Counting your steps is a great practice. But it turns out that counting your glucose may be an even better leverage point when it comes to overall health. Josh Clemente, founder of Levels, discovered the hard way that physical fitness doesn’t compensate for a diet that sets your body out of whack. Now, he’s pioneering glucose awareness so that normal, healthy people can make sure that they stay healthy. Levels technology helps make data-driven diet decisions a piece of cake. Sometimes, following the data means that you can even have your cake and eat it too. As a guest on the Brains Byte Back podcast, Josh explained to host Sam Brake Guia the ins and outs of understanding your metabolism.
5:58 – Going beyond step counts
Fitbit and other wearables don’t directly help you make better decisions. Levels measures biological information which is much more relevant to optimizing health.
“Fitbit, for example, and Garmin and the Apple watch, these all take what I would call superficial variables and they provide metrics for them. So let’s say heart rate, let’s say cadence or, step count, these are the types of things that your Fitbit will measure, right? And what’s interesting about those is that I can measure them myself. I can count my own steps. In fact, my phone kind of has an accelerometer built-in that will count steps. I can count my pulse with my finger. These are very superficial surface-level metrics. And you can do a lot with them, there’s no doubt about it. But with Levels, we bring biological information. So the devices that we are using, the data streams we’re using, like glucose, are clinically relevant. They are some of the most important molecules in the human body. And they are upstream of a lot of detriments and positive optimizations that we can make. Glucose, for example, is the primary energy molecule in the body. And so what we’re measuring has, in my opinion, much more relevance in both short-term optimization and long-term risk than your standard wearable.”
7:39 – Physical fitness can’t compensate for a bad diet
As a CrossFit trainer, Josh used to equate physical fitness with health. Research convinced him that metabolic fitness and a good diet were the true key.
“I was exposed to some really compelling research on some of the benefits of higher fat Ketogenic diets for extreme missions for divers and astronauts. And there are these amazing physiologic protective benefits that are kind of shocking to realize that they are entirely driven by diet. So this was the first time that I was exposed to the protective components of diet or really the effects of diet in general. I’ve been a CrossFit instructor for many years. Up until that point, I sort of considered physical fitness to be synonymous with health. And so being exposed to this research started to get me thinking, you know, what’s going on in my own metabolic system? The dietary decisions I’m making, the lifestyle decisions I’m making are based on emotion or the internet, or like something I read someone else is doing. It’s not based on me.”
9:11 – Surprising and scary data about glucose
Glucose is intimately linked to energy levels. Josh discovered that his own energy crashes were an indication that he was pre-diabetic.
“I knew that glucose is one of the primary molecules in metabolism. I figured that since I’m having energy issues and since glucose is very related to health, I should start measuring my glucose levels. And after a very complex process of being denied from various health organizations I was asking to get my hands on one of these devices, I eventually did get one. And I found out that I was actually spending a large percentage of each day in the pre-diabetic blood sugar range. And this was essentially asymptomatic. While my glucose was very elevated, I had no idea. It was the crashes coming back down from these elevated moments that led to this. This was causing me to experience an extreme sense of fatigue. So seeing that I was in this pre-diabetic zone, this is certainly not what I was expecting. I anticipated that I would be in excellent metabolic condition and this would lead nowhere. And instead, I found it to be very surprising and scary data. So that led to about several hundred hours of personal research, which eventually crystallized into a realization that this is an endemic problem. This is very widespread. Pre-diabetes and diabetes in the US alone affects over a hundred million people. And this data stream could be totally transformative.”
15:58 – Glucose reactions are individual
Studies at Stanford and Kings College have shown that glucose reaction is unique. It varies at the individual level – even between two identical twins.
“In a trial, two participants each consume a banana and a cookie made from wheat grain. At separate times, these two individuals will actually experience an equal and opposite response to these foods. So this is the case where a large number of people in the trial ate this food and they found two individuals who had completely opposite responses. It’s not even that the magnitude of the response was different. It’s that they moved in different directions. And these results have since been replicated in the glucotypes trial at Stanford and in the predict trials at Kings College in London. And those trials actually went further and showed that only a minority of this personalization element, this individual variability, can be attributed to genetics. In fact, identical twins sharing 100% of their DNA can have the same degree of glucose variability to the same foods.”
20:00 – You don’t have to be a biohacker
You don’t have to be a biohacker to be able to make decisions based on data. In order to do that, we have to make data an intrinsic part of our life.
“I don’t obsess over data. I don’t sort of run crazy experiments on myself. What I do think is that it is high time for data to drive decision-making for our general wellness. And that needs to be a mainstream decision, not a fringe or niche decision. So, I think society is ready for many reasons for better wellness decisions. We have to roll back the metabolic epidemics that we’re dealing with. And in order to do that, we have to start accepting that data is going to be an intrinsic part of that. And it’s not necessarily biohacking to care about how you are responding personally to the decisions you’re making each day. In fact, it’s just generally a good procedure to have some data underlying your choices.”
22:00 – Data-driven decisions are key
Technology has enabled us to make data-driven decisions in almost every aspect of our lives except in health and wellness. We need to realize that it doesn’t have to be this way.
“Technology has filtered in, and in some cases infiltrated, basically every corner of our lives. And there’s one major exception. And that is how we make decisions every single day. And so if you compare the difference, for example, between how we treat our finances and how we treat our daily lifestyle decisions, in our phones, in our pockets, we have all of our financial data available. We have our account balances, transfers, income expenditure. We can share this data with experts who can help us plan and show models of your trajectory well into the financial future for your retirement and all that. But if I were to ask, you know, what data do you have, what actions are you taking to give you confidence that you’ll be around to enjoy that retirement? I would wonder what people would respond. We don’t have data that’s driving the wellness choices we’re making. It’s like not having access to your bank account balance yet being told not to overdraw. This is kind of how I look at the way we treat our chronic lifestyle choices right now. And it’s important for people to realize that it doesn’t have to be this way.”
23:33 – Scratching the surface of the genetic code
In the next decade, technology should be able to guide our everyday diet decisions in a way that feels empowering rather than onerous.
“I want to sit down, I want to eat lunch. What do I eat? This is where technology can help us without being onerous, without being a big brother. Like it can just say, this is how your body responds to these foods. Select from this group, rather than that. And let’s get to work. It’s that degree of simplicity and elegance that I think will be just mainstream and not in 10 years, but much sooner than that. That’s one of the main directions. And then of course there will be additional biomarkers and additional genetics. I really think that so far we haven’t hit the prime for genetic information. So being able to further filter the set of choices that we are going to make based on our genetic code, that’s going to be a really big one and we haven’t quite gotten there yet. We’re sort of just scraping the surface of what our DNA can tell us, but I think that’s another big vector that will be coming mainstream soon.”
25:26 – Ice cream may be your ideal dessert
Some people fear that diet data will lead to a restrictive, negative mindset about food. But the truth is that the data may surprise you. Your body may process treats like ice cream with ease.
“There’s this fear that having the data will be strictly negative. It will only show you what things you can’t do anymore. And it’s actually not that way. It’s really surprising for many people to find out that, oh, this thing that I thought was going to be really bad for me, it actually treats me quite nicely. For me, some of the examples would be like cheesecake and ice cream. These are actually very balanced macronutrient meals, if you want to call them that. I don’t recommend eating them every day. But in terms of your glycemic response to something delicious and rewarding, like ice cream, my blood sugar responds very positively and compare it to a different dessert that I may not even like as much, but I might choose because I think it’s got a much higher content of fruit or something like this that, that should make it healthier. Well, the reality is that by seeing the glycemic response, I see that I can actually go with the ice cream and I’m optimizing for this biomarker that is really valuable.”