The other day I started a series on The Whole Grain Myth:: An Insulin Nightmare and started talking about the fact that All Carbs are NOT Created Equal. Immediately cheers went up from the Atkin’s Diet camps thinking that this meant that I was a fellow “low carber” even though I was very careful to say I did not agree, completely, with the theories of the late Dr. Atkins. I do agree that the right fats will not cause you to gain fat but that’s about where we agree. Granted, he has sold a gazillion books and I have sold, to date, NONE, but I have tried the Atkins Diet.
My girlfriends and I decided one week that we were going to do Phase 1 of the diet. We did it but I have never been so ill or so weak in my life. I didn’t miss the grains but oh, the fruit….. I missed the fruit. I dreamed of strawberries, blueberries, gooseberries, shnozberries…… For extreme protein types I do understand that this is actually the optimal diet. I happen to be a mixed metabolic type. On the upside of a week on the diet (which is about how long I lasted give or take a few hours before I came crashing off of it) I lost 3 pounds off my already slim body. The downside of it is within 2 days I had gained the 3 pounds back and an additional one.
Before all you “low carbers” tell me that I should have stuck with it to get over the “carb flu” let me assure you, I was not, per se, a carboholic. I didn’t eat piles of grain and we (my girlfriends and I) never ate bread save for the markouk (thin heavenly Lebanese bread) in our local Maroush restaurant where we got our weekly kofta and tabbouleh fix. I didn’t crave pizza. I didn’t eat an entire baguette (or any at all and didn’t miss it). I missed fruit.
These were the days before the various incarnations of Paleo, remember. Atkins was pretty much all there was. Gary Taubes and Mark Sisson were still underground. The idea of eating like a cave man (a premise I still find laughable) hadn’t quite come into being. It sure wasn’t mainstream enough where I would have heard about it. Counting grams of carbs was the only way to really go “low carb”. I should tell you why I find the IDEA of eating like a caveman a little incredulous. Our paleolithic ancestors dealt with feast and famine. In the winter, many times, they starved, unless, of course, they hunted during the winter or knew how to preserve meat (alá Pemicin). They ate a bounty in the spring and summer of fruits, grasses, herbs, and, I am guessing as I am only going on a handful of anthropological and archeological studies, wild vegetables unlike anything we grow today. The “grains” they ate were mostly pseudo grains and it all depended on where they were in the world as to what they ate. They ate as much of these fruits, vegetables and grasses giving way to starchier fruits and root vegetables towards the fall as they could, hunted as often as they could and stored and utilized fat effectively. To simply LABEL any diet as eating like a cave man is simplistic at best because “Paleo” people may be eating the FOODS of their ancestors but most certainly not in the same WAY. That is where my problem ends, however. The labeling of the various Paleo “diets”, not the actual foods, per se.
The issues with being low or no carb
I have clients nearly every day who come to me complaining of carb cravings after attempting a low carb (or worse… no carb) diet as if, in some way, they are defective for having these cravings. When I suggest that perhaps their body is crying out for its preferred method of fuel, glucose, as the human body is incredibly intuitive and will ask for what it needs if we only listen to those signals, they act as if I have just told them that a huge meteor is about to strike the earth.
I then go on to ask them WHAT they crave when they crave carbohydrates. If they answer bread, pasta, or other grain based starch I understand they may want glucose but, more than likely, have an intolerance to either gluten or wheat. (Cravings for grains is NOT neccessarily your body’s way of telling you that you NEED glucose. Rather it could mean your body is withdrawing from “opioid peptides” which are exactly what they sound like they are. These are amino acid sequences that affect the brain just like an opiate targeting the endorphins or “feel good receptors”. (Think heroin!) A body that has eaten grains their entire life will crave that “high” grain based breads, crackers, pizza, cookies, cakes, and other treat will crave these because the body wants to feel good. Do NOT confuse the desire to stimulate the opioid receptors with the fact that many nutritionists believe this signals the need for “seratonin that has dipped in the brain” and whole grains are sources of tryptophan thus you should eat lots of whole grains if you want to cure depression. This is absolute rubbish. I don’t mean a little rubbish. I mean complete and utter hogwash. First and foremost because seratonin is in the GI tract NOT the brain and second, there are LOTS of tryptophan rich foods which will lift moods but are not considered opiate like substances. Think you’ve never done drugs???? Every time you eat a soft sticky Cinnabon…… guess what’s really making you feel good…. (Casein in dairy products also contain these opiates and God’s creation really knew what He was doing because this is what keeps mammals lactating until it is time to stop! Whey (the byproduct of straining yogurt is cassein free as is clarified butter or ghee) is casein free but many people find that homogenization makes the effects of casein stronger and I find raw milk is less problematic unless one has an intolerance to casein.)
A lot of times they are not craving grains. Many say they want orange juice, pineapple, or other fruit. I had one client a few years back that said she could not look at a raisin without her mouth salivating like “Pavlov’s dog”. (Her words, not mine.) It is at that point, when the cravings are the body’s way of saying it needs glucose. For those on a REAL low carb diet or extreme Paleo diet that have cut all fruits and most veggies out (and these people do exist) this post is for you.
Realize there are many variations on the Paleo diet. For those that eat nuts and seeds in moderation, and only eat legumes (which are, truly, along the same lines as grain even though I do still love my cannelini salad and will never give up hummus!) rarely if ever, and don’t negate eating loads of veggies with fruits, I am not picking on you…. so don’t fill my email box with hate mail. I am picking on the ones whose bottom of the “food pyramid” involves meat, meat and more meat, and more to the point, those that do not specify that the meat, poultry, and fish must be grass-fed, foraging, and/or wild i.e no grain whatsoever fed to the animal.
Why does it matter? Grains, along with a lot of nuts and seeds (macadamia nuts get a pass and I do include chia seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds in my diet, but not by the bagfuls every day) are little polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) bombs that cause inflammation and heart disease, raise triglycerides, and cause insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome by preventing glucose from entering the cells. Did you know that, without polyunsaturated fats present, neither monosaccharides (fructose or glucose) or disaccharides (sucrose i.e sugar or fructose and glucose) would never be an issue in weight gain? It’s true. It’s not saturated fat or sugar that is making you fat and sick. It is polyunsaturated fats from all those grains, nuts, and beans. If starch or any other pure glucose is eaten together with PUFAs, believe me when I say, fat production and storage will happen!
Right now you might be wanting to run screaming from the room but I can’t help biochemistry. Oh and if you think I don’t still indulge in the odd bean, handful of almonds or walnuts, or a cupcake now and again, I do. I am just aware that I will be sluggish or worse, be grumpy and have a headache, the next day. I may love my cupcakes but I do not love how I feel after I eat them so I choose my battles carefully.
A note about PUFAs:: Before you go thinking simply eliminating grains, most nuts and seeds, and beans will make you PUFA free, please realize these polyunsaturated fats are the prime reason I INSIST on grass-fed NON-factory farmed animal products including beef, poultry and eggs. Grain fed beef or poultry (and the eggs they lay) and fish oil (factory farmed fish are fed grains) are FULL of PUFAs which absolutely will interfere with your ability to utilize glucose. Again, glucose is your body’s preferred fuel source. I know, there are many prevalent studies that say different, but there are just as many to prove glucose is the preferred fuel source. I have an answer for this. The body is completely able to use fat as a fuel source in the absence of carbohydrates (NOT GRAINS or BEANS!!) for short periods of time. It is fact. It is meant to be an adaptive method of making sure we survive as a race. We store up in our fat cells for the winter where our body feeds on its fat cells because there is an absence of glucose. For those that say the body’s preferred method of fueling itself is fat, you are also right to a large degree IF it is for short times (as in winter where there is usually little access to fruits and vegetable carbohydrates) but the moment the sun shines and fruits, grasses, vegetables and tubers are available, the body will crave “sugar”. It is the way we evolved.
Bear in mind also the energy of food. Meat is warming to the body. Protein and real fats (animal sources) help “heat” the body while fruits and vegetables help “cool” the body which makes sense if you think about what kinds of bounty is seasonally available (not flown in from Chile) in the summer and which ones in the winter.
Before I start this next part, I think I should back peddle a little and remind you that when I am talking about including sugar in your diet I am talking about nearly exclusively from fruit and honey, both whole foods, with the treat being sugar as I do STILL believe refined sugar is an addictive substance, especially in the volume in which we consume it, be it fructose, glucose, or sucrose.
Extreme low carb diets aim to avoid, ironically, the very thing that supports a healthy metabolic response by being pro-thyroid. While in the short term, this might not do much damage, over the long term, it can severely undermine healthy thyroid function. Glucose is necessary for proper T4 to T3 conversion.
The ketogenic effect that most low carb diets prefer is actually causing metabolic stress (including causing damage to adrenals and thyroid) to the liver which is responsible for most T4 to T3 conversion. Dr. Ray Peat, celebrated biochemist and endocrinologist states, ”If the liver is extremely good, it can store enough glycogen for a day, but chronic, frequent, stress usually damages the liver’s ability to store glycogen.”. This means that consistently depriving the body of all “sugar” causing a ketogenic state may sound like exactly what you want in the short term, (and what our ancestors faced during most winters) but in the long term, (longer than our ancestors stayed in this state) it is damaging to the liver both in its ability to aid in necessary thyroid hormone conversion but its ability to store glycogen for future fuel use.
Small amounts of “sugar” in the form of fresh fruit, honey, maple syrup or even a little raw dairy can also be very nourishing to those with estrogen dominance as having a healthy glucose level in the blood stream supporting the glucoronidation pathways, whereby glucoronic acid binds to excess estrogen (and other old used up hormones), thereby inactivating them in the brain and liver and helping them find their way out of the detoxification pathways of the body.
Let’s talk about what happens when fat is used by the body for fuel (as was the case with our ancestors however, they were also eating vastly different, better quality of proteins and fats so this should be factored into how they could adapt so easily). The process is called lipid peroxidation. This is an inflammatory process. It CAUSES inflammation. It is anti-metabolic as, with the lack of glucose, the body triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol to produce insulin. This state is catabolic or degenerative to the body. Using fat as fuel was meant to be purely adaptive for short periods of time, not as a lifestyle. Long term, this mechanism of using fat for fuel without the presence of glucose is damaging to the metabolism. It is also damaging for fertility and hormonal balance. Severe low carb or no carb diets can actually exacerbate an OAT (or in men, a TAT) Axis Imbalance.
When fat is used for fuel the fat cells release fatty acids which block glucose oxidation (glucose entering cells and creating energy). Long term low carbers are destroying their metabolism by thwarting the body’s ability to create energy. Don’t believe me? Measure the pulse and temperature of a long term low carber (the extreme ones…. not the ones that eat plenty of vegetables and fruits!!). Their temperature and pulse will show they are in a state of hypometabolism while having highly stressed adrenals.
Those on a very low carb diet will experience symptoms of hypoglycemia which will, when in a chronic state, hyperstimulate the entire endocrine system causing down regulation of T3, excess stress on the liver, weakens both the adrenal and immune system and ages cells prematurely.
Glucose is also responsible for the conversion of cholesterol into pregnenelone, the precursor to progesterone, of which, our bodies as women need ample amounts to oppose estrogen and prevent estrogen dominance which can lead to infertility, PCOS, endometriosis, PMS, and many other hormonal disturbances.
Again, and I cannot stress this enough, for those of you on a Paleo Diet that eat fruits and vegetables, this post is not leveled against you or your lifestyle, though I would stress, again, the importance of making sure you are eating grass-fed, free range, and/or wild animal products and I would also urge you eat more ruminant animals (cows, lamb, goat, buffalo) than poultry simply because MOST poultry is supplemented on grain and more slow braised cuts of meat on the bones as the emphasis on muscle meats without proper gelatin creates an improper and incomplete amino acid profile and glycine and proline rich meats and bone broths are infinitely better for mineral balance in the body. Also, eating your organ meats should be a regular part of your eating plan. Liver, for instance, is high in Vitamin A, many B vitamins, an amazing source folic acid and iron, is the best source of copper (which is needed in equal quantities to magnesium) and contains CoQ10, a key nutritient for cardiovascular function.
I am talking to those who believe that the body was never intended to use glucose for fuel and go so low carb they literally force their bodies to “eat” themselves.
If you are interested in learning the best way to eat for optimal health specifically tailored for you, your metabolic needs, health issues and goals, contact me directly to enquire about a private consultation.