So I’ve now been fueling myself for more than 4 months on a diet that includes not more than around 5% carbohydrate. This is because I consume no grains or starch, and no sugar or anything refined or processed. What my diet does contain is pretty much everything else: meat, fish, eggs, milk, cream, butter, cheese, vegetables, fruit, nuts; in short all the real nutrition and none of the fluff. The nutritional density of my food is much higher than it used to be.
Though weight loss was not my objective, in that space of time I have gone from a fairly lean 76kg down to a very lean 72kg. In fact I now need to remind myself to eat so I don’t lose muscle mass. I don’t get hungry like I used to, and I don’t ever have those drops in energy levels where a body, used to running primarily on sugar, runs out.
I can safely say that my body has now been running in the desired state of ketosis for most of that time. In the absence of sugar (or the reaction of insulin) in my bloodstream, my body has become hyper efficient at metabolizing fat for energy. I have occasional lapses where I might drink a bit more wine than recommended, but on a daily basis I have reverted to the ancestral metabolic pattern that developed over the 2 million years of our evolution, and it feels great!
Now that I’ve shared with you my discoveries of carb-free living as it applies to the needs of an athlete (the previous post of part 1 of my on-going experiment), I’d like to share some of the crucial information on the latest science of diet and nutrition that I am uncovering on my journey.
I see this as an urgent matter firstly because it flies in the face of everything we've been told - the Conventional Wisdom. Thus it addresses the health of many people very dear to me who, like so many of us, have been struggling unsuccessfully to keep their weight down all their adult lives (at least) thanks to being fed a confusing array of misinformation on what to eat for the last 50 years. Most of these people have been stigmatized by the conventional take on obesity which blames fat accumulation on a weakness of character - not being able to curb their excessive appetites or do more exercise.
It also, of course, addresses the massive incidence of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and all the other related Diseases of Civilization which are creating the most unhealthy global population in history.
Thanks initially to the research done by the amazing Gary Taubes for his book Good Calories Bad Calories - probably the most important book written in the last 50 years - I have recently had access to information that exposes exactly what a farce “public health” institutions are responsible for, and why we should never accept what “experts” tell us, no matter how many big scientific-sounding maxims they thrust at us. If you want a conspiracy theory, this is the jackpot, and nothing comes close to causing the misery and damage that this has. I don’t ask you to believe me, I ask you to investigate.
What follows here is a quick summary of the evidence. I do not include references or annotations - those are the domain of the above-mentioned book which is meticulous in it's scientific accuracy. I seek only to present the argument in such a way that it merits your further study.
Does it make sense that over the 2 million years of our development as a species we might not have developed a diet suited precisely to our metabolic needs? At what point did we get confused? Could it have been that 10,000 years ago the, demographically inspired, move to agriculture, with the shift to grain as a staple nutritional base, might have been a bad move?
The supermarkets are packed to the ceiling with food products claiming to be “low fat”, “low in cholesterol”, “high in fibre” and various other catch-phrases that we’ve all come to associate with good health. It is logical to assume that these ubiquitous products make up a large part of the diet of those who do their shopping there. So why does nobody look very healthy or fit? Why is obesity and diabetes constantly on the rise globally? I don’t think it flies in the face of logic to suggest that they might have got it wrong.
We’ve come to accept weight gain as a natural, though unwanted, fact of life. Like we’re hard-wired to not be able to adequately metabolize fat, and constantly have to ignore our misleading, malfunctioning appetites in order to not be larger than we need to be. When faced with the obvious failure of their theory, public health institutions are quick to blame the character weaknesses of the victims: our sofa-ridden laziness and inability to control our urges to stuff ourselves. Like for goodness sake eat less and go run a marathon!
This brings us to one of the most damaging concepts of diet and nutrition: the idea that we should exert more than we consume in order to stay slim. It’s even hard-wired into many exercise machines and sport-counter-gadgets. You count the calories you burn and that means as long as you eat less calories than that, you’re ok, right?
We’re not machines. We’re organisms. Though we have an immensely sophisticated energy system that stores fuel (fat: triglycerides) in out-of-the-way places all over our body (mostly in our adipose tissue, just under the skin), that system relies on good quality food being consumed, digested, and then shunted around and assisted by hormones and other metabolic processes until it first becomes the molecule that our fat cells can store, and then the one that we burn most effectively for fuel. If we consume the wrong thing, no matter how many or how few calories it contains, the system is screwed.
Can anyone think of a real person in history before say 1900 that was known to be fat? Other than those that might be famous precisely for that reason? No. And why not? Maybe it’s because weight management started to become a problem only since the introduction of easy and cheap ways of refining grains and sugar. Bit of a giveaway you would think, right?
Even then, the problem was offset because it was immediately fairly obvious, especially to those in the medical profession, that this easy, empty fuel was bound to cause a metabolic nightmare, and that the increasing instances of obesity and diabetes were a direct result of these foods. The famous Banting diet that recommended the eradication of carbohydrate, and reliance on mainly animal fats was widely recommended by physicians to combat weight gain towards the end of the 19th century in Europe.
In the early part of the 20th century, a massive amount of valuable research was done in the field of diet and nutrition, mostly in Europe and led by German scientists - the world of science was largely centered at this point in Germany and the Lingua Franca of science German. Unfortunately, the first and second world wars got in the way, cutting short the funding for these projects that were never restarted. The post-war research projects on diet that did receive funding were mostly a result of the concern in the USA on the perceived epidemic of obesity and heart-disease. Anti-German sentiment contributed to the fact that all of the European research was completely overlooked. The new tests were quickly linked to the newly fashionable demon of cholesterol because.... they had an easy test that could measure it!
Whether you want to believe in a corporate conspiracy or not, the extremely dubious science that led to the “food pyramid”, which the American Heart Association and other health authorities fully endorsed from the 1970s onwards, was undoubtedly the result of pet hypotheses of blinkered epidemiologists being snapped up in the absence of more forcefully presented theories. That we are now bequeathed with an ingrained love of carbohydrate, along with a fear of cholesterol and saturated fat, is a legacy of misinformation that will take many generations to shake off.
A FEW KEY POINTS:
- The inability to burn stored fat is a malfunction caused by poor nutrition. There’s nothing wrong with the design of the human body. Our inability to metabolize fat is a direct result of the prevalence of more easily metabolized fuel - sugar - in the blood, which is a direct result of the dependence on carbohydrate as a basis of diet.
- We eat because we grow. We don’t grow because we eat. A child doesn’t grow more because he/she eats more. The urge to eat is a healthy mechanism that comes from a body that is demanding nutrition to fuel it’s growing bones, tissues and organs, or to fuel our energy expenditure. It only goes wrong if we damage the mechanism by eating food that shortcuts the natural process.
- For 2 million years of our evolution as a species we survived as hunter-gatherers, meaning our diets were mostly wild meat, vegetables and fruit.
- 10,000 years ago, the move to settled communities living on agricultural produce, and our introduction to eating grain, brought with it a massive deterioration in health, stature (height), and longevity. The subsequent history has been a saga of recurring outbreaks of famine and plague, partly due to problems caused by density of population, but definitely supported by the "filler" nature of our food. The reason that obesity did not become a problem much earlier is definitely due to the limitations of resources, and also because the grain was still largely unrefined.
- Though different communities have adapted to different locations with differing diets based on availability of resources, the fact remains that it’s always a relatively recent introduction, and that the hunter-gatherer diet is at our biological core, and the one to which all recent adaptations have been made.
- Of the 3 macronutrients - protein, fat and carbohydrate - only carbohydrate is non-essential to sustaining human life.
- The fact that the body was designed to store mainly fat, not carbohydrate, is a bit of a give-away.
- Cancer cells need blood sugar to grow.
- The introduction of a Western diet (sugar and refined grain) to isolated communities that had continued to live on their traditional diets was always accompanied within 10 years by the introduction of the Diseases of Civlisation (obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, appendicitis etc).
- The assumption that cholesterol is a key factor in heart disease is a fallacy, and a result of gross oversimplification by health authorities in love with their “fuzzy” science. The real culprits are the lipoproteins that carry cholesterol and triglycerides around the bloodstream, and the most harmful ones, identified as contributing to heart disease, are caused by dietary sugar, not fat.
- A spoonful of sugar gives such a high-density dose of glucose and fructose to the body that nothing in a traditional diet even comes close. The glucose puts a massive strain on the pancreas which has to produce the hormone insulin to combat the huge spikes in blood sugar which accompany the consumption of sugar. The fructose goes straight to the liver and triggers the production of the aforementioned harmful lipoproteins. You would need to eat 12 apples to get the same sugar dose as a single teaspoon of refined sugar.
- The oils typically recommended for consumption (like soya, sunflower seed, grapeseed etc) are omega 6 oils. Our bodies are not optimized to process these long-chain triglycerides in such quantities and we need a greater ratio of short-chain triglycerides, like butter (animal fat) or omega 3 fats (coconut oil, palm kernel oil), in the diet before we can metabolize small quantities of omega 6 efficiently. The fat closest to the fat in our adipose tissue, and that which our body burns most efficiently is......animal fat. Doh!
- The bottom line: Would we have evolved this amazing body over 2 million years eating a diet that wasn’t suited to us? Would some goofball in a white suit come up with an effective revision of that diet 2 million years later?
What is happening to the average person's body is that the quality food we eat is not getting through to the places that need it. Because of our reliance on carbohydrate, the body has a constant and excessive supply of blood sugar, which is the easiest for it to process, and which it will always choose first. To deal with the blood sugar, our pancreas produces insulin which moves it to places that will store it - the liver and muscles will store a small amount of it as glycogen for energy, the rest is stored as fuel for later, and becomes fat in our adipose tissue. As long as there is sugar in our blood, our body will not be able to access the fat stores and break them down to triglycerides which it can use for energy. Insulin, which is created in response to blood sugar, will also block the metabolization of fat, and additionally will create a physical demand for more sugar - why we get hungry.
So you can see that there is the potential - depending on the health of your pancreas and your insulin response - to create a situation where the body constantly stores fat, but never gets to use it. In many individuals this over-reliance on the insulin response creates an insensitivity to insulin over time, with the body having to produce ever more to combat the blood sugar, and the net result is that the individual is only storing fuel, and literally starving while they grow ever bigger. This is known as the Metabolic Syndrome, and is basically a pre-diabetic condition.
For more information, once again I refer you to the website Real Meal Revolution, the brain child of sports science guru Tim Noakes and his team. Here you will begin to find explanations and arguments for a diet designed to put your body in the state optimum to metabolize fat efficiently. You will also find a list of what constitutes good food and what to avoid, as well as links to the book once it becomes available internationally. If you feel compelled to further understand the science of diet, I recommend the books Good Calories, Bad Calories, and Why We Get Fat, by the aforementioned amazing Gary Taubes.
For me the journey continues. I need no more proof that the diet works. My 56-year-old body is in way better condition than I can remember it being before. My energy levels are constant and excellent, my immune system is in great shape, I have the lowest body fat percentage that I’ve had for my entire adult life, and I feel great.
What I’m still experimenting, and reading up on, is how it relates to sport. How to best fuel the body before, during, and after training and competition to maximize performance and training effect. How to get our digestive systems in on the act when the food that’s best for us is not so easily consumed. The next post will deal with these issues. Watch this space!
In the meantime, if anyone has any questions or additional information relating to the stuff I talk about here, please include it in the comments below so that others can benefit from the further insights.