Wouldn’t it be great if losing weight, easing chronic conditions, and staying healthier longer was as simple as flipping a switch?
The Switch is a book by James W. Clement with Kristin Loberg which details how it actually is that easy.
Within each of us is an ancient mechanism that eliminates toxic materials, initiates fat burning, and protects cells from becoming dysfunctional or turning cancerous. It’s called autophagy, and when it’s turned on, the complex operation not only can slow down the aging process, it can optimize biological function as a whole. Autophagy helps to stave off diseases and afford us long, healthy lives.
The book mines a wealth of scientific data and features guidelines to follow for lasting results. The Switch decodes the science of autophagy and teaches you how to control it and maximize its impact.
In an interview with Laurie Mathera of the magazine Life Extension, Clement states that to live a long life, the most important goal should be a healthy anti-aging process called autophagy. (Healthy weight, physical fitness, and good blood sugar balance are all important, too!)
Autophagy is how the body removes and recycles dangerous, damaged organelles and particles, as well as pathogens, from inside your cells. This aids your immune system and reduces your risk of developing cancer, heart disease, chronic inflammation, osteoarthritis, and neurological disorders from depression to dementia.
Autophagy makes us more physiologically efficient by getting rid of defective parts, promoting healthy metabolism, stopping cancerous growths, and preventing metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes. By boosting autophagy, you can dampen inflammation, slow down the aging process, reduce your risk of developing certain diseases, and optimize your biological function.
A pathway—the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway—is the major nutrient-sensitive regulator of growth in animals and plays a central role in physiology, metabolism, the aging process, and common diseases.
Autophagy is triggered when mTOR is turned down.
The mTOR switch is in every cell in your body except blood cells. It either activates your cell’s self-cleaning mode (autophagy), ridding the body of toxic materials and provoking cancers or it burns fat and allows the body to produce more proteins, store as much energy (glucose and fat) as possible, and build more cells.
Although we have evolved to have this switch between continuous growth (mTOR) and repair (autophagy) move back and forth, the lifestyles of modern humans keep it turned toward growth constantly and seldom or never in the repair direction. When it is in the growth stage, internal cell cleansing comes to a halt and our ability to clear out the biological debris, things like misfolded proteins, pathogens, and dysfunctional parts of cells, falters.
Researchers discovered nearly 80 years ago that both calorie restriction and intermittent fasting greatly extended the lives of test animals, often reducing their vulnerability to cancer and heart disease. A ketogenic diet, which is a very low-carb diet, is widely used for the treatment of neurological diseases, and has also showed similar anticancer and anti-heart disease benefits.
For the book The Switch, Clement focused his research on turning down mTOR and turning up autophagy.
Intermittent fasting, also called time-restricted eating, works because it activates the hormone glucagon, which functions opposite of insulin to keep your blood glucose levels balanced. If the insulin in your body goes up, the glucagon level goes down and vice versa. When you give your body food, your insulin level rises and your glucagon level decreases. The opposite happens when you don’t eat: your insulin level goes down and your glucagon level rises.
When your glucagon level rises, it triggers autophagy. Aside from maintaining your cells’ youth, research has shown that intermittent fasting promotes greater energy, increased fat burning, and decreased risk of developing diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, all due to its ability to activate autophagy.
You can start with an easy 12 hour fast by avoiding eating after 7 pm. Then you can stretch it to 16 hours and forgo breakfast, so your first meal of the day is around 11am. You can do as I do and eat a hearty breakfast, a minimal lunch and forgo dinner. You will have to test what works best for you and your family.
You can also achieve autophagy with calorie restriction (CR) by consuming fewer calories without malnutrition or deprivation of essential nutrients. Writing in Nature Communications, researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the National Institute on Aging reported that chronic calorie restriction produces significant health benefits in rhesus monkeys – a primate with humanlike aging patterns- indicating “that CR mechanisms are likely translatable to human health.” The researchers describe one monkey they started on a 30 percent calorie restriction diet when he was 16 years old, late middle age for this type of animal. He is now 43, a longevity record for the species, according to the study, and the equivalent of a human living to 130.
When you put mild stress on the body in the form of calorie restriction, it turns up the autophagy dial. As that happens, there is an increase in protein turnover and cellular repair.
Another key dietary strategy is protein restriction. General calorie restriction has its benefits for body weight but it is really the protein restriction that creates health benefits. Cutting back on protein will not feel like your are restriction yourself, which is why it is better to call it protein cycling.
Protein stimulates insulin release as much as carbohydrates do. We tend to relate insulin release with only sugar. One of insulin’s jobs is to send amino acids from broken-down proteins to lean tissues such as muscles. The difference is that protein doesn’t supply glucose as rapidly as carbs do.
When you reduce your protein intake, especially animal proteins, you will lower your insulin levels and, in turn, boost your glucagon level and activate autophagy. Add protein cycling with calorie restriction and intermittent fasting to reduce your risk of developing chronic disease – mostly the diseases of civilization also known as diseases of overconsumption.
Protein cycling could become a powerful tool, especially for people who think it is unrealistic to commit to calorie restriction or fasting.
Autophagy is an action plan for cellular strength. Dial up autophagy for eight months of the year and daily it back down during the other four months. Or two months on and one month off, throughout the calendar year. Striking a balance is key. Your body needs a rest from internal cleansing to rebuild tissues and keep your weight in check (not lose too much) and maintain your immune system.
Sunflower seeds, despite their name, are technically not seeds. They’re actually the fruit of the sunflower plant. With a big yellow head, the sunflower plant can grow up to 20 feet tall, with a flower that can reach up to 30 inches in diameter.
The center of the flower head is studded with tear-shaped “seeds” that come in a black or striped gray-green color. The outer part of the sunflower seed is known as the hull and the inner part is called the kernel. The kernel, which is the edible part of the sunflower seed, has a slightly nutty flavor with a tender texture.
Sunflower seeds are sold raw, dried, roasted or flavored, with or without their hull. The world’s leading producers of sunflower seeds are Russia, Spain, Argentina, France, China and Peru. In the U.S., the states that produce the highest amount of sunflower seeds are North Dakota, Minnesota and California.
Not all sunflower seeds are the same, as they’re categorized according to the sunflower hybrid that they’re harvested from. The two varieties of sunflower hybrids are known as the oilseed type and the non-oilseed type. Seeds from non-oilseed type are also called confectionery sunflower seeds. They are characterized by their larger size and striped hulls, and are primarily grown for human consumption or used in birdseed mixes. Oilseed type sunflowers produce small solid black seeds that are primarily used to produce vegetable oil. These seeds are also called black oil sunflower seeds.
Sunflower seeds are harvested once the back of the flower heads turn pale yellow and their edges turn to brown. The seeds, which are initially white, will also darken once they’re ready for harvesting. The buds on each seeds will dry up and fall off as well to expose their full surface. Harvesting sunflower seeds at the right time is important to ensure that they have larger kernels and better nutritional value.
Sunflower seeds are a rich source of phenolic acids and flavonoids, which contribute to their antioxidant, antimicrobial, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory and antiviral levels.
They‘re also an excellent source of the following vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) — Alpha tocopherol may help protect your cells against free radical damage by inhibiting the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). As a result, it lowers your risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, arthritis and cataracts. It may also help inhibit inflammation and promote healthy immune function.Vitamin E is actually not a single compound but eight different compounds, all of which are fat soluble. Your body primarily uses alpha-tocopherol, the form that is found in sunflower seeds. Alpha-tocopherol operates as an antioxidant, meaning that it combats oxidative damage in cells. Vitamin E also protects the components of lipoproteins, which traffic fats throughout the body. Failure to get enough vitamin E can result in neurological problems, such as balance problems, lack of coordination, muscle weakness, and eye damage.Given the high fat content of sunflower seeds, they make an excellent source of this fat-soluble vitamin. Each quarter-cup serving of sunflower seeds provides 82% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin E.
- Thiamin — Also known as vitamin B1, thiamine plays a role in energy production, muscle contraction and transmission of nerve signals.
- Vitamin B6 — It plays a role in protein metabolism and is involved in more than 100 enzyme reactions in the body. It’s also linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, premenstrual syndrome, and morning sickness during pregnancy.
- Magnesium — It helps promote brain and heart health, support detoxification, maintain healthy cellular function, and optimize your mitochondria. It may also help slash your risk for heart failure, stroke, diabetes and even all-cause mortality. Magnesium is an essential mineral that is required for hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body. Without enough magnesium, many physiological processes begin to fail. For example, magnesium is important for energy metabolism, creation of new DNA, production of the antioxidant glutathione, providing structure to bone and cellular membranes, transporting ions across cell membranes, and signalling between cells. Each quarter-cup serving of sunflower seeds contains 28% of the DV for magnesium.
- Selenium — An essential mineral that provides antioxidant, antiviral and anticancer properties, selenium may help reduce your risk of heart disease, asthma and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).Selenium is another trace element that your body needs to function properly. Selenium is an essential component of at least 25 types of proteins in the human body. It is particularly important for the activity of glutathione peroxidases, a class of molecules with antioxidant effects. Selenium prevents the damage of cellular DNA through oxidative damage.Failure to get enough selenium has been linked with risk of cancer. In a 2014 systematic review of available human studies comprising more than 144,000 participants, researchers found that higher selenium intake is associated with a 31% lower risk of cancer from any cause and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. Each serving of sunflower seeds provides 34% of the DV for selenium.
- Copper – Copper is a key component of enzymes involved in various physiological reactions that govern energy production and iron metabolism. Copper is also important for proper neural functioning. The presence of copper is needed to produce the neurotransmitter dopamine and to create the myelin sheath that keeps information traveling quickly through your neurons. In fact, some evidence suggests that failure to get enough copper may be associated with higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological conditions. It is also important for cardiovascular functioning.Sunflower seeds are one of the best available sources of copper, with each quarter-cup serving providing 80% of the DV for the mineral.
Phytosterols are a type of nutrient found in plant-based foods. Although phytosterols are not considered vitamins or minerals, there is growing recognition of their role in human health. Getting enough phytosterols is associated with lower cholesterol levels, better immune system functioning, and even protection against certain cancers. In fact, phytosterols are often added to processed oils and foods because of their nutritious properties. Sunflower seeds offer between 270 and 289 milligrams of the nutrients in a 100-gram serving.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. A compound in sunflower seeds blocks an enzyme that causes blood vessels to constrict. As a result, it may help your blood vessels relax, lowering your blood pressure. The magnesium in sunflower seeds helps reduce blood pressure levels as well.
Additionally, sunflower seeds are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, especially linoleic acid. Your body uses linoleic acid to make a hormone-like compound that relaxes blood vessels, promoting lower blood pressure. This fatty acid also helps lower cholesterol.
In a 3-week study, women with type 2 diabetes who ate 1 ounce (30 grams) of sunflower seeds daily as part of a balanced diet experienced a 5% drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number of a reading). Participants also noted a 9% and 12% decrease in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, respectively.
Furthermore, in a review of 13 studies, people with the highest linoleic acid intake had a 15% lower risk of heart disease events, such as heart attack, and a 21% lower risk of dying of heart disease, compared to those with the lowest intake.
The effects of sunflower seeds on blood sugar and type 2 diabetes have been tested. Studies suggest that people who eat 1 ounce (30 grams) of sunflower seeds daily as part of a healthy diet may reduce fasting blood sugar by about 10% within six months, compared to a healthy diet alone. The blood-sugar-lowering effect of sunflower seeds may partially be due to the plant compound chlorogenic acid.
Studies also suggest that adding sunflower seeds to foods like bread may help decrease carbs’ effect on your blood sugar. The seeds’ protein and fat slow the rate at which your stomach empties, allowing a more gradual release of sugar from carbs
Sunflower seeds are primarily cultivated for the extraction of sunflower seed oil. While the seeds of the sunflower plant are good for you because they’re in whole form, its oil is a different story. I don’t recommend consuming sunflower seed oil because of its high omega-6 fatty acid content, which could disrupt the balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your body.
Excessive consumption of omega-6 fatty acids may put you at higher risk of chronic diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer. If you’re looking for healthy alternatives to sunflower oil for foods, try using extra virgin coconut oil
Because sunflower seeds are relatively high in calories, eating the seeds in the shell is a simple way to slow your eating pace and calorie intake while snacking, as it takes time to crack open and spit out each shell. However, if you’re watching your salt intake, keep in mind that the shells, which people commonly suck on before cracking them open, are often coated with more than 2,500 mg of sodium — 108% of the RDI — per 1/4 cup. Sodium content may not be apparent if the label only provides nutrition information for the edible portion, the kernels inside the shells. Some brands sell reduced-sodium versions.
Another reason to eat sunflower seeds in moderation is their cadmium content. This heavy metal can harm your kidneys if you’re exposed to high amounts over a long period. Sunflowers tend to take up cadmium from the soil and deposit it in their seeds, so they contain somewhat higher amounts than most other foods. The WHO advises a weekly limit of 490 micrograms (mcg) of cadmium for a 154-pound adult. When people ate 9 ounces (255 grams) of sunflower seeds per week for one year, their average estimated cadmium intake increased from 65 mcg to 175 mcg per week. That said, this amount didn’t raise their blood levels of cadmium or damage their kidneys.
How to Buy
When buying sunflower seeds, make sure to purchase from a trusted organic brand. This can guarantee that they’re not contaminated with potentially harmful agricultural chemicals. You should also choose seeds that are not broken and limp. Avoid seeds that are yellow in color, as they may have already turned rancid.
I like sprouted sunflower seeds. You can get Go Raw Sunflower Seeds online from Thrive Market or Vitacost (always about 50% off what you find in your local market).
How to Store
To improve the shelf life of your sunflower seeds, store them in an airtight glass container and keep them in the fridge. Shelled sunflower seeds may last longer than hulled seeds.
How to Cook
Sunflower seeds are sold either in the shell or as shelled kernels.
Those still in the shell are commonly eaten by cracking them with your teeth, then spitting out the shell (which shouldn’t be eaten).
Shelled sunflower seeds are more versatile. Here are various ways you can eat them:
- Add to trail mix.
- Stir into homemade granola bars.
- Sprinkle on a leafy green salad.
- Stir into hot or cold cereal.
- Sprinkle over fruit or yogurt parfaits.
- Add to stir-fries.
- Sprinkle over sautéed vegetables.
- Add to veggie burgers.
- Use in place of pine nuts in pesto.
- Top casseroles.
- Add to baked goods, such as breads and muffins.
- Dip an apple or banana in sunflower seed butter.
Sunflower seeds may turn blue-green when baked. This is due to a harmless chemical reaction between the seeds’ chlorogenic acid and baking soda — but you can reduce the amount of baking soda to minimize this reaction.
No-Bake Granola Bars
The Nutty Scoop/ Miryam Quinn Doblas
- 1 1/2 cups gluten free rolled oats
- 1 cup peanut butter or almond butter
- 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
- 1/2 cup pistachios
- 1/4 cup flaxseed meal
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
- Melted dark chocolate for drizzling, optional
- Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with unbleached parchment paper and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, or a stand mixer, add all the ingredients. Mix thoroughly until combined.
- Press the mixture firmly into the prepared baking pan. Place in the fridge until the mixture sets, about 3-4 hours. Cut into bars and serve. Cover leftovers and store them in the fridge for up to 1 week.
If you’d like, drizzle 2 tablespoons of melted dark chocolate over the bars before you place them in the fridge.No