Let me begin by clarifying once more that I am not opposed to the reduction of many carbohydrates in the diet. This is a good thing, and I have always said so -- even before Dr. Atkins promoted the concept. As I mentioned last issue, when the establishment pushed people away from fats towards carbs, obesity soared. The promotion of carbohydrates as the base level in the food pyramid has been a dietary disaster. (And yes, it's not just refined grains and sugars. Even some unrefined grains can present problems.) So once again, my issue is not with the concept, but with the craziness that has now latched onto the concept, including:
- The lack of balance that is frequently seen either in the diet itself, or in its implementation
- The inclusion of substitute foods that are equally bad (or in some cases even worse than the carbs they are replacing)
- Throwing out of the baby with the bath water (i.e. the blanket dismissal of whole categories of carbs -- including many that are invaluable)
Lack of Balance in our Diets
One of the main things I was called to task for over the last two weeks was of "falsely accusing" many of the low-carb diets of heavily emphasizing meat and dairy. "Where in the world did I get such a ridiculous idea?" Well, as it turns out, from the books and websites that promote the diets.
- This is from "The Steak Lover's Diet:" by Melvin Anchell, MD -- as endorsed by Dr. William Campbell Douglas. "Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are of the same type in this diet. You should eat one-half pound or more of fresh meat - with fat - at each meal." Call me silly, but that seems pretty meat oriented. What do you think; am I guilty of "false accusation"?
- And here's a picture of one of the new "Atkins Friendly" wraps now available at Subway. Maybe I'm blind, but doesn't it look like it's mostly meat and cheese with a smidgen of pepper, onion, and olives thrown in for color? It doesn't even matter what the actual sandwich looks like. The question is what is being marketed and promoted in the advertising pictures.
- Or look at the "Atkins Friendly" meal from TGI Friday's.
- Again, the bulk of the meal is steak and cheese. The broccoli is good, but we're still talking hefty portions of meat and cheese dominating the meal.
The bottom line is that I stand by my assertion that the popular implementation of low-carb dieting is heavy on meat and dairy -- which brings me to my second problem with these diets.
Unhealthy Substitute Foods
Certainly some of the people who wrote to complain over the last two weeks do not fall into this category. They have found healthy alternatives. But it doesn't change the basic premise that most people are interpreting and implementing the diets in a highly unbalanced way.
- A major problem with the meat-centric diet is not just the quantity of meat involved, but the fact that very few people, and certainly none of the food chains, are using organic meat. This presents three primary health issues:
- Non-organic meat in the United States tends to be injected with heavy doses of antibiotics that you end up consuming when you eat the meat. This creates a state of dysbiosis in the intestinal tract and wreaks havoc on the immune system. The more you eat, the worse the consequences.
- Growth hormones are also often part of the picture in animal-factory raised meat. And again you consume those same synthetic hormones whenever you eat your meat, with significant health consequences. And on a high meat diet, you are consuming those hormones at high levels.
- Also as I mentioned last issue, grain fed beef has a skewed ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats, which has serious health implications. The higher the level of consumption, the more skewed the ratio.
- And we won't even go into the other possible health issues such as mad cow disease, E coli contamination, chicken leucosis, etc
- A second problem I have is that these diets tend to include lots of dairy. The Atkins Diet for sure makes liberal use of cheese and heavy cream in its recipe suggestions. In Lessons from the Miracle Doctors, I discuss many of the problems associated with dairy -- particularly pasteurized non-organic dairy. But for those who just want some of the bullet points, you can check them out in our April 7, 2003 Alternative Health Newsletter.
- And finally, the Atkins Diet has embraced the use of the artificial sweetener, sucralose (AKA Splenda), as an integral part of their program. There are many reasons for not using sucralose. If you are unfamiliar with them, check out what Dr. Mercola has to say about it on his website. (If you are not already a subscriber, I highly recommend while visiting his site you sign up for his online newsletter.)
Not All Carbohydrates are bad
Not all carbohydrates are bad. In fact, carbohydrates are essential. Our bodies need carbohydrates. Most of the organs and tissue in our bodies, including our muscles and our brains, run on carbohydrates. As Dr. Joel Fuhrman says in his book, Eat to Live (highly recommended), "It is impossible to glean all the nutrients needed for optimal health if your diet does not contain lots of carbohydrate rich food."
And he continues, " Fresh fruits, beans and legumes, whole grains, and root vegetables are all examples of foods whose calories come mainly from carbohydrate. It is the nutrient-per-calorie ratio of these foods that determines their food value."
The concept of nutrient density that Dr. Fuhrman mentions is key to truly making sense of dietary issues. The USDA maintains a National Nutritional Database. Go to the database and start searching on your favorite foods. If you know how to read it ("energy" equates to calories -- check out butter) and compare sirloin steak to romaine lettuce, for example, you will be greatly surprised. You will find that romaine lettuce not only has far more nutrients than sirloin (probably not a surprise), but it also contains over twice the protein per calorie as sirloin. Now that probably will come as a surprise to most people. As a side note, on a per calorie basis, romaine lettuce contains 100 times the calcium, over 20 times the magnesium, and infinitely more antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber than sirloin. Which food do you think is more beneficial to your body?
And it's not just leafy greens that are nutrient dense. Fruits of all kinds are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber.
And even whole grains have more nutrient density than meat and dairy. Now, to be sure, many grains are high glycemic and trigger an insulin response, which is a major negative -- but not all grains do so. In fact, in Part 3 of this series, I'm going to explore with you an amazing grain that is extremely low on the glycemic index, that actually lowers the body's insulin response, and that provides 400% more energy per calorie than any other food known. (And no, it's not Amaranth, or Kamut, or Quinoa or any of the other guesses that poured in after I hinted at it in the last newsletter. You'll just have to be patient for two more weeks to find out what it is :)
Consequences of Proteins and Carbs
So what are the consequences of going on a high protein, low-carb diet.
- Blood sugar levels improving dramatically
- Cholesterol levels dropping
- Triglycerides dropping
- Blood pressure improving
- Rapid weight-loss that will maintain as long as you stay on the diet.
- Rapid weight gain. The moment you get off the low-carb diet (if you ever do), the weight is likely to rebound just as rapidly as you lost it.
- Bad breath from ketosis.
- Constipation from lack of fiber.
- Long term increase in the incidence of cancer -- particularly colorectal cancer.
- Long term increase in the incidence of osteoporosis. (A byproduct of meat digestion in the body is ammonia, which is highly toxic. Ammonia is converted by the liver into a less toxic substance - uric acid. Because uric acid is still very acidic, high levels of calcium (drawn from the bones) are required to balance out the excess acidity. Hence there is a strong link between osteoporosis and excessive protein consumption.)
- Increased chances of liver damage because of the high levels of ammonia accumulating in the liver.
- Increased chances of kidney damage and adrenal failure, particularly if you don't drink enough water to flush the byproducts of heavy protein consumption.
- Estrogen build up resulting from hormones given to non-organic animals to promote growth
- Destruction of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract resulting from the large intake of antibiotics associated with non-organic meat and dairy -- leading to digestive problems and a compromised immune system.
- Long term nutritional deficiency from packing your diet with nutritionally "light" foods such as meat and dairy.
Conclusion: Balanced Diet
Cutting refined carbs and minimizing high glycemic grains and vegetables from your diet makes all the sense in the world. Replacing those foods with large amounts of meat and dairy does not - particularly since you can get all of the benefits associated with these diets without the negative side effects. Just:
- Eliminate the refined and high glycemic carbs
- Keep meat consumption to a minimum
- Eliminate dairy as much as possible
- Include beneficial fats such as fish oil and flax oil
- And use lots of nutrient dense foods rich in beneficial carbohydrates and fiber
Anyway, that's it for now. In the next issue, we'll cover recommendations for eating and the miracle grain that seems to have so many people curious.