Title: 235 - Is diet really the cause for Obesity? lessons from Blue Zones
Host: Dr. Nicole Rivera
Dr. Nicole (00:00.822)
Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of Integrative U Radio. I'm super excited to be able to not only be bringing you the audio podcast, but also video. So check us out on YouTube if you are a fellow listener on Spotify, Google Play, or iTunes. So we're talking about a topic that was requested, but this is a topic I've talked about before. I've talked about blood sugar many times.
But I'm bringing you a different perspective on blood sugar. And part of this perspective is based on observation, observation of what I experienced being in Italy for a month, but also observations that I didn't know how to interpret even in France when I went there many years ago.
But also I want to preface with something very specific that is a part of our approach when it comes to integrative medicine and helping people heal. If they're healing from chronic illness or they are just trying to get healthier. So in the very, very beginning of my practice, which was 12 years ago now, you are a sponge.
as a practitioner, you're a sponge because you are observing everything that is coming through your door, but more often than not, as a practitioner that is breaking into functional medicine or integrative medicine, you're attending tons of different workshops and trying to expand your toolbox, expand your knowledge, but also expand your toolbox. And many of
Dr. Nicole (01:53.534)
organizations talked about diet. They talked about getting really, really hyper-specific on diet for your patients, which will help them to get healthier and or recover from chronic illness. And there was a lot of talk about elimination diets, there was talk about paleo diets, keto diets, low ammonia diets, antihistamine diets, and the list goes on.
I'm a big foodie, so I took this information and was like, okay, how can I help people to understand how to navigate diet without feeling like they are going to sacrifice? But still, in the early stages of practicing, diet was a major part of the toolbox. Really, at the end of the day, it was diet and supplements. That was the major strategies.
And that is the major strategies for the majority of functional medicine practitioners and holistic practitioners. The only reason I use the term integrative now, integrative medicine, is because I realized that wasn't doing the trick. That was not necessarily helping my patients. But now the fact that I am a coach for many other healthpreneurs, and I've taught all over the world,
It's the same for them. They're saying the dietary changes aren't cutting it. People aren't recovering from chronic illness. Some people are on restrictive diets and they're not losing the weight. So what else is happening? What are we not seeing? What are we not considering?
Dr. Nicole (03:39.054)
So what I realized is that helping people to understand how to eat healthier food that actually supplies nutrients and also how to avoid foods that are extremely toxic, that is the key to helping people to know how to navigate their health moving forward. And unfortunately in the US, trying to avoid foods that are hormone disruptors,
that are toxic, that are poisoning your liver, your kidneys, your brain. That's the hard part because it's everywhere. And so when I first went to France, my biggest observation was, okay, these people are rather thin. You don't see much obesity there, if any.
And I was in Paris, I was not in a small village in France. And I traveled to many places in France, I traveled to many places in Switzerland, and now have traveled to many places in Italy. And you really don't see people that are obese. It was a little bit of a mixed bag in certain parts of Italy, but when I first went to France, that was something that really stood out to me was, okay, these individuals are eating a lot of carbohydrates.
They're eating croissants for breakfast. They are staying out late and eating for three hours. They drink a lot of wine and they smoke cigarettes. So how are these individuals, one, not obese? Not being obese doesn't mean you're healthy, by the way. But the other thing that I observed was nobody necessarily was walking around with a cane. There were not people in wheelchairs.
You really didn't see many people with disabilities or with children with disabilities. You saw a lot of high-functioning people walking around enjoying the city, enjoying their lives. And the other thing that I noticed about cigarettes because that was just like blowing my mind. And like, how is France healthier than America when these people smoke like chimneys? Like you, that was one thing for me. I don't like the smell of smoke and anywhere you went, you were bombarded with it.
Dr. Nicole (06:06.57)
And what I noticed is that I never saw like a store-bought pre-packaged or pre-rolled cigarette. Everyone had a bag of tobacco and they had papers to roll their own cigarettes. So if you actually wanna get into the research about pure tobacco, it's actually been used in ceremonial practices in the Amazon and many other cultures to Native Americans.
because it actually has energetic, spiritual, and health benefits. Pure tobacco. Obviously, the tobacco that's being used in the cigarettes made in America is very adulterated with fiberglass and formaldehyde and a variety of other chemicals, and even the paper being bleached, and so on and so forth. So it's a very different ball game when it comes to the cigarettes that you're buying from these big-name brands in America versus someone getting pure tobacco and rolling their own cigarette.
Is there long-term health effects from ingesting or inhaling smoke? Yes, of course. But what I'm saying is that there is a difference. And if anything, tobacco use can actually speed up your metabolism, which is one of the reasons why many Americans don't want to give it up, because they say, oh, if I stop smoking, I might gain weight. And it's not exactly how it works. It's a matter of major, major neurological imbalances that will happen when you are constantly giving your body a stimulant.
but that's a different topic for a different day. So I go to Italy and I observe very similar behaviors when it comes to ingesting high amounts of carbohydrates and also starting your day with something like a croissant or a small cookie with an espresso. They don't really have places that serve eggs and bacon. That is not a thing there. And I was very apprehensive
to do that, I was like, oh gosh, I know that you have to stabilize your blood sugar in the morning. I don't wanna start my day with a croissant. And we stayed at a hotel, and they were literally delivering warm, fresh-baked croissants to the room. So of course my son is like, give me that. And so I was like, whatever, I'm in Italy. I'm gonna partake. And all in all, I ate my body weight in pasta. I ate baguettes. I had pizza.
Dr. Nicole (08:32.618)
I ate croissants for breakfast and I lost weight. And I don't have bags under my eyes anymore. Like I just generally looked healthier and felt healthier, and there are a couple of things that I attribute this to. And the whole point of where I'm going with this, just so you're aware, is that I'm not advocating for people to eat that. Because if you ate pasta, bread,
and croissants here in America, you're gonna be a deep shit. In all transparency, you are gonna be a deep shit because it is not the same quality, it is not the same flour, it is not the same sugar. So it is a very, it's very, very different. The other thing is that the Italian people and the French people, they are very active. It doesn't matter if you live in a city or you live in a village.
There are no elevators. Those cities are so old. You are climbing stairs that are alongside of a cliff to either get up to the village or get down to the sea. You are walking everywhere. There is so much activity. And that is something that lacks majorly in America. And it's partly because a lot of people move out of cities, especially if they have a family and they move into the suburbs.
and most suburban areas, they're not walkable. You have to get on a bike at least or get in a car. And honestly, like getting on a bike and riding around your town is sometimes frowned upon depending on where you live. It's like, why wouldn't you just drive? And this is something that is playing a significant role as to why we can't ingest that many carbohydrates because our bodies are not burning it.
The other thing that I talked about in one of our previous podcasts about what we learned from Italy and also in France is people are so present. They are not on their phones. They are not on social media. They are not living in their past or worrying about their future. They're literally sitting there in that moment across from people that they care about and they're having a conversation.
Dr. Nicole (10:55.322)
and they're going to the market that day to get the groceries for what they're gonna prepare for that night. They're not buying in bulk and meal prepping, but they also have a lifestyle and a schedule that allows for them to make time for that. It's just a priority in their culture. We are the go, run around with your head cut off. We got so much going on. I can't cook every night. I can't go to the market and cook.
It's just something that we've gotten away from because of the hustle culture of Americans. And the thing that I realize now is that I was all about that hustle culture. I was all about, you know, do what you gotta do to be successful. I just think at this point in my life, I'm redefining what success really is because I worked my ass off for a decade and
I wasn't necessarily sitting back proud with my feet up saying, wow, I accomplished all the things I wanted to accomplish. If anything, I was like, I'm fucking exhausted. I'm so burnt out and I'm not where I wanna be. And I sure as hell don't have the money that I hoped that I would. Like I'm not in a position to retire. I'm not in a like that wasn't my reality because I was so in the trenches. And I honestly lost track.
of a lot of the things that are important in life. And I know if you're an entrepreneur, you relate to this, is you lose track of your relationship. You lose track of other relationships. Like you miss holidays, you miss birthdays, you miss so much. And it gets to a point that you just feel alone and you feel sad and you feel overwhelmed and you feel like you're in the fucking trenches and don't know how to get out. And...
when you go to places like Italy, especially you go to some of these small villages, their life is so basic and we can, depending on the phase of life that we're in, if I went there 10 years ago, I'd be like, this is not for me. Like this is, you know, these people aren't doing anything with their lives. They're not making an impact on the world. And it just gets to a point that sometimes you are in a phase of your life that you're like, I almost want to get back to basics. I want to get back to basics because I want to be well. I want to be able to be present.
Dr. Nicole (13:18.55)
I want to stop worrying about everything. I want my kids to know what it's like to play. I want my kids to know what it's like to have a parent that isn't just always sad or mad or overwhelmed. I want my kid to know how to make himself an egg opposed to just constantly eating out or doing takeout because we're so busy and we're so overwhelmed.
So that is the biggest difference between Europe and here is that they're prioritizing the basic functions of life and they are sure as hell a lot more present. And if you're present, aka not living out of your past and worrying about your future, you're a lot less stressed. You're a lot less anxious. And they move way more than us. Way, way, way more than us.
And if you want to dive into this topic more, I highly recommend getting, I think it's on Netflix, don't quote me, I'm terrible with TV. But there is a Blue Zone docu-series and Italy, Sardinia is one of the Blue Zones where they have a huge population of centurions, people that have lived past a hundred and they also are featuring other
areas, other blue zones, because there's a couple of blue zones throughout the world. There's actually one in California, Italy. There is one in Japan. And when you look at the themes of what have allowed these people to be well and to live such a long life, a long healthy life, there are some themes. And some of those themes is community.
having connection with the people in your village, having connection with your family, having relationships, having conversations, which obviously requires being present. In addition to that is movement. In California, they just had a community that they had this big gym where everyone went and they had everything from swimming to pickleball to aerobics. And then you go to some of the other areas like Italy and there were...
Dr. Nicole (15:40.418)
people that were in their 80s and 90s that were still farming, and they're climbing up and down hills, and they're going downhill to go to the village to get their eggs, and then going back up the hill to their home. So the themes are there, and this isn't my opinion, this has actually been proven now with the studies of the Blue Zones. And ironically, when you watch the Blue Zones, they are eating high carbohydrate.
in most of the areas, they're eating high carbohydrate. They're eating a lot less animal product, they're eating high carbohydrate, and they're eating a lot of foods that are rich in antioxidants, AKA fruits and vegetables. And in the carbohydrate arena, they're not just eating pasta. The Italians are actually fermenting their dough to make bread and to make pizzas. So they ferment it,
increases the microbe diversity, which actually that's what sourdough is, is if you let it ferment all of the bubbling of the dough is bacteria, it's microbes, probiotics. So you're getting this pre-digested gluten, which allows you to digest it better, but then you're also getting all of these beneficial probiotics from the consumption. And they are eating lots of beans.
they're eating lots of ancient grains. Beans and the soluble fiber that's in beans, I can't tell you how many people just don't eat beans. Oh, it hurts my stomach, it makes me gassy, I feel like it makes me feel too full. Beans are one of the primary ways that your liver and your gut detox. So if you eat no soluble fiber, you eat no beans at all, you are literally having bile that holds the toxins and it goes through your gut.
The goal is for you to poop it out, AKA to get it out of your body. If you don't have soluble fiber, that ball of toxic bile goes right back to your liver. It gets recirculated. Those toxins eventually get into your bloodstream and you can't think, your memory sucks, you're predisposed to dementia and Alzheimer's, you get migraines, you get headaches, you feel lethargic, you feel tired, and the list goes on. So not eating some of these foods and being carnivore or being keto
Dr. Nicole (18:06.882)
you know, everybody's different, but there's limitations with it. It's limitations because you are not necessarily getting very specific nutrients that are beneficial for certain organs. In addition is when you looked at the Asian cultures, they're eating high density of purple potatoes. These purple potatoes are like dark, like a beet. The amount of antioxidants that are in blueberries, beets, purple potatoes.
is insane because of that deep rich color. That deep rich color indicates high antioxidant profiles. So what I'm trying to say here is that going on restrictive elimination diets, one, I never saw that be the end all be all for recovery from chronic illness.
Did I see it maybe help some people lose weight? Yes, but it wasn't sustainable. Because guess what? You gotta get back to a more balanced life at some point. And so if you cut everything out, and then even if you introduce 25% of things back in, it's still, your body's like, oh, I don't know what's going on here. So you're going to lose and then you gain because it wasn't really the best approach and it wasn't very balanced.
Number three is we need to learn something from these blue zones. We need to learn something from these other cultures where obesity is practically non-existent. And what we need to learn is that one, not all carbohydrates are bad, but can you actually burn off the carbohydrates that you consume? Number three is are the carbohydrates you eat, you're eating fucking poison? Or are they actually made from quality grains? Is it bread that has...
pre-digested gluten because it was fermented properly. Are you eating sugar? Or are you eating high fructose corn syrup or some type of refined sugar that your body can't metabolize? Or is it pure cane sugar? These are the things that we have to look at because the sugar that exists in the US, that's in everything from your ketchup to your candy to...
Dr. Nicole (20:26.866)
even your mustard nowadays, even your pickles, it is intended to make you fat and poison you. It's intended to fuck up your brain so that you can rely more on pharmaceuticals for your depression and your anxiety. And guess what? Your social media is the same. Your social media and your media. I didn't really even know when I was in Italy, I didn't know what was going on in the world because...
they don't look at media. And you're also in this beautiful place that you're just like, I just wanna live in the moment and I'm gonna look at the scenery. But they are, and also too, what we're seeing in the media, they're, it's not the same. That really got me thinking about, they wanna keep us in a fear-driven state here. They wanna keep us stressed. They wanna keep us anxious. They wanna, they wanna keep us worried about shit that has come out of our complete fucking control. And guess what? Then your reserves are so tapped.
that you can't, you don't have the bandwidth to control what you can control, which is you and your family and your life and your meals and your time. So you get distracted by shit you can't control from the politics and the government and everything else. And now you don't have the bandwidth, the energy, the reserves, the mental capacity to actually control what you can control, which is you and your family.
So we need to take a step back and we really need to think about getting back to the basics. And how can we carve out just a little bit more time to do that? And stop fucking restricting yourself. Stop saying, I can't have the glass of wine. I can't do this. I can't do that. Because people in other countries are doing all of that. And they're happier, and they're healthier, and they're not living on pharmaceuticals.
And it's because one, the quality is way fucking better. Two, they're living in the moment, they're being more present. And number three is they're literally significantly less stressed and moving way more than us. So if you're a visual person, I highly, highly recommend you checking out that Blue Zone series. It is extremely eye-opening. And I went there.
Dr. Nicole (22:49.446)
I was in Sicily, Sardinia, Sorrento, and that is truly the way it is there. And there are tons of people that are so with it, so active, strong, no mental obstacles that are in their 90s. And they are the most lovely people to talk to. They have so much wisdom.
It's really amazing to be able to learn from them and say, what are you doing that you are able to be this high functioning at this age of life? So I say this all to inspire you guys and to get you out of this stressful, restrictive mindset of I can't eat this and I can't eat that because there's so much more to the story.
and I really hope you all can get to Italy at some point because it is pretty damn magical.