As promised I wanted to relay to you all the juicy learnings from the Cell Logic International Symposium on The Secret Language of Food I attended in Brisbane earlier last month.
The symposium was all about Nutrigenomics. Hold up. What is Nutrigenomics? I’m so glad you asked!
Nutrigenomics is the science that explores how nutrients interact with our genes and influences the expression of those genes. To simplify, it’s about how the food you eat can optimize your genes so that you can give yourself the best chance of living a long and healthy life.
One of the presenters put it like this, ‘it’s food that talks to our genes’.
It’s easy to believe that the benefits of whole foods stop with nutrient density but it’s really what our body does with those nutrients that is so exciting. They are the keys to unlocking biochemical pathways that can flip the switch on our genes.
This is really good news for Hashimoto’s thrivers and explains why the combination of the GEMM protocol which harnesses the power of Nutrigenomics and Metabolic Balance, the Mediterranean-style, personalised food plan you receive in The Thrive Method work so well together for my clients.
We know whole foods like vegetables are good for us right? The presentations by experts in the Nutrigenomics field held back the curtain on the science of the how and why they are so good for us on a cellular and genetic level. Yes this meant many, many hours of biochemical pathways over the two days.
By Sunday afternoon my brain was befuddled. But it was certainly lots of fun geeking out over the complexity of whole foods and our incredible bodies with my colleagues.
So what were the main takeaways that will help inform you about what to put on your plate for healthy life gene expression?
Plants are great
Really! As I was rediscovering the glorious complexity of the multitude of compounds found in plants that influence our cells for the better and in turn our genetic expression I was reminded of the Michael Pollan quote, ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ In the west we need to eat A LOT more of them, I cover how much more specifically below.
How much veg & fruit you need to unlock Nutrigenomic benefits
600gm of non-starchy vegetables and fruit per day for an adult is the magic number for Nutrigenomic power. Within that 600gm you need a variety of colours and leafy greens daily. The Mediterranean diet was referred to a lot as it really embodies many of the Nutrigenomic principles and recommendations. This way of eating features a lot of plant foods, particularly wild & seasonal leafy greens & herbs which contain a staggering level of bioactive compounds compared to a supermarket lettuce. Another win for my homegrown roquet, dandelion & herbs! My jaw dropped when they did a whole presentation on very practical ways to get more of these bitter greens and herbs on our clients plates and the main suggestion was encouraging them to make Chimichurri, Salsa Verde and Pesto to accompany our meals. My clients know how much I go on about these sauces, I was pretty chuffed.
Whole Foods VS Supplements
Further, we can’t replace a diet rich in plants with supplements. In other words, isolating certain antioxidants and putting them in a capsule just can’t compare with the real thing. Even Aussie favourites like Vitamin C tablets pale into comparison to the vibrant complexity of the real thing. Plants contain thousands of different compounds and are highly complex so short cuts like taking resveratrol antioxidant supplements instead of a plant rich diet is like trying to compare the pot of basil growing on your windowsill to the Daintree Rainforest. In order to enjoy the health-giving benefits of plants, we need to consume them as whole foods in pretty large quantities compared with the SAD (standard Australian diet). Our kids are starting on the back foot too, with very few children getting enough plants daily. It makes you wonder about the future of the next generation, I shudder to think of the genetic expression they might experience. I came home and had a big discussion with my family about why they need to embrace more plant foods.
Protein is crucial, but how much?
Protein is also crucial but we don’t need as much as many of us think and too much can drive up insulin and cause weight gain. The Mediterranean diet can feature as little as 15% protein and up to about 30%. A 100gm to 150gm serve of meat (depending on your size & needs) in meals is ample. So when your PT tells you that you need 2gm of protein per kg of body weight you know that unless you are a professional bodybuilder, it’s just not necessary for abundant health and healthy weight maintenance. Make more room on your plate for plants! Also crucial is a variety of animal proteins; fish, game, eggs, shellfish, poultry and red meat are all important. We are a nation of chicken breast and steak eaters, branch out for a wider variety of amino acids, nutrients and fats (more on fats below).
Essential Fatty Acids Shouldn’t Be Ignored
Listen up! Essential fatty acids need our special attention and it was great to dive back into this topic at the symposium because it’s easy to neglect. We are designed to have a 1:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids in our daily eating but the average Western diet is more like 16:1. Eating too many omega 6 containing processed foods (vegetable oils, grains, seeds) and not enough omega 3 containing foods (fish & seafood) causes an inflammation cascade and flips the switch on genes that do not promote a long and healthy life. This is why vegetable oils are #1 on my avoid list and why I spend a lot of time convincing my clients to have more fish. But there’s more to this story because omega 3’s are present in other animal proteins too, but only when they’ve eaten their natural diet. Game like rabbit, venison, goat, kangaroo and even grass-fed beef all contain omega 3’s. These animals are designed to eat grass and plants, not grains, and when they do, their meat helps us tip the omega balance in our favour rather than contribute to it. When animals are fed grains their meat is much higher in omega 6’s. The same goes for eggs from chickens that are grain-fed. As above it’s time we started embracing different protein sources and stopped turning our noses up at anything other than sanitised chicken breast. I’m sorry to say that the affordable farmed salmon fillets we’ve all come to love from the supermarket aren’t much better, their feed contains soy, corn and other grains so supermarket salmon is also contributing to our omega-6 intake. Tinned wild-caught salmon is a good option though. Ask your butcher whether your meat is grass-fed or only grass-finished.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Delivers The Goods
Olive oil is another spectacular nutrigenomic addition to your plate. Like wild leafy greens & herbs it is extremely potent in the polyphenol/antioxidant department. I learnt that although olive oil has a lower smoke point it is so rich in protective antioxidants that it is stable up to 240 degrees. I’ve always maintained that olive oil has been heated by some of the healthiest people on earth for centuries so it can’t be that bad to cook with. And now I know why my hunch was correct all along! The catch is that it needs to be high quality extra virgin olive oil and fresh. A lot of the cheaper imported olive oils are either stale or blended with vegetable oils. So Australian EVOO with a harvest date on a dark glass bottle is the way to go. It should have plenty of colour and a spicy hit at the back of your throat. Use within 4-6 weeks and store in your pantry to retain the antioxidant goodies. The high EVOO content of the Mediterranean diet is a large part of why cardiovascular disease rates are so low in that region. The daily dose to receive the healthy heart benefits? 3 tablespoons per day.
Snacking, Yay or Nay?
How you eat is also an important part of the Nutrigenomic picture. For most adults, avoiding snacking and enjoying three square meals per day is appropriate. I nearly danced in my seat when I heard this. All of my current and past clients will be familiar with this concept for reducing inflammation, improving digestion, metabolism and cellular health. It’s one of the simplest dietary interventions that will reap huge health benefits. It sounds daunting but the reality is that when you consistently commit to balanced meals with a serving of protein, plants, some healthy fats and complex carbohydrates then eventually your afternoon & evening cravings will disappear and you won’t even feel like a snack.
Joyful Eating matters too
I learnt a new word at the symposium – convivial • \kun-VIV-ee-ul\ • adjective. : relating to, occupied with, or fond of feasting, drinking, and good company. Conviviality or as I have always put it – joyful eating – is the coming together of loved ones to enjoy a meal and this is something Mediterranean’s do well. They savour their food, prepare it with loving tradition and partake in it as a community. Food traditions and shared tables make for more conscious eating, awareness of satiety and hunger signals that contribute to the health-giving benefits of their food-based lifestyle. So holistic, I love it!
Well, what do you think? Did the simplicity surprise you? Me too. The Mediterranean diet was examined extensively as the ideal diet for Nutrigenomic wellness.
The cool thing is how much all these points align with the Metabolic Balance food plans my clients all receive as part of The Thrive Method as well as my own food philosophies I teach in the program.
The good news is that Nutrigenomics and specifically the powerful compound sulforaphane found in highest concentration in broccoli sprouts have a lot to offer those of us with Hashimoto’s disease.
I’ll be talking more about this topic and the application for Hashimoto’s and Hypothyroidism in blogs to come.