Did you know that up to 90% of Americans are not getting enough of the nutrients that are critical for healthy functioning?
What’s worse, these nutrient deficiencies can compound over the years and may continue to cause issues for decades to come.
To help us all sort it out, we’re here with Dr. Mark Hyman. Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, the director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, and an 11-time number one New York Times best-selling author.
On this show with Dr. Hyman, you’re about to learn:
- The sad truth about the food-like substances we’re eating.
- How Europe banned GMOs and reduced pesticide use by 65%, while America continues to put GMOs in our food and increased pesticide use by 21%.
- Why antibiotic use in feedlot cattle farms is doing more than fattening up our cow friends.
- What we need to watch out for in the near future.
- And tons more.
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Dr. Mark Hyman: Twinkie Calories vs Broccoli Calories
Abel: Let’s start with a quote from your most recent book. It’s not like we haven’t heard it before, but it’s succinct and very true.
You say, “The sad truth is that much of what we eat is not really food, it’s more of a food-like substance.”
That doesn’t sound particularly appetizing.
In my lectures, I show a slide of this food with 37 different ingredients, only one of which is food. Banana puree is at the bottom of the list.
I show this in a lecture and I say, “What do you think this is? Can you guess? Anybody, can you guess?”
And not one person has guessed because you can’t tell what it is by looking at the ingredient list. But it’s a Twinkie.
Abel: Banana puree? Is that what’s in the middle?
Well, no. It’s near the bottom of the 37 ingredients. But it’s incredible, the stuff that passes off as food.
If you actually look at processed food, the front of the box, the package, it’s very hard to tell a pop-tart from a corn dog. It’s all the same ingredients.
I do this exercise where I have people look at the ingredient list and try to figure out what the food is, and most people cannot tell. So, if it says, “Tomato, water, and salt,” in a can, you know what that is, right?
But if it’s 47 different ingredients from different kinds of processed foods or things you can’t pronounce, it’s not really food.
And the truth is that food is information. It’s not just calories.
It’s not like, “Oh well, it’s just only Twinkie calories or broccoli calories. It’s the same as long as you don’t eat too much, you’re not going to have a problem.”
This is not true.
The science shows that food is information, and it gives instructions. It can upgrade or downgrade your biological software with every bite.
When you eat food that has different kinds of chemicals that our bodies aren’t used to using, or forms of nutrients that are weird like highly processed flour, it’s a very different experience for the body in terms of what happens as a result to your metabolism, to your brain chemistry, to your hormones, to your gut flora. It’s critical.
Most people don’t understand the idea that quality of food is more important than quantity, and the information is actually critical in terms of what you’re putting in your body.
So, when you’re eating foods that have bad information, which is most of the processed food out there, it creates disease and ill health.
Mental Health Effects of Junk Food
Abel: Right, and it’s really easy for people who aren’t necessarily on a health kick to just skip right over that part.
It’s like, “Oh, you got an apple here and they got a Twinkie there.” They both look like food.
They both seem like they would taste reasonably good and fill you up in one way or another, but in your book you say something like, “The average child has eaten an about 7.5 pounds of chemicals and additives by the age of five.” Right?
Abel: That stuff is information, too. The wrong kind.
It’s absolutely true.
The American Heart Association says that Trix is a heart-healthy cereal. (What?!) Click To Tweet
If you look at the ingredients, there are all kinds of sugar and processed grains, but also red dye, blue dye, and all sorts of chemicals.
What are those things doing to kids?
We know that in randomized control trials, they feed kids a drink, like red Kool-Aid versus something like a red pomegranate drink. And the effects on these kids’ behavior is dramatic.
ADD, hyperactivity, inattention, violence, this is from the food we’re eating. And people don’t realize the connection between your mood and behavior, and the food you eat.
We see this linked to everything from poor school performance to violence.
In one study, it was remarkable, they literally took prisoners who were violent, gave them a healthy diet compared to the typical diet they were eating, and they reduced violent crime by 56% in the prisons and by 80% if they added a multivitamin because these people are so nutritionally deficient.
I had one prisoner write me a letter. I came one day and on my desk was a letter from this prisoner who had read my book, and changed his diet while in prison.
I don’t know how he did it, he said, “I realized my whole life I’ve been a violent criminal because of what I was eating. And now, I feel completely different.”
People don’t understand the power of food as information.
Abel: Well, it changes your psychology. It has a control over us that we barely understand.
Let me ask you this, you’re a very well-researched guy, you’ve been a practicing physician for a very long time. You’re probably one of the most informed people about what these additives and fake foods or processed foods do to us.
But do you even know what they do? If you take one of those ingredients as ammonium sulphate or some other preservatives like that.
There’s a lot of data on various food additives, which I write about it in my book “Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?” and different effects they have
They effects are all different. For example, some of them may be cancer-causing, some of them might be excitotoxins like MSG, which also increases hunger.
Some of them might be altering your gut microbiome. There’s a whole group of emulsifiers, for example, that are even in healthy like natural foods, like carrageenan which actually disrupts the gut and causes leaky gut or autoimmune disease.
There’s this whole thing the food industry is doing to make processed food stick together, it’s called microbial transglutaminase, which sounds like a big word. But essentially it’s where they get bacteria to manufacture gluten.
Abel: That’s just what we need.
Yeah, well, gluten leads to a lot of inflammatory issues for many people. It’s called gluten because it’s gluey, it makes things stick together.
So they make this in the lab, and they put it in the food. It’s not even on the food label. And this also has been linked to autoimmune disease.
So there are all kinds of stuff in food, and it’s driving all sorts of health issues for people.
Abel: Right. And these various ingredients can act synergistically in a negative way within the body to manifest in diseases or dysfunctions of various kinds.
But it’s not necessarily something that we’re actively researching that much, because why would we in a world of capitalism, right?
Totally. We’re not really looking at this carefully, and there are groups that have paid attention. But the FDA is not regulating these things.
It’s like, let’s test it on the population first and then if we find out it’s a problem later, let’s take it off.
Like trans fat, which was invented in 1911. It was in the food supply for a hundred years in Crisco as a health food, and everybody thought it was so great. It became this new great thing that’s supposed to be better than butter.
It turned out to be the worst invention ever, and it’s literally killed hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions over the years from heart disease and other issues because the FDA allowed it to be used without being tested first.
Precautionary principles are not practiced, where you’re evaluating compounds, testing them and seeing what happens over periods of time.
It’s like, “Okay let’s use all this crap and then let’s see who dies from it, and then let’s take it off the market.”
Well, that’s not a great plan.
Abel: When we walk into the grocery store, wherever you buy your food, typically there’s this assumption that everything is safe and everything in there is food.
Maybe it’s just an optimistic worldview. But unfortunately, it’s not necessarily a worldview that will lend itself to health down the road.
Oftentimes, the biggest change that people need to make if they want to focus on their health, is changing their worldview. Which I guess kind of means sacrificing a bit of your optimism.
How do you deal with that?
Well, I’m very optimistic.
Abel: Strategically optimistic.
I think if people have the right information, they know what’s going on.
I had a profound experience with a family in South Carolina as part of the movie “Fed Up” and this family was desperate. They were living in one of the worst food deserts in America, in South Carolina.
They had a thousand dollars a month for food stamps and disability for a family of five, they’re just really poor. They live in a trailer. They were really sick. They were morbidly obese.
The father was 42, already had kidney failure from diabetes, on dialysis, couldn’t get a new kidney because he couldn’t lose the weight.
The mother was 100+ pounds overweight.
The son who was 16, was basically pre-diabetic and was morbidly obese. He’s a teenager and he’s 328 pounds.
And they were desperate to do the right thing. They were eating a low-fat diet, and they were having all this processed food they thought was right. They didn’t know how to cook.
I went into their kitchen, and I said, “Let’s see what you got.”
And we pulled everything out of the freezer and the cupboards, and the fridge, and we looked at all the labels together.
And I explained to them what was in the food. I showed them, and I did the trick where I covered the front of the box, and asked them to identify what it was, and they couldn’t tell by looking at the ingredients. And they were just astounded, they had no idea.
They thought they were eating Cool Whip because it was healthy because it had no trans fats in it. But it’s all trans fat.
The food companies have lobbied the FDA to allow it to say zero trans fat of less than half a gram per serving. Which Cool Whip does because it’s all air, but it’s still trans fat and high fructose corn syrup.
So they were doing everything wrong, and wanted to do everything right. They were desperate, crying, because they didn’t know what to do. Most people don’t have the right information.
But they were able to lose a couple of hundred pounds as a family. Their son ended up losing about 128 pounds, which is amazing.
And he was actually able to figure out how to eat, to change his brain chemistry and metabolism.
But it was like, wow, we live in a society where people just don’t know, and they’re trying to do the right thing, but they don’t have the right information.
That’s really why I write my books, and I talk, and I’m doing this podcast because people need to be aware of what’s going on. And when people are aware and supported, they can make huge changes.
The Pegan Approach
Abel: I really appreciate that in your latest book, it basically focuses on the confusion and how to handle it.
I started this show about seven years ago now, and it’s amazing how much of the culture around nutrition and food can change in such a short period of time.
If anything, it’s become so much more saturated with misinformation or competing information.
And a lot of times, it can be very divisive, even between say, Paleo and vegan. Which is a nice inroads to your “Pegan” approach. I think it’s great because it combines the two worlds that are actually quite similar to each other. Makes it less divisive and just turns it into, “Okay, this is the general framework for how a healthy person could eat.” Right?
Abel: Would you mind explaining that? How do you meet in the middle there?
I was on a panel once with a friend of mine who was a cardiologist-vegan, and another friend of mine was a Paleo doctor on the other side, and they were fighting.
And I’m like, “Hey, you guys cut it out. If you’re Paleo, you’re vegan, I must be Pegan.”
And I sort of laughed and everybody laughed, and I’m like, “Whatever.” It was just sort of a stupid joke.
But I went home and I started thinking about it, and I was like, “Wait a minute. You know, there is more in common than there is different, right?”
Both groups agree, we should be eating whole foods. Both groups agree we should be eating no processed foods. Both groups agree we should be eating food that are low glycemic, meaning low in sugar and starch.
Both groups agree we should be eating a lot of vegetables and plant foods. Both groups agree we shouldn’t be doing anything to harm the planet or harm animals.
Both groups feel like we should be eating lots of nuts and seeds and we should get rid of processed oils.
There are so many things in common.
The only thing that’s different is whether you eat animal foods, or beans and grains. That’s pretty much the only difference.
And it’s a big difference, but still, when you look at both of those approaches compared to the standard American diet, the SAD diet is quite different.
We should be eating food that is aspirational, food that doesn’t harm the planet.
I went to a restaurant in San Francisco called the Perennial, which was amazing. It was the first restaurant that was designed to only provide foods that help reverse climate change.
So, if you eat meat, it’s coming from a regenerative agriculture ranch where the soils are being restored. And the ecosystems are being restored.
But both those groups believe we shouldn’t be eating food that contains hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, additives, chemicals. There’s so much in common.
I try to bring that together and go, “Well, maybe we shouldn’t be eating three pounds of meat a day.”
We should be eating a diet that is lower on the food chain, but if you eat animal food, it should be restorative.
If you eat animal food, it should be restorative. Click To Tweet
It should treat those animals well, it shouldn’t contribute to climate change, it shouldn’t be full of hormones and antibiotics.
Or if we eat fish, we shouldn’t be overfishing the oceans, or we shouldn’t be supporting nasty fish farms that produce bad quality fish. We should be creating more sustainable approaches.
So, those are aspirational, and I think they can’t always do that. But if you look at those two camps, they’re very similar. There’s a set of principles that we all agree on.
If you take away all the noise and the extremes, there’s a core set of principles about healthy eating that the science supports.
Abel: Unfortunately in the days of social media and internet hype, you see the extremes more than anything else. That just gets the vast majority of people’s attention.
Anyone who identifies as vegan, or vegetarian, or Paleo, or what have you. It’s a brand that’s a caricature, instead of the healthy principles. Right?
Yeah, and there are funny spoofs on it. I saw that guy, JP Sears, do this funny spoof on if carnivores behaved like vegans.
And he was like, “Don’t eat those vegetables in front of me, it makes me feel bad.”
It’s sort of making fun of all the extremism, which I think we have to move beyond.
Can You Be a Keto Vegan?
Abel: Well, along those lines, there’s a lot that I’ve seen, even in the past couple of weeks, that are about hardcore carnivores.
The cream cheese keto approach, where it’s basically just no vegetables. No anything, except for like pure fat and pure meat, forever.
A lot of people come in and they’re just like, “Alright, I’m going to eat bacon, butter and cream cheese for the next week.” And see how it goes.
Would you mind commenting on that a little bit?
I have a friend who is a keto vegan, actually. She’s doing amazing. She’s Type 1 diabetic, her blood sugars are normal. There’s a whole group of keto vegans out there.
I think there are a lot of ways to do each kind of a diet. I mean, you can be omnivore or Paleo and eat tons of natural sugar. You could eat tons of meat, which is unsustainable, or you can be a vegan and eat chips and soda all day.
The question is, “What are the principles of healthy eating?”
And within each of those, you can set a focus, and I think you really need to be smart about the quality of the foods.
If you’re eating cream cheese and bacon all day as a part of your keto approach, that’s not a great idea.
Abel: Yah. Why not?
Well, I think you want to eat foods that are going to reduce inflammation and often dairy is very inflammatory, so are nitrates and processed meats.
I think small amounts can be okay, but you want high quality foods in your diet.
You want a lot of plant foods, you want some nuts and seeds, and you want really good fats, like olive oil, avocados, and coconut oil. Those are all great. But having whipped cream every day is probably not the best thing.
Abel: The way I like to think of it is that you kind of get a meat quota. You can indulge in salty meat, but it’s more like condy-meat, isn’t that what you call it?
Exactly. I call it condi-meat. Basically downsizing your meat intake which is good for you, it’s good for the planet.
We don’t want to be consuming huge amounts of animal meats because I don’t think we need them.
There’s a lot of conflicting research around how much protein we need. And to be honest with you, I think I’ve seen a lot of research on each side. Some say we need 30 grams per meal, others say we need less.
So it really depends on your health, your age, and a lot of other things. We do need a high quality protein, but we don’t need a huge amount. 20% to 25% is probably plenty of our calories, and I think you can go to the other extreme.
I talked about having three quarters of your plate as non-starchy vegetables. That should be the bulk of your diet. We usually have a beef steak in the middle of the plate and two asparagus or string beans on the side.
You want the plate to be massively stacked with veggies, which by the way, fills you up, and then a side dish of protein.
Long-Latency Deficiency Disease
Abel: For people who aren’t necessarily doing that, they might not experience anything right away, and it might feel great to eat nothing but cream cheese for days on end.
But you risk something that you describe in the book called long-latency deficiency diseases.
A lot of people don’t know much about that, but could you explain how that manifests over time and what exactly happens to the body?
Well, yeah, so people can feel bad acutely from eating bad food and that certainly happens. But often, if your food is nutrient-poor, we call these long-latency deficiency disease.
For example, let’s take your vitamin D intake. Rickets is usually caused by inadequate vitamin D levels, about 30 units per day, which isn’t very much. But to prevent osteoporosis, to help your menses, to prevent cancer, to reduce death rates, you might need to take 4000 units of vitamin D per day. Over time, you may develop these deficiencies.
Or let’s say you have folate, you have a low-grade B vitamin deficiency or insufficiency. If it’s acute, you’ll get anemia. And over a long period of time, you might get cancer or heart disease or dementia.
So these are what we call long-latency deficiency diseases. They are not based on having a true deficiency like we think of with scurvy. But how much vitamin C do we need to prevent scurvy? Surely not much, maybe 60 mg a day.
But how much do you need to optimize your immune system, and everything else? You might need 1000 mg or more.
Abel: This kind of goes on to say that you you don’t want to have a mono-diet. You don’t want to eat a large amount of very few types of foods, right?
Abel: You really want to diversify.
It’s funny, I think we ate around 800 species of plants in our diets as hunter-gatherers. And now we only eat very few foods.
In America, the top five vegetables are potatoes in the form of french fries, tomatoes in the form of ketchup and pizza sauce, corn which is the sweet corn, onions, and then of course, iceberg lettuce, which is basic cardboard with water in it.
Abel: We can do better.
Yeah. How do we rethink what we’re doing so we have more variety in our diet?
Because there are all sorts of healing compounds in food that you’re not going to get if you’re just eating one food.
For example, if you have spinach all the time, you’re not going to get the benefits of other greens like dandelion greens, which are full of amazing nutrients. It has like 10 thousand more antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, but also has resistant starches and prebiotics, which help fertilize your healthy gut bacteria.
So we want to make sure you’re eating the right things.
How to Power-Up Your Nutrients
Abel: Let’s switch gears to people who are trying their best to do the right thing.
You mentioned in the book, we don’t live in a perfect world, which should be obvious to everyone. But if we did, then we wouldn’t have to supplement with basically anything else for our diet.
Yet, it seems like it’s more responsible these days to spackle the gaps with certain nutrients that we know most of us don’t get enough of.
So would you mind explaining what a few of those are? You mentioned vitamin D and a few others.
Well, I’ve been practicing functional medicine for over 20 years, and I have been testing people, nutritional tests. People are nutritionally deficient.
And it’s not just my experience, but the government has a survey called NHANES survey where they do testing on people and they look at tens of thousands of people over many, many years. And they find that 99% are deficient in one or more nutrients at the minimum level. That’s the RDA.
99% of people are deficient in one or more nutrients at the minimum level. Click To Tweet
Not how much you need to get optimal health, but what’s the minimum you need to not get scurvy or whatever. 10% of our population is deficient in vitamin C, the level of scurvy. Folate deficiency.
Yeah. 99% are deficient in omega-3 fats, 80% are deficient in vitamin D.
I’ve been testing people’s omega levels, I check people’s vitamin D, I check magnesium, I check zinc, I check a lot of the B vitamins and other things. And you see the massive amounts of deficiencies that has an impact on people’s current symptoms but also on their long-term health.
So, I think we have a tremendous amount of deficiencies going on, and I think people do need to eat an optimal diet.
For example, I had a patient who was like, “Okay, I don’t want to take supplements, but I figured out if I need this many milligrams or units of vitamin D, I need to eat these many herring and sardine and mushrooms every week. And if I want this much zinc, I need to have this many pumpkin seeds, and if I want this much selenium, I need to eat these many Brazil nuts.” And she was obsessing over it.
And I’m like, “Alright, fine.” But most people are not going to do that.
Now you want to have as nutrient-dense a diet as you can, but most people do have significant issues.
And sometimes it’s not diagnosed by doctors because they’re not trained in nutritional physical exam or nutritional testing.
And of course, I see a sick population. They come to see me and they’re not going to say “I feel great, test me.” I see the really sick.
But I’ve got to tell you, the level of nutritional deficiencies is massive. Even people who think they’re eating well and doing well.
I don’t see many patients who are going to McDonalds and having french fries and coke. I see people who are trying to do the right thing and they’re still deficient.
And by the way, when I have a few of those patients, who I call virgin patients, who have never really addressed their health, the amount of nutritional imbalance is astounding.
Abel: Is there a good way to link that to how it manifests in terms of the disorders or diseases they come in with?
People come in, for example, with migraines and headaches, or constipation or anxiety or insomnia and palpitations, muscle cramps.
I go, “Oh, you have a magnesium deficiency.”
Or if they have mood issues, or dry skin or flaky skin or dandruff or other issues, dry mouth, they might have omega-3 deficiencies.
Or if people come in with frequent infections, they maybe have zinc deficiency.
So I can look at their history, and it’s not always perfect. But in my books, particularly in UltraMind and The Blood Sugar Solution, I talk about how to identify these deficiencies by certain symptoms. I have a questionnaire, and you can actually map out whether you have an issue or not.
Abel: I’ve always wondered what percentage of most Americans’ meals are eaten out at restaurants. Since not many of us are cooking at home.
In 1900, we used to eat 2% of our meals out of the home. And now we eat 50% of our meals outside the home.
And you can’t control the quality of the food you’re eating, or where the raw materials come from.
And most of the time, if you look at the load of food in our diet, it comes from three commodities which are funded by the government through crop insurance, basically Ag subsidies. It’s flour, wheat, corn, and soy.
First, white flour has a higher glycemic index than pure sugar. High fructose corn syrup, and all the other weird corn ingredients that are in processed food. And refined soybean oil. And those are turned into processed food.
If you look at any processed food, it has those ingredients in it. There was a large government survey that found 60% of our calories more or less come from these three foods.
And the people who consume the most of them are the sickest. They have the most obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol issues, hypertension. And that’s if you’re consuming the government-sponsored foods. It’s amazing.
The Food Pharmacy
Abel: And that’s not the only thing that makes America stand out, I guess you could say.
You mention in your book the difference between how much Americans typically spend on food and their own nutrition, which is about 9%, compared to Europeans which is closer to 20%. So the norms are completely different.
Yes, completely. And there are some interesting global surveys of what people are eating and how much they spend on their food. In some places, people’s household food budgets are up to 50% of their spending.
So I think we have to get really serious about what do we value. Are we spending a thousand dollars on an iPhone?
There was an amazing study that was done recently by Geisinger, which is a health system. They are like an HMO in the sense they’re internally funded, so basically they’re incentivized to get people healthy, as opposed to treating more sick people.
And the worst diabetics in their community were costing $248,000 a year per diabetic, because of hospitalizations and medications.
And so what they did was, they said, “Look, we’re going to give people $2400 a year in food, healthy whole food, and we’re going to support them to learn how to use it, eat it, and take care of themselves.”
These were the most food insecure, the worst controlled diabetics. They saved $192,000 per patient.
Abel: Are you kidding me?
I’m not kidding. So, spend $2400 on real food, skip the hospitalizations, skip the medication, help the diabetes, help the people. It was the most amazing thing.
And so I’m working with Medicare and Congress to help try to fund these kinds of ideas. Using food as medicine has the most powerful effect.
And it’s not like, “Oh, you need medication, the food is a sort of a side dish.”
No, the medication is the side dish, it’s the dessert, not the main course.
Abel: Geez, we need vegetable vouchers from insurance companies or something like that.
Yes. It’s called The Food Pharmacy. There are actually prescriptions. The doctor can write a prescription, they take it to The Food Pharmacy, and that’s how it started to happen.
Abel: That’s really cool. That’s exactly what we need. It’s so simple.
It’s hard to make that lifestyle change yourself without support. What people don’t realize is there is a lot of support out there, you just have to get on the right train, I guess.
Yeah, for sure.
Abel: I do have a question that came in from our community, and this one’s kind of tough. I haven’t asked a doctor this specific question, but made me think when I read it today.
He says, “How do you talk to your standard family practitioner or doctor about helping you get healthy, instead of prescribing you the quick fix?”
Say, if they can’t find a functional doctor around them or if they’re just kind of stuck with their current practitioner, how do you meet in the middle to try to go after the vegetable vouchers?
You have to see if that person is willing to work with you. They may not be aware or educated, but just say, “Will you work with me? Can you do these tests?”
People need to be empowered with the right information. #healthcare Click To Tweet
I have a whole guide on how to work with your doctor to get what you need, which shares the research with them, the tests you want to have done.
You have to be an empowered patient and consumer. So if the doctor’s willing to work with you, great. And if they’re not and they think it’s all nonsense, then you might need to find another doctor.
Abel: It’s that simple, I guess. What about functional medicine? Your view of health is, I would say, fundamentally different from a lot of other physicians who are more conventional.
For people who haven’t experienced alternative medicine or colored outside the lines, how do they make that transition to a doctor who shares your belief system?
Yeah. This is changing. Doctors are now understanding the limits of interventions, of medical therapies like drugs and surgery. They’re understanding the role of nutrition.
They may not know the details, but they understand that healthcare is changing, and they understand the science around biological systems. So there’s more and more openness to this, there’s more interest in this.
So I think you have to become your own best advocate, and you can ideally, hopefully find someone who knows what to do.
But if not, you can do a lot of this stuff yourself. In The UltraMind Solution, I wrote about how to fix your brain by treating your body first.
And this woman came in and she was like, “Well, I had all these issues, but I’m fine now.”
I’m like, “What are you dealing with?”
“Well, I’m good now.”
I’m like, “Why are you here?”
“Well, I read your book, and it took nine months to get an appointment, so I figured I’m just going to do everything in your book and then see what happens.”
And she got all better, and then I was like, “Alright.”
And a lot of the stuff is about self-care. It’s about diet, it’s exercise, it’s sleep, it’s stress, it’s taking some basic supplements.
There are layers of things that are hard to deal with, like if you have heavy metals or gut issues or infections like Lyme disease. You need some expert to help.
But most of the time, you can do this on your own.
Even testing is available now. Testing is now available for people to have done on their own.
Abel: For people who are just getting into it, what would you recommend they look for when testing?
Well, there are traditional tests, which the doctors do, which are really looking for disease. They’re usually only abnormal when things are really bad.
But functional medicine testing is super helpful. Or even looking at other things that you can do through conventional labs because it gives you an idea. For example, with diabetes, how close are you to optimal? If your blood sugar is 80, you’re great. If it’s 100 or 98, that’s bad because it means you have pre-diabetes.
Or if you look at your vitamin D, it should be 50 to 60.
Some doctors say, “Well, the level is 20 of the limit of what’s ideal.”
No, it’s not. 20 is so you don’t get rickets. But how much you need to get really healthy, it’s probably a level of 50 to 75.
So you can start to know this. And people can really find out by just searching for How To Work With Your Doctor To Get What You Need online and it’s all free.
There are companies that do self-testing, which is cool. You can actually order your own tests, which is really amazing.
Abel: It’s pretty fun to geek out on that. If you have any bit of nerd in you, which I certainly do. I had a lot of fun when I first started getting into those charts.
Yeah, and there are like people are doing self-testing for genes and all kinds of stuff, like 23andMe. So there’s definitely ways to do that.
Abel: Let’s shift gears a little bit because there’s just so much that you’ve covered in your body of work. One thing that I really appreciated in your most recent book is you talk about, how in the past the conventional wisdom and what most people thought was healthy, including yourself, including me back then too is low fat.
Oh my god, yeah.
Abel: The paradigm. That was what everyone just assumed to be true. But you mentioned how important it is to be open-minded over the course of time, not just as a physician but as a person.
You need to give yourself permission to not have all the information all the time and always be right and be funneled into this one way of doing things. You need to be more open than that.
Yeah, for sure. Here’s the deal. I was trained that fat was bad, that cholesterol was bad, that it’s going to cause heart attacks and fat makes you fat.
And I recommended those low-fat diets to people and told them to eat a lot of grains. And I actually saw improvement when I got people eating whole foods.
Because if you’re eating whole foods, you’re going to do way better than anybody eating a standard American diet.
And eventually, if you’re on a low-fat vegan diet, it may cause issues. I’ve seen people have high levels of triglycerides, low HDL, they got more blood sugar issues, inflammation.
And people get mad at me when I say this, but there are a lot of fat vegans out there. I think the issue is because you can do a very poor job of eating a vegan diet and eat more starch, and sugar, and carbs.
And so I basically tell people, “Look, if you look at the data, over time it changes and you have to keep up with the data.”
So we used to think that fat was bad, and now the government has said, there’s no restrictions on total fat, there’s no restrictions on cholesterol, the dietary cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease.
And it didn’t even reach the headline of the news because it was buried on page 472 of the report because they were embarrassed that they’ve never really looked at the data.
Same thing is happening with saturated fat now. Finally, we got the National Academy of Sciences. A friend of mine was working to change the dietary guidelines. They got the National Academy of Sciences to review the guidelines process and found that they ignored huge amounts of data on low-carb diets and saturated fat. They had industry influence, it was unduly influenced from that.
And so, we have corrupt dietary guidelines, we have guidelines that don’t reflect all the data. That’s changing.
And I think there are still stalwarts who believe that this is all bad, but it’s really, really changing. And I think that you have to keep up with the changes.
Abel: Yah. And we don’t always necessarily need more data, sometimes it seems we just need a little more common sense.
You also mentioned things that are not really food and that we shouldn’t really eat anything advertised on television, anything that didn’t exist in our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ age of living.
What are some other things that are just dead giveaways for, no matter what the data says, this is not good for you?
That just reminded me of what Mark Twain said,”The problem with common sense is that it’s not so common.”
And I think we get all kinds of discombobulated in our head, in our approach, by trying to look at all the nuances. Instead, you’re stepping back, “Okay, what makes sense here?”
Does it make sense for us to eat highly refined processed food? Does it make sense for us to eat a thousand times more processed vegetable oils than we ever ate in the history of humanity? Probably not.
Do you need a big study to prove it? I don’t know.
Should we be eating not 22 teaspoons of sugar per year as our hunter gatherer ancestors, but 22 teaspoons per day? Probably not.
Should we be eating food that is full of all these chemicals and atoms that haven’t been studied? Probably not a good idea.
Should we be eating a lot of foods with hormones, antibiotics? Probably not.
What about GMOs, who knows?
But again, this is a large uncontrolled experiment on the human population. We might find out 50 years from now it’s a problem.
Abel: Yah, and one thing I hadn’t really seen before, at least not these numbers, you talk about Europe banning GMOs while America went full steam ahead, obviously.
We have tons of it. The US increased pesticide use by 21% while Europe saw a 65% reduction.
And you know, people just hear pesticides and it’s like, “Yah, we’re spraying pesticides,” but when you see it on one of these big farms. We drive across the country all the time, and when you see all of those toxic chemicals being sprayed all over the place, it’s quite obvious that you don’t want to be there.
You don’t want to be breathing that in. You don’t want to be eating that food.
No. It’s pretty interesting. I think we have to really still figure out what the consequences are of this whole experiment.
It may not be that, for example, the GMOs are that bad for your health, but for example with glyphosate, which is what we spray on GMO soybeans, which are resistant to this herbicide. The glyphosate might be the problem, which is not the GMO, but it’s the ability to use these herbicides in high concentrations.
What they’re finding is, it’s becoming resistant so we have to use more and more of this.
We now know from the World Health Organization, this is a carcinogen, that it may disrupt the gut microbiome, that it affects glutathione, which is your main antioxidant, anticancer compound in your body.
It’s a complicated story. And the idea that GMOs are going to save the world, I think it’s a bit of a propaganda.
There may be uses for it, there may be great applications and maybe grains from developing countries are not all bad.
I just think we have to be honest about it and say, “Look, maybe this is providing some benefit, but there are unknown risks and we have to be cautious.”
Abel: For sure, and there are also intentions that aren’t necessarily aligned with our health.
Most of these genetically modified organisms are created so that they can spray as much toxic pesticide and herbicide on to their plants as possible without them dying.
It has nothing to do with increasing the amount of vitamin C that you’re getting from eating from that.
I know they’re experimenting with some of that stuff, but we do have to ask ourselves why the average apple that we get from the grocery store is a year old.
Why do we need to be monkeying around with all of this stuff instead of just eating fresher food, right?
So having a garden or going to the farmer’s market. There are simple answers to some of these problems. Yet we keep just throwing money at these kind of crazy solutions to different problems, which causes more problems, right?
Abel: It ends up destroying the environment, our health and a bunch of other things. It’s not like we can’t make improvements, but I think people have had a lot of propaganda about that sort of thing, and everybody’s confused.
Yeah. And by the way, the food industry is very invested in keeping us confused.
There’s a book coming out in the fall by a colleague, Marion Nestle from NYU, called Unsavory Truth, about the role of the food industry in nutrition science corrupting the science.
So if the Dairy Council funds a study on dairy as a sports drink. Guess what? It’s awesome.
But for the independent scientist… For example, the research on artificial sweeteners, 99% of the research by the food industry on artificial sweeteners shows they’re safe. While 99% of the research by independent scientists on artificial sweeteners show they’re harmful. So who do you believe?
It’s confusing, and they have the money to fund all this stuff. So, it confuses the public, it confuses the research literature, and it corrupts our view of what’s true and not true.
And then what happens is the media doesn’t do their job. They don’t go, “Oh, this study was funded by Coke which shows obesity has nothing to do with soda.” And the integrity of science is an issue.
What’s on Dr. H’s Plate? The Neighborhood Hunt and Gather
Abel: We could talk all day, but we are coming up on time. Before we go, I want to make sure I lob you a softball question. Maybe it’s not that softball. What are you eating today? What is your meal frequency look like? What does the plate look like?
Well, pretty much 90% of the time I do what I say you should do, 10% I might not.
But mostly, I don’t eat processed food. For me, there’s no negotiation there. I’ll never buy a bag of M&Ms. I’ll never buy Doritos. I’ll never drink a can of Coke. I just never do that.
I never eat foods that are processed in that way. I do eat a very low glycemic diet, which is low in starch and sugar. I eat a lot of great fat.
For example, an average day for me would be, wake up, sometimes I’ll do intermittent fasting so I won’t eat until noon or I might have a bulletproof coffee. Sometimes I’ll have some pasture raised eggs with an avocado, tomato, some olive oil. And then I might have for lunch, I make what I call a fat salad.
Today, I made a lunch with pumpkin seeds, I grilled some tempeh, and put a can of sardines or salmon on it, olives, avocados, and olive oil. So a lot of different kinds of fat, nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, fatty fish with lots of greens in a salad.
And dinner, I might have three or four different vegetable dishes. I might make a sweet potato dish, a side of asparagus. The other night, we made a broccoli with garlic and lemon olive oil, ginger and asparagus, some roasted mushrooms. And then maybe a small piece of fish or protein to go along with it.
And then really good dark chocolate. I eat a lot of nuts and seeds.
That’s basically my diet.
Here’s my salad for lunch.
Abel: Oh, there we go, look at that! It’s beautiful.
I got this from a local place. Basically, avocados and a little hummus in there and tomatoes. It’s pretty good. I kind of know how to hunt and gather in my neighborhood.
Abel: That’s a great point because a lot of people might think, “Oh, I have never eaten any of those things before.”
I’ve coached certain people who’ve never seen a tomato, never seen an avocado, or what have you.
But a lot of people don’t understand, especially if they haven’t been on that health kick before is that this stuff, especially these days, is getting easier and easier to find.
I’ve been traveling for a long time. But even in airports, it’s easier now. You can find nuts, different healthier snacks, you can find grass-fed beef jerky.
So I think you have to know how to hunt and gather.
Most people spend their lives within a very circumscribed area, right? Their home, their workplace, and they frequent the same areas.
You have to know how to hunt and gather in your neighborhood for food that are going to help and support you.
If you get an emergency or you need to make sure you plan ahead.You can order stuff from Thrive Market, which is like an online discounted whole foods, like Amazon meets Whole Foods meets Costco, and basically you get the stuff delivered.
So if you read the label, it’s like, okay, a bag of olives or nuts or whatever. It’s pretty elemental food. And I just think it’s important to think about planning ahead.
Especially for those who I will call opportunistic eaters, who don’t plan ahead and if you do that, you’re going to be in trouble.
Abel: I need to eat now.
From a habit point of view, I always know in any given day what my food experience is going to be and I plan it ahead. So I’m not stuck. It’s almost automatic now. When I travel, I bring at least a days’ worth of food with me in my bag.
Abel: Yes. We do the same.
Yah. I bring high-density, fat, and protein, nuts, and seeds, nut butters, I bring grass-fed beef jerky. That kind of stuff.
Abel: It sounds like a lot of food, a lot of different kinds of food. But I didn’t hear anything that sounded particularly difficult to prepare, even if you were doing it yourself. It’s like salads, with some oil on there.
I mean I’m so busy, I don’t have time to cook. I literally make three meals in 30 minutes a day total. So I’ve learned how to be very efficient.
But if you have more time, you can make fancier stuff. But you don’t have to make fancy stuff, you’re going to just eat vegetables, stir-fry them, steam them, with olive oil, salt, pepper. It takes a few minutes. It’s not like a long time.
I can get in the kitchen, in 20 minutes, I can have dinner on the table. No problem.
Abel: You’re a health nut who has zero time to cook. But that takes away the excuse, doesn’t it?
Yeah, it does. And I love cooking. And I don’t have time to make things that are a little more complicated, but it’s really not that hard.
Abel: I think that’s so important because a lot of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t necessarily allocate time for cooking or we just don’t have time for cooking because of our jobs, careers, kids, traveling, all sorts of different things.
But if you can do it, and I know that you’re one of the busiest people in the world. If you can do it, then anyone who’s listening to this, you can give it a fair shot.
Where to Find Dr. Mark Hyman
Abel: Alright. So we’re just about out of time. But before we go, please tell folks where they can find more about your new book as well as anything else you might be working on.
Well, they can find my new book, Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? at foodthebook.com.
I’ve got a great new podcast, if I say so myself called the The Doctor’s Farmacy, and it’s a place for conversations that matter. We’re having great guests and deep conversations.
And I have a great online Broken Brain documentary that is available for free. It really teaches people how to fix their brains, which most of us have problems with.
And I’m working on a lot of policy stuff. We just got the General Accountability Office to review our food system and all the policies that relate to our food system.
I’m working on Medicare to pay for Food Pharmacy. I’m working in Cleveland Clinic to build functional medicine and do research, and hoping to get a giant donation for reversing Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
So, we’re doing a lot of good work, and I’m really excited about the future.
I think people will catch on. After 20 years of beating my head against the wall, I feel like the light is steadily breaking through.
Abel: It’s working.
Your work is so important Dr. Hyman. Thank you so much for spending time with us.
Oh, of course. Thanks for having me.
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