A tremendous number of scientific papers and research on health and nutrition are published daily. On top of that, most of these studies are financed with tax dollars, and still, the general public has little to no access to them.
The situation worsens when we add influencers and fitness gurus to the equation, spreading inaccurate information or recommending diets and nutrition plans that worked for them as the definitive solution.
Multiple factors contribute to this situation, from people’s online content consumption preferences to misinformation and the promiscuity between governmental institutions, corporations, and mass media.
So, how can we jump over this gap and access reliable information about what is actually good for our health?
In this episode, the renowned physician, research scientist, science communicator, speaker, and writer, Dr. Gil Carvalho, unveils why we constantly stumble over false or inaccurate information about health and nutrition. He highlights the importance of understanding that lifestyle, choices, and consistency are detrimental to longevity, even more than genetics.
Plus, Dr. Gil talks about the link between ultra-processed food and preventable deaths and diseases, the issues of having food designed to be craveable instead of nutritious, and the dance between the food industry interests and USDA’s food and nutrition guidelines.
In addition, Dr. Gil shares the Three Ps system, designed to empower people to make better choices about the information they decide to trust and follow, and much more. Listen now!
Dr. Gil Carvalho
Gil Carvalho, MD PhD is a physician, research scientist, science communicator, speaker and writer.
He is trained as a medical doctor in the University of Lisbon, Portugal, and later obtained a PhD in Biology from California Institute of Technology. He has published peer-reviewed medical research spanning the fields of genetics, molecular biology, nutrition, behavior, aging and neuroscience.
Dr. Carvalho’s research contributions at Caltech, where he trained with pioneer geneticist Seymour Benzer, included the identification of genetic and nutritional mechanisms of longevity.
Dr. Carvalho also pursued research, with neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, on mechanisms of neural signal transmission in the sensory system and the neural basis of interception and feeling.
In 2018, he launched the YouTube Channel, “Nutrition Made Simple”, which aims to convey fundamental nutrition concepts to a lay audience via educational videos. His content has been watched by over a quarter-million people.
Connect to Dr. Gil Carvalho
- About Dr. Gil Carvalho’s background and why he decided to contribute to spreading accurate information on health and nutrition
- Why making informed decisions on our lifestyle and nutrition is a game-changer
- What is the reason for the disconnection between science and research about nutrition and the general public
- How consistency and better lifestyle choices can help us outsmart “bad genes”
- Why more developed countries are moving into higher consumption of ultra-processed food, and what is the impact of this on health and longevity
- About the unfair battle between personal choices and lab-designed foods
- Gil Carvalho explains the conflict of interests that determines how food is presented to the population
- What is the Three Ps system, and how we can use it to make better choices and finally end the nutrition confusion
- And much more…
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Podcast Transcription: Nutrition Made Simple: How To Make Better Food Choices, Outsmart "Bad Genes" & Finally End Your Nutrition Confusion with Dr. Gil Carvalho
Ted Ryce: Dr. Gil Carvalho, welcome to the Legendary Life podcast. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. Thanks so much for taking the time to come on the show.
Gil Carvalho: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Ted Ryce: Yeah. And in the beginning of the episode, I talked a little bit about you. It’s kind of funny, because I found out about you through Twitter, then I realized you had this great YouTube channel called Nutrition Made Simple, and you’re a medical doctor. But when I read more about you, you’re not just a medical doctor, although that’s a great accomplishment. But you’re also a scientist who publishes research papers, and more. What is your elevator pitch when someone asks you like, what do you do?
Gil Carvalho: A little bit of everything. I don’t know. Right now, most of my time is devoted to science communication. But most of my adult life has been in research science. Right after medical school, I went into grad school. And then after grad school, it’s been full time research science all the way. And the last three years and change, mostly the science communication, the YouTube and Twitter. It’s funny that you, you met me…It’s almost the inverse path, because most people find me through YouTube. And then sometimes we link up on Twitter, but you and the other direction. That’s interesting.
Ted Ryce: Yeah. And I’m so glad we did, because we have some mutual Twitter acquaintances. And one thing I really like about you, and we’ll get into this, is that you do a great job of breaking down the research, which, reading your background, that makes so much sense. You’ve had public papers published in prestigious journals like Nature, and just so many things that you’ve done.
But what I really appreciate about you, Gil, is that you do a great job of coming across as the person who, hey, listen, let’s look at the data. What does the data say? Let’s look at the quality of this study. Let’s talk about this in a rational way. Because you just, let’s get down to what the truth is, for lack of a better way of describing it. And we’re in a world right now where hype kind of sells.
And one of the things that I tried to do, too, is have people like you on to help the Legendary Life listeners discern, okay, well, this isn’t good information, although it’s a strong, compelling, emotional story, but it just doesn’t see it, or there’s so many topics that we could dive into. What’s your perspective when it comes to…? Like, how do you see it being a research scientist? And then now you’re in science communication with this great YouTube channel that I’ve shared with a lot of my clients, actually. And how do you see the situation for a person trying to make sense of it all?
Gil Carvalho: From a perspective of a layperson looking at…?
Ted Ryce: Yeah.
Gil Carvalho: It can be incredibly confusing. Most of our videos end up being related to nutrition or cardiovascular health, cholesterol, and there’s enormous amounts of confusion on the internet. But I see the same types of misconceptions in a lot of scientific fields, climate change, the pandemic, all the stuff with the vaccines and the virus. It’s interesting that the same types of mental processes and the same types of misunderstandings, carry over very well from one field to another, even fields that are seemingly unrelated.
So that’s one thing that kind of long term, I’m hoping that we are able to do, is build the skills to sort of immunize—pun intended—people to these sort of misunderstandings, and sometimes the logic is not quite robust. People are inundated with memes, and like you said, storytelling and things like, you know, “Our ancestors did XYZ, so we should as well,” anecdotes, all kinds of things that are very tempting and very captivating if someone doesn’t have that kind of that scientific training beaten into you, they’re naturally very captivating, those elements of storytelling, but they can be very, very misleading. It can really push us in the wrong direction sometimes.
And so what we try to do is kind of approach topics that people are interested in, specifically in nutrition, or different aspects of health that have to do with food, and we’ll talk about a topic but at the same time, we’re trying to sneak in the logic, what we call the heuristics of decision making, to give people the tools to distinguish reliable information from kind of hype or confusion.
And I usually say that my business model is terrible because it’s to basically give people independence so that I can then back away and they don’t need me anymore, which is kind of a terrible business model. But as far as science and what we’re trying to do, my idea of a success story would be somebody who learns the basics, and then is able to do the fact checking by themselves.
Ted Ryce: So that’s the goal of nutrition made simple. You want to empower people to make better choices with who they get their information from online. Is that it?
Gil Carvalho: Yeah, to be able to discern reliable information, to know the sources, to know how to find it, to know how to differentiate, to seek evidence, to dig deeper, and how to do that in a way that is effective and that is empowering at the end of the day, that protects their health, and maximizes their health long term. That’s really the overarching goal. But yeah, it doesn’t happen overnight, but that’s yes, that’s the mission.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, I like how you have that long term view. I think one of the things that’s really challenging for people, some people—and this is somewhat unrelated, but someone was complaining about a political situation. I’m like: well, listen, there’s like 195 countries in the world. America certainly has its problems. But when you compare it to like, oh, well, maybe they have this better in, you know, some small nordic country, it’s like, well, there’s only a handful of countries you can even compare the states to, and it’s just going to take time for things to happen.
And I believe, like, the more of us that are doing our work and trying to make things better, the faster that’s going to happen. Anyway, to change things up a little bit, you have been publishing medical research in fields like genetics, molecular biology, nutrition, behavior, aging, and neuroscience. I mean, how did you get into nutrition? And what was it about nutrition that made you say, well, listen, this is what I want to do and what I want to help people with?
Gil Carvalho: So in grad school that was going on 20 years now that I started.
Ted Ryce: At Cal Tech, right?
Gil Carvalho: Cal Tech, yeah, started in 2003, so what was 20 years. And I was fascinated with aging; fascinated with the aging process, why do we age? Why does an organism that went through so much to form, then just crumbles over time, right? And what can be done to delay that process. And so a lot of the research that we did was on aging and interventions. And this is obviously using model organisms, lab animals, to model aging.
And so we did a lot of genetic experiments, a lot of biochemical experiments, and a lot of environmental experiments as well, where you change the conditions around the animal, whether it’s temperature or nutrition, and you look at whether the animal can age slower or faster, right? So you’re trying to modulate the process.
And one sort of common hub in the aging field in in model organisms is nutrition and nutrient sensing pathways. A lot of interventions that are effective at delaying aging, or at least lengthening lifespan, have to do with nutrient sensing, and nutrition. So we did a lot of nutrient swapping and nutrient and physiology, all of those types of experiments in fruit flies and worms and mice, and trying to figure out the effect on physiology and aging.
So that was kind of the background. And then I always had in the back of my mind, because of my medical background, I always tried to combine the basic science and the application to humans. And when a few years ago, I decided to do something more than this realm of science communication, I thought about talking about neuroscience, which my latest stint as a research scientist was in the Neuroscience Institute for like seven years.
So I could have talked about neuroscience or about genetics, but it seemed to me that nutrition was more applicable, directly applicable to people’s lives. And also the relevance. I mean, we’re going through an epidemic of chronic disease in the Western world, in the US and elsewhere. And a lot of the mortality, morbidity that is avoidable has to do directly or indirectly with lifestyle and with nutrition.
So poor nutrition is a big cause of disease and death in the West. And so because of the relevance and because of the direct applicability, and also the fact that people are very interested in nutrition, there’s a natural interest in figuring things out. And the last factor that pushed me in that direction was that despite that interest, there is a massive gap between the public and the science.
That is really hard to understand. But the science on nutrition, there’s so much information out there. And the public isn’t really—it’s getting better, but four years ago, it was even worse than now. People weren’t really getting direct access to most of the disinformation that is out there. And to top things off, ironically, a lot of the research is paid for with tax money. So people are paying for the studies to be carried out, and then they’re not really benefiting from the knowledge. So the idea was to bridge that, to give people access to the information and to then allow them to make their own decisions and apply that information to improve their health.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, it’s interesting point, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it like that, but tax dollars pay for the majority of the research. And then people don’t benefit from it, because they have no idea how to… scientists just don’t typically communicate, at least on a level that… I mean, you can go to the CDC website or other government websites and read things, and it’s really dry communication.
And even then, it’s not put out there. It’s not like they’ve got some social media rockstar over on a social media platforms just telling great stories or sharing memes. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Wendy’s…Wendy’s, they’ve hired someone crazy, someone who’s very talented at social media, and they roast people. Anyway, I’m going kind of going on a tangent, but it seems like there’s a big disconnect between the way that science is conducted with how it’s communicated to people in a way that entertains but also informs.
And Gil, I’m curious, with your background, what are some of the most, I don’t know, astonishing, yet practical things that you’ve learned from all these disparate fields coming into nutrition? What would you say are the things that you’re like, wow, I just learned this, people need to know this information? Do you have a few things like that?
Gil Carvalho: Sometimes it’s more the impact that these things can have. A lot of times, it’s less about knowing what to do, and it’s more about doing what we already know. But people may not realize the potential that these things have. So some estimates are that 80% of disease and death in the West is avoidable, or at least can be postponed, and has to do with lifestyle.
So things like exercising a little bit more, eating a little bit cleaner, or smoking a little bit less. These are not things that blow minds to know…Everybody has heard these risk factors. But the potential that these things have in terms of improving your health, and your longevity, I don’t think we often realize.
And then the fact that a lot of times, the most bang for your buck is going to come from that first leap up from doing nothing to doing something, not necessarily that last tweak, the 99% to 100%. There’s a law of diminishing returns. So it’s really just making sure that you exercise twice a week, that’s going to give you 80% of the benefit.
Having a diet that’s a relatively clean diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and not a boatload of ultra-processed foods, you know, not smoking a lot. Sleeping. Sleep was just added the American Heart Association just added to its list, they have something called Life Simple Seven, that just became life simple eight, because it’s the basic risk factors that ensure long term cardiovascular health.
And cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the West—actually, in the whole world by average right now. And they just added sleep to those eight top things. Because the importance of sleep has been increasingly recognized as a chronic risk factor for disease and death. And so it’s just the importance of doing these things consistently in the long run.
Of course, every once in a while, you know, everybody’s splurges, everybody goes, you know, has a crazy party or a crazy weekend. That’s not a big deal. The key is the consistency. It’s the overall graph, it’s not the blip for one day or one week, or one week they fell off the wagon, get back on the horse. It’s the overall pattern that’s going to determine your long term health and longevity.
Even studies, there are fascinating studies with identical twins, looking at the weight of genetics versus the weight of environment of the choices we make. And it’s hard to overstate the importance of these changes, even for people who have bad genetics. Sometimes we don’t have the best the best genetics, we have some disease or some susceptibility. The worst your genetics, the more impact your choices have. Because the more good you can do, the better.
It’s like, if you’re playing cards, if you get a bad hand, I mean, if you’re a really good player, you can make something out of that. If you got a good hand, pretty much anybody can do something good with that, but how to play the bad hands is probably to find a good card player. Here’s kind of the same thing, the potential is there. Even if you have bad genetics, even if nature didn’t help you, nurture can still do a lot for you.
And so another analogy that a lot of times is used in lifestyle medicine, is that nature loads the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger. So that’s essentially what it is, even if the gun is loaded, we choose. It’s really a message of empowerment, we have a lot of control over what happens to us. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. We don’t have to be an Olympic athletes, we don’t have to be monks that never stray. It’s not about that. It’s just about a reasonable and consistent attention to the key, to the fundamentals.
Ted Ryce: Yeah. So what I heard you say, number one is it’s estimated that 80% of diseases are preventable in the West, in modern technologically-driven countries like the UK, the US, Europe. And then you said that understanding, it doesn’t have to be that much. In fact, the biggest benefit that you get is from when you’re someone who’s not doing anything for some reason, and then you start doing something. That’s what gives you the biggest benefit.
And I think those are the people who need to hear it the most. We work with a lot of executives who go on a cycle of on and off again. And one of the things that we help them with is develop consistency, because what do you do most of the time is what matters most, not what you do at the beginning of the year for a couple of months because you felt super motivated when New Year’s came along.
Yeah. Gil, I want to dive into the some of the heart stuff that you do, some of the talks on nutrition and cholesterol, heart health. But I’m curious because you have an interesting background. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you were born in Portugal, you went to Brazil, lived a few years, came back to Portugal, then went to the US, then came back to Portugal. Is that correct?
Gil Carvalho: Pretty much. There’s a lot of frequent flyer miles. Yeah.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, man. And I’ll tell you, one of the most interesting perspectives that I’ve gotten about nutrition has been… I’ve been living outside the United States, always touching back down in the States, but mostly living outside the United States for the past four years. As I told you over Twitter, I was in Lisbon, I think I want to move there for a while and have a whole European experience.
And I want to ask you, what have you learned from your travels about nutrition? I’ve been in Brazil, I’ve been in Portugal, I’ve been in the US, and I know you’ve traveled a lot as well, I would imagine. What are some of the things that you’ve learned that really stood out to you from your travels, that maybe someone who lives in America and they’ve been on vacation in Cancun for a couple of weeks, or maybe went to Paris, you know what I mean? What did you learn from your travels in your living abroad that you think would help people with nutrition?
Gil Carvalho: One thing that jumps out is that there are many different ways to eat healthy, there isn’t one picture of a healthy diet. There is enormous room for variation under the umbrella of a healthy diet. And so if you go to South America, or to Asia, or to Europe, say the Mediterranean region, for example, it’s possible to see different variations, different products, different cultural designs of diets that can all be health promoting.
There are some key pillars of a healthy diet. But then there’s enormous wiggle room to fit culture and to fit personal preference. None of the healthy patterns are going to be loaded with ultra-processed junky foods, they’re all going to be rich in fruits and vegetables of some kind. They’re all going to be very moderate in ultra-processed foods. They’re all going to be reasonable in overall caloric intake.
But the variation is enormous. I mean, when I go to Asia in Japan, I find it very, very difficult to find the same foods that I find in Portugal, for example, but if you go into grocery store, you kind of know what a vegetable looks like, you kind of know what super junky cookie are or something like that looks like. And on your first day in Japan, you can pick out things that will constitute a pretty healthy dietary pattern.
It doesn’t require years of learning every single fruit or the name of everything in Japanese, you don’t need any of that. So it’s remarkable, you can walk into the supermarket and even though you don’t know the names, you pretty much know what the classes of foods are. So that variability is something that is very striking, both when you’re traveling, and also it’s mirrored in the science. When you look at studies of nutrition, that is very much reflected that variability under that umbrella with the key pillars. So it’s something that is very reproducible in science, a very reproducible observation.
Ted Ryce: Yeah. And how much of that do you think like when you see, for example, you mentioned Japan and the way they eat there. I haven’t been to Japan, I spent time in Thailand and Vietnam and Bali and more Southeast Asia. But when you see people there, and you see the US, what do you think the problems are, when you look at the US, and compared to even Portugal where there’s like a pastry shop on every corner, there’s so many.
And then people say, “Well, it’s the ultra-processed foods in the United States.” And I’m thinking to myself, you know, we’re at Starbucks and eating the muffins here, it’s like, well, Portugal definitely has an obesity issue, as does Thailand, for example. And in Thailand, I don’t know if you’ve been there or not, but it’s like an abundance of food. But they’re nowhere near the obesity levels that of the US. What is your perspective on that situation?
Gil Carvalho: Yeah, I agree with you that in most countries, there is a—Western countries at least, and to some extent, in some Asian countries, as well, there is a move towards less traditional foods and more processed foods. And you see that transition as well, in terms of the health of the population, people get larger, people get sicker. This is a well characterized change in a lot of countries.
Even in the developing world, we’re starting to see that as people is getting a bit more power of acquisition, a bit more money, and they start eating a little bit more like Westerners. And we start to see that transition as well in China, that’s been happening for a little while as well, I think the US is just farther ahead, that curve. And one of the statistics I saw is around 60, or 70%, average of the American diet is ultra-processed foods.
So imagine getting 60 or 70% of your calories every day, from stuff like cookies, and frozen pizzas, and pop tarts and you barely see a fresh fruit or vegetable or even unprocessed meats or eggs. Those unprocessed natural foods are almost an afterthought in the typical American diet nowadays. And so undoubtedly, that is one of the, if not the, trigger of the increase in BMI, and then the increase in incidence of prevalence of diabetes, and other metabolic diseases. Cardiovascular disease has an effect there as well.
And so when you talk to scientists who specialize in weight gain and weight loss, there’s still quite a bit to figure out. Surprisingly, there’s a lot about weight gain and weight loss that we don’t know scientifically, in terms of the mechanisms.
Ted Ryce: Like what for instance?
Gil Carvalho: Like exactly how people gain weight and lose weight in terms of what are the exact mechanisms biochemically? There’s still debate about that.
Ted Ryce: Well, you’re not talking about the calorie deficit, right? What are you talking about exactly?
Gil Carvalho: It’s clear that you need to be in a caloric deficit to lose weight. But all the different biochemical changes that take place in your body and all the different molecular switches are not entirely understood. And why, for example, some people have different set points, when some people…If several people eat the same amount of calories, not everybody’s going to be the same weight, right? There’s clear individual variation.
And so there’s a lot of things that aren’t entirely understood. But what these people will say with the highest confidence is that the consumption of ultra-processed foods, the consistent consumption of ultra-processed foods seems to be a clear factor there. Exactly why that is, they don’t know, not with confidence. One possibility is that it’s the caloric density, those foods tend to have more calories per mass, right?
So in order to be satiated, you end up eating more calories. That’s an obvious candidate. It could also be the effect of those foods on your microbiome, on the bugs in your gut, that then have all kinds of metabolic and health affects downstream. So there are different candidates for why exactly those foods seem to be so obesity-inducing, but there’s little doubt that they are a major culprit.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, I’ve had Stephen Guyenet, you’re familiar with him, of course.
Gil Carvalho: Yeah.
Ted Ryce: And we actually had a previous conversation about how you can take…People drink Coca tea in the Amazon Basin, or I’m sorry, the Andes, I guess, right? For altitude purposes. And then it’s not a big deal. But you take that, you refine it into cocaine, and people do crazy things for it. And it’s kind of like, that’s what’s going on with ultra-processed foods, where it almost has a drug-like effect on the reward center of the brain. Do you want to speak to that at all? I know you’re into genetics and neuroscience.
Gil Carvalho: You might have heard of this, but it’s by design that they are…Well, addictive is a tricky term.
Ted Ryce: Right.
Gil Carvalho: But that they are… let’s call it the acceptable term, and the term that is actually used by the people who produce them is “craveability”.
Ted Ryce: Craveability, interesting.
Gil Carvalho: Yeah. So all of these large food manufacturers have laboratories and scientists in their payroll, whose job it is to compose these foods, and to increase their credibility. And there are specific factors that go into that. Saltiness is one, crunchiness is another one, sweetness and tartness. And there are specific combinations of these factors that make these foods more craveable.
In the end, the goal is exactly that you eat one chip or one cookie or one pretzel, and you are compelled to finish the whole bag, right? And then you finish the bag, and you’re compelled to go drink a soda or something like that. So it makes total sense in terms of the business model. And this sounds very nefarious, when you imagine the scientists like specifically trying to play with your brain. But that’s what these foods are designed to do.
They’re designed to be satisfying and craveable. That’s the correct term. And yeah, that’s by design. It’s not an accident.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, it brings up a lot of interesting questions of ethics and everything, and also about where does personal responsibility lie. I’m not going to eat the Cheetos if I don’t buy them. And it’s kind of interesting to what comes up for me when you say this is, this isn’t grandma trying to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie or pretzel? It’s people in white coats in a lab, trying to figure out what is the precise amount of sugar, salt, mouthfeel. And yet, it makes sense from a…
I used to be, by the way, a little bit more extreme with my nutrition views, came from the low carb camp, was there for more years than I like to admit, but at least a solid decade. And I was into all the, you know, they weren’t calling them seed oils, but I was into all the process and can tell you how the vegetable oils were processed.
So anyway, I used to really have a narrative around what’s going on. Now, like, oh, this is something that is nefarious, is the word you used. And it’s like, they’re trying to make you fat. In reality, I think anyone who has a business tries to make their business better. But certainly, it brings up ethical considerations.
That said, it’s like, if we wait for the government to do something about it, or we wait for food companies to say, “Hey, listen, this might be contributing to people’s deaths and all the emotional fallout that families have to go through,” I think we’re going to be waiting a long time.
When you look at the situation and what people are up against, I think it’s important to talk about the environment and how if you want to get lean, it’s an uphill battle. And do you have anything to add about like, the personal responsibility part? We’ve got the genes, we’ve got the food companies, we’ve got sedentary lifestyles. I mean, how do you view our role in it, as an individual?
Gil Carvalho: It is tricky. And I don’t know that I have the perfect answer. I just tweeted out today, in the UK, there’s a new law limiting these sugary cereals that line up the cereal aisle, right? It’s almost candy, and it’s targeted for children, all the colors and all the cartoon characters. And so in the UK, it’s just starting to be controlled. It’s the placement on the shelves and the placement and the way it’s marketed is starting to be more controlled.
And I was looking at this and exactly like you’re saying, a part of me was like, “Good.” And a part of me was like, “How much of this is personal choice, versus how much is…? “But it is so tricky. I mean, you’re marketing this to a child.
Ted Ryce: I’m with you on that.
Gil Carvalho: Yeah, of course, at the end of the day, it’s the parent who’s going to buy the thing. But it’s all such a game of psychology and such a game of… that it’s not really fair. It’s not really a fair game for the consumer, when they’re professional scientists can putting these foods together to trick your brain to keep eating. And drawing the right cartoon on the box, so that your kid is asking for that one.
I mean, it doesn’t feel fair. And so I don’t have a strong feeling towards it should be absolutely banned. Or towards, you know, there should be no legislation, but it doesn’t shock me that there is a level of control. The other side of the coin is that it’s not completely free. And, in fact, these companies have an enormous level of control and influence over the processes of legislation, and even of how the guidelines are crafted and communicated. And it’s getting ready to…
Ted Ryce: Even the nutrition guidelines?
Gil Carvalho: Yeah. So it was worse in the past, and things are moving in the right direction.
Ted Ryce: Right, like 11 servings of grains. I don’t know if that was the right number. But looking back at it, it’s like, that’s a bit high, you know?
Gil Carvalho: Yeah, sometimes it’s the way that things are communicated. In the US, for example, in the US, you can always say in the guidelines, eat more of this, but you can’t say eat less of that. Unless it’s clouded in terms that people don’t really understand. So it’s complicated.
Ted Ryce: You’re talking, that’s a legislation issue, what you just said?
Gil Carvalho: Not so much. This has to do with it with a dance between the industry interests, and then the way that the guidelines are written. So the USDA has this almost schizoid nature where their role used to be…They have two roles, essentially, right, structurally. One role of the USDA is to issue these guidelines for health and for healthy nutrition.
And the other role, institutional role is to stimulate consumption of agricultural goods. And so you have a structural conflict of interests, where… I don’t know if you’re familiar with Marion Nestle.
Ted Ryce: Yeah.
Gil Carvalho: She’s phenomenal. She’s an emeritus professor, but she was an NYU professor for many years, and she’s a scholar of these matters. So she can run circles around me on these things. But the point is that I’ve learned a lot from her books, she has fascinating books on all this. Basically, back in the day, maybe beginning of the 20th century, earlier 20th century, this used to not be a problem, because most of the nutrition advice was to eat more of certain foods. Most of the causes of death were infection and malnutrition and things like that.
So telling the population to eat more potatoes, more meat, more this, more milk. There wasn’t any big issue with that advice. As things changed and the foods became more ultra-processed, and the population became more, you know, there’s a chronic excessive caloric intake and the obesity crisis and all these things, suddenly, we have this conflict of interests, where proper nutrition advice has to tell people to moderate certain foods, but saying that goes against—there’s this conflict of interest with the USDA.
So it wasn’t there when they were formed. But now the top time kind of develop that. And so this is a well understood problem with the USDA as an institution that has to issue these guidelines, and that isn’t completely unbiased. Some people are of the opinion that another organization should issue the guidelines like the Institute of Medicine, for example, that doesn’t have those ties to the agricultural industry.
Oother people say that it should just be a committee that’s completely separate and shouldn’t have any input from industry. There’s all kinds of different proposals but, bu there’s a problem there in terms of how things are presented to the population. And it’s getting better with time, it tends to gradually inch closer and closer to what the science says. But it’s weird. The way those national guidelines come about is that there’s a scientific committee that writes a document, advising the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee on what the science is.
And then it’s weird that that doesn’t end up being the guidelines, that’s just an advisory. And the committee can do whatever they want; they can ignore that if they want. In practice, what they end up doing is kind of a diplomatic dance where they…They never say anything that goes completely against the science. But they end up kind of tiptoeing around some of the issues, or wording things in an ambiguous way that the population—it’s not completely clear for people. And then because people are exposed, people’s reality is not what the guidelines say. Many people have never read the guidelines, right? People’s reality is walking into grocery stores, or gas stations and being surrounded by these cheap, flavorful, craveable foods that you just grab on the go, you pay $1, and they fill you up, at least for a little bit, and they feel good. So it’s an institutional and a social problem.
No doubt, there are no easy solutions. But clearly, education is one goal. And then I think at some point, at some level, there has to be an independence between industry and the government and these governmental institutions. There can’t be so much promiscuity, and so much the ability of industry to influence these processes, it’s just never going to be a reliable process if it’s that way.
Ted Ryce: Yeah. So wait 100 years till that gets sorted out.
Gil Carvalho: Yeah. And listen to that information now. Thanks for saying that, Gil, because I think when, at least for me, there are a lot of people who say things like that, but they’re coming from—they start, you know, it’s like, “Well, it’s the reptilians, who are in,” you know? It’s like they have this crazy story about it. And you’re just like, man, there might be a kernel of truth to what you said, but I’m not going to take the time to sift through the nonsense you just said, to find the kernels of truth, right?
Because there’s so many grains of insanity in what people say these days. And so when you say it, and for those people who don’t know, and you’re just hearing Gil for the first time, if you go to Nutrition Made Simple on YouTube, his YouTube channel, which has about 100,000 subscribers. I mean, he talks about, can you get diabetes if you’re thin? Do statins even work? He talks about vitamin B 12.
I’m just looking at the page now, talking about plant proteins, do eggs raise your cholesterol, and a whole section on lowering cholesterol with diet? I’d love to have you back on the show. And I really, really appreciate the conversation that we’ve had so far. So I don’t want to get too crazy into cholesterol and heart health. I would love to save that for another time. But I would like to ask you, with your channel, what are some of the challenges or questions that have come up for people? What do you see as being the theme or recurring themes in questions you get asked or comments that get left on your videos?
Gil Carvalho: I think one problem is that there’s a lot of information online and people don’t know what to believe, that’s a recurring theme. And so they’ll watch my video and then right after, they’ll watch another video that says the exact opposite.
Ted Ryce: And the guy was a doctor too, right?
Gil Carvalho: Sometimes, yeah.
Ted Ryce: Sometimes?
Gil Carvalho: Yes. Sometimes there’ll be an MD you know? So that’s another problem; you can’t just separate information by titles or by credentials. That doesn’t work, right.
Ted Ryce: Not anymore, no.
Gil Carvalho: Yeah, that definitely doesn’t work. So you have to develop some tools to identify what is a solid scientific argument. And I’ve been very aware of that since the beginning, since the first videos, and we’ve made some videos, kind of trying to break that down. We made one video that was trying to separate storytelling—compelling or storytelling, we call them. It was kind of a quiz. It was viewer friendly, but it was just a quiz.
I would present to people an idea/claim, right? I would say, “Hey, this food is toxic, because XYZ,” and then let the viewer decide, is this compelling or storytelling? And then we would break down the argument and try to figure out why some things are compelling, and some things are not.
Another video that we did. And maybe I can give you just the gist of it. We tried to give people a very quick system to appraise evidence. And we call that the 3P’s of Evidence Vetting. And this was basically an attempt at breaking down the process that anybody with scientific training kind of uses, almost without thinking about it, and try to give those tools to anybody without scientific training, so they can do it themselves.
So for example, say that you’re online and you see some claim: “Buy my supplement, it’ll make your muscles grow,” or whatever crazy claim. So the first P stands for Proof. And that just means that…The burden of proof is on the person making the claims. Seems obvious, but it weeds out 80 or 90% of crazy internet claims. Most claims, most supplements, most of these sales pitches, they don’t present any proof. It’s just sometimes a story or an anecdote, or some loose argument for why you should buy the thing, but there’s no evidence that the thing has the effect that they’re saying it has.
So that’s the first P, then the first P is trying to get at this. Have you heard people say, you know, there’s a study out there for everything?
Ted Ryce: Right.
Gil Carvalho: And scientists can’t agree. One day eggs are good, one day eggs are bad, we don’t know what to believe. Have you heard this? People say this all the time, right?
Ted Ryce: All the time.
Gil Carvalho: So the second piece is trying to give people some clarity on this question. Scientists don’t really arrive at an overarching scientific fact by looking at individual studies. That’s why this is more confusing for people in the public who see one study, “Oh, X seem good.” The next day another study, “X seem bad.” And well, scientists start don’t know what to believe. So the second P stands for preponderance.
And it’s basically this idea that we look at the breadth of evidence. And we put everything together. And we reconcile the evidence to try to figure out what’s going on. And obviously, there’s more layers underneath, but I’m just giving you the gist, I’m giving you the elevator pitch. And then the third P is basically how do you arrive at this preponderance? How do you know what the breadth of evidence is?
Well, evidence isn’t all created equal. There’s something called the hierarchy of evidence. So studies can be lower in the hierarchy or higher in the hierarchy. So the P stands for pyramid, because usually hierarchy of evidence is represented as a pyramid. And usually, let’s say a study giving a substance to a mouse is going to be pretty low in the pyramid. And then something where I’m just looking at people who eat a certain food, and see if they get a certain disease in an existing population is going to be closer to the middle.
And then if it’s a controlled clinical trial, where I actually randomize people and have a placebo, or something like that, is going to be closer to the top. And so that is the pyramid and that hierarchy helps you also make sense, sometimes when there’s contradiction between studies that seem to be inherently contradictory. But then you look at the design and things that ended up making sense in the end.
So that’s just kind of a bird’s eye view of something that we…We end up touching on this in a lot of videos, but that’s sort of the underlying logic.
Ted Ryce: So important. I remember when I started learning about those things. I started out as a personal trainer, Gil, in Miami Beach, and I was the guy who was telling a client who was working with me and wanted to know some nutrition. I was like, “Listen, you want to stay away from carrots, carrots have sugar in them, they have a high glycemic index.” She was thin, my client.
And then a nutritionist or a dietitian, actually came walking, and the dietician, she was overweight. But she stopped. She’s like, “What you’re saying to your client is ridiculous. How could you say something so stupid,” and she just went off on me. And then she walked away? And I was just kind of like…
Gil Carvalho: That’s also not the way to approach it, right?
Ted Ryce: Of course.
Gil Carvalho: Berating you is not the way to convey and communicate a scientific concept. It’s not really going to take…
Ted Ryce: Yeah, not in front of my client. For me, I wasn’t like… So anyway, my client was like, she leaned into me, she’s like, “I would never listen to her. She’s out of shape. Look at you, you’re in so much better shape,” but the reality is, I was wrong and she was right, even though you’re correct, when she—that was not the proper way to do it. Not just for me, but also, she was trying to get my client to listen.
And yeah, it’s another conversation we could have. But you can’t believe the guy with Abs, you can’t believe the person who has a bunch of letters after their name, you’ve got to look at those 3P’s, the proof is on the person making the claim, that preponderance of evidence available. And then the pyramid, the hierarchy of, it’s like, well, we added eggs to human cells in a petri dish, and it caused the cells to explode. I’m just making that up, by the way, if you’re listening, that’s not a real thing.
Gil Carvalho: Very close to some real confusions out there. I’m sure you’ve heard the lectins scare, right?
Ted Ryce: Yeah, sure, the lectins. You want to say something about it?
Gil Carvalho: It exactly what you’re saying. In large part, the lectins story is based on cell culture. So throwing purified lectins on cells…
Ted Ryce: I didn’t know that.
Gil Carvalho: …And seeing detrimental effects. That, and then some isolated cases of people eating raw beans, and having gastrointestinal symptoms.
Ted Ryce: Whoa.
Gil Carvalho: That basically gets blown into: avoid all beans, avoid all tomatoes, and eggplants. Just absolute insanity, completely against the strongest evidence available. But you’ve crafted that example almost like a cartoon, it’s identical. That’s exactly how these things come about.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, it’s really important. Because what happens, for those of you are listening, sometimes what happens to rats or nematodes, or the human cell cultures, it doesn’t pan out when you do a randomized control trial, and just like, hey, we’re going to have people eat eggs for eight weeks, and then see what happens to their markers of metabolic health and other things, it just doesn’t pan out. And that’s kind of what we’re…
Gil Carvalho: I’m now thinking of a lot of things that are, not entirely based on, I don’t want to be unfair, but largely based on mouse data. So soy, a lot of the ideas on the internet that soy is damaging, avoid soy, a lot of it comes from mouse research. The seed oil story, not all of it, but a lot of the initial observations were feeding these oils to mice, and seeing some different outcomes. And then it starts there. That’s where the ball starts rolling. So you’d be surprised how pervasive these things can be. And then conversely, once you sort of see these patterns, how easy it can be to see through the confusion.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, and definitely, we need more of that, because people are so confused out there. People are so confused, Gil, I don’t even really studied nutri…I don’t want to say that I don’t read research about nutrition, but I almost don’t. It’s really about behavior change. And more neuroscience, cognitive behavioral therapy, that type of stuff, to help people evaluate some of the stories they tell themselves and to create new habits break bad ones.
And it’s just like the nutrition, some of it is more… And that’s what I love about your YouTube channel, you really dive into when it comes into the details of nutrition, like the LDL versus LDL cholesterol, understanding of the difference there and the types of lowering cholesterol with food and those things. It’s just really important information. But when it comes to some of the other things, it’s just not, you know, whether you’re low fat or low carb or whatever, you know, if it fits your preference. Like you mentioned earlier from traveling, there’s a lot of flexibility with what constitutes a healthy diet.
Gil Carvalho: Yeah, and with low carb and low fat wars, is a good example. Both of these diets can probably be designed in a health-promoting way. There is no evidence of absolute superiority wherever your human being needs to be on a low fat diet, or every human being needs to be on a low carb diet. But yet, you see these vicious wars on social media, where these camps are just going at each other. And I don’t know, there’s something in us that wants on one hand, our personal preference. On another hand, the thing that worked for us, we want that to be universal.
We want it to work for everybody, right? I don’t know. Maybe it gives us more…it makes us feel more…I don’t know what it is, man. But there’s certainly something instinctive, that once these things that worked anecdotally to be the case for every single human being, and this compulsion to extrapolate and to some extent it’s okay, and there is a lot of experimental evidence to back up benefits of low fat diets, in some contexts, designed a certain way.
There’s a lot of evidence to back up benefits of low carb diets in some contexts as well. But we also have a lot of evidence of individual variation, and of people who don’t do well on each of these diets and who do better when they swap. And so I think it’s not helpful when we try to convey this message that there’s only one way to eat, there’s the one true path. And if you’re not doing the one thing that I believe, you’re an idiot or you’re wrong, you’re just not clued in. And you’re not in the club, in the circle of trust.
I don’t think this is healthy science communication. And it’s kind of limiting people’s options, because you want to give them a variety of possibilities so that they can pick something that works for them. The key, as we were talking earlier, is something that is sustainable long term. There’s no point doing a picture perfect diet for a weekend and then falling off the wagon, because it’s too much of a strain for you.
You want to find something that, yeah, it’s health-promoting in the long run, but something that works for you long term, that you can enjoy, that you can, you know, that it’s not a chore, you’re going to be able to stick with it for years. So that’s crucial, it’s not just giving people raw theory, but allowing them to apply it in a way that makes sense for them. Even if it’s not what you’re doing, not having that ego. So invested in what you’re trying to convey.
Ted Ryce: Yeah, powerful points, Gil. Gil, thanks so much for showing up tonight. I know it’s getting late, where you are in Lisbon. And it’s getting late for me. I don’t have quite the energy that you do later on in the day. But thanks so much for doing this. I would love to get you back on and to talk more about it. I’ll shoot you some ideas on Twitter as well. Would love to have you on again.
And thanks so much for doing things the way you do them, where you’re acknowledging, I think, the important points on, for lack of a better term, on both sides, where some of the conspiratorial people, there’s some truth to what a lot of them say about this situation with the USDA, all the things that you mentioned today, while being very clear on the more evidence based side like, hey, we’ve got to have proof for this stuff, guys. Not because Bob got some great results and then he helped Fred out. That’s okay, but there’s so many factors that go into it.
So thanks so much for doing what you do and putting out the high quality content. And if you’re listening right now, you’ve got to go to Nutrition Made Simple on YouTube, you just type in Nutrition Made Simple, Gil’s channel will pop up. And make sure you subscribe to it if you want high level nutrition information, breaking down things, the important concepts in nutrition in a way that’s easy to understand. So thanks so much, Gil. Is there anywhere else that you want people to go?
Gil Carvalho: If they want to link up on Twitter, that’s where we met initially.
Ted Ryce: Yeah.
Gil Carvalho: It’s @nutritionmades3, that’s my handle.
Ted Ryce: @nutritionmades3. So we’ll have that up on the on the show notes for the episode as well. But definitely check out Gil’s Nutrition Made Simple Channel on YouTube. It’s excellent. Gil, thanks so much, and looking forward to doing it again.
Gil Carvalho: Thanks for having me, man. Take care. Had a blast.
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