Ray Cronise and the New ‘Food Triangle’

Ray Cronise, whom you’ll know from a previous podcast episode and from Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Body (where Ray is the cold-stress fat-loss guy), is back — our first repeat guest on NMA Radio.

Why have Ray on again? Because in continuing his history of disruption — first in the aerospace industry and now in the field of nutrition — Ray has just published an academic paper that he and his co-authors believe lays the foundation for a revolution in nutrition science.

The paper is titled The Metabolic Winter Hypothesis, and you should download it here before you listen to the podcast.

It’s six pages long, and not difficult reading … but even if you don’t have time to read it all right now, at least take a look at the Food Triangle — a simple visual representation of Ray and his co-authors’ new approach to nutrition.

Among lots of implications for addressing the obesity epidemic, the food triangle explains how two diets so seemingly opposite as plant-based and Paleo have achieved such success at the same time.

If you’re ready to think differently about the way you eat, download the paper and give this episode a focused listen.

Here’s what we talk about:

  • The primary cause of obesity and chronic illness in our society
  • The impact of over-nourishment and the danger of nutrition in excess
  • Restricting calories to create longevity
  • Rethinking how we organize food
  • Why the plant-based diet isn’t the only way to lose weight … but can be one of the best
  • Why protein is not included in Ray’s new food triangle

Click the button below to listen now:


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  1. I listened to this podcast yesterday and found it incredibly intriguing. I get the general concept of his research, but I hesitate to jump on board. While I believe too many of us are overeating and eating all of the wrong things, food limitation like this could become really dangerous for some people. With the rise of orthorexia, I feels as though this way of eating is kind of a “gateway drug”, so to speak.

    Also – food and meals can be really enjoyable! It can absolutely be a healthy way of bonding with friends and family without being overused.

    All of that to say I’m interested in seeing what he finds with his personal experiment on himself. I will definitely look forward to his updates!

    • Vanessa,

      I think you are right – and I would apply those unhealthy labels to obsessions GMO, organic, market fresh, etc… as well. Not that there isn’t issues with some things, but that our public has been inundated with “labels” including nutrients and the excess eating seeking nutrition is far more damaging; we treat very few malnourished adults.

      Orthorexia may be yet another “diagnosis” people want to throw around – we all love to be diagnosed (not my fault), but that is not politically correct to say. There are people with eating disorders, but I would suggest that most people that eat animal products would say any vegan had an eating disorder and perhaps, vice versa? Further, we aren’t allowed to socially comment if someone is gaining weight – how rude, but I can’t tell you how many times people I have worked with are BERATED for losing “too much” when clearly by any objective measurement they are still obese, but have lost 50-60 lbs of the 100 they had to go. I can’t imagine the conversation starting with “wow, you’ve put on 10-20 lbs,” but it seems to say, “you are looking a little thin…your face seems gaunt.” It’s such a double standard.

      Why is this okay? As I describe below to sarah, losing this much weight is DAUNTING (I only lost 70 and it was in two phases, because I didn’t yet understand what was going on). Even so, I have gained weight 3-4 times (right now is one of them) to lose during self experiments and I can tell you that when you are in my shoes people comment BOTH ways (Matt can tell you about it in a Nashville bar – LOL). I feel lousy every time I gain, but I have a metabolic lab and it’s always VERY repeatable. For me, I found my best insight when I stopped asking “how do I lose” and rather started asking, “why do I gain?” It’s been exciting and intellectually rewarding and in nearly 70 people it’s repeatable and does not’ conflict with the last 200 years of science literature.

      As for meals, we don’t know how to socialize WITHOUT eating. Every break, celebration, party, business meeting, gas station, movie theater, theme park, and beach is INUNDATED with food. Here’s an idea, invite a couple over for the evening and don’t eat – find something else to do like communicate about something other than food. It is uncomfortable even for me, but it requires real communication. How food for some people is like the social cigarette or drink they have in their hand – and much of it is just as unhealthy. I am NOT suggesting one can’t eat healthy, what I am saying is that it is the social norm to eat and to suggest doing something else is at best viewed as odd and worse is offensive/obsessive. I suggest the constant bombardment with food is far more unnatural because in the real world, calories are scarce.

      Now I am not suggesting that celebrations never happens with food. I think we can all agree that we have no shortage of food bonding, but doesn’t anyone else but me find it ironic that at the finish of every race is sugary drinks and pizza? Why always food?

      Obesity is a socially transmitted disease: sit down (don’t move), be quiet (don’t question), finish your plate (eat when full), and put your coat on (excessive layers).

      There is a happy medium between our HUGE excess and not coming out of the house until double-coupon tuesday. Try it sometime. Socializing without food takes more work and is far more rewarding. Most have never experienced it.

      And thanks for the support on this last set of experiments. I will be crowd-sourcing the funding and I’m so thrilled everyone can chip in to help me do these crazy things! It’s such a thrill.


      • Joel T. Carpenter says:

        It is interesting to think that food as a part of celebration was originally based on the ideas of cold stress and caloric scarcity. Celebration “feasts” were a part of celebrating the harvest or the surviving of winter. As we have “lost” winter metabolically, we have mostly forgotten the reasons for our celebration feasts. I think with a changed mindset to our food and its role as sustenance we may remember how to celebrate and why community celebration is important.


  2. I am a huge fan of Ray and think he has a very deep understanding of nutrition that I greatly appreciate. However, I still get confused about how his dietary recommendations differ in a person is at a healthy weight because it seems like he’s coming at this from the standpoint that everyone is overeating, overweight and has reserves to draw upon. When a person is maintaining isn’t nutrition more of an “emergency” since one is burning through everything that is coming in rather than relying on anything that has been stored for later use?

    • Thanks Sarah and it is a good question,

      My five year obsession was focused on both energy and nutrient over nutrition, because I began overweight. I also was very wrong about food/nutrition five years ago, particularly about what happened to food once ingested. With a twist of fate, I (and Tim Ferriss) were publically challenged often about my original work on mild cold stress, but in the more academically-minded world I was encouraged to dig further. One of those early encouragers eventually became a co-author.

      We will be covering MUCH more in our next two papers in preparation now, but essentially energy/nutrition are two different, although related, issues. The first you discuss revolves around getting enough “energy” or fuel to make it through the day. Normal weight people have that balance under control. I did not, however; even a 5’9″ 140 lbs, 10% bodyfat woman has 14 lbs of adipose tissue and that’s an extra 49,000 calories. Putting that in energetic marathon equivalency, that is 18 marathons worth. As for “fasted days” it’s 27 days worth of energy reserve.

      Now 10% body fat is an unhealthy low level for a woman (it’s questionable if men should be this low, but I won’t debate that here). Normally, that number is twice what my example and for someone 10, 20, 50, or 100 lbs overweight it is a daunting energy excess that is VERY difficult to release.

      Now that is ONLY the energy portion and I’m focused here on the stored fat reserves, not the more daily fluctuation of glycogen (<2000 Cal total). Now let's turn to the non-energy components – the nutrients. More is better, Right? well it turns out excess amino acids (particularly methionine, leucine, valine) have all be linked to decreased longevity, despite being essential amino acids for not only humans, but other animals as well (plants make them). Furthermore excesses in vitamin A and E have also been linked to chronic disease – so much so certain studies had to be shut down mid way and there are others.

      So this brings us full circle. How much is enough? how often? do I need to "concentrate and juice nutrients" or can I just eat food? As we suggested in our first paper, most of our rules of nutrition were written when people were chronically malnourished (energy AND nutrients) and now those nutrients are a deluge of marketing that all is aimed at "eat more food and buy more product." We now SEEK nutrients in some mythical "balanced proportion" and yet we are getting chronically sicker as a nation. 100 years ago, something like scurvy was easily recognized and treatable. Today we build up disease over decades of over-nourishment and then treat it with acute medication that simply manages symptoms (high sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc..)

      There isn't a clear answer, but there is only ONE thing that has been repeatable for the last 70 years by many labs to lengthen the lifespan of every organism (from yeast to rats to primates) tested – calorie restriction. We've never succeeded in life extension with EXCESS nutrition, only restricted, but not malnourished.

      If you are normal weight, you need a healthy input of food, Dr Fuhrman suggests daily: greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, nuts/seeds (G-BOMBS). I think he's a close as we can come and it's nearly impossible to consume excess calories without adding loads of simple sugars/refined grain/oils (we exclude all of these from The Food Triangle). Does adding animal products to this make it automatically unhealthy? probably depends on how much and I don't think that is a bright line. We can probably succeed with and without them, but certainly without them doesn't require any special planning as is often touted. The problem is most plant-based diets are just as full of simple sugars, excess oils, and refined grains (sometimes MORE) than the animal equivalent. They are equally unhealthy and it was this notion that brought Matt and I together in the first place.

      I don't believe everyone is deficient in hormones, protein, vitamins, minerals…etc. We even bottle water and sell that back to people. Obese, chronically ill people aren't cured by vitamins and very rarely die "deficient" in a vitamin or amino acid. They are chronically OVER nourished eating all day, every day, and the body has little time to recover.

      Hope that helps.


  3. Alice Miller says:

    Hi Ray-
    So from what I understand (please correct me if I’m wrong, I think your research is fascinating!) you’re pushing a Fuhrman-esque diet with a focus on cruciferous vegetables, greens, and beans. I noticed in your “food pyramid” that fruits are grouped separately- even though fruits have been a part of the human diet for millennia. Given that, what’s your take on fruititarianism, or the 80/10/10 diet?

  4. Thanks so much for your response Ray. I really appreciate that you take the time to explain these points in finer detail. I have explored your blog and basically read every one of your posts and comments numerous times that one would think I would understand all this much better by now! I’ve printed out many of your posts and made my own nutrition textbook! I can’t thank you enough for all the work you are doing to explore these issues further and discover more about what actually going on inside our bodies. I am anxiously awaiting your future publications!!!

    I couldn’t agree more that we are over focused on specific nutrients to cure all of our ills and that for most people who consume adequate calories from appropriated sources as you suggest don’t need to overly worry about specific nutrients, yet at the same time I can’t help but think that a bit more focus needs to be paid on the nutrient end of the spectrum when one is cutting it more close on the energy end since there isn’t as much extra to make up for differences. When that woman who is 10% body fat taps into her “reserves” I would suspect it to have different impacts on her body than someone with 20% body fat. And doesn’t body fat serve more of a purpose than just to provide extra fuel when we need it? Therefore I would argue that those reserves are not really reserves that should be seen as possible fuel sources since they are needed for other purposes.

    I guess what I’m trying to understand is how a person riding the line of balancing energy input with expenditure changes their nutrient demands and how they utilize fuel. Protein, for example, has more opportunity to be “wasted” if carbohydrate demands are not being met and therefore a person consuming closer to the bare minimum of it would need to be careful as a result. It seems we can’t always just assume that because one is ingesting a nutrient it is being utilized for the purpose we intend.

    I think I tend to get more overly confused about these issues than most because I am coming at this as someone who is substantially underweight and struggling to meet my energy and nutrient needs. I have not found adequate nutrition to be so simple so it’s hard for me to wrap my head around having a normal appetite and allowing the body to just work it’s magic. When one doesn’t have as much reserves to fall back upon then deficiencies become much more apparent so not meeting specific nutrient requirements has more negative and immediate consequences.

    Again, thank you so much for all your work on this. You and Dr. Fuhrman have completely changed the way I think about and understand nutrition and for that I am forever grateful.

  5. Motorina says:

    I’m not in a position to comment on the science but, when he says that historically food was seen simply as sustenance, he is simply wrong. Pre-enlightenment medicine was obsessed with food as a method to manipulate health. The rational is utterly alien but it’s a consistent, complex system which lies at the core of medical practice. Physicians prescribed regimens – personalised diets – designed to use the humoral properties of food to adjust health imbalances in their patients. Recipes were crafted to enhance the health-giving properties of food, or ameliorate the unhealthy. For example, beef is boiled, because beef – humorally hot and dry – needs to be moistened; pork – cold and wet – is roasted, or cooked with hot and dry spices. And all this adapts to reflect the seasons, and the age, health and gender of the diner.

    When there’s that big a clanger up front and centre, it colours how much credence I give to the rest of the article.

  6. “I’m not in a position to comment on the science but, …” Well, there’s your problem.

    To echo your sentiment, “When there’s that big a clanger up front and centre, it colours how much credence I give to the rest of the [uninformed comment]”

  7. So in summary… the real issue is overeating and that is causing all the real health issues today. Thanks Captain Obvious.

    To end on a positive note, your audio setup is very good. The podcast is better than most I’ve heard and the clarity was amazing. Fantastic job.

  8. Hey Ray, I listed to the podcast and I agree with the overeating problem. As a person who have lost over 30 pounds, I know that this is a great battle to deal with. However Intermittent fasting is a great way to overcome this problem without severely restricting food groups. I 100% believe in the calorie in vs calorie out concept and doing IF helps brings that to fruition. By skipping meals, it becomes much easier to create a calorie deficit and thus avoid overeating in the process.

    What are your thoughts on IF?

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