Nutrition guru Dr. Jonny Bowden shares his best advice --- and does some serious myth busting -- talking about healthy diet and weight loss for thyroid patients.
"Insulin takes its cargo – sugar – to the fat cells. Which go, "Come on in. We'll have some more." They're happy to have it. And now you start to get fatter, even though you're eating this so-called low-fat, high-carb diet, because what you're doing is actually driving up your fat storage hormone. You know what doesn't raise your blood sugar at all? Like nada, zilch, zero? Fat. So, now tell me the logic of a weight loss diet that makes you eat more of the stuff that drags your fat storing metabolism up and less of the stuff that doesn't punch the needle on it. How crazy is that?" ~ Dr. Jonny Bowden
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MARY SHOMON: Do you want to finally live and feel well with a thyroid condition? Then I want to welcome you to the Thyroid Deep Dive podcast. I’m your host Mary Shomon. It’s time to dive in!
Like many thyroid patients, myself included, being energetic and maintaining a healthy weight are a constant struggle. Should we go low-carb or low-fat? Vegan or vegetarian? Paleo? Autoimmune protocol? Should we avoid soy and broccoli, or go for broke and have a soy veggie smoothie every day? And why do so many diets we try seem to fail? Why is it so hard to shift a slow, sluggish thyroid-impaired metabolism? And what can we do to change it?
In this episode, we’ll look at the answers, with one of my favorite health experts, Dr. Jonny Bowden.
As you’ll hear in this episode, Dr. Jonny is a true force of nature. Dr. Jonny started out as a talented professional musician and went on to get a master’s degree in psychology. When he later found himself overweight and addicted to alcohol and drugs, he did an impressive total overhaul. He not only overcame his health challenges years ago, but he went on to become certified as a personal trainer, and ultimately, became the Dean of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute. He also went back to school, and got a PhD in holistic nutrition, becoming a Certified Nutrition Specialist, and later, the bestselling author of many books, including Living Low Carb, The Metabolic Factor, and his latest book, a new updated edition of his popular book, The Great Cholesterol Myth, which he wrote with cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra.
Now in his 70s, Dr. Jonny is known as the "Nutrition Myth Buster," and is still out there teaching us how to truly eat and live for optimum health, disease prevention and overall wellness – not to mention youthful looks and high energy. I urge you to check out his photo on the podcast’s web page – he looks at least a quarter century younger than other men his age! He’s living proof that you ARE what you eat!
I think you’re going to love this conversation, where Dr. Jonny and I bust some myths and misconceptions about diet and nutrition for thyroid patients!
This is Mary Shomon, and let’s dive in to “What’s On the Menu?” – episode 5 of the Thyroid Deep Dive podcast.
Low-Fat, Mini-Meals, and Calories In, Calories Out? Not So Fast!
MARY SHOMON: You're known as the nutrition myth buster, and we have been dealing for quite a long time with a mythology that a lot of thyroid patients, frankly, are still struggling to overcome, which is that the way to lose weight is to go with a low-fat diet and eat mini-meals all day long. We should be grazing and eating multiple times because that stokes our slow metabolism and gets that metabolism going.
And every single time I've talked to somebody who's tried this approach, it not only doesn't work, but sometimes they're actually gaining weight. I'm wondering if you can tell us a little bit about the evolution of the concept of grazing and mini-meals, and low-fat and high-carb, to the approaches that you espouse for everyone in terms of weight loss, but in particular, for those of us whose metabolism may not be up to par because our thyroid isn't always working as well.
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: So let's talk about those guidelines that told us to eat a low-fat diet. When we were back in the fifties and sixties and seventies and arguing about these things, calories were king and, in many places, many corners of nutrition and health, they still are.
So everything was about calories, calories in calories out. The prevailing mythology, which still exists to this day, is that if you eat more calories than you burn up, you will gain weight If you burn up more calories than you eat, then you will lose weight. That was kind of the mantra around which every professional health person who dealt with weight loss like myself, that's what we believed.
It is not that there isn't a kernel of truth to that, but that's 1950s, 1960s information. The biggest discovery probably in my lifetime in nutrition has been that it's hormones that control the metabolic show, not calories. So, let's go back to those guidelines. Fat has more calories than protein and carbs.
And on the most superficial level, you could say, well, "Eat less fat. You'll get less fat." That absolutely turned out to be exactly the opposite of true. Here's why. You have a hormone in your body. There are many, but we're going to focus on insulin, because insulin is really one of the most important hormones when it comes to everything you and I are talking about today.
And insulin has many jobs in the body, but one of the most important ones is to get sugar the heck out of the bloodstream because high blood sugar, as probably everybody watches TV knows, you don't want high blood sugar. And for good reason, it's dangerous. You also don't want high levels of insulin.
So you eat. Your blood sugar goes up and the pancreas says, “Oh, alert, his blood sugar went up, go out there, insulin, round it up, take it over to the muscle cells.” The muscle cells – in a healthy metabolism – they are happy to have it. They're going, "Hey, this guy is active, doing things. He's a kid. He's getting on a bicycle.
He's playing on the jungle gyms. We want that energy. Bring it on in!” And insulin shovels the sugar into the muscle cells. They use it on up and all is well, your blood sugar goes down a little, and then you eat again. Okay. That's great. Here's what happens in real life. And, this is why the calorie approach doesn't work.
When you switch to your diet of high-carbohydrate foods, carbohydrate is the element of the diet that has the most profound effect on blood sugar. Carbohydrates drive your blood sugar up. So, when you eat lots of carbohydrates, your blood sugar is constantly going up and it's going up too fast.
It's staying up there too long. Coincidentally, your muscle cells don't have any use for all that sugar because you're now leading a kind of sedentary life. You go into the office. You're not really doing all that much. So, what happens now is you eat this high-carb diet that we've all been prescribed for weight loss.
Your blood sugar is constantly going up. The pancreas is going "Code blue! Code blue! This guy's eating the equivalent of 10 Ding Dongs!” Because I got news for you. Your body doesn't know the difference between a candy bar and a bottle of soda or a bottle of juice or bowl of cereal. It's all sugar to that. It goes right up, and the pancreas is keeping up as best it can, sending out all this insulin, but now you've got a double whammy. You've got too much blood sugar, not enough insulin to get the job done. And the muscle cells are at overbook. They're not interested. They're saying, "What are we going to do with all this sugar? Take it someplace else!” So, what happens?
Insulin takes its cargo – sugar – to the fat cells. Which go, "Come on in. We'll have some more." They're happy to have it. And now you start to get fatter, even though you're eating this so-called low fat, high-carb diet, because what you're doing is actually driving up your fat storage hormone. When you eat protein? You know what doesn't raise your blood sugar at all? Like nada, zilch, zero? Fat. So, now tell me the logic of a weight loss diet that makes you eat more of the stuff that drags your fat storing metabolism up and less of the stuff that doesn't punch the needle on it.
How crazy is that? And when you understand that you understand why all those people are suffering so much, you understand why they're eating low fat, they're eating the low-fat yogurt and the no-fat milk, and their this and their that, all of which has been replaced by carbohydrates, bad carbohydrates, by the way. They're not replacing it with broccoli, they're replacing it with high-fructose corn syrup and things like that.
Meanwhile, your blood sugar is on the roller coaster of your life. Insulin is barely trying to keep up. One of three things happens: either you get really fat and you manage to avoid diabetes, or you get pre-diabetic, or you get diabetic. All of those things, as you know, have major ramifications for people with thyroid issues right now.
MARY SHOMON: What about the issue of mini-meals? The concept that we should be eating small meals much more regularly, rather than a smaller number of meals with larger timeframes between it, or even incorporating intermittent fasting with longer breaks. No eating after a certain time at night giving ourselves eight or 10 or 12 hours before we break our fast.
How does that play into this weight gain versus healthy weight management or weight loss approach?
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: First of all, mea culpa. I was one of the trainers in the nineties at Equinox who gave that advice. Mini-meals, every two hours, you've got to fuel yourself, five, six mini-meals.
First of all, nobody knew what a mini-meal was. And even if they did, it was a horrible idea. And here's where it came from. Think about that person I just described. Their metabolism in which sugar is running through their system. And it's going up all the time. And what do you think the body's running on?
What's the metabolism using for fuel? It's using sugar because that's what's available and the body can only store about 1800 calories as sugar, as carbohydrate. It's stored either as glucose in the blood or glycogen in the muscles. And that's the storage form of carbohydrate – 1800 calories max, you can burn that up in a day. It can store about 84 bazillion calories of fat. Just look at our own bodies…we have endless stores of fat, but we are not accessing that fat, that we are not burning that fat, because our bodies – our poor, little cellular engines – are so used to the fuel that's been coming down the pipe for all these years, which is sugar and starch, that they just are not effective fat-burners. Those circuits haven't been used in a long time. They're like the Maytag repairman. They're sitting there with nothing to do. No work is coming in. Fat-burners – these cells – we've trained them to run on sugar. So, having all of that fat on your body is kind of like having a big savings account in the bank, but you don't have the ATM code.
Without being able to burn fat, looking for sugar, you damn well better eat every two hours, or your blood sugar is going to crash and you're going to get hungry. So, what we trainers were doing, we were assuming correctly that people ran on sugar. So, you better refuel them every two hours. What we didn't know at the time was that there's a much better way, which is to develop a fat-burning metabolism.
Now, if your body is running on fat, which you have an endless storage of, it's sort of like you're having one of these hybrids and you ran out of gas, who cares? The gas is the sugar. You've got this big battery pack in the back that will give you another 400 miles. So, that's what a fat-burning metabolism will do.
It will say "We got storage forever. We don't need to be fed every two hours." And that's precisely why intermittent fasting and techniques like that would sound horrific to a person who's on a high-carb diet. They ain't gonna make it through an intermittent fast, but a person who's got a fat burning metabolism…
Hey, I skip breakfast all the time with minimal hunger and I'm on the tennis court every day at 7:30 for two hours. When your metabolism's adapted to this wonderful source of energy, that is for most people just sitting there unused, you don't need to eat every two hours. So, that advice was based on the whole high-carb, low-fat mentality of the time, which is that the best foods to eat were carbohydrates. And we didn't know at the time that, they also caused you to be hungry two hours later.
Shifting from Sugar- and Carb-Burning to a Fat-Burning Metabolism
MARY SHOMON: What are the key ways that we can shift from a sugar and carbohydrate burning metabolism to a fat-burning metabolism? Because certainly I think with people with thyroid issues, I've actually heard endocrinologists describe thyroid patients as having a "deranged metabolism." It's very confused. It doesn't know what to do. It slows down. It's preferential to sugar.
It doesn't know how to burn. It knows how to store very well, not to burn very well. And I'm guessing that this approach, because it's certainly one I've used in the past for myself to get to a healthier weight. And many of the people that I talked to have found better success. But what are the key principles of shifting from that sugar and carb-burning to fat-burning?
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Well, you would have to give the body the energy source that you want it to use. And in this case, it's guess what? F-A-T fat. It's funny, back in the Equinox days when I was still very much in the low-fat mentality and just sort of beginning to get some education, we had in our lab, in our metabolic lab, we had a terrific exercise physiologist named Stu Mittleman, who was a world record holder in these insane events, like the six-day marathon. He was an ultra-endurance athlete and he used to say, and it was a very contrarian point of view at the time. "If you want to burn fat, you gotta eat fat." And remember, this is in the early nineties when people were sending back egg white omelets if there was a little bit of yolk on the thing, because God forbid we shouldn't ingest any saturated fat. He told me that back in the nineties and it has turned out to be 100% true.
If you want to condition your engine, your metabolic engine, to run on a fuel, you'd better give it that fuel so it can learn what to do with it. It may take a couple of days or even a couple of weeks to do the metabolic shift over, but it's totally doable.
Shameless plug, I wrote a program called The Metabolic Factor. It's a 22-day program. And the purpose of it is exactly that, and you can find it online or on my website, but the point is in about three weeks, you can make that shift. There's a lot of ways to do it. I do it one way. There are plenty of others, including the kind of diet we recommend in our book, The Great Cholesterol Myth. But they all have in common that they are much higher fat than the average American thinks they should consume. They're moderate protein, higher, fat, and lower carbohydrate.
Now how extreme you need to go there. Do you need to go so low that you are on a ketogenic diet? I don't know. We can discuss that, but the template is if you were a recording engineer, and you had a mixing board in front of you near three big levers to push and one is protein. One is carbs. One is fat.
You are going to move the protein lever up to the moderate column. You're going to move the fat up to the higher column, and you're going to pull that carbohydrate lever way, way down. That is the beginning of changing to a fat-burning metabolism?
MARY SHOMON: Well, one thing we do know is that not all fats are equal.
So, when we are looking at making this shift and incorporating more good fat into our diet, can you tell us what some of the good fats are and which kinds of fats we want to stay away from?
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: We can. You should use not saturated, not animal fat but these wonderful polyunsaturated fats. This puts me in mind of an old study that I wrote about back when we wrote Living Low Carb, and which I mentioned again in The Great Cholesterol Myth. It was a wonderful study done by Dariush Mozaffarian, who's one of the great researchers up in Boston and he did this study. So, what they did was they took saturated fat and vegetable oil, and they did a study in which they took the saturated fat out of one of this group of people's diets and they replaced it with carbohydrates. They expected to find a huge improvement in metabolic markers for heart disease.
I mean, we're removing this horrible ingredient – saturated fat – and we're replacing it with great things like cornflakes and cereal and all these low-fat, terrific high fiber. They figured this is going to be another nail in the coffin on unsaturated fat.
And you know, what happened? The people who had the higher carb diet had the higher metabolic markers for heart disease. And the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition wrote an editorial because they were so confused by the results. And the headline of the editorial is "Does saturated fat protect against heart disease: an American paradox," except it's not such a paradox, Mary what's coming out in new data.
The idea that we should all be consuming these "healthy vegetable oils" was a terrible mistake. If they're very pro-inflammatory and they really should not be the staple of our diet at all. So, I wanted to get that clear when we talk about good and bad fats because one of the mythologies that we explore in The Great Cholesterol Myth is this notion that animal products are always bad for you.
That anything with saturated fat and cholesterol causes heart disease, and these things are just not true. The science shows it. We referenced over 200 studies that we talk about. And the evidence is kind of really clear. The problem with fats is not whether it's animal, vegetable, or mineral…it's whether it's toxic and the way you make a toxic fat is you pick a vegetable oil, and you heat it and you fry it and then you let it cool.
And then you fry it and reheat it just like they do in restaurants. And it was one of the biggest mistakes ever when they all said, "Okay, saturated fats, bad, let's switch to frying in polyunsaturated.” Well, those things become even more damaged than the saturated fats that they replaced. They would have been better off leaving lard in there – good, healthy lard – because that doesn't turn into carcinogenic compounds when you heat it When you take vegetable oil and heat it and reheat it and let it cool and then reheat it for seven days – like most fast-food restaurants do – you are creating cancerous compounds, but you're consuming polyunsaturated oils.
Coconut oil is a wonderful oil. Malaysian Palm oil, wonderful oil. They're plant-based saturated fats. There's nothing wrong with them. And animal saturated fats that come from healthy animals that are not loaded with antibiotics and steroids and bovine growth hormone and all the rest of it. The saturated fat from healthy animals, like that is nothing for us to fear. So, what we should be asking is, is this a toxic fat, or is this a natural, healthy fat? Not whether it's saturated or unsaturated.
MARY SHOMON: Okay. In general, then, the coconut oil, olive oil, the healthy palm oils, these are going to be in the positive category and vegetable oils that are processed and that are touted as healthy, but are not, are really going to be less preferred when it comes to choosing healthy fats.
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Yes. I never really in any area of my work like to make black and white, absolute rules about anything. There are omega sixes, which are an essential fatty acid that are found in these so-called vegetable oils. The problem is we're supposed to consume them in a balance of about one-to-one with the anti-inflammatory omega threes.
And we're consuming about 20 to one in favor of these omega sixes, because we're using these vegetable oils. The second thing I'd like to say about “vegetable oils” is they're not even vegetable oils. That was a marketing ploy. Is there a canola vegetable? Is there a soy vegetable? These are seed oils.
These are seed oils. Corn, soy. All of them are seed oils. And the whole vegetable oil thing was kind of a way of putting a really healthy patina on these really industrial oils that are processed within an inch of their lives. Have no antioxidants left in them. They are highly processed at high temperatures.
Now can you get an organic cold pressed canola oil? Sure. And it's non-GMO and all that stuff. Sure. But that's not most of what we use for canola or that's a real exception to the rule. And are there some omega sixes that are pro-inflammatory or those that are healthy to use for cooking? Sure. If you balance them with all these others that are non-inflammatory once in a while, a little peanut oil or sesame oil, that's a great oil that has a lot of omega sixes, but it has lots of other things in it too, if you get the organic kind.
And we need to get a healthy, inflammatory response in the healthy balance.
The Worst Foods
MARY SHOMON: One question that I have for you relates to your list of the key culprits in an unhealthy diet. And I know that you have a few items on your list that you really feel need to be kicked to the curb. So, can you give us the rundown on those?
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Well, every time I'm asked in an interview, like the worst foods in the American diet, I come up with the same three time and time again, and it's always donuts, French fries and soda. I believe that if you could remove those three items from every American's diet, completely – donuts, sodas, and French fries – you'd get a marked and measurable increase in overall health.
Even if you left everything else alone. So, that's how bad I think those are, but they are far from the only offenders. It takes some effort to make some lifestyle changes, but things that most people could do relatively easy.
So, I'm always big on the three big supplements that everybody needs. A couple of major changes you can make in the diet. And again, my take home advice, no matter what subject, I'm speaking on the great cholesterol myth, misconceptions about fat, general nutrition, myth-busting diet and weight loss programs, whatever subject it is.
I always, after the one basic nugget of information, it's not hard to remember: eat real food. If you can just go home with those three words in your head, you will know the moral of every book I've ever written, including The Great Cholesterol Myth, because that covers everything.
What I mean by real food is this. I call it the Jonny Bowden four food groups, food that you could have hunted, you could have fished for, you could have plucked it off a tree, or you could have gathered it off the ground. So, we're talking nuts, berries, grass fed meat, wild salmon. We're talking about the staples of real food that you would find if you lived hundreds and hundreds of years ago, that's kind of the premise behind paleo diets and there's a great sensibility to that. We have talked offline you and I about autoimmune protocols and things that trigger autoimmune diseases, which of course, what is it? 95 or more percent of thyroid problems are an autoimmune disorder. Is that correct?
MARY SHOMON: Yes.
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: So, we talk about all of those triggers and, what are they, they're all like industrial foods or stress or pollutants or all these things in modern life.
And there is a great wisdom. So, let's go back to the foods that the human genus was designed to run on. And if you go back 2.4 million years. So, our very first prehuman ancestors in a hundred thousand years to us out of Africa, we always ate the foods we could hunt, gather, fish, or pluck. Those are the ones that our systems are most accustomed to, and then we get into all these crazy diets to lower cholesterol and to eat low-fat and they don't achieve what we think they're going to achieve, It's time really for reexamination of that.
And it's important because it's happening now, we are seeing in real time play out on the news, in-person, the politicization of scientific facts, no matter what side of the spectrum you're on. You have to see that the CDC is under pressure to produce something, and the vaccine manufacturers are, and that can always result in a quickening or changing of standards.
And there's a lot of ways, and there's a lot of pressure to do that. We can all agree to that. Well, that's what happened when the dietary guidelines for me. People don't realize it, but we were, as a country -- not like COVID, but in a mini way – experiencing a tremendous amount of discontent and disorder because our president just had a heart attack.
So, imagine if you will, if you're the age I think you are, you probably weren't alive when Eisenhower was president. But you had this healthy beloved guy who it's hard to imagine now who everyone loved –Democrats, Republicans – and he has a heart attack in office and heart attacks weren't that common in 1953. People were just beginning to get aware of this and of heart disease and arteries and saying we've got to protect it. If it can happen to Eisenhower, we need some guidelines and there was pressure. What should we eat? And the forces there that were saying, these big cattlemen, they're the bad guys and these wonderful granola kinds of people who are raising wheat on the prairies, they're the good guys. And then you had Woodstock and then there was so many political pressures at that time to come up with dietary guidelines that were anti industrial, not pro meat and pro dairy. And we wound up with this cockamamie low-fat diet that threw out all the good stuff and made an open field for processed food manufacturers. You had this explosion of the food industry, and that's what we got today. And it was not based on science.
And there's a lot of papers. We talk about them in the book, as it's important for people to understand that most of the stuff your thyroid patients were told to eat, most of the stuff my weight loss patients were told to eat, most of the diets we told them to eat were based on one thing only: the fear of saturated fat and cholesterol.
We didn't want them eating that because that was going to raise their cholesterol and that was going to give them heart disease. And as we show in the book that wasn't and isn't so.
Inflammatory Foods and Autoimmunity
MARY SHOMON: Well said, well said. One of the things that is an issue certainly in autoimmunity and is an issue for anyone when we're talking about good health and maintaining a healthy weight, and the role of nutrition are inflammatory foods.
And I'm wondering if you can explain to us a little bit about what an inflammatory food is, what it does to the body and what are the most common culprits, in the inflammatory food category.
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Okay, great questions. I'm going to give you the take home first, the two most inflammatory substances in the American diet are sugar and vegetable oil. So, if you stop listening now, remember that sugar and everything that turns into sugar very quickly, like starch and cereal and the very oils you and I have just been talking about now, are there other things?
So, I'll tell you this funny story that Dr. Steve Sinatra, who was my co-author on The Great Cholesterol Myth, and is a cardiologist, told me. He said when he was in residency, he had to be in the operating room at like six o'clock at night. And there's a lot of stress and I don't know what he had to perform exactly, but it was a big deal and he's in his residency.
And, he hadn't eaten all day and he decided to just do a quick blood test, stop and kind of check his levels, see what eating did to his levels. And he said his cholesterol level was through the roof and he hadn't eaten. And his normal cholesterol levels were very normal.
He stored that away until much later when we started really digging into all this stuff. And the bottom line is that stress can even raise your cholesterol levels and does. So, all of these things can be inflammatory. When we are talking about inflammation, we are talking about an immune system response. There is no inflammation without immunity. it's kind of the immune system's first order response.
Let me give you an example. You puncture your skin. And you get a little prick, and it punctures a skin and is bleeding a little bit, or you get an insect bite, and the area starts to swell. What sets all the white blood cells surrounding the area that I'm looking for an invading microbe? Should we surround it? Should we eat it? Should we send in the heavy artillery? Should we send in macrophages to eat it up? So, they are basically responding. That's what the immune system is doing. So, if you are fighting a million fires, if you're putting out inflammatory fires, you are the immune system.
You're like a fire department. You've got all these little piddly things that are started by little teenage arsonists, and you got to go put it out. And then you've got to put out this one, though, all kinds of self-inflicted wounds, all man-made errors. What's going to happen when you got to muster that whole army for a major challenge, like COVID?
No wonder people with these underlying metabolic problems seem to be at the greatest risk. The immune system is busy fighting all these little inflammatory fires.
Yes. It's involved in autoimmune diseases. And you certainly know and have talked about so eloquently how it's involved in Hashimoto's and any kind of thyroid issue. Yes. It's involved in weight and cardiovascular issues, but it's also involved in immunity. It's like this beautiful trifecta.
Every time you look at a condition, whether it be the thyroid or autoimmune disease. Whether it be obesity, whether it be heart disease or whether it be prevention of getting really sick and having your immune system firing on all cylinders, you always wind up with a similar kind of basic food prescription, which is what I said earlier.
Food you could hunt, fish, gather, or pluck because all things respond better to that kind of diet.
MARY SHOMON: Now, are there any foods in particular that are especially known for anti-inflammatory properties that when people, so if we're looking at a whole foods diet, things we can hunt and fish and pick and gather, but which ones should we be really making an effort to try to include in our diet on a regular basis?
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Well, things with omega three is number one. They call it the wellness molecule largely because of their documented anti-inflammatory properties. So, omega-3…my preference is to get it from wild salmon. Two other foods that you might not think are highly anti-inflammatory are apples and onions.
Both of which contain a very anti-inflammatory flavonoid called quercetin, which if you Google you will find some very interesting things.
Berries have lots of anti-inflammatory properties. So do nuts, and again, the omega three oils, like chia seed oil, flax seed oil. They can't really be used for anything very, very low heat, but they're wonderful for salads and things like that. And, extra virgin olive oil may be one of the best prescription drugs around. Meat and fish are not known for anti-inflammatories, although there's astaxanthin, which is wonderful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and it's found in salmon, but for the most part, you get other things from your meat and from your fish. But for fruits and vegetables, and nuts. You can't really beat for a whole anti-inflammatory army.
The Power of Probiotics
MARY SHOMON: Now what about probiotic rich foods? Because we know that with thyroid issues and autoimmunity so much of the immune system is really dependent on gut health. And we now are beginning, I think, to really start to understand that in some ways the gut health really does rely not only on the food that we're eating, but also on making sure that we're keeping a good balance of good bacteria.
So, where do you stand on probiotic-rich foods and probiotic supplements?
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Well, first of all, I want to reinforce what you just said. Wonderful information. It does all kind of start in the gut, because if you think about it, that's one of the largest surfaces in the body. And it's one of the main entry points for toxins and other things that don't belong.
So, every time the gut is injured in any way, there's any kind of what we call leaky gut or any kind of holes in the wall. Border crossings, if you will, bad stuff gets into the bloodstream and the immune system gets busy. If you want to have a healthy functioning immune system, you don't want all those things getting through the gut so that the immune system is going to be occupied elsewhere, fighting off all of these little peptides that should have been digested, but managed somehow to sneak through the holes in the wall and get into the bloodstream before they were fully digested.
And those things can start little immune responses. So, gut health, you are 1000% right, is so critical. I'm just saying it to reinforce it so that they can hear it from another voice. That's why functional medicine says: all health starts in the gut. Now, do probiotics help your gut stay healthier?
I believe they're important. So, I take them as a precaution, and I know that we are taking them with incomplete knowledge of if this is the best formula.
How do you pick one, if you don't really know which ones are going to be great though? I defer on my thyroid stuff to people like you. I defer on things like the gut-brain connection and that kind of help to the wonderful neurologist, Dr. David Perlmutter, who wrote Grain Brain and all those other wonderful books.
And all you do is Google it. And he tells you the five strains he thinks are most important for most people and suggests if you buy a probiotic supplement from whatever manufacturer that you try to get these five strains in there. And I have followed that advice. And so, I do take a probiotic supplement with those five strains.
[Note from Mary: the five probiotic strains recommended by Dr. Perlmutter are Lactobaccilus plantarum, Lactobaccilus acidophilus, Lactobaccilus brevis, Bifidobacterium lactis and Bifidobacterium longum.]
I have very little doubt that one day they will be able to do microbiome analysis and say, “You know what, Mary, for your particular case, you should have this formula of probiotic strains and these amounts,” and, “Jonny for your microbiome, you ought to have this.” But we're not there yet. So, in advance of that, probiotics are the good guy bacteria in your gut.
There's constantly a kind of ecological war going on in your gut between the good guys and the bad guys, bad guys being like candida albicans, where you get yeast infections. Everybody knows that's no fun. And those are the bad guys kind of getting in charge.
So, you want the good guys to kind of keep the peace. You're always going to have some of that candida stuff, but you want to just keep them in their neighborhoods and not let them take over. And the probiotics are reinforcements for the good guys.
Can we get more fermented foods in our diet? You bet. It's just wonderful for you. And kimchi is a great example.
I think you once told me that one of your favorite tools. It's not to everyone's taste. So, not everybody's eating a lot of kimchi. We eat olives and sauerkraut from bottles, not from the naturally fermented kind, which you do have a lot of probiotics, but yeah, I do think we should eat probiotic foods.
Fermented soy is great too. I'm not a fan of soy in the diet, but I'm a fan of fermented soy.
Soy: Good or Bad for Thyroid Patients?
MARY SHOMON: You raise an interesting subject, which is soy because soy is a hot button issue in the thyroid world because a lot of patients have heard that soy can interfere with thyroid function, especially in high quantities or high concentrations, but at the same time, a lot of women – especially in our forties and older – are told that soy is the magic cure for all things menopause.
And then we also have people trying to cut out meat from their diet. And we now know that may be counterintuitive, based on your input, but a lot of folks think they're doing themselves a health benefit by replacing meat proteins with soy proteins. So, what's your take on soy as part of the diet and whether it's the right choice for thyroid patients in particular.
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Well, full disclosure. I thought I've never been a fan of soy. From the beginning, my myth buster credentials were based on the fact that I did not think coffee was a terrible health hazard and I did not think soy was always a health food and both of those have turned out to be right. I don't think soy's going to kill you. I know people get into very partisan debates about this, but I think it's an inferior protein. It's an object lesson in how not to divide foods into good or bad, because if you're looking at it, as you just mentioned, from a menopause point of view, it does have phytoestrogens, which in many cases have been shown to modulate some menopausal symptoms.
So, it could be that the phytoestrogens are not necessarily good for an eight-year-old boy. So, if you look at it for not just whether the food is good, but like who is it good for? The Israeli government stopped using soy formula a long time ago and stopped allowing health claims on soy formula for just those reasons.
There are things in soy called phytates, which bind to minerals. Now, in some cases, that might be a good thing. But in many cases, it's not, and it kind of depends on what you want them to bind to.
If it's a mineral you'd like less of, yeah, it might be good thing, but in many cases it's not. And then, finally, soy does have in fact goitrogens, which are the very dreaded compounds that can reduce thyroid function. What I would say about that is I don't really see any big advantage to soy, I mean, soy came about because they were selling the anti-meat, anti-fat anti, high, fat, high protein diet.
And it was selling a low-fat, high-carb version with lots of vegetable products and vegetable oils and soy…became the poster child for that. It got all this health patina or glow of health because it was associated with the Japanese and the Chinese. Well, I had spent some time in Japan and I'm back to report that they don't eat the kind of soy products like we eat here, and I've been to China too. They don't have soy ice cream. They don't have soy chips. They don't have soy cereal. They eat fermented soy in small portions with meals that are predominantly around fish and vegetables. Give me a break.
I certainly don't think the soy products we're consuming are the best soy has to offer. I understand that people don't want to eat animal products and people are vegetarian and vegan for many reasons, which I respect.
That's fine. They do need to look for alternative sources. So, it would be one of those, but it would never, for me, be a preferred source of protein at all.
MARY SHOMON: Okay. As you and I have talked about this too, when Americans are eating soy, in some cases, they think, well, if a little bit is good, then a lot of it's even better.
And so, I've had coaching clients who are drinking soy milk, and they're making soy protein shakes every day and taking soy capsules and soy burgers and soy cookies and soy chips and, and it's all processed forms of soy. And they think they're doing themselves a benefit. And in some cases, their thyroid is starting to get out of whack further.
They're actually gaining weight on the soy. It's completely working against their aims of having a healthier diet and supporting their thyroid function. And what I always advise to people is: Look, soy is not evil, but eat it the way the Asians do, which is, as you mentioned, in small portions in its fermented forms and the way Asians typically eat it is as a condiment, a little bit of miso, a little bit of tofu, a little bit of tempeh, but not soy shakes and soy milk and soy protein powders.
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Precisely. I couldn't have said it better. There's no light between you and me on the subject. I can tell you that.
MARY SHOMON: Speaking of the goitrogens, because we mentioned soy as a goitrogen, there is also some controversy around the issue of the goitrogenic and cruciferous vegetables, like the kale and broccoli and spinach and cauliflower, which are among some of the healthiest and most nutrition-dense vegetables we have out there.
But there are concerns about overconsumption of these vegetables, raw, having the potential to slow the thyroid down somewhat. And I'm wondering if you have any thoughts about that.
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Absolutely. It goes back to our flawed thinking about foods as good or bad and not being willing to see the shading and the different aspects to a food, the same way we do with humans.
Most of our friends have some great points and they also have some points we wish maybe we didn't have to be around so much and there's usually a mix. And the same thing is true here. So, you have this family of vegetables, the brassica family, which in The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, I call it vegetable royalty.
This is the king and queen of vegetables. Broccoli is a brassica, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, chard. I mean, this is the royalty, and we all know that they have wonderful things. We could go through a list of the vitamins and the minerals and the fibers and the just wonderful stuff in them.
They also have goitrogens. And those can be a problem for people with thyroid issues. Now, does that make them a bad food? No. As you said, they are among the most nutritious foods on earth. So now the question is whether the goitrogens that they contain have a meaningful effect on your thyroid function.
I'm not the expert you are on this, but I'm pretty much expert on individualized medicine. I'm going to guess that if it's like anything else in the world, there's going to be some variety of that. Some people, it might have quite an effect on them, some people that might have none. And I think it's important to remember that the fact that something contains a compound like a goitrogen, and that it can depress thyroid function, doesn't mean that it will. And it doesn't mean that if it does, it's a meaningful amount that would balance the incredible nutrition value that you won't get if you don't eat it. So, it's a little bit like the mercury in the salmon, you have to really say, “Is this amount – we want to keep it as small as possible, right – really going to make a difference compared to the benefits?” And there've been studies of that risk benefit analysis. And they always come out in favor of the food because there's so many benefits to it. So, how do we reduce the negatives? You steam or lightly cooked them.
And that reduces the goitrogens even further. Now, again, with the caveat, if you're someone who's measuring your thyroid function constantly, you want to do an experiment, try these foods for a couple of weeks and see if there's any measurable or, or even if you perceive any differences in symptoms, anything like that, by all means do that.
But in advance of that, I would say it's really a risk benefit thing, I don't know what your experience is, but I haven't seen too much real negative. From consuming brassica vegetables, even for thyroid patients.
MARY SHOMON: The key takeaway for people is to realize that if you cook or steam these vegetables, you're getting rid of most of the thyroid-slowing potential. And you're keeping all the nutritional benefit, but you're getting rid of that goitrogenic element that makes them problematic for some people and even people who like to, juice and create smoothies with their vegetables.
A lot of folks that I know some nutritionists and some chefs have said just steam them briefly throw them in the freezer. So, they're nice and cold, and then throw them in your smoothie or your juice the next day. You're still going to get all the benefits, but you've gotten rid of that goitrogenic potential.
The biggest issue that I've found is really with a small number of people who decide to go on a huge health kick. The next thing, they're having three or four bags of kale and spinach every day that they're juicing down all day long. They're getting very high doses of concentrated, raw goitrogenic vegetables.
And they will sometimes notice a difference in their thyroid levels, but that's daily, multiple doses a day and in a raw form. But when we're cooking and steaming and we're not overconsuming, then we're doing it in moderation. There really shouldn't be a problem. There's no reason to keep these vegetables out of our diet, because as you said, they are the royalty, in terms of a nutritional value.
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: I just love you. I have to stop and just say how much I admire and love your way of expressing things and getting information across in a user-friendly clear way, accurate information. I just admired it, I don't know, 20 years. It's just very great to hear you actually do it in person in real time.
I mean, that's just great advice. It's not extreme. It's kind of what I think, which is great. It's very solid advice and I think we can expand it to other areas, which is that there really don't have to be too many black and white, yes or no decisions made about food and supplements.
There are some obviously, but I think the vast majority we can look at it a little bit more shaded, the way you just did, like okay, what are the negatives of this food and how can I mitigate those? I love my carbs. Sometimes we don't have to always be on a no-carb diet, but if I'm going to eat them, I try to mitigate the damage. So, for example, I love some pasta, loves me some pasta. I make the pasta out of red lentils, green lentils, black beans.
There's a lot of pastas made out of beans. Then I load them up with fat. I put butter and olive oil on them, and I load them up with cheese. Tomato sauce. So, now I have all the antioxidants from the tomato. I've got the fat from the olive oil, which is anti-inflammatory, I've got the butter and the butyric acid and all of the stuff from grass fed butter.
And I put tuna fish in it as well, which I know will gross some people out, but it's like a tuna casserole. It's great. At the end of the day, I've never had that mix tested, but I'm betting it's a really low glycemic load. It's not going to raise my blood sugar that much because I have added everything into that mix that mitigates the rise in blood sugar, which is the reason I avoid pasta in the first place.
So, what you just did was tell people how to have this nutritious vegetable in a way that really mitigates any potential damage. Just steam it. And then put butter on it. And enjoy it.
MARY SHOMON: Absolutely! Sounds good to me.
Gluten and Food Sensitivities
MARY SHOMON: Speaking of the black and white, gluten has become sort of a dirty word in today's world, and we have so many people who are gluten-free.
I think some of them don't even know why they're gluten-free, they're just sort of on the bandwagon. What is really the story on gluten?
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Well, gluten can have two effects on the body. One of them is neutral and one of them is bad. There's nothing good that comes out of gluten. There's no reason that we need gluten except for baking and things like that.
It doesn't have a positive effect, but it can have a less bad effect. You can have a neutral effect. I know that there are people in our neck of the woods, in the health space, so to speak, who like no gluten ever all the time. Clearly there's a huge, continuum from celiac disease on the extreme end to mild gluten sensitivity on the other end.
There's gluten intolerance in the middle. I think people exist on a spectrum with that. I also think that the reaction is somewhat dose dependent. Let's remember that wheat is a ubiquitous food. It's everywhere. It's in the damn glue that you used to lick on the stamps in order to put them on an envelope in the old days. It's in everything, hamburger buns, and the amount that we consume may be a little overwhelming for our digestive and immune systems. Which let me point out that did not evolve on gluten, it's a relatively new food or wheat, and it may be yes, a little bit here and there' – some wild grains and then slowly incorporated, but we have different varieties of wheat. These are different crops than they were even 50 or a hundred years ago. So, the gluten component is generally either neutral or it's mildly inflammatory or it's very inflammatory.
So, if I'm doing something as my own experiment and I have some reactions or some symptoms that I want to see, if there might be a change, I would do an experiment on myself, and I'd go grain-free for three weeks. And that's your experiment. If you start feeling great, guess what, that's your answer.
If it makes no difference, probably gluten wasn't the problem.
MARY SHOMON: One question that I have that relates to that is, many people assume if you are sensitive to a food, you're going to have a stomachache afterwards or gastrointestinal symptoms. But I have talked with many people who they don't have any gastrointestinal response to foods that they're sensitive to, but instead they get a rash, or their eyes get itchy, or they start to have a runny nose, or in some cases their joints start to ache, or they feel an intense fatigue after they've eaten something.
And sometimes it can even take a few hours or even a day to set in. Have you seen some of those kinds of symptoms as evidence of sensitivity to different foods or different culprits in food sensitivity?
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Absolutely a hundred percent,
I don't remember who told it to me, but it was a very wise MD who said the body has a finite way of responding to an infinite number of insults. Let me explain. You mentioned a whole bunch of those finite ways. It gets a rash. It gets an inflammation. You get an abscess, you get a headache, you get a runny nose, but there's a finite number of these things.
The things that can trigger them or cause them is infinite. It's every chemical that was ever released into the environment. It's everything that's in the water. It's everything that's in the air. It's your stress. There's an infinite number of things that can damage our metabolism and harm us.
It's almost quaint to think that “Oh, I ate some things. So, the local symptom is going to be in the belly, or I put something on my skin. So, I'm not going to have a rash or a headache. I'm going to have something on that, patch of skin.”
There is not a one-on-one connection between a response in the gut and a real injury. We can be injuring ourselves in so many different ways and asymptomatic until metabolic disease hits later on.
And actually, again, not to keep bringing up The Great Cholesterol Myth, but the reason I feel passionate about the message of this edition of the book, is that we feel that we can see 10 years in advance. Of the actual symptoms of heart disease and diabetes, there are signs that you could find 10 years earlier before your doctor even says, “Mr. Jones, you've got some elevated cholesterol and A1C here. We ought to take a look at that and put you on a statin.” And 10 years before that, if you know what to look for, you can find the culprit. You can find the early signs and those early signs can be changed, can be treated and reversed or prevented with diet, and that's why it's so important to start looking for this stuff early.
And that goes to the point about, I don't see the symptom right away. Well, we eat lots of foods and it takes a long time, sometimes, for symptoms to progress, and sometimes you ate something for breakfast, and you don't feel a symptom until the next day at dinnertime. And it's hard to know what caused what. And it's kind of the same thing with the metabolic damage.
It happens over years of this kind of eating, and we don't even know what exactly caused it, but we know that there's an awful lot of people with insulin resistance and an awful lot of people with elevated blood pressure and a little bit of abdominal obesity. Well, those are all the early signs of heart disease and they're all diet related.
Dr. Jonny Bowden’s Metabolic Factor
MARY SHOMON: Absolutely. Absolutely. My last question, what I want to do is give you an opportunity to recommend one of your programs or books or approaches that you think hones in the best for our thyroid community. That is, really in many cases, looking at this issue primarily from the lens of trying to lose some weight.
So, would it be your metabolic rehab program?
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: It would be. And, full disclosure, we have this new book coming out that I'm so excited about. For many reasons, one of which I just explained, because I have to get so connected to like our health and our immunity.
And it's so relevant. But if you tell me this is what people want to know about. How do they put into practice a diet and lifestyle program that will help change their metabolism from a sugar burner, to a fat burner and all the ramifications that might have for someone with thyroid issues or without, I would have to say the program I'd recommend is the one that's been out there for a while and has a real track record and it's called the Metabolic Factor and you can get it anywhere.
I appreciate it if you got it on my website, because that's the real one, it's not counterfeited like some of the Amazon ones. And there's even a free quiz on my website that actually helps you find out what kind of a fat burner you are so that the program can be tailored a little bit to you.
That's what I'd recommend. People go to my website, http://www.jonnybowden.com. No H in Jonny I always have to say, and just look for the Metabolic Factor or the fat-burning quiz, or if you don't have access to it, just write to email@example.com and we'll steer you over to the quiz or to the product, but I guess that's the one I'd recommend.
MARY SHOMON: And once people do that metabolic program, then I want them to get The Great Cholesterol Myth so that they can understand how it works, why it works and really then you can get into the fine-tuning and figuring out the good fats and the good things to be eating cause high cholesterol is a chronic problem with hypothyroidism.
Even when people are being treated with pharmaceuticals, we still see people running with high cholesterol and the doctors are trying to throw statin drugs at it and tell people to go on low cholesterol diets. And as you and I know that's counterintuitive.
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: And let me say this, about the material in The Great Cholesterol Myth, because you say high cholesterol is a chronic problem in the thyroid community.
One of the central tenets in the book. And another one that if you do nothing but show this to your doctor, it will make me very happy. The cholesterol test you're using is obsolete. The notion that there are two types of cholesterol, good and bad LDL, HDL, and that they are telling you, “Oh, your LDL is going up.”
The real cholesterol test you want to insist on is the test that shows all 13 kinds of cholesterol. There are 13 different kinds and there are some that are more dangerous. This is all available on a basic test. It's available from Quest Lab and from LabCorp and the doctors that are still using that antiquated good and bad, it’s like using an abacus to do calculations. So, when you tell me it's a problem, I say, “By what measurement? Are you using the real measurement? Or are you using the other?”
MARY SHOMON: Good point, good point. So, if you think you have high cholesterol or doctors are telling you, “You need to be on a statin drug,” your first step is to get a much more comprehensive panel to look at what the nature of the cholesterol that you have is.
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Exactly.
The Best Advice of All from Dr. Jonny
Well, Jonny, I think we've covered all of the key things that I wanted to get to. Is there anything that I haven't covered that you wanted to make sure we included?
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Yes, absolutely. And thanks for asking. There's one thing that is actually central to both my Metabolic Factor Program and what we wrote in The Great Cholesterol Myth, which is overall health is about more than these lab values.
Any functional medicine doctor, any weight loss person worth their salt that's been in the field more than ten years doesn't even want to look at numbers anymore because they know that your friendships, your participation in community, the way that you regulate your moods, the quality of your sleep, the quality of your connection to your community, that these are major markers for health.
And if you ask me, they dwarf cholesterol and they dwarf most of the lab tests. And what we have to understand is all these things, the vitamins and supplements we take, the walks in greenery that we take, the amount of sun exposure that we get, our vitamin D levels. All of these impact heart disease, but they also impact the quality of your life and the happiness of your spirit and the wellbeing of your soul.
And if you don't attend to those, you are not treating the whole picture. And that's what my work is about.
MARY SHOMON: And that's also a true definition of holistic health, because we're not just looking at what we're eating or what supplements we're taking or what medications we're doing, but we're looking at the entire quality of all of the inputs: mind, body, and spirit.
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Yes. That's exactly right. It's the conclusion that all of my colleagues, you included, have come to over the years: that you can't just separate these little things, even if they’re as big as exercise and diet from the whole fabric of your life. And those things count.
MARY SHOMON: Absolutely. Absolutely. I've talked with some women that are trying to lose weight and they're out jogging all the time and eating almost nothing and they're miserable, absolutely miserable.
And, in some cases you say, “Look…stop the jogging, stop eating just kale chips 24/7, and just do some things that make you happy. What do you like to do?” “Well, I really like yoga. I don't like jogging.” “Well, go do some yoga. What do you like to eat?” “Well, I really love a good steak.” “Well, go get some good grass-fed beef and make yourself a steak!”
And inevitably, when people listen to their body and they aren't forcing themselves into being unhappy about the things that they're doing, all of that permeates in so many ways and you start to see people feeling better, losing weight, getting healthier, having more energy simply – because they're honoring all of the parts of the picture and not just forcing themselves to be jogging constantly or only eating 1200 calories a day or whatever thing that they've neurotically fixated on as the one magic bullet solution to everything.
DR. JONNY BOWDEN: Amen. I could not agree with you more, it could not have been said better or more eloquently. I agree. You're fabulous.
MARY SHOMON: Well, so are you, and thank you again so very much.
I want to thank my dynamic guest, Dr. Jonny Bowden, for joining us for the podcast. Links to Dr. Jonny Bowden’s website, social media, and books are in the show notes, along with a complete transcript of this episode, are all available at the Thyroid Deep Dive website, www.thyroiddeepdive.com.
And remember that every episode of the Thyroid Deep Dive podcast has the same goal: to provide you with practical information that will help you enjoy the very best health possible. You can subscribe and listen at all your favorite podcast platforms.
This is Mary Shomon, and I want to thank you for listening to the Thyroid Deep Dive. Today, and every day, may you feel well and live well.
Resources and Links
Dr. Johnny Bowden:
The Metabolic Factor: https://www.metabolicfactor.com/
The Great Cholesterol Myth
Web page: https://jonnybowden.com/product/the-great-cholesterol-myth/
Buy it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3xd66kC
Living Low Carb
Buy it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3pIiKp8
Dr. David Perlmutter's Grain Brain
Buy it On Amazon: https://amzn.to/3iDCMj8
Saturated fat prevents coronary artery disease? An American paradox," The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/80/5/1102/4690409
Cholesterol Panels - Order Yourself from TrueHealthLabs
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