Twenty years ago, most people didn't know anything about gluten. People didn't even know how to spell gluten. Now gluten-free diets have become all the rage. But are celiacs the only people who should be on a gluten-free diet?
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Are you confused on what's healthy to eat? If so, Dr. Mark Hyman, who has been studying nutrition for 35 years, brings clarity to what you should be putting in your mouth and what you shouldn't in his book Food. What the Heck Should I Eat?.
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- Can Food-Focused Medicine Cure Food-Related Disease? ›
A reader tweeted, "I lost 30 lbs on The Blood Sugar Solution program. Now, I am following the guidelines from Eat Fat, Get Thin for the next 30 days. NO sugar/carbs—all veggies, proteins, good fats—but seeing much slower weight loss this time."
Weight loss plateaus are a very common and frustrating issue. When I am working with someone who is having trouble losing weight, despite doing everything right, there are a few things I look at, to see if we can uncover why they are hitting a weight loss plateau.
In this week's House Call, a reader asked, "If one is lactose intolerant, but has no other intolerance to dairy, (e.g. casein and whey) is it ok to consume dairy products while having Hashimoto's?"
By now, most of my readers probably know how I feel about dairy—it's nature's perfect food—but only if you're a calf. We have no biological requirement for this food, and yet, we've been told over and over again that dairy is a great source of calcium, milk makes healthy bones and we should drink it daily. I'm here to tell you that this is not true.
Scott, a 10-Day Detox participant wants to know, what are the best prebiotics and probiotics to take and how to keep his gut healthy.
The health of the trillions of bugs in our gut (which outnumber your cells 10 to 1) is one of the biggest things that impacts our wellbeing. We have to learn how to tend the flora of our internal gardens (our gut) by being selective of what we eat and how we live. We must feed the good bugs and avoid gut-busting habits—like eating too much sugar and starch or consuming too much alcohol or allowing stress to wreak havoc (yes, your gut bacteria are eavesdropping on your thoughts).
By Melissa Kravitz
In the second edition of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Dietary Goals for the United States, published in 1977, Americans were advised to limit their intake of fats, replacing their regular fat sources (meat, butter) with complex carbohydrates and manufactured substitutes (margarine).
And just as low-fat, fat-free and "lite" products began cluttering grocery shelves with their fat-less promises and shiny packaging tempting grocery shoppers to pick the skinnier, chicer lifestyle purchase, obesity rates began to grow and eventually soar in the U.S.
Avoiding fats has made America even fatter than before.
The percentage of Americans who are obese has been steadily increasing since the low-fat campaign began in the 1970s. National Institutes of Health
"The 40-year-old campaign to create low- and nonfat versions of traditional foods has been a failure: We've gotten fat on low-fat products. Why? Because removing the fat from the foods doesn't necessarily make them nonfattening. Carbohydrates can also make you fat and many low- and nonfat foods boost the sugars to make up for the loss of flavor," Michael Pollan explains in Food Rules. "By demonizing one nutrient—fat—we inevitably give a free pass to another, supposedly 'good,' nutrient—carbohydrates in this case—and then proceed to eat too much of them instead."
Since the low-fat campaign began in the late 1970s, Americans have actually been eating more than 500 additional calories per day, most of them in the form of refined carbohydrates like sugar. The result: The average man is 17 pounds heavier and the average woman 19 pounds heavier than in the late 1970s. The takeaway here is that you're better off eating the real thing in moderation than bingeing on lite products packed with sugars and salt.
A 2015 study conducted by American and British doctors concludes that the dietary fat recommendations introduced to 220 million Americans and 56 million UK citizens in the late 1970s and early '80s were completely unsubstantiated by clinical trials. As a result, "clinicians may be more questioning of dietary guidelines, less accepting of low-fat advice (concomitantly high carbohydrate) and more engaged in nutritional discussions about the role of food in health."
The Spread of the Low-Fat Myth
Intuitively or at least to those not versed in nutrition and medical science, eating less fat to be less fat may add up. And when politicians and the media perpetuate this myth, one can see how easy it is to buy into. When low-fat snacks are sitting next to traditional packaged cookies on the shelf, just feet away from the aisle-cap magazine boasting the newest tricks to eat less fat, what are Americans going to buy?
In the February 2008 article How the Ideology of Low Fat Conquered America, published in Oxford's Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, scientist Ann F. La Berge points to popular 20th-century magazines like Prevention, Family Circle and the now-defunct Ladies' Home Journal, as well as the New York Times, for popularizing the half-baked science that low-fat foods were the solution to America's weighty woes. Combine the ever-steady stream of articles on how to eat less fat with clever marketing and tasty products like Snackwell's line of low-fat baked goods and it's easy to see how America ate into the myth.
Have you heard of the concept of food as medicine? Have you ever wondered about the Blood Type Diet or the Ketogenic Diet? These are the three questions covered in this week's Housecall.
Food as Medicine
Our first question comes from Chrysanne who asked, "Is it really worth it to spend extra money on good food? Does it make a difference?"
The food industry likes to trick us into thinking that eating healthy is expensive, but this is far from the truth. My friends at the Environmental Working Group created an easy-to-use, comprehensive guide, called Good Food on a Tight Budget, to help consumers make the best food choices without breaking the bank.
When people tell me they cannot afford organic produce or healthy cuts of meat, I ask them to consider the gargantuan markup of many convenience foods. Manufacturers package them in "value-priced jumbo sized" containers and grocery stores promote them with price cuts to create the illusion that we are getting value.
Relying on inexpensive, overly processed food is tempting, given our demanding lifestyles and schedules, but the cost to our health is quite large. Feasting on the sodium, fat and sugar bombs disguised as food can lead to serious diseases that cost hundreds of dollars in doctor's visits and prescription drugs.
Food is not just calories; food is information. I've seen thousands of people transform simply by changing their diet, so why not give it a shot? You will only feel better. Here are my tips for eating well on a tight budget.
The Blood Type Diet
Our next question comes from Jenna who asked, "Eating for your blood type advocates say that those with O blood type shouldn't eat anything with coconut, but it's so good for you. What are your thoughts on this?"
I believe in the personalization of our diets. We are learning more and more about how to customize diets for every individual based on their genetics, metabolic type and more. The blood type diet was one of the first customizable diets, but it only focuses on one bit of information: your blood type.
Instead, I recommend looking at the whole picture. When I see a patient, I look at their genetics, predisposition to diabetes, food intolerances, detoxification symptoms and other factors.
My hope is that in five years or less, we will be able to customize our diets based on a simple drop of blood. But until then, my advice is to look at the whole picture instead of just one factor. You can do this by working with a Functional Medicine practitioner who can test you for food intolerances, check out the state of your gut, identify nutritional deficiencies among other factors, to give you a complete picture of the state of your body. From there, they can create a plan to customize your diet to get you back on track and optimize your nutritional intake.
Also, you know your body better than anyone else. If coconut oil works for you, use it. The smartest doctor in the whole room is your own body. Take note of how you feel after you eat certain foods. If you dig a bit deeper, you can find out what works for you and what doesn't.
The Ketogenic Diet
Our final question comes from Deanna who asked, "Is there such a thing as a vegetarian or a vegan ketogenic diet?"
I'm not going to lie to you, it is absolutely tougher to be vegan or vegetarian on a ketogenic diet, but it is possible.
You need to focus on two important groups to maintain a vegetarian ketogenic diet: proteins and fats. In fact, studies have shown that a low-carb vegan diet with higher amounts of plant-based fats and proteins has advantages over a high-carb, low-fat diet—including increased weight loss and improvement in heart disease risk factors.
Sources of vegetarian protein include:
- Tofu and tempeh
- Nuts and seeds
- Eggs (if you're not vegan)
Sources of plant-based fats:
- Organic extra-virgin olive oil
- Organic virgin coconut oil
- Macadamia nut oil
- Avocado oil
- Grass-fed ghee (if you're not vegan)
Here's an easy guide to a vegan ketogenic diet.
"Dr. Hyman, I'm so confused about what fats to cook with," a reader recently wrote. "For so long I've been using vegetable oils because I heard they were best to cook with and now I hear that we can cook with butter or coconut oil."
I completely understand your confusion, especially with rampant misinformation about fats and nutrition in general. For instance, the American Heart Association recommends adults get no more than five percent of their calories from saturated fat, urging people to use vegetable oils instead.
When cooking, use extra-virgin coconut oil, avocado oil (which can be used at higher temperatures because these are highly stable oils) and even ghee (clarified butter).iStock
They also advise people to eat at least 5 to 10 percent of their calories from polyunsaturated fat. Unlike saturated fat, the American Heart Association rationalizes the linoleic acid in polyunsaturated fats lower LDL cholesterol levels.
As a result of this and other poor nutrition advice, the average intake of this omega-6 fatty acid has risen sharply: Americans consume at least twice the amount of linoleic acid today than they did in the 1960s.
Increased consumption of omega-6 vegetable oils, which are highly inflammatory to the body and unstable, has subsequently increased inflammatory diseases. Over-consuming omega-6 fats and under-consuming omega-3 fats increases numerous health issues including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, pre-diabetes, IBS, arthritis, asthma, cancer and autoimmune diseases.
These ubiquitous omega-6 fats like vegetable oils (soybean, safflower, sunflower and canola oils) undo any health benefits from consuming omega-3 fats. They also reduce conversion of plant-based omega-3 fats (called alpha-linolenic acid or ALA) into active forms of omega-3s (calledeicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid or EPA and DHA, respectively) by about 40 percent.
This misguided dietary advice to swap traditional omega-3-rich fats for inflammatory omega-6 fats, although it may have begun with good intent, has yielded disastrous results. Consuming too many omega-6 fats also increases mental illness, suicide and homicide. In fact, studies show a connection of mental health with inflammation in the brain.
Big food companies have played a big role here. The oil industry played a major role pushing trans fats. When that didn't work, they resorted to "healthier," highly refined vegetable oil and other omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.
We need to eliminate these highly processed vegetable oils that are so prevalent in the standard American diet. Instead, I suggest using more plant-based and animal-stable fats such as butter, coconut oil and even lard.
Based on misinformation, you might think using these fats is unhealthy. I did too at one time, yet after closely evaluating literature on this topic from a neutral perspective, I completely changed my diet and those of my patients.
Today, I embrace coconut oil, ghee and even some grass-fed butter as part of my diet. After all, we've been eating these and other traditional fats for centuries before flawed science and so-called experts told us they were unhealthy and caused heart disease.
Saturated fat is one reason these animal-stable fats got a bad rep. While studies show saturated fat raises LDL (your so-called "bad" cholesterol), it actually has been found to improve the quality of your LDL by increasing its size, making it less likely to promote heart disease. Saturated fat also raises HDL (your "good" cholesterol).
While research shows coconut oil contains higher amounts of saturated fat and does increase total cholesterol, it also raises HDL and improves your TC/HDL ratio (a good thing), a far better predictor of heart attacks than LDL alone.
Time for an Oil Change
So what are your best cooking choices? I recommend cutting out all refined oils except extra-virgin olive oil. When cooking, use extra-virgin coconut oil, avocado oil (which can be used at higher temperatures because these are highly stable oils) and even ghee (clarified butter).
Ghee has a higher smoking point at 400 to 500 F and provides the same nutrients in grass-fed butter like cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Ghee and butter are also high in vitamins D and A, omega-3 fats, and butyric acid, which can boost immunity and help inflammation, as well as protect against colon cancer.
Coconut oil tolerates temperatures up to about 350 F, so it's great for most baking and medium-high heat sautéing. Olive oil is best for low-heat cooking or used raw for dressing salads. Avocado oil, macadamia oil and walnut oil also are wonderful raw and make great dressings.
Whatever you choose, always go for organic, unrefined, cold-pressed or expeller pressed oils. Do your research and don't be afraid to contact a company directly to ensure its products are truly cold-pressed. Organic production prohibits GMOs and the use of hexanes for extraction in oils.
Storage and shelf life are crucial with cooking oils. Store oils in dark, not clear, bottles and keep in a cool, dark place away from light and heat. Don't store oils on kitchen counters or next to the stove. Always close the lid tightly and immediately store oils after using them because oxygen contributes to rancidity.
Oils go bad over a span of months depending on the type. I recommend only purchasing the amount you will actually use within two months.
To further learn how to cook with healthy fats and which fats to choose, look for my new cookbook, the Eat Fat, Get Thin Cookbook in which I present more than 175 recipes that support healthy cooking and eating
If you're confused about what fats to use and how to use them, I highly recommend checking out this cookbook, in stores on Nov. 29 and available now online.
Full confession: Once upon a time, I meditated consistently. As a teenager, my sister had a boyfriend who was a Transcendental Meditation (TM) teacher, so she taught me how to meditate.
I really got passionate about meditation as an adult, attending 10-day retreats where I meditated up to 12—yes, 12—hours a day. I studied Buddhism in college, and meditation remained an integral part of my life.
Meditating before I paddled down the Green River in Utah.
As you probably know too well, real life can interfere with creating time for oneself or even the inclination to meditate, and for me, eventually, it fell by the wayside.
Just thinking about the zillion tasks I juggle every day makes my head spin: managing a functional medicine clinic at a major hospital, seeing patients at my own practice, writing books and attending to tons of other work obligations. I balance these duties with regular exercise, eating healthy and oh yeah, sleeping 8 to 10 hours every night.
So OK, no jury in the world would convict me when I say I don't have time to meditate, right?
At the same time, I've been "prescribing" meditation to patients and readers for decades, so I always felt slightly uncomfortable recommending it when I didn't practice meditation myself.
Among its many benefits, meditation reduces stress. Think of your brain as a computer, simultaneously keeping many windows and programs going.
Meditation helps you close out the unnecessary windows so you can focus on what's essential. When you do less with more, you enjoy life more and perform at a higher level.
I could go on, but as my new friend Emily Fletcher recently reminded me, you don't need studies to substantiate meditation's many benefits.
An incredible Broadway performer in her past life, Emily and I met recently while lecturing at a conference in Greece. She's a bona fide rock star, teaching meditation to some of the world's top players, like those working at Google and the Harvard Business School.
Emily immediately called me out on the "I don't have time to meditate" excuse. In saying that, she said, I was only fooling myself. Even though I felt pretty good, she mentioned that meditation could help me feel better, be better and become happier.
When I returned from Greece, I told Emily I wanted to reactivate my meditation practice. I realized this would require time and commitment, but I remained determined and stuck with it.
Over the past several months, as Emily helped rekindle my meditation fire and gave me a mantra to work with, I experienced a profound, "supercharged" difference. I felt happier, calmer, less anxious and more energized or filled with energy. Before, I felt tired at the end of a long day; now I find I am alert and far more productive.
Experiencing those and other benefits makes prioritizing meditation much easier. We all say "I'm too busy to meditate." Listen, if Oprah has time to meditate—if I have time to meditate—so do you.
At the same time, I understand how finding a compatible practice that works with your crazy schedule can be a challenge. After all, there are lots of meditation methods out there, and you could spend years selecting among them.
Emily and I want to simplify that journey for you, which is why she created Ziva Meditation, the world's first online meditation training.
In only eight days, you'll graduate with a meditation practice you can do anywhere, anytime, to boost productivity, sleep more soundly and even have great sex.
Ziva Meditation helps you access a verifiable state of consciousness different from waking, sleeping or dreaming. In this state, you're actually getting rest that's two to five times deeper than sleep.
Over time, Ziva Meditation makes life brighter and clearer. You start functioning better and enjoying more because your body doesn't have to work so hard to handle the stress. Once you graduate, you will have a practice with a mantra that you can employ every day, culminating in a 15-minute daily practice.
One cool thing that comes with this program: is specific guided visualizations to upgrade sleep, enhance mental clarity, and better manage stress. This can be an incredibly helpful technique for those who travel a lot. As someone who's often on the road and sometimes struggling with things like getting enough sleep or a foggy brain, these visualizations are amazing.
Ultimately, meditation is like any other skill. You've got to make the time and effort, but it gets easier once you make it a daily habit and begin seeing the benefits. Trust me: It changes everything. Recently I meditated on the plane and arrived in the most alert, focused and calm state I've felt in ages. Who needs Starbucks when you feel this good?
I hope I've convinced you to learn more about this revolutionary meditation method. Check it out here and enter the discount code: HEALTH
You'll find a beautiful online global community in which people get support and encouragement. You can even get a $50 discount for your friends and family when they checkout with the code HEALTH.
You'll quickly discover, as I recently did, that once you calm your mind, it is so much easier to make smarter choices about food and exercise. Your relationships get better. Literally everything in your life improves.
If you're curious about learning more before you commit, we have a free online masters class called Stress Less, Accomplish More.
Emily changed my life, and her work can also change yours. I hope you'll join me in incorporating this amazing, simple-to-apply meditation into your life. Trust me when I say it is an absolute game changer.
If you've ever done meditation, did you find it challenging to maintain it amidst everyday life's constant demands? What benefits did you ultimately see from doing it? Share your thoughts below.
Watch our conversation here:
"Dr. Hyman, can you tell me more about probiotics? Can supplementing with them really help reduce belly bloat and IBS symptoms? How do you know which ones are good and which ones are a waste of money?"
Well—to be frank, our poop and all the bugs that live in there are the great new frontier in medicine. Who knew!? The health of the 100 trillion bugs in your gut (which outnumber you 10 to 1) is one of the biggest things that impacts your health. Is it as simple as just taking a few probiotics or eating some yogurt? Not really—we have to learn how to tend the gut flora of our inner gardens by being selective of what we eat and how we live; feeding the good bugs and avoiding gut—busting drugs and habits—like eating too much sugar and starch, or consuming too much alcohol, or not managing our stress (yes, your gut bacteria are eavesdropping on your thoughts).
But What About Probiotics?
This is a huge area of research and really, we are at the infancy of understanding how to create and use probiotics. Probiotics are popping up everywhere! They're in yogurt commercials and sold at your pharmacy and grocery store. Ever since gut health has come to the forefront, probiotics have become a popular topic. So, do they really help?
Well, in order to understand probiotics, we need to understand the gut. I see so many patients in my office every week who are suffering from uncomfortable and disabling symptoms like bloating, cramps, diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain. Often these are signs of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which has become a very real problem. Did you know that 60 million people (20 percent of Americans) have an irritable bowel? And even if you don't have gut symptoms, so many other diseases are affected by the health of your gut flora—including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, allergic diseases like asthma and eczema and even depression, ADD and autism!
What causes an irritable bowel? The biggest causes are bad bugs growing in there where they shouldn't, a leaky gut and food sensitivities—all of which drive inflammation and irritation.
Bad bugs grow when we eat a processed diet that's high in sugar and starch; don't eat enough of the right fiber and prebiotics; or take too many gut-busting drugs (like antibiotics, acid blockers for reflux, anti-inflammatories, hormones and more). Think of your gut as an inner garden; just with any garden—when you let the weeds take over, you get into trouble.
Leaky gut happens when your gut lining breaks down. This can be caused by any of number of things, including: stress; too many antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs (like aspirin or Advil); using steroids to treat symptoms; intestinal infections; consuming a low-fiber, high-sugar diet and too much alcohol; and more. When the gut lining breaks down, your immune system is exposed to foreign particles from food and bacteria and other microbes. This triggers and activates an immune response, irritating your gut and creating havoc, which leads to an irritable bowel, an irritable brain and other system-wide problems (including allergies, arthritis, autoimmunity, mood disorders).
Basically, the microbial ecosystem in the gut has to be healthy for you to be healthy. When your gut bacteria are out of balance, it makes you sick. Among all that gut bacteria, there are good guys, bad guys and very bad guys. When you have too many bad guys, and not enough good guys, this is a problem. That's where probiotics come in.
Along with other gut-healing nutrients, a low-glycemic, whole foods diet filled with healthy proteins, fats and fiber, and probiotics can improve the health of your gut significantly. Why? Because probiotics help to populate your gut with good bacteria.
There are lots on the market to choose from. I recommend taking very high-potency probiotics (look for at least 25 to 50 billion live CFU's from a variety of strains). Start slowly and observe how the probiotics affect your gut. When you first start taking probiotics, you might notice some uncomfortable symptoms like gas and bloating, but if the symptoms persist for more than a few days, you may need to delay probiotics until their gut is more intact. For example, if you're dealing with what's called Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO), you might not be able to tolerate probiotics until your gut is in a better place.
I don't normally recommend actual products but quality varies greatly, so here is a list of my favorite brands. One product I like is VSL#3—a super high potency probiotic. Each dose contains 450 billion live beneficial bacteria which colonize the GI tract with optimal amounts and types of bacteria to protect against inflammation and support immunity and healthy digestive function. You will need to start slowly on this and build up.
I typically prefer pills or powder form because it's the easiest and most effective way to get your daily probiotics in. In cases where someone is dealing with yeast overgrowth or a histamine intolerance and wants to avoid fermented foods, a probiotic supplement might be the best choice.
Another way to get probiotics naturally is to eat fermented foods. If you can tolerate them, probiotic-rich foods like kimchi, kombucha, miso or sauerkraut can be very beneficial. Sometimes, you can also eat whole fat, organic or grass-fed yogurt, if you are not allergic to dairy. Try unsweetened sheep's milk or goat's milk yogurt. These foods can help your gut flora get and stay healthy.
The best way to determine if probiotics work for you and which ones to choose is to work with a Functional Medicine practitioner. Everyone is different, and for some people, deeper gut healing might be required before you start taking probiotics. To tend your inner garden, you might need to do some weeding, seeding and feeding—a process that Functional Medicine doctors follow: first you weed to get rid of the bad bugs using herbs or medications; then you seed the gut lining with good bugs; and then you feed the good bugs with prebiotic foods and fibers to keep everything healthy.
How to Re-Balance Your Gut Flora Today
Probiotics can be very beneficial, but they are just part of the puzzle. Here are my steps to re-balancing your gut flora:
1. Eat a whole foods diet. Your diet should be rich in nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans (if you can tolerate them), fruits and vegetables, all of which feed good bugs. Some of you may not tolerate beans and grains if you have bad bacterial overgrowth. For those, I suggest starting with the 10-Day Detox Diet which eliminates gluten and dairy—big triggers for irritable bowel. this plan helps to eliminate the bad stuff and add the good stuff and it works fast.
2. Avoid the use of antibiotics, acid blockers and anti-inflammatories ... they change gut flora for the worse. Often, you can get off them if you follow my dietary suggestions and fix your gut. A patient recently said that when she eliminated gluten and dairy, all her reflux and irritable bowel symptoms just went away.
3. Take probiotics daily, which are not only beneficial for obvious gut dysfunction but also have been shown to help with depression, skin issues, autoimmune conditions and more.
4. Incorporate prebiotics. Prebiotics are a form of soluble fiber that help feed the good bugs in your gut. Prebiotics include foods like onions, garlic, resistant starch, sweet potatoes, dandelion greens and jicama. So eat plenty of these beneficial prebiotics.
5. Consider specialized testing such as organic acid, stool, gluten sensitivity and food allergy testing if the above strategies don't help you get to the bottom of your gut dysfunction. You might have to work with a Functional Medicine practitioner to effectively test and treat imbalances in your gut.
Imagine eating 12 pounds of food a day and staying thin and healthy.
That is exactly what hunter-gather ate for millennia without any obesity or chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer or dementia.Today, I wouldn't advise anyone to eat 12 pounds of food each day, because the food in our society lacks one major secret ingredient that our ancestors ate in nearly all their food—fiber!
There is a special super fiber that is much more powerful than regular fiber and can provide a great way for people to lose weight.Shutterstock
You might wonder how fiber can prevent obesity and all of the chronic diseases of aging.
It's actually quite simple. It slows the rate at which food enters your blood stream and increases the speed at which food exits your body through the digestive tract. That keeps your blood sugar and cholesterol in ideal balance, quickly eliminates toxins from your gut and reduces your appetite.
There is a special super fiber that is much more powerful than regular fiber and can provide a great way for people to lose weight. I will tell you about the remarkable discoveries in this area a little later.
First let's learn how this discovery was made and why this super fiber is so important.
Dr. Denis Burkitt, a famous physician, studied the differences between indigenous African Bushmen and their "civilized" western counterparts.
The Bushmen seemed to be free of the scourges of modern life including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. He found that the average bushman had a stool weight of 2 pounds, while an average civilized man had a stool weight of only 4 ounces. So why the big difference?
In a word: Fiber.
The average American eats about 8 to 15 grams of fiber a day, the average hunter-gatherer ate 100 to 150 grams from all manner of roots, berries, leaves and plant foods. Humans need fiber to keep us healthy from top to bottom, as well as to provide food for the healthy bacteria that work with us to promote health.
How Fiber Prevents and Treats Disease
Research proves that fiber can lower blood sugar as effectively as some diabetic medication and promote weight loss. Fiber is definitely a great ally in the battle of the bulge. If you're diabetic, adding fiber to your diet can even mean that you can cut out insulin. And it's a great natural cure for constipation and irregularity.
But it's also a hero in more serious battles—it's been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer by as much as a third and breast cancer by almost 40 percent.
One study showed how butyrate, a type of fatty acid made by gut bacteria from certain types of fiber, acts as a switch that turns on the p21 tumor suppressor gene (an anti-cancer gene) and essentially, turns off colon cancer. It also lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease by as much as 40 percent.
Insoluble vs. Soluble Fiber
Mostly when people think of fiber, they think of bran. Bran is a wheat fiber that is mostly insoluble and doesn't get digested. Think of it as a scouring pad for your intestines. It's good for getting you regular, but doesn't do the job of soluble fiber—which is the kind found in almost all other plant foods.
The bacteria in your gut metabolize soluble fiber from fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and most whole grains.
This leads to lower cholesterol, blood sugar and insulin; cancer prevention; balanced hormone levels, removing excess estrogen and reducing the risk of breast cancer; production of vital vitamins and minerals; food production for colon cells; and so much more.
An Ancient Super Fiber
Before I tell you how I want you to increase your fiber intake, I want to tell you about some recent discoveries of an ancient fiber source that can help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol, reduce your appetite and lower your blood sugar more effectively than any other fiber.
It is called glucomannan (GM), a soluble, fermentable and highly viscous dietary fiber. It is derived from the root of the elephant yam, also known as konjac (Amorphophallus konjac or Amorphophallus rivieri), native to Asia.
The konjac tuber has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy and to make traditional foods such as konjac jelly, tofu and noodles. More recently, purified konjac flour or GM has been used as a food stabilizer, gelling agent and supplement. It can absorb up to 50 times its weight in water, making it one of the most viscous dietary fibers known.
In many studies, doses of 2 to 5 grams a day of GM was well-tolerated and resulted in significant weight loss in overweight and obese individuals.
Glucomannan works by promoting a sense of fullness. The fiber pushes more calories out through your colon, rather than letting them be absorbed.
How does it promote weight loss you may wonder?
This fiber lowers the energy density of the food you eat. In other words it bulks up food in your gut, creating a lower calorie content per weight of food you eat. Since fiber has almost no calories but a lot of weight, adding it to the diet lowers the energy-to-weight ratio of the food that is consumed.
Studies show that it is the volume or weight of food that controls our appetite, so the fiber increases the weight without increasing calories. This powerful fiber may control our appetite in other key ways.
For example, it can signal the brain that there is a lot of food in our gut, sending the message to slow down stuffing more food into our bellies. It also moves through the stomach and the small bowel slowly because it is so viscous.
By slowing the rate of food absorption from the gut to the bloodstream, it reduces the amount of insulin produced after a meal, which also controls your appetite.
It may also increase the level of hormones in the gut (such as cholecystokinin), which is another control on the appetite. Lastly, more energy (calories) is lost through the stool because the calories are all soaked into the fiber.
So make sure you eat more fiber, not necessarily in 12 pounds of food a day, but by being smart about what you eat. We should shoot for 30 to 50 grams a day.
How to Boost Your Fiber Intake
Here are some simple suggestions for increasing fiber in your diet:
- Add 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds a day to your food. Get a coffee grinder and use it only grinding flax seeds. Grind 1/2 cup at a time and keep it in a tightly sealed glass jar in the fridge or freezer. Sprinkle on salads, grains or vegetable dishes.
- Eat beans if you can tolerate them (all forms of legumes)—they beat out everything else for fiber.
- Bulk up on vegetables—with almost no calories, high levels of antioxidants and protective phytochemicals, these excellent fiber sources should be heaped on your plate daily.
- Add whole grains like brown rice or quinoa if you can tolerate them.
- Include a few servings of low-sugar fruits to your diet daily (berries are the highest in fiber and other protective phytochemicals).
- Include a few handfuls of almonds, walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts and seeds like pumpkin, chia and hemp to your diet every day.
- Start slowly. Switching abruptly to a high-fiber diet can cause gas and bloating. Increase slowly until you get up to 50 grams a day.
- Consider a good fiber supplement containing soluble and insoluble fibers if you are have trouble getting your fill of fiber (watch for added sweeteners and additives).
- By now you know that my favorite kind of super fiber is glucomannan or konjac. Many companies sell it in capsule form. I like PGX, produced by Natural Factors. You can take 2 to 4 capsules just before eating with a glass of water. Or take 2.5 to 5 grams of the powder form. Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day when taking PGX, as you can become constipated.
Earlier this month, my 15-year-old son, Aidan, and I joined a group of environmental activists on a six day float down Utah's Green River. In rafts and kayaks, we paddled Desolation and Gray canyons almost to the Colorado River confluence.
The Green River.
It was my second trip down the Green. In April 1966, I ran the prime white water stretches of the Yampa and Green through western Colorado and eastern Utah near Dinosaur National Park with my father and mother, U.S. Interior Secretary Stuart Udall and five of my 11 siblings. My father's friend, mountaineer Jim Whitaker, had organized that trip. Whittaker also accompanied my family on a Colorado River trip in 1964, down the Middle Fork of the Salmon in the summer of 1965 and on a kayak run on the upper Hudson's wild white water during a blizzard in May 1965. My father's purpose for the latter trip was to block an industry proposal to dam the Hudson River Gorge.
On each of those western trips, my father took us to nearby Navajo, Hopi and Ute reservations where we visited schools and health clinics and saw the despair among America's first nations mired in poverty, racism, oppression and hopelessness. My father taught us the history of the early American explorers, John Wesley Powell, John Charles Freemont, and Lewis and Clarke.
Following his brother, John Kennedy's assassination in 1963, he increasingly found spiritual renewal in wilderness which he considered "the undiluted work of the Creator." He saw white water as a way to struggle with nature without subduing it and he hoped that all that climbing, paddling and privation would imbue his children with the kind of beef jerky toughness he associated with the American character.
American democracy, he told us, had its roots in wilderness. He felt that outdoor adventures would connect us with those values and with the generations of Americans who lived before Columbus. He told us that these wilderness rivers and the majestic western landscapes were part of our American heritage and that good Americans of every generation would need to fight to protect them from the greed of reckless developers and the rapacious extractive industrialists who wanted to liquidate our public commons for private profit.
In 1973, five years after my father's death, I ran the 46-mile Cataract Canyon along with my uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy; the legendary white water guide, Dee Holladay; and Sen. Frank Moss. Moss, a close friend of my father, who had arranged for the canyon to be protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Holladay was one of the iconic white water guides and, like his competitor and friend, the recently deceased George Wendt—and so many guides of that generation—he was an ardent river conservationist.
Holladay's granddaughter, Lauren Wood, now heads the Green River Action Project, a Colorado Riverkeeper Affiliate which is also a licensed member of Waterkeeper Alliance—the umbrella group for some 300 river, sound and bay keepers in 34 countries. I am the organization's president. Wood accompanied us down the Green River as a guide along with Colorado Riverkeeper (and white water guide) John Weisheit and Howard Dennis.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Colorado Riverkeeper John Weisheit, Green Riverkeeper Lauren Wood, Howard Dennis and Waterkeeper Alliance trustees Geralyn Dreyfous and Deer Valley CEO Lessing Stern at Sand Wash put in.
Dennis, the chief of the Squash Clan and the Grey Flute Chief of Mishongnovi Village, gave us vivid interpretations of the thousand year old Fremont Petroglyphs we saw at campsites and canyon walls throughout the trip. On each panel, Dennis pointed out the great variety of Hopi religious and mythological figures all mixed up with more banal items that Howard analogized to contemporary newspaper obituaries and local news.
During its more recent history, the canyon was a hiding place and traverse for western outlaws, including Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Joe Walker, Elzy Lay and other members of The Hole in the Wall gang and Cassidy's Wild Bunch. Those bandits commonly traded exhausted horses for fresh mounts at the ranch of Mormon homesteader, Jim McPherson.
McPherson built his log cabins, barns, chicken houses soon after arriving in Gray Canyon in 1889. Those sturdy structures still stand at the Green's confluence with Rock Creek. At Schoolhouse rapids, a few miles downriver from the McPherson spread, a local posse ambushed and killed bank robber, flat nose George Curry in April 1900, leaving bullet holes that are still visible on the canyon walls. McPherson and the other ranchers were sympathetic with the outlaws; the railroads, coal companies and banks they robbed were often the bane to western working people, farmers and ranchers.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. with his son Aidan at McPherson Cabin 1890 Mormon Homesteader and crony of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and his son Aidan with Ute leader Forest Cuch and Coleen Selepstewa at Flat Canyon mile 63.5.
We rapidly confirmed John Wesley Powell's observation that weather in the canyon can be extreme. Violent storms interrupted otherwise hot sunny days on the river dropping sheets of rain so dense we could hardly see the bow of our boat from the stern. I kidded Forest Cuch, a Ute Elder, for digging a ditch to anchor his tent with buried tree branches one cloudy afternoon. He laughed at me a few hours later when my tent blew away like a tumble weed with Aidan and me in it being flayed by our own tent pegs.
Green River warriors.
The Green cuts through the Colorado plateau in a mile deep canyon that is home to mule deer, beaver, otter, mountain goat, big horn, sheep, golden and bald eagle, peregrine falcons, all of which we saw as we floated through towering canyons of layered sedimentary rock.
On the third day, we found a dead falcon, otherwise healthy but recently drowned—probably after binding to a duck. Inquisitive big horn sheep raced down to the river banks in large herds—seemingly to greet us—as we drifted by only a few yards away. We forgot our fishing rod but Aidan and I fashioned a hook from a round metal keychain ring. Using dental floss for a line, a stone for a sinker and cheese for bait, we filled a bucket with enough feral catfish in one afternoon to feed most of the camp.
Dr. Mark Hyman preparing to paddle.
Every evening around the campfire, we heard lectures from reigning experts. Eleven time New York Times bestseller, Dr. Mark Hyman of the Cleveland Clinic, spoke brilliantly on food justice; John Weisheit told stories on the history and geology of the region; Howard Dennis spoke about the Hopi's heartbreaking century long battle against Peabody Coal, which has enriched company shareholders with hundreds of millions of dollars by stealing Hopi resources, sickening the people and poisoning their water; and Green Riverkeeper Lauren Wood and her advocacy partner, Will Munger, taught us about the growing scourge of dirty energy development in Utah.
Dr. Mark Hyman gives lecture on food fascism at Cow Swim Camp.
This Green River paradise is now threatened by a boondoggle meant to benefit a new generation of corporate villains. Utah's carbon titans are slicing up the plateau for tar sands oil and gas fracking. "Utah's wilderness is under siege and up for sale," said Munger, a charming and eloquent environmental leader and activist who accompanied us on the trip.
The Green River basin boasts reserves of oil shale and tar sands (OSTS reserves) that surpass Saudi Arabia's conventional oil deposits. On both banks of the Green River, the oil saturated ores are near enough to the surface to strip mine. In the thrall of these companies, the state of Utah is actively encouraging proliferation tar sands and oil shale development across the state. If the oil tycoons get away with their caper, the footprint will metastasize into Colorado and Wyoming with impacts to land, air, water and climate that could surpass the current tar sands mining operations in Alberta, Canada.
Inside the US Oil Sands tar sands test pit in Utah after shutting down mine operations during a protest.Canyon Country Rising Tide
The most advanced project is the PR Spring Mine, operated by a Canadian firm deceptively, named US Oil Sands (USOS). USOS holds leases to strip mine 32,005 acres on the Green River Basin's Tavaputs Plateau. Despite years of legal challenges and protests, USOS is promising its investors it will be commercially producing oil by 2016. The company is already in the early stages of mining: building roads, bulldozing the land and installing new processing machinery. Munger was arrested on site in June for replanting the strip mine—part of a series of mass protests by Canyon Country Rising Tide and others.
Thirty people walked onto the country's first tar sands mine in Utah and sowed seeds to regrow land destroyed by tar sands.Canyon Country Rising Tide
As usual, the industry will externalize its costs by destroying the global climate and privatizing America's water, air and democracy. USOS's billion dollar swindle is a windfall for the Canadian company and a suicide pact for the planet. Tar sands oil requires enormous energy inputs to extract, refine and transport, all while destroying complex, carbon-sequestering ecosystems. Even as it hastens the overheating of our climate, Green River Basin's oil developer will also destroy a waterway that is vital to the future survival of this thirsty region. The mines are located in the headwaters of the Green and Colorado Rivers, which supply more than 40 million people with drinking and irrigation water.
Tar sands mining requires 1.5-4 barrels of water for every barrel of oil produced. Oil companies mix this water with solvents to separate the bitumen and then discharge a witches' brew of toxic chemicals onto the soils without even a lined pit.
The extracted bitumen must then be further processed and refined. The likely venue for that filthy enterprise is Salt Lake City, where a string of refineries already process bitumen from the Canadian tar sands mines. Salt Lake City currently has the worst seasonal air quality in the world.
OSTS development produces over three times the greenhouse gas emissions of regular oil because it requires vast chemicals and energy inputs to create liquid oil. Reckless industry and political leaders hope to supply this extra energy from fracked gas, coal or nuclear power from the recently proposed Green River Power Plant. Thus, we have all four horsemen of the apocalypse—oil, gas, coal and nuke—converging in a kind of Armageddon offensive on the Colorado Plateau.
Last Rush for the Wild West: Tar Sands Mining in #Utah http://t.co/WsmEBXgopC @tarsandsRESIST http://t.co/4IlP6KSx5M— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1438778607.0
These dinosaur industries require vast public subsidies to make a profit. In a classic example of socialism for the wealthy, Big Oil's fawning toadies in the Utah state legislature will dutifully rob public monies intended for environmental protection to fund a massive corporate welfare program for petroleum tycoons. Unctuous "Beehive State" politicians have already shanghaied funds intended for environmental mitigation and diverted them toward building the oil industry's stairway to heaven.
The Utah Community Impact Board was created to help communities remediate the destructive legacies of oil, gas and mining. This money was appropriated so that damaged regions could transition away from fossil fuels and remediate damage from pollution. Instead, shameless Utah politicians are using the funds to further entrench a dying industry by paying for haul roads, power lines and other infrastructure required solely for extreme energy extraction, including, believe it or not, export terminals for tar sands oil in Oakland, California.
Utah has pillaged the fund to pay $86.5 million of public money in order to upgrade Seep Ridge Road, the oil road to the PR Spring tar sands mine, into a paved highway, so that its toxic bitumen can roll into Salt Lake City in style. Now the oil giants are asking the taxpayers to fork over another $150 million of public money to connect that road to 1-70. The carbon titans consider this road their "Stairway to Heaven"—a publicly funded highway that will allow them to liquidate the incomparable Green River watershed for cash.
In contrast, local environmentalists, ranchers, hunters and the elected Grand County Council consider the project to be the region's "Highway to Hell." They have fought it successfully for more than two decades, but during that period, Utah's political leaders have increasingly become sockpuppets to the carbon cronies. Now oil's pet politicians are trying to override local consent in order to subsidize the extraction industry.
Munger told me that the extractive industry has near total control of the Utah legislature due to massive political payoffs and kneejerk support for virtually any dirty energy development among Mormon populations in the rural counties.
"The Mormon Church has a long history of good stewardship and a cooperative humane style of capitalism," laments Munger. "The Mormon holy books are chock filled with nostrums requiring that the faithful act as caretakers for the Earth's future generations."
He explains, however, that in recent years, "industry money propaganda has helped spread the proliferation of Dominion Theology," a perverse strain of Christianity that absolves individuals from caring for the Earth or taking any responsibility for future generations. As the bard taught, "Satan can cite scriptures for his own purposes."
In Utah, big oil and gas crooked politicians are not just stealing our purple mountain majesty, they are corrupting our democracy, our religion and stealing our future!
The entire clan that floating down the Green River.
"Dr. Hyman, I have been so confused about saturated fat," writes this week's house call. "The government still says to limit saturated fat, yet I read in the news how maybe it's not really connected to heart disease? Is butter really back?"
I understand why there is so much confusion around butter and saturated fat. The diet debates have America spinning. Some advocate for putting dollops of butter in coffee, while others shun avocados and nuts as harmful, heart-disease-promoting and fattening foods. What's the average eater to do?
Is butter really back?Shutterstock
Three recent studies add to an increasing body of evidence that saturated fat is not the evil, heart-disease-producing substance we once thought. A recent large review of the research found that the higher the saturated fat intake in the population, the lower the risk of stroke.
Another study of 3,333 people over 15 years led by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of Tufts, examined not dietary history but actual blood levels of fats and found that those with the highest level of dairy fat (essentially, butter in the blood) had up to a 44 percent lower risk of developing diabetes compared to those who had the lowest levels of dairy fat in their blood.
And a third study, just published after 40 years, looked at 9,400 people residing in mental hospitals who were fed either butter and saturated fats or corn oil (omega-6 fats). The researchers found surprising results. The corn oil group had a much greater reduction in LDL cholesterol (30 mg/dl vs. 5 mg/dl) but a higher risk of heart attacks than the saturated fat group.
Is butter a health food? Probably not. Should it be shunned? For sure not. A review of the literature and a growing consensus among a large group of leading scientists suggest that we, for far too long, have unfairly maligned butter and saturated fats.
America first went low-fat in earnest in 1980, when our government told us to cut the fat. That message was then reinforced with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) infamous food pyramid, which encouraged us to eat 6 to 11 servings of bread, rice, cereal and pasta a day.
Eleven servings of bread a day? That sounds a little crazy now. But back then, most Americans took that advice. As a result, we are now fatter and sicker than ever, with nearly 70 percent of us overweight and one in two with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. And while death rates from heart disease are declining due to better treatments, the percent of the population developing heart disease is increasing significantly.
What happened to our diet over the last century? According U.S. Department of Agriculture records, our intake of saturated fats, eggs and meat decreased—butter from 9 to 4.6 pounds, lard and tallow from 10.5 to 6.0 pounds, red meat 71 to 60 pounds per person, per year. Egg consumption dropped from 374 to 250 per year. But our intake of refined vegetable oils increased from 9.8 to 35.2 pounds per person, per year, chicken by 57 percent, sugar by 39 percent and grains by 45 percent.
While our total calorie consumption has increased (we eat more of everything), our fat consumption has decreased from 40 to 30 percent of our diet and our sugar and carbohydrate consumption has increased dramatically. And yet, obesity, diabetes and the incidents of heart disease are all increasing.
Today, we know some things we didn't know back when we originally received all that low-fat dietary counsel. First, review after review after independent review of the research shows that there seems to be very little link between saturated fats and heart disease. In the absence of refined (starchy) carbs and sugars, and in the presence of adequate omega-3 fats, saturated fat itself is in no way linked to heart disease.
So why all the mixed messages? Well, the fact is, dietary saturated fat raises total and LDL cholesterol. But not all cholesterol is created equal. In fact, saturated fat improves the quality of the LDL cholesterol by increasing the less harmful large fluffy LDL particles, while also lowering triglycerides and raising your levels of good HDL cholesterol. A low-fat, high-carb diet, meanwhile, makes cholesterol quality worse.
Total cholesterol, and especially LDL-C cholesterol, is not the best predictor of heart disease risk. What matters is the total-cholesterol-to-HDL ratio and the LDL particle number and size. These are the factors that are the most predictive of heart disease. Eating more fat (except trans fats) and lowering sugar and refined carbs is one of the best ways (in addition to eating more non-starchy vegetables) to improve the quality of your cholesterol.
In fact, small LDL particles (from low-fat, high-carb diets) are associated with three times the risk of heart attacks compared to total LDL cholesterol. Saturated fat and fat in the context of a lower sugar and refined carbohydrate diet increases the LDL particle size (which is a good thing). Evidence also suggests that a bigger predictor of the extent of cardiac disease is the triglyceride-to-HDL ratio, not total or LDL cholesterol. That ratio is also improved by a higher total and saturated-fat diet and worsened by refined carbs and sugars. The evidence tying higher-fat diets to greater weight loss and improvements in cardiovascular risk factors has been repeated in many other studies.
What about all the calories in fat (gram for gram, it has more than twice as many calories as carbs and proteins)? Shouldn't we cut out fat to lose weight? While a shrinking number of health professionals still suggest that low-fat diets are best for weight loss, the overwhelming scientific consensus no longer supports the conclusion that total fat causes obesity.
In a recent review of 53 high-quality, randomized, controlled trials, comprising research that compared low-fat to high-fat diets, lasting at least a year, researchers found that in more than 68,128 people, the high-fat diets led to greater weight loss than the low-fat diets. The researchers included only the best quality studies (53 out of 3,517 studies).
This is why the 2015 Dietary Guidelines removed its previous limits on total dietary fat. They also removed the previous limits on dietary cholesterol, saying it was "no longer a nutrient of concern." After reviewing the evidence, the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee concluded: "Reducing total fat (replacing total fat with overall carbohydrates) does not lower CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk … Dietary advice should put the emphasis on optimizing types of dietary fat and not reducing total fat."
So is butter really back? In a word. Yes.