By Dr. Mercola
Dr. Paul Jaminet is a trained astrophysicist and author of the book, Perfect Health Diet.
He and his wife Shou-Ching, a Harvard biomedical scientist, have collaborated to create a refined Paleolithic diet approach that I believe can be quite valuable.
As is often the case with groundbreaking health findings, their joint search for an optimal diet was motivated by chronic health problems.
Dr. Jaminet experienced symptoms similar to those of multiple sclerosis, cognitive decline, neuropathic issues, and Rosacea.
These symptoms initially appeared around 1992, after being on a long course of antibiotics.
Meanwhile, his wife had endometriosis, fibroids, hypothyroidism, and other problems.
She ate a lot of soy, which appears to have been a major contributing factor.
"I think there are so many people who have developed health problems because of the bad advice they've gotten from government authorities and the medical establishment," Dr. Jaminet says.
"Fortunately, things are changing now. I think people are realizing that advice didn't work, and it didn't have evidence behind it really. People are learning that there are much better ways to eat out there. Hopefully, it will start turning the tide on these chronic disease epidemics that we're experiencing."
I couldn't agree more. And I'm very excited to see that parts of Dr. Jaminet's research also corroborates the work of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, whose GAPS Nutritional protocol is having a major impact on people's health.
To Determine the Perfect Diet, it would Take Thousands of Lifetimes to Read the Medical Literature
Dr. Jaminet has also hit on a crucial point as it relates to the detective work involved with identifying what an ideal diet might be, and that is the importance of establishing a big-picture framework that is as close to the truth as possible. Because without this framework, it can be near impossible to properly interpret individual scientific findings.
"PubMed, the database of journal articles, has over 22 million articles, and more than a million are added every year. Think about how much a person can read; I read at most two papers a day… I might read 500 papers a year. So with a million coming out and being only able to read 500, or maybe 1000, you can see only a tiny fraction of the literature. It's very easy to have a kind of selection bias; to get a small view of the literature, and have that lead you the wrong way.
Biology is complex. These journal articles are hard to interpret. There are usually many different ways to interpret any single paper. So, you really need a big, overarching view that's very close to the truth, and then you know how to interpret each paper.
What I found was, when I started from an evolutionary perspective, that led me very close to the truth. We actually have five different sources of evolutionary evidence, and they all point in the same direction about what the optimal human diet is! And then when you start from that perspective and interpret the papers in that light, it gets much easier to see a way to reconcile all of the different papers.
… Now when I look at how other people interpret the literature, I usually see they're very strongly influenced by their own field, their own specialty, and they usually don't take into account evidence from other specialties very much...Experts know a lot. But they also have a limited perspective and that can easily mislead them about diet."
I agree that one crucial factor ignored by so many "health authorities" is the big picture perspective—the evolutionary perspective of the human body and the food that fuels it. And this perspective is truly key, as it provides a solid starting point from which to assess everything. In order to figure out what we're doing wrong today, we need to evaluate how our modern diets deviate from the diets of our forefathers. The answer is not newer and better chemicals to substitute nutrients. The answer is going BACK to what we were designed to eat…
So Dr. Jaminet initially decided to try the Paleo Diet as it had the strongest evolutionary support (see below) and could help significantly limit the literature review. But as he began to experience some negative effects over the first year, he came to the conclusion that the Paleo diet still had certain weaknesses and flaws, which he set out to solve.
"That's where I had a big advantage; that my wife works at Harvard," he says. "We have access to all the medical journals. I have access to her expertise. She also brings a wider perspective about diet coming from Asia… The more we learn about diet, the more we learn that traditional Asian diets [and traditional cuisines generally] are actually extremely healthy. That gave us confidence that we were on the right track."
Five Sources of Evolutionary Evidence Offer Compelling Clues to Optimal Diet
The Paleo diet is based on what our ancestors ate during the Paleolithic period. There were no supermarkets back then, so they hunted and gathered their food. This also tells us there was regional variability in people's diets, as they could only eat that which grew and was available in their respective climate.
"Eskimos (Inuit) would eat almost a pure animal food diet… People in the tropics would tend to eat more carbohydrates. But typically, the amount of carbohydrates eaten would… be about 15 percent to 20 percent. We know that from hunter-gatherer tribes that were contacted in the 1800s. We have some good data from that period on what hunter-gatherer diets looked like."
A second source of evidence is the composition of human breast milk, which we can assume must be, evolutionary speaking, a nutritionally ideal form of nourishment for human infants. And, while the nutritional needs of infants differ from adults, we can estimate how their nutrient needs differ, and adjust accordingly.
"One thing we see in infants is that they have very large brains relative to their body size. So they use a lot of glucose," Dr. Jaminet says. "Roughly 50 percent of the calories that they use are glucose. Breast milk is about 40 percent carbs. So, the amount of carbs in the diet is just slightly below the amount that the infant will actually use.
If you translate that to adults, adults use about 30 percent of their calories as glucose. We would predict, based on the composition of breast milk, that maybe the optimal amount of carbs for an adult would be just below 30 percent, so maybe 20 percent to 30 percent. That's another example."
Third, we can look at diets of other mammals.
"[T]they bracket the optimal human diet, because animals are biologically similar to us but have smaller brains. So, just like infants are like adults, but have bigger brains [relative to body size], animals have smaller brains [overall], and most animals, when you look at the nutrition… is very low carb; often five or 10 percent carb.
People think animals eat very different diets because there are herbivores, carnivores, omnivores. They do eat different food, but the food gets transformed in their gut and in their liver. The thing that changes evolutionarily in different animals is not the body and its nutrient needs – it's the nature of the gut and the liver. So, herbivores will often have gut organs (like ruminants) that transform carbohydrates into fats and volatile acids. A cow for instance gets almost no carbs in its diet. All the carbs are eaten by bacteria, and the bacteria release short-chain fats…
When you look at these animals, that gives us more evidence about what the optimal diet should look like. That, again, leads us (when we correct for brain size) toward more of a 20 percent carb diet for adult humans."
Fourth, the evolutionary evidence includes the inherent ability to survive a long fast or famine during times of scarcity. The human body was designed to be able to effectively hunt or gather food even if you hadn't eaten for awhile. This means the human body must be able to "cannibalize" itself.
"You have to live on a composition of the human body effectively. The optimal human diet can't be that far away from the nutrient composition of the human body by itself," Dr. Jaminet explains.
Last but not least, the fifth source of evolutionary evidence is the food reward system of the human brain.
"We like certain kinds of foods. We like to get a certain amount of protein each day. We like to get a certain amount of salt each day. Certain things taste good, certain things taste very bad. Those taste preferences and food preferences evolved in order to guide us to eating a healthy diet. We can infer from these innate preferences of the brain what a healthy diet is," Dr. Jaminet says. "Those five sources of evidence are pretty much what we used to try to get a first thought of what the optimal diet is. And then once we had that starting point, then we went for the literature to look for evidence and drilled down to the level of individual nutrients and toxins to try and figure out how to implement that in terms of food and how to really optimize everything."
An Optimal Diet Also Needs to Limit Food Toxins
Another important aspect is the element of toxins—not just man-made toxins and toxic contaminants, but the naturally-occurring toxins found in various foods. For example, unfermented soy is notorious for its toxic potential.
"One of the strengths of the Paleo diet is that it's very low in toxicity," Dr. Jaminet says. "That happens for several reasons. One is that the foods it generally recommends are low in toxicity.
One of my favorite papers was a finding that if you eat one gram of wheat bran, then the weight of your feces will go up by over 5 grams. What that is telling us is that there are bioactive proteins in wheat that sabotage digestive function. So, they not only prevent the wheat bran from getting digested, but also other things that you eat along with it. That's why the feces weight goes up so much.
The trouble is that, if they can disrupt a bodily function like digestion, they can also disrupt other functions. These toxins can actually have a large health impact. There is growing evidence that the impact is very substantial.
[Another] really interesting study came out of Japan this summer. Children in Japan who eat wheat every day… are almost four IQ points lower than children who eat rice. The nice thing about rice (it's the only grain that we recommend in our diet) is that the toxins are destroyed in cooking. Cooked white rice is very low in toxins. That gives us a measure of how much wheat may be impacting health. That's interesting, because the IQ difference between Asians and Americans is about four points. It could be just the difference between eating wheat and rice."
Dr. Jaminet explains that rice, which is a starch, is comprised of long chains of glucose, and has virtually no fructose, which is good. Ideally, you'll want to avoid as much fructose as possible—especially in the form of high fructose corn syrup, found in virtually all processed foods and beverages. When consumed in excessive amounts, fructose becomes quite toxic, and excessive fructose consumption is a major driving force behind our skyrocketing obesity- and chronic disease rates.
"Get your fructose only from fruits, berries, and vegetables," Dr. Jaminet says. "There are some sugary vegetables that are good, like squashes, carrots, onions, and beets. In general, fruits and berries are good. Those will give you some fructose, but they don't have huge amounts."
Dr. Jaminet's Take on "Glucose Deficiency" and Extreme Low-Carb Diets
When Dr. Jaminet initially embarked on the Paleo diet in an effort to resolve his health problems, he adhered to an extremely low-carb diet, where he tried to get all his carbs from vegetables.
"I ate probably two or three pounds of vegetables a day," he says, "but what I didn't realize was that vegetables are not a very good source of glucose. And your body does need some glucose. A typical vegetable has maybe 80 calories per pound of carbs. They are half-glucose, half-fructose. Your digestive tract will consume maybe 40 calories of glucose per pound digesting it. You'll absorb maybe 40 calories of glucose from the vegetables. But then, as you digest the plant matter, your body will burn those calories in the process of digestion, and so you won't get any net glucose contribution to your body.
The fructose can be converted to glucose, but often we don't absorb fructose very well. It can also be intercepted by gut bacteria and they use it. That makes them more active, and our immune system have to use some glucose to fight them. So really, vegetables make a very limited contribution to the body's glucose balance."
Dr. Jaminet asserts that a lack of dietary glucose could have a detrimental effect on your immune activity, because your immune system utilizes glucose to kill pathogens. With the help of his wife, Dr. Jaminet began calculating the estimated "ideal" amount of carbs a human being might need, based on the evolutionary evidence.
"It became clear that I was just eating too few carbohydrates," "[M]ucus, tears, and saliva all need sugars. The key components in mucus are made of glucose bonded to protein. They are about 80 percent glucose, 20 percent protein. If you don't have enough glucose, you won't make a lot of mucus and you'll get dry eyes. That makes you vulnerable to infections. Also not having much glucose for the immune system makes you vulnerable to infections.
I had certain chronic infections flare up while I was on very low-carb Paleo. I didn't want to believe that we needed carbs, but gradually I learned that we did. And I found that when I added more carbs, it would get better; when I took them out, it would get worse. Some of the symptoms were very clear, like the dry eyes. I gradually started to understand the reasons for that – how glucose works, the many things it's used for in the body, and how much we needed."
Glucose—What's it Good for?
This is certainly controversial, as evidenced by the lively internet debate between Dr. Jaminet and Dr. Rosedale that recently erupted, which I covered in two previous articles (collectively, their back-and-forth conversation now consists of well over 100 pages of detailed information). Both certainly supply compelling evidence for their individual approaches.
Dr. Rosedale's approach is that you can't have too little glucose because it's always going to cause some adverse metabolic consequence. It's just a matter of degree. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Dr. Rosedale, who has been one of my mentors in helping me fully appreciate the importance of insulin and leptin over 15 years ago, and his approach is not only based on years of research but also the successful treatment of patients suffering with chronic health problems.
Dr. Jaminet, on the other hand, believes that once you get below a certain threshold of glucose in your diet, you can start experiencing certain health challenges.
His perspective has slowly won me over, simply because I have personally experienced some of the health challenges he brings up as being linked to glucose deficiency. I noticed that when I restricted my carbs to vegetables only (cutting out all grains and non-fiber starches), it paradoxically raised my triglycerides. I would also get extremely fatigued when working out, and it worsened my kidney function, too. So, I believe I've proved to myself you can go too low on glucose.
"People need to realize that glucose has a lot of functions in the body," Dr. Jaminet says. "People think of macronutrients as things you burn for energy, but really that's not their primary function… [W]e're meant to survive famines by cannibalizing our own bodies. Really, what your food should do is nourish and build up your body. And then as your cells need energy, they can cannibalize themselves.
… [T]hink of your body as modular elements, [and] that your food should be used to build up your body, construct your body, and then your body should cannibalize itself in order to get energy. Food shouldn't be considered a source of energy. It should be considered a source of building up your body.
Calorie-wise, fat is almost half of the macronutrients of most cells by weight, but it's more than them in calories because it's calorie-dense. That's why it's good to eat a high-fat diet. You get the majority of calories from fat and less from carbs. But carbs are still an important structural element of the body.
Over half the proteins in your body need to be bonded with sugars in order to function. Almost all of the proteins that are in the membranes of cells are glycosylated. They are bonded with carbohydrate. This is essential. The proteins get joined to these sugars in these parts of the cell near the nucleus, called the endoplasmic reticulum and golgi bodies. If they are not properly bonded (with the glucose) they'll be tagged for destruction and destroyed. So really, our proteins are protein-carbohydrate compounds. They are not pure protein."
On the Glycosylation or Glycation of Proteins—is it Good or Bad?
This is an important concept that bears delving into a bit further. Most physicians are taught that any glucose attaching to proteins is harmful, because the parameter we use clinically to monitor diabetes is hemoglobin A1C. Typically, the lower, the better. The higher you are, the worse your glucose control is. This harmful bonding of glucose to protein is usually called "glycation" while the beneficial, physiological bonding is "glycosylation".
According to Dr. Jaminet:
"You can extrapolate from diabetes, which is a disease where people have too much glucose and are being poisoned by it back to normal physiological ranges. The point about glycated hemoglobin—there is actually a mortality minimum around hemoglobin A1c level of about 5.0. So if you go below that – if you're hypoglycemic – then mortality rises fairly rapidly.
Like a lot of things in health, there is an optimum, and you can have too little or too much. So, if diabetics have too much [blood glucose] – and it's very good for them to lower their blood glucose, preferably by natural dietary methods, not drugs – it's also possible to get too low. Some of the health problems that diabetics have can also arise from hypoglycemia (abnormally low blood sugar)."
Balance, clearly, is key. According to Dr. Jaminet, you may be able to tolerate an extremely low-carb diet if your health is really good, because your body can manufacture some glucose from protein. Others may not fare as well.
"The biggest problem is it's not a robust diet. If you get infections (which will raise your body's glucose needs), then you can really get into trouble on a zero carb diet. In general, it's a stressful thing for your body," Dr. Jaminet says.
Why Do Extreme Low-Carb Diets Backfire for Some People?
Dr. Jaminet believes that a large part of the confusion about this topic is related to the fact that most of the data in the medical literature relates to high carb diets, and how high carb diets cause high lipoproteins. Generally speaking, if you're on a high-carb diet and suddenly reduce your carb intake, your blood cholesterol profile will improve. Typically, triglyceride levels will be sharply reduced.
"But then as you start going below 25 percent carbs or so, then your body has to adapt to a scarcity of glucose. It does that with some hormonal changes that can also impact blood lipids," Dr. Jaminet explains.
"So, for instance, when you're eating very low-carb, one thing your body does to conserve glucose and protein is lower the level of T3 and thyroid hormones. So, that reduces glucose utilization by cells. That's good. It's conserving the glucose so that it can be used for the most important functions, but now you have lower thyroid hormone levels. Thyroid hormone also activates the fat metabolism. It activates LDL receptors, and some other things.
It's possible, if you're eating too low-carb, to get elevations of blood lipids. I have to say this is an issue we're still exploring. We did a lot of work on my blog this year trying to track down why some low-carb dieters have high blood lipids. Usually it's either a thyroid hormone response to too little glucose in the diet, or various micronutrient deficiencies. Copper deficiency is a common one – selenium, magnesium can affect it.
It's important to be well-nourished. If people eat very low carb and let themselves get malnourished, then they are very likely to have some kind of problems with their lipid profile."
So, What's the Ideal Amount of (Safe) Carbs?
Dr. Jaminet believes that as a general guideline, most people probably need about 20 to 30 percent of their daily calories from carbs in the form of rice or potatoes, which he classifies as 'safe starches.' Many who experience symptoms of 'glucose deficiency' will improve when they get at least 200 of their daily calories (or 10 percent of your daily calories) from these carbs.
But other factors also need to be taken into account, such as your omega-3 and omega-6 ratios.
"It's really important to be low in omega-6 fats," Dr. Jaminet says. "When you're eating low-carb, you're necessarily eating a high-fat diet, and the quality of your fats becomes very important. It's very important to keep down the level of omega-6 fats, because the polyunsaturated fats in general become toxic if you get too much. That's where you really have to avoid all these vegetable oils, because they can be very high in omega-6. Things like corn oil, safflower oil, soy bean oil – even canola oil – just have too much polyunsaturated fat."
Sources of healthy fats include:
✓ Olives and Olive oil
✓ Coconuts and coconut oil
✓ Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk
✓ Raw nuts, such as, almonds or pecans
✓ Organic pastured egg yolks
✓ Fats from naturally fed animals (eg grass-fed beef)
✓ Palm oil
✓ Unheated organic nut oils
The Importance of Healthy Gut Flora
Beneficial gut bacteria, aka probiotics, are excellent detoxifiers, and fermented foods are natural powerhouses when it comes to foods that promote these vital bacteria.
"In general, fermented plant foods are more nourishing and less toxic than unfermented plant foods," Dr. Jaminet explains, echoing the claims of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, whose GAPS diet heavily features fermented foods as well.
Dr. Jaminet, like Dr. McBride, highly recommends fermented vegetables and cultured foods to optimize your health. He also concurs with Dr. McBride's claims that fiber can actually worsen your health IF you have unbalanced gut flora. Few would probably ever consider this possibility, but it makes perfect sense because fiber (including fiber-rich vegetables) is a non-specific promoter of colonic bacteria. So if you have a lot of pathogenic bacteria in your gut, high-fiber consumption is going to promote these pathogens and drive your health in the wrong direction.
The answer, or course, is to heal your intestines and optimize your gut flora. This is such an essential foundation of good health that I've teamed up with Dr. McBride to bring you an in-depth series of informational videos on this topic. Dr. McBride treats a lot of people with mental health issues, and healing their gut is imperative in order to improve their mental conditions. Interestingly, Dr. Jaminet has had the same experience:
"I'm going to do a blog post soon on a case study of this woman who has bipolar disorder. As long as she doesn't eat any plant foods at all, then she has no symptoms. If she really starves her gut bacteria, then her bipolar disorder basically disappears. There is a lot of evidence that many of these diseases that are so difficult to treat may be attributable to bad gut bacteria – effectively an infection of the digestive tract."
Summary of Dr. Jaminet's Perfect Health Diet
In terms of macronutrients, Dr. Jaminet recommends:
- 20-30 percent of daily calories: carbs, mainly from "safe starches" such as rice or potatoes, partly from fruits, berries, and vegetables
- 15 percent of daily calories: animal protein (or about 200-600 calories a day)
- 55-65 percent: healthy fats, especially low-omega-6 fats such as beef tallow, butter, fish oil, coconut oil, palm oil, and olive oil
Fats are ideally combined with acids like lemon juice or vinegar, or fermented vegetables. Dr. Jaminet also recommends making homemade bone broth and soups your staples. Keep in mind that as you decrease your carb consumption, you need to replace them with healthy fats. Replacing carbs with too much protein can actually cause health challenges similar to eating too many grain carbs and sugars. Dr. Jaminet also recommends taking a multi-mineral supplement, as it can be quite difficult for many to get enough minerals through their diet.
- Your body metabolizes protein by converting it into glucose, which releases toxic ammonia that is further converted into nitrogen. The ammonia can also be converted into urea and uric acid. Unfortunately, your body's ability to make urea, which is the safe way to dispose of excess ammonia, is limited. According to Dr. Jaminet, when you eat more than about 600 calories of protein a day, you'll start to build up ammonia in your body, which has toxic effects.
- The amino acid glutamine can be digested by gut bacteria, and that can create gut dysbiosis if you eat way too much protein for too long.
"Breast milk is only seven percent protein. That's a pretty good clue," Dr. Jaminet says."If you feed young children too much protein, then they'll tend to have health problems later on. They are more likely to become obese or have some other issues. During pregnancy, you don't want too much protein either."
For more information, I highly recommend Dr. Jaminet's book, Perfect Health Diet. You can also find lots of information on his blog, www.PerfectHealthDiet.com, where he posts weekly recipes, along with food- and science articles.