What This Functional Medicine Doctor Advises For Optimal Nutrition

By Sara McGlothlin

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts the other day: The School of Greatness with Lewis Howes. He was interviewing Dr. Mark Hyman, a renowned doctor in the field of functional medicine. He is a thirteen-time NYT bestselling author (with his latest book The Pegan Diet) and who I personally regard as one of the most educated and informed individuals in the industry. Even though I have read the majority of his books, I always learn something when I listen to him speak.

When asked about his advice on how we should eat – given the plethora of confusing information that persists – he responded with one simple word: quality. Because food is information, we should all be conscious of the type of information we are putting in our physical bodies. The archaic model of food as calories no longer holds water; we are not what we eat, we are what our bodies can do with what we eat. High quality, real whole foods that your body can recognize as such, should be the foundation of your nutritional plan. For example, choosing grass-finished meat over feed-lot meat. Or if you read a list of ingredients on a packaged food, and you can’t read or understand something, or you wouldn’t have the ingredient in your own kitchen, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. In other words, no one keeps monosodium glutamate (MSG) in their pantry next to their almond butter.

This advice doesn’t necessarily clear up the question of what type of “diet” is right for you, but he also addresses this as well. A common thread through many dietary theories is that eating plants is beneficial. Veganism, keto, paleo…they all promote the consumption of plants. One of the main discrepancies is from which sources do you get your protein. This can only be determined on an individual level, based on your bio-individuality and lifestyle.

Blood sugar management is also a good goal to keep in mind, given that insulin resistance (which we don’t want) has been proven to be a precursor to so many issues, ailments, and chronic diseases: pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, cancer, Alzheimers to name a few. When you look at the various macronutrients objectively – fat, protein, carbohydrates – the latter two instigate an insulin response (carbs more so than protein, but over-consumption of protein results in excess protein being turned to sugar through a process called gluconeogenesis), whereas fat does not (or it is very negligible). So on top of quality control, we not only should be balancing our macronutrients, but eating healthy fat, which is so important for metabolism, hormonal balance, and brain health.

The major takeaways from this interview can be simplified to the following:

  • Eat real, high quality foods. Consume vegetables, fruit, quality sources of protein, and healthy fats,

  • Be aware of sugar, starches, and refined carbohydrates that are so prevalent in the Standard American Diet. These foods increase your chances of insulin resistance and all the issues that come along with it.

  • Experiment and explore the nuances of nutrition based on your individual body and goals. For example, if you want to balance your blood sugar, lose weight, build muscle, increase your energy, or improve your sleep, this is where you can get into the nitty gritty science behind how to do so. Books, podcasts, articles, or working with a health professional such as a functional nutritionist or heath coach can come in handy. Be your own health detective and advocate, and view your health goals as a journey of learning, rather than attempting to achieve a destination.