Study on How to Feed Your Genes: Part 2

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In Part 1 I did a break down of a new study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology where in biologists tested how the macronutrient composition of food affects gene expression.  This section is going to cover the problems with the study, and critically look at their recommendations.

A Few Problems…

While this study was groundbreaking, there are three main problems.

1. Small Study Size
Gene expression is a good measure of health, but it would have been nice to see them look at a larger study group.  Thirty two volunteers isn’t much.  Since this was one of the first studies to look at how macronutrients affect gene expression, it’s likely studies will include more people in the future. These studies aren’t cheap, and they were comparing individual changes, not group changes, so this is not a major criticism.

2. Obese Versus Healthy?
This study was on obese individuals who may respond poorly to any amount of carbohydrate.  The negative expression of genes from a high carb diet may not occur in healthy people.  There are still other reasons to limit carb intake, but this might be one reason some cultures do well on a high carb diet.  If you’re metabolically healthy, lean, and strong, you cap probably get away with higher carb intake – for a while, as long as you don’t mind cancer or aging faster later. (Are you listening, my young under 30 vegan friends?)  Hopefully, research will look at this question soon. But I don’t think higher carb intake is ever optimal.

3. Questionable Food Quality
It’s important to remember where your carbs are coming from.  Cultures such as the Kitavans and the Okinawans maintain a high carb intake, but they aren’t eating pasta and Cheerios.  Almost all of their carb calories come from glucose and maltose in the form of sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, and other tubers. On high carb diets like those, gut flora which manufacture short chain fatty acids are key – and no one has studied what probiotics grow in the guts of Kitavans. In this study, the carbs in the powdered food were likely refined sugar, which are going to be more damaging than whole foods.

Questionable Recommendations

While the study was excellent, not all the conclusions drawn by the author were supported by the data!

Meal Frequency

If you read the study on Science Daily, Johansen recommends eating six square meals a day.  The study did not support this idea.  Since every group ate meals at the same frequency, there is no way she can say that eating six small meals is better than having a restricted feeding window.  Since plain intermittent fasting improves glucose control, I think the author is badly misguided in her recommendation to snack. And she has definitely never heard of Bulletproof Fasting!

It’s true that insulin is a key player in activating unfavorable genes.  However, eating many meals throughout the day increases insulin levels, which would turn on the same genes.  There’s little real evidence eating six small meals a day is good for you.  There’s far more evidence it’s bad.  Fasting has many benefits we’ve already covered, and I’ll be writing about soon.

Food Quality Strikes Again

The author assumes all carbs are created equal.  As you already know from reading this blog, this is false.  She recommends you avoid all starchy tubers and fruit in favor of small amounts of whole grains.  (Argh!) The negative health aspects of a whole grain diet are too large to discuss here, but you’re far better off eating a ton of carbs from tubers – or even frutose-laden fruit – than you are eating whole grains in “moderation.” It’s a safe bet she doesn’t know that grains have mycotoxins that affect protein synthesis either.

According to Johansen, salads and leafy greens are a source of carbohydrate. You’d have to eat far more than most people can manage to get any amount of carbs from spinach.  Even if greens did contain lots of carbs, the carbs in leafy greens are mostly eaten by bacteria and thus don’t reach your bloodstream.

Ketogenic diets have been shown to help with the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Johansen did get the second part right: Eat less carbs.

“Both low-carb and high-carb diets are wrong, but a low-carb diet is closer to the right diet. A healthy diet shouldn’t be made up of more than one-third carbohydrates (up to 40 per cent of calories) in each meal, otherwise we stimulate our genes to initiate the activity that creates inflammation in the body.”

It’s a stretch to say that low-carb diets are wrong, since the diet in this study was “moderate carb.”  In any case, at least she didn’t try to weasel her way out of an uncomfortable conclusion with excuses like “It appears obese people are not a good study group” or other pathetic manipulations of the results.

Every Meal Has To Be Balanced?

Eating every meal in the same proportions in unnecessary.  This study did show eating more than about 40 percent of total calories from carbs increased inflammation.  However, there’s no reason to eat every meal in the same proportions.  There are actually some benefits to doing the opposite.

This was an excellent study which gives us an indication as to the optimal macronutrient composition.  It doesn’t tell you exactly what to eat, but it can serve as a clue for what proportions you should eat. And you can do that on the Bulletproof Diet.

Paul Jaminet writes about some problems with eliminating carbs for long periods of time, but in general – keep them low, just not too low. Dry eyes and mouth are a sure sign you need to increase your carbs, for instance.

Summary

Epigenetics is a very under-researched topic, but interest is growing in the scientific community.  Through my work running the Silicon Valley  Health Institute, I’ve had the pleasure of working with experts on this topic for some time, and Wiley is publishing my book on epigenetics for pregnancy soon.  It seems that even conventional research is now catching up to what us biohackers have known for years.

“We need more research on this… It seems clear that the composition and quantity of our diets can be key in influencing the symptoms of chronic disease. It is important to distinguish between diet quality and quantity, both clearly have very specific effects.”

They admitted it!  It’s not about “everything in moderation” and “calories in versus calories out.”  Quality matters, as does macronutrient composition.

Biohacking is largely about using data – and research – to see what works and what doesn’t.  I’ve covered epigenetics extensively in my book, and I give an overview of the concept at the beginning of my “Top Six Biohacks Video.”  You can imagine my excitement (and horror) when a new study came out showing that what is many people consider a healthy diet actually turns on genes that kill you.

The Bulletproof Diet is designed to create long life, strength, mental ability, and awesomeness, and it does this in part through genetic means.  (there has to be an “awesome gene”, right?).  This new research is not conclusive evidence that carbs are evil, but it serves as more proof of the benefits of a low to moderate carb diet – like the Bulletproof Diet.  Feed your genes fat, not carbs.

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By Dave Asprey

  • Dan Shanker

    If there is an “awesome” gene you’ve definitely got it, Dave! 🙂

  • js290
  • B Radvansky

    Dave, very nice analysis of the study. I’m a long-time reader, first time poster. I’m wondering what your take is on “carbing up” for bodybuilding purposes, but doing so with rice and sweet potatoes, eschewing gluten/wheat. Does this still cause the aforementioned inflammation, or are the tubers and rice a “safe(r)” energy source?
    Thank you very much for everything here…bulletproof coffee is on the table in front of me 😉

  • Sam

    I’m on somewhat of a modified bulletproof diet. I’ve tried going low carb (roughly 30% carbs or less) but I just don’t feel as good or have as much energy and have mild cognitive decline on that. I’ve since upped my carb intake to roughly 40-50% and feel much better. My body is slim but athletic. I’d love to see them do this same study but with athletes versus obese people.