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How Not to Diet (Book Review)

How Not to Diet by Dr. Greger is another great book by him (after How Not To Die). It’s heavy, thick, but so worth it. Great advice overall and good specifics.

Based on some advice, mostly from this book, I’ve made some dietary tweaks that I’ve documented here: Finally getting that six-pack

“Every month seems to bring a trendy new diet or weight loss fad—and yet obesity rates continue to rise, and with it a growing number of diseases and health problems. It’s time for a different approach.

Enter Dr. Michael Greger, M.D., FACLM, the internationally-renowned nutrition expert, physician, and founder of Nutritionfacts.org. Author of the mega-bestselling How Not to Die, Dr. Greger now turns his attention to the latest research on the leading causes—and remedies—of obesity.

Dr. Greger hones in on the optimal criteria to enable weight loss while considering how these foods actually affect our health and longevity. He lays out the key ingredients of the ideal weight-loss diet—factors such as calorie density, the insulin index, and the impact of foods on our gut microbiome—showing how evidence-based eating is crucial to our success.

But How Not to Diet goes beyond food to identify twenty-one weight-loss accelerators available to our bodies, incorporating the latest discoveries in cutting-edge areas like chronobiology to reveal the factors that maximize our natural fat-burning capabilities. Dr. Greger builds the ultimate weight loss guide from the ground up, taking a timeless, proactive approach that can stand up to any new trend.

Chock full of actionable advice and groundbreaking dietary research, How Not to Diet will put an end to dieting—and replace those constant weight-loss struggles with a simple, healthy, sustainable lifestyle.”

Eight Weeks to Optimum Health (Book Review)

Eight Weeks to Optimum Health by Andrew Weil was not my cup of green tea. I think the biggest problem was that his information is based on outdated science and many anecdotes. So although he is coming from the right place, I couldn’t agree with many of the specifics.

I can say that his advice is much better than the average American diet. It also does do a good job of seeing food as part of something larger and includes things like meditation. It’s more holistic than how we normally look at diet.

Some more notes:

  • Dietary advice includes the following: Brocolli, fish or flax, fruits and vegetables (organic – although that also loses some of it’s meaning nowadays), soy foods, whole grains, cooked greens, garlic and ginger
  • Antioxidants (but as far as I know the evidence is fleeting for them)
    • And he mentions quite a lot of supplements to take. At the same time I’m contemplating some supplements (vit D, B12), so it does make some sense
  • Walk and stretch (good advice)
  • I didn’t like his definition of spontaneous healing, it’s just our body doing it’s thing – nothing special about it or that it will be activated by X, Y, or Z. And yes we can sometimes beat cancer without a doctors interventions, but that doesn’t mean it should be the way to go.
  • The book relies on testimony – way too much
  • “… which gave me a means to access cellular memory” – WTF

Beyond Coffee (Book Review)

Beyond Coffee by James Beshara.

Some overview of nootropics, and which ones you can take sustainably. Top recommendations already in Flow (our nootropic product at Queal).

Nothing much new under the sun here.

The Good Gut (Book Review)

The Good Gut by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg is an interesting first look at the state of research into our gut. They are good at pointing out that we don’t know much yet and that much more research needs to be done. There are some recommendations (eat more fibres) sprinkled throughout the book. And they use their personal life to reflect on the choices they have made regarding nutrition.

One thing that is very interesting about the gut, is that we can have much more influence over it than our genes (at least at this moment in time). If we eat right, manage our stress, and exercise, our gut might make us very happy.

The interaction between our gut, brain, and rest of the body is not very clear. What is suggested, is that the interactions go both ways. Stress will negatively impact your gut. And your gut microbiota will influence how you feel.

One of the more striking examples they use is autism. They argue that your gut microbiota might have an influence on how you interact with the rest of the world. The research is still in the early stages, and although it isn’t clear-cut, they do make a good case to keep on researching this.

The gut and inflammation are also linked. One of the things I’ve learned about longevity is that inflammation increase with age (the background level of inflammation, inflammaging) and that, of course, this is bad. You want your body to react to pathogens, but not be constantly active.

Here are some quotes/ideas:

  • “Thanks to our typical diet, the average American’s gut bacteria are starving.” They mention that we have about 1/3rd less diversity (which you want) than people living in more indigenous cultures.
  • Our gut contains 100 trillion bacteria. Some live in your stomach, some in your small intestine, most in your large intestine.
  • They use the analogy of a tube, for our body, that starts at the mouth and ends at the anus.
  • “Close to half of the mass of stool are bacteria”
  • Because of (mass) agriculture, we eat mono-crops and mess up our digestive system.
  • Antibiotics kill bacteria in your gut. Kids in the US undertake (on average) more than 1 antibiotics session per year. Although antibiotics are awesome (they save millions of lives), the overuse of them is terrible for your gut.
  • Having a non-c-section birth helps you with starter bacteria. Again in the US, too many babies are born through a c-section. If remembered correctly, the Netherlands is one of the best countries (least c-sections).
  • Our gut microbiota is in contact with the immune system and communication goes both ways.
  • One hypothesis is that because we’re too hygenic, our immune system isn’t doing much, so has ‘time’ to react to pollens and other allergens.
    • “The microbiota is like a mercenary in the eyes of the immune system, paid (in slimy mucus) for helping to exclude bad germs but not trustworthy enough to go completely unmonitored.”
    • “The microbiota … also tunes the magnitude and duration of the immune system response”
  • Owning a pet can help you have a more diverse microbiota
  • Probiotics might help your microbiota, yet we don’t know enough about it to be sure which ones help best. Supplements should therefore be looked at with caution and eating yoghurt, kimchi, tempeh and other fermented foods are probably best.
  • Prebiotics (the food-derived components, polysaccharides/dietary fibre) is what your microbiota likes to eat. Inulin is a good example. The skin of fruits also has them. Your gut loves them.
  • One of the food recommendations is sourdough bread. I might take them up on the offer. What they put it against is white flour and other ‘rich man’ foods that contain no fibre.
  • Another food thing to watch for is to see if your yoghurt contains live bacteria or that they are missing them.
  • With regards to aging, eating a diet rich in MACs (fibres/food for your microbiota) and low in saturated fats from animal sources, you might add some years.

The Longevity Diet (Book Review)

Dr Valter Longo summarises his life long journey of researching longevity through diet. In The Longevity Diet, he argues for a nutritious diet in combination with regular fasting-mimicking diets (FMD). The diet is plant-based (with some fish sprinkled in). The FMD should activate innate programs your body has for restoring youth (juvenescence).

The book offers a compelling argument for the influence of diet on our health. It also makes common sense (which from The AI Delusion I gather we need some more of). Yet it also relies heavily on epidemiological data and studies of centenarians. What I find most compelling is the clinical studies, for which the other two can be a basis/hypothesis.

Two questions remain after reading the book. The first concerns longevity and fitness. In bodybuilding/weightlifting/etc world IGF-1 is touted as a great way to build muscle. Yet it’s also one of the things mentioned in the longevity diet as something to avoid (e.g. red meat) and lower (e.g. FMD). I want to put on some pounds (of muscle) in the coming years, yet also want to live long. So there is a bit of a dilemma.

The second is about the expected effect size of the longevity diet (+FMD). Will it add 5 years? 10 years? And/or how many healthy years (healthspan) will it add? This is something that is quite difficult to study (us being humans and all), and I hope we will be able to make progress in this area in the coming years. At the same time I also think that fixing things at a molecular level (see Ending Aging) should be pursued.

The best thing could be to eat healthy, with some FMD/fasts sprinkled throughout the year, and then also start fixing some things which we can’t keep intact with a good diet, or that need to be partly supplemented with other interventions.

One thing to never lose sight of is the enjoyment of life. Some of the mice in the calorie restriction programs were depressed, for twice the lifetime. I really like the idea of having short (5 days) fasts/FMD 4 times per year. And although I already follow most of the guidelines of the longevity diet (and I want to do that even better), I still love to have a beer or two (or 8) every now and then. So if you want to have a long and healthy life, read on for the rest of my notes on The Longevity Diet.

In the introduction we are introduced to the goal of the book “Contrary to the notion that if we live longer we will extend the ‘sickness’ period, our data indicate that by understanding how the human body is maintained while young, we can stay fully functional into our nineties, hundreds, and beyond. One of your primary ways to achieve this is to exploit our body’s innate ability to regenerate itself at the cellular and organ levels.”

The Five Pillars of Longevity is what Longo builds his research upon:

  1. Basic/juventology research
  2. Epidemiology
  3. Clinical studies
  4. Studies of centenarians
  5. The understanding of complex systems

A lot of the book is dedicated to describing the habits and diets of centenarians. One of the statements in this context is that supplementation doesn’t work (e.g. with antioxidants). The argument is that you can’t improve on an almost perfect system. I understand the concept in relation to what is being tried. Yet at the same time, our system is almost perfect to keep us alive some time after childbirth. In time I do believe we will be able to copy/supplement this system to live even longer.

Another thing he argues for is that we should do things in tune with evolution. Although that phrase itself is quite pointless, the example of fasting is illustrating. Longo argues that in times of low food a species (humans, but also earlier on the evolutionary tree) were right in saving themselves over reproducing (otherwise they wouldn’t be here anymore). So if we trick our body into giving that response, maybe we can set off the same protection and damage repair (on a protein level) process.

What Longo tries to do is to keep a human young, not treating individual diseases or conditions. The process of repair that he argues for, he calls programmed longevity: “a biological strategy to influence longevity and health through cellular protection and regeneration to stay younger longer.”

You are what you eat and food can have a large impact on your health. Yet at the same time Longo argues that your happiness is not determined by the food you eat. Yes a cake (read: sugars) bring you immediate joy, but eating healthy is not something that will make you unhappy. He even argues that it will make you happier, although indirectly, because of better health.

Constant caloric deprivation/deficit is not what you would want. It can expand the life of a mouse, and possibly humans too. But experiments in both show that it’s the opposite of a mood booster. This is one of the main reasons for doing a FMD/fast only at certain intervals.

The Longevity Diet is what you want to be doing for most of the time, it consists of the following parts:

  • Pescetarian diet: Almost 100% plant-based and fish 2 or 3 times a week (for the omega’s – this could be vital, but I wonder how critical/necessary it is)
    • One note is that in old age, Longo argues for more protein in the diet (but it’s based on studies of centenarians and one fallacy of this could be that they didn’t have much protein back in the day and now just have it available (thus eating it more))
  • Consume low but sufficient proteins
    • From plants and nuts
  • Minimize bad (trans) fats and sugars, and maximize good fats and complex carbs
  • Be nourished (Longo argues for taking a vitamin and mineral supplement, I can’t find good evidence that backs it up, and I wonder if it really is beneficial)
  • Eat a variety of foods from your ancestry (again, not 100% convinced, I do get it from a ‘processed’ vs more whole-food approach)
  • Eat twice a day plus a snack (now doing this, and the main benefit is more control/easier measuring of meals)
  • Observe time-restricted eating (eat within 11-12 hours per day or less)
    • The source linked for this is quite a good one, with an intervention (only to eat within the time frame) that lead to weight loss.
  • Practice period prolonged fasting (fasting/FMD for 2 periods of 5 days or more)
  • Follow the above points to reach/maintain a healthy weight and abdominal circumference

I really like the last part, it’s about finding a new diet, not ‘dieting’.

It also triggered me to make some measurements to better assess my progress in body composition (the two scales I have at home are very erratic and give different measures).

Here are some more notes:

  • The age differences between the best and the worst groups are quite small: Okinawa 81,2 vs USA 76,8 (5%)
  • And although some cancer levels are much higher in percentages, up to 8 times as many, the number of prostate cancers in the US is still only 28 per 100.000
  • “If you take 100 centenarians, you get 100 different elixirs of longevity”
  • Longo argues that the drugs we’re developing are still far away and that diet is, now, the best thing you can do yourself (I can concur)
  • Stay active, this is the second factor after diet that has a huge influence on longevity
    • Walk fast for an hour every day
    • Ride, run, swim 30-40 minutes every other day plus two hours on the weekend
    • Use your muscles
  • The FMD could also have positive effects on many diseases. Although things become a bit more speculative here, there is still quite promising evidence and if you (again) compare it to the average diet, I can very much understand how it could help
  • Chapters that follow deal with cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease (the biggest killer that gets the least attention), Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases

The book ends with an observation about our minds. A positive mindset, a will to live, and more could be very significant factors in longevity. The trouble is that it’s not very well studied and the implementation of results can be quite hard. But keeping close friends and enjoying life should not be underestimated.

As a final note, I wholeheartedly believe in what Longo says and I am confident that more research will confirm many of the things not yet proven. Yet I also think we should pursue medical/drug interventions with all the haste we can. Eventually things will break down, our genes weren’t ‘made’ to have us live forever. So we will have to come up with ways to do this ourselves. The Longevity Diet is a great basis, a well-oiled car, now we need some mechanics to do some repairs (and upgrades) every now and then.

Note: As mentioned above, centenarian research really isn’t that good. New research shows that record-keeping in these areas is bad and the long ages probably based on lies (or statistical flukes).

De Verborgen Impact (Book Review)

The Hidden Impact (De Verborgen Impact – Dutch) by Babette Porcelijn is a book about our impact on the world. What we consume, what we use, what we have to be careful with.

We as Western consumers have much more impact than we think. Not only in our daily activities in and around the house or weekly at the gas pump but mostly on the other side of the world, by making and transporting the things we buy and use daily. We as consumers ultimately pay for that hidden impact and we keep the system in position. This book shows you how it is, so you can exert a positive influence.

I read this book over the summer and left myself a note to make a summary. Here it is.

  • Much of the impact we have on the world is hidden. We usually don’t see the production of our products and when thinking of sustainability many only consider what is right in front of us.
  • On average, buying stuff and eating meat have the largest (hidden + visible) impact.
  • Flying also has a large impact and by flying multiple times a year, it might even be your biggest contributor.
  • Compensating can sometimes be good, but prevention is almost always better!

See more about this (and a cool tool on how to calculate your impact) on https://babetteporcelijn.com/en/

And https://babetteporcelijn.com/wp-content/downloads/CE_Delft_Top_10_milieubelasting.pdf