One of the most common questions I get asked is my opinion on various diets, so I've decided to do a little diet review series to help those interested readers get more information on diets they may be considering this year. Next up is the Ray Peat diet review.
Ray Peat Diet Angle:
The Ray Peat diet is deeply rooted in supporting cellular energy production with a pro-metabolic dietary approach. Dr. Ray Peat has written extensively on the connection between aging, nutrition, and hormones. If you have time to dive into his work, there is a lot of value there.
Dr. Peat describes his approach as follows: "My approach gives priority to environmental influences on development, regenerative processes, and an evolutionary perspective. When biophysics, biochemistry, and physiology are worked into a comprehensive view of the organism, it appears that the degenerative processes are caused by defects in our environment."
What does Dr. Ray Peat's pro-metabolic diet boil down to in practice? Well, a lot of things. Typically, the diet is based around the following foods:
- healthy fats: butter, coconut oil, and dairy products
- easy to digest carbohydrates: fresh fruits (emphasis on tropical), fresh fruit juices, root vegetables and tubers (emphasis on raw carrots and potatoes)
- balanced protein intake: getting a good amount of protein from dairy products, muscle meats (i.e. beef, lamb, pork, chicken, etc.), liver, along with collagen, and whole animal proteins such as eggs, shellfish, and other seafood
- avoidance of polyunsaturated fatty acids, namely vegetable oils, but fish oils too
- white sugar, used in moderation
- encouragement of light therapy
- strong emphasis on dairy products, specifically milk, ice cream and cheeses without additives
Ray Peat Diet Reality:
From my experience, many find Peat's work while seeking a recovery of their health, but specifically seeking to regain thyroid health, hormone, metabolism and energy equilibrium. While the Ray Peat diet is centered on mostly whole foods and is very nourishing at its core, the devil of this diet is really in the details...
You see, there is no official "Ray Peat diet," instead there is a birth of a pro-metabolic Ray Peat diet based mainly on assumptions, i.e. the foods he talks about in his writings, and what Peat says he consumes in his own diet. This is where things go terribly wrong...
Peat is often quoted when referencing his daily diet. The descriptions often include things like drinking quarts of orange juice and milk, a pint of ice cream, along with Mexican coke, gelatin, shellfish, liver and other food variations. This is Dr. Peat sharing a summary of what works for him, and perhaps his body has adapted to tolerating well over decades and decades of research and observation.
This does not mean what works for Dr. Peat will work well for most people — quite the opposite from my own findings, especially those in "diet recovery." This kind of a diet spells disaster for many, especially those coming from carbohydrate-restricted diets like paleo, keto or carnivore.
The body doesn't react well when you restrict something (like carbohydrates, sugar, and dairy) for a period of time, and then dive right into doing the very opposite with a Peat-style diet of any variation (read: large amounts of dairy, juice and sugar). It often spells dietary disaster in the form of severe blood sugar imbalance, digestive difficulties, extreme stress, cellular inflammation and significant weight gain. This is to be expected, but most Ray Peat dieters are often startled when it doesn't go as planned.
Ray Peat Diet and Pro-metabolic Diet Positives:
The soul of this dietary paradigm has may upsides, namely:
- big on easy to digest foods like ripe fruits, root vegetables, squashes, and tubers
- advocates getting enough protein and "eating the whole animal." That is balancing muscle meat consumption with broth, collagen, seafood and dairy to get a more balanced amino acid intake
- emphasis on nutrients, specifically potassium, vitamin C, dietary calcium, and vitamin A — this could also be a negative if one has vitamin A toxicity
- cautions about the additives in foods, particularly carrageenan
- promotes carbohydrates as a cornerstone to optimal health
- aims to educate on the health benefits of saturated fats and the downsides to omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids
- doesn't demonize all form of sugar as death on a teaspoon, like so many diets today do, supporting a balanced attitude and approach to eating
Ray Peat Diet Negatives:
Here's a few negatives of the Ray Peat diet to keep in mind, many of which I see in my Ray Peat diet clients:
- causes you to tune out your body, while tuning into diet rules that worked for someone else and may not work for you
- promotes dairy as a large component of the diet that doesn't work for many, especially those coming from low carb, keto and other highly restricted diets
- encourages eating large amounts of fruit juice without mindful caution about blood sugar balance which largely varies from person to person and where their overall health is at
- weight gain and digestive issues are very common for newcomers to this style of eating, especially with the large amounts of dietary lactose found in milk and ice cream
- may increase the risk of vitamin A toxicity (think: weight gain, liver/biliary stress) due to the emphasis on high vitamin A foods such as orange juice, carrots, dairy products and liver
- can encourage experimentation with supplements such as thyroid hormone, niacinamide, pregnenolone, vitamin D, aspirin, vitamin A (retinol), and vitamin E without guidance or supervision from a practitioner
- discourages eating fatty fish (salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel) and fish oils containing omega-3 fatty acids, which can be disastrous for cell membrane health (read: inflammation, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, obesity, vascular disease and more)
Better Options and Things to Consider Before Going on The Pro-metabolic Ray Peat Diet:
My philosophy as a nutritional therapist is never to tell anyone what to do. Instead, I prefer to help provide information, data from testing, and an opinion based on my work with clients and what I see every day in my practice. That way, you can feel empowered to make the best decision for you.
Here's a few suggestions of things to explore before going on a pro-metabolic Ray Peat diet:
- Make sure you understand and address underlying reasons for thyroid health, hormone, metabolism and energy problems before taking a diet approach that mimics what works for one other person. The opposite of dieting approach and the Personal Nutrition Assessment are easy ways to get started with understanding your body from the inside out!
- Instead of drastically changing your diet overnight, learn about what foods work for and against your body. If this sounds too difficult for you, testing may be helpful.
- Consider testing to discover your nutrient excesses, deficiencies, and gut microbiome status to see if they may be hindering your health goals. Hair Analysis, GI Map testing, Fatty Acid testing and lab testing are my favorite tools for this.
- If digestive symptoms are a key problem you are trying to solve, consider gut testing or start off by reading my post on how to fix your gut.
- Always go SLOW with adding new foods (or macronutrient groups) into your diet, especially those foods or macronutrients that you have been avoiding for long periods of time.
- Always listen to your body over some dietary guru.
Bottom line: Dr. Ray Peat's research is a fantastic resource and tool. Just don't try to mimic what works for him on yourself. Find out what works for you, and use testing if you need help discovering what that is. Understanding your own body and what it needs is the only way to ground you from bouncing around from diet to diet.
I hope you enjoyed this review of the Ray Peat diet. Don't forget to check out the others in the diet review series.
Have you tried the Ray Peat diet or another pro-metabolic based diet? If so, how did it go for you? Please share in the comments!