I have to spend tonight fixing an issue for a software client, but I received a couple of interesting emails over the weekend I wanted to share.  The first is from a woman named June:

I had two moments last week where I truly wanted to just bang my head against something.

I’ve been doing low carb, lost about 12 pounds since January eating all those nasty eggs and bacon and steaks and green veggies. Loving every minute of it. I’ve got another 70 pounds to go, and I’m  looking forward to summer and the local farmer’s markets where I can get grass-fed beef and all those fresh veggies.

I work at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland and they frequently have guest lecturers on different topics. Last Wednesday the lecture was “The Obesity Epidemic: How Have We Failed.” Now, I wasn’t expecting that they would come out and admit that the whole low-fat thing has been a bust, but I did want to see what would be presented.

The gist was “Everybody’s fat, we don’t know why, we need more research.” There was the usually finger-pointing at fast food.  But there was one part of the lecture that really got to me. The presenter showed a slide showing the obesity rates in the US going up-up-up. He later had a slide showing beef consumption in the US. There was an upturn, but then beef consumption rates just plummeted.

So, obesity rates rising, beef consumption plummeting. No correlation, right? Maybe  a negative correlation?

Oh no! Even though the presenter had to admit that there was a decline in beef consumption along with the rise in obesity rates, we still eat more beef in the US than they do in Japan and obesity rates are lower in Japan, so we should eat even less beef. This reasoning was being presented in the National Institutes of Health, the “Premier Research Center” in the United States.

I wanted to bang my head against something, but I’m pretty sure if I banged my head against the seat in front of me I would have freaked out the person sitting there, so I just sat through the rest of the lecture. Oh, and, no, there wasn’t any slide plotting carb consumption against the obesity rates. Wonder why.

Yup, I think we know why.  This is the same twisted logic the anti-cholesterol hysterics employed when a study showed that people with normal or low cholesterol suffer 3/4 of the heart attacks.  Why, uh, ya see, that just means we need to set the targets even lower!

On to the rest of June’s email:

Next, I was watching a show on The Cooking Channel called “The Supersizers Go…” This is a show from England showing two people, Giles Coren and Sue Perkins, who pick a period of time from the past and try to eat like people of that time would have for an entire week. They are very funny (they dress in period costume) and are very honest about what they do and do not like.

The show starts with them going off to the doctor for a check-up and predictions of all the terrible things that are likely to happen to them during the week. They then spend the week sampling what people of different social classes would have dined on, with a nod toward the upper classes. Then when the week is over it is back to the doctors to see what damage has been wrought by their horrible diets. They have done Ancient Rome and Victorian and Edwardian and several others. Usually they go back to the doctor having gained weight and their cholesterol skyrocketing and other lab values wacked-out and it is all blamed on all the meat and fat they were eating.

So, last week, they went Elizabethan. They were eating almost nothing but meat, meat, and more meat except for the one day they ate fish, fish, and more fish. There was narry a veggie in sight, but they did eat a lot of organ meat. They ate bread and pastry crust from meat pies and they drank a lot of beer and sugar was fairly abundant,  but mainly, it was wall to wall meat.

Now, when they went to the doctor at the beginning of the week they had their BMI calculated. Sue was at the very low end of normal and Giles was just in the range considered obese. As you probably can guess, no one would look at Giles and consider him to be overweight, let alone obese. The doctor duly voiced his concerns over all the protein they would be eating and what horrors that would do to their health.

As the week went on, their main complaint was that coffee and tea were not available to them, as these hadn’t made it to England yet.  At no time did either Giles or Sue complain about feeling tired or having digestive problems and they looked as energetic at the end as they did at the beginning. Their only complaint was that there was no tea or coffee.  They had huge meals, one or two banquets, and Giles even ate at a tavern to see what was available to the common folk.

So at the end of the week, back to the doctor. And what happened after this week of ‘unhealthy’ eating? They both lost weight. Giles lost about 5 pounds, but Sue lost over 10 pounds. The doctor was even surprised that Sue had lost so much weight in only one week.  There was no mention of lab values, so we can assume that their blood work at worst didn’t change and at best actually improved, and both of them had blood pressure within normal range.

When asked about the weight loss, the doctor surmised that all that protein had suppressed their appetite so they just plain ate less, BUT he then quickly cautioned that he wouldn’t recommend anyone going on a diet like this for any length of time! And the episode ended with Sue happily going off to gain back the weight she had lost. I just banged my head against the back of my chair, which did scare the cat a bit.

June

Pardon me while I go bang my head against my desk …

… Okay, I’m back.  So the doctor concluded that extra protein supressed their appetites, but he doesn’t want people to go on a diet that suppresses their appetites naturally.  Nope, better they should be hungry and then just fight the urge to eat — for the rest of their lives.

Here’s another email that demonstates just how little some doctors know about nutrition:

Hi Tom,

I just watched Fat Head last night and I was very enlightened! Having a heavy dose of skepticism though, and seeing that you are a comedian, I’m wondering… are you pulling a fast one on us yourself?! I’m one of those overweight type 2 diabetics who is sick and tired of taking insulin, which is causing me to gain weight! So, I really hope your science is correct!

Which leads me to my next concern:  I’m told my triglicyerides are too high and when I asked my doctor to explain, he said that means I have too much fat in my blood and so I need to cut out as much fat as possible from my diet except for fish oil tablets, which apparently are “good fats.”

I’m soooo confused!!! Why are my triglyceride levels so high when for years I haven’t touched red meat, butter and drink only skim milk?  Oh, I’m depressed too and take medicine for that….

After watching Fat Head I thought, what the heck, I’ll give it a try and went out and bought the best looking Porterhouse steak, cooked it for dinner, felt soooo happy, satisfied, content and not still hungry! I also forgot to take my Lexapro but didn’t feel the need!

I really feel better, but guilty somehow for eating “arterycloggingredmeat!!!”  So I hope you are telling the truth and could you please answer my triglyceride question?

Sincerely,
Sharon

Sharon, here’s why your triglycerides are so high:  you’ve been living on a low-fat diet.  Triglycerides are indeed a form of blood fat, but high fasting triglycerides are the result of fats being produced by your liver in response to carbohydrates.  For most of us, low fat = high carb = high triglycerides.

In study after study, people who go on low-carb diets have seen dramatic reductions in triglycerides, often ending up with fasting triglyceride levels well below 100.  Here are a couple of articles by doctors who (unlike yours) know what they’re talking about:

Dr. Mike Eades on diet and triglycerides.

Dr. William Davis on diet and triglycerides.

And Sharon, if you start eating steaks and find the depression going away, EAT MORE STEAKS.  Your doctor means well, but he’s just plain wrong.  Unfortunately, that puts him in the majority of doctors.

On a cheerier note, I received this email from woman who teaches English at a college right down the road from me:

Dear Tom,

I have taught Research and Argumentative Writing at Middle Tennessee State University for the past two semesters. Our course theme is food, which helps to ease students into the idea of looking at things critically, especially that which we do unconsciously. My students’ second assignment (which they are in the middle of writing) is an analysis of Super Size Me and Fat Head (which we finished watching this morning), in which they have to determine which film has a more rhetorically sound argument. My students always choose your film. Every student, every time.

Because I emphasize writing as a conversation between ideas, people, texts, etc., your film, as a response to Super Size Me, perfectly demonstrates this concept, as well as helps me to emphasize the critical thinking about that which we do automatically. Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me something so perfect to work with.

Also–I was delighted to see you live in Franklin. I grew up there (but moved to downtown Nashville about 4 years ago) and my parents still live there.

-Emily

Emily, you made my day.  Super Size Me appealed to people on an emotional level, not on a logical or common sense level, and I’m pleased to hear your students recognize that.

I plan to throw a big ol’ Fat Head party and cookout one of these days to celebrate getting the farm up to snuff.  Consider yourself invited.

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26 Responses to “Letters From Readers”
  1. Lori says:

    Welcome, Sharon! Like you, my mother is a type 2 diabetic, and she’s seen improved blood sugars on a LC diet. She’s also seen better mood (and so have I). What you eat can definitely have an effect on mood–I blogged about it here:

    http://relievemypain.blogspot.com/2011/02/lousy-mood-it-could-be-food.html

  2. Dwatney says:

    I’ll have to remember this the next time I am tempted to suggest that nutritional guidelines should come from the NIH instead of the USDA…

    I don’t think it would make any difference.

  3. Bob Parker says:

    Hey Tom,

    I’ve been freeloading off your blog for some time now and I have acted on the content. At 73 years of age I am now back to my weight at 20, 72 kg down from the 85 to 87 kg I have been for most of the last 20 years.

    I want to buy your International Edition so my question is, can I enter my postal address in Thai script in UTF-8 format?

    Thank you for your greatly informative blog.

    I don’t think our postal software will accept Thai script. Is there an address using the standard alphabet that would work?

  4. LaurieLM says:

    Cysteine is the new cholesterol:
    I just read a ‘Nature’ article about total cysteine concentration in the blood (both elevated and reduced- how’s that for compelling-not) being associated with heart disease. Cysteine, a sulfur containing amino acid, is found primarily in meat. Cholesterol sulfate is deficient in many of us and is an undetected epidemic.
    Since cholesterol has started to decline in focus, a bit, and inflammation is now the target and cysteine is associated with that, the new boogy molecule will be cysteine…. and the boogy food is and will continue to be meat. Horse Hooey and Oy Vey

    http://www.nature.com/oby/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/oby201193a.html
    Obesity , (5 May 2011) | doi:10.1038/oby.2011.93

    “Cysteine and Obesity

    Amany K. Elshorbagy, A. David Smith, Viktor Kozich and Helga Refsum

    Abstract
    Obesity is associated with elevation of circulating levels of several amino acids, but the mechanism of this elevation is unclear. The type of dietary protein influences the risk of obesity, suggesting that specific amino acids could contribute to regulating weight gain. Plasma concentrations of cysteine, but not of other sulfur amino acids, correlate strongly with fat mass and BMI in men and women.”

    Add that to the 1,001 reasons the experts tell us we shouldn’t eat meat.

  5. Jan says:

    I’ve seen the Elizabethan episode of The Supersizers Go…, as well, and was literally YELLING at the doctor at the end. However, here’s one for the calories in/calories out crowd: when they’re going to the doctor for their followup visit they mention how, between the two of them, they’ve eaten 40,000 calories that week. That’s 2,850+ calories a day each – and they still lost weight.

    But the secret to weight loss is eat less and move more…

    I’m glad I didn’t see that one. I like my TV and don’t want to smash my head into it.

  6. Bex says:

    Ah I do love ‘Supersizers go…’

    All the more astonishing that Sue Perkins is usually a vegetarian when not eating for England…..

    They also did quite a good series on living ‘The Good Life’ (ie being self sufficient)

    I may have to catch it when it’s repeated again, the 70s one is hilarious, if grim….

  7. Ryan Van Der Linden says:

    To think or not to think, that is the option.

    Thanks for the examples of humans doing both.

    Reading an article like this is the antidote of head-desking.

  8. Sol y Sombra says:

    It still amazes me how doctors, who are supposed to keep up to date with new developments and studies (and with old ones, like the two studies done in 1965 that Dr. Eades quotes in his posts on saturated fat and cholesterol), can be so ill-informed. Or are they just plain brainwashed? It is really scary to think that these are people actually in charge of treating patients. Endocrinologists are hopeless – one advised my father, who is on the verge of diabetes, to eat both potatoes, rice and bread, if he liked, they were all fine, but just not to eat them in the same meal… Another one advised a friend diagnosed with PCOS and insulin resistance to eat whatever she liked, as long as she made sure she didn’t gain weight and kept taking her Metformin… How can it be so difficult to make the connection between high-carb foods such as potatoes, rice, bread and insulin?! Oh, yeah, carbs are good, fat is bad… It’s insane. If only more people would listen to the message in Fat Head… Thank you, Tom, for giving us a great tool for educating people (and doctors). Unfortunately, they still have to see the logic and dare question conventional wisdom, which must be very hard for many…

    I asked Dr. Eades after an interview why so few doctors seem to have read the latest research. He explained that by the time a doctor deals with everything involved in a medical practice — patients, insurance companies, government forms, etc. — he or she isn’t likely to go home and read scientific journals. Many know what they were taught in med school and what they learned at Pharma-sponsored continuing education seminars, and that’s it.

  9. Nola says:

    I saw that ep of ‘Supersizers Go ….’ too. Yelling at the TV. Had to go and have a steak to calm down. My low-carb journey started 6 years ago with a chance remark to my doctor that I’d put on a few extra kilos over the previous ten years. Her response was ‘You just have to cut back on the bread, pasta and potatoes if you want to loose that’. Smart woman. I started reading up on low-carb. The first book I read was ‘The Carb Addicts Diet’. A light bulb went on. I could go all day without eating and not feel hungry but as soon as a morsel of anything carb went into my mouth it was as if the flood gates opened and I couldn’t stop eating. Lost the 10 kilos. I will never eat that stuff again. I don’t miss it and I certainly don’t feel deprived.

  10. timmah says:

    Unlike Spurlock, the Supersizers list everything they ate: http://www.justhungry.com/the-supersizers-go-elizabethan

    Take away the bread and the beer, and that’s almost paleo.

  11. Erik says:

    Sharon – the beef critters which provided the red meat on your plate ate a generally low-fat, plant-based diet. Yet, their meat has plenty of cholesterol, saturated fat and triglycerides.

    About 6 years ago, my triglycerides were 375 (normal is 150). My doctor told me to exercise, lose weight and to eat less sugar. I’m about 50 pounds lighter now and my triglycerides are 175.

    I don’t believe that triglycerides themselves are dangerous, but I do believe that high triglyceride levels can be an indicator of a health problem.

    As for weight loss, I think it’s important to find an approach that works well for you. For me personally, my basic problems were that I ate portions that were too large and that I ate when I wasn’t hungry.

    I was able to lose weight by keeping a food journal, practicing mindful eating techniques (I’d highly recommend Jan Chozen Bay’s book, “Mindful Eating”), and generally using portion control. As a shortcut, I’d recommend, before eating anything, to ask yourself “am I actually hungry?”, and when looking at a food, ask yourself “how much of this would I need to eat to feel moderately full”?

    Eventually, you can experiment with different foods and combinations of foods to find certain items that will fill you up with fewer calories than others. For instance, I find that 2 scrambled eggs with a bunch of produce (onions / peppers / mushrooms / spinach / tomatoes) would fill me up on 200 calories much better than a Kellogg’s Pop Tart, also coming in at 200 calories. Similarly, your Porterhouse steak was undoubtedly delicious and satisfying, but it might have been just as satisfying to divvy it up into 3 portions, add some veggies and eat it throughout an entire day – steak with salsa for breakfast, steak and vegetable soup with a steak salad for lunch, and beef & broccoli for dinner.

  12. Ricardo says:

    Hi Tom i was just wondering if you have watched that recent Documentary Forks Over Knives?

    I haven’t seen it. No interest, really. Denise Minger gave it a critical review, however:

    http://rawfoodsos.com/2011/09/22/forks-over-knives-is-the-science-legit-a-review-and-critique/

  13. Bob Parker says:

    Ok about non-acceptance of Thai script. I’ll have it delivered to Australia. I’ll order the International Version early April because I’ll be in Australia early May.

  14. Firebird says:

    I just read Denise’s review. I was especially intrigued about the Nazis confiscating Norwegian livestock and rendering the people near vegetarian. You’d think, if all that red meat was bad for you, the Nazis would have been keeling over from heart attacks and strokes, which could have ended the war sooner.

    I should also remind everyone that Hitler was a vegetarian. I have to figure out who I’ve just insulted, Hitler or vegetarians. I’m sure it’s vegetarians.

    BTW, Denise Minger, sexy AND smart. I like that combo. ;)

    Aha! Now we know why the Nazis lost the war.

  15. Dominique says:

    I just wanted to say thanks for the blog and a chance to read other people’s thoughts and ideas. Most people in my family (and my friends) are really stuck on the calories in/calories out idea (low-fat, of course). I’ve managed to convince my husband—but there are times I feel alone doing this…So, reading the low carb blogs really helps. Thanks.

    Thanks for reading. That’s what makes this fun.

  16. jethro says:

    Erik – I went low carb – no more than 50 grams per day – and at 5’10″ weighting 210lb., in six months:

    1. Lost 50 lb. that I’ve kept off since 1997

    2. Lowered triglycerides from 150 to 40

    3. Raised HDL from 50 to 82

    4. Lowered blood sugar from 110 to 60

    5. Lowered waist from 40″ to 32″

    6. Did not count anything, did not fill journals and did not practice portion control. Let my natural appetite dictate when I wanted to eat, ate whatever I wanted at the table always leaving between full and stuffed.

    You’d almost think eating real food means no more dieting.

  17. Katy says:

    Dr. Oz just had a show on how women can bust their fat butts. It’s actually a show on how to run from the room to avoid destroying one’s television. We’re to eat 275 grams of carbs/day, 150 grams of protein, and very little fat, I think 30 grams, or something. According to Oz, our butts are “fat magnets” and the fat cells suck up every bit of fat we eat. Uh-huh. The women on the show were obese, not just fat in their butts. How much fat could they have possibly eaten to gain 100 lbs.? And we’re supposed to eat the veggie burgers at Burger King.

    Amazing how when people stop eating refined carbs and start eating natural fats, their butts cease being fat magnets.

  18. Ricardo says:

    Well the movie seems to implicate as the causation of our health problems. They basically promote plant-based diet but i think its just another way of saying low-fat is healthier.

    It’s not just about low-fat. The film was produced by a bunch of vegetarian advocates, and they want to scare people away from meat.

  19. Nina says:

    Sharon, Tom is a comedian, which is why he forgot to mention the wonderful Jenny Ruhl, who researched her way to a healthy happy life with diabetes. Her doctors didn’t know diddly squat about women and diabetes, so she found out for herself and now gives her information away free:

    http://www.bloodsugar101.com/

  20. Ricardo says:

    Tom im curious as to what your Inflammatory markers are. Like C-Reactive Protein, Lp (a), Fibrinogen and Homo cysteine are. If those are low then your good shape. Also meant to say Forks Over Knives seems to implicate meat in the causation of illness but Esselyton seems to ignore data that doesn’t support his conclusions like how the Masai in Africa live off just meet and have no vegetables what so ever while heart disease are cancer are rare there. Also thanks for the review link.

    I don’t remember numbers, but at my last checkup all the labs were fine.

  21. Marilyn says:

    @LaurieLM. Do a google search for: Kilmer S. McCully, “The Homocysteine Revolution.” I believe he considered a lack of some B vitamins in the diet to be the culprit, not red meat itself. It’s been a long time since I read his book, but you might find it interesting.

  22. Dominique says:

    I’m sure you saw this (Qnexa) new diet drug that may be (in the near future) FDA approved.

    http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-qnexa-patients-20120222,0,4337015.story

    I’m curious as to what diet the trial participants followed in order to lose an average of 10% of their body weight.
    They are promoting its appetite suppressant effects-I find that eating FAT does that just fine-no pill required.

    I just finished a 24-hour fast with barely more than a rumble around a lunchtime. No drugs required, but being keto-adapted sure helped.

  23. Ginger says:

    On a side note…

    I read an article today that made me bang my head on the wall. The Canadian Food Guide to “healthy eating”, which also recommends 6-12 servings of grains for everyone, also gets shameless promotion in a variety of ways including these types of health articles…

    It actually says (word for word): “eating a balanced diet based on the recommended food groups is the only way to not get fat”…. grrrr… I’m face-palming as we speak:

    http://www.besthealthmag.ca/get-healthy/mens-health/the-guys-guide-to-not-getting-fat

    The only way?! Holy toledo, I must’ve been gaining weight without noticing!

  24. anand srivastava says:

    Sharon: Be careful of mixing a Blood glucose reducing diet with blood glucose reducing meds. Doing both together can be very dangerous. Obviously doing it naturally via diet is much better compared to meds.

    I would think that getting rid of meds completely would be safe, but it will obviously cause a lot of distress. If you do want to mix them be very careful.

  25. gollum says:

    Well DUH, isn’t acetylcysteine(?) given as supporting therapy (read: bothersome patient just won’t go away) for dry coughs, to help make wet sputum? And aren’t onion and garlic with their sulfur amino acids a folk remedy for the common cold?

    I would bet quite some meat on the proposition that this is another case of “Mailmen are associated with bills I have to pay. I’ll just shoot them.”

  26. Melissa Cline says:

    Yay middle TN. Hope you’re not too bad off in the storms right now! Put me on the list for the cookout!

    The big storms blew north and south of us. All we got was some rain.

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