Food for thought

Episode introduction

Episode Transcript

Dr. Casey Means: I actually, it’s funny. I remember the room I was sitting in. I was in Dr. Russ Altman’s class and I was on, on personalized genomics and he was a, one of the lead scientific advisors for 23 and Me, and very deep in the personalized genomics revolution in Silicon Valley. And, you know, I just remember.

Dr. Casey Means: thinking, I am never going to think about food the same way again,

Ben Grynol: I’m Ben Grynol part of the early startup team here at Levels we’re building tech that helps people to understand their metabolic health. And this is your front row seat to everything we do. This is A Whole New Level.

Ben Grynol: In this episode. Casey Means one of the co-founders of Levels and I, we sat down and we talked about some of the misconceptions around food and food consumption. Sometimes people think that being metabolically healthy involves depriving themselves of things that they like not eating things that they want to.

Ben Grynol: Avoiding temptation. And some of these heuristics about the way people navigate their diet are incorrect. It’s not about deprivation rather. It’s about the ways that you think about food, the philosophy behind it. And this is something that is innate to Casey, something that she has felt and thought through and, and really owned her whole life.

Ben Grynol: It’s something that she has kept close near and dear, and continued to educate herself about food and food nutrients. And the way that she thinks about food is more as almost a, a cocktail of nutrients, the chemistry that she puts into her body, things like pumpkin seeds are not pumpkin seeds, they’re magnesium seeds as she calls them, which she really thinks about the way that she is fueling her body through nutrients and through the biochemistry, the bio chemical reactions that will happen as that food breaks down and turns from energy, energy coming from the earth and to energy and output in her own body. And so it’s an interesting way to start thinking about one’s own metabolic health. We’ve even talked about how other things like sleep affect metabolic health, the outlook on how to maintain optimal health, how your cells can change based on the conditions.

Ben Grynol: Based on your exposure, the things that you surround yourself with and where we really jumped in was around Casey’s philosophy on food, how it all started at a young age and how Casey immersed herself in this world of food and health and wellness, because her lens and her outlook on the world had changed.

Ben Grynol: Something that she felt that she wanted to have ownership over her own voyage, her own journey and her relationship with food and how it made her feel and what it made her do.

Ben Grynol: okay. So we got lots of ground to cover here. We should cover your outlook on food, because I think the, the interesting thing that we found from Level’s members from the Level’s team, from everybody, everyone has a very different outlook on diet and the way that they consume food and the types of foods they consume, and you have a very catered online presence, Dr. Casey’s Kitchen also, plant-based in your approach. And so it’s interesting to hear what your philosophy on food is because you’ve really found a way to, like, we’re going to call it magic, to create magic out of what people think of like, how could I possibly eliminate XYZ from my diet and whether that is carbohydrates, whether that’s sugar, whether that’s meat, everyone’s going to have something that they tend to have as their like, quote unquote go-to.

Ben Grynol: It would be interesting to hear, like, what was your outlook on, on food growing up as a family and how, like, how have you sort of changed or adapted that as an adult.

Dr. Casey Means: Yeah, well, it has changed a lot over the years. I was a child of the nineties. So in the nineties it was just, it was all about low fat, everything, low fat above all else, sugar.

Dr. Casey Means: Wasn’t really something we were talking about. You know, it was also about eating six small meals a day to keep your metabolism revved up. And it was about making sure you eat a big breakfast to quote unquote, boost your metabolism for the day. And you know, it was the era of Costco coming online and bagel bites and hot pockets and hostess cupcakes and Dunkaroos and fruit snacks.

Dr. Casey Means: And I feel like there was such a culture of like how many cute little delicious package things can you have in your lunch box? I would say, I mean, to my parents credit, they really did a great job with nutritious food in our household despite the cultural circumstances, I had a home cooked meal as a family, every single night at the dining room table.

Dr. Casey Means: And so I always saw food as like a wonderful way to bring people together and just like how beautiful it was to have a meal that was cooked at home. And so I’m so grateful for that, but, but, you know, that was kind of the cultural food Zeit Geist around me at the time. It was a lot about processed foods, a lot about low fat

Dr. Casey Means: Really not a big focus on sugar. And that’s what I grew up with. And I loved that food and I was definitely addicted to that food and yeah, I was overweight as a child and that definitely had an impact on me being interested in food and health as I got older into high school and whatnot, and really decided I wanted to take this into my own hands and figure out how to optimize food, to kind of live the life I wanted to.

Dr. Casey Means: I made a decision actually, when I was a freshman in high school, I was starting to get into sports and I was quite heavy. And I, you know, just really wanted to take my life into my own hands. And I actually, you know, lost over 50 pounds my freshman year of high school really healthily, you know, I just decided one summer I was gonna cook all my food and read all these cookbooks and nutrition books.

Dr. Casey Means: And I went to the gym every day. I went to Georgetown University’s Yates field house, and I got a summer membership and I just did it on my own. And it was this amazing, empowering experience of realizing that like, food is a tool to build a better body, a healthier body. And I felt, you know, infinitely better.

Dr. Casey Means: And after eating such nutritious food for several months and exercising and losing weight, and it was just a really positive experience. And definitely one of those pivotal experiences that kind of at age 14, you know, sent me off on a whole trajectory of really being passionate about health. I loved science, but then I had this personal experience that kind of like, you know, sealed the deal for me of why this.

Dr. Casey Means: So valuable and important to know about and learn about and incorporate into life. So it was kind of my early years, but then I, you know, the biggest shifts for me philosophically have taken place more as I became deeply embedded in understanding cell biology and molecular biology more in college and in my medical school studies.

Dr. Casey Means: And I’d say now, the way I look at food now is I look at food as molecular information. Food is not just calories. Food is a signaling molecule, and it’s not only a signaling molecule. It’s also the building block of our body. So it’s this incredible, almost like magical substance that we, and we put pounds of food in our body every single day, literally pounds of it.

Dr. Casey Means: And it’s interesting. I like to think of it as like, it’s both the, it’s both the architect, but it’s also the bricks that are being laid. Like it’s, it’s both the instructions, but also the substrate, which is kind of crazy. So, you know, food chemicals go into your body. And they actually act as signaling molecules in their own, right.

Dr. Casey Means: They act as transcription factors that change gene expression, they act as food for the microbiome so that the microbiome can make signaling molecules. Like it’s absolutely magical and incredible. When you think about the cell biology of food compounds, and on top of that, it’s also the building block of creating the structural habitat of your body.

Dr. Casey Means: So that just really inspired me so much. I was focused on personalized genetics in college, and one of my core focuses with Nutrogenomix, which is how food compounds change gene expression in the body. And, you know, I really like, I remember the days that I learned certain things about nutrition that would go on to change my life.

Dr. Casey Means: One was like, learning about compounds in cruciferous vegetables called isothiocyanates. So things like the chemical sulforaphane, which is present in cruciferous vegetables, and this is a compound that goes into the body and changes the expression of a gene pathway called NRF two. And NRF two is a gene that expresses antioxidants and activates the antioxidant defense system of the body, which is involved in

Dr. Casey Means: mitigating free radicals in the body, viral defenses, all sorts of things. And so, you know, just thinking like, okay, I can eat broccoli and it’s going to break down in my digestive tract. And part of it’s there’s fiber in there, that’s going to feed the microbiome, which is going to create a whole cascade of interesting stuff happening.

Dr. Casey Means: But then it’s also going to turn into sulforaphanes, go into my bloodstream, travel into my cells and change gene expression. And we have this idea that, you know, genes are our destiny but that’s not true. And probably the vast majority of health outcomes are actually not deterministic from our genes.

Dr. Casey Means: They’re the intersection of our genes and then the choices we make every day. And to me, this was just such a hopeful message. As I entered the biomedical sciences as a clinician and a physician that every day. We make hundreds of micro-decisions hundreds of choices that whether it’s what we’re eating or how we’re sleeping, or how we’re stressing or how we’re moving.

Dr. Casey Means: And all of these things have the ability to change our quote unquote fate, you know, our genetic fate and change that outcome. And that’s really empowering. And so from the very beginning, as I sort of adopted this mindset, I knew that as a clinician, I wanted to make sure a lot of my practice was empowering people to understand how these decisions we’re making everyday translate into molecular information that ultimately can improve our health and our lives. So food is molecular information is a big piece of how I view food now. And every bite we take is a question of what molecular information, what instructions do we want to put in our body and what do we want to be built out of? So that’s, that’s one big principle. I would say the second big principle has been the way that food impacts hormones, the calories in calories out model.

Dr. Casey Means: That’s been so pervasive. In our culture, you know, we know that’s overly simplistic model. Now we know that a calorie that stimulates certain hormones is going to have a different impact on the body as like calorie that doesn’t. So for instance, a hundred grams of sugar is going to be processed by the body very differently than a hundred grams.

Dr. Casey Means: You know, coconut oil, the sugar is going to stimulate insulin. And that’s going to tell the body to take that sugar out of the bloodstream and either use it or convert it to stored glucose or convert a lot of it to fat if there’s excess. And for that, you know, coconut oil or some other. Food without sugar, like broccoli, for instance, insulin’s not gonna be released when you eat that a hundred grams.

Dr. Casey Means: And so you’re gonna have a totally different, you know, molecular response to that food that goes in the body, insulin is going to be low. And so the way we process it is very, very different. So the impact of food on hormones is fundamental to how I look at food. And then a couple other just sort of themes.

Dr. Casey Means: One is that food is our most direct connection with the earth and the environment. And to me that like really elevates food is kind of like a powerful, almost like mystical experience. It’s so amazing to me that when we eat, we’re actually taking energy from the environment and taking physical matter from the environment and our bodies serve as this machine, that trans mutates food into ourselves.

Dr. Casey Means: And that’s a conversion. That’s really amazing. I mean, we’re taking things that have grown out of the earth, have used the sun’s energy to create energy and our body and our digestive track and ourselves literally transform that into ourselves. And so that’s an incredible way to connect with the cosmos, to connect with the earth, connect with the, you know, bacteria that surround us in this planet.

Dr. Casey Means: And it’s just, I think that that interaction is worth honoring and respecting because in that interaction, we are really deciding how we want to treat the earth and how we want to treat ourselves. And so there’s a lot sort of wrapped up now in how I view food, but it spans from the molecular and, you know, the, the cell biology of it really to the mystical and how it’s this.

Dr. Casey Means: It’s this opportunity to connect with the earth and history and cosmos in a really interesting way. And in many ways, it’s one of our greatest forms of self love and self respect. When we eat in a thoughtful way, we put, you know, quality molecular information to our body. We’re able to express our highest selves and we’re able to build a mind and body that functions.

Dr. Casey Means: In ideally the most optimal way possible. And in doing that, we create a mind and body that allows us to, you know, go out and really embody our purpose, whatever, whatever that is. And so in that way, it’s both a form of self-respect and self-love, but also a way to respect others because when our bodies and our minds are as, you know, stable and upbeat and well functioning as possible, we can interact with others in the best way possible.

Dr. Casey Means: So this is all why food has become such a big part of my life and my practice. And now my business as well. My entrepreneurial work with Levels.

Ben Grynol: Yeah, it’s interesting because personally I’ve always thought of food as fuel. Right? So, and I think that that’s a very literal way of looking at it, but you look at it as this like healthy fuel.

Ben Grynol: So you think, okay, I want to give my body good inputs or give it healthy food, quote, unquote, healthy food, and that will be fuel. But the interesting perspective is the one that you hold and Mark Hyman talks about it often as well where the thought of food being chemistry. Like I am going to give my body a certain chemistry cocktails, like chemical cocktails, right.

Ben Grynol: Where you’re trying to, you’re trying to give it all these nutrients, as opposed to say I’m eating this because it’s fuel. Whether it, like, as you stated eating certain caloric intake, because it’s calories in, right. As opposed to saying I’m going to eat broccoli because I’m getting whatever nutrients from it or I’m eating blueberries because of I want antioxidants. It’s a very interesting way of approaching food. What I’m curious about is. Take me to the day. So you said there was like a day, you remember the day that you heard this philosophy, you’re sitting in a university class and you had a certain outlook on food. You’re 14 years old. You started cooking your own meals, uh, approaching health, diet, and fitness in a very different way, fast forward to college.

Ben Grynol: What was that day like when you’re sitting there? Like what, what was that revelation that you had.

Dr. Casey Means: You know, I actually, it’s funny. I remember the room I was sitting in. I was in Dr. Russ Altman’s class and it was on personalized genomics and he was one of the lead scientific advisors for 23 and Me and very deep in the personalized genomics revolution in Silicon valley.

Dr. Casey Means: And, you know, I just remember thinking, I am never going to think about food the same way again. When I am, I had learned such a dogma growing up like nature, nurture, but like our genes or, you know, this blueprint and it’s fixed. And unless you have a mutation, your genome, isn’t going to change like your genome is what you’ve got.

Dr. Casey Means: And to think that every day we put pounds of a substance in our body, that literally goes into ourselves and like little. Like little worker, bees goes, actually changes the expression of that genome and that blueprint to have all sorts of potentially very beneficial effects like that to me was fascinating and it all melded with everything else I was learning, you know, at the time I was learning about how much chronic inflammation was involved in so many health conditions we’re seeing today, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, all of these conditions. We see an upregulation of the immune system. We see the upregulation of inflammatory cytokines. The inflammatory signaling molecules that cause problems in the body like TNF alpha and interleukin six and these things, you know, so.

Dr. Casey Means: Inflammation is very much root of many conditions we’re seeing today. And then I’m learning about how, oh, there’s many, many foods that have a direct impact on are inflammatory pathways. So for instance, curcumin is a substance in tumeric root and part of what makes it orange colored and curcumin goes into the bloodstream, goes into the cells and down-regulates the expression of a gene pathway called NF-kappa B.

Dr. Casey Means: And NF-kappa B is our master and one of our master inflammatory gene sequences in the body. And when there’s curcumin on board, It decreases expression of those inflammation genes. And we also know that piperine, which is a chemical in black pepper increases the bioavailability of curcumin in the body.

Dr. Casey Means: It makes it more active. And so you start thinking of the body is like, and food and meals is like a chemistry experiment. And like, what levers are you trying to turn that day? And that’s sort of the Nutrogenomix side of things, but then I got really interested in micronutrients as levers. So thinking about metabolism since we are talking about Levels here, you know, we talk all about glucose processing and metabolic health and metabolic fitness.

Dr. Casey Means: Well, what does this mean? If we zoom in like really deeply on the cellular level, there’s a number of things that have to happen for all of this to work properly. One is that insulin receptors have to function in the cell membrane. And these are like proteins that are embedded in the cell membrane. And then these glute transporters have to, once insulin binds the receptor, these glute transporters have to come to the cell membrane to let glucose actually into the cells.

Dr. Casey Means: So these are protein channels and protein receptors embedded in a cell membrane. So like, let’s think about that a little deeper. So the cell membrane, first of all, is a fat Bi-layer every, we have 30, around 30 trillion cells in our body and all of them are wrapped in a fat layer. So you start thinking, huh, that must be pretty important in our diet of every single cell in our body is covered in a fat bi-layer.

Dr. Casey Means: And what type of fat your cell membranes are made of has a big impact on the fluidity of that memory. How those receptors can actually move it’s almost like if you look at it in the micro it’s like almost like a liquid sort of fluid, a membrane of these fats, just like sort of swimming in space to create this cell membrane.

Dr. Casey Means: And you want it to be fluid and not rigid. You want the receptors to be able to move and. That structure that we want is very much based on how much cholesterol is in the membrane. How much of the ratio of omega three fats to omega six fats or different types of fatty acids? And those things are determined by what types of fats we eat in the diet.

Dr. Casey Means: And right now we’re supposed to have about a one-to-one dietary ratio of omega-3’s to omega sixes in the diet and omega threes are very important for that fluidity of the membrane. Right now in our standard American diet with about a 20 to one ratio of omega six is to omega-3 is, and our cell membranes are disproportionately skewed towards omega six fats, which are more rigid, more pro-inflammatory they’re not optimal for all these processes that are important in the body.

Dr. Casey Means: And so, you know, when you start learning this stuff, you think, oh, well I better be on top of my omega-3 fatty acids. So when you dig into that more, you have to think about what sources of foods those come from. Those tend to come from plant-based foods. It’s things like walnuts, chia, flax, algae, and in animal sources.

Dr. Casey Means: It’s the fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies, sardines, and these have higher omega 600 regions. The omega-3, the omega six fats come from things like refined seed oils that you see in processed foods and conventionally raised industrial raised animals. So animals that are fed a lot of corn, soy and wheat in their diet tend to have high omega six fats in their body animals that are free range and eat more grass and natural foods tend to have higher omega-3 contents in their meat.

Dr. Casey Means: So sort of stepping back, it’s like, okay, I know what I want my cell membranes to be made out of. I want them to be nice and fluid so the receptors and the transporters work properly. And this is just like one of the thousand steps of glucose processing and then you zoom out and you’re like, okay, well, where do I get that molecular information?

Dr. Casey Means: Well, I can get it from these animal and plant sources. And then if you look at animal sources, well, the way that animal was raised completely changes the way, the amount of the different types of fats we’ll have. So it just gets like to this level of like really having to think deeply about it. And you mentioned Mark Hyman,

Dr. Casey Means: I think he does such an amazing job of talking through these nuances, you know? Sure. It is difficult to say like animal foods are just okay for everyone. You really got to drill down to how was the animal raised, what was the animal eating? Those things will determine what molecular information is actually in that meat and in that food.

Dr. Casey Means: But. Just briefly, like, you know, let’s say the glucose gets into the cell and now it needs to be processed by the mitochondria. Well, that process involves dozens of protein enzymes and what we would call the Krebs cycle or the citric acid cycle, and then the electron transport chain and the mitochondria and all of these enzymes, these proteins that convert one step to the next, in terms of glucose processing.

Dr. Casey Means: They all require micronutrients, which come from our diet like locks and keys they allow these proteins and these enzymes to actually function properly. When let’s say magnesium binds to this big protein conglomerate machine, it changes the conformation, just subtly enough to make it actually work properly.

Dr. Casey Means: And some of the key micronutrients in mitochondrial processes to process glucose are things like B vitamins. Alpha-lipoic acid, vitamin C manganese, magnesium, zinc. And these are things that we get from our diet and they are locks and keys for this functionality. And we have the most micronutrient depleted diet that we’ve basically ever had in history, our soils have become depleted of micronutrients.

Dr. Casey Means: We are not eating diverse diets anymore in the standard American diet. The vast majority of calories we’re getting are coming from commodity crops like wheat, corn, and soy. But through this lens of like, what is every step of the process towards metabolic health, you start thinking about food very differently.

Dr. Casey Means: Like you think. When I opened the fridge, I’m on a micronutrient hunt. I am thinking I want pumpkin seeds today because they have high levels of magnesium. I want spinach today because it has high levels of iron. I want to eat black pepper with my curcumin, with my tumeric, because I want to make sure I’m getting my anti-inflammatory of very bioavailable, curcumin.

Dr. Casey Means: And I’m so focused on that when I’m looking. At their fridge or I’m in the grocery store that I actually like, sometimes I’ll say instead of pumpkin seeds, I’ll say magnesium seeds, because I’m so focused. Like I’m thinking about the food as what nutrient I’m getting from it. And my dad always laughs at me, he’s like, they’re not magnesium seeds, they’re pumpkin seeds.

Dr. Casey Means: And it’s just like that’s, but that’s the way I look at the food is like, what am I actually you know, the, the broccoli is my cell for a Fein and the blueberries are my anthocyanins, which is an antioxidant. And that’s just kind of what I think you end up how you ended up seeing food when you’re, when you’re deep into this stuff.

Dr. Casey Means: So

Ben Grynol: yeah, you’re looking at it under a microscope, a figurative microscope, because you’ve got that knowledge base. And I think where the challenge comes is assume a person doesn’t have the same level of knowledge or education about food. They haven’t gone on that journey. I think it can be overwhelming sometimes because people will think like, where do I start?

Ben Grynol: But there are simple principles from what it sounds like where you consume a plant-based diet, but you’re not from the conversations that we’ve had. You’re not opposed to eating meat. It’s okay. If you are going to consume some type of animal protein, make sure that it’s the right ones. So that brings in the conversation of cool, like let’s avoid the

Ben Grynol: beef that has been raised on a particular diet, corn fed beef or whatever it is, right? Why don’t you eat game meat, wild game, because that would probably have a lot better nutrients for a person as opposed to farm raised mass produced animal protein that you go, eh, that’s, that’s walking a dangerous line and it’s not to be the point of this.

Ben Grynol: Isn’t to say avoid things altogether it’s to make sure that people are consuming the right type of in your words, molecular information.

Dr. Casey Means: That’s exactly right. You know, I think there are a lot of simple principles and something I loved about this new book that Mark Hyman came out with the Pegan diet was that he started the book off by saying, you know, there’s a lot of dietary wars right now, and there’s a lot of loud voices arguing with each other.

Dr. Casey Means: But actually, if you really look at a lot of these diets, a lot of them have the exact, very similar principles and let’s focus on what the commonalities amongst many of these different philosophies are. And I think that’s important because then it really does simplify things. A lot of them share the same principle to avoid refined ultra processed foods, stick with whole foods, whether you’re on a carnivor diet or a whole foods, plant-based diet, that’s a commonality eat whole foods.

Dr. Casey Means: The second is about sourcing. Eat foods that have been raised in a healthy way. So foods that are, you know, organically raised are likely going to have better soil quality, more micronutrients, less pesticides for the animals. It’s going to be, are they free range for, for chickens and eggs, that would be pasture raised. For meat,

Dr. Casey Means: that would be grass raised and grass fed grass finished. And for fish that would be wild caught. These fish are going to be moving more or their muscles are going to be used more, or they’re going to be eating more diverse diets. Their molecular information is going to be better. And a third principle that you see across a lot.

Dr. Casey Means: Different types of diets is to avoid things that cause inflammation and oxidative stress or free radicals in the body. And a lot of this comes down to avoiding refined, processed seed oils that are a big contributor to oxidative stress in the diet. There’s really not a single diet out there right now that has a lot of popularity that says you should be eating a lot of like soybean oil or canola oil or these other refined seed oils.

Dr. Casey Means: So there’s actually a lot of commonality. Eat whole foods that were raised in a responsible way and, you know, do not eat industrial processed, refined oils that are going to potentially cause damage to the body and don’t eat refined ultra processed grains. I mean, that’s, those are things that. If, if everyone did those things, I think we’d, we’d be a large part of the way there, regardless of exactly what types of foods you’re eating, whether it’s plants or animals, there, there is some simplicity to it, I think.

Ben Grynol: Yeah. And I think that the interesting thing is like, we can have the devil’s advocate conversation where. It can be approached from the perspective of, okay, Casey, like that’s great, but not everybody can afford that type of food. Not everybody can afford free range meat and all these things. Right. We can extrapolate this like philosophical conversation in perpetuity. But, the interesting thing is that now like let’s play the other side of the argument behavior change comes down to saying, I am choosing to drink water over Coke. I am choosing to have Black beans over Wonder bread. Like I’m just making things up, but like, there are certain choices that lets remove costs.

Ben Grynol: And let’s just say, I am having this over that there are foods that do hit similar price points that are healthier choices for the right reasons. Like beans have fiber. Processed white bread does not have fiber, right? There are things that will, that will lead your body down a poor metabolic path over time, like compounding over time, if you make those, those bad choices.

Ben Grynol: And so part of that comes down to behavior change. Part of it comes down to education, right? Having to educate people about. Eat this not that it’s a Sisyphean endeavor, right. Because I think we’ve been primed back to where we started. We’ve been primed on a world based on Sunny D and Lunchable. Right, right.

Ben Grynol: That’s the status quo, Sunny D and Lunchables. And so to get people to undo that thought process and the thinking and all the marketing and all the things that have gone behind priming us to saying, this is what to quote Seth Goden. People like us do things like this, right? The reason people consume it.

Ben Grynol: That food is because you see your friends do it. Well, I’m like my friends, people like us do things like this. And so I think there’s a really long path to getting to the place where everybody is putting one foot in front of the other at the same time. Singing the same, hymn and marching to the same beat of the drum.

Ben Grynol: And you don’t want everybody to nod and agree and, and not be contrarian. Like if something is off sure, be contrarian, but there are objective things which you you’ve illustrated in this conversation that just people should not consume certain things. The other side of the rant is like, Hey, there are certain things that are not good for the planet.

Ben Grynol: It’s a very different conversation, but. It takes a lot less energy, a lot less water, a lot less resources to produce things like cricket protein, over cattle protein, very different approach. Right. But there are lots of alternatives that people can choose that will give them better long-term outcomes.

Dr. Casey Means: Yeah, definitely. And I think, I think we’re learning more and more that the choices that are best for our body are also best for the environment and may also be best economically, you know regenerativity raised cattle right now, industrial raised animal agriculture. So, you know, these feed lots with tons of antibiotic use and the cows are just

Dr. Casey Means: you know, forced in these small quarters, eating corn and soy, lots of illness and sickness, just really terrible environment. These feed lots and sort of what’s happening because of these is terrible for the environment you’ve got at every level problems happening. They’re eating all this corn and soy that’s been.

Dr. Casey Means: mono cropped and sprayed with pesticides, that pesticides goes into runoff in the water, which is then creating a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. As it flows down the Mississippi, we’re losing top soil. Cause we’re monocropping and we’re not doing biodiversity focused farming practices. Then you’ve got the cows that are spreading disease, using a huge percent of the antibiotics that are made in the United States.

Dr. Casey Means: Go towards just keeping these animals and terrible conditions alive. It’s just a whole mess. That’s bad for the environment. It’s bad for the cows. It’s bad for people. The crazy part is a lot of it is subsidized by the American taxpayer, because we fund the farm bills, which go into funding, the commodity crops that are then fed to the cows.

Dr. Casey Means: And then we pay for the environmental damages as taxpayers, and we pay for the health damage as taxpayers. And we pay the, for the food itself and the grocery store. So we’re paying actually about four times over for every piece of crappy meat that we’re buying in the store and we don’t really realize that.

Dr. Casey Means: And so if you read before, like if we actually priced beef the way it actually would cost without all the tax subsidies, and if companies actually paid the environmental costs and the health costs, probably a pound of meat would be, yeah. $75, but it’s, you know, $5. 99 because there’s just all this strange economics tied up in it.

Dr. Casey Means: So I think really at the end of the day, if we, if we sort of got a lot of these odd incentives and sort of odd subsidizing practices sorted out, we would, we would see that actually, what is best for the body best for animals, best for the earth and best for the bottom line would probably be regenerative, biodiversity focused

Dr. Casey Means: farming and animal agriculture practices, and that’s a huge movement that’s going on right now. There is a movement of people really pushing for this in policy in the United States. And I think, you know, it’s only been about 75 years that we’ve gotten really off track with this stuff. And I think there’s, there is a pendulum starting, starting to swing.

Dr. Casey Means: Um, so I think it’s, I think it’s quite hopeful, but there’s a lot of interests, you know, obviously that one thing to say the status quo. So I really do believe that, you know, going back to Levels like, and I might be biased because I’m, you know, very metabolically focused. But I think that when that glucose, that glucose line is a readout for multi-variate equation, there’s so much that goes into that glucose line.

Dr. Casey Means: There’s obviously. There’s stress management. There’s how we sleep. There’s how we exercise. There’s also longer-term investments like your microbiome composition and your micronutrient composition of the body, which won’t have an immediate impact on your glucose levels, but over time help you build a body that’s metabolically optimized.

Dr. Casey Means: So those all feed into this readout of this line that we see on our CGM and on our app. And what I believe is that. If people as a whole, let’s say all are getting their glucose levels low and stable, which we know is good for health that translates into having to have really a holistically, healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Casey Means: It means. Eating healthy foods that are filled with nutrients that support metabolic health. It means avoiding ultra processed grains and sugars that are bad for the body and bad for the earth. It means exercising. It means practicing stress management. It means practicing mindfulness. It means getting good quality and quantity sleep.

Dr. Casey Means: It means having a good microbiome, which means living closer to the earth. It means getting your hands dirty. It means touching the soil. It means eating food that’s been naturally fermented you can’t fake the microbiome. You have to eat. Whole prebiotic rich foods and probiotic, rich foods, and be close to the earth to have an optimal biodiversity in the gut.

Dr. Casey Means: And then it means your micronutrients have to be on point, which means you’re eating whole foods and you’re eating diverse foods and you’re eating colorful foods. So all those six things that I just talked about lead to this readout, and if we really strive for optimal metabolic health. We are having to live a holistically, healthy life that is both good for us and good for the environment.

Dr. Casey Means: So I think in many ways, if we, by orienting my metabolic health, and I think as we build Levels and build a product, my sincere hope is that we can build a product that helps people understand this sort of holistic bubble around that glucose readout. And you know, how we can really support this multidimensional health ecosystem within ourselves and within the environment to achieve our metabolic health goals.

Ben Grynol: The key is the behavior change behind it, right? Like that’s the hardest part is. Everything is great. In theory, it’s really hard in practice. It’s very hard in practice, right? I think everyone’s going to have different, a different outlook. They’re going to have different things that they have challenges with.

Ben Grynol: So some people might be more susceptible to wanting to have something sweet. And the idea isn’t to deprive oneself ever. Right. And that’s, that’s something I think we have to be very cognizant of as we build the platform is we don’t want to invoke behavior change where people’s relationship with food changes for the worse.

Ben Grynol: Right. Like, we don’t want people to have an outlook on food where they’re afraid. We want people to have an outlook on food where they understand the implications of consuming something or how to consume it most effectively. So the idea isn’t, don’t have a slice of don’t have a slice of pizza and a glass of wine, whatever it is, hamburger, if you like that.

Ben Grynol: It’s if you were going to consume, if you’re going to make pizza, make it a, make it, don’t just buy some off the shelf out of the box, frozen thing, make it, maybe make it on a whole grain flatbread. Crush the tomatoes yourself. Use like fresh garden basil use whatever it is, right. Use certain ingredients that are going to metabolize a heck of a lot better and drink that glass of wine with it.

Ben Grynol: That’s fine. But don’t go and just order some greasy deep dish pizza, and then sit on the couch. Because without the exercise component, without the physical activity, post-meal, without having something that has fewer preservatives in it, you are going to have an adverse outcome as far as your metabolic response to consuming that type of food.

Ben Grynol: And I think that as we build the platform, we have to be aware of educating people on. What to consume and what not to consume and how to consume the things that they do like so that they adapt their diet. They don’t just change it so that it is completely different.

Dr. Casey Means: Yeah, definitely. And I think I would even go any further, like go even further to say, if people do want to have that greasy deep dish pizza, like, you know, doing that one time here and there.

Dr. Casey Means: Like it’s not, it’s not, it’s certainly not going to cause irreparable harm. It’s the patterns over time. That can be problematic. And so even if you’re making that choice, having an informed choice is different than doing that and thinking, you know, oh, this is fine. Pizza is super normal, pizza is served in school lunches and in public schools.

Dr. Casey Means: So obviously pizza is okay. Pizza is actually considered a vegetable, you know, in terms of school lunches, which is crazy.

Ben Grynol: It’s not actually come on. Uh, pizza as a vegetable?

Dr. Casey Means: We’ll need to fact check that. But on the Clubhouse, I was on last Friday with Mark Hyman. He talked about this and how there was like a big Senate lobby about this and whatnot. So anyways, it’s a school lunches are a whole crazy topic. I’ve actually written some articles on them and there’s some really backward stuff happening with school lunches and just in the U S and what’s being considered vegetables and what’s not, but that’s a whole other, a whole other story.

Dr. Casey Means: But yeah, I mean the point I’m I’m trying to make is that like these one-time events not going to cause irreparable harm and people should enjoy them if it brings them pleasure, but doing those decisions with information and knowing the reality of what’s happening to the body, having education about it, that’s important.

Dr. Casey Means: So you can make an informed choice, you know, so, so that you do know like, oh, I don’t want to just every three times a week, I want to do this maybe once a month or once every few months. And it’s really a treat for me because of the way food marketing is these days it’s like, we kind of have this assumption that like everything.

Dr. Casey Means: So much is marketed as healthy. And like there’s so many labels in the store that are like, oh, gluten-free organic, like low sugar, duh, you could walk in and think that everything you’re, you’re eating is healthy, but you know, having information to really know how it’s affecting your body, I think is just really a game changer.

Dr. Casey Means: So you can make informed, informed decisions. But, you know, I think, I think of the body really as like, we make hundreds of micro decisions a day about. What to eat, how to respond to stress, how responding, you know, how to respond to the dings on our phone and emails and someone cutting you off on the road or whatever we make decisions about when to go to bed, uh, whether to drink water or drink soda, all these things, hundreds of micro-decisions a day.

Dr. Casey Means: And each of those decisions either contributes to sort of a stress on the body that has to be cleaned up by the body or contributes to a protective effect for the body, like a resilience building effect on the body. And so I think about every day is like this pile and you’re either sort of like scooping onto the pile or you’re scooping away from the pile with each of these decisions.

Dr. Casey Means: Like, and you want that pile to like not get too high. Beause when that pile gets high, It tips into symptoms, it tips into diseases. And so this is actually really how I look at my everyday life. I’m like each decision I’m making I know that I’m either loading stuff onto that pile or, or shoveling stuff away from it.

Dr. Casey Means: So for instance, Getting on the Peleton is taking stuff away from the pile. Like that’s a positive choice for me and eating a cupcake is adding to the pile in a lot of ways. It’s my, body’s going to have to like, sort of clean that up in a sense. So there’s not a single decision that is like the deal maker or the deal breaker, but it’s kind of about building, making sure we’re saying biologically resilient.

Dr. Casey Means: Making sure that we are keeping our capacity up. We need to build capacity by making good choices so that when we have bad things that happen, whether it’s choices we make or things that just happen to us, that we actually have the capacity to deal with them. So, you know, the pizza one time. One more thing sort of added to the pile.

Dr. Casey Means: So is sleep deprivation so much too, so much, too much alcohol, so is too much stress, whatever. And when we meditate and when we get more sleep and we exercise, and when we have the antioxidant rich foods, we’re increasing our capacity, we’re taking away from that pile. So, you know, this is just sort of like a framework for how, how I look at things.

Dr. Casey Means: Just sort of think through each day is like there’s no makes or make or breaks. It’s more just about like, how are we supporting our bodies to improve resilience, improved capacity, um, and hopefully not tip the scales into really like the emergence of symptoms and problems.

Ben Grynol: With this outlook. Right? Because we’re all human. Like, what is the thing, or what are the things that you have to watch your wiggle room with? What type of temptations do you have knowing that we are human? What type of temptations do you have that you say, Hey, I have to stop myself from going to this or that.

Dr. Casey Means: Oh yeah, for me, it’s mostly.

Dr. Casey Means: Around, I would say like sleep, sleep is my biggest, like vice I find it of my four pillars of health, which I would say are sleep, stress management, exercise and food. Like food is dialed in for me. I just, because of what my practice is and my intellectual studies and my research and everything like it’s just food to me is just, um, I think I’ve got that one pretty dialed in and there’s very few things that tempt me at this point, just because I am so aware of kind of the nuances of, of what I just don’t even, there’s just certain things I don’t even want anymore.

Ben Grynol: You’ve got iron willpower is what you’re saying.

Dr. Casey Means: It’s not even will power though. It’s just, it’s like, it’s just like, w what Sam always talks about with food poisoning. Like when you have had sort of a bad reaction to a particular food, like if you’re food poisoned, like you just never want those clams again, like, it’s just doesn’t taste good to you anymore.

Dr. Casey Means: And I kind of feel like, that’s the way it is with like, Almost 20 years of like studying nutrition. It’s like, I just don’t want certain things anymore. You know, it’s not that it’s, it’s not willpower. It’s just, it’s just not interesting to me. And I’ve also been eating sort of like a whole foods. I think when you eat a really whole foods, fairly unprocessed diet for a term, like your body really becomes almost addicted to those foods.

Dr. Casey Means: Like you. Crave them, you want them. And so, so that’s fairly dialed in for me at this point, but, but I definitely am someone who’s kind of like always on the go a lot of projects going on. And so sleep is one of the things that as much as I’m like desperate to keep it on track. And I’m always reading books about sleep and listening to podcasts about sleep.

Dr. Casey Means: I love Matt Walker’s book, why we sleep. And it’s the thing that slides for me first, unfortunately. And so that’s one that I haven’t cracked yet. I’ve tried sleep trackers. I’ve tried all sorts of ways to get me on track, but it’s really challenging when there’s just so much in our digital world and our plates.

Dr. Casey Means: It’s just, I’m very excited by what’s happening in my life right now. Career-wise and stuff. And so sleep is kind of the first, the first thing to go.

Ben Grynol: I’m very guilty as well. Like there it’s, it is by far the thing that I am the worst at like, I’ve just so I sleep really well. Like I can fall asleep in a matter of a minute.

Ben Grynol: Like I close my eyes and I’m asleep and I sleep great. When I’m asleep, I don’t have a problem sleeping. I have a problem going to sleep. Right. I can’t remember when this thought process started, but I think it was sometime when I was in my teens 25 years ago, something like that. I always wish that I could plug myself in like that.

Ben Grynol: I would never have to go to sleep. I could just be like a device. And this is weird thing that I’ve always thought. So I know, like now, as I’ve learned more and it’s still an ongoing education process about the detrimental effects of not getting enough sleep, it’s so deeply ingrained. Of like, yeah, you just stay up.

Ben Grynol: Like, I always turned to exhaust the batteries where I’m like, oh, just like run the batteries as low as possible. And then I’ll just recharge the batteries, not knowing that like, okay, you’re going to have to make sure those get a good recharge. I think my body’s so used to it. I don’t notice it, but I know that it’s not healthy.

Ben Grynol: I have the it’s on the same page. It’s just a very, very hard challenge. Part of it is stimulation. Like I’m so stimulated, I’m very stimulated by something, like I’m so engaged in what we’re doing. It’s hard to stop and I haven’t figured it out. I, I wished there was a better way of approaching it. I just haven’t figured it out.

Dr. Casey Means: I’m in the same boat I’m really am. And it’s like cognitively and intellectually I know how important it is. Like I do not need to be convinced, but, um, and for me, I had this cool experience a few years ago where I took a few months like off off. I was starting my own business and I kind of like was kind of low key in my work.

Dr. Casey Means: This was after I transitioned away from being a surgeon and I had about three months where like, I didn’t need to get up first thing in the morning. And so I kind of just like, let myself sleep in. And I would, you know, I could work as late as I wanted. So it was just like, I’m just gonna sleep in and see what happens.

Dr. Casey Means: And so after about a month and a half of just sleeping, as long as I wanted my body settled into like a very regular rhythm. We’re basically on my sleep tracker, I was waking up between seven hours and 28 minutes and seven hours and 35 minutes after I went to sleep every single night. And I was like, okay.

Dr. Casey Means: This is what my body needs. It needs about seven and a half hours of sleep per night. And my body will wake up after that. And what’s funny is like the first few nights of doing this. I slept for like 10 hours every night because I was, I think I was really catching up and I had sleep debt, but it really settled into about seven and a half hours a night.

Dr. Casey Means: And I felt great after that and I’d wake up naturally and I was having really vivid dreams and I was kept keeping a dream journal cause I was just like blown away. And I just, it was, I was like, that’s the time I need. And what that means for me is that I actually have to be asleep or in bed for eight and a half hours.

Dr. Casey Means: Cause I have about an hour or so of like what, what the Fitbit would call like awake time, even though it’s just like little moments of, of waking up and which seems to fall within the normal range for people my age is, you know, having about 10 to 15% of your night. Awake. But these days I really shoot for my weekly average to still be seven and a half hours.

Dr. Casey Means: Like that’s what I want. But unfortunately what it looks like now is getting six and a half hours of sleep per night, and then getting like eight to nine hours on Saturday and Sunday morning. And then it averages to seven and a half, which we know is not ideal for health, but, but I really do orient around that seven and a half hours because of that experience I’ve had, but the ultimate goal would be to just.

Dr. Casey Means: Make it across the board, of course, like every night, pretty consistent, but we’ll see, we’ll see

Ben Grynol: his heart. My circadian rhythm is like my natural rhythm. And I think this was just born out of developing this muscle if you want to call it that I would regularly go to bed between usually between two 30 and three 30 and I would sleep until like 10 or 10 30.

Ben Grynol: And I loved that. I love it. Cause I Like, I didn’t even start getting productive until like 10 30 or 11 at night. And I would just kill it from whatever time. Let’s say 10 30, till three 30. And it was just this zone of creativity in the world was shut off. And there’s no messaging. I did that for a really long time and I loved it, but where it really changed is having kids like you can’t just

Ben Grynol: Sleep through that. And when they get up at 5:00 AM, you can’t avoid it. You have to be responsible. So the tough thing is trying to change a sleep schedule. Knowing like, I look at the clock when it’s 11 30, 12, I’m like, oh, I know this is not very healthy. Like it’s a hard thing to do. Cause I don’t feel tired, but I know I’ve got to like hit the hay.

Ben Grynol: Cause then like the reality is if, if you’re getting less than six hours. Like your productivity is it’s just shot, it’s shot. And in the back of my mind, I’m just always sitting there going, according to Matthew Walker’s book, there’s a small percentage of people in the world who can serve five on five and a half hours asleep.

Ben Grynol: I hope I’m one of those, terrible outlook, terrible strategy, but I’m going to go with that.

Dr. Casey Means: I’m in the exact same boat that, that tend to 2:00 AM period. For me, I think it’s this magical, magical time. And I’ve sent so many text messages to friends in the morning saying, why am I the type of person who’s most creative and most productive, basically in the middle of the night.

Dr. Casey Means: Like this feels like such a curse in some way. I don’t, I can’t capture that exact same. Feeling during the day, I haven’t been able to I’m 33. Maybe, maybe it’s going to happen. But I like have not that magic of sort of like the tired adrenaline and just like the way sparks start happening. It’s like, it’s like a drug.

Dr. Casey Means: It’s incredible. So when you were talking, I was like, Ben, we’re the same person.

Ben Grynol: Magic is the word, honestly, like not to be cheesy about it. Magic is the word there’s something magical about night, the world being asleep in your silhouette.

Dr. Casey Means: Most papers I’ve published, whether it’s like an opinion piece or like a scientific paper or anything like that had been written between 10:30 PM and 2:30 AM over the course of multiple nights, which I’m not proud of.

Dr. Casey Means: But like, I think we need to figure out what’s happening during that time physiologically and like figure it out how you can like generate that during the day. And maybe it is more circumstantial. Maybe it’s like the lack of emails, the lack of buzzing or whatever. But I actually gave up coffee this past year completely.

Dr. Casey Means: I gave up all caffeine in hopes of fixing that, like what we were just talking about, I was like, well, maybe if I get off this stimulant that I’m taking caffeine, I will just scoot everything up by like five hours. And what’s funny is like, I want to be the person to be like, yeah, it totally worked. But the reality is I actually.

Dr. Casey Means: I slept great. When I was on coffee, I slept great. I sleep great without coffee now. And I still want to stay up until 2:00 AM, even though I don’t drink caffeine anymore. So I’m like, well, that wasn’t the answer. I haven’t gone back on caffeine. Cause I actually think life is better without it, but it didn’t work.

Dr. Casey Means: So I was bummed about.

Ben Grynol: But it’s not a bad thing though. Now, like from whatever, it, it’s not a bad thing because we all do have such different circadian rhythms that some of us are nocturnal and others aren’t. And so it’s okay. If that’s the case what’s needed is. Making sure that you’re still getting enough, like objectively no, one’s debating.

Ben Grynol: Well, if you’re a night person, you can get away with less sleep. Or if you’re a morning person you need like more or less sleep it’s that, Hey, it doesn’t matter what your circadian rhythm is. Just make sure you’re getting enough sleep period.

Dr. Casey Means: Yeah. I love it. That topic in Matt Walker’s book about chronotypes how there are really biologically people who are more early to bed early to rise, you know, late to bed later eyes and how our, like our school systems and our work systems like really don’t accommodate those biologic differences and actually really kind of discriminate against people who are late shifted in terms of productivity and, um, how we probably are losing a lot of productivity, sort of globally from having a system that’s so early to rise focused. And one of the things I love so much about Levels being a remote first company or so much of our ethos is about everyone’s an adult and we control our own schedules and it’s about output and productivity and asynchronous culture. It’s not about face time. It’s not about being there every second, you know, logged on whatever. And I think that that’s, it’s kind of amazing where I, how the intersection of remote work and really intentional work culture will, I think, impact sort of the ability of people with different chronotypes to live their best life, you know, as, as you know, as they say, but I haven’t read too much about that with COVID like remote work actually impacts like people’s ability to sleep on the times, on the schedules it’s actually better for them, but I think that’s a potential real silver lining with remote work and hopefully people having a little bit more control over those early morning hours and sort of when they get up and when they go to bed. So there’ll be a time will tell, but we’ll see.

Ben Grynol: oh, I got to light my candle. It’s like the podcast practice. So even know it’s like a vanilla brown sugar or something. What’s this.

Dr. Casey Means: Oh, your candle candle. Oh, nice. Are you in your like mood room right now? Oh yeah. I love it. Are the kids asleep?