Today we have a special guest as part of our Paleo Journeys series – Chris Kresser. I’ve always wanted to interview this clever man so I am very excited to share our interview with all of you. Seriously, you want to listen to or read the whole thing because it’s super insightful and will get your brain ticking. You also get to find out some things about Chris that he rarely shares online. I think it’s the perfect Paleo Journey interview to end 2014 and enter into 2015 with.
Chris Kresser needs no introduction in the paleo circles, but for those not familiar with his work, Chris is a globally recognised leader in the fields of ancestral health, Paleo nutrition, and functional and integrative medicine. He is the creator of ChrisKresser.com, which is one of my favourite natural health sites, and the author of the New York Times best seller, Your Personal Paleo Code (published in paperback in December 2014 as The Paleo Cure). Chris was recently named by Greatist.com as one of the 100 most influential people in health and fitness, along with Michelle Obama, Michael Pollan, Dr. Andrew Weil, Tim Ferriss, Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf and Dr. Mercola.
Here is quick preview of questions, in case you can’t read the full article or listen to the full audio recording below.
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00:49 Chris talks about his own paleo journey
02:54 I ask about what paleo means to Chris personally and what his own framework is
07:10 The most common areas people tailor and why and what we should tailor to get the most benefits out of paleo way of eating.
10:55 Access to integrative medicine practitioners and how it’s changing
11:55 Chris weighs in on why some people don’t lose weight, and sometimes gain weight, on the paleo diet – it’s not what you might think.
17:20 Fat and carbs – is there a golden ration? How do they interchange?
20:25 Chris shares his thoughts on the paleo movement and community, how it’s changing and where it’s going
26:45 Chris outlines 5 key changes/ habits most people should adopt, even if not following the paleo diet
33:00 Chris’ thoughts on what we’ll be talking about next year and what research he is paying attention to.
36:10 Who cooks in the Kresser household? What are some of their favourite foods and meals?
38:55 Who would Chris Kresser have for dinner (dead or alive) – you will be surprised.
40:05 A few things you don’t know about Chris Kresser – let’s just say he might have ended up doing something entirely different
43:00 Chris’ favourite ways to stay fit and active – it’s not crossfit
44:00 Guess which healthy habit Chris would like to adopt in 2015?
44:40 Final advice to anyone starting their own paleo journey
Paleo Journeys With Chris Kresser (audio transcript)
Irena: Can we quickly talk fat and carbs? I think people often get confused about the relationship between fat and carbohydrate consumption, including myself. We are encouraged to eat low carb and high fat but then some of us thrive better on a moderate carbohydrate diet. For those of us consuming a little more carbohydrates, say between 70-150 grams per day, should we reduce the fat intake? Is there a golden ratio?
Chris: For most people, if they increase carbs they’re going to naturally decrease fat because they body has a system called homeostatic system for regulating calorie intake, and if you increase calories with one macronutrient, you’ll probably decrease calories in another area. That’s something that’s regulated by the body fat set point, which is like a thermostat in the house. If the thermostat is set to 70 °F and the temperature drops to 65 °F, then the heating system will come on and bring the temperature back up and the same in reverse. And that’s essentially how weight is regulated, with using this homeostatic system, where if you start eating more calories than would support the weight that your body thinks it should be, then it will engage other mechanisms – decreasing your appetite, increasing your energy expenditure at rest and then decreasing the amount of calories that you get from food to bring your weight back down.
But, what can happen for some people, if they are on a very low carb diet for example, the reason that works, in my opinion and what I’ve seen from the research, is not even necessarily from restricting carbohydrates, it’s the higher protein intake that happens with those diets and it’s also that when you remove or greatly reduce one macronutrient, you really dramatically reducing the reward value of your diet. So when you’re on a low carb diet, or a low fat diet for that matter, the reward value of the diet is lower overall because you have fewer flavours and lower variety in the foods that you’re eating. But usually what happens overtime with most people, is they’re not able to maintain that over a long period of time and they start adding carbohydrates or fats back in, whichever they had removed previously, and that starts increasing the reward value of the diet and they start eating more calories again and they gain weight back. So that’s typically how it works.
Irena: You’ve been a part of the ancestral health and paleo movement for a long time now and I am sure you’ve seen many changes. What are your thoughts on how the community has changed and I how quickly it’s growing?
Have we reached the tipping point yet? Are we going in the right direction?
Chris: Yeah, I think it’s moving in the right direction. I mean, to be perfectly honest, I think to some degree it’s unlikely that this will ever be a fully mainstream movement. I think it will always be a little bit on the side lines in terms of its recognition and acceptance. You know, that doesn’t necessarily bother me. My purpose is to help as many people recover their health as possible, and if the paleo concept supports that and moves that forward, then that’s great. If it becomes clear that paleo concept is hindering that purpose, than I’m happy to abandon that term and just focus on communicating in a way that’s going to gain wider acceptance and change more lives, because like I said at the beginning, ultimately paleo is just a word.
One of the positive changes that I’ve seen, in the community at large, is the willingness to step away from some of the original ideas that I think have become difficult to support, given the most recent evidence. And being able to expand the concept of what the paleo template might include, and that ultimately I think will make it more acceptable to people who think critically and the general public at large.
Early on, and certainly still for a lot of people, there is an idea that legumes should be excluded from the diet, because they contain a number of food toxins, and also with the idea that our ancestors didn’t eat them. The problem is, we have quite a lot of research that suggests now that they were actually a part of the ancestral diet. And number two is that a lot of the arguments that were originally made in favour of excluding legumes from the diet don’t really stand up to scrutiny.
For example, we’re told we should avoid them because they contain toxic antinutrients like lectins and phytic acid, but lectins, as it turns out, are readily destroyed in the vast majority of cases when foods are cooked. Some of the studies that Dr.Cordain and others have pointed to, which show that lectins could be toxic, involved cases such as there was one study about kidney beans causing toxicity in a hospital setting but those were improperly cooked kidney beans, they weren’t cooked adequately.
Another problem with the lectin argument is that lectins are present in at least 53 different fruit and vegetables and spices, and other commonly eaten plants that are considered to be part of a paleo diet, including carrots and zucchini, melons, grapes, cherries, raspberries. If lectins is a problem, then of course we would have to stop eating all of those foods as well if we’re going to be consistent in our argument. Now there is one lectin that is probably problematic, which is a peanut lectin, because both raw peanuts and peanut oil still have relatively high lectin content and some animal studies suggest that peanut lectin may contribute to atherosclerosis by stimulating the growth of the smooth muscle cells and pulmonary arterial cells. But then there is other research in animals and humans, that found that peanuts and peanut oil reduce cardiovascular factors and might even protect against heart disease, so it’s certainly not clear. You can make an argument for using the precautionary principle for avoiding too much peanut consumption especially because of the concern about aflatoxins in peanuts, but it’s very difficult to make the argument for avoiding legumes based on lectins alone.
The concern with phytates is that it inhibits nutrient absorption, and it’s true that it does, but phytic acid is present in a number of other paleo friendly foods in substantially higher amounts than in legumes. For example, a serving of trail mix, which is a beloved paleo favourite, is likely to be much higher in phytic acid than a serving of lentils. Spinach and Swiss chard, which are two very nutrient dense dark leafy greens are higher in phytic acid than almost any legume, nut or seed. So yes, we do want to limit our exposure to phytic acid, there are definitely steps we can take with nuts and seeds to reduce the phytic acid content, which I have recommended for year, like soaking and then dehydrating and roasting them before you eat them. That’s generally not a reason either to avoid legumes, especially in the context of a nutrient dense diet.
Now, less anybody get the wrong idea, I’m not suggesting that we should be basing our diet on legumes or that they will work for everybody. They’re FODMAPs and they can be problematic for people with gut issues – if someone has an inflamed gut, the fibre that the legumes contain can be problematic. But assuming those things aren’t true, there is no reason according to research, both modern clinical research and anthropological research, to remove legumes from our diet and there are plenty of reasons to eat them. One of the main ones is that they are very high in microbiota-accessible carbohydrates, which are type of carbohydrates that feed the beneficial gut bacteria and we know how important that is at this point in time.
Irena: For those people who are not necessarily following the paleo diet and lifestyle but would like to improve their health and wellbeing, what are the top 5 changes or habits they should adopt as soon as possible and why?
Chris: I would say cooking most of your meals at home would be number one. I agree with Michael Pollan in that regard. I think that, for the average person, that is probably the single most important change they can make.
If you cook at home, and then use some of the other principles I’ll mention, you will be avoiding the vast majority of food toxins and harmful ingredients that people encounter when they eat out.
A lot of people now are eating a combination of restaurant food, fast food, and food that comes out of a bag or a box that they just pick up at the market. Those foods are full of food toxins like industrial seed oils, which in access can be inflammatory, excess sugar, a lot of preservatives and chemicals that have effects that we don’t fully understand yet.
Those packaged and processed foods are specifically engineered to make us want to eat more of them. The major food manufacturers are very much aware of food reward concept. They actually employ scientists who study this and who advise their company on how to produce foods with maximum rewards value. And there was even an advertising campaign back in the 80s or 90s, in the US at least, for Pringles potato chips that said ‘I bet you can’t just eat one’. They were willing to make that bet because they specifically engineered those chips so that you couldn’t just eat one.
This doesn’t mean you can’t go out and enjoy yourself at a restaurant every now and then but it means you should be cooking and preparing the majority of your food at home.
Number two would be to eat real food – whole, nutrient dense, preferably organic, and locally grown – fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, nuts and seeds and starchy plants. If people just did those two things alone, I think the epidemics of obesity and diabetes, cardiovascular disease and all the other conditions we’re suffering from today would not exist. I mean, those conditions might still exist but they wouldn’t be epidemic like they are now.
Number three would to move like your ancestors, and that’s the name of the chapter in my book. What that means is there’s been a lot of focus on exercise, and certainly exercise is important, but what’s often more important for people is to sit less and to get more low intensity, non-exercise physical activity. They’ve done studies that have found that even people, who are getting the recommended amount of exercise each day, are at higher risk for disease and early death if they’re sitting for long periods of time outside of those periods of exercise. And that’s true even of marathon runners who are training for a marathon. The research suggests that you will get more benefit from standing half the day and walking 10,000 steps, then you would going from low intensity sedentary activity to exercising regularly. I’m not saying we shouldn’t exercise, we definitely should, but we also have to pay attention to how much we’re sitting and what other low-intensity movement we’re doing throughout the day.
Number four would be to sleep at least 7-8 hours a night and that is perhaps one of the most difficult changes that people make of all the things that I suggest because we live in the world that’s just increasingly fast-paced, and more than that, doesn’t value leisure and rest to the same extent that it values productivity. Which is absolutely ironic because research is very clear that sleep is essential for productivity so if we really did value productivity in the way that we say that we do, we would value sleep.
Number five would be stress management, and again, like sleep it’s the thing that a lot of people have hard time doing for the same reasons. You know, in our culture we don’t value rest, we don’t value quiet time for reflection, we don’t value time spent doing nothing. And yet, again, when we look at studies on productivity, and happiness, you find that type of time is not optional, it’s absolutely essential. And it’s time that we’ve had as human beings for our entire evolutionary history up until very recently, with the introduction of all the modern technological devices that we can’t really live without at this point. They benefit us in many ways but one of the worst impacts that they’ve had is intruding upon time that we might otherwise spend just lost in thought or reverie or reflection. Things like meditation or mindfulness based stress reduction, or prayer, or deep relaxation types of exercises – these things are really crucial to health in a world where we’re under constant stress.
Irena: Every year we see the rise of new trends and studies, which spark fresh conversations, blog posts, new books. For example, gut health and fermentation was big this year, then for a while resistance starch was taking the centre stage. What’s the next big thing we’ll be talking about? And what areas of research are you paying lots of attention to personally and why?
Chris: It’s a good question. Well, I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of focus on the gut and the gut microbiota, and its contribution to health and disease. We’ve already seen a lot of that but it’s just going to become more and more prominent and move more into the public eye.
If the 20th century was about the discovery that bacteria contributed to the disease, which was probably the most important discovery made in medicine, and then the development of antibiotics and antimicrobials to combat those infections and save lives, then I think the 21st century is going to be the flipside of that. The discovery of how bacteria and other microbes contribute to health assumes the largest importance. And then developing ways to modulate the microbiome to support health and wellness and prevent and treat disease, and doing that in a way that’s customised based on the person’s unique thumb print, or blueprint of their microbiome, I think that is going to be a hugely important area of medicine.
Along with that, I think we’re going to see an increasing use of genetics and epigenetics. Right now, we’re kind of on the wild west frontier of personalised medicine using genetics, and in fact, I see a lot of risk and danger in the way it’s being done in some cases right now. But overtime, we’re going to learn to use this massive amount of raw data we have, that we don’t know what to do with yet, in ways that can really start to bring personalised medicine from the wishful thinking realm into the practical, commonly done realm. Where you go to maybe not your primary care doctor, but perhaps a functional integrative medicine doctor, and they are looking at your genes and make recommendations in terms of prevention and treatment based not just your genes, but your epigenetic response. I think that’s the most important thing to understand, genes load the gun but the environment pulls the trigger, and that means genes on their own don’t have a huge influence, except in some cases, on disease manifestation. It’s a combination of genes with environmental factors that make the biggest difference.
Irena: Now for something lighter…Who cooks in the Kresser household and what are some of your favourite family meals?
Chris: Both my wife Elanne and I cook, and actually Sylvia, our 3-year old daughter loves to cook quite a bit. She makes her own scrambled eggs in the mornings by standing on a stool, right next to the stove (she is of course supervised) and she knows how to whip them together with a fork and how to use a spatula to move them around. She’s very interested in cooking because like most kids, they’re interested in what they see their parents doing. And that’s another reason to follow my advice and cook a lot of meals at home because it really sets your kids up for taking an interest in that.
We buy a quarter of a cow and a half of a hog from local farmers, so we eat a fair amount of beef and pork. I love pork. I think pork is a very underrated meat, and if you can get it pasture raised, and a heritage variety of pork, it’s an amazingly flavourful, delicious meat. So we eat fair amount of pork roasts, pulled pork, pork chops, various pork dishes.
We do a lot of slow cooking and wet cooking methods, so we’ll make pot roast, brisket, we had oxtail soup the other night, which was delicious. These are also important cuts to eat as they contain a lot of healthy fats and amino acids, such as glycine, which help with nutrient absorption and gut health.
We eat a lot of dark leafy greens. We all do well on a higher, moderate carbohydrate approach, so we love plantains and I just recently wrote an article about lots of different ways to use plantains in the kitchen. We eat a fair amount of taro and yucca – some of the less commonly eaten starches – we do eat sweet potatoes as well, and I particularly like the purple flesh ones.
Generally, we kind of stick to our own advice in terms of keeping the diet relatively simple, that’s just how we like to eat – to emphasise the natural flavours of foods. We don’t eat out very often, it’s pretty seldom. That said, there are some fantastic restaurants in the Berkley and San Francisco area, so when we do go out, we definitely enjoy ourselves.
When we do travel, I go surfing. I take a week every year when I do what I call a surf retreat, where I’ll go somewhere by myself surfing for a week but I’ll also take that week to step back and think about my life and my goals, my purpose, whether the work that I’m doing taking me in the direction, and I re-evaluate my practice and my future. It’s very restorative. It’s a complete sabbatical from technology, I don’t bring my phone, I don’t have a computer, I don’t get on the internet. I just spend the time surfing, thinking, writing and reflecting.
Another thing that I don’t know that I’ve talked about much is that I got recruited to play college basketball and came close to going to either Santa Clara or UC Davis playing basketball and at the last minute decided that I would go to UC Berkley instead, where I tried to walk on to the basketball team but Jason Kidd was in my position at the time. And those who follow basketball would know that he went on to become one of the best players in the NBA for many years, an all star, so I had very little chance of getting on the team at that point. That was a big turning point in my life because I think I would have had a very different college experience at UC Davis and Santa Clara, playing basketball. And as it happened, I went to UC Berkley which many people know is a very progressive institution and I was exposed to a lot of things including meditation and alternative medicine, health and wellness, that really changed the course of my life, and in a large part determined where I am now.
Irena: How do your stay fit and active now that you don’t surf much or play basketball?
Chris: I still do surf. We live on the edge of a regional park so I do a lot of hiking in the woods, just walking and sometimes running. I go to they gym 3-4 times a week. I also have a treadmill desk, which I’ve talked about a lot, so when I’m working I’m often walking on the treadmill. For example, when I wrote my book, I walked about 2000 miles in the course of writing that. That’s something that helps me to stay very active even when I’m working a lot.
Irena: Is there a particular healthy habit you’d like to adopt in 2015?
Chris: I’ve been working a fair amount for the past few years, with the book and everything else, and I would like to slow down a little bit and have some more time to get out to the ocean and surf, because that’s something that feels me up in a number of ways and used to be, when I lived closer to the ocean, something I did almost every day.
Irena: What advice would you give to someone starting their own paleo or real food journey?
Chris: Just to really learn to listen to yourself and your own body. Pay attention to the messages that you get from your body as you go along because ultimately what works for you is probably going to be different to what works for someone else, and even the health care practitioner that you’re working with and the suggestions they make, so it’s always a good idea to be your own advocate and honour that above all else.
Big thanks to Chris for joining us! Make sure to check out his website ChrisKresser.com and his amazing book Your Personal Paleo Code. His Facebook page is full of goodies and you can connect with him on Twitter.