Barry Sears: Is Today’s “Balanced Diet” Horribly Unbalanced?


Jonathan: Hey, everyone. Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Today is a day to celebrate, folks, because we are joined with one of the most influential people, forget about in my life when it comes to health and fitness but just in the national scene ever. We have a man who needs very little introduction, so I’m going to give him very little because his works speaks for itself. We have the inventor of The Zone Diet, Dr. Barry Sears. Literally one of the top diets ever created. Dr. Sears, welcome to the show!

Barry: Well, Jonathan. Thank you very much.

Jonathan: Barry, right off the bat, I want to say that there was a moment in my life where your work literally caused an epiphany. And that was I read text from you, which I’m going to paraphrase but said, once you stop seeing food as a source of calories and start seeing it as a control system for your hormones, you will be able to change your life in ways you never imagined. I hope I didn’t butcher that too badly, but that literally flipped a switch in my brain that changed almost everything about my personal and professional life.

Barry: Well, in many ways, you’re right. I may have been a little too wordy in my original format. Because it’s really a tipping point. There’s a tipping point where you say I get it. Basically the light bulb goes off and says, my God, this is an incredibly powerful drug. If I use it correctly, I can basically squeeze all I possibly can out of my genes. And that’s all we ask for.

Jonathan: And that even there, Barry, the way you stated that, it’s important for people to really hear that. Because what you said was food is a drug. And it is. And it is the most affordable and widespread and, dare I say, effective “drug” at preventing and treating these chronic conditions that are killing so many of us. Right?

Barry: In many ways, saying food is a drug is really derogatory to food. Because food affects hormones, and hormones are hundreds of times more powerful than any drug. So in many ways, the food we eat may be the most powerful drug you’ll ever encounter. But, the door swings both ways. Food can be your greatest ally in life; it can be your worst enemy. And the rules, the hormonal rules, that govern that door have not changed in 40 million years and are probably unlikely to change tomorrow.

Jonathan: Dr. Sears, and what is your observation? Certainly, you were one of the leaders and one of the first people to say this message, and if you look at the diet, nutrition, exercise scene, hormones are the bees knees now. Everyone’s talking about it. What have you seen that has made you happy in terms of the increased visibility hormones are receiving, and what’s made you disappointed maybe in the direction we’ve taken in the conversation?

Barry: Well, I think what’s made me happy is that people are talking about hormones and talking about the whole concept and inflammation. Unfortunately, we’ve had what I call is the “Dr. Oz effect.” We’ve taken some very complex arguments and basically tried to dumb them down so much that they’ve lost their potential impact. So, it’s really just a constant educational aspect saying, good, you’re talking about hormones. Good, you’re talking about inflammation. But, let’s make sure we’re talking about it in the correct format, because otherwise, we basically get into a brilliant tower of babble which basically ends up meaning nothing.

Jonathan: And what is that correct format, and how have we strayed from it?

Barry: Well, again, if you ask most people who write diet books and mention the word inflammation. You ask them what’s inflammation. They say, it’s bad. Well, I’d like to get a little more detail than just saying it’s bad. Because, you know, we need a zone of information. If we have too little in our bodies, we’re a sitting duck for microbes. Our injuries would never heal. If we have too much of an inflammatory response, our body begins attacking itself. We need a zone of inflammation. And that’s one of the problems I get when I talk about The Zone Diet. People say, oh, it’s a diet. I say, no, the zone is really a physiological place in your body you can measure. It’s like the top of the mountain. There’s only one mountaintop. There are many pathways to get to the top of the mountain. Some are hard; some are easy. What you’re trying to find is the best pathway with the least stress on you to get to the top of the mountain and stay there as long as possible.

Jonathan: And when you say the zone, that definitely resonates with me and my research and my professional work in the sense that when you’re in the zone, if I’m understanding correctly, your body is pursuing health. It is actively working, for lack of better terms, to keep you disease-free and to keep you from storing excess fat because that is the desired state to perpetuate life, which is the desired state of the body. Is that fair?

Barry: That’s a fair statement. In that zone, life becomes a lot easier. Outside the zone, life becomes a lot harder. If, basically, your diet is driving you outside that zone, you’re going to get fat. You’re going to get sicker. You’re going to age faster. Think of that zone as an athlete. Athlete says, I’m in the zone. What does that mean? It means that he’s playing baseball, that 90 mile-an-hour fastball looks like a beach all coming up to the plate. This is easy. So basically, everything begins to slow down and make perfect sense. But, once you get out of that zone, everything speeds up, and life seems to be very, very chaotic. And, that is, we gain weight. You say, but I’m working out. Why am I getting fatter? Or I think I’m eating healthy. Why am I getting sicker. Or why am I aging faster. It’s as if basically the theories are basically visiting us, but in reality, we’ve let ourselves get out of that zone because we didn’t have a good definition of what it was and how to basically stay there as long as possible.

Jonathan: I love the baseball player analogy where the 90 mile-an-hour fastball starts to look like it’s coming at you in slow motion. Because my own experience in working with individuals is when they move into a higher quality style of eating and a more hormonally healthy style of eating, as well as an hormonally impactful form of exercise. That which was a struggle for their entire life, and maybe they had some success. Maybe they temporarily slimmed down, and maybe temporarily saw some benefits. But it’s just… It happens, and it stays that way, and with such ease. It’s as if the body is working with them rather than fighting against them. And that seems like that is really that slow motion of that baseball when that body starts to work with you rather than fight against you.

Barry: It’s like swimming upstream or swimming downstream. You know, one way’s easy, one way’s hard. And the body is designed to work with great efficiency, but you have to give it the right tools. Let’s say you were a master carpenter, and I ask you to build me a Louis XIV chair. You say, no problem. Now I give you a hammer and say this is all you’ve got. You say, you’ve got to be kidding. Because no matter how good a master carpenter you are, you’re not going to build that Louis XIV chair. You need more tools, and you have to understand how those tools work. And once you do, then you say, this is easy. I can do this. And that’s really the operational phrase. People have to be given a rhyme or reason. Not just say believe me. Like President Reagan said many years ago, “trust but always verify.” I like people who trust me, and I’m sure you like to have people trust you, too. But say how do you verify that basically it’s working. Here’s the simplest way.

If you’re eating in the zone, you’re never hungry. Now that’s not quite a high-tech definition, but in reality, it’s a high-tech consequence of some very complex things taking place in your body. It’s controlling inflammation in the brain, particularly in the hypothalamus that controls hunger. It’s controlling blood sugar levels. It’s controlling basically the levels of inflammation. So if you have one watch, you have a very, very good diagnostic tool to tell you if you’re in the zone. Now you can go in greater detail, but most Americans if you ask them, how long before you get hungry after eating a meal. Usually it’s about two hours. The idea is that if you get to five, then basically, however you balance that plate to get to five, basically, now you’re on your pathway to getting into that zone and staying there forever.

Jonathan: And what are those tools, Barry? The analogy of creating that wonderful chair and all we had was a hammer. It’s going to be a challenge. What are the tools we need, and how do we use them?

Barry: Well, there are three tools you need. The first tool is one hand. Second tool is one eye. Third tool is one watch that works. Now, here’s how you do it. At each meal, divide your plate into three equal sections. How do you do that? You use your eye. On one-third of that plate, you put some low-fat protein. How much? The amount you can put on the palm of the hand. Now I’m 6’5″, so my palm’s a little bigger than most, so I can a little more protein, not a lot, but a little more. And what about the other two-thirds of the plate? You fill it full of colorful carbohydrates. They’re called fruits and vegetables. And finally, you add a dash, that’s a small amount, put a dash of heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat, low in omega 6 fats, and low in saturated fats. Things like olive oil or guacamole or slivered almonds. And that’s it. Now how do you know it’s working? You look at your watch. If you’re not hungry five hours after eating that meal, and you have peak mental acuity, you know your meal you ate five hours ago was the correct balance for your hormones and your biochemistry. So what you’re looking to do, we only really eat maybe ten different meals in our entire life. Two different breakfasts, three different lunches, five different dinners. You just keep adjusting those meals you like to eat using those simple rules, and now you have ten hormonal-winning meals that you can follow throughout your life and basically say I can maintain myself in the zone.

And what will be the benefits? I lose not just weight, losing weight’s easy. Cut off your left arm. There goes 50 pounds right off there. No. It’s losing excess body fat. It’s a slow process. No matter what Dr. Oz says, you’re not going to lose 15 pounds of body fat in three days’ time. You can lose a lot of water. You can lose a lot of muscle mass, but you’re not going to lose a lot of fat. It’s a slow process. Better health. Better health is a lifelong struggle. Are you struggling against excess inflammation? And if you’re successful, you will slow down the aging process. So in saying what’s in it for me? You’re going to lose fat, become more well, and age at a slower rate.

Now how you do that. People says science-shmience. I don’t care. Just give me the bottom line. Okay, if you have the one hand, the one eye, and the one watch, you can do it if these are things which are important to you. If not, eat whatever you want to. Hope that God gave you good genes, because some of us do. Some people can eat all the carbohydrates they want. They can drink a fifth of Scotch every day. Smoke five packs of cigarettes, and they do okay. But most of us are not going to be lucky. And if we aren’t, then basically we have to watch what our food intake is with the same degree of vigilance that we would in terms of taking a drug. You’re taking it at the right dosage, at the right time. And if you do, you get the right results.

Jonathan: I love it, Barry. What have you seen? So in terms of your work now, around inflammation. You’re very, very focused on the subject of inflammation. In fact, you have a whole nonprofit called the “Inflammation Research Foundation.” And as you said, oftentimes if you ask someone what is inflammation, the answer is the thing that I should avoid. Or there’s no answer. It’s just like another word for bad. How can a lay individual understand inflammation, understand why excess inflammation is to be avoided, and what we can do to stay in the proper zone.

Barry: Well, that’s why the whole key of the zone really goes around the concept of keeping inflammation under control. It’s really mastering inflammation. You want to have enough there that when bad things happen to you, like you get invaded by microbes, your twist an ankle, you can call upon your reserves to basically call out the dogs of war. But you want to have the ability to call back the dogs of war. If we don’t, then the information goes unfettered, and basically we start destroying normal tissue. So this ying and yang of inflammation is rather really the great mysteries of modern medicine. Yet, we can control it to a great extent. Your diet is your primary tool, but you have two other anti inflammatory supplements to add to your toolkit. One would be omega 3 fatty acids. Because it’s omega 6 fatty acids that drive inflammation; it’s the omega 3 fatty acids that control fatty acids. You need them in balance. And the other is polyphenols. These are the chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their color. And why are polyphenols important? Because at low concentrations, they’re excellent antioxidants. At higher concentrations, they’re very good anti inflammatories, and at still higher levels, they slow down the aging process. Now, much of their work is not done in the bloodstream, but in your gut. Because we’d like to think ourselves as a human being who’s pristine. But in reality, we have ten times more bacteria in our gut than we have cells in our body. And to control that bacteria in our gut, we need those polyphenols. If they’re not high enough concentrations, what you have is basically really a sleeping giant of inflammation ready to find a hole in the armor in your gut to get in the bloodstream. And when it does, you’ve got some real problems.

Jonathan: And polyphenols you mentioned. Certainly, I’m a big fan. What are your thoughts on green tea to help boost our polyphenol intake?

Barry: Well, but you’ve got to drink a lot of green tea. We can look at this thing antioxidant. At the lowest levels, the polyphenols are antioxidants. Ideally, you like to get about 20,000 what are called ORAC units per day. That means eating about two pounds of vegetables. Already, most people are saying whoa, whoa. What? Two pounds of vegetables. I can’t do it. The answer is yes, you can. So what if I drink polyphenols? Maybe if I possibly green tea? Okay, how many glasses of green tea do I have to drink every day to get 20,000 ORAC units. About 40 cups. Now, I drink a lot of green tea, but I tell you, I don’t drink 40 cups of green tea. But there are other aspects which allow us to concentrate these polyphenols. One turns out to be red wine. So I say, okay, a glass of red wine. There are two things from red wine. There’s the alcohol, and to date, no one has demonstrated the medical benefits of vodka. I’m sure there are some in vodka, but I can’t figure them out. But what the alcohol does is to extract out the polyphenols more effectively from the grapes. And so, one glass of red wine has about 5,000 ORAC units. So you do a quick calculation and say I got it. If I drink a bottle of red wine per day, I’ll get my 20,000 ORAC units. Your mathematics are impeccable. However, the extra alcohol is going to overwhelm all the benefits of those ORAC units. So, you basically try to find now mixtures. So I can’t eat two vegetables per day. Okay, how about one pound, and maybe one glass of red wine, and maybe one piece of fruit. All of a sudden, you’re there.

Jonathan: Yeah, it’s that combination to be extremely effective. And I know even personally for me, I personally don’t drink alcohol. Not because I’m against it, but I just never started, so I don’t need to now. And for green tea, I do very much enjoy that, and I found it to be very helpful to brew many bags of green tea in a small glass of water. Of course, decaffeinated. But I’ll but, Dr. Sears, I’ll put anywhere from ten bags of green tea in 10 ounces of water, brew it, cold brew it overnight, drink it in the morning with my breakfast. And, certainly, then I’m not peeing all day, for the lack of better terms.

Barry: But the trouble with polyphenols is they’re very bitter.

Jonathan: Yes.

Barry: And that basically separates the men from the boys. That’s why people add sugar to heir tea, or they ferment the tea and turn from green tea to black tea. It’s not as bitter, but you’ve destroyed most of the polyphenols. So, these polyphenols are very, very susceptible to fermentation, to heat, to processing. Another source of polyphenols people love to hear about are in chocolate. Well, yes, in the cocoa beans, the polyphenols are very rich. But by the time you begin to ferment the chocolate, and you roast the chocolate and then made a chocolate bar, the polyphenols that you’re getting are about maybe one-tenth of what they were. The same is true of coffee. Most Americans get their polyphenols from coffee. Now nobody drinks green coffee because it’s just too God awful. But they drink the dark roast coffee at Starbucks, but by the time you’ve roasted it and fermented it, most of the polyphenols have been destroyed.

So, again, as you were basically saying, these are supplements I can use, and the omega 3 fatty acids. They all work at different parts of the pathway. And that’s why I like to get that 20,000 ORAC units. Because at those levels, now the polyphenols begin to activate a key enzyme call AMP kinase. This is really kind of viewed as the enzyme of life. If you can activate this enzyme, it slows down the aging process. So you pick out the level of what you want out of life. Do you basically want to slow down the aging process a little? More? Or a lot? And that will tell you exactly how many polyphenols you need in the course of a day.

Jonathan: This is great news for me, Dr. Sears. I’m a fan of the green smoothie, so I try to do my green, leafy vegetables. I think I’m probably at a couple of pounds. I’ve got my green tea. I do my undutched cocoa in a lot of my healthy, zone-friendly type desserts, and before and after workouts, I try to enjoy some berries. And I think that might put me up in the upper echelons of some ORAC units.

Barry: Exactly. So on that part of the equation, you’ve done an excellent. Then you have to work on the omega 3 question. What we’ve had in the last hundred years, last century, has been a radical alteration of the human diet. Where basically omega 6 fatty acids, which were minor components, have now become the primary source of calories on a worldwide basis because they’re the cheapest source of calories. And with that, there’s been a corresponding drop in omega 3 fatty acids. Now what this means, you’ve done everything in your power to increase inflammation. So, adding back omega 3 fatty acids basically makes perfect anti inflammatory sense if you add back a therapeutic dose. What’s a therapeutic dose? It turns out it’s a lot more than anybody anticipates. And that’s why the work we do at the Inflammation Research Foundation is doing clinical studies with high-dose omega 3 fatty acids to treat and reverse some pretty nasty diseases. Like, I’ll take one. How about severe brain trauma. This is one you get knocked out, you go comatose, they wheel to the back of the hospital, and they hope you die. But it turns out, and we’ve published this, when you give high doses of omega 3 fatty acids, you can bring these people back. Because we have to put out the fire in the brain. And the same is true of virtually every chronic disease. We can view obesity as basically your fat’s on fire. Heart disease. Your heart cells are on fire. Cancer. Your immune system’s on fire. Diabetes. Your pancreas is on fire. And neurological disorders, your brain’s on fire. Put out the fire. Give the body a chance to heal itself, it will. But it’s very hard to heal itself if the fire is constantly burning. And so, one of the best ways to do that is, again, high-dose omega 3 fatty acids.

Now, unlike the polyphenols, it’s virtually impossible to overdose on them. Can you take too many omega 3 fatty acids? Yes, you can. Can you take too few? Yes, you can. How do you know? Now we use science. Basically there is a blood test, a ratio of two fatty acids in the body. Actually, we have a website called “zone diagnostics” that allows you to measure that using just a finger stick method in your own home. And you send it off to a laboratory. But when you get back that data, that becomes the most important tool you’ll ever have. It will tell you, one, how inflamed you are, and which direction you have to work in to either lower [inaudible 22:36] acid by following The Zone Diet, or increasing the intake of omega 3 fatty acids and probably, ideally, both.

Jonathan: And when you say increasing the intake, certainly let’s talk a bit about the dose, but we also need to talk about the form. Right? Because there is chia and flax seeds which are providing us with the ALA, but then we get the EPA and the DHA, which my understanding is much more biologically available to us from primarily animal sources.

Barry: That’s correct. We want to believe we can use vegetable sources like chia or flax seed, but they contain short-chain omega 3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, they have virtually zero anti inflammatory effects until they are basically transformed in the body to the longer change omega 3 fatty acids we find in fish and fish oils. Unfortunately, this is a very slow and inefficient process. So, if I want to take flax seed oil, I’d have to plan to take about ten to fifty times the volume of flax seed oil to get the same benefits of the same volume of fish oil. All of a sudden, that’s a lot of flax seed oil. Then we have a problem that all fish oils, because all fish are contaminated. And getting those contaminants out is really a big problem. And one that, basically, when you go to the health food store or COSCO or Wal-Mart, I guarantee the problem has not been solved. It can be solved, but, basically, if you’re not taking omega 3 fatty acids, the last thing you want to be taking in a the same time are these toxins known as PCBs because these are like the roach motel. Once they check in your body, they’re not checking out.

Jonathan: So where do we look for our omega 3s? Certainly, I’m a huge fan of wild-caught salmon, and are we looking for other wild-caught, fatty fish like that?

Barry: Ideally. But it doesn’t matter how wild they are or how pristine the waters, they’re all contaminated with PCBs. So, are fish oils a principle solution, potential solution? Yes, they are. Here’s a simple test. Not the perfect test, but a simple test. Take some fish oil you might have at your house. Break open four or five capsules. Put the oil into a shot glass. Put the shot glass into your freezer. And then come back five hours later with a toothpick. If you can push the toothpick through the fish oil, meaning it’s not frozen solid, it might be okay. On the other hand, if you can’t push the toothpick through the fish oil, meaning it’s frozen solid, you’re taking the sewer out of the sea, and you know it’s rich in PCBs. Now, by that criteria, about 99.4 percent of all fish oils fail.

Jonathan: So, certainly, we’ve got to find the right form of fish oil. But also in terms of dose. I’ve always been curious. When you look at, again, for the reasons you’ve enumerated, these capsules you may find at a common retailer are not ideal from a quality perspective but also from a quantity perspective. They celebrate the fact that you’re taking in 250 mg of EPA, and 250 mg of DHA. That seems like a very small amount of these therapeutic fats. How much should we be taking in.

Barry: Well, you grandmother knew, because she gave at least the minimum dosage to your parents when she gave them a tablespoon of cod liver oil. The most disgusting food, but it contained 2.5 grams of omega 3 fatty acids. That’s 2,500 mg. That to me is a minimum dose for basically trying to maintain health. But let’s say you’re already inflamed. You’re fat, you have heart disease, or diabetes. Plan to double that dosage. Let’s say even a higher level of inflammation. Let’s say you have arthritis. Still higher. And once the inflammation is inside the brain, you have multiple sclerosis. You’ve got depression, ADHD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, you’re going to still higher levels. These are high levels. Make no mistake about it. But they’re therapeutic levels. And that’s why the purity of fish oil becomes so important.

Here’s a little ugly secret about natural products. They do work. But they basically are not as concentrated. So the amounts you need to get a therapeutic effect are oftentimes quite high. Like 20,000 ORAC units. That’s two pounds of vegetables. You say can’t I take a pill? No, you can’t. Can I take the bottle of wine? Yeah, you can, but there’s some problems there. So you get back to it, you know, it’s a little work and effort, but the therapeutic index, that is basically the therapy divided by the toxicity, is virtually approaching infinite. But you have to take the therapeutic dosage, just like a drug.

Jonathan: Makes a lot of sense. So it sounds like, not only with our polyphenols, but also with our omega 3s, it’s often a good idea to take a multi-pronged approach. Ensuring we’re eating, ideally, as pristine as possible fatty fish, ensuring we’re taking maybe a cod liver oil or some sort of omega 3 supplement. Also, maybe enjoying some flax and chia seeds. Certainly, if we’re using those in place of starches, that would seem like it would be a beneficial approach. What about that? What about that combination approach there?

Barry: Basically moderation has always been king. I’m not real big on flax seed oil, but I love flax seeds. I love chia seeds because they contain lignins which has some very, very nice biochemical properties. So they’re great to sprinkle on virtually every food.

Jonathan: I love it. And, Dr. Sears, truly I could talk with you for days, and I’d love to have you back on the show. But one last thing that I wanted to talk about more was you mentioned the gut, and you mentioned all of these bacteria that we have in the gut. You also mentioned inflammation in the brain. And it seems like every week, there’s new, amazing research coming out between the hypothalamic and gut regulatory system of, not only our blood sugar, but really everything associated with the metabolic syndrome. The regulation of our body fat storage, leptin sensitivity, insulin sensitivity. And at the same time, Dr. Sears, we still hear just eat less. Clearly what we’re talking about here is actually eating more but doing that smarter. It’s eating pounds of vegetables. It’s eating lots of delicious fish and flax seeds. But we’re told just eat less. That seems to be the exact opposite of what we should do.

Barry: It is. Because, again, usually that is basically primarily focused on the overweight person. You know, eat less, exercise more. As if they said, wow, I’d never thought about that. Of course they have. They’ve tried to do that. But, again, what happens why they are always hungry because there’s a breakdown between our two brains. We have two brains. The nice white one up on top of our head that looks really smart. The second brain is in our gut which is slimy, stinky and smells. But these two brains are in constant communication. And if they’re basically talking to each other effectively, then you won’t have these problems. But what disturbs the communication? Increased inflammation. So this is why basically gut health, keeping the inflammation down in your gut, becomes so important to keeping inflammation in the brain down and inflammation in the rest of the body down. So, again, we’re going back to things your grandmother said. Who knew she was at the cutting edge of biotechnology?

Jonathan: I knew she was a smart woman.

Barry: But she was basically the repository of 20 millennia of observations of how we eat, how that affects our health. And we’ve basically have gotten away from that. Now new breakthroughs in biotechnology have told us that ancient wisdom was well-founded. And it’s only that we have the technology to say oh, my God. What we eat has such an important effect on keeping inflammation down so each of our 100 trillion cells in our body can now talk more effectively. And if they do, we live longer, we live better.

Jonathan: Dr. Sears, I love it. And both personally and professionally, I thank you for all the work you’ve done for decades and decades and continue to do. It certainly helped me, and I know it’s helped the lives of millions. And I just think it’s so encouraging to promote a message of heal the body, and then allow the body to homeostatically perpetuate health as it might be perpetuating disease right now. Because we certainly all understand just how powerful the body’s “preferences are” by looking at the fact of how much we struggle with obesity and diabetes. And to think that we could take that same system, and by keeping in the zone, as you call it, we can actually make it work for us rather than against us.

Barry: Exactly. Put out the fire, and basically the body will heal itself. But, again, if the fire is not put out, basically it’s spitting into the wind.

Jonathan: Folks, his name is Dr. Barry Sears. You’ve undoubtedly heard about him before. He is the founder of The Zone Diet, and if you haven’t read one of his 12, I believe, books, you can certainly get them and a lot more information at both drsears.com, which is going to be a bit more scientifically focused. Again, that’s drsears.com and also from zonediet.com, which is going to be a big more product-focused. So Dr. Sears, thank you again for joining us. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

Barry: Jonathan, my pleasure.

Jonathan: Folks, I hope you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did. And remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Talk with you soon.