Food Matters Deeply

Do Extreme Diets Promote Health?

Restrictive Diets Don’t Address The Root Cause

The old ways of thinking about food aren’t helping — and can even cause problems down the road as we overrestrict, undereat, or hyperfocus solely on food as the answer to our health problems.

  • “You are what you eat.”
  • “Let food be thy medicine.”
  • “The solution to all health problems is the diet.”
  • “Food is the number one way we impact our health.”

These were once revolutionary quotes — as food consciousness entered public awareness.

These days, nothing is terribly shocking: everybody knows food is important.  It’s so important that we often take things too far, even into the realm of being unhelpful.

Too Much Hype?

Is it possible there’s excess hype about how food restores — and harms — health in chronic disease and aging?

Restrictive diets are exploding in popularity — often out of necessity. Previously-normal food groups are suddenly highly intolerable for large numbers of people.

What’s most troubling is that these restrictive diets are usually masking symptoms rather than solving the underlying problems — and often leading to deeper dietary intolerance.

Explore the Food section

Let’s Understand Food

1

The ‘Macronutrients’

3 Categories Of Food

Most modern people no longer eat the healthy, traditional diets tested and handed down from earlier generations.

There are overwhelming numbers of options at grocery stores and restaurants. It’s very likely up to you — alone — to build a diet.

All diets are built from three groups of food. The combination of these three groups of food can have an incredible effect on digestive and overall health — for better or worse.

3 Food Groups

(The Macro’s)

Carbs

Proteins

Fat

All food is made of these three groups.

Get To Know The Macros

To be a healthy in the modern world, it’s important to:

  • Identify the three groups.
  • Understand which foods are in each group.
  • How foods from the 3 food groups affect health.

With this knowledge, it becomes possible to:

  • Choose foods.
  • Combine foods.
  • Portion foods.
2

The ‘Macros’

Macronutrients — the “big” nutrients.

Each “macro” group is made of different building blocks.

  • Carbs are made of sugars.
  • Protein is made of amino acids.
  • Fat is made of fatty acids.

All food contains energy. That energy is measured in calories.

The reason for eating is to extract that energy from food.

Carbs

Will always break down to sugars (glucose or fructose).

  • 4 calories per gram.

Grains — Fruit — Starch — Sugar

  • 100 grams = 400 calories

Protein

Will always break down to amino acids.

  • 4 calories per gram.

Meat — Dairy — Collagen

  • 100 grams = 400 calories

Fat

Will always break down to free fatty acids (& glycerol).

  • 9 calories per gram.

Cream — Lard — Oils

  • 100 grams = 900 calories

Fat provides over twice the calories (per gram) of carbs and protein.


A gram is just a unit to measure weight.

EXAMPLE: Tracking Macros

(Daily Totals for 2100 Calorie Diet)

Carbs

200 grams
(4 calories per gram)

= 800 calories (total from carbs)

Protein

100 grams
(4 calories per gram)

= 400 calories (total from protein)

Fat

100 grams
(9 calories per gram)

= 900 calories (total from fat)

Do The Math…

800 calories (200g Carb)
+ 400 calories (100g Protein)
+ 900 calories (100g Fat)

= 2100 calories

3

Do We Need All Three Groups?

Can we skip one, or more?

When we completely avoid a “macro” group — can the body adapt?

Carbs

If we avoid carbs, the body can synthesize sugars from fats and protein.

Protein

If we avoid protein, the body cannot synthesize basic amino acids.

  • (The body cannot make 9 basic amino acids on its own. You must get them from food.)

Fats

If we avoid all fats, the body can synthesize only some fats — from sugars or protein.

  • (The body cannot synthesize PUFA. It can produce saturated and mono-unsaturated fat, but it’s an inefficient process.)

4

Popular Diets Often Restrict Macros — But Never Eliminate Them

Many diets talk about reducing the intake of a macro group.

What happens if we reduce — or completely remove — any group?

Carbs

0% Carb Diets?

Very, very few people say this is healthy.

A zero-carb diet is very difficult to follow, and extremely rare in practice. It’s no surprise that even very-low-carb diets still allow for some carbs daily.

Wait, What About…

Low Carb Diets
(10% Carb)?

50g carbs/day*

A low carb diet still allows 10% calories from carbs, or, about 50g/day (for 2000 calorie diet).

When lowering carbs this much, you must make up the difference with 70% (or more) of your calories from fat.

Examples: Atkins Diet, Keto Diet

Restricting carbs this much can harm the thyroid and slow the metabolism.

*(for 2000 calorie diet)

Protein

0% Protein Diets?

Nobody believes avoiding all protein is healthy.

In fact, even carb-rich foods have some protein. Avoiding all protein is as impossible as it is unhealthy.

Wait, What about…

Low Protein Diets
(8% Protein)?

40g protein/day*

A true, low-protein diet will allow for about 8% calories from protein.

For a 2000 calorie diet, this is about 40g/day of protein.

That’s still a decent bit of protein: it’s roughly the protein in two hamburger patties.

*(for 2000 calorie diet)

Fat

0% Fat Diets?

Zero-fat diets don’t really exist.

The “Very-Low-Fat Diet” still allows 10% of your calories from fat. For 2000 calories/day, it allows 22g of fat. So, even the diets lowest in fat allow for 22g of fat per day — which is about 2 tablespoons of butter.

This is because fat is essential for health. Even the most anti-fat diets don’t skip it entirely.

Wait, What about…

Low Fat Diets
(15% Fat)?

33g fat/day*

Low-fat diets are pretty common in the diet world. They produce decent results for weight loss in people that are otherwise healthy.

Not all people respond well to a low-fat diet. Fat helps people feel satiated, curbs cravings, absorb fat-soluble vitamins and carries out many important biological functions. You might need more fat than 15% allows, and that’s okay.

*(for 2000 calorie diet)

There are virtually zero instances of diets that completely eliminate entire food groups. The one possible exception? Strict keto — but most of the time, even the strictest ketogenic diets still allow 20g carbs per day — because carbs are essential to health.

*The carnivore diet also attempts to restrict all carbohydrates. For every success story on a diet, there are many, many horror stories.


5

Synthesizing Nutrients Is Inefficient

Anytime a food group is avoided, the body cannot perfectly synthesize the macronutrient missed.

In chronic illness and aging, synthesizing nutrients becomes even more difficult. The body is overburdened already, and the need to manufacture nutrients adds to the load.

In a burdened state, it’s much better for the body to absorb nutrients directly from food, rather than synthesizing them in the tissues and organs.

Synthesizing these nutrients is an inefficient process — utilizing extra nutritional and energy resources.

Further, there are some nutrients the body simply can’t produce on its own — they must be received via the diet.

Synthesizing Nutrients Is For Famine & Starvation

The body can synthesize sugars and some fats for energy — but that doesn’t mean it’s optimal for health.

In fact, the ability to synthesize sugars and some fats is most likely a “last-resort” tool to combat famine and starvation — a temporary safety net that should not be relied on unless absolutely necessary. There are dangers associated with cutting carbs, fat or protein too much — and each person has different, changing needs.

We can induce this “starvation mode” in the body simply by reducing the intake of any food group too low.

When the body is not receiving needed nutrients, it struggles to meet energy demands, so it slows the metabolism. Less energy is demanded, so less energy is required of the digestive system. It’s similar to running a heater at a lower temperature to save on the electric or gas bill.

“Starvation mode” is not an ‘on-off’ phenomenon. It occurs to varying degrees as a result of diet, chronic stress, infection, and lifestyle factors like poor sleep.

Starvation mode is most likely to happen in chronic illness.

The sicker a person is, the more the body will struggle to adapt when macronutrients that are lacking in the diet.

Too Much Restriction: What Happens?

  • When we cut carbs too much, we can harm the metabolism, thyroid function, hormone production, brain function and sleep quality.
  • When we cut protein too much, we can harm our hormones, metabolism, liver health, tissues (bones, skin, hair, teeth, etc), hormone production, brain function, and sleep quality.
  • When we cut fat too much, we can harm our hormone production, digestion, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and brain function.

Every Body Is Different

Young, healthy people will tolerate an imbalanced, restricted diet better than sick people.

Some may appear to “thrive” or “survive” longer on a poor diet. A person with better gut health will tolerate various stressors (and absorb nutrients) better than someone with worse gut health.

However, many folks resorting to restricted diets do so precisely because gut health is weak. Removing some problematic foods can result in improved digestion. The results often appear to be a net-positive, at least for some time.

Others improve on a restricted diet simply because they eat fewer calories, or stop eating junk food. Calories tend to drop on restricted diets. It’s common to lose weight while eating fewer calories — but this doesn’t mean carbohydrates or fat intake is bad.

Most people can only sustain a caloric deficit for a certain period of time before this harmful starvation mode kicks in.


Is it actually healthy to remove — or drastically lower — a macro group?  



6

What Each Macro Does

All three macros are utilized throughout the body.

Carbs

  • Primary Fuel Source
  • Hormone Production
  • Nervous System
  • Brain Function
  • Immunity

Protein

  • Structural: muscles and bones (“building blocks of life”)
  • Hormones (sleep, mood, libido, digestion, pleasure, reproduction, energy production)
  • Detoxification
  • Immunity

Fats

  • Structural (cell walls, brain)
  • Hormones
  • Brain Function (& structure)
  • Energy Levels
  • Immunity

7

Macronutrients Are Nutrients

All nutrients are necessary for health.

All Are Important

Each nutrient is needed to thrive and to be healthy.

To avoid any nutrient is unhealthy for most people– whether it is Vitamin C, D, A, or other micronutrients.

The same holds true for the macronutrients. We need all three macronutrients (carbs, protein, fats) for optimal health. All of them.

MacroNutrients vs MicroNutrients

The “macros” are carbs, protein, and fats.

By contrast, micronutrients are (basically) just vitamins & minerals. Micronutrients aren’t a type of food, they’re in food.

We don’t bake with micronutrients. (Baking uses carbs and fat). We don’t grill micronutrients. (We grill protein).

Macros

Macronutrients are:

  • Carbs
  • Proteins 
  • Fats

We cook, bake, and grill with macros.

Micros

Micronutrients are:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

Micronutrients are present in tiny amounts in our food.


“Nutrients” often refers to micronutrients (vitamins & minerals).

However, macronutrients are nutrients, too
(carbs, protein, & fats).


8

Balance Your Macros

It’s all about ratios.

It’s convenient to think of the macronutrients in this order: 

C : P : F

(Carbs : Protein : Fat)

This order highlights the carb-to-protein ratio — which is the main ratio to concern yourself with.

We also place carbohydrates front and center, as they are the basis for energetic balance & essential for keeping stress hormones low.

*There is no official ‘order’ for the macros. Some
calorie tracker apps use different orders.

(click image to open)

Start With Carb-to-Protein Ratio

Finding the right carb-to-protein ratio is fairly simple. Within a few days or weeks, a trend can be observed.

A solid middle ground C-to-P ratio is 2:1.

After you find your Carb-to-Protein ratio (again, 2 : 1 is common) — determine whether your body prefers to eat low/moderate/high fat.

It’s that easy: A two-step process. Find a carb-to-protein ratio, and then pick a fat intake.

There’s no perfect ratio for everybody. What matters is what makes you — and your gut — feel best. 

Remember, too: what you need can change over time. Any results we find should always be considered temporary and subject to further experimentation.

9

Let’s BEGIN

Carbs & Protein

The most important ratio.

Carbs and protein work synergistically in human metabolism.

A young, healthy person can subsist on mostly carbs and protein for some time without issues.

Carbs and protein, when combined, are essential for feeling full after meals and reducing insatiable hunger cravings.

Carbohydrates spike insulin and supply muscles and the brain with glucose. Protein is largely used to create hormones and repair tissues.

Getting the C-to-P ratio wrong can interfere with metabolic processes, gut health, and blood sugar.

Too few carbs could mean the muscles and brain run out of glucose too quickly, resorting to burning protein (amino acids) for energy. This is much less efficient than utilizing glucose directly from carbs. Eating too little protein impairs the metabolism and leads to storing excess carbs as fat. Both mistakes can affect gut health negatively. Too little protein is especially bad for the liver.

Don’t worry about fat intake just yet. First — become familiar with the carb-to-protein ratio.

The Best Starting Ratio? 2:1

This is a common, middle-ground ratio.

From here, carbs can be pushed a little higher — or dropped lower — without much issue. This ratio is highly individual, and may even shift over time.

If you eat 25g protein in a meal, 50g of carbs are needed to balance it.

If you eat 200 calories of carbs, 100 calories of protein is needed to balance it.

“Diets that were low in protein and high in carbohydrate (i.e., those that promoted longest life) were associated with lower blood pressure, improved glucose tolerance, higher levels of high-density lipoprotein, reduced levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDLc), and lower triglycerides.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5087279/

Try to get daily totals close to the 2:1 ratio, as well as at most meals. Snacks even improve when they meet a similar carb-to-protein ratio.

A Higher Carb Option? 3:1 or 4:1

This is most common on low-fat diets, as well some very physically active diets.

When carb intake is this high, fat usually has to drop — for balance.

This is consistent with human data suggesting that long-term adherence to high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets is linked with increased cardiovascular disease and indicates that the balance of protein to carbohydrate, rather than energy intake, may be the driver of a healthy cardiometabolic profile.” 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5087279/#R17

The carbohydrate-to-protein ratio truly is king. Keep it in mind every day, and at each meal.


10

Last, Determine Fat Intake

Low, moderate, or high?

Fat digests 3-10x slower than most carbs — for over 8 hours after eating.

Carbohydrates are typically digested in 30 minutes to 2-3 hours, but fat continues to provide energy — and remains in the gut — long after the meal.

Lower Fat Intake

(15% Fat) — 35g fat/day

Moderate fat intake is likely healthiest for most, but as you explore the carb-to protein ratio first, it may be best to start with low fat. Low fat means about 15% of calories per day from fat.

For a 2000 calorie diet, that means roughly 35 grams of fat per day. If eating more than 2000 calories/day, more fat will be needed than 35 grams.

Low Fat (15% of diet)

2000 calories = 35g fat/day

2300 calories = 40g fat/day

2600 calories = 45g fat/day

3000 calories = 50g fat/day

*These are all ballpark numbers. There’s no need to be more precise than this.

Eating low-fat doesn’t have to be hard: Focus on lean meats and low-fat/skim dairy. Skip the oils and butter.

What to watch for:

Sometimes, if fat intake is too low it can cause insomnia, digestive troubles, irritability, and difficulty relaxing.

Moderate Fat Intake

(20-35% Fat) — 45g-75g fat/day

Now for the likely best solution: a moderate fat intake.

Eat foods with more fat — and then see how you feel.

Moderate fat intake is from 20% to 35% fat intake.

Low-Moderate Fat (20% of diet)


2000 calories = 45g fat/day

2300 calories = 51g fat/day

2600 calories = 57g fat/day

3000 calories = 65g fat/day

High-Moderate Fat (35% of diet)


2000 calories = 75g fat/day

2300 calories = 90g fat/day

2600 calories = 100g fat/day

3000 calories = 115g fat/day

*These are all ballpark numbers. There’s no need to be more precise than this.

It shouldn’t take long to get a clear picture of which style of eating makes you feel better — low fat or moderate fat.

Your Individual Needs

There’s no right or wrong approach to fat intake.

Remember, the macros are all nutrients. What you need depends on your body, not what people on the internet (even some medical sources) confidently say is somehow best for everyone.

Blanket medical advice is often based on what average people do — and therefore cannot apply to everyone.


11

Two Balanced Ratios

2:1:1 — A Balanced Ratio

Count 2:1:1 by calories instead of grams.

This ratio is moderate in carbs, moderate in protein, and moderate in fat. It’s a nice place to start — and possibly to stay.

2:1:1 Ratio

1000 calories500 calories500 calories


50% Carbs

25% Protein

25% Fat

Twice-the-carbs-as-protein is typically a safer middle ground for the thyroid and gut health, with moderate protein and fat.

A Great Option: 4:2:1 — Slightly Lower Fat

The 4:2:1 ratio cuts fat by half, while keeping the 2:1 C-to-P ratio the same (4:2 is equivalent to 2:1).

This is very straightforward. More carbs and protein will need to be eaten to compensate for reduced fat intake, but they should remain at the 2:1 ratio, no matter their amount.

A very low fat ratio might retain 4:2, but drop fat by half again: 8:4:1 (which is the same as 2:1:0.25)

12

Measuring… By Grams or Calories?

How to count & measure macros.

It’s simpler and more straightforward to count macros by calorie.

However, over time, it can be super helpful to look at a food’s packaging and quickly add up grams instead of calories. This is especially true when totaling carbs and protein. Many experienced “macro balancers” and health & fitness enthusiasts think in terms of grams for simplicity.

The only catch when counting by grams? Fat has 9 calories, rather than 4 (like carbs & protein).

Grams

A gram is simply a measure of weight — how heavy something is. 

For instance:  5 grams of carbs weighs the same as 5 grams of protein, which weighs the same as 5 grams of fat.

Calories Per Gram

Fat has more than twice the energy (9 calories) of carbs (4) and protein (4). Fat is very energy-dense.

  • Carbs      …1 gram = 4 calories
  • Protein …1 gram = 4 calories
  • Fat          …1 gram = 9 calories

Calories

Calories don’t measure weight, they are simply a unit of energy.

Technically, a calorie the energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree (C).

One calorie from carbohydrate equals one calorie from protein or fat. The energy in each is the same.

13

Food’s Energy Must Be Extracted

Simply eating food doesn’t guarantee proper absorption of its nutrients and energy.

The nourishment from food depends on several variables:

  • Gut health
  • Meal timing
  • Your nutritional status and balance
  • Your hormonal status and balance
  • The types of foods eaten and how well they are balanced in the diet

Apples vs Beef

One calorie from fruit does not behave the same in the body as one calorie from beef. 

How each food is processed — and the role of microbes in the gut, your hormones, the time of day, and the combination of foods eaten — all determine how well the body metabolizes the energy from both sources.

The health of the gut is perhaps the primary factor determining whether the energy in food is being properly extracted.

Inflammation Blunts Nutrient Absorption

When inflammation is high, insulin struggles to drive sugar, protein, and other nutrients into cells.

This is a primary cause of insulin resistance (a main factor in diabetes and high blood sugar). Chronic inflammation is a result of ongoing weakness in the body: poor gut health, poor nutritional status, and high pathogenic/viral load can all cause inflammation.

The result of chronic inflammation is ongoing, often sub-clinical, nutrient deficiencies. The body simply cannot process the nutrients eaten.

Discomfort in the stomach may make it impossible to eat the diverse foods you need.

When the body is dealing with chronic health challenges, it’s empowering to understand how each food group works in the body.

In chronic illness and aging, balancing food ratios can be a critical step toward optimization of gut health, immunity, sleep, metabolism & thyroid, exercise recovery, mental health, and more.

Ensuring that nutrients eaten are properly absorbed — and processed efficiently — is among the most important steps to recovery and optimal health. How we combine our foods matters a great deal to ensure proper absorption of nutrition.

This completes ‘Understand Food.’
To continue, select ‘Carbs.’

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