Autophagy, what it is and why you should care

Could there be a physiological reason why we usually don’t feel hungry when we are sick with a cold or a fever? Or that every religious or spiritual tradition has a planned dietary restriction period as part of their structure?

Let’s look at what happens when we restrict our diet for one reason or another.

When insufficient amount of protein and/or carbohydrate are available, ketones are produced by the liver. Ketones utilization as an alternative source of fuel, is the adaptation mechanism of the body to the scarcity of macronutrients. Ketones will signal the body to up regulate autophagy.

Autophagy (self eating) happens when defective, old or dying cells are cleaned or killed, and their clutter and parts are recycled into simple amino acids. The recycled proteins are then reused by newly regenerated and healthy cells. It is a survival mechanism, a form of self-repair and of deep internal “spring cleaning”.

Not only is this metabolic state protein sparing, but it stimulates the immune system to defend us more aggressively against microbes and infections. Studies also suggest that it might be part of a complex mechanism that detects and kills abnormal cells like cancer.

There are strong indications (and research in this field is very active) that using one or more of the known ways to stimulate ketones production and autophagy could be used as a dietary intervention in the treatment of conditions like:

  • Inflammation
  • Infections
  • Migraines
  • Aging
  • Insulin resistance
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) amongst others

There is several ways to boost ketones production either as a short-term anti-aging and regeneration strategy or as a longer term tool for medical reasons:squareautophagylast

It is important to note that the abuse or reckless use of any of those tools could overstressed our body and lead to health deterioration instead of amelioration. Sometimes benefits will be observed in the beginning (because there is a lot of cleaning, repairs and recycling done) but, long-term aggressive caloric and/or macronutrients restrictions will lead to problems (think musculoskeletal losses, poor resistance to cold, adrenals/cortisol, low sex hormones, thyroid issues etc).

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Nutritional Ketosis Day 10

Beyond the science of lowering the carbohydrate content of our diet for health, you have a lot the flexibility to take the concept and modify it in order to suit your own needs, metabolism and goals. Just as important, you can customize any program to your food preferences and any dietary restrictions you may have. A diet that “works” is when its stop being a diet and it becomes a new way of eating.

For instance, I have noticed that some people are doing better on heavier protein like beef and lamb and animal fats and that some people, like me, are doing better on lighter protein like fish and seafood and plant fats. I think is has to do with a difference in digestive capacity and food sensitivities .

It is also about quality of the food. For instance, I have an issue with regular chicken eggs (stomach cramping and abdominal pain), but if I used pastured eggs or Omega-3 eggs, I’m fine. Same for the meat (ex: I do better with grass-feed New-Zeland lamb) and fish (I cannot digest farmed salmon, it’s too fatty. I have no issue when it’s wild). For fish and seafood, I always pick wild and a lower mercury content. Here’s the reference list I use:

This is the Natural Resources Defense Council guide:

LEAST MERCURY, Enjoy these fish:
Anchovies
Butterfish (Black Cod)
Catfish
Clam
Crab (Domestic)
Crawfish/Crayfish
Croaker (Atlantic)
Flounder
Haddock (Atlantic)
Hake
Herring
Mackerel (N. Atlantic, Chub)
Mullet
Oyster
Perch (Ocean)
Plaice
Pollock
Salmon (Canned)
Salmon (Fresh)
Sardine
Scallop
Shad (American)
Shrimp
Sole (Pacific)
Squid (Calamari)
Tilapia
Trout (Freshwater)
Whitefish
Whiting

MODERATE MERCURY, Eat six servings or less per month:
Bass (Striped, Black)
Carp
Cod (Alaskan)
Croaker (White Pacific)
Halibut (Atlantic)
Halibut (Pacific)
Jacksmelt (Silverside)
Lobster
Mahi Mahi
Monkfish
Perch (Freshwater)
Sablefish
Skate
Snapper
Tuna (Canned chunk light)
Tuna (Skipjack)
Weakfish (Sea Trout)

HIGH MERCURY, Eat three servings or less per month:
Bluefish
Grouper
Mackerel (Spanish, Gulf)
Sea Bass (Chilean)
Tuna (Canned Albacore)
Tuna (Yellowfin)

HIGHEST MERCURY, Avoid eating:
Mackerel (King)
Marlin
Orange Roughy
Shark
Swordfish
Tilefish
Tuna (Bigeye, Ahi)

Sources for NRDC’s guide: The data for this guide to mercury in fish comes from two federal agencies: the Food and Drug Administration, which tests fish for mercury, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which determines mercury levels that it considers safe for women of childbearing age.

About the mercury-level categories: The categories on the list (least mercury to highest mercury) are determined according to the following mercury levels in the flesh of tested fish.

  • Least mercury: Less than 0.09 parts per million
  • Moderate mercury: From 0.09 to 0.29 parts per million
  • High mercury: From 0.3 to 0.49 parts per million
  • Highest mercury: More than .5 parts per million

Today I had: 2Tbs of coconut oil made into coco choco at 11h00 am and water with hot sauce and salt, in the afternoon. Dinner was 2 fillets of Alaskan Cod cooked in 2Tbs bacon fat and 2Tbs butter. A salad made with romaine, celery, 8Tbs of sour cream, chia seeds, 2 pieces of cheddar cheese and 5Tbs of olive oil. Total for today is about 1850 calories. That’s a lot of cow dairy for me, I can definitely feel an increase in inflammation tonight.

Holy cow, that's way too much dairies for me!

Holy cow, that’s way too much dairy for me! What was I thinking?

Smoothies, the Breakfast of Champions

Life is busy, and sometimes it’s difficult to find the time to eat as well as we know we should. It’s recommended that we consume 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Most people consume far less. Fruits and vegetables are low in salt, high in vitamins and minerals, an excellent source of fiber, as well as being rich in nutrients, phytonutrients and antioxidants.

It’s recommended that we consume between 20 and 30 grams of fiber each day. The average person consumes less than 10 grams. Fibers are known to lower cholesterol, help prevent diverticulis, IBS and constipation, keep you full longer on fewer calories and slow down the absorption of sugar in the blood.

What if you could get almost a whole day’s worth of nutrients from breakfast alone, without cooking, at a reasonable price and in only 5 minutes? This is possible, by changing your breakfast from whatever it currently is, to a Smoothie.

There are tons of good combos to be made, but make sure your smoothies have:

  • At least 20 to 30 grams of protein (quality protein powder (ideally without sugar or fructose but can be flavored ie vanilla can be a nice touch), some plain Greek yogurt, silken tofu or liquid pasteurized egg whites are good options. There are a lot of recipes online but most lack proteins, just add a neutral tasting protein to their suggested recipe)
  • A couple of handfuls of Greens (If you are new to this, start with spinach for the first couple of days/weeks. It is the less bitter of the greens. When you find an enjoyable basic recipe you can try to mix in kale, which is super healthy. I like putting a spring of parsley too.)
  • Some fats to increase the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and nutrients, like A, E and K (I like to put some avocado, coconut oil, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and / or nuts.
  • Fruits to increase palatability (we want to keep the total sugar low. A banana is good for texture and sugar, plus 1 or 2 other fruits like a green apple, ½ cup of pineapple or mango or a cup of berries should be enough. I also add ½ peeled lemon or lime for the extra vitamin C and to prevent oxidation of my drink. If you have sugar in your protein powder and / or in your almond / soy /coconut milk, be careful, it adds up)
  • Liquid to blend (Water, chilled green tea, milk (any type), pasteurized liquid egg whites, coconut water, silken tofu are all good options. Look for unsweetened types)
  • Enough sweetness to make it taste good and feel like a treat. If the basic drink isn’t sweet enough for your taste buds, you can put a bit of raw honey, stevia, xylitol, erythriol, a splash of orange or pineapple juice or a sweetener of your choice.
  • Enough calories to keep hunger at bay until lunch. 400 to 500 calories is a good target.

A basic recipe could be:

  • 1 banana (can be frozen)
  • 1-1 ½ cup of fruits (can be frozen)
  • 1 cup of spinach/kale
  • ½ peeled lemon
  • 12 almonds
  • 1 Tbsp of flaxseed meal
  • A pinch of cinnamon
  • Protein power (pea, rice or whey)
  • 1 ½ cup of liquid

Throw everything in a blender, blend. Add some liquid to adjust consistency. Sweeten to taste, if needed.

450 calories, 15-18g of fibers, 35g of protein.

A good routine could be: get up make a nice cup of green tea, sip while getting ready.  Before leaving for work: throw everything in the blender, blend for 30-60 seconds, transfer in a big smoothie cup with a straw and slowly sip on your way to work!

The Role of Proteins in our Diet

Proteins are the building blocks of life. Actually, the word protein is derived from the Greek word proteios, meaning “primary”, “in the lead”, or “standing in front”. Proteins are so important for our overall health and well-being, that we should think of including them first in setting up our meals and overall diet.  Proteins are what we are made of at 45%. That’s what we need. Besides some fat and essential fatty acids; the rest of our diet is fuel for energy.

In fact one of the most drastic weight-loss diet protocol, used on morbidly obese individuals, is called a Protein Sparing Modified Fast (PSMF). The patient must consume enough protein, which depends on lean mass, quality essential fatty acids, along with multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplements. (Please do not do this. It’s not a healthy and/or efficient way to lose weight for most people).

What are proteins?

Proteins are made up of amino acids. Think of amino acids as the bricks in a brick wall. Of the 22 standard amino acids, 9 are called essential amino acids. They are considered essential, because it’s indispensable that our diet provides them in sufficient quantity. Protein sources are also qualified according to how many of the essential amino acids they provide:

A complete protein source is one that provides all of the essential amino acids. Animal-based foods; such as, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and cheese are considered complete protein sources.

An incomplete protein source is one that is low in one or more of the essential amino acids. Complementary proteins are two or more incomplete protein sources that will provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids when they are combined. This is very important for vegetarians. Sources of incomplete proteins are vegetable-based foods; grains, nuts, beans, and seeds.

Proteins have many important functions in the human body, without them we would be unable to repair, regulate, or protect ourselves:

  • Building and repair of body tissues, including muscles
  • Enzymes, hormones, and many immune molecules are proteins
  • Processes such as water balancing, nutrient transport, and muscle contractions need protein.
  • Our hair, nails, skin, collagen, cartilage, and eyes are made of protein
  • Most neurotransmitters are made from amino acids
  • Amino acids are the building blocks of our brain’s network.
  • Amino acids can stimulate or calm our brain as well as nourish it.

What makes us feel satiated? The other benefit of protein.

Some foods can more easily contribute to the feeling of satiety than others. The calorie-counting tables do not reflect this, so studies examining the effects of foods on hunger can be interesting.

Highest satiating power was found in foods with high levels of protein and fiber content. What is means is that if hunger is an issue for us, a breakfast of composed of a vegetable omelet with a bit of cheese would sustain us better until lunch, than a bowls of cereal with skim milk and some fruits of equal calories.

So how much protein should we get in our diet each day?

There in no lack of opinions on this topic on the internet and numbers are all over the places.

My short answer is: it depends. It depends on you sex, age, height, lean mass, health condition, level of activity, if you are in calorie balance or not, if you take anabolic substances, etc. We should never calculate our protein needs as a percentage of our diet. Our body needs a set number of grams of protein per day and it will not vary greatly even if we modify our activity level. Our fuel intake, fat and carbohydrate, will.

Let’s start with the “sufficient” U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) per age groups.

Recommended Dietary Allowance for Protein

  Grams of protein/day

Children ages 1 – 3

13

Children ages 4 – 8

19

Children ages 9 – 13

34

Girls ages 14 – 18

46

Boys ages 14 – 18

52

Women ages 19 – 70+

46

Men ages 19 – 70+

56

Sufficient does not mean optimal and vibrant health for most people. Actually the RDA was developed during World War II by a committee established by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to investigate issues of nutrition that might “affect national defense”. The allowances were meant to provide nutrition for civilians and military personnel. Because of food rationing during the war, the food guidelines took food availability into account.

The easy peasy way to know if your intake is sufficient, is to make sure you eat at least a palm-of-your-hand-size portion of cooked animal protein three times a day.

For those who want something more precise, I suggest this easy calculation as a starting point:

  1. Height in centimeters.  Ex:  5’8 = 173 cm   http://www.metric-conversions.org/length/feet-to-centimeters.htm
  2. Subtract 100.  Ex:  173-100 = 73
  3. 73 rounded to 75 grams +/- 10 grams = (65-85), should be a daily target for a 5ft 8in or 173 cm woman. If you are a 5ft 8in or 173 cm man, add 10 grams to the calculated range (75-95).
  4. Never go under the RDA recommended amount for your age group.

If you are dieting, are lifting weights, are sick or are recovering from an injury, aim for at least the top of the range.

If you are recovering from an addiction or are recovering from an eating disorder, aim for a minimum or 90 grams of protein per day, independently of your height.

One ounce of lean-ish cooked meat, poultry or fish, contains roughly 7 grams of protein. An egg contain 7 grams. Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, mozzarella and  protein powder are a great sources too, look on the label of your particular brand for their protein content.

If you find you have trouble digesting proteins, you could look into Hydrochloric Acid supplementation.

Hope it help!