Low Carb and Intermittent Fasting Make Traveling a Breeze!

It's challenging enough to stick to your health, fitness, and dieting goals when you're at home. When you're traveling, it can be even harder. Nothing's worse than going on vacation only to be frustrated that you've gained back weight you worked so hard to lose.

Let's be honest. When you travel, it's harder to pay attention to what you're eating, when you're eating and how much you're eating. If you prepre ahead of time, however, you can make this much easier. Focusing on intermittent fasting, limiting your carbs, and keeping up some version of your exercise routine can put you on a path to success. 

How Travel Disrupts Your Diet

We seem to be traveling more than ever. The U.S. Travel Association reports that spending on travel in the U.S. alone averages $2.8 billion per day. Per day! That's a lot of opportunity to fall off the wagon. 

  • You're likely to be less physically active. While it may seem you're covering lots of ground rushing to the airport and flying (or driving) hundreds of miles, you're also spending most of that time sitting down. It's also common for travelers to abandon their usual workout routines.
  • There are snacks and junk food everywhere. It's tempting to grab snacks at the airport or to worry that you may not have a chance to eat for a while, so yo ugrab whatever is available. Most of these choices are high carb, high sugar distractions. 
  • Your internal clock is disrupted. If you're traveling through time zones, your circadian rhythm is a mess and youo will find yourself craving more, with diminished self control. 

But it's not hopeless! Here are some recommendations for counteracting these issues and staying healthy when you travel.

Limit Carbs When Traveling

We can debate all we want the merits of low fat vs low carb diets. Especially when the carbs are high quality, real food carbs. However, when you travel, lower quality carbs are often the biggest temptation. Simple carbs like sweets, foods made with white flour, and many packaged and processed foods are everywhere. 

  • Bring healthy snacks with you. Instead of relying on food counters at the airport or filling up on junk food at rest stops on the highway, take the time to prepare some healthy meals. Prepare snacks that include superfoods such as almonds and other mixed nuts, salads with broccoli, kale hemp seeds and chia seeds, and perhaps some dark chocolate for a treat.
  • Do your own shopping and cooking. Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean you have to eat out every meal! Don't derpive yourself of trying some new restaurants, but remember you can still do some of your own cooking. Look for a hotel or Airbnb that lets you do at least a little cooking and that has a fridge. This gives you more control over your diet.  
  • Research eating options ahead of time. Before you leave on your trip, identify hotels, restaurants, and eateries that offer healthy and low-carb options. Don't forget to find out when and where local farmer's markets are held. I find that is a fantastic way to check out the local scene and partake in healthy local food choices. 
  • Drink water. Staying hydrated can help combat hunger, and it will keep you away from sodas, juices and other sugary distractions.

Happy friends drinking cocktails and eating watermelon fruit in boat party - Young people having fun in summer vacation - Youth lifestyle and rich tour holiday concept - Main focus on right girl face

Incorporate Fasting Into Your Trip 

There are many health benefits to intermittent fasting. It can help you to lose weight and lower insulin, and there's even evidence that it contributes to longevity. But when it comes to travelling, the best part of IF is the convenience!  If you're fasting, you don't have to worry about finding a healthy meal at the airport or on the plane.  Stick with water and you are good to go!

If you are fasting, do it in a responsible and healthy way. If you're on any kind of medication, consult with a health professional before fasting. If you've never fasted, start slowly. Most people can do an 18:6 fast without too much discomfort. This means fasting for 18 hours and then eating for the next 6 hours. When you get comfortable with this, you can increase the duration of your fasts to 24, 48, or even 72 hours. If you want to try fasting on your next trip, it's a good idea to try some short fasts before you begin your journey. 

Other Tips to Stay Healthy on the Road

  • Exercise regularly. Try to stay somewhere with a gym. Or a neighborhood that has a gym you can use. Even without this, you can schedule in a walk, jog or bike ride. If you're visiting tourist attractions, think of a walk or bike tour rather than a bus tour. Look into places where you can explore nature and get fresh air.
  • Get enough rest. Travel can also disrupt your sleep patterns. Lack of sleep is associated with anxiety, depression, hypertension, and many other health problems. If you're going to be traveling through time zones, start adjusting to the new time before you leave for your trip. When on your trip, be careful not to burn the candle at both ends. If you're getting up early for a long day of sightseeing (or business meetings), go to bed at a reasonable time. 
  • Limit your intake of alcohol. It seems that alcoholic beverages are everywhere when you travel. Whether you're ordering a cocktail to help you relax on a long flight, downing tropical drinks on the beach, or sampling local craft breweries or wineries, the temptations are everywhere. Alcohol is high in calories and sugar. It can also disrupt your sleep patterns. If you do drink, limit it to one or two per day. 
  • Don't stress out. Stress is never healthy and travel, even the kind that's supposed to be relaxing, can contribute to it. Avoid trying to fit in too many activities on your trip. Rushing around tends to make you reach for junk foods for quick comfort or energy. When planning your schedule, leave time for spontaneous exploration or just lounging around. 

Watching your diet when traveling is important, especially if you frequently find yourself on the road. It's easy to slip into bad habits when traveling which means you have to start all over when you return home. It's better if you can stay consistent even when you're away from home. Limiting your carbs, fasting, and maintaining regular exercise and sleep routines all help you maintain optimum health when you travel. 

 

More False Claims About Keto- Bias and Lack of Evidence Beware!

There is a lot of “Fake Science” out there. It’s clear that we live in an age of misinformation and sensationalized headlines, and it’s often difficult to discern what contains real evidence, and what is lacking. This week, I’m motivated by a particular article by a “reputable” source. Aside from pointing out the specifics of this particular article, I want the larger lesson to be to understand how to read between the lines of an article and search for evidence, regardless of how credible a source may seem.

 

Who’s the Culprit?

 

Harvard Health strikes again with ignorance and false claims. I try not to respond negatively too often, but I couldn’t let this one go.

 

Does talking about an awful publication give it more attention than it deserves? Or is it more important to point out the fallacies for all to see? I don’t know that there is a “right” answer to that question, but in this case the critic and vocal dissenter won out. We can’t let flat out wrong claims perpetuate and become “truth” as happens too often in medicine.

 

Bias in Language

 

  • It starts right off the bat by the language use in this article. “The keto diet aims to force your body into using a different fuel.” Force your body? That assumes your body doesn’t want to burn fat, so we have to force it against its will to do so. That is certainly a “carb centric” view point!

 

Why not say “allow your body to use a different fuel.” The clear assumption/bias is that we are meant to be carbohydrate eating, glucose burning machines. But is that true? Is that how we were meant to be? Snackwells, Nabisco and Tony the Tiger sure think so, but I think evolutionary biology may differ.

 

  • “It requires that you deprive yourself of carbohydrates.” Deprive? There is certainly no deprivation on a wonderful array of veggies like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, green beans, and so on. I also don’t think anyone would complain about the health risks of depriving ourselves of white bread, bagels, candy, cookies, cakes etc. Would Harvard also talk about how vegans deprive themselves the nutrient density found in eggs, fish and meat? I think not.

 

 

Lacking Evidence

 

Next comes the section on “Keto Risks.”

 

 

  • Saturated fat is the obvious one, and I have written enough about that one to not address it in this post. You can read more here, here, and here. The article also seemingly adds a source with what sounds like evidence, but provides no link to the study.

 

  • Liver problems. How could they reference “liver problems” with no references or specifics and fail to mention that LCHF is one of the best nutritional interventions to treat fatty liver, the fastest growing cause of liver disease in the country. And what does “liver problems” even mean? It seems clear that there is a clear lack of understanding here.

  • Kidney problems. The only concern of too much protein is in individuals with complete kidney failure. In healthy individuals, high protein consumption can increase the renal filtration rate, but there is no evidence to show resulting kidney damage. And where did they get the current recommendations for protein intake? 46 grams per day for women and 56 for men? Even using the lower estimates of 0.5 grams per pound would make this 90 grams per day for the average 180-pound man. And this is a minimum recommendation.

 

  • Fuzzy thinking and mood swings- This one is my favorite. Actually, LCHF keto diets are phenomenal at treating “fuzzy thinking and mood swings.” The article claims, “the brain needs sugar from healthy carbohydrates to function.” That could not be further from the truth. No matter how low our carbohydrate intake, glucose levels never drop to zero. I hope they have heard the term gluconeogenesis at Harvard because it is something our bodies have been doing for a few years. Well, maybe a few thousand years but let’s not be too picky. Yes, our brains require glucose. By no means do we need to eat that glucose.

 

  • Last, they get one more jab in to say how “restrictive” the diet is.

Eating all the meat and veggies you want is restrictive? I like how they don’t refer to vegetarian or vegan diets as restrictive. Bias is very hard to overcome.

 

Also, you have to love the part about the weight returning when you resume a “normal” diet. Let me get this right. We shouldn’t change from a standard American diet to a low carb diet because the weight will come back if we go back to a SAD diet? So, we shouldn’t even try? Great rationale. How’s that working for our country?

 

The Danger of These Biased Articles

 

Now let’s look at the bigger picture. An institution with a reputable name publishes this paper.  This paper has no scientific references, it is clearly biased, and has many statements that are blatantly false.

 

How are most people going to respond? I am afraid most people will accept it at face value. I mean, it’s Harvard for Pete’s sake!

 

My guess is most of my readers (you!) will say, “No way. People won’t fall for this garbage.”  And for that I am thankful. But the problem is that my readers (you!) tend to be more astute and more interested in these topics and by habit critically analyze what they read. My fear is that does not translate to the rest of the population.

 

That is why the publishers at Harvard Health should be ashamed of themselves to allow their name on such an obviously biased and tainted article. Whether you believe in a low carb diet or not should have nothing to do with recognizing the falsehoods in their article.

 

In the end, I hope this will serve as a cautionary tale to remind us that everyone has a bias. Some hide it better than others. Some can be more objective than others. And as Harvard has proven, notoriety has nothing to do with it.

 

Let’s strive to be better.

 

 Thanks for reading,

Bret Scher MD FACC

A Guide to Keto-Friendly Meal Prep

 

Let's be honest. Changing our eating habits is hard. No matter how inspired and gung-ho we may feel when we first decide to go keto, inevitably, we will face temptations and frustrations. Whether you're brand new to the low carb or ketogenic diet or you've been following it for ages, adopting a meal prep habit can help traslate that initial enthusiasm into success. It can even save time and money along the way!

What is Meal Prep?

Meal prep is the practice of preparing a number of meals in advance, typically all at once on one day per week. I enjoy doing this on Sunday and trying to involve my kids as well! You can be flexible with this to fit your schedule. For instance, you can prepare and freeze an entire week of food, or make only certain meals or plan for only a few days at a time. 

Why Meal Prep?

It saves you time.

The more you prepare in advance, the less time you spend running to the grocery store, and my personal favorite, less day to day clean up! While yes, you prepare about the same amount of food, efficient meal prep typically relies on multitasking to significantly speed up the process.

It cuts your food bill, sometimes drastically.

Meal prep can save you a lot of money on food. How? Consider that the average U.S. consumer will dish out $5,400 on impulse purchases each year. Having a grocery list and sticking to it can dramatically decrease the likelihood that you will give into these types of impulse purchases. (anyone can make a list, but can you stick to the list? Seinfield reference anyone???) Also, preparing a week's worth of food at once makes it easier to buy in bulk, which is often more cost-effective. You'll also find it a lot easier to form your shopping list around sales when you're forced to plan in advance.

It helps you avoid impulse decisions about food.

When you're busy, it's very easy to give into carb-laden fast food temptations. When you're drained after a long day of work, you may think, Whi has time of energy to make dinner? That can lead to less healthy take out choices. Meal prepping helps you avoid this kind of impulsive decision because you'll always have a healthy meal ready for you at home. Just walk in the door, heat it up and viola, dinner is served.

It can facilitate your keto diet.

Since staying in ketosis depends on a certain percentage of macros each day, a meal plan can be invaluable. By planning your meals in advance, you can be certain that you won't get to the end of the day and realize you've gone way over your carb allotment. Meal prep makes it even easier to stick to your meal plan because you can reuse the same base components in multiple meals, making the macro calculations much easier. You're also less likely to deviate from a meal plan when the food is already in your fridge, ready to eat.

 

How to Start Meal Prepping

Getting Started

As with any lifestyle change, when you first start out with meal prep, it's important that you start slowly so that you don't overwhelm yourself. You don't need to prepare an elaborate menu with a different entreé each night. Instead, try the following steps to get acclimated to the habit.

  1. Start by picking two keto-friendly protein options that use different cooking methods. For instance, if one requires the oven, pick something that you can prepare stovetop for the other recipe. You may also pick a side dish or two if you'd like.
  2. Buy enough ingredients to make at least 3 servings of each recipe. You might also consider buying some extra meat and vegetables that you can prepare early and use throughout the week for lunches (think salads and lettuce wraps).
  3. Set aside enough containers to hold your meals for the week. You'll likely want to pre-portion the meals to keep your macros consistent, so you'll need one container per individual meal (Tip: glass is much better than plastic).
  4. On your chosen meal prep day, Sunday in my house, prepare your recipes. Be sure to prep your ingredients all at once and find ways to complete multiple tasks simultaneously. While your chicken is in the oven, for instance, you can be steaming or stir-frying some veggies.
  5. Cook any extra meat and vegetables as well, if you chose to purchase some. A slow cooker can be extremely useful here to free up your other kitchen appliances for your main recipes.
  6. Once you've finished cooking, portion out the meals into their containers. Consider freezing half of the meals to prevent any issues with spoilage. Put the extras into larger containers to portion out as snacks or side dishes.

Refining Your Routine

Throughout the first week, pay attention to the following questions:

  • Did I prepare the right amount of food? If you don't eat all the meals, consider cutting back. If you run out early or don't feel like you've saved yourself any time, consider preparing extra next time.
  • Am I bored with these meal options? If so, next time try preparing slightly different variations on the same recipe or add another entreé entirely.
  • Did meal prepping benefit me this week? Think in any terms you want: time, money, healthy decisions, etc.

It will take some trial and error to determine how often to meal prep and how much to prepare each time. Experiment with different schedules and menus until you are completely satisfied with the answers to these questions.

Keto-Specific Meal Prep Tips

Making meal prep work for any diet is all about planning, and keto is no different. The key is to prepare foods that will help you comply with the diet.

Add variety.

One of the main objections to meal prepping is that people don't want to eat the same meal over and over throughout the week. People who aren't following keto will often use a different carb with each meal to change things up. This isn't possible when following keto, unless you use alternatives such as spiralized or riced vegetables. If variety is important to you, consider one of the following ideas that take less time than adding a whole extra recipe to your prep day.

  • Prepare the same marinade, sauce, or seasoning, but use it on different proteins.
  • Stir-fry different combinations of vegetables with the same sauce or spices.
  • Portion your protein, vegetables, or both into sections and season each differently before baking or frying.

Don't skimp on snacks.

Pre-portioning keto-friendly snacks during your meal prep time can help ensure that you always have healthy options to keep you from dipping into the office candy jar, or in my case, snacking on the muffins and doughnuts in the doctor's lounge (I know that's absurd, but that is what they serve in the hospital!).

Label your food containers.

You should always label your food containers with the dish and date it was prepared. It's also helpful if you're following keto to mark the net carbs and other relevant macros in case you end up mixing and matching your recipes you can still stay on point.

With these tips, you should be well on your way to an efficient and effective meal prep routine. Once you see how much easier it is to follow the ketogenic diet with meal prep, you'll never go back.

 

How To Eat Low Carb On A Budget

low carb gro

"I'd love to eat low-carb but I don't think I can afford it!" Have you thought this before? I know I have heard it before.

The benefits of a low carb diet are clear, but many people are put off because they think that a low carb diet has to be expensive. The truth is, eating low carb doesn't have to break the bank. You don't need to buy expensive foods or ingredients! In fact, you can eat delicious, healthy, and inexpensive meals every day. Read on to learn more about how to eat low carb without blowing your budget. 

Plan For Success

The most important part of eating low carb on a budget is the planning. Having a clear plan every week saves tons of time and effort. Start by browsing the weekly sale ad from your local grocery store to see what's on sale. From there, you can sketch out a meal plan for the week, based around those nutritious and tasty ingredients. You should be able to easily plan how much it will be for daily breakfast, lunch and dinner (or if you practice intermittent fasting, that's even easier!). Always plan to have a few extra snacks on hand, as this can help stop you from splurging on expensive, last minute treats.

If you have more than one local grocery store, compare prices. It may be worth the extra few miles of driving if you can save some serious money on food. If one store has free-range eggs on sale and the other has a sale on chicken, don't hesitate to stop for both.

One of the most helpful things you can do is put a few hours aside each week (maybe on the weekend) to map out your plan. During this time you can:

  • Plan out your grocery shopping.  After looking at your local store's weekly ad, write out a detailed list of everything you need to buy. Armed with a list, you'll be less likely to splurge once you get to the store.

  • Map out your meals for the week. Know what you'll be having for dinner each night of the week. Plan quick and easy meals for your busiest nights, and be sure that you know what you'll be packing for lunch during the weekdays. 

  • Prep foods you know you'll be using. You can pre-chop veggies, cook meat, and make soups or stews ahead of time. Keep pre-portioned meals in the fridge, so when you're hungry you already have a delicious low-carb meal on hand. Portion out snacks like nuts into containers or bags so you know you won't overindulge, and you'll always have something to grab when hunger strikes. When all your food is ready and on hand, you won't have any excuse to grab expensive takeout. 

Strategize Your Shopping

When you head to the grocery store, make sure you optimize your time and money. There are a few tricks to keep in mind to really stretch your grocery budget. First, make sure you head to the store with a list and don't stray from it. If you see something that you use a lot of on sale for a good deal, stock up and freeze it for later use. 

On a low-carb diet, you most likely don't even need to venture into the aisles of the store – you can just stick to the perimeter. That's where the most healthy, least processed foods are waiting. Fruits, veggies, meat, cheese, eggs and other staples are easily accessible, and you won't be tempting yourself with expensive, processed foods. 

Protein is Key

On a low-carb diet, your protein sources can be one of the more expensive items at the grocery store, but if you strategize your meat buying, you'll find that buying meat won't necessarily force you to go over budget. 

Often, it's cheaper to buy a whole chicken and portion it out yourself, instead of buying just chicken breasts, thighs, or legs. If you portion out a chicken by hand, you can also save the bones to make nourishing bone broth later. 

Also, try cuts of meat that you haven't necessarily considered before. For example, organ meat is much cheaper (and denser in nutrients) than muscle meat, but so many people are afraid to try it. Liver, onions, and bacon is a fantastic, healthy, and surprisingly tasty meal, and buying cow liver is much cheaper than buying steak.

Produce Power

healthy produce low carb gro

Fresh produce is an important staple in any healthy diet, and while some vegetables and fruits are high in carbs, sticking to lower carb avove the ground veggies will deliver nutrients that can help your body thrive. Look for seasonal veggies instead of buying expensive ones when they're out of season, and don't be afraid to go for frozen vegetables as well. They're just as healthy as their fresh counterpart, and you can be sure that you'll always have healthy veggies on hand in the freezer.

Also, keep in mind that convenience comes at a cost. Many stores have pre-cut veggies available, which makes dishes like stir-fry quick and easy, however, you pay for the prep work. If you set aside prep time every week, you won't need to spend the extra money on pre-shredded cabbage or pre-chopped broccoli.

Buying Smart

Sticking to a budget can be hard, but always buy the best quality that you can afford. Sure, free range chicken, grass fed beef, wild fish and organic produce is higher quality, but it can also be much more expensive, depending on where you shop. But you can always be sure that eating healthy, fresh food, even if it isn't organic, is much better for your body than pizza, soda, fast food, or other processed junk. So don't feel bad about buying the store brand canned salmon instead of the fresh fillets. Splurge on the good stuff when you can, and make the best possible choices when your budget is tight.

Another important thing to remember is to keep it as simple as you can. You don't need fancy cheese or expensive nuts to satisfy you. Grocery stores will upcharge trendy foods like kale because they know it will sell. Turnip greens, spinach, swiss chard, or collard greens are just as healthy, but can usually be found for much cheaper. A simple salad packed with superfoods makes a great meal and can be put together with affordable ingredients. Get familiar with all the different produce options, and how to cook them to make healthy and delicious side dishes. Be adventurous! 

Cooking healthy, delicious low carb meals for yourself and your family can be rewarding, and you'll add an impressive set of recipes to your repertoire. Herbs and spices don't add carbs to your meals and they can bring simple dishes to a whole new level. Buy herbs and spices in bulk, and they'll last you for months.

Final Thoughts

Maybe you've tried a low carb diet in the past without much success, or you got discouraged about how much you were spending. But the truth is, low carb is a healthy choice, and healthy choices are for everyone, not just the wealthy. If you spend some time planning out your meals weekly and get to know all the secrets of your grocery store, you'll find that eating low carb is easier and cheaper than you ever expected. It just takes a bit of strategy, and some creativity to kickstart your low carb lifestyle. 

 

Does Weight Loss Depend on Calories or Hormones?

 

Why do people have such a hard time losing weight? Anyone who has tried it before knows the challenges. It frequently goes one of two ways:

  1. Initial success followed by a stall and eventual regaining of the weight leading to frustration and giving up.
  2. Difficulty changing habits enough to see a meaningful difference. Life seems to get in the way to prevent success.

 

Let’s be honest. There are numerous ways to lose weight. You can hardly go on the internet without seeing an ad for a magic weight loss solution or the one food you need to finally burn that belly fat.

 

As long as we are being honest, let’s also acknowledge that those don’t work. Ever.

 

The seemingly elusive weight loss holy grail would look like this:

  • We can easily maintain for years if not decades- it’s enjoyable!
  • Helps us maintain a healthy weight- losing mostly fat while preserving muscle
  • Helps improve our overall health, longevity and health span

Low Carb vs Low Fat Diets

 

If you have read some of my prior posts, you know where I am going with this. I think a low carb high fat (LCHF) lifestyle is likely the closest thing we have to the holy grail.

 

This isn’t just my opinion. As presented by DietDoctor.com, there have been 60 studies comparing LCHF vs low-fat diets for weight loss. The running score board shows 30 wins for LCHF, 30 ties, and exactly zero wins for the low-fat diet.

 

I’m the first to admit nutritional science is messy and we have to be careful with interpreting the data. But when there have been 60 studies and a low-fat diet has not been more beneficial in a single one, that speaks volumes.

 

This leads us to the next question:

 

Why is an LCHF diet better for weight loss?

 

Some would counter: Does it matter why? If we know it works, people enjoy the lifestyle and feel good on it, and we have evidence that it improves diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risk factors, then what more do we need to know?

 

This is where the science gets murky regarding two theories for weight loss

 

1.    Calories in/Calories out.

This theory states that weight loss is a simple equation. Take in fewer calories than you expend and you will lose weight. If you burn 2000 calories in a given day, then it doesn’t matter if you take in 1500 calories of bread, pasta, soda, cake, cookies, or vegetables and steak. You will lose weight. Period.

 

2.    Carbohydrate-Insulin Model.

This theory states that the hormonal response to calories is more important than the absolute number of calories. Simply put, insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia prevent us from losing weight. Insulin’s “job” is to shuttle glucose into cells and prevents us from breaking down our fat stores, thus impairing weight loss attempts.  By following a LCHF diet, we can lower insulin levels, improve insulin resistance, and allow our body to break down fat stores and lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way. Absolute calories matter little in this theory.

 

Studies Around LCHF Diets

 

A series of trials funded by NUSI recently caused waves of controversy regarding the mechanism of LCHF diets and the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis.

 

The Ketogenic Diet Study

 

The first study published in 2016 investigated 17 overweight men and their response to two diets. For the first 4-weeks they ate a “high-carbohydrate baseline diet,” followed by 4-weeks of an isocaloric ketogenic diet. Each week they spent two days in a metabolic ward where investigators measured everything they consumed along with their resting energy expenditure.

 

In theory, if our insulin response is the primary driver of weight loss, then our resting energy expenditure should increase on a ketogenic diet as a reflection of breaking down our natural fat stores for use as fuel.

 

Here are the basic highlights of the study:

  • Subjects lost weight on both the control diet and the ketogenic diet
  • Fat loss continued but slowed after transitioning from baseline to ketogenic diets
  • Resting energy expenditure increased on the ketogenic diet by about 100kcal/day.

 

Now comes the interesting part. How do we interpret these results? Resting energy expenditure went up on the ketogenic diet, suggesting the carbohydrate-insulin model works, right?

 

Not so fast. The lead author of the study, Kevin Hall, concluded that his study disproves the CIM, claiming that the resting energy expenditure change wasn’t high enough. As part of their research protocol, they estimated the dietary change should have resulted in a difference of between 300 and 600kcal per day. So even though the trial “worked,” it fell short of expectations.

 

Kind of like if Amazon predicted a 20% revenue increase for the quarter. When their increase is only 15%, their stock price falls, even though their revenue still went up!

 

To be honest, this is where I tune out.  Switching to a ketogenic diet lowered insulin and increased resting energy expenditure. What’s wrong with that? That sounds like a good result to me.

 

The Healthy Low-Fat Diet Study

 

Which brings us to the second trial.  I wrote about this trial shortly after it was published, and will summarize it again here.

 

600 subjects were randomized to a “healthy low fat” or a “healthy low carb” diet (this was not a ketogenic diet as they ended up eating 130gram carbs per day). Both groups were advised to maximize veggies, minimize sugars and processed flour, minimize trans fats, and focus on nutrient dense whole food prepared mostly at home.

 

In the end, both groups lost the same amount of weight, and they saw no difference in genetics related to fat metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Does this also disprove the CIM and show restricting carbohydrates is of no value? Does it mean we can support drinking sodas and eating cookies as long as we keep our calories low?

 

This study compared a control diet is much healthier than what most Americans eat (remember, they still restricted sugars and flour and focused on home prepared nutrient dense meals), to a moderately low carb diet (not a very low carb ketogenic diet). In the end, it was not well formulated to answer the question of the CIM. But it does add to the ongoing score card of 30 wins for low carb, 30 ties, and zero wins for low fat.

 

Again, this is where I tune out of the debate.

 

I am a cardiologist. I care about what is going to help the client I am working with at that exact moment. These clients don’t live in metabolic wards where their meals are provided for them, and they don’t exist in study formats where they know they are under constant observation.

 

Dieting in the Real World

 

My clients live in the real world just like you. Thus, I care about what works in the real world.

 

In the real world, we cannot ignore human behavior and psychological responses to food. Robb Wolf’s book Wired to Eat is one of the best resources explaining the minefield we encounter on a daily basis, how carbohydrate rich foods stimulate our brain to crave more, how food companies purposely create foods we cannot resist, and how why we eat may be more important than what we eat.

 

In this environment, does your brain care if the carbohydrate-insulin model has scientific backing or not? No way. It just wants its reward centers triggered by the next chip/cookie/cracker.

 

Don’t get me wrong. How we interpret science is important.

 

As long as people feel calories in/calories out is the only answer, Coca Cola can keep promoting their sugar filled drinks and Nabisco can keep promoting their sugar filled snacks as part of a healthy diet, just so long as we exercise enough to burn the calories.

 

How has that worked for us so far? Just look at our obesity and diabetes epidemics to answer that question.

 

I strive to find a balance between the science and the practical question of what really works for most people.  Hunger, energy, mood, cravings and enjoyment are very powerful motivators. For that, I have found nothing more effective than an overall healthy lifestyle which incorporates a LCHF diet.

 

 

Thanks for reading

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

www.LowCarbCardiologist.com

Is the Keto Diet Heart Healthy? 7 Reasons Why This Cardiologist Agrees

Is the Keto Diet Heart Healthy? 7 Reasons Why This Cardiologist Agrees

 

I am a board certified, card-carrying cardiologist, and I want my clients to eat more fat, more meat, more cheese, more eggs, more avocado, more, more, more.

 

For decades medical establishments have convinced us to eat low fat, higher carb diets. How has that worked for our health? Here’s a hint, we have record numbers of obesity, diabetes and dementia. Yet, as a cardiologist, that’s the party line I am supposed to support.

 

But I can’t. It’s just wrong, and I can’t support that line of thinking, not for a second.

 

Instead, I am a Low Carb Cardiologist. Here are the top Seven reasons why

 

 

              1-  Reducing Insulin is Essential to Health and Weight Loss.

 

Insulin is a hormone naturally secreted by the pancreas to help regulate blood sugar levels. Everything we eat (except possibly for 100% fat meals) causes insulin to rise. That is normal physiology. The problem occurs when our bodies become resistant to the effects of insulin, thus requiring our pancreas to make more and more and more insulin.

 

The problem? Insulin promotes fat storage, increase inflammation and oxidation, and can even help fuel the growth of cancer cells. Therefore, the healthiest approach is one which reduced the level of insulin to the lowest possible levels. As it happens, a Low-carb High-fat or ketogenic lifestyle (LCHF/Keto lifestyle) dramatically improves your body’s sensitivity to insulin, reduces the amount of insulin secreted, and it allows your body to naturally use your fat stores for what they are designed for: Break them down into energy! Once we see that we need to fight chronic elevations of insulin, it becomes obvious why a low-fat diet is harmful, and why a low carb diet is the true path to health.

 

2-    Eating Fat Improves Your Cholesterol!

 

Wait, what? Eating fat can improve my cholesterol? Sounds crazy, right? That goes against everything we have heard from the medical establishment. Notice I said “cholesterol.” I didn’t say the "bad" low density lipoprotein (LDL), I didn’t say the "good" high density lipoprotein (HDL), or any one specific type of cholesterol. We have over emphasized the solitary variable of LDL for too long. Total cholesterol to HDL ratio, Triglyceride to HDL ratio, lipoprotein size and density, insulin sensitivity, and other metabolic measures are more powerful predictors of cardiovascular health than just LDL.

 

Once again, we see that all these markers improve with a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) lifestyle. The medical establishment needs to realize that we are more complicated than one lab value. The key is to look at the whole picture, and this picture dramatically improves with a LCHF lifestyle.

 

3-    Higher HDL is Associated with a Lower Risk of Heart Disease.

 

HDL is your friend, but drugs are not. Observational evidence has consistently shown that higher HDL is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. However, our healthcare establishment does not prioritize HDL for one simple reason- Drugs that raise HDL don’t make you healthier. Trial after trial has failed to show any benefit from drugs that significantly increase HDL. 

 

Instead, it’s the HDL-raising lifestyle that provides the benefit, not artificially increasing it with drugs. What’s the best lifestyle to naturally raise HDL? You guessed it. LCHF/Keto lifestyle. Add in some resistance training and you have your friendly HDL climbing the way it was meant to…Naturally.

 

4-    LCHF Leaves You Feeling Great, Leading to Healthier Decisions

 

What kind of health decisions do you make when you are fatigued, achy, and find it difficult to concentrate? That’s a rhetorical question, I already know the answer. When things look glum and we don’t feel well, it's far too easy to sit on the couch or reach for the chips and cookies. Compare those decisions to those you make when you are well rested, energetic, and seeing the world more clearly. For most people, the better you feel, the better decisions you make.

 

Guess what? The majority of people who change to a LCHF lifestyle feel better! It may take a few days or weeks, but in general, they feel more in control of their health, more energetic, and they are able to make better health decisions. I admit this is difficult to prove in a scientific trial. That is why we all should become our own n=1 scientific trial. How do you feel and how are your health decisions after going to a LCHF lifestyle? What matters most is what works for you, not what works for hundreds of people who are kinda-sorta like you.

 

      5-    Keto helps you with fasting.

 

Eating better helps you not eat. People who eat a high carb diet eat a lot, don’t they? They are always grazing and snacking. Our bodies go through the roller coaster of blood sugar and insulin spikes, making it a challenge to go 24, 18, or even 6 hours without eating. This creates a constant, unwavering supply of insulin in our blood stream.

 

Why is this harmful? For one, it promotes fat storage and keeps us from using our fat as fuel. Secondly, chronically elevated insulin can predispose to heart disease, strokes, cancer, dementia and other devastating health conditions. When people change to Keto, however, they realize they do not need to eat nearly as much or as frequently. Avoiding the carbs and increasing the fats keeps us full longer, and our bodies quickly adapt to longer periods without eating. The result? We can use our fat stores for what they were designed- a source of fuel! It also allows our body to maintain lower insulin levels, and also allows our cells to take care of their health chores, referred to as…..

 

6-    LCHF Promotes Health Through Increased Autophagy.

 

Autopha-What? In medicine we like using fancy words to make us look smart. Autophagy is a big word to describe cellular housekeeping. When we have low enough intake of carbs and protein, or when we do intermittent fasts, our bodies can take care of their “to do” lists.  That list includes breaking down weak or damaged cells, recycling the good parts and discarding the rest, and slowing down the processes that can lead to abnormal cell growth (i.e. excess proteins in Alzheimer’s disease, abnormal cancer cells etc.).

 

Admittedly, long term outcome studies evaluating fasting or LCHF and cancer or dementia risk have not been done. But, on the flip side, drug trials to prevent the same are showing no benefit despite hundreds of millions of dollars invested. If you asked me (which you sort of did since you are reading my article), I’d vote for autophagy as a preventative strategy any day. It makes good physiologic sense, and it is so easy to achieve.

 

7-    With Keto You Will Enjoy Eating Again!

 

That’s right. A way of eating that helps you lose weight, helps you feel better, improves your health and is actually enjoyable! No fake processed soy products, no cardboard tasting rice cakes. True, it also means no more candy, processed snack foods, doughnuts and danishes. But once you swear them off for a few weeks, and you are eating all the eggs, avocados, nuts, fish, steak, cheese etc. that you want, you won’t miss those old crutches any more. Let the enjoyment begin!

I could go on, but since it seems people like “7 Reason” articles, I will leave it at that. 

 

Now you know the secret: Look at the whole picture. Look for a lifestyle, (not a diet) that helps you feel better, increases your enjoyment, and still benefits your overall health.

 

Is LCHF/Keto the right lifestyle for you? It just may be. It is for me, The Low Carb Cardiologist, and it is for most of my patients and clients. Want to learn more about how LCHF lifestyle impacts your health? Visit us at www.LowCarbCardiologist.com

 

Thanks for reading

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

Founder, Boundless Health

www.LowCarbCardiologist.com

 

ADDENDUM!! Since I have published this article, there has been a windfall of media buzz around low carb diets increasing our risk of heart disease or diabetes. Let's look at where that information came from.

1- A study force feeding mice excessive amounts of industrial omega 6 oils. You can guess what I have to say about that. The article was incredibly helpful, and I immediately stopped force feeding my pet mice industrial seed oils. Thanks goodness for that article. As for how it applies to humans eating real food that contain fat, there is zero correlation. 

2- Epidemiological study suggesting those who ate low carb (40% calories from carbs, which by the way is NOT low carb) as measured by two food journals over 25 years had a higher risk of dying. Oh and by the way, at baseline they were heavier, more sedentary, smoked more, and ate fewer veggies. Yet somehow they concluded it must be the low carb diet that "caused" the harm. Once again, it may not be bad science, but it sure was awful interpretation of the science. 

In light of those two studies and the hoopla surrounding them, has anything happened to change my mind about a LCHF/keto diet being beneficial for our overall health and our heart health?

Absolutely not.

We still need to individualize our care and our lifestyle for who we are and how our bodies respond. That is always the case regardless of our nutrition, our medications, our exercise etc. As long as we do that, then this cardiologist still believes that LCHF IS HEART HEALTHY!

My Journey to The Low Carb Cardiologist Podcast

My Journey to The Low Carb Cardiologist Podcast

 

Sometimes change is hard, and sometimes it just feels right.

 

Changing my podcast from The Boundless Health Podcast to The Low Carb Cardiologist Podcast was a little of both.

 

To be fair, this wasn’t exactly the biggest, most impactful decision I have made lately.  The perspective is not lost on me. It’s a podcast name, not heart surgery.

 

But it was meaningful for me personally, and it exemplifies the current atmosphere of health and nutrition, and that is why it is worth exploring with you.

 

I still remember when I started my podcast. I was so afraid that I wouldn’t get any guests, that I was simply happy anyone would agree to come on the show and talk to me! As soon as the interview started, I was so grateful they were there, I just wanted to support them and thank them for their time.

 

But that doesn’t do much for challenging them, or digging deep to determine fact from fiction, or deciphering reasonable recommendations from those that are…..well…..let’s just say not as reasonable. Luckily, my friend HD from HormonesDemystified.com was there to set me straight.

 

HD helped me focus on my relationship with my listeners, and helped me realize that my listeners were my primary responsibility. My job wasn’t to give my guests the best experience. My job was to give my listeners the best experience, and to give them the best information I could.

 

With a clearer mission, I set out to refine my role and my niche.

 

That is where nutritional and health science started to look more like religion to me.

 

When I interviewed a vegan, I got push back from my low carb supporters wondering how I could support his views. When I interviewed a meat proponent, those who appreciated my vegan interview were up in arms about my hypocrisy.  They felt as if I had misled them.

 

What I failed to get across was that my interviews were not about me! These interviews were supposed to tease out the nuances of my guests’ viewpoints, to help determine what is backed by science, what is backed by emotion, and what can we learn from it. Yet many listeners equated my guests’ opinions with my own, and thus were upset at me for supporting both a vegan and a meat advocate. They were left wondering what I stand for.

 

I understand this does not encapsulate everyone. But it does highlight the world in which we live. Far too many people hold so strongly to their nutritional and health beliefs that they cannot bear to listen to the “other side” or even consider an opposing view point. The importance of detail, nuance, and scientific integrity is far too easily lost in the emotion and vigor of belief. And that is a sad reality for the world of reason, debate and scientific “truth.”

 

Which brings me back to the name of my podcast. What do I stand for? Which side of the aisle do I sit?

 

I believe some people can be healthy as vegans. I believe some people can do well restricting their fat intake and focusing on calories.

 

I also believe that the vast majority of people cannot achieve their health goals limiting fat and counting calories.

 

The most generalizable and most effective intervention that I have seen in the past 20 years is without out a doubt the low-carb lifestyle. Thus, the change to The Low Carb Cardiologist Podcast. No confusion there. My guests and my listeners know where I stand.

 

But that doesn’t mean I am going to stop looking at differing views, or trying to find the common ground between healthy vegans, healthy carnivores, and everyone in between. I will continue to tease out the nuances behind endurance athletes, crossfitters, and power walkers.

 

We all need a reminder to look outside our field of view (me included!), to go outside our comfort zone, and to explore the “other side,” even if it is simply to help us feel stronger in our convictions. The exploration is part of the process.  

 

My promise is that I will continue to explore health from any and every angle that I think will help you, my listener, improve your health for a lifetime of Your Best Health Ever!

 

The name has changed, but the mission remains the same.

 

How can I help you on your health journey? Please visit me at www.LowCarbCardiologist.com  and let me know how I can best help you achieve your health goals, or feel free to provide feedback about what you would like to see from The Low Carb cardiologist in the future.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

Founder, Boundless Health

www.LowCarbCardiologist.com

 

Do Low Carb Ketogenic Diets Increase Your Risk of Dying?

Do Low Carb Ketogenic Diets Increase Your Risk of Dying?

 

Some people certainly want us to think so.

 

But as is often the case, the evidence doesn’t reliably support the dramatic claim.

 

Let’s face it. We all have biases. We all believe things strongly, and we look for evidence to support our position.  I have been guilty of that.

 

That is why those who state that ketogenic diets kill us may still be well meaning, even if they completely miss the point.

 

One frequently cited article to “prove” ketogenic diets kill us was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2010

 

If we just read the abstract, the conclusion is clear. In a study of 129,000 subjects, those who scored the highest for an animal based low-carb diet had a 23% relative increased risk of all-cause mortality.

 

A plant based low-carb diet, on the other hand, seemed to be protective with a 20% decreased risk.

 

For many, an abstract is good enough evidence to sing from the rafters as if it were fact.

 

But that is not how science works. The details matter. They matter a lot. So, let’s look at the details before we condemn a ketogenic diet as a serial killer.

 

The analysis was based on a retrospective look at the Health Professional’s Study and the Nurse’s Health Study. Subjects filled out food questionnaires to estimate their nutrition intake over the past year, estimating their frequency of eating certain foods. Based on that frequency, they were given an animal low-carb diet “score,” and a vegetable low-carb diet “score”.

 

Let’s set aside the how horrible food questionnaires are for scientific validity. That’s the least of the study’s problems.

 

Looking at the baseline characteristics, we see all we need to know. Those who scored highest for animal low-carb diets also had the highest percentage of smokers, 30% vs 27% for women and 14% vs 9% for men (anyone else surprised there were more women smokers than men? I was). Is a 3-5% difference in smoking significant? You better believe it. Smoking is the single most dangerous thing we can do for our health. Considering the mortality difference was so small between the groups, a 5% smoking difference could absolutely account for it.

 

But it doesn’t stop there. The animal consuming men were less physically active and ate more trans-fats.  

 

This is a prime example of the “healthy user bias.” When the whole world says eating meat is bad for you (as they did in the 1980s), who do you think eats meat? You got it. Those who don’t care all that much about their health. Thus, the increase in smokers, increased unhealthy trans fats, and less physical activity.

 

And that is likely just the tip of the iceberg. What other unhealthy practices do they do more often that weren’t measured? We can’t analyze the data from what we didn’t measure.

 

Oh, and let’s not forget that the diets were nowhere close to being low carb ketogenic diets. The animal based low carb eaters consumed 163 grams of carbohydrates per day. 163 grams! I am not sure in what universe that is considered “low carb,” but I can assure you it isn’t in the actual low-carb community. For that, we need to eat at most 50 grams of carbs per day, and even less if we are already insulin resistant.

 

The paper then goes on to show the risk for all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and cancer mortality. But does it matter? When the data is as poor as this study’s, what can we really conclude?

 

We can conclude this: People who are unhealthy, who smoke, who follow a mixed diet of animal fat and moderate in carbohydrates, and who ignore society’s recommendations about their health have a worse outcome than those who are healthier and follow society’s health advice. Yawn. I think we have seen this movie before

 

So, before we condemn a ketogenic diet as being a silent killer, let’s make sure we are actually studying a ketogenic diet, and let’s make sure it is a level playing ground.

 

Does this mean ketogenic diets have been proven to be safe long term? No. Those studies have not been done. But……

 

Is losing weight, reducing inflammation, reversing diabetes and normalizing blood pressure, all while getting rid of medications likely to improve people’s long-term health? You better believe it.

 

Say hello to a real ketogenic diet.

 

Thanks for reading

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

LowCarbCardiologist.com

Low-Carb No Better Than Low-Fat….Or is it?

The quest for the one study to finally answer all our nutritional questions continues. And likely will continue forever.

 

If you believe the hype, the recent JAMA study comparing a “healthy low fat” and “healthy low carb” diet on the effect of weight loss was the definitive answer we sought.  The only problem is that it wasn’t.

 

Their conclusion? Everyone lost the same amount of weight regardless of the diet, and genetics of insulin resistance didn’t matter. So, in the end, we can all stop worrying about low fat or low carb or insulin resistance and just eat well. Right?

 

I’m all for simple advice, and that is as simple as it gets. And it will work for many people. But from a scientific perspective, this study did not adequately address the questions it sought to answer. Let’s look under the hood…..

 

600 people without diabetes or heart disease and not on hypertension or lipid medicines were randomized to a “healthy low fat” or “healthy low carb” diet for 12 months.

 

Neither group was told to restrict calories (although both groups ended up eating 500 calories less per day on their own). They had extensive counseling and support with over 20 support sessions throughout the 12 months. These sessions included specifics about the diet and support for maintaining behavioral changes. (That’s a great goal for us all, but the reality of behavior change support looks far different. “Eat better, lose weight and come back in a year” is an all-to-familiar refrain).

 

Here is the kicker. Both diet groups were advised to maximize the veggies, minimize sugar and processed flour, minimize trans fats, and focus on nutrient dense whole foods prepared mostly at home.

 

I don’t care what the macros of the diet are. If we get people to do that, Bravo! That would be a vast improvement for the majority of this country. As a result, the “low fat” group reduced their carb intake from 241 grams per day at baseline down to 205-212 grams per day during the study, and undoubtedly improved the quality of their carbs. They were the low-fat group, and they reduced their carbs! Red flag #1.

 

On the other side, the low-carb group also started in the 240s per day, and reduced their carb intake to 96-132 grams per day during the trial. Red flag #2. This is not a true low carb diet. Low carb diets tend to have less than 50 grams of carbs (100 at the absolute most!), and ketogenic diets tend to have carbs <30grams per day.

 

So, let’s be clear about what was tested. The diet was a “lower than average but still not all that low” intake of carbohydrates, compared to a “lower than average but more moderate carb intake” diet.  

 

This is hardly the definitive once and for all answer about low fat vs low carb diets for which we had all hoped.

 

That doesn’t mean we have to throw out the results, however. We can still learn valuable information from the trial.

 

  1. Reduce junk, and focus on real foods and you will lose weight and improve your health. AMEN! Not a shocker, but always nice to be reminded of the simple things that work.
  2. Engage in a strong support system and you have a good shot of staying with a nutritional change for 12 months.
  3. The more you reduce your carbs, the more likely you are to raise your HDL and lower your TG.
  4. The more you lower your fat, the more likely you are to lower your LDL
  5. Following a mildly reduced carbohydrate intake may not significantly improve insulin resistance blood tests.
  6. There was still a huge variability within each group with some people losing a great deal of weight, and some not losing any. Looking at the averages does not help us decide what specific characteristics predicted success. But in this trial, it did not seem to be genetics.

 

And the other take home? Testing moderate changes in diet are unlikely to show dramatic differences when both tested diets focus on real, nutrient dense, whole foods, limiting added sugar and processed flour.

 

If we want to test for a REAL difference, we need to go more “extreme.”

 

Doing this same study with a ketogenic diet would be very interesting.

 

Including people with diabetes and hypertension (more metabolically unhealthy, like so many in this country) would be very interesting.

 

Would that give us the once and for all answer which we crave?

 

Once again, probably not. But it may help us understand when to use the different tools we have in our nutritional tool box.

 

As was so nicely stated by The Diet Doctor, we now have an equal number of studies showing no difference between low fat and low carb diets as we do showing that low carb is better. We are still waiting for one to show low fat is better…….

 

The main takeaway, however, is that we don’t have to believe there is one diet for everyone. That is why we need an open mind, we need to be open to experimentation, and we need to treat individuals as…….individuals.

 

We can reverse type II diabetes with a ketogenic diet. Virta Health has shown us that.

 

Real food, relatively low-fat diets, when combined with healthy lifestyle practices can be associated with good healthspan. The Blue Zones observations have shown us that.

 

Our definitive trial may never come. But we don’t need it as long as we are willing to work with the n=1 experiment with each and every person we encounter. The starting point is easy. Just eat real food. Then be open to different avenues of specifics and see where the road goes.

 

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

Cardiologist, author, founder of Boundless Health

www.DrBretScher.com

 

The War Against Wheat- Will Our Health Win?

The War Against Wheat

 

What’s at the base of your food pyramid? Is it whole grains? Have you ever stopped to ask why?

 

As we know, whole grains are the base of just about every “healthy” food pyramid. The American Heart Association recommends at least 3-5 servings of whole grains per day for optimal healthy nutrition. It’s simply accepted that whole grains are good for us.

 

So why are so many waging a war against whole grains?

 

Just look at the bestsellers on Amazon and you will find Wheat Belly, by Dr. William Davis, Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter, plus a slew of books promoting low carb nutrition. Do they know something the AHA doesn’t?

 

It turns out, they just might.

 

It is time to start asking the questions, how do we know whole grains are healthy? What’s the evidence?

 

First, people living in Blue Zone communities (those where people routinely live the longest) eat vegetables fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains. Since they routinely have better health than most other populations, that must mean whole grains are healthy, right?

 

Not so fast. People living in the Blue Zones also sleep 8 hours per night, they get regular physical activity, they have close social connections, they enjoy life and have a purpose for waking up every day, and they do not eat many sugars or processed junk food.  Plus, they eat vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes.

 

How could we possibly say the whole grains themselves are what keeps them healthy? Are they healthy because of the whole grains? Or does the rest of their healthy activities outweigh the unhealthy effects of the whole grains?

 

Luckily, we have studies that tried to answer that question.

 

Studies looking at replacing white flour with whole grains consistently showed health improvements in those easting whole grains. Easy answer. Whole grains must be healthy.

 

Again, not so fast. That only tells us that whole grains are healthier than processed white flour. That should not be a surprise. Said another way, they are less bad than white flour.

 

But are they healthy? Or are they necessary?

 

It turns out, grains are not necessary at all for health or for survival. You heard that right. Fats and proteins are considered essential nutrients. Our bodies cannot make all the fats and proteins we need, so we must eat them. That Is not the case for grains and carbs. Our bodies get all the fuel they need from converting fats and proteins to glucose or other fuel sources such as ketones.

 

OK. We have established that grains are not necessary. But do they add anything to a diet consisting only of fats and proteins?

 

Fiber. The whole grains that show the greatest health benefits, compared to white flour, are those with the highest fiber-to-carbohydrate ratio. That makes sense. Fiber is a key component to healthy eating, and whole grains can be a good source of fiber.

 

Lucky for us, we have a bounty of choices from where we can get our fiber. Vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and legumes are fantastic sources of fiber. If fiber is our goal, we once again see that grains are not necessary.

 

But are they harmful? Listening to William Davis, and reading his book Wheat Belly, will certainly convince you that they are.

 

For some, the answer is clear. If someone has celiac disease, or gluten sensitive enteropathy, the proteins in wheat cause an autoimmune reaction that attacks their intestinal lining. There is no question that they need to avoid wheat and grains.  

 

What if someone does not have celiac disease? Some are still sensitive to gluten or other elements of grains (some studies show it may be other components of grains called the FODMAPs instead of the gluten). Although there is no clear diagnostic test for this, we can subjectively test it very simply. Go for 30 days without wheat and grains and see if you feel better. Do you have more energy? Do you feel less bloated? Less achy? Do you sleep better? Do you think more clearly? If the answer is yes, then you too should avoid wheat and grains.

 

So far, this should be pretty intuitive.

 

But what if you do not feel any better off grains? Is there still a reason to avoid them?

 

At this point we need to better define our enemy. Is gluten inherently evil for everyone?

 

No.

 

Well then, are FODMAPS inherently evil for all?

 

No.

 

Is there something that is evil for all?

 

Maybe.

 

It’s true that we do not all need to avoid gluten. In fact, gluten-free foods may be far worse for our health than gluten containing whole grains. A recent study suggested that low fiber, gluten free foods increased heart disease risk compared to higher fiber whole grains. Again, this proves whole grains are less bad than something really bad. That makes sense.

 

But wheat, grains and flour are not comprised of only gluten. They are a mix of carbohydrates and other grain proteins.  And what do those carbohydrates do? Raise your blood glucose and insulin levels. “Healthy” whole grains have a glycemic index on par with a snickers bar!

 

Admittedly, glycemic index is not a perfect measure, but it is an accurate assessment of how quickly and strongly a food induces a glucose (and subsequently, an insulin) spike in your blood. For reference, white bread has a GI of 73, 100% Whole Grain Bread 51, Coca Cola 63, Snicker’s 51, oatmeal 55, cashews 22, broccoli 10, and cauliflower 10. Also for reference, spinach, salmon, beef, chicken and eggs have a GI of zero.

 

Do you see a pattern? Food that comes from wheat and grains, no matter how “Whole,” significantly raise our blood sugar and insulin. Real food, vegetables, meats, etc. do not.

 

Our bodies were never meant to eat grains or wheat. The agricultural revolution and production of wheat and grains has only existed for less than 0.1% of our evolution.

 

Some would argue that is enough for us to avoid them.

 

That’s not supported by evidence. But it does make sense (remember, this is an article on health, not about the economics of agricultural wheat production, government subsidies, worldwide famine or other issues outside larger than I care to tackle).

 

Again, the question comes back to, why are we eating them? Not because of physiological need. Not for health (as long as we can get fiber elsewhere).

 

We eat grains and wheat for taste, for convenience (since our society has evolved into a grain-centric society), and possibly for addiction (or at least a stimulated craving).

 

Health does not factor into the “Why.” If we believe Hippocrates who said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” then our perspective of why we eat has to change. Everything we eat either helps our health, or hurts it. For that reason alone, I would argue that we should avoid wheat and most grains. I can’t defend it with solid research, but I can defend it with the often dangerous, “It makes sense.”

 

That’s enough for me. Is it for you?

Bret Scher, MD FACC

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