Dhru’s Health Origin Story
Austin McGuffie: I was hoping to just have a candid, open conversation with you about the intersection between culture and health. You’re a very strong advocate for health in your community, in the Indian community, as am I for my community. We know the rates for metabolic dysfunction are pretty high. There’s a lot that we can do to educate our communities about the importance of good health and where that starts.
What is your health origin story? Everybody has one. What was the moment where you thought, “I’ve got to do something about this?”
Dhru Purohit: Mine started really with vanity. I was in high school, and I had bad acne from the moment I stepped into the high school doors my freshman year right up to when I graduated. My acne in that time period was terrible. The worst thing about it was I also had the worst orthodontist, and he kept forgetting to take my braces off. You should usually have braces for a year and a half. I had braces for four years. I had braces, and I had acne all throughout high school.
But right after I graduated from high school, in that gap year between university starting, I went to a conference here in Los Angeles. I lived on the East Coast. At that conference, it was the first time I had heard—this is the summer of 2000—somebody talk about the gut microbiome and that there was something that could be causing—they didn’t even say inflammation—they said irritation.
It was a conference for South Asian youth around meditation and wellness, and they were talking about dairy, and how most of the world is lactose intolerant. They were saying that if you are struggling with things like acne, there could be some gut irritation happening that’s coming from dairy.
I honestly was at this conference mostly to meet women and connect with people before I went to school, and I perked up. I started listening, and I thought, “Wow. I’ve never heard that before.”
Without even having a lot of information, I said, “You know what? I’m going to take dairy out of my diet for a couple months, and see what happens.” At the time, I was vegetarian, so dairy was a huge chunk of my diet growing up. I took out dairy. Within two months, my skin completely cleared up, and I thought, “Oh, snap. I think I’ve got to dig into this whole health thing a little bit deeper.”
Austin McGuffie: That was right as you went to college. Did that change the course of your undergraduate study? Did you choose a degree that was nutrition-focused?
Dhru Purohit: I didn’t. I always had a passion for computers. I knew I was going to go down the path of computer science and a minor in philosophy. Going back to your wife, she did the Mind Body Green program and had heard about Kelly LeVeque and Dr. Hyman and a bunch of other people. My business partner is Dr. Mark Hyman, and he has this great quote that I’m sure he picked up from somebody else. He said, “Don’t ever let your studies get in the way of your education.” Don’t let school, rather, get in the way of your education.
I was going to class during the day, but on weekends and nights and sometimes early morning before class at the university, I was doing my true education in health. There was a gentleman I’ve got to give a shout out to. He really showed up as sort of a Socrates-type mentor in my life. He changed his name many years afterwards, because he was really inspired down the spiritual path, but he changed his name to Nature Love.
Nature Love, just to describe him, is a super fit dude. Black guy. At the time I met him, he was probably in his mid-forties, and crazy buff. He did a little stint in the Army and then came back to Delaware, where I was in university. I remember shopping in a grocery store in Austin, and I was in the aisle. I went to this grocery store because I was trying to pick up books on natural health and inflammation. I just started hearing about these things, and at the time, you could only get these books from a natural foods store.
I was in the book aisle, and working there at the store was this gentleman. I looked over, and I remember the whites of his eyes were so white. I just went up to him and said, “You’ve got to tell me, what is it that you do? How do you eat? How do you live? Because you are exuding this energy of … You just look really well.” That started a friendship, and on most weekends and nights, I was learning from my mentor, Nature Love. So during the day, computer science; during the evening, studying the books with Nature.
Austin McGuffie: I love that. Nature Love. That’s funny. You’ll know that you are somewhat of a health nut if you look at somebody’s eyes and that prompts you to ask them questions about their health.
Dhru Purohit: I wasn’t even a health nut yet. It’s just that I had never seen the contrast. I’d never seen somebody with their eyes being that vibrant and white, and it wasn’t only his eyes, his skin was glowing. For somebody who just started to get rid of his acne, but had a lot of scar tissue and other stuff I was trying to heal, I thought, “I don’t know what this guy’s drinking or eating, but I’ve got to follow down these footsteps.”
Processed Food and Personalized Choices
Austin McGuffie: You followed down the footsteps. Where did Nature Love take you? What was some of the advice he gave you to get better skin and clearer eyes?
Dhru Purohit: I learned two lessons from Nature. Number one was about processed food, because at the time I had gone vegan, because I took dairy out. I had grown up vegetarian, but now I’m vegan. But I’m the type of vegan who’s eating tofurkey and vegan ice cream and all this processed stuff. Yes, my acne is gone, but my energy isn’t there, and my skin isn’t repairing as quickly. The first thing he really got me hooked on is that we have to get back to the source. We have to get back to whole, unprocessed foods.
At the time, Nature was a raw food vegan. I don’t know if he ever came across that whole craze, but he was really into that. That goes into the second lesson I learned from Nature: Don’t be dogmatic. As he started to learn and get up and up on the science and read more books and meet other people, or notice that a diet was no longer working for him, he would modify. When I first met him, he was a raw food vegan, and then he started expanding and eating other things—still a foundational, unprocessed, whole-foods diet at the base, but he started incorporating things like fish and some cooked food. Those are the two biggest lessons I got from Nature, on the food side: unprocessed and don’t be dogmatic. I’ve kept those lessons with me ever since.
Austin McGuffie: Where are you now in regards to your vegan and vegetarian status?
Dhru Purohit: Going back to that lesson I learned from Nature, always stay open-minded. At the time, not only was I vegan, but I was an annoying vegan who was trying to convince everybody else to be vegan, too. I was passionate, because I had become a believer. I had my come-to-Jesus moment by getting rid of my acne. I’m thinking I just found the fountain of youth; I need to tell everybody about it. It’s like that classic joke. “Austin, how do you know somebody’s a vegan?” “Don’t worry. They’ll tell you.”
Austin McGuffie: That was you.
Dhru Purohit: Listen, I’m so thankful for those days and everything that I went through. It’s all for a reason.
Austin McGuffie: Absolutely.
Dhru Purohit: Everything we go through is for a reason, and I learned that if you really want to help people, going back to the topic of this conversation, which is how do we actually look out for certain communities that may not have a level of knowledge around health and wellness, it’s very interesting. We’ll touch on this a little bit later on, but there are some similarities between the communities that we come from, and there’s also some differences. Yet they struggle with the same problem, and I’d love to explore that a little bit more.
Going back to your question, as I was in university, I realized that I’m passionate about building businesses. I dropped out of college. I got the blessing from my parents, which is crazy, because I was the first person in my family’s history to drop out of school. I started my first business, and then I eventually made my way into the field of functional medicine on the business side, meeting a few functional medicine doctors during that time period. And what I love about this—I love people like Casey—is that functional medicine doctors are agnostic.
Austin McGuffie: Right.
Dhru Purohit: They don’t care if it’s exercise or exorcism. If it works, we’ll do it. They don’t care what it is.
I had an appointment with a functional medicine doctor who said, “Listen, I understand you grew up vegetarian.” My parents never told me I couldn’t eat meat. It’s just what I identified with my culture. He continued, “I understand you’re vegan now, but I want to show you a few things that are going on. Number one, your triglycerides for your age are off the charts. For all these different reasons, you’ve decided to be vegan, but let me just show you the numbers.”
Even though I was eating more of an unprocessed diet, a huge chunk of it consisted of refined carbohydrates. I didn’t know what I know now through the work of Levels and continuous glucose monitors.
They had me do a test, which I’d recommend to anybody. I have no formal affiliation with the company, just recommend them. It was an Omega Quant test. The Omega Quant test is $99. You can get it from home, and it’s a prick test. It gives you your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, and there’s so much research in this category. My doctor said, “Your omega-6s are really high, and your omega-3s are really low. You need to flip that, because of your background and your community, the South Asian population.”
A couple stats I first had learned from this doctor: South Asians make up about 17%–18% of the world’s total population, with India having 1.2 billion people. But they make up 60% of the world’s heart disease cases.
Austin McGuffie: Crazy.
Dhru Purohit: South Asians have a predisposition toward insulin resistance. I didn’t understand then what it meant, but that was the first time I can remember hearing the term “insulin resistance.”
I was also struggling with some gut-sensitivity issues. If you are serious about your health, you might want to consider reducing the amount of refined carbohydrates in your diet, and getting off of a lot of the grains you’re eating. A huge chunk of my diet was grains; I would eat rice at almost every meal, including breakfast.
I was into Zen Buddhism and monks. I used to see and read all these books about monks and how they eat rice three times a day. I thought, “I’m living the monk life.”
And I was. I was getting the diseases all the monks get in the monasteries, when I would go visit them in India. I would go on this tour around all these Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu monasteries, and I’d realize, “Okay, maybe these monks are at peace, but they actually struggle with really poor health, because their diet isn’t the greatest.”
Austin McGuffie: Wow.
Dhru Purohit: That’s when I started incorporating some fish, and grew aware of sugar. At the time, I thought, “As long as it’s organic cane sugar, it’s way better. As long as it’s fruit juice, it’s way better.” It wasn’t until I met Dr. Hyman a few years later that I understood that sugar is sugar is sugar.
That doesn’t mean that you have to cut it out completely, but let’s enjoy it for what it is: a recreational drug, rather than something you’re going to have three times a day. That was my evolution, but I’ve really got to give credit to Nature because he planted that seed that what works for you today may not work for you tomorrow.
And what works for you tomorrow may not work in the future. Stay open-minded and be willing to try stuff.
How We Choose to Talk About Health
Austin McGuffie: You said so much I want to unpack. When you went to your parents and wanted to tell them more about functional medicine, was that something they’d heard of? Were they open-minded about it?
Dhru Purohit: When I was first vegan, I tried to convince them to be vegan. How does it feel when anybody’s trying to convince you of anything?
Austin McGuffie: It’s an automatic “no.”
Dhru Purohit: It’s the automatic “no.” We double down. We come from this incredible tradition. My family, on my mom’s side, comes from the Jain community in India, one of the oldest lineages of vegetarians in the world, going back thousands of years. A huge part of that philosophy and religion is identifying with “ahimsa,” which means nonviolence. In their understanding of it, that also means refraining from eating animals. That’s a big part of their tradition. My mom and her relatives think, “We come from one of the longest lineages of vegetarians, and this is our identity and our view. Dairy is the only thing we have on a regular basis. How are you going to try to take this thing away from me?”
There’s this financial author named Dave Ramsey, a really good guy, who also has a podcast. He has this term he calls “powdered butt syndrome”.
Austin McGuffie: I’ve never heard of that before.
Dhru Purohit: He says, once somebody’s powdered your butt when you’re a kid and changed your diapers, they think, “What the hell could I possibly learn from you? I used to powder your butt.”
I think my dad had a little bit of that powdered butt syndrome. He may think, “Okay, yeah. You’re trying to teach us how to eat and how to live. I’m happy you don’t have acne, but I think we’re okay right now.”
Then I backed off. As my journey started to evolve, and it did evolve before I got deep into functional medicine, I started to realize, “Look, everybody has multiple reasons they live the life that they do.” And we’re not just talking about food.
They have the reasons why they think the way they do. They have the reasons why they eat the way they do. They have the reasons why they surround themselves with the type of people they do. Instead of trying to convince somebody on how they should live, live by example. If they ask questions or if you have something you think could be beneficial, not in a pushy way, but in a way of true education—”the heart of a teacher” is what Dave Ramsey would often call it—then it’s a whole different response.
When I got into the world of functional medicine, I worked with a cardiologist named Dr. Alejandro Junger. We co-founded a bunch of businesses and wrote some books together, including a couple New York Times bestsellers: Clean Gut, Clean Eats, that whole Clean movement, when people were trying to get away from processed foods and understand the relationship of gluten and dairy to their body. As that started to build momentum, and I wasn’t putting pressure on my parents, I saw they came to me.
My dad started asking questions. This was a Whole30-type diet, getting rid of processed foods, gluten, dairy, caffeine, and other things for 30 days to see how you respond. It and Whole30 launched around the same time, both out of the world of functional medicine. My dad said, “You know what? I want to try it.”
He embarked on that because I wasn’t putting pressure on him. I wasn’t telling him how he should live. He had an amazing response. He had a pretty good time, but it’s similar to that parable of the frog in boiling water: gradual changes. We don’t notice them immediately.
His skin was looking better, he was feeling better, he had more energy, he was more up for movement. But because it was over the course of three weeks, it was gradual.
He didn’t quite fully understand what was happening. Afterwards, he said, “What should I do? How should I eat?” I said, “Well, we talk about the importance, in functional medicine, about something called the reintroduction phase. It’s where you bring certain foods back in to see how your body responds.” He says, “Well, I feel pretty good. I don’t know if I need to do that.” I said, “Dad, I think it would be helpful. I think it’d be helpful because we know you’re going to ultimately eat those foods anyway. Why not eat them intentionally, and then see how you respond to those foods?”
Most people do not have a good sense of interoception. They do not know how their body feels, and they don’t have a sense of how food makes it feel. We need to strengthen that connection between what I eat and how I feel. I thought this could be a really interesting moment for my dad. He went on that journey, and he started incorporating a lot more gluten and other foods. He was still vegetarian, but he was eating a lot more vegetables. That’s the classic thing. A lot of vegetarians you meet tend not to eat a lot of whole vegetables, especially if they’re from the South Asian population. It’s mostly grains and other things like that.
He started incorporating gluten back in his diet. That night, he woke up in the middle of the night. He told me the next day that the back pain he had been used to for years—he thought it just came from old age—came back. He finally understood that wheat was maybe agitating him, or causing some sort of inflammatory response, that was triggering and making that back pain noticeable or worse.
Today, my parents are the biggest advocates around everything I do. They both have gone through cycles of wearing CGMs. I just ordered my dad’s full metabolic panel through the Levels app. Even though he has great healthcare, I really appreciate how Levels is making it easy. This is why I invested in it; this is why my business partner invested in it. This is why we’re such huge fans. How amazing to have the phlebotomist come to my dad’s house and take his blood work there. My dad’s busy. He has his community, he has his stuff, he has his businesses he’s involved in. I need to make this simple and easy.
Just this past weekend, when I saw him on my mom’s birthday, I ordered it through the app. He was actually kind of excited to get the results and see it right on the app. Hats off to my parents, because getting people to change…But you can never change anybody. Who’s to say that your idea of what’s right for them is actually the right thing?
We have to go through that process sometimes. You cannot change people, that’s number one. Often, when you force it, they sometimes can pretend. It’s not long-lasting. Everybody knows that through relationships. You try to get your partner to change, and if it’s not genuine, it’s a “fake it” situation.
When you ease up and focus on education first, people understand why they’re doing what they do. They’re truly invested in making a difference in their life and others’.
There were plenty of people who had the “right” idea of how I should have lived my life, and that I shouldn’t have dropped out of college, or I shouldn’t have become vegan. The truth is, we all need to live and die by our own sword.
Fasting Versus Excess
Austin McGuffie: You said we have to strengthen the connection between our mind and our body, and understand how food impacts both. Outside of reintroducing foods into the diet, what are a few other ways you think can help strengthen that connection?
Dhru Purohit: One of them is a little counterintuitive because it doesn’t really have to do with eating foods, it’s about removing foods. I don’t mean taking out gluten and dairy. I’m talking about fasting.
I’ve become a lot more bullish on targeted fasting, especially as people age. I’ve delved deep into the work of people like Valter Longo, and the fasting-mimicking diet. Targeted fasting is an incredible way to get people to start to feel the benefits of what it feels like to have lower blood glucose levels, which, if they’re doing it over a period of time, is going to lead to lower insulin levels as well. They also begin to think, “I don’t always need something in my stomach.”
It’s similar to how a lot of people reach for their phone when they’re bored. They’re in line at the DMV, or at the grocery store, and think, “Well, I’m bored. I need stimulation. What do I do? Let me reach for my phone.” Food has become that for a lot of people—especially in India.
In India, they love American TV. At one point in time, Baywatch was the number one show. The American influence over there is huge. There are many people in India who still struggle with having access to enough food. But India’s going through a shift where there are more people dying from excess, than from not enough.
The “not enough” is still a problem. We need to sort this out. It’s mostly related to global distribution, and I’m thankful for all the smart people working on that problem. But in India, they see these films and American TV, and they think we party all the time, that we drink all the time. And so they eat all the time. I know I’m making broad generalizations, but sometimes there’s truth in that. They drink a lot more than we drink over here.
Constantly needing something in my belly—this feeling that is unfortunately associated with being satiated—means that you constantly have. There’s plenty of times where your body actually doesn’t want anything. In fact, eating food takes calories; it takes energy from you. Hopefully we can slowly switch to pursuing energy and focus instead, and getting people to have that little targeted taste of fasting will help. In so many cultures around the world, they all have their localized version of what fasting looks like.
This is a low-hanging fruit; it doesn’t cost anything. But it does take just a little bit of education to help people understand how to do it the right way for them. I heard you say something in the interview that you did with Kelly LeVeque. You said, “Somebody’s going to listen to you, Austin, who’s talking about metabolic health.” If you’re saying the same thing as a Dr. Hyman or a Dr. Casey Means, but you’re saying it in your own way, which sometimes means putting in less science and research, and just talking to them the way you would talk to your friends, it’s going to hit them differently.
This is why I’m big on interviewing other South Asian doctors who can help people, in addition to everybody. The whole world needs help with this.
Austin McGuffie: Absolutely.
Privilege, Class, Genetics, and Metabolic Health
Dhru Purohit: I come from a South Asian background. Great. I want to make a little bit of a difference in that community, because it is actually in a very privileged position here in America. Most of the South Asians you meet in the United States are those who could leave India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, because their family, even if they didn’t have money, prioritized education.
They were able to get out, or even get a degree, and be able to immigrate over to the US. And even if they didn’t have a degree, they came to the US and understood the power of working hard, because again, their families in India, and the South Asian population in general, prioritized education. The South Asian community has the highest average income per capita out of any ethnic minority in the United States.
Austin McGuffie: I did not know that, wow.
Dhru Purohit: I think somewhere between 13% and 18% of all physicians in North America are from a South Asian background. Often you’ll find doctors, lawyers, engineers—a lot of degrees that come with education. But even with all that education, in the United States, the metabolic health problem in this community is so bad that Stanford University created a whole division in their medical hospital, the South Asian Heart Center.
In America, South Asians still have one of the highest rates of heart disease, even though they have all this money and education. They all have health insurance. What is the gap that’s making their level of heart disease one of the highest out of any population set in the United States? It all comes back to lifestyle: sitting too much, not moving. I know you’re a big fan of teaching people how to move.
Austin McGuffie: Yep.
Dhru Purohit: A lot of those professional jobs come with sitting a lot, eating a lot of refined, fried, and processed foods. Those foods are staples in the traditional Indian diet. There may be a genetic component, but we know today from many people, like Dr. William Li from the Angiogenesis Foundation, that genetics only contribute to around 5% of diseases. But the South Asian Heart Center understands that genetics load the gun, and lifestyle pulls the trigger. There may be something that would make South Asians a little bit more predisposed to insulin resistance. They’re recruiting people for a trial on that right now. If anybody listening wants to learn more, you can check out their website.
Insulin resistance, which is really driving all these metabolic health factors, is the reason why the most educated, economically well-off group actually has super poor health outcomes.
This is a much bigger issue than just making sure everybody has access to healthcare. I’m a big fan of that. We need to make sure that people are making a living wage, so they can even afford to buy groceries. But this is an educational issue, which is why, if we don’t lead with podcasts like this and content you put out on YouTube, we’re never going to understand how to put all of our resources to work to actually improve our health.
Austin McGuffie: The education piece is very important to me. We have four kids between the ages of three and nine, but they’re in what’s called a self-directed learning academy. It basically tailors the learning experience to each of the children. What we’ve seen them do has been amazing when you give them the freedom and opportunity to learn how they want to learn.
The thing about health is that many people may not be able to relate to a lot of the information that’s out there. It can get difficult to digest the information. As you said, that’s why you interviewed a lot of people from your community on your podcast, so that people can see a familiar face, accent, and lifestyle that they can learn from to improve their health. What other ways do you think we can target specific groups with education in general, spreading the message of metabolic health?
Dhru Purohit: As simple as it sounds, I think you just answered it. It’s about lifting everybody up from all different groups. How do we get more people who are into bowling into metabolic health, or whatever little pocket that you’re in touch with? Because we got to lift everybody up.
In America, especially, it’s a big class issue. The people who do not have a lot of resources are the people society quickly and easily forgets about, regardless of what color their skin is, or where they’re from.
If you live in a nice neighborhood, and you have a nice house and you’re just trying to make it and provide for your family, it’s easy to forget about everybody else. That’s why whenever we have the chance to interact with others, don’t try to convince people who don’t want to be convinced. Talk to people who are already on the fence. I’m not too worried about people who are on the other side of the fence who never want to leave. I want to talk to the people who are on the fence, because if I can get them educated, if I can get them to also feel good, they’re more likely to spread the knowledge and the message. Then everybody can impact their community.
My business partner does a lot of advocacy work in Congress. He started something called the Food Fix nonprofit, where they’re lobbying Congress members on both sides to understand why food marketing to kids is crazy, and why chronic disease should be our number-one focus. It impacts every aspect of our economy, even our national security. More young people cannot make it into the army because they’re overweight and their metabolic health isn’t good. The army is having a hard time recruiting people. This is a major issue all across the board.
Unfortunately, we’re getting a little bit of a split. People always ask me, “Dhru, is society getting healthier or is society getting sicker?” I say, “It’s both.” If you have resources–which isn’t just money, but resources like time and knowledge and education, you’re getting healthier. If you don’t, and you’re working multiple jobs, and it’s just not in your wheelhouse, and you’re not paying attention to it, you’re getting sicker. Nothing proved that more than the COVID-19 pandemic. What happened? It was both. People who were generally healthy were able to tolerate the pandemic really well. People whose metabolic health was not great didn’t tolerate it well at all.
Some national policies say, “We need to treat everybody the same and everybody needs to do the same thing.” What we need are targeted solutions for targeted communities. We need food pharmacies in the most disenfranchised communities. We need education in those communities. We need a wellness coach stipend doctors can hand out.
Doctors are doing their best. They’re overloaded. They can’t keep up with the level of sick care that’s out there right now. They need help from systems, technologies, and individuals like yourself and myself. I don’t have a degree in any of this, but I’m passionate about it. I want to talk about it. I want to interview the experts so that hopefully it reaches one person, and that one person goes and makes a difference in their community.
Culture and Metabolic Health: Adding Versus Subtracting
Austin McGuffie: Bravo to everything you just said. It’s difficult to try to peel people away from their culture, which could be contributing to their poor health. You mentioned you had rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it was a cultural staple. Have you been successful at still feeling very much a part of your culture and its practices, while also optimizing your health? How are you able to balance both, if so?
Dhru Purohit: There’s a couple layers. Number one, I heard you in a previous podcast talk about the importance of metabolic flexibility. This isn’t about being perfect all the time. This is about doing what you need to do, and then getting a chance to enjoy certain foods here and there. People are always going to have those food indulgences every so often. But the more that I do them, the less good I feel. Especially as I age, those things hit me more and more. Additionally, it allows people to understand that it’s not about removing. It’s about adding.
There’s this method called the “add-in method.” Sometimes people call it the “crowd out method.” When you put in so much goodness, give people different tools, and show them the foundational things they can eat, you focus on adding a lot more good. The stuff that’s not the greatest for them is going to naturally “crowd out.”
They tell parents, “Don’t try to get your kids, especially if they’re a little older, to focus so much on taking out some of the foods they are biologically addicted to. Let’s just try to add in more vegetables. Let’s try to add in more items. As we add in more, the other stuff will naturally start to get crowded out.”
This space can seem very technical, or that it’s all about, “You have to do this at this time and do this and that, and that equals perfect health.” But we’re just going to meet people where they are and give them a couple tips, even ones as simple as, “Eat a salad before you eat your regular meal. Get that McDonald’s salad. Fine, no judgment. Let’s pick up an avocado at the grocery store and some olive oil and maybe a couple olives and nuts, and we’re going to add that to the salad. And maybe we’ll leave off the dressing.” That’s manageable.
You’re not doing what I tried to do with my parents, which was, “You need to get off dairy right now. It’s the killer. It’s the worst. It’s terrible.” Nobody responds to that at all. I think one aspect is just reminding them that this isn’t about perfection. This is about adding in more.
Hats off to two people I think do this really well: Dr. Casey Means, and the Glucose Goddess, Jessie, who I recently had on my podcast. She does a great job of sharing quick little hacks that anybody can incorporate that will significantly reduce their glucose spikes along the way. That’s what people need.
If you read Atomic Habits, or if you’ve studied any of the work of Professor BJ Fogg, who is the creator of a methodology called Tiny Habits, the way to get habits to stick are, number one, make them tiny to start off. Attach those habits to an existing habit. Everybody eats lunch. A lot of people, unfortunately, use that three-meal-a-day structure. Take the habit you want to do, like having that salad before lunch, and stack that habit with something you’re regularly doing. People regularly eat lunch. Maybe they’re not eating the best lunch, but let’s add that new thing, which is just a salad, no dressing, and add in some healthier fats. That’s a simple thing a lot of people can do.
Once you have that habit, you’re going to want more. That’s what all the research shows. It starts to make you feel lighter. You go back to work and you don’t have that 3:00 PM slump where people are taking a nap.
I’ve only had one job in my entire life. My parents told me, “You’re going to focus on your studies. You can’t get a job.” I finally had to beg them for a job in high school. I was an intern at a bank that ended up merging with Bank of America. At the time, I was still eating that processed food lifestyle. Even though I’d just turned vegan, I used to go to lunch in the cafeteria where they have free food for everybody.
I’d get a big bowl of pasta—a massive, double-size bowl. I would add a little rice on the side. The only vegetable I liked was carrots, a higher glycemic vegetable. I put some carrots on there as well and added a bunch of balsamic vinaigrette. Maybe my saving grace was that I had a little bit of olive oil. I would eat that. I knew I only had a couple hours to get my work done before my boss would come back to where our little cubicles were. I would eat my lunch really quickly, and then I’d go and I’d sleep in my car for 45 minutes because I had a massive blood sugar spike and drop.
I thought, “I don’t know. I just get tired after lunch.” When I realized that didn’t have to happen, that was a game changer for me. I believe in tiny habits and slow education that is accessible, which is why I’m so excited to see so many people talking about metabolic health on TikTok and Twitter. Meet the people where they’re at. Those are just a couple things I think about. It’s slow and it’s steady, and then you get technologies that come in. The price of glucose monitors is going to go down, and there’s going to be a different type of monitor where it’s not just about glucose. That’s coming; that’s in our future. It’s going to look at uric acid. It’s going to look at insulin.
Those technologies then become a game changer for everybody because they’re way more affordable. Everybody has a smartphone now. That’s a game changer. There are families that don’t have enough money for a laptop, but they’re lucky because they have a phone and they’re able to do their kids’ homework on there. I wish they had a laptop. I want them to have better paying wages. But technology truly helps society leapfrog.
It’s not all good. There are always things we have to navigate. But, generally speaking, technology helps us make progress. I hear from people who say “Glucose monitors are not accessible, they’re expensive.” But I think, “Guess what was also expensive and not attainable to people, and we still worked on it? Plumbing. Water in the house.” That’s a privilege, but we kept working on it. And it took time. So many people dedicated their lives to these advancements. Think about sewage. Most of the increases in our lifespan in the last hundred years globally have been heavily associated with better sewage.
For the last 500 years, these are technologies that have made everybody healthier. We’re on that path right now with the work that Levels and other companies and people are working on: making food cheaper, more accessible, healthier, and shortening that gap between what you eat and how you feel because, ultimately, it’s chronic disease that’s the problem for so many people. If we can make a dent in that, it’s a game changer for society.
A Family Affair
Austin McGuffie: In the spirit of continuous glucose monitors becoming more affordable, which I can’t wait for, I saw on your Instagram story that you had your parents go on and off cycles of continuous glucose monitoring. I recently did the same thing with my parents. When you first started out, what was their perception of their continuous glucose monitoring? Did they make immediate changes, or did it take some time?
Dhru Purohit: It’s really my dad who’s been on this journey. We’ve kind of kept my mom’s glucose monitor to the side. She’s waiting to start it. A big part for my mom, and this is something I talk to Casey and the team at Levels about, is that there are people who initially might get a little bit scared about the data. Maybe they’re more anxiety-prone. Maybe they’re more likely to take a number out of context. My mom sometimes gets her lab work back from the doctor and obsesses about it over a little while.
With my brother-in-law—shout out to him, Dr. Neil Patel, a cardiologist and functional medicine doctor—and my sisters, we decided, “Okay, let’s hold off on our mom for right now.” The good thing is that my mom is super ride-or-die, and when she sees my dad doing something, she wants to start doing it, too.
My dad is very black-and-white. He’ll see the numbers, and we’ll try different experiments. Again, we don’t pressure him. If he brings it up, great, I want to talk to him about it. If he doesn’t bring it up, awesome. But I see him doing it. My younger sister, who just moved down to San Diego, and my older sister witnessed this too, saw my dad eat his Indian meal in the evening. We’re from a region of India called Gujarat, and we eat a type of food called Gujarati food. There’s a traditional dish called Darbar rotli shaak, which basically is rice with vegetables, sometimes some lentils, and fat inside of it, usually ghee. My family mostly uses avocado oil. “Shaak” refers to a vegetable dish, often a couple of them. “Roti” is a flat bread.
They started noticing a couple things as my dad began wearing his glucose monitor. My dad, who might have typically had three rotis for dinner, was now down to two. And then he was only eating one and a half because he was seeing the difference that it would make.
Then he did another experiment. One day my sister came home and saw my dad and said, “I’ve been noticing dad is making a little salad before dinner.” He’ll make a little salad and load in a bunch of stuff, and he’ll try it. When the dinner’s done, and he goes on a little walk outside, he loves to check his monitor.
These are the little changes. We did initially share with him, “Hey dad, here are all these different tools in the toolbox. You can have fat and fiber before a meal. That’s going to slow down the glucose response.” My dad loves walking, but he typically does it in the morning before he’s eaten anything. So we said, “Hey, you can also walk after a meal.”
As my dad started this experience and got really interested, what was really exciting—talk about family business—was that he started to tell his friends about it. He started to tell his siblings about it. “Hey, I’m doing this monitor.” I don’t know if any of them ended up getting one, but they needed to hear it from him, not me. Even though we’re both South Asian, they needed to hear it from somebody who was older and a friend of theirs. I started seeing that my uncles and aunts were doing something similar, taking it full circle.
I shared with my dad, shout out to Kumar, “Hey, I’m really enjoying this glucose monitor. And I’m really loving this company, Levels.” I regularly invest in companies. I said, “If I can get a little bit more allocation, do you want to invest?” He said, “You know what? Not only should we invest, but let’s get the whole family to invest.” We set up an LLC company in honor of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. We call it Lakshmi Fund. Our first investment together as a family was to Levels.
Austin McGuffie: That’s dope.
Dhru Purohit: How crazy is that? Every so often I forward my dad the Friday forums and the other updates they send out to investors, and he loves reading them and feels super invested in the whole situation because it made such a difference in his life. Now he’s financially tied to the company, too.
Austin McGuffie: I love that, Dhru. I think the coolest thing was that your dad found a way to enjoy a traditional meal without having to cut it out altogether. There’s a lot of fighting on social media about what you should eat, what you shouldn’t eat. If you have a little bit of this, you’ll die. If you have a little bit of that, something crazy might happen.
But you should really learn how to optimize your habits for your health. With your dad, he’s having the same dinner, just changing his portions, maybe taking a walk afterwards, maybe having the salad before. Instead of three rotis, he’s having one and a half. I think that’s such a huge takeaway for anybody listening who’s seeking to optimize their health. Like you said earlier, it’s not, “I’m going to cut out.” It’s, “What can I add or what can I change to do things differently?” Then naturally the other people in your family follow suit, like your mom, who may not have a glucose monitor to see how it’s impacting her blood sugar, but who’s no doubt benefiting from the experience your dad is having. It’s just really cool.
Health and Community: Looking Out For Each Other
Dhru Purohit: Health happens in community and relationships. It’s very rare that people are the lone wolf, unless they’re super motivated to go down that health journey. It takes too much energy. It takes too much digging in. Most people are just trying to provide for their family, manage kids, manage everything. They just don’t have that luxury of time. There are people—I was someone who was super motivated—but that’s not going to be most people. They’re going to need to have health changes happen in partnership and in community. If we’re trying to get the world healthier, why wouldn’t we have conversations about how to localize that for different communities?
Why wouldn’t we have different ambassadors go out to those groups and talk to them in their own way? One background can be your ethnicity, and another background can be age. Another background can be gender. It doesn’t matter what it is, because the truth is, everybody’s struggling. If we’re motivated by it, we all can think in little ways of how we can make that impact in our own community.
Austin McGuffie: I like to ask this question to everyone, especially people who are strong health advocates. When you walk into the kitchen, if there was one thing, one delicacy, that you just can’t shut down, that you can’t say no to, what is that one thing?
Dhru Purohit: Oh man, mine’s easy: dark chocolate. I’m a big fan of dark chocolate. That’s my indulgence, and I probably have a couple pieces of dark chocolate every day. After dinner, usually, is when I’ll have it. Sometimes now I’ve been having it after lunch because I get a little bit of caffeine stimulation from the cacao. But that’s the beauty: My indulgence is actually also good for me.
Austin McGuffie: Exactly.
Dhru Purohit: Your taste buds change over time, and your health priorities change over time. I couldn’t think of anything else that I’d rather look forward to. Again, I know it’s a broad generalization, but men’s hormones are more stable. They’re on that 24-hour clock. With women—we’ve done a lot of podcast episodes about this—there are a lot of changes throughout the month. They have different cycles. Their infradian rhythm is a lot more complex, so, naturally, their cravings and other food choices should match that. With men, it’s kind of the same thing.
I heard you on a podcast where you said, “I eat the same thing every day.” Honestly, sometimes I don’t even know if I enjoy eating. I would just rather work and do other stuff.
Austin McGuffie: Exactly.
Dhru Purohit: In that way, I’m probably similar to you, except I just don’t have big muscles. I’m working on that. The last thing I want to say about that point, especially why I’m so passionate about the South Asian community really stepping into this, is that you will not find America as the best of what it really stands for, which is opportunity and upward mobility.
I’m the first person to say that it isn’t always there for every single group that wants it. There are a lot of challenges. But this is what America stands for. This is why you’ll find that for most South Asian immigrants who have come here—because they’ve also done well within this structure and they couldn’t do that at home—there’s this deep sense of pride for being in America and having the opportunity. And hats off to you guys. As I mentioned before: economically, educationally, great. We’ve all done well.
Going beyond our own community struggling with metabolic health, we have to think, “America has actually given us so much. Who are the other communities out there that do not have access to the things we have access to?” We have to double down on education and lifestyle changes—not just for us, but with the goal of making it more accessible for them. I know this sounds like a patriotic speech, but I genuinely mean it.
America has given this population so much. We’ve got to focus on giving back. That’s an important message I’m sharing with all my friends inside of the space. If you were given a lot of this goodness from being in this country, we really have to focus on giving back, and that doesn’t mean just to our own community. I wanted to make sure I got a chance to add that to the mix.