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Fat And Glycemic Index: The Myth Of "Complex Carbohydrates"
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May 25, 2011
6:56 am
Elenor
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You answered me (wow, thanks!)
"That's an interesting take on it…here's mine. Let me know what you think:

"There are no special nutrition terms for simple vs. complex proteins. Until nutrition people start referring to 'peptides', 'prolamins', and other technical terms for the myriad dietary proteins and their breakdown products, I'm going to call all carbohydrates "sugar", because that's what they are."

Legit point, however, I'm going for a different audience. I know I won't make any inroads into "nutrition people." I'm trying to save the health of regular folks (you know {sigh}, the ones I can't get to read "Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It" by Gary Taubes; or "The Paleo Solution" by Robb Wolf, or "The Primal Blueprint" by Mark Sisson. OR any number of good blogs including yours!)

I'm hoping by talking about veg carbs, sugar carbs, and fruit carbs, it will give them some idea what foods I'm talking about (what to avoid, what to prefer). I hope to give them a mental skeleton of sorts to hang the tiny bits of what I've told them (about what they might do to change their diets) that actually make it into their ill-fed brains!

I enjoyed The Gnoll Credo!
El

May 27, 2011
1:09 pm
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Elenor:

Nice to see you back!

As far as trying to convince the brainwashed, I think the separation is probably "vegetable carbs" vs. everything else.  Veggies have very few carbs anyway, and they're not really significant relative to starch or sugar, which are the ones that get you.

The other thing to keep in mind is that most people aren't willing to change their diet until they have major health problems.  Just like you can't fix an alcoholic who doesn't think he's got a drinking problem, you can't convince people who aren't open to being convinced.  It's sad to watch people get fat and sick while trying to do the right thing, but we can't fix everyone.  Keep being healthy and vibrant, and hope that your example inspires them to wonder how you do it.

JS

June 8, 2011
5:30 pm
Matt Evans
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Hi, having read this and several other articles referring to carbohydrate "addiction", in each case I was wishing the author would attend to my question about French baguettes and the thin people all over Asia who eat vast amounts of rice. If carbs are addictive, why do so many carb eaters the world over remain so thin despite starting the carb-insulin cycle?

The global distribution of carb consumption and the regional distribution of the obesity epidemic would suggest that the obesity spike is not due to carbs, or to their being addictive in any meaningful sense.

June 9, 2011
3:03 am
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Matt:

There are several reasons AFAIK.

First, the problem with the carb-insulin cycle isn't that it magically makes you fat -- it's that it makes you hungry.

Recall that "poor" in America is "rich" by most of the world's standards, particularly that of the subsistence farmers who comprise most of the world's population.  In contrast, over 20 million people died of famine in China just during the "Great Leap Forward".  If there is no food to eat, it doesn't matter how much the carb-insulin cycle has stimulated your appetite.  

Another example: Japan after WWII, while not a famine area, was very short on food.  The average height of Japanese people has risen steadily since then.  If you're so short of food that your growth has been stunted, fatness is an unlikely outcome.

Second, the French do many other things right with their diet -- primarily eating rich, fatty, satiating foods.  A few slices of bread along with steak, pate, foie gras, and other delicious specialties (don't forget the glass of red wine) isn't the same as half a loaf of table bread and a vat of pasta at Olive Garden.

Finally, gluten grains are uniquely addictive and fattening, due to gluten exorphins and the effects of lectins such as WGA on the endocrine and digestive system.  White rice is basically empty starch, but it's far less pernicious than bread...particularly whole wheat bread.  And the actual data from the China Study (not the fraudulent misrepresentation of it pushed by T. Colin Campbell) shows that meat is negatively correlated with heart disease -- and the strongest positive correlation is wheat consumption. (Link here.)

Can you fast for 24 hours without hunger disrupting your day?  ("Juice fasts" don't count...drinking calories means it's not a fast.  I'm talking "nothing but water passes your lips.")  If not, your metabolism is still carb-dependent to some degree, and you could perhaps benefit from the metabolic flexibility made possible by a higher-fat diet.  I regularly fast 16 hours a day, and when I was recently traveling, I ate one meal a day for five days straight.

I think the evidence is clear that the carb-insulin cycle is not the entire story when it comes to obesity.  However, it's an important piece of the puzzle, and the ability of carb consumption to alter metabolic set point is robust and well understood.

JS

June 9, 2011
10:58 pm
Matt Evans
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Hi JS,

Thanks for responding to my question, I find this interesting.

I note that in your response to my question about the French Paradox, you switched from saying that carbs are bad (by acknowledging that the French eat baguettes without apparent effect) to an argument that satiating fats are beneficial. This is substantially different from the argument in your series of articles about the harms of carbs. If the French can eat baguettes, which happen to be made from highly processed wheat flour with gluten, and not get addicted to it in any meaningful sense, then that's a huge strike against the argument that carbs, or wheat or gluten, are addictive or problematic. It changes the argument from "Carbs Kill" to "Carb-Rich Baguettes, Potatoes and Crepes are Fine, but Eat Them Like the French." (Same could be said about eating carbs like the Asians do.)

Furthermore, it seems very unlikely that the French Paradox is due to their eating more fat than we do. Taking your example of Olive Garden as symptomatic of the American diet, I just looked at the OG site and see that their Spaghetti & Meatballs has 50 grams of fat, Lasagna has 47, and Fettuccine Alfredo 75! Those kind of numbers -- at a pasta restaurant! -- make me skeptical of the claim that the French eat lots of carbs without getting sucked into the carb vortex because they're eating their carbs with more fat than we are.

Finally, if the carb-insulin cycle causes hunger, and therefore leads to overeating and too many calories, we'd expect American vegetarians, who eat even more carbs than the US average, to be overeating, no? However, despite eating more carbs than the rest of us, US vegetarians are thinner, healthier, and living longer than we are! The longest-lived religious group in the US are the vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists. That the group with the greatest longevity eats above-average carbs seems to contradict claims that carbs are killing us.

It appears to me that vegetarian longevity crushes the carbs-are-killing-us argument and, knowing the number, breadth and length of the studies proving vegetarian longevity, to me it seems conclusive, but I suspect the paleo/Atkins community has a response and I'd like to read it.

BTW, I'm a proud omnivore and try to eat well according to the conventional wisdom: don't overeat; limit fats, sugars and processed flour; eat nuts, fruits, veggies and whole grains; etc.).

June 10, 2011
1:41 am
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Matt:

To address your first point, no, I'm not saying that the French eat baguettes with no apparent ill effect.  They would probably be even healthier if they replaced the baguettes with a safe starch, or with animal products...and as you've pointed out, many of the healthiest modern cultures are based on rice, taro, sweet potato, or other safe starches.  But the French are still healthier than Americans despite eating far more saturated animal fats.

Here's a list of dietary paradoxes to think about...none of which are paradoxes once you realize that saturated fat is delicious, healthy, and your body's best energy source.

To continue: eating more of one thing at a sitting means that, to some extent, we're eating less of something else.  When one eats a high-animal-fat diet, that animal fat is replacing calories that would otherwise be consumed in some other form...such as bread.  So I'm not switching arguments at all: I'm simply addressing the issue from the other direction.

(An aside: one of my "rules of thumb" is to eat meat and eggs first, and to only eat starch once I've satiated myself with fatty animal products.  I eat far less sugar/carbs this way, vs. the usual situation of getting into the basket of table bread before my entree arrives.)

As far as Olive Garden "nutrients", that spaghetti with meatballs has 50g of fat -- and 103g of carbohydrate, for a total of 1110 calories.  It's also very low in protein, and protein targeting is another major contributor to obesity, which I explore in this article.  And let's not forget the carb calories from the table bread consumed beforehand...I admit it's been a long time since I've been to France, but I recall a high proportion of meat, veggies, and rich sauces on our plates, with starch being a small side dish at most.

 

As far as American vegetarians, dietary surveys show that most "vegetarians" in the USA actually eat meat, a topic I explore in this article.  In Western culture, "vegetarian" usually means "I am trying to clean up my life and eat healthy foods"..so we're studying people who are still getting the nutritional benefits of meat consumption while also reaping the benefits of health-consciousness.  Disentangling these effects is nearly impossible.

And if you're arguing that the lifestyle of Seventh-Day Adventists is comparable to the lifestyle of the average American to a degree that makes dietary comparisons meaningful, I'm not sure what to tell you.

Fortunately, there is better data available.  Studies on vegetarians in the Fat East are more useful because the vegetarianism there is primarily cultural/religious in nature.  Indian vegetarians suffer heart disease at a far greater rate than Indian meat-eaters (reference, which blames it entirely on vitamin B12 deficiency...but there are many, many other issues).  And here's a dissection of a study on Taiwanese vegetarians vs. meat-eaters, with similar conclusions: the meat-eaters are better off.  This data negates any argument that vegetarianism is inherently healthy.

Finally, keep in mind that the SAD (Standard American Diet) is not a high-fat diet, nor a model anyone should aspire to.  It's a high-carb, high-omega-6, high-fructose diet, and extremely unhealthy.  Just about any diet is better than the SAD, because the first part of every diet is "Stop eating sodas and junk food".  So anyone who goes on any diet, no matter how ill-conceived, will generally feel better -- at least at first -- because they've cut out so many frank toxins.

Here's how I eat, if you're interested.

JS

June 13, 2011
5:41 am
Christine
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Thanks for your posts/blog...

I'm a zero-carber, due to necessity - there's no way I'm going to use drugs and/or insulin to take care of my diabetes if zero-carb can do it for me. Oh so I can't eat cake?? too bad.... I ate too much of it before! :-)) (btw, technically it's not zero-carb, as meat has some of it as glycogen, of course, but by that I mean "no added carbs" in the form of vegetables or starch or whatever).

I know the FRench diet pretty well, and believe me, it's changing too. Some people still hang on to butter and duck fat/lard to cook but the low-fat stuff has caught up there too!!! Supermarket shelves are filled with "light" products, no-fat, low-fat, and the "five-a-day" fruit & veggie ads are alive and well (after each ad for a chocolate bar or potato chips, you have the message of "five-a-day", too...)

People are getting bigger and fatter in France too, and though not quite catching up with the USA, they're on their way.

Doctors recommend low-cal, low-fat diets to take care of your heart disease or whatever else ails you, too! Statins are very widely used, as well as BP meds, etc.

Maybe the one difference that has slowed down the French on their catching up with the US obesity rate is the consumption of soft drinks and the dreaded HFCS, though they might "get there" soon enough.

BTW, Atkins works for some, not for ohers, because some people have a very low tolerance for carbs, and "going up the ladder" to 60 or 70 grammes of carbs a day is more than they can take without getting intense cravings. Then they fall off the wagon and get their weight back (and more) and so everyone can say "Atkins doesn't work". ONe problem with Atkins (or any other low-carb diet) is when you start wanting to have your old treats the low-carb way - it seldom works and makes you crave the real thing, most of the time... Unfortunately, good health comes at a price, and not everyone is ready to pay it (abandoning their favourite desserts, etc.)

I started my own diabetes treatment with Atkins and realised even salad was giving me "highs", so after a lot more research I progressively went zero carb and have not look back since. A year later, I have now pretty normal BS numbers; have not lost all the weight I should but I'd rather have extra kgs and normal BS than the opposite, and it will all come in time! I'm also healthier than I've been for the last 20 years at least!

Zero-carb is what works for me, with my own circumstances, and it would make my life easier if I could eat paleo or Atkins, etc. Whatever works for you is fine :-), as long as the carbs are strictly limited, you are on your way to better health, there's not doubt about it! And yes, some people can eat "whatever they want" and (seemingly) remain healthy, but it often starts to change once they reach 35 or 40 and the "machine" slowly stops working properly. I wouldn't have ended up "that" big and with diabetes if I hadn't followed the good doctor's advice on low fat, high carbs. Now I'm taking things into my own hands, and gosh does it feel good! I'm not giving away my health to some Big PHarma sponsored blind follower anymore, thank you 🙂

June 13, 2011
7:57 pm
How Did Breakfast Be
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[...] we make them with skim milk and fat-free cream cheese, just to make sure they spike our blood sugar even more quickly and leave us hungrier than [...]

June 14, 2011
12:21 pm
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Christine:

Thanks for sharing your experience!  

Frank diabetes (as opposed to pre-diabetes, e.g. insulin resistance) is a whole another set of issues, which I've avoided addressing so far because others are better acquainted with the literature and the issues than I am.  Although I admit to being mystified that the mainstream advice for dealing with a disease of long-term glucose poisoning is to eat lots of glucose.

JS

June 15, 2011
2:04 pm
Matt Evans
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JS,

Thanks for the response. I agree that eating more fat and protein would generally reduce our consumption of carbs, provided that carbs aren't addictive. But you're not merely arguing that protein and fat calories are better than carbs, you're specifically arguing that carbs are addictive. But if carbs are addictive then we would expect the French to keep eating baguettes despite their fat and protein consumption, because carbs are addictive.

I propose calling this the Baguette Paradox: the French eat lots of white bread baguettes but don't experience the vicious cycle of carb addiction, predicted by carbs-are-addictive theorists such as your self, with its attendant hunger pangs and diminishing release of serotonin leading to overeating and weight gain.

As for vegetarians, there have been hundreds (thousands?) of studies about vegetarians, and while I haven't read all of them, I'm very skeptical of your assertion that none of them have actually monitored what the participants ate. (Seventh Day Adventists are studied because their vegetarianism is also religiously based, and the controls are typically their fellow religionists who eat meat yet follow the rest of the SDA health code.) The studies find that SDAs who avoid meat live longer than those who don't, after controlling for other factors.

But even if we accept the assertion that the US studies of vegetarians weren't actually studying people who didn't eat meat, only people who SAY they don't meat, it's instructive to consider that people who say they don't eat meat live longer than those who don't claim to avoid meat. The most likely difference between those who do and do not self-identify as vegetarian is their view of meat in the human diet, and those who self-identify as vegetarian presumably eat less meat, on average, than those who don't, notwithstanding the counter-example you provided.

June 15, 2011
5:58 pm
Dave RN
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"At my workplace the women who eat Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers, and other diet frozen entrees are all substantially overweight or obese".

Same thing at my workplace. Sometimes I want to say "so how's those lean whatevers you eat work'n for ya'?
'Course they a say low fat on the box...

June 16, 2011
9:49 pm
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Matt:

That's a silly straw man.  If all addictive substances were infinitely addictive, anyone who ever smoked one cigarette would chain-smoke continually until they died of malnutrition.  

My explanation remains the same.  The fat-phobia pushed by mainstream nutrition, mainstream medicine, and the government has caused us to consume less saturated animal fats, which leads to lower satiety and increased appetite, as I've described in this very article.  To replace them, we've eaten more starches and simple sugars: these are statistical facts.  And these sugars are physically addictive, for reasons I already covered in "Mechanisms Of Sugar Addiction".  Result: increased incidence of overweight and obesity.

I note that the French are slowly succumbing to the anti-fat propaganda: their diet is becoming lower in fat and higher in carbohydrate, with the same consequences this dietary shift has had in the USA.

If you want to discuss the specifics of individual studies on vegetarians, please feel free to point me to them.  Also, please check first to see if they've already been debunked by Chris Masterjohn, Stephan Guyenet, Denise Minger, or Peter @ Hyperlipid.

Dave RN:

Of course, part of the reason is that you're not going to buy that junk if you're not trying to lose weight.  But weight seems to remain remarkably stable on that sort of diet: 260 calories of steamed rice and lean chicken doesn't satiate anyone for very long, and the snacking begins. 

It's a great business model, though: make "We give you less food for your money" into a selling point!

JS

June 18, 2011
9:08 am
Matt Evans
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JS,

It's not a straw man, you're arguing two conflicting theories: 1) carbs are physically addictive and carb consumption rises because of the carb-insulin and carb-serotonin cycles, and 2) carb consumption rises when people reduce their fat intake because they have to make up the calories somewhere.

If the first is true, then carb intake would increase regardless of the person's ideas about the value of fat, due to the serotonin and/or insulin cycles. But now you're suggesting that the reason the French are eating more carbs is due to their having succumbed to the anti-fat folks, and trying to eat less fat, and not because of the insulin/serotonin cycles. If carbs were addictive we would expect carb consumption to increase regardless of the culture's view of dietary fat. It's implausible that carbs are physically addictive depending on the culture's ideas about fat.

June 22, 2011
9:12 am
Chris
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Ray Peat's research validates all this...
http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/glycemia.shtml

June 22, 2011
5:27 pm
Jemima
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Oh dear. What about all the grain-dependent economies that will go bankrupt if people actually start eating properly? Whoopsie. Now that's the elephant in the room.

June 23, 2011
1:24 am
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They will fail. Simple. Global starvation and the strongest (and most organised) will survive.

Living in the Ice Age
http://livingintheiceage.pjgh.co.uk

July 14, 2011
1:01 am
Duff Watkins
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sign me up

July 26, 2011
1:46 pm
The breakfast myth |
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[...] we make them with skim milk and fat-free cream cheese, just to make sure they spike our blood sugar even more quickly and leave us hungrier than [...]

August 23, 2011
7:48 am
JulieGeorgiana
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I know this article is old now, but I found both the article and the comments very interesting.

I agree that it normally takes an illness to make you realise that for years you have been brainwashed into thinking low fat = less weight.

I was diagnosed with Insulin Resistance (Pre-Diabetes) in February this year (I was only 29!) and had struggled for two years to loose weight after major surgery (not linked to my weight). Since then I have found out about Low Gi. I started doing a low GI diet I have lost so much weight it's unbelievable, I am now 115lbs lighter then January 2009.

My fight with the fat started with my mum putting me on my first diet at 12! AND BOY WAS I HUNGRY, so I ate as much chocolate, crisps and bread as I could lay my hands on, and because it was in secret, I ate more!

Anyway, I had a son 9 years ago, and after due to health problems I gained a lot of weight. Since then I have lost 4 babies, I found out in February this year that sky high insulin levels in my blood all day every day was causing blood clots in the placenta while it was attaching, and therefore causing my miscarriages at 5 weeks 3 days each time.

Add to all that, I have Polycystic ovaries (linked to insulin resistance, which meant I ovulated every third month) and was classed as a high risk of Diabetes and Heart disease too!!

After 8 weeks on low Gi I ovulated from my right Ovary for the first time in 8 years. Whether the Low Gi helped the Insulin Resistance, which in turn helped the Polycystic ovaries, or if the weight loss was the cause, or a mix of both. I don't know. I do know that Low Gi gave me my hope back.

The first ovulation from my right ovary made the baby I am carrying today, I am now 20 weeks pregnant and been classed as normal risk, my blood sugar levels (and therefore insulin levels are normal). For me this is a miracle!

I cannot believe that for years we have been brainwashed into thinking low fat will help you loose weight, all those people out there suffering like I did with weight issues, pregnancy issues and the rest, it makes me so sad as it’s such a waste when the solution is actually very simple.

Yet like others who have commented I have tried to explain to others why what they eat is killing them, how it is affecting their future and how extreme dieting is making it worse... yet they won't give up their carbs or most important their chocolate!

I haven't eaten chocolate in 6 months; I don't have a taste for it anymore!

Your article is an eye opener, I couldn't work out why some foods which look high Gi (tortilla) were low Gi, I knew I was eating more fat based foods but hadn't realised that there was a link between fat and carbs, that was such an eye opener and excellent information!

For those who keep saying high calories is bad, I agree that high fat AND high calories can still be bad for you, but I charted my calorie intake while on Low Gi, and I was also eating less Calories, without even trying, or getting hungry!

Yes a burger Pattie is high calories, but one of those with cheese and salad would fill me up better than a helping of pasta with garlic bread... and shock horror, I wouldn't need to snack between meals on chocolate, crisps and sweets! My average calorie intake on Low Gi was 1800kcals, yet I lost 3lbs a week. A low calorie diet of 1500kcals in the past has left me loosing 1lb a week, then stopping by week 3!!!! There is no contest!

August 23, 2011
1:34 pm
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Julie:

I'm glad to hear you've improved your health so dramatically!  115 pounds is impressive, and it has to feel good to not carry around so much extra weight. 

Also, many women seem to have addressed PCOS with lower-carb diets, so you're not alone.

It seems so simple once you understand it: fat slows digestion, which means anything you eat with it is absorbed more slowly, which lowers the GI of any carbohydrates you eat with it.  And the longer it takes to digest your food, the longer it'll take before you're hungry again.

Feel free to forward these articles around: I do my best to write them to be understandable to everyone. 

Thank you for sharing your experiences!

JS

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