Disclaimer – first things first… this article is for information and educational purposes only; it is designed to provide helpful information regarding diet, lifestyle, and health. The information is not meant to be used, nor should it be used, to diagnose or treat any medical condition. For diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition please consult your medical professional. Always consult your healthcare professional for your individual needs, and it is also recommended to do so before starting any new dietary program.
What we eat has probably never been so highly contested as it is currently! There is an overwhelming and confusing wealth of conflicting information at the touch of our fingers through the worldwide web and endless ‘diet’ books.
What to believe is a complete mystery to most.
Whilst I do not proport to have the answer, it is a subject with which I am intensely familiar and indeed owe much to. I have personally used the information available to find out what my body desires to be nourished by, and by way of this journey I have become the beneficiary of greatly improved health.
We are all unique; our bodies intricately made-up, with individual DNA, strengths and weaknesses. I am not suggesting that ‘one size fits all’ in this article as far as diet and nutrition goes; one look into the emerging science of nutrigenomics and empowering epigenetics shows us how we are so absolutely and incredibly complex, and how very little we still know about our bodies workings.
But let us
- review the history of WHY we eat as we do
- examine emerging science, and what it tells us, (you might be very surprised!)
- explore how we got in the position we are now in – where diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementias, cancers and autoimmune diseases are epidemic, stealing the quality of life as well as being leading causes of death in the western world, where previously they were very uncommon.
Come with me and take a journey up high, let us take a bird’s eye view of the historical timeline leading to the point we are now at.
Now let us return to days of old, when our ancestors were hunter-gathers and see how they sustained their bodies before the days of fast and processed food, and GMOs.
The modern day, nutrient-dense Paleo Diet, is based on how we believe our ancestors ate as hunter-gathers. It is believed they would have eaten
- meat and fish when available (i.e. hunted and killed successfully)
- animal fats
- edible plants, seeds and nuts
- fruits in season.
They were active to secure food, (no meat in the supermarket then!) chasing, hunting the food; gathering the plants and fruits, limited sugar when fruit was in season.
Many suggest that the fruit, with the sugar content was perfectly timed to put on some extra fat in preparation for scarcity during the winter months. (There is a hint right there to suggest the role of sugar, even natural, in our physiology and how we could be in trouble now because of the ready availability of the sweet stuff at every corner.)
So our ancestors had
- less food
- different proportion of macronutrients – protein, fats, and carbs
- regular exercise
- regular sleep patterns regulated by the sun
- scientists also believe they also had a ratio of omega-6:omega-3 oils of about 1:1, modern diets have a ratio more like 15:1!
Also it should be emphasised that they were not using antibacterial hand wash and cleaning products to remove every bacteria that dared to surface. Their guts were used to dealing with the food they were eating, their gut microbiome (the trillions of bacteria living in each one of our guts) were varied and strong.
As people moved to living in settlements, villages and towns, and agriculture developed food sources became more reliable and less difficult to come by.
Fast forward to the last century and things are very different as we look down from our birds eye view of diet history.
Modern day diet
This article makes for very interesting reading, especially the second half of the article where it discusses the creeping confusion around conflicting advice in the late 1950s, early 1960s. It also highlights the growing problem in the late 1960s and 1970s when the low fat diet began to be promoted despite the lack of scientific evidence.
In 1992 the current food pyramid with its high carbohydrate, low fat emphasis was developed (in part based on the Swedish food pyramid, despite Sweden’s heart disease death rate being even higher than that of the USA) and remains the advice on diet today despite the lack of supporting scientific evidence and the rising statistics of obesity and related diseases.
Almost more disturbingly we are now finding out that the public were purposefully lied to about the role of sugar and the demonisation of fat in 1967 when scientists were not required to disclose funding sources, click here for discussion.
Fast forward even further and we meet the now famous GMO, first brought to market in 1994, and now so pervasive that there exists ambiguity as to the labelling and transparency of products, confusing the public over what they are actually purchasing much of the time.
It would seem we have come a long way from the original type of diet which man first ate.
Let’s have a quick review of just a few of the differences from the paleo and modern diets, covered so far
- proportions of macronutrients, i.e. carbs, fats and protein
- amount of food in general
- amount of exercise
- treatment of bacteria and probiotics
- processing and modification of food.
What do our bodies work well with?
That really is the key question we need to be asking ourselves in our pursuit of optimal health and indeed happiness, not to mention the financial consequences individually and nationally.
First up, we need to look at fat. And you might be surprised why…
Actually here are some interesting facts that are important, even essential, to recognise
- every single cell of your body NEEDS saturated fats
- 50% of your cellular membranes are made up of saturated fat!
- saturated fat contributes to the structure and function of your lungs, heart, bones, liver and immune system
- surfactant, without which you couldn’t breathe, in your alveoli sacks in your lungs is made up of a particular saturated fat
- heart muscles prefer saturated fat for nourishment
- your liver uses saturated fat to enable detoxification
- fats communicate satiation (fullness) to the brain, triggering the release of chemical messages to your body to stop eating. Pretty important in an age of obesity, overeating and emotional eating.
There are some fats which should be avoided, including the trans fats, hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated fats. Dr Axe has a great discussion here ironing out the confusions around the different types of fats, and the ones which are healthy, and the ones which are not, and why.
Other fats have got out of balance, which creates problems. As mentioned earlier the omega-6:omega-3 ratio is now thought to average around 15:1, as opposed to the hunter/gatherer ratios of 1:1. Researchers are discovering that this is contributory to cardio vascular disease, autoimmune disease and inflammation, obesity, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Dr Perlmutter, is an expert on the subject of high (healthy) fat, low carbohydrate diets, and the benefits. Calling himself the ’empowering neurologist’ is spot on in my humble opinion, and you can read numerous testimonials to the success of his work here.
In his New York Times number 1 best selling book ‘Grain Brain’, he lays out a compelling and scientifically backed up, prolonged argument for high healthy fat diets. He demonstrates through the research literature the profound importance of these healthy fats, examples of which include,
- coconut oil
- extra-virgin olive oil
- grass-fed tallow
- organic or pasture fed butter
- nut butters
- cheese (except for blue cheeses)
- certain seeds
- sardines and salmon
Omega-3 fats found in
- olive oil
- fish, including salmon
- chia seed
- wild, grass-fed animals
- egg yolks
Omega-6 oils include
- vegetable oils
- (processed foods, e.g. potato chips and pizza – obviously not desirable sources)
(As noted earlier, it is ratio of omega-6 : omega-3 oils that is the issue.)
Perlmutter dispels long-held myths around cholesterol, demonstrating the issue is not with cholesterol, a key and vital fat (75-80% of which our own bodies manufacture). The issue is more to do with how LDL (so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol) becomes damaging to blood vessels when it is glycated (bonds to sugar molecules overly present in high sugar, high carbohydrate diets) and oxidised during prolonged and chronic inflammation… a result, he lays out, of high carbohydrate diets.
He explains in this video the renowned Mayo clinic’s findings on how the higher intake of healthy fats actually diminished the risk of Alzheimers and mild cognitive impairment in a study they did. This fact alone must cause us to question the conventional advice of consuming low fat diets. It was recently announced at the end of 2016 that for the first time, dementias have overtaken all other causes of death to become the leading causes of death in the UK.
SAD (Standard American Diet)
The Standardised American Diet is one which is characterised as being in high carbohydrate, high sugar, highly processed and engineered food, and high ‘unhealthy’ fat intake. It is designed to be highly-palatable, and extremely ‘convenient’ and ‘fast’.
Even eating it has become fast, and when I ask clients in my health coaching practice how many times they chew their food the average answer is about 5. This is so commonplace now that it may shock you to discover that for optimal digestion and assimilation of nutrients we are advised to chew each mouthful of food 30 times! This breaks the food down mechanically and mixes it thoroughly with the salivary enzymes beginning digestion right there in your mouth.
So let us now turn our attention to those delicious carbohydrates…
Quick note, sweetened drinks, grains, baked goods (including wholemeal bread – which may surprise you to discover raises our blood sugar more than almost any other food! with a glycemic index of 71), potatoes, corn and pasta are example sources of carbohydrate calories for discussion below.
A quick bit of science…
- when dietary carbs are ingested they are converted to glucose
- the glucose triggers the pancreas to release insulin
- the insulin transports the glucose into the cells, and stores it as glycogen in liver and muscles
- when the liver and muscles have no more room, the insulin causes it to be stored as body fat.
Did you catch that last point? Excess carbs end up being stored as body fat. And right there is a key point to the problem of obesity hitting the western world.
High carb intake also –
- keeps insulin being pumped out
- limits severely the breakdown of fat by body for fuel
- makes losing weight extremely difficult
So the high carb intake is resulting in excess glucose to be stored as fat, and then preventing the release of fat from storage to be burned as body fuel, a double whammy!
When inflammation becomes a chronic state that the body is existing in, we have a myriad of problems, as Dr Axe calls his article ‘Inflammation at the Root of Most Diseases’.
- coronary artery disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- other neurological diseases
- other chronic diseases
Perlmutter describes the general cause of chronic inflammation being the continual bombardment of the body by irritants, so the inflammation response remains active, and affecting multiple areas of the body. The irritants can be from diet (food sensitivities and allergies) or from our environment.
Dr Axe lists the following irritants, four of which we have already covered in the discussion about the Standardised American Diet
Gluten – this generation’s tobacco?
No discussion would be complete on this subject without a specific look at gluten. I hear so many conflicting views on this single subject so if you are confused it is no surprise.
Dr Perlmutter has described gluten as this generation’s tobacco (page 64, Grain Brain)
From the many conflicting messages around gluten I favour his take on the issue, and I also greatly value the work of Dr Tom O’Bryan, whose life’s work has been focused on this particular protein and the damage it can wreak on a body. As I said at the beginning of this article, I cannot say I have the answer, but I would encourage anyone to read the work of Dr Perlmutter and Dr Tom O’Bryan before discounting the possible benefits of a gluten free diet!
Gluten itself is a protein present in wheat, spelt, barley, rye, gamut and bulgur. It is a sticky substance, and people can be allergic or intolerant to it as with any other protein.
It is made of up two proteins
- gliadins, (and these are made up of 12 smaller units)
and a person can be sensitive to any of these, leading to a sensitivity reaction, and inflammation.
If a person reacts to gluten their body will start a chain of events to try to stop the offending substance,
- chemicals are released to label the gluten as an offender
- immune system is triggered to send out inflammatory chemicals
- this can lead to damaged tissues, and leaky gut/increased gut permeability
- which sets the scene for further food intolerances and sensitivites
- which leads to chronic inflammation
- and potentially autoimmune disease, which is epidemic in our society.
Watch here for a clear explanation of the difference between gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. The suggestion I believe being from Dr Tom that gluten sensitivity ignored may well lead, in some cases, to celiac disease (genetics play a part), as well as other autoimmune disorders. In the video he likens gluten sensitivity/celiac disease to an iceberg, whereby the tip about the water is the visible celiac disease but the remains majority of gluten sensitivity remains undetected but none-the-less attacking the body.
Gluten sensitivity does not always present as gut related symptoms but can be a common cause of frequent headaches and migraine, manifesting as neurological symptoms. Whether it spirals into full blown celiac disease or not, gluten sensitivity is a very serious issue, and not one to ignore.
In ‘Grain Brain’ Perlmutter clearly lays out how cytokines are released during the inflammatory cascade and these are
‘antagonistic to the brain, damaging tissue and leaving the brain vulnerable to dysfunction and disease – especially if the assault continues.’ p52.
He goes on to explain that elevated levels of cytokines are seen in ‘Alzheimers’ disease Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and even autism’. This is a serious issue.
Removal of gluten has miraculously seen the reversal in some patients with progressive cognitive decline celiac patients, as described in this study from the Mayo clinic 2006
When the offending trigger, here gluten, is removed the damage can repair and symptoms diminish or disappear. It can take a period of healing, especially when leaky gut (intestinal permeability) has been caused. Perlmutter suggests following a strict gluten free diet for at least three months before discounting the benefits to the individual.
Suggested causes for the rise in numbers of gluten sensitivity are controversial and varied.
See here for a very interesting article on research into glycophosphate and its possible role in the rise of celiac disease in the last 5-10 years. The high value of avoiding the ingestion of glycophosphate altogether through avoiding GMOs is discussed along with the fact that it cannot simply be washed off the food but is within every cell of the plant, or animal fed on the product.
Please note that the products sold through HomeChefHerbs here are reliably 100% USDA organic and non-GMO.
Other possible contributory factors include the over-exposure to gluten in the modern diet, the high intake sugar and the issues that raises, and the level of pro-inflammatory foods and inflammation. Dr William Davis author of ‘Wheat Belly’ writes here about the reasons he believes gluten issues are on the rise and puts it down in part to the genetic changes made to wheat in the last 40 years.
So we have so far covered the following
- healthy fats are essential to our body to work optimally
- carbs and sugars turn to glucose in the body, which increases the blood sugar, and therefore insulin is released
- high levels of insulin released reduces the body’s fat burning capabilities
- excess carbs are stored as body fat
- sugars and other irritant foods lead to inflammation
- inflammation leads to a chemical cascade, including the release of cytokines
- this process can damage body tissues, including brain tissue,
- gluten is particularly inflammatory for many people, and can result in leaky gut
- leaky gut results in further inflammation
The gut – microbiotia
It is fascinating to think that we are walking hosts to huge colonies and ecosystems of living organisms, but we are! The gut flora or microbiotia is a phenomenal ecosystem of organisms and bacteria which we all develop.
The gut microbiome is made up of tens of trillions of micro-organisms, and is unique to each individual. Dr Perlmutter has written a whole book, ‘Brain Maker’, devoted to gut microbes, so exciting a topic is it, and one which researchers are continually growing in understanding of, and quite rightly fascination for.
Perlmutter calls the microbes superheros.
There are thought to be tens of thousands of species that inhabit the human gut. We each have trillions of the bacteria, (as well as a multitude of other organisms including yeasts, viruses and protozoan which are beneficial to us), and it was thought that they outnumber our human cells in our body by a ratio of 10:1, but more recent research suggest the ratio maybe more like 3:1. Whatever the ratio, we have a lot of these amazing organisms.
A short summary of the some benefits of this ecosystem we carry within our body shows the following
- defends us against potential invaders, including harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites
- actively involved in detoxification
- experts have likened the gut to an actual organ of immunity, (an organ that is acquired, we are not born with it) so great is its impact on our immune status
- the bacteria actually produce important substances for life and well being, including vitamins (including vitamin B12) and neurotransmitters
- help the body deal with inflammation processes
- aid digestion
- strengthen our gut wall integrity, thereby reducing the risk of ‘leaky gut’
The bottom line is that gut microbes are vital, key to health, and a robust community is to be envied!
How do we create and nurture our so-called ‘friendly bacteria’ ecosystem?
We feed them well, with a diet that is high in fiber, low in sugar, and includes wonderful fermented foods such as
Manipulation of diet for the purpose of healing
We are unique individuals and this a key point to remember. And here’s one reason it matters so much…
I have my story, my own journey of recovery from chronic ill-health (symptoms included multiple food intolerances, increased gut permeability (leaky gut), horrendous migraines (which were chronic for a whole year), as well as a whole host of other symptoms).
About 6 years ago I went on a modified diet called GAPS diet, developed by Dr Natasha McBride. GAPS diet is based on another diet called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). These diets aim to promote healing in the body primarily, through healing the gut. A recent study into the effects of the SCD diet revealed some exciting results, providing support to the numerous anecdotal reports from many years of reduced symptoms in patients with IBD.
The GAPS diet
- eliminates certain carbs and sugars
- adds in plenty of healthy fats
- where tolerated, fermented foods are added in
- removes antagonistic agents, dietary and environmental
- includes various other measures
My journey with this diet which was very successful, but showed me the benefit of recognising our individuality. Whilst my body loved it, others have not had successful experiences with it, for whatever reason.
Personally, I was unable to cope with the fermented foods for a long time, and even now I take it very cautiously. Many others on the diet experience issues with this or other aspects of the diet, whist many do not. I have a friend who became well through those fermented foods which were too potent for me, and caused issue with my gut ecology too intensely. For others fat needs to be increased slowly, depending on their individual make-up. I believe in trying things tentatively and assessing your body’s reaction to it.
Changing my diet from a very standard western diet to one more in line with the Paleo diet was key in my healing. If I stray far from it, my body lets me know it is not happy! I no longer have food intolerances, migraines, or indeed the host of other symptoms that had plagued my day-to-day life for years. (Diet change was not my only treatment for my health concerns but it was very much integral to the whole process of healing for me).
The ketogenic diet
This diet (KD) absolutely deserves it’s own spot in the limelight! Used to treat epilepsy for over 80 years this diet drastically changes the proportions of macronutrients, being predominantly healthy fats with much reduced amounts of carbs and protein. It is enjoying a resurgence in popularity and is studied for its potential neuroprotective qualities. The work of Dr Patricia Kane and her colleagues, use a modified version of the ketogenic diet with the therapeutic addition of specific phospholipids to treat patients with ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases, with reported very positive results.
The KD has also been suggested to reduce tumor growth. Research carried out and published December 2015 showed a slowing down of tumor growth in mice using a single therapy of ketogenic diet. More research is obviously required but these are encouraging results none-the-less.
Listening to the signals
Your body will often tell you what it desires, but tuning into it may take cultivating the oft lost art of listening to the signals.
I have heard many people’s stories and experiences with diet, healing, and restoration, I am full of hope and confidence that health can be optimally influenced, almost miraculously, by diet for many.
Our bodies demonstrate remarkable abilities to constantly work to restore and heal, if only we promote the optimal conditions. Neuroplasticity is immensely exciting, and demonstrates this beautifully. Where we once thought the brain cells stopped growing and regenerating, new research is showing otherwise.
Epigenetics… that powerful, empowering process we are just beginning to learn about… we are born with our genes, but we get to influence them, some unhelpful ones we can actually ‘turn off’, and stop them expressing… whilst ‘turning on’ others which are more beneficial.
And what is so exciting is that it can be a simple thing like changing your diet which can begin that process… changing the environment around the cells…
So back the original question… what does your body desire?
So let’s get back to the original question
‘Diet Fight : What does your body desire? High fat, low carb v low fat, high carb!’
I hesitate always to give a definite answer to so broad a question! These are controversial issues, and a lot of voices giving conflicting advice with different biases and interests. But as we have seen there are some clear suggestions emerging from a wide variety of sources and you only have to watch the news, read the paper or go online to see we have not been getting it all right in the last few decades!
Remember we are all unique. We have our individual genetic makeup (our genetics), we have the environment in which we, and our cells, live (epigenetics which have a huge, momentous effect on our genes and their expression). We are also host to a unique gut ecosystem.
I do not believe in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach as discussed above.
However, I do believe that some powerful research has been discussed in this article, and information is now available which we did not have several decades, and even several years, ago which we would be wise to take note of.
In this article we have explored some of the mounting literature and research regarding the fact that our bodies require healthy fat in order to function properly, and that low fat diets have not been beneficial to us in the recent decades. We have looked at how fat has been demonised, and sugar marketed to appear harmless. We see that as fat was reduced to create low fat products, sugar (carb) was added to maintain taste.
We looked at the food pyramid, (which promotes high carbohydrate intake), and how it came about, together with the fact that it remains the current advice despite a lack of evidence to support it. In fact, since its introduction and promotion we face epidemic health crises which are unprecedented, in diseases which were previously relatively uncommon. We explored how carbohydrates are converted to sugar in the body, causing a cascade of hormonal responses. We looked at carbs leading to body fat storage and the reduction of fat burning for energy, a double whammy leading to weight gain.
I believe there is compelling, research-based evidence for a diet that is
- much lower in carbohydrates than the SAD (the acronym says it all… it has been making us sad for decades now, in the human and financial cost)
- of reduced sugar intake
- much higher proportion of healthy fats
- with a greatly improved omega-6 : omega-3 ratio, avoiding vegetable oils high in omega-6 oils and processed foods that contain them, and eating omega-3 rich foods
- where probiotic foods are eaten daily and regularly (where they are tolerated – see earlier discussion)
- eating organic foods where possible
- eliminating GMOs, and
- reducing significantly processed foods.
Perlmutter, D. Loberg, K. Grain Brain 2014. London. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.
Perlmutter, D. Loberg, K. Brain Maker 2015. London. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd
This article is for information and educational purposes only; it is designed to provide helpful information regarding diet, lifestyle, and health. The information is not meant to be used, nor should it be used, to diagnose or treat any medical condition.
For diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition please consult your medical professional.
Always consult your healthcare professional for your individual needs, and it is also recommended to do so before starting any new dietary program.