In this episode, I am speaking with Ben Azadi – who is a functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner and author. He is known as the health detective with his approach to investigating the root cause of dysfunction. He is the founder of Keto Kamp – a program dedicated to bringing more awareness to the healing properties of intermittent fasting and the keto diet. We will talk about flexible keto, mindset, and healthy fats.
Table of Contents
In this podcast, Ben and I discuss:
- Common keto myths that people use to elevate keto above being more than just a very useful but dispensable tool
- Avoiding common problems and rookie mistakes that often trip people up and give keto a bad name
- The importance of cycling in and out of ketosis to create metabolic flexibility (and why you must not stay in ketosis long term!)
- The ongoing debate between the purported dangers of saturated fats (dairy, meat, etc) vs the dangers of PUFAs (canola oil, sunflower oil, etc)
- The controversial question of fish oil supplements (wonder supplement or dangerous mistake?)
- Dr. Azadi’s top tips for energy (and all of them are free and easy to do!)
Listen or download on iTunes
Listen outside iTunes
Ari: Hey, this is Ari. Welcome back to The Energy Blueprint podcast. Today’s guest is Ben Azadi, who is a functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner and the author of four bestselling books. Keto Flex, The Perfect Health Booklet, The Intermittent Fasting Cheat Sheet, and The Power of Sleep. He’s known as the health detective because he investigates dysfunction and he educates rather than medicates to bring the body back into health and normal function. He’s also the founder of Keto Kamp, which is dedicated to bringing more awareness to the healing strategies of intermittent fasting and the keto diet. This interview has a lot of value. I think Ben has some really interesting and helpful takes on a number of issues.
This podcast was also interesting and I think also carries value in another way, which is, Ben and I have a couple areas where we don’t fully agree, as far as our takes on the literature. We have some really nice, polite, respectful back and forth around those issues. I think we arrive at a really nice place, as far as a mutual sort of understanding and best way to frame some of those issues. Not only I think are you getting value from all the stuff he’s teaching, but I think you’ll also get some additional value just by hearing how he and I think through certain issues, think differently, and engage in a back and forth around that. Enjoy the episode. Welcome to the show, Ben.
Ben: Ari, I’m grateful to be here. Love your work, dude.
Ari: Thanks, man. Appreciate it. What is your background? How did you get into doing what you do now with Keto Kamp and the rest of your work?
Ben: I got into the health space in 2008. I was 24 years old, obese, physically obese, mentally obese, followed a standard American diet, which- toxic diet. I found myself in a really dark place, being depressed and suicidal, looking for ways to end- wanting to end my life. I kept exploring suicide but every time I did that, I would think about my mother. I would think about what she would have to deal with if I took my life and I didn’t want to do that to my mom. It was a vicious cycle for several months, exploring suicide, stopping myself, back and forth.
I was rock bottom, working a nine to five job. Didn’t really have any goals, never studied health and nutrition. I didn’t have the energy to do anything. I was 24 years old, but I felt like I was 94 years old. I knew I needed to make a change, and that change had to start with my health. I needed to have the energy to make some changes. A friend of mine handed me a book, The Slight Edge, actually the book was called, and 1 book led to 5 books, which led to 20 books. I started to really become obsessed with amazing authors like Dr. Wayne Dyer and Bob Proctor and Earl Nightingale. These legends that just really helped open up a whole new world to me.
The books did many things for me, but the most important thing the books did for me was help me take responsibility and ownership over my circumstances. In that instant that I said, “I am responsible,” I became the victor of my future, no longer the victim of my history. I started to exercise, started to eat better. I had this nine-month transformation where I went from 250 pounds down to 170 pounds, 34% body fat down to 6% body fat. I achieved a physical six-pack, but I believe the most important thing I achieved back then and to this day is a mental six-pack.
I started to think better thoughts and understand how important those thoughts are to your health. That’s what got me started in the health space. Ever since then, I was a personal trainer. I opened up a CrossFit gym here in Miami, ended up selling the CrossFit gym. Then I became certified with FDN, Functional Diagnostic Nutrition. Then I started working with Dr. Pompa, Dr. Mindy Pelz and started Keto Kamp. The mission of Keto Kamp is to educate and to inspire a billion people, to help them understand that their body is a self-healing machine, as long as you do your part and remove the interference. That is my story.
Ari: Beautiful. I love that story, man. That’s great.
Ben: Thank you.
How the body is a self-healing machine
Ari: In the work that you do, what are the biggest tools in your tool belt? Obviously, you’re titling it Keto Kamp and your book is titled Keto Flex, I believe. Keto, I would imagine the keto diet is pretty central to that, but give me the overview of what your approach looks like. I also want to mention the last thing that you said there about removing the things that get in the way of our own body healing itself. I completely agree with.
I think that paradigm is much needed in the world right now, and more people need to become aware of the body’s innate potential for healing and learn to think about health from the perspective of how can I work with my own body to facilitate health rather than, well, the opposite paradigm which is becoming all too prevalent. Anyway, tell me about what your paradigm is and what are the major tools in your tool belt?
Ben: Yes, you said it. It’s so true. The body is a self-healing machine, and we have this innate intelligence within every single one of our cells and it’s in the cell membrane. It’s in the DNA. It’s all around our organs and tissues. What we want to do is three steps. On paper, the steps look very easy, but when you start putting it to work, it could be very difficult. The three steps are number one, identify the interferences. Number two, work on removing the interferences. Number three, allow your amazing body to heal. The truth of the matter is that there is a- the world’s greatest physician and healer sits within our body.
There’s no pill, surgery, shot, supplement that could replace what we can do for our own body. What we want to do is work on the interferences. From my work and with Keto Kamp, my company, when you’re constantly in a sugar-burning state, right? High glucose, high insulin levels, that’s interference, it’s creating a lot of cellular smoke, toxins if you will, and it creates oxidation, inflammation and it ages you faster. The first step is to become fat-adapted, teach your body to burn fat instead of sugar, utilize ketones, and then eventually we work on what we call keto flexing. In the beginning, we work on burning fat instead of sugar which helps build up your metabolism.
How you do that is very straightforward. You just work on slowly decreasing your carbohydrates and increasing healthy fats, stable fats, saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, not PUFAs, for a lot of people who do keto and get it wrong. You also increase your protein. I actually believe protein should be emphasized on keto. I’m not scared of protein or gluconeogenesis. I think it’s important to actually use quality protein. That’s one area. One area is to get fat-adapted, burn fat instead of sugar. Another area interference, if you will, I mentioned it before. The thoughts that we think.
I love studying and teaching mindset more than I love keto and nutrition, honestly, because if you could innersize before you exercise it makes everything easier. I always teach the students in my academy and I teach in my book, become aware of the 60,000 thoughts that you’re thinking every single day. It turns out that 90% of those 60,000 thoughts are typically the same thoughts from the day before, which are usually negative, stinking thinking thoughts.
If your thinking is stinking, your dreams are shrinking, your health is shrinking. Your whole life is shrinking essentially. The greatest power we have as a human being I believe is the ability to choose our thoughts. If you have a negative thought, which we all do, I’m sure you do to this day, Ari, just choose a better–
Ari: No, I’ve never had a negative thought.
Ben: Yes, you never– Yes, you’re one of the– [laughs] Sure. That doesn’t exist on this planet, dude, but we’re all going to have them to our point. If you could get really good at choosing a better thought and it might sound woo-woo to some people, but the science is there. Look at Dr. Bruce Lipton’s work. A sound is a frequency that penetrates the cell membranes, communicates with your DNA to produce a specific protein. That protein–
Ari: Did you mean to say a thought?
Ben: A thought is a sound wave that produces a frequency. What did I say?
Ari: You said a sound.
Ben: Yes, a thought is a sound– I mean a thought. Yes, a thought is a frequency that produces a sound wave that penetrates your cells, and then it communicates with your DNA to produce a protein. If it’s a negative thought, a hateful thought, a resentful thought, that protein created could be inflammatory. If it’s a loving thought, an abundant thought, a grateful thought, that protein could be used to heal the body, all with the thought.
It’s important to get really clear on that. Those are two things we work on and then we pair intermittent fasting. We use the carnivore diet short-term. We work on the gut, we do the red-light therapy. All of the things I’ve learned from you. The basis, in the beginning, is fix your thoughts, fix your metabolism, and then we start going from there.
Does keto really work?
Ari: Okay, excellent. To play devil’s advocate to some of your positions, and quite frankly some of my own positions. Let’s say someone is listening to this who is struggling with severe chronic fatigue. They say, “Yes, yes, Ari and Ben, okay. That whole idea of removing the obstacles towards your body healing itself is a nice idea, but I’ve been struggling with this severe chronic fatigue for years and I’ve worked, I’ve tried different diets and I’ve tried exercise and the exercise just makes me worse.
I’ve tried keto and after a few months it made me worse, and I’ve tried different supplements and they didn’t do anything for me. I’ve tried this and I don’t feel like my body has an innate capacity to heal because I’ve just tried everything and nothing works.” What would you do in a scenario like that, where you’re working with a patient who is of that kind of mentality after working for years without results?
Ben: Yes, it’s a great question. I would tell the person that first of all, you are a masterpiece because you are a piece of the master, and you were created for healing. I would encourage them to really understand how amazing their body is. I would address each individual, one of the things that the person has tried. Exercise, if your body can adapt to it and your adrenals are fried and your HPA axis is not functioning well, then maybe you just start walking? Maybe you just get in a few steps and build from there. Keto, there’s not one way to do keto.
There is a way to do it where there’s inflammatory fats and artificial sweeteners and the dogmatic zealot approach of always being in ketosis. That’s not the way that we teach it here. We teach clean keto. We pair it with fasting. When your body’s ready for fasting, we don’t throw fasting right into the mix. I would assess to see if you’re ready for fasting. Let’s look at your glucose and ketones to see what’s going on there. Let’s look at your sleep. I would start with the fundamentals, which is sleep and thoughts. Then I would build from there.
I would tell this person, “We want to start with small little tweaks every single day, that will lead to giant peaks.” It’s not a matter of competing against somebody else doing something similar. It’s just a matter of competing against what you did yesterday. Just beat yesterday, let’s work on small little steps forward. Let’s get some lab work done. Let’s look at what’s going on. If we’re doing all the things like eating right, moving, even intermittent fasting, but you’re still not getting well, then there’s some hidden stressors going on.
Do you have silver fillings in your mouth? Do you have mold toxicity? Do you have a cavitation in your mouth? There’s things we could explore that prevent the body from healing. What I do and what you do so well Ari is, we have to be our own health detectives to explore the dysfunction, so we can get the body back to functioning the way that it’s designed to function. It’ll be a long conversation to identify what that is.
Ari: Excellent. You’ve mentioned keto, obviously a couple times here, and keto and low-carb is something that historically I have taken some issues with, certain people and authors in the low-carb keto camps over the years, because there have been lots of ideas advocated by those people- more at the inception of the low-carb and keto movements around all of our ancestors ate low-carb diets. We’re designed to run on fats, not carbohydrates. That’s the preferred fuel of our body. Ideas around if you run on fats rather than carbohydrates, you just have endless energy and endurance for sports.
Most of these- and also there’s ideas around fat loss or weight loss, that insulin is the primary regulator of our body fatness. When you eat carbs, you’re creating insulin spikes. Since you boost insulin, that’s the primary regulator of body fatness. I’ve done several podcasts on this topic for people listening, who are unfamiliar with the quick summary I’m about to give. I’d recommend listening to podcasts with obesity researcher, Stephan Guyenet, keto expert Luis Villasenor and also podcasts with Alex Leaf are the ones that come to mind where we’ve addressed a lot of those things I just mentioned in more depth, but the very short summary of everything that I just mentioned is most of that is nonsense.
It hasn’t been shown to improve athletic performance. In most contexts, insulin is not the regulator of body fatness. Keto diets or low-carb diets are not the ancestral human diet across the board. That is not to say, however, that low-carb and keto diets are without benefits. There are absolutely contexts and ways of doing them that can have benefits. As you mentioned, you’re not one of those dogmatic dietary zealots, where you’re saying, “Keto is the one true best diet. We have to be keto all the time.” Given that you’re not advocating that, what is the appropriate way or best way, or optimal way that you advocate for people to use the keto diet?
Ben: I think it’s one tool out of many, many tools in the shed where we get it wrong. When I say we, I don’t really mean me and you Ari, but most people in the health space. They fall in love with the tool and they say, “This is the only tool we’re going to use for the rest of our lives.” I’ve been there myself. When I first started doing keto in 2013, I said, “This is it. For the rest of my life I’m going to teach keto. We’re going to be in ketosis.” I realized actually that’s not the way we should live.
Ari: Oh, Ben, I’ll tell you, I was doing keto before keto was even keto. Before the keto diet became a thing that people knew about, I read a book by- what’s this guy’s name? It’s an Australian guy’s name, Rob, I want to say Rob [unintelligible 00:15:50]. This is now over 20 years ago, but he was one of the first guys in the body building community advocating for basically a cyclical ketogenic diet. I was doing that when I was 17-years old. I remember getting home from my workouts and eating nothing but protein powder and cream.
Ari: Anyway, sorry to interrupt your flow. Just wanted to inject my personal keto anecdotes in there as well.
Ben: Yes, you’re way ahead of the game there. First of all, there’s so many ways to do keto. We mentioned it before. The way that I view keto is that it’s one tool in the shed. I love it, because so many people are doing the opposite of keto. They’re in a constant fed state, high calories, high process carbohydrate, so it’s a great change of pace to lower their glucose and insulin. I don’t think insulin’s the bad guy. I know if we wouldn’t be able to produce insulin we wouldn’t exist today. Insulin is needed for hormonal conversions for the thyroid to convert T4 to T3, to build progesterone. It’s very important.
Chronically low levels of insulin are not good, AKA long term ketosis, especially for women. In America, three out of four of Americans are obese or overweight. They’re in a constant high glucose, high insulin state. Keto for them could be super beneficial, because it’s a great way to finally give their pancreas a break. To drop their glucose low levels, and allow them to tap into their fat storage and to lower insulin and lower glucose. Once we do that, once I get the person fat-adapted, which I could get them in 7 to 14 days fat-adapted, I like to keep them into ketosis for about 8 to 12 weeks.
That’s when they begin to become what’s called keto-adapted. That’s when now the mitochondria on the cells are now preferring ketones. At that point we have built up the metabolism and then we flex in and out of ketosis. We have days, weeks, or even for some months where we actually eat a higher carb approach. We get the insulin to build specific hormones. I like to use it as a tool. I do believe this though Ari, we have a keto deficiency in America. Babies that are breast fed are naturally in ketosis. There are studies to back that up. Yes, breast milk has sugar in it. That’s true.
There’s also saturated [unintelligible 00:18:19] cholesterol, but the baby is so efficient at burning through that sugar it goes in and out of ketosis to help the development of the brain. I love ketones for brain performance. I love it for anti-inflammatory benefits, but I don’t think we should be in ketosis for the rest of our lives. There’s not one culture in the history of mankind that stuck with the same diet long-term. It’s a new problem that we have in the last 50 years. That’s my view on it.
Ari: Well, to your point, there’s two distinct forms of ketosis. There is ketosis that one enters as a result of eating fairly low calories or fasting and not eating anything at all versus nutritional ketosis where one could be eating enough calories to keep their body weight stable, or even potentially gaining weight, just as a possibility, while still being in a state of ketosis as a result of eating a low-carb high fat diet. To some extent, these things are often conflated as having the same benefits. I know that I have spoken to Valter Longo, longevity researcher, Valter Longo, about that.
I know that he’s pretty big on distinguishing those two as being different. Being in a state of nutritional ketosis as a result of a low carb-high fat diet of enough calories to sustain one’s body weight is different from the state of ketosis that he has people enter into when you do fasting or fasting mimicking diets. Certainly, I don’t know if the research is really substantial in that area to talk about what exactly those differences are, but do you have any insights into any of those key differences between those two different states?
Ben: Yes, you’re right. There’s two ways to get into ketosis. You could fast to get in there, which is cutting your calories and even maybe exercising to get in there. You could just increase your fats and protein and decrease your carbs. My go-to is the latter. For people it’s a lot easier to shift into that. Now there, I think there’s a time and place for a fasting mimicking diet. When I did the fasting mimicking diet a few years ago, I felt like it was a step backwards for me, because I was already doing five day water fast. I was already a fasting machine, if you will.
Having the boxes and having some calories, I felt a step back. If you’re somebody who’s eating a standard American diet, you never fast, it could be a great transition to get you into ketosis. I see it as a tool, but I don’t teach it that way. I teach increasing your healthy fats, increasing your protein and gradually decreasing your carbohydrates as a way of getting in there. Now, as far as the research goes, I don’t know what’s better, but the way that I teach it is the dietary approach.
Fasting and metabolic flexibility
Ari: Now, do you also– I think you mentioned intermittent fasting as one of the tools in your tool belt also. Personally, my approach is, I generally eat a carb rich diet, that I don’t include lots of processed carbs. It’s all whole foods carbs that are from foods sources associated with health benefits, whether we’re talking about sweet potatoes or blueberries or mangoes or things like that. I do eat quite a lot of carbs. I do a lot of physical activity and I find I just function better with more carbs at the diet. However, I also regularly incorporate interment fasting and even more so, I’m doing pretty short feeding windows, 6 to 10 hour feeding windows most days.
I’m spending a lot of time in a fasted state combined with high levels of physical activity, also in a fasted state. As an example, what might be a typical day for me. I’m not necessarily advocating this for listeners but for me, just with my schedule and the kinds of activities I do, this is what often works best for me. I typically wake up early, 5:30-ish, and I’m looking to get out in the ocean and surf. Hopefully. Most days there’s good surf where I live and I’m looking to get out there as quickly as possible before the crowds show up, and spend two or three hours in the ocean in a fasted state before I’ve had any food that day.
I might do that two or three hours in the ocean. I might hang out at the beach for another hour or two with my kids and my dogs and then I might come back to the house and maybe another hour or two before I even eat anything. Some days it’s like, today is a good example. I didn’t eat my first bite of food till 12:30. I had already been out for hours, doing exercise prior to that. I feel I’m getting a lot of metabolic flexibility built into my system, where my system knows how to run on both carbs as well as when I’m in a glycogen depleted state, which I’m often in, as well as on stored fats.
That’s how I personally get that metabolic flexibility, and I know I’m very metabolically flexible because I can go many, many hours or very long periods of time without eating anything and my energy levels and my mood, and brain function all stay very stable. Anyway, that’s my personal way of doing things. For somebody who is not as physically active, that may not be the best approach.
It may be a better approach to go lower carb and keto, and get into states of nutritional ketosis and not have so much of the carbohydrates that I need to power all the physical activity I’m doing. Anyway, just wanted to share my way of doing things and how I build metabolic flexibility in and present that to you for any commentary, any thoughts you might have on it.
Ben: I love it. I think think that’s the ultimate goal. The fact that you are very active throughout the first half of the day, and you feel great, you’re able to perform, and you’re not hangry and irritable. You’re not going hypoglycemic. That’s the goal, metabolic flexibility. If you’re somebody who’s already naturally doing something like that, then it doesn’t make sense to okay, let’s increase your high fat and lower your carbohydrates.
It’s like taking a step backwards. Maybe that could be a short term approach for you to mix things up, but for the average American, they don’t have what you have or what I have. My schedule is very similar in terms of eating. I usually go until 1:00 or 2:00 PM fasted, and then I’ll have like a 1:00-6:00 PM eating window, and I’ll feast. Some days I’ll have high healthy carbs. Some days I’ll have keto type of foods, but I believe for everybody the goal is to achieve this metabolic flexibility and freedom not to be dogmatic and stay in ketosis or whatever diet you’re following for the rest of your life. Ultimate goal is the metabolic flexibility that you’re living and leading yourself, Ari.
Ari: Great. As far as practical aspects of doing keto, what are some of the biggest mistakes that you find people make?
Ben: In the beginning it’s not supporting the liver, because when you start increasing your dietary fat, you need healthy bile to break it down. Most people have a sluggish liver. The liver is this soccer mom organ that does everything for us. She’s amazing. It’s amazing. What happens is when you have a sluggish liver from medications, toxins, processed foods, alcohol, then you’re producing this thick bile and you can’t really break down the dietary fat. You get digestive distress. You don’t feel that good and you blame it on keto, but it’s really the liver not doing its job.
Plus bile has a detoxification effect as you know, which helps remove toxins. As you start shrinking fat cells and releasing fat cells, you release toxins too. You want to be able to eliminate those toxins. If you have sluggish bile, that’s going to make you feel awful. The solution is bitters. Another deficiency we have is bitter deficiency. I always educate my students to increase your bitters right off the bat. Apple side of vinegar, lemons, limes, [unintelligible 00:26:53], artichokes, even coffee has a bitter effect. Get the bitters in there, that is going to make a big, big difference.
Of course, electrolytes as well, is the second thing I would add there, because as you lower your carbohydrate intake, you lower insulin and you get this diuresis effect where the kidneys are now releasing excess water, which is good, but then you have some electrolytes being dumped with it. If you don’t replenish the electrolytes, you get what’s called the keto flu, which is really carbohydrate withdrawal symptoms because you’re going too fast into it. You are getting this release of electrolytes. Increasing your electrolytes, increasing your bitters. One more thing I’ll add into it, Ari, is eating the right fats.
I know that you’ve interviewed several people and you know a lot about this topic, but it’s very important. I believe that these vegetable oils, industrial seed oils are even worse than sugar. I would rather have somebody eat sugar because they could burn that off versus having high amounts of PUFAs, which stick around. The half-life is two years or so for these [unintelligible 00:27:56] acid in your fat cells which is crazy. We want to stay away from what Dr. Cate Shanahan calls the hateful eight, canola, cottonseed, corn, soy, sunflower, safflower, rice, bread and grapeseed oil.
These poly, meaning many, double bonds has a lot of many opportunities to attract oxygen and oxidize. They’re all keto friendly. We want to switch over to saturated and monounsaturated fats. I believe if you go into keto with those three things in your toolbox, healthy bile, electrolytes up, eating the right stable fats, it’s going to make all the difference for you.
Which fats are healthy fats?
Ari: Okay. I want to play devil’s advocate a little bit here. To some extent this is not something I feel incredibly strongly about, but it’s some– I do want to voice my take on the literature related to this. From what I’ve seen, the research actually more strongly implicates saturated fat as being deleterious to health than vegetable oils, like the ones you mentioned. I say that as someone who is a strong advocate of avoiding, like you are, all the vegetables that you just mentioned.
However, it is the case, like just speaking purely from the existing body of evidence, there’s really a stronger case to be made against saturated fat consumption, particularly saturated fats from red meats and dairy than there is to be made against, let’s say canola oil, for example. I actually even have certain friends and colleagues who will literally argue and put forth a bunch of studies to back their case that one should include plenty of canola oil in their diet and cook with canola oil, but one should go out of their way to avoid saturated fats.
Again, I’ll state my own personal bias is more in the direction of what you’re talking about. However, I don’t think that there is a strong scientific case for saying that one should include lots of saturated fats and that they’re a really healthy thing to make as a foundation of your diet. Like in contrast to, let’s say monounsaturated fats from olive oil and macadamias which are decisively and decidedly in many, many studies, both epidemiological and randomized controlled studies over and over and over again, linked with beneficial health outcomes or worst case scenario, they’re benign.
They’re not shown to be harmful to health. That’s my take on the literature is that, there is some evidence to show that one shouldn’t consume too much of the saturated fats, particularly from animal foods or dairy, but what’s your take on that and feel free to disagree with what I just said. If you disagree, what’s the evidence that you’re basing that on?
Ben: Yes, first of all, I want to say, I love how open-minded you are and how you you’re aware when you’re biased and I’m aware when I’m biased too, and I am biased away from these PUFAs. I would say I haven’t seen personally the evidence that you’re referring to with saturated fat from red meat contributing to diseases, unless the red meat is from like caged animals. I haven’t seen that. Secondly–
Ari: I I’ll grant you that most of those studies on the topic don’t properly control for conventionally raised animal foods versus organic, grass-fed pasture raised animal foods.
Ben: The second thing I would say is that, there’s one area of looking at the research and what’s out there, which is great. And then there’s another area of actually being in the trenches with individuals and running lab work and seeing what actually happens. I look at both and I haven’t looked at all the research, but I have looked at a lot of- I should say, clients of mine, thousands of clients of mine, plus the doctors that I work with. I had tens of thousands of patients with them and we do lab work and we have them eat saturated fats, monounsaturated fats.
We have them make these changes and I’ve seen tremendous benefits with lab work. I’m not talking about basic lab work. I’m talking about comprehensive CRP, [unintelligible 00:32:41], LDL particles, [unintelligible 00:32:44] panels, et cetera. So I’ve seen both, Ari, and I think there is cases to be made against saturated fat for some people who might have some genes that can’t break it down, but I think having a combination of monounsaturated fats, and saturated fats from quality products over PUFAs, it’s going to do most people well, I believe.
Ari: Okay. And what about omega-3 PUFAs, the DHA and EPA?
Ben: Yes. I’m actually against taking DHA and EPA–
Ben: Yes, I think that they do more harm than good. First of all, when you think about the brain, from an adult human being, the brain requires 7.2 milligrams of EPA and DHA daily. One capsule of fish oil is about 1,000 EPA and DHA. People are taking two to three capsules, it’s superphysiological overdose. I don’t like the idea of that, number one. Number two, most fish oil is already rancid. The processing of it is bad, but let’s say it’s the best fish oil in the world, the 17% that’s out there. Fish oil is essentially antifreeze for fish. It needs to be stored in cool temperatures.
The human body is not cool. It’s 98.6 degrees, mixes with stomach acids. You take this quality fat omega-3 EPA, DHA that is processed correctly, some companies do that, and then you swallow it, and then it starts mixing with warm body temperature and stomach acids. It could turn into a toxic fat and it could be rancid. I don’t like fish oil. I don’t take fish oil. I eat the fish and I eat what’s called parent essential oils, which actually helps your body make its own fish oil. The body can make its own EPA and DHA, so I’m not a fan of these omega-3 supplements.
Ari: Okay. How would you account for the research, hundreds of studies at this point that show benefits from consuming fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids in the form of DHA and EPA?
Ben: There’s a lot of studies that show it doesn’t work too, Ari. It’s like saying, “We have a project, we want to build 1,000 buildings in downtown Miami,” and they go ahead and they construct 1,000 buildings. Then 20 years later, 500 buildings collapse and they say, “This is a success because we have 500 buildings that are showing positive effects,” but you’re missing all the 500 that have collapsed. There’s a lot of evidence showing it doesn’t work. There was a study in the PEO Solution that shows the damaging excess effect of EPA and DHA.
It showed that when they removed fish oil from these patients, they looked at their inflammatory levels, they removed the EPA and DHA and it took four and a half months, 132 days before their inflammatory levels went back to an optimal range after removing the EPA– That’s just one study, I know that, but to argue against what you said there, there are studies that show it doesn’t work and there are studies that show it could be harmful too.
Ari: You’re saying that the major studies that show it to be harmful are putting people out of range for inflammatory markers?
Ben: That’s one part of it. Also, when you’re doing a superphysiological overdose of omega-3, you can become omega-3 dominant. I interviewed a gentleman, Dr. Jeff Matheson, and he made the case and he has some good studies that show when you’re taking too much EPA and DHA and you become omega-3 dominant, it actually makes the membrane too fluid and then cardiolipin from the mitochondria membrane starts to flush out, and it creates problems that way. There’s evidence to show it doesn’t work too. What are your thoughts on it?
Ari: I think overwhelmingly, I do think what you said about the oxidation of the products is an issue for certain and I’ve seen studies showing 65%, 70% official products on the market have higher oxidation rates. Having said that, I do think it’s possible to source brands where they do third-party testing and find ones that have very low oxidation byproducts, which I certainly agree with you is important to do. However, I do think the overwhelming body of evidence on that subject is in the direction of benefits, I do think that you can find studies that show no benefit.
Certainly, I think where you have a body of evidence that is mostly in the direction of health benefit and you have some studies that don’t show a benefit, to me, I would liken that to like, let’s say vitamin C. There’s hundreds or thousands of studies showing that vitamin C can be beneficial, at least slightly beneficial for certain things, and you could also find lots of studies that show vitamin C had no benefit for whatever they were studying.
You could also find in the example of let’s say exercise, you could find tons of studies showing exercise has benefits in reducing all kinds of diseases, brain diseases, cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases, liver disease, a million other things, a million other benefits that you could find for exercise for weight loss, for lots of things, but someone- if they wanted to, they could go and find say, “Here’s this study showing that exercise did not result in any weight loss.”
In fact, you could find dozens, at least dozens, maybe a few 100 studies showing that an exercise regimen did not result in any significant amount of weight loss and yet, I think it would be wrong to conclude that exercise doesn’t work or is harmful because you have a body of evidence like that. I think the overwhelming bulk of that body of evidence is in the direction certainly in the case of exercise, I think you could say it’s not as clear-cut in the case of fish oil, but is in the direction of benefit.
Ben: Yes, I hear that. My question to you would be- two questions. Number one, the body of evidence you’ve seen showing the benefits of fish oil, were they short-term or long-term studies? Because if somebody is really omega-6 dominant, and they’re taking a high-quality fish oil, maybe short term that could be a benefit but long term, maybe not so much, first question. Second question, what about the fact that the brain only requires 7.2 milligrams per day for an adult human being, and one capsule is 1,000 milligrams, does that not sound like it’s too much for a person to take?
Ari: I think the principle of what you’re saying, like you’re creating a set of ideas through which we can evaluate the appropriateness of this particular intervention, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but that kind of mechanistic way of thinking about it is trumped by actual evidence of hard outcomes. I’ll give you an example. Many years ago, as you know, within the low-carb community, it was argued that insulin is the regulator of body fatness. Insulin is a fat storing hormone and because carbs boost insulin levels, therefore carbs make you fat. That idea was- in that way, it sounds perfectly logical and reasonable and scientific.
Insulin’s a fat-storing hormone. Of course, if you boost a fat-storing hormone, it’s going to make you fatter. You almost can’t even argue against it from that way of thinking about it. Yet when you actually put that idea to the test and you say, “Okay, we’re going to take two groups of people. One is going to go on a 1,500 calorie diet that’s 75% carbs. The other one is going to go on the exact same 1,500 calorie diet but is only going to be 5% carbohydrate and 70% fat,” or whatever it is. They have the exact same calories, wildly different amounts of carbohydrates, and therefore cause- you can measure the insulin levels and show they cause radically different levels of insulin postprandially, in response to the meals.
Yet after 12 weeks or after 6 months or a year, you will show the exact same amount of weight loss in those two scenarios. The idea that insulin was the main controller of body fatness sounded great and made sense when looked at from that perspective, but when it was actually put to the test and you measured the hard outcome, it didn’t turn out that way. I can think of probably 100 other examples in the realm of health science that I’ve encountered over 25 years of studying this where something sounds good on a mechanistic level, but when it’s tested it doesn’t bear- it gets falsified.
I’ve personally been on the side of being wrong many dozens of times and things that I was absolutely convinced was true and made sense. As a result of being wrong in so many of my beliefs over the years, I’ve really learned to just be like, okay, well, what is the actual evidence? First of all, do we have a good body of evidence with well-designed experiments and enough of a substantial body of evidence that we can actually come to have a high degree of confidence about these findings being accurate? I’ve learned to trust whatever those findings are, as opposed to my reasoning about like, oh, well the body needs this or insulin does this, therefore, this, this, and this. If you get what I mean.
Ben: I do, fair point.
Ari: Fish oil is not something that I have a terrible– I don’t sell fish oil products. [laughs] I don’t have a lot of skin in this game where I need fish oil to be associated with health benefits. I know that there is certainly a reasonable body of evidence that shows that fish oil is associated with health benefits in various contexts. I’m trying to put that forth for playing devil’s advocate and making interesting discussion. [chuckles]
Ben: No, it is. I love it. I think it’s great. It’s important to have discussions like that. It’s a fair point. You make some very fair points. I love the approach you take and understanding that you’ve been wrong before myself, and I’m still going to be wrong in the future and being open to that. I think it’s fair.
Ari: Cool. Well, I think people can go into the evidence and check things out for themselves. I’ve also been an advocate for krill oil at certain points in time for some of the reasoning that you’ve put forward, which is krill oil is, first of all, much less susceptible to oxidation because of the presence of astaxanthin, as well as the DHA and EPA being contained in phospholipids which are more stable and in smaller doses than fish oil, to the point of what you were advocating, that there might be a danger in overdoing it with DHA and EPA.
This is probably, I think maybe some sort of middle ground between these two views is there’s probably a context where very high doses of the fish oils are really beneficial and probably a context where they can be harmful. As an example of somebody who’s got a 50 to 1 linoleic acid to DHA/EPA ratio, then maybe high fish oil consumption is going to help correct that and bring it back down in the four to one, one to one range pretty quickly. On the other hand, if someone’s already like you and I probably are, already in the four to one to one to one range of those omega-6 to 3s, maybe pouring in very high dose omega-3s might be more net harmful in that context than net beneficial.
Ben: Yes. Well said. Exactly. It’s going to be dependent on many things there, but I like krill oil. If I was going to use fish oil, it would be krill oil to what you just said, the astaxanthin and the ratios, the phospholipids. If you’re going to do it, that’s the way I would do it personally with krill oil.
The best lifestyle for high energy
Ari: Cool. I want to get into energy to wrap up. You’ve got a lot of these different tools in your tool belt with keto and diet cycling– I forget how you call it. Keto flexing. You’ve mentioned intermittent fasting and a few other things here. What would you say are your top tips? Like let’s say somebody’s coming to you, they’re struggling with their energy levels. What would be your top practical recommendations to them to optimize their energy?
Ben: Well, you’re going to like the first answer, because I think you’re writing a book about it. Go outside. [chuckles]
Ben: Get some freaking sunshine. I know that I’m in Miami and I can get some sunshine whenever, but even on a cloudy day- especially in the morning I think if you go outside and get some sunlight going through you- take off your glasses, get some sunshine going through your retina, touching your skin, sink that circadian rhythm first thing in the morning, it’ll set you up for better sleep the night up ahead. If you could get the sunset as well, sunrise and sunset, get both, awesome. That’s something I do most days. I’ll get sun rising and sun setting with my dog.
Number one, sunshine every day. Number two would be sleep, and that’s going to range– Somebody might do really well with six hours. Somebody might need eight hours, but I think more important than the total amount of sleep is looking at your REM and deep sleep. I use the Oura ring, but you could use whatever sleep tracker you want. I aim to get about two and a half hours of deep sleep and about two hours of REM sleep. I think if most people could get those numbers, they’re going to feel energized. Sleep’s going to be the second thing there.
Ari: Before you go on to number three, just a couple comments. One, I love your number one on sunlight.
Ben: I know you do.
Ari: It’s the way to my heart. By the way, a quick digression, I almost can’t resist. It’s also worth noting of course, that there are, to our point about fish oil a second ago, and the exercise example, it’s of course the case that lots of people, including, especially probably dermatologists strongly disagree with my views and your views about sunlights and they’ll say, “Oh, shame on you. How irresponsible you are for advising people to go out in the sun without covering their skin and wearing sunscreen,” and those kinds of things.
One, they can cite, they can go cite certain evidence that makes it appear that sunlight is linked with higher rates of, for example, skin cancer. One could conclude based on if they only looked at things that those few studies in isolation, oh, the sun is obviously toxic. I need to get out of the sun. Anyway–
Ben: Good point.
Ari: Just to emphasize the point that we were making two minutes ago.
Ben: As you say that, the whole conversation that we’re having today, all the arguments out, we are not arguing, but all the arguments out there about whatever diet, too much sun, this, that, everything needs to be viewed from the lens of the hormetic zone. That’s the answer. Are you within your hormetic zone or are you going past it and shooting down? That’ll give you the answer. I know you’ve spoken about that before, but if we could live in that hormetic zone, then all of these things we’re talking about could benefit us, but if we don’t live in that zone, it’s going to hurt us.
Ari: Well said. Then the second thing I wanted to ask you on the sleep and tracking your sleep, I’m curious what you have found personally to be the biggest things that have modified your own REM and deep sleep.
Ben: Yes. You’re going to like the answer as well, because I know you have a book all about it, but I have my four big red light panels right here. I get some red light 10 minutes, twice a day. I’ve been using a PEMF mat. That bumped up my deep sleep from about 2 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes. Ever since I started using that with my infrared sauna blanket, my deep sleep has increased. Those have been some things that have bumped up my deep sleep.
Ari: Awesome. Then your number three, I think it’s your final recommendation for increasing energy levels.
Ben: To live on purpose with your purpose.
Ari: Oh, nice.
Ben: So important. Find out what’s important to you, which is unique to you. Nobody has your highest values. Then align your actions with what’s important to you. Delegate everything else, or don’t do the things that don’t light you up. I believe motivation is a symptom that you’re not living a life congruent to your highest values. You shouldn’t need to feel motivated to do something, you should feel inspired within. There’s a big difference. When you’re inspired and when you’re living congruently to what’s important to you, you’re going to have all the energy in the world. That’s my third answer.
Ari: Beautiful. You just made me think of a book I read two or three years ago called The Motivation Myth. Have you ever heard of that book?
Ben: I’ve heard of it. I haven’t read it though.
Ari: Okay. The central thesis of this book, which I think it relates perfectly to what you were just talking about. It also relates to energy. I think motivation and energy are very much interrelated. The thesis of this book, The Motivation Myth, is that people have this attitude towards motivation like it’s something that we just wait around to be inspired and motivated to take action. Actually what the author, I forget who the guy’s name who authored this book, but, basically he says that motivation actually doesn’t work that way. The way it works is that we take some small action, we need to take some small action towards whatever our goal is.
We don’t wait for the inspiration and the motivation to show up to make us want to take that action, we just take the action. Then by taking a small action, achieving that goal or that micro goal, and it’s something that we should set it up so it’s an achievable goal that we can achieve with a small amount, a few minutes or a few hours, or within a day of work, we can actually not just do that work, but actually reach that particular micro goal. Then as we reach that micro goal, it creates a dopamine response in the brain and we feel a sense of reward, and then we do that again.
We create another little micro goal and we reach that one, and another one, and that is creating a snowball effect. That actually is how we build motivation. We don’t sit around waiting for motivation to come, we create motivation by taking some very small baby-steps towards our objectives, achieving them, and the achievement of the small objectives builds motivation over time. Anyway, I’m just curious how that ties into your thinking on it.
Ben: I love it. It’s like, do the thing and you’ll get the energy to do the thing. There’s a great book from BJ Fogg that I read this year called Tiny Habits. It talks a lot about that, habit stacking. I think that’s great only if the thing you’re taking a step towards is your highest values. If it’s not, if it’s something that’s not important to you but what society’s projecting onto you, what you think should be important to you, it’s not going to last. If it’s really important to you, taking those small little steps, small little keys will unlock big doors. I love it. I think it’s a great step.
Ari: Awesome. Love it, man. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Ben. It was a pleasure chatting with you. I really enjoyed this conversation and the nice back-and-forth we’ve had here. If somebody is interested in working with you or learning more about your work or doing your programs or other materials, where’s the best place to get in touch with you and to learn from you?
Ben: Firstly of all, thank you. It’s been an honor. I love your work. I love who you are as a human being, free thinker, very smart, well-researched individual. Thank you for your tremendous work. I’ve learned so much from you-
Ari: Thank you.
Ben: -and I’m looking forward to having you on my Keto Kamp Podcast very soon. I know you’re going to come on there. My website, you can find everything that you need to learn about me over at benazadi.com. I’d love to connect with you if you got any value from this conversation.
Ari: Awesome, man. Thank you so much again. Really a pleasure, and looking forward to being on your podcast soon.
Ben: Can’t wait. Thanks, Ari.
How the body is a self-healing machine (13:45)
Does keto really work? (18:58)
Fasting and metabolic flexibility (30:50)
Which fats are healthy fats? (38:05)
The best lifestyle for high energy (55:11)