Catherine and Luke Shanahan’s Deep Nutrition is a veritable tome of nutritional insight.
I will admit, it is not for the faint of heart, weighing in at 440 pages, with an additional 34 pages of notations. And at times, the writing becomes a bit dense with scientific explanations. But, while some of these were a challenge for my non-scientifically-minded self to wade through, they also lend significant gravitas to the Shanahans’ conclusions and suggestions.
This book scientifically confirmed a few things I had come to intuitively, through trial and error (example: tolerating cheese and yogurt, but not milk or ice cream). It also helped me deeply understand the reasoning behind some dietary rules I had casually acknowledged, but not felt compelled to strictly follow.
Besides the obvious of the years of research that have gone into creating the Human Diet, I think a lot of the value of this book is in how the authors have crafted their arguments to emphasize the importance of making the changes the Human Diet requires. As such, I feel that any kind of summary of this book will miss the mark. I highly recommend that you read this book, for your health and the health of any future children you may plan to have. Nevertheless, I will provide some of my key takeaways and action items.
I will be honest — this diet doesn’t sound easy to follow. Our society (at least in the US of A) is so hugely organized around cheap, toxic food that avoiding those toxins means cutting out many staples and favorites. And our lives are so hectic that the time commitment required for food preparation (especially when preparing real, nourishing foods) sounds intimidating, at best. But I know from experience that once you start eating more nutritious foods, your body begins to crave them, and the benefits you gain outweigh the sacrifices.
I was really pleased to see that the authors encouraged a slow integration of the Human Diet — beginning simply with eliminations and additions, where possible. This is a far more healthy and sustainable approach than total and immediate compliance. Below, you’ll find the main takeaways that I hope to (over time) slowly integrate, to boost my long-term wellbeing.
The exciting message of Deep Nutrition is that:
“Thanks to the plasticity of genetic response we can all improve the health of our genes and rebuild our genetic wealth.
Anyone who has chronically neglected a plant and watched its leaves curl and its color fade knows that proper care and feeding can have dramatic, restorative effects. The same applies to our genes–and our epigenetic programming.
Not only will you personally benefit from this during your lifetime with improved health, normalization of fat distribution, remission of chronic disease, and resistance to the effects of age, your children will benefit as well.” (P16, emphasis mine)
“Sugar and vegetable oils act like chemical static that blocks the signals our bodies need to run our metabolism smoothly.” (P75)
We all know this by now, right?
But a huge chunk of this book is dedicated to proving, over and over, just how AWFUL these are for our bodies, our functional capabilities, and our long-term health. Just ditch them. It’s not worth it.
Check your ingredient labels for salad dressings, granola, snack bars, cookies, crackers, breads… pretty much anything. Think about how much of these you’re getting at most restaurants (especially fast food chains), without even thinking about it. (Because, sadly, the cheapest oil wins in most commercial situations, even if it’s really, reeeeeaaally bad for living beings.) Understand that the levels of vegetable oil you’re taking in probably far exceed what you realize, and that this has disastrous consequences for your health.
Need specifics? See a list of Dr. Cate’s Chart of Good/Bad Fats and Oils, including explanations of what makes them either good or bad (after the chart).
And if you’re not convinced? Read this book. You will be.
Again… not terribly suprising, right?
But read the book and you’ll feel pretty chilled by the thoughts of what sugar will do to damage your short- AND long-term well-being.
Just like with vegetable oils, sugars have become so ubiquitous in our food supply that we hardly realize how many we consume, and in what quantities. Add to that the fact that many foods (like pasta) are basically sugar once they’ve been broken down in our body, and we’re constantly stressing our bodies out with massive sugar overload.
One of the most significant changes to make in this area is to eliminate (or significantly reduce consumption of) sugary drinks (blended coffees, sodas, energy drinks, etc), and focus instead on alternatives like water and tea.
The authors espouse 4 Pillars of The Human Diet:
- Meat cooked on the bone
- Organs and offal
- Fresh (raw) plant and animal products
- Fermented and sprouted foods
I know. Not shocking, right? But the authors come at this from a slightly different perspective:
“So if some fat cells were once cells in preferable kinds of tissues, how can we order them to go back?
One of the most effective ways to send that kind of message is with exercise.
According to Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of Pediatric Endocrinology at University of California, San Francisco, the reason exercise treats obesity is not because it burns calories.
“That’s ridiculous”, he says. “Twenty minutes of jogging is one chocolate chip cookie. I mean, you can’t do it. One Big Mac requires three hours of vigorous exercise to burn off. That’s not the reason exercise is important. Exercise is important because it generates signals to build muscle or bone or other lean tissues instead of unwanted fat. Once fat cells store energy, they guard it jealously, reluctant to give it up. But when you exercise enough to trigger new muscle growth, that process of building muscle burns fat, draining fat cells of some of their energy rich contents.
What’s more, fat cells can be convinced to undergo the same kind of cellular suicide that tumor cells can, a process called apoptosis.” (P289, emphasis mine)
The authors highlight so many excellent reasons to prioritize exercise! And — with this reader — they are preaching to the choir! ;P
“I let all my patients suffering from depression in on a little secret: studies show that exercise is at least as effective as the best antidepressant medications. Aerobic exercise releases endorphins–chemicals your body makes that activate the reward centers of your brain. Not only do these natural feel-good chemicals regulate and improve mood, they act directly on muscles to help them burn more energy and contract with more power.
Exercise also cleans the blood stream of a chemical that makes us feel bad, something called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). TNF is a powerful, pro-inflammatory signal that increases sensitivity to pain. It also inhibits muscle growth and makes blood clots form more easily.” (P298, emphasis mine)
“In search of ways to combat [Alzheimer’s], scientists put thirty sedentary older adults (ages sixty to seventy-nine) to work.
Over a six-month period, test subjects exercised for an hour a day, 3 days per week, doing aerobic muscle toning and stretching exercises. Amazingly, brain MRI showed “significant increases in brain volume, in both gray and white matter” in four areas of the brain, several of which are related to making new memories. As I alluded to earlier, the life of a cell is far more unpredictable than we thought, and even nerve cells can grow and divide throughout our lives. If you want your brain to work better, take it for a hike.” (P298, emphasis mine)
“It increases insulin sensitivity, so you need less insulin to get sugar out of your bloodstream. This allows your insulin levels to drop, which tells your fat cells to slow the conversion of sugar into more fat.
It reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol packs fat around organs (as opposed to under the skin), where it produces lots of pro-inflammatory chemicals, which in turn tell the body to produce still more fat.
It builds new blood vessels through muscle and adipose tissues, which enables your body to more readily burn fat.” (P290, emphasis mine)
And while we all know exercise is important, it can be hard to find the time, right?
Luckily, some studies they cited show that smaller doses of intense exercise can still make a big difference. So if you don’t have a lot of time, just give it your maximum effort for whatever short amount of time you do have, and you’ll still achieve results!
Of course, just as you should exercise your body regularly, you should also rest it accordingly. Assuring you get quality sleep in sufficient quantities is important.
This book taught me a lot. It re-energized my commitment to lowering my vegetable oil and sugar intake; reminded me to consume more bone broth, eggs, grass-fed butter, and fermented foods; and planted the seedling idea of adding organ meats and sprouted foods into my diet (though the preparation time for these may make their integration a little slower).
If you’re interested in getting started with the Deep Nutrition way of living, see Dr. Cate’s 10-Step START HERE Guide.
Non Fiction Bingo 2018 Progress
This book handles the “Nutrition” category for #nonficbingo2018!
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