[00:00] Introduction/Greenfield Fitness Systems
[03:09] Ben’s “Big Ass Smoothie”
[09:12] Dr. Richard Aiken
[12:11] Ride and Tie
[21:38] Dr. Aiken’s Opera Singing
[24:28] Why Dr. Aiken Went To Medical School
[29:05] The New Ancestral Diet
[36:49] What Got Dr. Aiken Writing His Book
[41:59] From Being Insectivores to Becoming Herbivores
[54:58] Dr. Aiken’s Diet
[57:58] Denise Minger’s Refutations of The China Study
[1:03:19] Bill Clinton’s Diet Shift
[1:05:37] Blending Vegetables and Plants
[1:20:26] Dr. Aiken’s New Psychiatry Book
[1:25:10] Fat and Brain Function
[1:35:28] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, folks. Ben Greenfield here, and this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show is brought to you by greenfieldfitnesssystems.com. And at greenfieldfitnesssystems.com, you will find everything from the highest quality supplements on the face of the planet ranging from CBD, to joint support compounds, to gut support compounds, you name it, to coaching and consulting options with a variety of coaches, including not only myself, but over a dozen other coaches who specialize in everything from marathon training to functional medicine who have come up through my superhuman coach certification and who I would highly endorse as folks to help you reach your goals, whether it be to do an Ironman triathlon, or to heal your body, or to lose weight. And we also have fitness gear, and lab testing, and just about everything that you need to achieve the ultimate balance of health and longevity. So check that all out over at greenfieldfitnesssystems.com.
Now today’s show is a little long. It is an interview with Dr. Richard Aiken, author of
“The New Ancestral Diet”. I will warn you, the first half hour of this podcast, if you’re not interested in Dr. Richard’s extensive bio, may actually be boring for you. It gets exciting, I would say about 30 minutes in. But if you don’t want to hear about his horse riding competitions, and opera singing, and space exploration company, and things of that nature, just fast forward to the 30 minute mark. I promise it gets more diet-y, and nutrition-y, and geeky after that. So in the meantime, you can check out the show notes for this episode over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/ancestraldiet. Don’t forget to visit greenfieldfitnesssystems.com. And enjoy today’s show.
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast:
“All of these wonderful things that plants can do to feel healthy, to increase your longevity, to even reverse disease in some cases. Why would plants be able to do that? I mean are they like altruists and they just exist for our well-being?” “That animal taking the mobility route, but they became dependent upon the plants who had the ultimate power source of the sun to make just about whatever they wanted in their chemical plants, no pun intended.” “We’ve evolved to be very versatile eaters. So a key to our survival really has been there’s a smorgasbord of choices available, but you should not always select that which tastes good. Just because we can eat something doesn’t mean that we should eat and that it’s nutritious for us.”
Ben: Hey, folks. It’s Ben Greenfield. I actually just returned from going out to the fields and picking some plantain and wild mint this morning that I use in things like my smoothies and my salads during the day. And actually every day, I start my day with what I call my “big ass smoothie”. Now what that has to do with my guest in today’s podcast is something that you’re about to discover. But anyways, back to my smoothie. I start with a big bunch of greens, and usually I’ll use kale. But spinach, or bok choy, or mustard greens will also kind of do the trick. And like I mentioned, lately I’ve been making a concerted effort to go out into the forest and find some wild plants that have been exposed to stress to throw into that blender as well and include in my smoothie. And again, the whole idea behind wild plants, and even whether or not we should be blending them, are something else we’re going to talk about in today’s episode with my guest.
But then I add some kind of an herb, I’ll typically go out to the garden where we have things like parsley, and cilantro, and thyme growing, and I’ll throw some kind of an herb in there. I try to avoid the old, dried, powdered versions that you buy from the grocery store and I try and find the herbs fresh or pick them fresh from the garden. And then I put my fats in. I’ll throw in half of an avocado, or even a whole avocado if it’s a big training day where I’m going to be burning a lot of calories. I put in some organic cacao powder ’cause I’m a sucker for chocolate. I put in typically a little bit of cinnamon for some blood sugar control and some extra fiber, I put in sea salt, fancy Aztecan sea salt, for extra electrolytes. And then I even throw in a little bit of olive oil or coconut oil. And then just before blending, I add enough full fat coconut milk to kind of get it all to blend. I make it thick enough to be able to chew on. I like to, as my mom said, “chew my liquids and drink my solids” just to allow those digestive enzymes to kind of work on the smoothie.
Then I blend everything. And usually after it’s done blending, I stir in, and stirring in is something relatively new in my smoothie protocol and you’ll hear about why later on today about why you may want to blend minimally and kind of stir and mash the rest of the time, but I’ll stir in about 20 grams or so of it like a good clean protein powder. Again if it’s a big workout day, I definitely add the protein powder. And typically, I’ll throw in some nuts like walnuts, or almonds, occasionally like this morning, a little handful of organic dark cacao nibs for some crunch or some unsweetened coconut flakes for some crunch. And then I empty all that into my giant big ass mug. I put my big ass smoothie in my big ass mug and I eat away. And usually, I’ll go through the low stress tasks like Facebook, and Twitter, and things like that while I’m munching on my smoothie.
So anyways, here’s why I’m telling you all this. I just read this new book. It’s called “The New Ancestral Diet“. I mentioned it on the podcast a couple of weeks ago, and it’s kind of reinvented the way I think about all these plants I’ve been eating. Because frankly, moving on from that smoothie, I am eating vegetables all day long. I probably eat, I would estimate, 20 to 25 servings of plants each day. Typically accompanied by boatloads of oils and fats, like olive oil, and olives, and coconut oil, and avocados, and even things like fatty fish, and bone broth, and organ meats. And the new ancestral diet actually goes into how we as humans have grown along with plans to be able to kind of defy some of the potentially damaging or immune system stimulating aspects of plants and make plants digestible and how we can best include plants in our diet. And the book, as you’ll learn in today’s interview, goes into far, far more scientific depth than that.
But the author of that book is Dr. Richard Aiken, and Richard is a medical doctor and he also has a PhD in chemical engineering, so he knows quite a bit of medicine and quite a bit about chemistry. And in the book he describes about everything about how plants wage a chemical warfare against our body, why should we should be careful pulverizing the hell out of our vegetables, and even why epidemiological data can be very strong for a whole food diet that is based, let’s just say more on plants and less on bacon, which I tend to agree with. And I am of course omnivorous myself and I do eat a fair share of meat, but far, far more plants than most of the paleo folks, and the Crossfitters, and the meat enthusiasts, and the folks like that who I tend to hang out with quite a bit.
So like I mention, Richard has a PhD in chemical engineering from Princeton University, he’s got an MD from the University of Utah, he lectures throughout the United States and Europe, he’s the author of numerous peer-reviewed scientific articles on nutrition and chemistry, and he currently works, in addition to being an author, as a board certified psychiatrist with a clinical practice in Springfield, Missouri. But frankly, despite the ever increasing length of this introduction, I got to tell you that Dr. Aiken’s bio goes, it’s staggering. It goes into far, far more detail and goes way, way back, and we’re going to hit on some of the incredibly unique and enchanting aspects of his life. But he’s here with me on the call. And just right before we jump in and let Dr. Aiken take it away, for the show notes for this episode, just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/ancestraldiet. That’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/ancestraldiet. And when you go there, you’ll be able to access the show notes, you’ll be able to check out Dr. Aiken’s book, and all sorts of other goodies that we talk about during the show today. So Dr. Aiken, first of all, welcome to the show. And second of all, you sent me your bio, it is incredibly staggering and I had a hard time figuring out where I actually wanted to start with you. So let me ask you this: how old are you? Because you’ve achieved a great deal.
Dr. Richard: I’m 67 years old. But Richard Pryor once said that, “you don’t get to be old being no fool”. And so I kind of think that is sort of an advantage, it’s something to be proud of from one standpoint. But from another standpoint, like from a standpoint of a sports enthusiast, it actually gives a higher degree of difficulty in all sports. And I used to rock climb and we used to be very proud of taking a given route up a rock and making it harder in some way. And we used to even try climbing with one hand, or at darker times of the day, or even with no hands. And in fact I have one acquaintance who lost his legs and considered that kind of an interesting challenge because he could then take routes that he had already taken and be the first to have ascent with no legs. Of course he had prosthesis, but, so I mean age has its challenges that you can use as sort of incentives.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. And the idea behind rock climbing is actually something that I think a lot of people have not heard when it comes to the health and the grounding aspects of this. You and I were talking just before we started recording, because I just flew back from San Francisco last night and you were asking me if I was barefoot, if I was like grounding and getting the ions from the earth back up into my body, but it was very interesting when I interviewed Dr. Jack Kruse a few months ago. He talked about how rock climbing, really of all the natural movement activities you could do outdoors, was probably one of the more beneficial, in addition to climbing trees, because of that grounding aspect because of all the ions that you actually absorb from the ground and the Earth when you’re climbing.
Dr. Richard: Well I don’t know what it is exactly, but I can tell you, Ben, there’s nothing better than warm granite on the hands and the body as you’re ascending. It is very grounding, but it’s very ethereal and kind of like and dancing up the mountain and having contact with something so solid.
Ben: Now in addition to your history in rock climbing and mountaineering, well I have a photo of you over in the show notes at bengreenfieldfitness.com/ancestraldiet if anyone would like to see it, riding on a horse through the mountains shirtless because you compete in these competitions called “Ride and Tie”. I had never heard of this until you told me about it, but please explain for listeners exactly what Ride and Tie is.
Dr. Richard: Okay. Yeah, I sent you that picture. It wasn’t taken this week, it was taken a little while ago. But it does illustrate the gear that you use basically, running shorts, usually no hat, and tennis shoes, and running shoes, and that’s it. So there’s not a whole lot of gear involved. I mean you can get fancy, and a lot of people do, but it’s very basic still. It’s a sport that began in the early ’70s, and I believe that Levi is Strauss started this. It’s in the west, and I primarily have competed in the west, but it’s across the country now. It’s a sport that has multi facets that makes it kind of interesting. There are several people and an animal involved, namely there’s two people and a horse consisting of a team. And there’s trail running involved, and it’s usually, sometimes it’s just a goat trail up a mountain. So it’s pretty rough running sometimes for the horse as well as for the humans. And it combines that trail running with endurance riding, and a lot of strategy. And the strategy is the part that the unknowns are what really make it interesting, being three team members and you never know exactly what’s going to happen.
Ben: So I don’t know if I quite understand. You’ve got a team, and one person on the team is riding a horse and the rest are running?
Dr. Richard: Yes. You start off with one team member running, and the other is typically on the horse and rides down the trail as far as they think their partner can run and keep a decent pace, and then the rider stops dismounts, ties the horse, whatever, a tree, or a fence post, there should be one. Then the other team member who started on foot has to get to the horse, find it, untie it, mount it, and then catch up to the partner.
Ben: Oh, I see.
Dr. Richard: Yeah. It’s sort of like leap frogging. And then when you do find the team member, you can stop, or more typically you keep riding, and then tie the horse, and the runner then finds the horse, and you keep leapfrogging.
Ben: Now that the title “Ride and Tie” makes sense.
Dr. Richard: Yeah. And it’s pretty pretty challenging. It’d be 20 to 100 miles, cross-country, usually in the mountains going up and down a fairly steep trail. Sometimes it’s so steep the horse won’t go down and you have to coax it, and you have to get off the horse. There’s a lot of interesting aspects to this that wasn’t obvious to me when I first started. Native Americans knew a lot of the keys to “Ride and Tie” that typically we don’t understand now. A horse can run pretty fast with a person on their back, but they tire very easily. Like the Kentucky Derby is I think a mile and a quarter, and the Belmont is a mile and a half, and that’s a big difference. So they can go for, they’re really flat out, but then they get really tired and you need to get off of them. But the other aspect that’s interesting about a horse, different from a human, is that they recover pretty quickly. So if you get off them, you can then let them recover and then get back on them. So the Native Americans used to outdistance the Calvary because they would get off their horses and run next to them, and they would get on them and ride them as far as they could within the horses limit, then get off and do this kind of leap frogging in that sense.
Dr. Richard: Yeah. So there’s a lot of strategy involved, and you have to know your horse and you’re both of your team members, and you have to kind of get together and put that into your strategy.
Ben: Now one of the reasons that I wanted to get you on the show is because you are into a lot of the things that our listeners are into, I mean enduring sports, and skiing, and mountaineering, and ice climbing, and I believe that this morning when I asked you if you could hop on the podcast a little bit early, you were in the process of building up a triathlon a time trial bike or something of that nature. You compete in a lot of these sports and you’re not just one of those guys sitting around in a white lab coat studying plants, but you also have a PhD in chemical engineering from Princeton, and you’re also a medical physician. But one of the things, before we get into medicine and some of the ways that you’ve really delved, especially into like plant medicine, I’m curious after your PhD in chemical engineering, I’m curious about this company that you started, Digitron I believe it was called, because it looked like you were doing some very cutting edge things. Can you tell me a little bit about that company, and what it was, and why you started it?
Dr. Richard: Sure. Yeah. Well, I guess I started it for two main reasons. One is that I was a professor in academics, and you can’t really make a very decent living in that profession quite frankly. Plus it sort of limits what you can do from a research standpoint, your funding. So I was able to, through this company, kind of get involved in more lucrative activities that also allowed the more flexibility. Actually we never marketed, we were an engineering firm basically, but we did some of the things that, I don’t know, it’s really, that’s the best description of it. But, yeah, there’s some things we did that are pretty bizarre, and I think that maybe some of your listeners might get a kick out of it. I can list a few. One, I guess the one of the most interesting to me projects that we did was in conjunction with NASA. And we worked together with the Harvard Smithsonian School For Advanced Astrophysics, they actually had the idea, I did more the mathematical modeling, the computer simulations.
But what we did the idea, their idea, was to make the world’s largest motor because the motor was the world. The problem that was faced is that the space shuttle has about a 90 minute a day, which 45 minutes, about half of it, is in the sunlight and half of that is not, so the space shuttle would use solar energy during the daytime. But during their “night”, 45 minutes, they had to use stored energy from the solar cells. And they’re actually, at the time, using LED batteries. I mean this is pretty heavy stuff to be taking up 150 miles from the Earth. So what we did, the idea was that we had a spool of wire. It was sort of like a spool in casting, like fly casting, but this one had a wire that was 10 miles long and it was thrown out, kind of cast out from the cargo bay and would traverse the Earth’s magnetic field, cutting the magnetic field with his conducting wire, creating energy through an armature effect. So it was a motor. And it was kind of a good idea, and we actually decided it was safe, and I worked a lot actually the Johnson Space Center, I was actually on the space shuttle. It was the same as the one they fly, except tiles. And by using computer simulations, it was a really kick in the pants. But it was actually launched in the ’90s, I think early ’90s, maybe ’92 to ’93, I think was STS 45 on the space shuttle Atlantis, and it took up the entire cargo bay. It was the largest single experiment that they have done on the space shuttle. Unfortunately, the results were not favorable. And what happened was essentially the drag, even at 150 miles above the earth of the atmosphere, which is pretty rarefied, still cause, during the time that the tether conducting material was deployed, to bring the space shuttle down in its orbit. So you had to use energy to put it back up. And so it was a net energy loss, but a hell of an interesting idea and a lot of fun.
Ben: Now at some point along the line, this is completely random but it really kind of left out to me when I was looking over everything that you’ve done, you got into opera competitions and singing opera. When did that start and why did that fit in?
Dr. Richard: Yeah. Well, I think I’m interested in lots of stuff. And I love music, I’ve always appreciated operatic singing. I don’t like opera itself. I think it’s really boring. But the voice itself, I’ve heard, I had occasion to hear really great operatic voices close up, and it’s just the most beautiful sound that I ever experience. So anyway, I was interested in trying to advance my voice ability into that arena. And so it started when I was in San Francisco, working in this think tank at the beginning of the, when the OPEC had their embargo and increased the crude oil price from, I think it was 4 to 12 Dollars per barrel. I was sucked back to Standard Oil in California and start a think tank there, and went to San Francisco, and there’s lots of interesting things happening there.
So one thing that happened was I started taking voice lessons. And I was really serious about it, and I thought, “Well my voice is not bad, but I want to be a good actor too.” So I actually took acting from Eric Morris in Actor’s Studio in Los Angeles. He’s an actor. He studied with Brando and Monroe at the Actor’s Studio in New York City. His most famous student is Jack Nicholson. I mean he’s like really top notch. So I was really going after this for a while. So when I went to Salt Lake City to live, I met a person named Wade Peterson who had been the lead tenor at the Zurich Opera House while I was there at the, [0:23:25] ______, and he was retiring and wanting to start an opera company. We got together, I joined the board, mainly helped with donor software development, but I became a student of Wade and was able to get some stage exposure. It’s one of the larger opera companies now. And I still get to sing, I was the [0:23:46] ______ in the La Traviata a couple years ago. So it never hurts to be on the board.
Ben: Interesting. Can you sing something for us?
Dr. Richard: I’d have to kind of practice, I think. And I’d also need better acoustics.
Ben: Okay. Got it. Maybe you can sing later and record something for me, and I’ll throw it in at the end of this podcast episode if you record something. Obviously, we’re taking a little while to get into the idea behind the plants here, but I do want to make sure that we lay out the background because you went to medical school at some point after getting out of this Digitron company. Why did you go to medical school?
Dr. Richard: Yeah. So my research kind of started out at Princeton, it was actually more mathematical than chemical engineering. It was chemical engineering, but I took a lot of courses in math, and my thesis was in mathematics and computation for solving stiff equations, which became big in the Reagan, Star War era. We got lots of money for that because of the type of equations needed to solve quantum chemistry. Utah became a lot more applied in my research, one reason is to get funding, I was able to get tenure in three years, which is really good, except I worked so hard that I got married and got divorced within that time just kind of working too hard. But medical school, my research was practical. And one thing that we had been doing in my research was three dimensional ultrasonic imaging, and my part was more the mathematics, inversion of matrices and that sort of thing, it wasn’t so much hardware. But we went to the medical community with what we thought was a really great idea, and we didn’t get much response from physicians, clinical people. They want to know how you were going to apply this clinically, and we didn’t know. We just wanted to show you the pictures and it’s up to you what to do with ’em.
So I thought, basically my thinking was, “I’m just going to go ahead and pick up an MD. I’m a tenured professor, how difficult could that be? These kids are my students what [0:26:14] ______.” I didn’t really realize that to go to medical school, it’s all about memorization, nothing intellectual about it, you have to sell yourself to the hospital, they chain you to a hospital bed, you work 40-hour work days. It was a real rude awakening. But the idea was to get some background in radiology so I could advance my research. So the University of Utah president paid for my time there, and I still was working with my labs in Digitron, and I’m pretty active in all those areas. So that was basically it. But why I went into psychiatry was that after one year of this medical school, and cutting up cadavers and things, I thought, “Well, it sure would be nice to actually see a patient.” So I happened to know an individual who was a child psychiatrist, and I just told that person of my interest in actually seeing patients. So he said, “Okay. Here, I just administer this structured interviews, a bunch of questions to these kids.” It’s a question, you put down the if the answer you think is “Yes” or “No”.
And so it got me into trying to understand what is this about. Well, we’re trying to help the diagnosis of the patient, and these were like four to nine year olds, and it was pretty heartbreaking to see these kids in mental hospitals, four to nine years old. But anyway, so I tried to understand more about this idea of diagnostic psychiatry. Well, how do you diagnose a person in psychiatry? “Well you use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, DSM.” “Oh, statistics. I know statistics. It was my main area of research, decision making under uncertainty at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.” Wow. Let’s look at this from a research standpoint. Well, it turns out that there is absolutely nothing statistical about the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which actually piqued my interest even more. So maybe I can crisp up this area of psychiatry. So I began writing like fury and this is my first or second year of medical school, and so that got me interested in psychiatry.
Ben: Interesting. And so now that’s what you do is you practice psychiatry?
Dr. Richard: Yes.
Ben: Okay. Got it. So when did you decide to write this book, “The New Ancestral Diet”?
Dr. Richard: Yeah. Well, it was kind of a gradual process. And I think, I guess when I turned 62, I began thinking, I sort of had, a lot of people have a middle-age crisis, I think I had an old age crisis or something. At 62, I realized my own mortality. And I had no particular health problems that I was aware of, although I was getting overweight, I had borderline high blood pressure and borderline cholesterol…
Ben: Yeah. Well, I was going to say, I mean with all these things you were doing, from getting a PhD, to starting a space exploration company, to singing opera, to attending medical school, it seems like you’re, I tend to see that a lot, like high achiever folks whose health begins to slip with juggling all these all these plates. Spinning all these plates, I believe the analogy actually goes.
Dr. Richard: Right. Yeah. And of course along the way, I got remarried and had several children, and that also requires some attention. But anyway, about 62, I was starting to think, “Hmm. I better start thinking about my health the more because I’m getting pretty old.” And I happened to watch, and this is actually, this is the sort of the moment, I mean a lot of people talk about the moment which they had kind of an “A-ha!”, and my, I suppose, “A-ha!” moment was, of all things, I was watching Bill Clinton on an interview to at CNN in 2010. And he’s the same age as I am, and he had actually had a heart attack, and the interview was about how he had lost so much weight. And so he was talking about that, but he said, “I wanted to lose weight. But even more than,” and he got a little bit teary eyed, he said, “My daughter’s getting married. I want to be there for the children and my grandchildren.”
And so I thought, “Okay, so what does he do?” Well this is a guy with vast resources. I mean he’s got connections and information that I don’t. And he said in his interview that he chose Esselstyn and Campbell as the books that probably your listeners are aware of by these two, well, one’s a physician, Esselstyn, the other is an epidemiologist in Cornell, Campbell. And so, actually, I didn’t write that down, but I went back to YouTube and I wrote down the names, I got the books read them. And then I thought, “Wow. I have to look at this. This is black and white stuff.” So I started reading more, and then I had the very great fortune to actually be introduced to both Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Campbell by a mutual acquaintance. So the three of us are standing there for some time and talking, and there’s nothing like looking someone in the eyes when you’re talking about their work and and kind of getting a real sense of where they’re at and if this is is real or not. I had to kind of look up to Esselstyn since he’s six foot eight, this is a Yale Olympic rower. I totally believe these guys were doing what they thought was 100% in the best interest of others.
And so I got to think this even more seriously. And in fact I asked them about whether they had any information about mental health and nutrition, and they didn’t, and that started wheels turning, and I’m writing a manuscript for the past four years on the relationship of mental health and nutrition, and that’s the next one that’s going to get, not sure what I’m going to title it, maybe “Diet Happy”. But anyway, so I really, I quickly, I then began a vegan diet. And it was practically no choice. The data was just too clear. And it was difficult. I think there was a little bit of an addictive quality to going off of these things I love. I mean I loved meat. And got smokers, and outdoor…
Ben: So after speaking with Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Caldwell, did you actually completely switch to a vegan, plant-based diet with no meat whatsoever?
Dr. Richard: I did. It was fairly quickly. I mean it wasn’t immediate, but it was within weeks. And the results were pretty pronounced, I lost weight, my blood pressure lowered, and my cholesterol lowered. But I did also, at the same time, to kind of confound the data analysis of this n=1 experiment, at 66, I began, at 66 years old, began training for triathlons, and I did know how to swim. So I mean I’m talking basic, I did get a. US Triathlon Association coach locally to help me, and I met Rich Roll on a cruise, and this was two days before my 66th birthday I think. So, yeah, I kind of quizzed him on some aspects of this. But it’s kind of unknown territory for someone this old beginning triathlon.
I have a friend who did this, sort of like Rich Roll, but he started in his late 40’s and he had a 25 year plan to win Kona. He started off first as a gardener. This is a short, square guy, and he wanted to run, he ran marathons, after a couple of years he qualified for Boston Marathon. But after a while, he decided to cross train using triathlon, but he wanted to win Kona. I was speeches, like maybe should increase his lithium or something. But he was serious, and his strategy, and I was to find later, was to, at all costs, avoid injury. And so there was a certain degree of attrition. Individuals, as they get older, obviously they are injured and they can’t compete. So it was great story. I left, he was also a psychiatrist, a medical doctor at Washington University at the time, and I lost contact with him, but I Googled him a couple years ago, he did Ironman, he went to Kona, and won his group at 72.
Dr. Richard: Yeah.
Ben: So he did do that. He just had to wait a while ’til he got into the really old age group?
Dr. Richard: Yeah.
Ben: That’s the trick, right?
Dr. Richard: Yeah. But…
Ben: He eventually…
Dr. Richard: Talk about sticking to a plan.
Ben: Yeah. Wow. So in terms of switching to this plant-based diet, and we’ll get into more of what that looks like in a second, did you immediately begin writing this book, “The New Ancestral Diet”, or is this something that has materialized relatively recently?
Dr. Richard: Yeah, it’s relatively recently really. And there were two kind of burning questions that I wanted to answer. And I’ve asked this question of so many people who are in the nutrition business and an expert in nutrition. And I don’t know if others are interested so much in this question, but I was. And the question was: all of these wonderful things that plants can do to keep you healthy, to increase your longevity, to even reverse disease in some cases, why? Why would plants be able to do that? I mean are they like altruists and they just exist for our well-being or what? And no one really could answer that. So I thought, “Okay, I’m going to look at this from kind of a basic standpoint. And so I began thinking about evolution, when I say evolution, I’m talking to one and a half billion years ago when plants and animals were the same species. I mean there were eukaryotes and they were not distinguished from each other. And then there was, with time a distinction, and then of course multicellular production of both strands. But apparently what happened is that it seems that animals, taking the mobility route, became kind of like, I don’t want to say parasites, but they became dependent upon the plants who had the ultimate power source of the sun to make just about whatever they wanted in their chemical plants, no pun intended. So I think came to the conclusion that plants really, they just assume that we die. I mean they don’t they don’t need us, so…
Ben: Don’t plants need animals as a means to propagate their seeds?
Dr. Richard: Obviously there’s some advantage with evolution that they’ve taken upon themselves to utilize, and seed dispersal can be one, pollination. But I mean the seeds still are going to drop from the plant, tree, whatever. And so, yeah, there’s some advantage perhaps, but I don’t think it’s from an evolutionary standpoint. It was a necessary kind of teamwork.
Ben: Okay. So you’re basically saying that animals are dependent on plants, but plants aren’t necessarily dependent on animals. And the reason animals are dependent upon plants is because plants have the ability to photosynthesize and to collect energy from the sun, for example, and convert that into vitamins, minerals, proteins, et cetera, and then animals can eat those plants.
Dr. Richard: Right. Yeah. That’s basically it. Yeah. They have this unbelievable power source much greater than we do. They have the ATP ability as well.
Ben: Now what do you think about the recent research that shows that when a human has consumed chlorophyll, that their cells can actually capture sunlight very similarly to a plant and generate ATP. Did you see this?
Dr. Richard: I have not. I would be very interested to see it.
Ben: Yeah. I will put a link to this article in the show notes, but it was a study in which they showed, first of all, that aphids were capable of capturing sunlight to produce energy, to literally synthesize ATP, and they did so using something very, very similar to human blood hemoglobin. And so they obviously have not done a great deal of studies in humans on this same capability, but the idea is that there actually is a molecular mechanism whereby if we have enough chlorophyll in our bloodstream, and this would be basically that we get from a chlorophyll rich diet, from plants, that we could potentially synthesize mitochondrial ATP when exposed to light that actually energizes that chlorophyll. Very, very interesting, but obviously still dependent upon the actual chlorophyll that we would get from plants.
Dr. Richard: Right. Well, you find some interesting stuff, Ben. I want to see that.
Ben: Yeah. I’ll link to that, and also I’ll put it in the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/ancestraldiet if people want to check it out. A little bit of a rabbit hole there, but in the book you actually, prior to explaining how animals and humans specifically have become dependent upon plants, you say that we went from insectivores, to fruitarians, to herbivores. Can you explain?
Dr. Richard: First of all, I guess the first recognized, well in fact, let me first back up and define terms. Maybe better than an insectivore would be, how’s it pronounced, is it entomophagy, which any animal, or even a carnivorous plant for that matter, has a preferred food source that’s insects. They eat other things too. So an insectivore is not like they can’t eat anything but insects.
Ben: Right. And just so you know, my sons and I have been eating insects for the past month. We’ve been collecting ant eggs, June bugs, and beetles and experimenting with including those in our diet.
Dr. Richard: Good job.
Ben: And obviously we’re not relying solely upon insects, but it can be done. Crickets are another one that we’ve been using, just because those are the things that we find we flip over the rocks around our property. And a little bit of butter and salt, and they actually don’t taste that bad.
Dr. Richard: So you don’t let them wiggle around in your mouth or anything?
Ben: No. You actually tear off their legs and you took cook them up in a cast iron skillet. Like the same thing and eggs. Very rich in protein, and vitamins, and minerals. Like they’re better if you cook them with herbs, and spices, and oils.
Dr. Richard: Okay. I think that there’s certainly a place for that, and I understand there’s civilizations that are very much into insects. Like you say, the protein, and there’s protein and fat in insects, not much carbos. But, yeah, I mean it’s good food source. So that’s one clarification of what I mean by insectivore. And then the fruitivore is a herbivore whose preferred food is fruit, similar to the insectivore. And by the way, I don’t understand or therefore use the term omnivore. Doesn’t seem to be any universal way of justifying that, and it doesn’t seem to be very meaningful. I mean there are a few animals that are strictly limited to just one type of tissue in the diet. There are some, but not many. So as to some extent, there’s like a spectrum of omnivore. And so to talk about an omnivore as a separate species I think is misleading. But a characteristic of, but I want to make one point I think that’s really important in this context, a characteristic, well Homo sapiens, and a main point of the book is that we’ve evolved to be very versatile eaters. So a key to our survival really has been, there’s a smorgasbord of choices available, insects, fruits, animals, and what have you, but we should not always select that which tastes good just because we can eat something doesn’t mean that we should eat it, and that it’s nutritious for us.
But anyway, to get back to your question, I’m sorry to kind of go off the track there, but as early primates apparently, they’re pretty small and fast, like Stephen Curry of the Warriors. So they could take advantage of really energy dense source insects, which was fat and protein, sort of similar to meat in that context, and that’s what they’re always after. I mean our ancestors wanted energy dense sources of food because just getting the calories was that they weren’t interested in nutrition, they were interested in getting the calories to continue their life and be able to [0:45:49] ______ . But within about, I mean if the early primates began at 85 million years ago, within about 10 million years, like soon in evolutionary time, there’s a transition to the larger primates who became more fruigivores. And this probably happened because they were larger, it’s harder to get the insects.
Ben: By fruigivore, you mean like a fruitarian.
Dr. Richard: Yes. And they probably started going for the low lying fruit, and it was easy to digest, food is, even though probably there was much more fibers than our current fruits. But that was a relatively easy transition and, again it was energy dense, so that was the next, I think, phase that we went through as primates. And then we switched emphasis to herbivore, but still insects and fruits, and is probably again a consequence of being larger in size and less low lying fruit, and very likely there’s a lot of leaves that were being utilized, and that is what I recommend is the primary aspect of your diet, leaves, but it’s kind of hard to get enough leaves ’cause you have to chew ’em. You have to chew ’em for a long time. But there are ways around that we can get into. But about the time of the dinosaur extinction, which was around 85 billion years ago, we continued to expand our plant consumption spectrum and then we lost, in fact we were so dependent upon plants at that point, we lost our ability to make vitamin A, C, D, other vitamins. And now we’ve just increased our range of foods that we can eat through genetic adaptation, including digestive diversity, morphological changes. At this point, we’re very versatile herbivores.
Ben: Now when you say versatile herbivores, you mean in terms of our ability to actually absorb plant matter and nutrients from plant matter?
Dr. Richard: Yes. Well from not just plants, from insects and from meat.
Ben: Right. In terms of the complexity of our guts. Do you think a part of that is the advent of cooking?
Dr. Richard: Oh, yeah. No question. That was really, really a nice development because, first of all, some plants that were difficult to process, that is like to chew, became much more compliant or edible through the cooking process. And there’s some toxicity probably lowering from cooking also plants, but I guess one of the big areas was the underground storage organs that are kind of hard to digest. You can digest many of them to a great extent, but with cooking, it opened up the nutrient density tremendously.
Ben: Now when you say underground storage organ, are you referring to tubers? Like potatoes and things like that?
Dr. Richard: I am.
Ben: What happens when you cook them? Because in the book you even say that the advent of cooking tubers may have been more important than even the advent of cooking meat. What happens to a tuber when you cook it that is so good?
Dr. Richard: Well it opens up the, it makes it much more simple to digest. There was a study that I read, I mean I don’t know if this is, actually they’re a couple of papers written by the group at Harvard Anthropologist Richard Wrangham. And he claims, and again, I have not researched this myself, but he claims, and he has a pretty good reputation in the field that cooking tubers and USOs, underground storage organs, played a more important role than cooked meat in our ancestral dietary transition. And there were several other aspects of that. One is that they were so plentiful apparently at that time. And it makes a lot of sense. They had a high energy yield, so they’re very energy dense. They had predictable collecting locations. And they actually had water content, and it was a year round offering, ’cause that’s what the plants do, they put their energy into the underground for storage, the underground storage organ.
So at the bend, they also kind of combine that with, “Okay. Well if that’s more important than meat during this transition of going into paleo times, what was the meat part, how that contributes to the diet.” And their hypothesis was that it was primarily social and that there were sexual alliances that emerged from the adoption of cooking plant foods processed by females, but that the males wandering off and hunting of course had very variable results. So they would probably go days, weeks, maybe longer without any results. But they did show a prowess. They showed skill and fitness related qualities that were a positive in a potential mate. Just looking, I mean we can’t go back then, but just looking at today and as a psychiatrist just kind of trying to understand hunters today, I think there is a little bit of that now going on. Nobody has to go out and hunt for food, or not many, not in our western society, to put food on the table, but it’s a sport and it’s an interesting for sport, it’s a valid sport, but it’s not necessary and it just kind of proves something else that’s not dietary related.
Ben: Would you say that African hunter-gatherer tribes are hunting for the same reason, for bragging rights or for trophies, or are they doing that out of necessity to actually get adequate meat in their diet?
Dr. Richard: I think it’s a little bit of both probably. I believe that it’s opportunistic if there would be, if you see an animal, or if it’s the time of the year where it’s likely that you could, more likely that you might be able to go out and actually bring back up an animal, then, yeah, I think they would do that. But I’m pretty certain, there was a study that, there’s not a lot of studies of this tribe, the Hadza tribe in Tanzania, and primarily was some of the work at the University of Utah, and these individuals, they go out and they hunt large mammals, and they get approximately one animal per month, zebra, giraffe, buffalo. Big ones, big animals. And that’s in the dry season. In the wet season, they get the smaller animals. But the number one food is honey, and both males and females agree that honey is absolutely number one preferred source of food, and it’s extremely energy dense. So naturally, it would be kind of high up there. But they’re primary plant-based though. Fruit, tubers, lots of tubers, although they don’t like the tubers as much as fruit. The females actually rank meat number four on their list on their menu, but men rank it number two as far as what they prefer.
Ben: Now do you follow a similar diet? Do you do a plant based diet with infrequent portions of meat thrown in here and there or how do you personally approach things?
Dr. Richard: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think tend to be kind of wrestling with that. I mean on the one hand, what the heck? Once in a while, salmon, or fish, or whatever. But I’ve got more recently, in the last year, into the kind of the ethics and the lifestyle that is part of a whole food, very plant-based diet. And it’s sort of like the paleo diet, I mean it’s kind of a lifestyle. And so my point of view and my lifestyle does not allow, or does not encourage me to cheat. And I think…
Ben: Meaning because the way the animals are treated?
Dr. Richard: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s a good feeling to know that you’re not contributing to suffering of animals. Again, this is more recent kind of adoption of this point of view, but I mean I know that it’s it doesn’t give me a good feeling, and it’s an ethical and spiritual thing. I just don’t want to hurt anybody.
Ben: Now what do you do about invertebrates, like mollusks and shellfish, or dairy, eggs, or even fish, things like that. Would you say that those fall into the category of animal proteins that you’d avoid for those same ethical reasons? Or are you voiding those for more like health reasons?
Dr. Richard: Well, I think primarily selfishly for health reasons. But there is also definitely ethical reasons in dairy. Cows, I mean they’re really, I mean they’re just, all day they’re standing still being milked. They have to be impregnated and have a calf, and then they can kill their calf, and sell it for veal. I mean, it’s not the overwhelming reason why. I mean I just want to live. That’s primarily, I personally want to live a long, happy, healthy life. But I wouldn’t mind if other creatures do the same.
Ben: What do you think about folks like Denise Minger who have written refutations of books like The China Study in terms of the fact that, for example, if you induce cancer in, say, a rat or something like that, that the consumption of animal protein or plant protein can both accelerate tumor growth, but that in the absence of cancer can actually suppress cancer or assist with bone density and things of that nature? Have you come across many of the refutations of that China Study?
Dr. Richard: Yes, I have. Denise Minger, the Catholic school English teacher, summer camp instructor, professional sock puppeteer? Yeah. It’s been some time, but I have looked at it. And it was really a very astute sounding, lengthy analysis that she gave, and I think that’s really quite incredible for an English major. But, and I want to say that open free discussion among professionals on any important topic is fantastic. That’s the way you advance in science. And in science, there are very few absolutes. Everything in science comes down to experimental fact. It is because it happens even. Isaac Newton’s three “laws of physics”, they’re just experimental facts, they’re not really laws. They’re actually only special cases of non-relativistic physics. But it’s really more fruitful if the debaters are actually professionals in the area that they’re talking about. I mean T. Colin Campbell is a distinguished professor emeritus at Cornell and perform it’s the largest epidemiological study of humans on the planet. And then Ms. Minger, I understand, kind of, at least I had interpreted, kind of attacks his integrity and I just don’t think that’s right. That’s not the right way to go about it.
Ben: From what I’ve seen and read, I think she attacks his integrity as much as cites it a great deal of research that potentially refutes some of the arguments that animal proteins, for example, cause cancer, or lower bone density, or things of that nature. And in for folks who want to kind of delve into this debate, there’s a few good pages out there that have a synopsis of both T. Cohen Campbell’s arguments against Denise, as well as Denise’s refutation of The China Study, and I’ll put a link to those in the show notes if folks want to check them out. Because I’m personally, the way that I do things is, like I mentioned in the introduction of the show, I ate a ton of plants. But I also, for my mental health, to keep my cholesterol elevated, to allow for adequate hormone formation, to even allow for adequate muscle growth, and hypertrophy, and recovery from exercise in a more efficient way, I include, on an infrequent basis, about once a day, I include 20 to 30% of my diet as protein, and some of that is meat, every day, and a very, very large part of my diet is fat. I’m definitely not fat phobic and I definitely do not believe that cholesterol in its isolated form in the absence of inflammation or in the absence of, for example, high blood glucose is responsible for heart disease or a contributor to heart disease.
So because of that, what I do is I control my carbohydrate, and my starch, my glucose, and my sugar consumption. I include ancestral meats, things like bone broth, and organ meats, and things of that nature, and then just copious amounts of plant matter. And when I reduce the meat consumption, when I take those out of the diet, I actually find that my recovery suffers, my heart rate variability suffers, and I tend to not be quite as sharp. So that’s the way that I have my diet set up, and it’s one of those things where I think the animals can be treated ethically. I have goats, I have chickens, I don’t have cattle running around my property getting shot, or dying, or something of that nature, and there’s some definite problems with commercial feedlot production and things of that nature that movies like “Food, Inc.” have obviously done a really good job highlighting. But I think that you can raise animals ethically and sustainably, and I’m a fan of doing it.
Dr. Richard: So, Ben, I listen to most all of your podcast. In fact, being on your podcast is, the only negative thing about being on your podcast is that there’s one less podcast that I can listen to…
Ben: Yeah, you’ve heard this one.
Dr. Richard: Yeah, I’ve already heard this one. But I think you’re right on when it comes to the metabolism and dietary requirements of an athlete and someone who is as active as you are, incredibly active. I think my point of view is more for, it’s sort of more the average person who is going to, hopefully, to age, and how to age, and be healthy, and a long, healthy life. And then when the end comes, there’s not a whole lot of morbidity that he precedes the mortality. And so it’s a little bit of a different, I think, point of view, but you’ve got some great stuff on your podcasts and I think you’re right on.
Ben: What do you think about Bill Clinton going from vegan to paleo?
Dr. Richard: Oh, yeah. Man, okay. I’ve got some big opinions on that. First of all, I don’t believe it. And secondly, I mean he has not come out and said, he has not come out and said to my knowledge that “I am now a paleo guy”. But the physician working with, was it Hyman? Dr. Hyman…
Ben: Yeah, Dr. Mark Hyman.
Dr. Richard: Yeah, Mark Hyman, working with Hillary, is a paleo guy. And so they’re kind of hanging out, so why would they be doing that? Okay, you know that the dairy industry, the meat industry is more powerful than tobacco. I mean if you don’t have them on your side and you got a vegan in the White House, I mean nope, nope, vegans are not accepted generally. People like their meat. I mean, they do. I mean psychologically, you can come up with all the…
Ben: The paleo, you don’t eat dairy when you’re on a paleo diet.
Dr. Richard: No. It’s very true. But meat is definitely a big deal. So I think it’s…
Ben: So think it’s all part of the… you think it’s the meat industry?
Dr. Richard: I do.
Ben: That surprised me. I thought the grain industry was a much, much bigger form of lobbying compared to the meat industry. But I’m not sure. I was just curious what you thought about the whole Bill Clinton thing ’cause he’s obviously doing it for longevity, not athleticism.
Dr. Richard: Yeah. That’s true.
Ben: I do have a question for you, and I thought this one really kind of popped out in your book and that is your feeling about what blenders might do to plant matter. ‘Cause I blend plant matter almost every day, and I’m curious how much you blend, and if you don’t blend, because like you mentioned earlier in our interview, it takes a freaking long time to chew when you’re eating tons of plants, what do you do?
Dr. Richard: Yeah. Well, I blend every single morning, just like you, and I make a green smoothie. My smoothies are getting greener and greener though, and I’m trying to regularly eat a pound of green leaves every day. And this is dry weight. I mean, it’s water basis. So it’s actually more like a quarter to a third of a pound of leaves, but that’s quite a lot if you ever actually weigh these leaves. And so…
Ben: I know. Well, since I quit, I notice it more because I don’t buy much produce from the grocery store anymore now that I live out on the forest, like I am walking around, like this morning I spent 20 minutes gathering plants for lunch and for breakfast, everything from plantain, to mint, to nettle. And when you are collecting it yourself in plastic bags, taking it into the kitchen, it seems to weigh a lot more than when you just like grab it off the shelf of the grocery store.
Dr. Richard: Yeah. So it’s a little bit of an effort to gather and then to consume. But I stuff it in the blender, I keep stuffing it. You fill the blender with your plants, and then you blend it down, and then you put more and you blend that down, and so on, but my concern is that if you’re blending plants of any sort at 30,000 RPMs, you notice you form a vortex in the blender and you can actually see the blade. So it goes all the way from the top to the bottom. And you’re very rapidly changing the surface composition of the vortex at that kind of speed, and you’re exposing the contents to oxygen. And so for example, the phenol content, the antioxidants that are phenols in the plastids are being ripped out of the plastids into the interest cellular soup that is exposed to oxygen, and polyphenol oxidase that converts the phenol eventually to melanin. And this is a good thing for the plant, when the plant’s injured because this melanin polymerizes and kind of forms a surface around what could be an invader that is ruining the, or getting into the cell. You may have noticed this with bananas, the potatoes, apples, kind of like white flesh fruit and vegetables that when you exposed to air, they darken, and that’s the melanin that is on your skin and your hair that does this reaction. And I’ve actually been looking into that in kind of a backyard experimental way. And I know that if you put a citrus juice on like a potato, or apple, or banana that you can stop that reaction, polymerization reaction that darkens.
Ben: And so the issue here is the combination of the vortex from the blender and the tearing apart of the plant, and not just the tearing apart of the plant. Am I correct?
Dr. Richard: Right. Yeah. And I think…
Ben: The reason I asked that is, have you read Jo Robinson’s book “Eating On The Wild Side”?
Dr. Richard: I have heard of it, but I have not read it.
Ben: Okay. In that book she discusses, how when animals chew plants, or for example if we were to say rip up some kale or some spinach and leave in the refrigerator overnight, that it actually produces more antioxidants and can potentially even be even more beneficial for you if you are eating a plant for its anti-oxidants because it is under the impression it’s being eaten so it churns out more anti-oxidants. But what you’re saying is that when you blend at very high speeds in a vortex with the metal at a high temperature that it is basically too much oxidation that’s occurring in a short period of time?
Dr. Richard: Yeah. Again, the extent of my personal research is Saturday morning, going out to the backyard with some bananas, and blending ’em in a blender, and looking at the color of the product under various experimental conditions. But I can tell you that I have kind of combined my understanding of chemistry with these brute force experiments and the preliminary read on that is that if the temperature is low, the pH is low, and you introduce anti-oxidant like ascorbic acid or vitamin C prior to blending, your bananas come out really white. So I think that there is possibly a way of optimizing your blending so that you minimize the oxidation that is happening in the blender.
Ben: Well what I’ve been doing is I’ve been, I used to blend for 60 seconds on high. Now I blend for thirty seconds on low, and then I finish by stirring in most of the compounds, kind like I mentioned at the beginning, so that I’m I’m at least getting less blending. But is there any alternative to blending, like mortar and pestle or something like that? Like do you use any of these other alternatives to mash up your vegetables or do you just chew a hell of a lot?
Dr. Richard I don’t like to chew. And in fact, well I mean up to a point. It’s not that I’m anti-chewing, but I don’t want to for more than a half hour. And so I have two different things that I do and two different types of meals that I prepare. First, my main, I think nutritive, meal is my blender. And I know I guess you could make the case too that if you lose some, if you do some oxidation of your antioxidants, just add more plants to it. I still believe blending is a fantastic way to get your major nutrients, and I’ve got all kinds of little potions that I had to the leaves and the non-green vegetables like flax seed, always a teaspoon or tablespoon of flax seed, and hibiscus flowers, and cayenne, and turmeric, and chia seeds, and those kinds of things. So it’s kind of a way to get all the stuff I really want into a drink. And then as kind of a joke, my wife used to ask me, “Well, how does it taste?” And I don’t bother tasting a little bit and then try adding something more, “Oh, it needs some more sugar. I’ll add some more fruit.” No. Whatever it is, I slam. I don’t care. I don’t care what it tastes like.
Ben: Oh, really? ‘Cause I take like a half hour to 45 minutes to eat my smoothie.
Dr. Richard: To eat it or to make it such that it tastes good?
Ben: To eat it.
Dr. Richard: Oh, no. I mean I don’t slam it all at once, like chug it, like beer in a frat party or something. In fact, I try to kind of allow it to be in my mouth a little bit like a fine wine so there’s some digestive process that can go down. But my point is that I don’t care what it tastes like. And if I’m asked by someone, “What does it taste like?” I say, “Well, it tastes nutritious.” It’s never delicious. Kale is terrible.
Ben: My smoothie tastes slightly bitter. It’s got a little bit of like a chocolatey, bitter taste, and that’s what I like. My wife actually thinks it’s funny ’cause I like to eat bittersweet chocolate. The idea here though is that, and correct me if I’m wrong because I think you mentioned this in your book, one of the things that may signify a stimulation of the immune response in humans to plants can be the taste of bitterness in those plants or the presence of compounds that cause bitterness. Is that correct?
Dr. Richard: Exactly. We have developed over 85 million years, during the time as primates on the planet, a very, very sensitive ability to distinguish degrees of bitterness. And there’s lots of genes that are involved in that process. And also sweetness, but fewer on that. So we’ve developed bitterness, our ability to distinguish degrees of bitterness for survival. And a plant, which is extremely bitter, probably is not a good plant to eat. And so it’s been a selection of vice or survival. Unfortunately, almost all plants are bitter. These are the second theory components which are meant to ward off bacteria, and viruses, and I guess herbivores as well, but they’re not in such concentrations that they usually are harmful to humans or to primates. I mean can be, certainly, but not typically. In fact, just the opposite, the secondary compounds are the anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories. So it kind of works the reverse in primates…
Ben: So plants actually stimulate like a mild immunoglobulin response that actually strengthens the immune system?
Dr. Richard: It does strengthen the immune system, yes. But I’m not sure why and I’m not sure [1:16:36] ______.
Ben: Yeah. I think it is a good point that you make in your book though, about how by us looking for everything to taste good, we may actually be avoiding many of these things that are ultimately good for us. And so it sounds masochistic right, to go out of your way to try and occasionally eat things that are bitter, or that are sour, or that may present a mild hormetic stress to your body, but ultimately it could be good for longevity.
Dr. Richard: Yeah. That is a major point of the book that everything is in the taste. You look in cookbooks and there’s thousands and thousands of cookbooks and how to make things taste good. And you don’t go to a restaurant unless, obviously, the things they make taste good. You don’t order anything in the menu unless it tastes good. Our lives are ruled by taste. And flavor. It’s not really taste, by the way, it’s flavor. And flavor is a relatively new phenomenon, our brains, more of the newer centers of the brain, are selecting for our ability to appreciate flavor. And it’s not just in the frontal lobe, it’s all over the brain, there’s connections for flavor. On the one hand, this is wonderful because I really enjoy flavor, I enjoy music, the visual arts, I enjoy art and using all the senses, including taste. But if taste, unlike all the other senses, you are demanding always to be interesting, fun, and entertaining, you got a problem, and that’s a problem we have in society. We have to have things that have good flavor/taste.
Ben: Yeah. Now one of the things I really got in my way to do with my kids when we got out walking through the forest, like just this morning, well what we’re actually doing, we were out without putting up a trail cam early, so we were walking for quite a while because we want to see, we think there’s a bear up in one of the berry bushes back behind our house so we walked out there about a quarter mile away and put up a trail cam. And as we’re walking back, we’re actually just eating a few of the plants that we know are okay to eat. We have a few apps and web pages that we use to make sure. But they don’t necessarily taste good, but I want to make sure that my children’s palates get exposed to some of this bitterness and some of this idea that you don’t necessarily have to have the plant drenched in olive oil and salt, even the tough that definitely does make it taste better, it’s okay for it to be a little bit bitter. And I think part of it is we developed palates at a very young age that are used to Cheerios and Fruit Roll-Ups. So I think if you’re listening and you have children, one of the best things you can do for them is occasionally give them undressed vegetables or give them smoothies that aren’t full of stevia, or sugar, or whatever your sweetener of choice happens to be.
Now Dr. Aiken, I have one other question for you. You mentioned that you have an upcoming book on mental health, and I’m very, very curious what approach you’re going to use because as, I’m sure you’re aware, there is one side of the fence that says that oxidation and inflammation from a typical Western diet can cause neurodegeneration. But then there’s also another side of the coin that argues that that good fats are good for the brain and that, for example, like strict vegans and vegetarians may have low levels of vitamin B12 intake or things that may cause brain damage. So what’s your take as a psychiatrist and what kind of approach are you going to use in your book?
Dr. Richard: Yeah. Those are a lot of questions, kind of in arbitrary order. The B12 is really an interesting. I mean B12, so I think a lot of paleo-based or meat-based individuals might say, “Well, how can that vegan diet be good or make any sense because you have to exogenously get B12?” And that’s true, but it’s because we have good hygiene, that’s why we have to take in B12. Now if we were just pulling up roots and eating them, maybe dusting them off and eating them, that’s where most of the bacteria, only bacteria make B12, animals don’t make B12. So if you were eating the bacteria on the roots of plants that make B12, then you’d have the B12, but you know we wash them off pretty carefully. If we were eating the feces of other animals, which happens if they’re in you know your stream or if they’re domesticated or otherwise, if they are defacating in your water source, you’re going to get B12. And so B12 is not like a limitation of being vegan.
Ben: And what you’re saying is that by including adequate amounts of bacteria and fermented foods in your diet, you can actually assist with getting that critical nutrient that normally you’d only find in the absence of eating fermented foods or in the absence of eating enough bacteria in animal food, and so that’s where you would that’s where you would go after that getting adequate B12 would be a wide variety of bacteria.
Dr. Richard: No. One of the few supplements I take is a B12 sublingual nanoparticle supplement. In the fact, that and vitamin D3 in the winter months are really the only supplements I use. I do take [1:22:37] ______ tablets, Indian gooseberries, they are so bitter that I can’t eat them.
Ben: I have a whole bunch, I have this trail that goes up to a spear throw that I practice with my backyard and there’s a bunch of gooseberry that grows along that trail. I eat ’em occasionally. They are very bitter, but those have a lot of good immune stimulating properties too. Yeah, that’s what I was asking about was the B12 issue. But one of the things that you hear about B12 is that the form produced by the gut bacteria is not attached to intrinsic factor, which is necessary for it to be absorbed effectively. And so there’s some, it’s kind of like getting adequate to DHA from chia seeds or flaxseed sources for example in terms of their absorption. Relying solely on B12 from fermented foods or from bacteria appears to not be quite good enough. Is that why you use a B12 supplement?
Dr. Richard: Well, actually it’s not that complicated to me. I didn’t really go into the science that deeply so I can’t really say. But I believe that these nanoparticles sublingual B12 are adequate. But my understanding is that we do have bacteria in our guts that make B12, but unfortunately they’re low enough down in the GI tract that they don’t actually, we don’t absorb that B12.
Ben: Yeah. They’re not quite up in the small intestine where the pancreatic enzymes can break down what’s necessary for them to be absorbed.
Dr. Richard: Correct. But if we did have poor hygiene there was a degree, it’s gross, but a degree of feces recycling, you would get to B12. But I don’t recommend it.
Ben: So if you were eating a plant-based diet, you would recommend vitamin B12 supplementation?
Dr. Richard: Yeah, absolutely.
Ben: And what do you do, the other question I’d asked you when it came to like the mental health component is where do you fall in the cholesterol/fat side of things when it comes to getting adequate cholesterol and adequate fats for your nervous system health. Are you someone who does like I do and eats of fats with your plants or do you feel that fats may not be critical for optimal brain function.
Dr. Richard: Yeah. I mean there’s been a lot of work in mental health on the effect of omega-3 supplementation on mental health, and some of the data look good, fish oil, and some don’t look good. But I think that basically the way that it’s dropping out right now is that obviously omega-3, omega-6s are absolutely essential. No question about that. How you get them is another question. Most all plants do have omega-3 and omega-6, and I mentioned I always have flax seeds. One teaspoon of flaxseed gives three times what you would need for a day. And you don’t even have to do this in a daily basis. There is some storage. But, yeah, I get my omega-3, omega-6s primarily from, just to make sure that I’m okay, I can get that from flaxseeds. But again, a spectrum of plants will have omega-3 and omega-6 components. So I don’t think that you really need, if you’re careful at all about the plants you eat, to supplement. And the idea of using fish oil to supplement, I think, is really problematic from the standpoint that, first of all, the fish get it from plants, from from algae, and we get it from their liver that has other oils and other fats that are not necessarily good and you don’t know exactly what they are. And of course the liver is the detoxification center, so there could be other kind of bad things there like mercury and who knows.
Ben: What do you do when it comes to like these chia seeds in terms of the very, very low amount of the ALA in ’em that actually gets converted to something like brain beneficial DHA, or even EPA?
Dr. Richard: Yeah, I don’t take chia seeds for the fact content. And in fact I don’t like them too much. The chia seeds, they kind of, I know if you’ve ever used a lot of chia seeds in your smoothie, but they kind of like clump up and they get kind of gummy. So I just take a little bit.
Ben: Yeah. If you overdo them, they have a lot of phytic acid in them too. Unless you’ve done a good job soaking them and rinsing them.
Dr. Richard: Right.
Ben: Interesting. So you’re careful with the fats, but you are a proponent of like seeds, and nuts, and things like that for brain health, along with vitamin B12 supplementation?
Dr. Richard: Yeah. I am. I think you have to be careful though. Kind of the main point, one of the main points I try to make in The New Ancestral Diet is high in nutrient density to energy density. It used to be throughout most of our ancestors were wanting that energy density because they just the calories so they could live. Now, no problem with energy density, so let’s go the high nutrient to energy density route, and highest nutrient energy density plant food is many leafy greens, not all, but many. And so that’s kind of the number one…
Ben: You would’ve loved [1:28:41] ______ presentation at the Ancestral Health Symposium a couple of years ago where he basically showed a bunch of research that came to the ultimate conclusion that bacon is the most nutrient dense food. So there’s some people out there that would highly disagree with you, and I’m of the opinion that plants actually are extremely nutrient dense. I think that relying upon them as your sole source of nutrition, I mean even if you include things like, for example, you mentioned algae, I do a lot of algae for DHA just because I don’t like to overdo the fish oil and I don’t like to overdo even like fats from animal meats. I’m careful because the, I didn’t talk about this too much when you were talking about longevity, but I do agree with you to a certain extent, that excessive animal protein can cause activation of mTOR that could ultimately increase the rate at which telomeres shorten. And so you have to strike a good balance between being in a state of consistent anabolic growth and achieving ultimate longevity, which is why I do rely upon a lot of these plants sources and algae sources for things like DHA and nutrients. But I certainly don’t completely eschew meat, or dairy, or things of that nature.
Dr. Richard: Well you got me on to the Energy Bits. I use that quite a bit…
Ben: Oh, yeah. The spirulina and chlorella tablets. I actually just ran out. I got home from that flight last night and I wanted a bunch of DHA and I also wanted some chlorella just because of its detox and wandering through the airports in the more industrial sections of big cities, I wanted some of that metal binding to be happening as well. But I opened my refrigerator and I was out, so I’m going to have to go get some Energy Bits.
Dr. Richard: And you know, Ben, it make sense to these spirulina and green leafy plants because you think about it, what is the characteristic of plants that is structurally high surface to volume ratio. And what is it about the plant that has potentially the highest surface to volume ratio? The leaves. So they put out these very thin and easy to hold up leaves from stems that are much more fibrous, and I don’t recommend eating the stems in general, but the leaves have the nutrients. And in fact, if you have cabbages or if you have leaves that are sort of folded up, it’s the outer leaves that have the nutrients usually that are darker, and I recommend that. So leafy greens, number one, then non-leafy veggies is what I recommend. Then fruits, USOs, and nuts and grains are [1:31:40] ______, but not many. Nuts, seeds, and grains are not that energy dense. They’re quite a lot of fat. But they’re some good nutrient, so I want to include them for variety, but I never open a bag of nuts, or trying not to, or seeds and just start munching them.
Ben: Yes. I agree with you. Unless you’re desperate. Like I was desperate the other night walking home from the Spartan Race in San Francisco, hungry, and the only thing I had available was a gas station. And I went to the gas station, it was like Snickers bars, Clif bars, soda, and then pumpkin seeds. So I bought a bag of pumpkin seeds, and I will have to admit that I mowed through an entire bag of pumpkin seeds, which I don’t consider to be ancestral, but it was necessary. Anyways though, we’ve obviously been going for a while, and we could keep going, I’m sure, for a very long time, but what I’ve done is I’ve taken some notes as we talk. And for those of you listening in, I’ve put the notes as well as a link to this book, “The New Ancestral Diet”, and all sorts of other things that we talked about today over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/ancestraldiet. That’s bengreenfieldfitness.com/ancestraldiet. Obviously, Dr. Aiken and I have some differences when it comes to, for example, meat eating versus plant eating and the prevalence they’re in, but at the same time, there are some really good takeaways in this book that I think you should check out. And also obviously, from Ride and Tie competitions, to space exploration companies, to the opera singing, Dr. Aiken is a very interesting man, and I’m thankful for you coming on the podcast today, Richard.
Dr. Richard: Well, it’s my pleasure, Ben. Really. I did want to mention one last thing as a psychiatrist. We’re kind of talking with, it’s confusing to people, “Well, what do I eat?” There’s this way of thinking, there’s that way of thinking. And sort of the main overall message I’d like to leave is don’t stress out about it so much. I mean what you put in your head, through your thoughts, is as important as what you put in your mouth. So find what’s best for you, what makes sense for you, and be careful about that, and then go with it, and be cool.
Ben: Cool. Good words from a psychiatrist. And it’s a very good point. I’m glad that you remembered to bring that up because I know it can be confusing. And of course, another very, very good resource for you, and Dr. Aiken and I will both jump into this resource, and that would be the comments section for the show notes. So you can access the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/ancestraldiet and we’ll both be responding to comments and questions that you have over there. But in the meantime, Dr. Aiken, thanks for your time and for coming on the call today.
Dr. Richard: Thanks, Ben. I enjoyed it a lot.
Ben: Alright, folks. Well this is Ben Greenfield and Dr. Richard Aiken, author of “The New Ancestral Diet” signing out from Ben Greenfield Fitness. Have a healthy week.
Every morning I start my day with what I call my “big-ass smoothie”. In a moment, you’re going to find out what this has to do with my guest in today’s podcast, Richard Aiken, who is pictured above on his horse Teeko, which he used to race in Western “Ride & Tie” races, an endurance race up and down mountains for two people and a horse.
Anyways, back to my smoothie.
The smoothie begins with a huge bunch of greens. I prefer kale, but spinach, bok choy, mustard greens, etc. also do the trick, and lately I’ve been making a concerted effort to go out into the forest near my house and pick at least one or two “wild” plants to throw in too (such as plantain, nettle, wild mint, etc.)
Next, I add some kind of herb. Cleansing herbs like parsley, cilantro or thyme are nice. Rather than opting for the old, dried, powdered versions you buy from the grocery store, I buy them fresh or pick them fresh from my garden.
Next is half an avocado (or occasionally a whole avocado if it’s a high calorie day) along 2 teaspoons organic cacao powder, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, a teaspoon of sea salt (I use this fancy Aztecan stuff), and 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil.
Then, before blending, I add just enough full fat coconut milk to make all my plants blend. I prefer an extremely thick smoothie that I have to eat with a spoon (so that the digestive enzymes in my mouth can work on pre-digesting before the food even makes it to my gut). Like my mom always said, “Chew your liquids and drink your solids.”
Then, I blend everything above for about 60 seconds-ish. I’ve always had a hunch that it may not be that great to pulverize things like protein powder, collagen, etc., and I also don’t want to pulverize the chunky chunks of goodness I’m about to toss in. So after blending, to my green goodness, I add 20-30g of a “clean” protein powder, 1 large handful of unroasted, non-vegetable-oil coated walnuts or almonds, 1 small handful organic dark cacao nibs and 1 large handful organic unsweetened coconut flakes.
I then use a spatula to ensure the entire contents of this relatively expensive smoothie make it into my giant morning breakfast mug, although I have been known to simply eat it straight out of the blender container when in a hurry. Depending on how exact my measurements are, my big-ass smoothie weighs in in at anywhere from 700-1000 calories.
Throughout the remainder of the day after the smoothie, I consume a giant salad at lunch, and heaps of vegetables for dinner. So I’d estimate that I probably consume 20-25 “servings” of vegetables each day, typically accompanied by boatloads of oils and fats such as olives, olive oil, coconut milk, coconut oil, avocados, fatty fish, bone broth, and organ meats.
OK, so why am I telling you all this?
Here’s why: I just read a book called The New Ancestral Diet, and it’s reinvented the way I think about all these plants I’ve been eating.
The New Ancestral Diet is described like this:
“We as primates have struggled mightily during the past 85 million years to find and eat enough food for survival. Fortunately, every one of your ancestors was successful so that you might succeed in that same endeavor. However, today that survival is in jeopardy. Recently and suddenly, from an evolutionary standpoint, the problem of subsistence in “civilized” countries has inverted: we have plenty of food but are not making selections that lead to long-term survival.
Our plant-based ancestral diets for which we have become genetically adapted have become animal-based. For thousands of millennia, primate nutrition happened while seeking a wide variety fruits and vegetables sufficiently energy-dense to supply our needed daily calories. Today we still seek energy-dense foods, but in the form of high fat animal products or sweet processed foods. Nutrient-dense foods, formerly our staples, are tolerated as side-dishes.
Taste, the most primitive of our senses, over the eons existed for our survival (as all the other senses), that is, to deselect plants sufficiently bitter as likely toxic or non-digestible. With the expansion of our brain capacity, taste was joined by higher brain regions’ appreciation of flavor. The result is a demand for flavorful energy-dense foods. Every meal experience must “taste good”. Dietary patterns based on such flavorful energy-dense foods has lead to chronic inflammatory states with high morbidly and mortality in the Western world.
This book suggests a return to our true ancestral dietary patterns, supplemented by what is known from the latest scientific research concerning nutritional health. It is clear that we have evolved to be quite versatile eaters and while we can eat a variety of foods, a whole-food varied plant-based diet is best for our long-term health and happiness.”
In the book, author Richard Aiken, a medical doctor and PhD in chemical engineering, describes how plants wage a chemical warfare against our body, why we should be careful with pulverizing and blending the hell out of our vegetables, why epidemiological data is very strong for a whole-food, primarily plant-based diet, and much more.
He holds a PhD in chemical engineering from Princeton University and an MD from the University of Utah. He has lectured throughout the United States and Europe, is the author of numerous peer reviewed scientific articles on nutrition and chemistry, and is a board certified psychiatrist with a clinical practice in Springfield, Missouri.
During today’s podcast interview with Richard, you’ll discover:
-How endurance runners can keep up with horses during races in the mountains…
-Richard’s journey from getting a PhD in chemical engineering from Princeton, to starting a space exploration company to singing opera to attending medical school…
-How human beings progressed from insectivore to fruitarian to herbivore…
-Why the advent of cooking tubers may have been more important than the advent of cooking meat…
-The amazing recent research on chlorophyll, sunlight and the potential ability for humans to photosynthesize…
-Why you should go out of your way to eat things that don’t taste good…
-Whether blenders can damage plant matter and if so, what the alternatives are…
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
–The New Ancestral Diet book
-The recent research on chlorophyll, sunlight and the potential ability for humans to photosynthesize
Do you have questions, comments or feedback for Dr. Aiken or me about this episode? Leave your thoughts below