The Sapien Diet: Focus on Protein, Embrace Fat, Avoid Carbohydrates
The Sapien Diet doesn't prescribe any explicit macronutrient ratios to follow, rather the diet is a framework to help you make the best food choices in the modern food environment. We believe that when focus on protein, embrace fat, and avoid carbohydrates, you naturally gravitate towards the most nutrient dense foods that align with human biology.
Focus on Protein
What is protein?
Proteins are the building blocks of the human body. Every protein consists of a chain of amino acids varying in sequence, structure, and function. There 20 amino acids, 9 of which are essential, meaning we must get them through diet since we cannot produce them ourselves. Compared to almost all plant sources, animal proteins contain complete amino acid profiles (all 9 essential amino acids) and are the most bioavailable to the human body.
Why focus on protein?
Protein is the most satiating of all the macronutrients, meaning it is a great regulator of our appetite making it difficult to overeat. We have various hormones that contribute to the feeling of being full, and protein is known to stimulate the release of them (e.g. GLP-1, glucagon, CCK, and PYY). Additionally, complete protein sources (i.e. animal proteins) supply more than just protein, these foods are some of the most nutrient dense foods on this planet.
Protein as a macronutrient is anabolic or anti-catabolic, depending on the situation. This means that if you are repairing muscle following exercise, protein helps BUILD (anabolic) muscle, or if you are in a calorie deficit protein can help SPARE (anti-catabolic) lean muscle mass during weight loss. When you are losing weight, maintaining muscle mass is very important as this will prevent the significant drop in metabolic rate typically associated with weight loss.
If we haven’t convinced you yet, what’s more is that protein has the highest thermic effect of food (TEF) value, meaning it takes more energy to process protein than carbohydrates or dietary fat.
What is fat?
Dietary fat is broken up into three primary categories: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. On a cellular level, lipids are literally what holds us together, comprising our cell membranes. The types of fats we eat contribute to the composition of our cell membranes, which ends up playing fundamental roles in biological processes, therefore it’s important to eat the right fats. There are two essential fatty acids, again meaning we must get these through diet since we cannot synthesize them ourselves, omega-3 and omega-6. Omega-6 is very easily obtained through the diet, and in excess can cause harm to your health. Focus should be given to the omega-3 fatty acids (think EPA and DHA), as they are typically consumed in much smaller amounts.
Why embrace fat?
For all of history (minus the last 60-year anomaly) fat has been sought after and prized as a cornerstone of our diet. We as humans evolved to use fats and their derived metabolites to fuel the body, a process that has been largely silenced since the agricultural revolution. Consuming quality fats and being able to tap into this fuel source has immense health benefits. Quality fats are those found in all animal products as well as fruit oils such as olive, avocado, and coconut. However, just because they are healthy, doesn't give you a free license to gorge on them daily. The energy density (calories) of fat should always be considered.
With that said, you should never fear fat. Avoiding fat could limit the quality of your whole foods as many nutrient dense foods exist in combination with fat (avocado, fatty cuts of beef, fish, etc.). Not to mention that low fat diets (less than 20% of daily calories) are associated with hormonal disruptions, such as decreased testosterone.
What is a carbohydrate?
The word carbohydrate covers anything from table sugar to the starch found in tubers. Regardless of the source, dietary carbohydrates eventually end up as glucose in the body. Of all the macronutrients, carbohydrates are the least essential, in fact NON-essential. There is no requirement for carbohydrates in the diet like there are essential fatty acids or essential amino acids. This should tell us something…
If you were to consume zero carbohydrates for an extended period of time your liver would produce all the glucose you need, primarily through gluconeogenic amino acids and the glycerol backbone of triglycerides. It’s clear that glucose is essential to life, but we have evolved as humans to have this fail-safe mechanism, without having to consume it.
Why minimize carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates provide energy (calories) with very little nutrition in return. When we focus on nutrient density and satiety, carbohydrates deserve the least attention. They also do a very poor job at regulating appetite and can leave you hungry soon after eating, despite consuming enough calories. This is largely due to the hormonal response to glucose. Following the consumption of carbohydrates, blood glucose rises and the pancreas releases the hormone insulin to shuttle glucose from our blood and into our tissues, thereby lowering blood glucose. This process is important for maintaining healthy blood glucose levels, and should not be under-appreciated. However, due to the lack of metabolic flexibility in today’s society the only solution to low blood sugar is to feed with more, you guessed it, carbohydrates. Insulin inhibits the breakdown of stored body fat (lipolysis), contributing to this metabolic inflexibility, leaving the body in a state of constant dependence on glucose. These ups and downs in blood sugar, insulin, and ultimately energy, disrupt the appetite, impair cognitive function, and in the long run lead to poor health outcomes. In fact, chronically elevated levels of glucose and insulin are associated with almost all chronic diseases such as Type-2 Diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and even Alzheimer’s Disease.
When you focus on whole, unprocessed, nutrient dense foods it becomes simple to focus on protein, embrace fat, and minimize carbohydrates. Nature intended us to eat this way, and that’s why it’s provided these foods that exist in perfect harmony with what our body wants.