Aren’t Low Carb Diets Bad for You?
So throughout this series we have tried hard to give grains a bad name…and rightfully so. Low carb diets we have different feelings about.
Now there are quite a few reasons we are told that we should eat grains and avoid protein, namely red meats. Let’s see if we can poke some holes through this piece of bread.
There are several concerns people have with taking out grains from your diet. Now notice first of all, I am not really recommending a “low-carb” diet because I am saying you can eat as many vegetables as you want and you can varying in fruits as well. We talked about why grains are specifically bad for your body, so let’s discuss how your body can not only survive, but flourish on a diet that is heavy in protein, vegetables, and dietary fats.
Claims About Low Carb Diets
Claim #1: These diets are scams! Low-carb diets say you can eat unmeasured meals (or whatever your heart desires). Everyone knows that defies the laws of thermodynamics (or calories in vs. calories out) which fat loss is based on.
Are low carb diets safe? Yes and sorry to harsh your mellow, but the laws of thermodynamics have little to do with the biochemical nature. Your body’s fat metabolism is based primarily on your blood sugar and insulin levels, and not the quantity of what you eat. The body is a very complex thing.
Calories in vs. calories out only tells you what is coming in and out of your body. It doesn’t answer the question of what those calories are doing inside the body.
How does the body decide what stays and what goes? If it stays, where does it stay? Your body isn’t a drain.
All of it’s actions are taken purely for the intent of self-preservation. As you put more stress on your body (mentally or physically) then you are going to charge more chemicals (hormones) to react. When this stress happens, you retain more glucose as fat or transfer muscle cells into fat.
The food you put in your body reacts very differently as well. Some like protein and fat are either flushed through or used to help tissues, organs, cells, etc. Others like grains, legumes, dairy, and sugar are stored as fat or create havoc and stress that causes you to store more fat.
Remember the laws of physics have nothing to do with it. There are plenty of people that eat 2 or 3x what others do and have a lower body fat percentage. That is partly genetics, partly exercise, and partly based on what they are eating. As your body grows or as you face rigors of your daily schedule your body will respond by telling you how much you need or don’t need. That may mean you have to eat more food at times in order to maintain that lean mass.
The bottom line is that it isn’t about how much you eat, as it is more about what you eat. This is why low carb diet weight loss is very possible. So what can I eat on a low carb diet? You should focus on including protein, vegetables, fat, and some limited fruit. That will be a bigger impact on weight loss.
Claim #2: This is an unbalanced diet by restricting carbs. You need to have a “fine balance” from all of the different food groups.
Are low carb diets bad because they are “unbalanced”? The word “balance” is just so relative. We talked about how our ancestors spent majority of our overall existences not eating like we do today. In fact, 99.992% of our existence was spent eating mostly fatty animal meat and plants. That “balance” meant stronger bones, stronger muscles, less fat, and nowhere near as much of a chronic disease.
Just because society has done a brilliant job enforcing new social norms with mass marketing and government legislation, it doesn’t mean you have to do it. It also doesn’t mean it is right. Remember when we once thought smoking was healthy?
The proper balance is whatever is going to give you the most energy, consistent happiness, and live the longest fruitful life.
In fact, often when people here balance, they really hear restriction. That is one of the dumbest things you can do. Restricting calories to “balance your diet” only adds fat, loses muscle, and binge eating. You are always better off going over the top and getting too many nutrients compared to not enough. This is supposed to be one of those fluffy “lifestyle choices” and not a crash diet.
For all of these reasons Know My Body recommends an unmeasured diet based on protein, fruit, vegetables, and fat. This is just from experience. Tinker with it and find out what works best for you.
Claim #3: Grains have nutritious value that you will have a deficiency without (legumes and dairy as well) like dietary fiber.
While there are good nutrients in grains and starches, it doesn’t outweigh the negative impact it has on your insulin levels, the gut irritation problems, and in turn the fat you retain on your body.
One of the biggest unknown issues is the acid-base balance in grains, dairy, and legumes. Because of the high acidic levels, the grains cause you to excrete more vitamins through your urine than you would keep with fruits or vegetables. Also you end up needing more nutrients, like vitamin B to help cell repair after the oxidation to your cells (AGEs) that is caused by the grains.
A lot of these grains are cost effective because they can be filled with sugar and preservatives to keep them non-perishable longer. They tend to be a lot of empty calories in grains without nutrients.
Think of it this way, chances are you wouldn’t eat a cookie if it had dog crap in it, even if it was just a small bit. Yes there are great things in grains, but would you take it with all of the crap that comes with it?
The truth is all of the vitamins and minerals you need, you can more than compensate with fresh fruit, vegetables, and protein. Yes that includes insoluble fiber as well. And just think clearly about this, if you can eat unmeasured amounts of the right food without impacting your body, won’t you be able to therefore get in even more nutrients? That answer is a crystal clear yes.
Often by eating more of an ancestral type diet like The Paleo Diet that Dr. Loren Cordain developed, you are usually getting 3-4x of the daily Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) and the new RDI as well. This is for all the required nutrients like fiber, calcium, vitamin A-E, iron, zinc, etc. Some vitamins can only be found in animal products and not grains or legumes like vitamin B12 and D. In fact, often more robust nutrients with fewer calories required.
The late Marvin Harris, a nutritional anthropologist from Columbia University, mentioned a 175 pound man would have to eat 3 pounds of wheat a day to get the protein and amino acids he needs, but could get the same amount of nutrients by eating ¾ a pound of meat.
As Gary Taubes mentioned in Why We Get Fat, animal protein contains all the amino acids essential for life, all the essential fats, and 12 of the 13 essential vitamins in large quantities. Grains on the other hand only carry about 8 amino acids.
Claim #4: Grains provide glucose, which is a major source of energy that your body and brain needs to survive.
A very common and rather true thought is that carbs are key for energy. I agree.
At the same time you can get that energy through vegetables and fruits. There is another thought that carbs are essential for energy and without carbs you will lose that energy that is essential for your organs, namely your brain and central nervous system.
One of the often surprising things to people is that the energy can come through protein and fats as well. That necessary energy can also be produced through protein by having the brain and central nervous system running on molecules called ketones and a process called gluconeogenesis.
First, protein can be converted into fat through gluconeogenesis, which tends to happen during fasting, low carb intake, or intense exercise. Ketones are made in the liver from this fat and the dietary fat we eat. These little ketones are mobilized from the fat tissues if there are no carbs to use for energy. Then ketones and glycerol (molecules that form the fat together into triglyceride) will produce the energy that our brains will use.
This only works if there is both fat and protein. It can’t be just protein working alone. Since there is plenty of fat on an animal, any diet that has only protein and fat will have plenty of energy necessary for the brain and central nervous system to run properly.
This ketogenic state is known as Ketosis. This is a natural state we experience often in shorter bursts whenever we go several hours whether by sleep or skipping a meal. In order to get the energy we need, our liver produces ketones for the energy we need.
Now the surprising thing is that our brain even runs better on ketones instead of grains. This is because of the lack of constant insulin spikes that tend to come from grains that mess with the hormonal communication that normally happens with your brain. This is also why hunter and gatherer tribes went millions of years without ever having vegetables or fruits and were able to thrive without all of the diseases we have today.
An interesting note is that these ketogenic diets are often prescribed for children with epilepsy. This has been successfully done by physicians since the 1930’s.
Claim #5: These low-carb diets with red meats and eggs are high in saturated fat! This only leads to getting fatter and higher LDL cholesterol levels which leads to stroke, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, etc.
There are a lot of critical comments about low carb diets side effects. The truth is there are a couple paradoxes that exist here.
First, the Fat Consumption Paradox: In the 1970’s we had the McGovern Commission that pushed us away from fat saying low carb diets are bad and instead recommending we eat more grains and sugar. We saw this with high recommendations from the government to eat “low fat” treats.
Well we have done what was asked. We have lowered our fat consumption while raising our grain and sugar intake. Dr. Robert Lustig, the USDA, and the American Medical Association and CDC have all mentioned we have “won the battle against fat”.
We have countered this with more grain and sugar consumption to offset the reduction in dietary fat. Surprisingly, we still have increased in obesity. We weigh on average 25 pound more in 2004 than we did 45 years ago according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Our average weight still is going up from nearly a decade ago. So if we are more obese by eating less fat and have higher risk of heart disease while still lowering our LDL, then maybe we should be asking ourselves “What in the name of Jillian Michaels is happening here?”
Second, the Disease Paradox: Obesity is a direct cause of heart disease. No one argues that. And the more obese we are, the more likely we are able to get heart disease and more chronic diseases. In fact, one of the indicators in a blood test of a raise in CVD is if you have high triglycerides or high amount of fat. If people are getting more fat on less dietary fat, how is that dietary fat causing the diseases we face today?
So this goes back to which diet causes us to lose more weight: low-fat or lower-carb (namely less grains and sugars). As you add or subtract percentages of calories away from one category, either fat/protein or carbs, it tends to shift calories toward the other end. The reason why is we like taste. If it doesn’t have fat in it, then we probably need sugar in it.
Both of these paradoxes are solved very easily. As we talked about before, grains spike your insulin and raise your triglyceride levels. Dietary fat doesn’t impact this. If you have whacked out insulin levels, then it simply means more fat on your body. More fat leads to obesity, which leads to all of these chronic diseases under an umbrella called metabolic syndrome.
Now before we jump into LDL, know first that triglyceride levels and HDL levels (good cholesterol) are a stronger indicator to physicians if you are going to get cardiovascular disease, than LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol). As Taubes mentions, researchers have noticed that those that live longer (near 100 years) do so because they have a specific gene that promotes higher levels of HDL. One of the major ways to lower your HDL is by replacing dietary fat, whether saturated or unsaturated, with more refined carbs. HDL levels are so highly connected to carbohydrates that clinical researchers will use a patient’s HDL levels to get a good estimate on the amount of carbs that patient has eaten as a biomarker. Frank Sacks and other researchers from Harvard and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center show this in this New England Journal of Medicine article.
As Taubes mentions in Why We Get Fat, there have been numerous studies in the past decade pitting low carb diets against low caloric and low fat diets. Probably the most detailed and well known study the Stanford’s A TO Z: A Comparative Weight Loss Study. This diet put the Atkins diet (low carb) against the Ornish diet, Zone diet and a traditional low fat, high carb diet.
These were the results:
- Low carb diet folks lost as much or considerably more weight than the low fat folks.
- The low carb patient’s HDL levels went up consistently.
- The low carb folks lowered their triglyceride and blood pressure levels.
- Their total cholesterol remained about the same, which isn’t an issue if HDL is going up.
- Their LDL levels went up slightly. (I will explain why)
- The risks of the low carb patients having a heart attack decreased significantly.
Chris Gardner, who led the Stanford A-Z diet study, asked the question discusses in the lecture The Battle of Weight Loss Diets: Is Anyone Winning at Losing? about being a vegetarian for 25 years. He did this study initially going in believing a high protein diet is dangerous. He went in with a bias trying to show the negative effects of high protein diets on health. After seeing the favorable results for the Atkins diet (low carb-high protein/fat) Gardner mentioned that “This was a bitter pill to swallow.” He would have to readdress the question, “Are low carb diets bad for you?” because his data spoke otherwise.
Not only did they lose more fat as shown in the diagram to the right, but none of the other
So what is up with LDL cholesterol? Isn’t it bad if the LDL levels went up slightly? Well let’s talk about the details of what is going on here because LDL isn’t black and white.
LDL cholesterol isn’t what gets stuck in your arteries creating plaque. Well the cholesterol is, but the LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is just the bus driver getting the cholesterol there with the triglycerides. VLDL and LDL are particles that carry these triglycerides and cholesterol from the liver to the other parts of your body to be used as energy to burn. HDL counters these guys and carries the lipids and cholesterol back to the liver to be redistributed.
Now the shocker is that not all LDL particles are bad. There are two kinds “small, dense” or Type B and “large, buoyant” or Type A.
The small, dense LDL are born from their VLDL (bad guys) counterparts. They are small enough that they get stuck in the walls of your arteries forming plaque and causing hypertension and eventually a stroke. Large buoyant are harmless because they are too large to get caught. They just bounce around doing their thing and not trying to cause trouble.
Guess who causes killing small, dense LDL? Grains and sugar.
Guess who creates harmless large, buoyant LDL? Animal protein and fats.
When overall LDL increases on a saturated fat diet, it is the large buoyant LDL that is being bumped up. This type of detail is often forgotten, discredited by shaky data, and overlooked.
The diet that we have feared would kill us by giving us heart and cardiovascular disease is in fact the one that will save our lives.
Claim # 6: One of the common thoughts is that fat contains more grams per calorie (9) compared to the grams (4) that are stored in both carbs and protein. This goes back to the whole calorie in vs. calorie out belief. The thought is as you add more fat, it requires more energy necessary to burn those fat calories off compared to the calories in carbs or sugar for that matter.
Again this is a lame argument and underestimates the biochemical nature of the body. What nutrients do each of those calories have or don’t have? How much glucose does each calorie have? What gut irritation problems will each calorie provide causing more insulin to be secreted?
You can have more than 2x calories in one substance compared to another, but if your body stores majority of the high caloric substance as tissue in your lean mass, organs or digests through the blood stream, while the smaller caloric substances has majority of the calories stored as fat, then does the calories really matter? No!
The only time calories matter is if you are eating more of a crappy thing, or not enough of a good thing.
That is like saying do I want a small piece of fruit with a piece of cow dung in it or I can take a big piece that has no dung. I will take the big piece and you would probably too. It isn’t about how many calories; it is about what your body does with all of those calories whether they be big or small.
Claim #7: But what about all of that evidence that shows that dietary fat is bad for you and causes heart disease?
There isn’t strong evidence that saturated fat is as a killer. In fact, not only is it weak, but often showing counter facts. Let’s take a look:
A trial, known as the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial, studied the intervention results of reducing saturated fat to lower risk of heart disease. This 1982 report brought about disappointing results showing it didn’t impact coronary heart disease. The Wall Street Journal followed it up by writing a savaging article that was titled, “Heart Attacks: A Test Collapses”.
After this failure, in 1984 the National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute (NHLBI) launched a major health initiative to prove the connection between saturated fat and heart disease. NHLBI spent $115 million on a decade long clinical study to test the idea that lowering saturated fat would curb heart disease, but not a single heart attack had been prevented.
After this failure NHLBI also spent $150 million testing the benefits of a cholesterol lowering drugs on heart disease. This did show positive results in statins lowering cholesterol levels, but no evidence that low-fat diets worked.
In 1993, The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) started an 8 year, billion dollar study on the relation of low-fat diets and breast cancer, weight, and cardiovascular disease. The Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial started with 49,000 women who were chosen at random. 20,000 were chosen at random to eat low saturated fat diets. (Less meat, fats and more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains). The others could eat a generic diet with more fat.
After eight years on the diet these low-fat diet women had lowered their total and saturated fat down to 20% from 40%, or at least attempted to. At the end of the eight years the women on the low-fat diet hadn’t lowered their weight at all. In fact, it was similar to the other group that had higher fat content. They were able to slightly lower their LDL cholesterol compared to the other 29,000 women that had the generic diet.
Their final analysis showed that the low fat diet had minimal impact on heart disease, colon cancer, breast cancer, or even fat accumulation. The New York Times reported, “The largest study ever to ask whether a low-fat diet reduces the risk of getting cancer has found that the diet has no effect.”
In 2009, the World Health Organization’s Foods and Agricultural Organization published a reassessment on the data linking saturated fat and heart disease called Fats and Fatty Acids in Human Nutrition. They came to the conclusion that the available evidence “is unsatisfactory and unreliable to make judgment about and substantiate the effects of dietary fat on risk of CHD (coronary heart disease)”. This came after a 2003 WHO report that said they were linked.
The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that was created in the mid 90’s to help promote unbiased studies of any intervention, did research during 2011 on all the trials that have been done to show a link between dietary fat and heart disease. The study concluded they could find only 48 trials since the 1965 that attempted to show the risks of saturated fat with heart disease. There were a total of 65,508 participants.
Most of these trials were not primarily directed to figure out whether saturated fat impacted heart disease, but they were intended for research on other diseases like cancer, polyps and gallstones. They did show that all of these subjects reduced saturated fat by 30%, but only 14% of those tested reduced their risk of having a cardiovascular event like a stroke.
You would think with all of those people making reductions, you would get more than 14% improvement. And even with those 14% we don’t know what else they were eating such as the amounts of grains they were putting in their bodies. Despite decades of effort, billions spent, and 65,000 people randomly tested, the results were inconclusive. The Cochrane Collaboration concluded, “There are no clear health benefits of replacing saturated fats with starchy foods.”
As more data piles up, authorities will continue to stay stubborn. Why? It is because careers and bank accounts depend on it. They have been teaching us incorrect principles for several decades and dumping billions of taxpayer dollars into these faulty guidelines. When you realize you have done something wrong or that it could possibly be wrong, you run the risk of losing credibility. This is especially the case if it means 40 years of faulty information given to billions.
The irony is that as people increase in obesity, heart disease and other chronic diseases, they continue to lose more and more credibility. My thought is, why not get this corrected now so we can save more lives and help people have a better lifestyle. Oh yeah…that is the purpose of this site.
The Most Important Study is You
Now we can go back and forth and argue about this, but why do that? All it does is increase cortisol levels and makes us fatter. There are always so many details you and I will never know. Were these people active? What else were they eating? Were they honest in reporting what they ate? The only way you can find out is by testing for yourself. That is what matters the most. You.
Test out what we are suggesting for a month or two and see what life is like without grains. If you want to get really scientific, then get a blood test done now with your current diet. Then go back and test in a month after eating without grains and sugars and see how your triglyceride, HDL, and LDL levels are doing.
Oh there is more! Now that we have shed a little more light on grains, let’s talk about what might happen if you go without grains in your diet.