This is not about low-carb. This is about improving your relationship with food and health. I eat more than 40% of my calories from fat almost every day and have visible abs every day of the year… More importantly, my bloodwork shows that I’m healthy. I also eat food that I LOVE everyday. And there are many more just like me.
In the span of a year (2013), two huge studies on low- vs. high-fat diets were published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Both were stopped before completion—one for “futility” because the low-fat approach was not leading to any benefits and it was clear it never would and the other for ethical reasons because the high-fat approach was so much better than the low-fat that it was unethical to continue the study.
Want to reach your optimal weight while preventing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia and cancer AND while feeling energized as you live longer? Eat more fat.
I believe that this whole thing can be simplified but it takes trying on a new idea and finding out what works for the individual. It goes beyond what’s on your plate and is influenced by behavior and habits that can be conditioned (and unconditioned). Blaming fat is not providing a solution and only leads to more confusion.
But why do we get fat in the first place? Is fat making you fat?
(The following is more than an observation or opinion. This is based off my personal experience and results of working with more than 1,000 individuals in combination with real data. A diet that is high in carbs AND fat will make you fat, but it’s NOT just because of the fat.)
The science tells us that obesity is ultimately the result of a hormonal imbalance, not a caloric one— specifically, the stimulation of insulin secretion caused by eating easily digestible, carbohydrate-rich foods: refined carbohydrates, including flour and cereal grains, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, and sugars, like sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup. These carbohydrates literally make us fat, and by driving us to accumulate fat, they make us hungrier and they make us sedentary.
Note: Not that all foods that contain carbohydrates are equally fattening. This is a crucial point. The most fattening foods are the ones that have the greatest effect on our blood sugar and insulin levels. These are the concentrated sources of carbohydrates, and particularly those that we can digest quickly: anything made of refined flour (bread, cereals, and pasta), liquid carbohydrates (beers, fruit juices, and sodas), and starches (potatoes, rice, and corn). These foods flood the bloodstream quickly with glucose. Blood sugar shoots up; insulin shoots up. We get fatter. Not surprisingly, these foods have been considered uniquely fattening for nearly two hundred years.
Protein and fiber have minimal impact on fat storing hormones so eat more lean quality protein with MORE vegetables. It’s more complicated than tracking your calories, although that certainly helps create awareness. My goal is to educate and inspire people to improve their behavioral decisions and awareness of food choices.
Hungry Hungry Fat Cells
Anything that works to transport more glucose into fat cells will lead to the conversion of more fatty acids into triglycerides and more storage of fat (i.e. weight gain). The easiest and most effective way of achieving this fat storage environment is to eat carbohydrates. All carbohydrates are not bad and they are also not created equal.
Fat + Carbs create storage environment
Both fat and carb have fat storing potential through several mechanisms.
“Since the low-fat campaign began in the late 1970s, Americans actually have been eating more than 500 additional calories per day, most of them in the form of refined carbohydrates like sugar. The result: The average male is seventeen pounds heavier and the average female nineteen pounds heavier than in the late 1970s. You’re better off eating the real thing in moderation than bingeing on ‘lite or fat-free’ good products packed with sugars and salt.” – Michael Pollan
“The more sugars we eat, the more we tell our bodies to transfer them to fat. This happens not only in the liver, leading to a condition called fatty liver disease, but elsewhere in the body as well. Hello, love handles, muffin tops, beer bellies, and the worst kind of fat of all—invisible visceral fat that hugs our vital organs.
Eat more fat and burn more fat?!
Fat calories burn differently than sugar calories do. Fat calories speed up your metabolism. Fats have to be burned and are not easily stored because they don’t spike insulin—the fat storage hormone. Fat works on the brain to cut your appetite so you eat less overall during the day. On the other hand, sugar and carb calories do exactly the opposite: They spike insulin, promote fat storage, and are quickly laid down as dangerous belly and organ fat. They slow your metabolism and increase hunger and cravings. Mounds of scientific research support this perspective.
In fact, “Doubling or even tripling saturated fat in your diet has no impact on saturated fats in your blood. It’s the carbs that spike your blood levels of saturated fats. Many studies confirm that blood levels of saturated fat are significantly correlated with the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. But these fats in the blood are not coming from the fat you eat. They are produced by the liver in response to the carbs in your diet.” – Mark Hyman, M.D. (author of Eat fat, Get thin)
What are the good fats AND what should we eat?
The best strategy for improving your health is to choose the highest-quality foods. You want to eat a wide variety of whole, organic, and locally grown foods, primarily vegetables and high-quality fats. DO NOT increase your saturated fats UNLESS you also decrease your processed carb intake and add more fiber via plants while also making sure you get enough omega-3s via healthy fats—which leads us to our next Big Idea…
EAT MORE: Quality whole foods like avocados, coconut, eggs, nuts and seeds with fibrous vegetables and clean protein. All carbohydrates are not created equal and the best kind is fibrous vegetables. Try eating vegetables without fat for an extended period of time. You need the fat for absorption and satiety. The combination of protein, fiber from carbohydrates and healthy fat will keep your brain and body satiated.
Fat is satiating, use it to consume more vegetables. A bowl of fennel, broccoli, and spinach is eatable, add avocado and a vinaigrette and they can be cravable. Eating healthy fats improves things like food intake, taste preferences, and even your metabolism. You have to be reasonable so this does not mean eating bacon all day and pouring fat onto everything.
What should we reduce or avoid? I think we can all agree on this…
EAT LESS: processed food. Sugar-rich foods, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and liquid sugars. Carbohydrates are not the enemy, the best forms are fibrous vegetables and we want to eat based on our demand.
Choose slow carbs over fast unless you are lean and healthy enough to handle the fast-digesting sugars.
Sugar is more addicting than drugs and it starts a vicious cycle.
In addition to raising blood sugar, foods that are sugary and highly caloric elicit pronounced responses in distinct areas of the brain involved in reward. Earlier imaging studies have shown, for example, that the main reward and pleasure center lights up more intensely for a slice of chocolate cake than for blander foods like vegetables, and the activation tends to be greater in the brains of obese people than it is in those who are lean.
This can be broken in by removing sugar for an extended period of time, try 3 weeks of not artificial sugars or consider something like the whole 30 challenge.
Eating plan simplified (Without tracking and measuring your food)
Fill half of your plate with vegetables + healthy fat from avocado, coconut oil, or olive oil to make them taste better
1/4 with a lean protein
1/4 with fibrous carbohydrates such as whole grains or a sweet potato
Harvard Diet Study – High Carb VS Low Carb
In human experiments, those who ate high-fat diets had a much faster metabolism. Low-fat, high-carb diets spiked insulin, subsequently slowing their metabolism and storing belly fat. The higher-fat diet group had a faster metabolism, even eating the same amount of calories.
Another human study, also conducted by Dr. Ludwig and his Harvard colleagues, compared high-fat, low-carb diets with high-carb, low-fat diets in a controlled feeding study (where researchers provided all the food). Again, the high-fat group did better.
60% carbs VS 60% fat (same calories)
Same calories in each group
High fat group:
lower levels of cholesterol
lower inflammation markers
lower insulin resistance markers
Burned 300 more calories per day!
Which leads us to an important caveat: Saturated fats “are a problem only in the face of a high-carb, low-fiber, omega-3-deficient diet.”
Put this into action:
Choose fat over starch/sugar when given a choice. In other words, choose avocado or eggs for breakfast over corn flakes.
Good news: Protein and fiber have minimal impact on fat storing hormones so eat more lean quality protein with MORE vegetables
- Ditch sugar and processed carbohydrates. They slow your metabolism and shift you into fat storage and increased hunger and cravings. Sugar in all its forms is the root cause of our obesity epidemic and most of the chronic disease sucking the life out of our citizens and our economy — and, increasingly, the rest of the world. You name it, it’s caused by sugar: heart disease, cancer, dementia, type 2 diabetes, depression, and even acne, infertility and impotence.
- Focus on the big three: Slow carbs a.k.a. plant foods, healthy fats, and protein. The plate should be mostly plant foods by volume. These are things like green leafy veggies, broccoli, bok choy, tomatoes, etc. Next, add in some healthy fats like avocado or olive oil, and 4-6 ounces of protein from non GMO tofu or organic, grass-fed meats. This is a winning combination that will help balance blood sugar levels and keep you satisfied and energized for hours.
- Move. Breathe. Sleep. I’m grouping these together because busy people often forget to do each of them. The best way to burn off the stress hormones without having to change your thinking is to move and sweat. Run, dance, jump, ride, swim, stretch, or skip—do something vigorous and lively. Yoga is also fabulous, as it combines movement and breathing. Most of us hold our breath often or breathe swallow, anxious breaths. Deep, slow, full breaths have a profound effect on resetting the stress response. And finally, lack of sleep increases stress hormones. Get your eight hours no matter what. Take a nap if you missed your sleep. Prioritize sleep.
“Any diet can be made healthy or at least healthier—from vegan to meat-heavy—if the high-glycemic-index carbohydrates and sugars are removed, or reduced significantly.”~ Gary Taubes
So, again, although we have been led to believe that the saturated fat was the root cause of disease, that’s not what the research shows. “… the connection between high-fat and saturated-fat diets and heart disease was not because of the fat, but because people who followed high-fat diets ate fewer vegetables, less fiber, more sugar, and more refined and processed foods.”
Want to see this all in action? Check out the entertaining film where a guy just like you swaps his food to fat-free “healthy options” under medical supervision and testing. The Sugar Film.
- http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2008.00518.x/abstract –
- http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/67/5/828.short – saturated fat and LDL
- http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2013/06/26/ajcn.113.064113.abstract – cravings from glycemic response
- Willett WC, Ludwig DS. (2013) Science souring on sugar. BMJ. 346:e8077.