-Our Ancient Blueprint for Nutrition
The way Americans have been eating since about the 1960s has drained our collective vitality. The SAD (Standard American Diet) that we all grew up on is one of the main reasons for our nation-wide declining health and skyrocketing obesity.
In this module, we’re talking about all things nourishment and what can be done to speed up your healing from within by taking a closer look at SAD first.
What is SAD?
SAD stands for Standard American Diet, and this has been the way we’re eating for the last 50-70 years. If you were wondering why we got fat and sick as a nation, these are the primary contributing factors:
- A high-carb diet lacking nutrient density (like white bread, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white rice, sweet desserts, many breakfast cereals, just about anything made from modern wheat).
- Easy access to cheap, processed foods (pretty much everything that comes in a box with a long list of ingredients).
- Toxic cooking oils (canola and soybean oil, commonly known as “vegetable oil,” are the top two offenders) that were unknown to the human diet prior to about 100 years ago.
- Oversized portions of food-like substances that are largely designed to keep us hungry and buying more. (Ever wonder why soda has so much added sodium? It keeps you thirsty for the thing that makes you thirsty!)
Is your head spinning yet? This is only the nutrition part as a contribution to our lack of wellness. We all have a sense of what “cleaner” eating entails, but how come so many people still feel heavy, slow, and brain-fogged?
Before we take a closer look at insulin and its effects on your body, I want to make an important statement: carbs as a “macronutrient” are not evil. How much carbs we consume, what kind, the timing of them, and the alignment with the level of your activity, genetic factors, and lifestyle – those are the most important factors.
The issue with carbohydrate consumption arises when the body becomes “glucose-dependent.” Carbs break down into blood sugar called glucose, and the bloodstream doesn’t like high levels of glucose. An abundance of glucose in the bloodstream leads to increased production of the hormone called insulin, which shuttles that glucose from the blood into working tissue. Prolonged overstimulation of insulin, which also serves as a storage hormone, is bad news when it comes to our body’s ability to convert food energy into physiological energy. As Gary Taubes mentions in his book Why We Get Fat: a high-carbohydrate, “high insulin-producing diet will cause your cells to be literally starved for energy to burn.”
Insulin is a master hormone that assists in the process of moving nutrients and other hormones to organs in your body. Healthy insulin levels allow your body to properly use and store energy, repair cells, regulate cell growth factors, and more.
When there’s an excess of insulin in the blood – this often happens when we depend on a high-carbohydrate-driven diet – we will experience a higher appetite and energy roller coaster. Remember that crashing feeling 30-60 minutes after you ate something sugary, or craving more food after you ate a big dinner of healthy whole grain pasta? Does anyone else get that 8:30 p.m. craving for a nice bowl of cereal to round out the evening post-dinner? Those are the typical signs.
When consuming a significant amount of carbohydrates in the form of bread, pasta, rice, white potatoes, fruit juices, or pastries, we eventually become glucose-dependent. You may have heard that carbs (glucose) are the body’s preferred fuel source. This is true so long as carbs are present in abundance in the body. For example, you can take two carb-dependent athletes, feed one of them a breakfast of oatmeal and the other a low-carb breakfast of eggs and sausage, and the performance for the latter athlete will suffer. The problem is, if both athletes (yes, it’s possible to have metabolic dysfunction even if you’re an athlete) have been eating a high-insulin producing diet like SAD, their genes are expressing for that type of high-carb “environment,” and their bodies don’t have the underlying mechanisms to efficiently burn fat for fuel.
In fact, for many physiological functions, fat (or more specifically, ketone bodies derived from fat) is the preferred fuel source when we don’t eat a diet that’s dependent on constant hits of sugar to feel energized.
Ever been hangry before? That’s the body activating the fight-or-flight response. Despite that lovely stored body fat that even the leanest of us have, we can’t access this storage for energy because we’ve lost “metabolic flexibility,” the ability to easily switch between using carbs and fat as a fuel source. When blood sugar drops in a metabolically healthy individual, the body can top up its own carb stores via a process called “gluconeogenesis.” This process converts ingested protein into sugar. Meanwhile, the brain and heart are happily fed through a baseline level of ketone bodies and there’s no perception that there’s any danger of running low on fuel. However, for someone stuck in carb-dependency, the brain is highly dependent on using glucose for fuel and has not been adapted to run off ketones; a drop in blood sugar means panic mode because the brain is hungry for more sugar.
This triggers the same fight-or-flight stress response that is stimulated from chronic stress, night terrors, recurring flashbacks from PTS, and so on.
The Standard American Diet aggravates an already stressed body and stands in stark opposition to someone wishing to live a life where stress is no longer a detriment to their freedom.
How is SAD different from what our predecessors, free from modern diseases like heart disease, ate? What would we be eating if the industrial revolution, cultivation of grains, and promotion of a low-fat diet didn’t push us into the way we’re eating now?
- We wouldn’t be relying on refined, processed foods as a main source of energy.
- We’d be able to easily shift between carb and fat burning modes.
- Grains and seed-based foods would not be a staple, but more of an in-between survival food. They contain “anti-nutrients” such as gluten, lectin, and phytates. Anti-nutrients are agents that are present in grains, legumes, and some plants that are not supportive of our health. They are the plants’ internal defense mechanism. Think about them as low-level toxins that, in high quantities, interfere with optimal functions of your gut, and therefore affect your entire body.
- In the past, we didn’t eat four to five small meals a day, because food wasn’t always readily available. We ate foods that would sustain us for long periods of time, provide enough energy to push through the day, and support us without causing too much inflammation. Nobody had a fully stocked fridge and pantry or a sugary beverage mini-fridge in the garage.
- We wouldn’t consume sugar in the massive amounts we do now.
In my own experience, when I stopped eating sugar, consuming vegetable oils, grains, and low-fat products, my energy level skyrocketed. Will you be having as much energy if you cut out these foods? At first, it might not seem so because the body needs time to adjust, especially if it’s going from the SAD to something along the lines of a “primally-aligned” diet. But I am confident that you’ll eventually be feeling lighter, more clear, and faster.
So what do we mean by “primally-aligned,” exactly? Remember, with any dietary regime there is both “wheat” and “chaff” to be sorted through. The short answer is anything that we could grow and raise in a setting free from factory farming, heavy pesticide use (like glyphosate), and lab-generated genetic modification.
These options only include nutrient-dense foods that promote optimal health, blood sugar and hormonal regulation as well as long-lasting energy. The exact list of foods that will create optimal health will vary based on individual preferences and some hereditary factors, but the basic parameters are colorful vegetables (locally grown, in season, and organic if possible), plenty of protein from pasture-raised or wild sources (meat, fish, eggs), a few handfuls of nuts, seeds, fruit, and berries, and healthy helpings of fats and oils like grass-fed butter, ghee, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil.
Stuff that comes in the box? Generally not so much. Most boxed foods that are hyper-palatable, and taste ah-mazing, are designed to make you crave them more and enter this vicious unhealthy circle of craving sweets or carbs, eating them, then craving them again to start the cycle over. These items include pasta, bread, bagels, pizza, grain-heavy dishes, anything containing added sugars (juices, soda, loaded coffees, most condiments, snack bars) and the list goes on. The processed food industry tries really hard to make sure you keep purchasing the products that you’re “hooked” on, crave them more, and never return to what you’ve been wired to eat.
Unfortunately, even healthy-looking options can have their downsides. Take note of how many salad dressings are loaded with industrial seed oils which promote inflammation and fat storage. Unless it’s olive oil or avocado oil-based, it’s best to avoid them. There’s a documentary called That Sugar Film you can watch for free that gets into the pervasive nature of crap ingredients in those appealing food items that are marketed as being so healthy.
In the past, we depended on what we could hunt down or gather to make a meal. Now, we depend on UberEats, TV dinners, anything fast and dopamine-releasing (that “happy” feeling you get after consuming something carby or sugary), but not necessarily supporting our digestion, hormones, and gene expression in the long run. When our gut is affected by those highly inflammatory, insulin-spiking foods full of anti-nutrients, our hormonal balance gets a hit, and the entire system goes out of whack. We keep riding the roller coasters of yo-yo diets, emotional eating, and not getting healthier or more energetic.
That’s a lot to process, right? Those delicious foods are pretty much everything we’ve been eating since childhood. The good news is you have hundreds of foods that are nourishing, supportive, and available to you on any given day. It’s a matter of focusing on fueling your body with more healthy foods and minimizing or eliminating the SAD stuff through small, incremental changes in your dietary habits. Have you ever paid attention to how you feel after a meal? Next time you eat, whether your choices are nourishing or not, bring awareness to the process, and see how your meal makes you feel. Energized, light, happy? Or sluggish, slow and foggy? Take note of that.
Later, we’ll talk about chronic disease, stress, and how sugar affects your stress levels, but for now, focus on the simple tasks below.
Always cheering for you,
- Think about your nutrition and daily meals. What are the areas where you definitely need improvement?
- What is your next best step to start reducing or eliminating processed foods, toxic oils and sugar from your daily meals?
- Refer to the image below to explore better sources of carbohydrates.
Do you have seven minutes? Then you have time for today’s core challenge!
Follow along with this video.