Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Whole Foods

In my last post I mentioned that Kelly and I had a chance to listen to Dr. Janice Stanger as she explained her view on what we should eat to stay healthy. I thought Janice made a very important point - our bodies have evolved to process the foods that were available as our species developed. Whole foods, not extracts, isolates, or juices. Was sugar a major food group for our ancestors 500,000 years ago when our species was evolving into what we call “modern” humans? Or during the 2,500,000 years since the neanderthals were around?

These are the time frames for our species evolution, giving us some idea of how long we ate pretty much whole foods. During these hundreds of thousands of years our bodies adapted to the diets that were available. Interestingly white sugar, white flour, and white rice - all refined carbs, were not yet available. In fact, the more I study the way our bodies cope with food, the more I understand how readily digested starches can throw our bodies out of kilter. When we eat sugar our bodies produce insulin to allow us to metabolize glucose. The insulin tells our body we don’t need to metabolize fructose, fats, or complex carbs for energy - so the liver converts them to triglycerides which are then stored in our fat cells. Which works great if we just added a bit of honey to our diet. But, if our diet becomes overloaded with sugar we end up with elevated insulin levels and diabetes. Oh, and we get fat. Or, we get fat and then get diabetes. Same end result.

As a species, we did not have a diet high in simple to digest carbs, and our bodies didn’t evolve to cope with high carb loads. In fact, as Dr. Stanger pointed out, whole foods reduce insulin levels. Which is the opposite of what refined carbs do.

Perhaps I should take a moment to talk about what a “Whole Food” is. In reality it is a pretty simple concept - it is the fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and grains the way they grow. Take soy beans. They contain carbs, fiber, protein and fats. And, research has shown that they are protective against breast and prostate cancers. But, remove the carbs, fiber and fats, so as to produce soy protein isolate, and voila - we have a high protein food that is not a whole food. And, where soy beans are protective against cancer, soy protein isolate boosts our bodies production of the hormone insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). Which, in turn (as the name suggests), makes our bodies grow more. Which is all well and good if we are 13 year old. But if we are older it also makes our cancer cells grow faster. Sad reality - just like animal-based protein (which, being the highest “quality” protein, helps our muscles grow more), excess IGF-1 helps some cancers grow faster. And, IGF-1 has been linked to faster aging in mice. Check out

All of which is slightly frustrating for someone like myself who has moved away from whey protein as my protein source in favor of soy protein isolate. Because I felt that the soy protein would pose less cancer risk than an animal-based protein like whey.

Turns out they both have problems. Which brings me back to whole foods, and eating soy beans - not soy protein isolate.

OK - didn’t get to the rules Dr. Stanger lives by - will tackle that one in my next posting.

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