NOTE: What follows is a summary of some very basic information about Ray Peat’s ideas (as I understood them 4 years ago). If you haven’t yet gotten the free e-book, The Ray Peat Survival Guide, I suggest you do. In it I provide an updated and more in-depth exploration of these ideas – as well as some of the things I’ve learned in the past 4 years.
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Dr Ray Peat PhD (www.raypeat.com) is a man whose work continues to help countless people break free of rigid thinking – while simultaneously providing fodder for rigid thinking for many others.
He has a doctorate in biology with a specialization in physiology, and most of his research and work centers around hormones, metabolism, thyroid, and nutrition. Ray Peat’s work is unconventional, and much of his opinions fly in the face of what most of us have been led to believe whether we ascribe to mainstream conventions, veganism, or paleolithic dietary cults.
And yet, many of us, myself included, are eventually lucky enough to finally be able to hear Dr. Peat’s primary suggestion: think for yourself.
Much of Dr. Peat’s recommendations are difficult to suss out from his highly-academic writings. My goal in this page is to provide a concise and approachable guide to Dr. Peat’s ideas.
Please understand that the information on this page is my interpretation, and I may be mistaken. Also, while I find a great deal of value in much of Dr. Peat’s ideas, I don’t necessarily endorse all of his ideas. I think that far too many people use Dr. Peat’s work as an excuse to continue restrictive eating patterns, which is not my intent.
At the same time, I believe that Dr. Peat’s work provides valuable insights and lots of useful guidelines that a person can use to help make informed dietary choices. The main guide should always be intuition/appetite/desire for food. But Dr. Peat’s ideas provide a nice framework for exploring the benefits of various foods. And, Dr. Peat’s views regarding sugar are liberating for many people who have been stuck in anti-sugar cults.
So please read on with an open and non-dogmatic mind. Let go of preconceptions, and don’t try to pick up any new rules.
The essence of Dr. Peat’s work is to promote health and well-being primarily by improving (increasing) metabolism, improving thyroid function, reducing harmful excesses of hormones (primarily reducing estrogen,) and reducing inflammation and stress. Here is a point-by-point summary of my understanding of Dr. Peat’s ideas:
- Sugar is an important nutrient. Sugar has anti-stress properties. Some of the best sources of sugar are fruits, particularly tropical fruits, oranges, and melons. Milk also provides a good source of sugar in the form of lactose. Honey and other whole, natural sugars are good supplements so long as they are non-allergenic for an individual, though Dr. Peat cautions that the heat used to process maple syrup and molasses may be problematic (I don’t find that to be so for myself.) White, refined sugar is a supplement and can provide a non-allergenic form of sugar in some cases. Obviously this view of sugar is quite different than most other nutritional advice that a person is likely to find. However, Dr. Peat makes a strong argument for the value of sugar. Adequate sugar in the diet provides fuel for oxidative energy production. In the absence of adequate sugar the body will begin to use other sources of stored fuel, but at a cost of systemic stress leading to increased aging. This is completely opposed to the theories of proponents of low carbohydrate diets that are popular amongst paleo/primal crowds. Although it is tempting to make an argument that low carbohydrate diets appear to be more in line with ancestral diets, the simple fact is that low carbohydrate diets do not tend to work well for modern humans in the long term. The result of low carbohydrate diets in the long term seems to be stress, fatigue, muscle loss, insomnia, and reduced immune function. So don’t be afraid to eat sugar…especially if you crave it. Dr. Peat suggests that taste should be the guide for eating sugar. He suggests that once sugar stores are at optimum in the body there will be no desire for dietary sugar (until the stores drop again.)
- Starches are not as desirable as sugars for optimal energy production. Although certain tubers and roots can play a part in a healthy diet, starches are more difficult to use as a fuel source than sugars. So Dr. Peat recommends an emphasis on sugars, making allowances for certain tubers. Potatoes are a favorite starch source for Dr. Peat, and he discourages eating roots or tubers with high levels of carotenes (with the exception of raw carrot.) Please don’t mistake this to mean that Dr. Peat suggests that a no-starch diet is optimal. He simply makes the observation that sugars are usually easier to digest and less likely to cause problems for low metabolic conditions.
- Excess estrogen is a very bad thing. Estrogen is carcinogenic, promotes stress, is neuro-toxic, and has other negative effects. Most vegetables, grains, and legumes have pro-estrogen effects, and so should be avoided according to Dr. Peat. (I’m not certain, but I expect that refined grains would have little to no estrogenic effects. So don’t skimp on the white bread if you crave it.) Many common chemicals and even “natural” body care products are pro-estrogen as well. Dr. Peat recommends removing all pro-estrogen foods and products and increasing estrogen metabolism. The ways in which one can increase estrogen metabolism include vitamin E supplementation (without soy oil) and a daily raw carrot. Dr. Peat also suggests that progesterone supplementation (at least for women) can be useful in opposing the effects of estrogen.
- Thyroid health is essential for nearly every function in the body. Dr. Peat suggests that hypothyroidism is likely endemic. According to Dr. Peat, supplementing with iodine such as Lugol’s is likely to cause more problems than it will solve. In order to improve thyroid function one should reduce thyroid-suppressing foods and products. Foods that suppress thyroid include goitrogen-containing foods such as brassicas, soy, and whole grains. Polyunsaturated fats such as those found in most vegetable oils suppress thyroid. Many pharmaceuticals suppress thyroid. In order to improve thyroid function one can supplement with thyroid, coconut oil, and vitamin E.
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in tissues should be high. Dr. Peat recommends the practice of rebreathing air from a paper bag as one way to increase CO2 levels. He also suggests that in extreme cases consuming a small amount of baking soda in water can increase CO2 levels. (Note that this off-hand mention in a single article has led many so-called “Peatarians” to regularly consume baking soda. I’m not certain that this was Dr. Peat’s intent. Also note that baking soda is extremely alkaline, and even modest excesses can lead to pH problems in the blood quickly. Be very cautious with baking soda. Obviously, a quarter teaspoon here and there isn’t likely to be a problem, but several teaspoons could be.)
- Iron is potentially toxic, and dietary iron should be minimized or avoided as much as possible. Dr. Peat asserts that iron accumulates in tissues and can lead to cancer and heart disease. Dr. Peat does seem to be in favor of occasionally eating high-iron foods such as liver because of the other important nutrients in such foods. He advocates for drinking coffee together with eating iron-rich foods to block iron absorption.
- Dr. Peat believes that coffee is an important food because it is protects the liver, protects the thyroid, improves glucose metabolism, blocks iron absorption, and provides important nutrients not found in many other foods. He contends that caffeine (and purines in general) is an important nutrient that is brain protective and provides the building blocks for uric acid, which he claims is an antioxidant. Dr. Peat also suggests that the jittery and other unpleasant side effects that some people experience with coffee are due to hypoglycemia caused by the increased glucose metabolism effect, and these unpleasant side effects can be eliminated simply by drinking coffee with sugar and cream together with a meal.
- Adequate protein is important. Adequate protein is going to vary from person to person, but is likely higher than what most people consume. Dr. Peat has stated that he regularly consumed 150 grams of protein a day. In addition to eating adequate protein, Dr. Peat also states that it is important that the protein have the correct amino-acid profiles – namely low in tryptophan and methionine and higher in other anti-inflammatory amino acids such as glycine. He favors dairy and gelatin as primary protein sources, and suggests that muscle meat should be eaten with gelatin to balance the amino acid profile.
- Serotonin and melatonin are harmful stress chemicals and should be minimized. Dr. Peat claims that far from being the “happy neurotransmitter” that pharmaceutical companies claim, serotonin is a stress chemical that leads to aggression and depression. Dr. Peat recommends reducing tryptophan in the diet in order to reduce serotonin production since tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin. He also recommends red light exposure in the evening to reduce melatonin production.
- The dietary calcium to phosphate ratio should be high. The reason is that phosphate is connected with inflammation cancer, and other problems. Calcium limits the activity of the parathyroid, reducing phosphate reabsorption, which is a good thing according to Dr. Peat. This is yet another reason that Dr. Peat recommends dairy over muscle meat: dairy contains calcium whereas muscle meat contains high levels of phosphate.
Dr. Peat is very clear that he views personal health as a very individualized thing. There is no cookie-cutter approach. Therefore, he doesn’t offer a strict protocol that all people should follow. However, there are some basic guidelines that come out of Dr. Peat’s writings. My understanding is that Dr. Peat makes the following dietary suggestions for improving metabolism and thyroid health.
- Eat adequate protein, favoring dairy and gelatin. Dr. Peat also likes shrimp and oysters because of their copper and zinc content. Dr. Peat also seems to be favorable of occasional consumption of liver, eggs, and some muscle meat (eaten with gelatin.)
- Eat plenty of sugar throughout the day, and favor sugar over starch. Best sugar sources are from non-allergenic tropical fruit, oranges, and melon. Honey is a good sugar source as well. Other sugars, including refined white sugar, can be useful as supplements.
- Eliminate polyunsaturated fats as much as possible. Eliminate all polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as corn, soy, canola, peanut, and sesame.
- Eat some amount of saturated fats, particularly coconut oil, because these stimulate a healthy metabolism and can displace stored polyunsaturated fats.
- Use salt to taste and in times of stress. Salt reduces stress and is thermogenic, meaning it improves metabolism.
- Reduce fiber intake since excessive fiber is an irritant and estrogenic.
- Drink coffee with plenty of sugar and cream whenever eating food with lots of iron.
- Get plenty of calcium, up to 5 grams a day, supplementing with eggshells if necessary.
Again, I want to emphasize that these are Dr. Peat’s ideas (as I understand them) and not my own.
While I think that there is a lot of wisdom contained in much of Dr. Peat’s thoughts, I am skeptical of some of them. I find that many people who follow Dr. Peat’s ideas too rigidly simply define a new type of eating disorder – Peatarianism – in which they are paranoid about minute amounts of polyunsaturated fat and drinking way too much coffee all while popping aspirin and sleeping under heat lamps. I don’t think that is healthy. So again, I offer this guide to Ray Peat’s ideas to offer some useful information for consideration, but not as a set of rules to follow. Please remember that even Dr. Peat would agree that stress is one of the biggest health problems, and so it is far better to enjoy PUFA-heavy chicken and a serotonin-containing banana without stress than to eat the “perfect” PUFA-free diet with supplemental vitamin E while obsessing and stressing about it. Just relax and eat the food. Enjoy the food. Enjoy your life. Laugh. Surround yourself with good friends who love you. Relax. Rest. Smile. And use the information in this guide if it is helpful in furthering your goal of letting go of stress, enjoying the food, and feeling good.