probiotics. When probiotic colonies are supported they flourish and keep chronic low-grade inflammation suppressed. However, when they do not get the nutrition that they need, glucose is not as well controlled, cholesterol and triglyceride levels increase and inflammation goes up, just to name a few things.
Vegetarian Diet Keeps Gastrointestinal Tract Healthy
The key to keeping the probiotics of the gastrointestinal tract functional and viable is related to the type of food consumed. This is where we champion the vegetarian diet. According to Environmental Microbiology Reports (2013 Oct;5(5):765-75), a strict vegetarian diet improves the risk factors associated with metabolic disease by altering the microorganisms in the gut and lowering intestinal inflammation. The reason that the vegetarian diet excels in this function is that it is full of high fiber foods. The higher the fiber content of the diet, the greater the availability of short chain fatty acids, the fuel source of the probiotics. The probiotics in turn grow and positive change is made in the intestinal environment. As the probiotics increase their colonies to support our health, they reduce the growth of bad bacteria that harm our health.
How to Support Gut Function, the Vegetarian Way
Not to be redundant, but because it is important enough to repeat, the Paleo Diet when properly applied should borrow some key concepts from a strict vegetarian diet. The strict vegetarian diet provides ample quantities of plants, most notably fruits and vegetables. These foods offer benefits unparalleled by other food groups that affect the health of the probiotics in the intestines. If the probiotics are growing and producing healthy populations, our bodies will be healthy and at less risk of chronic disease. Therefore as a Paleo Diet eater, you still want to maintain a diet that is mostly plant based focusing on vegetables and fruits.