Fat as fuel – Part 1 : Carbs

This has been long time coming, but I think I’m finally in a place where I can speak openly about the dietary changes I have implemented in my WOE on this blog. For over 2 months I have been lowering my intake of carbohydrates to about 50g or less a day all coming from plant sources – this means no sugar, no grains (no bread, pasta or rice), no starchy vegetables, fruit limited to berries (if that). You might know it as a low-carb diet, but it goes a little bit further than just low carb – it’s called a Ketogenic Diet and it’s been around for quite some time but has been stifled by the low-fat dogma propagated by pseudo scientists in the 1950s. The idea of removing those pesky carbs from one’s diet dates back to 1800s, actually, when a certain caretaker by the name of William Banting wrote his Letter on Corpulence addressed to the public based on his own experiences.

I’m not going to devote any time analyzing Bantings’s writings, as others have done it before and moreover it is not the purpose of this blog to seek the earliest sources of any type of diet. But if you are interested in the history of this WOE, you may find Bantings’ writings quite fascinating. What I am going to do though is to show you why I (and a slew of other followers, scientists and even doctors) believe this is the way to go for wellness, longevity and good health.

If you have ever been on a quest to lower your body weight you are probably quite familiar with the idea of lowering your intake of starchy carbohydrates in order to achieve this goal. This idea has been around forever and a day and nobody disputes the fact that it works – if you limit or completely eliminate mostly simple carbohydrates from your diet you will lose inches around your waist, no questions asked. The reason for this is simple : if you are not eating carbs (or very little coming from green leafy vegetables only) you will not induce an insulin response in your body and hence will not prompt fat storage. Let me explain:

Every time you eat a carbohydrate heavy meal (think pasta, rice, potatoes or other starches), the carbs from your meal raise your blood sugar, pancreas releases insulin to deal with this surge of sugar by transporting it to your cells for energy. Because you can only store a limited amount of this energy in the form of glycogen in your body, if you eat more carbohydrates than your body can use, the excess is going to be deposited on your body as fat. And as long as you eat more carbs than you can use (and let’s be honest most of us do), you will never start burning body fat for energy and lower your weight.

“OK” – you say –  “so the answer is to eat less carbs than you need and fat won’t accumulate anymore and the body will start burning it for energy.” – In principle, yes, this will work. However, you have drastically eliminated the conventional energy source and if you are able to maintain this low-carb intake for long enough to burn though most of your body fat (remember the goal is not to burn it all, as there is an essential body fat level needed to maintain good health) you will eventually crash because you won’t be providing ANY energy source in the form of food or body fat to fuel your daily activities. That’s why, once you lower your carb intake, you will need to increase fat intake to keep fueling your body. And hence a Ketogenic diet : low-carb-high-fat diet aka LCHF.

Here is a neat little video explaining the role of insulin in making us fat for all of you visual types:

You might be asking yourself why do the switch if everybody is eating low-fat high-carb? Why should you care to switch your energy source from carbs to fat? You might have heard somewhere that carbs are very accessible for your body as energy source, so why complicate it and make it more difficult for your body? Your body has been using carbs for so many years to fuel itself, why switch now?

Well, the truth of the matter is that we turned to carbs, grains in particular, for energy with the onset of industrialization. In the past, our ancestors and native people never ate the amount of carbohydrates that modern people eat today – they used to eat fatty meats, an odd berry and herbs and wash it all down with an exorbitant amounts of full fat milk.* They did not suffer from the modern aliments that we are plagued with today such as diabetes, heart attacks, obesity etc. So given this simple detail, my question is: “Why wouldn’t we want to go back to the way we used to eat before most of the grocery store got packaged in cardboard boxes?”

The answer is we have an innate fear of the alternative energy source – FAT. We’ve been literally programmed to believe that the fat we put in our mouths will make us not only fat, but also sick. Yet, every single packaged food in the grocery store claims it is “low-fat” – so if we are consuming a low-fat diet already, why are we still fat and sick? Wouldn’t the opposite have to be the case? We are avoiding dietary fat as prescribed by various nutrition governing bodies, so shouldn’t we be all thin and healthy? If all these recommendations were based in science and research we would be walking examples of health and wellness, but as we are finding out now the low-fat dogma is not based in science but only in wishful thinking and manipulative tactics employed to make us believe fat is enemy number 1….

Stayed tuned for the FAT instalment of this series where I will try to convince you to give fat a chance.

* Nina Teicholz in The Big Fat Surprise

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