Are you looking to increase energy, lose fat, and prevent disease? Then the concept of living a “Paleo” lifestyle is an important concept to understand. You don’t necessarily need to follow the specific list of good and bad foods according the original conception of the “Paleo” diet, but the general paradigm to live and eat as our ancestors did is an extremely useful concept with a mountain of science to back it up.
In this episode, I’m with Robb Wolf, a former research biochemist and two times New York Times best-selling author and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of “The Paleo Solution” and “Wired to Eat.” Robb has been ”Paleo” for the last 20 years, and he has dedicated his life to helping people adopt a lifestyle that promotes health.
In this episode, Robb will uncover what is really means to go Paleo and how you can find the best lifestyle for your bio-individual situation. We get into a lot of fascinating topics from “is keto a Paleo way to eat?” to “is protein something we need to be careful of as some diet gurus advocate?” to “what are the benefits of fasting, and does keto replicate fasting?” to “who should be eating keto?” to whether carbs and insulin are the key drivers of fat gain and how to lose fat effectively. On a personal note, I really enjoyed this conversation with Robb, and I think he is a very knowledgeable and intellectually honest health expert with a giving heart.
In this podcast, Robb Wolf will cover
- What is the Discordance hypothesis?
- The role of lifestyle in your overall health (and specific factors that influence your lifestyle)
- Are Paleo and Keto really the same?
- Why a bio-individual approach to diet matters
- What does fasting do?
- The main drivers of fat gain
- What is the best diet if you are overweight?
- Why Robb says the protein leverage hypothesis is essential when wanting to lose weight
- Should we be afraid of protein consumption because of fear of mTOR and IGF1?
- Are there nuances to the best diet, or are things black and white?
- Robb’s approach to personalized nutrition
- Robb’s take on the carnivore diet
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How To Increase Energy, Lose Fat, And Prevent Disease The Paleo Way with Robb Wolf – Transcript
Ari Whitten: Hey everyone. Welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. I’m your host Ari Whitten, and today I have with me, a former research biochemist and two times New York Times best-selling author and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of “The Paleo Solution” and “Wired to Eat,” which is the most recent book, Robb Wolf. Such a pleasure to have you on, Robb.
Robb Wolf: A huge honor to be here. Thank you.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, so you are an expert in the Paleo movement, a health expert more broadly, but you’ve been kind of a thought leader within the Paleo movement for, jeez, a long time now, what, 15 years or something?
Robb Wolf: As of July of this year mark 20 years, the first time that I put Paleo diet into this newfangled search engine called Google and then tracked down Loren Cordain and Art De Vany and some of my mentors in that scene. Yeah.
Ari Whitten: Awesome. Yeah, so that’s great. One of the things that I’d like to talk about because I also kind of started following Paleo, jeez, almost 20 years ago at this point. I kind of first encountered Paleo maybe when I was like 16 or something, right before 2000, somewhere around there. And I was like hardcore into Paleo for many years and it’s still to this day, even though I don’t necessarily preach Paleo and that’s not sort of me… My brand isn’t built around that. The Paleo approach to things, that naturalistic philosophy, replicate the environment and the diet of our ancestors has been a huge influence on my thinking.
Robb Wolf: Right.
The concept of Paleo
Ari Whitten: So one of the things that I think would be interesting to kind of start this is to talk about something you mentioned in your book, which is the Discordance hypothesis. Can you talk briefly about what that is all about as kind of an intro to this whole concept of Paleo?
Robb Wolf: Yeah, that’s great. And, oftentimes, you have to kind of drag people kicking and screaming to that thing instead of starting with kind of first principles and it, you know? If an alien species came here or if we went to another world and we were observing organisms on a different planet, one of the first things that we would ask is, you know, “How do they eat or what do they eat and what type of light, dark cycles do they adhere to or do they adhere to anything like that?” And so this is just kind of an exploration and understanding of the natural history of an organism. You know, if we talk about cows eat grass and they live in herds and, you know, there’s this certain kind of characteristics about them that kind of define them as a species. And it’s not, where people get tripped up a little bit is this idea that an organism is somehow like perfectly matched for its environment. And that’s not necessarily the case because it’s always dynamic.
The environment is always changing. Organisms are always changing and it’s always a little bit of a coin toss as to whether or not the adaptations an organism has is beneficial or not. And this Discordance idea though, comes in where if you see some sort of consistent problems in an organism, particularly chronic degenerative disease that occurs after something has changed. Then there’s a pretty good bet that maybe there’s a mismatch between the genetics, the epigenetics that defined that organism and its current state of affairs. And so this is some of the, you know, it’s hard to wrap our arms around in some ways because it’s somewhat soft in science. We can’t do a really easily controlled randomized controlled trial where we feed a whole population a Paleo type diet and have them live in accordance with the seasons and all that type of stuff.
But we do have a lot of information that has come out of the anthropological and archeological, you know, kind of research and literature over the last maybe 200 years that has painted hunter gatherers, horticulturalists, pastoralists in a pretty favorable light with regards to their individual health.
And it’s all observational. But it’s interesting that we have seen these transitions of people that say have lived a more pre-westernized type of lifestyle and they begin adopting things like processed foods, you know, work-saving devices and what have you. And we tend to see these folks begin to develop what we would characterize as the kind of western degenerative diseases. And in a few instances we’ve had situations where these groups that are kind of newly westernized go back to their traditional ways of eating and living, which can’t be emphasized enough.
People focus so much on the dietary part. But the culture and the lifestyle and social support are all critical to this, too. But these folks that have kind of become westernized, they go back to living some of their more traditional life ways. And these western degenerative diseases tend to remediate or disappear altogether. So this Discordance idea is really just kind of looking at an organism or even a whole ecosystem and kind of asking the question, “Is there something that has changed here and has changed at such a rapid clip that it’s causing some sort of really significant problems?”
The discordance between human biology and our environment
Ari Whitten: So with that in mind, what are the big factors, and I know you’ve just alluded to a few of them in passing there. I also love that you’re not diet myopic, which far too many health gurus are. But what are some of these big areas of Discordance between sort of human biology and the environments we’ve evolved for or have been most of… Through most of human evolution versus the environment that we’re now in?
Robb Wolf: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great question. And I kind of lump, I’m a lumper instead of a splitter, so I tend to throw a lot of things under one roof in some ways. But sleep and circadian rhythm is one major shift. And I could maybe make an argument that that has shifted even more profoundly than our food has. Although you can get people into a fistfight over that. They’re like, “No, processed food is worse,” or “No, you know, artificial lights are worse.”
But they’re both bad and the combination is really pretty, pretty terrible. But when we look at, you know, there was a huge chunk of human and pre-human evolution where we didn’t have fire. Then there was a pretty good chunk where we had fire, but it was sporadic. And then we had the technology to create fire. And then it was only very, very recently that we had things like oil lamps and then, you know, the beginning of the 1900s, electric light bulbs where we could develop a 24-hour work shift or multiple shifts and what have you. So I would say that that sleep and circadian biology, the change in the photoperiod that we’re exposed to is a massive shift that we’ve experienced.
Ari Whitten: Well, let me interrupt you already and just say that you’ve already got the keys to my heart. The fact that you mentioned that factor first because that’s something that I put a huge emphasis on as well. And I’m with you 100 percent. That, I think that is one of the biggest drivers of disease in the modern world and far too few people are talking about it. A lot of people just kind of go, “Hey, get your eight hours of sleep.” And that’s as deep as they go into that subject.
Robb Wolf: Right, and it’s just not enough, unfortunately. And, you know, some of the work that I do, I’m on the board of directors of a clinic here in Reno and we work with the general public. But we do a lot of work with police, military and fire personnel and we see really wacky disordered metabolism in the folks that are on shift work.
And you see this also in medical circles. You see this in new parents, too, where they just can’t figure out how their body is kind of like rotting away out from under them. But it’s basically the, you know, the lack of sleep, the disordered circadian rhythm. So to your point, it’s not just that eight hours of sleep, it’s when that eight hours occurs.
And the Centers for Disease Control now recognize shift work as a known carcinogen because of the alterations that it imposes in our immune system and pro-inflammatory state and what have you. See I’m in the same camp as you.
Like I usually lead with the sleep and light part first. And in part I think that some of that, it’s almost a bait and switch. People were kind of expecting the food guy to talk about food. But then when I talk about this other thing, then I go to the second point which is, you know, the change in our dietary practices. And this is again a very contentious topic because within that kind of hunter-gatherer ancestral health framework, we have examples of very high carb consuming cultures. We have examples of low carb consuming cultures.
The one universal that we have is that these folks didn’t really eat much in the way of processed food. And then when we see the introduction of processed foods, seed oils, refined grains, sugars, then we see all kinds of problems from dental caries to a shortening of stature, increase in cardiovascular disease processes, depression, you know. So that’s another piece that people get very religiously dogmatic about, you know, this particular protein, carb, fat ratio. And I think that that’s kind of silly. Humans should be very ideally flexible with what type of fuel gets thrown in and how they can respond. But there is a reality that it’s changed a lot.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I definitely want to dig into a lot of specifics there with you, but I’ll wait until you kind of go through all the rest of the facts here.
Robb Wolf: Yeah. Yeah. And then the two remaining pieces are moving, instead of calling it exercise, I call it movement. Nobody likes exercise. Everybody likes to move so I can lump it under movement. It’s interesting, even not that far removed to our hunter-gatherer ancestors and even contemporary hunter gatherers, they have a lot of downtime.
They have a lot of time to relax, but then on days where they’re active, they are quite active. So they have a very periodized kind of activity pattern. So they’re not burning themselves out the way that people do say like trying to be an elite level athlete. But at the same time they are not chronically couch-bound either. So there’s this really interesting kind of punctuated activity pattern that looks the same way that animals express out in nature, you know. So our movement has changed a lot. And then finally the last part I call community at large and that is our social connectivity.
Like we were, you know, theoretically evolved to be in these extended family groups. Humans are really good at keeping track of about 150 people. Once our community groups get beyond 150 people, it’s hard to keep track of that. It’s called Dunbar’s number and it seems to track with all kind of primate brain sizes. And then under, again, I’m kind of a lumper. So under community I kind of throw our gut microbiota and our microbiome in general under that. So the community is both our interaction with the microorganisms that have coevolved with us, but then also the greater kind of human and also ecological community that we are ideally a part of.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Yeah. Beautiful. And I think, you know, I’ll mention also that I think community, social aspect of things is also a much-neglected aspect of health among most health gurus and it’s just vital. I mean there’s such impressive research there, as you know, showing like loneliness, social isolation is, you know, I forget the exact numbers, but it’s on par worse than, you know, being a smoker.
Robb Wolf: It’s a pack a day, smoking habit. Yeah. Yeah. Which is amazing. That’s pretty stunning stuff. Yeah. Yeah.
Why Paleo and Keto got ”married”
Ari Whitten: So one of the things you mentioned, which I really like about your work, when you talked about nutrition a minute ago, is that we have examples of, you know, ancestral diets that are a very wide variety of macronutrient ratios. I’ve also written a book related to this topic. So I’ve done very, very extensive research on the macronutrient ratios of basically all the different tribes around the world that have been studied.
One quick point I’ll make in passing is a lot of people have this conception of a Paleo diet is like, it’s speculation about people that lived 20,000 years ago. And people often don’t realize that there are tribes that exist today or have existed in the last hundred years that have actually been studied where their diet has actually been analyzed and we know exactly what they eat and the macronutrient carbs, fats, proteins, breakdowns of this.
And there are a number of tribes, as you mentioned, you can list off the Tukisenta, the Kitavans, the Tsimani, the Hadza, a lot of different tribes that are either certainly not low carb or are overtly very, very high carb diets. And there seems, you know, these tribes are also renowned for their health, for their lack of cardiovascular disease, lack of obesity, lack of diabetes and so on.
You know, all the same things as sort of the other hunter-gatherer tribes. There doesn’t seem to be any indication that those tribes are less healthy than the tribes that are lower carb. And yet somehow the Paleo movement kind of got married to this whole low carb movement. And it’s also kind of, within a lot of different health gurus, is kind of also married now to the keto movement as that has become more popular.
And yet, you know, there’s this weird disconnect there because people are preaching this idea that to eat Paleo is to eat low carb or to eat keto. And there are just as many instances of Paleo people or hunter gatherer people eating high carb and almost none, I think literally none of the tribes eating keto diets. And yet like how do you make sense of the fact that Paleo kind of became married to the whole low carb movement?
Robb Wolf: You know, it’s interesting. On the one hand, eating Paleo in general compared to the way that most folks are traditionally eating usually does reduce the total carbohydrate load. So it kind of just tends to head that direction. I think that there’s also on the, almost like a practical engineering perspective when people get in and start tinkering with this stuff, this is where we get into a fair amount of speculation. So there’s not a randomized controlled trial that supports this. This is kind of, you know, me speculating. But changes in our gut microbiome, exposure to antibiotics, which clearly antibiotics save lives, but they’re also a mitochondrial toxicant. Like they damage the mitochondria. I remember in my undergrad biochemistry class when I was looking at how certain forms of antibiotics preferentially go after the ribosomes that are in bacteria.
And then I was thinking, “Hey, mitochondria are basically an endosymbiotic bacteria. Wouldn’t this effect that?” And my professor was like, “Oh no, no, no.” And then I started researching. It’s like, “Oh yeah, actually that’s a problem, you know?” And so it’s interesting because on the one hand, if we’re being really honest about what the composition of an ancestral diet is, it was quite variable. It depended on latitude.
So like more recent ancestry, northern European versus, say like my wife who’s more from Europe and the Middle East. There’s probably going to be some genetic differences there. But more recent adaptations with regards to epigenetics and also gut microbiota may be a really big factor and I do think that that kind of starvation state or ketosis is almost kind of like when you’re… When we’re little kids and you’re playing tag, there’s like a home base.
It’s kind of the safe place to go. That fasting state seems to be kind of a home base. If you go back to there all kinds of really cool kind of metabolic resets happen. And I think to some degree the reason why this lower carb approach kind of got wed into the interpretation of what Paleo is is because a lot of us are kind of metabolically broken. I would actually put myself in that camp. I just run better on lower carb. And I mean I’ve tried everything and my gut health is so much better than it used to be 20 years ago. But there is just kind of a reality that, you know, once I start cracking up above about a hundred, 110 grams of carbs a day, I just don’t feel as well. I get on kind of a blood sugar roller coaster.
I do Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I lift some weights. So I’m able to maintain a very high activity level. But for both genetic and epigenetic reasons, I think I’m at this kind of far end of the spectrum that I definitely do better at a lower carb intake. Someone like my wife, she can eat rice or she could fast a day and drop right into deep ketosis and she’s incredibly metabolically flexible.
So, you know, to circle back to the original question, where did these things come about? I think it again, it’s almost like an engineering problem where even though we had this understanding, at least in theory, that a Paleo diet wasn’t necessarily low carb. As people played with things, a lot of folks found that they did indeed feel better when they kind of titrated the carbs down to that lower level.
But again, I would say that that’s more of a necessity based off some potential metabolic damage that has occurred either in utero or while we’ve been living our lives and isn’t necessarily reflective of the natural state that we should have. We should be able to throw a big variety of different macronutrients down and just-just, you know, really thrive on that. It shouldn’t need to be a very pedantic, 40, 30, 30 type of a breakdown or even more the exclusively fat-centric breakdown that I seem to do better on.
The biology of fat gain
Ari Whitten: Excellent. So there’s a whole bunch of nuances there that I would love to get into, but I think the best place to go right now is I’d like to dig a bit more into, kind of the biology of fat gain and a couple of the two big paradigms. And if you don’t mind, I’d love to actually read this little couple sentences from your book because I think this is a really nice way of kind of encapsulating the context of this.
So you said, “When folks read this book, there will be those who say I’m an idiot for recommending low carb diets at all. They will claim tenaciously to the calories in, calories out model, and largely dismissed the influence of hormones and the neural regulation of appetite in the process of health and weight gain. There will also be folks who say, I’m a dullard for not recommending a low carb diet to everyone. They will say, the whole story here relates to insulin control only and calories are inconsequential. Now, let me ask you something. How can I be an idiot about both of these polar opposite situations?” And you go on from there.
But I think that’s a really nice way of encapsulating this two kind of predominant paradigms that are out there. So one of the things that I appreciate about your work is that you’re not religiously in one of these two camps and you understand the territory and the science around this. So can you explain why both of those paradigms, to be dogmatically hardcore in either of those paradigms is flawed and kind of what, how this all maps out.
Robb Wolf: Oh, man. Yeah. And you know, I so wished that the insulin hypothesis had been right and then it’s like, “Cool, control insulin.”
Ari Whitten: Yeah. When I was a teenager and I got into Paleo and I was actually doing keto when I was 17. I read a book by, I think his name was Rob Faigin.
Robb Wolf: Oh yeah, yeah. “Natural Hormonal Enhancement.” Really good book.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, there you go. I was reading that when I was, I think, maybe 15 or something, I was still in high school. This was over 20 years ago. So I was doing keto, you know, drinking cream after my workouts. Basically eating zero carbs all the way back then. It’s interesting that it’s become popular again. But I was hardcore into this idea and I was teaching my clients, you know, as a personal trainer in my twenties, “Hey, got to control insulin. Insulin is the thing that drives fat gain.” So this idea has been for a long time. There’s a lot of people who still believe in it, but what’s your take on how this all maps out?
Robb Wolf: First trying to unpack this, I would say that part of the reason why the insulin hypothesis gained a lot of traction is because even if the nuts and bolts of that recommendation or that idea are not correct, if you follow the recommendations that are consistent with mitigating insulin levels, then you get, you tend to get really good results.
But the primary result, I would argue is that when we eat more protein in particular, and then we’re not on kind of a blood sugar roller coaster, we tend to spontaneously reduce caloric intake, which also reduces insulin load and reduces total caloric intake. And so it’s tough. You have elements of the interwebs like the, if it fits your macros folks. And they produce some really jaw-dropping results with say like figure competitors and whatnot. And they’ll eat pop tarts for their carbs and lard for the fat and these people are, you know, motor long, are reasonably healthy at least for a while.
And you know, so long as they are able to control that portion element, then, you know, things work for them. And then there are other people that would be more like myself where if I don’t have that carbohydrate control, and I don’t know if this is gut-driven or a hyperresponsiveness to insulin release, but I will get on kind of a blood sugar roller coaster and then I will tend to overeat. But again, I think that the results of a low carb diet support many elements of the claim within the insulin hypothesis even though it ultimate… like the science doesn’t really get bourne out all that well.
There was a recent NuSI study that really put this thing to the test where they fed folks both high carb and low carb diets, calorically matched, protein matched which was really, really important. And what they found is that there really wasn’t any difference in the weight loss between the two groups. Some people gained some weight, most people lost weight.
And there was a very big delta, a very big difference between the relative insulin levels in these folks. The higher carb folks had higher insulin levels and if that insulin hypothesis was 100 percent accurate, then we should’ve seen no weight loss effects in that higher carb group. But then another paper that came out maybe two years ago that came out of the Weitzman Institute, it was looking at the personalized glycemic response that folks have to different foods. And there is a reality that, again, my wife and I did some interesting kind of self-experimentation and this is just two people doing something.
It’s not a scientific study or anything, but you know, I’m about 175 pounds and I would eat a 50-gram amount of white rice. My wife is about 130/135 pounds. She would eat a 50-gram amount of white rice, effective carbohydrate. And just based off the difference in size between the two of us, you would assume that Nikki would have a higher blood glucose response than I would, but my blood glucose topped off about 190 and hers barely got above 120. It was like 115, 120, something like that.
And immediately after this experience I would be kind of dull, lethargic, hungry, wanting more carbs, and Nikki was kind of like unfazed. It really didn’t have any influence on her. And so even though on the one hand the insulin hypothesis doesn’t ultimately hold water over the long haul with the claim that so long as insulin levels are low, then we can’t gain body fat is really kind of the crux of the whole story.
There is a reality though that depending on what your individual glycemic response and insulin response is to a meal, you will tend to then either be more or less likely to eat more food, which is really where this thing ultimately ends up having a lot of impact. So someone like me who has these really nasty blood sugar highs and lows, I will tend to get on that blood sugar roller coaster and if I eat at a carb level that’s not, you know, healthy for me, I will get into this kind of feed-forward mechanism where, you know, the meal I’m eating, I’m thinking about the next meal because I’m already kind of in the throes of this kind of carb roller coaster.
Where someone like my wife, she can kind of take it or leave it. She could go high carb, she could go low carb. So she’s pretty metabolically flexible. So between those two studies, I think it allowed us to kind of triangulate in a little bit on what’s going on on this story. And I think that in the folks that, you know, like in that, if it fits your macros crew, I think there’s some selection bias there for people who are pretty metabolically healthy, pretty metabolically flexible.
Their guts are probably pretty healthy and this approach works really well for them because they’re just practicing that portion control specifically and the macronutrients aren’t as important. Then other people who are, either due to genetic or epigenetic issues or a combination, they maybe have to have tighter control over carbohydrates in particular just because of that roller coaster.
But it’s not specifically about the insulin, it’s about the kind of overall hormonal cascade that leads into the neuro-regulation of appetite. And so, man, it’s a tough thing to unpack because there’s a lot of different moving parts. And also I think part of the problem is that people are different. You know, depending on who you are, your responses will be different enough from somebody else that a recommendation that works for me may very well not work for you.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I want to dig into the sort of diet personalization aspect of things that you’ve talked about with blood sugar. But I want to also try to recap something and dig into one aspect of something you just mentioned. So basically the carbs/insulin theory of fat gain has been pretty much debunked as far as that being the driver, of insulin being the driver of fat gain. There’s been a number of lines of evidence. You mentioned the one from Gary Taubes’ institute NuSI. There’s also been a number of others. And that one’s consistent with the previous metabolic ward experiments that were done. But you know, the basic idea is like there’s a pretty easy way and simple way of testing the hypothesis. Put people on equal calorie diets, let’s say 1500 calorie diets. One is super high carb super low fat, one is super low carb super high fat.
They’re exactly equal calories. Ideally, if you match for protein also, that’s even better, which they have done. And if two diets of 1500 calories that are, they are exactly the same as calories, but very different hormonal profiles. The people eating higher carb are going to have much higher levels of insulin and vice versa. Lower carb are going to have lower levels of insulin.
You can see very clearly does this, does insulin, is that the thing that’s actually controlling fat loss. And basically the studies have shown conclusively that it’s not. However, there’s this other aspect which is that in a real-world setting, when you actually, like when people who are overweight actually implement sort of the low carb diet principles or eat a Paleo diet that’s low carb or a keto diet or something to that effect, implementing those strategies may get them more success than they had with like let’s say just trying calorie control or portion control. So what are the specific mechanisms that are actually causing that weight loss if it’s not specifically the insulin?
Robb Wolf: You know, so there is, and I’ll dig up this study for the show notes and I’ll fire it off to you. Good friend of mine, Dan Pardi, who’s a sleep expert, neuro-regulation of appetite expert…
Ari Whitten: Yeah, he has been on the show and is a friend of mine as well.
Robb Wolf: Brilliant guy, brilliant guy. And he made me aware of a paper, maybe five years ago where they looked at kind of hypothalamic signaling in folks who’ve been obese for a significant period of time. And I forget what the cutoff was, five years, 10 years, but they’ve been overweight for, significantly overweight for a significant period of time. And some of the brain imaging when they looked at the hypothalamus, it wasn’t quite the same as you know, nonobese individuals. And when they tried various dietary interventions on these folks generally didn’t get a lot of success except for a ketogenic diet.
Ketogenic diet seemed to work disproportionately well for these folks. Now if there’s anything there… You know, people turn the ketogenic diet, now I’m as big a fan in the world that you could find for ketogenic diets. But people turn it into like Chuck Norris tears. Like it’s going to cure everything. It’s a tool that has specific applications. And other applications, it’s not as beneficial for.
But I think an area that it absolutely shines is for various neurodegenerative conditions. It was developed originally as therapy for epilepsy. So if we perhaps have some sort of a metabolic damage that has occurred to the hypothalamus and this is maybe entrenching folks in an inability to have the energy regulation and the appetite control to maintain on other diets, but they can on a ketogenic diet. I think that there’s maybe some brain energy issues that are being addressed under that ketogenic state.
So that’s a really specific slice of folks. And then the… And I think that we can hang our hat pretty well on that. Like there’s a cross-section of people for whom that definitely applies. But is there, then a spectrum of folks that depending on where your kind of carbohydrate sweet spot is, is there kind of an inflection point there where if protein is adequate… Because there’s this concept of protein leverage hypothesis that kind of puts this idea forward that virtually any organism that moves to get its food, whether it’s, you know, grass-eating critters or carnivores.
But whether we’re talking about vegetable matter or, you know, protein that runs around. If you eat to a protein minimum, protein-rich foods tend to be very nutrient dense. So if you figure out a nutrient sensing process in our body or just in an organism’s body, and in general, if you hit an adequate level of protein, you have hit the general nutrient requirements that you need, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, all that type of stuff.
So if you take that protein leverage hypothesis idea and just feed an organism adequate protein and then don’t overly perturb that kind of blood glucose element. Maybe there’s something going on there with that brain energy regulation and it doesn’t necessarily need to be full on ketosis, but there definitely seems to be something going on between insulin, leptin, ghrelin, our sense of our overall fat mass and whatnot. And so, you know, again, on that very extreme situation of a long-term obese individuals, I think we could make a case if there is some alteration, I don’t want to say damage, but maybe it’s some alterations in the hypothalamus that makes it very difficult for those folks to stick to caloric restriction over the long haul, which is ultimately what we need to effect.
But then maybe everybody else, maybe they’re on a sliding scale with regards to that kind of hypothalamic or appetite dysregulation. And there’s kind of two things that would influence that, protein intake and then also maybe some critical threshold of amount or qualitative nature of carbohydrate. But again, a lot of that is pretty conjecture based. We don’t have a ton to hang our hats on with that. But it kind of clinically make sense because for a lot of people, if you find that kind of qualitative and quantitative level of protein and amount and type of carbohydrate, they tend to do pretty well subsequent to that.
The importance of protein for health and fat loss
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Interesting that you brought up the importance of protein and the protein leverage hypothesis. I personally am of the opinion that, you know, we’ve kind of unrightfully been hyper-focused on carbs and fats for decades now and have neglected protein. And we’re uniquely focused on, “It’s fat that’s driving obesity.” “No, it’s carbs that are driving obesity” and “We need to go low fat.” “No, we need to go low carb.” And it’s really we are uniquely focused on that.
And I think that there’s enough research at this point to… I agree with you that there are definitely some advantages for keto in certain respects. Certainly in the context of treating certain diseases. There’s also this, there is some research, as you mentioned, indicating maybe it benefits appetite control, at least in some people for sure. But, you know, we also have long-term real-world studies in addition to those calorie controlled metabolic ward studies.
These long-term real-world studies, the best one that’s ever been done just came out maybe six months ago, something like that. That was a year-long study with over 600 people and it was an $8,000,000 study, low carb, low fat. They even looked at genes related to, “low carb genes.” People who were, had genetics that they thought they would do better on the low carb diet. At the end of the year people who, and there was one more aspect of this that was really well designed, which is that they actually got good nutritional advice to adhere…
Robb Wolf: Yeah, and they recommended high-quality foods to both groups.
Ari Whitten: Exactly. And at the end of the year, basically no difference.
Robb Wolf: Right.
Ari Whitten: And so I think there have just been enough layers of evidence at this point that just we can know that the carb to fat ratio of the diet is not the critical piece. Whole foods versus processed foods, huge piece of the puzzle, like getting the hyper-palatable processed foods out, replacing them with whole unrefined foods.
Protein, certainly a huge component. And then the carb to fat ratio seems honestly at the end of the day, if you’re doing an intellectually honest analysis of the science, like the carb to fat ratio of the diet doesn’t seem to make a huge difference in adhering to that. Outside of the specific context that you’re mentioning, if you have a nerve disorder, for example, or epilepsy or something like that. But we’ve been neglecting protein and that’s kind of remarkable that everybody’s fixated on carbs and fats and people aren’t talking enough about the protein leverage hypothesis.
Robb Wolf: And you know, the really unfortunate thing from my perspective is, now we’re both in the, let’s say the kind of vegan camp and even in the keto camp are attacking protein because of fears around mTOR and IGF1. And it’s super short sighted in my opinion. Certainly overeating is a bad idea for health and longevity. But man, if you want to see somebody decline rapidly and have high morbidity and mortality, have them be sarcopenic.
Have them lose a significant amount of their muscle mass and, you know, fall and a hip fracture. No muscle mass to buffer the immune response when you get sick, no resilience. And it’s fascinating to me there are sections of the ketogenic diet camp… Okay, so there’s this idea out there of 30 bananas a day. You know, there are some people that have popularized eating 30 bananas a day.
A banana has about a gram and a half a protein in it. Now it’s not whole, complete proteins and all that sort of stuff. But 30 bananas a day ends up being about 40, you know, 45 grams of protein. There are folks in the ketogenic diet world that are recommending fewer than 40 grams of protein per day for grown men and women. So you have folks that are so fearful of mTOR and IGF1 and being kicked out of ketosis that they’re recommending a lower protein intake than what you would get from eating 30 bananas a day. So from my perspective, if you have skewed things such that an all banana diet is a more protein-rich diet than the one that you are recommending, things have gone so horribly wrong, you know. And, again, it’s a little bit like vilifying insulin itself.
Yes, super chronically elevated levels of insulin are not good and it brings about all kinds of different, you know, bad problems. We don’t want mTOR, we just don’t want that gas pedal pegged out all the time. But man, when you look at things like muscular dystrophy and just the loss of mTOR signaling with aging, you really don’t want to just do a gene knockout of mTOR, either.
That’s going to be a really nasty situation. And again, this is where I think that a little, taking a little playbook from the ancestral health model, which is periodicity. We have some times of feast and some times of famine. And, by all means have some days, have some weeks where the protein intake is low. But then have some days and some weeks where the protein intake is pretty vigorous and your resistance training is really on point, you know, and I think that we have some great power there.
Potential dangers with protein consumption
Ari Whitten: I love this segue and this is a topic that I wanted to cover, so I’m glad you got into it. Just for people who are not familiar with the concept of mTOR who maybe are lost with everything you just said. What is… So basically there’s this whole mTOR cascade of signaling in our bodies. We have a lot of dietary camps. You mentioned, it’s very common in vegans, but even as you mentioned in some keto camps, there are people who are very fearful of protein. So kind of big-picture context.
We’ve now talked about benefits of protein to satiety, to facilitating weight loss and as a result of that, improving metabolic health in various ways and insulin resistance and so on. But we have all that research kind of showing benefits of protein and yet we also have people who are warning against protein consumption based on the idea that it’s going to accelerate aging and potentially lead to cancer and increase IGF1 and mTOR signaling and basically make you diseased.
So it’s almost, at this point, you know, you can find research villainizing fat and showing that fat leads to fat gain and insulin resistance and all kinds of problems. You can find it showing that refined carbs certainly do all the same things. And you can also now have a legitimate reason to villainize protein. The problem is those are the places that calories come from. And if you villainize all three of those nutrients, there’s nothing left to eat except for maybe greens and water. So what’s your take, and I know you just kind of went over some of that, but what’s your take on… You mentioned that you think it’s shortsighted to demonize protein. So why do you think protein is not something to fear?
Robb Wolf: So you know, in the chronically overfed state we end up up-regulating this mTOR pathway. And protein can ramp it up, insulin can ramp it up, insulin-like growth factors can ramp that up. And if we have agreement on anything, it’s the chronically overfed individual is going to have a greater likelihood of problems. Like there’s probably no, virtually no disagreement on that point.
But then what happens is somewhat similar to the insulin story. Just because say like the type two diabetic who’s aging faster than normal, okay. They have high insulin levels and some of those elevated insulin levels are without a doubt feeding into that accelerated aging process. So if we just suppress insulin as low as possible, they will age slower. Well, that’s a type one diabetic, which is its own basket of horrible things to deal with. So it’s not a story in that situation that we want to stamp it down as low as humanly possible.
We want some sort of cyclical element and periodicity and we just don’t want to overeat. And when I say just don’t overeat, that’s with the full understanding that in a modern world full of hyper-palatable foods, that’s hard to not do. But you know, at the end of the day in general, if folks are just not overeating enormous health benefits tend to occur.
You know, just relative, you know, all other things considered. That mTOR piece is interesting because again, when that signaling is kind of stuck in the on position, we do definitely see characteristics consistent with accelerated aging, increasing cancer rates. But something that’s kind of lost in that mix is the periodicity thrown into, say like an exposure to a carcinogen with or without adequate protein. If you’re consuming adequate protein and you’re exposed to a carcinogen like an aflatoxin that comes from various types of molds, you actually have a longer period of time where you can detoxify that substance and avoid genetic damage.
But once you finally, and we’ve kind of seen this borne out with animal models where they would feed high protein and the aflatoxin to a critter, and then low protein and aflatoxin to a critter. The low protein critters get sick and die faster. The high protein critters take longer to get sick, but once they get sick, the type of sickness they develop is cancer.
And if you have cancer and you are overfed still, the cancer is going to go like crazy. So then we conflated this cancer development with protein being causative to cancer when in fact higher protein intake is actually part of our detox pathways. And so it’s this story, again, that we don’t want these things turned on all the time. You don’t necessarily want to eat eight meals a day. We should definitely have some periods of fasting.
We should turn these things on and off. It would be great to have some things like resistance training to kind of, for lack of a better term, tune the mTOR activity to be specific in the areas that we want instead of just kind of globally turned on. But at the same time some end-stage failure processes like congestive heart failure, mTOR signaling and IGF signaling, insulin-like growth factor signaling, have dropped off. And this is part of the end stage process of a heart finally dying in muscular dystrophy. Often times these folks just lack the appropriate expression of mTOR throughout their life. And so they’re never able to develop normal musculature and they have all kinds of, you know, illness and increased likelihoods of death associated with that. And some of the gene therapies that have been targeted there, it’s to try to turn the mTOR activity back on which would be a net win for these folks. So, you know, it’s all circumstantial and again, it’s trying to kind of triangulate in on this story from different directions.
But in our understanding that overeating is bad, we’ve just like you, to your point, we’ve thrown everything out. Don’t eat protein, don’t eat carbs, don’t eat fat. But at the end of the day we need to eat something. And again, circling back around one thing that we definitely see as folks age, if they have good amounts of muscle mass, they age better. The folks that tend to consume more protein tend to have better muscle mass. And so even though, you know, in that mix there may be some cost-benefit analyses somewhere, without a doubt sarcopenia is something that you don’t want as you age, this really low muscle mass state.
Ari Whitten: And to your point, resistance training also stimulates mTOR activity and that is decidedly linked with health benefits and extension of longevity. So supporting this kind of idea that this signaling cascade is vital. It’s not something to fear and avoid all the time. It’s something to periodize and you just want it chronically active due to chronically overeating.
Robb Wolf: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. That’s a nuanced position and man, sell a nuance is a tough thing. Like people want a black or white, you know. It’s kind of like when you take kids bowling and the bowling lanes come up so the ball can’t go in the gutter. It’s one thing, it’s really tight lane lines and the reality is most of life exists outside those lane lines. Like you try to get people going with a simple story so that they don’t need to become a nutritional biochemist to just like navigate their eating. But at the same time there’s a lot of individual needs and nuance, and if you follow this stuff at all, like people paint some very compelling pictures around like, “Oh man, you shouldn’t eat more than maybe 40 grams of protein a day,” and stuff like that.
And but, empirically I don’t think those folks are thriving very well. Like I look at people like Arthur De Vany who’s 80 years old now and still like 205 pounds, like sub 10 percent body fat and he’s kind of used this periodized eating strategy for the last 40 years. And now granted, that’s one person. And I think Art has some very laudable genetic characteristics. But he’s also leveraged that with some smart eating and some smart strength training.
Robb’s take on the ketogenic diet
Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. So, before, I mean, there’s probably 100 other questions we could get into here and there’s a lot I wanted to cover with you. But one thing I want to make sure to cover is keto. And you’re an advocate for keto. I want to talk about the specific context where you advocate it. A couple things that I want to mention as context.
One, you mentioned that, you know, kind of talked about it earlier as kind of a home base, like ketosis, which I love and I completely agree with you that there is, you know, a number of health benefits associated with being in that state. Valter Longo, I don’t know if you’re familiar with his work. I interviewed him recently on the podcast. He’s the researcher behind the Fasting Mimicking Diet and has done a lot of research around the benefits of fasting, which coincides with ketosis, but he’s not necessarily a huge advocate of nutritional ketosis.
And one of the things that he says is, you know, that it’s, he talks about it almost as mixed messages. That nutritional ketosis is not the same as the ketosis that you get from fasting. And that to be in a state where you have lots of ketones in your bloodstream, but to be in a well-fed state, he talks about that as kind of like mixed metabolic signaling because we’re evolutionarily designed to get into that state during fasting. Having said that, there are certainly studies that support the health benefits of nutritional ketosis in certain contexts. There are also studies that show, for example, decreased exercise performance and there’s kind of a mixed bag in some areas. But what’s your take on where keto diets are best for people?
Robb Wolf: Oh Man. You know, for sure. I think that we have a pretty safe spot. That anything in that kind of neurodegenerative story and even like traumatic brain injury and whatnot, like anything dealing with brain energy metabolism. I think you could really quickly make a case that the cost/benefit story of doing a ketogenic diet for those, you know, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, potentially post-concussive therapies.
There’s probably a pretty good argument for that being beneficial. If somebody is type two diabetic, insulin resistant, overweight, and we’re able to use a ketogenic diet or say like a modified Atkins, high protein, low carb, appropriate moderate fat, I think that that’s going to be a net win. Once we get beyond that, it gets a little bit murky to be honest, you know. I just seem to feel best there… And this is one of the things that can be really nasty confirmation bias.
It’s kind of like, “Well, I feel good there. So the insulin hypothesis works,” and you know, all this type of stuff. But looking at the research, you know, it clearly, there’s a lot of different tools out there. I don’t dismiss Longo’s notions around this idea that we may be sending some mixed messages under these situations.
I think one of the problems that has occurred within the ketosis world, and it’s so cool because it’s a specific biomarker, you know. And we somewhat arbitrarily say, “Okay, if you’re above .5 millimolar, you know, then you’re in nutritional ketosis.” And then we have this kind of benchmarks along there. So it’s kind of cool because we have a concrete thing that we can play to. Virta Health is a venture capital backed outfit using a ketogenic diet for type two diabetics specifically.
And it’s kind of cool because you look at blood glucose levels, you look at blood ketone levels. If you’re in ketosis, you’re on a ketogenic diet and typically everything that we want favorable to happen to these people goes in a favorable direction.
One of the challenges or downsides I think though is that it became a little bit of a weenie measuring contest with people in that, “Well, hey man, what’s your ketone level?” “You know. 5.” “Well, I’m a 1.2, so therefore clearly I’m ketogenically superior.” It’s like how much do you bench type thing? And the reality is….
Ari Whitten: One very quick story I’ll mention on this. I was at a health event a few months ago and Bulletproof, Dave Asprey’s company was there sponsoring the event and they had a little stand where they were handing out Bulletproof coffee. And I went up to get a cup of coffee one morning and, by the way, I’m not advocating Bulletproof coffee or saying that I do this regularly or anything like that, but it just happened to me there.
I felt like having a cup of coffee, it was free. So I got one. I went over there and asked them if they could just put, make me a cup of coffee with just a little bit of the MCT oil and without the butter. And he asked me how much MCT oil I wanted. And he goes, “How keto are you bro?’ And I’m like, “Oh, man. I’m so keto, bro. It’s going to blow your mind, bro.” Anyway, sorry to interrupt. You just made me think of that.
Robb Wolf: And there you have it, you know. And so circling back to that Valter Longo observation that typically high, in the evolutionary story, elevated ketone bodies were occurring when we were offloading net energy balance. Okay? No arguments there. Like very rarely was that not the case. So if we’re then in a situation where we eat low protein, which is oftentimes recommended on keto for a variety of reasons. One of them is that for some people it will bring down ketone body levels at least somewhat, and there’s also fear of mTOR and a host of other things.
So that’s a situation where even when somebody is eating low carb, if they’re eating low protein, they will tend to over consume calories. And we have somebody eating what is arguably like the most satiating diet, you could potentially imagine apparently, other than like the boiled white potato diet is apparently the most satiating thing that’s ever been found.
But you have a situation where people do have high ketone levels and they are over-consuming calories. I think that that’s a serious problem. Now it may in net be better than a type two diabetic who’s over-consuming calories and some of those calories are coming from refined carbohydrates. But there’s kind of a reality that if we get that protein level up just into Phinney/Volek recommendations, which is consistent with what I recommend, what the Keto Games guys recommend, about that gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.
We tend to see moderate ketone levels and over the course of time we actually tend to see those ketone levels drop. And there’s thought there that the body has become much more efficient at using free fatty acids directly. So we just don’t need as many ketone bodies. We may actually be relying on a little bit of gluconeogenesis coming from that protein. But what we tend to not see as overconsumption of calories.
And so to the degree that I would be really in agreement with Longo’s concern there, it would be that individual that is purposefully doing things that would tend to cause him or her to overeat while in ketosis. I think that that would be a really bad situation. When we have looked at even long-term interventions of well-formulated ketogenic diet, a modified Atkins, I’m just not seeing scary stuff, you know, with regards to telomere degradation, inflammatory state.
If anything like you could make a case that says if somebody was a bodybuilder or something like that, they should maybe modify the ketogenic diet at various points to get an inflammatory response so that they get more muscle mass gain out of it. Like it is so effective at suppressing the inflammation that I’m really, I’m left wondering how that over the long haul is a net negative.
So that would be one point of distinction that I would have with Longo’s assertion there. And I will fully admit that a ketogenic diet is not necessarily in its purest terms an ancestral diet. And I hate the term hack, but it’s kind of a hack. Like it’s purposefully eating in a way that we almost certainly did not eat like in the past.
But you know, we’re getting some benefit out of that. I think if people ate just a more Paleo type diet, but did a compressed feeding window, so they ate the first meal at 7:00 AM, last meal at 2:00 PM, every once in a while they didn’t eat at all. They did some physical activity. They would be in and out of ketosis quite frequently and probably get very similar benefits.
Ari Whitten: On this subject, there’s also another issue related to this, which is exogenous ketones. What’s your take on that? And I’ll mention I’ve seen a pretty comprehensive review of the literature on this kind of comparing the literature versus a lot of the claims being made by the manufacturers of these exogenous ketones, basically concluding that for almost all of the claims, the research really does not support the claims. But I’m curious what your take is.
Robb Wolf: I think exogenous ketones have really interesting therapeutic potential in some extreme environments like the hyper-oxygenated environment that Navy Seal divers would experience. And it may be really powerful in mitigating some of the seizure potentials that they have. There does seem to be some potential benefit for a low oxygen environment like people going to extreme altitudes. One thing that I would not be surprised, I’ll make a little prediction.
Ten years from now, every youth sports medical kit will have some exogenous ketones in it. And when a kid heads a soccer ball and gets up and is really bell rung, that kid might be administered a dose of exogenous ketone, may end up at a doc-in-the-box clinic, and may be given, you know, take one of these every five hours for the next three days. Again, for that brain energy metabolism because of the suppression of inflammation.
So for like acute traumatic brain injury, I will honestly be shocked if these exogenous ketones aren’t used aggressively in those situations. Maybe not, the science has not been done, but when I just think mechanistically, I would be surprised if that didn’t bear itself out. And I see almost no further application for them. I use a little bit before I do jiu-jitsu, but it is just, I use some MCT and some, a little bit of beta-hydroxybutyrate salt.
But it’s just, I use that when I’m hungry and if I wasn’t keto-adapted, I would have had a piece of fruit. It’s not because those things are magic, it’s because I’m hungry and I need a little bit of fuel before I go work out, you know. And, there is some half-decent literature that suggests that if an individual is eating a mixed diet that contains some starchy carbs and they add a decent whack of MCT oil to that meal, that subsequent meals they will tend to spontaneously reduce caloric intake.
And there’s some pretty good science around that, you know. It’s a modest amount. It maybe ends up being about 100 calories a day that they would spontaneously reduce caloric intake. But that adds up over time. And so there’s some, I think some laudable characteristics there. There have also been some studies that suggested that a low glycemic load diet, not necessarily super low carb, but low glycemic load plus MCT oil, may be as effective as the very stringent ketogenic diet for epilepsy and some other conditions because you get a modest level of ketones from that.
But it tends to be still, again, more the MCT oil. So going through that process of actually getting hepatic ketone production, there appears to be something going on with that versus just kind of dumping in exogenous, you know, the beta-hydroxybutyrate specifically.
So I think that there are a few applications, but it’s really unfortunate that I think lots of people or a few people have made enormous sums of money selling these things like weight loss tools and I think that that was reasonably unethical and the science did not support those claims at all. And I really wish that wasn’t the case because I could have made a mint selling those things.
But the way that they were broadly being marketed, I didn’t feel comfortable getting into that scene at all because there was no way for me to control the messaging around it. And I didn’t really want to be associated with that other messaging, which was, “Hey, if you ate a cheesecake, just take some exogenous ketones and you’ll be right back into ketosis.” And then going back to that Valter Longo thing, when do we ever in history see high blood glucose and high ketone levels? Only in type one diabetes. And that’s when everything has gone to hell for us. So…
Ari Whitten: Yeah, yeah. Well said. And I’ll, one little layer to this story that I’ll add is within some of the most vocal advocates of the exogenous ketones and even some of the researchers involved with some of the research claiming some of these benefits, there are some real serious conflicts of interests that have emerged and some cases of scientific fraud. And, there are just some issues where some of these people saying, “Hey, here’s this amazing research that we conducted in my lab.” Well, those people also have equity and they’re part owners of companies that are selling some of these exogenous ketones. So there are some questionable factors behind at least some of the research that’s come out. So I definitely appreciate the perspective you’re sharing here. I wanted to cover some nondietary stuff, but there’s so much within this dietary stuff that maybe I would love to do a part two with you because I really appreciate your perspective.
Robb Wolf: I’d be honored to do that anytime. Yeah.
How blood sugar figures in to your personal carb tolerance
Ari Whitten: Awesome, that’d be great. But if you have another five, eight minutes, something like that. One aspect that I’d like to ask you about is your approach to personalization of nutrition, which we haven’t covered yet. You talk about it in your book, “Wired to Eat” which revolves around kind of blood sugar responses and figuring out your, a person’s unique carb tolerance. Can you talk a bit about how you do that?
Robb Wolf: Sure, sure. And maybe even to set up some context there. Like I will, and I’m sure you get these questions too, “Hey, should I, does coffee break my fast? Does MCT oil break my fast? Should I fast?” You know, so there’s, so around that customization story, which includes questions like that I always ask the person, “What do you want to do? Like, what’s your specific goal?” Because absent that goal, you know, maybe coffee stops your fast or maybe it doesn’t, you know. But what is the ultimate goal? “Well, I want to stimulate cellular autophagy.” Okay, “Well coffee actually accelerates that and so does lifting weights. So have a coffee and go lift weights and get even more out of that.” So all of this customization really for me has to start with what do you want to do? And what we then have is where you are, what you want to do is where you end up.
And then we’ve got the potential for building a roadmap out of that. And then from there, then we can start asking some questions around, okay, well, maybe body composition change, like you, want a little more muscle, you want a little less fat. So where has the person been hung up in the past? Well, “I tend to eat, you know, kind of spontaneously late at night.” Okay, well, we can do some strategizing around that and often times a lot of what comes out of that is the blood glucose monitoring. And so I have a seven-day carb test where we pick a battery of foods and we try to eat the same amount of carbohydrate, about 50 grams of carbohydrate. And if I was really detailed I would set up an algorithm based off of your height and your weight and all this stuff, but that gets crazy.
So it’s just kind of 50 grams of carbs across the board. Try to do the same time of day. The same stuff happens beforehand so that we’re all set up in a favorable situation. But ideally after you consume that 50 grams of carbohydrate, we don’t really see your blood glucose go much above about 150 milligrams per deciliter at both the one hour and, in particular, the two-hour point.
That’s our hard, and by hard, it’s very objective because blood glucose monitors have a pretty high error with them, but that’s a more objective measure. Then we have some subjective measures. How do you feel? What’s your digestion like? Do you get hungry immediately? Do you have any kind of GI upset or what have you? And based off those responses, if we’re getting good blood glucose response and we’re generally not getting any kind of like systemic responses like foggy-headedness or anything, then we have probably an amount and a type of carbohydrate that works well for the individual. And if we’re kind of maintaining that pretty even keel on blood glucose levels, then it’s typically easy to effect a little bit of caloric restriction so that we can get some body composition change, reduce inflammation and all that type of stuff.
But again, probably the most important feature of all that is really figuring out where is the person currently, where do they want to go, and then use that to build the roadmap. And then we have some tools like the seven-day carb test to really get things dialed in to figure out what they’re doing best with. Like some people have eaten… A lot of folks that follow say like the Ketogains protocol, they’re crushing things. They’ve made wonderful results and then they ask me, “Should I do the seven-day carb test?” And I’m kind of like, “Well, are you reaching all current goals?” And they’re like, “Yeah, I’m like setting PRs.
Everything’s going great.” I’m like, “Ride that pony until it dies and then let’s revisit this stuff.” You know, and if we, and it may be a deal where maybe a tweak in the diet is what’s going to get you to the next effort. Maybe the diet isn’t really where we look. We need to look somewhere else, like a lifestyle piece or something like that. So for a lot of folks, if they are motoring along on a protocol that’s working really well for them, I always encourage experimentation. But also if it’s not broken, don’t necessarily need to fix it.
How to identify if you long term keto (or another restrictive diet) is healthy for you
Ari Whitten: On that point, I think this is an interesting segue to one other thing I was going to ask you. There are some notable keto advocates. Dave Asprey, Joe Mercola being a couple and there are a number of others, who are really warning now against, even as much as they are fans of keto and keto diets and they’ve recommended, they are warning against long-term keto. And talking about the necessity of doing it cyclically and cycling off. That seems, at least on the surface, I’m interested to hear your clarification, but it seems on the surface to not mesh very well with what you just expressed about kind of like if you’re doing it and it’s working, just keep doing the same thing. So how do you make sense of that?
Robb Wolf: You know, I recommend that folks use keto as a reset and then if they want to start mapping what their responses are to other food. So I would generally like a more flexible dietary approach if you can get away with it. And again, like that keto should be used in kind of a contextual format. But if we’re not really seeing problems and I think if people address electrolytes effectively like…
Two years ago I would have been much more nervous about things like adrenal HPA axis dysregulation, thyroid issues. I think almost all of that is because folks aren’t getting enough electrolytes and in particular salt and, not uniformly, but I think that a ton of the problems arises from that. And so I, it’s kind of funny because I’m talking out both sides of my face by saying this, but if people are motoring along pretty well and they’ve got something that’s working well, you know, maybe once a year every two years they do kind of an advanced lipid profile. Like the LPIR score, LDL-P, some cool things like that.
Some markers of systemic inflammation and things look really good, I’m really hesitant to mess with that. But if they just are curious and they want to kind of see what type of latitude they have, then I think that we have some really cool strategies to make it a little bit more concrete, a little more quantifiable instead of just kind of flying by the seat of the pants.
And that’s where the seven-day carb test comes in. I don’t think that keto is going to be a magic bullet for like a super slowed rate of aging relative to just not eating a super high inflammatory diet. You know? So again, if you’re not overeating and all that stuff, I don’t know that there’s going to be a really big spread with that stuff other than in, you know, kind of specific individuals like myself that just seem to do well there.
So it’s funny, because again, you know, I encourage that experimentation and latitude. But at the same time if things have worked pretty well for someone, like I would be inclined to kind of motor along with that until they, you know, maybe they figure out a situation in which they really want to do something different. But you know, I just had a reach out from a gal who’s a very high-level Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitor. She’s a three striped purple belt, almost a brown belt competing right at the highest level of national and international competition.
And she’s been keto fueled for like four years. And she was asking me like, “Hey, should I try introducing some carbs?” Like, “Well, if you, have you done this in the past?” And she said, “Yeah.” I was like, “What happened?” “I felt really bad. Like my blood sugar wasn’t good.”
“Have you tried titrating it in slowly, like 10, add 10 grams for each day on day, for one week. And then 20 grams each day, you know, for the second week.” “Yeah, I’ve tried all that stuff. I just feel better low carb. Both my parents developed type two diabetes in their thirties. I was always overweight and then I went low carb and everything was magic.”
And she actually did some 23andMe and then put that through Promethease. And she has a bunch of these gene polymorphisms that would suggest that she’s really good at fat mobilization. Like really, really good. I’m kind of like, “Man, I don’t know. I don’t know that I would mess with that.” You know? And she’s four years and crushing people at Brazilian jiu-jitsu, looks amazing. Skin looks great. No menstrual irregularities. She’s totally dialed in on her electrolytes.
So I would, you know, if she just feels worse. And now the flip side of this is I’ve had people that so wanted to do ketosis because it’s this magic thing and their cholesterol skyrockets. Their lipoproteins go to the moon and they feel horrible. And I’m just like, “Well, okay, we can tweak some things. We can go a really low saturated fat version and see if we get some reduction in cholesterol and lipoproteins, but even if that changes, if you still don’t feel good, I don’t know that ketosis is a net win for you at all.”
You know? And we may find that they have some gene polymorphisms that ketosis just isn’t that good. Maybe their sweet spot is more of a compressed feeding window. So to the degree that they experienced ketosis, it’s from the cyclical nature of eating and a little bit of exercise and not necessarily a specific protein, fat, carb ratio.
Ari Whitten: Right. I don’t want to keep you too long, but there’s one thing I can’t resist not mentioning here, which is, I think there’s one more flip side of this, which is that some people sometimes once they’re in a particular type of eating and sometimes even a very extreme way of eating, they will feel bad, they will feel worse with any deviation from that. So, as an example, like the carnivore diet, which I know you’re familiar with. I think you had some doctor on who’s doing that on your podcast recently. I forget the guy’s name.
But you know, I know people that are like, “I’ve only been eating ground beef for the last three months and nothing else and zero plant foods and I feel great. And as soon as I reintroduce any plant foods into my diet, I feel terrible and I have terrible gas and bloating.” Well, you know, there’s also this period of several weeks that it takes the gut microbiome to adjust to any new food. And there is a period of discomfort. So I think when people judge the right way to eat based on, “Hey, I ate this and I felt worse.” Like just that initial short-term reaction. I think that can be misguided a lot.
Robb Wolf: Yup. It’s funny. I’m working on a huge piece on the carnivore diet. And I’m very curious about it because we have some people like Makayla Peterson, 17 years old had two joints replaced due to a form of rheumatoid arthritis that developed in her infancy. And she had like 35 joints affected that could have faced some degree of replacement at some point. And she appears to be in 100 percent remission and appears to be healthier than she’s ever been in her life. So it’s another one of these things where it may be a really powerful tool.
But to your point it may be also a cul-de-sac that you drive down that you don’t get to drive back out of. You may so alter your gut microbiome that there may not be a comeback from that. But this is the risk/reward story. Like if you are crippled from an autoimmune condition and… Now you’ve got a lot of kind of like young guys that are just wanting to be jacked and be like Shawn Baker and everything, and that’s, you know, kind of whatever it is.
But when you really dig around the forums of the people that end up at the carnivore diet, this was like their last stop. They did everything else. They went low carb, they did autoimmune Paleo. And usually it’s kind of a step-wise thing. It’s like, “Yeah, I got a little better, but it wasn’t great.” And then they went carnivore and there are all kinds of interpretations on carnivore. Some people do snout to tail, some people include seafood, some people they can get away with some coffee, green tea, ginger extracts and stuff. And other people. It’s what I call one cut carnivore.
They eat a porterhouse and that’s it, you know. And again, that’s some really powerful medicine and I would encourage people to do everything prior to that, you know. Work with gut microbiome experts. Look into a fecal transplant, low dose Naltrexone. Like I would turn over every other stone before doing that. But then that said, if the person is really sick and they’re able to reverse that… I mean Makayla, you could argue probably wasn’t going to live that long due to all these complications going on. And she had been crushed with depression throughout her whole life.
So in those really extreme situations, I think we also need to keep an idea, okay, that tool is powerful but it may be appropriate for these people. But just from a due diligence perspective, man, I would do everything first. Not land at carnivore alley, you know, as your first stop. And tinkering with diet and lifestyle.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. Well said. And you know, I think overall I’m just very impressed with how you’ve talked about every topic we’ve covered in this interview. I’ve really enjoyed this and I think your nuanced answers, just display a lot of knowledge and wisdom in this territory and I really, really enjoyed this. And I hope we can do a part two where we talk about nonnutritional stuff, circadian rhythm and community and all kinds of other non-nutritional lifestyle factors.
Robb Wolf: I would be honored to bring down property values on your show anytime. So…
Ari Whitten: Awesome, Robb. Awesome man. So where can people go to find more about your work? Where do you want to send people?
Robb Wolf: Robbwolf.com is where I keep most of this material. I’m really curtailing all of my social media activities. Like Instagram seems to be where things are happy and noncontroversial. So I’m @robbwolf over on Instagram and I’ve just about abandoned everything else. So that’s where I do most of my tinkering, and people were kind of shocked when they ask a question on one of these social media platforms, it’s actually me that answers it. So I take this as a job and so I do my best to help as many people as I can.
Ari Whitten: Awesome man. Well, this has been great and I’ll be reaching out to you for part two. I look forward to having you on again.
Robb Wolf: Awesome. A huge honor. Thank you.
Ari Whitten: And thank you again for hanging out with me a little over time. I appreciate you hanging out and giving me a little extra of your day. So enjoy the rest of your day. Everybody, go to robbwolf.com. Highly recommend that you follow Robb’s work. He’s doing, as you can tell based on this interview, an excellent job of portraying the science with intellectual honesty and I really appreciate that. So thank you again, Robb and have a great rest of your day.
Robb Wolf: Thanks. You too.
How To Increase Energy, Lose Fat, And Prevent Disease The Paleo Way with Robb Wolf – Show Notes
The concept of Paleo (2:02)
The discordance between human biology and our environment (5:51)
Why Paleo and Keto got ”married” (12:17)
The biology of fat gain (18:38)
The importance of protein for health and fat loss (33:13)
Potential dangers with protein consumption (38:25)
Robb’s take on the ketogenic diet (46:40)
How blood sugar figures in to your personal carb tolerance (01:01:10)
How to identify if you long term keto (or another restrictive diet) is healthy for you (01:05:49)
I will highly recommend you go check out Robb’s podcast and page here.
You can also follow Robb on Instagram here