Yes, low-carb high-fat diets improve blood lipid metrics, reducing cardiovascular and diabetes risks. This is a great lecture for anyone who wants to learn about blood tests.
Athletes who are still carbohydrate loading may want to watch this video when it is released. It describes the story of athletes who used a row boat to self-propel themselves from California to Hawaii running on a low-carb, high fat diet. They set a speed record for this! Of course their bodies were fat-adapted before they started.
I read The Lore of Running cover to cover a few years ago. It is often considered the “Bible” of running. The author, Professor Tim Noakes, is shown in the first Cereal Killers documentary, and in this trailer, ripping pages regarding carb loading out of his book. It makes a powerful message.
The movie will be published in March.
Well, no – but it is interesting to watch them try. Before I start something that could become a rant, I want to point out that I am about to review a single article in a publication that, overall, is a positive advocate for health. The publisher for Nutrition Action is the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and this organization does much good. However, I am disappointed in the way they evoked emotional responses and toned their article to ridicule a way of eating that does not fit current mainstream dietary guidelines. Also, their logic was weak. One lousy article would not be a big deal, except that this lousy article, and similar articles and other media sources promoting high-carb low-fat dietary guidelines, have contributed to the metabolic syndrome epidemic. This is too important to let go of and CSPI deserves criticism.
The cover story of the January/February 2015 Nutrition Action Health Letter is titled: “Behind the Headlines – The science may surprise you”. This story is written by the Director of Nutrition for Nutrition Action. How I interpret her headline is: You are getting incorrect information in the popular media and here is the truth. A headline from a Good Morning America show is displayed with the article: “Low-Carb May Trump Low-Fat in Diet Wars”. You know this cannot be true, since you have already been told the science may surprise you. Then there is the article’s subtitle: “Low-carb diets peal away the pounds???” With three question marks, you know right away this low-carb diet thing is very questionable. If it were not for my personal experience and research, I would already think a low-carb diet is just plain stupid by the time I got to this point in the article. Next to the title is a subtitle to the Good Morning America spot stating, “You’re better off cutting carbs and fat to lose weight”. There you go. If you don’t want to be so fat, just stop your gluttony. This is basically good advice, though it is not very helpful.
The author starts by pointing out a study that showed low-carb dieters lost more weight than low-fat dieters [Ann. Intern. Med. 161:309, 2014]. That certainly matches my experience. However, then she quoted someone who thought that was a bad study, indicating that low-carb participants also cut fat. This person also stated that asking whether low-carb or low-fat is better for weight loss is a lousy question because there are different kinds of carbohydrates and different kinds of fats. If you find that logic compelling enough to stop macronutrient ratio research, then so be it.
The author quotes Assistant Professor of Epidemiology Bradley Johnston to say, “This idea about low-carb versus low-fat needs to stop”. This scientist did a meta-analysis of studies of branded diets, including “low-carb” diets such as Atkins, South Beach, and Zone. Low-carb? Well yes, Atkins is low-carb, but the South Beach and Zone diets are fairly high-carb at 28 and 30 percent carbohydrates. So, I went behind this article and found that the science surprised me. I looked at a study that the article cited: JAMA 297:969, 2007. The study concluded that low-carb dieters lost slightly more weight than high-carb dieters. However, there was no control of the study participant’s macronutrient ratios. That’s right, this little detail was not controlled. Unfortunately, this is kind of a big deal because commonly, when people strive to follow the Atkins diet, their carbohydrate percentage is much higher that what is prescribed by the diet.
Let’s get to the bottom line of the article. You know it is the bottom line because the author labels it “Bottom Line”. It says, “To lose weight, try cutting carbs or fat or both”. So take your pick and do whatever you want, just do not eat so much. This direction is especially ridiculous, considering the n=one-billion experiment that has been going on the last 40 years where fat has been severely restricted. Again, this is not very helpful.
Next to the bottom line is an insert titled “What to Eat”. In other words, now that the author feels she has successfully debunked the low-carb silly fad diet idea, you are about to get authoritative direction. The insert states, if you are concerned about carbs, sugar, and grains, do not worry, because “What to Eat” is low in these things. Also, feel comfortable because the recommendations are based on Omni-Heart and DASH studies published in 2009. So what is it we should eat on a daily basis? Well, based on a 2,100 calorie diet, Nutrition Action says to eat primarily vegetables and fruit. In fact, eat 11 pieces of fruit every day, presumably without regard to its glycemic index. Top that off with grains, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, lean meat, and no more than two tablespoons of oils and fats. Finally, be sure to include two tablespoons of sugar and 2 small cookies. There is room for a “wild card” so enjoy one more serving of dessert if you want to. So that is it. That is what to eat. In my opinion, this is what to eat to maintain the current average American health profile.
I mentioned that it was “interesting” to see Nutrition Action try to debunk LCHF for weight loss. Actually, it is exasperating for me read this kind of article, which flippantly ignores the root cause of the obesity epidemic and other aspects of metabolic syndrome. This is important and is why I am making the effort to bring attention to this. Articles, such as the one published in Nutrition Action, are ultimately harmful. After at least 2.5 million years, scientists and governments began extolling benefits of an extreme high-carb and extreme low-fat diet. At that point, the Metabolic Syndrome Era began. To this day, the high-carb low-fat consensus of experts is still blindly promoted by institutions, dietitians, and publications such as Nutrition Action. There is a tremendous amount of advertising and other public media that push the high-carb diet consensus of opinion. From a health standpoint, this way of eating has failed so I suggest treating the high-carb messages critically.
There is also more than science to consider. For me, I went from a size 36 waist to 32 within six months of starting a low-carb diet. It had been 40 years since I had a size 32 waist. This is high-value credible information from my perspective. But what about millions of others who are discovering LCHF? LCHF testimonials are dominate in social media. For one example, you can read thousands of them on cardiologist Dr. William Davis’ Facebook page. This is not all about weight loss either. People are discovering how to reverse symptoms of diabetes and heart disease through LCHF diets. It is all too much for it to be the placebo effect and, in any case, there is hard science to back this up. It is frustrating that many people who read articles in publications such as Nutrition Action, will only do a quick cursory reading that will reinforce an incorrect consensus of opinion.
Nutrition Action is supported by a scientific advisory board that is loaded with PhD’s that provide much credibility. However, much of the scientific community has failed the public regarding dietary recommendations. For instance, many people will not think twice about reaching for another donut after reading this authoritative sounding “Low-carb diets peel away the pounds???” article.
I invite Nutrition Action to comment on this post and I will alert them to it via their Twitter account (@cspi).
It is not helpful to state that the bottom line is: “To lose weight, try cutting carbs or fat or both”, especially after attempting to demote the effects of carbs. Here is my bottom line: The root cause of the metabolic syndrome epidemic is excessive consumption of carbohydrates along with avoidance of quality fats. To avoid participating in the metabolic syndrome epidemic, limit carbohydrates to a maximum of 20 percent by calories (at least most of the time) and consume quality fats. To do this, you will have to avoid almost all processed foods and drinks. Read health information critically and do not assume that a consensus of experts is credible, even if it has been promoted for 40 years.
Sadly, it will take many years for high-carb low-fat dietary recommendations to be corrected. Even if they changed immediately, metabolic syndrome will continue to be an epidemic for many years. Consider the fact that many babies are now obese. However, there is much happening to change this and I do not think the public will be bombarded with high-carb low fat recommendations as much in the coming years. An example of change is the first international LCHF summit, which is ongoing now in South Africa. Here is a great article about it:
I am not there and I am not affiliated with this, but I expect a lot of good material will come from the LCHF summit. This excerpt from the linked article states the purpose:
“What then do we wish to achieve with this LCHF summit? Simple. We wish to make a statement that will be heard around the world. That statement is this:
The mainstream dietary advice that we are currently giving to the world has simply not worked. Instead, it is the opinion of the speakers at this summit that this incorrect nutritional advice is the immediate cause of the global obesity and diabetes epidemics. This advice has failed because it completely ignores the history of why and how human nutrition has developed over the past 3 million years.
More importantly, it refuses to acknowledge the presence of insulin resistance (carbohydrate intolerance) as the single most prevalent biological state in modern humans. Persons with insulin resistance are at increased risk for developing a wide range of chronic medical conditions if they ingest a high carbohydrate diet for any length of time (decades).
Armed with this knowledge we have two choices. Either we can continue to ignore the evidence presented at this summit, and go on blaming the obese and diabetic for their sloth and gluttony (that is supposedly the sole cause of their obesity and diabetes). Or, if we are ever to reverse this epidemic that has become the greatest modern threat to human health, we need to admit that we have been wrong for the past 40 years, and must now change.”
So what happened in 1980? The USDA issued high-carbohydrate low-fat dietary guidelines. From a historical perspective, Americans in general were already eating an unusually high-carbohydrate diet in 1980. We now exercise more, but the effects of eating more carbohydrates along with a deficiency of quality fats has resulted in an obesity epidemic.
Unfortunately, the health effects extend far beyond obesity and they affect thin people as well. Since 1980, incidence of Type 2 diabetes has more than doubled and approximately 86 million Americans have become pre-diabetic. Incidence of types of dementia and cancers has increased. Heart disease is still the primary cause of death, even though statins are prescribed to the point where these drugs have become at least a 25 billion dollar industry.
Of course USDA recommendations did not cause this health crisis. The USDA never suggested that we should consume more than 100 pounds of sugar per year. The problems are complex and there are many factors. However, the USDA is influential and could easily do much to turn the crisis around. If they do not, it would be better if they stopped making dietary recommendations.
The USDA suggests that saturated fats be severely restricted, even though there is no valid scientific evidence showing that saturated fats are not healthy. Fats they recommend include heat-processed polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as from corn and soy. The USDA’s SuperTracker website suggests not eating butter and instead including margarine and mayonnaise in your diet. Fats in these products have a high omega-6 content, contributing to a general deficiency in healthy omega-3 fats. It is much better to get quality fats from olives, nuts, and avocados and avoid processed foods altogether. Saturated fat from coconuts is also healthy.
Effects of high-carbohydrate low-fat diets are well known. For purposes of study, scientists induce metabolic syndrome in rats by feeding them a high carbohydrate diet. To reverse the symptoms, they provide a ketogenic diet. These effects have been demonstrated in human studies as well and there is becoming much popular documentation. Many well-referenced books have become best sellers, such as Wheat Belly Total Health, Grain Brain, and The Big Fat Surprise. Given the knowledge, it is frustrating that the USDA has not taken meaningful action to help resolve this.
There are probably several reasons that the USDA and many nutritionists have been slow to change. Paradigm shifts can take time and a general change to low-carbohydrate eating will cause a significant disruption to food and pharmaceutical industries. For many years people have seen high-carbohydrate food promoted by government and industry. For instance, many now believe that high-glycemic breakfast cereals can lower the risk of heart disease since many of them are labeled “Heart Healthy”. High-carbohydrate diets are still often considered prudent and the word “extreme” is often used to label alternatives. There is cognitive dissonance.
We can all have some effect in reversing the trends. The USDA is modifying the dietary guidelines this year. I think it could be helpful to engage in conversations with the USDA with comments to posts on their MyPlate Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MyPlate). What I am seeing is, when they post messages suggesting fat-free milk or eating only lean protein, there are re-shares from medical institutions and nutritionists without comment. It surprises me there is not more comment on the MyPlate icon itself, where one of the two absolutely essential macro-nutrients is not even shown. More critical comment is needed. Unfortunately, the USDA is no longer accepting officially submitted public comments for the 2015 dietary guidelines revision.
Also, see 2.5 minutes of the big fat lie:
Dr. Mercola Interviews Dr. Robert Lustig
In this excellent video discussion, Dr. Lustig delivers a wealth of knowledge regarding the root causes of our major chronic diseases. That’s right; the data is available that identifies root causes of what is gobbling a third of our economy. Insulin resistance drives all of the chronic metabolic diseases and the solution is simple: Eat real food, not the processed stuff with fat removed and sugar added.
It was interesting to hear Dr. Lustig’s views on the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting. Also, Dr. Lustig considers trans fats as potentially more damaging than sugar. Watch out for heat-processed vegetable oils and consider that quantities of trans fats less than 0.5 grams do not have to be identified on food labels. So avoid foods with nutritional labels.
This informative video is well worth the 53 minutes.
There is nothing new here as the USDA has pushed high-carbohydrate, low-fat dietary guidelines since the beginning of the metabolic syndrome epidemic. Americans exercise more, eat more carbs, eat less fat, and now metabolic syndrome is beginning to crush our health care system. Yet the messages keep coming from the MyPlate Facebook page: “Eat carbs and restrict fat”. This MyPlate post, showing a stack of pancakes, is just one example.
The USDA’s SuperTracker website goes further and suggests, of the fats we do eat, to include margarine and polyunsaturated vegetable oils. This is just outrageous enough that I am guessing these recommendations will disappear after the guidelines are revised. The recommendation to avoid saturated fats will probably stick through another revision cycle, although there is not valid science that supports this guideline.
The shortened link in the Facebook post takes you to the USDA page Whole Grain Strawberry Pancakes, where they provide a recipe for a serving of two pancakes. I learned some things from this page. First, based on the nutrition information, two of these pancakes provide 36 grams of carbohydrates. This represents 12 percent of the USDA recommended daily value. From that, I calculated the USDA daily value suggestion for carbohydrates: 300 grams. Wow! Eight of these pancakes per day would satisfy the recommended daily value. Considering that carbohydrates are not an essential class of nutrient, this makes no sense to me. However, I think the note at the bottom of the recipe page sheds some light on this. It states that MyPlate has strategic partners known as the “Grain Chain”. The Grain Chain include American Bakers Association, Wheat Food Council, Grains Food Foundation, National Pasta Association, USA Rice Federation, General Mills, and Kellogg’s.
It is too late to formally contribute evidence and suggestions to the USDA as part of the 2015 dietary recommendations process. However, people can “like” the MyPlate Facebook page and make respectful comments there. We can all influence some change this way. For instance, I commented on one of the MyPlate posts that showed a bowl of processed cereal. My comment pointed out that the glycemic load exceeded that of a Snickers bar and later the entire post disappeared. I cannot be sure that is why the post disappeared but, if it was, having it go away was still a good outcome. I made a point to not comment on the post referenced here since I am using it as an example and I want to avoid a broken link.
In my opinion, governments should get out of the dietary recommendation business. It would also be better if they did not form strategic alliances with special interests. However, as long as they are doing this, we can comment when possible and help make sure their influences are positive and do more good than harm.
The thinking behind this post started when I read the following article on the Science Based Medicine (SBM) website: Eat Fat, Get Thin? The article focuses on debunking statements made regarding saturated fats by cardiothoracic surgeon Donald W. Miller, Jr., M.D. in an article and Youtube video titled Enjoy Saturated Fats, They’re Good for You!. I would make comments on the SBM website, but comments are closed for this post.
I saw red flags when the author began his attack with criticisms of Dr. Miller’s oral presentation skills and of some of his views that are unrelated to saturated fats. Then there was this:
‘He [Dr. Miller] begins by attacking the lipid hypothesis: the idea that fat in the diet causes elevated blood cholesterol which causes cardiovascular disease. This no longer needs attacking: mainstream recommendations have followed the evidence and have evolved from a low cholesterol diet to a low fat diet to a low saturated fat diet to avoidance of trans-fats and of excess calories from fat.’
This has an authoritative tone and there is some truth to it. Mostly, though, it is nonsense. Evidence has not led to any such evolution and recommendations to minimize saturated fats are still being made by governments and institutions. For instance, the USDA’s Supertracker website suggests restricting saturated fats. It appears to me that, since the SBM author could not point to valid science showing that saturated fats are unhealthy, he resorted to obfuscation.
The author also states: ‘The consensus of experts who have reviewed all the published evidence is that high blood LDL cholesterol is a major risk factor for CVD and that lowering it reduces risk…’
It must feel safe and responsible to promote the consensus of experts, but I am more interested in not having the average health profile of a population that dies mostly from heart disease. Americans in general eat less fat and exercise more than we did in the 1970’s while diabetes and heart disease remain as two of our biggest health problems. Consider this article from the American Heart Journal:
The CAD patients had an average LDL of 104.9 mg/dL and this value is 137.5 for the average American. You can read more about this in a post from The Fat Emperor Blog: LDL – It’s not the “Bad Cholesterol” – That’s Simplistic Foolery in Light of 21st Century Science. Other studies show low LDL in people with dementia. Extremely high LDL does indicate that something is wrong, but Dr. Miller makes valid points regarding cholesterol. The fact is that LDL level is not a particularly useful indicator unless it is at an extreme level.
Science Based Medicine is a nonprofit organization that operates a quality website about “exploring issues and controversies in the relationship between science and medicine”. There is much worthwhile information published there, but this article about saturated fat does more harm than good. It is an example of cognitive dissonance. This would not be such a big deal if the subject did not affect people. However, perpetuating the high-carb, low-fat (HCLF) is healthy myth can prolong and worsen the health crisis of chronic diseases.
Here is a point of reference. According to Encyclopedia Britannica: ‘The body of a healthy lean man is composed of roughly 62 percent water, 16 percent fat, 16 percent protein, 6 percent minerals, and less than 1 percent carbohydrate, along with very small amounts of vitamins and other miscellaneous substances. Females usually carry more fat (about 22 percent in a healthy lean woman) and slightly less of the other components than do males of comparable weight.’
A fat is categorized as saturated when its molecules have the most hydrogen bonds possible within its structure, making it chemically stable. It is a solid at normal room temperatures. Animal fats and coconut oil are common dietary sources. It is often termed “bad” because it is proven to raise blood cholesterol and there is a belief among many that it contributes to cardiovascular disease. This is why the suggestion to severely limit dietary saturated fats has become institutionalized. However, there are no scientific studies that show meaningful correlation of saturated fat consumption to mortality risk. I believe this is why the SBM author resorted to unrelated criticisms and spin to refute Dr. Miller’s claim that saturated fats are good for you. He might as well have also cited the guy in the video, LCHF is the Shit (linked below) who says “Everybody knows that saturated fat is bad!”.
Another point of reference is basic common sense. Most people have more fat in their body than the other essential macronutrient (protein). At least most of this fat is saturated. I know this from my experience of witnessing a human autopsy at a normal room temperature. Considering the fact that the human body has evolved to store saturated fat, how likely is it that saturated fat causes heart disease? The video makes this point too, although I am guessing that Science Based Medicine would not be impressed with this reference.
My favorite reference is my personal health record that shows really good blood lipid metrics and a generally good health profile from a diet that includes saturated fats. After a few months of restricting carbs, while eating as much of real foods as I wanted, my weight and waist size effortlessly went down to healthy levels. I am nearing 60 years old on a LCHF diet and I know I can run further now than I could when I was a HCLF eater at age 30. Given enough evidence I would change my thinking on this, but it is not enough that a consensus of experts believes HCLF is healthy.