The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #104 - Glen Matten
Glen Matten (MSc NutrMed, DipION) is the author of the award-winning book The Health Delusion and the coauthor of The Sirtfood Diet. With a degree in nutritional medicine, he has made frequent forays into the media spanning TV, radio, and numerous national magazines and newspapers. With an approach deeply rooted in nutritional science, Glen has run successful clinics across the UK for over a decade. He collaborates closely with medical doctors, attracts clients from all over the world, and works with a number of professional athletes and celebrities.
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10:25 - Glen Matten's Personal Story
12:00 - antioxidants
14:40 - What are the beneficial plant compounds?
15:20 - phytonutrients
20:45 - how we benefit from plant foods
22:30 - hormetic stress
24:15 - xenohormesis
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The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #38 - Connie Zack
The Science Of Sauna: Heat Shock Proteins, Heart Health, Chronic Pain, Detox, Weight Loss, Immunity, Traditional Vs. Infrared, And More!
27:00 - the carnivore debate
29:45 - olive oil, cocoa Flavonoids, red wine and coffee
31:15 - blue zones
32:00 - being a dietary agnostic
33:40 - plants as signaling molecules
35:00 - what are sirtuins?
40:00 - what the 7 sirtuins are responsible for
42:20 - the connection between fasting and sirtuin activation
46:35 - antioxidants while fasting
48:45 - sirtuin activation
53:50 - the difference between fasting and sirtuin activation
1:00:50 - the first 7 days of the sirtfood diet
1:05:10 - gaining muscle
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1:10:15 - leucine
1:12:45 -PI3 Kinase, AMPK, mTor
1:19:20 - home gardens
1:20:05 - wine
1:24:25 - dry farming
1:25:05 - chocolate & Cocoa
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1:32:00 - A diet of inclusion
Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends, welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I am about to have. It is with Glen Matten, one of the authors of The Sirtfood Diet. Okay, listeners, I'm going to tell a little bit about my personal story and perspective of this book. I remember when this book came out, it became very popular because Adele lost weight doing The Sirtfood Diet, and I remember when all that happened and I was thinking-- because I hadn't read the book at the time, and I was wondering about the science behind it, and I was wondering if it was about sirtuins and all of this stuff that we'll talk about in today's episode. I remember thinking, “Oh, people probably think that this is just a celebrity fad diet, because it has a celebrity attached to it.” I'm sure it was fantastic that the success with the having a celebrity who did so well on it. But I was super curious to read the book and see about the actual science in it.
Friends, oh, my goodness, it is absolutely incredible. It dives so, so deep into things that I am so passionate about, and I know you guys are so passionate about as well, and that is, I’ve already mentioned, the science of sirtuins. I've had David Sinclair on this podcast, and that's probably the first time I’ve talked about that on this show. But sirtuins, polyphenols, I'm going to say antioxidants, but it might not actually be antioxidants, [giggles] but basically, the role of all of this in not just diet and weight loss, but health in general. It's just fantastic. So, I am so excited to be here with Glen Matten, one of the coauthors. So, Dr. Glenn, thank you so much for being here.
Glen Matten: Thank you for that introduction. You've already touched on one of the subjects I would love to dive deep into which is antioxidants and some of the confusion around that. I'll be, I think, painting maybe a different picture about that whole antioxidant story than is the prevailing one. But also, just to say, what a deep irony is that I ever became associated with a celebrity fad weight loss diet, and I hope the next 90 minutes or however long we have together will be a chance to actually share my passion for the role of plant nutrients in human health, and hopefully, do justice to this field, which is so, so, so much more than about weight loss, and it's about health in a profound way.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, my goodness. I love hearing that. Even when I said antioxidants just now, I was thinking there's so much context there. I don't mean antioxidants the way people probably think I do. Actually, you’ve just touched on something that is so huge, which is these plant compounds and what they can do, and on this show, I think it gets really overwhelming for a lot of my listeners, because I bring on people on the carnivore side of the spectrum who are very anti-plant. Then, I have people on the vegan side who are all pro-plant, and I think people get very, very confused when it comes to plants. So, I'm really, really excited to dive in. To start things off, you’ve already touched on it a little bit as well, your shock about becoming associated with this celebrity, but what is your personal story, what made you so interested, and what ultimately led you to this focus on sirtuins and Sirtfood, the book, and just where you are today?
Glen Matten: I got involved in the field of nutrition about 20 years ago now. So much has changed in that time. One of the areas I was always interested and I've written a couple of books before The Sirtfood Diet, and really, I always had this fascination with plant foods and just to, I think, qualify the context there, The Sirtfood Diet and my approach isn't about vegan diets or plant-based diets. I actually have no agenda as to what people choose to eat in terms of animal foods or plant-based foods. But I've been always very interested in the role of plant foods in human health, whether as part of a mixed diet or for those who prefer more exclusively plant-based diet. That's always attracted me. I've always had that interest in this complexity of the nutrients that we find in plant foods. I never really knew what to do with that for a lot of years, because there was so much emphasis on micronutrients, on vitamins, and macronutrients. The world has been obsessed with what we do with fats, and carbohydrates, and proteins, and there was a real story that unfolded for me around antioxidants, in fact, and this trend towards mega dosing antioxidant nutrients.
It was just fascinating to see the wheels fall off of all of that. Actually, this realization that school of thought, people were in love with antioxidants and thought that was the answer to everything. It was because of antioxidants that diets rich in fruits and vegetables, what were good for us, and just seeing that spiraled out of control and really backfire with these big trials showing that high-dose antioxidant supplements not only don't work, but they may do some harm. It was really that epiphany that there's something much more complex going on here. The story I'll tell today, and I think all paths have led me towards the last 10 years of my career, this fascination with these plant nutrients, and how they interact with ourselves in a very different way to perhaps what we thought 15 or 20 years ago.
I think just to put some more perspective around this in my journey, I'm a practitioner, I'm a clinician. My background is nutritional medicine. I'm not a scientist. So, I've spent 20 years working with, I don't know. I'm going to say thousands. I have no idea what the number is of clients and patients, and it's been the more I've understood the role of plant foods and plant nutrients in human health, the more I've been able to help people. It's become a huge passion, a huge part of my work. Hopefully, we'll continue to learn more and more about this field, and be able to help people with their health problems, or those looking to optimize health. But it's been really a journey that has made me, just through my work and my clinical work, see the power of these plant nutrients to change people's health.
Melanie Avalon: I love it so much. I know what you're talking about with a lot of the studies that look at plants and antioxidants, and I feel normally, it's looking at antioxidant content, and the correlation to health outcomes, and it can be very murky. I'm just thinking about how much of a disservice that might do to the potential other plant nutrients that might be going on, because they might test just for the role of antioxidants and conclude that there's not that benefit or even that it's harmful like you said, and then maybe people write off plants, because I think a lot of people do just think antioxidants, that's the thing they think. So, question there because you're talking about these plant nutrients, not necessarily antioxidants. What are these plant nutrients? Is it polyphenols, is it one thing, is it lots of things?
Glen Matten: That's another fantastic question. It's lots of things, I think, would be the easy answer to that. But I can obviously break that down for you, and just hopefully help the listeners understand the complexity of this. When we look at a broad term of phytochemicals or phytonutrients, we're talking about all the nutrients, all the plant nutrients that occur in the foods we eat. There are thousands of these. The largest group of these phytonutrients are the polyphenols. They're a vast and fascinating family of plant nutrients. There's thousands of those as well, and they're the largest group of these plant compounds. I think the thing to really understand about these phytonutrients, these plant nutrients, is these are the things that give the plant foods we eat their color, their taste, their aroma. When we look at a tomato, for example, it's the lycopene that gives the red color. When we look at turmeric, it's the curcumin which is a polyphenol, which gives it that bright yellow color. But it's also things like the taste or the aroma. I don't know if you-- chili would be an obvious example. The capsaicin in the chili gives it that fiery kick and I don't know if you've ever had good-- I'm sure you've had good quality olive oil and have you experienced that burning sensation?
Melanie Avalon: Yes, I remember the first time it happened. Really quick story. Olives are one of the few foods I actually don't like, which is very strange to me and I have an allergy to them, I think. So, I hadn't tried olive oil for a long time. The first time I tried it, I got this burning sensation, and I thought, “Oh, I'm allergic,” but then, I researched it and realize, “No, it's a thing.”
Glen Matten: It's a good test of whether you have a decent quality extra virgin olive oil, because again, it's these plant nutrients, these phytonutrients, one in particular called oleocanthal, that is in the olive oil, and if it's a polyphenol-rich olive oil, you'll get that burning, prickling sensation in your throat. It's actually a good way to see, “Have I got a decent olive oil.” My point is that actually a lot of the characteristics we associate with plant foods are because of these phytonutrients. Here's the interesting story if it's okay just to push on, because this is for me. This was the epiphany for me when I really understood this, and I think this will help provide the backdrop to our discussion when we come on to sirtuins, and all of these interesting things with The Sirtfood Diet is, is the question. Why do plants produce this vast array of compounds? Because it's really simplistic to go and buy your green tea, and you see the packet and it says, “Oh, rich in antioxidants.” It's still a very prevalent marketing term, but it really reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what these plant nutrients are, and why plants produce them, and what happens to us when we consume them.
The thing to understand about these plants is, they have to protect themselves from the stresses of their environment. What's really interesting about plants, and why their stress response is so sophisticated is because plants can't move. Melanie, if a predator comes prowling around, you can run away from that. We can escape, we can flee. You're at the beach, and it's too hot, you can go and get some shade. If you're thirsty, you can drink. Plants can't do that. They're stationary. So, to cope with sunlight, and drought, and nutrient deprivation, or the bug, or the insect, or the fungi that comes to feed on them, they have to have a very sophisticated defense system to protect themselves against all of these stresses. This has evolved over a billion or more years, the way they do this is through the production of these plant chemicals, these plant nutrients, these polyphenols. They act as the stress response system of the plant. We're tapping into a very sophisticated stress response system that plants have evolved over millennia to survive and adapt to their environments. I don't know if that's a familiar theme from other people you've had on your podcast, but these are potent adaptations to stress that plants experience.
Here's what's interesting. When we consume these plants, we also consume these polyphenols. They're not acting as antioxidants when we consume them. The way I would describe it is they're acting as signaling molecules. They're talking to our cells, and influencing some really fundamental cellular processes that affect our metabolism, the repair of our DNA. In terms of antioxidants, what they're doing is actually triggering our own endogenous inbuilt antioxidant defenses. They're really molecules that are talking to our cells, communicating with our cells, and eliciting a response.
Melanie Avalon: Some follow up questions to that. Actually, that was the exact pathway I was going, because I was going to ask a really esoteric question which was-- it's really what you just said. It was that I assume plants don't have these compounds, because their intention is to provide us with a nutrition or it's not to give us something, I don't think. Maybe this is talking about it too casually, but that would say to me that the benefits that we experience must be a reaction to them. The source of the benefit, it would be how our bodies react rather than the actual thing itself, or is it sometimes the thing itself? With xenohormetics, is the plant literally providing the substrate that would be similar to what we have. Does that make sense?
Glen Matten: It does, and you're absolutely spot on in your perception of what's happening. I think there's two ways or two concepts-- beating me to it talking about xenohormesis. There's two ways in which I would understand this response and it is that idea of sending a signal which activates a response. It's like a cellular response pathway that is being activated through the exposure to these polyphenols. The first prism I would look at this through which I know you'll know, you can educate me about this is hormesis. You're obviously deeply involved in that the intermittent fasting community, you'll understand this this concept very well. This idea that polyphenols are partly working through hormetic stress. They're placing a mild stress on ourselves. I would think of them in many ways more as weak pro-oxidants rather than antioxidants when they're in our cells. They're activating our cellular stress response pathways. They're driving an adaptive response to stress, weak stress within ourselves.
If you understand hormesis, you'll understand that this is a biphasic response to a stressor. It's this idea that in a huge amount, which might be the insect nibbling on the plant. To an insect, this might be a huge amount, that's going to deter the insect. When you're looking at an organism the size of a human being, the dose is much, much lower. What might be in a high dose and overwhelming stress in a low dose, the doses we're exposed to through eating these foods, it's having a favorable, good stress on ourselves. I guess the much-used analogy of hormetic stress is what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. In that respect, I would regard these polyphenols as being very similar to fasting, very similar to exercise in eliciting stress on ourselves, and mild biological stress, which triggers the cell to adapt and become fitter and healthier in response to that stress.
Now, there's an extension to that thinking, which is this concept of xenohormesis. This is the bit that blows my mind, and it's coming back to that idea that actually, plant stress responses are way more sophisticated than our own. It's for that very reason, I’ve mentioned, which is plants are stationary. They can't easily escape predation or sunlight. So, they've developed this highly sophisticated collection of compounds, and xenohormesis is that slightly different idea that we're piggybacking on a plant's sophisticated stress response system for our own benefit. They're really advance signaling molecules, at the end of the day activate our own in a stress response pathways. With the xenohormesis, we're really saying, “Let the plants do the hard work, so, we don't have to. Let them activate the stress response pathways, so our cells can become healthier.”
For me, these polyphenols are the paradigm that's been missing. There's so much interest in fasting, rightly so, there's so much-- where everybody knows exercise is good for them, whether they do it or not. But for me, the third pillar of this whole story are these polyphenols.
Melanie Avalon: I just have to share how much I'm enjoying this conversation. This is absolutely incredible. Okay, I know a lot of my audience's ears are going to be perking up. You’ve already mentioned that your dietary agnostic when it comes to macronutrients, and I don't want to put words in your mouth, but you talked about being open to all different diets. A lot of the carnivore people I've had on the show make the argument that it is these compounds and plants, these plant toxins, which is the reason that we should avoid them, that we could get all of the benefits from just an animal-based diet without any of the potential toxicity from the plants. What do you think about that?
Glen Matten: It's a really interesting discussion, and I think one that will evolve. But for me, I always have to go back to my understanding of the science and my understanding of the evidence, and that's not to say I've got some monopoly over that. We all have our own freedom to look at research and try to understand research. As I said, I'm not a scientist, I'm not a researcher. I'm a clinician, but I do look at research. For me, one of the most important things to do is to look at the healthiest populations on the planet, the healthiest populations that we can study and gather information about. We might call those the blue zones, which again, I'm sure your listeners will have some familiarity with. That was really, if we're looking at tracing back where my interest began. It was trying to understand the diets of people in Okinawa, and why they have such a high level of centenarians. It was looking at the traditional Mediterranean diet, and why we see people who adhere to this diet experiencing such good health, and prolonged health span. Really, for me, that's a fundamental starting point. Looking at these healthy diets, where people do live long lives, their health span is very good, and those diets are typically made up of an abundance of polyphenol-rich plant foods. For me, that would be a starting point. I would say, actually, if I'm going to hedge my bets here, I would look at these populations who are the healthiest that we know.
Moving on from that for me such a plethora of studies that show a lot of the foods I'm interested in rich in polyphenols having very beneficial effects on human health. We might pick extra virgin olive oil, rich in these olive polyphenols. Now, there are many, many studies testifying to the benefits in numerous chronic diseases of diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil. The same is true of cocoa rich in flavanols, and maybe that's something we can explore during our conversation as well, the very interesting research around cocoa flavanols. The health benefits of red wine. Everywhere we look for clues, I see evidence that these foods.
A good coffee would be another example, a very rich source of polyphenols. What do we know from huge studies, huge epidemiological studies of coffee consumption, people who drink coffee rich in these polyphenols, that coffee drinking is associated with significantly less type 2 diabetes, healthier livers, less liver diseases, less incidence of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's. For me, everywhere I look in the scientific literature, I see evidence that diets rich in these plant foods are good for us. That would be my take on that, and I could talk about my clinical practice, it's very anecdotal, but I see 20 years of benefits to my patients of eating foods and diets rich in these plant nutrients.
Melanie Avalon: I'm on the same page. That's pretty much what I've always thought as well, because the topic of the blue zones does often come up in those conversations, especially with the carnivore crowd. If people thrive on carnivore, I'm all for it. so, keep on keeping on. usually, when the conversation comes up about the blue zones, they say, “Well, those all included me,” and then, they say that it was cherry picked, and that other blue zone societies that are higher in meat are included, but when I step back and look at it, it doesn't change the fact that these really long-lived populations seem to be very inclusive of plants. So, there's seems to be something going on there.
Glen Matten: I think the other thing I've learned, and this is why I liked your term dietary agnostic. This is where I think my perspective is that there is no one diet that is right for everybody. It's an old cliche, but there is no one size fits all. The one thing I've learned is human beings can thrive on a really wide spectrum-- and have through evolution thrived on a really wide spectrum of diets with really differing proportions of animal-based foods and plant-based foods, and I think to me, it's not they're mutually exclusive, it's not like it has to be one or another. But my sense is, I think we've evolved with these plant nutrients. I think we've evolved alongside them. If you see the slightly different nuance between xenohormesis and just a plain hormetic reaction, I think it gives an evolution on the idea that these nutrients aren't just acting as weak toxins. We're actually piggybacking on the back of this sophisticated stress response in plants and using it for our benefit.
I would say we're almost hijacking that stress response that's very sophisticated in plants, and using it to-- We've co-evolved with these nutrients. If I'm honest, every fiber in my body tells me that these plant nutrients are important, but that's not to say you have to be a vegan, and it's not to say that I've got anything against animal-based foods. Personally, my bets are on more plants rather than more animal protein. But I think there's a whole debate to be had there, and I'm not saying I have a monopoly on the answers, but that's my take on it.
Melanie Avalon: To recap, I want to make sure that I'm following and for listeners, the two potential responses here is the hormesis. The plant acting like a little baby toxin, or a small toxin, and then the body becoming stronger to deal with it. Then the xenohormesis, where that's more it's substituting for our own stress response system. So, rather than it being a response to a toxin, it might actually be acting in place of that pathway or catalyzing it?
Glen Matten: Yeah, no, sorry, if I didn't make the xenohormesis as clear. I think the catalyzing is a better way. Whichever way we look at that, the essence of this is it's activating our own innate stress response pathways. I think if we boil that down to what am I talking about, these plant nutrients are signaling molecules, and whether we see them as stresses, or whether we see them as-- Actually, really useful signaling molecules that, yeah, hey, that's just switching on these pathways. We want to have them switched on. I think that's the bottom line. I think we're talking about sophisticated signaling molecules that have favorable effects within our cells.
Melanie Avalon: And then, coming to sirtuins, how are those connected? Are the polyphenols activating sirtuins? Or I guess, stepping back, what are sirtuins? Basic question.
Glen Matten: Yeah, no, it's a great question. If I go through, I guess the evolution of my thinking around these things, I think, see how we come to sirtuins, and I think then that will open up this whole idea of The Sirtfood Diet. I was really interested in-- This is going back a few years, I was turning 40, and there was-- We're going back about seven, eight years now. I was looking at all this stuff coming out on intermittent fasting. It was when that really started to gain some traction, and I thought this is so interesting. I knew that caloric restriction, as opposed to intermittent fasting, this lifelong reduction of energy intake, 30 odd percent, there's such a body of evidence to show that it extends health span and certainly lifespan in lower organisms and mammals. I thought this is just so fascinating, and then I don't really want to do it. [laughs] I don't really want to do caloric restriction, and obviously, this is an audio recording. I'm fairly skinny, I've always been slim, and I just saw caloric restriction isn't going to work for me, so I don't want to do it.
Intermittent fasting, personally, I do practice what I would call time-restricted eating, which is my daily habit of eating within a specific window. But I don't push it too far, because I think that for me it doesn't work. I was sitting there thinking, this is so fascinating. I want to benefit from all of this, but I might not be the right candidate for some of this. I'm not the person who needs to shed a few pounds, and maybe blood sugar a little bit high, and insulin resistance. I'm not really the ideal person for this and it got me thinking about the role of these plant nutrients. I just actually was looking at resveratrol, and I thought that's interesting, and you obviously know, a good amount of about that through speaking to David Sinclair, and I thought that was interesting, but I'm never one to jump on to going straight for a supplement. I'm not keen. My experience has taught me that isolating single nutrients doesn't always work in the way we think it will. I'm hesitant to just jump to take an isolated compound.
So, I started looking at this and I started to pick the fact that there was numerous of these polyphenols that there was at least experimental evidence cell culture type studies showing that multiple of these polyphenols actually theoretically, the basic science level were potentially able to activate sirtuins and sirt1 in particular. That got me thinking. This is going back to the origins of The Sirtfood Diet, and I will talk about sirtuins and I will explain what I'm talking about that. But it got me thinking actually, there's potentially a host of polyphenols that can through acting as signaling molecules interact with our sirtuin genes. It's not just about resveratrol. Here, I'm thinking, maybe I can get the benefits of activating this amazing pathway, this ancient survival pathway within ourselves, through eating nice foods. That's captivated my imagination, and I think, obviously, it was the start of Sirtfood story.
So, let me talk a little bit about these sirtuin genes and see if I can begin to expand the idea. But as you all know, fasting, and exercise, extremes of temperature, cold or heat, are causing a stress on the cell, and they're eliciting an adaptive response to that stress. Largely, that response is governed by our family of proteins called sirtuins. Now, there are seven of these sirtuins. Sirt1 is the most well studied of these, and they're an ancient family of enzymes that exists within all of us. Fundamentally, they regulate cellular health. It's through the activation of sirtuins that we think caloric restriction, fasting, maybe these polyphenols through activating these sirtuin genes, we experience better health, and potentially a longer lifespan as well.
Melanie Avalon: Those sevens sirtuins, I'm just wondering now, because you’ve talked about it now, and you talk about in the book about how Sirt1 is most involved in energy balance. Is it possible that the other ones are as well and there's just not as much research, or are the other ones more involved in other processes in the body?
Glen Matten: Less is known about the other sirtuins. I think that is still a huge story to unfold. They're located in different parts of the cell. That would maybe give an indication that they have different functions. Three of the sirtuin enzymes are in the nucleus, one is in the cytosol, three are in the mitochondria. I think there's absolutely the case that there are nuances to their roles, and they do different things. But if we look at their function as a whole, and what we know, the best way, and this is a quote from the scientific literature, which I thought summed it up perfectly, “Sirtuins are master metabolic regulators.” They're regulating the fundamental process of how cells work.
They do a whole bunch of stuff that they're involved in what genes are switched on and off, a lot of the repair to damage in our cells, whether it's DNA, or damaged proteins, or sirtuins are involved in that repair process. Our mitochondria, we need healthy, well-functioning mitochondria to stay healthy, and sirtuin activation really helps our mitochondria function better. But it also stimulates something called mitochondrial biogenesis. That's the creation of new mitochondria, more mitochondria, these energy factories within ourselves. Sirtuins are involved in insulin sensitivity and metabolic health helping to control oxidative stress, autophagy, which the fasting community will know about, which is this process of the cell recycling damaged and broken bits, and ultimately, all of this leads to healthier aging and a slowing down of the aging process.
Melanie Avalon: Now, I'm wondering, because on the Intermittent Fasting Podcast, you say it different, but we say autophagy, autophagy.
Glen Matten: Oh, sorry. Yeah.
Melanie Avalon: I've heard it said all different ways. We often make this jump, I think that is very simplistic, and will say fasting leads to autophagy, fasting leads to insulin sensitivity, fasting leads to the end product. It sounds like though in most of these cases, that it's more like fasting activates sirtuins, which create this effect.
Glen Matten: Oh, yeah. I absolutely agree. I think we need to understand the signals that are being sent to ourselves when we undertake fasting or calorie restriction. I think it's only through understanding that the energy restriction is sensed by our cells as a stress. It's then the mobilization of the response to that stress through that the activation of sirtuins that then kicks in this whole raft of benefits. It's not the fasting-- it's not the polyphenols doing this, it's not the fasting. You look at what's happens when somebody exercises, we see increase in oxidative stress in the body, and then in the muscles, and there's a lot of stress going on. If you just looked at the effect of exercise, you say, “This isn't good for us.” The immediate effect, there's a whole bunch of damage going on, and the same with-- It's not the fasting itself that's having the benefits, it's the body's response to that is the hormetic response. It's what's being triggered by that fasting process.
By restricting energy, the cell sensing that restriction of energy, it's hunkering down. It's in survival mode. It's sensing danger. There's a lack of energy, and it's that alarm system that's going on that's kicking in all of these-- I guess I'd call them housekeeping. Autophagy, there we go, autophagy kicking in, is a housekeeping process that the cells are no longer in go mode. They're not in growth mode. They're switching to survival mode. That's a response to fasting or in my field, polyphenols. These are signals. I think we have to understand this is signals that are coming to our cells and forcing our cells to act differently.
There's a really nice analogy, and I think this helps us understand what that signal means that stress signals, which is going back a few years, people thought, people would exercise and get quite sore the next day, what's called DOMS, delayed-onset muscle soreness, and it's led to the idea that actually exercise is causing a lot of oxidative stress and damage. The way we should deal with that is what would happen if we give high doses of antioxidants to stop this? It seems logical, doesn't it? We help the body, it's under this oxidative stress. We'll give it a helping hand. We know better than nature. We know better than the human body. We will intervene and interfere. But what those high dose antioxidant supplements done is they blunted the adaptive response to that exercise. So, the benefits of the exercise in improving fitness were lost, because it was the response to the damage or the stress of the exercise, that is the process of getting fitter, and the cells getting fitter. When the stress comes again, the body's ready for it. That simplistic idea that we intervene with high-dose antioxidants to stop that stressful event happening actually fundamentally misunderstands the importance of the signal, whether it's exercise, fasting, or polyphenols, and the importance of the body's adaptive response to that.
Melanie Avalon: That's something I've been haunted by for quite a while, the role of antioxidants during fasting or exercise, and how we might actually be undoing-- or we might be very counterproductive in our goals. I was thinking about it for a long time, because I actually get some of my-- I take low-dose naltrexone, that's a whole tangent, but I get it compounded with vitamin C, and I was wondering, “Oh, how much vitamin C while fasting might be counterproductive?” because doing what you just said, of being a counterproductive signal and what we want to be getting from the fast are exercise?
Glen Matten: Yeah, it's a good question, and I don't think it's an on or off situation. I think what's the dose of vitamin C that you would be taking?
Glen Matten: It's tiny, because it's just a compounded pill. I don't know how many grams it is.
Glen Matten: Yeah, for me, it's when these nutrients are delivered, these antioxidant nutrients are delivered, what I would regard as almost pharmacological doses, that's when we're trying to outsmart nature. I think it's when those doses exceed what the body would expect to receive from food through our evolution, that's when I think we may be overriding the body's signaling processes and trying to impose our order on to what nature knows best. With vitamin C, I think once it gets above maybe 500 milligrams, that's probably more than dietary, but I think it's when you're starting to take vitamin C in the gram doses that for me that-- there are may be a few situations where that's not a bad idea for a short period of time, but generally speaking, it's when we're getting into the more pharmacological non-dietary zones that I think it's antioxidants are more problematic.
Melanie Avalon: Gotcha. Something else you just touched on with things being on or off. For the sirtuins, are they on or off? When I read David Sinclair's lifespan, he talks about sirtuins, and he talks about how they're activated, they're sent out to deal with damage, and deal with stress, and all this stuff, and he talks about how he thinks that they can get lost, not come back, and that's what aging partly involves. So, with sirtuins and aging, because you do talk about their role in aging in your book, are they on or off, or what are they doing, [laughs] how are they acting?
Glen Matten: One thing that's happening is their activity-- I don't think it's a switch on or off. I think it's just can we get more bang for our buck through tweaking or activating more strongly sirtuins. I think it's not a black and white thing. The activity of sirtuins will decline as we age for all the reasons David Sinclair will more eloquently-- he knows hundred times more about the biology of this than I ever will. But we lose there's that loss of sirtuin activity as we get older. I think for me, what's fascinating is, how can we tweak that, or how can we activate that? This is where my perspective is or my approach is probably very different to David Sinclair's in that he's an amazing scientist with his discoveries potentially will change how we understand aging, and this idea that aging is a disease that can be cured. I don't do that. My existence is a much more normal and humble existence than such a profound scientist and the way I think about this is, if we're able to include the right plant nutrients or not--
I haven't really made that clear. Not every plant food contains the polyphenols, which will activate sirtuins that have been linked with that. What we've done with The Sirtfood Diet was really hone in on the plant nutrients that were likely to be most effective at that. It's not just about eating plants, what we're saying with The Sirtfood Diet is it's about eating specific polyphenols in the right amounts from the right foods to try to, I guess, tweak or improve the activation of sirtuin genes. This is why I said it's an irony that we got dubbed a fad weight loss diet, because my belief is that is through the lifelong intake of these compounds, that we really reap the benefits for chronic disease prevention, staying slim, increasing our health span. This is where I think my perspective-- I'm quite humble about what I do. I don't think I can change the world, but what I want to do is help people lead healthier lives and stay free of chronic disease for longer, and I think it's almost like that finetuning. I see the polyphenols as the finetuning of the system, trying to eke more out of our sirtuin so that they can do this job of keeping ourselves healthy better.
I will never come up with the solution to the cure for aging like David Sinclair, and I hope he does, and I'll be the first to follow his advice. But it's a much more I think-- it's this idea of a lifelong way of eating, and that's what we see in these blue zones. People are exposed to these diets from in utero through to the day they take their last breath. It's the whole life cycle, the whole lifespan, there's this background exposure to these fascinating plant compounds. That's my message really. That's where I think the benefits come. Yes, there are immediate benefits and we've got a seven-day kickstart to our diet, because we know people want a quick fix, but that's really a side story to the main issue of them, the long-term or the lifelong consumption of these nutrients to get the best out of our sirtuins.
Melanie Avalon: I really cannot thank you enough for doing that work, because it's just not very appreciated or well known, and I'm just thinking back to some of the things I learned in your book. For example, you talked about fasting, and how fasting compares to sirtuins from food, because both can activate sirtuins. But you talk about a fascinating study where fasting activated sirtuins only in I think type 1 muscle fibers, so endurance muscles, but not in type 2. Would you like to talk a little bit about the difference between fasting and sirtuins?
Glen Matten: I think the first thing I will say there is partly, because I don't want to upset you but partly because I truly believe this, it's not a one or the other way of thinking. It's not I think polyphenols are superior to fasting or vice versa. I see them as highly complementary. I think my one of my messages would be that anybody who wants to reap the most benefit from a fasting regime, whether that be caloric restriction, or intermittent fasting, or longer fasting periods, the utilization of these plant foods rich in these specific polyphenols-- We haven't even said what they are yet, and we must do that before we end and talk about what these specific foods are. Just realize that I've been talking--
Melanie Avalon: I was going there next. [laughs]
Glen Matten: Talking completely conceptually and no one knows what foods they should be eating. I apologize for that. But I see it as a way to amplify the benefits of fasting, because you're hitting the sirtuin activation through two separate methods. For me, it's like amplifying the benefits of fasting, getting the most from your fasting. Back to your question. One of the things that really surprised us-- We've done a seven-day pilot trial of our study, and it wasn't ever intended to be a rigorous scientific study-- I say, we, this is myself and my very good and amazing colleague, Aidan Goggins, who's the coauthor of the book. We were so looking at this field, and we conducted a seven-day program, a private member's club and gym we work at in London called KX. When we put together, we really excited for all of our findings into what became The Sirtfood Diet, it wasn't then, into a way of eating, that was designed to activate our sirtuin genes very rich in these polyphenols.
We’ve done that really, because we wanted to see the health benefits of that. That's originally why we designed that. We were asked to design a detox diet, and we were just like, “There's no way we're doing a detox diet.” It's just a nonsense idea, but we're actually really interested in how we can switch on the body's regenerative capacity, the regenerative capacity of cells, and that was our version of a detox. We were lucky to be able to do within that environment. Because it's quite a closed environment that the club has a restaurant. For the seven days, all of the food was pre-prepared according to our very specific instructions and given to 40 members of the club. We were confused when the results came through, because what we were seeing is, there is an element of calorie restriction within that seven days, because, as I said too, we want the complimentary effects of reducing calories, and a really polyphenol-rich diet but everybody who followed that had their body composition carefully checked. We were just confused by what was going on, because people were losing weight and significant amounts of weight. But one thing we found which we couldn't explain at the time, was that people weren't losing muscle.
Typically, when you lose weight, especially when you lose weight through typical dieting, what we find is people lose fat, but they also lose significant muscle, but we weren't seeing that. We were seeing that people were maintaining and sometimes gaining muscle. I think the average 40 participants who'd done this was a one pound of muscle gain. These are people whose calories have been restricted, and when told to do any more exercise than they normally do, and they were losing weight, but they weren't losing muscle. We were highly confused by this. The first few results came through we're just scratching our head thinking, “What's going on with the measurements?” We questioned this, and we check this, and everything was completely bona fide. That really forced us to try to understand how these polyphenols through activation of our sirtuin genes influence muscle health.
I think I know the bit of the book you're talking about. So, we're getting to your specific question. When we looked into the research around the effects of sirtuin activation on muscle health, we found that sirtuins were not only regarded as master regulators of metabolism, but also in the scientific literature, researchers were talking about them as master regulators of muscle. To understand this, we looked at fasting and what we found, if you just fast, it's a bit of a double-edged sword for muscle. I haven't looked at up to date research on this, we're going back a few years. What we saw is that, fasting increases Sirt1 activity only in type I muscle fibers. The type I muscle fibers are the ones that are more involved in longer duration activities, but fasting, the studies we were looking at wasn’t increasing Sirt1 activity in type 2 muscle fibers. These are the muscle fibers used for more short bursts of intense activity, and those type 2 fibers that are more-- give muscle definition and muscle size.
So, whilst fasting has some benefits for muscle through activation of Sirt1. In some respects, that is not entirely beneficial. Typically, you may know better than this from your guests. But my feeling is that fasting isn't entirely beneficial for muscle. But what we found is, with mild fasting, and the addition of all of these polyphenols is that seemed to be enough to overcome that limitation of fasting and actually have a much more holistic effect on muscle health, which didn't actually cause any loss of muscle, as I said, and actually some muscle gain. My conclusion from that, and I think our conclusion is that, if you are fasting and following an intermittent fasting approach, the addition of a polythene-rich diet may have extra benefits for muscle health and reduce the risk of muscle loss from perhaps more enthusiastic fasting approaches.
Melanie Avalon: The trial that you did, was there fasting involved with the diet that you prescribed?
Glen Matten: What we’ve originally trialed at KX in London became the first seven days of The Sirtfood Diet. It was so successful we didn't change really anything. Let me tell you about those seven days and this is the part that became well publicized as The Sirtfood Diet is a fad diet, it's a seven-day crash weight loss diet. We're talking about a way of eating for life, but this part of it that really, I think was very media friendly, but also left this very open to all of this criticism. But the first seven days of the diet was the diet we trialed at KX in London, and the first three days of that are 1000 calories. It's not a massive reduction in calories, but you're looking at 50% reduction in calories. So, it's definitely a calorie restriction. Those three days were made up of three SirtFood green juices, which consists of a combination of nutrients that we wanted to really maximize in people's diets, but there was no way we could get that much food into them. So, we ended up creating this green juice with a lot of ingredients that were rich in polyphenols that we think have sirtuin-activating effect. Three green juices and one main meal made up that 1000 calories. It's a very generous meal but it really one meal per day, plus three of these juices. That's the first three days. would say that's a moderate calorie restriction 1000 calories per day.
Days four to seven, we increase to 1500 calories a day. I would say in my opinion, that's a mild calorie restriction. It will encourage some weight loss, but it's not a severe calorie restriction. Those four days consisted of two of these Sirtfood green juices, and two main meals. I say main meals, these were packed full of Sirtfoods, which I know we still haven't listed yet, but the whole seven days was packed to the rafters full of the foods that we think are highest in the polyphenols that activate our sirtuin pathways. So, I don't know if how much of a calorie restriction you would regard that. As the first three days, 1000, so moderate. Days four to seven, I would regard as mild, but we wanted that combination of inducing these adaptive survival pathways through mild calorie restriction and a diet absolutely packed with these plant nutrients.
Melanie Avalon: Just so I can share my thoughts on the fasting and the muscle, and then the setup of what you did with your patients. So, were they having the meals throughout the day, or did it create a fasting window still?
Glen Matten: We encouraged people to finish everything by 7 o'clock in the evening. We didn't prescribe an eating window, but we wanted people to finish-- Our main agenda was for people to eat in accordance with their circadian rhythm. We wanted people to consume these things in the daytime, not late into the evening, because maybe that's a separate conversation, but we think that's very important that our timing of food intake is attuned to our circadian clock. Our main message was to eat that food, finish by 7 o'clock.
Melanie Avalon: Understanding that, I find that very, very telling that you said, not only that they maintain, but they gained muscle?
Glen Matten: Not universally, we had, for example, some situations where people would lose three or four pounds of fat-- Sorry, in weight, but they would have gained two pounds in muscle. When we talk about those seven days leading to seven pounds of weight loss, which was the average, we had to make an adjustment for their muscle gain, because is seven pounds weight loss as good as losing five pounds and gaining two pounds of muscle? We think it is. That seven pounds is adjusted for muscle gain, because that was a big finding.
Melanie Avalon: Hearing all of that, because I know listeners are going to ask me if I don't talk about it, [giggles] the fasting and the muscle. What I've seen from the research is that even though you're in the fasted state, a catabolic state for the fast, that upregulates human growth hormone, and so then when you have your feeding window, you even more so can synthesize muscle. For people trying to build muscle, sometimes they need a longer eating window, because the maximum for muscle protein synthesis maxes out. So, they might need to get that stimulus twice during the day rather than once. But with all that context, your diet, if I just looked at that on paper, which would be a calorie-restricted diet, presumably, was it high in protein or lower in protein?
Glen Matten: Yeah, I think it's really obviously hard to get across all the nuances to the diet in our conversation and the book does go into this more, but one of the things we really insist on, and that's whether you're eating meat, or fish, or pescatarian, or vegetarian, or vegan, is the way we constructed the diet is for meals to be rich in protein. That's for some obvious reasons. Protein tends to help with satiety, and it tends to help with maintaining muscle mass, but we try to select protein foods that are rich in the amino acid called leucine, which is a really important amino acid for muscle health. But what we found is evidence to indicate that leucine specifically is associated with activation of Sirt1 signaling.
Here, we tried to be very clever and say actually, how can we construct meals where we can really harness the power of these polyphenols to activate sirtuins? And leucine appears to help with that one signaling. You just get a more coordinated response from the meal. Yes, in answer to your question, the diet is not a high-protein diet, but if you look at the way the meals are structured in the book, and the menu recommendations, and certainly what we've done at KX, those meals are rich in not only polyphenols, but good sources of protein as well to get maximum sirtuin activation.
Melanie Avalon: If I just saw that diet on paper, which I did see when I read your book, not knowing the research about the sirtuins, and how they can support muscle and all of that. I would actually think such a diet would not support muscle or definitely wouldn't lead to muscle gain, because typically, I feel with the fasting, that's where we get the upregulation of growth hormone, and then the re-eating, even if it's a calorie restricted diet compared to calorie restriction throughout the day, where you might not get that increase in human growth hormone, and then you're calorie restricted on top of it, I think a lot of people, not The Sirtfood Diet, but just calorie restriction throughout the day can create problems for people with muscle. So, hearing that your formulation of these certain foods which we will get to [giggles] had such a profound effect on muscle is really, really telling and supportive of everything that you're saying.
The quick leucine tangent was that's really surprising to me, and it was when I read your book to learn, because you’ve talk about the role of protein, and leucine, and it being supportive of Sirt1, because I think most people when they think protein, they're associated with increasing mTOR, which people would think would be the opposite of sirtuin activation, and then, leucine seems to be the most anabolic or mTOR-stimulating amino acid. I don't know, it's just a really fascinating nuance to me that leucine actually as well support Sirt1.
Glen Matten: Yeah, wonderfully well-informed question. One that I have thought about, and I have no answer to that conundrum. You're absolutely right, and leucine will be a big driver of mTOR and protein synthesis. mTOR is the polar end of the survival pathways, like a more growth driving growth and switching off all of these protective pathways we're talking about. It's a very hard one to resolve. I don't know the answer to that other than I think the body is-- These things are like an orchestra. There's so much interplay between these different pathways. When I talk about sirtuins even, I'm not just talking about this thing in our cells that sits in isolation. It's part of a network is, this complex networking involving things like AMPK, PGC-1 alpha, NRF-2, which we haven't spoken about, and that would be an amazing, an interesting discussion, perhaps for it for another day.
There's this huge in network of interactions going on and quite how it plays out when you eat a certain combination of polyphenols and amino acids in the context of some mild calorie restriction. It gets complicated, doesn't it? I would love to know the answer to that, and if you ever can untangle that one for me, please let me know. I do not know how to resolve that particular conundrum other than it's paradoxical. It seems paradoxical, but you'll find, as well as finding evidence that leucine, what is well known as an activator of mTOR and protein synthesis, you'll find papers showing that leucine has some very different effects on Sirt1. It seems just fascinating.
Melanie Avalon: The answer is still out there.
Glen Matten: Oh, it may be out there. I don't know it, [laughs] is my answer.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, that was something I was going to ask you was, did you know-- and it's a really granular question. But did you know if sirtuins acted on the three steps in the metabolic signaling our cells, PI-3 kinase and PK and mTOR, is it affecting all of these different ones? That makes so much sense because I'm reading Robert Lustig’s new book right now called Metabolical. He talks about those three signaling pathways, and the potential combinations of them being on or off, and I was trying to wrap my head around it like, “Why would they be on or off, or not on or not off when it's just calories?” But it sounds there's so many other factors, like these sirtuins for example, that could be affecting things and basically, it's really complicated.
Glen Matten: Yeah, absolutely. Again, we can send ourselves into complete despair with trying to fathom this, because it's a highly complex network that we're infiltrating or we're trying to understand and actually, again as I said, I'm not a scientist. Maybe, I think--
Melanie Avalon: Me, neither. You and me, both. [laughs]
Glen Matten: Slightly more simply, and I get back to my fundamentals which is, we can really tie ourselves up in knots with this, and then if I have to speak to patients, and I have to try to make some sense of all of this, and then it's for me, it's getting back to fundamentals, which are plant nutrients, their signaling molecules. They're able to speak to our cells, they're able to activate this incredible survival pathway, this ancient, conserved, survival pathway in ourselves, which will induce this adaptive response. Sometimes, I just have to say, “Okay, I don't know the granular detail, but there are some fundamentals that I think are true,” and I say that as though it's really simplistic thinking. That's not simplistic thinking, because for me, the paradigm of nutrition, I don't mean necessarily the paradigm that you occupy with your fantastic podcast. I'm talking the mainstream of nutrition and the mainstream of public thinking. It's really stuck at the level of macronutrients. It's really stuck at the level of low carb, or high fat, or this multivitamin, or this nutrient, or this antioxidant. For me, that's old nutritional science.
What we're talking about here, I said I'll get back to basics, but understanding these nutrients, these plant nutrients as signaling molecules, and the missing link in our modern diets, for me, that's advanced. That's the new frontier, that's the new paradigm, that's the new science. I say we're getting back to simplistic things, but it's still a big thing for nutrition to talk like this. We're talking about something that isn't mainstream nutrition. I see it as the new paradigm that leaves some of that old science behind. All that stuff people are still talking about, that's for the last century as far as I'm concerned. 21st century nutrition is about this much more sophisticated understanding of plants and why they're good for us.
Melanie Avalon: No, I love it. It reminds me of Einstein's quote, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
Glen Matten: Yes. Perfect. Yeah.
Melanie Avalon: Making things very practical for listeners, so the foods in The Sirtfood Diet, you did pick 20 Sirtfoods to focus on, and I was thinking about the foods that you chose during this conversation, and how we were talking about a lot of these compounds are because they're serving as protective mechanisms in the plant. I'd love to hear about some of the different foods. Is that why the fruits, for example, if we're just thinking about it in that term, I would assume that things that don't need as much protection, like below-ground foods might not be as high in polyphenols, because they're below the ground, or fruits, where you're not eating the inside, because the protection might be on the outside. But berries, you're eating the entire fruit, and I'm sure berries have to deal with a lot. [giggles] So, what foods did you pick?
Glen Matten: It is actually a great question as to where I've never thought about it in terms of whether they grow underground or above ground. I think it's fascinating, and maybe if we have time, we can look at one of the things that has changed with modern agriculture, and we're not producing-- People talk a lot about, “Oh, we've lost the nutrients from our food,” and I sort of agree with that. But I think we've lost a lot of the polyphenols from our food, and I guess the more old-fashioned cultivars of different fruits and vegetables, we don't have those anymore. Where I live in, I live in part of England called Norfolk, which is quite agricultural. A lot of farming happens here, and there were hundreds of varieties of apples in Norfolk that have been lost. They still exist in a very small-scale way, but you can't buy them. You haven't been able to buy them for decades, and we just have a few types of apples which aren't bred for their polyphenol content. They bred for sweetness, shelf-life, appearance.
I think we probably have lost unfortunately through this intensive approach to agriculture. We've probably lost some of these nutrients, even when we do eat our fruits and vegetables, which is not to depress people. I'll tell you what's on my list, but you're absolutely right. The more a plant is stressed, the more it will have to adapt to its environment and the higher the levels of polyphenols it will produce and the better it will be for us. There are, for example, some olive oils that grow in very harsh-- or the olive trees grow in incredibly harsh, dry, arid conditions, and the polyphenol content is off the scale in those olive oils. You're absolutely right. The more we pamper plants, the less they have to fend for themselves. We're not doing any favors in terms of the nutritional value in terms of polyphenol compounds.
Melanie Avalon: I'm just looking over at my hydroponic plant garden that I'm guessing might not be so high in polyphenol compounds.
Glen Matten: [laughs] Who knows until you test? But one of the things that everybody knows is homegrown produce tastes so different to mass-produced produce. Remember what I said right at the start, these phytonutrients are responsible for the color, the flavor, the aroma, the characteristics of the plant foods we-- I don't think any studies have been done to look at the polyphenol content foods who grow at home, in our gardens, but I would imagine it's significantly higher.
Melanie Avalon: I'd love to touch on some of those specific foods. I've looked at the benefits of wine, and now it might make sense why there's all of this debate around the health benefits of wine, and they recently released a study that was trying to nullify basically, the entirety of wine's benefits up until this point. But if you think about it, wine really is grapes that go through something very traumatic in order to create wine. What are your thoughts on wine? Do you believe that it's these polyphenols that are responsible for a lot of the health benefits?
Glen Matten: Undoubtedly. Undoubtedly, it is, and just coming back to-- I think you'll enjoy this little snippet of information just coming back to the polyphenol content, and how the environmental conditions, and the specific cultivars of grapes will influence that, the wine we champion in the book is pinot noir, because it has high levels of resveratrol. After we wrote the book, I discovered this incredible wine from the south of France. It is not particularly easy to get in the UK. It would be very interesting whether wine supplies in the US supply. It's a very small region of the Southwest of France, and it's completely specific to that tiny, tiny region. It's made from a specific grape called the Tannat grape, as I said, very unique to this region, and the wine is called Madiran, M-A-D-I-R-A-N. It's so high in polyphenols. The resveratrol content is way higher than pinot noir, but the polyphenol content as a whole is incredibly high. When you see it, if you do manage to find some and you'll see that it's the color of ink. [chuckles]
It's the most full-bodied, richest, darkest red wine I've ever seen or tasted that. I like it. It's full on, but that just illustrates that not all red wine is equal. You may have a red wine with a low-polyphenol content. The same is true of chocolate, and if we get chance to talk about that I would love to, but not all of these wines are-- We're not really comparing with, when we're just saying red wine. It can be a spectrum of high-polyphenol red wine all the way down to something that may be actually very low in polyphenols. But do I think it's healthy? Yes. I think it's beneficial unless there are contraindications to drinking it, and obviously, there are some. I wouldn't be encouraging wine in pregnancy or in certain situations. But generally speaking, I regard that as consistent with the healthy way of eating, and we only have to look at the traditional Mediterranean diet to see that a glass of wine or two with a meal as a regular thing seems to bring health benefits.
I think the other thing I will say here is that I think the mistake people make is they look for single foods and expect to see big health benefits. I'm not surprised there's debate over any single food, because I don't think single foods give a strong health benefit, and this was a really a big message in The Sirtfood Diet as well. It's a whole diet made up of a constellation of these foods, where the benefits start to shine through. I think red wine is part of that constellation of polyphenol-rich foods that we talk about in the book. That's really what it's about. It's about upgrading a typical diet, even a healthy diet to a diet packed full of a variety of polyphenol-rich foods.
Melanie Avalon: I am so excited that you’ve told me about that wine. I'm going to seek it out. We actually have a company here in the US called Dry Farm Wines. Their wines are all organic, low sugar, low alcohol, free of toxins, and pesticides. They find wines and then they ship it to customers, but they won't even do US wines. They only go to Europe. One of the things I talked about in the interview with them was the importance of dry farming, and how that would upregulate the xenohormesis potential, because it's more of these stressful conditions, and it's really fantastic.
Glen Matten: I know it's not particularly cheap to do. Have they measured the polyphenol content?
Melanie Avalon: No, but I'm going to email them. Not that I'm aware of, I'm going to email them right after this, and ask them, if they have this in the game plan, because that would be insane. That'd be awesome.
Glen Matten: Well, it's a bit of a side story, but one of the things I was involved in which I'd wanted to do for years, because chocolates a very similar story, and one of the foods on the list we still haven't covered is cocoa. Because cocoa is very rich in these wonderful compounds called flavanols, which have really well documented benefits for health, especially cardiovascular health. The real tragedy is we have people going out eating dark chocolate thinking it's good for them, because it contains these compounds. But the sad reality is, and I think the parallels are very similar to the example you gave with the wine. We don't really know how many flavanols we get when we have dark chocolate. Commercial chocolate processing typically decimates the flavanol content of the chocolate. So, when people have their dark chocolate and think, “Oh, this is healthy,” the chances are the cocoa flavanol content is actually quite low.
One of the things I was involved in last year was, could we create a dark chocolate with a high flavanol content? The way you do that is you pick the cocoa beans that have got high flavanols in the first place a bit, which are the more stressed cocoa beans that produce more of these good compounds, and can you process them in such a way without alkalization and just aggressive commercial processing to preserve them into the final chocolate bar, and we managed to do that, and ended up with a dark chocolate. It is a treat, it's an indulgence, but it's got three times more cocoa flavanols. It depends what data you look at. We might stretch it and say three to five times the cocoa flavanol content, these sirtuin-activating polyphenols in chocolate, compared to a typical dark chocolate that you would buy.
Melanie Avalon: Is there a difference between cocoa and cacao?
Glen Matten: I think it's one of those nuances I never really fully understand. [laughs] To be honest, I think it's something to do with the processing and the cacao being closer to its original state than the cocoa. But it's one of those nuances I don't think I ever fully [laughs] understand. I think the point to remember there is whether it's cacao or cocoa-- people talk a lot about raw cacao and that having all these benefits. But that's only true in so far as how many flavanols present in the first place due to the cultivar of cocoa bean and the conditions it's being grown in. Not all cocoa beans will have the same flavanol content. Some will have a high flavanol content, others will have a low flavanol content. Again, for me, this idea that, “Oh, I'm having raw cacao, I would rather know I had a high flavanol--.” The flavanol content, that's the important determinant of whether that cocoa is good for you or not, and just because it's cacao, or just because it's raw, doesn't guarantee that at all.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, gotcha. When I was creating recipes for my book, What When Wine, I went down the rabbit hole of the cocoa-cacao [laughs] [unintelligible [01:18:11]
Glen Matten: Well, you can tell me, you can resolve that for me.
Melanie Avalon: I don't remember even now. [laughs]
Glen Matten: Well, for five years, I've said, “Why isn't there a chocolate which actually tells me what the flavanol content is?" Then, I realized the whole chocolate industry couldn't care less about the flavanols in chocolate. Yet, they're very happy for dark chocolate to be perceived as a healthy food, a healthy snack. I’ve started from the moaning, and complaining perspective to actually say, “Well, why don't I do something about it?” Just really proud out of lockdown, that was one of the best things that I’ve achieved out that period. It gave me time to do it and to work with a lovely small-scale chocolate producer in Belgium. We wanted to make it nice, it's Belgian, that is made by the chocolate experts. I love the small company that totally shared that ethos.
Melanie Avalon: Well, I just want to say congratulations on producing that, because that's really cool, I think, to have a goal or two. Because there are a lot of things I want to create in life when you have a goal or a dream, and especially, when it is mission driven, there's a reason you want to create it, and I'm assuming with this chocolate, there was a reason that you’ve wanted to create it. So, congrats for doing that.
Glen Matten: Yeah, thank you. Really proud to have that chocolate out there. I think, for me, it's lovely in one of the things that means a lot to me is how can I make these foods accessible to people? How can we really get this message about plant nutrients out to the widest possible audience? I can tell you now whenever we have delivery of that chocolate to the house, the kids are in there, I have to hide it from my children, because the supplies disappear very quickly, because they're straight on to it, and for me, that is what this is all about.
Sirtfoods, it's not about celebrities, where you have got celebrities attached the diet. It's not about athletes, although we're so proud of the athletes who do follow the diet. It's about real people everyday everybody benefiting from these foods, and I think the chocolate has really helped to break down that barrier to allow people to eat really high-quality dark chocolate. It tastes fantastic. It's got a high cocoa percentage, but it's packed full of flavanols, packed full of these plant nutrients that I believe are the key to health.
Melanie Avalon: Well, this is just me being completely transparent with my audience. In general, I have had, I would say, a black and white rule where I get nervous about talking about or promoting food that's not a literal whole food, just because there's so many products out there, and companies are coming to me all the time, I'm just like, “No.” But talking with Glenn and learning about all of this and your product, I think this is absolutely fantastic. For people who want chocolate in their life, it's really exciting that you've created a product that is going to maximize the health benefits from that. I'm very excited about this, and I'm very excited that my audience will have access to it. You did offer our audience a discount on it, which is so, so kind of you. So, I'll put a link in the show notes. So, the company is the Good Chocolate Company?
Glen Matten: That's it. Yeah, and it's called the Sirtfood Chocolate. Predictively enough, the Sirtfood chocolate from the Good Chocolate Company. Yep.
Glen Matten: I'll put links in the show notes to the website, and then the coupon code, MELANIEAVALON will, get you a discount. So, very, very excited about that. Thank you so much. And again, the show notes for today's episode will be at melanieavalon.com/sirtfoods. While this has been absolutely amazing, was there anything that you want to touch on that we didn't cover any like final thoughts that you wanted to give the audience?
Glen Matten: Just the one message is, these are foods to enjoy. This is about celebration of food. This is a diet of inclusion, not exclusion, and I think you hinted at just that confusion people have, “Should I eat this? Should I eat that? Well, should I--?” It's just massively confusing this field of nutrition. But I think, what I really want to convey about this approach in The Sirtfood Diet is, it's about filling up on these amazing foods. You can of course combine that with intermittent fasting. It's a complete coming together of two very important approaches to health, but they're lovely foods. We have things like, chilies are on our list, coffee is on our list, green tea, especially matcha green tea is on the list, cocoa, dark chocolate, we've mentioned red wine is on the list. Things like turmeric, strawberries, kale, arugula, walnuts are on the list, extra virgin olive oil. These are foods that I love. I love to eat these foods. These are the basis of a really a really enjoyable, indulgent food experience.
I think that would be the message I would love to end on that. This isn't about what you exclude, this isn't about that fear of food that seems to permeate and pervade everything I say about nutrition is, we're terrified of lectins, or we're terrified of gluten, or we're terrified of carbohydrates, or whatever the thing is. I'm not dismissing any of those things, but it's not my message. My message is embrace these foods, because they provide us with these-- They not only taste delicious, they provide us with these really powerful signaling molecules that help ourselves become healthier. So, indulge, enjoy, eat these foods. Enjoy your coffee. Enjoy your red wine. Enjoy your chili. Enjoy your dark chocolate. Because for me, they provide the missing component in modern diets, and I think they're the key to lifelong health.
Melanie Avalon: Well, just really quickly to that point, I was so excited reading your book. I think the reason I was most excited was because prior to reading your book-- and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, prior to reading your book, I really had a binary perspective of sirtuins, and the benefits of fasting. I saw it as fasting, all of these benefits, and then eating that it was a completely different story, that it's growth, it's mTOR, that I'm losing all the benefits. Not losing, but that it's a completely different story than fasting. Then, reading your book, I was like, “Oh, my goodness. I can be making my diet very rich in the Sirtfoods, and all of these benefits of sirtuin that I thought I was only getting while fasting or while during my cold exposure, I can get them while eating too." It was so exciting.
Glen Matten: It's a such a wonderful point you make there, and food is a real pleasure in life as well. I think having seen the caliber of people you have on your podcast, I sat here thinking, "I hope I've got something to add to the narrative and to the story." So, just hearing you say that makes me think it's hopefully added a dimension that perhaps hasn't been fully, fully understood.
Melanie Avalon: No. 100%, I had that moment so many times, reading your book, and even now, I'm really vitalized to-- what on the Intermittent Fasting Podcast, I'm realizing how much I want to talk about this more and more about when people are choosing their foods, I'm going to start talking about this a lot. So, thank you so much, Dr. Matten. This has been absolutely amazing. The very last question that I asked every single guest on the podcast, and it's just different subject, but it's because I’ve realized more and more each day how important mindset is, what is something that you're grateful for?
Glen Matten: Small things. I've been on the planet long enough to realize there's so much you can't control. There's so many things that life throws at you, and it's just those, I try to cherish, and really appreciate those small moments in a day, whether it's with my children, it might be the bedtime story, or a game of football, what you would call soccer, or just those little moments in nature, I try to really cherish the small things.
Melanie Avalon: I love that so much. Well, thank you so much. This has been absolutely wonderful. I know it's late for you there. I really, really appreciate your time, and doing this with me. Your book is incredible. Again, listeners, it's The Sirtfood Diet. There'll be links and a transcript in the show notes. I've learned so much. I learned so much in this conversation. I'm sure my audience did as well. And we have got to stay in touch, and if we find out the answer to that leucine question or anything else? [laughs]
Glen Matten: Absolutely, yes. Yeah.
Melanie Avalon: Let the other know. So, thank you so much.
Glen Matten: Huge pleasure.
Melanie Avalon: Bye.
Glen Matten: Bye-bye.