Science writer Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It, talks to Dr. Eenfeldt about his extensive research over the past 10 years into low carbohydrate diets. Invest the time to listen. It's important stuff!
Low carb diet proponents Drs. Michael and Mary Eades in their book The Protein Power Lifeplan provide compelling evidence that we indeed were hunters and meat eaters for hundreds of thousands of years.
Add to this the fact that our history as agriculturalists is a mere blink in our evolutionary past, starting about 10,000 years ago, and you can start to grasp the reason for certain assertions they make in their book.
The basic premise is that our digestive system is designed to efficiently digest a diet high in fat and protein. And, we are not equipped to handle the large amount of carbohydrates and sugars found in today's typical western diet.
The simple refined carbohydrates, so common in today's food, are converted to blood sugar almost immediately once ingested wreaking havoc on our hormonal balance, in particular our insulin levels.
The role of insulin
The hormone insulin, discovered less than 100 years ago in 1921, is still somewhat of a mystery as to its entire role in our physiology.
What is known is that insulin's main function is to control blood sugar by keeping it within a normal range. It also plays a major role in fat storage.
When we eat sugar, or carbohydrates which are converted to blood sugar once ingested, insulin receptors on the surface of our cells pump the sugar out of the blood and into the cells where it can be burned as energy or stored for later use.
When excessive amounts of sugars or carbohydrates (starches) are consumed (i.e., after consuming a can of soda pop, donuts, a pile of white rice, a large helping of French fries or even a couple of pieces of toast - whole wheat or white) the body produces large amounts of insulin to manage the load.
If high amounts of sugars and starches are continuously consumed (as is common in today's diets) then the body must continually produce these large amounts of insulin. This in turn can make the cells resistant to insulin, which causes the body to produce even more. Thus begins a vicious cycle which can eventually lead to Type II diabetes.
According to Drs. Eades, this excess insulin production can promote a cluster of other common diseases and risk factors including heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Let's look at obesity, which has become a national epidemic.
As mentioned above, a diet high in sugars and starches causes large amounts of insulin to be secreted to handle the load. The insulin causes storage of excess sugar as fat for later use. The cycle of high carbohydrates creating high insulin levels creates a situation where fat is not burned... instead it is being put into storage for later use.
In order to burn this stored fat, insulin levels must fall. The only effective ways to do this are to reduce the consumption of sugars and carbohydrates, reduce calories, or increase exercise. The most effective method is to simply reduce carbohydrates through a low carb diet and maintain a healthy activity level.
This is a very simplified summary of the chapter on the role of insulin. But it gives you an idea as to the connection between carbohydrates, insulin, and the so-called Western Diseases.
Can dietary fat be healthy?
In order to reduce carbohydrates through a low carb diet, by necessity there will be an increase in both protein and fat consumption in your diet.
We've been told for the past 40 or so years that diets high in saturated fats (i.e., fat from red meat and dairy products) cause us to have elevated cholesterol levels, and to retain fat, and this leads to heart disease.
And yet, our Paleolithic ancestors were primarily meat eaters. But there is little evidence they had heart disease, diabetes, or obesity... elements of Metabolic Syndrome.
Why this dichotomy?
Starting in the 1950s, the typical diet consumed in North America containing lots of red meat and saturated fat was suddenly labeled unhealthy.
This came about largely due to the efforts of one influential researcher named Ancel Keys.
Grains and Starches
Since that time we've been admonished to cut back on red meat and dairy, reduce saturated fats, and to eat a lot more grains and starches... anything but a low carb diet.
As a society, that's what we've done. And the interesting thing to note is that while the so-called unhealthy fat consumption is way down and the "healthy" (polyunsaturated) fat consumption has dramatically increased by following the government’s official dietary guidelines, which includes substantial carbohydrates and starches, as a society we've become a whole lot fatter and much, much sicker.
There is no one single answer of course... disease is a complex phenomenon. But one thing seems clear: the "official" guidelines did not make us a healthier society.
Now it's true that large parts of the population do not necessarily follow the "recommended" dietary guidelines. But let's look at some fascinating findings of physicians who served remote populations in the early 1900s.
Most of us are familiar with the name Albert Schweitzer. In 1913, Schweitzer, who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his four decades of missionary work, arrived in a small village in West Africa.
He observed a lack of "western" diseases amongst the native population and the rise in these diseases in those who, with time, adopted the diets of the west, including refined flour and sugar.
His observations were similar to many other physicians serving remote native populations... people who were relatively healthy when living on their native diets and who began succumbing to diabetes, cancer, and heart disease as they adopted "western" diets high in refined carbohydrates.
There is a fascinating account of this in Gary Taube's must read book, Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health.
We highly recommend both books mentioned on this page.
Should you choose to read them you will equip yourself with a profound depth of knowledge about the challenges of eating a healthy diet... you’ll have a better understanding of the controversies that abound relative to your food and a low carb diet. You’ll also equip yourself with some excellent knowledge with which to challenge some of the traditional aspects of the "western" diet that just might be causing us a great deal of harm.