What should we eat? In my search to answer what should be a very simple question, I have interviewed best-selling diet authors David Perlmutter, MD, author of Grain Brain, John McDougall, MD, author of The Starch Solution, Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, and this week’s podcast is with fitness and longevity expert Ben Greenfield, author of the bestselling book Beyond Training.
Ben suggests that one’s diet should be based on genetic makeup, so no one diet will work for everyone. Based on his northern European ancestry and athleticism, he seems to thrive on eating meat a couple times per week.
I agree that consuming excess red meat is not ideal for health and longevity, in the same way avoiding meat (if you are not genetically equipped to thrive without it) would not be ideal. I agree that most of us should be following a diet close to the world’s centenarians, as described by Dan Buettner in The Blue Zones: a mostly plant-based whole food diet with around 10% animal protein.
This approach is consistent with cutting-edge longevity science from Dr. Valter Longo of USC, author of The Longevity Diet. Dr. Longo suggests, for greatest health and longevity, we should eat 90% plant-based, with around 10% animal protein. His studies have found extended longevity benefits if fish are the prime source of animal protein.1,2
This is consistent with one of the major Seventh-day Adventist longevity studies. One study evaluated longevity of a variety of diets in over 73,000 participants. They found that mostly plant-based pescatarians lived longest, followed by vegans, lacto-ovo vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, and finally non-vegetarians.3
One way to look at how to proportion our macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) is to look to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. The data may surprise you!
According to Nutrition in Clinical Practice, ratios of protein, fat, and carbs that hunter-gatherers ate are not drastically different than what we eat today.4
These findings suggest that the healthiest diets may not be extreme, but well-balanced. I do make the case that our diet should shift seasonally.
The concept of seasonal eating is now backed by findings that our microbiome shifts from one season to the next, based on temperature and available foods.5,6
Genetic Testing for Individual Diets?
To find out what foods you may be genetically designed to thrive on, Ben suggests uploading data from 23&Me to genetic analytic services from experts such as bestselling author of Dirty Genes, Ben Lynch. While I am very intrigued by these services, I have reservations about whether the scientists have yet to master the science. No doubt genetic science will play a big role in the medicine of the future, but are we there yet?
Here are some of my personal hesitations to follow my genetic testing interpretations to the letter. My 23&Me report says I should not have a cleft chin—I have sort of a major one and so do each of my six kids and did my dad. It says I am less likely to be a deep sleeper—I have slept like a rock my entire life. I am likely to have black hair—never did, always light brown. Likely to NOT have a bald spot—I wish they were right! Am not supposed to like cilantro—I grow it every year and absolutely love it. I am supposed to be afraid of heights—I went to stunt school years ago and spent my days jumping off buildings onto tiny little mats. I don’t think my frontal lobes were fully developed back then, but I surely wasn’t afraid of heights. They say I should prefer salt over sweet—I don’t: I have to force myself to get enough salt. I have a big sweet tooth that I’ve had to reign in over the years.
While there are traits in my 23&Me report that seem accurate, there are so many that are simply wrong that I cannot imagine changing my diet based on an interpretation of this data.
That said, I highly recommend reading Dirty Genes because of the way Dr. Lynch identifies common genes and how to clean them with a healthy lifestyle and diet. He’s also constantly updating the research, so he is a great resource for the latest on modifying your diet based on your genetics.
Eat for Your Microbiome App!
New services are available that determine what foods may best suit you based on your microbiome, such as Viome and DayTwo. I have done both of these—of the two, I prefer DayTwo.
Both of these services are based on stool samples showing the digestive propensity of your gut bugs. Viome sends you a list of superfoods and foods to avoid. Initially, spinach was one of my superfoods and kale was a food to avoid. Then, three months later, based on the same stool test, I received a Viome update and kale went from a food to avoid to my new superfood, while spinach was now to be avoided.
Since then, I have received numerous updates and my superfoods and foods to avoid keep changing, which makes me question the accuracy. I do believe in both of these companies, yet I feel, once again, that the science is not quite there yet. If you are set on getting microbiome-based blood sugar diet support, for now I would recommend DayTwo. That said, I felt the dietary suggestions for my blood sugar were basic, but great if this is your first rodeo.
Ben Greenfield’s Biohacks
Ben Greenfield is perhaps the most informed biohacker in the nation, who personally tests and uses all the hacks he recommends. In our podcast, he shares his favorite biohacks for longevity.
Don’t miss this informative podcast, where Ben offers his longevity secrets, including:
- Cold Therapy
- Heat Therapy (Near and Far Infrared Sauna)
- Light Therapy
- Nitric Oxide Boosters
- Telomere-Lengthening Agents
- Longevity Supplements
- Seasonal Affective Disorder Strategies
Learn more about Greenfield’s work at bengreenfieldfitness.com.
And check out my podcast, where we dive deeper into all of this and more!