Have you heard all the rage about bone broth?
From Gwyneth Paltrow to Kobe Bryant, big time celebs are hopping on the broth train. Not to mention, our guest this week helped Dwight Howard conquer sugar addiction. You’re about to learn how.
Dr. Cate Shanahan is a board-certified family physician and bona fide smartypants. She trained in biochemistry and genetics at Cornell before attending Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. For 10 years she practiced medicine in Hawaii, where she studied ethnobotany and the culinary habits of her healthiest patients. She runs a metabolic health clinic in Denver, Colorado, and serves as the director of the Los Angeles Lakers PRO Nutrition Program.
Coming up on the show, you’ll learn:
- Why vegetable oil is a silent killer
- How kicking sugar addiction changed Dwight Howard’s life
- Why Kobe Bryant drinks bone broth
- And much more…
CATE SHANAHAN: THE REASON KOBE BRYANT DRINKS BONE BROTH
Abel: We’ve crossed paths on many occasions. I can’t believe this is the first time we’ve actually had a face-to-face, but I’m stoked because your book is excellent and your work is clearly well-respected.
As I understand it, the fact that Kobe Bryant drinks bone broth is your fault, is that right?
Yes. I would have to take responsibility for that one. That and the awesome chef at the Lakers facility who makes it for him.
Abel: That’s great. For whatever reason, bone broth is taking off right now. What’s your take on that? Why is broth so important?
Bone broth is one of these things that people used to do a long time ago, and I think we’re just seeing a resurgence of stuff that people used to do a long time ago as a backlash to the fact that many people have been awakened by their own medical problems to the reality that we did not know what we were doing for a while here with diet.
Bone broth is useful because it is one of what we call the “Four Pillars of World Cuisine.” These are four components that are common to all diets, and they really compose the entirety of all traditional diets, I should say. Not all diets, but all traditional diets back before chronic disease was such an issue.
What bone broth does for us specifically is that, when you boil cartilage material in water with a little bit of acid (like vinegar), and some tasty aromatics like carrots and celery, it extracts compounds called glycosaminoglycans, which act like growth hormone and growth serum for all the collagen in your body. Collagen is what makes your skin glow, it’s what makes your hair grow, it’s great for your joints, and it’s also good for your arteries, your kidneys, and your gut.
Athletes, of course, really like the fact that it’s good for their joints. It’s interesting, actually; it has a lot of anti-inflammatory properties as well as just supporting the general growth and development of joint material, so we actually use collagen and broth a lot after acute injuries.
There was an incident in 2013, I believe, against the Atlanta Hawks, when Kobe landed on someone’s foot and got a really bad sprain on his ankle. It swelled up immediately and we got him a bunch of bone broth right away, because we had some pre-made by the hotel. And instead of being out for 4 to 6 weeks like was originally predicted, he was out for 12 days, and then he was back on the court again.
Abel: Just good old-fashioned soup!
Yep. Old-fashioned soup. What they did was just chicken and vegetable.
Abel: Really? Wow.
Kobe said it was good.
Abel: A lot of people are freaked out by bone broth. They think they have to go and slaughter an animal on their own, find all the bones, bring them back, and boil it up huge pot. But actually it’s really about making old-fashioned soup the same way that almost everyone’s grandmother used to. The way they do in other countries right now that make traditional foods.
It’s the right way to make soup, instead of using processed boullion cubes that are full of chemicals and who knows what. You’re actually using real nutrients from real animals that were hopefully healthy to begin with.
I love celebrating the chefs. The chefs do all this stuff, anyway.
I have a really good friend who’s in Los Angeles, Debby Lee; she is Korean and she’s always telling me, “Well, Koreans always do this, Koreans always do that,” and one of the things that’s on that list is they don’t waste. They will try to use every bit of the stuff, so when they make bacon, they always save the fat. When they make anything with bones, they’ve always saved the bones.
In Korea, bone stock is almost like tea. They’ll be drinking it throughout the day. Traditional households will always have some kind of a bone stock bubbling on the stove, and they flavor it with all different kinds of things, like ginseng and ginger and other Korean or Asian herbs. It is literally like tea is for the English; they’ll have it all day long.
Abel: Broth is a different kind of pick-me-up than tea. I remember the first time I had broth made with grass-fed beef bones with the marrow in it. It was very rich in nutrients that I wasn’t really used to. I felt it in my brain, like a little head buzz. Within 10 seconds, there was something that kind of came over me. “Oh, this is what I was supposed to be having every day of my entire life.”
You know, that’s really interesting. It was a marrow-based stock, because the bone marrow has different nutrients than the joints. So that’s a different set of benefits you’re going to get from marrow-based bone stock. It’s going to be a different flavor, obviously, but what bone marrow has that the joints don’t have is branched fatty acids, which are very special fatty acids that seem to have benefits for our immune system. They actually seem to have benefits for our bone marrow.
This is almost like a homeopathic way of thinking about health. The bone marrow of another animal has nutrients that are good for our bone marrow and our immune system.
I just want to emphasize that you don’t necessarily get a lot of those important glycosaminoglycans from having a bone broth soup that is made with bone marrow and not with a lot of the joint material, because there are two different ways of making stock. The marrow bones are a lot easier to come by. Well, when we’re talking about chicken, it doesn’t make a difference, because everything’s there. But when we’re talking about beef stock, the joints are big—the knees and the feet and everything—so it’s quite an experience trying to get that into a pot.
Abel: Broth can also be super cheap. I remember when we were living by the Smoky Mountains, we were getting grass-fed bones and joints—marrow bones, even—for a dollar a pound. Sometimes they’d even just give us five pounds because it’s a supply-and-demand thing, and I think when you start talking about the marrow bones, joint bones, chicken feet, things like that, at least in America, there’s not much demand for it yet.
I read recently that almost all of our conventional chicken feet are shipped to China because they have a huge appetite for it there. In other countries, you find that they’re eating the rest of whatever we’re not eating, at our expense in a lot of cases. It’s so important that you’re spending time getting people to eat good old-fashioned traditional food.
Let’s talk about some of the other pillars you briefly touched on earlier. Organ meats are another big one, right?
Organ meats are one of the ones that we don’t have the best track record of making them taste good in this country. So a lot of people have grown up now without ever eating them and really, not a lot of people tell me they crave liver or kidney pie, anything like that. Not from America. Mostly what we get now when we think, “What do I want for dinner? I’ll have chicken or fish,” or something like that, it’s almost always muscle meat.
Well, there’s a lot of nutrition in there, but day after day after day, it’s the same nutrients over and over again. Aside from the protein, you have iron and a small amount of B vitamins. But each organ in the animal’s body concentrates a different set of nutrients. To get liver, what we get is a whole ton of B vitamins and a bunch of minerals, and we also get some omega-3 fatty acids. And when we include kidneys in our diet, we get a whole different set of nutrients.
When you look at the sufficiency in the diet of any given nutrient, the average American is deficient in the majority of nutrients and things that we don’t have on the nutrition label, like lecithin and choline and vitamin B9 and stuff like this. But that’s why we have all these supplements that people are now buying, because they are worried about the sufficiency of those other nutrients in their diet.
If you like to buy supplements, that’s one way to do it. But if you really prefer to get it from real food—which is how I prefer to do it, because you know what it is, you know it’s the original material. It can’t be adulterated if it looks like a kidney. And it’s how we usually, traditionally, did get it.
A lot of people say, “Okay. Well, if we get past the idea of, ‘I don’t really love liver,’ there are ways to make it taste good.” You should experiment. If you wanted to try this, you can experiment with all different recipes; you’ll find one that you like.
When we were in New Zealand we got lambs’ kidneys. We sliced them up, fried them in garlic butter, and that was it. And they were good. Garlic butter is kind of like a salve for unusual food.
A lot of folks worry about toxins, and when you talk about liver particularly, they say, “Isn’t liver the detoxification organ of the body? Why wouldn’t eating it give us some toxins?” This is why it’s so important to pay attention to source, and make sure your animals have been grass-fed and living a natural life as much as possible.
It’s worthwhile to go out of your way, if you can afford it, to get that upgraded quality of meat, because it is a completely different animal—literally—than an animal that has spent its entire life in a cage being force-fed soy. And along with that, when you are not on that organic food chain, you’re going to be getting the petrol chemicals that are in the fertilizer as well as in the insecticides. And so those will be bioconcentrated up the food chain, and then they’re not going to be so good for you. But they won’t just be in the liver; they’ll be in any fatty tissue, in the meat, if it’s a fatty cut.
It’s something to think about all the time with every food. And along the lines of bioconcentration, when you have that animal that is now living on a healthy bunch of acres that it’s grazing from, it’s bioconcentrating the nutrients.
“Bioconcentration has a good side and a bad side, and it’s better to get it from the good side, which you’ll do when the animal is pasture-raised.”
Abel: Living in the modern world, toxins are assaulting us all the time. What do you recommend to mitigate that damage?
This opens the door to a big conversation, which is, we talk about toxins that are contaminants in the food chain. But what we don’t talk about is toxins that are a big component of the food chain. Toxins that compose a substantial portion of the calories in our diet. And what I’m getting to is the fact that vegetable oils, which we now consume in amounts much greater than ever before in human history, are toxic, and they compose anywhere from 30% to 60% of the average American’s diet, calorie-wise.
Vegetable oils are toxic and they compose anywhere from 30% – 60% of the calories in a standard American diet.
It is insane that no one’s talking about this. I’m starting to call it “dark calories,” because vegetable oils are this mysterious substance that’s almost invisible. You watch a cooking show and the chef will say, “Now, you just pour in your oil,” or in many cookbooks they don’t specify; they just say oil. And you go to a restaurant, and they don’t have it on the menu.
They’ll tell you all kinds of other stuff. They’ll tell you where they sourced everything, they’ll have gluten-free, but they won’t tell you about the vegetable oil, which is going to be the bulk of your calories in a lot of dishes. When it comes to soy, we’re consuming 1,000 times more than we were in 1909. A thousand times more soy oil. Nothing else in the food chain, nothing else can you say that about. Certainly not a major ingredient in your food. There are a few researchers that are starting to investigate the consequences of this, and I’ve spoken to them, and they’re blown away by the results they find.
One of them, I just posted on my website. She did an experiment where she added linoleic acid in the amounts that humans eat to the diet of rats, and compared that to a bunch of other diets, and a normal rat chow diet, and a diet where the other fat was coconut oil. The rats that got the soy oil gained weight faster, twice as fast as the rats eating the regular rat chow, and they didn’t eat any more calories.
This is a real blow to the calories-in and calories-out model. Some people would say, well, maybe they were just less active, because that does happen as people and animals gain weight: They reduce their calorie burn as well. That wasn’t really tracked in there.
The point is that eating this stuff, however it happens, whether it’s through making your body become a machine at gaining weight or through making you lazy so you don’t want to exercise, the fact is this soy oil consumption in the diet at the amounts that most Americans eat will make rats fat.
We’re also doing the experiment on humans; it’s just not called an experiment.
Abel: You see the results all around you… and it’s scary. But the good news, I think, is that we’re starting to poke into the mainstream a little bit, so let’s touch on that.
I enjoyed reading about your experience with Dwight Howard, who was eating 24 Hershey’s bars a day, and he had sugar hidden all around his house. Tell us where he started and what happened after your intervention with the big man.
So Dwight Howard is a seven-foot center who was working with the Lakers at the time. This was a couple seasons ago, and he had had back surgery the summer before he started with the Lakers. The reason we really got involved with Dwight Howard was because he wasn’t healing properly from the back surgery, and he wasn’t playing up to the level that he wanted, that his fans wanted, that the Lakers wanted. Kobe Bryant was making fun of him on Twitter, and they were having Twitter wars, and he was really having a tough time.
So the back surgery he’d had had left him with tingling in his feet, but he also had tingling in his hands. And that was a red flag to me that something was really wrong with his nervous system, because the level where his back surgery was was low down in the spine; it should not have affected his hands. And the fact that he was having tingling in his hands told me there was something systemic going on.
Dwight was famous for eating candy when I met him after giving a talk about sugar. He comes up afterward with a little brown bag and he has this meek look on his face, and he pulls it out and he says, “Dr. Cate, can I show you something?” And he pulls out a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and so I’m like, “Oh, God.” And then he says, “Oh, I have something else.” And he pulls out Rolos. Remember those things?
That was his after-lunch snack, and he was going to get more later on. So it was no secret that he loved candy. Ultimately, because he really was disturbed by the fact that he wasn’t healing, we were able to sit him down and have an intervention, and help him understand the connection between his symptoms and the diet. Because at the time, his body composition was like 8% body fat, so there’s a lot going on that we can’t see in the form of overweight, and that’s a big thing.
That’s why I was working with the Lakers, because very few of them really have any serious weight issues. I wasn’t doing it to help them lose weight, although we do optimize the body composition much more easily on this kind of a fat-burning diet, as you know.
But the other end of it is the vegetable oils and sugars that most Americans don’t know they’re consuming, and getting that out of their diet enables the bodies to heal. To heal from anything that may be going on. If you are consuming vegetable oils and sugars at the amount most Americans consume, the combination of the two is up around 70% to 80% of an American’s total calories.
If you have any kind of problem, it’s not going to heal as well while you’re eating vegetable oil and sugar.
I’m taking about anything, whether it’s asthma or you’re battling cancer or you wonder if your memory is starting to slip or you have bipolar disorder or even autism.
There’s a movie that’s going to come up, that’s going to show what happens when you take this kind of junk food away. The child in the movies is five, and she’s a nonverbal autistic girl, and you get her on a real food diet, get the vegetable oils and sugars out of her life, and within a few weeks, she’s starting to talk. She was using utensils for the first time in her life. She was focusing on what people were saying. It was incredible.
HOW TO TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR GENE EXPRESSION
Abel: That’s unbelievable. Well, that brings us to epigenetics. A lot of people have been told, especially if they struggle with their weight or their health, “Oh, it’s just in your genes. These are the cards that you’ve been dealt.” And that’s what I was told in my early twenties when I started to have problems with my thyroid, becoming overweight with high blood pressure and a number of health conditions: “That’s just the way it is, and you’re going to be medicated for the rest your life.”
But science is starting to show that’s not the case, that we can exercise quite a bit of power over how our bodies perform and function based upon not just how we eat, but also our lifestyle.
Yeah, absolutely. Epigenetics is the science of understanding how genes are expressed or how they are activated by stuff that we do on a daily basis in our lives, like sleep or not sleep, smoke, what kind of nutrients we get, that kind of thing. As opposed to the old way of thinking, which was that your genes are hardwired, and they’re just going to do what they are going to do. It’s more like they’re a software as well.
One of the ways that you can manipulate the on/off buttons in your genes is through diet and other lifestyle modifications.
What I learned through all of this was that basically, if somebody has an illness, there’s a reason for it. And in general, you can say that our genes have these expectations. They have these nutritional and lifestyle expectations. And when we get sick, it’s because one of those expectations, or more, was not met for the gene one too many times, and the gene just doesn’t function right. Either it won’t express when it should, or it will express when it shouldn’t. But it is not like a letter code mutation that can be reversed potentially.
The things that cannot be reversed so easily are the letter code mutations. For example, some of the rare genetic disorders, like cystic fibrosis. People have a gene in there that’s mutated. Some cancers, now you have hardwired mutations in your genes. But even with that, the better your lifestyle, the better the other genes can express. And the genetic code is really intelligent and really capable of adapting when one part may not be working right.
It’s just like if you get a splinter in your toe, you don’t fall down; you have muscles that can accommodate. You maybe will limp a little bit, but you can still move forward, and sometimes you don’t even slow down.
HOW SUGAR HURTS YOUR GAME (EVEN IF YOU’RE DWIGHT HOWARD)
Abel: We all have the potential in our genetic code to develop horrifying diseases. All of us. But the trick is when you live the right life, when you eat clean, when you get sleep, when you do the old-fashioned things we all kind of used to do as humans naturally, all of a sudden it seems like those debilitating conditions don’t spring up as problems like they do when people are on, say, the standard American diet.
To go back to Dwight Howard, you’d think, looking at someone like that, he’s a massive ripped dude who’s super strong and has always been that way. But after he started following your advice, I think I read that he got down from 6% or 8% body fat to 3% body fat and started recovering a lot faster.
Yeah, it was quite insane how low these guys want to go so they can jump another half-inch or something like that.
What really changed, what really made me happy, was that once he got this stuff out of his diet, his performance noticeably improved. The announcers were saying things like, “Oh, the old Dwight is back,” the next weekend. This was over the All-Star break that he had taken the junk out of his diet. They literally carried it out in boxes.
What alerted me to the issue was that he’s standing there under the basket and people are trying to pass him the ball, and his hands are ready to catch the ball, and he just doesn’t have the athlete’s reflexes. It was bouncing off him like he was wearing oven mitts or something like that. And so that’s one of the things that happens; it’s called a dysesthesia, when your nervous system is distracted by extraneous signals and you just can’t react properly. It’s on the way to developing a chronic pain syndrome. And he could have really gone down a wrong path if he didn’t get off that stuff.
But getting off it changed a lot of stuff really quickly, partly because he has these awesome genetics, but also partly because I think understanding it himself gave him a lot of hope. Because after six, eight months of not recovering, and your performance is going the wrong way, you start to doubt everything and you can’t do that on the basketball court.
THE 60-YEAR DIET EXPERIMENT (WE ARE ALL A PART OF)
Abel: I remember when I first started to understand the effect that all of these lifestyle factors have on your performance, the way you feel, your health, and all of that. It’s an empowering feeling, because before that, it feels like you’re sentenced to a less-than-optimal life. And if you get old, you get old. That’s the way it is and you don’t perform… now you’re the old Dwight. You know what I mean? But you can actually turn back the clock.
Yes, you can. Vegetable oil is liquid age. Because it is that toxic; it is that unhealthy. The kind of toxic effect it has is called “oxidative stress.” That’s what it promotes. It’s got to do with free radicals. Smoking causes oxidative stress, and we know smoking has effects on the skin and the lungs that essentially accelerate your aging.
Well, vegetable oil doesn’t just affect your skin and your lungs; you take it into your body and it becomes you. It becomes every part of your body and every tissue in your body. So every tissue in your body is essentially going to be subject to an accelerated aging process. And how exactly that manifests is different in every genetically unique individual, somewhat defined by family history. So exactly what will happen is somewhat unpredictable, but it is predictable that something bad will happen, and conversely, when you get it out of your diet.
So I think of this now as though 60 years ago, Americans entered unknowingly into a massive medical experiment where we started eating the cheapest possible food. Vegetable oils are very cheap to produce, cheap to manufacture, long shelf life. They make everything you put them in have a long shelf life. So they’re used in every processed food and lots of blood sugar-raising food, and carbohydrates, and high-fructose corn syrup, and all this. And this was an experiment. Actually, it was a literal experiment called the Minnesota Coronary Experiment that started in Minnesota in the late 1950s by a man named Ancel Keys.
It was designed because his theory was that saturated fat caused heart disease, and I think we’ve all heard that theory.
Abel: The government doesn’t even believe that saturated fat is bad for us anymore.
Right. Well, actually, the government doesn’t believe it, but Harvard still does.
Abel: Yeah, that’s interesting.
So with the Minnesota Coronary Experiment, what Ancel Keys did was he designed two diets. One was a high saturated fat diet; the other was a high vegetable oil diet. And his hypothesis was twofold: that eating the vegetable oil would lower your cholesterol, and that would translate to reduced rates of heart attacks, strokes, and death.
So what he did was he had about nearly 1,000 people recruited into the study. And the first phase of the study was simply to just answer the question, “Does it lower cholesterol?” And the answer was “Yes, it did lower cholesterol.” Pretty significantly lowered total cholesterol by about 30 points. But the second part of the study was never published until recently, when a team of medical investigators led by Christopher Ramsden at the National Institute of Health dug up the data. Not to be gross—it wasn’t really literally digging it up. It was autopsy slides. He didn’t have to go back to the ground or anything.
He looked for evidence of that secondary endpoint, which is what they never published. Did it reduce arteriosclerosis? Did it reduce evidence of heart attack, strokes, and death? And he found that no, it didn’t. In fact, it seemed like there was a definite trend in all of those endpoints to the experimental diet, the vegetable oil diet, compared to the saturated fat diet, being noticeably worse.
The longer they were in the experiment, people would die sooner, and have more heart attacks and have more strokes. That was never published. And it was never published because either Ancel Keys had this massive ego and he would rather have people eat unhealthy foods than be shown to be wrong, or because there’s some sort of industry conflict of interest that I don’t know about.
But there’s one thing I didn’t tell you about the saturated fat diet. It wasn’t butter; it was margarine. And margarine is loaded with trans fat. And so for this diet, with these vegetable oils to be actually worse than trans fat means it’s really bad.
Trans fat is so bad that they’ve outlawed it in New York City and some other progressive cities, and this was worse.
So my take on this is that I really feel like Ancel Keys and all the people that were participating in that experiment, they are killers. Because when you’re doing science that pertains to health and you find something that is really unhealthy, that kills people, and you keep it quiet for ego or whatever, that’s a crime. You have skin in the game there. You have killed people. And how many millions of people have had heart attacks and strokes from believing in this?
America is still participating in this massive medical experiment. We’re consuming unprecedented amounts of these vegetable oils that are full of polyunsaturated fats and that are loaded with toxic material that promote this oxidative stress.
Abel: It seems safe to say that this experiment is not turning out all that well.
Well, you know what? In terms of experiments, it has been a success, because when an experiment has an outcome that’s interesting, it’s like, “Wow, that’s a really successful experiment.” But the thing is, the results are really bad, and we should have ended this experiment. Because we got results. We should have ended it a long time ago.
We have the data that was now finally published in, I believe it was the British Medical Journal about August of 2006, showing there is this definite trend toward increased heart attacks, increased strokes, and increased death. So we know that. But if you understand the biochemistry, which is what I talk about in Deep Nutrition, you get people to understand the other results of this experiment we’ve been involved in. You know it has genetic effects, so not just epigenetic, but permanent letter code genetic effects.
Abel: Genetic effects that are passed on to your children.
Yes. And their children. Right. And it also has this oxidative stress concept. And oxidative stress, like I say, is like the great disease maker. It is why I call vegetable oil liquid age. Because if you go to any medical meeting or you look up the cause of any medical problem, any chronic disease, whether it’s things like celiac disease or mood disorders or thyroid problems, you’re going to see a connection there to oxidative stress.
And we’re consuming 40% of our calories from this stuff that promotes oxidative stress, more than anything else we’ve ever eaten in history, more than any other fat. I would go out on a limb and say, more so than smoking, because it gets into our body, and we’re weaning children on this stuff. Instant formula is made out of this stuff.
So this experiment has been shown to be the biggest, most humongous health catastrophe anyone could ever have imagined. And our current health system is basically the economy: it’s doctors, nurse practitioners, the pharmaceutical industry, laboratories, hospitals. This is a bigger part of our economy than any other component, and it’s not a good one.
We’re not making people healthier. We’re just selling drugs.
Abel: Yeah. And that’s another thing you mention in your book. People assume that medicine is just science, but it’s really built to be a business. And that’s another big problem and a reason why we’re where we are, right?
It’s why we won’t stop this experiment, even though we have all the results we could possibly want. Because it turns out, well, selling cheap food is good for business. It’s good for the people who make the food and it’s good for the people who treat the effects of the food.
And I didn’t know this, but when I graduated medical school, I was essentially a worker in the facility where they’re conducting this experiment. I was telling people to keep eating your unhealthy food. And when you have problems, come back and see me and I’m going to write up a prescription for that problem. It’s going to make you feel like you’re doing something proactive.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SYMMETRY FOR HEALTH
Abel: I want to make sure we also talk about symmetry. It’s something I’ve always tried to focus on as a runner and as an athlete, but the concept of symmetry extends to your entire life. And when you look at people who have been eating traditional foods in the way that they were raised, you have startling pictures in your book that demonstrate symmetry in action. Can you talk a little bit about why it’s important?
Yes. There’s a kind of symmetry that we talk about that is called “dynamic symmetry.” It is a little like biradial symmetry; it actually includes biradial symmetry, which we’re all more familiar with, which is like the left side of your face matches the right side of your face. But dynamic symmetry is how our parts all fit together. It’s why when a baby’s hand grows, it looks like an adult hand. It’s why when we fold our fingers together, everything fits neatly. Because dynamic symmetry is based on this very special ratio that allows parts to maintain their proportions as they grow. And so it enables our teeth to all fit inside our face. It enables our eyeballs to have enough space so we don’t need glasses. So, I’m missing some symmetry here.
And in nature, when an organism is allowed to grow and given the right environment, whether it’s a tree or a person… So if it’s a tree, they need a certain amount of sunlight and water and then that tree will develop with this symmetry. It’ll have branches according to the right ratio and it’ll be quite a beautiful tree. The same goes with people.
If people have been fed throughout their entire genetic history with the right kind of nutrients that enable growth to take place according to that formula—it’s actually related to the Fibonacci sequence and the formula is called phi, P-H-I. It’s 1.618 and it goes on and on forever. That enables us to have all of our parts in proportion, so everything functions ideally.
When this happens, we actually can recognize that we don’t need to pull out a protractor and measure the degrees of your face. We actually respond emotionally, because our brains have the same kind of growth within the nervous system, and essentially, we recognize something familiar out there in the outside world. We recognize that pattern and our brains resonate with it. It’s almost like a 1970s Good Vibrations kind of concept, but it’s actually really what happens.
And so we emotionally feel good when we see anything that has this symmetry. And when it’s a person or a person of the opposite sex, we feel really attracted to them for that reason. What we’re doing is identifying a healthy person. That’s it. That’s all it is. So we can reproduce as successfully as possible and so the child will have the best chance at surviving in what used to be a very tough world survival-wise, but is still a very tough world success-wise.
If you want your child to be successful and be smart and be able to be good in sports and socially on top of the game, it’s important to have all those parts in proportion. It’s all the way down to the cellular level of the brain cell. And so, when our brain cells are built right, our brains work better as well.
It’s basically your subconscious recognizing the golden ratio in other people, which implies genetic fitness. And that’s why you want to pass those genes on, because those are probably very good genes. It’s kind of a shorthand, right? It’s exactly a shorthand. It’s a way for your DNA to talk to other people’s DNA. I’m not going to say mine because I’m married.
Abel: Me too.
It is subconscious. We’re connecting at this primal level, really, and that’s what it’s all about. We make sure our DNA, which doesn’t particularly care about us and our personal experience… It is really selfish; it just wants to be able to go on and on and on forever. That’s what it’s been doing.
Abel: Yeah. But boy, we get a lot of before-and-after pictures in our online community, the Tribe. When you look at them, it’s not just that people are losing weight or getting fit; you can see that if they were on the one through 10 (that awful scale of how attractive someone is), they’re going up a few notches when they change their diet and lifestyle. You can see it in their face, in their eyes, their cheeks, the way their whole body is organized.
Yeah. If you want to break it down to what can change and what can’t change, that is a really fascinating topic:
- We change our skin, just the way it looks, whether we have acne or not, the blood flow to it so it gets more of a glow.
- We also change the fat distribution in our face. And so that would be, instead of having fat under the chin, which is not a very attractive location, it will really go more to the cheeks, and give us a little bit more of a youthful glow there.
- There are some skeletal changes that take place. I myself actually grew three quarters of an inch when I was 35 after starting this, and it wasn’t my long bones. It was to put me back into a better proportion because I’m short-waisted, and so it lengthened that short part of my waist. Yeah, so I was like, “Wow, cool.”
Abel: I bet the guys in the NBA would love that. They’ll grow the equivalent of six inches or something. Eight feet tall now.
Yeah, I mean, the guys that start young enough. I would say they may get another inch or two out of doing this.
Abel: It’s not necessarily like getting an extra inch as much as it is reversing the damage, or the lack of development that you’ve experienced from being malnourished when you were younger, right?
Absolutely. Yes, it’s putting your metabolism back in balance. Because when you have a diet that’s composed of vegetable oils and sugars, you have all that oxidative stress, and the reason oxidative stress is the great disease maker is because it interrupts a lot of the complicated communication between your hormones in your body. Vitamin D will now work better; your testosterone will now work better.
What happens when you have a vegetable oil and sugar diet for too long, sometimes your hormone making systems give up. So there are a lot of young people with low T, and it’s going to improve when their diet improves. Because what happens is the hormone systems… there are feedback loops that are positive and negative, and if you’re not producing enough hormone, you actually produce less and less. And you kind of dwindle down in a negative spiral that you can break out of by getting these two things out of your diet, and getting back on what we call a human diet. So all of the four pillars together compose the human diet.
Abel: It seems you take the food pyramid and flip it on its head. And in one of the articles about the macros of the NBA players that you work with, I think it was 50% healthy unprocessed fats, and then 25% protein and carbs. Is that about right?
Yeah, that’s about right. Because if you look at natural foods, our human composition is roughly the same. If you look at the composition of a nut, more than half the calories come from fat, and then there’s a fairly equal balance between carbs and protein. That’s true for, really, any kind of a meal that a good chef would put together anyway. We don’t take anything out of the diet arbitrarily. We don’t say you have to avoid wheat or potatoes or dairy—we certainly don’t do that.
Any actual food that’s been part of a culinary tradition for thousands of generations, we want to keep it. Because it’s hard enough to get real food these days, so if we start taking real food off of your list, it becomes a lot more difficult. One of my favorite fast foods is just cheese and nuts. It’s a healthy lunch.
Abel: Just to be clear, “vegetable oil” doesn’t mean olive oil. Could you differentiate between healthy fats and unhealthy fats when you’re actually walking into the grocery store?
When I say vegetable oil, I’m referring to corn, cottonseed, canola, soy, sunflower, safflower, or any oil that’s been processed the way those oils have. So you can now add rice bran oil to that list, and then some grapeseed oils can be added to that list.
It is the processing steps that are invisible to us; we can’t tell if it’s been processed. But we do know that those six oils are almost always processed. Peanut oil is one that can be good or it can be bad, depending on if it’s processed. So you have to use two other senses. One is your sense of taste; if it has flavor, it hasn’t been processed to death, because the processing tends to strip away all the flavor. And if you taste canola oil or soy oil, it’s pretty bland. But good olive oil has a lot of flavor. A bad olive oil doesn’t.
And your other sense is your sense of cash. That should be the seventh sense. Because if it’s making that cash sense blink—”Oh boy, this is expensive”—it’s probably good for you.
Abel: Well, and it’s also priced at a fair price. I’ve found, of course, some things that are super expensive are marked up. But actually, when you look at cheap food, processed food, that stuff is marked up way more than what seems to be more expensive, but is actually food. So, you’re getting a lot more mileage out of your food dollar when you buy that olive oil that you can actually taste, that is unprocessed, versus the stuff that may be laced with corn oil or whatever with a little bit of green food coloring that you see at restaurants in the middle of the table.
Yeah. If you’re spending more money on food, you are opting out of that 60-year experiment. Because the 60-year experiment was designed to see what happens when we eat the cheapest possible food. So, it’s definitely worth it.
Abel: And another thing, since you are a doctor, could you comment just a little bit about how the food budget and the medical budget should really all be considered kind of the lifestyle budget, and what the implications are of having high medical costs?
I love that concept, because if you are opting in to this medical experiment by buying cheap foods, you will be spending more time in the doctor’s office, in the hospital, and you’re going to be spending your money… especially depending on what happens as the healthcare system is constantly changing. You’d be spending more and more money, I think, in the future on medications, and to sustain your unhealthy diet, essentially.
It’s not easy to make habit changes. It’s not something you can just do in a snap, so we try to break down, “What’s a good first step to do?” in our book, Deep Nutrition, to get you back on that human diet.
WHERE TO FIND DR. CATE SHANAHAN
Abel: Deep Nutrition it is a wonderful book. So before we go, could you tell folks out there what you’re working on right now, and where they can find you and your books?
Our book is available at bookstores everywhere. You can check out on my website for lots of other information as well. And what I’m working on now is, I’m continuing to work with the Lakers, because they’re actually expanding their meal program. They’re now going to be including dinners after the game, because the coach, Walton, is really awesome and into this diet. I’m super excited about that. And I’m going to be working on another book.
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