What I Read Last Month :: April

Often what I read throughout a given time period follows a particular theme and I have very often over the past year chosen a reading list which matches that month’s Happiness Project focus.  However in April, although not the focus or even intention, it was clearly all about food and nutrition.  Which makes sense because a large proportion of my time the past few weeks was spent developing Whole30 coaching materials.  And I don’t mind at all since this is one of my favorite topics and it was fun to read some other sources of information and perspectives on health as we get fired up for the Flex in the City Studio Whole30 starting next weekAs I wrote nearly a year ago, the more that I learn, the more that I realize how much misinformation and (well-intended) misguidance there is out there in the conventional wisdom and advice when it comes to what’s on our plates and why gaining literacy in this area is a worthwhile pursuit.  What we put into our bodies impacts us in more ways than we even know at this point! Here’s what I read last month: 

Side Hustle
Chris Guillebeau

I previously read and really enjoyed Guillebeau’s The $100 Start Up and I listen to his daily Side Hustle School podcast regularly which features amazingly inspirational and sometimes astonishing stories about people who have successfully started their own microbusinesses. The podcast is quite brief and focused on telling the story of a particular person or project, but this book was a bit more practical with a “how to” type approach designed to “take you from idea to income in 27 days.”   I liked the book, but to be fair I think the assurance of its usefulness might be a bit overstated; although that could definitely be because I have been listening to the podcast for so long and a lot of the information wasn’t necessarily new to me.  I do like Guillebeau’s  focus on the freedom and opportunity which are made possible by finding ways to generate extra income (likely pursuing something you are passionate about) in addition to, rather than in place of, your normal day-to-day career/job.  His clear objective to demonstrate ways that people can and should find ways to earn more and live better without necessarily jumping into a full-blown entrepreneurial pursuit.

Always Hungry?
David Ludwig, MD, PhD

Endorsed by a lot of health and nutrition experts I respect, this was my first exposure to Dr. Ludwig’s work and he does get a lot of things right from my perspective.  I am always amazed by how deep the myth of “calories in, calories out” runs throughout the world today and his studies add to the vast amount of research which indicates that that is more than a slight oversimplification.  Many people are generally shocked when I tell them that I tend towards a high fat diet (although I am not trying to be ketogenic, nor do I necessarily endorse it). However, I didn’t realize that this book was so much a prescriptive diet and I was more so looking just for research and nutritional science more like my favorite, Gary Taubes, writes.  At least half of this book outlines a specific “Always Hungry” protocol, diet plan and recipes, which I am not personally in the market for.  I might recommend the book to someone interested in why “overeating doesn’t make you fat; the process of getting fat makes you overeat,” because if you haven’t read up on the topic, a lot of this might be new and interesting, but I found it to be a bit lacking in depth and originality. I can definitely support the primary thesis however which is “forget calories. Focus on quality. Let your body do the rest… if you give your body the right combination of foods, your body can let you know more accurately how much food it needs, and when enough is enough.”

Grain Brain
Dr. David Perlmutter

I loved this book!  As aforementioned, the way that we eat impacts us in countless ways beyond what we can see or often even feel.  And since what we eat has evolved so dramatically in the last even 100 years, we are still learning about the long term effects and impacts.  In Grain Brain, Dr. Perlmutter, a neurologist and world leader in brain nutrition asserts that “one of the most monumental discoveries of our era [is that] the origin of brain disease is in many cases predominately dietary.  Although several factors play into the genesis and progression of brain disorders, to a large extent numerous neurological afflictions often reflect the mistake of consuming too many carbs and too few healthy fats.” He breaks down some of the common myths of conventional wisdom and dietary advice and provides a metanalysis as well as his own findings which support his argument that the brain needs healthy fats to function properly and “gluten-sensitivity – with or without the presence of celiac – increases the production of inflammatory cytokines, and these inflammatory cytokines are pivotal players in neurodegenerative conditions.  Moreover, no organ is more susceptible to the deleterious effects of inflammation than the brain.  It’s one of the most active organs in the body, yet it lacks bulletproof protective factors.”  Unfortunately, evidence suggests that even though we might not be able to perceive it in our digestive processes, “we may all be sensitive to gluten from a neurological standpoint.  We just don’t know it yet because there are no outwards signs or clues to a problem happening deep within the quiet confines of our nervous system and brain [but] at the heart of virtually every disorder and disease is inflammation.” This is my top recommendation of the month, but if you don’t want to read it and still want to find out more about the research – you can do what my Questioner husband did and watch this video which provides a high level overview of the ways that our body processes (or rather doesn’t) gluten in particular.

The Psychobiotic Revolution
Scott C. Anderson with John F. Cryan, PhD and Ted Dinan, PhD

One of the fabulous member of #TeamFlex lent me this book which was coauthored by some of the scientists that she works with at the University College Cork (UCC) and it was very interesting and a great departure from the other two books on health I had read throughout the month.  As I mentioned before, I am very interested in the gut-brain axis and the growing body of research which links the health of our small intestine to a variety of mental and emotional disorders like depression, anxiety, as well as cognitive decline. By testing on mice (which is something my friend is involved in at UCC) and collecting fecal samples from both depressed and healthy humans, scientists have repeatedly demonstrated “a significant association between microbiota and mood, whether you are a rodent or a human [and] that the microbiota of the patients with depression was less diverse than the controls.”  The aim of the book is to increase awareness of the tiny bacterial microbes that we host and how “psychobiotics (the microbes that can improve your mood) can help you to live a happier, healthier life… even if you don’t have depression or anxiety…a better-balanced gut can improve anyone’s mood…your thinking and boost your memory.”  Anderson, et al., discusses the different types of bacteria which reside in us, their preferences for particular types of foods (fats, carbs, fiber, sugars, etc.) and how we can and should seek to increase the diversity of the friendlies while minimizing our exposure to those which are doing a disservice to our physical and mental health.  Their work and that of others, demonstrates that if “you’re feeling depression, anxious, or just plain funky, it’s very likely your gut that’s behaving badly – and you can do something about it. You can change the composition of your gut bacteria just by feeding the good guys and starving the bad.”  And probably unsurprisingly, the most effective way to do so is by eating the right kinds of foods – their recommendations? Stop eating junk food, minimize sugar, get plenty of Omega-3s, drink less alcohol, get antioxidant from food, avoid emulsifiers, minimize use of proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers (chronic use of antacids for gastroesophageal reflux disease and heartburn), exercise, maintain a healthy weight, and limit use of antibiotics. Again, it seems that it really does all start with food.

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