Cliff Harvey Interview – Part 1

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In the first of what we hope to be a regular feature in the form of online interviews, we bring you an interview with Cliff Harvey.

Cliff is a renowned naturopath, holistic nutritionist, reiki master, international author, speaker, world champion weight lifter, and all round great kiwi guy.  Cliff has a wealth of knowledge on nutrition, so today we are chatting about the topic ‘how to get more energy and performance from your diet’.  Cliff is the founder of Holistic Performance Nutrition, based on the North Shore.

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Transcript:

Q: Let’s start off with the basics, how did you become involved in Health and Holistic Nutrition?
A: 0.46min
– Initially I was more involved with the performance side of things, I know that the bases of performance is health, but that’s not always applied, so performance can be quite different to health I think in terms of what people are actually doing.  You see this with top level athletes who are performing well but they are probably doing things that are quite detrimental to long term health.  So I got involved in nutrition initially through that avenue, through performance nutrition.  Initially I wanted to be a landscape designer, I wanted to design Zen inspired gardens, that was my thing, and then eventually why I was still at high school I was offered the opportunity to captain the rugby first fifteen, if I put on a certain amount of weight, because I was too small.  They basically said if you put on this weight you will captain the first fifteen, if you don’t put on the weight you won’t even play for the first fifteen. Given that I was a typical kiwi bloke, and I wanted to play footie at that level, it was a pretty big honour really to be offered that, so I launched into discovering everything I possibly could about how to train to put on size and strength and how to eat to put on size and strength, and just became fascinated with how the body performs and how we can improve that. So I went off after that and studied at AUT, and within a short period of time was practicing as a student practitioner, giving people nutritional plans and things like that, and then got out of AUT and had a little consultancy had supplement stores, and was giving a lot of advice to athletes, very high level athletes, so within a couple of years I was working with members of the Auckland Blues Rugby team, the New Zealand rugby league team, Olympic athletes and all sorts. And then it wasn’t till several years into practice that I became quite unwell and started losing a whole lot of weight, started experiencing all these gastro systems, obviously having done some level of study in nutrition I sort of had my ideas to what that was, and I was subsequently shown that I had, was diagnosed with Crohn’s  disease. And so from there I went off more into left field I guess, I was thinking about studying psychology but instead went off and studied naturopathy instead, because I wanted to really round out the more global aspect of health and understand more about that, become more holistic, I realised that although I was young and performing well and all these various great things on the outside, that I may be not looking after myself as well as I could be on the inside. So I went off and studying naturopathy and that brought I whole holistic bent to what I was doing in terms of nutrition. So still very much stayed in the nutrition field that has always been my speciality, but started practicing as a naturopath and clinical nutritionist rather than just the performance nutritionist. So that was the beginning of getting into it all.

Q: In terms of fat adaption, can you explain what that actually means for the average New Zealand person or in ‘laymen’s terms’?
A: 4.11min – It’s an interesting term, because it’s something that we as researchers began to throw around a long time ago, this idea of becoming fat adapted, it’s actually a bit of a misnomer in some respects because in a natural setting we should all be well fat adapted, and all fat adapted really means is been able to utilise fat as a efficient effective fuel source.  We obviously also utilise carbohydrates as a fuel source but what has happened we think at least, and there is very good information behind this, we think people have become what we would term carb dependent. So through a diet that is probably to high in carbohydrates full stop.  to high in sugars, to high in those highly refined and processed carbohydrates, very fast digesting, highly Insulinergic  carbohydrates, people have become very dependent on using carbohydrates as a fuel source. And they have consequently become quite poor at utilising fat as a fuel source. So this ideal of becoming fat adapted, it’s just about getting back to a state where we can use fat more effectively as a fuel. Overriding that is another concept which you’ll hear thrown about called metabolic efficiency or metabolic flexibility and that’s really the ability to use mixed fuel sources, so weather its carbohydrates, weather its fats, weather its other interesting compounds like ketone bodies, or using even the small amounts of protein that we might need to use to fill in the gaps so using those all effectively and efficiently.  So it’s just about been more efficient in terms of our fuel usage.

Q: When you have a calorie restricted diet, how diets work initially is you use those fat stores they get broken down to fuel you, would you say you would be becoming more fat adapted then?
A: 6.09min -Yes, whenever you are calorie restricted, you are going to by nature become more fat adapted, but different diets will encourage fat adaptation more quickly and more effectively we think and make that more sustainable, certain diets will make that process more easily to do, so one of the biggest things that we have seen in the research and in clinical practice, for example if you go on a standard old calorie restricted diet e.g. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, whatever it happens to be, it’s still very high in carbohydrates as a percentage, you will lose weight no doubt, because you are calorie restricting, and we kind of have to calorie restrict to lose fat, in most instances not all.  But if we are on a diet that contains the same amount of calories but we are eating more protein for example or more protein and more fat and less carbohydrate, typically our satiety levels are much better and we are more satisfied, we feel filler for longer from our meals, we have less of that inerrant hunger drive its better for leptin response and all those types of things. 

And so typically on that same calorie diet that has more protein and more fat we feel more likely to exercise which is a great thing obviously for long term compliance and its just easier to stick to so that’s one of the big differences there you can either be actively starving yourself I guess and really feeling like you are calorie restricted, or you can be calorie restricted to the same level but not have it be anywhere as much of a burden. And that’s one of the very big behavioural compliance things that we are seeing a lot and it’s been completely missed I think in a lot of the research. Because the reality is if you have two diets Diet A and Diet B side by side and they both get about the same response in terms of fat loss for example people are going to say there is no benefit with either one but we need to look deeper than that and into the human experience of the diet and what’s going to be easiest basically.  Now that’s not only for compliance but that also gives us a pointer as to what is probably most anthropologically and most biologically appropriate for the human as well because it doesn’t make sense that we would be getting hangry and we would be suffering irrational thought patterns and all this kind of stuff on a particular diet in a natural setting. We would probably be in a better state of mind and body balance if the diet is right for our physiology.

Q: Do you think that the kind of hangryness and stuff like that is steaming from not having enough fuel?
A: 8.50min
– Yes it is, and I think this idea of almost metabolic starvation and that, that I quite often talk about now days, you might have the same amount of total fuel but if you are not using it effectively that is going to dictate how you feel. And if we are very carb dependent we are probably not going to be using fuel as well as we otherwise would. Because we are just not using fat as effectively as we could. And if we don’t have that extra level of fat burning on a base level and maybe we are also not creating cool alternative compounds like ketone bodies that our brain can use as fuel we are probably not going to feel as good. Sometimes it’s an interesting clinical aspect because quite often we will see clients and they will say for example I need to eat every two hours otherwise I just feel terrible, to my mind that also says that they are not using fuel effectively because that’s probably not a biologically appropriate place for the human animal to be. We come from a long history of periods of relatively scarcity in terms of food and it doesn’t make any sense that we would be completely debilitated almost by not having food available, you would be dead, you would be food for something else if that were the case, so we should actually be able to go fairly long periods without eating and the only place that we really see that happening is when people are fat adapted and insulin sensitive and all there hormonal and biochemical functions are working really well and that basically comes down to the diet that someone is eating.  Now people can be fat adapted and insulin sensitive eating a high carb diet but they are probably in the minority. Most of us are somewhere between those people who thrive on a extreme high carb diet and a extreme low carb diet what’s happened in the modern world is we have pushed the curve to far to the high carb end and we just need to re-evaluate it down a little bit and everyone needs to find their own individual balance. Because it’s not about being high carb v low carb that’s a silly debate it’s about finding what’s appropriate for you.

Q: And what about the type of carbohydrate?  Are you pushing more towards the low GI carbs rather than fast acting?
A: 11.06min – Yes and I think the best way to explain that to people and to get the most balanced view of food is to get back to food, real food.  We want to look at the baseline of , this is what I talk about in this concept I’ve developed of carb appropriate the first step in that is to eat a whole and natural unprocessed diet and its not because there’s this arbitrary idea that natural is best because natural doesn’t mean anything either so it is an arbitrary term but we all understand what we are talking about when we say that. So if we look at food in its more natural state its more whole state it’s just a good way of providing a foundation that provides for a really good damage control those foods are going to probably digest more slowly and if they don’t they typically have pretty proportionate insulin response and they have a lot of really cool co-factors, they have the vitamins and minerals that haven’t been stripped out they have typically high levels of fibre and resistance starch that help the microbiome. We have all these various things that are converging together and that’s one of the key things now is we really need to look at the baseline in terms of convergence with nutrition. So how nutritious is the food, not what’s it’s carb level, what’s it digestion rate, what other things does it have pulled out of it because that’s where we begin to become way to prescriptive to soon. The first step I always think is natural, whole and unprocessed first, see where you are at and for most people most of the time that takes care of everything. If it doesn’t it shows probably some level of metabolic or other damage or maybe genetic probability that may mean they need to be a little bit more refined in what they are doing but that is typically not the case for most people. So real food first!

Q: Intermittent fasting what are your thoughts?
A: 13.06min – I think intermittent fasting is great, this is an area, as you guys know I was probably the first practitioner to start really working with low carb diets back in the 1990’s and that was when it was considered completely crazy to even be looking at that but along with that came some interesting delving into the research around fasting as well.  At that time fasting was pretty common but it was only really common in the left field of complementary and alternative health so it was really naturopaths and the like subscribing it for a detox sort of outcome and I am not big on detox’s but we will talk about that later.  The other use was people using fasting for spiritual reasons, which I think is extremely valid and it’s a really good thing to be fasting for but I had some clients way back in the days when I was working with a lot of body builders and they were Islamic and they were interested in the effects of Ramadan fasting on their body building efforts. I looked into the research expecting there to be negatives but you deal with that because it’s important spiritually to have this period of fasting.  And what I found was the results were quite mixed but it tended to say on average that there wasn’t any negative result from Ramadan fasting particularly in terms of health outcomes.

In fact it seemed like there was good evidence to show that it was possibly beneficial or cardio metabolic factors and for insulin sensitivity and all these various things. So that shifted my perception a lot because back in those days we were really told that you had to be eating around 6 plus times a day because you needed the silly ideas of drip feeding glucose into the system drip feeding nutrients in and all this kind of stuff.  It really shifted my perception because given that these fasting periods didn’t seem to negatively affect health and maybe they positively affected it, it didn’t necessarily mean that I thought that people should fast all the time what it meant is I thought that it threw out this been married to the clock idea and you could get back to a much more natural way of being of eat when you are hungry and you eat till you are fill and you eat when you are hungry again.  Now if you are eating a diet that is appropriate to your human physiology you shouldn’t be getting constantly hungry anyway.  So it kind of takes care of itself. And there will be times where we fast because of that anyway intuitively because we are just not hungry.  There will be other times we are rushing around and we don’t have a chance to get a meal, and I am completely against eating on the run because I think its contra to what our physiology is all about so in those times we do little fasts anyway and I think occasionally a longer fast is really beneficial. It may be proven in the next few years that it is very effective for various immune factors and I think it’s a very interesting thing to do behaviourally as well.  Fasting to recognise our attachment to food and the behavioural aspects of food that aren’t necessary tied in with our physiology they are just much more about other stuff so I am a big fan of fasting.

Q: In terms of fasting and performance – there are a few books that recommend that you fast prior to doing a sport like a multisport event or a long endurance event what’s your thought on that?
A: 16.42min – Take one aspect there’s not really any clear benefit of doing fasting and cardio for fat loss that seems to be a bit of a myth. And what’s more important is doing the exercise and eating a diet that’s conducive to fat loss in totality so that’s one thing we can put to bed a little bit.

In terms of doing fasting exercise I really think that it comes down to the type of diet that you are eating across the board and how you feel individually because different people are quite different in terms of their fuel realisation.  One of the interesting aspects that we see in the research is if you talk about for example having a carbohydrate meal before training and what the effect on performance is you’ll pretty much find an even split between a negative effect, no effect and a positive effect. So that is probably telling us that there is a lot of individual probability there.  So when athletes ask me should I eat before training, you shouldn’t need to eat before training number one. As long as the rest of your diet is good, but if you feel better for eating before training, or your performance is boosted of course you should eat before training. But if the converse is true whereby you feel worse or you perform worse then don’t eat. I think it’s one of the topics that’s extremely variable depending on the individual. However if you are more fat adapted you should be much more tolerant of fasted exercise as well just in the same way as if your more highly fat adapted you’ll be much more resilient in the face of fasting as well.   I would be quite happy to fast for two or three days and not really feel any negative effect because I am use to fat as a fuel. If you are use to using a lot of carbohydrates as a fuel you have to tap into tissue to free that up you are going to be in a pretty high state of stress and you are probably going to feel pretty crap as well if you are fasting.

Q: So when you are saying you are fat adapted and you eat fat adapted styled foods what foods are you referring to? What would be your average fat adapted diet food wise?
A: 18.54min
– Because fat adapted is really how the body is utilising fuel not necessarily what you’re eating it can be variable I would say for most people most of the time again it starts with a diet that starts around natural, whole and unprocessed foods number one.  For most people though it does probably mean a lower carbohydrate diet as well so it could be going down the spectrum of Paleo which isn’t necessarily low carb but its lower carb than standard American styled diet or it could be a low carb high fat or low carb high protein diet all the way down to the most extreme end of the fat adaptation scale which is a ketogenic diet. Now that’s not necessarily where you are going to be most fat adapted in terms of base line fat usage but you are going to be differently fat adapted in terms of converting fat into ketone fuels that your brain and other tissue can use as well. That’s an interesting state of fat adaptation and that works really well for a lot of people.

Q: In terms of sports wise it works well or everyday people?
A: 20.00min
– Everyday people primarily because in terms of athletes there’s a lot of variability in terms of what’s going to be most conducive to performance.  We have a lag in the research now because almost all of the research that’s been done in the sporting field has been done on athletes or other people who follow a high carbohydrate diet because everyone eats a high carbohydrate diet. So if you have isolated studies that are to short in duration where you have different levels of carbohydrates applied what you are typically going to see is the more carbs someone eats the better they perform, because its short term. If someone is given a chance to sufficiently fat adapt and get use to using fat as a fuel again then the results are quite different. But it’s not to say one is better than the other, it depends on the individual, the sport they are doing, the duration of the activity.  But there are for example ultra endurance athletes that respond extremely well to very low carb diets because they get really good at using fat for fuel. There are other athletes who compete in anaerobic sports where there’s such a short duration of activity that they do really well on highly fat adapted diets as well/ketogenic diets because they don’t really need a lot of carbohydrate. And there’s most sports that fit somewhere in between where they would probably benefit from being more fat adapted but they shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater and just go extremely low carb because that’s probably not going to give them the best benefit. So again even for an athlete you probably start with get back to eating real food first and use that as a behavioural exercise.  Because a lot of athletes they are really good when they are good and are really bad when they are bad. But it’s because they haven’t developed baseline health strategies that are just about better eating.  You cover off that first then any good practitioner is going to be monitoring those athletes. “this particular athlete he’s not getting the best results from that so let’s see where he’s at and maybe drop his carbs or maybe even increase his carbs a little bit depending on what we are seeing”.  We will be able to see the indicators of where a diet is affecting someone negatively you are going to see it in their blood measures and you are going to see it in there anthropometry another words there body composition typically.

Q: Are you talking about their lipid blood profile?  What blood measures are you talking about?
A:22.26min
– Blood lipids and knowing how to understand those properly looking at the various blood lipids looking at HBA1C which is their average blood glucose and also there anthropometry. If someone is really resistant to losing body fat, that probably along with other things indicates some degree of metabolic dysfunction whereby they are not as insulin sensitive as they could be for example.

Q: How about young athletes as they are growing and changing all of the time so there diet requirements are always changing do you sort of advocate whatever they feel like at the time?
A:23.07min
– With young athletes I typically try not to be to prescriptive at all because I think the worse thing we could do is encourage them to be scared of foods or to be to obsessive or compulsive about what they are eating what I’d rather do is really encourage them into better baseline patterns of eating well and that’s basically about eating enough vegetables looking at food and the compendium of food they have got and really picking the foods from a good basis of natural whole and unprocessed food. So really with young athletes it’s just about treating them as you would anyone else and at that baseline level where people are eating natural food.  We want them to eat ad-libitum anyway we want them to eat as much as they want as much as they feel they need because they should be able to do that if they are eating the right foods for their body because they won’t desire more than they unnecessarily need. So basically when we are working with young athletes it’s more about working with the family and just having lots of good food available. Get rid of the junkie stuff and then just let them go for it and they will pretty much be ok. And it’s not till they get older that we often fine tune that a little bit more an stuff by adding in supplements and things like that because we really just want to get them into a foundation of good eating.

I use to work with athletes up in states of Canada, these were young athletes, high school and college level athletes, some of them were going to go on and do some really big things, and these were top level high school and college athletes.  And one thing that I’d always say to them is you can perform well in spite of a bad diet but you can’t do it for long period of time so at this age it really comes down to setting a base of health for performance that is going to carry you through a long career. Because if you are not eating a good diet, you are going to begin to break down eventually.

Q: Good Green Stuff, a personal favourite, how did you get involved in developing it and how do you actually use it yourself?
A: 25.20min -The short end of a long story there is I’ve helped to develop many products over the years for quite a few companies, some of them very big multinational companies, some of the biggest companies in the world and I won’t mention them by name, some of the products that I put together in terms of formulations, unfortunately you put together a really good formula and you are really proud of it and by the time you get through all the nit pickers and pencil pushers it ends up being a completely different product by the time it hits the shelves.  One that you are not proud of anymore, because it’s been degraded for cost cutting.  I’ve been involved with formulation for quite a long time, eventually I worked with a few companies up in North America and was doing research and development for supplement companies behind the scenes, I was doing that in conjunction with another guy who’s a kiwi based in Australia and there came a point where after working with several brands for quite a few years we were so disenfranchised with the way the businesses were run, the formulations they were putting out and how they were so concerned with profitable costs that they were putting out what we considered to be substandard formulas that we decided to form our own company and put out formulas that we could be proud of.  And so there was a group of initially about five of us that got together and founded this company and my role was to develop the formulas, so I designed Good Green Stuff, Clean lean protein, Kids good stuff, and now I have some colleagues who help with the development as well Dr Robert Verkerk in the UK, who’s a very well known research scientist, Meleni Aldridge his assistant and we basically co-formulate all the products together. So basically the rationale behind it was we wanted to develop really great supportive products that are at a completely different level in terms of quality, control and assurance. And of course I use it because I designed it for that purpose and one of the reasons as well is as a practitioner with the good green stuff for example its really nice to have a base product that you can then plug in a few things on top that someone might need rather than the person having to take 12 different supplements so in many respects it’s just a foundational food like a food based supplement that can fit in as that sort of bottom of the pyramid so it’s a multi nutrient formula its a multi vitamin multi mineral in a base of whole foods I mean you guys dig it so you know what its about.  The key difference is if you look, and you guys will know what you’re looking for but most people don’t and as a practitioner you will look at vitamin and minerals for example and you see the absolute difference in terms of quality between good green stuff and all of its closest competitors on the market.  It’s things like the difference between a methylated folate verses a synthetic folic acid.

Q: When I was looking for a methylated B formula even in the actual practitioner only B products you couldn’t find it.  This year they have started adding the methylated B’s in. But that was one of the reasons why I really like your product. I’m a vegetarian and so it was really nice for me to get those methylated B’s.
A: 28.44min 
 – Yes methylated B12, we often talk about the B methylated folate and that’s fairly well known now but I just did a little research review on methylated B 12 verses your cyanocobalamin and the outcomes are really different.  This is why I’m not what I call a utopian regressionist, I don’t just get into this idea that we should live as we did when we were in the paleolithic era and that natural is always better than synthetic because I don’t think that’s necessarily the case there is definitely an argument for synthetic vitamins and minerals whatever it happens to be at certain times. That’s particularly true when they are exactly the same. I honestly believe that ascorbic acid is ascorbic acid it doesn’t matter whether it comes from a plant or out of a lab to be completely honest but that’s because it’s the same chemical when you are talking about something like folate its different chemicals that we would consider to be folic acid/folate and so those different chemicals have very different functions in the body just like the B6’s and the B12’s and those types of things they can mean different things depending on what you are looking at. Just the proviso around the ascorbic acid thing however there is obviously a lot of co-factors that go along with the natural vitamin C and those are important, but I am just talking about the actual ascorbic acid itself there would be no difference from a lab or a plant but of course within a plant you are also getting those bioflavonoid and other auxiliary compounds that make it more affective.