- The 5 parameters in determining if a diet is healthy for you
- Why what you eat is more important than how much you eat?
- Why the timing of your eating is important too?
00:02:08 The 5 parameters in determining if your diet is healthy for you
00:02:33 Parameter #1: Your goal
00:07:54 Parameter #2: Your individual biology
00:09:52 Parameter #3: Amount of food you eat
00:11:07. Parameter #4: Type of food
00:16:53 Parameter #5: Timing of food intake
00:19:57 Incorporate what you learned – caveat, nuance, and takeaway
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Hello, welcome to my podcast, “Anti-aging with Coach Denys”, episode #4. Our topic today is: “Metabolic Health Part II – Amount, type , and timing of your food intake”, with 3 agenda items:
- The 5 parameters in determining if a diet is healthy for you
- Why what you eat is more important than how much you eat?
- Why the timing of your eating is important too?
In the last episode, metabolic health part 1- your first step toward anti-aging, I discussed how to adjust your diet to improve metabolic health. My sharing included 2 key messages: 1. Cut sugar, including refined carbohydrate and processed food, 2. Stay away from linoleic acid, namely seed oil or vegetable oil.
Adjusting diet is actually one of the best ways to stay away from chronic diseases and stay healthy. As one of the fundamental principles in functional medicine goes: “Food is medicine”. In our future episode, we will continue to discuss and share more information on how to improve your health through diet. The last episode was just the beginning. Yes, today’s discussions will be more about diet. However, instead of diving deeper vertically to explore what other foods should be avoided or included, which we will in future episodes through different topics, today I’m going to expand our vision horizontally so we avoid the pitfall of “seeing the trees but not the forest”. Hence, our agenda item #1 today:
The 5 parameters in determining if your diet is healthy for you:
1. Your goal, 2. your individual biology, 3. quantity of food intake (by weight or calorie), 4. type of food, 5. timing of eating.
Let me start with parameter #1, which is easier to understand and less controversial – whether the food you eat is healthy or not, depends on what goal you are after. I am going to use three examples to make my point. It may not be as trivial as you think.
1st example. For endurance athletes, increasing endurance capacity is a major goal. One way, if not the only way, to increase endurance capacity is to develop metabolic flexibility, which allows your body to be more efficient in burning fat and less reliant on carbohydrate. To that end, in the first 2/3 of your training season leading up to the race, carbohydrate in the fuel during trainings and daily diet should be reduced. In the last week prior to the race, when you are tapering off, you can increase carbohydrates intake. Then in the 2nd half of the race, your fuel can contain more carbohydrates. In the last 30 or 15 minutes when you are dashing to the finish line, you can drink sugar water or Coke all the way through if you want. That would work really well for your performance.
The 2nd example is regarding protein intake. If your goal is to increase muscle mass, you should eat more protein; on the other hand, if you want to avoid problems caused by high uric acid level, such as gout, then you want to be careful with how much protein you eat.
You may have heard that older people should eat more protein to maintain muscle mass and avoid sarcopenia. Unfortunately avoiding the downside of high protein intake gets more challenging as we age. Here is the story…
As we pass age 55, sarcopenia is inevitable unless you aggressively fight against it. Sarcopenia can lead to 2 risk factors for ac’celerated aging: accidental falling and reduced growth hormones.
Falling for the elderly often results in being bedridden or on a wheelchair for weeks or months, which can quickly compromise their metabolic health and trigger the onset of chronic diseases that may have already been looming.
Growth hormones affect the repairing process and its efficacy in all the cells in our body. As we age, growth hormones drop steadily. That’s why it takes longer for older people to recover from injury, exercise, and diseases. So, maintaining a healthy level of growth hormone is very important for anti-aging. Unfortunately, the older we get, the harder it is to do so. Fortunately, secretion of our growth hormone is, to a certain degree, proportional to muscle mass. So, maintaining muscle mass turns out to be one of the best ways to keep our growth hormone level from dropping too low. That’s why people are advised to increase protein intake as we get older, especially after 60.
That being said, taking too much protein has its downside. Why? It has to do with an important protein kinase called ”mammalian target of rapamycin“, abbreviated as mTOR, m-T-O-R. Several studies have indicated high protein intake can cause an over-driven level of mTOR, which is associated with higher risk of cancers. Now, we already know the risk of cancers rises as we age. Why incur another potential risk factor for cancer by eating more protein as we get older?
My elaboration on issues with protein intake here has 2 purposes. The 1st is to use it as another example to explain what I mean by “your igoal is a parameter in determining what diet is healthy for you”. The 2nd purpose is to use it to show you one of the characteristics of functional medicine: some of the guidelines may appear to be contradicting with each other. Unlike conventional medicine, where almost every regimen is black&white, in functional medicine some degree of vagueness should be allowed. As a science, this is reminiscent to a “system of networks” in information system, which requires multi-dimensional computation and is way more sophisticated than a linear system. That is why the science and practice of anti-aging is complicated, multi-factorial, and takes time to see result. Let me re-iterate: In the pursuit of anti-aging, there is no short-cut.
Now on the second parameter that determines if a diet is healthy for you: your individual biology.
One example is food allergy. Dairy is rich in calcium and protein. Seafood is a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acid. Both are healthy food for many people. But some among us are allergic to them.
One more example. All human beings have one gene called APOE, A-P-O-E. Through inheritance, APOE can have different variants in different people. In an over-simplified way, we can say people inherit different APOE “genotypes” from their parents. The APOE genotype can affect how fatty acid in our diet is converted after digestion. For people with APOE genotype E4/E4, more is converted into LDL (low-density lipoprotein, the so-called “bad cholesterol”, although not all LDL is bad for health. But that’s a topic for another episode. ) People with APOE genotype E2/E2 tend to end up with less LDL after intake of fatty acid. People with the E3/E3 genotype has a risk somewhere in between. So, ketogenic diet can be unhealthy or at least more challenging for people with the E4/E4 APOE genotype, although it’s not entirely impossible. By the way, the APOE E4/E4 genotype is also associated with higher risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease for people after age 65.
Next, let’s talk about the 3rd parameter that determines if a diet is healthy for you: amount of food you eat.
Food provides us with energy, material for cellular building blocks, and numerous nutrients for our body and brain to function. Eating too much or too little can be problematic. As a principle, that’s a no brainer. As to the question of how much is too much or not enough, it really depends on what food, under what condition, and for what goal we are talking about. We will address such question with more specifics in upcoming episodes on topics such as muscle hypertrophy, sarcopenia, ketogenic diet, and fasting. Until then, my recommendation is: Don’t worry about counting calories or grams, just go by “hara hachi bu”, a Japanese term meaning “Eat until you’re 80% full.” In most cases, the other 4 parameters are more important, especially the 4th and the 5th that I am going to discuss next: type of food and timing of eating.
The 4th parameter, type of food, which is also the 2nd agenda item of this episode: “What you eat” is more important than “how much you eat”, why?
There are quite a few so-called “theories of obesity” out there. One theory that is still considered mainstream and promoted by many fat-loss clinics and “health organizations” is the “calorie-reduction theory of obesity”, also known as the “calorie-in-calorie-out” theory. The overarching guideline of such theory is “the law of conservation of energy”. It argues that the major reason, if not the only reason, a person can not lose weight is because the net balance from energy input minus output is positive – that is, the person eats more food than what is used by the body. According to such theory, guidelines from the government and recommendations by some weight-management doctors has been, simply put, “eat less and exercise more’. That could lead people counting calories and struggling with weight issue to blame themselves for being lack of willpower. Lack of self-respect or even depression ensues. Backfires with binge eating is not uncommon. Sounds familiar?
The law of conservation of energy actually holds true and is at the foundation of weight management. It’s just not the only law, or the only factor, that determines the result. When a person eats different foods with identical amount of calories, the impact on his body weight (or fat) may not be the same. This is because different foods contain different nutrients, including different macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients, all of which have different effects on the 7 systems in functional medicine, including the energy system. Nutrients are involved in human energy system through different pathways. One of the pathways is the endocrine system. Three hormones in the endocrine system play critical roles in the functioning of energy system. They are insulin, leptin, and ghrelin.
We discussed insulin in episode #3 already. Insulin regulates the use and storage of energy from the food we eat. Leptin makes you feel satiated and stop eating. Ghrelin makes you feel hungry and keep eating.
Without going through how each of the dozens of major micro-nutrients affects the 3 energy-management hormones, I would like to address only the impact by the macro-nutrients. Among the 3 macro-nutrients, fat, protein, and carbohydrate, carbohydrate has the most profound impact on the 3 energy-management hormones, transiently and chronically.
Too much intake of carbohydrate, especially food with high glycemic index, can cause the following undesirable consequences:
- Insulin resistance – a state when your body cells fail to respond effectively to signals from insulin. The result is more energy is stored as fat.
- Leptin resistance – a state when your body cells fail to respond effectively to signals from leptin. The result is it gets harder for you to feel satiated after eating.
- Elevated ghrelin level – The result is you are more likely to feel still hungry after eating.
Regarding the last 2 phenomenons, that is, how leptin and ghrelin are affected by food with high glycemic index, try eating the following two snacks at the same time on two different days. The snack on day 1 is 20 grams of nuts such as cashew, walnuts, and macadamia, without sugar or any additives. The snack on day 2 include 10 grams of nuts and 10 grams of raisins. Then compare and feel how much harder it is to stop snacking on day 2. I have experimented with such treats several times. I was amazed.
By the way, no other snack beats raisins in rapid and high spike of blood glucose level. Not even ice cream. That’s one of the experiments I did with wearing a CGM for 30 days in 2020.
Compared with carbohydrate, protein causes far less impact on the secretion and sensitivity of the 3 hormones. Fat has almost zero impact, with the only exception of linoleic acid (a.k.a. seed oil or vegetable oil).
Beyond the energy system, different types of food have different impacts on the other systems in functional medicine, including immune system and cellular communication. That’s why one of the corner stones and guiding principles in functional medicine, as I mentioned earlier, has been: “Food is medicine.”
Now the last but not the least, the 5th parameter in determining if a diet is healthy: timing of eating.
At the heart of this parameter is still our old friend insulin.
A quick refresher from the last episode: The major function of insulin is to regulate how much of the glucose from the food we eat should be dispatched to be used immediately by the cells in our muscles and organs and how much should be stored as fat for future energy need.
It has been verified by medical research studies that for the same person eating the same food of the same weight and identical number of calories, how the energy from the digested food is converted (namely, burnt vs. stored) can vary by the timing of food intake. This is because the sensitivity and efficacy of insulin can be affected by the timing of food intake.
Here is the key question: What do I mean by “timing” of eating?
It means not just when you eat (i.e., the time stamps of your eating), but also the frequency of your eating and your eating time-window.
Let me first explain what I mean by frequency.
Let’s say today you ate 2 eggs, 4 oz of bacons, 1 avocado, 10 oz of rib eye steak, and 80 g of sweet potato. Whether you eat them at noon or 6:00PM differ only by time-stamp. That has less impact on how your insulin functions. What affect the functioning of your insulin more are the frequency and eating time-window of your eating.
You can eat those food in one sitting, 2 sittings or 3. Those are different frequencies.
Here are some takeaway messages: With the same amount of food, the more frequently you eat, the more likely your insulin sensitivity will drop over time. That is, higher frequency of eating, even with the same amount of food, increases risk of insulin resistance. This means the conventional wisdom of “Eating by spreading into smaller meals can help weight loss” is a myth. It may help you feel less hungry in the short term. But you will end up eating more over the long term as you likely will become insulin resistant and always snack between meals.
Next I will address what I mean by “eating time-window”.
For all the food you eat during a 24-hour day, regardless of how frequently you eat, the time period between your 1st and last eatings is your eating time-window.
Here is a guiding principle: the shorter your daily eating time-window, the easier to maintain a sensitive insulin; that is, the less likely for you to become insulin resistant.
To incorporate the takeaway messages and guiding principle regarding frequency and time-window into your diet routines, here are some caveat, nuance and takeaway from my years of experience:
If you over-optimize the frequency and time-window of your eating, namely, you lower the frequency and shorten the time-window by too much, the amount of food you eat each time will increase. That can cause a negative impact on your insulin sensitivity. After all, the amount of food intake still matters.
Improvement of insulin sensitivity through optimization of eating frequency and time-window takes time. Typically it takes at least 1 to 2 weeks to notice any improvement (that is, to feel hungry less). It can take longer than that. With persistence, you can expect to see improvement in no more than 1 month.
Once you understand the concepts and rationale behind adjusting eating frequency and time-window, it should be clear to you what the real benefit of intermittent fasting is. It’s not weight-loss. It’s something way more important and precious than weight loss. It’s your increased insulin sensitivity, which keeps your energy management system, i.e., your metabolism, at an optimal state. That is one of the critical success factors for anti-aging and the main theme of my 4 episodes so far.
In contrast, conventional weigh-loss approaches are based only on the law of energy conservation and typically emphasize counting calories with an “eat-less-move-more” dogma. With such approaches, type of food and timing of eating not being taken into account, the hunger after cutting calories can only be fought with willpower. As a result, weight loss might be achievable in short-term but usually unsustainable over long-term. In the battles between willpower and insulin resistance, will-power is always the loser.
Before I end, just one quick clarification. In the takeaway I just shared regarding the real benefit of intermittent fasting, did I sound like I was saying weight-loss was not a benefit from intermittent fasting? Of course it is. To me, weight loss is not really a direct benefit of intermittent fasting. It’s just a side effect. If you succeed in implementing what I shared in this and the last episode, weight loss will follow. My key message is: your #1 goal should be insulin sensitivity instead of just weight-loss. You will have a much higher chance of success with such mindset. More on that in a future episode on intermittent fasting.
Thank you for listening. I’ll be back soon with more information on how to improve your metabolic health in episode #5.