Everything You Know About Health Is Wrong
Part 1: Fat
How many scientific studies do you think there are which show that saturated fat causes heart disease? A couple of months ago, I would have guessed "several", if not "lots", or at the very least, "one." As it turns out, the answer is zero, and this is despite the government having spent decades and hundreds of millions of dollars trying to find just such a causal relationship between evil dietary fat and heart disease.
The truth is that eating fat is not only not bad for you, it also does not make you fat. The body does not simply store the fat we eat; rather, it stores fat in response to elevated insulin levels -- and it is dietary carbohydrates that cause elevated insulin levels. The body also converts excess carbs into fat and then stores it, so a "low-fat", high-carb diet -- the kind that the government has been recommending for decades -- actually results in increased fat storage. So we’ve got a nation of obese diabetics who are hysterically anti-fat and are stuffing themselves -- killing themselves -- with grains.
I first started learning about this stuff a couple of months ago via Tom Naughton’s excellent videos Fat Head and Big Fat Fiasco. (Update: and Fat Head is now available for free instant streaming on Hulu, and free-for-members instant streaming on Netflix.) But none of this is actually news; the proof for it is all over the scientific literature and all over the web. For example, the following two long and detailed articles (both definitely worth your time to read in full) are several years old by now:
Quoting Men’s Health:
What if "bad" fat is actually good for you? For decades, Americans have been told that saturated fat clogs arteries and causes heart disease. But there’s just one problem: No one’s ever proved it.
Quoting New York Times:
These researchers point out that there are plenty of reasons to suggest that the low-fat-is-good-health hypothesis has now effectively failed the test of time. In particular, that we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic that started around the early 1980’s, and that this was coincident with the rise of the low-fat dogma. (Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, also rose significantly through this period.) They say that low-fat weight-loss diets have proved in clinical trials and real life to be dismal failures, and that on top of it all, the percentage of fat in the American diet has been decreasing for two decades. Our cholesterol levels have been declining, and we have been smoking less, and yet the incidence of heart disease has not declined as would be expected. "That is very disconcerting," Willett says. "It suggests that something else bad is happening." [...]
Rather it occurred...because the public health authorities told us unwittingly, but with the best of intentions, to eat precisely those foods that would make us fat, and we did. We ate more fat-free carbohydrates, which, in turn, made us hungrier and then heavier.
If you want to go deeper into the details, from article-level to book-level, Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat and Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution are both highly recommended. I have a stack of about half a dozen books that I want to read (mostly not health-related), and I normally don’t skip ahead, but I made exceptions for both of these.
Part 2: Disease
Unfortunately, being fat is just one of the consequences of a high-carb diet; the other consequences of this "healthy" way of eating include diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. It’s not fat that causes these diseases, but rather a combination of inflammation and autoimmune disorder. Grains like wheat are the biggest instigator of the gut irritation that leads to these disorders -- though legumes and dairy are also problematic for many people -- and the irritation is often at a low enough level that there are few if any symptoms, despite the damage that’s being done. That damage leads to what’s known as leaky gut:
Disease occurs when the tight junctions become "leaky" allowing pathogens to enter by the paracellular pathway. When this occurs, the GALT immune system will become activated. However, during this stimulation, the GALT system may produce antibodies which cross react with native proteins. Thus, autoimmune diseases may occur like Type I Diabetes Mellitus which is an autoimmune disease against the beta cells of the pancreas. This leads to decreased insulin production by the pancreas.
In other words, foods that irritate the gut put it in a weakened state, and in this state, the gut allows not just nutrients to enter our bodies, but also pathogens. The immune system mounts attacks against these pathogens, but some of what leaks through are things like undigested proteins, which can be similar to our own proteins, resulting in our own proteins being targetted by our immune system’s response -- hence, autoimmune disease.
Then of course there’s type II diabetes, which is actually caused by a high-carb diet directly. When you overload your system with sugar (i.e. carbohydrate, whether from grains or refined sugars) for long enough, your tissues become insulin resistant, because your pancreas is constantly pumping out massive amounts of it in order to bring down your blood glucose levels. Your cells no longer respond properly to insulin: they don’t pull much glucose out of the bloodstream, which results in a chronically high blood sugar level, and also results in you feeling chronically hungry, because your cells (in your muscles, etc) are not getting the energy (glucose) that they need. As an added bonus, your liver steps up and converts the excess blood glucose to fat which gets stored in your fat cells.
Part 3: The Cure
The cure for all of this is simple: eat the foods that your body was designed to consume: meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, with emphasis on meats and vegetables. This kind of diet is known as the Paleo diet, since it’s what humans ate before the dawn of agriculture; it’s what everyone ate for most of human history. This way of eating is automatically low-carb, unless you load up on super-starchy "vegetables" like potatoes and corn, which is not advisable.
Or to view it from the foods-to-avoid perspective: simply avoid grains, legumes, and dairy.
Part 4: The Podcast
If you want a huge source of invaluable information on health and nutrition that’s also entertaining and totally free, listen to Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution podcast. Robb is a fitness trainer and an expert in nutrition and physiology, and his depth of knowledge is astounding. For an hour each week he answers reader/listener questions, and it’s one of the most fascinating and informative shows I’ve ever heard. Parts of it are pretty heavily focused on strength training, which I’m not hugely interested in, but it all generally comes back to the same principles regarding how to fuel your body for optimum health.
One of my favorite things about the podcast is the stories of all the clients Robb has helped, in many cases curing people of diseases (not to mention fixing tons of smaller problems like IBS, acne, etc), just by correcting their diets. People are often reluctant to give up bread, pasta, etc, but they get over that after taking the 30 day challenge, which is simply to cut out grains, legumes, and dairy from your diet for 30 days, and see if you don’t look, feel, and perform better. It doesn’t cost you anything to try, the potential upside is huge, and the only downside is missing out on some foods that you like for a few weeks.
Part 5: Testimonials
Quoting Robb Wolf:
Interesting back-story: the whole reason that Paleo Brands exists is that John Welbourn’s neighbor Joe, he went with John to a Paleo talk that John did. I was supposed to do one down at CrossFit LA for Andy Petranek, and due to some scheduling stuff I couldn’t show up, so John gave the talk for me, and he took Joe with him.
Joe is Italian, and his mom’s really Italian, like from-Italy Italian, but after Joe heard about all this stuff, he told his mom, hey mom, I want you to not eat pasta and bread, and I want you to eat meat, and fruit, and vegetables, and all this stuff. And Joe’s mother is in her 60s; she had had alopecia since she was in her early 40s, and her hair had just fallen out -- she had to wear a wig.
And then Joe didn’t see his mom for about two months, and then the next time he saw her, her hair was growing all back in, and the guy like collapsed on the ground crying when he saw his mom. And then he was like, we’ve gotta get this [Paleo diet] idea out to everybody.
So it’s really remarkable how beneficial that autoimmune intervention is, the Paleo flavor of autoimmune intervention, for things like alopecia, vitiligo, and a number of skin and hair-related issues, psoriasis, eczema, and on and on and on. It’s definitely worth a shot.