Research from 5 years ago showed that 93% of Americans are unable to optimally convert their food into energy.
This causes a cellular energy crisis. Then body must limit the activity of certain tissues or organs.
Leading to symptoms, conditions, and over the long term, disease.
The BioEnergetic theory of health is an emerging paradigm that focuses on providing cells with sufficient energy. And at the same time, avoiding cellular toxicants.
BioEnergetic nutrition, however, directly opposes the ketogenic and carnivore diets, modern health optimization wisdom, and many of today’s most popular biohacks.
In this post, we’ll explore the pioneering work of Dr. Ray Peat, the science of bioenergetic health, pro-metabolism, and the most important takeaways you may want to consider implementing into your lifestyle.
Who is Ray Peat?
Born in 1936, Raymond “Ray” Peat was a PhD physiologist from the University of Oregon. Unfortunately, at age 86, he passed away on 11/24/2022. He was an esteemed researcher and professor, known for his work on the intersection between the endocrine system, nutrition, and overall health.
Ray’s primary theory centered around the disparity between cellular energy supply and demand. According to Dr. Peat, insufficient supply and excess demand drive inflammation and eventually disease.
Specifically, he focused on progesterone, pregnenalone, thyroid, and estrogen.
Optimal health comes from increasing metabolic function (efficiency of converting food into energy).
Interestingly, he wasn’t the first to come up with that idea. Ancient medical texts described the importance millennia ago.Over 5,000 years ago, a holistic system called Ayurveda mentioned the metabolism ("agni") as the cornerstone of health Click To Tweet
Much of his work around bioenergetics centers around optimizing the thyroid and its supportive hormones pregnenolone and progesterone.
Dr. Ray Peat’s stance on metabolic optimization diametrically opposes the modern (and failing) conventional view. Since the 1980s, he’s advocated eating sugar and proactively avoiding industrial seed oils (linoleic acid).
Dr. Ray Peat’s Pro-Metabolic Paradigm for Optimal Health
The core idea underpinning bioenergetics is this…Increasing energy available to cells drives health while reducing availability leads to disease and dysfunction. Click To Tweet
To match demand, this system is all about increasing the efficiency of energy production.
Our bodies use a wide array of inputs as signals to determine how to proceed. When it perceives a threat, the body activates survival systems and deactivates important but less urgent energy-consumptive processes. These include key functions to extend our longevity & maintain our overall health processes.
The pro-metabolic approach shifts these BioSignals to make the body recognize it’s safe (low stress), and has access to abundant resources (nutrients).
Peat recommends foods that optimize for pro-metabolism above the intake of any particular macronutrient, micronutrient, calorie range, or even food group.Dr. Ray Peat’s key to optimizing health is keeping the metabolism rate high and functioning optimally Click To Tweet
Essentially, he advocates a hormone-first eating plan and schedule. It consists of regular meals of carbs, fats, and some protein.
While avoiding any foods or substances that interfere with the metabolism. Most notably anything:
- Industrial seed oils (PUFAs)
By far, Dr. Ray Peat’s most important discovery is the metabolic toxicity of PUFAs.
Instead, “Peat’ers” consume foods high in polyphenols, fiber, and nutrients.
Although some people feel better when switching to a low-carb diet like keto or carnivore, removing carbohydrates just temporarily fixes surface-level problems with:
- Insulin sensitivity
- Blood glucose
Doing so comes with lots of drawbacks.
The Less-Discussed Dangers of Keto, Carnivore, & Fat Burning
Unlike dietary protein or fats, carbs are not “essential”. Meaning that the body can produce them via a process called gluconeogenesis. Technically true, but this comes at a massive cost.
There are several different fuel types. But your body can only burn one at a time. A mechanism called the “Randall cycle” acts as that switch.
When ~30% or more of your calories come from dietary fat, you’ve reached the Randall cycle threshold where your mitochondria switch from burning glucose to fat.
Here’s the issue…
Relying on fat burning (beta-oxidation) to create energy reverses the normal, healthy electron flow and causes greater reductive stress [R].
Burning fat for fuel slows the metabolic rate and generates 30-40X more cellular stress (reactive oxygen species) compared to carbs.
Basically, burning body fat puts the body into an anti-metabolic, stress/starvation, breakdown state to conserve energy.
Essential hormones like thyroid and testosterone decline. Levels of destructive neurohormones like glucagon, cortisol, and adrenaline spike.
Cortisol levels of those following a low-carbohydrate diet look similar to patients with cortisol dysregulation from Cushing’s syndrome.
Symptoms of fat overconsumption and increased cellular stress include:
- Brain fog
- Worse memory
- Slower thinking speed and reaction time
- Decreased coordination
- Feeling fatigued and “out of it”
- Muscle weakness
None of these macros are inherently bad. Dr. Peat does recommend eating your fat-heavy meals earlier in the save and prioritizing carbs in the evening.
If you do go keto or carnivore, you should definitely consider cyclically backloading your carbs.
At least that way, you’ll pulse the biological growth signal to your body on occasion.
And if you’re wondering why folks on these low-carb diets usually feel good, it’s generally because they’re on an elimination diet and have stopped consuming other unhealthy substances. Leading to lower levels of endotoxin and greater glucose stability.
BioEnergetics & The Ray Peat Diet
Technically, there is no such thing as “The Ray Peat Diet”. Ray recommended personal experimentation based on his principles.
He did, however, have strong opinions on particular foods. More on that later.
Perhaps the most important three tenants of Peat nutrition include:
- Energy generation and hormone optimization are primary major considerations and improved via fruit, juice, dairy, and sugar easily digestible and metabolically beneficial nutrients
- Calories and macronutrients do not matter as much as reducing biological stress and providing the necessary raw fuels
- Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) suppress metabolism, contribute to aging and disease, and should be avoided at all costs
It has become popular because it offers more flexibility and satisfaction than many ways of eating.
The Ray Peat Diet Food List (What to Eat & Avoid)
Some of the common staples of Ray Peat Bioenergetics “Diet” include:
- Seafood is okay in small quantities, as long as it is less fatty (and low in omega-3s)
- Saturated fats from butter, ghee, cacao butter, coconut oil, and macadamia nut oil
- Dairy from unprocessed, unpasteurized, non-homogenized (ideally raw)
- Gelatin, collagen, glycine rich-protein foods to balance the ratio of glycine to methionine
- Starchy vegetables/carbs (squashes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots) in abundance
- Below-ground vegetables (non-cruciferous) without the skin and paired with saturated fat for the anti-microbial/bile stimulation
- Raw carrots
- Liver and other organ meats in moderation
- Natural sweeteners like white sugar, honey, and maple syrup
- Coffee because it chelates iron and other minerals that are often too high
If anything, Ray Peat’s nutrition most closely aligns with the nutrient-dense, whole-food-based Dr. Weston A Price diet.
The bioenergetics diet reduces or avoids:
- Complete elimination of polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs)
- Beans or legumes due to high levels of “anti-nutrients” [R]
- Grains like wheat, oats, rye, barley, and brown rice due to high levels of anti-nutrients
- Chicken and eggs should be saved for rare occasions
- Resistant starches of any kind due to increased endotoxin/LPS
- Soy in all its forms because it disrupts hormones and blocks nutrient absorption via “anti-nutrients”
- Most vegetables that grow above-ground because they contain anti-nutrients and toxins
- Minimizes muscle meat (poultry and pork especially) to keep common nutrient excesses like iron, methionine, and cysteine balanced
If you consume grains, traditional processing (ie soaking, sprouting, or fermentation) is necessary to reduce their extremely high levels of anti-nutrients. Although Ray would still suggest against it.
How to Start a Pro-Metabolic Diet
Starting the bioenergetic diet can seem complex. Especially if you’re coming from a cookie-cutter eat-this-not-that prescriptive plan.
Generally, the macros look something like this:
- Protein: 0.6-0.8 grams per lb of your ideal body weight, split into 20-30 grams or more per meal
- Fat: 20-40%
- Carbs: everything else
Fat is the most confusing. Those who are less active or have higher body fat should target the lower end (around 20%) and someone leaner or more active should go for the higher end (30-40%).
You’ll want to ease into it.
If you can tolerate it, start by gradually adding whole fruit to your meals. Start with one piece, and work your way up.
If you experience the following gastrointestinal symptoms:
This can indicate microbial overgrowth and/or other gut issues causing high levels of endotoxin/LPS.
Carefully avoid fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPS). In that case, start with fruit juice.
Those with the above symptoms of transitioning from keto, carnivore, or low-carb should start by consuming 30-90 grams of fruit carbs with each meal. Start on the lower end for a week or two. Expect your appetite to increase. This is a good sign that your metabolism has improved.
Then you are ready to increase over 1-3 weeks as you begin feeling better.
To restore optimal insulin sensitivity, you can go up to 250 grams of carbs.
The three best biomarkers and side effects you can use to track your progress include:
- Insulin sensitivity
- Weight gain
The weight gain from pro-metabolic eating completely subsides within several weeks.
If you’re having issues after optimizing your gut health, carb intake, movement, and stress you’ll want to check a few other things.
First, increase activated B vitamin intake to make sure that you’re able to produce energy from carbs.
Still, having trouble? Run a thorough thyroid panel to understand levels and the conversion efficiency.
Last, if you still need answers you’ll want to test your sex hormone production. Women should run a panel to check their levels of estrogen and progesterone, and men should look into testosterone.
That should cover the basics.
Ray Peat Diet Key Principles Summarized
At its core, Ray is all about providing the body with plenty of glucose (sugar) while minimizing metabolic inhibitors (certain vegetables, oils, and even meats).
Although it’s certainly a carb-heavy dietary pattern, that’s actually the last variable to consider.
Proponents generally start by calculating how much fat they require. Then protein (usually ~100-150 grams), and then fill the rest with carbs.
From what I’ve read, here’s a summary of some of the Ray Peat Diet’s key principles:
- Frequent meals throughout the day to minimize biological stress
- Consume sufficient calories, most people thrive and need more than they do on restrictive diets. This ranges from 2,000-5,000+ calories, depending on a wide variety of factors (age, sex, activity levels, etc) [R]
- Coffee is great and a powerful mineral chelator
- Use ample white sugar, fruit, fruit juice, and real honey to provide the body with abundant energy
- Consume dairy in abundance—especially raw
- Dietary fat should come from saturated fats, completely avoid PUFA
- Avoid soy due to high levels of goitrogens and “antinutrients”
- Pair protein consumption with a carb source like fruit
- Root vegetables (without the skin) are great if well cooked paired with saturated fat for the anti-microbial/bile stimulation
- Most liquids should come from milk, juice, and fruit (rather than water)
- Minimize poultry and organ meats
- High-carb, moderate protein, moderate to low-ish fat
- Ideal protein sources include dairy, collagen, gelatin, and low-fat seafood
- Muscle and organ meats, eggs, and other similar proteins skew the glycine-to-methionine ratio and should be offset via the preferred sources
- Be careful of all foods that contain anti-nutrients; the amino acids tryptophan, cysteine, methionine; and anything that elevates serotonin
- Pure chocolate is allowed
- Any fried foods should use coconut oil as the base
These are some of his core ideas. If you peruse the Ray Peat Forum or the internet, you may find contradictory info.
Applying Dr. Ray Peat’s Best Ideas to Your Life
Dr. Ray Peat has quite controversial ideas regarding just about every facet of health and nutrition.
Although the Peat Method has its fair share of drawbacks, his work also exposes the shaky science underlying some of the most mainstream health optimization dogma.
I see him as the modern successor of Weston A Price. Some of his concepts are decades ahead of the mainstream.
I don’t follow bioenergetic nutrition or the Ray Peat Diet per se, but I have incorporated some principles into my life.
Upgrade Your Dietary Fats
Perhaps the biggest and most important takeaway from Dr. Ray Peat’s work is his perspective on dietary fats.
The vast majority of the world uses industrial vegetable oils (polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs) for everything related to food. These include the following oils:
You’ll also find these oils in virtually every processed snack, sauce/dressing, fast food, fried food, and commercially raised livestock-fed diets high in corn, soy, or any of the above.
Even the fanciest restaurants almost exclusively use these seed oils.
Luckily, however, there’s a newer movement of “seed oil-free restaurants”.
Conventional nutritionists consider PUFA’s “heart healthy”. Although they contain omega-3 fatty acids, they’re also very high in omega-6 (linoleic acid). The omega-3 is also in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, which humans cannot use.
Ray dislikes PUFAs because they inhibit normal metabolic function, enzyme activity, and thyroid health, and are extremely pro-inflammatory. Plus, the refining process heats the oils well above their stable template, causing them to oxidize and go rancid. When consumed, the free radicals created by oxidation damage cells.
Then, to neutralize the horrendous smell and taste, manufacturers must introduce all kinds of toxic chemicals.
What can you do about it?
Ray Peat’s method relies on highly stable saturated fats.
Ditch the metabolic poison known as vegetable/seed oils and instead cook with butter, ghee, coconut oil, cacao butter, or tallow. Whenever possible, choose grass-fed, grass-finished, or pasture-raised meat and dairy.
Also minimize your consumption of processed foods, fast food, restaurant meals, nuts, and especially nut/seed butter.
Optimize Your Thyroid
If there’s a single glandular target of the Ray Peat Method, it’s the thyroid.
The thyroid is often considered the master regulator of energy production & balance. Fix your thyroid (slow metabolic rate), and fix your health.
He suggests that lifestyle factors like stress, eating low-carb, over-consuming thyroid-inhibiting foods, and exposure to environmental toxins all impair thyroid function.
According to Ray,Obesity is not a problem of over-consumption of calories but inability to effectively convert them into energy Click To Tweet
Look at thyroid function before working on other hormones like testosterone.
We can fix thyroid production by:
- Addressing chronic stress (glucagon, cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine)
- Keeping cellular energy high
High stress puts the body into energy conservation mode.Stress decreases levels of thyroid and testosterone; and atrophies the muscles, bones, organs, and even the brain Click To Tweet
By consuming nutrient-dense foods (like dairy) and ample energy (carbs), we inhibit the production of stress hormones and improve our thyroid output.
After establishing these foundations, we can consider thyroid support with things like DHEA, pregnenolone, and progesterone.
Control Cortisol & Other Hormones
Much of Ray’s work focuses on the thyroid. Stress (cortisol) slows thyroid activity.
Cortisol is the primary hormone of aging. It’s inflammatory and the highest concentration of cortisol receptors exists in several important tissues.Elevated cortisol preferentially shreds the tissue of the muscles, brain, and gut Click To Tweet
Contrary to popular belief, anabolic steroids largely work by inhibiting cortisol. But it’s not just about muscle. Several papers have shown that anti-cortisol drugs provide relief to treatment-resistant depression within just 48 hours.
Peat mentions that we can fix the stress state by getting ample carbs, fats, and proteins, consuming the right nutrients, and fixing our lifestyle.
Along with thyroid and cortisol, Ray’s work also focuses on:
Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone. While blood levels have decreased globally, tissue biopsy tests show increases. Making the argument in favor of estrogen replacement therapy quite murky.
Excess estrogen (estrogen dominance), not insufficient, is correlated with cancer and serious complications. It can cause glutamate dominance. Estrogen is inversely correlated with progesterone and thyroid. Estrogen is anti-metabolic and linked to serotonin too (more on why that’s not a good thing soon) [R].
Ray isn’t a fan of estrogen.
Pregnenolone is a master precursor hormone. The body uses it to produce other steroid hormones, including progesterone, cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone. Supplementing low doses of pregnenolone normalizes levels of stress hormones and protects against damage to nerve cells.
Progesterone is a protective hormone produced by the ovaries. It has anti-stress properties, helps regulate heart function, improves memory, protects brain cells, and counteracts the many negative effects of estrogen. Progesterone is the antidote, stimulating GABA.
According to Ray, progesterone is more basic and significant than testosterone. And it treats the symptoms of menopause better than estrogen.
In fact, the “Ray Peat youth stack” consists of:
The cortisol to DHEA ratio is the single greatest predictor of all-cause mortality.
DHEA, progesterone, and pregnenolone reduce aromatase activity, inhibit cortisol, and blunt the harms of cortisol [R, R]. Progesterone is the main endogenous and most potent glucocorticosteroid receptor antagonist.
Balancing Your Amino Acids
Rather than arguing for or against protein, Peat focuses on the constituents of protein—amino acids.
Every food has a different composition of these amino acids. Long-term optimal health requires balanced ratios of each. Muscle meats, for example, are particularly high in the BCAAs (like leucine), and methionine.
Opponents of meat often point out these imbalances. Longevity researchers know that certain aminos offset each other. Glycine and methionine are a prime example. Too much methionine accelerates biological aging, inhibits thyroid function, damages mitochondria, and disturbs methylation balance.
Tryptophan is another amino Peat regularly references. As an essential amino acid, humans require some dietary tryptophan to survive. It’s also a precursor to serotonin and melatonin. Ray’s not a fan of anything that boosts serotonin (as you’ll see later). According to him, tryptophan contributes to the production of toxic metabolites and plays a role in allergic reactions.
Interestingly, Ray Peat liked two other non-essential amino acids.The Ray Peat approach to protein is to balance the amino acids and ensure adequate intake of glycine and taurine (and to minimize methionine, tryptophan, and cysteine) Click To Tweet
As mentioned previously, glycine has protective and anti-inflammatory effects. Ray’s work showed it has immunomodulatory, and cytoprotective actions. It protects against shock, ischemia/reperfusion injury, liver and renal injury, and arthritis. Glycine also has antispastic activity and can alleviate muscle spasms.
Taurine, on the other hand, has anti-excitatory properties. Other benefits of this amino include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cytoprotective actions. It’s been studied for its potential therapeutic effects in epilepsy, seizures, and negative symptoms of schizophrenia.
Most people do great watching their intake of methionine and tryptophan while increasing their consumption (or supplementation) of glycine and taurine.
I personally supplement these protective amino acids (glycine and taurine) most nights.
Rethink Your Serotonin
Serotonin is often called the “feel good” brain chemical (neurotransmitter).
Ray’s research, however, highlights an apparent paradox.
Serotonin is involved in the stress response and increases during stressful situations. He proposes that increased serotonin levels—not decreased—contribute to the development of depression and anxiety disorders.
He mentions how it’s involved in the body’s “harm avoidance” response. Leading to behaviors of withdrawal, hibernation, and defensiveness.
Serotonin reduces energy production by inhibiting mitochondrial respiratory enzymes and interfering with glucose utilization. Ray suggested that serotonin’s inhibitory effects on brain functions, energy expenditure, and glucose utilization may serve as a protective mechanism in certain unfavorable contexts.
Interestingly, high serotonin can induce depression and anxiety. Blocking it can reverse anxiety [R]. Another 2023 study found that elevated serotonin can accelerate brain atrophy and worsen depression [R].
There’s a growing body of evidence indicating that intentionally serotonin may be a very bad idea.
Thus, Ray suggests avoiding certain fermentable fibers and foods high in tryptophan.
Ray didn’t overlook vitamins and minerals. Particularly, the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E).
Peat suggests that Vitamin E plays multiple overlooked roles in the body. Including, to counteract the damaging effects of excessive estrogen. To Ray, estrogen dominance underlies many health issues.
Vitamin E is also an energy promoter, as it supports efficient energy production within cells. He also highlights the anti-inflammatory properties of Vitamin E, suggesting that it helps reduce inflammation and protects against oxidative stress.
Since he advocates against PUFAs, and nuts are perhaps the greatest source of vitamin E, many Peat’ers supplement it.
Vitamin A, on the other hand, is important for vision, immune function, and tissue health. For those consuming liver and other animal foods, excess vitamin A is more problematic. Plus, excess levels interfere with thyroid/metabolic function.
Of course, he also advocates getting ample vitamin D for countless reasons. Especially for calcium metabolism. Ray recommends consuming it alongside vitamin K and magnesium to maintain balance.
He’s a fan of vitamin C for its antioxidant properties and role in collagen synthesis, immune function, and stress response. He suggests it protects against oxidative stress and supports overall health. However, he’s wary of vitamin C isolates or use in extremely high doses.
Since the diet consists of ample dairy, Ray is careful to balance calcium with other nutrients like Vitamin D and Vitamin K. For bone health, hormone production, and overall metabolic function. He cautions against supplementation to maintain balance.
Magnesium is key for energy production, muscle function, nervous system regulation, and a whole lot more. He emphasizes focusing on magnesium intake either through diet or supplementation. Particularly to balance calcium levels.
As the bioenergetic approach focuses heavily on metabolism, he often discusses the many essential roles of minerals (calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium) and trace minerals (zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium). These support metabolic health, enzymatic reactions, and antioxidant defenses in the body.
Ray recommends getting enough vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals to support metabolism, hormone production, and overall health.
Eat Your Sugar
Unlike virtually every other school of nutritional thought, Ray recommends consuming sugar.
Sugar (glucose) is the body’s preferred fuel source. Not fat, not proteins, and not even ketones. Glucose is a clean burning fuel that optimizes thyroid function and overall metabolic health.
When consumed in moderation.
Glucose helps inactive thyroid hormone (T4) convert into active thyroid hormone (T3).Sugar, consumed in moderation, is not the evil substance it's often portrayed as Click To Tweet
Not just white table sugar, but real honey, fruit, clean juices, and unrefined maple syrup. Honey also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Although often demonized, fruit contains vitamins, minerals, and fiber. However, excessive fruit consumption, particularly for individuals with metabolic issues or digestive sensitivities, has downsides. Fructose, a sugar found in fruit, can have negative effects on metabolism and may contribute to health issues (insulin resistance, and obesity) when overconsumed.
The right amount of sugar (dominant in glucose, not fructose) blunts stress hormones, improves the thyroid, increases metabolism, and acts as a signal of nutritional abundance to the body.
Dairy as a Superfood
Ray’s a big fan of dairy products. Especially dairy that’s high in fat and lower in protein.
This is his favorite source of valuable nutrients like vitamins A, D, and K, as well as calcium and saturated fats. He recommends consuming lots of:
- Whole milk
Ideally raw, or at least minimally processed. Here’s why.
The conventional processes of both heating the dairy (pasteurization/ultra-pasteurization) and preventing milk from separating (homogenization) detrimentally impact the effects of the dairy. Usually, it increases inflammation and health consequences.
These saturated fats are more stable and useful for hormone production and cellular function.
Raw milk contains beneficial enzymes, intact proteins bioactive peptides, and healthy microbes. It also has lower levels of inflammatory omega-6 and higher levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. However, check with your healthcare professional before consuming raw dairy.
Personally, I’ve noticed that I tolerate raw dairy much better. I feel better while using it, and don’t experience any of the symptoms of intolerance.
Ray viewed dairy as an ideal source of bioavailable proteins and clean saturated fats.
The current carrot salad trend circulating TiKTok actually originates from Ray Peat.
He advocated consuming carrots for several reasons:
- Natural antibiotic effect [R]
- Inhibits endotoxin
- Hormonal balance
Endotoxin, also called lipopolysaccharide (LPS), is an incredibly toxic substance produced by our own gut bacteria. LPS is quite damaging to the liver, causes systemic inflammation, and results in a strong (unfavorable) immune response.
Here’s what Ray had to say about it (emphasis mine),
Endotoxin formed in the bowel can block respiration and cause hormone imbalances contributing to instability of the nerves, so it is helpful to optimize bowel flora, for example with a carrot salad; a dressing of vinegar, coconut oil and olive oil, carried into the intestine by the carrot fiber, suppresses bacterial growth while stimulating healing of the wall of the intestine. The carrot salad improves the ratio of progesterone to estrogen and cortisol, and so is as appropriate for epilepsy as for premenstrual syndrome, insomnia, or arthritisEpilepsy and Progesterone
Combining carrots with fats reduces bacterial endotoxin. As well as improves hormone levels. Reducing estrogen, aldosterone, serotonin, cortisol, prolactin). Increasing the hormones of youthfulness like the activated form of the thyroid (T3), DHEA, progesterone, and testosterone.
Ray generally recommends consuming 1-2 peeled carrots with fat like coconut oil and dressing/vinegar to reduce levels of endotoxin and to optimize hormone levels.
Implementing Light Therapy
Ray’s method emphasizes the power of light to regulate physiological processes throughout the body.
Long before Dr. Andew Huberman, Ray suggested that exposure to natural light, especially in the morning, benefits hormonal production, circadian rhythms, mood, and overall health.
He also discusses light therapy. Light therapy involves exposure to low-level red or near-infrared light. Using special lasers, or high-powered light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Red light, particularly in the range of 600-700 nanometers, improves cellular energy production and metabolism.
It primarily works by increasing the activity of respiratory enzymes in the mitochondria, the energy-producing centers of cells.
Best of all, it’s quite safe and effective.
Ray also cites research regarding the many other uses of red light, including faster wound healing and tissue repair, increased collagen production, and reduced inflammation.
Many of the products on the market are overpriced and ineffective. Check out my guide to the best red light therapy devices for every goal, use, and budget. Or you can get the same panel I have with the button below.
Nitric Oxide vs CO2
Decades ago, a gas known as Nitric Oxide went from public enemy to Nobel-Prize-Winning health optimization signaling molecule.
It’s involved in regulating blood flow, immune function, and neurotransmission. You’ll find nitric oxide (NO) boosters in all kinds of supplements. Everything from pre-workout to heart health, to sexual performance.
But does it have a downside?
To the mainstream, more is better.
Ray, however, vocally disagreed.
His work highlighted important complexity and the context-dependent nature of its effects. Excessive production or dysregulation has detrimental effects. And most of us already have plenty of NO.
Potential dangers of increasing nitric oxide levels include:
- Accelerates aging: activates processes that lead to cell death and contribute to nerve degeneration. Elevated levels are associated with age-related diseases and degenerative conditions.
- Promotes inflammation: when produced excessively or inappropriately, nitric oxide can damage tissues and provoke inflammation. Especially relevant in the context of chronic inflammation and inflammatory diseases.
- Damages metabolism: interacts with unsaturated fats (especially vegetable oils), leading to reduced oxygen use, mitochondrial damage, and edema.
- Unhealthy causes: estrogen dominance, stress, fear, isolation, and environmental toxins all stimulate the production of nitric oxide.
That last one in particular should make you pause. Nitric oxide levels appear to increase in reaction to biological stress.
Perhaps taking nitric oxide precursors or stimulating it via other means acts as an unhealthy biosignal of stress. As made clear by his theories, stress effectively halts optimal metabolic function.
So what do we do?
Understand carbon dioxide. This wrongly vilified gas is actually an incredibly important molecule and potent vasodilator, far more than NO. And superior in almost every way.
Anyone familiar with the physiology of breathing will remember that the well-known Bohr effect describes why cells require ample CO2 to uptake oxygen.
According to Ray, carbon dioxide is a fundamental, universal protective factor in the body. Some of the many benefits and roles of CO2 include:
- Regulates cellular metabolism
- Maintains proper pH balance
- Protects against excessive neuronal activation
- Blunts oxidative stress, inflammation, and tissue damage
His work also shows how CO2 benefits various contexts, like asthma, hypoxic-ischemic damage, and brain metabolism during periods of low oxygen (hypoxia).
The key to Ray, however, is maintaining a balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen.
Nitric oxide is not the miracle molecule it’s often portrayed as, and the balance between CO2 and oxygen may be far more important.
Ray Peat’s Controversial Health Science Ideas & Potential Drawbacks
A lot of Ray’s work is taken out of context. Ironic, because he openly criticizes reductionist scientific approaches that focus on isolated factors or mechanisms without understanding the full context of biological systems.Ray Peat advocates a holistic and integrative understanding of health and disease Click To Tweet
That said, I’m particularly cautious about implementing some of his bioenergetic principles. Such as the following.
Ad-libitum eating. The Ray Peat Method allows you to eat as much as you want. And to avoid eating insufficient calories (below) maintenance so that your hormones remain optimal. Following this pro-metabolic plan, sustained weight loss seems unlikely over the long term. Especially when combining fats with carbs—a combo known to promote overeating.
Sugar. Prioritizing consistent energy availability (by increasing sugar intake) can take a toll on blood glucose. Especially when relying on refined carbs. Although sugar itself blunts stress hormone production, blood glucose volatility encourages weight gain, intensifies food cravings, and damages tissues. Then there are the issues of high sugar consumption, inflammation, and worsened immunity.
Feeling full. Ray Peat doesn’t advocate low-protein. Although following his guidelines, I’d struggle to get 180 grams of protein mostly from dairy and non-muscle meat. I see several issues with this. Dairy is among the most common food intolerances. Muscle meat has other important amino acids aside from methionine. Protein and fiber are the two most satiating macros. With the high levels of simple carbs, low fiber, and limited protein, I’d expect ravenous hunger and intense cravings.
Meal frequency. Again, Ray suggests regular meals throughout the day to prevent stress. All the ancient medical systems realized that digestion takes about 4-6 hours to complete. Every time you eat, that clock resets. Over time, this can lead to problems with nutrient absorption and microbial overgrowth. Plus, this can make missing a meal feel like the end of the world.
Anti-nutrient phobia. This way of eating focuses on avoiding all forms of anti-nutrients and neurohormonal modulators. Foods with lectins, goitrogens, phytic acid, oxalates, lectins, or trypsin inhibitors are off-limits because they inhibit metabolism to some degree. No beans, legumes, or foods that promote serotonin production. Some fruits aren’t allowed either. The list of fully-approved foods is just too small to be sustainable. I’m not convinced that the anti-nutrients within these foods—when properly prepared—inhibit metabolism sufficiently to warrant banning.
Lacking detail. Ray’s work is a double-edged sword. For the most part, he provided guidelines and ways of thinking. But between his limited writings and the communal Ray Peat Forum, it’s difficult to understand the proper implementation of his ideas.
Gut health & fermented foods. Ray cautions against reliance on probiotics or fermented foods. Suggesting that we don’t understand the gut microbiome well enough to tweak/imbalance it. To an extent, I think he’s right about this. This is why I wrote an article on the dangers and drawbacks of probiotic supplements. He also claims that lactic acid (found within yogurt) produced by bacteria is toxic and that many such products contain unhealthy levels of histamine. This is the viewpoint I need to research more.
Omega-3 fatty acids. Famously, Peat challenges the prevailing view on omega-3 fatty acids, suggesting that the body can produce its own essential fatty acids and that dietary consumption results in oxidation and potentially dangerous byproducts. Despite a mountain of research highlighting the health benefits of omega-3, this is another area needing the lens of context. In certain circumstances, he believes that omegas can increase inflammation, suppress thyroid hormone, and contribute to estrogen dominance.
Hormesis. Hormesis is one of the axioms underpinning much of today’s health, wellness, and fitness paradigm. It’s the idea of dose-dependent response, where a little stress benefits humans, but too much harms them. Peat challenges the concept, claiming that while some stressors, such as exercise or heat exposure stimulate adaptive responses and potentially improve health, the benefits may not apply to all individuals or in all circumstances. On the other hand, even low-level stress from most sources (toxins, nutraceuticals, emotional/mental/physical) has detrimental effects on the body and therefore should be minimized.
Ray Peat Principles That I’m Implementing
After studying lots of Ray’s work, I won’t implement many of the more controversial aspects of bioenergetics.
I will, however, make some lifestyle tweaks.
Sugarphilia. I’ve lived in the classic sugarphobic paradigm for most of my life. Although I already carb backload, I’ve decided to further increase my consumption of carbohydrates and slightly reduce my dietary fats.
This aligned perfectly with seasonal eating anyway. I increased my carb consumption throughout summer when fruit was naturally abundant.
BioStress. From my experiments with continuous glucose monitoring technology, I quickly discovered the profoundly detrimental impact of stress on blood sugar. Thus, putting me into an energy-restrictive state.
Consuming more carbs should help here. I also plan on doing a better job using stress management techniques and technologies like deliberate breathwork; my custom adaptogenic blend of herbs, botanicals, and other supplements; HRV biofeedback; neurofeedback; and the Apollo Neuro wearable.
Thyroid focus. I’m a huge fan of biohacking mitochondria and peroxisomes to optimize energy production. Since I’ve never had issues with my thyroid, I haven’t put much effort into improving it. Ray’s work has convinced me to try focusing on the health and function of my thyroid to see how that impacts my cellular energy and thus overall health.
I’ll try implementing some thyroid-enhancing practices, and remove anti-thyroid foods and lifestyle habits.
Better fats. For the last seven or eight years, I’ve focused heavily on eating clean, stable fats. Dietary fats that are less prone to oxidation and won’t cause cellular damage. As I described in my SelfDecode genetic analysis review and shown by repeated blood lab tests, I do well with saturated fats.
Ray’s work has made me even more cautious of PUFAs. Even in small quantities. Not only do they inhibit metabolism, but PUFAs cause all kinds of serious health consequences.
Glycine & taurine. I already eat a fair amount of collagenous foods. Yet the more I learn about collagen peptides, and the amino acids glycine and taurine, the more I consume. I now include both glycine and taurine in my evening sleep stack, and they work great.
Ray spoke about both of these “anti-aging” amino acids decades before they started to become mainstream.
Minimizing serotonin & nitric oxide. The neurotransmitter serotonin and the signaling molecule nitric oxide are often portrayed as keys to well-being. Serotonin is often called the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, and experts sometimes call nitric oxide a “miracle molecule”. Almost implying fallacious more is better thinking. Yet is it possible that there’s more to the story?
We know that the majority of serotonin resides in the gut (not the brain), and that blocking its effects actually produces the exact benefits mainstream science suggests boosting it should cause. Nitric oxide is similar. Increasing NO inhibits cytochrome C oxidase and slows metabolic activity.
Both of these act like backup survival mechanisms. Perhaps there are important underlying factors that alter their production. Therefore, overriding the body’s natural levels may have unintended consequences.
Most of us already have adequate levels of both. So I’ve completely removed beetroot powder and other NO precursors from my supplement stack. And I’ve nearly eliminated all brain supplements that alter serotonergic activity.
Bioenergetic Health Resources
If you’re interested in BioEnergetic Health, Pro-Metabolism, and Ray Peat’s work, there are plenty of great resources to check out.
The most active is the Ray Peat Forum. This is a community held together by Ray’s ideas. However, since it’s open to the public, you’ll see different takes and implementations of virtually every part of his work.
Then there are a few Ray Peat “Influencers”. These folks have amassed a lot of related knowledge, deeply understand the principles, and serve as his legacy. My two favorites are:
I’m sure there are tons of others, but these are the resources I consult to learn more.
BioEnergetics: An Emerging Paradigm for Optimal Health & Performance
Dr. Ray Peat’s work challenges fundamental axioms of health with new perspectives.
He didn’t advocate a “Ray Peat Diet” or any generic cookie-cutter health advice. On the contrary. He left us with the notion of “think, perceive, act”.
To Ray, metabolism, and energy production underlie everything.
Although the concept appears new, one of the oldest (prevention-based) medical systems introduced the concept of pro-metabolism as the chief determinant of health. Ayurveda called this “agni”.
Improving the metabolism isn’t just for weight loss or physical energy.
When you provide the body with ample fuel, you begin to optimize the thyroid (master energy regulator) and sex hormones (vitality powerhouses).
As Peat often said,Energy and structure are independent at every level Click To Tweet
With more energy available, the body can allocate it however it sees fit. To repair, regenerate, and grow.
Conversely, during energy shortages (biological stress), the body must conserve resources. Metabolism slows. Certain organs receive less cellular energy and work less efficiently.
Carbs are the macronutrient of abundance. Of prosperity. Of growth. Damaging stress can be as simple as long-term carb restriction. Signaling a scarcity of resources.
The BioEnergetic model proposes rapidly quelling stress responses. In the short term, that can be via something as controversial as consuming simple sugars or processed dairy.
One of his most compelling arguments centers around avoiding metabolic inhibitors. Reducing consumption of like PUFAs. Or if your diet is heavy in “anti-nutrients”, look for alternatives.
My big takeaway from Ray’s work is to be wary of the Randle cycle.
When your diet consists of >30% dietary fats, you inhibit carb-burning (glycolysis). Fat burning (beta-oxidation) is far less efficient and creates more toxic waste products (oxidative stress).
Even if you don’t eat high-carb year-round, you can introduce it and see how you feel.
Start slow. Just consume 40-80 grams of whole fruit carbs for a week or three. Back off on fat a bit. If you feel bad, try fruit juice (lower in gut irritants) instead of whole fruit.
Then increase that over time. Depending on your age, sex, activity level, and other factors, you may get up to 200-300 grams of carbs per day.
I now do what Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda have advocated for millennia. I eat higher-carb in the hot, summer months, and scale back my carb intake in the winter.
If you found this post interesting, I’d be grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend or sharing it on social media.
I’m curious to hear your experiences. Have you studied Dr. Ray Peat’s work? Tried a bioenergetic approach to eating? Drop a comment below and let us know your experience.