This is information I collected to help with my personal goal of living healthfully to at least the age of 100. I also wanted to share this with my family and, if others find it useful, that’s good too.
The most important suggestion I will make is to avoid eating and drinking all forms of sugar. Most people do not appreciate how damaging sugar is. Sugar is not a required nutrient. Your body will produce glucose as it is needed so there is no reason to consume it except for pleasure. Because of the wide-spread use and amount of consumption, sugar is more devastating to human health in general than tobacco, alcohol, GMO’s, gluten, flouride, unnecessarily taken pharmaceuticals, and recreational drugs. If there was just one focus I could have to improve health, sugar restriction would be it. Again, severely limit sugar. Do not drink soda, sports drinks, or any other processed food drinks!
I follow a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diet that mostly falls into the low-carb Paleo category. While I have not completely avoided sugar (birthday cakes, alcoholic drinks, etc.), I eat a moderate amount – probably less than five pounds per year, which is much less than the nearly 150 pounds consumed by the average American. Although I am a meat eater, most of the guidelines listed below (and certainly the most important guidelines) are applicable to vegans.
Some nutritional science has been done wrongly, used wrongly, or was mistakenly ignored. Examples are described in “Ending the War on Fat,” a Time magazine cover story by Bryan Walsh:
…the experiment was a failure. We cut the fat, but by almost every measure, Americans are sicker than ever. The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes increased 166% from 1980 to 2012. Nearly 1 in 10 American adults has the disease, costing the health care system $245 billion a year, and an estimated 86 million people are pre-diabetic. Deaths from heart disease have fallen — a fact that many experts attribute to better emergency care, less smoking and widespread use of cholesterol-controlling drugs like statins — but cardiovascular disease remains the country’s No. 1 killer. Even the increasing rates of exercise haven’t been able to keep us healthy. More than a third of the country is now obese, making the U.S. one of the fattest countries in an increasingly fat world. “Americans were told to cut back on fat to lose weight and prevent heart disease,” says Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. “There’s an overwhelmingly strong case to be made for the opposite.”
A major aspect of this is that we eat carbohydrates and sugar to excess. Have you read Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter? The health information in this book is crucial and it is well referenced scientifically. Also read Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise. First, you may want to read My Review of The Big Fat Surprise. The following are my notes from these and many other sources regarding low-carb, high-fat diets. Some of these are listed on my References page. Our pervasive health care problems could be mostly turned around with a simple diet change to reduce carbohydrates to normal levels, consume quality fats, and avoid processed seed oils.
Make sure your diet includes protein, fruits, and vegetables. Limit fruits to limit fructose – just do not juice too much sugary fruit at once and stay away from fruit drinks. Fructose, as with alcohol, can only be processed in the liver. Getting too much of this can result in fatty liver disease and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the root cause of obesity – not gluttony and sloth as many government agencies, food industries, and health organizations continually try to make us believe.
Include plenty of these fats: monounsaturated (nuts, olives, avocados), polyunsaturated omega-3 (fish, flax seed), and natural saturated (meat, whole eggs, butter, coconut oil). Butter may have the most beneficial effect of helping to raise the desirable HDL cholesterol. Do not buy lean cuts of meat or non-fat or low-fat anything. Eat real food, not processed food! Also, consider adding butter or almond butter to coffee. Dietary saturated fat has no effect on the incidence of chronic disease. To the detriment of their credibility, some health institutions, such as The American Heart Association and The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), still warn against saturated fat. Ask them why, but don’t expect an answer.
Make carbohydrates a proportionally small amount of your diet. This is critically important. Recognize that the grain-heavy high-carb low-fat diet, promoted by most health organizations during the last 50 years, is extreme and damaging. The standard American diet that was followed during this period is unlike anything that has been eaten during our history and it has resulted in wide-spread metabolic syndrome. The health costs have been enormous.
My targets for macronutrient percentages are:
Fat should be more than 60 percent of calories.
Average protein and carbohydrate levels should each be less than 20 percent of calories.
My diet is usually in the real food low-carb Paleo category. If you want to take this further, follow a ketogenic diet with approximate targets of about five percent carbohydrates, 20 percent protein, and 75 percent fat. While this is a healthy target, it could be difficult for anyone who is not a hunter-gatherer. For more about this see More About Macronutrient Ratios.
The common criticism that a low-carb diet is unsustainable has been proven wrong by a great deal of history. Low-carb Paleo and ketogenic diets are easy to maintain because you can eat what you want of great-tasting foods that include enough fat to make you feel satiated. Even with avoiding processed foods, grains, and sugary items, there are plenty of food choices. The only challenging part of this can be to get enough quality fats.
Eating some prepared flaxseed meal or freshly ground flax seeds is a good habit to detoxify the colon. It is also a good source of omega-3 fat.
Avoid sugar, sugar substitutes, and forms of sugar such as corn syrup. Sugar substitutes are damaging in many ways for which you can research yourself. Sugar is an addictive toxin and it is the primary cause of the major chronic diseases including cancers. Many people consume ten times the amount of carbohydrates and sugars that their system can properly metabolize. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar to six teaspoons per day for women and nine for men. This is a maximum amount and is not a recommendation to include sugar in your diet. While small amounts of sugar are only mildly toxic, why include an unhealthy substance in your diet on a daily basis? A more sensible target for sugar is zero since the human nutritional requirement for sugar is zero. In fact, the human nutritional requirement for carbohydrates is zero, although it would be impractical and unnecessary to limit carbohydrates to this degree. Carbohydrates are not essential macronutrients.
If you are giving your baby a processed formula, do your best to find out what is in it. Most formula contains sugars. Sadly, the amount of sugar is not listed on baby formula as it is with other processed foods and food companies are generally reluctant to divulge the contents. Some people have termed commercial baby formulas “baby milk shakes”. Do not let your children become addicted to sugar.
Limit starches from potatoes, rice, and corn. Avoid wheat and other foods with gluten such as barley, couscous, rye, and processed foods. Quinoa is free of gluten. Avoid heat-processed polyunsaturated vegetable oils with high omega-6 content such as margarine and processed oils from canola, corn, cottonseed, peanuts, safflower, sesame, soybeans, sunflowers, and walnuts. These vegetable oils are found in processed foods and they are literally poisonous. Heat processed seed oils commonly include significant amounts of undisclosed trans fats. In general, avoid processed food, including foods marketed as gluten-free. Also, avoid toxins like fluoride, pharmaceuticals, and other drugs. Chlorine and fluoride, which is often added to drinking water, lowers thyroid function. Basically, avoid ingesting any food types and chemicals that were not available during most of our evolution. This eliminates the majority of commercially available foods. Learn to avoid 90 percent of what is in grocery stores.
Eat organic foods when possible. This is not just to avoid consuming toxic chemicals. When pesticides are used, bacteria in the soil are killed. As a result of fewer bacteria digesting the soil, trace amounts of many needed minerals remain locked in the soil and are not available to plants. Eating plants that are depleted of minerals is probably the reason so many people are known to be deficient in certain minerals. There are many unknowns regarding mineral nutrients including those that may be relevant to root causes of some chronic diseases.
Recognize that eating foods high in cholesterol will not negatively affect your cholesterol levels. To some degree, cardiovascular disease results from sugar affecting fat molecules and producing the small-particle type of cholesterol that inflames arteries. As long as you are not eating sugar, do not be too concerned with a blood test that indicates high LDL cholesterol, unless your triglyceride levels are high. Reduce cardiac risk by limiting carbohydrates and by getting aerobic exercise. If you have cardiovascular problems, resolve them with proper nutrition and exercise and not with drugs.
Lipid level measurements can be useful to indicate cardiovascular risk. There is evidence, although it is not widely known, that the focus should be on assuring high HDL cholesterol levels along with low triglycerides and that less attention should be paid to LDL levels. According to Mayo Clinic, desirable HDL levels are 60 mg/dL or above. LDL levels of 100-129 mg/dL are optimal, but do not place a great deal of importance on this metric. The American Heart Association recommends that triglyceride levels of less than 100 mg/dL are optimal. Mayo Clinic states that exercise and carbohydrate reduction are both key to reducing triglycerides. While exercise is important, from many sources I have read, I think the bigger push should be to eliminate added sugars and reduce carbohydrates in general.
Although most doctors still do not check for this (it is an expensive test), LDL size and particle counts are an important indication of whether cholesterol will inflame artery walls. Large diameter LDL is considered most desirable. Eating eggs with both the yolks and the whites has been conclusively proven to result in increased LDL diameter. Consumption of carbohydrates results in a decrease of LDL size and causes inflammation of artery walls. Research LDL size and particle count tests because there is still much that is unknown regarding this. However, the association of carbohydrates and cardiovascular disease is now well known and scientifically proven. Unfortunately, only a few health organizations have updated their dietary guidelines to reflect the science. Government organizations, such as the USDA, make fundamental changes slowly and they tend to be driven by politics and special interests. I addressed my comments to the USDA with an official submission and in this post: Comments for the USDA 2015 Dietary Guidelines.
Mainstream healthcare focuses on LDL cholesterol because there are drugs that help to reduce this. However, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that shows correlation between LDL level and cardiovascular risk. On top of that, use of statin drugs only reduce risk to a minor degree. Only use drugs to correct a problem that is extreme. The following metrics are key predictors of mortality:
Triglyceride levels (target 40 to 100 mg/dL)
Total cholesterol / HDL ratio (target <4.0)
Triglycerides / HDL ratio (target <1.0) (possibly the best indicator)
A1C insulin resistance (Fasting glucose) (target <100mg/dL)
Blood pressure (target <120 mmHg systolic)
It has been shown that a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 correlates with a significantly reduced risk of strokes and mortality.
The hemoglobin A1C test is important. Be sure you are fasting when blood tests are done. Otherwise, the glucose and A1C tests will be meaningless. Kaiser Permanente suggests keeping this below 5.7 percent, however, it is better to keep the A1C results lower than 5.2 percent to minimize risk of cancer and dementia. Do this simply by limiting sugars and carbohydrates.
That sugar in the bloodstream promotes cancer cell growth has been scientifically proven from studies dating as far back as the 1920’s. This is just one of the many reasons to severely limit sugars from all sources, including fruits. Cancer cells thrive on glucose and many people worldwide are finding that they can control, and sometimes even cure, cancers using strict ketogenic diets.
The ratio of LDL to HDL can be used to determine risk. Considering just LDL or total cholesterol as a metric is not very useful. By the way, LDL is not “bad” cholesterol as it is often incorrectly described. LDL is absolutely necessary and, when your body is fueled correctly, it will regulate LDL to the best level. Do not regulate it with drugs. While LDL is a blood lipid that is as essential as HDL, an excess of the small dense type of LDL can result in inflammation of artery walls.
Some blood test data has to be considered in relation to other data for it to mean anything. Although it is not widely publicized, higher total cholesterol has been shown to lower risk of death in older people.
Triglycerides are fat molecules with a type of sugar molecule bound to them. Your body makes triglycerides and you consume them in foods. They are used for energy and they are also fundamentally essential. However, an excess of triglycerides in your blood indicates a problem with the regulatory system.
Here are additional important metrics:
Hydroxy Vitamin D (target >=3.0 mg/dL)
Blood pressure (target <80 mmHg diastolic)
Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL) (target 5-30 mg/dL – lower is better!)
From Mayo Clinic, Dr. Thomas Behrenbeck, M.D., Ph. D. : Of the lipoprotein types, VLDL contains the highest amount of triglyceride. Because it contains a high level of triglyceride, having a high VLDL level means you may have an increased risk of coronary artery disease, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Higher amounts and large VLDL particles are also associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke.
In case you want to know exactly how a low-carb high-fat lifestyle is working for me, I will give you some background. For most of my life I ate a high-carb low-fat diet. After age 30, my weight ranged from 195 to 211 pounds. I ate lots of whole wheat bread and “heart-healthy” whole wheat cereals. With a height of six foot, two inches, I was not too overweight, but I continuously had a wheat belly. No amount of resistance training or running, including marathon training and running, changed that.
The following are results from my blood tests from November 07, 2014:
TRIGLYCERIDES: 46 mg/dL
TOTAL CHOLESTEROL / HDL: 3.66
TRIGLYCERIDES / HDL RATIO: 0.69
VLDL CHOLESTEROL: 9 mg/dL
BLOOD PRESSURE: 110 mmHg systolic, 60 mmHg diastolic
HEMOGLOBIN A1C: 5.2%
WEIGHT: 180 pounds (down from 211 pounds when weighed in 2011)
After that, I stayed on a low-carb paleo diet. Results from my most recent physical examination on March 10, 2016:
TRIGLYCERIDES: 45 mg/dL
TOTAL CHOLESTEROL / HDL: 4.20
TRIGLYCERIDES/ HDL RATIO: 0.68
VLDL CHOLESTEROL: 9 mg/dL
BLOOD PRESSURE: 110 mmHg systolic, 80 mmHg diastolic
HEMOGLOBIN A1C: 5.5%
WEIGHT: 183 pounds
My calculated LDL tested at 202 mg/dL. There is much hype regarding LDL and I think this happens because there are drugs that effectively reduce this (with consequences). Based on data, I choose to ignore this. Some of this is graphed here: LDL – It’s not the “Bad Cholesterol”…
Within a few weeks of LCHF eating, I noticed that I had more energy, even after long periods without eating. My waist size reduced from a pant size 36 to 32. I get hungry, but I do not get jittery or bonk when running. I am satiated longer after eating. I used to have at least minor symptoms of shingles all the time. Now these only occur about a day after eating cake or drinking alcohol. In addition, my gums are noticeably healthier. My weight has stabilized and it fluctuates very little with changes in calorie intake. My wheat belly is gone.
Do not overeat, but eat enough to keep your muscles nourished most of the time. That does not mean you need to snack frequently, as carb-burning people often do to avoid cravings and feelings of low energy. Centenarians are seldom overweight. Research indicates that high calorie diets have significant negative effects on brain health. Consider day-long fasts at least four times a year. Just drink lots of water. It doesn’t hurt to miss a meal now and then and, once you are fat-adapted, it is not a problem to maintain your energy during times you don’t eat.
Make sure you get vitamin D3 and iodine in your diet. The most important type of vitamin D is D3. Almost everyone is deficient in these nutrients. The FDA minimum daily suggestion for iodine is 250 mcg. Four times that amount, at 1 mg is probably a better maintenance level. Take a DHA supplement (1,000 mg per day). There is more information regarding this in the post Penny per Calorie Fish Oil. Also include turmeric, coconut oil, and CoQ10. See Dr. Eric Berg’s important video on iodine, which is listed on my References page.
Try to keep your blood pressure below 120/80 to minimize risk of heart attacks and strokes. Blood pressure can be lowered to a minor extent by reducing salt intake and by exercise. Nutritional supplements that help include CoQ10, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins C and D. It is best to have both a plant and an animal source of omega-3’s, such as from flax seeds and krill oil. There are other things you can do to improve blood pressure so find out what they are if you have difficulty getting this under control.
Choose grass-fed and free-range animal foods when possible. Most farm animals in the United States are fed corn and soy, which causes a reduction of the nutritional value of the products. In addition, almost all corn and soy are genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Eating GMOs may or may not present health risks, but GMO foods are extremely problematic for other reasons. GMOs are hidden in most processed foods and this is another reason to avoid processed foods altogether. Be sure to avoid the stuff that has to be sold with qualifying labels such as “natural”, “gluten-free”, and “healthy”. Most of these processed foods such as breads, cereals, and yogurt contain, in addition to GMOs, toxins such as sugars and bromines.
Never buy processed foods that show trans fats on the label, such as partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Unfortunately, the presence of toxic vegetable oils in processed foods are not always disclosed. While the Food and Drug Administration requires the listing of trans fats, amounts less than 0.50 grams per serving do not have to be identified. The best course is to simply not buy processed commercial foods. This includes cookies, crackers, margarine, breads, and cereals. Unfortunately, it is difficult to avoid unhealthy vegetable oils when you eat at restaurants. For more about this see my post Why I Avoid Canola Oil.
Do not be too concerned with salt consumption since there is no good evidence linking salt to heart disease. You can get too little or too much of it, but neither of these conditions is usually a big problem. Use sea salt when you can to get traces of additional minerals.
Limit your use of alcohol. Alcohol (ethanol) is a carbohydrate and is a type of sugar that causes all of the damaging effects of other sugars. While any cell can metabolize the glucose component of sugar, fructose and alcohol are only metabolized in the liver.
Commercial toothpastes usually contain toxins such as flouride. Use sea salt and baking soda instead.
Juice vegetables and fruits, but be careful not to get too much sugar from fruits. I like to use the NutriBullet for this, since it pulverizes everything without waste. At least occasionally include parsley or cilantro in your juice to help remove toxins. Also to remove toxins, start your day drinking lots of water. Meditate. Also exercise. Vary your exercise routine and include high intensity interval training (HIIT).
To be really healthy you have to behave differently than most people. Eating differently is challenging because of traditions, habits, and misinformation about what is healthy. An example of widely distributed bad information was the USDA food pyramid. This promoted a diet highest in carbohydrates, high in fruits and vegetables, lower in protein, and lowest in fat. Incredibly, the government’s MyPlate icon that replaced the food pyramid does not show any fat on the plate! For more evidence of how off-base health institutions can be, consider the recommendation of the American Diabetes Association regarding carbohydrates. They suggest that a good place to start is 45 to 60 grams per meal. With three meals per day, this will total as much as 145 pounds of carbohydrates per year! This level of carbohydrate consumption represents a radical diet when compared to the low-carb diet that humans typically had for at least two million years. The extremeness of mainstream nutrition advice is made obvious with this graphic:
Although a high carbohydrate, low fat diet is conclusively proven to result in heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, and other life threatening conditions, it is still promoted by special interests in food and medical industries. Do not trust them. Links to sources that point to credible health science and some interesting references are listed on the References page of this website.