With Dr. Mark Hyman
Good food equals good results. We know that what we eat can have a major impact on our training performance and overall health. But whether you’re starting a new fitness plan or an experienced athlete, sticking to your nutritional goals can be tricky. Especially when exactly what you should and should not eat gets more misleading every day.
You know what we’re talking about. One day experts warn against eggs, and then suddenly eggs are a miracle food. If doctors can’t get it right, is it any wonder why we’re so confused?
We spoke to Dr. Mark Hyman, author of Food: What the Heck Should I Eat, to clear up some of these misconceptions and contradictions. By using the latest science, Dr. Hyman offers a unique roadmap to where experts get it right, and where exactly they’ve gone wrong.
What started your journey with getting to the truth about what’s healthy?
About 20 years ago, at the start of my medical career, I went from being a healthy, thriving physician to becoming a disoriented and terrified version of myself. I woke up feeling like I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I was chronically fatigued and got diagnosed with ADD, depression, and much more. Some doctors, including my colleagues, said that I was depressed and recommended taking antidepressants. I saw a few psychiatrists who suggested anti-anxiety medication. My family doctor prescribed me sleeping medication, and a neurologist told me that I had ADD and needed stimulants. Other doctors told me that I had chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.
Around that time I found the work of Dr. Jeffrey Bland, the father of Functional Medicine. I started to understand that everything we put in our body has profound effects on our mood, energy, on everything… When I focused on optimizing my nutrition, I got significantly better, and the same thing started happening to my patients too. Eating the right food is the single biggest thing you can do to prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, dementia, autoimmune disease, allergies, digestive problems, and it can make you feel better RIGHT NOW.
What is one of the most common misconceptions of healthy eating?
The biggest lie that has caused endless suffering for tens of millions of people is that to lose weight you need to eat less and exercise more.
This lie goes something like this: All calories are the same. Weight loss is about math – calories in/calories out. If you eat more than you burn, you will gain weight. If you eat less than you burn, you will lose weight. This is called the Energy Balance Hypothesis. This seems logical, except it is scientifically wrong. It is the message that almost every doctor, nutritionist and weight loss program, tell us. And even our public health and professional organization tell us including the American Nutrition and Dietetic Association, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association (which by the way all get huge amounts of funding from the food industry).
And, of course it is what the food industry tells us. That fact alone should make us suspicious. According to this thinking, weight loss is an energy balance problem. Just eat less and exercise more. It’s just about moderation. Any food is fine as long as you don’t eat too much. The 100 calories snack packs of Oreos are the same at 100 calories of blueberries or nuts. Two hundred calories of soda are the same as 200 calories of an avocado. Nonsense.
What is so bad about this message is that it blames the person who is overweight. The implication is that you are a lazy glutton who eats too much and won’t exercise. This is, in my view, harmful, cruel and even criminal because it flies in the face of science and perpetuates a harmful myth that literally kills millions from chronic disease.
It implies that a diet of 1800 calories of soda is the same as 1800 calories of broccoli or almonds. Even a 5-year-old would understand that this just doesn’t make sense. Yet it is the foundation of almost every weight loss program.
One of the most surprising things we learned from the book was that oatmeal is actually not as healthy of a breakfast as we’ve been led to believe. Another is that two slices of whole wheat bread raise your blood sugar more than two tablespoons of sugar.Why is that?
There is no difference between whole wheat and white flour. The biggest scam is the inclusion of “whole grains” in many processed foods full of sugar and wheat giving the food a virtuous glow. The best way to avoid foods that are bad for you is to stay away from foods with health claims on the label. They are usually hiding something bad.
In people with diabetes, both white and whole grain bread raises blood sugar levels 70 to 120 mg/dl over starting levels. We know that foods with a high glycemic index make people store belly fat; trigger hidden fires of inflammation in the body; and give you a fatty liver leading the whole cascade of obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes.
When we talk about grains, we use the word starch. (We use it for some vegetables, too, as we’ve seen.) But we don’t all realize that starch is just sugar with a slightly more complex molecular structure. This is important: Starch and sugar are essentially the same thing. The whole complex vs. simple carb idea has retired to the dustbin of history. What matters is how much a particular carb raises your blood sugar. Bread is a complex carb, sugar a simple carb. So whenever you eat something containing wheat flour, you might as well be mainlining sugar.
We’ve heard a lot about the intermittent fasting trend recently. Supporters swear by its ability to boost energy and promote longevity. Do you see this trend as positive or misled?
For those of you who don’t know what intermittent fasting is, it’s a way of eating where you incorporate time restrictions into your eating schedule. Now, I don’t normally recommend skipping meals – especially breakfast . However, with intermittent fasting, you’re not just whimsically skipping meals, which can mess with your blood sugar and energy levels, you are employing a strategized way to miss meals.
I often recommend intermittent fasting to patients who are really resistant to weight loss. With intermittent fasting, you basically create 16-hour windows of fasting time and stimulate the benefits of fasting, namely speeding up metabolism to burn more fat. Numerous studies show this technique can be very effective for weight loss and overall health.
Some patients find skipping breakfast hard. For those folks, I recommend having a cup of Bulletproof Coffee in the morning, which contains healthy fats and puts your body into ketosis, or the act of shifting the primary fuel from glucose to ketones (or fat). Ketosis actually helps people with fat burning and fueling their metabolism.
There are no hard and fast rules except that during your fasting hours, you consume zero (or close to zero) calories. You’ll find numerous types of intermittent fasting online, including alternate-day fasting and fasting one day a week. For many patients, I find a 16-hour window becomes that “magic” number. It isn’t as unpleasant as it might sound, since you’ll be sleeping about eight of those hours.
So, if you’re just not losing the weight that you want to, intermittent fasting can be a great experiment for you. But remember to make the calories you do consume count – include lots of colorful veggies and high-quality protein to nourish you.
What’s your absolute favorite healthy meal?
For me, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I have really busy days, so starting the day off with healthy fats and protein that keep me satiated is key. My favorite is an herb and avocado omelet, a quick recipe that’s rich in good fats (the trick is to use your broiler for about 30 seconds to finish it off in the oven).
About Dr. Mark Hyman
Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, a ten-time New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and has been a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, the Today Show, CNN, The View, the Katie Couric show and The Dr. Oz Show. Join Dr. Hyman on his path to revolutionize the way we think about and take care of our health and our societies at www.drhyman.com, on Twitter and Instagram @markhymanmd, and on Facebook at facebook.com/drmarkhyman.