We’re saying Good-Bye to Carbs

For the last few years I’ve been making a conscious effort to “know my food”: what’s in it, where it comes from, and how it was grown or raised. I eat what I thought was a healthy diet, with limited processed foods, mostly whole foods, and meals made from scratch. Recently my Husband and I have embarked on a rather dramatic change in eating habits. We’re still in transition mode, and I’m still processing my thoughts about it all, but that’s what today’s post is about.

Husband has struggled with his weight for many years. Recently, he brought home a book that changed the way we think about food. Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes debunks the myth of low-fat and low-cholesterol being “good for you” diets, and instead points the finger squarely at carbohydrates as the main culprit in the so-called “Western Diseases” (obesity, diabetes, heart disease). He presents some impressive evidence for this, gleaned from credible sources such as scientific papers and government reports. The story of how we all came to believe in the “low fat solution” is a fascinating one all on its own (in a word: politics).

Being thus convinced that a diet heavy in carbs may be unhealthy I started looking into low-carb diets. I soon became overwhelmed with the amount of information out there. There’s low-carbno-carbPaleoGAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome), SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet) and a host of others. While all of them aim to reduce carbohydrate intake, they differ on what is allowed and not allowed. Some forbid dairy (though others allow butter and/or ghee). Some say lighten up on the nuts and seeds, while others rely on them as grain substitutes. Some forbid all legumes, while others allow certain legumes prepared in a certain way. It all gets very confusing very quickly. Each side has their argument about why such-and-such a food is okay or not and it gets hard to figure out who to believe.

Ultimately, with my head swimming and confused about whether anything I’d ever enjoyed eating was good for me, I had to stop and take a pause and ask myself the most important question, one I heartily recommend anybody else considering a major dietary change ask themselves: why do I want to change the way I currently eat?

Different diets are skewed towards different theories of nutrition and their relation to disease. GAPS, for example, links gut health to mental health, suggesting that autism spectrum disorders can be treated this way. SCD is geared towards those with digestive disorders such as IBS or Crohn’s. Some people claim they are fatigued all the time, suffer from chronic aches and pains, have food allergies or sensitivities. Some are athletes in training looking to maximize performance. Others want to reduce their food budget, or eat with a mind to being more environmentally responsible. Many others are looking to control their weight.

I fall squarely into the last category. I don’t have any health problems. I tolerate wheat and dairy just fine. I am not lacking in energy, and I don’t suffer from chronic pain. By mainstream North American standards, my diet is already pretty darned healthy. However, I am overweight, and possibly more so than I thought. When I was in my early twenties I weighed around 125 lbs. Now, at age 43, I consider an ideal weight for me to be 142 lbs, mostly because that’s the lowest weight I’ve been able to attain without depriving myself of food and going hungry (a miserable way to live, particularly when it’s self-imposed). I simply accepted that one gains weight with age, but the fact is I am not any taller than when I was 23. Based on my ideal weight I am currently about 10 – 12 pounds overweight. However, if one argues that I should be where I was 20 years ago, then I’m actually 25+ lbs overweight. That’s entering scary territory.

I recently watched Robert Lustig’s viral YouTube talk Sugar: The Bitter Truth (it’s worth the whole hour to watch, but you could skip to the last 15 minutes to find the conclusions) and was deeply affected. Having taken my share of biochemistry courses I really appreciated the strength of what he was saying, and it added to my growing suspicion (especially after reading Taubes’ book) that sugar was much more of a problem for me than I wanted to believe. I’ve had a sweet tooth all my life and I love baked goods, breads, and other starchy foods including rice, pasta, and potatoes. Switching to home-made and organic doesn’t change the way they affect weight, however.

So, having decided that weight loss is my primary goal and that sugars (including starches) may be my main issue, I considered any other desires I might have for a new dietary regime. I do exercise, going for long walks and bike rides regularly, and doing hard labour on our property in the warmer months. I do NOT want to have to exercise simply for the sake of burning calories: that has never worked for me. I don’t want to be counting the hours that I walk, the steps I take each day, nor do I want to be counting calories or going hungry at any time during the day. So, with these considerations in mind I decided to go for the Paleo diet, which eliminates all grains. Fruits are okay (Lustig says the presence of so much fibre affects how the body handles the fructose, for the better), and it meshed well with Husband’s decision to go low-carb and grain-free. The philosophy also appeals to me since I tend to look towards our evolutionary history when trying to answer other questions in my life such as how to care for my babies (thus, attachment parenting), or how children learn (thus, unschooling).

I’ve been in a transition period for the last few weeks: trying to wean myself off sugar, move away from grains, and transition to new recipes. I’m glad I tried this slowly; I think it has made it easier to accept and adapt. For example, this morning for the first time in over 20 years I did not start off my day with a cup of black tea. I used to put tons of sugar in my morning cuppa, but over the last few weeks I’ve weaned myself down to only a teaspoon in a large mug. However, truth be told it’s just not enjoyable anymore. I find black tea too bitter. So instead I had some rooibos tea, which goes well with milk and doesn’t need sweetening. My final challenge will be to replace my morning bowl of cereal when I’m finally finished the box.

Lunch has been the easiest. I usually don’t eat much for lunch and I have been enjoying some Hvarti cheese (full fat, wahoo!), a handful of almonds, and a pear or other fruit. Lately I’ve fallen for smoothies. My current favourite ingredients include almond butter, frozen mixed berries, coconut milk, raw cow’s milk, plain yogurt (from raw milk), silken tofu, and spinach. I was adding white grape juice at first but am weaning myself off that now. For snacks a handful of almonds or cashews (or mixed together with raisins) satisfies. Also beef jerky (time to get a food dehydrator).

Dinner meant writing many staples off the list. But it’s also now pretty simple: pick a meat, pick a veg. For meat we choose from beef, pork, chicken, or eggs (all farm-fresh, ethical, local meats). We are also considering joining a CSF (community-supported fishery) so we can get sustainably-caught local seafood. For veggies we either have a tossed salad, broccoli slaw, or stir-fried veggies. No rice, no potatoes, no pasta, no beans, no lentils. Besides making meal planning simpler, I have noticed two main benefits to eating this way. First, I no longer feel uncomfortably full after dinner. I just feel satisfied, not like I need to undo the button on my jeans. I’m also not feeling hungry later on, which I very often did when eating a dish with pasta or rice. The second benefit is that since I can’t fill up on pasta, rice, or potatoes I need to make up for that with more veggies. Thus, a typical meal now consists of a serving a meat and the rest of the plate piled high with greens. I like this; it was the excuse I needed to have more vegetables around.

So we’re still pretty new to this and I’m not 100% Paleo yet. I will allow myself a few “forbiddens” like flaxseed meal (which I eat so little of anyway), and perhaps the odd dash of maple syrup or honey. I’m also fully embracing the dairy, since I have no reactions to it and we have access to raw milk. I also won’t expect to stick to Paleo when eating out, but that is a rarity anyways. And I will treat myself every once in a while, because a life without ever eating rhubarb pie or freshly baked cinnamon buns is simply not worth living. 🙂

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16 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tricia Edgar on May 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Try stevia for tea and smoothies. I’m mostly down to herbal tea with stevia in the morning, since I don’t do sugary sweeteners in my tea. Even if you think that you won’t like it, you’ll probably get used to it. I find the taste of sugar weird now.

    If you’re thinking of Skipper Otto’s CSF, it’s fabulous! This will be our 2nd year.

    I’ve found that going gluten-free has impacted the number of “extra” carbs that I eat. If I can’t eat that yummy-looking but unnecessary thing, I won’t. I’m most certainly not super low carb, but I’ve very carb-conscious. Having diabetes does that to you.

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  2. I’m sorry to hear this. The research I’ve been exposed to by very credible doctors, and backed up by personal experience, is that a whole foods plant-based diet, with plenty of starch in the form of whole grains, potatoes, and yams, is the healthiest. A new documentary out: Forks over Knives is making the rounds, although unfortunately not in my town. Anyway, if interested in information I’ve been exposed to, you are welcome to email me and I’ll give you sources (and no arguments!)

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  3. Posted by Jen on May 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    I agree with this! I struggled to find a lower carb diet that was still whole food based (I.e. Nondiet bars and crap like that!) and found south beach to be pretty good . We don’t follow it exactly anymore but I really enjoyed their meal planning ms they have some great recipes. But you don’t have to join you can fond the record all over the web if you google south beach recipe. The one thing I’ve realized lately about diets is that there are different body types and some types of diets/eating habits work better for some people more than others. But no matter what I do think noth Americans eat way too many carba particularly the processed white flour white sugar variety, and cutting back on that stuff is never a bad thing for anyone!!!

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  4. Thanks for your comments, everyone. I agree that probably different diets work better for different folks. I know sugars and starches are my downfall in terms of overeating and weight, so we’re going to give Paleo (with dairy) a go for a few weeks and see how it goes. I’m open to it working, or not working. There is so much information out there it’s hard to weed through it all. I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for that movie, Chile. At some point we have to just decide on a plan and go for it. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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  5. Okay, so I looked at the movie trailer and info and it seems to be espousing the Chris Cambell diet, which blames meat-based meals on cancer and metabolic syndrome (diabetes, obesity, heart disease). There seems to be just as much evidence to favour his side as there is to favour a paleo (meat-based) diet, which specifically targets Cambell’s theories in many instances (according the the writing I’ve been reading). Certainly I’ve read many many “success stories” held up in support of it, just as is claimed on the Forks to Knives website. So it essentially boils down to which research one is going to believe.

    My biggest criticism with Cambell’s regime is that it negates the fact that throughout our history as a species we’ve been meat-eaters. Certainly, large amounts of plants are part of that too. After all, we are omnivores. But the biggest protein sources were almost always meat. It also doesn’t explain the Eskimos, who eat virtually no plants and had virtually no Western diseases until they started adopting a more Western diet over the last few decades. So my gut says that it’s normal and healthy for humans to eat meat, we’re designed for it. I’m wondering if the way we eat meat (in burgers/hot dogs, lots of processed food, and typically served with a whopping dose of carbs) may be more of a problem than meat itself.

    I may be wrong, and as I said above this is an experiment that I’m willing to try for a while. For the last two years we had restricted our meat intake (largely for ethical and budgetary reasons) and it hasn’t gotten me any lighter. Time will tell, of course. As mentioned above, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that some people simply do better on different dietary regimes, and that ultimately we may all have to figure out what works for us.

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  6. […] Simplicity « We’re saying Good-Bye to Carbs […]

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  7. My H and I have also gone carb/starch/sugar free.
    Protein, fruits, veggies. Our daily mantra.
    It actually makes things a lot more easy – from grocery shopping to preparing meals.
    Plus – I’ve noticed I just feel lighter, quicker on my feet and more “emptied out” – (probably all the roughage!!)
    We still have a treat once a week, though – either banana bread or some sort of bread, either pastry or something. B/c treats are nice!
    Good Luck to you!

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  8. I’ll be interested to see how this works for you; I’ve pondered and researched these dilemmas for years too. I’ve become a firm believer in a few things. One, human beings are incredibly adaptable as a species. Global diets vary tremendously, and seem to be all about adapting to a local environment for survival. Two, most places in the world that eat “traditional” diets–ie with no industrial food–have long lived, healthy people. Every year there seems to be new research that shows a new culture’s food is healthy–I saw Norwegian for cabbage and rye recently! Three, T. Colin Campbells’ study (The China study) is a gold standard source of facts for optimal human health. Four, food is about way more than optimal health! I have come to believe that our obsession with diet as the cause of all disease and source of all health is another aspect of the “nutritionism” that comes out of (IMO) a nineteenth-century protestantism ideology that is dubious at best, and that is a symptom of cultural disconnections. So last, I have come to believe that for most North Americans, who are not connected to an ancestral diet in any direct way (lots of mixing gene pools!), figuring out what works for you is the only way to go. Get away from the processed foods, eat what can be produced fresh locally, cut back on sugar and salt, recognize your own food addictions (as opposed to pleasures), figure out what your “feast” foods are (the ones that feel special and emotionally fulfilling), and then concentrate on the other aspects of life that contribute hugely to health: stress, joy, relationships with others, a sense of purpose, etc. Food can add to all of these, or anxiety about it can detract from all of them.

    On my own journey, I recognize over and over again that a lower-protein, high fiber (veggies), low sugar diet keeps me happy and my weight and energy stable. My hub is sugar and carb-addicted, and does much better on a higher-protein diet. He also comes from a pretty direct ancestral diet that was adapted to LOTS of fish, potatoes and then fresh veggies when possible. I get sick on what he truly thrives on. Science is always about overall trends and percentages, but we have to determine ourselves which percentage we fall into, and sometimes its the 10% exception to the rule.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post, and for your patience with a LONG comment! 🙂 Good luck to you on your journey!

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  9. Posted by FreeLearners on May 28, 2011 at 8:43 am

    What a great comment, Backyard Feast! ITA with you about the idea that food is not the answer to everything; I’ve never bought that either and consider it bordering on religion in some cases. I do think the “Western Diseases” are largely the result of our eating habits, however, but with a healthy dose of stress thrown in for good measure (too many people in our society lead hectic lives). I also agree that different diets are going to work better for different people. For me, carbs have proven to be my downfall, and I know that I succumb readily to sugar addiction. Sounds like I’m a lot like your husband that way. Finally, I’m planning to get my hands on the Campbell study and read it myself. I’ve heard some excellent critiques of his work and, if what I’ve heard is true, then there is reason to believe it isn’t the gold standard its held up to be. Nevertheless, ultimately as you said we have to find what works for us, and we’ll know by how we feel.

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  10. As someone with diabetes, carbohydrates are essential to maintaining my blood sugar. I’ve been told by my diabetes specialist that everyone should be eating as if they had diabetes, because it’s all about maintaining a healthy blood sugar level.

    Why are blood sugar levels so important? Because they determine whether your body starts pumping out the starvation chemicals to trick you into binge eating. It’s the swings between low and high blood sugars, that keeps the body addicted to large doses of single food groups.

    What someone with diabetes has to aim to do, is avoid large quantities of sugar/carbohydrates/fats/dairy: learning to eat instead, moderate portions of each group throughout the day. Also less processed foods, because whole foods have more nutrition than processed.

    It’s the moderation that keeps blood sugar levels moderate though.

    I’ve heard the analogy that people are like car engines. We all know what happens to a car if you pour a cup of sugar in the gas tank. It splutters, jolts, revs and basically gets to where it’s meant to be going with a great deal of difficulty. Now imagine pouring in a cup of processed meat, or a cup of carbohydrate, it has the same effect.

    The trick is not to put large amounts of any food group into the tank. If you want your car engine to get used to sugar, you feed it in small amounts. Like people. We function best with moderation.

    The impacts of food in the body is something I’ve had to work very extensively with. It’s a matter of life and death more than it is about losing weight. The times I have lost weight is when I’ve reduced my food intake, but kept the same level of activity. I didn’t realise until I did that, how much I was over-eating.

    When I eat less I feel healthier – but I make sure I still eat 6 meals a day. Those meals can range from a handful of nuts, a banana, a small tub of yoghurt, a pasta salad, carrot fingers, even chips if I have no more than a small bowl full. The hardest challenge was training my body and mind to accept small meals more often. I’ve noticed as I’ve aged too, my body doesn’t require as much food as I did when younger.

    I think it’s great to contemplate new ways of eating, but beware any diet that focusses on losing weight, rather than healthy blood sugar levels. Because ultimately it’s when your body is feeling in it’s prime that you feel your healthiest.

    Have you given any thought into aging – like what that’s going to be like for you? My mum is constantly saying she’s aging – she’s getting close to 60 now. I always think she’s exagerating but when I look at my own aging process, my requirements have changed and my body has more limitations upon it.

    I like to embrace the mental battle as well as the physical one. I’ve had a few chats with myself lately, coming to accept the way that I am today. It’s when I start stressing that I’m not like I use to be, that I start to feel “old”. Accepting that I’ve had a baby, that I’m not as active as I use to be (but do far harder work, LOL) then I don’t feel like I’m meant to “be” someone else.

    For me, that has been a real liberation. I actually like what’s happening to my body – it challenges me to be more than I have been in the past. I think it’s healthy for you to cut back your sugar as that will make your blood sugar levels fluctuate a lot. But don’t forget the usefulness of carbohydrates either. It keeps your blood sugar level, at a certain point, for a lot longer. Sugar merely gives you high, quick, burts – carbohydrates in moderate amounts, keeps your levels steady.

    I actually don’t consider I’m on a diabetes “diet”, rather I’m into healthy, sustainable eating that matches my energy requirements and aging process. 🙂

    My diabetes specialist says I’m slightly overweight, but still within a healthy range. I’m happy with that. 😉

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  11. PS forgot to mention – I love peppermint tea with no milk or sugar.

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  12. Posted by FreeLearners on June 6, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Thanks for your comments, Chris. What you wrote has, indeed, been the conventional wisdom for diabetes. But it is increasingly being questioned. The hypothesis goes like this: carbohydrates are treated by the body just like sugar. But this source of energy (glycogen) is not available over a long period of time, which is why you need to eat so frequently throughout the day (and why elite athletes “carb load” prior to an event). And why “calories in/calories out” must be so tightly regulated – any excess carb fuel not used up quickly gets stored as fat. When (healthy) dietary fats are used as the energy source, they remain available a lot longer, thus frequent “top-ups” of gas are not necessary, and the stuff isn’t getting shunted “to your hips”. This appears to be the way humans functioned for the vast majority of our evolutionary history, based on what we know of their diet and eating habits, and it was only with the availability of concentrated carbs (refined grains, abundant starchy veggies) and year-round access to sugar that we were able to switch to using that as a fuel source. But I believe it has had dire consequences for our health. So basically the Primal/Paleo diet is based on the hypothesis that celiminating carbs and sugars as a source of fuel, and replacing it with healthy fats instead, removes the whole issue of blood sugar fluctuations from the table. Apparently diabetics have had great success on this diet, and Robert Lustig (and other doctors) claim they have reversed diabetes based on this diet.

    Your explanation for “starvation chemicals” that lead to binge eating also has another interpretation. Carbs and sugars negatively affect the satiety mechanisms such that people are more inclined to overeat when ingesting carbs (and especially sugars) with their meal. Hormones that tell the body “I’m full” are inhibited by the burst of insulin that follows sugar ingestion (and remember, carbs are treated by the body as sugars) meals. Fats, however, provide the best effect on satiety mechanisms such that overeating is not an issue. And, since sugar/carbs as a fuel source get rapidly sequestered into fat cells if not used (b/c circulating high blood sugar is toxic) this is interpreted as the “starvation response”.

    Finally, while weight loss is one of my goals for this plan, my lifelong struggles with sugar addiction has also been a big factor. I can see now that both sweets and carbs do bad things to my body – making me eat way beyond satiety, and inducing cravings that go beyond my body’s signals for nutrition. Like an alcoholic, for me there is no such thing as a “small serving” of sweet potatoes. Being on this diet has changed my life in that way, and I’m still marvelling at being able to indulge in foods that don’t make me think of nothing but the next bite…

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  13. Great discussion. Beware though, what information you read about what’s best for people with diabetes. Not all the information reported is true – or at least it’s only selective for the purpose of the article being written. Diabetes management is a continual work in progress. What they’ve proclaimed in the past, “wonders” for the condition, has later gone on to be quite narrow (if not detrimental) in it’s scope.

    I’ve seen quite a lot of this since being diagnosed 22 years ago.

    I’ve experienced the transition from animal based insulin to completely synethic insulin, sugar elimination to carbohydrate based and now the super trendy GI (Glycemic Index) based diets. None of them have stuck long-term however. What initial success I’ve had with new diets, are easily changed when my body starts craving something else.

    The only diet I don’t crave things on is a whole foods diet. Basically I eat everything in moderation. The trick is learning moderation in a society that only deals with excess.

    When I mentioned carbohydrate in my first reply, there’s a whole encyclopedia of information I didn’t provide. Consequently you may have thought I was referring to the old school thought on carbohydrate based diets for people with diabetes. Absolutely not. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. Moderation is what I was aiming at, but carbohydrate still has to be made available throughout the day.

    I did want to raise two concerns with the information you provided about diabetes and the benefits of a paleo diet however. Firstly, it cannot reverse diabetes. This is a generalisation and it’s one I’ve heard many times in regards to new diets. It doesn’t distinguish between the two types of diabetes: insulin dependent and non insulin dependent.

    This is an important difference because the first one is what I have. My body doesn’t produce insulin any more, the cells have died. No diet is going to reverse that process for me or anyone else with type one diabetes. Any success that this diet may have on a person, will be if they have type two diabetes – where their body is already manufacturing insulin, just not enough of it.

    Were you given that information in what you read about reverse diabetes? Because if they didn’t distinguish between type one and type two diabetes, then they’re generalising for the purpose of the article. Maybe they found a few people who did well on the diet and maybe they recorded the data, but was it only a short term study and was the parametres specific enough for both types of diabetes to be included?

    This is why I say beware what you actually read about what’s best for people with diabetes. The term, causes and solutions tend to get generalised a lot – even within the scientific community itself.

    The second concern though, is in regards to the paleo diet and heart disease. This is a big killer (heart disease) of people with diabetes, especially those who are overweight. Any excess pressure placed on the heart, comes from an excess of fat. You’re talking exclusively about the stuff that goes on your hips though, something you can see – but what about the fat that lines your arteries and heart?

    A high fat/protien diet – even if it’s healthy fat that doesn’t show up on your hips, can cause problems with how your arterial and nervous system operates. People with diabetes have to be aware that it’s not just visual excess fat that increases the risk of heart disease, it’s the foods that affect the blood supply/organs too.

    Even as a person with 22 years experience with diabetes, I still don’t know all that’s involved. I’ve only learned through necessity. But what I have seen in that time, is a lot of theories around new fixes that never stops the rates of deaths and general unwellness of a soceity obsessed with food.

    Don’t you think it’s a little weird that where carbohydrate and sugar is deemed bad in excessive amounts, foods high in protein and fat is somehow more healthier for you? If the issue is the excessive amounts causing harm to the body, that’s what has to be dealt with.

    I’m only sharing information though, I’m no expert, LOL, so please don’t stop your pursuit of the right diet for you. I don’t want you to think I’m saying no to a paleo diet. I’m just suggesting there’s more to be understood from any kind of diet. The only failsafe one I’ve come across has been a whole foods diet – which is to eat everything from every food group, often, only in smaller portions than say a younger version of me was used to. 😉

    Living with moderation is so hard to do. I’ve been practicing every day and I still have my days of temptation. Thankfully they’re getting fewer. 🙂

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  14. Posted by FreeLearners on June 7, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Chris, thanks so much for your wonderful reply. Such excellent comments, and fuel for a great discussion!

    First, you are correct that I was referring to Type II Diabetes. Sad to say it’s so incredibly common that many people, including me, use the generic term “diabetes” when referring to it, rather than distinguishing it from Type I.

    Thanks for the clarification on the carb references, too. I see now that you mean to include carbs in moderation as with all other ingredients, and were not advocating a high carb diet. The Primal/Paleo diet does include carbs, but just in very low amounts at first, with moderate increases once one’s health/weight goals have been achieved.

    The typical Western diet is very carb heavy and I think everybody can benefit from a whole foods diet. I just think that for people like myself with sugar addictions, our body’s response to it can be “out of whack” – indices like down- or up-regulation of receptors, modulated gene expression, and other early signs of Type II diabetes. – such that only going “cold turkey” can really get us back to normal. Once normal we should be able to handle healthy, whole foods-based carbs so long as they aren’t over-represented in the diet, which I think is what you are advocating too?

    With respect to fat and heart health, I did my PhD in cardiac electrophysiology, so I’m familiar with some of the research on heart disease. I recall even as an undergrad one of our top professors was saying he didn’t buy the cholesterol-heart disease connection. Over the years we’ve refined our indices of “at risk” for heart disease. In his YouTube talk, Dr. Robert Lustig (“Sugar: the bitter truth”) gives a great explanation of this, and how triglycerides and LDL/HDL are affected by sugars and carbs, differently to how they are affected by dietary fat, and how they relate to risk of heart disease. Also there turns out to be 2 forms of LDL, one of which is a key candidate for arterial plaque formation, but the other is not. Few tests today distinguish between the two kinds, though scientists are calling for it to be included. So the not-so-short answer is that there is increasing evidence that the link between dietary fat and heart disease should be questioned or, at least, clarified to a much more specific degree.

    The other thing to consider is the sources of dietary fat that researchers correlate with heart disease, which include all the “bad fats” in our highly processed Western diets. Furthermore, the industrialization of farming has literally changed the composition of animal fats, and there is good reason to believe that the factory-farmed bacon most people eat is a different creature than bacon from pastured pigs allowed to eat a natural diet or wild animals that have been hunted for consumption (e.g. the ratio of Omega 6:Omega 3 fatty acids is way off in the former). The rising incidence of heart disease correlates with changes in farming practices from pastured animals fed a natural diet to concentrated production models where animals are almost exclusively grain-fed, but these have rarely been included in analyses of heart disease and dietary fat.

    Your question about moderation of fats and proteins is an excellent one, and my answer would be “what is normal for the human species?”. Cats, for example, are obligate carnivores and there is nothing wrong with a diet of meat only (even though animal food companies would convince you that veggies are healthy for cats, merely because they are healthy for humans). Throughout the course of our evolutionary history as a species we have relied on animals as a major source of protein and fat. The “other half” of our diet has been plants (veggies) but not grains- which need to be highly processed, and were rarely available in significant quantities. Starchy tubers were not as concentrated in sugars as modern varieties are. Plus they were difficult to preserve and thus only available seasonally whereas animals were year-round fare. So when we talk about “moderation” I don’t think that means “equal amounts of everything”. I think we should consider what a “normal diet” is for humans (and I realize that is still up for debate!) and what proportions are normal. I personally think that filling one’s plate with 1/4 to 1/2 meat (or eggs) and the rest plants comes pretty close to our historical diet as it is hard to imagine where most human societies would have gotten their protein and energy requirements otherwise, before agriculture was discovered. But I admit it’s a “belief” based on “common sense” and what information we have, which is necessarily incomplete. It’s all a bit of a crap shoot in the end!

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  15. I totally agree there’s a tremendous difference between meat from industrial farmed animals and pastured ones. The ones out on pasture are being feed from virtually millions of microbial lifeforms in the soil, giving them immensely diverse stores of fat and proteins. What’s more, before humans stopped being nomadic and started setting up farms, they often travelled to different provinces to do their hunting. Consequently they were probablly eating *billions* of microbial lifeforms contained in the animal flesh/fat.

    On the point of grains and cereals, I have to agree they’re an incredibly intensive crop to farm. So much so, I’m looking into growing other forms of seed to replace wheat in my breadmaking. I don’t want to give up bread, but I’m happy to experiment with different forms of it. Millet is a lot easier to grow and does make a flour – and consider too, birds often ate seeds and then hunters went on to eat the birds. Perhaps it only became part of evolution, when we stopped hunting wild birds as part of our diet, that we started to eat seeds for ourselves.

    Food, farming and human history makes for a fascinating story and one everyone can benefit from exploring futher. It’s why I like to take an open minded approach to food…it’s always how we’ve come to evolve.

    While history is there to learn from though, I’m not sure we can accurately duplicate historical diets in the same way, to benefit us today. Past mankind not only ate a diet high in meat, but they were eating meat that ate different microbial lifeforms too. Wild birds ate a lot of seed and grains, while larger heard animals ate mostly pasture. As we’ve stopped consuming wild animal meat, we’re requiring less meat in general and more cereals.

    That’s not to say the way we’re consuming those cereals today – mostly in the form of extremely processed carbohydrate, is the way forward either! Like you said, how much is enough?

    Interestingly, I think we’ve always had a natural control mechanism in the past and that was our human labour. I have certainly found with the food we produce on our property (and you may discover this too) I actually start wanting THAT more. Not because it saves money or is more healthy for us, but I form a relationshiop with the food from the ground up. When I harvest that food (plant or animal) I’ve been involved in the process, but like the natural equalibrium of labour for food, I can never overdo to excess of consumption.

    In other words, when I eat what I produce, I am limited by my capacity to work. In an industrialised economy however, we are not limited by labour when fossil fuels can do over 20,000 times more than a single person.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion. I hope I haven’t come across as anti paleo diet. I just find our relationship to food so fascinating, that it doesn’t always stay within the same subject matter. 😉

    Reply

  16. Posted by FreeLearners on June 7, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Thanks, Chris. It was a great discussion. ITA with what you said about labour and the relationship with your food. I’m finding myself drawn more to the foods I can produce readily on our little homestead, just as you said. I love the labour-limited idea. Thanks again!

    Reply

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