Are we all eating too much and vegging out on the couch? Is it due to our deficient genes or is there anything wrong with “Western” food and would we all be a lot better off if we eat like Grandma?
Looking to Doctors for these answers results in more confusion. Atkins tells us to eat more meat and Pritikin, McDougall and Ornish tell us to eat more starch.
What about fat you might ask? Isn’t being overweight due to too much fat in our food?
Getting obese and becoming overweight is about more than fat; about more than starch and sugar – it is about a way of looking at both food and health that is basically broken.
So today I want to discuss this whole area and hopefully clarify a few things.
First of all we don’t need to look at government statistics to see the epidemic of overweight and obesity in our society.
In America, Europe and right across the planet – wherever our Westernized way of eating has spread, we find waistlines bulging, ordinary trousers being ditched for “comfortable” elasticated waists and our bathroom scales showing the gains.
If you know your height in inches and weight in pounds this calculator will tell you whether your weight is OK or not.
Here is a link to the BMI Height and weight calculator – check it out and then read the rest of this post
It’s rather sobering to pop the numbers in and see how you come out…
I came out as overweight but not obese. How about you?
Whatever our personal results we need to solve the problem of “Why” this is going on.
Is it all in our genes?
It is certainly all in our jeans but there is no way that a country wide and even a worldwide shift can take place in a few years due to genes. That takes longer – a lot longer.
And if it ain’t our genes then it is down to our environment, but we still have some investigating to do.
Is it due to the widespread use in our food of artificial additives? These chemicals can have disruptive effects on our hormones and on our health…
As an author of 2 books on Detox I guess I am expected to say that we just need to detox and eliminate these “nonfood” ingredients from our food. I do think that would be a good idea but there is a bigger story to tell here.
It is about how scientists and Doctors analyse and discuss food.
And how we do.
For over a hundred years we have used the terms carbohydrates, fats and protein as the main ways for us to analyse food, discuss it and decide whether our diet is healthy or not.
And while these words are OK for the laboratory they get in the way when we want to choose a food for dinner or to decide whether we should or should not include a particular food in our diet.
There is no carbohydrate or fat or protein at the grocer’s shop.
All 3 are in every food and we cannot judge whether to eat something by whether it is high in one of these and low in another.
An unexpected quote I just came across rams this point home nicely,
“Any well-educated health professional will tell you the same thing.”
Take Marion Nestle, Ph.D, chair of the Department of Nutrition at New York University:
“We never talk about protein anymore, because it’s absolutely not an issue, even among children. If anything, we talk about the dangers of high-protein diets. Getting enough is simply a matter of getting enough calories.”
Since a landmark study by Ancel Keys we have been on a “crusade” against fat content in our foods.
So let’s start there.
Ancel Keys was a very unconventional scientist now known for 2 diets – K Rations which were a design for field rations for the Army and Navy in World War 2 and for his championing of the Mediterranean diet after the War.
In particular he noticed worrying signs of heart disease in many American executives who were very well fed by conventional standards and surprisingly good health throughout Europe where there was food poverty and scarcity due to the disruption of WW2.
Keys was a “Go-Getter” so he went and got some data on 22 countries heart health and published his data and his conclusions.
Yerushalmy J Hilleboe HE NY State J Med 1957
His data was startling but his conclusions were revolutionary.
His data is shown in the graph above. No line or curve is drawn on the graph but you can see however roughly that with more fat in the diet (shown left to right) deaths increase.
Each country is shown as a point – the US has the highest death rate and tops the list and Mexico has the lowest.
Why are the countries where they are in the data and on the graph? What is it about their food consumption that is responsible.
Ancel Keys said that it was Cholesterol in the food. High intakes of cholesterol lead to a high death rate and low intakes lead to a low death rate.
This lead to fights in the food, health, medical and research communities that are still raging nowadays.
I think that the disputes are silly and confused because there are 2 separate questions to be answered and they have been twisted up together as if we had only one issue.
Let me discuss the Mediterranean diet for a moment. It is a mixed diet with vegetables, grains, cheese, fruit, wine, olive oil, fish and meat all in there and confusing the heck out of researchers who feel that people should be dying due to this diet and not living well and living long – which is what they do!
The main point here is that the diet is a largely plant based diet – most of the diet is vegetables and fruit. The meat and fish content is minor and there is little “supermarket food” – packets and ready meals etc.
This is a diet that you could grow yourself in your garden – provided it was sunny enough!
Analysing the diet in protein / fat / carbohydrate terms is irrelevant but we would say that it is a high carbohydrate and medium fat and medium to low oil diet.
The real point is where the carbohydrate, the oil and the protein come from and not just totaling up the numbers and jumping to conclusions.
As Dr. Robert Lustig points out a calories is not a calorie! A carbohydrate calorie does not have the same metabolic and hormonal effect on the body as a protein calorie or an oil calorie.
Calorie counting is simply voodoo science and so is judging a food in terms of it being “high fat” or “low carb” or whatever.
We know what a healthy diet looks like – Ancel Keys, whatever his failings as a researcher aced it in the 1950s by pointing out the Mediterranean diet.
Using that as a template and making your own healthy edits to it is a practical way to cut through all the crap from the medical and research communities who want you to prove to them in their accepted way that your diet is safe and healthy.
It works for the Mediterranean’s so it will work for you too.
Now that we that as a base let’s reflect for a moment where this leaves us.
We have the basic design of a healthy diet that has been followed by millions of people for thousands of years.
If that diet conflicts with treasured notions of today then the notions are likely to be nutty.
The Atkins diet is the obvious target here. A high meat and high fat diet is clearly as different as can be with the Mediterranean diet and falls on that account.
Then we come to the so called Paleo diet which just seems to be a rebranding and relaunch of Atkins, likewise. Calling it “low Carb” might be an attempt to present the diet as healthy – but “carb” really means vegetables and fruit just as much as it means pastry and sugar. The Paleo diet excludes many supermarket packaged foods but is horribly unhealthy due to it’s high meat content.
Ancel Keys data and his 22 countries graph above show a strong connection between mortality and a diet based on animal fat and animal protein. It clealry shows that an Atkins style diet, call it what you will is severely unhealthy.
Keys jumped to the conclusion that it was the cholesterol in the diet. I think subsequent research shows that to be an error and all the data shows is the link to an animal based diet WITHOUT concluding exactly what the link is. The scientists should care baout the details but the rest of us need not because what this classic study shows is the prudence of avoiding risk factors in meat.
The Mediterranean diet can be adopted as is or altered a tad, as I advise my patients, to fit vegetarian and vegan diets and is flexible enough to make following it easy and practical as well as being healthy.
It also broadly fits Dr.John McDougall’s’ programme outlined in “The Starch Solution” although the “Med” diet has more fat in it than McDougall would allow.
The fact is that it is junk food that leads to weight gain and not fat or cholesterol. Society has been on an anti-fat crusade for decades and we have all been gaining weight.
For most people it is sugar and other junk carbohydrates hidden away in packaged supermarket foods that imbalance our metabolism and pack on the pounds.
Obesity and overweight are best tackled when you become determined to reset your health. You can be slim again or perhaps slim for the first time by switching your diet without any fads or extremes.
A little walking or other exercise helps as does a general outlook of taking stairs and not escalators or elevators when you can.
Working with a Naturopath or a Nutritionist is very helpful but do quiz them first on what they recommend. They may be following a silly diet themselves – so check and see what they eat not just what they recommend.
You may be interested in the best selling documentary “Forks Over Knives” to take this discussion further. And if you want more on the Ancel Keys story visit RawfoodSOS
Please do share this post because it will help others makes sense of the health advice they get and feel free to share your experience in the Comments section below.