By Dr. Steven Gundry
I have always had an interest in diet and believed I “ate healthily.” I experimented with several lifestyle diets, including pescatarian and a seven-year stint as a vegetarian in my twenties (and in the last threeish years). At 37 and newly divorced, I found myself at 210 pounds, and it was clear I was a bit overweight. I ran a lot, doing several half marathons. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t losing weight.
Then two and a half years ago, I stopped eating meat and backed off of sugar. I wasn’t paying attention, but I dropped almost twenty-five pounds. I thought it was a fluke. I relocated and developed a relationship with a new cardiologist who notified me that the artificial heart valve installed at the root of my aorta was not as effective as initially thought.
“Nice to meet you, too,” I said to the doctor.
He then told me that I could make up for this by addressing my diet. He gave me a book he himself had written about heart-healthy eating. I began to add items to my diet instead of restricting myself. I increased my daily intake of vegetables, chia and flax seeds, fruits, dark chocolate, olive oil, and leafy greens. I began to hear about the new understanding of the gut microbiome from Dr. Mark Hyman, a functional medicine doctor. I continued to lose weight though I ate, and I began to feel extraordinarily… better. I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. How could I not have known how poorly I had felt for most of my life?
In the book, Gundry discusses that a state of “chronic inflammation” can become your new normal, zapping your energy. With the small changes I made, I saw serious results. I had more energy, less mental fog, and my body looked better than it had when I was younger.
As I continue on this quest, I stumbled upon Gundry’s new book, The Energy Paradox.
At a high level, both Gundry and Hyman are leading the charge to revolutionize our food chain. Our cultural food habits and the supply chain in which these functions are leading us to fatigue, obesity, diabetes, and a large part in the mental health crisis.
Here are some paradigm-shifting ideas in this book.
The Inflamed Body
The food in our supply chain causes inflammation. Inflammation is at the root of most of our health issues in the west. It is important to note that inflammation is the immune system’s response to potentially dangerous invaders in the body. Chronic, low-grade inflammation is responsible for most of the damage to our bodies. According to Gundry, this inflammation is caused by three “L’s,” leaky gut, lectins, and LPS’s.
Leaky gut refers to the breaching of the one-celled thick lining in our intestines. Seventy to eighty percent of our immune system is in our gut, therefore causing inflammation. Next, lectins are proteins found in plants to defend against being eaten. They do this by tearing the gut walls in the hopes that the animal that eats it thinks, “Wow, eating that was a bad idea.” (Have you ever heard of the famous lectin gluten?) And finally, LPS’s or lipopolysaccharides, pieces of cell walls that sneak through the cell lining in the intestines causing the inflammation response.
This consistently inflamed state not only zaps our energy but can cause a variety of other health conditions. Dr. Gundry reports that all of his patients who reported fatigue issues had some form of the leaky gut caused by their diet.
A Societal Crisis
Gunrdy makes the claim that our western diet leaves us overfed and underpowered. The larger supporting claim is that the food that we grow is nutrient deficient due to the quality of the soil in which it is grown. He quotes a senate document from 1936 stating this fact! This deterioration of our food quality leads to subsequent degradation of our microbiome. We are digesting food sixteen hours a day and eating more than we need to top it off. Three out of four Americans are overweight.
Our microbiome refers to the trillions of microorganisms living in our intestinal tract. Much of the food we eat feeds them, and they in turn help us with digestion, energy production, immunity, and other essential tasks. Without proper nutrients, we aren’t feeding the microbiome. Or we may be overfeeding the wrong bacteria in our gut, as is the case in the bacterial overgrowths associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
The microbiome seems to have more to do with how you feel, think, and act than your brain. This is part and parcel of the mental health crisis facing our society. There are more than one hundred million neurons in your gut – more than in your spine. Most serotonin is produced in the gut. There is a clear relationship between the brain and the gut just beginning to be understood. A symbiotic and carefully balanced arrangement exists where stress can cause digestive issues and digestive issues can cause stress, for example. Imbalances and irritation in the gut can send signals to the brain, causing anxiety or depression and vice versa.
Gundry pronounces that the first step in healing anxiety, depression, attentional issues, and cognitive impairment may be in the reparation of the gut lining. The lack of high-nutrient, whole food is not only zapping our energy, but it is also causal to the state of our mental health concerns in the west.
The Fatigue Pandemic
The book’s focus is on energy. Many of us feel as though we are running on empty most of the time. Or, maybe we’re not aware of how much better we could feel, as I discovered. The book is packed with intriguing stories of patients coming to Gundry self-diagnosing themselves with all kinds of interesting ailments. All successfully treated by adjusting their diet.
Of interest, the prevalence of sugar in our food is known to have a detrimental effect on our health. Fructose, the sugar in fruit, is in most of the food that we eat. Our fruit has been genetically engineered to have more fructose than naturally occurring fruits. We were not evolved to digest this quantity of fructose. Here’s why.
In the digestion process, fructose is sent immediately to your liver and converted into fatty acid palmitate. Then it is sent into your bloodstream. Glucose, another type of cell fuel, is injected directly into your bloodstream. When you eat sugar, the cell is hit with both glucose and fatty palmitate. The problem is that two separate processes are required for the cell to convert each substance into energy. The result is gridlock at a cellular level. As a result, we feel…tired, groggy. Other issues come from the overconsumption of sugar, such as diabetes, and are related to this process.
The idea is to keep it simple for your mitochondria, the engine of your cells switching between processes to create our energy. Interestingly, this is why “mono-diets,” such as the Atkins diet, the egg diet, the keto diet, etc., work. They simplify the energy-making process for your cells. On the other hand, they are tough to maintain.
Why This Should Matter to You
Most of the food easily available to us is causing this issue. The antibiotics used in chicken and beef are a major detriment to our microbiome, affecting the way we feel and our overall mental health. The food being mass-produced is not the same food it was fifty or one hundred years ago. It is nutrient deficient. Also, a lot of new research coming forth on the gut microbiome is both tentative and paradigm-shifting. This research didn’t exist five years ago. Dr. Gundry is quick to point out that much of this information is so new that many of our doctors may not even be aware of it. The research seems to claim that we really are what we eat.
So what should be we eat?
The book contains recipes and lists of foods that can be eaten with positive affect. Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, arugula, kale, and cauliflower top the list of energy-increasing vegetables for me. Olive oil (uncooked) for salads and coconut oil for cooking are my preferences in line with Gundry’s suggestions. Walnuts, pistachios, pecans, and almonds are all my preference and are on the cleared list.
For seafood, make sure it is all wild-caught and not farm-raised. Beef should be 100% grass-fed and beef, chicken, and seafood limited to 4 ounces per day.
A word of caution on “plant-based meats.” Many contain lectins which are a no-no for that gut lining. Soy and black beans are often the culprits, but there are others as well. Though beans, chickpeas, legumes, and lentils all contain lectins, they are okay to eat if prepared in a pressure cooker. (*note – I’ve just noticed that chia seeds are on the no-no list.)
Common items on the no-no list:
- Potatoes (potato chips)
- Wheat flower
- Rice, quinoa
- Bell peppers
- Energy bars
The book has some creative and fun recipes I look forward to trying. For example, cauliflower waffles, millet and strawberry porridge, and shockingly healthy broccoli casserole.
If this seems out of reach for you and your family, that’s okay. I’ve looked for several items on Dr. Gundry’s list and I cannot find some of them. So there is the issue of finding the food. Luckily, I rarely find food I don’t enjoy. If this is not the case with your family, do what you can. Make one small change at a time. It doesn’t seem like much, yet it’s better than doing nothing.
I have increasingly realized the ‘boiling frog’ metaphor at work in my life. For the first thirty-seven years, I was eating poorly not realizing how poorly I felt. I was not making changes and as a result, sitting in water beginning to boil. I was not aware of the discomfort and detriment to my health my diet caused. I made some changes and got remarkable results in the way I felt. Sometimes I wonder if I’m still in the water, heating up and there is an unawareness of my discomfort as well as an obvious solution.
I wonder if making more smaller changes … could I make more improvements?
Maybe you’ll do the same…