Bacteria, saliva, and overall health

http://www.cnn.com/2009/H…ref=mpstoryview

First, Seth Roberts blogs on Oral Health, Heart Disease, and Fermented Foods here:

http://www.blog.sethroberts.net/2009/03/12/oral-health-heart-disease-and-fermented-foods/

A relevant snippet:

Epidemiologic data have shown a statistical association between periodontal disease and coronary heart disease and stroke. In a meta-analysis, the odds ratio increase for CVD in persons with periodontal disease was almost 20%. Poor oral health also seems to be associated with all-cause mortality.

Emphasis added. As I blogged earlier, during my last trip to the dentist I was told my gums were in great shape, better than the previous visit — and the only intentional change since the previous visit was a huge increase (a factor of 50?) in how much fermented food I eat. So perhaps fermented foods improve oral health. A reason to suspect that fermented foods reduce heart disease is that Eskimos, with very low rates of heart disease, eat lots of fermented food. If both these ideas are true — fermented foods improve gum health and reduce heart disease — it would explain the observed correlation between gum disease and heart disease. …

The shift to a diet high in sugar and refined flours has usually happened at the same time as a shift away from traditional diets. In other words, the increase in sugar and flour wasn’t the only change. I suspect there was usually a great reduction in fermented foods at the same time. Maybe the reduction in fermented foods caused the trouble rather than the increase in sugar and flour. The reduction in fermented foods is almost always ignored – for example, by Weston Price and John Yudkin (author of Sweet and Dangerous).

Cross-posting here a comment I made on Seth Robert’s blog post:

I saw a potentially relevant article on saliva and bacteria in CNN recently:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/03/03/saliva.spit.survey/index.html?iref=mpstoryview

A quote:

Since people have different eating habits in different places, you might think an American’s saliva might look a lot different from, say, a South African’s. But a new study published in the journal Genome Research finds that bacteria in saliva may not be as related to environment and diet as you might think.

In fact, researchers found that the human salivary microbiome — that is, the community of bacteria in saliva — does not vary greatly between different geographic locations. That means your saliva is just as different from your neighbor’s as someone’s on the other side of the planet.

Americans in particular have a lot of amylase in their saliva because their diets are full of starch: chips, rice and baked potatoes. But the Pygmies of central Africa, for example, eat mostly game animals, honey and fruit. They have relatively little amylase in their saliva.

Dominy and colleagues found these differences at the genetic level, meaning natural selection has favored large quantities of amylase in populations with starchy diets.

But there is also evidence that amylase levels can rise and fall within an individual’s lifetime. A study on college students in Ghana, who typically eat a lot of meat at the university, found that students who had grown up eating traditional starchy Ghanaian home-cooked meals had lower levels of amylase after attending the school.

Finally, trying to get Stephan of WholeHealthSource hooked up with Seth Roberts as I’m willing to bet there might be some synergies in their research and experimentation on fermentation (particularly as examining the changing diets a la Weston Price’s research).

(H/T Nathan)

Superfluous Fluids: Don’t Drink Calories (But milk may be ok)

http://www.bodyrecomposit…rch-review.html

Lyle McDonald of bodyrecomposition.com consistently puts out in-depth, even-keeled analysis on exercise and nutrition. I don’t always buy his conclusions, but he clearly knows his stuff and shares a great deal of knowledge freely on his site. His frank take can be funny, too.

Lyle has previously gone into great detail on milk as a sports drink. Milk has protein, fat and carbohydrates, which makes it more of a liquid food than a drink. Mother nature concocted the mix, so it has that going for it as far as the biological “benefit of the doubt.” Whether humans are evolutionarily designed to drink cow milk is another question. Suffice to say that it’s a hotly debated topic amongst the Paleo crowd.

I still enjoy cheese and (occasionally) ice cream.

In this particular article, Lyle discusses a paper that examined the impact on the human body of consuming “milk, beer, wine, tea, coffee, distilled alcoholic beverages, juice and soft drinks.” The big takeaway is simple: Don’t drink your calories except maybe milk.

Why? Apparently our bodies aren’t good at accounting/adjusting for the energy. This failure causes two problems: not only do our bodies fail to adjust overall caloric intake to account for the consumption of a Coke or Snapple, drinking these “empty calories” may result in overconsuming other foods! Talk about a double-whammy to your waistline!

Even though Lyle often goes middle-of-the-road where others end up more extreme (I.e. low-fat, or low-carb diets), this is one of the few times where he actually more or less makes an outright nutrition rule, which is that sugary drinks have no place in the human diet. He couples this thought with the tangential point that the demonization of HFCS is a distraction: raw sugar (i.e. diluted in water), no matter the form (glucose, sucrose, whatever), is the problem.

And honestly, how is this conclusion not obvious? Don’t drink sugar!

Other thoughts outside of Lyle’s take: I’m reminded of Seth Roberts of Shangri-La diet fame. Shangri-La asserts that the stronger the flavor/calorie association by our bodies, the more weight we will put on. I wonder if this is coming into play here in that sugary beverages typically are drank in concert with a meal. This results in more flavor and more energy density, heightening the Pavlovian association and raising “set point” (this is all based on my rudimentary understanding of Shangri-La). On the other hand, it makes it harder to explain how flavorless sugar water can cause appetite suppression if our bodies generally fail to register the calories. My hunch is that there is a more complex relationship here.

And one other thought: Lyle notes that for most of human existence the only liquids known to man were breast milk and water. Makes sense. Only one problem: human beings drank what, for lack of a better term, I’m going to call “wild water.” I have no idea what wild water was composed of as far as bacteria, nutrients, and minerals. However, I’m confident that it was not like the water we get from the tap or the filtered Brita stuff.

So maybe Coca-Cola should look into a new bottled water market — and yes, if they call it “wild water” I will seek royalties!

Looking globally, drink patterns have shown massive growth with soda products being consumed at a rate in excess of one billion drinks per day (makes you wish you’d bought stock, huh?). Beer consumption has shown the greatest increase with tea showing a slight increase. Wine and milk consumption have fallen globally, presumably due to the introduction of all the drinks that have made America rich, proud and very fat (my comment, not theirs).

The next section of the paper got into what is arguably the most important issue of the paper: the simple fact that for all but the last 11,000 years, the predominant fluids consumed by humans were water and breast milk and nothing else. Now, they go out of their way to point out that milk is a complete beverage containing protein, carbohydrate, fat and water. Water is, of course water which provides no calories. This is important because numerous studies have shown that humans show poor compensation for fluid calories.

Let me explain that a bit. Compensation means that the body will adjust caloric intake at other times of the day (or days later) for a given caloric load. So say you eat a bunch of candy earlier in the day and it provides 450 calories. What you might see is that, later in the day, folks eat a few hundred calories less than they’d normally eat. The body ‘compensates’ for the food you ate earlier. The problem is that most liquid calories aren’t compensated for well and figuring out why is of some interest to researchers.

This is also a big part of why all of the furor over HFCS is mis-placed in my opinion: the problem isn’t with the HFCS per se, it’s the form that people are getting it which is liquid calories. Which the body doesn’t compensate for well. But the body wouldn’t compensate any better for a sucrose containing drink, a glucose containing drink or any other caloric drink. Get it?

It’s got nothing to do with the HFCS content, it’s got to do with how the human bodyhandles non-milk caloric fluids. . . .

Of some interest (especially to me since I like jelly beans) one study compared the intake of 450 kcal or jelly beans to 450 kcal of a soft drink. the jelly bean consumers actually reduced their food intake by slightly more than the 450 calories in the jelly beans (Coming soon: the Jelly Bean Diet) later in the day.

The carb containing soft drink group not only failed to compensate for the drink but also increased their intake of other foods slightly. That is, not only did they get the added calories from the soft-drink, they ate more food as well; a double whammy in terms of weight gain. . . .

The sight and smell of foods also affects hormonal response, there is something called the cephalic insulin response for example, insulin can go up when people smell or taste sweet foods, long before it hits the bloodstream. Someone in the comments of one of my articles asked about sugar free drinks and it’s relevant here as they can stimulate insulin response in some folks; I’ll have to do a full feature on this at a later date [JNO: See Artificial Sweeteners and Energy Disregulation for a little more]. . . .

Carbohydrates alone stimulate the least number of appetite blunting factors, protein and fat stimulate the release of more. So you’d expect much less of a compensatory response to a drink containing protein and fat (think lowfat milk) as compared to one containing only carbohydrate (think fruit juice or a high sugar soda). Which is exactly what the studies have shown. Milk shows a nice normal compensation to intake; it’s effectively a liquid ‘food’. Sugar sweetened soft drinks show no compensation.

So folks living on sugary drinks are causing themselves major problems. Not only do the drinks themselves have scads of calories, the body doesn’t compensate for their intake. So all of those calories essentially end up being ‘added’ to the normal food intake (which is just as often awful in folks who drink lots of soda). In some people, the sweet taste seems to drive intake of other sugary foods so it’s a double whammy.

Artificial Sweeteners Cause Energy Disregulation – Devany

http://www.arthurdevany.com/?p=940

Note: Art moved this post, so it’s offline, but the cited link is where it originally was located.

Some interesting findings regarding artificial sweeteners reducing the predictive abilities of the body (body expects sugar but receives none – false positive). Apparently, the research indicates that this may lead to obesity and other problems.

Clip:

We found that reducing the correlation between sweet taste and the caloric content of foods using artificial sweeteners in rats resulted in increased caloric intake, increased body weight, and increased adiposity, as well as diminished caloric compensation and blunted thermic responses to sweet-tasting diets. These results suggest that consumption of products containing artificial sweeteners may lead to increased body weight and obesity by interfering with fundamental homeostatic, physiological processes.

Why You Got Fat (Fat Head Review)

http://www.freetheanimal….ou-got-fat.html

Richard Nikoley recently received, watched and reviewed Tom Naughton’s documentary (mockumentary?) Fat Head. I had a very similar general take on the movie to Richard’s, so I’m going to echo his comments by way of blockquote:

It’s really two movies in one. In the first part, he thoroughly discredits that lying, opportunist bastard, Morgan Spurlock. Tom Naughton also goes on a fast food diet for a month, but a sensible one, keeping total calories to about 2,000, and total carbs to 100 grams (400 calories, so 20% of total kcals). He loses about 8-10 pounds, as I recall, and most of his blood work is improved.

The second half (the best) is about the awful state of nutrition science and dietary advice in America. Naughton even employs an evolutionary basis, as seen here.

Just to expound on this review, I found the second half of Fat Head to be much more interesting and compelling than the first half (even though Naughton does a plenty thorough job debunking Spurlock, I just didn’t really care — I never saw Super Size Me!).

The particular clip from Fat Head Richard posted in his review was one of the best parts of the movie as it humorously explains the relationship between blood sugar, fat cells and insulin. Check it out:
[video:youtube:mNYlIcXynwE]

One other clip from the movie that isn’t available for preview online talked about the glycemic index and visually displayed how certain foods digest into whatever equivalent amount of sugar.

Richard gives an example of this conversion with regard to a soda:

Consider this: for the average person with normal blood glucose levels, you have about the equivalent of one single teaspoon of sugar circulating in your entire body. One. Single. Teaspoon. So, what that means is that when you drink a regular Coca Cola at 27 grams of carbohydrate . . . you are ingesting . . . over 5 times the amount of sugar as is contained in your entire body. How about an 8 oz. glass or orange juice? Same thing (26 grams). Now, consider that as you go throughout your day. Look at food labels, and divide the amount of carbohydrate by 5 to see how many times your total blood sugar you’re ingesting all at once.

Richard’s rule of thumb for conversion is great because I can visualize a teaspoonful of sugar. Take a bowl of Raisin Bran. A serving has 45 grams of carbohydrates, 7 of which are fiber, so net 38 grams plus the 12 grams from a cup of milk. 50 grams of carbohydrates converts to 10 teaspoons of sugar in your bloodstream. That’d be a nice pile of sugar.

This mental picture conversion of carb-heavy foods to teaspoons of sugar is a powerful way to help people connect the dots between “ingesting lots of sugar is bad for you” to “ingesting lots of carbohydrates is bad for you.” Even as this is an oversimplification of a more complex macro-nutrient problem, it’s still a better way to guide your eating behavior as compared with our current, asinine low-fat-equals-health insanity.

HFCS and Mercury, Food Processing Mysteries and Not Worrying About It

Just read an article discussing a recent study that found an association between mercury and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS, which is chemically just a smidge different than your run-of-the-mill table sugar, has been much-maligned in recent days being characterized as the reason Americans have such poor health. To combat this image, the corn industry has been raining down propaganda in the form of asinine commercials that browbeat apparently clueless HFCS-naysaying nincompoops by reinforcing that HFCS, like regular sugar, is natural (it’s made from corn!) and “fine in moderation” (Examples here and here). This HFCS propaganda has humorously spawned a number of youtube spoofs (See here, here and here). God bless the internet.

I won’t delve into this debate other than to say that sugar, HFCS, pure glucose, pure fructose or just sucrose, all have similar, blood-sugar and insulin-spiking effects, which may have drug-like consequences for the human body, and only offer raw energy (But no other nutrients). And one more thought: the appeal that “everything is okay in moderation” is little more than a meaningless justification for behavior, which due to its vague effectiveness at silencing criticism, actually leaves an otherwise meaningful debate worse off than before the “appeal to moderation” is made.

Back to the article. Here’s the gist of the study:

In the first study, researchers found detectable levels of mercury in nine of 20 samples of commercial HFCS. The study was published in current issue of Environmental Health.

In the second study, the agriculture group found that nearly one in three of 55 brand-name foods contained mercury. The chemical was most common in HFCS-containing dairy products, dressings and condiments.

The use of mercury-contaminated caustic soda in the production of HFCS is common. The contamination occurs when mercury cells are used to produce caustic soda.

The last two sentences are worth reading twice.

Caustic soda (Sodium hydroxide) is a chemical base (OH) used to effect various chemical reactions (often used in paper/textile industries). I don’t know the exact use of caustic to create HFCS from corn, but suffice to say that whatever magic is used requires a chemical base as an intermediate. Caustic soda is most commonly formed as a by-product of chlorine extraction from brine (salt water). There are various ways to separate the Chlorine (Cl) from brine, which leaves behind the NaOH, but one process of chlorine/caustic production involves using mercury cells (Notably, the word on the street is that mercury cell chlorine/caustic production technology is slowly being phased out). Apparently, some of this mercury is leaking into the HFCS, and thereby leaking into any foods that contain HFCS. Yikes.

However, all of the above is more than you need to know because the big takeaway is fairly elementary: HFCS is produced by man. It aint natural (appeal to nature)! HFCS has to be created via any number of chemical processes, one of which requires caustic soda, a chemical that may be contaminated with mercury, which may pass on to the HFCS. It’s complicated.

Cane and beet sugar require processing, too, though the processing seems less complicated and doesn’t require caustic soda (Though it does require chemical enzymes!).

So what does this mean and what should we do about it? Is HFCS the evil sweetener health-advocates love to hate? It certainly gets an extra strike against it for the mercury. Is cane/beet sugar better? Probably. Really, these questions are detractors from the bigger reality, which is twofold. The first is obvious: sugar is unhealthy (no matter the specific form). The second is that the production methods used to create processed foods can introduce harmful mystery ingredients. In short, processed foods are not natural.

Yes, the “natural” criticism is a tautology and a non sequitur. Processed foods aren’t inherently unhealthy and can often times be quite good for you (Coconut oil, red wine, extra virgin olive oil, vitamins). It would be silly to construct a diet that insists on totally abstaining from processed foods. When you get right down to it, even raw honey is processed by bees. Nutrition is much too complex for bright-line rules.

But that doesn’t stop us from creating them. As a rule-of-thumb, the farther a food gets from a virgin state, the more exposure it has to being modified in ways we don’t understand and can’t expect to know. Rather than spend countless hours getting comfortable with each and every processed food item and ingredient (And the processing these ingredients underwent ad infinitum), I can simply follow food preferences that minimize my exposure to the unknown.

In theory, by deferring to “natural” foods over produced foods, I should get so many nutrients and health-benefits from consuming nutrient-dense meats, fruits and vegetables that my body will be keyed to overcome whatever other junk manages to sneak into my diet (Chocolate, coffee, ice cream — little vices).

In practice, to the extent that it’s reasonable to do so, I already avoid HFCS and sugar. I do this by enjoying more natural, tasty and self-prepared meals over processed alternatives. Should I worry about the mercury that sneaks into the store-bought ice cream via the ubiquitous additive, high fructose corn syrup? Naah. If you maximize your health in simple ways, you get the by-product of minimizing the impact of the unknown — all without worrying about the nitty gritty details! So the big takeaway of this study? Stop worrying about HFCS and start preferring better, less processed foods! The rest will take care of itself.

Update 2:24 PM 1/28/09: Not surprisingly, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) has released a statement to refute the above-cited study on mercury in HFCS. Here’s their side and a snippet:

?This study appears to be based on outdated information of dubious significance. Our industry has used mercury-free versions of the two re-agents mentioned in the study, hydrochloric acid and caustic soda, for several years. These mercury-free re-agents perform important functions, including adjusting pH balances,? stated Audrae Erickson, President, Corn Refiners Association. ?For more than 150 years, corn wet millers have been perfecting the process of refining corn to make safe ingredients for the American food supply.?

The CRA is their own worst enemy here. First off, “outdated information of dubious significance” is a pretty strong statement that is no way backed up by the rest of their press release. The study cited above used samples from 2005, which is recent enough for me to consider relevant.

I also found it odd to read how the CRA speaks for all corn refiners in saying “[o]ur industry has used mercury-free versions.” How do they know that? Do they strictly enforce that all corn refiners only buy caustic soda, a globally-produced commodity chemical, from non-mercury-cell producers? We aren’t told. What we are told is that the FDA has approved HFCS and that it uses re-agents for refining and refining has been going on for 150 years. Breath a sigh of relief!

I updated this post to include the CRA response to point out that there are powers that are out actively talking their books — that includes both the HFCS-cheerleaders and the anti-HFCS activists. Thankfully, us enlightened folk can rise above their lunacy.

Sugar on the brain

Is sugar another addictive white powder?

A recent study suggests sugar may be addictive. Below are parts of the U.S. News article summarizing the experiment and interpretation of the findings. I suggest reading them all:

“Our evidence from an animal model suggests that bingeing on sugar can act in the brain in ways very similar to drugs of abuse,” [said] lead researcher Bart Hoebel . . .

“Drinking large amounts of sugar water when hungry can cause behavioral changes and even neurochemical changes in the brain which resemble changes that are produced when animals or people take substances of abuse. These animals show signs of withdrawal and even long-lasting effects that might resemble craving,” . . .

A “sugar addiction” may even act as a “gateway” to later abuse of drugs such as alcohol . . .

For the new research, rats were denied food for 12 hours a day, then were given access to food and sugar (25 percent glucose and 10 percent sucrose, similar to a soft drink) for 12 hours a day, for three to four weeks.

The bingeing released a surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine each time in the part of the brain involved in reward, the nucleus accumbens. “It’s been known that drugs of abuse release or increase the levels of dopamine in that part of the brain,” Hoebel said.

But it wasn’t only the sugar that caused this effect, Hoebel explained — it was the sugar combined with the alternating schedule of deprivation and largesse. . . .

But longer periods of abstinence didn’t “cure” the rats. Instead, there were long-lasting effects with the animals: They ingested more sugar than before, as if they were craving the substance and, without sugar, they drank more alcohol.

My anecdotal experience confirms the above findings. For one, the more I have abstained from sugar and refined carbohydrates (the latter of which are one tiny step away from being sugar), the easier it has become to strictly avoid sugar/carbohydrate-dense foods. This suggests to me that the addiction can be controlled by almost completely abstaining from the “drug,” sugar in this case.

Of note, however, is that in those instances when I have fallen off the wagon* and started eating sugar/refined carbs, I tend to overeat/binge. Is this the behavior of an addict? Or is it the psychological response to the forbidden fruit? Or is it a predictable response of treating a diet like a binary system? I.e. going from strict adherence to the diet to “Well I already ate that candy, might as well have some ice cream, too!” Any of these are plausible explanations for my behavior.

The alcohol angle is fascinating: I’ve experienced a clear connection between alcohol and carbohydrate-binge-eating. As before, I am unclear how the alcohol is catalyzing my reaction — is it that alcohol impairs my judgment, handicapping my will power? Or could it be more fundamentally metabolic — the alcohol spurs a chemical reaction resulting in craving sugar/refined carbohydrates? Why do I go from having little-to-no craving for French fries and tator tots to no-holds-barred “pass the ketchup now!” after downing three or four beers.

I have previously blogged on how hard liquor has zero carbohydrates. I’ve since learned that hard liquor (i.e. whiskey) will cause an insulin response even though there are no carbohydrates in the alcohol. Could insulin have something to do with this#?

This study, rather than confirming something I’ve suspected about the addictive nature of sugar, leaves me with more questions than answers. Is modern man doomed to be addicted to sugar? Is sugar addiction similar to alcoholism in that the only successful means to control the addiction is to avoid entirely the addictive substance? Can abstaining from sugar/refined carbohydrates make the addiction worse? Is sugar a poison that should be taken in small doses to control its ill-affects (A particularly strange notion)?

It seems there are more questions than answers. However, I maintain that sugar in any close-to-raw form is unnatural, which means that our evolutionarily designed bodies are inept at handling it. And it seems reasonable to conclude that, even if I tend to overeat refined carbohydrates when I do consume them, over the long-term, I’m still drastically reducing my intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates by maintaining a lifestyle focused on a low-carbohydrate, natural diet mixed with intermittent fasting.

* How often have you heard the phrase “fallen off the wagon” to describe failure at dieting? I hear it all the time (and use it). Probably just a coincidence, this phrase originates in alcoholism. Here we have a study that paints sugar as being similar to alcohol in its addictive characteristics.

# I can’t help but wonder if insulin is the culprit behind addiction to both alcohol and sugar. Has anyone looked into this?

Quotes on Sugar, Insulin, Glucose, Aging

Via the IF Life comes a smattering of quotes from Dr. Ron Rosedale on sugar, insulin, glucose, carbohydrates, aging, disease, etc. In short, they are all about the importance of insulin control for your health! Here’s one particularly insightful quote:

We only have one hormone that lowers sugar, and that?s insulin. Its primary use was never to lower sugar. We?ve got a bunch of hormones that raise sugar, cortisone being one and growth hormone another, and epinephrine, and glucagon.

Our primary evolutionary problem was to raise blood sugar to give your brain enough and your nerves enough and primarily red blood cells, which require glucose. So from an evolutionary sense if something is important we have redundant mechanisms. The fact that we only have one hormone that lowers sugar tells us that it was never something important in the past.

Okay, one more:

What they are finding on these major centenarian studies is that there is hardly anything in common among them. They have high cholesterol and low cholesterol, some exercise and some don?t, some smoke, some don?t. Some are nasty as can be and some nice and calm and nice. Some are ornery, but they all [have] low sugar, relatively for their age. They all have low triglycerides for their age.

And they all have relatively low insulin. Insulin is the common denominator in everything I?ve just talked about. They way to treat cardiovascular disease and the way I treated my stepfather, the way I treated the high risk cancer patient, and osteoporosis, high blood pressure, the way to treat virtually all the so-called chronic diseases of aging is to treat insulin itself.

For the full Rosedale lecture, go here.

Better Health via Intermittent Fasting and a Low-Carb Diet

I’ve been on a low-carb diet now for about two-and-a-half months. This has consisted of eliminating all breads, potatoes, and starchy foods from my diet (Regarding fruit, I pass on bananas with only the occasional apple while still eating berries and other colorful fruits). Furthermore, it has involved intermittent fasting. Through this diet and with minimal exercise, I have reduced my body fat percentage from around 20% to around 10% representing a loss of some 15+ lbs of fat and the gain of a handful of pounds of lean tissue (Weight change from approx. 182 to 168).

This weight loss was the easiest, most satisfying change in my health and body composition I’ve ever experienced.

As this post is extensive, here is the general breakdown:

  • Intro and Intermittent Fasting
  • Low-carb diet
  • Implementation and Conclusion
  • Additional Reading
  • Footnotes

Here are the details:

Intermittent Fasting

Yes, you read correctly, I used the “f word”: fasting. And I can read your mind:

  • What? You starved yourself?
  • Is that for religious reasons?
  • Yeah, that’s called anorexia!

No, no and no. And if I missed any others, no to them, too.

I first got turned onto Intermittent Fasting (IF) via Richard Nikoley over at Free the Animal who had been practicing Art Devaney’s evofitness sans fasting for about a year. Upon trying IF, Richard immediately noticed results in the form of both significant weight loss as well as change in appetite.

Richard’s successes seemed interesting enough from a distance (Fasting? Fascinating but not for me!), but what catalyzed a personal trial in IF and low-carb came after watching a lecture1 by science writer Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories (“GCBC”).

The big takeaway from the referenced lecture was that insulin, not overeating or under-exercising, is the chief culprit in why people become fat. Since eating carbohydrates causes the pancreas to secrete insulin, there is a direct correlation between carbohydrate consumption and insulin secretion. Ipso facto, the argument is made that eating carbs makes you fatGCBC.

Could it really be that simple? Dieting and working out had failed to reduce my weight effectively — it certainly seemed like something else was affecting my weight. Richard’s success and Taubes’ conclusion sufficiently piqued my interest. Admittedly without knowing all the data, I chose to do an IF, low-carb experiement.

What exactly is intermittent fasting? Intermittent fasting is choosing not to eat for a set period of time, which unlike your daily sleeping fast, is a sustained break from regularly occurring feeding. Translated into some bright line rules, I’d define an intermittent fast as going at least sixteen hours without eating (call that a “short” fast) or going for as long as 30 – 36 hours or three meals (“long fast”). As defined here, a fast requires there be no dietary caloric load on your body.

Fasting for longer than 36 hours likely will not only result in diminishing marginal returns, but it could also start messing with your metabolism. Most obviously, all fasts must be broken by eating.

Completing one to two long fasts per week so long as they are separated by eating a few meals can result in some drastic health benefits while causing no harmful effects on metabolism so long as you are completing some form of regular high-intensity exercise2.

What happens when you fast? Some interesting biological things, apparently. For one, the body moves to mobilize fat stores from the adipose tissue (the fat under your skin) to consume the fat as energy. It accomplishes this fat mobilization as a natural extension of reducing insulin concentrations in the blood as well as an increase in fat mobilizing hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and growth hormone. Interestingly enough, growth hormone is also released to conserve protein from catabolism. Protecting the proteins in your body during a fast is important because your body needs its lean tissues to survive (be they muscle or organ).

A benefit of fasting (for your mind) is that it alters your perspective on eating. At the end of a 30 hour fast, you want to eat something good for your body. You don’t want to gnosh on some french fries, slam a sugary soft drink and eat a bowl of ice cream. Even more, via abstaining from food even when it is available for consumption, you are putting your mind in control of your behavior. Taking back a bit of control over your life is an empowering feeling that leads to improved self-image and confidence.

Biologically, whether fasted or fed, your body is going to take measures to maintain adequate energy flows to demanding muscles and organs. Your body gets this energy from dietary sources or from storage within the body. The key here is that your body is always working to strike an appropriate balance (homeostasis) given the current demands. Were it not managing this process, both eating too much or eating too little would result in your untimely demise!

The ability of our bodies to regulate energy during times of feast or famine is evolutionary engineering. It is reasonable to posit that homo sapiens have only recently lived in such abundance that they could expect to eat food throughout the day, three times a day or more. Go back 50,000 years and you’ve still got mostly the same genetic footprint for human beings, but an entirely different supply of food. These were times when “foraging for food” meant more than a run to the pantry. In other words, our genetics have been engineered to allow us to go without food for longer than ten hours without resulting in our bodies failing. For a tidbit more on the evolutionary aspects of intermittent fasting, see footnote 7.

The bottom line: by reducing insulin in the body and up-regulating fat mobilizing and protein-protecting hormones, IF naturally turns your body into a fat burning machine. During a fast, your body will use whatever energy necessary, which will be similar to the amount of energy required were you eating normally. Over a long fast, if your body requires 2,500 calories, you could expect the majority of that energy to come from fat stores. Thus, the combination of IF with exericse is an effective way to reduce fat stores and work towards a leaner body composition.

Now, the astute reader asks, “Couldn’t you switch your body to being a fat burning machine by cutting out carbohydrates from your diet? If you only ate fat and protein, your body would have to burn the fat for energy, right?”

Good question!

Low-carbohydrate diet

And the answer is, of course, yes! The metabolic pathways while on a fast are the same processes when on a low-carbohydrate dietGCBC (Also see Eades here). This is because in both states (fat/protein-fed or fasted) your body is going to rely on free fatty acids as its main source of energy. Does it really matter that the fat comes from dietary sources or from your cells? Apparently, not3.

If you want to know a ton more about this, and I reiterate this in the footnotes, pick up Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, an exhaustive book about the science and history of the low-fat-is-healthy hypothesis, the varying research studies behind low-fat diets, the research behind low-carbohydrate diets, obesity, diabetes, insulin, caloric restriction, exercising to lose weight, metabolic syndrome, some biochemistry and more. GCBC is a fascinating and eye-opening read.

As noted before, Taubes concludes that insulin is uniquely fattening. And again, since insulin is released after eating carbohydrates, carbohydrates are fattening.

Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that regulates blood sugar, or glucose. Glucose comes from carbohydrates either directly or upon digestion. The presence of insulin downregulates fat mobilizing hormones (Human growth hormone, adrenaline, noradrenaline, glucagon, for example). Upon the introduction of insulin into the bloodstream, free fatty acids are driven back into fat cells for storage as they are now deemed unnecessary given the newfound energy. When all this energy leaves your bloodstream, you get hungry! In this manner, consuming carbohydrates not only shuts down fat mobilization but it can even spur hunger.

Furthermore, insulin tells your liver to take glucose and make triglycerides or fat for storage. Even more, if you note the “glyc” in triglycerides — that is for glycerol phosphate which holds the long fat chains together. Guess where your body gets glycerol phosphate? From metabolizing glucose! Thus, not only does the presence of insulin spur hunger and fat manufacturing by the liver, but the glucose facilitates fat creation by providing the molecule necessary to build the fat!

Insulin, by way of carbohydrates, is like the triple threat to being lean. It follows logically that by reducing insulin concentrations in the body, you can curb hunger, stop fat storage, and maintain the fast-induced fat mobilization process discussed earlier.

You reduce insulin concentration by fasting and avoiding carbohydrate-dense foods.

Though it is unnecessary to fast while on a low-carb / carbohydrate restricted diet, fasting speeds things along via caloric restriction overall while still allowing you to eat normal meals when you do eat. Taubes contends that a fast effectively accomplishes the same thing as Atkins’ induction phase, which is a two-week period of eating twenty grams of net carbohydrates a day or less4.

Implementation:

Though this is by no means the way to implement this diet, this is my semi-specific methodology. You must pay attention to your own results and customize a system that works for you.

Fasting: On a day when I plan to start a fast, I eat breakfast and lunch. Then I eat nothing else until dinner the next day. During the fast, I am free to drink water, tea and coffee so long as no creams or sugars are added. Some even say diet soft-drinks are ok but I universally avoid artificial sweeteners. All said, this results in anywhere from a 26 – 30 hour fast.

I make it a point to do about twenty to thirty minutes of high-intensity exercise about an hour or two prior to breaking my fast (typically some combination of multi-joint weight-lifting like dips, pull-ups, squats, kettlebell exercises, etc.). Whether you do your high-intensity exercise while in a fasted state or not, the exercise must be done! It is not optional.

I break the fast with a nutritious meal with normal-sized portions. In all meals, I avoid or eliminate carb-heavy foods. I avoid bananas and apples and all juices while regularly eating all types of berries, tomatoes and avocados. Nuts are okay though peanuts are not nuts but legumes (I still eat them from time to time though).

As far as portion size, Art DeVany says, and I think this is sound advice, to eat to satisfaction not to fullness.

Breads, potatoes, legumes and candy are off limits. Yes I cheat from time to time. I accept it and don’t allow it to overthrow my broad efforts. I find myself cheating less more and more as my body further detoxifies from the high-glucose, high-insulin addiction. I do not avoid beer or wine though I am always sure to stay hydrated and again, pay attention to your bodies!

For breakfast, I regularly eat a couple eggs (yolk never excluded), bacon or sausage (uncured) and berries. Some say avoid dairy, I do not and have not, regularly consuming cheeses and heavy cream. I do avoid milk and yogurt (can’t find any yogurt without a minimum of 15 gm of sugar). Remember: fat is ok. For me, low-carb did not mean “high protein” — it meant “high fat”. We’ve all been programmed to be scared of “high fat” — if you need some guidance in getting over your fear of fats, pick up Taubes’ book.

After breaking a fast, eat at least six meals before doing another fast.

Some notes:

While on any initial fasts, be prepared for some folks to think you are completely insane. If you keep it up, you’ll laugh when you find some of these people trying it out themselves a month later. Also, some people may experience headaches while fasting (particularly women). This is your body struggling with the swithover to fat as energy. Feel free to start with smaller fasts (say sixteen hours) before working up to a longer fast. Again, this is very personal — the nuances of insulin-sensitivity differ from person to person. Do what works for you.

If you try this out, please report any results. Questions? Comment below or email me.

Finally, a disclaimer. I am not a doctor. All of the above is for information purposes only. Any experiments you try on yourself are your own responsibility!

Conclusion:

I feel good practicing IF and a low-carbohydrate diet. The cravings for things like pizza go away faster than you might think. Excluding easy, filler-type foods makes you a smarter, more creative chef.

Via this regime, nay lifestyle, I’ve gotten back down to a body composition level akin to when I was eighteen, something I had long given up as impossible5. And I’ve done it in only a matter of a couple months.

My results being undeniable, I now have my father-in-law, wife, and brother all practicing this diet, something I now see as a way of life6 that I can maintain indefinitely. My sister-in-law and sister are also dabbling with the diet, too.

Additional Reading:

  • Fat: Mark Twight of Gym Jones talks about how endurance athletes run more efficiently on fat than on carbohydrates.
  • Martin Berkhan on Intermittent Fasting — talks about his history starting with when he was clearly overweight, to uber-skinny model, to experimenting with IF and weight lifting. Also read an interview with Martin here.
  • Fast 5 — a free ebook about fasting on a daily basis, not unlike Martin’s regiment in fast duration. A good introduction to IF.
  • Artificial Sweeteners Cause Energy Disregulation: More compelling (to me) than the arguments that artificial sweeteners cause cancer, is the contention that zero calorie sweeteners confuse our bodies, causing disregulation. I’ve avoided artificial sweeteners for the past two and a half months and haven’t missed them a bit. Note: had to link only to the clip I saved as Art has moved that post offline (or out of public view).
  • Big Fat Lie: an article from the UK Telegraph on Taubes. Read it and get the book if your interest is still piqued.
  • Intermittent Fasting: Art Devany is an expert of sorts on the paleo diet (which is low-carb by nature) and evofitness, which is high intensity “power law” training. Here he talks about his approach to IF, which of course, would have fit perfectly with the paleo lifestyle. Art is 70 and looks fantastic. Read his post on mental clarity and fasting. Note: both of these links are dead as Art redesigned his site and took much of the original content offline (unfortunately).
  • Your belly fat could be making you hungrier: A quote from the research:

    The extra fat we carry around our middle could be making us hungrier, so we eat more, which in turn leads to even more belly fat. Dr. Kaiping Yang and his colleagues at the Lawson Health Research Institute affiliated with The University of Western Ontario found abdominal fat tissue can produce a hormone that stimulates fat cell production. The researchers hope this discovery will change in the way we think about and treat abdominal obesity.

    More from Devany here. Basically, the fat in your abdomen is the last to go — almost fighting for its own existence towards the bitter end!

  • A Motivation I Haven’t Written About: Richard Nikoley talks about the link between carbohydrates and cancer cells. Apparently, cancer cells have an incredibly difficult time running on anything but glucose and even then, they burn glucose quite inefficiently. For this reason, a low-carb diet may have benefits for people fighting cancer.

There are others which I’ll have to point to in the future.

Footnotes:

GCBC Despite the name indicating the book is about foods and calories (a diet book), Good Calories, Bad Calories is a fantastic read on the history of research on low-fat and low-carb diets, insulin, weight-loss, pre-Westernized cultures and nutrition, cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, cancer (metabolic syndrome or “diseases of civilization”) and more. If you want to learn all about these topics, you must pick this book up. If you are skeptical about low-carb diets, I implore you to read GCBC. It is a fascinating read at approximately 450 pages (Note: the book is 600 pages, but 150 of them are references!).

1 Watch Taubes lecture on “Big Fat Lies” on Google video here

2 Defined as low quantity or time, high quality or work completed. Volumes could be written (and have been) on this subject. Bodyweight circuits where exercises are performed back to back (See C8B300 for an example) are one form of this. Tabata intervals are another. A Body For Life style cardio session is also popular where you do 2 minutes at Level 5 intensity, then four sessions of one minute each at levels 6, 7, 8, 9 and end with a minute at level 10 and then a minute of cooldown back at level 6 (This adds up to 20 minutes total: 2 warmup, 16 on the four minute intensity cycle, one at peak intensity, and one at cooldown).

3 Therein possibly also lies the answer to a question that arises regarding low-carb diets compared to non-low-carb caloric restriction diets. Research has shown that low-carb dieters can severely restrict calories, achieve significant weight loss, and not be hungry. Comparatively, non-low-carb calorically restricted diets wreak havoc on the dieters making them cranky and typically resulting in all the weight going back on upon ceasing the diet.

4 Many, many people I’ve talked to about this think I’m doing the Atkins diet. If I am, fine. Honestly, I haven’t read Atkins stuff well enough to say if I’m following his protocol or not. I mention the comparison of a fast and the induction phase as a means to point out the connection between fasting and low-carb diets as well as the benefit that fasting provides in terms of speeding along the process.

5 Having tried the aforeblogged Getting back to fighting weight (Post deprecated) Body for Life program and seen results, but only after untold hours in the gym (probably on the order of 100 hours) and pounding three protein shakes per day in addition to three meals.

6 Fasting twice per week is not something you have to do indefinitely. In fact, its too regular to maintain on a permanent basis. Our bodies should be kept on their toes! Periodically going to only fasting once a month would be an option (Or once every other week). Just be sure to mix it up. My guess is that once you try fasting, you’ll find that going on a periodic fast is something you want to do to clear your mind, body, etc. and/or ward off a cold, get over a weekend of gorging, whatever.

7 This diet conforms readily to the way our bodies seem to be genetically engineered by tens of thousands of years of evolution. Hunter/gatherer man wasn’t looking for french fries and rolls! It has only been in the past ten millennia that carbohydrate-dense, processed foods have been available for consumption. Our bodies simply struggle to cope with such a drastic shift in diet from nuts, berries, leafy greens (all slow-to-metabolize carbohydrates on the glycemic index), and meat to breads, rices, potatoes, and sugar which require immense amounts of insulin to regulate.