Get to sleep!

Many people come to me looking for help with fine tuning their nutrition to reach their goals, whether it be weight loss or to boost performance.  Of course nutrition is important but most people are actually doing a pretty decent job before starting with me.  99 times out of 100 the biggest problem that I actually see is horrible sleep patterns.   Unfortunately, no amount of paleo eating, supplement taking, crossfit doing is going to get you to your goals is your sleep sucks.  Here’s why…

1) People who sleep less than 6 hours a night have elevated markers of inflammation in their blood stream.  If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that inflammation and increased body fat are closely related.

2) Studies have shown that people on calorie restricted diets lose FAT when they sleep the appropriate amount, but lose muscle mass when they under sleep… Less muscle equals a lower metabolism usually.   Also, the same study shows that people who didn’t sleep enough were hungrier throughout the day.  Makes sense since the part of the brain that controls sleep also influences metabolism.  Question: Do you find you make poorer food choices when you’re overly tired?  Thought so…

3) Football, tennis and swimmers were all studied for the effects of sleep on performance.  The athletes that slept more (~10 hours) all increased their sprint times compared to the athletes that did not.

4) Some biochemistry and physiology for you:  Testosterone and growth hormone are elevated when we sleep and these two hormones are critical to have appropriate recovery from your workouts.

Alright, I think you get the point.  Lets look at some things to try to do and things to try and avoid to improve our sleep:

1) A little drink before bed might help you fall asleep but alcohol will disrupt the quality of your sleep as the body as after processing all the alcohol, your brain will switch from deep sleep into REM sleep.  REM sleep is MUCH easier to wake from so you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night.

2) Try to avoid raising your body temperature too much before going to bed.

3) You’ve got to try and deplug from the phone, laptop, etc for 30-60 minutes before going to sleep.  The lighting from the screens of these electronics can impact your brains ability to sense its internal clock of when to wake and sleep.

4) Last but not least, you’ve got to avoid caffeine in the afternoon if you’re going to sleep appropriately.

Meat as bad for you as smoking???

I’ve received quite a few emails about this report which has become sensationalized by the media.

Meat as bad as smoking

Is it legit or just another piece of garbage study.  I’m going to give you my basic reasoning why I think it sucks and then link you to Mike Kesthely’s thoughts as well.  Mike’s the health/nutrition guy for Optimum Performance Training and the International Fitness Center in Arizona.  He knows his shit.

My thoughts:

1) Their result is a CORRELATION, not a CAUSATION.  There’s a big difference between the two.
2) Their statistics seem pretty suspicious at best.  I see one graph with low, medium and high protein diets with rates of cancer of 9.8, 10.1 and 9.0… there’s no difference there.  Saying that there is a difference is misleading and idiotic.
3) The use of mouse studies in their report… Look, I use mice all the time in my research.  They are very helpful for some diseases, metabolic disease is not one of them.  They are basically built to be foragers of all kinds of food, so force feeding them high levels of protein is non-physiological.  Also, there’s still some shitty statistics here…
4) What they are calling a high protein diet and what people like Robb Wolf, Loren Cordain, Mark Sisson, etc. are recommending are two different things.  Do you really think the people in this study are eating fruits, veggies, nuts seeds and high quality protein?  Or does high protein most likely involve a bunch of fast food.  The last time one of these reports came out that I analyzed, I found that “animal meat based diet” included things like meat on pizza.
 
5) Look at the affiliations of the researchers.  The SENIOR RESEARCHER is the founder and has equity in L-Nutra, a vegan based nutrition system.  Hmmm, perhaps there’s a conflict of interest there…
Anyway, here’s the opinion of a man much smarter than myself:

A follow-up on vitamin D

Recently a post on “Precision Nutrition” talked about the dangers of high dose vitamin D supplementation.  I wanted to address the post and talk about some of the risk factors that are mentioned.  At the bottom of this post, I’ll talk about what my SPECIFIC recommendations are.

Lets look at the arguments made by the precision nutrition author:

1) High dose Vitamin D3 in rodents is a toxin. The problem I have with this argument is that the amount they give the rats is about 10-20x what a person would actually supplement with.  Also, there’s no discussion about whether the biologics of rodent vitamin D metabolism mimic humans.  Considering that they are nocturnal animals,  the biology could certainly be different…
That said, lets say that based upon these results, you shouldn’t be taking extreme levels of vitamin D (above 30000 IU/day).
2) The Vitamin K/Calcium axis.  This is actually a really important point that many people overlook.  If you have a vitamin K issue, then high dose vitamin D could actually be a big problem.  The problem I have is that the author goes on to basically state that if you’re vitamin K deficient you shouldn’t take vitamin D.  Personally,  if I was deficient in vitamin K, I’d fix my levels of vitamin K and not avoid taking vitamin D completely.  This is like saying, well my car is low on oil so I stopped putting gas in the car to prevent it from overheating.  Should people low in vitamin K avoid the sun?
I’ve looked and while some blogs like to say that vitamin K deficiency is common, the evidence out there to support this is pretty weak.   You cannot just base levels off of food intake because  vitamin K2 metabolism is tied to the microbiome.  Nevertheless, if you are consuming leafy green vegetables, then you should be fine outside of rare genetic diseases.  This leafy green vegetable thing is about to get very repetitive.
3) Magnesium: You’ll notice that in my supplements page, I list a magnesium supplement.  Also, the same leafy green veggies I listed above are also really high in magnesium.  I think the authors point is a good one, but again, I think the take home message should be to get your other nutrient levels to appropriate levels and NOT to avoid vitamin D if you are showing signs of deficiency.
4) Vitamin A:  So vitamin A deficiency is a real problem but mostly in third world countries.  In the United States, you’d be shocked at just how many foods are fortified with Vitamin A.  As a result, people here are typically not vitamin A deficient.  Now, if you eat an all natural organic diet, you aren’t getting any of those FORTIFIED vitamin A fortified foods of course, but the good news is that leafy green vegetables, grass fed beef and many other paleo-type foods which you are likely eating have TONS of vitamin A.
PART II
Now, there are in fact some really interesting new observations about vitamin D levels and health.  One of these is a study with over 1 million people showing that the lowest mortality from a multitude of causes correlated with vitamin 25D levels between 20 ng/mL and 36 ng/mL.   That’s somewhat surprising because the medical community says that the LOWEST your levels should be is about 30 ng/ml and that your better off with levels closer to 50 ng/ml.  Interestingly, there are a couple other studies showing just the same thing… that optimal levels are around 30-35 ng/ml.
Now, there are a couple things to remember.
1) This data says that A correlates with B, not that A causes B… very important difference.
2) It does not mean that we should be avoiding vitamin D supplements, just that perhaps we don’t need to be driving levels so high by supplementing like crazy with 10000-50000 IU or more.  Doctors are DEFINITELY doing this in some patients for 4-5 weeks.  Not sure I’d want that much…
Ultimately, my recommendation is still pretty much the same as before.
1) GET IN THE SUN when possible.  The body is (for the most part) capable of limiting its vitamin D levels much better when we use sunlight as our source.
2) If you live in the middle of winter for 6 months, I still think some supplementation is a good idea.  1000 IU/day is probably still pretty safe but I also would advise having your levels checked annually to make sure you’re in that ~ 35 ng/ml range.
3) You’ve GOT to be eating green vegetables for reasons that go way beyond anything to do with vitamin D, but also to mitigate any potential risks with the vitamin D supplementation.
Hope this helps.

If you’re an athlete… take creatine. If you’re not an athlete… take creatine.

Recently, I’ve received a lot of questions from people about creatine regarding who should take it, when to take it, how much to take… the list goes on.  So I thought would write a quick post about my thoughts on creatine.  Up front though, I have to say that not all creatine’s are equal, buy a high quality one and you’ll thank me.  Personally I use MRM’s but there are MANY other good options out there.

How much?

There’s a lot of chatter out there that you need to have a loading phase with creatine but this is just a load of BS.  There’s a nice study from St. Francis Xavier University which showed that if you consume 10 grams of creatine, you’ll piss just under half of it out of your body.  Combine that with a second study from Ball State where lower doses showed really nice efficacy without a loading phase and I think we can safely say that ~ 5 grams of creatine daily is enough to generate desired effects.

Is this going to hurt my kidneys?

There are too many studies to list showing that this is NOT a problem.  If you have a kidney disease, may be a different story but since 99.9% of people I know don’t have kidney problems, lets just go with no.

Am I going to retain a bunch of water?

Another myth about creatine, especially if you buy high quality stuff and take the recommended 5 grams.  If you’re cheap, then your creatine might have some sodium in it which could cause water retention, but again, its the sodium’s fault, not the creatine.  If you take a shit load of it, then that’s another story.

Health and performance benefits

Alright, that should prevent anyone from being scared of taking creatine.  Now onto the benefits.  Most times the fitness industry can’t agree on anything but almost everyone agrees that creatine will improve your output for power sports, high intensity interval training, lactate producing sports, etc.  Some people would even tell you it can help with endurance sports which is fascinating.  Great review if you want to read more: Creatine and athletic performance

What’s really cool is that there’s an emerging pile of literature showing that creatine has some pretty impressive effects on neurological performance as well.  The study referenced here showed that 5 grams per day improved working memory and overall intelligence.  Not impressed?  How about this study discussing that creatine supplementation in animals provided enhanced protection against models of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and sclerosis… oh yeah, they also lived about 10% longer as well.

Most men are willing to give creatine a try but women are a different story due to fears about excessive bulking.  Well there’s a pretty good study from 2003 in the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” showing that creatine supplementation improved women’s strength, fat-free mass and body fat levels without any weight gain… which is amazing.

At the end of the day, there appears to be a ton of physical and mental benefits to supplementing with ~ 5 grams of creatine daily.  Let me know if you have any questions.

Dissecting coconuts… the good, the bad and the ugly.

I find the use of “coconuts” in the Paleo diet pretty amusing.  People use coconut milk, coconut oil and drink themselves silly with Coconut water but rarely actually use an actual freaking coconut unless its to hold some boozy drink at a party (not judging… they’re freaking delicious).

I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the different aspects of a coconut and decide what is good for us and what we should discard.

Coconut water.

People seemingly either love or hate this stuff.  I personally enjoy the taste of the VitaCoco and Zico brands while others have a really metallic flavor to me.  The good news is that coconut water has a bunch of healthy electrolytes.  The bad news is that it also has a ton of sugar in it as well.  If you’re looking to lose body-fat then you need to stay away from this stuff.

I’ve heard people say its great for post-workout but the problem is that it actually is missing some of the necessary salts that really optimize rehydration.  So I probably wouldn’t use it for that purpose either…  In the end, we probably want to avoid it all together for health purposes.  Social purposes… well that’s another story all-together.

Coconut milk

The base of a thousand amazing different curry recipes out there, coconut milk is one of the most adaptable ingredients in my opinion.  While its creamy and has a unique flavor, it blends well with so many spices as well making it extremely useful.

Nutritionally, its fantastic as well as its loaded with healthy saturated fats like lauric acid and medium chain triglycerides (AKA the oil that people pour into their bulletproof coffee). Sounds great, right?  Well, the problem is all the other shit that goes into the commercial coconut milk that we buy.  MOST brands that you’ll find at the local store have BPA and guar gum in them as well.

The literature on BPA is a little inconclusive but there are enough studies out there linking it to everything from obesity to cancer to make me worry… especially if I was a pregenant mom.  Seriously, look at this review and find me something that isn’t terrifying. One more point, BPA isn’t just in canned coconut milk, its in many other canned products as well…

Guar gum is one of those things that some people have no problem with while others experience intestinal distress from it.  If you’re one of those people, you should avoid common canned coconut milk.

Good news though!  There are a couple of new brands of coconut milk out there that do not put BPA or GG into their products that I would highly recommend.  If you live in a city, you can probably find these at a local store.  If not, then Amazon is your place!

AROY-D and Native Forest

Also, if you have IBD or IBS, you want to avoid coconut milk for additional reasons that are a little beyond the scope of this post.  It has to do with the FODMAP diet if you’re really interesting in learning more.

Coconut Oil

I use coconut oil to cook pretty much everything from sweet potatoes to steaks with.  Why? coconut oil has all those great saturated fats like lauric acid and MCTs as well that I mentioned above.  Lauric acid in general has anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.

There are different qualities of coconut oil, with the higher end products having a more distinct coconut flavoring.  Overall though, most of the time, the oil itself will not overpower the rest of your food.  I usually get mine in bulk (read: 1 gallon) from Tropical traditions but there are many other great brands out there as well.  I highly recommend integrating coconut oil into your cooking going forward.

Overall, I think coconuts are amazing and extremely helpful as part of your diet.  As with most things, the higher quality products you can get, the less you have to worry about with things like BPA, etc.

Are potatoes a wonder drug for your gut and health???

So in some of the original Paleo books and sites that came out, there was this notion that potatoes should be excluded from your diet.  Most notably, Loren Cordain (THE original Paleo guy) was cited as saying that there are inflammatory aspects to potatoes and that they should be removed to help heal the gut.  He’s right to an extent in that potatoes contain relatively high amounts of glycoalkaloids, which are basically nature’s pest repellants.  What’s interesting though is that most of the glycoalkaloids are concentrated into the skin of the potato, making it easy to reduce the content by peeling them…. simple enough it seems.

The question remains though, is there a good reason even bother eating potatoes outside of taste?  Well, if you’re a very lean active person then they can be a great energy source of course… but not everyone is lean and active as we know.

However, I think there’s another reason to start getting interested in potatoes again, and its all about Resistant Starch which I’ll refer to as RS for simplicity sake.  What is RS?  Good old wikipedia defines it as “starch and starch degradation products that escape from digestion in the small intestine of healthy individuals. Resistant starch is considered the third type of dietary fiber, as it can deliver some of the benefits of insoluble fiber and some of the benefits of soluble fiber.”  Interestingly, potatoes (and to some extent rice) are loaded with resistant starch.

A little bit of background:

RS was discovered in the 80’s and since then a TON of studies have been conducted on its affects on humans and other animals.  Many of these studies correlated RS consumption with improved colon health, improved cholesterol, better glucose control, weight management, improved satiety, and better gut function as it relates to nutrient absorption.  All good things!!!

Anyway, why are there so many studies linking RS to improved health markers? Biologically, we now know that there are specific bacteria in our GI tracts, most accurately the large intestine that use RS as a fuel source.  As the bacteria grow on RS, they produce by-products.  One of the by-products that gets produced by bacteria consuming RS is a short chained fatty acid called butyrate.  Interestingly, epithelial cells of the gut use butyrate as an energy source in many of their normal processes which helps keep them healthy, which in turn keeps your gut intact.  Its absolutely critical to have an intact GI tract to prevent microbial translocation of bacteria.  To state it simply, You want to keep your poo separate from you.”

If you’ve read my author description, you know I’m an immunologist by training and at heart.  So when I came across this HIGH profile paper linking butyrate to the induction of regulatory T cells, I was ecstatic.  Regulatory T cells are one of the immune systems most important ways of preventing autoimmune disease and overt inflammatory disorders.  Remember my post from a few weeks back where I made the argument that obesity is linked to inflammation as well.  Basically, at the end of the day, inflammation is connected to almost every disease you can think of.  What this paper says is that butyrate, produced by specific bacteria in our guts is critical to the formation of these regulatory T cells which prevent inflammation…. AWESOME.

So what’s the take home message???? Having adequate levels of butyrate will likely be extremely helpful for maintaining a healthy gut and overall health.  Most of your butyrate is going to come as a result of eating RS.  I’m not convinced that this can be done with a diet using just fruits and veggies as your carbohydrate source.  Potatoes and rice appear to be a great source of RS, but they require a very specific preparation.  You have to cook them and then let them cool which is a little less than ideal so I’m going to try a couple of other options.

1) I’ve been taking a sodium butyrate supplement for the last 3 weeks or so.  I’ve noticed some subtle changes (less gas, more energy, clearer thinking).  Side note: the pills smell like butter… which isn’t surprising because butter is a great source of butyrate!  One more reason to love Grass Fed butter.

That said, the results could be better still in my opinion so…

2) I’m going to try taking 4 TBSP of Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch every day and see if I can get even better results.  I’ve read several other successful stories using this exact approach so I’m excited to see how it goes.

http://freetheanimal.com/2013/04/resistant-assimilation-resistance.html

http://www.diabetes-warrior.net/2014/01/08/omg-intense-exercise-another-resistant-starch-test/

Anybody else want to give it a try???

 

 

HMB supplementation, is it worth it?

Recently I was discussing performance based supplements with a local CF owner and coach.  As anyone who has ever thought about increasing performance knows, there are a shit-load of different types of supplements out there, and for each one, at least 5-20 vendors that want to sell it to you.  Needless to say, it can be daunting to figure out what will actually boost your performance and what is just snake-venom (a waste of money).

One of the last topics we chatted about was HMB supplementation… specifically from the company Blonyx.  When I research a new supplement, I’ll generally look in two extremely different places.  The first is the least scientific place ever… message boards on sites for powerlifting, weight lifting, BJJ, crossfit, etc.  You can get a decent sense of whether people are excited about something or not but that’s about it.  Sometimes you’ll run across an intelligent post but most of it is garbage.  That said, its still helpful just to know if there’s a pre-existing opinion about it from people that are training hard day in and day out.  The second place I’ll look is in a Pubmed search which has a mixture of good and bad scientific studies on almost anything you can think of… seriously I mean ANYTHING.  The problem with the studies is that usually the style of training used in them is not-applicable to how most of us actually train.  Anyway, here’s what I found:

First, the scientific reports… these look pretty promising at a first glance:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Nissen+HMB

Seems like HMB has some pretty wide ranging effects… but it also seems like many of the metabolism/strength performance based papers used it in combination with various amino acids (L-arginine and L-lysine, etc.) OR creatine.  This particular study caught my attention because Blonyx sells HMB with creatine as one of its products.  Also, in those message boards I mentioned earlier, the people that did mention some improvement in performance seemed to be taking HMB in combination with BCAA’s and/or creatine. Very interesting…

One more study caught my eye, this one linking HMB efficacy and vitamin D levels which basically said that you need to have adequate levels of vitamin D to actually get a strength benefit from HMB… considering that upwards of 50% of the U.S. is vitamin D deficient, it could explain why various people have really different results with HMB supplementation.

Ultimately, I can’t say for sure that HMB is going to turn you into an animal but I think its worth checking out based upon the literature out there.  That said, if you’re going to give it a try, it definitely seems like you’d want to take it with creatine, BCAA’s and make sure that you’re not vitamin D deficient.  If anyone does have experience with it (positive or negative) leave a comment below.  Its always good to learn from one another.

Fructose… what’s the big deal.

I just wrapped up another great seminar down at Crossfit Ad Finem.  Great crew of people and a lot of good questions.  One of the discussions that we had was centered around fructose… whether its evil, neutral, beneficial, etc.  As always, the answer really depends on who we are talking about and what form the fructose is coming in.

At this point, I think I can skip over why high fructose corn syrup is a pretty terrible thing for you to be eating if you’re looking to improve body composition, health and even performance.  If you want to read about it, check out this post:

http://drhyman.com/blog/2011/05/13/5-reasons-high-fructose-corn-syrup-will-kill-you/

So I think its pretty clear that processed sources of fructose, especially high fructose corn syrup are worth avoiding.

But what about fructose from other sources like fruit?  Well for a long time I was one of those people that thought you should limit your fruit intake, especially with something like bananas which are pretty big fructose bombs.  My thinking was that for the body to use the fructose as fuel, it had to be converted into other forms by the liver.  Since the liver preferentially stores fructose over glucose, and fructose cannot be used/stored by muscle tissue, foods with higher levels of fructose would be inefficient energy sources for human performance, especially in post workout conditions.

However, I’ve recently changed that viewpoint to “it depends on who you are.”  A healthy person with good body composition and a healthy liver can almost certainly deal with fructose from fruit based sources.  This was recently shown in a nice study  that fructose consumption resulted in conversion to 50% glucose, 25% lactate, 15% to glycogen and only about 2-3% ends up as fat.  Assuming you’re not going to be using fructose as a workout recovery fuel, that actually looks like a reasonable result.

What the study didn’t address and what I couldn’t find elsewhere in the scientific literature is whether or not those numbers change in a person that has metabolic disease or a less than perfectly functioning liver… and lets be clear, there are a LOT of people with less than perfect liver function.  What we do know though is that higher levels of fructose consumption correlate well with liver dysfunction.

As far as improving performance and/or body composition goes,  most of the top trainers our there are saying, “If you are lean and workout consistently, then a higher level of fructose consumption is safe and healthy… But if you’re overweight and looking to make body composition changes, then you need to limit your fructose intake to about an apple a day.”  In other words, you need to earn your carbs with hard work.

Lastly, here is an EXTREMELY comprehensive list of foods fructose values.  I think many of you would be surprised by what foods are close to the top of this list:

http://nutritiondata.self.com/foods-000011000000000000000.html allows quickly move

Vitamin D… the world’s easiest supplement

I’m often asked what supplements are worth taking and which ones are junk.  Like many aspects of health, the answer can be specific to each individual.  Oftentimes, people look at supplements as short cuts to improved body composition, athletic performance, etc when the reality is that there are no short cuts.  You have to eat well, get the necessary sleep and exercise appropriately.  Once those three things are in order, there are cases where adding in supplements can be beneficial.  In my opinion, one of the best and easiest supplements to start with is Vitamin D.

Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to:

Muscle weakness, bone pain, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, severe asthma in children, cancer and immune derangement, SEASONAL DEPRESSION… just to name a few.  Obviously those are some pretty serious diseases that we want to avoid.

The bad news is that recent studies indicate that anywhere from 50-75% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D… YIKES!  The good news is that improving your vitamin D levels is as simple as spending some time in the sun.  Vitamin D is actually produced by cells in your skin called keratinocytes (and a few other cell types).  The vitamin D produced in your skin then travels systemically throughout the rest of the body, affecting and regulating all kinds of processes.

Sure is easy to get sun in a place like this.... Can I go back please??? Forever...
Sure is easy to get sun in a place like this…. Can I go back please??? Forever…

Of course, many of us don’t live in nice sunny places like the one above, and worse yet are forced to spend our days inside where we get zero natural sunlight.  What is a person to do???  Lets be clear, I think the number one option is to make Vitamin D the natural way by spending time outside.  Avoid getting burned of course, but its the free, safe and enjoyable to be outside.  That said, the body has adapted to other methods of Vitamin D acquisition, notably through absorption through the GI tract.  After absorbing Vitamin D, it travels to the liver where it is converted into calcidiol… the same product produced by your skin and metabolically nothing is different from that point on.

OK, so where can we get vitamin D from besides the sun?  Some foods like wild salmon, mackeral and other fishes are loaded with Vitamin D but ultimately are not going to get the job done by themselves.  An oral supplement is the way to go in my opinion.  I personally use “NowFoods 1000 IU” daily in the winter to help keep my vitamin D levels elevated.  One little pill does the trick and it is safe at that dose.  The only people that may have problems with Vitamin D are people with wool allergies due to the isolation method.  That said, its extremely rare so most people should do just fine.

Winter is coming (OK, its actually here).... so get your Vitamin D supplements.
Winter is coming (OK, its actually here)…. so get your Vitamin D supplements.

Inflammation and obesity

Over the past couple of years, there’s been a conversion in belief that the macronutrient source of food is more important than the quantity of food consumed when it comes to causing obesity.  People like Gary Taubes have basically stated that high carbohydrate diets induce changes in metabolic hormones like insulin which essentially instruct the body to store energy in the form of fat… and he’s right.  In his very popular yet incredibly boring book “Good Calories Bad Calories” Taubes cites studies showing nearly equal weight loss in people consuming high protein diets with either caloric excess or caloric deficit which is a pretty strong argument.

Other very smart people have responded by coming up with groups of people (notably the Kitavans) that eat pretty high carb diets and yet do not have signs of obesity or obesity-related diseases.  Pretty good counterpoint in my opinion as well.

http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2008/08/kitavans-wisdom-from-pacific-islands.html

What gives????? How are these people eating high carb diets and not getting sick?  Well for one, they are relatively active compared to most Western societies.  Additionally, there may be genetic factors at work here as well that cannot be ruled out.  However, another potential explanation is starting to emerge as well.  For years now we’ve known that the human body gastrointestinal tract is literally covered in bacteria that we call “commensals.”  In fact, its estimated that the human body contains 10X the number of bacteria in the GI tract as there are human cells in the rest of the body.  These commensal bacteria grow both off of the food we consume as well as on products from the GI tissues such as mucus.  In turn, our bodies use enzymes produced by the commensal bacteria to help break down and digest the food that we eat into usable energy sources.  This symbiotic relationship is absolutely necessary for optimal health as we’ve recently learned using germ free (AKA bacteria free) studies in mice.

Well, recently we’ve learned that the bacteria that live in our GI tract are extremely responsive to the different types of foods that we eat.  More importantly, these changes in the microbiota may be directly linked to changes in metabolic hormones that are involved in obesity, insulin resistance,  etc.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=comparison+with+ancestral+diets+suggests+dense+acellular

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23768553

The diets of the world we live in appear to modify the bacterial composition of the bacteria that live within our body.  Instead of having benign commensals that really pose no threat to us or are anti-inflammatory, the modern diets induce the outgrowth of a higher percentage of inflammatory bacteria, namely gamma proteobacteria like E.coli and P.mirabilis.  These “inflammatory” bacteria cause activation of the innate immune system causing low-level systemic inflammation which has been linked to everything from autoimmune disease, to allergies, to cancer AND insulin resistance!

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Innate+sensors+of+pathogen+and+stress%3A+Linking+inflammation+to+obesity 

Interestingly, the review above also cites studies showing that the innate immune system also seems to be able to sense nutrient excess as well, both through modulation of the microbiome but also through production of ligands that bind to the pattern recognition receptors that normally are built to detect pathogens.

So is it caloric excess or the quality of food that we consume which is responsible for obesity???  The answer (for now) appears to be both.  I love this answer because it fits in so accurately with personal experience with clients.  Most people do just fine by focusing on eating real foods and getting away from processed grains and artificial sweeteners.  However, there are some people that really struggle to lose weight despite eating similar high quality foods.  In my experience, these people are inadvertently eating way more calories than they thought they were… usually in the form of almonds and other nuts.  I’m not saying that ALL of the reason they struggle to lose weight is as a result of the bacterial changes/immune activation but it cannot be ruled out as a contributing factor as well.

At the end of the day, focusing on eating non-processed food  is a great place to start if you’re looking to improve your body composition and overall health.  If you hit struggle to lose weight with this approach, then understanding how many total calories you’re eating is the next step as sometimes we can unintentionally consume way more calories than we really think we are eating.