Low protein, low carb, high protein, high fat, no fat. It seems every day you hear of a new dietary recommendation to adopt with its many health promises - so you are forgiven if you find yourself completely confused and unsure about which to choose.
In many cases, though, the recommendations for dietary selection are associated with weight loss – go on a certain diet and lose a certain amount of weight. But what if we could eat in a certain way to activate our most anti-ageing pathway? What if we could find a way of playing with our macronutrients by eating certain foods that truly optimise our health and longevity?
Autophagy is our most anti-ageing pathway
Enter 'autophagy'. Even if you're an avid follower of the health and wellness scene, there is a good chance you might not have heard of autophagy. It wasn't until 2016 when a Nobel Prize in Physiology + Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discoveries of the mechanisms of this biological removal and recycling pathway.
Breaking it down into “auto,” meaning self, and “phagy,” denoting cell eating, autophagy is essentially self-eating where the body recycles its own cells. It's a natural method of cleaning the house and is a critical component in maintaining our health at the cellular level - helping to dampen inflammation, slow down the ageing process, and optimise biological function.
Why is autophagy Important?
Our cells are constantly being damaged through natural bodily processes: such as energy conversion, digestion and immunity. This happens even in healthy humans and is an important part of the cellular life cycle, which allows the regular generation of new, young cells that can perform optimally in our body.
However, with age, stress, increased exposure to food and chemicals, our cells can experience free radical damage, which in turn causes them to be compromised at a faster-than-normal-rate. As a result, the body needs some way of getting rid of these damaged cells. Enter autophagy. The body employs natural mechanisms to clear out damaged and under-performing cells which are lingering in the tissues and organs. If these are not removed, they can trigger inflammation in the body and prevent the body from being able to efficiently carry out normal tasks, and lead to the development of diseases.
The Benefits of Autophagy
While the body can do this clean up alone, and indeed autophagy is active in all cells, there are many benefits to encouraging regular autophagy:
- Regulates cellular mitochondria, which improves energy production in the body;
- Protects the nervous system and the immune system.
- Protects against metabolic stress.
- Encourages growth of new cells, especially those in the brain and heart tissue, enhancing cognitive function and protecting against heart disease.
- Helps improve digestive function by repairing and restoring the gut lining.
- Helps to protect our genes by maintaining the integrity and stability of our DNA.
- Genetic links have emerged between autophagy defects and cancer, providing increasing support for the concept that autophagy is a bona fide tumour suppressor pathway
How fasting + low protein cycling can stimulate autophagy
One great way to encourage this advanced level of autophagy is through the practice of intermittent fasting. This self-digestion not only provides nutrients to maintain vital cellular functions during fasting, but also can rid the cell of superfluous or damaged organelles, misfolded proteins, and invading micro-organisms. Interestingly, self-digestion by autophagy—a process that is potently triggered by fasting—is now emerging as a central biological pathway that functions to promote health and longevity.
Research shows that 16 hour overnight intermittent fasts coupled with low protein days could be a great autophagic trigger. This involves alternating between periods of low protein consumption and periods of moderate to normal protein consumption. When fasting, the levels of glucose in the body are low, and therefore, so is insulin. Lowered insulin triggers increased glucagon, the body’s naturally produced hormone which can help stabilise blood sugar levels. The presence of this hormone signals the need for autophagy.
The connection to protein and the added benefits of protein cycling is that lowered protein levels also encourage the release of glucagon, as there is neither glucose nor protein for the body to use for energy. As a result, the glucagon levels increase and so does autophagy within the cells. Furthermore, without the intake of protein, the body will resort to recycling the protein that it has, to extract usable amino acids for future protein formation. This recycling process is also a critical component of autophagy.
How to protein cycle
To really take advantage of autophagy it’s best to activate and inhibit the process, with low protein days and normal protein days.
- Choose three non-consecutive low protein days - fast overnight and into the morning (for a total of 16 hours) and then limit your protein intake for the remainder of the day to no more than 25 grams.
- The remaining four days of the week you can have a normal protein intake (roughly 0.37g x body weight in pounds). Preferably unprocessed wholefoods so as to complement this longevity strategy.
Try MCT Oil, Green Tea, Coffee and Cinnamon
Some other dietary tips to induce autophagy is through regular use of MCT oil. This is nature’s richest source of healthy medium-chain fatty acids which coverts rapidly into ketone bodies as a great, clean fuel for your brain and body. As a result, the oil helps in easing hunger and stimulates autophagy by increasing ketone levels — especially in the absence of carbohydrates.
Try powering up your autophagy pathway with polyphenols like EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) found in green tea. Try and drink a few cups a day or add in a teaspoon of high-quality matcha powder to your morning smoothie.
And of course, more good news for coffee drinkers! The polyphenols in coffee have been shown to induce autophagy, independent of caffeine. This is one of the reasons why 3 to 4 cups of coffee is associated with health benefits with minimal risks, despite the higher caffeine amounts.
Super antioxidant-rich spice cinnamon, renowned for its blood sugar lowering actions, has also been shown increase autophagy. Look for Ceylon cinnamon, as it is considered 'true cinnamon' and is of the highest quality.
Sample Protein Fast Day
Low Protein Fast Breakfast
Protocol: Choose one to have as soon as you get up or whenever you are accustomed to eating breakfast.
- An Intermittent Fasting Bundle made either with Collagen Coffee or Cacao + Collagen
- Green tea blended with butter and True MCT oil
Low Protein Fast Lunch
Protocol: Choose one to be eaten 16 hours after last night’s dinner.
- Green salad with avocado, tomatoes and cheese.
- 2 Scrambled eggs with pan-fried kale and walnuts
- Roasted red peppers and courgettes with pesto and pine nuts.
Low Protein Fast Dinner
- Quinoa and roasted vegetables
- Baked Sweet Potatoes with guacamole
- Black beans and rice topped with chopped cucumber and sour cream.
- Autophagy translates to “self-eating.” It’s a beneficial process that involves the removal and recycling of the body’s own tissue as a metabolic process.
- Researchers believe that autophagy has huge anti-ageing benefits. It helps cleanse waste from the body, provides energy and can stave off chronic illnesses.
- Autophagy is induced through short intermittent fasts, protein cycling, and key antioxidant-rich foods.