Bonus – Aglaee Jacob – Boost Digestive Health with Real Food


Jonathan: Hey, everyone, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim Podcast. Definitely a lovely show for you today. We have a registered dietitian with us who completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Nutrition at Laval – I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly, I’m sure she’ll correct me if I’m not – University in Quebec. She’s all about diabetes and digestive health. It seems during her training, she was not completely satisfied by what she was getting.

So she went out there, started blazing her own trails, subsequently is just all over the internet, all over the world helping people to eat better and live better. She’s written a book called Digestive Health With REAL Food. You can find her at Paleo-Dietitian.com on the web. Aglaée Jacob, welcome to the show.

Aglaée: Hi, Jonathan. Thank you for having me today.

Jonathan: Well, thank you so much for being here. Aglaée, let’s just get started with a little bit more detail on your story and how you evolved through the standard nutrition- education ranks to now blazing a bit of your own trail.

Aglaée: That’s an interesting story, actually. When I was trained as a dietitian, I learned all about the low fat, the whole grains, the calories in, calories out. When I started practicing as a registered dietitian, my first main job was as a certified diabetes educator. I worked with many people suffering with Type 2 diabetes and having problems with their weight, having problems managing their blood-sugar levels.

I soon realized that the approach I was taught was not working for the majority of the clients I was working with, unfortunately. Maybe for some people having like the most awful diet, eating like a whole pizza for themselves every day and drinking three liters of Coke a day, improving their diet by controlling their calories would work for a certain period of time.

For most people, most people that are actually already trying to follow the food pyramid and the dietary recommendations that we hear everywhere in the media or read about in the magazines, or hear doctors and dietitians recommend on the television or on different websites, it was not working for them. It was… their blood-sugar levels would stay high, their weight would still be less than ideal, and they would feel pretty miserable.

They would feel like a failure because they were trying very hard and making a lot of efforts but with very little results. At some point, I just felt there had to be something that I was missing. I firmly believe in the power of food, but I was starting to doubt the approach I was taught, that it was actually not the best one to go about.

I just started taking a bit more of the literature and listening to different experts that had different opinions, opinions that were different to what I was taught in school. Because when I was fresh out of school, I thought that I knew everything there was to know about nutrition; and everything that was not in line with what I was taught, I wouldn’t listen to.

At some point, I decided to open my mind. That’s when I realized that there was a whole other side that I hadn’t learned in school. I was dumbfounded to see all the evidence-based information that was out there, but that was not accessible to most people in the population, and not even to dietitians like myself.

Jonathan: Aglaée, do you have any insight now, looking back, as to why that information is not provided in a more traditional curriculum? It seems as though, correct me if I’m wrong, but especially given your practice, the results speaks for themselves, and it’s backed by evidence. Why isn’t it making it into mainstream curriculum?

Aglaée: I think that’s a very difficult question. I don’t know if I’m able to answer that question because there are so many factors involved. For one, I think that it’s really difficult for someone to say that the way they’ve been practicing for a long time is wrong. For universities to change their programs and start confessing that there might be another way, that this not the whole story, maybe it’s a very difficult thing to do.

Then we have all the government guidelines and agencies like Heart Association, Diabetes Association, that are all following the same kind of mainstream principles, even though they are not fully founded on science. It’s just been this way for so many years that it’s hard to change. Then there’s a lot of lobbying from the dairy industry, the grain producers, and also food manufacturers. It’s a very difficult place to be when you’re trying to listen to all the information coming from all of these different sides. It can be very hard for people to make sense out of it.

Jonathan: We certainly appreciate that you made sense out of it. It is unfortunate, because it seems like in other academic disciplines… For example, even in surgery, we don’t perform heart surgery the same way today as we did 40 years ago. In fact, we’re always looking for new ways to improve patient care.

It’s unfortunate that the same logic of trying to improve patient care continuously over time – and that doesn’t mean we were incompetent in the past. It just means, like every other area of life, research has gone on, technology has improved, so why not modify or change. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like that’s happening.

Aglaée: I don’t have the exact answer as to why it’s this way, but it’s very unfortunate. I think there’s hope because I think there’s change probably coming more from the grassroots levels. People are getting tired of being sick and tired, trying to find other ways to take charge of their own health.

I think it’s probably going to be the way the system will be changed, because health practitioners – well, there are few like me who are interested in looking in other ways. I think there will have to be more demand from the people trying to get healthier for things to change at large.

Jonathan: Now, if I understand correctly, you’re back in school working to becoming a naturopathic doctor. What drove you to go back into the belly of the beast and get more education?

Aglaée: I actually never thought I would go back to school, but it just happened. Well, after discovering there was other ways of practicing nutrition, I learned a lot. I studied by myself, reviewed my biochemistry textbooks and read tons of scientific research. I always like learning, and I thought it helped me practice better as a registered dietitian; I was able to better help my clients and get better results.

Although I believe in the power of food and know that it can really make a big difference in the health and well-being of people, I wanted to have an even more holistic and inclusive approach. That’s why I decided to go back to school to study naturopathic medicine. The good thing about naturopathic medicine is that it’s still very scientific.

In fact, it’s a four-year degree, very intensive. We study a lot of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and all kinds of things. It’s also a lot more open-minded. We have a lot more education about nutrition, which I think I have enough education in that field already, but there’s always room to learn more. We also learn about botanical medicine, we learn Chinese medicine and acupuncture, we learn about hydrotherapy and tons of other stuff that is more natural and that can help people improve their health by themselves, I mean by stimulating their inner vitality instead of just coping with the symptoms by adding more pills. I was really interested in that kind of medicine. I consulted naturopathic doctors myself before going back to school. I just decided that I fell in love with that profession, and I just felt like this was the right fit for me.

Jonathan: What have you seen, both in your current academic practice as well as just in your practice as a certified diabetes educator and working with individuals, and just independent research, as being some – certainly you work with people who have specific challenges. Just generally speaking, have you found that there are some key things which are not too hard to adopt?

Because some of these things, I know, can seem a little bit odd and can be a little bit difficult to do. What are some things which the everyday person can start to do in addition? We all hear, Drink more water; sleep; eat more vegetables. What are some things different from that that your off-the-beaten-path investigations have found which are still not too far out there?

Aglaée: I think that the best places for most people to start, if they want to improve the way they feel and also prevent chronic disease like diabetes or heart disease from appearing in the future, is to start with very simple things. Just things like decreasing the amount of sugar; and by sugar, I mean added sugar of course in desserts, but also refined grains.

People now seem to center their meals around pasta and potatoes and bread, and very carby things. All these carbs, even though they might come from whole grains or healthy grains, once digested, they all break down into sugar. Eating a lot of these things can have a very detrimental effect in the long term, and even in the short term. I’ve had many clients just decreasing their intake of carbohydrates by eliminating sugar and refined grains, they can usually feel an improvement fairly quickly in the way they feel, the way they think, and even the way they look. That’s a very simple change that people can do.

It may seem difficult at first, but if you can just replace those carbohydrates, whether they come from sugar or refined grains, with more healthy fat, then you can still feel satisfied and enjoy your meals. For example, instead of having a big bowl of pasta that’s very rich in carbs and low in fat, you can have less of the pasta but add more of an extra virgin olive oil or slices of avocado to add back those healthy fats that too many people are trying to avoid unnecessarily.

Because they are so healthy and satisfying, they are a lot more helpful to regularize your blood-sugar levels and have better energy throughout the day, and also provide you all the fat-soluble nutrients your body really needs to be healthy.

Jonathan: Aglaée, we have to eat as the primary source of our calories, correct me if I’m wrong, fat or carbohydrate. Using protein as a primary source of calories, of energies, is probably not the best idea. We need to get the bulk of our energy from carbohydrate or fat. It seems like there are professionals, people with plenty of letters behind their name, on one end of the spectrum that say, If you eat foods containing fat and cholesterol, you are going to get heart disease. Like that is what will give you heart disease.

Then there are people on the other end of the spectrum saying, If you eat sugary and starchy foods, that will give you heart disease and cholesterol. There are very few areas where I’ve seen so much certainty and literally complete disagreement. Like, biology isn’t a matter of opinion. It seems like we could study this and get a conclusive answer. When you eat this, what happens in the body; does it cause inflammation or not; yes or no. Why is there so much controversy?

Aglaée: I think that the low-fat and hard-lipid hypothesis originated from decades ago. It has been so ingrained, and people are not questioning those beliefs anymore. If people are interested in really looking at the scientific literature and looking at what can happen if you eat a higher-fat and lower-carb diet, it’s pretty obvious that it can work. I don’t think that there’s one approach that works for everyone.

I think everyone has to try to experiment with their own diet to find what works best for them. The best experiment to do is probably to modify your own diet and have your blood-sugar and blood-cholesterol levels tested every few months to see how what you’re doing can change your own health. Because it doesn’t matter if there are studies showing a certain thing that happens in certain people; what really matters is what happens with you.

I used to eat a vegetarian diet, very low in fat with a lot of whole grains, no meat, and I was not feeling very well. I changed to a lower-carbohydrate diet, higher-fat diet. So I’m eating more fat than ever, and I just had my blood-cholesterol and blood-sugar levels tested recently, and it’s never been better.

So it doesn’t prove anything. It doesn’t prove that it’s going to work for everyone, but I think it’s worth a try. I’m not the kind of dietitian who would argue that my approach is the approach that everybody should take. I think that people should definitely be offered more options so they can experiment with their diet, try different things, to really find the best way to eat for them.

Jonathan: Aglaée, what are your thoughts on – it seems there is a false dichotomy presented in terms of eating. Whether or not people choose to eat animals for moral reasons is like its own separate discussion, it’s a moral discussion, it has nothing to do with health. It’s about morality.

Then, let’s say someone wants to eat just plants; so they just want to eat plants, that’s fine. You could still very easily, it seems, eat a higher-fat, lower- carbohydrate, 100% plant diet. There are plenty of extremely healthy sources of fats from plants, right?

Aglaée: Yes, like avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts. Those are all healthy fats and they don’t have to eat animal fats. Of course, I believe that a certain amount of animal products is essential to get vitamin A and some fat-soluble nutrients. I think that saturated fat and cholesterol have a very important role to play in optimal health. But there are many ways to go around this and find what’s the finer way of eating that’s in line with your beliefs and that’s also allowing you to get all the nutrients you need or almost all the nutrients you need for optimal health.

Jonathan: As a registered dietitian, you’re still part of institutions and organizations, I would imagine, that promote the theories and beliefs of 40 years ago, which are just old. And I’m sure you have continuing-education requirements. How do you, as a registered dietitian who now knows both from personal experience as well as client-based experience, as well as research demonstrating that there is a more modern, let’s say, approach to eating and exercise, how do you go to continuing-education events and sit there while maybe you hear things which are just like, Ah, that’s not true. What do you do?

Aglaée: I choose to maintain my license as a registered dietitian, and I have to be a member of certain organizations and collect continuing-education credits. Fortunately, we have many more options today. With many books that are out there, like your book, for example, we can collect continuing-education credits by reading it and completing a test to make sure that we gained some knowledge from it.

I seek those alternative ways of learning that really help me learn something instead of having to see the same rehashed information that I’ve been taught as a dietitian for years. I’ve been to some of those dietitian conferences, but I find that it’s a waste of time and resources and money. Also, it’s pretty discouraging sometimes, because many of these conferences can be sponsored by some brands of breakfast cereals or some brands of margarines, and I just have bad memories of those conferences and seeing all the dietitians at snack time, there’s lots of bars and snacks that are sponsored by some popular brands and all of that.

I really want to try to distance myself from these and seek more individual learning opportunities where I can truly learn what I’m interested in learning.

Jonathan: Aglaée, when you go to these conferences, and even just through your schooling, and even in the popular media, and you see how far off the message is from the message of eating nutrient-dense, whole, real foods, what are your thoughts on what we as a – you mentioned grassroots – as a small community, there seems to be so many that are so far off.

It’s not their fault, it’s just there’s a bunch of other things going on. Within our smaller community, we continue to argue about things, we continue to disagree about this versus that and yada, yada, yada. What are your thoughts on that? Because you actually seem, at least from what I’m hearing here, to be very accepting and very, If it works for you, that’s great, and there are just these core principles.

I don’t know if that’s because you’ve seen the other side and just said they’re so far off that we just need to make steps in the right direction so we can be a little bit more broad and accepting of our approach, rather than being like, It has to be this one way and that’s perfect. So what are your thoughts on where the mainstream is versus where our community is, and how we can work to bridge that gap rather than just arguing amongst ourselves?

Aglaée: There are a lot of big differences between the mainstream nutrition and the other side, which I hope they become the mainstream side. I think that the best way to bridge the gap… Well, when you were asking that question I was just picturing myself. At some point, I remember I was working in my office as a diabetes educator.

I just looked around me, and there were all these empty boxes of breakfast cereals and granola bars and low-fat sugar-free oatmeals, a ton of frozen meals and all of that. I had all of these labels around me in my office. It almost looked like a grocery store, but all the boxes were empty. I was just using that as a way to teach label-reading to my clients with diabetes.

At that point in my career, I was just realizing, Am I a representative of these few companies? This is not how I pictured myself as a dietitian when I decided to study nutrition. I think that the best way to help people understand what nutrition should be all about is to forget about all of these foods that come in a box and in a bag, or that have labels, actually. We should go back to the basics. I think everybody would agree with that, whether they define themselves as being Paleo, primal, low-carb or vegetarian.

Everybody would agree that going back to eating real, unprocessed food is the way to go. The more we can go around and buy food that doesn’t have a label – and it’s actually convenient because you don’t have to worry about reading complicated labels with lots of numbers and trying to figure out if you should look at the calories, the fat, the sugars, the fibers. There’s no need for that when you stick to real food.

If you go to the vegetables, the fruits, the tubers like sweet potatoes and winter squashes; and then try to find those foods that are as natural as they can be and that you could actually probably grow yourself, I think that going back to this real-food concept, I hope that this is going to be the way that we can all come to terms and start moving forward all in the same direction.

Jonathan: I’m so happy to hear you say that, because it does seem that unification is so important. I don’t know if you saw this, it won’t be super recent when this podcast airs, but as of the recording, Hostess, the company that makes Twinkies and just rereleased them, recently issued a press release that says they’re experiencing a surge in demand that is seven times greater than historic levels.

Orders for their new Twinkies are three to six times greater than their production capacity, even though they are running their bakeries at maximum levels. The only reason I mentioned that is because when I hear what you are saying, and hopefully when the listeners hear this, it seems that’s what we’re up against. We’re not really up against anyone who’s saying, Eat stuff less like Twinkies and more like things found in nature. We’re up against that huge surge in demand for Twinkies.

Aglaée: That’s scary.

Jonathan: Well Aglaée, what’s next for you? Obviously, you’ve got your wonderful book Digestive Health With REAL Food, you’re in school, folks can learn more about you at Paleo-Dietitian.com. What can we expect next from you?

Aglaée: Well, I’m actually working on a cookbook. The first part of my career was more focusing on diabetes, and I still really enjoy working with people with diabetes. But because of some personal health struggles that I’ve been dealing with, digestive health has really been my main focus in the last two to three years. And I just published the book called Digestive Health With REAL Food and I’m now working on a cookbook that’s going to be released later this December with more recipes that are based on real food to help people optimize their digestion and also their overall health. That’s what I’m working on at the moment.

Jonathan: Very exciting. Thank you so much for walking along what I know at some times must feel like a lonely path, because you have all these other dietitians and diabetes educators out there marching to the tune of a different drum while you continue to do what you do. So I appreciate that. Thank you. Please keep it up. We’re supporting you.

Aglaée: Thank you so much, Jonathan.

Jonathan: Folks, her name is Aglaée Jacob. Please check her out at Paleo-Dietitian.com. Her book is Digestive Health With REAL Food. I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation as much as I did. Please remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.

This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Aglaee Jacob. In her own words:

Digestive Health with REAL Food: A Practical Guide to an Anti-Inflammatory, Nutrient Dense Diet for IBS & Other Digestive Issues

“Aglaée is a Canadian registered dietitian and has completed a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Nutrition at Laval University (Quebec City, Canada). She worked as a diabetes educator in Ottawa for over 3 years before realizing that the training she received wasn’t allowing her to help people as much as she had hoped. She then decided to open her mind to other schools of thought and initiated an extensive research. Since then, she developed an evidence-based alternative approach that helped her manage her personal health struggles and get better results with her clients.

She recently published a book called “Digestive Health with REAL Food: a practical guide to an anti-inflammatory, low-irritant, nutrient-dense diet for IBS & other digestive issues” in June of 2013 and a companion cookbook by the same name will be released in December of this year. She also regularly contributes to many publications, including Paleo Mag and Today’s Dietitian. She is now studying naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

 My Conventional Education & Training

I completed a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degrees in Nutrition at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada. I then worked as a registered dietitian (RD) in various fields, including gyms, programs for overweight kids and families, Health Canada (a governmental health agency equivalent to the FDA) and a community diabetes education program (as a certified dietitian diabetes educator), for a few years before I decided I was not ready to settle.

I took my backpack to South America for a few months to improve my Spanish skills, travel and volunteer before living abroad in Australia and Germany for a few years with my now-husband.

 My Paleo “Conversion”

Surprisingly, it is only once I escaped and stopped working my 9 to 5 job that I started opening my eyes, ears and mind to all of the contradictory evidence I had previously dismissed. I remember listening to many nutrition- and health-related podcasts* during my travels and even took an online nutrition workshop from Harvard-trained biochemist Mat Lalonde, PhD, during a 24-hr Guayaquil-Lima bus trip.

At first, I thought that all of this was ridiculous. Then, disbelief turned into uncertainty… which pushed me to review my biochemistry, read many scientific studies and listen to experts of all fields. I was so shocked by all this new information, and yet I felt like I wasn’t sure of what I knew anymore. I recall spending many sleepless nights just thinking over these new concepts and re-educating myself.

I soon started to better understand why my former clients, which I thought were simply being “non-compliant”, did not achieve their weight goals nor improved their blood sugar, blood pressure and other health parameters while following my advice of eating less fat and more whole grains. My own weight struggles and addiction to sugar and carbs also finally started to make sense.

I adopted a low-carb diet and started playing with the principles of the Paleo diet at the end of 2010. Less than 2 months later, I had eliminated all grains, legumes (beans, lentils, soy and peanuts), vegetable oils, refined sugar and processed food and ingredients from my diet. I have been eating Paleo ever since and don’t intend to ever go back to the low-fat vegetarian diet I followed for many years.

★ My own path to health

→ IBS

For the first part of my life, I never had any significant digestion problems… but this all changed in 2010 when I travelled to South America and caught a parasite called Blastocystis Hominis. Although doctors and gastroenterologists don’t agree that this parasite is actually harmful for human health, either the parasite or the antibiotics I was prescribed changed my gut… forever!

Since then, I have been dealing with post-infectious IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), which, just like other types of IBS, can greatly affect quality of life. Abdominal pain, extreme bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation as well as fatigue became part of my daily life… despite eating a 100% Paleo diet. I then discovered I had fructose malabsorption and started on the low-FODMAP diet. After a few months of not getting better, I found out I also had SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and decided to adopt the GAPS diet, a diet in line with the Paleo diet principles but promoting different gut-healing components such as homemade bone broth and fermented food. Since then, things have been going a lot better. Although I still need to be careful with what I eat, I feel that I have finally regained control over my digestive system, my health and my life.

→ PCOS

I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) in 2011, although I probably had it for longer as many women with PCOS do. It is when I stopped taking the birth control pill that I discovered that my cycle was not regular… or actually totally absent. Receiving a PCOS diagnosis was very difficult, knowing that it is the first cause of infertility and is accompanied by a tendency to gain weight easily, an inability to lose weight as well as an increased risk of developing serious health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease. Fortunately, I also know that diet is part of the solution to balance hormones and manage PCOS. After over 14 months of amenorrhea, eating a low-carb Paleo diet allowed me to resume a normal cycle and I now have hope that I will be able to live healthy and conceive naturally when the time comes.

→ Adrenal Fatigue

Although this condition is unrecognized by many doctors, it is real and it can seriously affect your quality of life. People with digestive issues and other health problems often have an impaired adrenal function. I am working on maintaining a good sleep hygiene and adhering to a clean and healthy caffeine-free Paleo diet to keep me on the right path to healing. I am still working on the stress management and relaxation piece… but I won’t give up until I am the healthy and energetic me again.

★ Working {trying to} as a Paleo Dietitian

Since 2010, I have learned so much about nutrition and believe that I finally discovered the true nature of the missing link I always knew existed between food and health. I am so excited to now be a Paleo dietitian that I wish to share what all I have learned with everyone, especially those suffering from the consequences of the standard American diet and food pyramid-like advice. I am also a proud member of the Weston A. Price Foundation, the Paleo Physician Network, Primal Docs, the Paleo Foundation and a featured expert on the Ancestral Weight Loss Registry. You can also see a current list of my publications here (including various ebooks, podcast interviws and articles in the Paleo Magazine).

I strongly believe in the power of eating real food, as promoted by the Paleo diet, which means I will never be able to work as a “regular” dietitian/RD again. I could never stand having to follow the standard of care prescribing low-fat diets, plenty of whole grains and little animal food… and I have the feeling that I may not be able to keep my job if I recommend unlimited amounts of eggs, meat and fat and convince people to ditch their grains. 😉

I decided to found my own private practice as a Paleo dietitian so I can really practice the way I believe is best, combining the biochemistry and science I learned at university and my more recent personal researches about what foods are optimal for human health. I invested countless hours and a significant amount of money in training, workshops, books and scientific articles to find real answers about nutrition and re-educate myself as a Paleo RD

★ Career Upgrade: Naturopathic Medicine

[December 2012 update!]

Back to school? YES! I am returning to school to study naturopathic medicine at CCNM (Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I feel like food and nutrition are a big piece of the health and wellness puzzle but I strongly believe that adding other modalities to my toolbox will help me better achieve my goal: help people heal and live a healthy life using holistic and natural options. 🙂

Going to naturopathic medicine school is a big time commitment (4 years) and financial investment, but I feel it’s worth it. I really hope to be able to help many more people like you once I become a naturopathic doctor (ND)… in 2016! :)”