The Bulletproof Diet
BIOHACK YOUR DIET TO LOSE WEIGHT AND UPGRADE YOUR LIFE
Back when I was fat, I'd wake up with my hands noticeably weaker on some days than others. Looking in the mirror, I would see puffiness around my face and jawline. I had multiple chins, and, most embarrassingly, I had grown a nice set of man boobs that could go up or down nearly a cup size from one day to the next. Sure, these are all symptoms of being overweight, but I didn't understand why they were so much worse on some days than on others. Within a few days I'd lose or gain a few £ds and even notice a huge difference in the size of the spare tire around my waist.
The very act of noticing these things motivated me to find out what factors in my environment might be causing them. A nagging voice in my head asked, "If something is making your hands weak, what else is it doing?" I started researching possible causes and found that my weak hands, spare tire, double chin, puffy skin, and even my man boobs weren't made of fat--they were signs of inflammation. (Granted, there was plenty of fat hiding underneath the inflammation!) As an antiaging biohacker, I knew that inflammation is a major cause of aging, but I hadn't realized that nearly everything else happening to my biology was related to inflammation, too.
For years, if I took a short walk, I'd often end up with blisters on my feet. The walk to the school where I was getting my MBA was only a quarter of a mile, but on some days I'd show up to class limping with fresh blisters. My research told me that blisters were a sign of chronic inflammation and that brain fog--grasping for words and slow recall--can be a symptom of brain inflammation. It seemed that I had found the missing link between my physical and mental performance that had eluded me for years. When I finally hacked inflammation, I was able to trek across the Himalayas in Nepal and Tibet without blisters for the first time in my life, and my brain worked better, too.
Inflammation is the body's natural response to a pathogen, toxin, stress, or trauma. When something stresses the body, it responds by swelling up in an effort to heal itself. Inflammation is necessary for proper tissue repair. You get healthy inflammation after you lift weights and your body works to repair the stressed muscle or when you cut yourself and increased blood flow ferries in white blood cells to heal the injury. This is called acute inflammation, and if you've ever had an injury or surgery, you've seen firsthand how the body can swell during times of physical stress. It's when inflammation becomes chronic (lasting for months or years) that it causes serious problems. Imagine if you had knee surgery or a root canal and the swelling and puffiness never calmed down. You don't look or feel good when you're carrying around excess inflammation, and doing so is actually quite dangerous.
Research has shown time and again that high levels of inflammation are at the center of many diseases. Together, cardiovascular diseases, various cancers, and diabetes account for almost 70 percent of all deaths in the United States, and the common link between all of these diseases is inflammation1,2 Inflammation is also linked to many autoimmune diseases and some mental health issues.3 It's an insidious condition, because, like me, you likely don't feel the extent of it, and it saps your focus because your brain is exquisitely sensitive to inflammation anywhere in the body. Unchecked inflammation takes away your mental edge long before it causes you to feel physical pain or discomfort. That's right: Treat your brain fog or constant bloat now because they can be warning signs of more serious problems down the line.
I realized that inflammation was limiting my physical performance and to some extent my mental performance, too. But what was causing all this inflammation? I began studying causes of inflammation and found a huge body of research on the abundant antinutrients in most standard diets that can cause chronic inflammation. They do this by irritating the gut, which triggers the immune system, or otherwise damaging the body's repair and detoxification systems. The body responds as if it's been injured and becomes inflamed in an effort to heal. Then it gets even worse--your irritated intestinal lining allows undigested food particles and bacteria to enter your bloodstream and trigger a wider inflammatory response as your body attacks these foreign particles. When these antinutrients continually damage your gut, which unfortunately happens to most people on Western diets that include large amounts of inflammation-causing processed foods, your body is forced to constantly mount a response against a perceived enemy. It does this by releasing a stream of small inflammatory proteins called cytokines into your bloodstream, which eventually enter your brain. An inflamed brain is an unhappy, low-performance brain that will make you act like a jerk even when you don't want to.
Antinutrients play a much bigger role in how you feel every day than you might imagine. They can be a source of severe food cravings that distract you from whatever you're trying to accomplish, or they can rob you of nutrients and interfere with your hormone function, wearing down different systems in your body and causing slow performance declines over time. Depending on the severity of antinutrient exposure and your genetics, your body may mount an autoimmune reaction. This causes even more damage as your immune system attacks important body systems.4
Dave, thank you for all you've done. I just discovered you about a month and a half ago, and I don't even recognize the old me anymore. I've adopted all your advice, and my world has completely flipped upside down for the incredible. I can't even begin to explain how much life has changed; it's mind-blowing.--George
The trick is to reduce your body's immune response by eating fewer foods with antinutrients and avoiding entirely the foods that trigger your immune system. Most people are aware of toxins, one form of antinutrients that may be added to food, such as preservatives, pesticides, or colorings, but few understand that those toxins can cause food cravings and diminish mental performance. Even fewer people are aware of naturally occurring antinutrients that are hidden sources of Kryptonite in your daily life. These toxins form in plants and plant products as they are growing or in storage, and their main function is to keep animals, bugs, and fungi from eating the plants so the plants can reproduce. That's right--plants did not evolve for us to eat them; they evolved complex defense systems to keep us from eating them!
By avoiding these nutritional landmines, your body and mind will be able to function at their best so you can feel what it's like to be in the Bulletproof state of high performance. Don't get me wrong; humans have survived for generations eating foods that are high in antinutrients. But the goal of the Bulletproof Diet is the opposite of surviving--it is thriving.
The main categories of naturally occurring antinutrients are lectins, phytates, oxalates, and mold toxins (mycotoxins).
A lectin is a type of protein that permanently attaches itself to the sugars that line your cells, disrupting small-intestine metabolism and damaging gut villi (fingerlike projections on the small intestine's lining that absorb nutrients) or even your joints. There are thousands of types of lectins, and they are part of most life-forms. Not all of them are toxic or cause intestinal damage. The lectins we're talking about are specific com£ds made by plants that bind to joints, irritate the gut, lead to bacterial overgrowth, and contribute to leptin (with a p!) resistance, a condition that causes the brain of an overweight person not to receive the signal that the stomach is full.5 A few of these antinutrients are found in lots of plant and animal foods, but certain plants such as beans, nuts, and grains contain dramatically higher levels than others. The more of those lectins you consume, the more you risk damaging your body, and there is no benefit to choosing high-lectin foods.
Certain people are more sensitive to specific types of lectins than others. If you eat something that contains the type of lectins you're sensitive to (or a lot of lectins that you're somewhat less sensitive to), the result is inflammation that you may experience as brain fog, sore joints, bad skin, or even migraines. For example, the type of lectins found in the nightshade family of plants, which includes tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes, is one that many people are sensitive to. It is a common autoimmune trigger that has been linked to a significant percentage of rheumatoid arthritis cases and is a trigger for skin problems.
Luckily, most lectins are destroyed by heat and can be reduced or eliminated by using certain cooking methods. But there are some foods, including the nightshade family of vegetables, whose lectins are not destroyed by heat. The Bulletproof Diet helps you steer clear of the problems caused by lectins by having you eat fewer of the high-lectin foods. Once you're in maintenance mode, you can test yourself to see how you feel with or without specific high-lectin foods in your diet. The goal is to personalize your diet to provide the most flexibility and the most energy and focus.
Phytates are another plant defense system evolved to prevent animals and insects from eating them. They function by binding to dietary minerals that animals need to be healthy, particularly iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. This slows or prevents the minerals' absorption6 so you get little nutrition from the food. Whole grains, nuts, and seeds are the major sources of these antinutrients. Phytates are actually antioxidants, molecules that prevent other molecules from becoming oxidized or damaged. Consuming antioxidants is normally a good thing, but some antioxidants, like phytates, have both negative and positive effects. Your body can handle a certain amount of phytates, and eliminating them from your diet completely wouldn't be possible, but it's a good idea to minimize the main sources so your minerals will be absorbed.
Cooking certain foods that are high in phytates and then draining the water or soaking them in something acidic like lemon or vinegar minimizes phytates, but many of the grains and seeds that contain phytates are irritating to the gut even when cooked. Certain animals like cows and sheep have special bacteria in their guts to help them break down phytates. Humans, pigs, and chickens don't have this bacteria. This is one reason it's best to avoid most direct sources of phytates and eat more grassfed cows and sheep, allowing them to filter out the phytates for you. This way you get the benefits of foods that contain phytates without the toxins.
Oxalic acid (oxalates) is another antinutrient that forms in plants to protect them from predation by animals, insects, and fungi. They're found in raw cruciferous vegetables such as kale, chard, and spinach, as well as buckwheat, black pepper, parsley, poppy seeds, rhubarb, amaranth, beets, chocolate, most nuts, most berries, and beans.
When oxalates bind to calcium in your blood, tiny, sharp oxalic acid crystals form and can be deposited anywhere in the body and cause muscle pain. When this happens in the kidneys, it is one cause of kidney stones. It sounds hard to believe, but oxalates also cause painful sex in some women when oxalic acid crystals form in the labia. Before my wife, Lana, went Bulletproof, she suffered greatly from this oxalic acid-related condition, called vulvodynia, the cause of which is considered a mystery by Western medicine, with theorized links to yeast problems, antibiotic use, and emotional issues. For sensitive people, consuming even a small amount of oxalates can cause burning in the mouth, eyes, ears, and throat. Larger doses can lead to muscle weakness, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, especially in people with a high body burden of oxalates. In my time as a raw vegan eating tons of raw kale, broccoli, and chard, I experienced oxalate-related weakness that was hard to explain until I understood this.
As with phytates, soaking in acid or cooking and draining away the cooking water minimizes oxalates, so I don't recommend eating raw kale, spinach, or chard in salads or even smoothies. It's also important to choose your nuts and chocolate carefully, and I'll guide you through this in great detail later in the book. Quality matters more than you'd think!
The final major class of antinutrients in your diet is mold toxins (mycotoxins). Most people are exposed to chronic low doses of mold toxins in every single meal, but they are invisible and particularly hard to identify. The more mold toxins you eat, the more damage they do over time. I probably never would have recognized this if it weren't for my familiarity with toxic mold.
Both as a kid and later as an adult, I unknowingly lived in several moldy houses. Because of the repeated exposures, my immune system is more sensitive than the average person's to mold in my environment or in my food. On a business trip to the United Kingdom, I once went down into the Tube and noticed the dank air. By the time I reached the end of the passenger tunnel and got on the train, I started to feel like I was hungover and even had some visual hallucinations. That's how sensitive I am to mold. Right after that experience, I had profound cravings for sugar and fat, and it took almost a full day before it felt like my brain had turned back on. My meetings later that day in Cambridge didn't go so well, but my extreme reaction to mold has been a blessing in disguise. It has enabled me to help clients identify why they have seemingly inexplicable declines in mental and physical performance and led me to learn more about the biochemistry of mold exposure both in sensitive people like me (about 28 percent of the population), and in the rest of us. If you're not feeling amazing, there is always a reason!