Dr. Barry Sears
Jonathan: Hey, everyone. Jonathan Bailor back. Today is a day to celebrate, folks, because we are joined with one of the most influential people – forget about in my life, when it comes to health and fitness – but just in the national scene, really ever! We have a man who needs very little introduction, so I’m going to give him very little because his work speaks for itself. We have the inventor of the Zone Diet, Dr. Barry Sears. Literally, one of the top diets ever created! Dr. Sears, welcome to the show!
Barry: Jonathan, thank you very much.
Jonathan: Barry, right off the bat. I want to say that there was a moment in my life where your work literally caused an epiphany and that was a read text from you, which I’m going to paraphrase here, that said – ‘Once you stop seeing food as a source of calories and start seeing it as a control system for your hormones, you will be able to change your life in ways you never imagine.’ I hope I didn’t butcher that too badly, but that literally flipped a switch in my brain that changed almost everything about my personal and professional life.
Barry: Well, in many ways, you’re right. I may have been a little too wordy in my original format – because it’s really a tipping point. There’s a tipping point where it says, “I get it!” Basically, that light bulb goes off and says, “I got it!” This is an incredibly powerful drug. If I use it correctly, I could basically squeeze all I possibly can out of my genes. That’s all we ask for.
Jonathan: Even there, Barry – the way you stated that. It’s important for people to really hear that because what you said was ‘food is a drug’ and it is! It is the most affordable and widespread and, dare I say, effective ‘drug’ at preventing and treating these chronic conditions that are killing so many of us, right?
Barry: Well, in many ways, saying food is a drug is really derogatory to food because food affects hormones, and hormones are a hundred times more powerful than any drug. So, in many ways, the food we eat may be the most powerful drug you’ll ever encounter, but the door swings both ways. Food can be your greatest ally in life, it could be your worst enemy. The rules – the hormonal rules – that govern that door have not changed in forty million years and probably unlikely to change tomorrow.
Jonathan: Dr. Sears, what is your observation? Certainly, you are one of the leaders and one of the first people to say this message and if you look in the diet and nutrition exercise scene, hormones are the bees’ knees now. Everyone’s talking about it. What have you seen that has made you happy, in terms of the increased visibility hormones are receiving, and what’s made you disappointed maybe in the direction we’ve taken the conversation?
Barry: Well, I know what’s made me happy are people are talking about hormones and talking about the whole concept of inflammation. Unfortunately, we’ve had, what I call, is the Dr. Oz effect. We’ve taken some very complex arguments and have basically tried to dumb them down so much that they’ve lost their potential impact. It’s really just a constant educational aspect. Good, you’re talking about hormones; good, you’re talking about inflammation; but let’s make sure we’re talking about it in the correct format because otherwise we basically get into really a tower of battle which ends up meeting nothing.
Jonathan: What is that correct format and how have we strayed from it?
Barry: Well, again, if you ask most people who write diet books and mention the word ‘inflammation.’ You ask them, “What’s inflammation?” They say, “It’s bad.” Well, I like to get a little more detail than just saying it’s bad because we need a zone on inflammation. If we have too little in our bodies, we’re sitting duck for microbes; our injuries would never heal. If we have too much of an inflammatory response, our body begins attacking itself. We need a zone of inflammation. That’s one of the problems I get when I talk about the Zone Diet. They’ll say, “Oh, it’s a diet.” No. The Zone is really a physiological place in your body you can measure. It’s like the top of the mountain. There’s only one mountaintop. There are many pathways to get to the top of the mountain; some are hard, some are easy. What you’re trying to find is the best pathway with the least stress on you to get to the top of the mountain and stay there as long as possible.
Jonathan: When you say ‘the zone’, that definitely resonates with me and my research, my professional work, in the sense that when you’re in the zone – if I’m understanding correctly – your body is pursuing health. Like, it is actively working – for lack of better terms – to keep you disease-free and to keep you from storing excess fat because that is the desired state to perpetuate life, which is the desired state of the body. Is that fair?
Barry: That’s a fair statement. In that zone, life becomes a lot easier. Outside the zone, life becomes a lot harder. If your diet is driving you outside that zone, you’re going to get fat, you’re going to get sicker, you’re going to age faster. Think of that zone as an athlete. An athlete says, “I’m in the zone.” What does that mean? It means that he’s playing baseball, that 90-mile-an-hour fastball looks like a beach ball coming off the plate. This is easy. So, basically, everything begins to slow down and make perfect sense; but once you get out of that zone, everything speeds up and life seems to be very, very chaotic and we gain weight. “But I’m working out, why am I getting fatter?” Or, “I think I’m eating healthy. Why am I getting sicker?” or “Why am I aging faster?” The theories are basically [Indiscernible 06:06]; but in reality, we’ve let ourselves get out of that zone because we didn’t have a good definition of what it was and how to stay there as long as possible.
Jonathan: I love the baseball player analogy where the 90-mile-an-hour fastball starts to look like it’s coming at you in slow motion because my own experience in working with individuals is when they move into a higher-quality style of eating and a more hormonally-healthy style of eating as well as a hormonally impactful form of exercise. That which was a struggle for their entire life – and maybe they had some success, maybe they temporarily slimed down and maybe they temporarily saw some benefits – but it just happens and it stays that way and with such ease! It’s as if the body is working with them, rather than fighting against them, and that seems like that is really that slow motion of that baseball when that body starts to work with you rather than fight against you.
Barry: It’s like swimming upstream or swimming downstream; one way is easy, one way is hard. The body is designed to work with great efficiency, but you have to give it the right tools. It’s like, let’s say, you’re a master carpenter and I ask you to build me a Louis XIV chair. You say, “No problem.” Then I give you a hammer and say, “This is all you’ve got.” You say, “You’ve got to be kidding!” Because no matter how good a master carpenter you are, you’re not going to build that Louis XIV chair. You need more tools and you have to understand how those tools work. Once you do, let’s say, “This is easy. I can do this.” That’s really the operational phrase. People have to be given a rhythm or reason, not to say ‘believe me’.
Like President Reagan said many years ago, “Trust, but always verify.” I like people that trust me and I’m sure you like to have people trust you, but how do you verify that it’s working? Here’s the simplest way. If you’re eating in the zone, you’re never hungry. Well, that’s not quite the high-tech definition, but in reality, it’s a high-tech consequence of some very complex things taking place in your body. It’s controlling inflammation in the brain, particularly in the hypothalamus that controls hunger. It’s controlling the blood sugar levels. It’s controlling the levels of inflammation. If you have one watch, you have a very, very good diagnostic tool to tell you if you’re in the zone. Now, you can go in greater detail, but most Americans, if you ask them, “How long before you get hungry after eating a meal?” Usually it’s about two hours. If you get to five, then however you balanced that plate to get to five, now you’re on your pathway to getting into that zone and staying there forever.
Jonathan: What are those tools? Barry, the analogy of creating that wonderful chair and all we had was a hammer, it’s going to be a challenge – what are the tools we need and how do we use them?
Barry: Well, there are three tools you need. The first tool is one hand. The second tool is one eye. The third tool is one watch that works. Now, here’s how you need to do it. At each meal, divide your plate into three equal sections. How do you do that? You use your eye. On one-third of that plate, you put some low-fat protein. How much? The amount you could put on the palm of a hand. Now, I’m 6’5”, so my palms will be bigger than most, so I can have a little more protein – not a lot, but a little more. What about the other two-thirds of the plate? You fill it full of colorful carbohydrates. They’re called fruits and vegetables. Finally, you add a dash – that’s a small amount – put a dash of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, low in omega-6 fats and low unsaturated fats – things like olive oil or guacamole or slivered almonds. That’s it! Now, how do you know it’s working? You look at your watch. If you’re not hungry five hours after eating that meal and you have peak mental acuity, you know the meal you ate five hours ago was the correct balance for your hormones and your biochemistry.
So what you’re looking to do is, we only really eat maybe ten different meals in our entire life – two different breakfasts, three different lunches, five different dinners. You just keep adjusting those meals you like to eat, using those simple rules, and now you have ten hormonal-winning meals that you can follow throughout your life and say, “I can maintain myself in the zone.” What will be the benefits? I lose not just weight. Losing weight’s easy. Cut off your left arm – there goes 15 lbs right off there! No, it’s losing excess body fat. It’s a slow process. No matter what Dr. Oz says, you’re not going to lose 15 lbs of body fat in three days’ time. You can lose a lot of water, you can lose a lot of muscle mass, but you’re not going to lose a lot of fat. It’s a slow process. Better health. Better health is a lifelong struggle. You’re struggling against excess inflammation. And if you’re successful, you’ll slow down the aging process.
So, “What’s in it for me?” You’re going to lose fat, become more well, and age at a slower rate. Now, “how do you do that?” “It feels like scienceschmience. I don’t care. Just give me the bottom line.” Okay, if you have the one hand, the one eye, and the one watch, you can do it, if these are things which are important to you. If not, eat whatever you want to and hope that God gave you good genes because some of us do. Some people can eat all of the carbohydrates they want, they can drink a fifth of Scotch every day, smoke five packs of cigarettes, and they do okay. But most of us are not going to be lucky and if we aren’t, then basically we have to watch what our food intake is with the same degree of vigilance we would in terms of taking a drug. You take it at the right dosage at the right time and if you do, you get the right results.
Jonathan: I love it, Barry! What have you seen, in terms of your work now, around inflammation? You’re very, very focused on the subject of inflammation. In fact, you have a whole non-profit called The Inflammation Research Foundation and, as you said, often times if you ask someone, “What is inflammation?” The answer is ‘the thing that I should avoid.’ It’s just like another word for ‘bad’. How can a lay individual understand inflammation, understand why excess inflammation is to be avoided, and what we can do to stay in the proper zone?
Barry: That’s why the whole key of the zone really goes around the concept of keeping inflammation under control. It’s really mastering inflammation. You want to have enough there that when bad things happen to you, like you get invaded by microbes or you twist an ankle, you can call upon your reserves to call out the dogs of war, but you want to have the ability to call back the dogs of war. If we don’t, then the inflammation goes untethered and we start destroying normal tissue. So this yin and yang of inflammation is really one of the great mysteries of modern medicine. Yet, we can control it to a great extent.
Your diet is your primary tool, but you have two other anti-inflammatory supplements to add to your tool kit – one would be omega-3 fatty acids; because it’s omega-6 fatty acids that drive inflammation. It’s omega-3 fatty acids that control inflammation. You need them in balance. The other is poly-phenols. These are the chemicals that give fruits and vegetables their color. Why are poly-phenols important? Because at low concentrations, they are excellent anti-oxidants; at higher concentrations, they’re very good anti-inflammatories; and at still higher levels, they slow down the aging process. Now, much of their work is not done in the bloodstream, but in your gut. We like to think ourselves as a human being who is pristine, but in reality, we have ten times more bacteria in our gut than we have cells in our body. To control the bacteria in our gut, we need those poly-phenols. If they’re not in high enough concentrations, what you have is basically a really sleeping giant of inflammation ready to find a hole in the armor in your gut to get in the bloodstream and when it does, you’ve got some real problems.
Jonathan: Poly-phenols, you mentioned. Certainly, I’m a big, big fan. What are your thoughts on green tea to help boost our poly-phenol intake?
Barry: Well, it will, but you’ve got to drink a lot of green tea. We could look at just the anti-oxidant. At the lowest levels, the poly-phenols are anti-oxidants. Ideally, you’d like to get about 20,000, what are called, ORAC units per day. That means, eating about 2 lbs of vegetables. Already, most people are saying, “Whoa, whoa! Say what now? 2 lbs of vegetables! I can’t do it.” The answer is ‘yes, you can’. “What if I drink poly-phenols? Or if I basically drink green tea?” Okay. How many glasses of green tea do I have to drink every day to get 20,000 ORAC units? About 40 cups! Now, I drink a lot of green tea, but I tell you, I don’t drink 40 cups of green tea! There are other aspects that allow us to concentrate these poly-phenols.
One turns out to be red wine. Okay, a glass of red wine. There are two things to red wine, there’s the alcohol – and to-date, no one’s demonstrated the medical benefits of vodka. I’m sure there are some, but I can’t figure them out – but what the alcohol does is to extract out the poly-phenols more effectively from the grapes. So, one glass of red wine has about 5,000 ORAC units. So, you do a quick calculation and say, “I got it! If I drink a bottle of red wine per day, I’ll get 20,000 ORAC units.” Your mathematics are impeccable! However, the extra alcohol is going to overwhelm all the benefits of those ORAC units. So, you basically try to find mixtures. I can’t eat 2 lbs of vegetables per day. Okay, how about 1 lbs and maybe one glass of red wine and maybe one piece of fruit? All of a sudden, you’re there!
Jonathan: Yeah, it’s that combination that I find to be extremely effective and I know, even personally for me – I personally don’t drink alcohol, not because I’m against it, but I just never started so I don’t need to now – and for green tea – I do very much enjoy that and I have found it to be very helpful to brew many bags of green tea in a small glass of water. Of course, decaffeinate it, but, Dr. Sears, I’ll put anywhere from ten bags of green tea in 10 oz. of water, cold brew it overnight, drink it in the morning with my breakfast, and certainly I’m not peeing all day – for lack of better terms.
Barry: But the trouble of poly-phenols is they’re very bitter and that basically separates the men from the boys. That’s why they add sugar to the tea or they ferment the tea and turn it from green tea to black tea – it’s not as bitter, but you’ve destroyed most of the poly-phenols. These poly-phenols are very, very susceptible to fermentation, to heat, to processing. Another source of poly-phenols people love to hear about are chocolate. Well, yes, in the cacao beans, the poly-phenols are very rich, but by the time you begin to ferment the chocolate and you roast the chocolate and then make a chocolate bar, the poly-phenols that you’re getting are maybe one-tenth of what they were.
The same is true of coffee. Most Americans get their poly-phenols from coffee. Nobody drinks green coffee because it’s just too God-awful, but they drink the dark roast coffee at Starbucks. By the time you’ve roasted it and fermented it, most of the poly-phenols have been destroyed. So again, these are supplements I can use and the omega-3 fatty acids – they all work at different parts of the pathway. That’s why I like to get that 20,000 ORAC units because at those levels, the poly-phenols begin to activate at a key enzyme called AMP kinase. This really can be viewed as the enzyme of life. If you’re going to activate this enzyme, it slows down the aging process. So you pick out the level of what you want out of life. You want to basically slow down the aging process a little, more, or a lot, and that will tell you exactly how many poly-phenols you need in the course of a day.
Jonathan: Well, this is great news for me, Dr. Sears! I’m certainly a fan of the green smoothie, so I try to do my green, leafy vegetables. I think I’m probably at a couple of pounds. I’ve got my green tea. I do my un-Dutched cocoa and a lot of my healthy zone-friendly type desserts and before and after workouts, I try to enjoy some berries, and I think that might put me up in the upper echelons of some ORAC units.
Barry: Exactly. On that part of the equation, you’ve done an excellent job. Then, you have to work on the omega-3 question. What we’ve had in the last hundred years – last century – has been a radical alteration of the human diet where omega-6 fatty acids, which are a very minor component, have now become the primary source of calories on a worldwide basis because of the cheapest source of calories. With that, there has been a corresponding drop in omega-3 fatty acids. Now, what this means, you’ve done everything in your power to increase inflammation. So, adding back omega-3 fatty acids basically makes perfect anti-inflammatory sense if you add back a therapeutic dose. What’s a therapeutic dose? It turns out it’s a lot more than anybody anticipates and that’s a lot of work we do at the Inflammation Research Foundation – doing clinical studies with high-dose omega-3 fatty acids to treat and reverse some pretty nasty diseases like severe brain trauma.
This is the one when you get knocked out, you go comatose, they wheel you back to the hospital and then you hope you die. It turns out – and we published this – that when you give high doses of omega-3 fatty acids, you can bring these people back because you have to put out the fire in the brain. The same is true of virtually every chronic disease. We can view obesity as basically, your fat’s on fire. Heart disease – your heart cells are on fire. Cancer – your immune system’s on fire. Diabetes – your pancreas is on fire. Neurological disorders – your brain’s on fire. Put out the fire, give that body a chance to heal itself, it will. But it’s very hard to heal itself if the fire is constantly burning and so one of the best ways to do that is again, a high dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
Now, unlike the poly-phenols where it’s virtually impossible to overdose on them, can you take too many omega-3 fatty acids? Yes, you can. Can you take too few? Yes, you can. How do you know? Now we use science. Basically there’s a blood test – a ratio to fatty acids in the blood. Actually, we have a website called Zone Diagnostics that allows you to measure that using just a finger stick method in your own home. If you send it off to a laboratory, when you get back that data, that becomes now the most important tool you’ll ever have. It’ll tell you one; how inflamed you are and which direction you have to work in to either lower architectonic acid by following the zone diet or increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids and probably, ideally, both.
Jonathan: When you say increasing the intake, certainly, let’s talk a bit about the dose, but we also need to talk about the form because there are chia and flax seeds which are providing us with the ALA, but then we get the EPA and the DHA, which my understanding is much more biologically available to us from primarily animal sources.
Barry: That’s correct. We want to believe we can use vegetable sources like chia or flax seeds, but they contain short-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, they have virtually zero anti-inflammatory effects until they are basically transformed in the body to the longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids we found in fish and fish oils. Unfortunately, this is a very slow and inefficient process, so if I want to take flax seed oil, I have to plan to take about ten to fifty times the volume of flax seed oil to get the same benefits of the same volume of fish oil. All of a sudden that’s a lot of flax seed oil. Then we have a problem that all fish oils, because all fish, are contaminated. Getting those contaminants out is really a big problem and one that basically when you go to the health food store or a Cosco or Walmart, I guarantee you the problem has not been solved. It can be solved, but if you’re not taking omega-3 fatty acids, the last thing you want to be taking in at the same time are these toxins known as PCBs because these are like the Roach Motel – once they check in your body, they’re not checking out.
Jonathan: So where do we look for our omega-3s? Certainly, I’m a huge fan of wild caught salmon. Are we looking for other wild caught fatty fish like that?
Barry: Ideally. But it doesn’t matter how wild they are or how pristine the waters, they’re all contaminated PCBs. So, are fish oils a potential solution? Yes, they are. Here’s a simple test – not the perfect test, but a simple test. Take some fish oil you might have at your house, break open four or five capsules, put the oil into a shot glass, put the shot glass into your freezer, and then come back five hours later with a toothpick. If you can push the toothpick through the fish oil, meaning it’s not frozen solid, it might be okay. On the other hand, if you can’t push the toothpick through the fish oil, means it’s frozen solid, you’re taking the sewer out of the sea and you know it’s rich in PCBs. Now, by that criteria, about 99.4% of all fish oils fail.
Jonathan: So, certainly we’ve got to find the right form of fish oil, but also in terms of dose, I’ve always been curious when you look at – again, for the reasons you’ve enumerated – these capsules you may find at a common retailer are not ideal from a quality perspective, but also from a quantity perspective. They celebrate the fact that you’re taking in 250 mg of EPA and 250 mg of DHA. That seems like a very small amount of these therapeutic fats. How much should we be taking in?
Barry: Well, your grandmother knew because she gave up at least a minimum dosage to your parents when she gave them a tablespoon of cod liver oil. The world’s most disgusting food, but it contains 2.5 g of omega-3 fatty acids – that’s 2500 mg. That, to me, is a minimum dose for basically trying to maintain health. Let’s say you’re already inflamed. You’re fat, you have heart disease or diabetes. Plan to double that dosage. Let’s say even a higher level of inflammation – let’s say, you have arthritis – still higher. Once the inflammation is inside the brain, you have multiple sclerosis and you’ve got depression, ADHD, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s…. You’ve got still higher levels. These are high levels. Make no mistake about it, but they’re therapeutic levels and that’s why the purity of fish oil becomes so important.
Here’s a little ugly secret about natural products. They do work, but they basically are not as concentrated, so the amounts you need to get a therapeutic effect are often times quite high – 20,000 ORAC units; that’s 2 lbs of vegetables. “Can I take a pill?” No, you can’t. “Can I take a bottle of wine?” Yeah, you can, but there are some problems there. You get back to it. It’s a little working effort, but the therapeutic index – that is, basically the therapy divided by the toxicity – is virtually approaching infinite. But, do you have to take a therapeutic dosage? Just like a drug?
Jonathan: It makes a lot of sense. So it sounds like, not only with our poly-phenols, but also with our omega-3s, it’s often a good idea to take a mulch-pronged approach, ensuring we’re eating our, ideally as pristine as possible, fatty fish, ensuring we’re taking maybe a cod liver oil or some sort of omega-3 supplement, also maybe enjoying some flax and chia seeds. Certainly, if we’re using those in place of starches, that would seem like it would be a beneficial approach. What about that combination approach there?
Barry: Moderation has also been key. I’m not real big on flax seed oil, but I love flax seeds and I love chia seeds because they contain ligands which has some very, very nice biochemical properties, so they’re great to sprinkle on virtually every food.
Jonathan: I love it, I love it! Dr. Sears, truly I could talk with you for days and I’d love to have you back on the show, but one last thing that I wanted to talk about more was, you mentioned the gut and you mentioned all of these bacteria that we have in the gut. You also mentioned inflammation in the brain and it seems like every week there’s new amazing research coming out between the hypothalamic and gut regulatory system of not only our blood sugar, but really everything associated with the metabolic syndrome – the regulation of our body fat stores, leptin sensitivity, insulin sensitivity. At the same time, Dr. Sears, we still hear ‘just eat less’. Clearly what we’re talking about here is actually eating more, but doing that smarter. It’s eating pounds of vegetables, it’s eating lots of delicious fish and flax seeds, but we’re told ‘just eat less’. That seems to be the exact opposite of what we should do?
Barry: It is. Usually it’s primarily focused on the overweight person – eat less and exercise more. As if they said, “Wow! I’d never thought about that!” Of course they have. They’ve tried to do that but, again, what happens, why they’re always hungry, is because there’s a breakdown between our two brains. We have two brains – the nice white one up in the top of our head that looks really smart and the second brain is our gut, which is slimy, stinky, and smells. These two brains are in constant communication and if they’re talking to each other effectively, then you won’t have these problems, but what disturbs the communication? Increased inflammation. So this is why gut health – keeping the inflammation down in your gut becomes so important to keeping inflammation in the brain down and inflammation in the rest of the body down. Again, we’re going back to things that your grandmother said. Who knew she’s at the cutting edge of biotechnology?
Jonathan: I knew she was a smart woman!
Barry: But she was basically the repository of 20 millennial of observations of how we eat and how that affects our health. We basically have gotten away from that. Now, new breakthroughs in biotechnology have told us, saying, “That ancient wisdom was well founded.” Only now that we have the technology, we say, “Oh my God!” What we eat has such an important effect on keeping inflammation down so each of our hundred trillion cells in our body can now talk more effectively and if they do, we live longer, we live better.
Jonathan: Dr. Sears, I love it! Both personally and professionally, I thank you for all the work you’ve done for decades and decades and continue to do. It’s certainly helped me and I know it’s helped the lives of millions and I just think it’s so encouraging to promote a message of ‘heal the body’ and then allow the body to homeostatically perpetuate health as it might be perpetuating disease right now. We certainly all understand just how powerful the body’s ‘preferences’ are by looking at the fact of how much we struggle with obesity and diabetes and to think that we could take that same system and by keeping it in the zone, as you call it, we can actually make it work for us rather than against us.
Barry: Exactly. Put out the fire and basically the body will heal itself. Again, if the fire’s not put out, it’s spreading into the wind.
Jonathan: Folks, his name is Dr. Barry Sears. You’ve undoubtedly heard about him before. He is the founder of the Zone Diet and if you haven’t read one of his 12 – I believe – books, you can certainly get them and a lot more information at DrSears.com, which is going to be a bit more scientifically focused. Again, that’s DrSears.com. Also, from ZoneDiet.com, which is going to be a bit more product focused. So, Dr. Sears, thank you again for joining us. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Barry: Jonathan, my pleasure!
Jonathan: Folks, 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.