Dr. Barry Sears‘, creator of The Zone diet, explains in his newest book, Toxic Fat, why America is in the midst of a “Perfect Nutritional Storm” and its implications on any envisioned savings coming from the current health-care reform debate.
We asked Dr. Sears some questions about these topics over email. The Q&A is below:
What is “toxic fat” and how can we avoid it?
The scientific name for “toxic fat” is arachidonic acid. This natural fatty acid is the building block for a wide variety of very powerful inflammatory hormones. You need some toxic fat to be able to mount an inflammatory response to microbial invasion, but too much toxic fat causes the body to begin attacking itself. In other words, you have to keep toxic fat in a zone that is not too high, but not too low. There is no drug that can reduce toxic fat levels, but recent changes in the American diet have caused a significant increase of its levels. I term these dietary changes as the Perfect Nutritional Storm. With this increased toxic fat has come a corresponding increase in inflammation that is the underlying cause of the development of chronic diseases, including obesity.
You’ve said that “Obesity is not a consequence of sloth and gluttony, but rather an adverse interaction of our current diet with our genes,” and mentioned government subsidies for corn and soybean crops that have created an abundance of cheap refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils as the number- one offender. In light of this, what are some simple dietary steps people can make towards a more healthy diet?
The simplest way to reduce the production of toxic fat is to (a) significantly limit the intake of grains and starches, and (b) avoid the use of vegetable oil rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Easier said than done since these two food ingredients dominate our current food supply because of nearly $20B of annual subsidies from the government.
To make this as practical as possible, here are some easy tips:
1. Eat Your Vegetables
When Grandma would say: “You can’t leave the table until you eat your vegetables,” she was giving sage hormonal advice. It is difficult to over-consume non-starchy carbohydrate, especially Mediterranean vegetables. Because of their low carbohydrate content, it is very difficult to overproduce insulin when they are the primary carbohydrates in your diet.
2. Never Use Vegetable Oils
Vegetable oils, like corn, soy, sunflower, and safflower, are rich in omega-6 fatty acids. When they combine with high levels of insulin, the result is increased toxic fat and the activation of ancient inflammatory genes.
3. Balance Your Plate
To truly control your hormones, balance your plate at every meal. On one-third of the plate, put some low-fat protein no bigger or thicker than the palm of your hand. This is about 3 ounces for women and 4 ounces for men. Fill the other two-thirds of the plate with colorful carbohydrates primarily from non-starchy vegetables. Finally, add a dash heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil, slivered almonds or even guacamole.
4. Take Your Fish Oil
Eating fatty fish or taking fish oil capsules can provide the necessary anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids to dilute out excess toxic fat and thus help reduce inflammation.
5. Drink Plenty of Water
The body is 65 to 70 percent water. Cells need hydration to work effectively to convert incoming dietary calories into chemical energy to run the body (i.e. metabolism). Without adequate water your metabolism becomes less efficient, and you need to consume more dietary calories. Try to drink half your weight in ounces of water on a daily basis.
6. Cut back on sugar
Sugar is not as sweet as you think. In laboratory tests using rats, sugar has been shown to be more addictive than cocaine. There is no reason to think that is not true for humans.
7. Manage Your Meals When Dining Out
Remember these simple rules when dining out:
• Italian: Pass on the pasta and bread and ask for extra grilled vegetables.
• Mexican: Have the fajitas without the tortillas.
• American: Avoid the starches and ask for extra vegetables.
• French: Ask for extra vegetables rather than eating bread and potatoes.
• Chinese: Don’t have rice but ask for more steamed vegetables.
• Dessert: The best bet is mixed berries
Is “The Zone” diet a one-stop shopping diet regimen for better health, or should it be supplemented with vitamin intake or other measures?
Following the Zone Diet allows you to control the hormonal responses of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) while simultaneously ensuring adequate levels of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as you are eating 10-15 servings of vegetables and fruits per day with adequate levels of low-fat protein. The Zone Diet should be viewed as an anti-inflammatory diet that represents the evolution of the traditional Mediterranean diet to a higher level of hormonal control.
On Jan 19, Dr. Sears will be at the 92nd Street Y to discuss these issues and more at length, helping you to reduce the “toxic fat” in your system that creats an inflammatory situation that can spread throughout the body, resulting in obesity, neurological disorders, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
If you have any questions for Dr. Sears, leave them below in the comments, and they will be considered during the Q&A.
[Battling the Perfect Nutritional Storm]
Upcoming events at 92Y:
May Center Open House: Jan 12
Update on Cancer Cures: Mar 10
Food on the Tube: How TV Shapes the Way We Think About Food: Apr 26
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