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Nutrition Past and Future

TPNS 49-51: Better Than Low Carb

Primitive Nutrition 49:
Better than Low Carb, Part I


Could there be a faster and better way to achieve your best health than low carb?  Of course there is.  Whole plant foods are the healthiest foods of them all.  Yet if you read the arguments of the low carbers you would think they will somehow harm your health.

For example, Stephen Phinney wants you to think you can't handle eating fruit without getting fat.

Primitive nutritionist Kurt Harris thinks fruit is just like a candy bar. I guess in his mind, fruits are packed tight with tons of calories, unlike animal fat, I guess.  He's also afraid of fructose.  Fear of fructose is a common theme in this crowd.  Fructose will make you fat, they say. Of course, this thinking relies on a Paleo-yarn and ignores basic facts.

If fruit makes you fat, how do you explain this guy?  This is Doug Graham and he's probably eaten more fruit than anyone else over the last thirty years.  He is not fat.

This guy doesn't look fat to me, either.  This is Mike Arnstein.  He runs a site called  If fructose really does make you fat we're going to need to look under every stone to explain why these guys aren't fat.

Maybe it's the phytochemicals in fruit.  It could be the anti-obesity effects of the liminoids in the citrus they eat.

Or the anti-obesity effects of the resveratrol in the grapes and berries they eat.

Another candidate might be the quercetin in their cranberries.

And don't forget anthocyanins or ursolic acid, either.  Those are in berries, too.

Maybe these magic chemicals are why, in spite of the fructose, fruit intake is associated with lower body fat.

In this interventional trial, only fruit consumption was shown to lower BMI.  But what about the fructose?  I thought fruits were candy bars!

The low carbers have seen headlines like this.  Fructose can cause insulin resistance.  The researchers make a connection to high-fructose corn syrup in this article.  Not fruit.  Fruit is not high-fructose corn syrup.

The sweetener industry didn't like this one, and I must say, they have a point.  The rats in this study consumed a staggering 67% of their calories in the form of refined fructose.  That seems a little extreme.

Look at other such studies and they are similar.  In this one from 1987 fructose was at 66% of calories.

It’s time for some context.  Here's a table showing the fructose content of various foods.  Look at the whole foods highest in fructose and you will see that if you ate raisins, and only raisins and nothing but raisins, your diet would still only be 37% fructose.  We are way short of the levels of fructose used in these studies.  I feel a responsibility to say this, though:  Please, folks, do not fall for the all-raisin fad diet no matter what you see online.  Thank you.

Now high fructose diets are not the only diets used to trigger insulin resistance in lab animals.  High fat diets are also used.  Here rats were given a diet that was 60% fat.  That really is a lot.

You can look up the specific chow formulas they used.  60% fat is the standard for these studies.  Also, low carb apologists, note that although this formula includes sucrose, there was a whole lot less of it than in the low fat formula, and the low fat formula did not cause insulin resistance.  But still, isn't 60% a bit unfair?  That's so much fat!

Actually, for low carbers, that's not enough fat.  This is their usual criticism of studies of low carb.  Low carb needs to be so high fat to make them happy, it needs to be ketogenic.  Here you see low carb promoter Stephen Phinney wants your fat intake over 80% of calories.

He probably wouldn't be impressed by Weston Price Foundation founder Sally Fallon, who thinks her 70% fat diet is a model of healthy eating.  Pause the video and read that breakfast if you want to see how extreme she is.

Fallon says her high fat diet is actually good for weight loss.

If you eat saturated fat you will lose body fat, she says. 

The low carb world is a strange place.  They do some hard thinking to find a way around the calorie-density problem inherent in fat.  They argue there is such thing as a metabolic advantage to low carb diets that overcomes the caloric density of animal fats.  Here you see Michael Eades thinks you need to go low carb all the way up to ketosis to experience that metabolic advantage.

He found support for this belief from Richard Feinman, who argues that there is an important advantage to getting your glucose inefficiently from protein.

Inefficiency is at the core of the low car idea. Here he is trying to show you the degrees of inefficiency in different metabolic pathways.  For him, the more inefficient, the better.  Does that sound like a smart strategy for health to you?

Have a look at this and see how hard they try to overcome the calorie problem.  Easy there, Einstein!  No need to strain yourself.

The CDC has already worked out a way to lose weight that's a lot simpler and more effective.  It's called energy density and it's not a hard concept. They recommend that instead of bogging down your body with unhealthy, calorie-dense and nutrient-poor foods like bacon, you eat nutrient-rich and low-calorie foods like fruit.  You may ask, why do I like this energy density strategy better than the metabolic advantage?

Well, it's just a much bigger effect.  Here you have a list of candy bars, I mean fruits, and their calories.  Look at the fruits listed in a one cup portion size.  Blackberries have 75 calories.  Cherries 85.  Grapes are way up at 115.  How would that compare to a cup of butter?  I hope you're sitting down.

With the same portion size you get 1628 calories!  And look at that inflammation factor.  That's a big disadvantage for metabolic advantage to overcome.

Look at the inefficiency they think is so important.  27% isn't enough to make up the difference between highly-saturated fats like butter and healthy carbs like grapes.  In real life, the magic thinking of metabolic advantage is just never going to be taken seriously.  Low carb foods will always be more energy dense than fruits and vegetables.  This is explained very simply.

Here are some fruits and vegetables and their water content.  Grapefruit and broccoli are 91% water.  A cucumber is 96% water. 

By comparison, look at the water in meats.  It's way less.  Dr Feinman, water has no calories.  Fruits have a lot more water.  They also have no fat bogging you down at 9 calories per gram.  That's the bigger metabolic advantage, don't you think?

By the way, since this video series is called Primitive Nutrition, remember that the meat eaters argue that the extra calories from meat allowed the development of big brains.  Yet they also say meat will help you lose weight.  They try to have it both ways, not because it makes sense, but because their truthiness actually seems to be convince some people.

Here is the whole story on energy density visualized.  The graphs plot energy density against water, fat and fiber, from left to right.  Water and fiber have no calories. Fat has the most calories of any macronutrient.  The relationships are pretty clear.  The fiber graph on the right is especially clear.  This plays out in people in the ways you might predict.  I’ll have some evidence in Part II.


Primitive Nutrition 50:
Better than Low Carb, Part II


Do you think that if you eat more energy-dense foods, you’ll end up eating more total calories? Not such a hard question, is it? This carefully controlled study examined the effect of high fat consumption on total calories and the results are what you'd expect.  People voluntarily ate more calories eating fatty foods.

In this study, participants were given meals of different macronutrient composition but were not informed of those differences.  Here again, without anything to interfere with their choices, they ate more calories on high-fat food.

It has also been demonstrated that a high fat diet is less thermogenic than a high carbohydrate diet.  High fat causes less passive release of heat, so it is less likely to lead to weight loss.

This study found this result as well.

Then there is the question of what your body does with excess calories.  Does it matter whether they come from fat or carbs?  As we see in this study, it does seem to matter.  When people overate on carbs, the calories were less likely to turn into body fat.  Their bodies seemed to burn through calories a little faster in response to the overfeeding. Dietary fat was more likely to turn into body fat.

How do we explain this?  It seems the creation of new fatty acids from carbs is not your body's first choice when given excess carbs.  When your body senses you have eaten too many carbs, it increases the rate at which it burns through them. 

Put all these issues together and you'll see why the old claim that somehow a high-fat diet won't make you fat doesn't impress a lot of obesity researchers.  The best that can be said for a low carb metabolic advantage is that low carb might cause you to lose your appetite. 

When reading studies comparing diets we should bear in mind the glycemic index.  The glycemic index is essential for understanding the differing health effects of different carbs.  Low GI carbs don't cause wide variations in blood glucose.  They keep blood sugar in check and that is usually better for us.  You'll see in my The Best Low Carb Research videos that low carb promoters don't like to compare their diets to healthy high-fiber, low-GI diets.

Have a look at this list of candy bars, I mean fruits.  None are high on the glycemic index.

If fearing carbs or fructose keeps you from eating fruit, you'll be missing out on some great health benefits.  Fruits are associated with healthier arteries.

They might keep you from getting certain cancers.

They even seem to lessen the buildup of toxic mercury in our bodies.

Unlike low carb diets, high fruit diets are associated with greater longevity in this study...

And in this study.

Even diabetics can enjoy fruit.

High fiber diets in general are a better strategy for diabetics than low carb.

And so are healthy vegetarian diets.

Do you feel like nutrition news points you in every direction at once?  Do you feel there is so much confusion in nutrition that there can't be any way to figure out what is best?  If you feel this way then you are right where the fad diet promoters want you.  Actually, the nutrition research out there is easy to understand and is remarkably consistent.  How's this possible?

How could it be possible that a so-called Twinkie diet could dramatically improve cholesterol and promote weight loss ....

In the same world as an all potato diet doing the same? 

And a low carb study doing the same as well?  Well there are two factors that sort it all out.  The first is calorie restriction.  This low carb study, put together by an all-star cast of low carb promoters, limited energy intake to only 1500 calories.  The payoff was a 14% drop in cholesterol and a 10% drop in weight over about 84 days.

The Twinkie guy ate a little more.  He allowed himself 1800 calories and he dropped his bad cholesterol 20% and his weight 13% in 60 or 70 days, it's hard to say from the article.  Here it says two months.

But the article started saying 10 weeks.  Regardless, the bottom line is he did better than low carb in less time and he was eating Twinkies.  That's pretty embarrassing for low carb, isn't it?

In only 60 days the potato guy dropped 10%  of his weight

And his bad cholesterol dropped an amazing 41%.  He must have been really restricting calories, right?

Not exactly.  He started consuming only 1600, still more than the all-star low carber study.  But in week three he bumped his calories to 2200, way more than the other two diets.  What happened to the power of calorie restriction?  Well the other way to understand these seemingly contradictory studies is through plant foods.  The potato guy ate all plant foods, with all the dietary fiber that would include.

The Twinkie guy didn't limit himself to junk food only.  He took supplements and ate some vegetables, too.  Those are pretty important additions the potato guy didn't have to make.  Plant foods made a difference for the Twinkie guy for sure.

The low carb all-stars know about the power of fiber and whole plant foods, too. That's why they made their comparison high carb diet pitifully low in fiber.  Participants who started out with metabolic syndrome, meaning they had horrible diets to begin with, added on average only about one gram of fiber per day for their study compared to their normal bad diet.  Fiber in these diet studies is a pretty good indicator of the quality of the carbs the participants eat.  These low carb guys are afraid of carbs with fiber.  They only want to compare low carb diets to refined junk carbs.  Also, you can see they made sure the high carb group had plenty of saturated fat to mess them up a bit more.

And unlike the potato guy, the low carb group had an increase in LDL bad cholesterol.  This is after 12 weeks on only 1500 calories!  Yes, low carb is far worse than either a high-twinkie diet or an all-potato diet, yet they want you to think it's healthy.  Are you really going to fall for this?

So what are some better alternatives to low carb?  That's in Part III.


Primitive Nutrition 51:
Better than Low Carb, Part III


Before I show you a strategy that really is better than low carb...

I want to go back to the idea of calorie restriction.  In the Arthur De Vany video I talked about how calorie restriction has been shown to extend life in lab animals.

While it may not be clear whether it extends lifespan in humans, it does seem to offer some benefits.  Here, periodic fasting improved cholesterol scores and increased insulin sensitivity.  If you are overweight or have some bad metabolic scores, simply restricting your calories will probably improve your numbers, even if you restrict calories by fasting, using a twinkie diet, or doing low carb.

But restricting calories can turn you into a yo-yo dieter, and I’ve shown you already that weight cycling is unhealthy.  Also, it is apparent from animal experimentation that periodic calorie restriction can cause depression.  We need a better way than this.

There have been efforts to devise a low carb diet that is truly healthy.  The great nutrition researcher David Jenkins compared a low carb plant-based diet to a vegetarian diet that did include milk and eggs in a four week study of people with high cholesterol. Importantly, he limited the calories in both groups to what he calculated to be 60% of their requirements.  The plant-based low carb diet was more successful at improving lipids than the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.  Jenkins probably could have predicted this outcome.  He has done other important research on the beneficial effects of plant foods on cholesterol.

Here was another effort to make a reasonably healthy low carb diet.  These researchers created a ketogenic diet that replaced saturated fats with unsaturated fats.  In their comparison, the unsaturated fat-based diet showed better results, especially concerning insulin sensitivity.  Saturated fats seem to have a special ability to damage insulin sensitivity, which sets us up to learn about a strategy that is truly better than low-carb.

We should understand that high carb diets have important advantages over high fat diets.  Epidemiological data indicate unrefined grains and legumes are associated with better overall health and lower weight.

High-carb cultures of the past didn't have our problems with diabetes.  Here you can see how rare diabetes was in Japan, for example.

Data like those caught the attention of Dr Neal Barnard.  Barnard concluded that it was the trend toward increasing saturated fat consumption that was driving the global rise in diabetes.  His review of the literature prompted him to do something that might seem unwise. 

He conducted a study with diabetics to compare the effects of two diets.  One was a diet based on guidelines from the American Diabetes Association.

The other was a vegan diet that was unrestricted in the amount of carbs participants could consume.  The ADA diet, on the other hand, was designed to create a caloric deficit.  So which was the more powerful of our two powerful factors in nutrition, calorie restriction or whole plant foods?

The plant-based, high carb approach was better from every angle. Like the all-potato diet, calorie restriction isn't necessary to get good results if the diet is high-carb, low-fat, whole food, and plant-based. 

High-carb diets are not usually recommended for diabetics.  They usually are told to limit their carbs to control their blood sugar.  Was it irresponsible of Dr Barnard to even try this?

Not at all.  Of course, his team monitored the participants carefully.  He also had conducted prior research that indicated he was on the right track. Dr Barnard thought this might work because he was familiar with the history of diabetes, including that article about diabetes in Japan…

and past studies that showed how high-carb, plant-based diets can help diabetics.

Although not many have noticed, low-fat, high-carb diets had been used successfully in diabetics all the way back in the 1920s.

How might a low-fat diet help diabetics?  Barnard took interest in research like this that indicated that fatty acids within muscle cells interfered with the function of mitochondria…

resulting in insulin resistance.  This could be induced by a high fat diet.

Mitochondria are the organelles inside cells that generate the energy that powers everything in your body.

They are fascinating from an evolutionary perspective.  Read this and you’ll see our cells are kluges, too.

There has been some debate recently regarding the exact relationship between mitochondrial dysfunction and insulin resistance.

It’s not clear how all this works

Researchers keep trying to understand what is happening.

But the basic story isn't changing.

The connections between high-fat diets, fat accumulation in cells, insulin resistance, and mitochondrial dysfunction has been affirmed by numerous studies.

Saturated fats seem uniquely responsible for clogging cells. 

And therefore they are the culprits impairing your mitochondria and starting the development insulin resistance.  This is probably why that experimental ketogenic diet using unsaturated fats was so much better for insulin resistance. The question that remains is how, exactly, do saturated fats cause this damage?

Researchers seem to be making progress in answering this question.

I think for the average person like me, the details don't really matter.  It's enough to know that saturated fats seem to be highly disruptive to cell metabolism.

And individuals eating plant-based diets free of saturated fats, otherwise known as vegans, seem to have less clogging of muscle cells by fat and consequently better glucose metabolism.

Other research has supported the use of plant-based nutrition in diabetics. 

Fortunately, Barnard's research participants found plant-based diets to be as palatable as the standard diabetic diet. If we step back and look at plant-based diets more broadly, there appears to be a lot of research to recommend them.

I'm old enough to remember Biosphere 2.

The diet consumed by participants in that study was essentially high-carb, low-fat and plant-based, and it produced results that would make any low-carb researcher envious.

Healthy low-fat diets almost always compare well to high-fat diets.  They are better for heart health in a number of ways.  Blood flow is improved.

Blood vessels are made healthier.

And lipids improve. 

These studies undermine the usual low-carber beliefs, like carbs make you fat, or some people have broken their metabolism and just can’t handle carbs anymore.  Those beliefs are just wrong.

Now, if you are a low-carber, you may still not be convinced. Maybe you are thinking you've got great studies to support your approach.  If that’s what you think, I made the next section just for you.

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