Most of us not lucky enough to be effortlessly energetic, limber, svelte and strong spend more than a little time looking for solutions. We talk to our doctors and our naturopathic doctors, we read. We’re familiar with the cacophony of health advice out there: Exercise more, exercise less. Sleep more, sleep less. Load up on complex carbohydrates, avoid carbohydrates. Go vegetarian or vegan, go Paleo. Avoid fats, all kinds, or maybe just the saturated ones, or maybe just the vegetable oils. Or go nuts on them. Go raw only, go slow-cooked only. Or—and perhaps least helpful to some of us—eat according to the Canada Food Guide, which for me, low fat and high carb that it is, means choosing between weight gain or portions about the size of a teaspoon.
All I’ve ever been after is to feel good, have energy, and fit into my jeans from one year to the next. And I refuse to accept that it isn’t possible to identify the root of, and correct, faulty metabolism.
My newest rays of hope have come from a source with ideas so unusual—and material as much fun to read as a science textbook—that I’ve mostly shied away in the past: Ray Peat, the man behind the science that prompted Dr. John Lee’s now well-known writings on hormone balance.
He doesn’t actually give advice, just puts the science out there. But if food can be medicine, and his overview of the science reflects truth, some of what his work might suggest to correct my currently impaired metabolism is the following.
1) Eat bone broth—for the gelatin and collagen. It offers up an amino acid profile high in glycine, which heals and boosts metabolism, and—bonus for me right now—also reduces stress hormones, improves mood, improves immune function, reduces inflammation, heals neurological damage, and protects against cancer. I’m after all of the above.
So far, so good. It’s easy to make, tastes good, and my doctor recommends it too. And for those not into making their own, there’s always commercial gelatin.
2) Eat more of the tougher cuts of meat that need stewing—again, the amino acids found in foods prepared with the connective tissues, skin and bones balance out the ones found in the more commonly-eaten muscle meats, which are high in proteins that have an inflammatory, anti-thyroid and metabolism-slowing effect. No problem; I know how to make a decent stew.
3) Use coconut oil, eggs, and cheese. Saturated fat and all. For the protein, and for the anti-inflammatory properties of saturated fat, among other things.
4) Keep starchy foods to a minimum, and, except for olive oil, avoid vegetable oils completely. So far, still not all that outrageous, not since Gary Taubes brought us Good Calories, Bad Calories.
5) Drink a little coffee, not too much, and only with food, or at least cream and sugar to keep the stress response down. Drink it for its mood-elevating, pro-liver and anti-oxidant properties, and myriad others too numerous to list here.
6) Let your taste buds determine your salt intake—for it’s anti-stress properties, and the role it plays in regulating serotonin and stress hormones.
And here’s the best part—or, to the carb-sensitive weight-watcher, the most terrifying.
7) Have fruit or sugar with your meals—to improve digestion, and to help with the conversion of thyroid hormones, which requires glucose. Oh, and to stimulate glucuronic acid, which helps clear estrogen out of the liver.
I really, really, really like the sound of this last one, and want the thyroid and estrogen-clearing benefits, but though I’ve always craved dessert, I’m skeptical, and would worry about the insulin increases. Too much insulin, I know, signals weight gain.
Plus, it’s simply heresy in our health conscious sugar-is-poison world.
There’s more, most of which is foreign and complicated and weird to me. But this part fits with a philosophy I’ve always embraced—balance. Yin and Yang. Good cooking should include salty, sour, bitter, savory, and sweet, so maybe, just maybe, Ray Peat, who seems to think sugar is medicine, is onto something.