Protein Power Lifeplan
A New Comprehensive Blueprint for Optimal Health
By Michael Eades, MD and Mary Dan Eades, MD
Warner Books, 2000
In 1996 weight-loss doctors Michael and Mary Dan Eades wrote the New York Times bestseller Protein Power in which they asserted that excessive consumption of carbohydrates, rather than fats, cause obesity and illness such as diabetes and heart disease. In 2000, the husband-and-wife team followed with Protein Power Lifeplan, an expansion of their theories as well as guide to a nutritional philosophy of lifelong health and freedom from disabling diseases. Although loss of excess weight may be a happy benefit of adopting the Eades’s plan, achieving vibrant health and productive longevity are the real goals of their program.
Protein Power Lifeplan revisits the hunter/ gatherer perspective of our genetic heritage and reminds us that this inheritance continues to govern our metabolic functions today. As have other writers, the Eades point out that agriculture is an innovation of merely ten thousand years ago—much too recent for us to have fully adapted to such an altered dietary environment. Our pre-farming ancestors of 500,000 to three million years ago consumed far fewer carbohydrates (and none of them refined) than do cultures which base their diets on grains. Easily digested carbohydrate foods are all converted to sugar during digestion. The body must mount constant corrective measures to balance blood sugar, and does so via the hormone insulin. It is the constant circulation of insulin, rather than the mere fact of high blood sugar, that is the culprit not only in stimulating weight storage and gain, but in other serious disorders such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.
The Eades hammer home the message of the insulin connection to a host of disease conditions, and focus on the reduction of insulin levels as the primary goal of carbohydrate restriction. Raising the body’s sensitivity to insulin—so that it requires less to function optimally—can best be done by reducing carbohydrate consumption. (Reducing overall calorie intake and increasing exercise can help, too.) With this premise at the core of their dietary plan, the Eades establish the other nutritional components of our ancestors’ diets that are necessary for sound health—namely fat and protein.
In the chapter “The Fat of the Land” we read an excerpt of field notes from researchers in the 1940s who meticulously documented how Australian Aborigines prepared and ate a wallaby. The Eades included these details to emphasize how the fat content of modern diets—heavy in rancid, adulterated vegetable oils—has drastically changed from the diet of wild-game hunters. Even the diet of modern, “civilized” meat eaters—who choose muscle meats exclusively, and most often from unnaturally raised feedlot animals—cannot approximate the rich and varied source of healthy fats that our ancestors feasted upon, and which conferred such robust health. The Aborigines with their meal of whole wallaby on the fire pit began with the viscera— kidneys, liver, and heart—along with the fat cushioning those organs which were eaten first. The lungs were briefly cooked and used to soak up the blood, which was eaten next. The tail fat was cooked and eaten; the skull cracked for the brain and bones for their marrow. The fifteen-to-twenty pound carcass was cooked for barely half an hour, and only the stomach and intestines were not consumed. Native hunting groups from all over the globe consume their whole animal catches in similar manner—leaving behind only the truly inedible bits.
With the wallaby dinner as a graphic point of departure, the Eades take us on a tour of modern industrialized oils and fats that will be familiar to Wise Traditions readers but perhaps not to typical readers of The New York Times. The dangers of rancid, factory-produced oils that are heavy in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, transmogrified trans fats, and partially hydrogenated oils are revealed to be the dietary villains they are. A chapter on cholesterol vindicates the useful nutrient from the scapegoating it has suffered for decades as heart-health scourge, while throwing light on the serious dangers (and futility) of statin drugs. Blood lipid levels are important signals regarding cardiovascular health and their relationship to high insulin as well as to good fats and other nutrients in the diet are explored in detail.
Chapters entitled “The Miracle Magnesium” and “The Modern Iron Age” present important information on these two minerals that may be new to readers. The Eades frequently have their patients supplement their diets with magnesium to improve health conditions as varied as hypertension, pre-diabetes and gout. Magnesium is required for the functioning of at least three hundred metabolic pathways in the body. The modern diet is severely deficient in this mineral—the best food sources include tree nuts, leafy greens and bones—but mineral-deficient farming soils and the preponderance of processed foods mean most people receive very little. A high-carbohydrate diet demands a great deal of magnesium during assimilation, and stress causes the adrenals to “waste” the mineral as well. An over abundance of calcium—magnesium’s metabolic dance partner— means that the deficiency can cause serious conditions such as calcification of soft tissues (as in the arteries), muscle cramping, including that of the heart (calcium contracts, magnesium relaxes) and impaired bone and tooth maintenance.
Iron presents the opposite problem: most men and post-menopausal women are at risk to accumulate too much. The excess iron is not necessarily coming from a diet of red meat, but from all the iron-fortified wheat products that make up the vast majority of processed foods, from cold breakfast cereals to pastries, crackers, and other snack items lining supermarket shelves. Although iron is absolutely necessary for life, excess iron is an oxidizer—rust comes easily to mind—and can cause serious problems in the organs in which it accumulates, such as the heart, liver, thyroid, pancreas, and others. In fact, the most destructive damage from a heart attack occurs not from the occlusion that prevents blood flow, but from the explosive reaction of the stored iron in the heart with the oxygen in the blood newly reaching the heart after the blockage has cleared. The Eades recommend monitoring iron levels and donating blood regularly as a simple means to maintain healthy levels.
Why do humans absorb and store iron so well if there is a great potential for excess to be harmful? The Eades propose the theory that our hunter-gatherer ancestors hosted a community of intestinal parasites that took care of excess iron by regularly draining blood from their hosts. These “guests” did not compromise the overall health of hunters because of their diet rich in meat sources of iron, and whose skeletal remains demonstrate robust stature and structure. The Eades contend that agriculturalists, on the other hand, harbored the same parasites, but were no longer protected by their diet from the constant blood drain, and their skeletal remains show telltale signs of iron deficiency. If we can become comfortable with the fact that we are made up of more cells of bacteria in our guts than of “us” then perhaps we will next have to consider the idea that a symbiotic life with parasites might have its benefits as well!
As far as the Protein Plan diet itself, the Eades present three approaches to readers: the purist, which cleaves most closely to the Paleolithic ideal of pastured meat and no grains or dairy; and the dilettante and the hedonist, with respective modest increases in grain and dairy foods for each, along with allowances for some questionable modern concoctions, particularly for the hedonist The plan offers stages of carbohydrate consumption, especially when weight loss is desired, which gradually increase to a modest level in the maintenance stage, which the authors suggest can be followed for life. To help understand the effect of a carbohydrate food on insulin levels, the Eades offer a guide which they call the “effective carbohydrate content.” By subtracting the unabsorbable fiber from the total carbohydrate in a food, you are left with the amount of sugars and starches that will have a metabolic effect on blood sugar and insulin levels. Restricting quantities of these foods will help keep blood insulin levels low.
Amounts of protein on the plan are not excessive—this is not a protein-heavy diet, despite the book’s title—but are adequate as calibrated for the activity levels of adults, as well as for body size. A typical serving of protein for those of “average” size is about four ounces, for example—less than many people may actually routinely eat on “normal” diets.
When the book was written ten years ago, the Eades were perhaps overly circumspect in highlighting what the reader discovers their diet actually encourages: a healthy intake of good fats to provide necessary nutrients and satiety. They sanction all fats from animals, including butter, lard, and egg yolks as desired and with no restrictions as to amounts. Cod liver oil is a recommended supplement, but they warn against fish oil in capsules which are so often rancid. The Eades include a chapter warning of the dangers of artificial sweeteners and highlighting Russell Blaylock’s revelatory book on the same topic, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills.
Other chapters encourage the reader to get outside and sunbathe (without burning), meditate and exercise the brain, and pleasurably move the body. The even-handed tone of the authors is refreshing to read, and much of the advice in Protein Power Lifeplan is useful even if one never bothered to change one’s diet. The Eades’s well-reasoned argument that a diet low in starchy carbohydrates can confer many more health benefits than mere weight loss may nevertheless convince you that it is in your best interests to do so.
In spite of all these good points, we can only give this book a very qualified thumbs up, because after all the discussion about good meats and fats, and the dangers of modern foods, some very objectionable modern foods show up in the “allowed” foods lists at the end of the book, including soy foods, saccharine and canola oil. We hope that on reprinting, the Eades will have the good sense to remove these unhealthy processed foods.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2010.