Jonathan: Hey everybody, Jonathan Bailor back. Today’s show is going to be packed with goodness. We have seemingly a kindred spirit to me on the show. I am so happy to have discovered today’s guest and certainly I am not the first person to discover him. He is quickly climbing the internet nutrition charts and for good reason because he is determined to help make the best and the most rigorous scientific research out there around nutrition accessible to all of us.
You can see why I love this guy and he does so in such an elegant and simple way. He is the proprietor of the wonderful website everyone must check out, it’s authoritynutrition.com. He is a medical student, he is a certified personal trainer, and he is just a nutrition research all-star, Kris Gunnars welcome to the show.
Kris: Thank you Jonathan, I appreciate it.
Jonathan: I appreciate the work you’re doing out there Kris and I also appreciate the road you took to get there because it is shockingly similar to my own. Can you tell us a bit about how you got into nutrition?
Kris: I originally got interested in all of it about six and half years ago. At first I was mainly into the fitness, bodybuilding, supplement thing but I quickly lost interest in it and stumbled upon the Paleo diet. Since then nutrition and you could say alternative nutrition because it’s not in line with the official guidelines. Since then that’s been my main interest and passion in life, reading about nutrition and the research behind it.
Jonathan: It’s just amazing Kris, I certainly can empathize with that story of once you start – obviously with your background in personal training, your background in “body building”, again that’s how my path started as well. When you started to look at the research, when you started to look at the actual clinical data it sounds like you were just so shocked at how different it was that it became bit of a healthy obsession to keep digging into it.
Kris: Yes, that’s true. At first it was a bitter pill for me to swallow how things are in nutrition because I considered myself to be a man of science and I used to think the authority figures like doctors and dietitians and organizations were right about everything. I realized that they are mostly wrong. Well they seem to be wrong about the majority of what they are saying. I realized that there is so much conflict of interest in there.
For example the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is sponsored by the food companies and the American Diabetes Association is being funded by drug companies at millions of dollars per year. I realized that people need to hear the true side of the story, the real scientific message, not the stuff that corporations are paying for.
Jonathan: Kris on one hand it’s – for me as well it was a bitter pill to swallow and saying how can all of this be wrong? I remember the very clearly one moment where I said to myself – I was walking around and I was in the mid-west of America at the time which is one of the most obese and diabetic areas in the entire world and I was looking around at all the individuals suffering from these conditions and I thought to myself “Actually how could the advice be correct? If it was right why would we all be getting so much sicker?”
Then I was like “Hmm? Maybe it makes sense that it is all wrong. Look at the results they sure don’t seem to be working.”
Kris: Yes, you’re absolutely right it’s not working at all. If you look at the obesity epidemic that started around 1980, this is almost the exact same time that the low fat guidelines first came out. They came out in 1977 and if you look at the graphs of obesity, it starts, the obesity epidemic starts at that exact time.
Jonathan: Oh absolutely. It is just shocking. What’s even more shocking Kris sometimes we look into these things – you do such a great job on your side, you capitalize on the top ten this, the top seven this, or fifteen million reasons why this, and I just love that. It drew me in and there were some specific myth busting you did that I know our listeners would love to talk about, or hear you talk about excuse me.
First has to do with something we’re told, at least I’ve been told is bad for me but actually isn’t and that is coffee. What did you discover when you dug into the actual research around coffee?
Kris: I discovered that it certainly isn’t bad for you or there certainly is no evidence that it is bad for you. There is a lot of research on coffee but most of it is observational data, they take a group of people, ask them what they eat, what they drink and after ten years see which diseases they got and how they fared in their lives. The studies on coffee show that the people who drink coffee are actually much less likely to get many really serious chronic diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, dementia and liver diseases.
Although these studies don’t prove that it’s coffee that is protective, but there is certainly no evidence that it’s harmful, if anything it’s healthy. Of course it hasn’t been proven in large controlled trials, but we don’t have those so we are just going to have to judge by the observational studies.
Jonathan: Kris, the other key distinction when I was looking at the research you referenced, which I always appreciate because you always provide the references for everything for what you say which is brilliant and surprisingly lacking in the nutrition and fitness world. People just say stuff and you’re like what are you basing that on? It seems reasonable. The following take away, and tell me what you think about this. If a person has moved – most people I would think drink coffee for the taste, maybe.
Maybe more so for the way it makes them feel, also known as, caffeine, energy, things like that. Especially in a culture, I am not sure how this is happening in your home town but especially in America we have seen this exponential rise in “energy drinks” and even if they are zero calorie, they are sweetened with neurologically, potentially toxic, artificial sweeteners and they are certainly anything but natural. If we had to choose between drinking – if we want a boost and we had to choose between coffee or drinking some man made, person made energy drink would you say that the research is pretty clear that we should go with the coffee?
Kris: Oh yes that’s [inaudible 07:45]. Coffee is actually not just hot liquid with caffeine, there’s plenty of bioactive substances in it. In fact coffee is the single biggest source of antioxidants in the diet in western countries for most people. It outranks both fruits and vegetables combined. You are not just getting the caffeine boost you are also getting some important nutrients in there as well. There’s also some B vitamins and I don’t remember exactly which vitamins but if you drink three or four coffees a day they add up.
The energy drinks are nothing, there’s nothing good in there. Its caffeine, usually a sugar or artificial sweetener. Hands down chose coffee instead if you need a boost.
Jonathan: Kris I love the studies you included to show that coffee is the primary source of antioxidants in many western countries and that actually shows two things. One that coffee has antioxidants in it and that’s good. Also how poor the quality of many of our diets are because that data also seems it could indicate that coffee is extremely high in antioxidants and coffee is high in antioxidants. It also indicates the relative deficiency of antioxidants in the standard diet, would you agree?
Kris: Yes, totally I agree. I am not sure if this would apply to people eating a Paleo diet with plenty of vegetables but for the average American eating fast food and junk foods three times a day, coffee might just be the healthiest part of their diet.
Jonathan: Kris let’s be very clear with the listeners. When we say coffee is healthy or definitely healthier than any of these energy drinks; we are talking about black coffee. We are not talking about coffee with a bunch of sugary syrups and all kinds of other garbage in it, right?
Kris: Yes absolutely. If you put sugar or anything artificial with trans fats or something in then you are turning something healthy into something very unhealthy.
Jonathan: If you do want to change the taste of your coffee, some things I’ve had great success with and I am curious what you would think about this Kris, a couple things. One adding cinnamon, I love adding cinnamon to my coffee and cinnamon is also wonderfully healthy for you. I also sometimes enjoy adding a little bit of stevia or potentially some flavored stevia which is all natural to my coffee. What do you think about that?
Kris: I think that’s a great idea, both cinnamon and stevia have some evidence with health benefits. If you enjoy your coffee more with those in it then by all means.
Jonathan: Very clear takeaway here listeners. If you are looking for an energy boost don’t believe the marketing hype because these energy drinks are going to say “Oh my gosh we’re great sources of this and we’ve got this blah, blah, blah.” That’s marketing. Stick with the coffee, stick with the black coffee, throw some cinnamon in there, throw some stevia in there if you want to sweeten it up, and you will be energized and healthier it sounds like.
Kris: Yes according to my research that’s what you should be healthier but there is a downside to coffee. If people drink it later in the day they tend to lose sleep and for some people it can cause anxiety and stuff. People need to evaluate this based on their own experiences too and do a little self-experimentation.
Jonathan: Absolutely and certainly listeners of this podcast might say to themselves “Well Jonathan should I be…” I very strongly advocate the consumption of green tea because certainly the research around – there’s massive amounts of research around the health benefits of green tea. Personally my recommendation here listeners, please don’t hear me – if you don’t drink coffee I am not saying go run out and start drinking coffee.
Not that it would be a bad idea but it’s more if you need a boost and your choice is between coffee and energy drinks, chose coffee. I personally, if your drinking green tea, would not advise you to switch over to coffee. If you are enjoying green tea that’s great keep it up. The point here is if you are already drinking coffee and you feel bad about it you don’t need to. If you are drinking energy drinks instead of coffee, it’s probably better to drink coffee. Kris, what do you think of that?
Kris: Yes, I totally agree.
Jonathan: Alright love it, love it. Next thing I want to talk about Kris, let’s stay in the beverage arena. This is one that I get fired up about and this is a beverage that we’re told is healthy and in fact we feed it to our children continuously on the pretense that it’s healthy but the research suggests otherwise. That is fruit juices. Talk to us about fruit juices.
Kris: Like you said fruit juices are commonly considered healthy, but they really aren’t. In my opinion fruits are fine and can be consumed as part of a healthy diet but the fruit juice contains all of the harmful things of the fruit and leaves out all of the good stuff. Real whole fruits have water, fiber and they have significant chewing resistance so it’s really hard to over eat on them and they contain vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and other stuff that is good for you.
Fruit juices are just water with the sugar from the fruit basically. There’s a little bit of vitamin C in there but the harmful effects of the sugar out weigh any benefit you will get from small amounts of vitamin C.
Jonathan: Kris one thing I’ve noticed is absolutely 100 percent in agreement with what you said and there is some good news here and that is if you just love fruit juice, let’s say you love drinking orange juice with your breakfast. My thought would be get a blender, ideally a really good blender like a Vitamix or a Blendtech, not because I own stock in those companies because I don’t, but because I just really enjoy my Vitamix.
Throw a whole orange, obviously peal it, put an orange in there, put some water in there, blend it up, throw some ice cubes in there and now you have the whole fruit with all of the fiber, all of that stuff and you’ve got “juice”. If you use a good blender it’s just going to be juicy it’s not going to be pulpy and disgusting. What do you think about that?
Kris: Yeah I agree, that’s a great idea.
Jonathan: I would certainly recommend that above a juicer, they are not the same thing. A juicer is going to take all of the fiber out and it’s going to move you closer to just drinking that concentrated sugar water. Again if we are fans of whole food, if you blend up a whole food, it’s still a whole food. Just like if you cut up a steak it’s not like the act of breaking it into smaller pieces makes it no longer a whole food. If you want to liquefy stuff use a good blender not a juicer. Would you agree Kris?
Kris: Yes, I totally agree with that.
Jonathan: Well the next one Kris I am intentionally going to have to sit on my hands here a little bit because this is one that I get super pumped about. That is this healthy diabetic friendly sugar alternative which is all natural, Kris, it’s all natural so it’s got to be good for us. Agave nectar, what do you think about agave nectar?
Kris: Yes well in my opinion agave nectar is not at all healthy to begin with. Like you say it’s a sweetener, so called diabetic friendly sweetener often used to replace sugar in so called health foods. On paper there are some good things about it. It’s sweeter than sugar, it has lower glycemic index and as you say, it’s natural, but that does not make it healthy. Not everything natural is healthy.
Jonathan: Tobacco is natural, is it not?
Kris: Yes it’s very natural and it’s very bad for you. The bad part of regular sugar is the excessive amounts of fructose we get if we eat a lot of added sugar and the problem with agave is that it contains even more fructose than regular table sugar. All the evils of sugar also apply to agave and if anything agave is even worse gram for gram.
Jonathan: I love what you say about gram for gram because lets even talk about high fructose corn syrup. People – and they should absolutely freak out about high fructose corn syrup, not good at all, poison, stay away from it. One of the reasons we don’t like high fructose corn syrup is because of the high amount of fructose in it. The amount of fructose in terms of percentage in agave is nearly double the amount of fructose in terms of percentage, gram for gram, as you find in high fructose corn syrup folks.
Everything that makes you want to steer away from high fructose corn syrup – and don’t let this whole it’s got vitamins in it. If you were to ground up a vitamin pill and mix it with high fructose corn syrup that doesn’t make it good for you. Fructose not good therefor agave not good. Kris what do you think?
Kris: Yes, I totally agree.
Jonathan: Okay next on the list Kris is one thing that I think we’ve all heard about but I’m not sure people fully understand why it’s so good for them and that’s these Omega-3 fats we find in a lot of seafood and also in some plants such as flaxseeds and chai seeds. What is it about Omega-3 that’s so good for us?
Kris: Well humans can only produce unsaturated fats on their own, but the polyunsaturated fats we need to get from the diet and there are two types of these fats. There are the Omega-3 and the Omega-6, also known as essential fatty acids. The thing with western diets is that most people are eating way too little Omega-3 and way too many Omega-6. These fatty acids need to be eaten in a certain balance to regulate inflammation.
Too much inflammation is a leading cause of many chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer to name two of the biggest killers. In my opinion most people probably need to increase their Omega-3 intake. Preferably from fatty fish or grass feed pasteurized animals. They should be avoiding the vegetable oils like soy bean and corn oil which are the biggest sources of Omega-6.
There needs to be a balance between these two essential fatty acid types. There is Omega-3 and Omega-6. We are eating way too much Omega-6, we need to cut back and increase Omega-3 instead.
Jonathan: Kris, you explicitly mention focusing on the grass fed, hormone free, humanely raised animal products such as beef as well as especially seafood. Why is that focusing on those sources for Omega-3 is more beneficial then let’s say a flax seed or chia seed which are still good but maybe secondary?
Kris: Well these plant sources of Omega-3s they contain a fatty acid contain alpha linolenic acid or ALA. The active Omega-3s in the body that the human body needs to convert the ALA into these active forms called DHA and EPA. The problem is that humans don’t efficiently convert these two types of Omega-3 fatty acids. In animals and fish we get the active compounds directly, the EPA and DHA. There more of a direct source of the fatty acids we need. The plant sources are more of a secondary source that we need to convert into the primary Omega-3s. If that makes any sense.
Jonathan: It makes absolute sense Kris. The key thing to keep in mind folks is that part of the reason Kris described this so elegantly that we need to focus on the Omega-3s is because of this imbalance we have. Also it’s very difficult unless you live in a coastal city where you just eat fish all the time to get Omega-3s. You’re not just going to accidentally especially in the standard American diet. The standard American diet will literally contain zero or close to zero Omega-3s.
If you’re eating corn feed animals, if you’re not eating any vegetables, if you’re not eating any flaxseed or chia seeds, which let’s be honest, 90 percent of our population doesn’t even know what those things are, there are very few foods that contain Omega-3s or contain them in relevant amounts. This is why we have to focus on it so much because unless we go out of our way you are not going to accidentally or inadvertently consume Omega-3s. Even if you consume fish, like if you consume non-fatty fish there are not a lot of Omega-3s in them.
There’s very few foods, we are talking about fatty fish, samon, sardines, things like that. Certain plant’s; chia and flax, and then really high quality grass fed beef. Other than that you’re not getting any Omega-3s so that’s why we got to go out of our way. What do you think Kris?
Kris: Yes, I totally agree. There is one good source I’d like to add. It’s more of a supplement, its cod fish liver oil. One tablespoon contains your daily requirements of Omega-3s but it also supplies vitamin D3 which is another nutrient that most people are missing out on. If people can’t afford a lot of grass fed animal products or fatty fish then having a tablespoon of this cod fish liver oil once per day should be enough. As long as they avoid the vegetable oils and all that stuff. Just for people who can’t afford the grass fed stuff, the good stuff.
Jonathan: I love it and in fact bringing up the issue of cost I really appreciate you approaching that subject. If you do research on the internet or you go to a supplement store and you look for cod liver oil you will probably also find results for just fish oil. I’ve noticed that just buying a fish oil supplement is significantly less expensive in certain cases than buying a cod liver oil supplement. What are your thoughts on those two different things and is the cost benefit there?
Kris: Well I haven’t actually looked very deeply into the difference between regular fish oil and cod fish liver oil, but I am pretty sure fish oil doesn’t contain this natural amount of vitamin D3, which is one of the main reasons cod fish liver oil is so beneficial. If the fish oil has vitamin D3 added, if it’s much cheaper than it might be just as good of an Omega-3 source.
Jonathan: Excellent, excellent. The last thing – then I have more political things I wanted to get into. Talking about your hometown of Iceland which is certainly some interesting subjects I want to get into but before we get there Kris, let’s talk about vegetables. For me at least in my research and my personal experience in working with individuals, the average American consumes one serving of vegetables. One. That’s probably coming from ketchup.
If we can increase the amount of non-starchy vegetables in our diet even upwards to double digit, the profound health benefits seem to outweigh almost everything else that’s discussed in the nutritional community. Vegetables don’t seem to get that air time. It seems like there is so much air time dedicated to everything except eating enough vegetables. What do you think about vegetables? What has your research shown?
Kris: I think maybe one of the reasons they don’t get that much air time is because they are not controversial. It’s something that everybody agrees on that vegetables are so crucially important. In my opinion their just necessary components of a healthy diet. They contain lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and they’re very low in calories. The more you eat in vegetables the less you are going to eat of other foods that are energy dense.
The research on vegetables is mostly observational but eating vegetables is strongly associated with a lower risks of all sorts of diseases and it may even make you live longer if the observational studies are true and I think they are in this case.
Jonathan: Kris certainly while most of these studies are observational we do have a lot of clinical data, correct me if I’m wrong, showing that the essential vitamins and minerals that we do find in vegetables, like we do have plenty of hard data showing that those are good. It would stand to reason that if we have clinical research that showing those essential vitamins and minerals are good and then we find these food sources that contain those essential vitamins and minerals in super, super concentrated amounts that those are good for us.
Kris: Yes, absolutely. In my opinion we should get these nutrients from real foods instead of supplements.
Jonathan: I love it, I love it. Now Kris now I want to shift a little bit and talk about your wonderful hometown of Iceland. You have one of the more progressive and comprehensive healthcare systems in the world and I’m curious as to what you are seeing with obesity and diabetes in your country and is Iceland taking a different approach to it than let’s say in America or Great Brittan? How does that work in your country?
Kris: It’s not working that well to be honest. We also have an obesity epidemic and a diabetes epidemic it’s just we’re maybe ten years behind the United States. The food system in Iceland is not as bad in the US, but we do have the same fast food places. We have McDonalds and a Dominos and all those fast food places. People are getting sick here too it’s just, we’re just not getting sick as fast as the US.
We certainly have a good healthcare system here, but the same as in any other countries it’s mostly about treating people who are sick, it’s not about prevention unfortunately.
Jonathan: Do you see the same – you mentioned that it’s still happening but about ten years behind the US, are you starting to see a similar message of Dominos and McDonalds is okay, just in moderation. Because right it’s just – obviously I don’t believe this, but it’s just about calories. If you eat 14,000 calories a day of McDonalds and Dominos you’re okay because you’re eating less, right?
Kris: We have the same myths in Iceland as we do in the US, the same dietary myths. There is a big shift going on in Iceland, people are moving towards real foods and they are realizing that it’s not just about the calories it’s about the quality of the food.
Jonathan: Excellent. Well Kris what do your – so you are a medical student, what do your professors who when they went through medical school were taught something very different than the research your discussing on your website and we are talking about here. Even your fellow students, what do they think about all this research that you’ve dug up? Do you bring it up in class? How does that work?
Kris: Well I have brought it up in class. We have a nutrition class, it was actually apart of a biochemistry class. We did some lectures on nutrition and I did bring up what I thought the teacher was saying that wasn’t true, but they are still teaching the same stuff they have been teaching for the past few decades. The same nutrition knowledge. I think some of the professors agree with me and some of the students, but others just think I’m a nutcase I think.
Jonathan: What do they – because Kris in your defense you’re not just saying things. I would imagine you’re saying “Hey professor such and such I read these three studies. They show very clearly that what we covered in class yesterday is wrong.” Do they just say oh those studies are wrong? How do they even respond to that?
Kris: In my opinion my professors at my school are very open minded and they’re always willing to discuss these studies. The teacher that was teaching us about nutrition said this are the materials she needs to teach because this is what the government recommends and it’s also what it says in the books we are reading. I think they are open minded, but they still don’t want to go against the grain in these matters.
Jonathan: Kris what motivates you to go against that grain? Just looking forward a bit of a personal question, obviously you are in medical school, so what in terms of your professional ambitions what is your end goal? What is your five to ten year plan here?
Kris: I honestly don’t know. I just want to finish med school and get my MD. I want to continue blogging, I have no idea where this is going to go. After I graduate I might just go and write books or something, but I honestly don’t know. I don’t plan very far ahead in the future.
Jonathan: I love it. Well certainly the direction you’re pointing is a promising one and you are getting great information out there and you are helping people. So really certainly appreciate that and hats off to you because I know this is got to take a lot of time, I know from personal experience. You’re also in medical school so I’m applauding over here, I don’t know if you can hear that in the background but I appreciate all the good work Kris.
Kris: Thanks a lot.
Jonathan: Folks if you want to learn more about Kris, I would highly recommend his website truly. It lives up to its name which is authoritynutrition.com, all one word. Authoritynutrition.com. Just a wonderful site, lots of research and super easy to digest. Kris is really making health and slim simple and scientific which you know we love. Kris thank you so much for joining us today.
Kris: Thank for having me, I appreciate it.
Jonathan: Listeners I hope you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did. Remember this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter and live better. Talk to you soon.