Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Response to Low Carb Bashing

Okay, so a friend of mine has just started a low carb diet (the new Atkins) in the hopes of losing some weight and becoming healthier.  She has lots of food allergies, including corn and soy, which in a way is a good thing, since neither of those items is very good for your health.  These allergies were just discovered this past summer, so she’s had a long time of feeling lousy and not knowing why.  As a result of learning of her allergies, she’s started eating better, but also has a strained relationship with food, because she still will react poorly to things that she eats.  This past weekend, she shared with her family that she was now eating low carb.  Unfortunately, her father was less than supportive and downright offensive as he spouted off the misinformed, conventional wisdom/fear about Atkins.  She’s going to get heart disease, be malnourished, ruin her kidneys, etc.  He questioned if she had a brain.  You know, nice Daddy talk.

This morning, he sent her the article I have quoted below to warn her of the perils of the Atkins diet.  There was so much BS in it that I had to respond, section by section.  Take a look, my comments are italicized:

Where exactly is the medial evidence?.  If there’s one thing this article is lacking, it is EVIDENCE.  There are no links to more information or studies.  This is just Anne’s opinion.  Allow me to respond, linking to actual evidence and further, deeper discussion.


The "New" Atkins Diet:  Dangerous?

by ANNE SHOOTER, Daily Mail, May 2011

Celebrities from Jennifer Aniston to Geri Halliwell swear by it, and more than 10 million copies of the book, Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, have been sold.  But others maintain that a diet based on fat and protein is totally unbalanced and cannot be good for the body Indeed, Dr Atkins' diet totally contradicts the low-fat, high-fibre eating plans that doctors have recommended for weight loss for decades.  Yet obesity and diabetes are at an all time high!  “U.S. Obesity Trends:  Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. BMI is calculated from a person's weight and height and provides a reasonable indicator of body fatness and weight categories that may lead to health problems. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.  During the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. In 2009, only Colorado and the District of Columbia had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%”. (Source -  http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html)  So, if the doctors have been recommending low fat, high fiber diets for decades, why are we getting fatter and sicker?  We have brains, right?

Many experts say that because the diet encourages eating plenty of red meat and cheese - i.e. saturated fats - without many vegetables, pulses or grains, it could lead to high cholesterol levels and heart disease.  It is undeniably a diet that works - but are you risking your health to lose weight?   Check out Mark Sisson’s blog post called “The Devinitive Guide to Saturated Fat (http://www.marksdailyapple.com/saturated-fat-healthy/), which does a great job explaining, using research, that saturated fat is not correlated with heart disease.  Also, people on low-carb/Atkins diets actually eat MORE vegetables than others (see “Low-carb Dieters Eat More Vegetables - http://www.naturalnews.com/021141.html)

First, you need to understand how the regime (biased term, don’t you think?) works.  Dr Atkins believed that carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice, fruit and starchy vegetables increase the production of the hormone insulin, which encourages fat deposits.  Insulin converts sugars in carbohydrates into fuel for the body, and converts excess sugar into fat. The theory is that avoiding carbohydrates decreases insulin production and, consequently, produces less fat.  This is true.  A great post that discusses this more eloquently by Dr. Michael Eades called “Why We Get Fat” can be found here: http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/low-carb-library/why-we-get-fat/ 

Not only that, Dr Atkins said, but if dieters cut carbohydrates almost totally and eat unlimited amounts of fat and protein instead, hunger will abate and the body will turn to its own fat stores for energy - a process called ketosis.  According to Dr Atkins, your kidneys have to work really hard to process all that protein - and this takes energy.  Without the carbohydrate to power the process, the body starts breaking down fat to digest the food. In addition, he said, the diet speeds up your metabolism.  I’ve NEVER read anything of the like.  Atkins is a high-fat, moderate protein, low carb diet.  It is not about overworking the kidneys.  Ketosis is a normal state, in which the body accesses it’s own stored fat (and consumed fat) for fuel.  In fact, many of the body’s organs prefer to burn ketone bodies over glucose.

But Samuel Klein, a researcher at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, suggests another possible answer.
'A calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from protein, fat or carbohydrates,' he says.  So what does research say?  A detailed reading of the research reveals that claims as to the effectiveness of the diet may have been premature.

             Nearly half of those taken on for the studies dropped out. That's because the Atkins Diet is monotonous, making it hard to stick to. It also makes lots of people feel sick: nausea is a side effect of ketosis.  Where’s the evidence of this?  She doesn’t link to or list any actual studies here.  Many low-carbers do experience a “carb flu” when they convert, as their bodies adjust to the transition from a primarily glucose-burning metabolism to a fat-burning metabolism, but this is temporary.  Furthermore, the diet is only monotonous for those without imagination.  Check out this for ways to make eating this way extremely varied: This is called the Food Matrix, which comes up with 81,000 DIFFERENT meals just by mixing your meat/protein, fat, vegetables and herbs spices (http://robbwolf.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/thePaleoSolution_FoodMatrix.pdf) Also, a simple Google search will bring up hundreds of low carb recipe blogs.

Brigid McKevith, of the British Nutrition Foundation, warns: 'We should remember that cholesterol isn't the only marker of heart disease, and there are other things to look at before we make judgments.' (what?) There are other worries.  Professor David Barker, a specialist in fetal health at Southampton University, says mothers-to-be who follow regimes like the Atkins Diet are putting their baby's health at risk.  The diet would deprive a child of essential nutrients while in the womb, his studies have found, and raise the risk of them suffering heart disease, diabetes and strokes in adulthood.  This is just fear mongering without evidence.  What nutrients?  Vegetables, animal fat and meat are the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.  What do you think we were eating for the millions of years we evolved prior to the Agricultural Revolution?  We weren’t evolving eating high-fiber whole grains.  We left that crap to the birds and killed a mammoth for our dinner!

Other doctors have found that a high-protein diet such as Atkins' regime could damage your kidneys and liver. (Atkins is NOT a high-protein diet; it’s a high fat diet).  Apparently, up to a third of us may have a mild and undetected kidney problem, which is aggravated by following a diet rich in protein.  One of the biggest problems is that many of those trying to lose weight are obese people, who are susceptible to diabetes. Diabetes slowly but steadily damages the kidneys - and the extra burden of a high-protein diet can be enough to speed up that damage.  Excess carbohydrate is what caused the diabetes in the first place, by the way!  But, just to discuss the kidney argument, I found this from Paleo Plan blog (source - http://www.paleoplan.com/2011/04-22/meat-is-not-the-devil-high-protein/):
“Your Kidneys Can Handle It:  The studies that have been done on the kidneys to scare you away from eating “too much” protein have been done on people who already have kidney disease.  Look it up.  Go to www.pubmed.com and try to find a study that provides evidence that eating a high protein diet will adversely affect a person with normally functioning kidneys.  What they’re finding (and admitting now) is that people with normal kidney function do just fine on a high protein diet (5,6).

As the National Kidney Foundation states themselves, (not a high protein diet, but) “diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease.” Let’s just let that sink in for a second. Once again, we’re seeing the irony in my cookie and cracker-fiending, Big Gulp-slurping friends’ questions about my meat. As it turns out, they should be WAY more worried about their own diet harming their kidneys, since we all know that diabetes is caused by a high-glycemic, sugar-filled diet.
5. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2003/03.13/09-kidney.html
6. http://ndt.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/3/657.full”

 Also, there have been suggestions that the diet can affect bone density, predisposing long-term dieters to osteoporosis. (No evidence, again)   Then there are the problems that go with cutting fibre out of your diet.  (Last time I checked, vegetables contain ample fiber) Most people don't eat enough fibre anyway - just 12g compared with the recommended 18g a day - so cutting down further is not a good idea.  We all know that the nutrients in fruit and vegetables help protect against a wealth of diseases, from heart disease to cancer - hence the government advice to eat five portions a day.  Again, low carb dieters eat more veggies than the average eater.

Instead, the Atkins Diet advises taking supplements. In fact, Dr. Atkins made the majority of his multi-million pound fortune not from the sales of his books, but from the sales of the nutritional supplements he manufactured to take with the eating programme.  Not sure where this is coming from, have no clue if it’s true (and likely neither does the author) and don’t find it relevant.  As previously stated, meat, fat and veggies are more nutrient dense than vegetable oils and grains.
I then added, If you would like to read the real science behind all of these issues, read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, a science journalist.  In fact, here a link to his NY Times article that preceded the book:

And the first paragraph as a teaser:  “If the members of the American medical establishment were to have a collective find-yourself-standing-naked-in-Times-Square-type nightmare, this might be it. They spend 30 years ridiculing Robert Atkins, author of the phenomenally-best-selling ''Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution'' and ''Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution,'' accusing the Manhattan doctor of quackery and fraud, only to discover that the unrepentant Atkins was right all along. Or maybe it's this: they find that their very own dietary recommendations -- eat less fat and more carbohydrates -- are the cause of the rampaging epidemic of obesity in America. Or, just possibly this: they find out both of the above are true.”

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