There are some things that get so culturally ingrained into our minds that we tend to accept them as we have been told over and over again. However, seldom do we question or check to see if some of these things are actually true. We tend to think that things can only be as we have structured them to be in our mind as logical. It takes some new information for us to really wrap our heads around another possibility and even then it may take decades for full acceptance. One great historical example of this was the realization that the world was round. In hindsight, we chuckle at the thought of people having this idea, but they created a logical explanation based around what they knew. They knew that they couldn’t see forever so they figured there must be a cliff somewhere out there. Can you imagine how hard it would have been to convince people of this fact at that time?!?! In 30 years people will likely think the same of us with our views on many nutrition topics. The world of human nutrition has more cases like this than we can count. We know relatively little compared to the amount of unknown. Our understanding of cholesterol numbers are one specific example that I’m going to explain today.
When most of us think of cholesterol, we automatically think of the clogging of arteries which leads to cardiovascular disease (heart attacks). The mental picture of seeing lard or hardened fat lends weight to this idea that eating these things causes buildup in the body but that’s far from what actually happens. When your blood vessels become inflamed/damaged due to free radicals in your blood, (usually caused by inflammatory foods or toxic particles) your immune system sends out a signal to attend to this damage. This immune response sends cholesterol to patch up the hole in your arteries. Then, just like any other serious wound, you are left with some scar tissue. It is this scar tissue that “clogs” arteries and over time can cause a heart attack. In the mainstream medical field, cholesterol is condemned as enemy #1 in the fight against cardiovascular disease. Did anyone catch the problem with this? We’re metaphorically blaming the messenger, or in this case, the medic! Cholesterol is actually coming to heal and protect you from imminent danger. This is like having to amputate a leg because you have diabetes then blaming the doctor for weight gain because you couldn’t exercise enough! The problem wasn’t the doctor or the amputation. The problem was the ability to regulate blood sugar appropriately in the first place. In this case, with cholesterol, we should be asking ourselves, what can be done to reduce the inflammation in the arteries?
Knowing this about cholesterol, doesn’t however discount the value that we receive in getting our cholesterol levels checked. While cholesterol doesn’t directly cause heart disease, it still plays a role, and if certain cholesterol numbers become too high they are more likely to degrade and crash before being used to heal one to the arteries. Many of you know HDL as our “good cholesterol” and LDL as our “bad cholesterol”. This is somewhat true, but not quite. First off, the cholesterol itself is the same in both cases. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) are the carriers for cholesterol along with triglycerides (fats), fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), and other cofactors. Secondly, your HDL count is derived from your LDL. Confused? Your body actually packages up all those nutrients in an LDL particle to be distributed where needed throughout the body. The LDL actually becomes an HDL because the previously fat laden lipoprotein becomes more dense as it’s contents are distributed to tissues. Hence, low density and high density. The lipoprotein carrier is the same, but the contents inside have changed. The lipoprotein then returns to the liver to be repackaged and performs the whole process again before being decommissioned. Here’s the catch, if that LDL is originally packed with unstable fats (processed, high omega 6 oils) or a lack of stable (saturated, monounsaturated, and omega 3) fats and travels in a highly inflammatory bloodstream, such as those with a lot of sugar or other free radicals, it never gets the chance to make it back to the liver. When this happens, the LDL fails to distribute it’s goods and becomes oxidized in the blood. This is what I mean when I say degrade and crash. When this particle becomes oxidized it’s like a boat in the middle of the ocean being hit by a missile. The boat (LDL particle) is a sitting duck for missiles (sugar, toxins, free radicals, etc.) and everyone on board (cholesterol, fats, vitamins) are left floating around in the ocean (the blood). You can also have problems in this cycle if your liver is overloaded, but I'll save that issue for another time.
Science has proven that cholesterol is NOT the bad guy. Mainstream medicine, however, still hasn't changed practices and procedures for prescribing medication and giving nutritional advice.
So really, it’s not that cholesterol is the bad guy here. It’s the fact that we’ve got LDL particles being destroyed in a dangerous environment. The first thing way we help this number is by reducing the number of free radicals and toxins that we take in through our diet and lifestyle. Do you know what the number 1 source of free radicals is in the human diet? Here’s the sad part. The food/ingredient we were all told to consume to replace high cholesterol foods: low-saturated fat and cholesterol vegetable oils. We’ve all been told to eat margarine instead of butter. Nearly all packaged foods are made with or contain soybean, cottonseed, canola, grapeseed, or other vegetable oils just so they can say low cholesterol. These oils, even the ones that say no trans-fat, are the biggest reason why we have our insides literally on fire. They’re unstable, degrade easily, and combined with uncontrolled blood sugar, are destroying our health.
The second thing we want to do is raise our HDL cholesterol because it’s a safer place to be as we stated earlier. HDL particles actually receive cholesterol from LDL particles when they meet in the liver. So having extremely low LDL cholesterol can actually inhibit your body’s ability to have sufficient amounts of cholesterol in HDL particles. We can help this process in a couple ways. First, we need to make sure our liver in functioning correctly because it’s the liver’s job to help repackage and carry out this process. Second, we need to make sure we are taking in sufficient amounts of good quality fats. The quality and quantity of the fats you consume can make a huge difference in the strength of the LDL and HDL particles in fighting against oxidation and efficiently completing the lipid cycle of distribution. For a copy of my best and worst fats to cook with and consume, subscribe below.
Most importantly, with cholesterol numbers, we need to take into account each person’s situation as an individual. This is because cholesterol numbers are just numbers unless you really have a good idea about the full picture. Forget cholesterol numbers, this is an important point on understanding how to help heal people from any condition. This is also where many general practitioners in the medical field will fail to truly heal people. Understanding the full scope of a person’s lifestyle and diet is just as important as identifying the condition itself. To truly fix the problem, you have to identify the possible causes and eliminate those causes. Nutrition and health is not as easy as a+b=c. It’s calculus, not algebra. If certain conditions are met, a+b=c but if other conditions are met, a+d(b-x)/a lot of other characters I can't type in word =c.
I hope this sheds some light on a topic that is often misunderstood in our health. Please feel free to ask any questions you have here or on the Facebook page as this topic is certainly deeper than I've covered here.
Shanahan, Catherine, and Luke Shanahan. Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food. Lawai, HI: Big Box, 2009. Print.
Bowman, Barbara A. Present Knowledge in Nutrition. Washington, DC: ILSI Pr., 2006. Print.
Taubes, Gary. Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease. New York: Knopf, 2007. Print.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” – Aristotle
I’ve seen and heard about this book from various sources over the last year or so and just now got my hands on it. Being someone who works with others to make lifestyle changes, I’ve been excited about the impact it might make on my perspective and how I work with people. I can see why it’s been on the New York Times Bestseller list. Duhigg’s style in presenting a combination of hypothetical thought and scientific research is wonderful for all sorts of minds ranging from the creative to the data driven. Here are a few of my takeaways so far for you to think about:
40% of the actions we take each day are habits.
This means they didn’t actually require a conscious decision. This is amazing if you think about it! Nearly half of your day is essentially on autopilot! Better yet, our brains are essentially trying to create a habit out of every single thing we do. Why? Habit circuits in our brains require less brain activity. Like nearly everything else physiological, our brain is designed to make things as easy as possible.
The neuronal wiring of a habit never disappears once it is created.
This is either our greatest strength or most glaring flaw. The great part, we never forget how to drive home from work, even if we go on vacation for a month. The flaw, our brain doesn’t distinguish between good or bad habits. So if your habit on the drive home from work is to stop off for a tub of ice cream, that too returns after that month long vacation. We can override this habit by creating a stronger, more consistent habit, but that takes quite a bit of mental energy to establish and overcome.
The Habit Loop
Our habits are born through this idea that a cue, such as hearing our phone ding or seeing it light up with a text message, leads to a routine, us attending to the message, and ending with a reward, the excitement of a message (anticipated or novel) or the distraction from whatever we are doing. The habit being born isn’t the powerful part however. It isn’t instantly something that is automatic. Some habits, if the reward is consistent enough, create a craving in the brain that turns this into a powerful loop. You can actually see this in brain scans where the habit has been reliable enough to cause the brain to anticipate the reward. Our brain and body actually react to the cue as if it were the reward. This craving aspect is what drives the loop to be automatic. So now, after you’ve received several messages that brought you excitement, you automatically want to reach immediately for your phone every time you receive a notification. Now that this loop is really cranking it takes an immense amount of brain power to slow down. What if you end up in a big lunch meeting with a potential client and now your phone lights up? Of course it’s inappropriate in that setting, but you are already hooked. Even if you don’t give in, your attention is significantly divided and you’re spending much of your brain power on how to not reach for your phone, instead of closing the deal with a new client. That brain power is also willpower which may come to bite you later in the day. Your willpower is finite. So if you're spending large chunks of it throughout the day resisting urges from other habits, you will be weaker come nighttime. Hence, food cravings being the hardest to resist late at night.
Why do some exercise habit attempts succeed while others fail?
Exercising, we can all agree, is a good habit. Now why is it that some exercise habits stick and others fizzle out. In The Power of Habit, Duhigg cites a research study that claims people who continue exercising are the ones who “feel good” after exercising because of the endorphins produced by the exercise (“runner’s high”) and those who felt a sense of accomplishment from completing their workouts. This, among other reasons, is where having an exercise professional is paramount for creating exercise as an automatic habit. Many people who work out on their own or in classes never manage to work hard enough to reach the feel good “runner’s high”. More so, many people do not know how to or have the desire to track their workouts in a manner that shows their accomplishments and progress relative to their goal. Coincidentally enough, if you are tracking your workouts and progress appropriately, you would have the information you need to push your body into the endorphin rush stage consistently time after time. In this case, you get the best of both worlds! This is why we keep records the way we do in my practice. It drives people! Does anybody know the hottest trend in exercise right now? Here are some hints – Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin, Polar, Nike Fuelband, etc… Yes, fitness tracking devices. The forerunners in creating and selling these products knew this information undoubtedly. If you’ve been struggling to make exercise a habit, I hope this sheds some light onto your situation. If you really want to move your exercise habits in the right direction, find a professional to help you make the change. Accountability, safety, efficiency, and a life changing new habit are all you have to gain.
What is your experience?
What are your tricks to making something a habit or getting rid of a bad one?
What habits are you struggling to set or get rid of?
What diet plan is best? What do you think of the ____ diet? What kind of diet do you eat? This is probably the most common question I get before people actually work with me. Little do most people know how loaded these questions really are. Have you ever counted the number of diet books in a Barnes and Noble? I would roughly guess around 200 and that’s just the most popular sellers. Without a doubt, each one of those books has numerous first-hand accounts about how that diet changed their life. Accounts from people who have tried every other diet out there and this one was the only one that worked. Every. Single. One. How can that be possible? I don’t know if this is a product of the information age or if it has always been like this, but we want everything straight. No grey area. No option. We want true or false. Right or wrong. Unfortunately, life just isn’t that way. Neither is nutrition.
The truth is that different foods, in different amounts, and at different times are right for different people. In fact this goes for exercise and to some extent lifestyle habits as well. Why is this so hard for all of us to admit? I think partly because we inherently think if something works for us, then it should work for others as well. Think critically about it though. Even if you know very little about nutrition, would you assume that a marathon runner needs the same diet as a business executive? Of course not. Different vehicles need different types of fuel. Now forget about the surface for a second. Assume two people have the same job, height, weight, body fat percentage, and daily demands. Two people who look the same on the outside, are biochemically diverse. We have different genetic makeups, hormone patterns, blood types, nutritional stores, and neurotransmitter levels among countless other internal components. Although we cannot see it, we know it’s true. How in the world then, can there be just one perfect diet?!
This is why I practice functional nutrition. I've found that some of the most commonly accepted “healthy foods” are not right for certain people at certain points in their life. I've seen one person in particular who found through functional nutrition that almonds, eggs, apples, broccoli, honey, and olive oil among other things, were not healthy foods for him. Most of those are generally accepted as healthy foods wouldn't you agree? Not for him, at least not at that point in his life. Those foods actually did more bad for him than good. Functional nutrition isn’t a specific diet. It’s a YOU diet.
Now, I will say that there are many overlaps in what is good for different people just as there are great parts of most any fad diet. However, we are dynamic creatures. Even within one person, different foods, amounts, and timing are ideal at different points in your life. Even at just 26 years of age currently, my diet is and has to be different than it was 10 years ago.
To answer the first question about which diet is best, here is my answer:
You have to run lab tests to find out. You have to know what your hormone pathways look like, how your liver is functioning, and how your digestive system is functioning. You have to know your neurotransmitter levels are and if you have any pathogens. To create the perfect diet, you have to find out what foods your body is sensitive/intolerant/allergic to and if you have any nutrient deficiencies.
If you’re interested in finding the YOU diet, contact me about these. Here is another little bit for you though. Adherence is paramount. The best diet is useless if it’s not one that you can execute. The best diet is one you can stick to and adapt to for the rest of your life.
Progressive Health & Performance resides in the Temecula and Murrieta area of Southern California and also serve the surrounding cities of Lake Elsinore, Menifee, Canyon Lake and Wildomar, but we work with clients nationwide. Whether it's your toughest health challenge or your next fitness goal, we are here to serve you.
39400 Murrieta Hot Springs Rd
Murrieta, CA, 92563