Do you want a quality of life that allows you to live your best life in your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and beyond?
For me this quality of life means being able to hike mountains, paddleboard, lift weights, travel around the world with my wife, and have a sharp mind to run a business that I love.
What does it mean for you?
The great news is that you and I can live the lives we want by optimizing our lifestyles for longevity, as I discussed in my article 11 Principles to Maximize Quality of Life for Longevity.
In that article, I discussed my 4 pillars of longevity. Nutrition, Fitness, Sleep, and Emotional Health. This article will cover how I think about the nutrition pillar of longevity.
Our nutrition has the power to prevent many of the chronic diseases that plague us as we age.
The right nutrition keeps our minds sharp, our organs functioning and our bodies energized.
So how do you optimize your nutrition? Is it by strictly following a specific diet?
Within the last several decades diets seem to be becoming more like religion. People are fighting over arbitrary rules of a diet instead of focusing on the underlying purpose, which is to ultimately help you live your best life.
So is nutrition really about what's the best diet?
I don’t believe so. I believe we need to change the narrative. Instead of arguing about what the best diet is, we need to educate and drive awareness on why and how foods affect our bodies metabolically, allowing us to make an informed decision on how we eat.
What science repeatedly shows with the constant diet wars is that not everyone thrives on the same type of diet. However, when a diet does work for someone, you often get n=1 diet zealots. And with so many diets, things can become confusing very quickly. In fact, US News has published over 40 popular diets in their annual report.
No wonder we get confused and suffer from decision paralysis when it comes to diets. And at the same time, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for the next.
So do we really need more diets or do we need to understand the metabolic fundamentals of how GOOD diets improve our health?
Well, I have two secrets to share with you. There are two primary underlying health factors that all GOOD diets will improve. By understanding these two factors you can stop thinking about what diet to choose and start thinking about how the foods you eat impact these two factors.
In the following, I’ll share with you the two health factors to consider. Instead of combing through the latest diet trends, Instagram selfies and n=1 experts, you can find your own optimal nutrition by understanding these two health factors. This will free you up to experiment and discover what makes you feel optimal.
The two health factors that everyone should be managing in order to optimize their nutrition for longevity are Insulin Sensitivity and Chronic or Systemic Inflammation.
The first health factor to manage is insulin sensitivity, which is our body’s healthy normal state with insulin. Insulin is considered a master hormone and is responsible for getting glucose (derived from carbohydrates) out of the blood and into the cells for energy.
When carbohydrates and sugar are consistently over-consumed our insulin can become chronically elevated as it works to move glucose into our cells. Over time, our cells become too full to accept more glucose and become resistant to insulin’s efforts to shuttle the glucose out of the blood.
This cellular insulin resistance and chronically elevated insulin (hyperinsulinemia) in the blood can lead to obesity and diabetes as well as many metabolically related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's. In fact, according to the CDC, over 100 million Americans now have diabetes or prediabetes...Houston we have a problem!
So again, maybe we don’t need more diets but rather more education to the root causes of these problems.
So what’s the root cause of insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia? And how do you optimize for longevity by maintaining a state of insulin sensitivity (i.e. your body can efficiently metabolize carbohydrates & glucose)?
The best way to start managing insulin sensitivity is through the types of foods you eat.
Overconsumption of refined carbohydrates and sugars are the two usual suspects when it comes to insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia.
To optimize insulin sensitivity, from a broad stroke perspective, avoid and/or limit the following:
- Sugars: high fructose corn syrup, table sugar, honey, syrup, agave, fruit juices, sugary beverages, desserts, flavored yogurts, protein bars, etc. AND read labels, many packaged goods sneak in sugar, even savory ones like salad dressing.
- Refined carbohydrates: breads, pastas, cereals, etc.
The second health factor to manage is Chronic Inflammation. Acute inflammation is our body’s natural response to foreign invaders, it’s how our body heals itself. For example, when we get a cut, the redness and swelling is part of the bodies response to fight incoming germs and ultimately heal the wound.
However, chronic inflammation occurs when our immune system goes into fight an injury or invader and never retreats, ultimately damaging the tissues it was trying to protect.
Many things can cause chronic inflammation ranging from obesity to overexposure of inflammatory foods.
Chronic inflammation can be an underlying cause of many of the common autoimmune diseases and chronic diseases that are associated with aging such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers. Additionally, inflammation can affect our skin, bones, joints and cognitive performance.
For optimal longevity, you want to mitigate chronic systemic inflammation.
While many lifestyle factors can contribute to chronic inflammation, for the purpose of this article, I’ll list some of the major dietary contributors to inflammation.
Problematic foods that can cause inflammation
- Refined carbohydrates
- Grains: especially gluten and lectin containing
- Legumes: can be high in toxic lectins, especially soy
- Processed and highly refined vegetable oils: canola, soybean, partially hydrogenated oils, margarine, etc.
- Dairy: while not everyone is sensitive to dairy, lactose is inflammatory for many folks
If you can manage insulin sensitivity and reduce and/or eliminate chronic inflammation you will be on your way to preventing many of the chronic diseases that plague us today. Additionally, managing these two factors can help you lose weight, have a clearer mind, and improve energy levels, as well as many other positive things.
Here's an easy template for your nutrition to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce chronic inflammation:
- Eat nutrient-dense whole foods: Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts, seeds. Prioritizing nose to tail eating (i.e. organ meats) and fattier cuts over leaner cuts of meat.
- Don’t be afraid to eat healthy fat from meats, avocados, coconuts, olive oil, etc.
- Avoid/limit: sugar, refined carbohydrates, grains, legumes and highly processed vegetable oils.
Because we are all unique, don’t be afraid to experiment. For example, some people thrive on eating very low amounts of carbohydrates (< 50g per day), while some do better on more moderate carbohydrate consumption (100-150g per day).
Don’t want to give up dairy or legumes? A sensible approach is to eliminate all of the pro-inflammatory foods for approximately 30 days, see how you feel. Then incorporate them back into your diet one by one to see if they negatively impact how you feel. This is ultimately the approach of many of the GOOD diets out there.
Important note: sugar & highly refined carbs are NOT one of the foods you should incorporate back in :)
Again, I encourage you to experiment. And if all of this still seems overwhelming, take one, and arguably the most important step, eliminate sugar and highly refined carbohydrates from your diet.
While there are many other details and nuances that can contribute to chronic disease, starting to manage insulin sensitivity and chronic inflammation through nutrition is going to significantly help you if you are seeking to improve your overall health.