The Best Anti-aging Protein, Fats and Carbs You Can Eat
Discover the type of carbs that help you lose body fat, the dietary fat that reduces cholesterol and the new anti-aging protein.
ARE YOU confused about your macronutrients? I mean, do you have any idea what the ideal mix of carbohydrates, fats and proteins is for you?
Well, in this article I’m not going to tell what your ideal ratio of macronutrients is, because without a lot of testing this is unknowable, and it’s different for different people.
What I can and will tell you is that you can be healthy, energized and lean by doing basically three things all by yourself and without becoming a lab rat:
- Reduce your carb consumption and make sure that those you do eat are those that are slowly absorbed into your blood stream (we’re going to demystify this with Dr. Ludwig);
- Increase your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids (particularly that derived from a tiny planktonic crustacean) while reducing other forms of dietary fat; and
- Reduce your consumption of meat-based protein relative to plant-derived protein (like lentils), and increase consumption of low mercury fish and high-grade protein powders, particularly a certain kind of collagen.
The Carb Dilemma
Do you remember the days when most every manufactured food had a low or no-fat option?
As I wrote in What’s Making Us Fat and Sick, back in the early seventies, food manufacturers saw an opportunity to extend their product line to a public hungry for food that could be eaten with abandon and yet not make us plumper. It was reasonable to believe that less dietary fat meant less body fat.
This makes sense and is true as long as something else isn’t added to the food to make up for less dietary fat, such as a special kind of carbohydrates. But that’s not what happened. What did happen is that the fat taken out of foods to make them low or fat-free was replaced by a certain type of carbs that messes with your blood sugar.
As WebMd warns, sometimes “fat-free” is also taste-free (which is not a revenue generating attribute for food manufacturers). To compensate for that, food makers add other ingredients — especially sugar, flour, thickeners, and salt — into their products. This stuff adds calories; moreover, without the dietary fat normally found in such foods, they may be less satisfying, so you may eat too much of them.
Ice cream serves as an apt example, says WebMd:
“If you eat three servings of low-fat ice cream, at 3 grams of fat and 250 calories per serving, you’re eating 9 grams of fat and 750 calories! Sometimes it’s better to eat one serving of more satisfying whole-fat food and avoid the extra calories and sugar in the low-fat version.”
But there’s another thing to beware of as well.
Not only might you eat more calories of the low-fat ice cream to feel satisfied than you would of the full-fat ice cream, but by doing so you’re ingesting a certain kind of carbohydrate that messes with insulin, leptin and body fat composition.
I’m referring to carbs that act like sugar, and when consumed spike your blood glucose levels. Sometimes such carbs are referred to as “fast carbs” (they’re quickly spike blood glucose levels), “simple carbs” (fiber has been eliminated) or high-glycemic carbs (an index indicating how a particular carbohydrate source compares to sugar relative to blood sugar/glucose uptake once ingested).
Although judging by the plethora of no/low-fat foods still cluttering the supermarkets, our appetite for such foods seems unabated, and yet people are starting to glean the truth that there’s a disconnect between no/low dietary fat and body fat, largely due to the popularity of the Paleo Diet that basically says that carbs are bad and fat is good.
It’s been a tug-of-war between advocates of the “fat is good” and “carbs are good” propositions. Let’s let an expert in the matter weigh in and lead us closer to the truth of the matter.
Dr. David Ludwig, MD, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. He’s also one of the foremost experts when it comes to carbohydrates. His research focuses on the effects of diet on hormones, metabolism and body weight, and he developed a “low glycemic load” diet – one that decreases the surge in blood sugar after meals – for the treatment of obesity-related diseases.
(Note: Glycemic Load (“GL”) is more useful than Glycemic Index (“GI”), because “load” takes into account total calories ingested; whereas the index simply conveys how a carb affects blood sugar relative to dietary sugar.)
Dr. Ludwig is well know for determining that:
- Highly processed grains and potato products raise blood glucose and insulin more rapidly than sucrose (a type of sugar), with similar metabolic effects (1), and
- Excessive consumption of refined sugar and high glycemic index carbs play a significant role in the epidemics of obesity and related diseases. (2)
Given that, you’d think that Dr. Ludwig would be firmly settled in the “carbs are bad” camp, yes?
In an article published in Harvard’s School of Public Health website, Dr. Ludwig is interviewed to help clear up the carbohydrate confusion.
I’ll condense things via bullet points; if something grabs you and you want more, go read unabridged version.
About low GI carbs:
- Sugar added to foods gets a lot of warranted attention, but Americans consume more calories from refined grains and potatoes than from sugar. Starchy foods like white bread, white rice, potato products, crackers and cookies digest quickly into glucose, raise insulin levels, program the body for excessive weight gain and increase risk for chronic disease.
- Although GI has been extremely useful in the research setting for characterizing carbohydrate quality, most people need not “eat by the numbers”, whether it by the glycemic index, monitoring total calories consumed or any other scale. Choosing whole instead of highly processed carbohydrates will naturally result in a low GI diet that will also have many other nutritious aspects including high content of fiber, vitamins, minerals and polyphenols.
(Note: Use of GI as a guide to food selection may have specific benefit for people with diabetes or other severe metabolic problems.)
- The distinction between sugar and starch is largely meaningless from a biological perspective. The key public health challenge today is to reduce intake of all highly processed carbohydrates in favor of whole carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, legumes and minimally processed grains) and healthful fats (like nuts, avocado and olive oil).
About Carbohydrate quality:
- Heavily milled “whole grain” flour may have the same fiber content as natural whole kernel grains, but they digest much faster, causing more rapid swings in blood glucose and higher insulin levels. Especially when eating grains, choose traditional versions our ancestors would have eaten – steel-cut (old-fashion) oatmeal, farro, whole barley and rye, buckwheat and quinoa.
- In addition to grains, a wide range of unprocessed carbohydrates can contribute to diet quality, including whole fruits (especially non-tropical varieties), non-starchy vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, lentils, carob, soybeans, peanuts) and nuts.
About optimal macronutrient balance:
- The optimal macronutrient ratio – that is, the relative proportions of protein, carbohydrate and fat – has been the subject of intense debate for decades. We still don’t know whether one special combination is best for everyone.
- The choice of how to balance macronutrients is individual, influenced by culture, food availability, and personal preference. So long as adequate attention is directly to food quality, the relative ratios are probably of secondary importance in most situations (excepting individuals with metabolic problems like insulin resistance).
- Notwithstanding the above assertions, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid excessive intake of processed carbohydrates as total carbohydrate consumption rises. For that reason, many people will benefit by increasing intake of foods high in fat and protein (including plant-based sources).
If you’d like to learn more on this topic, read Dr. Ludwig’s book, Always Hungry? Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells, and Lose Weight Permanently.
I just spent a lot of time on carbohydrates because most of us in the industrialized world are eating too much of the wrong kind. As various experts report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine,
“Excess sugar and carbs, not physical inactivity, are behind the surge in obesity.”
Step one, then, is to reduce carb consumption and increase carb quality by ensuring that those you do eat are slowly absorbed into your blood stream. Again, these are whole, unadulterated grains, legumes, whole fruit (not fruit juice!) and veggies.
What You Can Do: Choose two healthy, low GI grains to replace sugary cereals and granola, such as faro and barley. Pick at least one vegetable you’re not eating now and add it to your diet.
Focus On Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Now that you’ve got the carb thing down, let’s turn to dietary fat.
These days experts are saying that “eating fat doesn’t make you fat”, which I guess is an incomplete way of suggesting that there’s nothing particular to dietary fat that makes your body fat, all other things being equal.
The “equal” part is implicit, because it goes without saying (but here I am saying it anyway) that if your body’s total daily caloric requirement is 3,000 calories and you’re eating 4,000 calories of fat, you will get fat from eating fat. In fact, in this scenario, it would take just 3.5 days to accumulate an excess of 3,500 calories that translates into one pound of body fat.
Don’t do that.
Instead, replace your reduced caloric load from cutting carbs with high quality fats.
There are lots of different kinds of fat, most of which I wrote about in Eating Fat Is Good… Maybe… Could Be… Sometimes. What I want to stress here is to increase the kind of fat that most of us are not consuming enough of, the so-called omega-3 fatty acids.
The Nutrition Data website provides a very long list of the foods highest in omega-3 fatty acids, these 10 being among the most common:
- Flaxseed oil
- Fish oil
- Chia seeds
- Cardiovascular health (by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, plaque buildup in the arteries, and
the chance of having a heart attack or stroke)
- Stabilizing blood sugar levels (preventing diabetes)
- Reducing muscle, bone and joint pain by lowering inflammation
- Helping balance cholesterol levels
- Improving mood and preventing depression
- Sharpening the mind and helping with concentration and learning
- Boosting immunity
- Treating digestive disorders like ulcerative colitis
- Reducing risk for cancer and helping prevent cancer reoccurrence
- Improving appearance, especially skin health
Another BIG thing you can do to get all these benefits is to supplement with that “tiny planktonic crustacean” I mentioned above. It’s called krill oil!
Why krill oil?
To answer that, we turn to a study summarized by one of my favorite websites, ergo-log.com, which recently reported that krill oil can give a big boost to HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind) and lower LDL (the “bad” kind).
You can read about the summary here, but I’m going to give you the bottom line:
“The 2-3 g dose of krill oil… boosted the HDL level by 55-60 percent and reduced the LDL by 37-39 percent. The triglyceride concentration went down by 27-28 percent. All effects were statistically significant.”
That’s pretty amazing.
What’s more, after taking that large two to three gram daily dose for 90 days, subjects tested were able to maintain the high HDL, low LDL and triglyceride levels for another 90 days with a much smaller dose of 500 mgs/day.
What You Can Do: As mentioned, replace some of those processed carbs you may be wolfing down with some of the omega-3 fatty acid foods listed above. And supplement with krill oil. To find out what’s the best krill oil brand to try, I consulted a Consumer Labs study on the subject and found Viva Labs Krill Oil to be among the best brands for the buck.
There Really Is An Anti-aging Protein
Carbs provides energy for the body; fats maintain cell membranes, provide insulation for the body and helps with digestion of certain vitamins; and protein builds, maintains and repairs body tissue.
All of these macronutrients are vital, but one in particular needs to stay consistently in our diet and contribute 10 to 35% of overall caloric consumption as we get older – protein.
I’ve written about the importance of adequate, good quality protein before:
In 8 Sure-fire Ways to Trim Body Fat and Keep It Off Forever: The Best Quality Protein, Part 2, I presented the best quality animal protein sources;
In Pump Up Your Metabolism: Eat Protein, Not Wheat, the focus was on how to pump up your metabolism and trim belly fat.
In Make Your Paleo Diet More Vegan, Like It Used To Be, the discord between Paleo eaters and vegans/vegetarians is shown to be unsubstantial in the context of the historical perspective.
If you’ve read any of those articles, or ones similar elsewhere – or if you just contemplate it for a minute – it comes as no surprise that eating a combination of lean, grass fed, no hormone, no antibiotic meat and organically grown legumes is a healthy way of getting your daily dose of protein.
What may be surprising is my encouragement to add fish collagen protein to the mix!
You can thank for aforementioned Dr. Josh Axe for this revelation. In his article, Fish Collagen: The Anti-Aging Protein with the Best Bioavailability, Dr. Axe basically tells us that as long as you’re going to supplement with protein powder, make it collagen so that you derive the many extra benefits of collagen beyond protein… and as long as you’re going to use collagen, make it fish collagen because:
Fish collagen’s ability to be more easily absorbed by our bodies is thanks to its lower molecular weight and size, which allows the collagen to be absorbed at a higher level through the intestinal barrier into the bloodstream and carried throughout the body. This leads to collagen synthesis in the joint tissues, bones, skin dermis and many other essential body systems.
The essence of it is shown in this cool infographic from DrAxe.com:
Dr Axe cites the following five benefits of fish collagen:
- Anti-aging — It helps prevent and improve any signs of skin aging. Possible skin benefits of consuming this collagen include improved smoothness, better moisture retention, increased suppleness and prevention of deep wrinkle formation.
- Bone Healing and Regeneration — Collagen peptides from fish skin might have a positive effect on bone health by increasing bone mineral density and exerting anti-inflammatory activity on osteoarthritis.
- Wound Healing – Collagen control many cellular functions, including cell shape and differentiation, cell migration, as well as the synthesis of a number of important proteins, and also plays a critical role in all phases of wound healing: hemostasis, inflammation, proliferation and remodeling.
- Increase Protein Intake — Fish collagen is over 97% protein with no fat, sugars or carbohydrates, making it one of the absolute best protein foods on the planet.
- Antibacterial Abilities — Collagencin (an antibacterial peptide from fish collagen) can inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus aureus, more commonly known as staph or staph infection.
What You Can Do: Add fish collagen supplementation to your protein powder supplements. Whey protein is best for after workouts that break down muscle tissue, such as weight lifting, calisthenics and sprinting. Pea protein is good for nourishing not only your muscles, but feeding the beneficial bacteria in your gut. (More here.) And now we have fish collagen protein to add to the mix.
There are no Consumer Lab reports on fish collagen protein that I could find, but Amazon.com has a brand called Pure Marine Collagen Peptide Powder that qualifies for Prime Shipping and has a 4.2 star rating by consumers, if that means anything.
Unless you have some metabolic issue like diabetes, or just get a kick from being experimental, dispense with calorie counting and strict macronutrient apportionment. Instead of that, do what I already listed at the beginning of this article; namely:
- Reduce your carb consumption and make sure that those you do eat are slowly absorbed into your blood stream. If you love grains and cereals, try farro and barley.
- Increase your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids (particularly krill oil) while reducing other forms of dietary fat; and
- Reduce your consumption of meat-based protein generally, and increase consumption of low mercury fish and high-grade protein powders, particularly fish collagen protein.
Three extra health tips:
- When you feel hungry, drink a large glass of pure water before you eat. This will help with satiation and hydrate you, which if you’re like most of us, you need.
- Stop eating three hours before bedtime. If you feel like crunching something, chew on celery and have a cup of herbal tea.
- Move! If exercise seems as pleasant a proposition as a Crow pecking out your eyes, then just move more whilst doing normal daily activities. Walk everywhere you can, not just from the parking lot to a building. Take the stairs, not the elevator. Push yourself away from your desk every hour and move around.
All right then… get going!