[00:00] About Harley Johnstone
[06:08] How Harley Became the 30-Bananas-A-Day Guy
[11:30] Effects of Harley's Diet
[20:59] Harley's Amino Acid Levels As An Athlete
[30:02] Harley's Exercise Regiment
[32:26] Using Sugar in Cereals
[39:57] Sugar's Contribution on Diseases
[47:25] Harley's Blood Results
[54:52] Ben's Opinion on Heart Disease Rates
[1:05:11] Dr. Esselstyn's Research on Reversing Heart Disease
[1:18:21] Ben's Ironman Hawaii in Kona
[1:22:07] Ben's Meals in Canada
[1:32:37] End of the Podcast
Ben: Hey folks, it's Ben Greenfield here and I am with Harley Johnstone, AKA Durian Rider, AKA the 30-Bananas-A-Day guy, and today, we're going to talk all about Harley, about the 30-Bananas-A-Day diet and everything they're in, so Durian, thanks for coming on the call, man.
Harley: Thanks for having me, mate.
Ben: Now I think some people in the audience might be familiar with you and your story, but I'd love to hear your story and kind of your background, so tell me a little bit about yourself and your background and what kind of brought you to the point where you started eating I guess what's basically like a low-fat, raw vegan diet? You know, how you became to be known as the 30-Bananas-A-Day guy?
Harley: Yeah, basically just started when I was a kid. Just really sick with asthma, Crohn's disease, bad mood and bad sleep and insomnia, chronic fatigue, just really filing to thrive as a kid. In and out of a hospital, getting drugged up all the time, always digestive issues, just feeling really bad but always admiring the kids at school who are fit and vital and had endless energy, and I always wanted to be one of those kids. But just never could be 'cause when you're sick, you got no energy, and going to change years, things got worse and then you start getting the drugs and usual teenage stuff in my side of our town. And when I moved out of home, just started riding a bike for transport 'cause I had no other way of getting around, couldn't afford the buses and didn't have enough money to buy a car. Then you start meeting cyclists, and they'd be about diet and things like that and just sort of stumbled into the vegan lifestyle when I hit rock bottom and went from there basically.
Ben: Gotcha, so when you kind of hit rock bottom, what was it that kind of pulled you out of rock bottom? Like what kind of changes did you make? Did you like read books or did you just kind of start eating the way that you eat now?
Harley: I'm just basically a really poor student, and all I could afford was rice and tuna and cereal. I wouldn't even drink milk that much because fructose is a little bit cheap. So all that milk occasionally, but I sort of just started changing my diet just by default, not really by choice, and just started to feel a little bit better, and then I'd get more main. I'd buy more meat and stuff like that and I'd feel worse. I just started playing with diet a lot and just tweaking it, and eventually, I started to actually make the conclusion to what I put in my mouth is based on how I want to feel. A lot of us could right now, but back then I was like I never understood the way you eat. It determines how you feel. Then you learn about glycogen or carbohydrates for those who stumbled across that, and then eventually, some well-known cyclists said yeah, you got to get your carbs in, blah, blah and blah. I went from there. Yeah, I just got really sick in the year 2000, 2001, and I was like I got to do something. I've got to take some bigger changes, and that's where I went from there.
Ben: So where'd you go from there?
Harley: That's when I went vegan, it was April 2001. I was really sick, I had glandular, sort of chronic fatigue, I haven't been to fitness in a few months and then I'd get burn out and just getting fevers. I was just so frustrated. I'd train really good on the bike and get sick, and I'm just like you know this is so frustrating. You know, especially in summertime, you're getting sick and the weather's perfect. Everyone's out riding, and I just got sick and tired and sick and tired and then I went vegan.
Ben: Yeah, so when you went vegan, what did you do first? Did you just start to eat plants and fruits and vegetables, or did you have like a specific diet that you followed?
Harley: I was eating a lot of rice already 'cause rice is just so cheap, and all the cyclists locally that were better than me were just loading up on the rice. That was back before gluten-free was sort of a trend like it is now. I just cut out the churro and chicken I was eating, and switch from milk to sort of soy milk and a hundred percent no dairy. And straight away, my asthma just went away, and I mean that the first day I went out riding, I was like the outside just feels different today, and I had ridden the same hill for hundreds of times. And I said to my friend in time, I could just breathe better today, man. So what's going on? It's this diet, and he goes it has nothing to do with your diet, mate. I don't know what it is, but it's nothing to do with diet, and I thought yep. In my head, I thought you're wrong, man, 'cause I've ridden this hill all the time, and today was the easiest time ever. So I just started feeling better.
Ben: Yeah, it is pretty amazing how quickly you can see diet changes, make a difference in the way that you perform like one of my boys used to have exercise-induced asthma, playing soccer, you know like three and four-year-old soccer league, and we actually cut like commercial dairy, like milk out of his diet, and within a week, his exercise-induced asthma symptoms went away because he isn't doing well with the protein allergens in commercial dairy, so it is pretty amazing, the link there. So twelve years ago, at the time of this recording, you started to make those changes, so how did you make the conversion into kind of becoming known as the 30-Bananas-A-Day guy? ‘Cause at some point, you got a pretty big following on the internet, and now you do a lot of videos. How did all that come about?
Harley: Just I got in the raw foods lifestyle. Fruits, man in 2002, we were coming back from the training ride, and there's this mango on the table. I'm like, man, I'm so hungry. I can't even bother to cook any rice up, so I'm just going to eat these mangoes, and I ate about five or six mangoes. I just felt so good afterwards, and my girlfriend turns up, did you eat all the bloody mangoes? And I was like yeah, I did, and I feel really good. I just felt wow, yeah I went to eat a lot of fruit, you know? And then way from there, there had been a book about raw foods, and then I just went more crazy for that, and then we got the social media thing. YouTube and all Facebook started up in 2008 for us. We're pretty sure it lightened train there, but let's just help get their message out there. I do want YouTube because it's a great community where you can share your opinions and experiences, and that's awesome. Anyone can do YouTube videos now, the technology's accessible. When I first started doing YouTube videos, I would upload them from the local library, but I didn't have enough money to own a computer. I was just uploading from my little hundred dollar Pentax camera from the local library.
Ben: Yeah, and your website literally is now 30bananasaday.com, right?
Harley: Correct, yes. Correct.
Ben: So do you actually eat 30 bananas in a day?
Harley: I just had about 22 bananas in for lunch, so yeah.
Ben: Actually, let's go here. Walk me through a typical day of eating for you.
Harley: Typical day, let's go with today. Wake up, always have a quart of water, and then I went out for an easy two-hour ride. Just talk with friends on the same lift, and I'll only do it north on the summit. Came back, had another liter of water, and then I actually had 10 dates to be on that ride. So we're up to two liters of water now, 10 dates. I had a banana smoothie, just in, 22 bananas with a cup of organic coconut sugar.
Ben: Do you blend them, or do you just eat them?
Harley: Yeah, blend it with water.
Ben: And then you put a cup of sugar in them?
Harley: Yeah, a cup of organic coconut sugar on top with that smoothie, just make it a bit sweeter 'cause bananas in Australia are pretty low sugar content. They're not the sweetest things.
Ben: Are they the little babe bananas or like a normal sized-banana?
Harley: Yeah, normal-sized, Cavendish.
Ben: Gotcha, okay.
Harley: And then tonight, I'll have probably 15 to 20 dates blended with water, and maybe I'd have a lettuce for dinner. I've got a race tomorrow, so today's like no sodium intake really, just so I can stay a bit lighter for the hill climb tomorrow, and that'll be it and then go to bed. Trying to go to bed early, eight or nine o' clock.
Ben: That's interesting, so you go low sodium on the day before the race. Do you take electrolytes during the actual race or like sodium low during the race?
Harley: No, I never do that. I've tried doing that, but for me, like in 24-hour races and stuff, it just made me cramp up, and I just hold too much water. And then hit the climb, so you're carrying an extra five pounds to wrap on the corner, and the 24-hour race adds up.
Ben: What's your race?
Harley: Tomorrow's the state duathlon championships, so it's a 10K run, 40K ride, 5K run.
Ben: Nice, so you actually, and some people listening in might not be aware of this, but you go out and compete, right?
Harley: Yeah, I used to race in Europe many years ago. I do compete locally, compete more in Strava these days 'cause it's getting pretty hot. And out state Strava is like you get some Olympic-level riders coming out and hitting it. If you didn't know of Strava in Adelaide, you're doing alright.
Ben: So do you also, based off of you walking me through what you eat on a typical day, do also take supplements to cover up some of the holes in your dietary intake from eating like bananas and coconut sugar and dates? Like are you using amino acids and Vitamin D or Vitamin B12 or anything like that? Do you actually use supplements?
Harley: I used to use a lot of supplements when I worked in the gym industry back in the late 90s, worked with the personal trainer. Yeah, I was into whey protein and the multivitamins and the creatine and the carnitine and ornithine, leucine, as in all the aminos and stuff. When I went vegan, I stopped all that though. The only supplement I took as a vegan is B vitamin and B12, but I used to take that anyways in me either. So I don't take any supplements that I didn't take as a meat eater, but as a vegan I cut out all supplements I did take as a meat eater. So I cut out the protein powders, I cut out the carnitine, taurine, leucine, ornithine, all those amino acids, I cut them out. Cut out the iron supplements I used to take, I cut out the Vitamin C I used to take, I cut out the caffeine I used to take. So only supplements, strictly and objectively I take is Vitamin B12. I've been taking that for a long, long time.
Harley: I did a period without taking it. My hemoglobin levels dropped a bit, so I started back on it again.
Ben: Yeah, I actually wanted to ask you a little bit about like your blood work and how you test that and stuff, but first I wanted to ask you about kind of the big elephant in the room here, and that is how on earth does your digestive system handle that much fiber everyday? Do you have to go to the bathroom all the time, or what exactly happens?
Harley: It's pretty good because I used to have Crohn's disease, so I'm used to what loose stools feel like and digestive pain feels like. Well the fruit is incredible, you're basically just crapping out fruit sorbet. There's no strain, there's no busting a hemorrhoid or whatever. You're crapping like a bear in berry season. So basically two or three times a day, pop out some fruit smoothie full of fruit sorbets. It's great, and as an athlete is great because I have less white in my colon because of fruits passing through every eight to twelve hours. But when I was eating that standard diet, it sits in there a lot longer 'cause it takes a few days to process all the meat and stuff, so then you gain an extra few pounds, which probably doesn't matter for most people. But when you're trying to be at the front, extra few pounds can definitely be a hindrance, especially when it's a lot involved. So the digestion is perfect two or three times a day, wake up, clockwork and boom. This feels really good.
Ben: That's what I'm curious about because if you look at like a gorilla or an ape or a chimp or whatever. They've got these colons that are enormous, and that can absorb literally like five to ten times the amount of fiber as a human, in terms of being able to digest all that plant cellulose and turn it into these short-chain fatty acids that can be used as a fuel. You know in a case of a human, a lot of that fiber ends up being indigestible just because it overloads the small colon of a human, and so that's what I'm curious about is like how that actually jives from a digestive standpoint if you actually have had to get used to it overtime or if the body adapted overtime or what you kind of experienced personally without being able to digest technically as much fiber as like a gorilla or an ape or even like a ruminant with their four-chamber stomachs and everything that they have for fiber.
Harley: That's why I don't eat much greens because all those animals that you mentioned, gorillas, ruminants, cows, bison. Most of the cows come from greens, and if you're trying to eat greens, you would get enough calories in it. You're right, all that indigestible fiber must be too much, so we try to focus on the fruits and fruits in many soluble fiber, and it just works a lot better. If you eat a lot of greens, it's going to be tough. You're going to be bloated as heck, and you're not going to get enough carbohydrate calories, they'd fading.
Ben: So you don't do a lot of kale, spinach, dark leafy green stuff, like none hemi-based forms of iron?
Harvey: No, I really stay away from the kale. I mean you should maybe a kale smoothie. I drink it, but I haven't bought kale for probably seven years and same with my girlfriend, Frilly. So we would eat it if one offers as a smoothie, but we will not purchase it, but we'll make smoothies. 99 percent of the time, it's just fruit, sugars. Occasionally they'll put some Romaine lettuce.
Ben: Right, what are your primary sources of iron and ferritin and stuff like that?
Harvey: Just fruits, bananas.
Ben: You just basically load up with fruit?
Harvey: Yeah, and if you get enough calories from fruit, you'll definitely get your iron in there. My body really stores iron really well, based on my blood test, so I used to be iron-deficient back in 2000, and now I have my blood test I put up on YouTube. Iron to me is good, so I keep an eye on it 'cause iron is very important for endurance athletes.
Ben: Oh yeah, absolutely. So let's talk about when we're talking about blood work and stuff like that, let's talk about deficiencies that you typically see pop up over and over again when we're talking about vegan or vegetarian diets. You know you've got things like B12 and then your fat-soluble vitamins. Like Vitamin A and Vitamin D and then some of these ones that kind of fly under the radar like creatine or Vitamin K2 or choline, stuff like that. I mean like the list goes on and on. Like on your personal blood work, do you show deficiencies of any of those things?
Harley: No, that's why I put my blood test up because I want people to understand I've been doing this for over a decade now, and I can prove my blood test legit, not from a naturopath but actually from a clinical laboratory standard GP doctor. So I have no deficiencies, and the only supplements I eat is Vitamin B12. All my friends I race with, pretty standard as a diet, making stuff, but they're all into protein shake and some take the choline supplements and the K2 and stuff like that but I don't take any of that stuff.
Ben: Like Vitamin D, for example, on the diet that you described to me with bananas and coconut sugar and dates, that's pretty much like zero percent of your daily Vitamin D intake. What's your Vitamin D at, like to do look like 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D?
Harley: I don't take any of that. Ben, if you look at my Vitamin D in my blood test on YouTube. It's always good. If anyone googles up vegan blood test, they'll see a lot of them up in YouTube, and the data is always good there. I try and just get some.
Ben: I'm just pulling up, so I can put it in the show notes. For those of you listening in, by the way, anytime Durian and I are talking about something, I'll be sure and put links in the show notes. Do you know what your Vitamin D was actually at?
Harley: Let me have a look, I can quickly see it. There's always good though 'cause I'm always getting sun. Actually, let me have a look. Now do I have a test in front of me? Let me see, this one's down there.
Ben: Yeah, one of the main reasons I ask is like the sun typically needs higher levels of cholesterol in order to convert the Vitamin D from the diet into like the usable form of 25-Hydroxy, so I was just curious on your blood work. Have you noticed anything? They actually make vegan sources of Vitamin D3 like I know Vitashine has one, Source of Life has one. That's something that when I'm working with vegan athletes, like I always have them use a Vitamin D3 supplement.
Harley: Yeah, I've gotten into modern day, but because my level's always so good, I was like I don't need to take that.
Ben: If we can't find it right now, that's fine. I'll put a link to the video in the show notes 'cause I see it here. Is it the one that's titled “12-Year Vegan Blood Test Results”?
Harley: Could be that one, I've bumped up about seven.
Ben: Okay, I'll find it. For those of you listening in, I'll put a link to it in the show notes for Vitamin D. What about things along the lines of other fat-soluble vitamins, like Vitamin A and Vitamin K? If you look at primarily fruit-based diets, those tend to be really low, too. Have you had those blood tested or do you supplement with anything like that? Like a fat-based vitamin, or are you concerned at all about levels of those?
Harley: Well Vitamin A is always good 'cause I get my better keratin in, and the body makes the retinol from that. Vitamin K2 is currently not a test in Australia for Vitamin K2. Vitamin-K is found in only fruits and veg, and then your body makes K2. From that, Vitamin K. I've looked at the Vitamin K supplements to set a curiosity, and most of them are made of annatto, which is soy bean. It's actually a vegan supplement.
Ben: Yeah, that's pretty much like a cheap source of K2. That's actually what we do at our house, it's we buy soy bean and we ferment it. We just basically eat annatto which is like snot, essentially. But yeah, that's another one that I was really curious about, in terms of like your blood levels, if you're able to maintain adequate blood levels of Vitamin K2, well primarily for athletes. Like the big concern is skeletal system. You know like eventual wearing down a down density if there's not adequate Vitamin K2.
Harley: Yeah, this is not a test in Australia, with K2 at the moment.
Ben: It's actually kind of tough to test for, but it's up there with Vitamin D3, like for vegan athletes. Vegan source of Vitamin D3, and then getting that too in the diet, obviously 'cause that's a vegan source. You can get it, it's pretty abundant in dark, leafy greens, but then you get to the whole issue with the gorilla deal. It's like our colons just simply aren't big enough a lot of times to deal with the amount of dark, leafy greens we'd have to eat to get adequate Vitamin K2. So you got either annatto and grass-fed butter or a supplement with K2, in many cases, to get it up there, so it's interesting stuff. So what about a couple of other things I wanted to ask you about was amino acids. Like you get a pretty decent level of amino acids if you put together all the amounts of fruit and stuff that you're eating, but for an athlete, they're kind of like borderline levels of amino acids. What do you do, as far as like muscle building blocks, amino acids, neurotransmitter building blocks, stuff like that when it comes to adequate amino acid intake?
Harley: It's crazy 'cause I'm the guy. I won over 30 running races last year in Australia, Thailand and New York. I'm the guy on the starting line who takes in the least prodding, so I don't even know how it works. I mean I'm like eating 20 to 30 grams, 40 grams of protein a day. I'm just busting out these crazy times, and I didn't have any training. I think with protein, I try and go as little as possible because my goal, as an endurance athlete, is to have a lower body mass index as possible.
Ben: So you're trying to keep yourself just basically like as skinny and lean as possible.
Harley: As skinny as possible, as lean as possible.
Ben: So that was one of my issues as I ate, I used to be a bodybuilder, and I made the switch into endurance sports, and I went raw vegan for about six months. Call me vain or whatever, but I lost my guns, and I lost like almost 20 pounds of muscle very quickly on that. So for you, you're basically kind of just like using that as a power to weight-ratio advantage.
Harley: Yeah, big time. I want my fasting insulin levels really low. I want my insulin grow factor levels really low. Minimal yet sufficient because what I found, I used to eat protein powders as well back in the day, but you just put on so much mass so quickly. And as a start runners, it's detrimental, so I try and keep a low protein because more protein, all the studies say that insulin growth factor goes up. When that goes up, your mass goes up. When insulin goes up, your mass goes up, so you're going to weigh more. That's why all the bodybuilders, all the professional ones, they shoot up insulin or they take insulin growth factor hormone as well, which we don't see it but that's what they do.
Ben: Now when we look at things that go above and beyond muscle, like the fact that amino acids and especially fatty acids, which you've got a fairly low intake of. And again, the human body just isn't really designed to convert that amount of fiber into short-chain fatty acids. Do you get concerned about your nervous system? I mean when you look at stuff like taurine, like that's an amino acid that you only find in animal foods. It's used for brain development, or you look at the other essential amino acids or you look at, for example, like fatty acids. I mean you can get them from stuff like flax and things of that nature, but you've got like three percent conversion into the actual usable essential fatty acids by the body. Do you get concerned about long term effects in your brain or your nervous system?
Harley: I used to there. I wrote out that the body actually makes taurine, so all the essential amino acids we need are found in whole plant foods, so all we have to do is just get enough calories each day from whole plant foods, and you'd be covered with all the amino acids, all the essentials anyway. And things like taurine and tyrosine, and that your body makes them for all amino acids. I actually used a supplement taurine, as a meteor when I went in the gym, and Red Bull's full of taurine. That's it, but again, I don't drink Red Bull. So Taurine-1, that's produced by the human body as a proper supplement though. So I make sure I get a lot of sleep and get a lot of carbohydrate, and I don't use caffeine 'cause when I used to use caffeine, it's easier to over-train, and by being a hundred percent stimulant-free, I like to just get in touch with my body, I use a power meter on my bike and always monitor my weight and the blood test. Imagine that everything's going good, and I still get signs of over-training. I just back it right off.
Ben: Yeah, now as far as fatty acids are concerned, what do you do as far as those go?
Harley: Again, I’m a fan of fruits and vegetables, so you get enough fruit and veg, you get enough essential fatty acids like Omega-3.
Ben: Yeah, the actual conversion though is pretty low. I mean they've done like radio isotope studies where they've looked at ALA, like labeled with radio isotopes, and when you look at the actual EPA and DHA that the ALA gets converted into from plant-based foods. It's just its super-duper low, and that's again another concern that I have with especially like the vegan diet is EPA and DHA are so, so essential for your brain and your nervous system. I get concerned about long term effects on the nervous system. I guess the way that I kind of hurdled this with the vegans that I've worked with is we'll do things like algae forms of essential amino acids which kind of sort of gives you a decent amount, like doing seaweed and stuff like that, but do you ever experiment with algae, nori, like kelp, dulse, stuff like that. Spirulina, chlorella?
Harley: Occasionally I eat seaweed. Again fatty acid conversion, DHA, EPA body does convert that into Omega-3, etcetera. Six, nines, twelves, fifteens.
Ben: Yeah, it's just so incomplete though.
Harley: Again, like all the signs that it says, it's really important, but there's no actual clinical tests in Australia for EPA or DHA.
Ben: Yeah, we should look into. I could actually look into it for you, we should look into whether you could get like an Omega-3. The Omega-3, Omega-6 index test is a really good one. There's also one that'll look into your fatty acid ratios, so I do my testing with a company up here in the U.S. called Wellness FX 'cause they have like a performance panel and I do that three to four times a year, and they'll test fatty acids. So I know that we can get it here in the U.S. I'm writing a not to myself ‘case I'll look into it for you and see if we could find it out 'cause that'd be really interesting to see, and that'd be another thing. I'd love to find out what your fatty acids are like. You know from a performance standpoint, like I think it's one of those deals where you can perform pretty well, even if you've got low or borderline levels of fatty acids or even amino acids. The trick is though, like when it comes to neurotransmitter production from fatty acids, or when it comes to brain and nervous system health or neurotransmitter production from amino acids and brain and nervous system health from fatty acids. I just get concerned about just long term health effects when it comes to that stuff, and short term performance, I think is definitely doable. Like on a diet, like the one that you're on, I think that you do have to be concerned about the potential long term effects on your nervous system.
Harley: So what would it take for DHA in that?
Ben: So DHA and EPA, there's some pretty good spirulina and chlorella sources out there, so one really good way to do it is there are chewable tablets you can use. There's one company called EnergyBits, I have no clue what the shipping cost to Australia if they have like an Australian distributor or whatever, but they sell chlorella and spirulina.
Harley: Yeah, they give DHA tablets in Australia pretty easily, but what do you take personally.
Ben: Yeah, I personally use EnergyBits, and then I use RecoveryBits, and then, of course, like I'm not vegan, so I actually eat fish which is a really, really good source to get your really, really usable APA and DHA as well. I try and convince most of the vegans that I work with to go like pesca for that reason, but algae is really the best way to do it.
Harley: Get your own fish raw, and you could cook it.
Ben: Both. So I'll do like sushi and sashimi, or I'll also cook it.
Harley: Yeah, 'cause you got to be careful when you cook the long-chain, and make it freeze in that. A long-chain means that it's more susceptible to heat damage?
Ben: Yeah, we avoid high-temp cooking with any of our really fragile fats for sure, so yeah. You want to avoid like sautéing your fish at high temperatures. Even broiling, stuff like that, you want to be careful with it. That's a good point.
Let's talk about exercise a little bit, so how much do you exercise, what's your typically day or typical week of physical activity look like for you?
Harley: I mean, I'm on Strava. You know Strava?
Ben: Yeah, I do know Strava. I thought at one point about beginning to use Strava, and it was just like another piece of technology. So my deal is I work as a blogger, podcaster and etcetera. For me at the end of the day, like tonight we were talking. Just before this podcast, I went riding along with trail by the river, like completely unplugged. No watch, no phone, nothing. Sometimes I just lie unplug at the end of the day, and that's often how I do the majority of my workouts. But you use Strava for like blogging?
Harley: I don't actually have a mobile phone, and I don't own a watch, but I do use a Garmin. I like Strava 'cause you can just upload it whenever, and I want to keep a training diary so I can be objective with my training, and I looked at what's working, what's not working. So this year, I've ran 441 kilometers which is not much at all. I cycled 17,074 kilometers.
Ben: That's a lot of riding.
Harley: Average distance a week turned to 19 kilometers which is a lot for the average person, but anyone out there whose sort of half-fit turned to 19K a week is pretty average. And the biggest ride 316K, biggest climb, I don't know about the meters. So that's a lot about the Strava, so average a bit over an hour a day riding. Most of that's really, really low intensity, around to watch the kilo or say 56% max heart rate. Talk, very easy comfortable talking pace. Once a week, I might do a ten-minute smash fest at a local climb or whatever. Yeah, that's how much training I do, and a bit over an hour a day. Very easy, rolling around, talking to people. I occasionally push it a bit.
Ben: Yeah, so obviously, and I'm sure you've heard this before that a lot of people get concerned about like you talk about the amount of fructose that you're getting from the 30 bananas and the dates and things along those lines every single day. You've posted a video somewhere. I heard about this where you're dumping sugar on cereal, is that correct?
Harley: Yeah, exactly.
Ben: What did you do?
Harley: I got back from New York City. I should know, so I go back in Thailand back into out at Australia. Just got off the plane, hit a bike ride the next day. There wasn't much fruit around, it was probably about eight o' clock at night. Shops were sharp, but local sort of grocery station, they had some sugar. I actually had some sugar in the house 'cause I've got a box of cereal, low-sodium and low-protein vegan cereal. It's called Kellogg's Sustain. It's pretty low cord stuff, but it's got the carbs I need for the next days. So I smash down the box of cereal which is about 15 calories, and I put about maybe two or three hundred grams of sugar on top of that. So maybe frosted flakes there without the dairy, and just pour a bit of organic soy milk on top of that and just a bit of water as well.
Ben: That doesn't aggravate Crohn's or anything for you to do cereal?
Harley: It's okay if I do it now and then, and then I couldn't live on starches like I do with fruits. As a backup plan, just not an issue.
Ben: Yeah, most people I know with Crohn's, would just like destroy them.
Harley: Yeah, I might win them. Your system is now a lot, a lot healthier because I'm not having the dairy and other products that I have those sort of allergenic amino acids in my system all the time, so that's all hilled up. So I get up and get away with eating grains now and then, but definitely the fruit is definitely a focus.
Ben: What do you think would happen to your body if you weren't exercising? Do you get concerned with the amount of fructose and sugar intake that you're eating. Like if someone were to see that and they were to start kind of replicating that diet, do you think that they would need to be concerned about like fluctuations and blood sugar levels or potential for diabetes or something like that? You know if some 15-year-old kid started eating 30 bananas a day, and they were just whatever. Maybe walking to school or something like that. Do you think that there's potential for metabolic damage with that amount of fructose intake, in the absence of high levels of physical activity?
Harley: Yeah, definitely. If you're eating a lot of animal fat and protein with it, or even if you're eating a lot of oil. So then we always promote high-carb, very, very low fat. No oils, no other product.
Ben: What about if you're not eating a lot of fat? I mean you're still looking at fructose getting converted by your liver to Fructose-1-Phosphate, I mean that's the way it's metabolized, so your liver cells get rid of a ton of their phosphates and then you produce a bunch of uric acid. So that'll block nitric oxide production, and you get a lot of that fructose, basically in the absence of physical activity getting shuttled into triglyceride formation. And I mean I know I'm preaching to the choir, I know that you understand fructose metabolism, but in somebody who's not exercising a lot. It almost simulates ethanol or alcohol metabolism in terms of what it does to your body. I mean if someone weren't riding like an hour-a-half a day or whatever, going out and doing duathlons and stuff, wouldn't this create just metabolic nuclear bomb if they were to eat 30 banana's a day?
Harley: That's an off though. I was like hang on, fruits healthy, but no one-two piece a day when you're going to get obese, and I used to think that back in 1999.
Ben: Well a lot of people, like I can tell you right now. Based on my genetics, I've got a skinny mom, skinny dad. I wouldn't get obese, but I'd be more concerned about fatty liver disease and about these huge, huge amounts of triglycerides getting shoved down into the bloodstream, and the potential there for everything from cardiovascular disease to like skeletal muscle insulin resistance and everything else that happens when you get that amount of free fatty acids exported from the liver, from fructose metabolism.
Harley: That's why I put up my triglycerides when they're always very low. I put up my uric acid, always very low.
Ben: But yeah, but you exercise a bunch?
Harley: I exercise a bunch, but not enough with the amount of fructose I eat. I mean 290K is a lot for the average sedentary, chronic fatigue person, but there's not a lot compared to how much we're designed to move in nature really.
Ben: So let's say somebody's just like, maybe they're not an athlete. Like what would you recommend they do? Well let's put it this way, I'd doubt you'd recommend they double a bunch of sugar on their cereal if they were sedentary, right?
Harley: I would. The thing is they're not going to last sedentary 'cause that's the healthy lifestyle. The body needs to move, every hormone every organ needs physical activity. The lymphatic system needs physical activity. So my tip is, for the people who are listening, maybe they are sedentary. Basically, there's an example of guys in a wheelchair, quadriplegic, following my advice, and I lost weight. I wanted to be leaner, so he followed our advice and loss weight. He did the fruit thing, so what's good about fruit is fruit is self-regulating. It doesn't have only exotic toxins and MSG and spices, so it's really what's impossible to eat more fruit than you really need. You might eat too much in a sitting and feel sick, but in terms of long term weight gain. If fruit was good for weight gain, the NFL linebackers would be doing their food carry, 30 bananas a day thing. But long term, 100%, all people do the 30 bananas a day gig, whether they can run a marathon in 228 or can even run around the block, they're always lean, long term, and the straight fest was a good example this year.
On stage, I was looking at a singer friend. Look at all of this, we would look like we could bang out a fast month on, but there's only two of us here that probably could, and the rest of them would struggle around the local hill, yet they all look really lean. And I was like that's the irony of the graphic in society, you see who's always lean. I'm going to say heroin addicts. And so the average person, , if you tell your kid walking in a school, they're going to be running to school, they're going to be riding to school after a few months since last up 'cause they're going to be losing weight, they're going to be feeling better. They're going to have more glucose, more daily glycogen tanks are going to be filled up. Their immune system's going to work better, the fade site is going to be better as the immune system is stronger. Everything’s going to work a lot better, and we see it time and time again, dealing with thousands of people in the last decade. No exceptions, anyone who've got this lifestyle long term get skinny and healthy.
Ben: Even if they jump into high amounts of chronic repetitive motion activity because they're eating a lot of fruit, I still question the potential for liver damage. Have you actually had your liver enzymes tested? Like have you looked at uric acid and stuff like that?
Harley: Yeah, I mean again, that's what I've got in front of me. Let me have a look here.
Ben: Like aspartate aminotransferase. Yeah, like ALT, AST and stuff like that?
Harley: That's well, my blood test. Just search vegan blood test. Google, come up on YouTube. Well, I just want to hear. That's what I always did.
Ben: In your case, actually, I wouldn't be incredibly surprised 'cause you're getting a lot of those free fatty acids from fructose conversion in the liver. Like you're burning them up like crazy. I would just be concerned, with that amount of fructose intake and somebody who wasn't touching the amount of exercise that you're doing, just basically mirroring the effects of alcohol in the liver really with that high, high amount of fructose intake. I think it's playing with fire unless you're really doing a ton of physical activity, but I wanted to ask you, too, about candida, fungus, stuff like that and its effects. You know, in terms of like the effective sugar and its ability to feed candida, the fungus. Essentially, your ecological system in your gut. Have you looked into that at all? Like H. pylori, bacteria balances, do you do gut tests, things of that nature?
Harley: Again, the gut test in Australia, a lot of naturopaths do it, but I don't really vouch its reliability. The World Anti-Diabetes agency wouldn't use a naturopath to do any blood testing. Candida though is an interesting one, a lot of people come into this lifestyle 'cause they want to get rid of candida symptoms, weight gain, bloating, fatigue, fogginess. When you take out the fat, especially all the products can cut you nuts, since seed, right, right, right down to maybe a handful a week. You can, these issue go away 'cause candida's rolled in the human bodies to gobble up all the excess blood sugar, and people get excess blood sugar when there's too much fat coating the insulin receptor sites. So your blood sugar goes high, candida comes in and gobbled up. Bring you back down, and it gives you a few symptoms to let you know you're on the wrong track. So with candida, not an issue long term. It'll keep your fat intake under 10% total calories per day, so we keep our fat intake really low 'cause we want to be so skinny.
Ben: Where have you seen information about fat coating insulin receptor sites? That's the first time I've heard something like that.
Harley: There's a good book, Dr. Neal Barnard. You had him, he works at PCRM, he's a clinical guy, he's published clinical starter on reversing Type-II Diabetes to the high-sugar, low-fat vegan diet, so Dr. Barnard's program for reversing diabetes, so he's got a good book out there, and there's one bestseller, clinically published. That's a good start, and we see it all the time, people reversing Type-II Diabetes in this lifestyle, 100%, 100% success rate. Type-I Diabetes, you can't reverse that in any diet. I got a few Type-I Diabetics that have better symptoms, better health on this high-carb, low-fat diet. But Dr. Barnard, he's a pioneer in diabetes.
Ben: I'm just interested in that just because the way that the insulin receptor actually sits on the cell surface. It would be very, very difficult for like a lipophilic molecule, like a fat to actually block an insulin receptor site, and you know, that's one of the reasons that I personally have been doing the high-fat diet and primarily using ketones as a fuel 'cause I do a ton of cycling and running and stuff like that, and it's primarily because that type of diet doesn't create the problematic insulin response. Just because when you're burning ketones as a fuel, that's like the number one preferred fuel for skeletal muscles and you know for your heart, for your liver. So for me, it's a complete opposite scenario where I'm actually controlling blood sugar surges and controlling the amount of insulin and the amount of stress on my pancreas by actually putting it in a state where it's not having to produce as much insulin and using a real slow burning source of fuel by taking in fats, and that, for me, has stabilized blood glucose levels and like Hemoglobin-A1C dramatically compared to a higher carbohydrate intake. What are your thoughts on ketosis and the use of higher fat intake?
Harley: I did a Hemoglobin-A1C test recently, glycogen and hemoglobin, and it came out really good, and that was after a period of a couple of months where I cut my training right down and just started pouring sugar and everything. I was curious, I was like I want to see what this Hemoglobin-A1C is about. It seems like Hemoglobin-A1C with sugar, but it didn't work. My hemoglobin is perfect. I was just at the doctor, I said I've eaten a lot of sugar. I want to see if I'm getting diabetes, and he's like well we can't test your Hemoglobin-A1C unless you're diabetic. Are you diabetic? I said yeah, I actually am diabetic. So they tested me with Hemoglobin-A1C. Perfect. Blood sugar, perfect, fast insulin levels, perfect. I actually mention that I was a little bit low which is what I want. I want urea, urea insulin, creatine. AST, AOT, I want those things nice and low, because I don't want to have excess inflammation as an athlete.
Ben: Yeah, like when you're eating a high-fructose diet, that stuff will stay super low as long as you're exercising a ton. But I mean fructose undergoes, it's called a Maillard reaction with proteins, or basically what it does is you've probably heard of like advanced glycation end products before?
Harley: That's right, yeah.
Ben: Yeah, so you get all these super-oxide free radicals that are made just because of the amount. It's basically acetaldehyde, it's a metabolite ethanol formation. That happens when you're having to metabolize huge amounts of fructose, unless they're getting converted into ATP from high, high levels of physical activity. So you can actually form a ton of these advanced glycation end products that you do want to avoid, and that based off of your blood work, and I haven't seen it, but based off of what you're telling me, you're going to avoid that as long as you're doing a ton of physical activity. But if you started to settle down, once you kind of stop like running from the lion every day or maybe you get injured and you got to adjust your diet. That's where I get concerned about the amount of fructose that would have to get metabolized by the liver, and that's why I tell people unless you're going to be exercising like a mad man, which I think has downstream implications on your joints and everything else, you got to be freaking careful with fructose intake and carbohydrate intake, and that's why I encourage the higher-fat, slower-burning fuel scenario.
Harley: Yeah, I mean I used to think the same as well, Ben, but I just see sedentary people, who is at last losing so much weight and looking so much more healthier, and they blood tested better.
Ben: I mean you're obviously doing awesome on a low-fat, raw vegan diet. I mean you're killing it in duathlons, you're way healthier than you used to be, but have you ever considered that it might be a case of exclusion? Like you know, you're not doing drugs, you're not doing alcohol, like you're obviously not doing, aside from Kellogg's, lots of grains and legumes and stuff like that? Like have you ever considered that might be more of what really helped you to become healthier versus just like eating massive amounts of fruit?
Harley: That is an excellent question and one I would be curious of, but what I did is I changed my diet gradually. I didn't do it overnight, I went vegan overnight, but my gradual dietary reform towards vegan happened over put out a period of five years. So I'd cut down on met, I'd cut down on chicken or increase the dairy and just tweak with it over time. Eventually, that just lead me to vegan lifestyle ‘case I worked out, less animal products I eat, the better I feel.
Ben: Now I'd love to look at your blood work, and if you want to shoot it to me or shoot me the URL or whatever, I'll post it in the show notes, but what I'll also do for folks listening in, I actually just got done with Ironman Hawaii, so I think my blood work probably looks like World War II right now. But in about two weeks or so, I'm going to take my own blood work. I'm going to do a Wellness FX performance panel which will tell me like my thyroid and my hormones and everything like that. It'd be interesting to compare our values and kind of see where they're at 'cause we obviously follow like two totally different diets. You know, I do a high-fat, low-carb. You do high-fructose, low-fat, so that'd be really interesting to see. If you shoot them to me, I totally promise I'll post them in the show notes or whatever, and we can compare them and put them up there.
Harley: Sure, I'm probably good as well. Maybe on the same day if you can organize it, get your blood test done from like a real deal lab.
Ben: Oh yeah, what happens is you go into a lab corps and you give it's about 40, 50 mL of blood. There's like eight tubes, and yeah. They test just about everything there is to test. Now they test HSCRP, they do your basic cholesterol panel. So like total cholesterol, HDL, LDL triglycerides, thyroid, glucose, Hemoglobin-A1C and then the liver and kidney stuff that we kind of talked about like AST, ALT, uric acid, stuff like that. And then 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D, and again, I'm super curious what yours is at 'cause there's zero intake in your diet, and the only way you get it from the sun is if the sun actually has adequate cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream to make that conversion. Yeah, I'd be curious to see that, and then this one might be tougher for you to get in Australia, but they also do testosterone. You know like free testosterone.
Harley: Yeah, they're on the line as well.
Ben: DHA and stuff like that? So cool, but yeah, if you shoot them to me, I know I'm going to grab my test in here in like two weeks, and I can put them up in the show notes for this. At the time we're recording this, it probably honestly won't come out in the podcast for another couple of weeks anyways. But yeah, let's toss the values up there and see what they look like. So while I've got you on the call, anything else that you want to tell the Ben Greenfield Fitness audience, anything else you want to wrap on.
Harley: Basically I'm coming from someone who was sedentary, had really crappy genetics. My mom's clinically obese, my dad's down with cancer, my oldest brother's borderline obese. I come from a real bad genetic stock, and I wasn't one of those super athlete kids at school. I got a bike when I was 21 years old, like a road bike. I started riding around more, so I was always very unfit and I wanted to be fit though. And my dietary reform changes, and it got me to where I am. I've coached a lot and lot of people around the world. I've seen morbidly obese people become athletes, drug-free athletes with a high-carb diet. I put my blood test up in line after 10 years of eating this way. I actually got my hemoglobin in front of me now. My hemoglobin test once was 157, my hematocrit was 49. That hematocrit was so high that was borderline getting me suspended from the Cycling Federation for possible doping there. That hematocrit of 49, I had a good race that weekend, I remember that one.
So all my blood tests are good, despite coming from a very poor health background. The only supplement I take is Vitamin B12. I regularly race against dopers, guys who I know take testosterone, amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, stuff like that, and I think it's great. People do drugs in sport because it makes the racing a lot harder, and if my friends didn't do drugs, I'd probably be training by myself a lot more often. So a lot of people asked me what about your hormones and that? But my friends who eat meat, they take hormones, they take fish oil, and they take stimulants, so anything I take is Vitamin B12. I don't even use caffeine, all my blood tests are great. I don't have to starve myself to stay this lean. People say why don't you just smash out big miles, Harley, all year long? Why do you only train hard in January, and the rest of the year, you just tap away? One reason is I would get too lean on this lifestyle, I would get down to like less that Chris Froome's body weight.
Ben: You'd pretty much catabolized all your skeletal muscle for amino acids.
Harley: Yeah, so I could get a lot fit. I could run low 30s, maybe 31, 32 for 10K. Counting now, about 34 to 19 PB for 10K. I could get a lot leaner if I did more training, but where I'm at now, my body mass index is about below 19s, high 19s. That's sort of healthy, I could dip down a lot lower than that and go a lot faster, but I'd rather sort of keep a little bit of weight on but still be as skinny as possible if that makes sense, without getting the alien-like Chris Froome’s leanness. So our focus is weight loss primarily and drug-free energy and good health.
Ben: Yeah, I think that what you're doing is going to translate into performance, it's going to translate into leanness, but I think that the warning that I want to give to folks is you really got to be careful about ensuring that you take into consideration long-term health effects that might go above and beyond acute performance or leanness. You have to look at stuff like long-term brain health, long-term nerve health, having adequate fatty acids so that you're actually able to have healthy nerves and healthy brain. You have to look into what might happen, should you maybe be forced to back off on your level of physical activity, what's going to happen to all that fructose once your liver has to metabolize it all rather than your skeletal muscles using it for fuel.
So I think it's potentially playing with fire, I think some of the stuff that we talked about like supplementing with Vitamin B12, using Vitamin D, getting adequate Vitamin K2, getting like some algae sources of essential fatty acids. You know trying to cover your bases, I think you can put a lot of patches over the program, but I do think you have to be careful, and I mean if you ever have questions, too, Harley, feel free to ping me anytime 'cause I do a lot of work with vegans and stuff to make sure that we're keeping things safe as we go. But yeah, either way, man, this has been a fascinating discussion. I'm sure that folks are going to have a lot of questions in the comments section, too, 'cause people get all polarized about the whole vegan versus meat-eating kind of thing. So I'm sure we'll see the comments blow up once we post this thing online, but I want to thank you for your time, man, and for coming on today.
Harley: Can I ask a couple of quick questions?
Ben: For sure, yeah, man. Let's do it.
Harley: What do you think about the heart disease rates and what do you do to prevent heart disease at eating a high-fat diet? What's your thoughts on that? Do you think it's a myth that saturated fats is bad for you? Why do people have heart disease so much?
Ben: So there's a couple of reasons why people have heart disease. One is that they combine the intake of saturated fats with high amounts of fructose, glucose or sugar which leads to that Maillard reaction that I was talking about earlier, the formation of advanced glycation end products. You can get a similar reaction when a sugar molecule adheres to low-density like protein, meaning that you get oxidation of the cholesterol which allows it to be able to dig into the arterial cell wall and cause that plaque formation. That results in cardiovascular disease. So if you are eating slow-burning fuels such as fats and you are at the same time, doing something like I absolutely hate, but have occasionally been forced to do when I bonk during a long, long effort, taking in simple sugars. That's playing with fire if you combine it with a natural diet of high fats. So that's the number one biggest issue is the oxidation of cholesterols with sugar, so if you're eating like a higher fat intake or a diet that has animal fats in it and you are at the same time drinking Coca-Cola, eating tons of bananas, putting sugar on cereal, that kind of thing. That's when you start playing with fires. The combination of those two, that's the dynamite.
Harley: So you said you bonked on it right in your head, sugars? Why didn't you have some coconut oil or something?
Ben: The problem is that once you take your body into an unnatural state, so once you do something totally non-ancestral. So for me, when I go out and do an Ironman triathlon, that's one of the unhealthiest things that I think you can do for your body is to make it run from a lion for, in my case, 10 hours or so. For me, when I try to go glycolytic, anaerobic after running from a lion for eight or nine hours, the human body simply shuts down. So if you want to take it out into an unnatural scenario where you've completely depleted your body of all energy, and you still are telling it to run from a lion, then you have to go farther down into that unhealthy rabbit hole and do something like dump fast-burning simple sugars down the hatch. You know, eat fruit and drink Coke whatever. Not healthy and not natural, but it's an unnecessary evil once you get to that case, and honestly, not that hot for the heart either, you know, when we're talking about cardiovascular disease. So, Harley, I don't really think Ironman is healthy. I do it because it's kind of like a personal Mount Everest. It's a cool feat of physical performance, but I think that it definitely takes a few days-slash-weeks-slash-months of the life, potentially.
Harley: Yeah, cool, so when you want to perform you have carbs?
Ben: If I need to perform after complete glycogen depletion, which for me if I have been fueling or getting into kind of like a rare scenario or if I have been out exercising for eight to nine hours and I decide like at the end of an Ironman triathlon I want to go completely glycolytic at the end of eight to nine hours of exercise. For me, in the couple of times I've been able to experiment in that scenario, then I found that you need either huge amounts of amino acids or huge amounts of simple sugars. Now for me on a typical day to day basis, I smash it. I do heavy weight lifting, sprint intervals on the treadmill, hill repeats, kettlebell swings, everything, and that's typically on about 75 to a 100 grams of carbs max on a daily basis because I've trained myself in terms of mitochondrial density, fat utilization and glycogen sparing to be able to generate ATP at a fast enough rate for those types of physical activity to be able to do it on a higher fat intake. So for me, a pre-workout meal is like half a can of coconut milk with a scoop or so, I'll use like a ricer or a P protein powder, and that does it.
Harley: See, and you have about 400 calories a day from carbs.
Ben: 400 calories a day from carbs would be average for me, and that's enough to support levels of physical activity while still allowing for adequate production of like mucin and glycoproteins for joint cartilage, things along those lines, so yeah.
Harley: Do you train with a power meter at all?
Ben: I don't use a power meter. For the past two years, I haven't used one. If you do the conversion, you know like I rode Ironman Canada which was 112-mile ride, about 5,000 feet of climbing on that one. I rode about a five-hour ten for that, I weigh 175. For the power calculation on that, it comes up to about 275 watts for those five hours and ten minutes. That was all on MCT oil and amino acids. So yeah, but it takes a while, you know? A lot of people hear that, and they're like, “oh I'm going to go do it.” The issue is that your body has to make that metabolic switch into being able to utilize fats as a fuel at that level of intensity, so for example, babies drinking breast milk. Like breast milk is just a bunch of ketones and fatty acids, so little babies are in a state of ketosis.
They're lit up on ketones, they're burning fatty acids as a fuel, and then we take them in for 10 years. We feed them sugar and cereal and juice and energy bars and all of this crap, and we turn kids into carb-adapted individuals who rely upon surges in blood sugar for energy, and then you take somebody like that and you tell them oh, we'll go out and eat fats as a fuel. Limit carbohydrate function, they feel like crap because they've trained themselves to not use fatty acids and to rely upon sugars as a fuel, so it can take a lot of times in individuals who are 25, 30, 35, 40 years old one to two years to make that switch back to being metabolically efficient on a higher fat intake, lower carbohydrate diet. But once you do it, you feel like a million bucks. So that's the way that I've brought my body into a state of metabolic efficiency and into a state where I can get away with eating low, low amounts of that fast-burning kindling that carb, take care of my body and my liver and my pancreas from an insulin production standpoint, and then rely upon slow burning fat as a fuel.
Harley: That's interesting, what was your cholesterol like?
Ben: My cholesterol, it's about 220, 230, extremely high. My HDL is above a hundred, my LDL is low, and triglycerides are rock-bottom. I'm happy about that just because of the research that's been done that show neural deficits once cholesterol drops significantly below 200. All the research that shows cardiovascular disease to be imminent with high levels of cholesterol show that to be present when it's associated with high levels of Apo B, LP little A, oxidized cholesterol, what's called very low density lipoprotein cholesterol, but as long as you've got the big healthy, fluffy cholesterol particles that aren't chockful of triglycerides circulating in your bloodstream, you're good to go. So my goal is to keep it just a touch above 200, and then I'm careful to make sure HDL is high, and I do that by eating fish, eating lots of kale, stuff like that and then also limiting my amount of Omega-6 fatty acids, sugar intake, stuff like that.
Harley: So you think higher cholesterol is better in the body?
Ben: In the absence of high levels of fluctuating blood sugar and high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids. Yeah, absolutely.
Harley: So if your cholesterol's 500 and you need sugar, that'd be good?
Ben: There's a lot of dimension returns. If your cholesterol's as high as 500, it's pretty unlikely that there's not going to be… What happens is when cholesterol spends a long time in your bloodstream, it get exposed to sugars that are circulating in your bloodstream. It gets more and more prone to becoming oxidized, and so if you've got huge, huge levels of circulating cholesterols, then that's an issue. So you've got like a small subset of the population that has familial hypercholesterolemia, those are the type of people that need to be careful if they have extremely high levels of cholesterol that they A, are very, very careful with like sugar, inflammatory fat intake, a heated fat intake, stuff like that, and then also that they're really, really careful to do things like prioritize antioxidant intake, prioritize anti-inflammatory intake from stuff like curcumin, turmeric, ginger, garlic, stuff like that just because you can get to a case where cholesterol gets too high. So it's one of those things where some is good, but more isn't necessarily better. You get to a lot of dimension returns.
Harley: What do you think of the clinical studies that Dr. Esselstyn has done with reversing heart disease, and has anyone done it with a high-fat diet before?
Ben: As far as reversing heart disease with Dr. Esselstyn's studies, the issue there is I highly suspect it returns to that case of exclusion that we talked about, or if you get somebody off of what we call over here in America, like the Standard American Diet or the Sad Diet, and you shift them into any type of elimination of high intake of oxidized animal fats from McDonald's hamburgers along with all the gluten and the vegetable oils that comes along with that, or you shift them away from an intake of commercial dairy or the hormone and the Omega-6 latent meats that we have from big farms and stuff over here. You're going to see a really nice shift, you're going to see a really positive benefit. The question is can you achieve that same level while still including things like wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef. You know, limiting sugar intake, things along those lines. So that's the issue is it's still kind of a big question of whether or not the positive results that you see there which are really great are exclusion rather than inclusion.
Harley: So why do you think that he found like heart disease in the Eskimos and that they were frozen for a few hundred years?
Ben: I'm not familiar with the heart disease in the Eskimos, frozen for a few hundred years.
Harley: I found heart disease cans and osteoporosis. This is before Western food came in. Some of the Egyptian as well.
Ben: Yeah, oh definitely. I'm more that they did find it in the Egyptians, and with the Egyptians, I suspect a big, big part of it may have been at that point, we were shifting into kind of like an agricultural, kind of non-Paleolithic area where grain consumption as well as like standard of living was going up. So total calorie consumption was going up, grain consumption was going up, alcohol consumption I'm guessing in the wealthy pharaoh population was probably going up as well, and the heart disease there doesn't surprise me much at all. As far as the Eskimos go, I'm actually not aware of these Eskimo studies, but I would be happy to take a look at them. You know if you shoot me a link over to them or whatever, I'll check them out, but that's news to me that the heart disease issue in Eskimos. I do know that with Eskimos, one of the bigger issues with them, because of basically like their location geographically, and this is something that Chris Masterjohn and Chris Kresser talked about in the podcast once was their issue with thyroid because you do need a certain amount of carbohydrate for the conversion of T4 to T3.
So I talked about like those 400 calories of carbohydrate that I make sure that I get in. Once you start to dip super-duper low in carbohydrate intake, your thyroid gland can take a hit, and hormone conversion can take a hit. So that's why you'll find in a lot of like the healthier Northern European or Inuit populations, they go out of their way to eat organ meats. Like they'll do liver and thyroid gland and stuff like that to allow for their body to actually get enough hormone in a relative absence of carbohydrate intake. So again, kind of like with cholesterol, you also get to the law of diminishing returns, or once you shove carbohydrate too low, you lose out on thyroid conversion, mucin production. There's kind of like an issue, I talk about ketosis and low-carb. I've especially talked to some women, especially. It seems like in the endurance athlete community, they take it to too great a level. They start to lose the ability to create tears and create mucin formation in their intestine, so yeah. You can kind of play with fire both ways, no doubt, and I'm definitely not a proponent of a zero carb diet either, and I know that is what I'm familiar with, with the Eskimo-Inuit population as more of the hormone deficits that they risk, but I haven't seen much of the heart disease studies, so I'd be interested to take a look at those.
Harley: Yeah, it's good, man. So you recommend everyone should eat a hundred grams of carbs, max a day?
Ben: Athletes, athletes for sure. You'll get some sedentary people who can get away with eating less than that, but I think that athletes, for adequate formation of again glycoproteins for their knee joints and their cartilage, for mucin production, for their conversion of T4 to T3. Yeah, you should be getting in right around a hundred grams or so, and there's even people doing ketosis. You look at like Peter Attia, and there's some days where I think he' getting high as like two hundred and fifty grams or so of carbohydrates on his super-duper active days, and he's still staying in a state of ketosis, but he's kind of a lab rat. He's doing all sorts of kind of interesting guinea pig type of stuff, and he's kind of a unique specimen.
Harley: He is pretty unique, Peter. I challenged him to a fifty thousand-dollar climb competition up Mount Washington, but he never got back to me.
Ben: Dude, email me. I've got Peter Attia's ear, and I could probably try and make that happen. So Mount Washington, really? Fifty thousand dollars?
Harley: Fifty thousand dollars. What we do, we do a two hundred-mile bike ride beforehand. Condition is Peter has to be in ketosis at the start of the two hundred-mile bike ride.
Ben: So he'd have to do like a blood ketone test?
Harley: Yeah, and then me and him just ride together. I'm allowed to eat carbs, he isn't allowed to eat coconut oil or bacon fresh, and we go out after the two hundred-mile bike ride. We go hit Mount Washington. First on the top, fifty grand U.S.
Ben: That'd be interesting 'cause actually, Peter, if you go to his website, he does a bunch of amino acids, he throws in bars here and there. Like he does trace amounts of carbs and stuff like that.
Harley: It's just slow starch.
Ben: Yeah, like the slow release super-starch, which I've done some of as well. I think if he were allowed to do that protocol.
Harley: No carbs, it's got to be ketogenic.
Ben: If you totally stripped away the super-starch and there was no slow lead of that, especially if you guys get towards the top, I'm sure you'd be starting to really hammer and go extremely glycolytic. I think that'd be tough. Well let's put it this way, if he could stay in a state of ketosis and somehow figure out how to measure ketosis during the event to ensure that he stayed in ketosis during the actual event.
Harley: We could stop every hour and just do a blood test.
Ben: I would say he would probably bite on doing it if he was allowed to stay in ketosis, but if he ever went out of ketosis, you'd automatically win.
Harley: That's right.
Ben: You guys should do it. If you email me, I will get a hold of him and try and make it happen, and I'd have to think about it. I've got breath ketone monitors that you can do a breath ketone there, made by Metron. They make a breath ketone where you literally can shake, it's almost like an alcohol test 'cause you're measuring acetyl acetate ketone levels in the breath. So you can actually blow into a tube, and that's one that you can do while you're riding and everything as well, so you can almost use something like that, and that's just the color. If it turns purple, you're in ketosis. If not, you're not, and it'll only turn purple if you're above 1.0 millimolar for ketones, like you could just shove a bunch of those in the jersey and use those as a testing parameter.
Harley: When you're in ketosis, you're bonking up, yeah?
Ben: You're not bonking when you're in ketosis. You can actually, and this is super interesting because this is what the U.S. military has been experimenting with. You can use supplemental ketones. They're called beta hydroxybutyrate salts, and you can get all of the neural benefits, the focus benefits, so the diaphragm and the heart will use ketones as a primary source of fuel. You can actually eat ketones, and it's actually a liquid. You can drink ketones, and you can even be eating carbohydrates at the same time. Like you could eat 300, 400 calories of carbohydrates an hour if you wanted to. You could take liquid ketones, you could technically still keep yourself in a state of ketosis, and you could do both if you wanted to. So technically, all ketosis is it means high levels of blood ketones, and most people don't know this, but there are ways to get there without necessarily stripping your body of carbohydrates, and that's what the U.S. Defense Department is experimenting with this for soldiers 'cause they can shoot better and stuff when their blood ketone levels are higher because it an actual neural biohack. So yeah, you actually don't need to be bonking to be in a state of ketosis.
Harley: But without the GMO, military, CIA liquid thing.
Ben: It's not GMO, you could also do it with caprylic acid which is just super, super dense centrifuge isolated from coconut oil. That's another way to do it. You can do like an MCT oil, it's a little bit more difficult to do it with, but yeah. There are ways to actually hack your way into ketosis without even limiting carbohydrates.
Harley: So you're saying that elite athletes can produce more power or the same power in ketosis than with fully carbed-up glycogen stores.
Ben: Yeah, Mark Sisson is working with a pro-cyclist right now who's killing it doing ketosis combined with high-intensity weight lifting and cycling. Why I'm blanking on the name of this guy?
Harley: Dave [1:15:59] ______.
Ben: Yes, exactly. That's the guy who Mark Sisson has worked with.
Harley: He's retired though.
Ben: Yeah, but no, he's still racing. He's still doing competition and stuff.
Harley: He got a doping ban.
Ben: Yeah, at some point, he got pinged for doping, but there are ways that you can produce tons of power. I mean well, I would know. I did Ironman Canada until the eight-and-a-half hour mark. I was in pure ketosis, and I mean you can kill it while you're in a state of ketosis without actually bonking. Again, the issue though is that a lot of people will hear this and they'll be like, “oh, I'm going to go out and do ketosis. I'm going to go out and do the high-fat thing.” You have to train your body, you have to make your body metabolically efficient, and that occurs through a process called mitochondrial biogenesis where you actually have to increase the density of your mitochondria, and that occurs over a period of time of fatty acid intake and higher fat, lower carb intake combined with long efforts and training your body how to utilize fatty acids efficiently as a fuel. It's really interesting, I'm actually going to go over to a laboratory in New York in January, and we're going to do muscle biopsies, we're going to take a bunch of fat adapted athletes and a bunch of carbohydrate-fueled athletes and do muscle biopsies, ketone measurements, blood measurements, everything while we all run on a treadmill for like three hours and just see what happens in terms of glycogen depletion, beta-oxidation, utilization of fats as a fuel during exercise. That said, it's going to be a Jeff Volek's laboratory. He's kind of the big low-carb professor guy, so yeah, that should be interesting. They're going to shove a bunch of us as guinea pigs in the lab and see what happens.
Harley: Yeah, I'm interested, too. ‘Cause I've never ever met anyone, any athlete sort of decently or any lab really, who does coronary or the Western State 100 or whatever on drinking coconut oil or bacon actually. Everyone seems to talk about low-carb, and have the super-starch or the Coke or the brownies. What did you do for Kona?
Ben: So Kona for me, for the first half of the race out to the 60-mile mark of the bike was MCT oil, amino acids and super-starch, and super-starch keeps you in a state of ketosis 'cause it's really so slowly. It's a high molecular weight starch, so you actually don't get any blood sugar surges or insulin surges.
Harley: Super-starch, it's like a refined corn product, isn't it?
Ben: It's a non-GMO corn that they put through laboratory cycle, and what it does is it converts it into this high, high molecular weight that empties super-duper slowly from your stomach, and it ends up transitioning from your small intestine in your bloodstream incredibly slowly, and so you can stay in a state of ketosis or you essentially can eat about one-third to one-quarter as much carbohydrate as you'd normally need to. So the advantage to that would be that you would get less potential for like cholesterol oxidation, inflammation, stuff like that. It's not like you'd go faster on it, it's just the fact that you would be able to stay in a higher state of fatty acid oxidation. So it's again, kind of like that performance versus health trade-off. So I actually made a huge tactical error during Ironman Hawaii though, so in Canada it worked out fine for me 'cause it was nice and cool. I didn't put my bottle of MCT oil on ice in special needs transition, so it set out in the Hawaii sun for like 90 degrees for six hours out of special needs, tasted like complete crap. So coming back, you climb up to a town called Hawi, so I low back down into Kona. I was basically eating what are called Bonk Breaker bars which is like a soy-free, gluten-free, lactose-free bar, not my preferred. So I had to totally switch my nutritional scenario and wasn't happy about it at all, so live and learn. You've got to take coolers to hot races if you're going to fuel with fats and amino acids.
Harley: Yeah, Bonk Breaker. What's in those?
Ben: Bonk Breaker, I think it's a rice that they use. I got to get the ingredients pulled up. I was actually pretty happy that they ended up sponsoring Ironman 'cause I'm really not in the gluten and the lactose and the soy that you find in most of the bars that are out there. I traditionally use a bar called a Coco Chia bar which is like coconut flakes and chia seeds. Let me pull up the Bonk Breaker bar ingredients. Okay, yeah they use brown rice, gluten-free oats, honey, blueberries, coconut, flax seed and sea salt.
Harley: Yeah, I think the first ingredient here I got up is a rice nectar which is basically a rice syrup.
Ben: Yeah, they're glorified sugar, but without the wee and the GMO, wheat and all the stuff that power bar has in them, so I wasn't super happy about it because that took me out of ketosis within like 15 to 20 minutes, so I lost a lot of that focus and neural drive and everything that I had during Canada, and then I ended up not having as hot of a race in. You know I still came in under 10 hours, but it kind of disrupted my race a little bit. But live and learn, take ice and coolers if you're going to use oils during the race.
Harley: So what'd you eat in Canada?
Ben: Canada was super-starch, MCT oil and amino acids, and once I got to the point where I went glycolytic and got to, it was about eight-and-a-half hour marker, so just basically switched to pure sugar and caffeine from Coca-Cola. So not healthy, but necessary once you get into that unnatural scenario to push you to the finish line.
Harley: Yeah, I'd love to see an athlete, someone just to a Kona or a Western State, just on a hundred-percent fat. I do want to have bacon and eggs for breakfast, eat bacon on the run, got some eggs back in New Jersey.
Ben: Dude, I personally would do bacon. It’s good healthy fats, like a good pasteurized bacon, but solid foods, I don't do well. I do better with the liquid-based fuels, especially when I'm running, but the issue with that, the issue with getting somebody to do that is what we run into with what I mentioned with like kids and kids initially, when their first baby's being in that state of high fatty acid utilization, you know drinking mother's breast milk with all these fatty acids and ketones. You rip them out of that, you make them metabolically inefficient with a standard Westernized diet, and then it takes a good couple of years to put somebody back into a state of metabolic efficiency. Most athletes aren't patient enough to do that, and so what you have to get into is the ultimate scenario where you take like some whatever, 16, 17-year-old, genetically gifted kid who wants to go into a dietary program. You train them to become a world champion, you make sure that you get them on a diet like that, and then you put them into that scenario. And even then, you're not guaranteed that they're going to outperform the people who are eating the carbs and the simple sugars because the issue at that point becomes whether or not they are simply healthier, whether or not they might live longer because they've got less reactive oxygen species or advanced glycation end products, or because their livers haven't had to work as hard, metabolizing fructose or their pancreas hasn't had to turn out as much insulin.
You know, it comes down to that lens through which you see the world. You know, you're looking for the ultimate combination of performance and health and longevity, and not necessarily just performance, so I would suspect that person could perform just as well as someone who's shoving carbohydrates down the hatch, but what would impress me more is if we looked at it from a long term standpoint and said okay, are they going to live longer with a healthier heart and healthier skin and connective tissue and healthier joints, less inflammation, that type of thing. And that's kind of my wheelhouse, Harley, is I want to live as long as possible, be there to see my grandkids and have that end ultimate performance, and so that's kind of the lens through which I see the world.
Harley: For sure, with working, Dr. Atkins went wrong 'cause he is off the load carb. He had heart disease and he was obese.
Ben: I don't think he paid much attention to the quality of the fats or the proteins. From what I understand, I don't think he looked at the source, so this’ll probably gross you out as a vegan, but this Sunday, I'll go up on some land that I have up here in Washington state, and I'll shoot a deer with my rifle, take my boys up there and teach them how to hunt. We'll get a deer for the winter for our meat, and we'll have been raised out in the wild on the wild grasses and everything all year long. It'll have a nice healthy liver, that's one of the first things that I look at when I cut it open and I got it, and I respect the animal highly when I kill it. But that animal, and the meat that I get from that animal and the bone broth that we make from it and the sausages and the steaks that we'll end up fueling with during the winter, that's a high-quality meat. It hasn't spent its life in a barn or shoved in with a bunch of other animals, under high-stress situations. I won't shoot it if it's running so it's not even stressed out when it gets killed, and when you look at the meats and the fats that you eat from that standpoint and the source from which they came.
I think that's probably where Dr. Atkins went wrong is he's recommending a diet where you're eating a lot of proteins, probably too much protein really, and a lot of fats too. But maybe not considering the source from which they came, and were they raised in a stress-free environment? Was the animal killed in a humane manner? Was it fed grain or did it eat just natural grasses and things of that nature? And I suspect that's kind of where the whole Atkins philosophy went wrong is looking at the actual quality and source because you are what you eat, ate, in a way. And they've done studies that have looked at the amount of Omega-6 fatty acids that an animal is fed and have found that those same amounts of inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids wind up in the bloodstream of the person who ate that meat, and the person who eats the higher Omega-3, pasteurized, grass-fed type of beef doesn't end up with that same level of inflammation and Omega-6 fatty acid. So I think that's the big issue with the Atkins deal.
Harley: Well the Weston A. Price, you know about Weston A. Price?
Ben: Yeah, with Sally Fallon.
Harley: Oh yeah, Sally. She's overweight, but the Weston A. Price guy, the actual dentist dude, he died of a heart attack.
Ben: Did he?
Harley: And Steven Burns, he was like the mouthpiece for Weston A. Price for years, he died a stroke age 42.
Ben: Yeah, I'd be curious to see what Weston A. Price's heart attack was caused by, that'd be interesting. I mean, obviously, some people have a genetic propensity towards heart attack, but that'd be interesting to see. I think that some people get carried away with the diet component, and again, this is one of those deals where you got to have balance in everything. You know like the whole time we've been talking, I've been standing up at my standing workstation. I'm not wearing my shirt, the house is a little cold, by body is under mild amounts of stress. It's burning calories, it's kind of getting exposed to like a hunter gatherer, farmer type of scenario.
Like I try and keep my body in that state. I think a lot of people, like a lot of these food researchers and stuff, whether they're vegan or whether they're a Robert Lustig or whatever who's another guy who talks about fructose. You know you do look at a lot of these people, and some of them aren't the perfect model of human health and muscle and they don't strike a very impressive figure when it comes to their aesthetic body appearance and possibly what's even going on internally, from an organ perspective, and I think part of that is because they may be focused a little bit too much on the research and the writing and the speaking and the travelling and the stress and not enough fun, just kind of letting the body be ancestral. You know, you look at a guy like Art De Vany who's a perfect picture of health and he's one of the fathers of the ancestral primal movement, and the guy looks like a million bucks, and he's like 83 years old.
Harley: He's had testosterone growth, although he said.
Ben: Yeah, and you know that wouldn't surprise me if he did, and honestly, to me if I wasn't competing in anti-doping associations say WADA events and stuff like that and having to be a clean athlete, I consider doing that 'cause frankly, that could potentially be better living through science if you're doing it in a controlled manner and not overdoing stuff like that. But I think at the issue, you know when you look at the Sally Fallon, or I don't know what Weston A. Price's exercise movement protocol or whatever would look at. I think part of it returns to no matter what diet you're eating, if you're living a sedentary lifestyle, that's going to catch up with you either way.
Harley: Bingo, bingo. Would look great on that one definitely.
Ben: Well we've gone like an hour-and-a-half, man, and I'm sure that we could keep on going 'cause this is a fascinating discussion.
Harley: A round two or something.
Ben: What's that?
Harley: Maybe we could do a version two down the track.
Ben: We could 'cause I'm sure we'll open up a ton of comments, so yeah, we should to a version two. Honestly, I'm not kidding. Email me, and I'm going to try and get in Peter Attia's ear and see if he'll do that throw down with you 'cause even though I know he's busy with all of his research and everything. He's also a cyclist, and we're all competitive at heart, right?
Harley: Yeah, and it's because I put fifty grand on the table or whatever. He could just maybe put a PowerAde on his bike and showed us he's watched the kilo up a local climb or something like that.
Ben: Yeah, for sure, and I bet he'd do it, so email me and I'll connect you guys via email, and lets you guys talking. So in the meantime folks, for all you listening in, Durian's website is 30bananasaday.com. He's also got a YouTube channel that I'll link to in the show notes, and I'll put a link to the other stuff that we've talked about in the show notes, and until next time. This is Ben Greenfield and Harley, thanks so much for your time tonight.
Harley: It's good, man. Its good chatting, always good chatting.
Ben: And we're signing out here from bengreenfieldfitness.com, thanks for listening in.
Meet Harley Johnstone, AKA DurianRider, AKA the 30BananasADay guy.
Harley (pictured right) spent the first 24 years of his life battling issues such as chronic fatigue, asthma, Crohn’s disease, hypoglycemia, mild arthritis, sleep disorders, depression, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, anorexia, acne, and more. These challenges led him to explore veganism and eventually raw veganism. He is now a 100% high carb, low fat raw vegan who literally eats 30 bananas a day (along with watermelons, coconut sugar and dates) and also competes in cycling, running, duathlon, ultra-endurance and marathon races.
Audio interview with Ben Greenfield and DurianRider link below…
And he makes videos like this one below (let’s just say he doesn’t appear to be a big fan of guys like Ben Greenfield and Vinnie Tortorich):
Today, I interview Harley, and we get into the nitty gritty of high carb vs. low carb, veganism, fruitarianism, bananas, fructose and more!
Topics we cover in this podcast include:
-How Harley came to be known as DurianRider…
Bottom of Form
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
-What a typical day of eating looks like for Harley…
-Whether he takes supplements…
-What high fiber intake does to his body…
-If Harley is concerned with deficiencies such as B12, Creatine, Choline, Vitamin K2, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Amino Acids, or Fatty Acids…
-The “30 Bananas A Day” blood work and biomarkers…
-How much exercise Harley does in a typical week…
-Why he has a a video where he’s dumping cups of sugar on cereal…
-His thoughts about liver damage, candida, fungus, glycation end products and more…
-High carb vs. high fat…
-And even a special $50,000 dare to a prominent ketogenic physician…
Resources mentioned in this episode include:
-Testing: The WellnessFX Performance Panel Ben is going to be doing in 2 weeks
-Article: The Truth About Ketones and Ketosis
-Article: The Article on Heart Disease in Eskimos that Durian cites (and a very interesting commentary on it here and here)