Mike McInnes is a retired Scottish pharmacist and the author of The Honey Diet, published today. This book interests me because it advocates eating honey at bedtime.
Could you summarize the book?
It’s based on two ideas — that modern obesity is driven by two main factors. First, overconsumption of carbohydrates and sugars. Second, poor quality sleep. The medical profession has been saying that the cause of obesity is fat. We’ve known since the 19th century that it is carbohydrates, not fat. Poor quality sleep drives up stress hormones and appetite hormones.
In the West we have an early evening meal. We go to bed with a depleted liver. There is not enough fuel in the liver to supply the brain overnight. The way to resolve that is to forward-provision the brain, via the liver. The best food for that is honey. Honey is liver-specific. It is metabolized differently from other sugars. Honey restocks the liver prior to sleep. No other food can do this in the same way that honey can do this. Fruits are unlike honey because honey contains an army of nutrients, bioflavonoids, organic acids and others that ensure honey is not metabolized in the same way as refined sugars, which have none of these nutrients. Indeed it is fair to describe honey as the most potent anti-diabetic food known to man.
What’s the background, the history, of these ideas?
I’m a pharmacist. Sold my pharmacy. Went into sport nutrition in the late 1990s. I rapidly discovered that athletes have no concept of brain metabolism or liver store during exercise and recovery. The most critical organ of sport is the liver. I looked for a food that would provide sufficient liver supply during exercise and during recovery. When an athlete collapses, it’s not enough fuel left in the liver. Same at night, you go to sleep without sufficient fuel in the liver, after an early evening meal – and then you cannot recover physiologically – the brain is forced to activate stress and this in turn upgrades the orexigenic (appetite) hormones.
I knew from my physiological background that fructose was a key sugar to replenish the liver, fructose is liver specific – it only goes to the liver, where it is converted to glucose and stored as liver glycogen. It also brings glucose into the liver – it liberates the glucose enzyme – glucokinase and optimizes the liver (cerebral) energy reserve. Fructose is critical to replenishing the liver. At the time the usual line was the fructose goes only to muscle, and therefore had no role to play is exercise and fueling in sport.
Birmingham University did studies on fructose with success. Now every sports drink in the world contains fructose. They missed the nocturnal physiology. You have to replenish your liver before sleep. If you have a six or seven o’clock meal, you don’t have enough in the liver to see the brain through the nocturnal fast. Having discovered that honey was the key fuel to refuel the liver before sleep, I then developed the theory of replenishing the liver before sleep. Honey is the gold standard food for doing that – no other food that I know of can do this as can honey, and without digestive burden.
Have you tested other foods?
You will find thousands of studies on the Mediterranean Diet. I only know of one scientist who has written about the key question of timing. With this diet you have healthy meal that contains fruits and vegetables at 11 pm. The key principle is the timing. That would allow significant liver replenishment of the liver via the fruits and vegetables. That meant the brain had a good liver supply for sleep. The brain could activate the recovery system via the pituitary gland. That meant you were reducing the risk of all the degenerative diseases – diabetes, dementia, obesity and heart disease.
They’ve now stopped that. They now do as we do in Europe and America, they have an early evening meal. The fastest growing rate of these diseases is in the southern Mediterranean.
I just looked at the nutrient content of other foods.
I wrote a book in 1995 based on utilizing honey at night. We got feedback from all around the world. What the effect of the honey was on nocturnal physiology. It’s not difficult to work out what’s going on, it’s quite simple. The response from readers was that honey at bedtime, in addition to better sleep, produced changes like “fitter/stronger/healthier/improved mental acuity/less nausea and morning sickness” — all of which can be attributed to reduced adrenaline/cortisol and glucagon, to nocturnal energy homeostasis, and improved anabolic profile.
For decades, people have said sleep is a low energy system. That’s wrong. Sleep is a high-energy system. Is the brain optimally fueled from the liver in advance of sleep? That’s the critical question. The brain has about 30 seconds worth of glucose. About 5 grams in the blood. The blood glucose would last 5 minutes. The only store that matters to the brain is how much reserve fuel is in the liver. Your liver has about 65-75 g of glucose in capacity. It releases 10 g every hour into the circulation – around 6-6 and a half grams to the brain. Do the math, you see the brain is in trouble at any tome is the 24 hour cycle if the liver reserve is low – especially in advance of the night fast. The brain cannot use fats for that purpose. The body cannot convert fat to glucose. Never. What it can do is during starvation it can convert fat to ketones and use the ketones for energy. But you have to be starving for that to happen. The brain must be fully provisioned prior to sleep. The gold standard food for that is honey.
What about eating a banana or apple in place of honey?
A tablespoon of honey is equivalent to a small or medium apple. However the apple doesn’t have the huge number of nutrients that affect honey’s ability to metabolize optimally in the liver and to stabilize blood glucose concentration. Honey has 200 non-nutrients that make a difference. If you took fruit at night, you would get significant liver replenishment but not as much as honey.
Of course a perfectly good case may be made for fruits and indeed vegetables before sleep since they both have an appr. 1:1 ratio of fructose to glucose, as does honey. However there are many additional nutrients in honey that improve insulin signalling, and partition and disposal of the sugars that are not in these foods – hence honey is a potent anti-diabetic food – it improves the action of two of our most widely used anti-diabetic medications – metformin and glibenclamide – I am not aware of any other sugar or sugar containing food that can do that. In the fullness of time we may find other foods/fuels that are as good as, or better than, honey, but the present knowledge is that honey is the Gold Standard. Nothing wrong with some added fiber – but not required at night, and adds digestive burden.
When is the best time to take the honey?
The honey should be taken as close to bedtime as possible.
Why that timing?
You have to do the mathematics of liver capacity and liver release. We’ve done several local studies on it. One German scientist is interested in this – Christian Benedict at Lubeck University. I wrote an earlier book on this subject that got a huge amount of responses from around the world. People saying how it transformed their sleep patterns. We found there was a significant improvement. It’s not a complicated issue.
Why call it a diet?
The only time you burn body fat exclusively is when you are sleeping. During exercise you burn both glucose and fat. You also burn muscle fat. Let’s take a 90-minute moderate intensity work out. A BBC study was done. The subject burned 19 g of fat. Overnight when the physiologist measured it he had burned 49 g of fat. What he did not understand during the exercise that although the total fat was 19 g, half of that was body fat, half was muscle fat. His attempt to explain why he burned more fat overnight was nonsense. The reason is very simple. Recovery physiology is highly expensive and exclusively ues body fat as the fuel from the circulation. If you burn 19 g during the workout then the half which is the body fat portion is 9.5 g. Now you can understand the relationship between exercise physiology and nocturnal physiology with respect to body fat used – it was 5 times as much during the night as during the workout. The key to recovery physiology is how much fuel is in liver. The study that reached that conclusion was done in 1950 and was and is ignored by the scientific establishment. It was a study on mitosis in mice. It traced the mitosis (cell division), an index to recovery. The main point was the recovery depends on the level of glycogen in the liver. This study also noted that recovery utilizes fat – again missed by the scientific establishment to this day.
Most of the stuff that I do is already there in the literature, you just need to know where to look. There’s only one scientist that I know of who has developed the same idea about sleep. Christian Benedict at Lubeck in northern Germany. The brain’s stress system is activated during the night because of the brain’s requirement for fuel. He looked at nocturnal physiology. He looked at the stress system overnight. He didn’t measure the effect of honey. It’s likely that once the book is published, there’s an important group at Lubeck called the Selfish Brain Group who are interested in the relation between cerebral energy deprivation and obesity. They are focusing on the concept that obesity is driven by chronic cerebral glucose deprivation. Basically the same as my theory. Some differences.
The foods we eat overload the circulation with energy. It means that if the glucose in that system went into the brain the brain would fry to death. The cerebral glucose pump, which is called the iPump, is suppressed. This is my theory. Consequently the glucose that you are consuming when you eat a high carb meal does not transfer into the brain. That means the brain is now deprived of energy so you are forced to go back and eat more and you repeat the cycle.
The time we burn body fat is when we are sleeping. For that to happen you have to activate the recovery system. For that to happen the brain has to have reserve fuel in the liver. If the brain does not have enough fuel in the liver it cannot activate recovery, it has to activate stress. The highest consumption of energy during the night is REM sleep and that’s when you learn. There’s another fundamental question that we need to address. The scientific and health professions will tell you if you are diabetic, you increase your risk of dementia dramatically. They’ve got that completely the wrong way around because suppressing the cerebral glucose pump is incipient dementia. It means that your brain is already deprived of energy – it’s already starving. The first thing that happens is we overload the systemic system with glucose. The second is that we overproduce insulin. Both hyperglycemia and hyperinsulin suppress the cerebellar glucose pump (iPump). That is incipient dementia. Then the excess glucose in the circulation is converted to fat via insulin. Now you’re becoming obese. Eventually your ability to keep your glucose stable by storing it as fat breaks down – you become insulin resistant – and then you become diabetic. The first system of energy impairment is in the brain. Then in the body – the sequence is first incipient dementia and chronic cerebral glucose deprivation (hunger) – then the excess circulating energy is converted to fat – then this protective mechanism breaks down – you become insulin resistant – that is diabetic.
I’m a retired pharmacist. I don’t have access to university science and study facilities. I just use the existing literature – however this is changing and a number of academics are now interested. There’s nothing that I’ve said that is not based on the literature.
If people take honey at bedtime they will lose weight?
This has been confirmed over and over again. Anecdotally, of course. Talking to athletes. Hundreds of people. After the first book, we got feedback from all around the world. Small to massive weight loss. Many people lost several stone. The new book has more science and is based on new science as well that is emerging almost daily. They’re realizing that Alzheimer’s and diabetes are basically the same disease. They still think that diabetes causes Alzheimer’s, whereas it’s the other way around. Chronic cerebellar glucose deprivation – that is incipient dementia causes obesity and diabetes. Any high energy system which is overloaded will short circuit. That’s what sugars are doing to the brain. The mechanism is very simple, sugars and insulin short-circuit the brain by suppressing the cerebral glucose pump – the iPump. If your blood sugar is too high it reduces the blood sugar/energy in the brain. That means if you have a high carb meal, less glucose enters the brain. Within 15 minutes, you’re hungry again. This is why carbohydrates make you hungry sooner. The explanation is stunningly simple.
You see people on TV who are gigantic. That’s the reason. These people are suffering from chronic cerebral hunger. The more they eat, the worse it gets.
I lost weight when I drank sugar water. Can you explain that?
I saw that. The fructose would replenish the liver. If the liver is replenished, the brain thinks that’s fine. There’s research by a guy named Maricio Russeck in Mexico. He discovered glucose receptors in the liver. He advocated the notion, which was correct, that the liver is critical in appetite control. That’s now being confirmed by recent science.
How is The Honey Diet different from the earlier book?
That book was based on restocking the liver before sleep. There’s much more science in this book. The scientific world has moved on in two ways. It’s now looking at honey in a serious way. Also, the question of low carbohydrate versus low fat diets is now becoming a major issue.
How would you sum this up?
The critical measure for the brain in all feeding and appetite regulation is based not on what’s in the blood but what’s in the liver. Russeck was spot on, 5 decades ahead of his time. These are absolutely critical questions. Let’s focus on dementia. There’s 35 million demented people in the world. That doubles every 20 years. One hundred years from now, one billion people are demented. The human brain is now shrinking, it’s not growing. That’s because one percent of those demented people is genetically driven. What is causing the other 99% of dementia, which has happened in the last 40-50 years? The answer is sugar. Refined carbohydrates. Processed foods. Honey is metabolized differently than refined sugars.
If I drink fructose and glucose in water at bedtime, it would have a different effect?
Yes, because they don’t contain the nutrients that are in honey that enable it to be metabolized differently. In America, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) drives obesity. It overloads the liver with fructose and it’s then converted to fat.
HFCS at bedtime would have quite a different effect than honey?
Yes, for sure.
51 Replies to “Interview with Mike McInnes, Author of The Honey Diet”
Thanks for this interview – very interesting.
I recently bought Mikes original book “The Hibernation Diet”, mainly for information on his experience with honey, and will be getting his new book as well, as I find it fascinating that such a simple and easy to implement dietary change can have such a positive impact.
What is the optimum amount of honey that Mike currently recommends, and at what times of the day ?
Secondly, I’m curious as to what the most important nutrients in honey are, which can make its action different from a mixture of fructose/glucose (plus smaller amounts of other sugars).
McInnes said “Your liver has about 65-75 g of glucose in capacity. It releases 10 g every hour into the circulation…”.
Does anyone have a definitive source for these two values/assumptions? I’ve seen liver glucose capacity stated as around 100g and also 200g.
Honey has mystery nutrients that make it metabolize differently from fruit or sugar? What are these nutrients and what is this difference? Sugar water replenishes the liver (good) but sugars short-circuit the brain and give you Alzheimer’s? What?
Gina wrote about what I was thinking. I realize he’s not a researcher, but a little disappointing of an interview. He asserts honey is different from a glucose-fructose water solution, but it doesn’t seem like he’s even tried. It reads like a snake-oil sales pitch.
That said, I have been trying it on my 10 y.o. son. He’s always had a hard time with relaxation, falling asleep, and staying asleep. Last night was the third night in a row of about 1 TSP of honey before bed and ss I’m measuring it out he comments, “my ticket to 7:00.”
So that he doesn’t disrupt everyone else in the house we have a rule he’s not allowed to get out of bed and start playing until 7:00. Sometimes I’ll hear him get up, go check the clock in the kitchen then go back to bed 3-4 times starting as early as 5:30 or 6:00. It’s pretty boring for him to lay in bed for an hour not being able to do anything fun, so it didn’t take long to figure out that the honey keeps him asleep until closer to 7:00 when he’s allowed to get out of bed. 🙂
Many thanks for publishing this interesting interview and for all your work on sleep in general.
Thanks for this facinating and inspiring post. As a budding apitherapist, may I suggest that raw, that is, unpasteurized honey would be best. Patreurization destroys many of the enzymes in honey. Best is raw local honey which one can usually find at the local health food store or farmers market. For my money most of what sells in large supermarkets, mixes of whatever cheap honey comes from China (and who knows what pesticides are in there) boiled beyond boiled, is not much better, if at all, from corn syrup. (Google and ye shall find plenty of toe-curling stories about mass merchandized supermarket honey.) There is more information about the nature and benefits of raw vs pasteurized honey on the various apiculture and apitherapy websites around the world. For those who want to learn more I warmly recommend the Charles Mraz apitherapy course offered annually by the American Apitherapy Association. And by the way I got a jar of honey from the co established by Charles Mraz himself in Vermont at Draeger’s in Menlo Park just last week. Pretty good stuff!
I haven’t read Mike’s books unfortunately but I have been taking honey before bed on and off for a couple of years and I have done so everyday over the past few months with great success.
I have found that heated honey works just as well as raw, if not better. I have confirmed this as I have been measuring my sleep over the past months and have had some of the best sleep in my life using heated honey. I exclusively used raw for a long time but have been more successful with heated. This suggests to me that it’s the fructose/glucose ratio that’s more important rather than the other properties of honey. I also think honey is probably easily and rapidly digested – maybe quicker then fruit I don’t know. Perhaps heated honey is easier on the digestion but again I don’t know.
I believe raw honey is a great product and probably superior in many ways for a lot of reasons, but not for sleep. Telling people they need to source raw honey to improve sleep is wrong – heated and even blended honeys work very, very well.
Anyone who at this late date can still say that carbohydrates is the cause of obesity (yep, its why the Japanese are obese, and the French, with all their baguettes and croissants) does not deserve to be taken seriously and can comfortably be considered a quack. I like how he doesn’t even express his opinion cautiously on this contentious and discredited theory but says strongly that we’ve “known since the 19th century”. Not someone with good intellectual habits. It gets worse – the Japanese are infamous for being one of the most overworked and chronically stressed and under-sleeping – if not the most overworked and under-sleeping – nation out there, yet are perhaps the thinnest developed country. Yep obesity is caused by carbs and poor sleep and stress – now I know why the Japanese are obese!
At what point do we stop taking seriously anyone who tries to explain obesity by only looking at America? It’s don’t even like they look at the whole West (France would immediately discredit the carb theory) for chrissake! It’s just America. This habit of simply ignoring what’s going in the rest of the world and coming up with these absurd explanations for obesity in American that could have easily been disproven had anyone actually cared to take a single moment to look beyond America is so intellectually disreputable and yet so widespread and endemic to Americans writing on obesity and nutrition that the entire field seems intellectually frivolous and corrupted, at least as it is practiced in the US. It’s not just this writer or that – it’s intellectual standards across the board.
Also the medical profession says the cause of obesity is excess calories not fat. No macronutrient is the cause of obesity and “we’ve known that” for quite some time now.
George, maybe an excess of any nutrient or too many calories is the problem. I think the current war on carbs and sugar/fructose will turn out to be almost as absurd as the war on saturated fat and people like Lustig or Taubes have hugely overestimated how much we need to cut down on sugars.
The healthy amount of sugary foods people should eat is probably lower overall, but the ideal range (where there is no toxicity and where the most benefits are found – ie sleep) is certainly higher than what Lustig or Taubes propose.
I do believe their research is important but this idea that a whole macronutrient needs to be removed is strange – even in the absence of carbs your body begins to convert protein into glucose, doesn’t this tell us something!
Seth: The idea that a whole macronutrient that tastes really good — that stands out for tasting really good — should be removed is even stranger.
I have found similar results to Stuart King regarding Heated Honey v. Raw Honey. For me personally, Raw Honey causes strong brain fog – maybe a reaction to pollen? Heated honey works well for me – much superior to raw honey.
MrHeisenbug argued that it was the fermentable fibers in honey which leads to better sleep, rather than the sugars. How would experiments be designed to isolate the source of improved sleep?
Seth: Eat sugar without the fermentable fibers. Someone has done this and reported excellent sleep. If it is the fermentable fibers, we are left with the mystery of why we like sweets so much and why we eat dessert separately. If it is the sugar, not the fermentable fibers, we have an answer to those mysteries. But I am not certain which explanation (sugar or fermentable fiber) is right and look forward to more evidence.
According to http://www.prebiotin.com/fermentable-fiber/ that stuff is also in bananas (hmmmm) yams, onions, garlic, chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes. If you can figure out how much is in honey and then eat a different food with a comparable amount of fermentable fiber at bedtime I think that would be a good experiment. You may have to take into account the bioavailability of it in each food, but that’s for someone else to figure out because I’m not that kind of scientist.
I’ve tried honey on several different occasions now and sometimes on back to back nights but it has ALWAYS kept me awake for 2-3 hours every time I’ve tried it. It’s supposed to be local Great Lakes honey, but maybe I need to try a different type or possibly try it heated.
Seth: You should try a smaller amount.
@Stuart, of course, the best course seems to eat a balanced diet – no excess in any one nutrient, but no deprivation either, like all traditional diets do. Rates of degenerative disease and cancer were extremely low in societies that followed this common sense prescription. I was reading an interesting article on the diet of mid-Victorians that illustrated this well.
But the problem with American writing on nutrition is not that their conclusions are wrong but that the intellectual standards are so low. It’s astounding that the carb theory of obesity can still be taken serious. Simply astounding. It’s as if Japan and France simply did not exist (and a host of other countries). I just don’t understand how an entire field can be permeated by such shoddy intellectual standards. The very first order of business for anyone trying to understand American obesity is to compare the American diet to those of countries with extremely low rates of overweight. Oh, I don’t know, Japan comes to mind. American nutrition writers love nothing more than to compare American eating habits to some imagined Paleolithic diets that we perforce can know little of – but compare it to entire contemporary countries where can get precise, accurate, and comprehensive diet information? Nah, why bother doing that? We might actually get some insight into the problem. Worse, it might disprove our pet theory! It’s absurd. It boggles the mind It drives one to despair. I’m not even talking about strict scientific rigor, which can be hard to achieve especially in this field, I’m talking about the most basic rules of good thinking – look for counterfactuals, see if your theory explains all cases, etc, etc.
Nutrition writing in America might as well be sold under the novels section in bookstores the entire field functions as some kind of repository for myths, wish fulfillment, and projections for the Western psyche.
And that’s too bad, because it’s so important,
“the best course seems to eat a balanced diet”
No, I think the essence of this discussion of the effect of bedtime honey on sleep is that the “balanced diet” concept is misleading and incomplete. I cannot say why bedtime honey improves sleep nor induce the general rule. I am sure, however, that the timing of nutrients makes an enormous difference. For example, sugar at Time A: bad. Sugar at Time B: good, even great.
The idea that time of day matters enormously is absent from the concept of “balanced diet”, not to mention from every nutritional book and article I have read. I think it is fair to say balanced diet = flat earth.
George, it seems like you’re doing the same thing you’re criticizing.
The Japanese have an average daily caloric intake of about 2,800, while people in the US have an average daily intake of about 3,800. Could 1000 calories per day have any bearing on rates of Obesity?
Even just looking at Carbohydrates, the Japanese consume about 58% of calories from Carbs, while people in the US consume about 49%. It isn’t exactly like people in the US are on a low Carb diet!
It might also be fruitful to look at where those Carbs are coming from. The Japanese tend to eat more healthful sources of Carbs, like white rice, while people in the US tend to eat French fries, potato chips, cookies, etc.
Adam. Of course its the calories! That’s my point. It’s not carbs, its calories.
So the Japanese and the Americans both eat high carb (with the Japanese a higher percentage)s. One country is thin and one is fat. Isn’t the conclusion that carbs isn’t the culprit? Isn’t that what logic would dictate?
We have one way in which Japan and America are similar and one way in which they are different – and we conclude the way they are similar is responsible for the difference in obesity rates?!?!?!? (not you, but the low-carbers)
Seth: Yes, that is a good example of mass delusion. It makes no sense, but there it is.
It’s not the calories. Calories are nonsensical in the context of a human diet.
J. Stanton is doing a great series explaining why. It’s already seven parts long, but here’s the first one to start you off:
I’m not too worried about the weight loss thing anymore – some say its the carbs, others the fats or food toxins, calories, gut bacteria, metabolism/body temperature, thyroid, incorrect eating schedules, omega 6 oils, fructose, wheat, lack of excercise, nutrient deficiencies, etc…
What I do know to be true however, at least for me, is that improving my sleep by eating moderate amounts of sugary foods, some starches and honey before bed has made more of a difference to my health and how I feel than any diet plan, theory or strategy yet and this leads me to believe that sleeping well is more important than worrying about specifics regarding macronutrients or calories.
Paul Jaminet recommends 15 – 25 g of fructose per day, 3 to 8 g per meal (no more than 10 g per meal). A little bit has some benefit in glycemic control he says. I guess in sugar grams it’s double the amount.
Seth, that factors like meal time are also important and it’s not just about a balanced diet can certainly be true but I don’t think it undermines the basic point about eating all macronutrients and not demonizing any one of them, which I think you agree with. Of course we might be able to discover all sorts of tweaks – like honey at bedtime – but the basic point is that the movement in America to demonize a particular food group is silly.
“I don’t think it undermines the basic point about eating all macronutrients and not demonizing any one of them, which I think you agree with. Of course we might be able to discover all sorts of tweaks – like honey at bedtime – but the basic point is that the movement in America to demonize a particular food group is silly.”
I would say it is wrong but I wouldn’t use the word “silly”, as if it were obviously wrong. I never agreed with the demonization of sugar, but that was because I didn’t think the data supported it. It seemed to be driven as you say by the same forces that drive people to demonize other things and embrace other too-simple solutions. So “demonize” seems fair but “silly” does not.
I wouldn’t call bedtime honey a “tweak” — it is the whole thing, as far as I can tell. The whole reason we like sugar so much. Not a small change.
People who demonized sugar ignored the problems of why we like sweet foods so much and why we separate them and eat them later (dessert). I wouldn’t say that is silly, it was rather a case of ignoring inconvenient evidence. Evidence-based medicine (as practiced) does this to extremes — ignores almost all of the evidence. Unwise and reckless, yes, silly no. I think if something is common (as ignoring inconvenient evidence appears to be) I wouldn’t call it silly.
It strikes me that “time of day” effects are going to be the biggest thing to come out of this blog because the potential implications for so many things are so large. Bedtime honey, morning Vitamin D, really only scratch the surface.
Seth: Don’t forget morning faces.
What we have “known since the 19th century” is that, amongst people who are well overweight, a low-carb diet is very often a straightforward way to lose weight. Google ” William Banting” and check the date.
Of course this does not necessarily mean it was the carbs that made them gain the excess in the first place, or even the low-carb that made them lose it, rather than low gluten, or low fructose but in the absence of good scientific data, in Damon Runyon’s words, that is the way to bet.
I’m not sure there is a paradox between our being attracted to sweet things like honey and the possibility that eating a chronic excess (seems to) harm us. In a state of nature we never had the opportunity to eat excessive amounts of honey, so one should not expect us to have an evolved defence against the consequences of doing so. Could not sugar be a parallel with alcohol ? a little being good for us, while a lot is harmful, especially as a habit ?
“I’m not sure there is a paradox between our being attracted to sweet things like honey and the possibility that eating a chronic excess (seems to) harm us. In a state of nature we never had the opportunity to eat excessive amounts of honey, so one should not expect us to have an evolved defence against the consequences of doing so.”
To the extent I understand the anti-sugar position, I agree with what you say: That is exactly what anti-sugar advocates said to themselves.
Here is what I say in response: Ignoring a problem — actually two problems — does not make them disappear.
Problem 1: Everyone, or almost everyone, likes sweet things. A lot. Massive evidence showing this.
Problem 2: Dessert is common, if not universal. I have yet to encounter a culture where sweet foods are eaten at the same time as non-sweet foods. This separation is exceedingly strange; it does not happen for any other way we categorize foods. For example, salty foods are not eaten separately.
People who said sugar was bad for us ignored these two problems, in the sense that there was a massive amount of evidence obviously relevant to the effect of sugar (is it good or bad for us) that they could not explain. No amount of common-sense thinking makes the evidence go away.
What an interview… I like how he spends hundreds of words in response to the ‘have you tested any other foods’ question to finally say, ‘no’. And some of this crap!
> You have to do the mathematics of liver capacity and liver release. We’ve done several local studies on it. One German scientist is interested in this – Christian Benedict at Lubeck University. I wrote an earlier book on this subject that got a huge amount of responses from around the world.
Hail King Publication & Selection bias!
Who can see thy ways, who is meet to contend with thee? Of a truth I know that it is so: how can man be just with biases? If he be pleased to contend with them, he cannot answer them one of a thousand. They are mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against them, and prospered?
I saw a paper I think somewhere on http://www.high-fat-nutrition.blogspot.com showing that high levels of omega 6 fats can lead to storage of excess carbs as fat.
If this was true, then no carbs, no fat storage OR no omega 6 no fat storage.
So now the Japanese and Kitavans can be thin on high carbs, American’s eating high levels of omega-6 fats can be fat on high carbs and cutting carbs in America leads to weight loss.
My own experience was that cutting carbs was like throwing a switch, I lost 30lbs in 3 months and kept of off for 3 years now. I eat a lot, 2500-3000kcal/day when I’ve tracked it.
I don’t know if that omega 6 paper is true but I think there is something more complicated going on than too many calories.
Which kind of honey should we eat? anything from the supermarket of specifically raw honey? I heard that processed honey no longer has any nutrients, just sugar and water.
The “dessert last” phenomenon is indeed fascinating. I’ve never seen it discussed before.
Presumably, in most of our history we would have turned in for the night shortly after dessert.
But today, we have what we call dessert long before we go to sleep…yet the supermarkets are jammed at 11pm with people buying ice cream and cookies for their late-night snacks. As if it were some kind of compulsion.
In the interview there are two interesting ideas.
The first is that low sugar at night releases cortisol, which then drives gluconeogenesis to raise blood sugar. I know that cortisol does this but I’m not sure that low blood sugar necessarily raise cortisol. Wikipedia says that low blood sugar raises glucagon, which in turn drives gluconeogenesis. So if cortisol is always raised as well this is interesting as being stressed while sleeping seems like a bad thing, but I don’t know if this is true. Anybody?
I have read and have some experience with what’s called the reverse cortisol cycle. Ie people with a lot of stress go to bed with high cortisol levels, have a hard time falling asleep, then wake up groggy with low cortisol. The opposite is supposed to be healthy. Go to sleep quickly with low cortisol levels and wake up alert with a slightly elevated cortisol level. When I changed my diet and some other work related issues, I noticed at some point a big change from the reverse cortisol pattern to the “more normal” pattern and slept better.
The second idea is that high blood glucose causes processes in the brain to limit or even over limit glucose to the brain which then causes cell death. I’ve read that high blood glucose causes the mitochondria in the brain to “fail” over time and cause cell death, sort of the opposite idea. The recent book “Grain Brain” makes this point as do others. I don’t know if it’s true, I’m not a biochemist, but there are many people that think that chronic high blood sugar causes mitochondria damage which in turn starts a cascade of health issues.
In any event this second idea seems novel (googling a bit doesn’t turn up anything that I could find, anybody else find something?) and if true remarkable.
Any thoughts on this?
“So now the Japanese and Kitavans can be thin on high carbs, American’s eating high levels of omega-6 fats can be fat on high carbs…”
this would seem to gel with the data on omega-6 consumption (& production) in the US in recent history.
lard, tallow, shortening, butter, etc either stable or trending down.
& soy, canola, corn, margarine oil, etc trending up
do a google image search for something like ‘vegetable oil consumption’ for some graphics
“So now the Japanese and Kitavans can be thin on high carbs, American’s eating high levels of omega-6 fats can be fat on high carbs…”
this would seem to gel with the data on omega-6 consumption (& production) in the US in recent history.
lard, tallow, shortening, butter, etc either stable or trending down.
& soy, canola, corn oil, margarine, etc trending up
do a google image search for something like ‘vegetable oil consumption’ for some graphics
“It’s not the calories. Calories are nonsensical in the context of a human diet”
yes & no. it is about energy. if you absorb more energy into the blood stream then you burn over a period of time, then weight will increase, that can be both fat & lean body mass.
the problem with counting calories is that it does not reflect the actual energy that is passed in to the blood stream, which is an individual thing. way too many variables to try & work out how much real energy you will get from a particular ‘calorie of any food’ at one time…some things that will influence this are, gut flora, thyroid & anabolic hormones/metabolism, food type,…etc, etc
Seth: I believe that it is about hunger, not energy or calories. Hunger determines how much you will eat.
“I believe that it is about hunger”… I agree.
my “it is about” comment was more to do with pointing out that calorie counting is as a very inaccurate science, if you could actually count the calories that are absorbed in to the blood (which would be highly individual), that would mean something (as a metric), but of course that is impossible.
on the hunger topic, yes hunger will definitely be a big factor in the qty (& type?) of food you stuff in your face
by way of a bit of an example on the ‘calorie counting’ subject,
here is an interesting study that attempted to compare the predicted calories of Almonds ‘on the label (so to speak)’ (predicted by the Atwater system http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atwater_system )
and the ‘actual/real’ calories (averaged across 18 subjects).
“Design: Eighteen healthy adults consumed a controlled diet or an almond-containing diet for 18 d. Three treatments were administered to subjects in a crossover design, and diets contained 1 of 3 almond doses: 0, 42, or 84 g/d. During the final 9 d of the treatment period, volunteers collected all urine and feces, and samples of diets, feces, and urine were analyzed for macronutrient and energy contents. The metabolizable energy content of the almonds was determined.
Results: The energy content of almonds in the human diet was found to be 4.6 ± 0.8 kcal/g, which is equivalent to 129 kcal/28-g serving. This is significantly less than the energy density of 6.0–6.1 kcal/g as determined by the Atwater factors, which is equivalent to an energy content of 168–170 kcal/serving. The Atwater factors, when applied to almonds, resulted in a 32% overestimation of their measured energy content.”
Seth: very interesting, I’ve always wondered about that — the size of the undercount.
@Daz – one of the things that allowed me to finally lose weight and keep it off for years is disregarding all the experts advice about how many calories I “should” be eating. I realized every time I hewed to the “correct” number of calorie I ended up being ravenous and crashed shortly after – sound familiar? It’s pretty much every American’s experience with trying to lose weight. Initial success following popular calorie recommendations followed by extreme hunger leading to crashing, leading to bizarre beliefs that it can’t be about willpower but must be about type of food consumed. Eventually I traveled overseas, forgot about calories, observed what the skinny locals were doing and practiced portion control like them. And I listened to my hunger and never let myself get too hungry, like the locals. And the pounds melted off and stayed off.
It seems clear to me now that paradoxically it’s the too restrictive calorie recommendations in America that are actually responsible for the inability of Americans to successfully lose weight. Losing weight isn’t a science, it’s an art, and the American approach, with its attempt to put everything into a mathematical formula and be precise, which doesn’t pay attention to feelings of hunger, and which for some reason gets the calories very wrong, is disastrous and what’s fueling our obesity epidemic. It’s not that the scientific approach is wrong, it’s just that we don’t know enough yet about diet and nutrition to craft a reliable scientific approach, so in at this point our best bet is not to do ‘pretend’ science but to do what skinny countries do; exercise portion control, listen to your hunger but don’t pig out, and follow traditional guidelines about how much it’s ‘normal’ to eat.
Thanks for this. Very useful. I plan to start taking it immediately. Can you please say how much honey? How many table spoons? And is there a difference between cooked and raw honey – which is better? Thanks once again.
Seth: try 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of honey. I use cooked honey, haven’t tried raw. Some people find differences, sometimes cooked is better, sometimes raw is better. Search the comments for details.
Thank you, George! The more people concentrate on being “scientific” about their eating habits, the more complicated they make their lives and the less they listen to their own bodies – which, let’s face it, are far smarter in knowing what is best for each individual than the medical/scientific research establishment. I would not be surprised if – when all is said and done – we learn that the best diet is the traditional diet from the area of the world from which our ancestors came. In other words, the traditional Chinese diet is best for people of Chinese extraction, the traditional Italian diet is best for people whose families came from that part of the world, etc. Such an approach toward diet takes into account both genetics and the natural environmental experiment in which people have evolved over thousands of years.
Seth: I think experts are biassed to tell us stuff that is wrong because if they tell us to do what we are already doing, they seem less valuable.
Eating sweet and sour food together: marmalade at breakfast is a delicious sweet-and-sour food. It’s unusual to eat it at any other time of day, though.
This comment section has taken a detour from honey to calories, macronutrients, and bodyweight regulation.
Well since that happened I’ll chime in and try to unite the two.
Honey is fantastic for our gut microbes. Evidence is mounting that the microbiota orchestrates many facets of human health. For example, see this 2012 review of honey and the microbiome: http://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/17/1/248
Key quote: “oligosaccharides present in honey might contribute to the antidiabetic and other health-related beneficial effects of honey.”
It’s so silly that people debate macronutrients, totally sidestepping the gut microbiome like we’re sterile creatures.
I’ve been paleo/primal(sic) since September 2010. My main reason for trying paleo/primal was constant joint pain mostly in my knees and morning brain fog. These issues cleared up within weeks of starting the new diet. However from April 2011 I started a semi-constant 3am wakeup, with sweating and heart palpitations. This has got steadily worse and recently it’s got so much worse that I have been waking up with a severe headache and very bad morning brain fog.
Typically I eat my last meal no later than 7pm and then eat again only the following day at around noon. I’ve never been big on eating in the morning or before 10am. Some days I have only one meal but most days two, rarely three. I’ve never been overweight, weight now at 49 what I did at 20, and have no other current issues barring the sleep issue.
As I am completely averse to ever stepping foot into a doctors office I started to trawl through the internet for answers. It’s taken me weeks to get to this blog and the honey solution after wading through site after site talking about diabetes. Given I have no issues during the day and never really feel as though I have to eat even if only doing one feed a day, I ignored much of the discussion on diabetes. In any case I have an almost zero sugar diet with very low carbs – typically no more than 50g a day.
Having read through this interview I decided to give the honey solution a try as the nighttime liver glycogen issue resonated with me. So for the last two nights I have taken a tablespoon of honey just before bedtime and have woken up at 6am with no sleep interruption, no headache and very little brain fog. I’ll be convinced this has legs if I can go for a month with no more 3am wakeups and morning fogginess.
Great blog Seth!
Seth: Thanks, that’s very meaningful praise — that this blog provides better (not just different) advice than other blogs. I think the failure of paleo gurus to advise a diet that produces great sleep is their single biggest failing. Obviously such a diet is paleo, that is, eaten by our ancestors, because I’m sure our ancestors slept well. Please write again after a month, whatever the results. I hope you will buy McInnes’s book, at least to thank him for the improvement.
Does it need to be raw honey or will normal honey work? How about combined with potato starch and kefir?
In Germany existes a ‘Betthupferl’ which means literally ‘bedjumper’ it’s a small sugery food taken just before jumping into the bed and to sleep well. Ray Peat says that bed time sugar reduces adrenaline and this improves sleep. He thinks that darkness is very stressful and antimetabolic and that is why we sleep. He says that total darkness would make good sleep less possible. Red & infrared light could improve sleep. http://oneradionetwork.com/health/dr-ray-peat-ph-d-answering-a-plethora-of-questions-regarding-health-diet-and-nutrition-january-1-2014/
Seth: I disagree about darkness. I found that when I made my bedroom darker I slept better. Now my bedroom is extremely dark and I sleep great. I haven’t tested red or infrared light.
Seth: I disagree about darkness. I found that when I made my bedroom darker I slept better. Now my bedroom is extremely dark and I sleep great.
So the break of dawn or the sunrise doesn’t wake you up in the morning? Do you wake up in a dark room?
right, I wake up in a very dark room.
“I lost weight when I drank sugar water. Can you explain that?
I saw that. The fructose would replenish the liver. ”
@Seth, it would have been interesting if you would have followed up with: I (and others) also lost weight by drinking extra light olive oil. How does your theory account for that?
Seth: I don’t like to ask questions I know the answer to. I know the answer to that one: It doesn’t.
The Honey at nighttime advice worked for me the first night. I have continued it for the last 5 nights. Even when I didn’t get optimal amount of sleep – it still worked.
When I say it worked, I mean I wake up refreshed, no grogginess, no headaches later after coffee – raring to go. I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this good waking up and throughout the day. I still feel like napping around 3-4 PM everyday, but I can muscle through no problem now.
In short, three words: I feel great!
“We go to bed with a depleted liver. There is not enough fuel in the liver to supply the brain overnight. The way to resolve that is to forward-provision the brain, via the liver”
“Your liver has about 65-75 g of glucose in capacity. It releases 10 g every hour into the circulation – around 6-6 and a half grams to the brain. Do the math, you see the brain is in trouble at any tome is the 24 hour cycle if the liver reserve is low – especially in advance of the night fast.”
Assuming this is all true, it seems that the liver would be fully depleted upon waking. Would McInnes suggest honey in the morning, as well? If not I would think the brain would be “in trouble”.
Seth: One possibility is that brain function during the day is less important than brain function at night so that brain function during the day can get by with less blood sugar. Or maybe we should eat honey in the morning. A friend of mine who is a lawyer said that when he did the Atkins Diet he lost cases he would have won. It really did reduce how well his brain worked.
Stuart King said, (January 2nd, 9:42 pm) it isn’t as much to do with the diet as it is to do with the good sleep! Well summarized Stuart! Diets are varied and contradictory, but sleep is universal!
And, Seth, balancing the diet is done simply by using the honey at night instead of in the morning which is our traditional (American?) way. Even those souls who conscientiously use real honey from their own back yards, tend to see it as a breakfast food, especially in wintertime. By switching it to a nighttime food, the balancing act is dramatically induced.
We use honey to start us, to stimulate us, to extend our activity levels, but decline to use it to balance us up with the rest and recuperation stage.
And to Eric, If you want to improve on your Vitamin D production, put a thin (watery) lotion of honey on your skin ‘before’ you go out in the sun. It feeds the cells that make the D, and even prevents burning to a great extent.
Depending on one’s age, learning to use this new-found energy from these insights, is critical. Honey and all nostrums than give increased energy tend to prompt us to get out there and make up for lost time. BIG MISTAKE!
Do use some of that energy investing time in restful activity, or down time. Restoring the body is a long time project. Think of the honey as fuel in you motorcar. Just doing double the miles is great, but what about the long term servicing, repairing and repainting?
Real honey enjoys about 1% of the sweeteners market. It won’t take much of this kind of talk to double the demand, and still the potential is enormous (98% untapped). Honey production is a dying industry. Don’t get caught shot of real honey.
Many thanks to Mike McInnes for his brave venture into these truths. To you also, Seth, for hosting intelligent discussion. As a long term commercial honey producer I figure my industry may just survive. Mankind himself may even survive! Hooray!
Seth: I hope honey producers will realize that they themselves can gather data — studying themselves — on the value of honey for sleep. And they can publish it themselves on a website. There are a hundred questions to answer. For example, what is the best dose? What is the best time?
Would you believe there are more like 7 billion questions to answer? Why? Because to get it 100% right it must be on an individual basis. We all need to do our own experimenting and believe in the results we find for ourselves.
Leaving it to experts will always trend towards mass medication, mass profiteering and computerized averaging which will be good if the masses do it, but will produce poor results for many individuals.
Seth: We are on the same page.
david s Says:
January 9th, 2014 at 11:42 am
[ Assuming this is all true, it seems that the liver would be fully depleted upon waking. Would McInnes suggest honey in the morning, as well? If not I would think the brain would be “in trouble”. ]
I thought the same thing and have been taking a shot of honey every 8 hours or so since I started doing this. I missed an 8 hour window just the other day and I didn’t notice any difference though. I’m still doing it every 8 hours as a snack, if anything else.
Seth: There may be subtle improvement due to eating honey during the day. The improvement in sleep is not subtle.
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