A few random thoughts that occurred to me after my previous post on the “alternative hypothesis”:
1. Too many carbs as an explanation for the rise in obesity and diabetes is still largely correct.
If we were Kitavans and got our carbs from sweet potatoes and other unprocessed foods, maybe the increase in carb intake since the 1970s wouldn’t have been such a problem. But we’re westerners, and a disproportionate share of our carbs come from processed grains. They spike blood sugar (which probably leads to insulin resistance over time) and they provoke inflammation (which probably leads to insulin resistance over time).
In Denise Minger’s book Death by Food Pyramid, she recounts the story of Luise Light, a government scientist who was given the task of writing new nutrition guidelines in the 1970s.
Unlike previous food guides, Light’s version cracked down ruthlessly on empty calories and health-depleting junk food. The new guide’s base was a safari through the produce department – five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. “Protein foods” like meats, eggs, nuts and beans came in at five to seven ounces daily; for dairy, two to three servings were advised.
The guide kept sugar well below 10 percent of total calories and strictly limited refined carbohydrates, with white-flour products like crackers, bagels, and bread rolls shoved into the guide’s no-bueno zone alongside candy and junk food. And the kicker: grains were pruned down to a maximum of two to three servings per day, always in whole form.
The USDA, of course, took her guidelines and mutated them into a pyramid that suggested 6 to 11 servings per day of grains. Light later commented that “no one needs that much bread and cereal in a day unless they are longshoremen or football players” and warned that the six-to-eleven servings of grain per day could spark epidemics of obesity and diabetes.
And so they did. We can blame it on hormonal disruption instead of too much insulin per se, and we can argue about whether or not eating more sweet potatoes and green bananas would have been good or bad. But we were told to eat more breads and cereals, and those foods are a big part of the problem
2. Many of the people currently beating up on Atkins, Taubes, etc., owe them a huge thanks, whether they’ll admit it or not.
Yeah, you can say it’s not all about the carbs. You can say it’s not about the temporary insulin spike after a meal. You can say it’s more about food quality than macronutrients. Heck, I’ll even agree with you. But I suspect if there were no Dr. Atkins and no Good Calories, Bad Calories, a lot of current whole-foodies and paleo types who slam low-carb diets would still be afraid of saturated fats and cholesterol and trying to live on low-fat diets.
Honestly, how many of you out there were aware of all the bad nutrition “science” before Taubes starting writing about it? I certainly wasn’t. When I worked for a small health magazine in the 1980s, I quoted the USDA and the American Heart Association as reliable sources in my articles – because I assumed they were reliable sources.
3. Mixing it up is probably the way to go.
Based on glowing reviews from readers, I recently read three books by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Great reads, all three of them. In Antifragile, he makes the point that biological systems are often made stronger by doses of randomness. If you do the same repetitive motion every day, you’ll likely injure yourself. But if you lift weights now and then – a random stressor – you get stronger. Taleb eats meat, but goes vegan for several days now and then. He fasts now and then. I recently heard legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin say (on a Tim Ferriss podcast) that he loves nuts, but he’s careful not to eat the same ones day in and day out. The reason? You can develop an intolerance if you eat the same foods over and over. You need to mix it up.
So I like the approach Rob Faigin suggests in Natural Hormone Enhancement: eat a low-carb/high-fat diet for a few days to promote weight loss, then mix in a day with higher carbs and lower fat. Or maybe a few days now and then.
Tim “Tatertot” Steele wrote an interesting book called The Potato Hack. The “hack” is eating nothing but potatoes for a period of several days. Salt and liquids like vinegar or chicken broth are allowed for flavor, but no fat. Some people have reported losing a pound per day on the diet. I tried it for three days in May and lost … nothing. No change. But the interesting part is that my blood sugar didn’t go through the roof like I feared it might. I usually peaked at around 140 briefly, then dropped well below 100 by an hour after eating. I boiled the potatoes and let them cool in the fridge overnight before reheating them for meals, so perhaps the resistant starch helped keep the glucose level down.
Kudos to Tim, by the way, for not letting his enthusiasm for the potato hack blind him to the danger for diabetics. He tells readers trying the diet for the first time that they absolutely must check their glucose response. He shows what normal responses should look like. He also shows what a diabetic response would look like and says “If your numbers look like this, DON’T DO THIS DIET. You are a diabetic and need to see a doctor.”
Anyway, if you decide to try Faigin’s mix-it-up approach, Steele’s potato-hack meals fit the “higher carb, low-fat day” prescription.
4. Never-ending low-carbing can cause problems for some people, but that doesn’t mean everyone should carb up.
Like I said in my previous post, I would never tell type II diabetics to run out and eat potatoes just because they seem to benefit me. We’re all different. Jimmy Moore interviewed Chris Kresser about diet and thyroid back in 2012, and Kresser made exactly that point. Some people go VLC and they’re fine. They feel great. They don’t develop thyroid issues. But some people do. They stop converting as much T4 (the inactive thyroid hormone) to T3 (the active hormone) and their metabolisms slow down. They’re surprised when Kresser has them eat more carbs and they begin losing weight again.
Too little glucose in the diet can clearly cause problems for some people, but so can too much glucose. In my previous post, I linked to a study demonstrating that going VLC can cause some men to produce less testosterone – not a happy result if you want more muscle and less fat on your body. But I should mention that other studies demonstrate that too much glucose in the system also reduces testosterone.
Here’s the conclusion from one study:
Glucose ingestion induces a significant reduction in total and free T levels in men, which is similar across the spectrum of glucose tolerance.
And from another study:
Oral glucose administration acutely lowers LH and total T concentrations by suppressing pulsatile LH secretion and basal T secretion commensurately.
Too little glucose, your testosterone drops. Too much glucose, your testosterone drops. Paul Jaminet got it right. There’s an ideal range for glucose. For most of us, it’s not zero … but it’s also nothing close to 300 grams per day.
While digging those studies out of my database, I also came across two that demonstrate the importance of the right fats. Here’s the conclusion from this study:
Our results indicate that in men a decrease in dietary fat content and an increase in the degree of unsaturation of fatty acids reduces the serum concentrations of androstenedione, testosterone and free testosterone.
And from this study:
Production rates for T showed a downward trend while on low-fat diet modulation. We conclude that reduction in dietary fat intake (and increase in fiber) results in 12% consistent lowering of circulating androgen levels.
Studies have shown that men today have lower average testosterone levels than men in previous generations. We’ve been jacking up our glucose levels with junk carbs and eating less saturated fat since the 1970s. Could be a coincidence, but I doubt it.
So regardless of whether you stick with VLC or decide to mix it up with higher-carb days, here’s the take-home message for guys: skip the cereals and eat your damned bacon and eggs.