Episode #119: Can a Plant Based Diet Save Your Life? With Nutritionist Simon Hill
My guest today is author and podcast host Simon Hill.
Simon extended the conversation of his popular podcast PLANTPROOF with his latest in depth book PROOF IS IN THE PLANTS: HOW SCIENCE SHOWS A PLANT-BASED DIET COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE (AND THE PLANET). Regardless if you are a vegetarian, vegan or meat eater, this is a wonderful conversation about food. Eating: we do it several times a day so what are some of the best practices regardless of your tribal eating.
I love Simon’s ability to be fair, reasonable and still as detailed in the research as he was able to be today. Science is always moving, but some things keep showing up as best for us and best for the planet. In the end his attitude and ability to dig down into the information will make him a great communicator and advocate for “healthy food” and lifestyle. Simon is not guilting or shaming regardless of your personal preference he is simply sharing and inviting. Enjoy
NOTE: I did not ask about and wish I had more time to dive into supplementation. There is an extensive Chapter in the book on supplements, but I did follow up with Simon and if you are only listening to the podcast the gentle reminder of the importance of B12, D3, and Iodine.
Listen to the episode here:
- The Power of Lifestyle [00:03:36]
- Change in Diet [00:15:24]
- Start Now and Start Small [00:24:16]
- The Science in Food [00:34:10]
- Food Diversity [00:39:37]
- Lectins, Soy, Etc. [00:47:01]
- Active Ways to Support Your Gut [01:07:26]
- A Look Into Oils [01:11:39]
- Alcohol [01:23:11]
- Fermented Foods [01:25:03]
- A Mission for the Environment [01:30:25]
- Meat Substitutes [01:40:03]
- Half Cut [01:43:23]
- Lessons from Being In a Long Relationship [01:48:23]
Can a Plant Based Diet Save Your Life? With Nutritionist Simon Hill
My guest is Simon Hill. Simon has a popular podcast called The Plant Proof and a book that he has put a ton of scientific research into, The Proof is in the Plants: How science shows a plant-based diet could save your life (and the planet). Whether you’re a person who eats meat, a vegan, a vegetarian, this is a conversation about food.
My hope is to continually have conversations about what are the healthiest things we can do for ourselves. How you want to do that is up to you. What I respect and appreciate about Simon is that he has an incredibly fair and balanced perspective. This isn’t about creating more tribalism. This is about the best practices either for your health or for the planet.
For example, if you are going to eat animal protein, what’s the best way to do that? He has an incredible personal story. His family has some genetic heart situations. His dad ended up collapsing at the age of 41. They saved his life. He and his brother then ended up being motivated to take a deeper look at food. I could have gone on and on in this conversation but I do want to put something at the front of it, which is one thing we did not get into supplementing and supplementation, especially if you are a vegan or vegetarian.
I did talk to Simon about this but vitamin B12, iodine, and D3 are things that I wish we talked about but we didn’t. Also, he has sections in the book that drill down on this. This book is like a workbook and it is extensive with a ton of research. For me, in this day and age, I don’t want to fight with people or anyone about anything. How do we bring everyone together? This is a reminder about eating real and good food and what does that look like based on who you are and your lifestyle.
Simon Hill, thank you for coming to my home. I want to dive right into you first because of your story. I always appreciate great healers or people who are doing things with real purpose. You understand that they have an event or something that occurred that inspired and nudge them into this path. Your book came out November 1st, 2021.
It was supposed to.
Penguin hit a few roadblocks with the COVID supply chain. It’s been delayed a little bit but it should be on the shelves any time.
Is it out here in the harbor, on a boat?
Somewhere. It’s out in the sea. I’m sure it’ll show up before Christmas.
It’s a great book. Justin’s sister lives in Temecula, which is a great place for someone who’s practicing a vegan lifestyle. We’re trying to support her. You’re from Australia and you’re healthy. When you were younger there was a situation with your dad who’s a scientist. There was an event when you were a teenager that influenced where you are today.
This was the first time that I saw what loss of health looks like. Up to that point, I thought health was guaranteed. I was 15. My dad was only 41 on that day. We were spending the weekend together in an area called the Yarra Valley, which is a nice wine region outside of Melbourne. We were living in Melbourne at that stage.
It was my dad and me on this particular day. My brother and mother were in the city. As we were driving home from visiting some of these different wineries, my dad started to feel some chest pain. It was enough for me to notice and check in with him and see if he was okay. He downplayed it and thought it would all be fine. We proceeded to go home and cooked dinner. I checked in again and then he went off to bed. He said that everything was fine or it seemed to be still fine.
Shortly after, I remember waking up, I heard a bit of noise in the kitchen. I thought, “I better go and see if he’s okay.” In the back of my mind, I remembered that he was experiencing some pain. As I recall now when I went out, that was obvious to me that my dad was not okay. He could no longer deny it. It was the first time that I’d ever seen my dad look scared.
He had already called the emergency number in Australia. He was out of breath and he was pale. I took over the phone and detailed to the paramedic as to what my dad was experiencing and explain the situation to help them make sense of it and then determine what the next course of action was. They quickly realized based on his symptoms and also where we were located. We were remote. At least then, the nearest hospital was over an hour away by road.
You weren’t driving.
I was 15. I was at the stage where I was learning to drive. I’m not sure I was up to the task of trying to take my dad while he’s having a heart attack to find a hospital. All of this was happening at a rapid pace. Of course, it’s hard for anyone to make sense of it. It’s hard for a 15-year-old. They asked me if there was room to land a helicopter. Thankfully, we weren’t in a treed area. We were right out in the forest. There was enough space that had been cleared around the house for fire protection purposes and enough room to land.
They did send a helicopter and it came super quickly. They came in, scooped him up off the ground, put him on a stretcher, connected him to oxygen, checked all his vital signs, and quickly took him out to the helicopter. I couldn’t fit in the helicopter with them. They flew him to the hospital and I followed them by road in an ambulance. By that time, I called my mom and said, “You guys better come over. This is what’s happening.” They did.
We waited at the hospital for what seemed like an eternity. The doctor came out and eventually said, “Your dad has had a severe heart attack.” This was a real shock to us. He was only 41. From the outside, he was representative of a young Australian dad. He wasn’t taking any medications. He wasn’t relying on the healthcare system. He said, “We saved his life.” We were extremely happy. That was what we were most concerned with at that point in time.
When the dust settled the next day, we caught up with the cardiologist. It was time to have a family chat about what had happened, a debrief, try and make sense of this, and understand what my dad’s prognosis was. We did that. The cardiologist said, “Your dad will be on medications for the rest of his life. He is extremely lucky. In this situation, many people die. It’s sudden cardiac death. Your dad has a second chance at life.”
He had taken our family history and my grandfather had also had a heart attack. His advice to my brother and me was, “You guys are nearly young adults yourself.” I was 15 and my brother was 18, “You need to keep an eye on this because cardiovascular disease runs in families. You should be screened as you get older.” That’s not bad advice, it’s good advice, but it’s where the conversation ended. For many years, long before I went and did a Master’s in nutrition science, I had a bit of a limiting belief.
[bctt tweet=”Nature is our greatest ally in solving climate change.”]
These were the cards that we were dealt. Our genes are predisposing us to cardiovascular disease. What’s to say that our journey, our course will be any different to my father? Perhaps we won’t be as lucky as him. That was a pivotal moment in my life where a seed was planted that is inspiring me to do where I am today.
I’m curious when a doctor says that to somebody. People get told these types of things a lot. Is it like, “You better get tested and stay on top of it.” If you find that you’re having this situation, you’ll have to go on medication for the whole rest of your life. A lot of people feel that those are the options. It’s not the power of lifestyle.
Did you guys have a sense yet of this power of lifestyle? You were fit, in sports, around sports, and working within sports and with athletes. In health, in general, were you thinking, “I have tools to help performance.” There was no inclination to you like, “I can also have tools maybe to support some of these supposedly bad genetic cards that were dealt.”
In that setting of that conversation with the cardiologist, there was no mention of lifestyle. This was years ago so times were a little bit different. Perhaps, that conversation was only in a ten-minute setting so there wasn’t a whole lot of time to expand. Maybe it was the most important information given. I’ve since learned the power of lifestyle. If we want to squeeze these diseases out of society, it’s not about managing the disease. We have to be proactive and not reactive and that means setting up the lifestyle well before the disease pathology has set in and someone has a heart attack.
To answer your question, for a long time, I underestimated the power of lifestyle. Through the various studies that I did, I started to realize that genes do predispose us to certain things. To a large degree, whether they’re expressed and how they’re expressed, it’s affected by the way that we navigate our life. When we understand that, we can begin to set up our lifestyle in a way that allows us to live healthier for longer, which is what all of us or most of us want.
I’m older than you are. It’s always a fascinating observation of, “This isn’t working.” You have to make a change and how hard that is for people. The proof is all there. They’ve even maybe had experiences personally where they know that’s not working. Somehow it’s difficult for people to change.
Particularly, it’s difficult as well if we’re talking about food when our environment, in many ways, is set up for us to fail. Often, in many settings, the quick, convenient, and affordable choice is not always a healthy choice. Trying to squeeze these diseases out of society, we can educate and help people navigate an environment that is set up for them to fail. That will help a small number of people. To affect change at scale, the environment also needs to completely change. These changes aren’t easy. We know that it’s less about knowing what to do. It’s more about doing what we know.
Also, changing the system. I want to get into that because of the industrial part of it, the business part of it, the environment part of it, our farming, and the way it’s all set up. I appreciate that you’re having this conversation. Your brother comes to visit you and he tells you ahead of time, “I’ve made some changes in my diet.” How old are you at this time?
I must have been 26 around then.
In that whole time, from 15 to 26, is it in the back of your mind a little bit? You’re training hard. Are you thinking, “This is going to catch up to me.”
Not really. How I was eating was normal. It’s still is normal for many people. I wasn’t eating an ultra-processed diet. I was eating a diet that lacked a lot of diversity and I didn’t appreciate the role of plants. I was eating too much animal protein. I was constantly in the fitness culture, whether it was in the gym or football clubs. There wasn’t any reason for me to question that at that stage. It was normal.
He’s coming to see you and gives you the heads up that he and his wife changed they’re eating.
I thought they were a bit mad at the time, to be honest.
That’s what I want to talk about. I was thinking about this a lot knowing that you’re coming here about that. I find myself having an open mind about certain things. You do see that you have some tribalism around the way that you eat. It’s fascinating how you get locked into some of that. It’s only for a bit of time that he’s going to come and visit. You think, “They’re mad. I’ll play along.” Was it what he was learning and the fact that you thought, “I haven’t sacrificed feeling satisfied or taste or any of these things that maybe I’ll take a deeper look.”
My brother and I hadn’t spoken at the length around the reasons that he was making these changes. He was on his own journey. He had given me a high-level account as to some information he’d come across. He was suggesting that making some changes, de-emphasizing animal protein, and eating more plant protein was going to be a good way to reduce his risk of cardiovascular disease. He called me before he came up and spoke to me about these changes.
I’m pretty open-minded. The most important thing for me was that they would come up and have a great two weeks. Of course, I was willing to support them. I had no idea what we would be eating. I had never heard of a diet that didn’t have animal products in it and never considered it. They came up. Both of them are good cooks. They cooked a lot of food. They took me and my partner, Tanya, out to a lot of different restaurants. It was a great experience.
At the end of the week, it was more the fact that I felt like I didn’t have to sacrifice anything. I wasn’t giving up anything. That was a lot for me because I was the guy that if I went out for dinner with my friends or my teammates from football, it was always the steakhouse for 2 or 3 times a week. For me to even entertain this idea of changing my diet was a big thing. It wasn’t something that I would do lightly. Even having my brother give me some information, I knew I needed to get into the science and start looking at it and try and make sense of it from an objective manner and then make decisions from there.
When I was doing that, I wanted to prove him wrong. I wanted to keep those steaks in my diet. I wasn’t an unhealthy person from the outside. I was 25, 26. From an athletic point of view, I was kicking goals. It was a process for me to start going into the science of it and looking at it objectively. Although I do love these foods, if I am wanting to reduce my cardio risk of cardiovascular disease, I need to lean more into plant protein. I need to de-emphasize some of this animal protein in my diet. The next question became, “Can I do that and still feel good today?”
Did you guys start to integrate your father into this conversation? Did you jump on him?
Sometimes the hardest people to influence are your family members.
We have a saying in our house, it’s called an expert if somebody lives a mile away. Especially your kids. I have to go through that with my kids. I have two children. You have to sometimes go, “We’re not changing diapers.” They’re not throwing rocks through windows. They know stuff that I don’t know. I might want to listen. Your dad is a scientist on top of it.
It can be tricky to try and steer your parents in another direction and also, when it comes to diet, to do it without offending them. They raised me on a particular diet and then to be suggesting, “Perhaps we should be thinking about making some changes that could be healthier.” That’s a tricky conversation to navigate in itself.
For the first year or so, I was more focused on myself. It wasn’t about trying to change anyone else. It was hard enough for me to change my own habits. That was the focus at the start. Looking back, through making those changes and leading by example, questions came. Anytime someone comes to you with a question, it usually leads to a more thoughtful, healthy conversation rather than trying to tell someone else what to do.
It’s the invitation of, “This is what I’m doing. This is how it’s working for me.” What about now? You’re many years into the research. Your book is extensive.
Both of my parents ate plant predominant diets. In the book, I talk about it from a scientific point of view. Although we like definitives and absolutes, science isn’t like that. Rather than it being a single diet that is the most optimal diet for human health, there is a set of clear characteristics. We could go into what those are.
At the end of the day, it could be a thoughtfully constructed Mediterranean diet, which is an omnivorous diet that contains animal foods but it’s plant-rich. It could be a pescatarian diet, a vegetarian diet, or a well appropriately planned vegan diet. There are several different ways to get there. That’s my approach with everyone, including my parents.
I love everyone unconditionally, all my friends and family. I’m happy for them to be eating more whole plants and find whatever level of commitment they’re looking for that allows them to find a dietary pattern that they can sustain. That’s the key. A lot of diet books and new diets that come out, people jump on them for 2 or 3 weeks and then revert to something closer to a standard American diet, which we know is a big contributor to all of these diseases. Any step towards that plant predominant theme is a good one. I’m here as a resource to help anyone that’s doing that regardless of the label.
I want to dumb it down even more because sometimes that makes being actionable even easier. I also want to encourage people. If you want to drill down on some of the more science, I would direct them. You did a beautiful podcast with Rich Roll. For my more geeky people reading, please go and listen to that.
It was a long one.
You two know each other. What we could do, if you’re comfortable, is to dumb it down. If someone says, “I’m not there yet. I like my meat. I’ve been hearing this message a lot and there is information supporting it and it’s been out there for a long time.” What does it look like? Discussing the saturated and unsaturated fats. What are the things that we could easily get rid of? For example, people still drink sodas with artificial sweeteners. It’s okay to say, “Certain things are off the table. If you choose to do it, that’s on you but you’re never going to be in any universe on a regular basis.” They go, “It’s diet,” or, “It’s juice.”
For somebody who’s eating meat and they go, “I don’t even know how to cook like that.” How would you start to guide people first there? I’d love to talk about people who do fish and people who are vegetarian and then the sharper end of the stick. I have questions from friends about, “I don’t want to put coconut in my coffee.” “I love cream in my coffee.” “I like dairy.” People are intense about this stuff. There’s a way to approach all of this that you could start and then you would feel it.
An important point here is that one of the most important pieces of advice I give people is to get started. You need that momentum. You can start small. Let’s look at the average diet today. I wouldn’t be zooming in on animal protein at the start. I’d be thinking about the fact that 60% of calories come from ultra-processed foods in the diet. That’s the lowest-hanging fruit that everyone can work on.
All of the packaged cookies and cakes and the stuff usually in the center of the supermarket aisles, those foods are formulated in a way that makes them easy to over-consume. There are lots of different studies that have looked at this and been able to show that they create hedonic hunger, which is you’re hungry in the absence of a physiological requirement for calories. On the flip side, the average American is not eating anywhere near the number of fruits and vegetables that they should be, the recommended numbers. Dialing down on ultra-processed foods and eating more fruits and vegetables is a quick win for pretty much everyone.
Can we also remind people that fast food is processed food? It’s food science. It’s like anything. Sometimes if you also invite people to have a little bit of a rebellious attitude about things serving them. Your food should serve you. Instead of getting led around by things. It’s convenient. We know that food scientists design it to hit your palate harder than anything in nature and then disappear quickly. That was one of the best interviews I saw. It was on 60 Minutes years ago. They go, “In what way does this not lend itself to overeating?” The scientist was like, “I don’t understand the correlation.” It’s almost letting people know that we’re part of this game.
Do you have Magnum ice creams here? Have you heard of those?
No. I don’t eat ice cream so I don’t even notice it.
There’s this ice cream company called Magnum and this speaks to this. They had this problem with this ice cream. As you bite into it, it can crumble and it was falling on people’s clothes. They were getting some complaints about that. They reformulated. During the reformulation, they realize that in making it less messy, they changed the crunch. When you bit into it, you didn’t get that same crunch. People didn’t enjoy it as much and wouldn’t buy as much. When they’re engineering these foods, not only are these companies thinking about the ingredients, the taste, the texture, but they’re even thinking about the sound, the noise that it makes when you bite into it.
All of this coalesces into these foods that hit the bliss point. It’s simply irresistible. If your diet is full of those, good luck, blueberry is competing. Nature cannot compete with that. Sure, we can’t control the food environment outside but we can control the food environment in our homes. Building good habits starts with what foods are you bringing into your home. If you’re bringing these ultra-processed foods in, you are setting yourself up for failure.
I have children. They’re out in the world. What I cook is what we eat and the food that’s here. Also, I try not to make too much taboo. What I’ve seen even with the older ones is they get through it. I have a daughter and she’s like, “I don’t eat that.” This is a kid where there wasn’t a processed carb she didn’t love when she was 9 or 10. You model it. Everyone’s different. What you realize is that if I’m here and I get a stressful day at work, I’m triggered, or maybe it’s a certain time, all of a sudden, if it’s around, I don’t care who you are for the most part. You’re going to go for it. It’s a drug.
We can get upset about the way it’s set up and how did it even get here and all of these things. For me, we’re past that now. What do you want to do? What are we bringing into our house? Start to notice because then you start to see it everywhere. You realize, “None of this is food.” It starts to trip you out a little bit. It’s important for people to understand this, you might even feel like, “What is there to eat?” People can go through that and it feels overwhelming, “What can I cook? What can I do?” It’s because they’re out of their normal. It’s like, “Go through all that. It’s okay.” You go slowly.
A lot of people will say, “Maybe they’re back at work.” COVID would have been an excellent time to get it dialed in because all your meals were at home, “I’m back at work. I don’t have time. I forgot to bring my lunch.” Is it about saying, “Get a salad,” and then you put olive oil on it? Do you think there’s a way if people are in the real world and they only have so many dollars to spend? It’s not about getting it done. It’s about doing it better.
[bctt tweet=”None of this is about losing the joy of food. You still have to love your food. Food is to be enjoyed. “]
First, it’s where your priorities are at the beginning. What’s important to you? I agree with you that it’s important to be aware of how the environment is set up to lead to failure. You’re right, then you will start noticing it everywhere. That’s important to be able to navigate and make better decisions. In terms of the day-to-day and if you’re not at home and you’re at work, a lot of this comes down to being prepared and being organized.
In the beginning, it does require a little bit more thought. Like building all habits, over time, it goes from something that requires a lot of planning and a lot of thought and becomes easier and easier and then becomes second nature. I’d be lying if I said there’s some magic wand that you can wave and all of a sudden, you develop all these beautiful, new habits. It doesn’t work like that.
To build these new habits, in the beginning, you do need to give them some thought. You want to start small and you want to remove resistance as you want to add resistance to bad habits. Let’s say eating a lot of ultra-processed food. Adding resistance is not having them in the house. When you’re on the couch, you’d have to drive down to get it. Usually, you’re going to choose the path of least resistance.
With all of these habits that you want to build, these good foods that you want to eat more of, you want to have them on hand wherever possible. Whether it’s at home and then it’s prepping meals so that they are in your bag and they’re at your office in the fridge. If you do that, slowly but surely, over time, these will become the norm. Those are the foods that you eat.
The other stuff is not worth it either. Especially when you do it long enough, if you ever are in a situation where you eat that other food, you have the opportunity to feel how bad you feel eating it. A lot of people don’t get far enough away from those foods to even recognize, “My energy has been even all day long.” It’s giving yourself what I call the window of faith. It’s when you’re starting anything new, whether it’s an exercise routine or changing some lifestyle habits. Give it a month, you’ll know. You’ll sleep better and all these things.
We have the mediator. We’ve asked them, “Pay attention. Can you get a little more prepared?” Let’s avoid processed foods, snacky foods, foods that live 100 years. I usually would encourage people to avoid microwaving food. I’ve heard more that there’s no data showing that it’s good or bad. Does it change the molecular structure of the food? I don’t know.
It seems a bit all over the place. People have a lot of strong opinions on it. If you’re microwaving healthy food and it’s fruits and vegetables and that means you’re going to eat more of those, it’s probably a good idea. Any way to get more fruits, vegetables, and whole plants into the diet is probably better than the alternative, which is often some ultra-processed or takeaway food.
They have Meatless Mondays. I thought these are interesting ideas. Why do we have to have animal protein with every meal? We don’t.
This is a good strategy. You could do something like Meatless Mondays. In terms of the biggest lever to pull after ultra-processed foods, it is swapping some animal protein for plant protein. Most people will know what I mean when I say animal protein. To be clear, when I say plant protein, there’s the protein in all plants but most of your protein is going to come from the legume food group like beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, tempeh. There are some other foods but those are the more whole plant foods.
My recommendation would be for people to think about, how many meals across the week are you comfortable swapping with some meat, whether it’s beef or chicken, for those foods that I listed? Someone reading might say, “I’m happy to do that on Monday nights.” Someone else might say, “I can do that comfortably three times a week.” Whatever that is, find that spot where you can start. Over time, if you want to lean more into that, you can as you get more experience with cooking those foods in a way that you enjoy. None of this is about losing the joy of food. You still have to love your food. Food is to be enjoyed.
Do you have favorite cookbooks that are realistic?
I love Minimalist Baker. There are many free recipes on there. You can pretty much jump on there and you’ll find recipes with all of those sources of plant protein that I mentioned.
In the hierarchy of meat like elk, what meats would you say, “If you’re going to stay into your meat, these meats are ethically sourced.” Chickens scare me altogether. If you’re in New Zealand, what meats do you think people would be eating that would be the most helpful? Also, I don’t think we need as much meat.
When I grew up, it was around protein. You’d have your two sides. I don’t know how this whole thing started. It was one vegetable and one starch and then this thing of meat. If people are true meat-eaters like they love meat, you need a small amount of meat to get that feeling. Beyond that, you’re over-eating it. If someone said, “I’m going to experiment with this. I need to do it my way.” What are those meats?
I often get this question from folks that are following a bit more of a paleo-style diet. You can do a paleo diet that’s consistent with that theme that I mentioned before. If you look at a lot of the literature on paleo diets, they were high fiber diets. They did have a lot of plant matter in there. Albeit, those plant foods are probably not even available today. They’ve been bred out of the system.
We’ve lost a lot of our diversity.
The meats that they were eating, which is consistent with what the hunter-gatherer cholesterol levels are, which surprises people, they’re low. The meats that they were eating and still do today like the Hadza tribe or even many thousands of years ago like woolly mammoth venison are lean meats. Today, that would be like antelope or deer.
If those aren’t available to people, try and find the leanest cuts. Ideally, it’s regenerative style meats. It’s not factory farmed. A small amount of that within an otherwise plant-rich diet that’s low in ultra-processed foods is a healthy diet. I don’t think anyone could argue against that. That’s probably the highest quality meat that I would recommend.
With Justin’s sister, hers is for ethical purposes. She doesn’t want to eat anything a mother. I completely respect that. Because you’re coming from a healthy point of view, what you’re saying is eat real food and eat diverse amounts of food. That gets hard, diversity. Let’s talk about diversity as a vegetarian or vegan. Is it color? Where’s it available? You go to the market and it feels like the same stuff is there all the time. What have you learned? You’ve lived this way. You’ve done a ton of research. You have a more intuitive ability to have this diversity. How did you develop that and where is the stuff coming from?
Diversity is important no matter how you’re eating, even if you’re eating an omnivorous diet. There’s good research looking at the microbiome. There’s a researcher named Dr. Rob Knight. He has a group of studies called The Gut Microbiome Research Project. They have taken stool samples from over 10,000 people around the world, Americans, Australians, Brits, a lot of different countries. They analyzed them to look at the type of bacteria and how diverse they are.
Also, they’ve taken dietary intake data from the Food Frequency Questionnaire. They know roughly how these people are eating and they also have their stool samples. They’ve been able to see clearly that people who ate more than 30 unique plants per week have much more diverse microbiomes than those who ate ten or fewer plants per week. Microbiome diversity is associated with improved health outcomes, reduce risk of allergies, autoimmune conditions, and several different chronic diseases that are many of which we’ve discussed here, particularly cardiovascular disease.
As a rule of thumb for everyone, having plant diversity in the diet is important. When we have this diverse microbiome, which is the bacteria, the 38 trillion microbes that are largely residing in our large intestine, we’re feeding them with substrates, mainly dietary fiber, and polyphenols. They produce compounds that reward us. They produce these compounds that help maintain the gut lining and help decrease inflammation, which is a hallmark feature of a number of those conditions that I mentioned.
Don’t you think that inflammation and insulin resistance and a lot of that is the impetus? It gets expressed a million different ways. It could be cancer. A lot of times, the root cause for so much of this are in a lot of the same things in all of us because we are different. It shows up differently. Sometimes people go, “This would be good for cancer,” or, “This would be for cardiovascular.” It’s like, “No. The things you’re talking about are good for you.”
A heart-healthy diet is a kidney-healthy diet and a brain-healthy diet. You’re right, these risk factors are shared across all of these different chronic diseases. All of these chronic diseases are manifestations of the same root cause. Integral to that is the health of our gut. Everyone should be aiming for plant diversity in their diet and increasing fiber.
The average fiber intake in this country is about 12 to 15 grams per day. It should be north of 30 grams. We could go into what that looks like in transition because I don’t recommend someone doing that overnight. It could be a bit of an atomic bomb in the gut. The point being is that when you are shopping at the grocery store at the market, you do want to think about picking up different plants. Each of these plants, not only do they look different but they contain different types of prebiotic fiber and polyphenols.
I mentioned how important it is to have diversity. The way I like to explain this is that we have many different species of bacteria in our gut. Like us, they have different taste preferences. While some of those thrive off of the prebiotic fiber in onion, some of them love radish, some love kale, and some love blueberries. If you’re not eating with diversity, you’re starving some of them. The best way to get those healthy gut bugs to proliferate is to eat with diversity. It’s about being conscious of that.
Eating the rainbow is such a simple reminder and it’s a good saying. Science has helped explain why it makes so much sense over the past several years. A simple exercise someone can do is write down how many unique plants you ate. Track it over the week. What you’ll find is, by day 2 or 3, you’re repeating a lot of the same stuff over the week. Maybe you’ll land at 12, 15, or whatever it is. No judgment. The next week, try and improve on that. Try and move up towards 30. That can include herbs and spices, which are incredibly rich in polyphenols.
An important delineation is reminding people that it counts if you will.
It might seem unrealistic, 30. When you start thinking about adding turmeric and different herbs like basil to your meals, you’ll find that you can get to 30. It’s a fun exercise. Also, it’s something that can be interesting to get kids involved in as well.
It’s experimental. When you go to certain cultures like Asian cultures, they use a lot of plants and they know how to cook freely with a lot of different types of plants. Somehow, at least here, maybe it wasn’t readily available. In England or places like that, they’ve forgotten or it was never taught to us. To your point, you can have some fun with it. It doesn’t have to be that daunting.
I used to go to the farmer’s market and get something I’d never prepared before and try to figure out how to make it work. All of a sudden, you go, “Now I have a new thing I can do.” For example, I have friends that will say, “I can’t eat lectins.” Sometimes I would be serving dinner and Laird would say to me, “Are there lectins in there?” I’m like, “I’m going to kill Gundry with the lectin thing.” Can we talk about lectins?
You could buy the anti-lectin supplement. That’s convenient.
You’ve done a lot of research. I’m always intrigued by people who like to do research. I have a friend who’s like, “I used to love to do homework.” I go, “Okay.” I know you love to research. On a serious note, I have one friend who has to avoid it because she gets headaches supposedly. Is there a way? Is it steaming them? Is it putting them in a pressure cooker?
Where a lot of people get challenged is we’ve been oversold how much protein we need to consume, first of all. Whether we’re bodybuilders or not, everyone somehow got this thing about protein. The source is truly from a plant-based diet. Some people will say, “What about estrogen, tofu, and all these things?” Maybe we could comb through that a little bit so that we can empower people with information that then they go, “I know how to move through that space.”
The fear of lectin is an interesting one. When I was coming across that research, I wanted to understand if that was valid. I eat legumes all the time. I don’t want to be eating something that is potentially negatively affecting my gut health. I wanted to look at where the claims were coming from. I can tell you that pretty much every single claim comes from animal studies or in vitro studies looking at cells. These are outside of the body in a petri dish.
With that level of science, I have a deep appreciation for it for its role in science. We have to be careful extrapolating from that to what happens in human physiology because, 9 times out of 10 or more, what we see in a petri dish does not play out in a human. We also have to be careful that when you look at experiments in a petri dish, you can often expose cells to a level of a compound that a human would never be exposed to on a gram per pound basis. Exposure level with anything is important.
A big example of this that I’m thinking of is with tofu. Maybe in that conversation, it’s maybe the amount and the exposure. A lot of people talk about being estrogenic.
There are a lot of studies looking at soy. It’s a similar scenario there. There are animal studies that are looking at the effect of soy on hormones and looking at an estrogenic activity. At an animal model level, you might look at some of that research and be scared of soy. You have to look at the exposure level. Those rats are being exposed to levels of isoflavones. When we hear people say phytoestrogens, they’re talking about isoflavones, which are polyphenols. I’m not sure many people realize that.
I’ve never heard that.
At an animal level, you might look at those studies and fear soy. Firstly, observational studies are not a strong level of science in terms of human studies but they allow us to look at large populations of people. In these studies, we see people who are eating soy foods tend to have a neutral or positive effect on health.
More informative are other studies where they do clinical intervention studies and feed males and female humans soy foods and then look at the levels of various hormones in their blood. If you’re consuming soy foods within a diverse diet, 2 or 3 servings a day, there is no negative effect on hormones at all.
Consistent with this is all of the cancer guidelines around the world recommend the inclusion of soy foods, whether it’s someone who is a healthy adult or even post-cancer. Without a doubt, that’s where science is. Sure, I can find you an animal study and scare you off of soy. We have to remember, there is often false equivalence. We’ll see on social media one person making one claim and the other making the opposite but the actual quality of the science that underpins it is different.
[bctt tweet=”Firstly, in terms of transforming your diet and increasing diversity, go slow and low. “]
To tie that in a bow, all of the guideline papers recommend soy as a healthy inclusion, soy foods, in line with the consumption in traditional communities, which is about 2 to 3 servings a day. I’m talking about tofu, tempeh, soy milk. Like any food, there can be problems if you ramp it up to ten servings a day. What could happen if you had ten servings of dairy or broccoli a day? The only questions that remain around soy are supplements. There are some concentrated isoflavone supplements.
The reason why the questions remain here is that as soon as you take something out of food and concentrated like that, you’re potentially exposing someone to a level of that compound that they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. The guideline papers that recommend the consumption of whole soy foods are saying, “Until there are further data, let’s take it easy on those supplements.”
What would be the purpose of the supplement? What would that provide the person taking it?
One of the reasons why is there is a signal for soy foods being protective against breast cancer. The research is a bit mixed. Overall, it shows that soy foods are either neutral or protective against breast cancer. One of the reasons is that these “phytoestrogens” are not estrogen. They have a similar molecular structure.
One of the reasons why they’re thought to be protective is that they bind to these estrogen receptors, these beta receptors. There are two types of estrogen receptors, alpha and beta. They bind to the beta receptors. In breast tissue, there are a lot of beta receptors. The mechanism that researchers believe explains this protection is that by binding to those receptors, they block estrogen from acting on in. Breast cancer is hormone-dependent cancer. There’s still a lot more research to be done on that.
It’s better to take it easy on the supplements.
There hasn’t been enough research looking at these new, concentrated isoflavone supplements in women without cancer or women in post-cancer to give a well-informed recommendation. That’s why they’re saying, “At this stage, we don’t know. Let’s apply the precautionary principle.” When it comes to actual soy foods, the data is consistent that they are a healthy addition within a diverse diet.
I go to your house and you have a block of tofu there and you’re in a hurry. How are you preparing it? It’s supposed to taste good.
I found a hack. I haven’t done this yet but I’ve heard it’s great. You put your tofu in the freezer first. You could put it in there the day before. Doing this, when you take it out, you prepare it with a marinade. I often use tamari, which is like soy sauce. You can add a lot of spices like cumin, paprika, turmeric, I usually add those, and maybe a little bit of sesame oil or something like that.
Can I ask you about sesame oil? When you smell edamame with sesame oil, isn’t it like, “Who’s got the edamame?” It’s such a great smell. Are we scared of sesame oil or is sesame oil okay?
No. I’m not scared of those.
We got a little sesame oil. Is it okay on high heat?
I don’t think you want to be burning it. You certainly don’t want to reheat oils. That’s something that’s more important to be thinking about. Probably what’s most important to think about if you’re eating out at restaurants is a lot of the fried food is sitting in a deep fryer where that oil is constantly heated and cooled, which is not great.
They’re saying that there are a lot of carcinogenic properties in that. I think about that when I see french fries. I love french fries but it’s not worth it. I know how to make some good ones at home. Is cornstarch okay? I’m going to tell you why. When you put on a potato, if you’re going to do a french fry at home that you bake, the trick to making it crispy if you’re going to use coconut oil or something is you put a little cornstarch before you put it in. It makes it crispy anyway. You have your tofu.
I usually would chop it up into little blocks. It helps the marinate work through evenly. With all those spices that I add, to be honest, I make it up each time. You can play around with it. Find a combination that you like. I’ll usually either cook that on the pan or in an air fryer or bake it. There are lots of different ways that you can do that. An air fryer is handy. I’m not sure if you’ve used one of those.
I don’t have one.
It’s a new thing that’s been out.
I’ve seen. One of my kids is always like, “Are you getting an air fryer?” I’m like, “I’m not there yet.”
It makes the tofu nice and crispy. There are a few different ways. The key is the marinade. Imagine taking a piece of chicken, the chicken breasts, and doing nothing to it and cooking it. We’re not loving that. You need to take the same approach. It requires a little bit of love to introduce some flavors.
It is quick.
You can do that. You can get that marinate going in 2 or three minutes.
Let’s go back to the frozen hack. I want someone to do it before you do it. Tell me about the frozen hack? Who did you hear this from?
I heard it from one person and then I did a post about it and everyone was raving about it. I have confirmed that this is a tried and tested approach.
Only true vegans get this secret.
I have never done it. If it’s a big fail, don’t blame me. It’s pretty simple. You freeze it first. When you take it out, due to that process, it’s much more of a sponge and it sucks up the flavor.
That’s pretty good. Laird is going to come home from a trip. I’ll bring it out of the freezer and I won’t say anything. We’ll see what happens.
The other one is tempeh, which can be a little bit more of an acquired taste for people. You’ll love it or hate it. I do find those that don’t like it at the start. If they do focus on the marinade, many of them do enjoy it eventually. Like a lot of these foods, you have to introduce them and stick with them for a little while and your palate does change. Eventually, they’ll become foods that you do look forward to having.
What happens when you smell bacon? Is it like, “No big deal.” I have vegetarian friends who joke that it’s the one thing they smell and it triggers them.
I wouldn’t say it triggers me. I don’t think too much of it.
It’s the smell.
I can eat out with my friends while they’re eating it.
I meant certain smells. It’s an impulse. It’s like someone’s baking something.
I don’t get that anymore. In the first maybe a couple of years, probably. Now, it’s been so long since I’ve had those foods. I don’t even associate that smell with food because it’s not something that’s in my diet.
That’s not your food. That makes a lot of sense. Can we go back to lectins so we can make sure we’re clear on lectins? For a lot of people, Tom Brady included, that was a big thing. He’s performing at this incredible level. One of the things he said is, “I took lectins out of my diet.”
It’s difficult when someone says that to determine, is it the lectins? In the process of removing a bunch of foods that contain lectins, is it something else they’ve removed? What I can tell you is what the science shows on lectin. I often get people to think about oxygen because this speaks to the fact the importance of exposure. You would agree that oxygen is healthy. It sustains us. We’re all grateful for oxygen.
In the air oxygen, the concentration is around 26%. However, if I gave you pure oxygen, 100%, you’d pass out and, eventually, you could die. The dose is important as to whether something is healthy for us or unhealthy. When we look at lectins, the majority of the research is in vitro. It’s looking at cells under a microscope, in a petri dish, or animal studies even if we say, “Let’s stay there and not look at any other research.” What is often overlooked is that 99% of the literature at that level is supportive of lectins for being anti-carcinogenic. For some reason, that hasn’t made the media, which is disappointing.
That’s new. Usually, the media is thorough and they report on everything.
Anyone can run that search and you’ll see paper after paper studying the anti-carcinogenic effects of lectins. More importantly, what do we see in studies looking at health outcomes in humans when people consume lectin-containing foods? We see consistently that the addition of legumes, which are lectin-rich food, improves health outcomes. It drives down cholesterol, blood pressure, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. They are a hallmark feature of the diets of the longest-living people in the world. If lectins were as toxic as some are claiming, that data would look a little differently I suspect anyway.
Do we want to eat dry beans? No. There’s a reason we soak and cook these foods because it does break down and reduce the concentrations of some of these molecules such as lectins. There is a study in humans that is often cited out of Japan where people did have acute gut upset following the consumption of beans. In that study, they specifically stated that these beans were not properly prepared. They were undercooked.
These are going to be fundamental questions because even though people know and there’s so much information, there are still a lot of narratives around these foods. Beans make me gassy.
That’s true. We need to separate the issues here. There are fermentable carbohydrates in beans and that can lead to bloating and gas, particularly if your microbiome is not set up to digest those foods. On the other side, we have the question around, are these lectins toxic? My take on the data is that it’s an overwhelmingly clear answer that they’re not toxic. As long as we’re properly preparing these foods, they’re healthy.
Your point about gas and bloating is an important one. I work with many people so I’ve seen this firsthand. Often, when people are adding these foods, they feel comfortable. There’s a study that speaks to this nicely and it’s from up the road at Stanford here. They wanted to compare increasing fiber in someone’s diet.
Is this Dr. Chris Gardner?
Yeah. This will make sense when I tell you the results. They wanted to compare increasing fiber in someone’s diet. Beans are fiber-rich against adding fermented foods. They had this randomized controlled trial. Long story short, the fermented food group did amazingly well. A big tick for those. In the fiber group, some people did well. They saw an increase in microbiome diversity and a reduction in inflammation. Some people did poorly. They went back and looked at those people. They had no increase in microbiome diversity and saw increased inflammation. Those people were the ones that had a weak gut. They had poor baseline diversity.
They weren’t healthy enough yet to handle it.
We live in an industrialized society. A lot of people have been exposed to antibiotics, numerous courses, a lot of ultra-processed foods. Those ultra-processed foods lack fiber. If you’re filling up on those all day, it’s okay for you from an energy point of view but you’re starving your microbes. We have to remember, we’re eating for more than ourselves. That study lines up with what we see when we say to someone, “Add more legumes to your diet.” They say, “I’m not feeling good. I’m bloated. Maybe legumes are not for me.”
“You got to get your house in order.”
“We’ve got to build you up.” If you had not trained at the gym or wherever for a year and you woke up and went in and tried to lift an 80-pounds dumbbell curl or something, you’re probably going to injure yourself, or at least you’re going to be sore.
What’s interesting is I’ve never heard this point, getting your microbiome in a good enough shape to digest these foods. It’s interesting. If we can think of it that way, it’s like, “I’m in training. I need all this diversity in these vegetables.” Is there anything else a person could do? They say that a cycle of antibiotics can wipe your microbiome out for a year. We know that these diverse foods and fermented foods and some other things support the gut. If someone is reading this and thinks, “That could be me,” what would be some more aggressive ways to actively support your gut?
Firstly, in terms of transforming your diet and increasing diversity, go slow and low. As you would with a new gym program, build it up, ease into it, and start increasing it over months and not days. Think of it as a 3-month plan as opposed to a 3-day or 3-week plan to take your fiber intake from 12 to 15 grams a day to 30. That’s going to be a much more comfortable process and it’s going to allow these prebiotic fibers and polyphenol degrading bacteria time to proliferate and grow in numbers so they can handle a higher volume of those compounds.
There are various prebiotic supplements that various brands sell. I have no affiliations with any of them. It depends on what’s available to someone. A good option for someone would be to find some polyphenol-rich prebiotic supplements. I say that because, as opposed to prebiotic fiber which is more fermentable, the polyphenols seem to be a little lighter and easier on the gut. You could find a pomegranate powder. Even superfoods like turmeric and cacao, for example, are loaded in polyphenols.
No one is mad about cacao helping you out.
Green tea is another one. Even coffee is another one. It’s loaded in chlorogenic acids, which are polyphenols. It might be that you’re adding in some of these polyphenol-rich superstars before you’re ramping up your fiber. We know that they will still help increase microbiome diversity to be a little bit gentler than adding in the fiber. That’s probably from a diet point of view. Outside of that, we have quite a bit of research showing that exercise, both resistance and aerobic training, directly affects microbiome diversity. It’s not just your diet but it is your overall lifestyle.
You said the one-word, hack, which is like a secret. I love how people think that they can hack their way around and through things. You get right back to like, “Your sleep impacts certain things. You’ve got to exercise.” There’s no way around a little bit of everything doing it the right way. It’s daunting but at the root of all this is it’s what’s important to you. The rest is lip service.
At some point, we have to make the decision and then create the commitment but then also have a strategy. I appreciate the fact that you’re saying, “On this, you might want to go slow.” That is part of the strategy. That’s important for people. Yes, let’s take out our worst habits. Some of the stuff, we might want to add slowly so that our bodies are prepared and able to do it.
I’d like to jump over because you have a lot of information on oils. For all of us, it’s confusing. Nut and seed oils are terrible. Oat milk. If you go to the market and someone says, “I would like something in my coffee.” If you’re saying, “I’m going to experiment and try to go vegetarian or vegan.” All the oat milk has sunflower oil in them so they’re creamy. There’s some high-fat content. Otherwise, they’d be probably pretty liquidy. Can you walk me through what you know about these oils? It’s become a big topic. It’s scary, inflammation, and all these things.
We need to step back to the start of this. It goes back to the 1980 dietary guidelines. These guidelines that came out were the first guidelines that said, “Let’s take it a bit easier on saturated fat.” The net effect of that was a whole lot of reformulation of food products that became low fat. They were high in refined carbohydrates. The guidelines themselves were wanting people to eat less saturated fat and more unsaturated fats from various plant oils.
There is good science to show that when you swap foods rich in saturated fat for unsaturated fats like nuts and seeds, you do see a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease. That was what the 1980 guidelines were most interested in because preceding that were large increases in cardiovascular disease mortality.
Often what happens is people say, “Those guidelines came out and look at the rates of obesity today in type 2 diabetes.” The problem is we have to consider what the guidelines said and what people did and they’re two different things. 60% of calories are from ultra-processed foods. Those guidelines weren’t trying to get people to ease up on saturated fat and eat more ultra-processed foods. That was an effect of the food environment and the changes that these large transnational food companies made. I always like to point out that it’s not unsaturated fats that are to blame for the chronic disease, the pandemic that we see today.
[bctt tweet=”The best way to get those healthy gut bugs to proliferate is to eat with diversity. It’s about being conscious of that. Eating the rainbow is such a simple reminder and it’s a good saying.”]
The point about inflammation is also an interesting one. I don’t think we should be exposing ourselves to these oils in ultra-processed foods. The question then becomes, are these vegetable oils inherently inflammatory? That’s an interesting question. Is it the oils or is it the ultra-processed foods? Those ultra ultra-processed foods also contain a whole lot of added sugars and artificial ingredients.
People don’t realize that not only are the ingredients bad but once you consume them, the way it makes your body function is the problem. They don’t equate to how your body’s functioning or how it impacts the whole system as part of the problem. It’s like, “That’s good and that’s bad.” This is a complex formula.
It’s the whole matrix of those ultra-processed foods leading to poor health. This question of, are these vegetable oils inherently bad for us? If we look at them in isolation, how do they affect human physiology? We have omega-3s and omega-6s. People see omega-3 as the anti-inflammatory good unsaturated fat. You have omega-6s and often people point to those as being pro-inflammatory. We have a plethora of science showing that when you feed people oils that are rich in omega-6s, you do not increase inflammatory markers in their bodies. Clear as day, the latest reviews show that.
For that reason, I don’t want people to fear these oils that are rich in omega-6s. I don’t think you should be going out of your way to eat ultra-processed foods that contain them. I’m not convinced that the addition of some of those oils over a salad like olive oil or sesame oil in your marinade is inherently harmful. The data shows that when you’re consuming those in place of saturated fat, you are lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease. I’ve yet to see anyone point me to any convincing human health outcome data that speaks directly to vegetable oils or omega-6s being inflammatory.
If you’re going to make a dressing, what are the oils that you use?
I typically use olive or avocado.
If you’re going to cook, I’m not saying burn things but you need a little heat, you go for the avocado.
You could use olive but you only want to go up to 190 degrees. I’m not sure about the Fahrenheit conversion. Avocado will allow you to go a little bit hotter.
It’s fascinating to me because it’s like, “Butter or no butter.” We had margarine for a while and people thought that was healthier. We then say, “Olive oil.” Now, it’s hard to find real olive oil and it’s expensive going back to cost. Do you know of any secrets? I tried to get real olive oil. I order it. If someone’s going to their local market, do we know of any ways that they can protect themselves to go, “I’m making an investment in the good stuff. It’s real. It’s not cut with 2 or 3 other oils.” They do that. Do we know of any? You live in Australia. They’re probably more civilized with their food rules. In America, we let everything go. How many ingredients do we have that Europe will not let you use? It’s 123 chemicals and ingredients.
I’m looking for something that’s extra virgin olive oil. I’d like to see that it says it’s high polyphenol content. That’s usually a good sign that brand is making a higher quality olive oil. The more refined it is, the lower the polyphenol content. There do seem to be some particular benefits from polyphenols in olive oil, which may be why a lot of the studies on the Mediterranean diet see some good health outcomes.
A dark bottle rather than a light glass bottle is good. I’m not sure I know any other secrets than that. To tie a bow in all that, I’m certainly not super pro-oil. I don’t think you have to be guzzling it down. It’s calorically dense. If your goal is to try and maintain or lose some weight, you want to be mindful that one tablespoon is about 120 calories. There are many other foods that are much more nutrient-dense and satiating. Whichever way you go, taking it easy is probably a good approach, particularly in this environment.
It is funny though because we think more is more a lot of times and we go for it. Let’s say I made you a hummus. People like to dip things in things. Would you eat a cracker?
I would eat a cracker.
What do you do? This is all the stuff people think about.
I would buy a whole wheat cracker if I could. The same with bread, if I was going to buy bread, it would be whole wheat. That can be confusing. You were speaking about tricks that companies can do. One of the tricks with bread is you dye the bread brown using syrup. Talk about deceiving. I remember when I was a uni student, I used to think that if the bread has some seeds on it, it must be healthy, it must be multi-grain. Most of the multi-grain bread, even though they have some seeds at the top, they’re white flour. They are a completely refined grain.
A grain contains three components, the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. You can think about those as layers of an onion. The outside bran is the fiber and mineral-rich layer. Inside, you have the endosperm. That’s a carbohydrate. Right in the middle, you have the germ and that’s where there are phytochemicals and more vitamins and minerals. That’s the life force of the grain. When you refine a grain, you grab the middle bit, which is the carbohydrate starch part, and you lose all of that nutrition. Yes, granted, some companies will then fortify it back in but it’s never at the level of the original grain. You do want to be eating more whole grains if you’re going to eat grains as opposed to these refined.
When you’re looking for bread, most people see the first ingredient and it says, “Wheat flour.” You assume that is a whole grain. It’s not. If a product says, “Wheat flour,” that is completely refined. The first word in the ingredient label has to be whole, whole meal, whole wheat. You need to see whole as the first word in the ingredient list. The second thing to look for is when you look at the number of carbohydrates and fiber, you want to see a 5 to 1 ratio or better. What that means is in one serving, there are twenty grams of carbs. I want to say four grams of fiber or better. That tells me that what I’m dealing with here is not an overly refined product and it’s going to have much better nutrition.
This is simplistic to you but even people who are in the know, these are the things that get overwhelmed. Have you gone to Erewhon since you’ve been here?
Did you ever have Tartine bread? Did you get any of that yet?
I don’t think so.
Hook that up.
Erewhon is pretty phenomenal.
Do you have a lot of markets like that in Australia?
No. Erewhon is on a league of its own.
It’s beautiful. In Australia, I’m impressed with the health-conscious part of their lifestyle.
I mentioned before the helicopter. We’re privileged from health care, food system, food access, and food security. There is fresh food everywhere. More and more people are becoming health conscious and looking to improve the quality of their diet.
What about alcohol? They are from England. They brought that with them.
We are the convicts.
I’m well aware of your penal colony. Do you consume alcohol?
I do but I don’t binge drink. I drink red wine.
For your resveratrol?
I can try and convince myself it’s for resveratrol but I’m not sure that’s such a good excuse. It makes me feel better when I say that to myself. I probably only have a couple of glasses a month, it depends.
People get bummed out about alcohol. I’m not a drinker. I grew up in the Caribbean and everyone was a raging alcoholic. It seemed like a bad end to the story. I was like, “I’ll skip that.” It’s an interesting part of people’s lifestyles.
I can tell you the American Heart Association guidelines. They made a point this time. Instead of saying sticking to 1 to 2 drinks a day as a maximum, they made a point saying, “If you don’t drink, don’t start.” They are making it clear that the research is quite strong suggesting that less is more when it comes to cardiovascular health.
Don’t drink ethanol or something. Maybe pharma has more power than the alcohol lobbyists. Maybe they’re like, “We don’t need to.”
They might need to trade some secrets.
Have you learned anything that you wish you had put in the book that you didn’t that you learned after?
Yeah. There are new studies coming out all the time.
That’s science. Science is not about getting it right. It’s about the discovery. Is there anything that you want to throw down right here on the table that you’re like, “I could’ve put that in,” or, “I said this but maybe there’s some new information out.”
The fermented food study I mentioned before was published after I handed in my manuscript. We spoke then a little bit about fermented foods but that study did find some extraordinary things with regards to fermented foods. The inclusion of crout, kimchi, or yogurt.
I’m going to ask a layman’s question again, yogurt. People do that because they think, “I’m getting my probiotics and all this stuff.” It’s cow’s milk. Is the coconut stuff working? People write and go, “I like yogurt.” What do you think about yogurt?
From a health point of view, fermentable dairy, particularly if it’s lower fat, is associated with good outcomes. We still have so much more to learn. You got to remember that dairy is such a big umbrella group of products, everything from milk to cheese to yogurt, fermented, non-fermented. Often, it gets bucketed into dairy is good or bad. There’s so much more nuance in that.
They never had French cheese from a cheese cave that has mold growing on it.
Cheese in these studies stems from the cheese on someone’s pizza that they’re eating to some other form of brie or something. I do think that fermented dairy, particularly, is healthy food. It can be included within a diet. For whatever reason, if someone doesn’t want to consume dairy for environmental or animal welfare reasons, there are now several plant-based alternatives that are using live cultures. You can still access that food group. I’m not writing off traditional yogurt.
You’re saying get the real stuff. Also, the problem is we can get raw dairy here in one place. I don’t know if the Feds haven’t come down on them. There used to be a place in Venice where you can get raw dairy. The Feds came and shut it down. It was a big thing. I can still get raw butter, cream, and milk. That is difficult to find. In t the end, everything is pasteurized.
It’s a bacteria issue. Doing food safety is what they’re trying to control on a scale.
I understand why they do it but everyone freaks out if I say, “I would only have milk if it was raw.” I don’t want to have pasteurized. What about yogurt, the fact that it’s fermented? Most of the yogurt is pasteurized as well.
I spoke to the one who did that study. You can tell if a yogurt, whether it’s plant-based or not, is a fermented food or did they add live cultures after. The trick is if the ingredient list has lactic acid written as an ingredient because that’s a souring ingredient, they will add that afterward to make it taste like fermented food. If you see that on the ingredient list, that’s probably a sign that this is a pasteurized product. It’s not properly fermented. If it’s not there, you can assume it is a traditionally fermented product. That is what they used in the study which led to the benefits, which is the most important thing.
Isn’t it amazing how much work they do to be tricky or do it wrong instead of us doing it right? It’s amazing the amount of effort. I always think about people that are great con artists or criminals.
It might even be less effort to do it right.
Also, I want to mention that you’re donating all the proceeds of this book to charity. You’re on a mission. You have a podcast. You have your book. You’ve been on other businesses. You’re on a mission and it’s all quiet and contained. I want to encourage people to explore this book because you’ve put in a lot of energy, time, and research into it. Also, you are donating any of the proceeds. People feel good about that. Let’s talk about the environment. Maybe throw down on the table the real data about also how eating a plant-based diet does support our home.
The problem that we face is, how do we feed a growing population enough food in a sustainable way? That’s the problem that all of these big climate organizations have been trying to solve, to crunch the data and work out what’s possible. We’re going to have 11 billion people. There’s an increasing requirement for protein around the world.
How are we going to do this to meet our climate goals within our planetary boundaries so that we can mitigate climate change, cool the planet, restore biodiversity, and preserve freshwater? These are all serious concerns right now. While fossil fuel is a huge contributor to the warming of the planet so is our food system. It’s much more significant than many people realize.
Today, if you factor in direct emissions plus land use, and we can go into what that means, the overall food system is contributing to around 33% of total greenhouse gas emissions, which is a significant chunk. We know that, largely, this is driven by animal agriculture, a result of it is being inefficient. As it stands today, we use about 50% of all of the habitable land on Earth to produce food that’s either calories direct for us or its calories were growing to feed into animal agriculture systems, all of that land. Half of the habitable land on Earth, 83% of that is used for animal AG but it only gives us 18% of our calories.
[bctt tweet=”It’s not just your diet but it is your overall lifestyle.”]
The reason that’s problematic is that that’s a whole lot of space that we’ve cleared that could be reforested. It could be returned to natural grasslands. Biodiverse areas of Earth help us cool the planet. Nature is our greatest ally in solving climate change. A huge part of fixing this is working out, how can we grow more calories from less land? This is why you’ll see all these international climate agencies saying, “We need to shift to plant-rich diets.” The key thing that will lead to is freeing up enormous amounts of land that can be rewilded and set aside.
We have to change our mindset of thinking about dominating all of the lands. Instead of having this idea that all land is there for the purpose of extracting calories and working to create more efficient systems where there is less wastage. When I say less wastage, I’m not just talking about the food. We often think of food wastage once we’ve produced the food in our restaurants and at home. We are wasting food within the system.
In these factory-farmed beef systems, for example, we’ll feed 100 calories of plant matter and only get 3 calories out. That’s because that is a living and breathing animal that has a high metabolic rate. It is breathing out carbon dioxide like us. It’s burning energy to be alive. Also, a lot of the energy goes into growing parts of the animal like the bones and areas of the animal that are not consumed.
All in all, as we shift to these more plant-rich diets, we move to a more efficient system, we free up land, we start to restore biodiversity, we create a more resilient environment, and we start to cool the planet. The byproduct of all of this is a more equitable world not just for the natural world but for people that we share, other humans. We create greater food security and we decrease the number of climate refugees through cooling the planet. This is a solution for everyone. I do think that, in the future, we’ll see large shifts in this direction.
Do you feel hopeful?
I do. The data is consistent. There is a groundswell of energy of people who are willing to lead by example, which is where any great movement starts, it’s having enough people who have the means. Not everyone has the means to make a change. If you do, arguably, you have a greater responsibility to lead the way. There are great conversations happening, of course. You want change to happen faster. None of the great changes that have occurred in history have occurred overnight. They take time. You have to build pressure and you have to change the way culture and society think.
We’re seeing these conversations at least being had on the world stage. Yes, granted, the outcomes of all these conversations aren’t exactly what people want but the conversations are being had. There’s only so long that people can ignore these issues before they become too large to act. Part of my optimism is that the youth that is coming through seem to value the environment more.
What will happen is we’ll see governments understanding that and understanding there’s a large portion of the public who are valuing the environment. They’re realizing that to get enough votes and to stay in power, they need to be acting in a way that is beneficial for the environment and help protect the future, which is what the youth are most concerned about.
My group has handed them a broken toy. With my generation, nobody was getting it. You were saying even about changing your microbiome. It’s not all at once. If people even said, “What could I do on my part? Is it 2 of my 3 meals or 1 of my 2 meals or 3 nights are family dinners?” What keeps people from making the change is it does feel overwhelming and daunting. It’s about what you’re doing, this invitation of, “These are some changes you can make.” Once people start to feel however they’re going to feel, that’ll allow for them to make greater change. Wagging fingers.
What frustrates me a little bit at times about the conversation is when it does get tribal or it does get, “If you eat meat, you’re bad,” or, “If you’re a vegan, you’re kooky.” Whatever the narratives that go on. Instead of, “We’re all here. Can we do it better? There are some statistics that show this would be good for your health and for the planet that you live on.” I appreciate that. On a lighter note, do you eat popcorn?
I would. I haven’t had it in a long time. I’ve got nothing against popcorn.
Would eat air-popped popcorn?
I have nothing against it. I probably wouldn’t cook it in butter.
You wouldn’t use butter?
I wouldn’t have it in butter.
Someone’s like, “What’s the point?”
You can cook it in olive oil.
Nutritional yeast, if you put it on, it feels like cheese. Add a little salt. Justin was telling me that, apparently, there are backpacks for cows now. Have you heard of this?
I wanted to share with you that he was talking about that. This is to the length that they’ll go with backpacks. They’re catching the cow’s farts.
I’ve seen this.
Fart catchers. We’ll spend time, effort, and energy. Somebody had to design that, Simon. They designed that and they got it on the cow. Someone’s job is to put the fart backpack on the cow.
There’s an algae that they’re trying to work out how to feed the cows to reduce methane.
What about lab-grown meat? That’s scary. How scary is that? A lot of times, people will do meat substitutes. I’m not going to name brands or anything. I don’t care. That’s not that great for you, is it?
Like the plant-based meats?
The one that smells like meat and bloody like meat but it’s not.
It depends on what you compare it to.
Good point. That’s why I want to bring it up.
If you compare it to a standard burger that the average American would be eating, they are a step in the right direction. We have studies to show that. There is another study out of Stanford that did compare it to beef. I won’t name the brand but they used a plant-based burger. They had improvements in cardiovascular risk factors. I certainly haven’t written off those foods. I’m cognizant of a few things. One day can help people shift to a diet that is less reliant on animal foods and more plant-rich, particularly in the early stages of transitioning.
Back to what we were talking about and this overlaps with cellular agriculture if that ever comes to fruition, which it has already in Singapore, is that we have this hugely growing population around the world with increased protein requirements. A lot of this is in developing countries. I don’t think we’re in the position to say to them, “You can’t do what we did. You can’t go down the path of animal agriculture.”
If you think about the industrialization of our food system, in many ways, it has led to where we are today, being prosperous. We can’t say to them, “You can’t clear your forest because we’re sitting in a position where we’ve already cleared all ours.” We point to them places clearing the Amazon. The reason that there’s no forest being cleared here is it’s already been done. We have a responsibility to say to them, “You deserve to prosper. We want to help you go down a different path. Don’t follow us.”
A lot of these countries never had a home phone and they skipped straight to an iPhone. That’s what we have to do here. We have to get them to completely skip that and go whether it is to plant-based meat or it is to cellular agriculture. These are real solutions that are going to help feed the world and not damage our environment further.
At the same time, we have to hold those companies accountable because we know well that if you let private entities make products without regulation, they can take advantage of that. All of these companies, including plant-based meats, have to be held accountable for the ingredients that they’re using and the health effects that they’re having. To add to all that, there needs to be further research done. It’s a promising area and it stands to be a big solution. Their formulations need to be driven by science. We need to make sure that they are promoting health. It’s early stages at the moment.
If someone’s reading and they want to do more, I know you’re attached to some groups that do some environmental things that you are passionate about. What groups would you like to introduce people to that you like the work they’re doing in the environment?
I am working with a group called Half Cut. 100% of the proceeds are going to them. The founder of that nonprofit is Jimmy HalfCut.
Is that the bearded guy?
Yeah. He has half a beard. That represents the fact that 50% of our rainforests have been cleared. It’s a great conversation opener whenever he’s at the pub or out and about. People come up to him because he has half a beard. It’s a big beard. The other half is clean shaved. His organization is dedicated to helping preserve some other rain forests but particularly the Daintree, which is the world’s oldest tropical rainforest. It’s one of the most biodiverse places on earth. It’s in Northern Queensland. It’s been under threat for a long time.
There’s been a lot of lands that’s been sold off to private developers. What they’re doing is working to buy back the land. They’re putting it into jewel management with the government and Indigenous Australians that occupied that area of land previously. It’s a nice story. They’re doing great stuff. There are many organizations but that’s one that I’m passionate about.
Do you think you’re going to get back home somehow? Tanya is over there. How long have you been with Tanya? You’ve been with Tanya for a long time.
We’ve been together a long time now.
What are you doing?
I’ll give you an update.
All the girls would be like, “What’s up? Marry that girl already.” Marriage is the same thing. Commitment is commitment. Public declaration. How long have you been with your girl, Justin?
Over fifteen years.
He’s in the same boat. What about you, Rob?
Over eleven years.
He’s leading the way.
Whatever works. I have to ask you, is there anything that you’ve learned? You’re a studious person. You’re analytical. It is interesting to talk to people that have the ability to separate also even emotions. It’s great. If people who were emotional were doing this research, it wouldn’t get done. If you’re diving in deep like people who are working long and hard on projects, are you able to switch it off and go back into fun and be like, “Tanya and I are cooking dinner. I’m here.” Do you have tricks for working that hard?
She reminds me.
Does she kick you in that pants and say, “I’m over here.”
That’s part of our relationship.
You mean she reminds you that you’re human.
I’d be lying If I said that during that writing process, there were periods where it certainly did take over my life in terms of constantly thinking about something. It’s impossible to completely switch off. Many times, I’d be not writing but an idea would come to my mind and I would have to go and write that down. That was all part of it. Overall, I’ve always been able to maintain a good balance between dedicating my time to reading science, writing a book, working, and having fun. Having fun is what life’s about. If I was spending all of my time writing and reading and I wasn’t getting to enjoy life, there would be no longevity in that and I feel like I’d burnout.
That’s an Aussie at heart. You got to have fun. Do you have anything that you’ve learned because you have been in a long relationship that shows up for you that you didn’t know when you got in there? I’m always interested, especially with analytical people, that you go, “I thought it was this way but it’s this way.” In any relationship.
I thought I came here to discuss science.
This is the real science. This is the last question.
I’ve learned that she’s always right.
That’s an old lesson.
Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of investing time together and taking that more seriously. Time can quickly pass by where you’re both super busy and you haven’t had any deep connection. Both of us are much more aware of being open with our communication and saying to one another, In the next 3 or 4 months, we need to make sure we’re putting enough time aside because we’re both going to be super busy.”
Doing that has left our relationship in a much healthier position than it has been in the past where that’s been neglected. Everything gets comfortable and you assume the relationship is cruising and it’s going to be fine. If you go too long without having put aside quality time together, you run the risk of things fizzling out. That’s probably something that I’ve certainly learned along the way and now have a much deeper appreciation for.
People think that equates to a lot of time and I don’t think that’s the case. It’s being present and focused. When do you release your podcasts?
I don’t have a set date. It’s a little bit ad hoc but it’s 1 or 2 a week.
That’s not ad hoc. That’s a lot.
There’s not one day where it lands but there’s usually something towards the start of the week and something towards the end.
The book is out, The Proof is in the Plants. Simon Hill, I appreciate all your hard work and also the way that you’re delivering it because you will reach a ton more people with your invitation and the way that you’re doing it. Thank you.
Thank you. It’s a big honor to be here and a big honor to be with your audience as well. What you’ve done on this show is remarkable for 100 episodes. I’m grateful to be here and your company.
Thanks so much for reading. If you’d like, rate, subscribe, and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me, @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.
Subscribe to The Gabby Reece Show
- Simon Hill
- The Plant Proof
- The Proof is in the Plants: How science shows a plant-based diet could save your life (and the planet)
- Rich Roll – The Plant Proof: Vegan athlete Rich Roll on turning his life around and serving others
- Minimalist Baker
- Dr. Rob Knight
- Half Cut
About Simon Hill
Simon Hill is a Physiotherapist and Nutritionist who is passionate about making nutritional information simple and accessible so that people can make informed decisions about the food they feed themselves and their family.
In 2008, Simon completed a Bachelor of Physiotherapy and immediately began working as a Sports Physiotherapist in Melbourne both at a leading private practice and with professional AFL & VFL footballers.
Over the years, however, Simon became increasingly curious about the role nutrition played in nourishing the body and preventing disease. By using his research skills developed during his honours degree, Simon dove deep into the available literature on nutrition & disease and soon became fascinated by the vast evidence out there that proved that simple lifestyle changes could help people prevent and sometimes even reverse many of the leading chronic diseases that plague the western world today.