Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #76: Holiday Indulgences for Low Carbers

If you thought this post was going to be about eating just a smidgen of this and a taste of that, I’m sorry to disappoint. This column is about “commitment,” what it means and how it can come to pass. It is not a lecture, however. This is my experience with “commitment” – both the physical and mental aspects of it – and how it seems to me to be a progressive rather than a “cold turkey” kind of thing, once, that is, you have “committed” to going “all-in” to Very Low Carb eating in the first place.  Of course, as always, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) as low carbers are wont to say.

The subject came to mind for me after reading a post on the Bernstein Diabetes Forum the day after Thanksgiving when a Newbie wrote about eating just a smidgen of this and a taste of that from the bounty on the table. Another poster responded rather harshly, I thought at first, coming down pretty hard on the Newbie. He lectured her about “commitment,” albeit with a smiley face postscript. Of course my “take” on this was in the context of someone who has been doing Very Low Carb on and off (at the moment “on”) for over 10 years. I too had been exposed to a bountiful Thanksgiving table, and I had a fasting blood glucose the morning after of 92. So, who better than the self-righteous to express sanctimonious indignation at small indulgences on such special occasions as holiday dinners with family?

I think the problem does not begin with holiday indulgences, however. It begins with the idea of denial and deprivation. Many low carbers try from the beginning, perhaps on being diagnosed a Type 2 diabetic or pre-diabetic, to go halfway instead of “all in.” This approach is understandable and is certainly in keeping with the advice of the vast majority of physicians and diabetes educators. They believe that compliance with major dietary change is difficult. This belief is true even for the enlightened ones who know that a “balanced” diet, containing far too many carbs is “bad medicine” for anyone who can no longer tolerate carbohydrates without doing harm. But the harm is slow, nearly “invisible” and many years in the making. Besides Type 2 diabetes (if you continue to eat moderate amounts of carbohydrate) is regarded by the medical community as a “progressive disease” and as such is treatable with progressively more medications and eventually injected insulin. And that’s all well and good, if you can dodge retinopathy, neuropathy, ED or other forms of autonomic dysfunction. That is, until you die from one of the dreaded complications or a related disease such as heart disease.

But going halfway instead of all-in still leaves a lingering feeling of denial and deprivation, and, if you need to lose weight, as most Type 2 diabetics do, it doesn’t get you there. You need to commit “all-in” to low carb eating to get to the point where you are not “craving sugar” (all forms of carbohydrate, both simple sugars and complex carbohydrates), which becomes glucose through digestion and circulates in the blood. As long as you are a “sugar burner,” you will feel “hungry” at times, and you will continue to retain the idea of being denied and deprived. If you are not hungry, you will feel very differently.  It's a hard thing to describe to someone who’s been hungry for a very long time, as many diabetics and struggling dieters have been.

The best evidence of this is the recipe section on most low carb diabetes websites. It is replete with “substitutes” for desserts and other favorite high-carb dishes. In reality, most of them are reduced carb, but they’re still carbs! People are just not willing to give up dessert! Even I have sometimes written that on special occasions I’ve eaten berries in heavy cream. I’m sure I wrote this because I read in various places that such an “indulgence” was permitted on special occasions. But they are still just carbs (simple sugars actually: sucrose, glucose and fructose), justified by their phytochemicals and fiber, and the idea of a permitted “small indulgence.” If you have eaten a small meal, or even a big plate full of dark meat turkey (no gravy), and cauliflower and Brussels sprouts roasted in olive oil, as I did this year on Thanksgiving, you are no longer hungry and you don’t need dessert! Especially, if you had a few nuts and some cheese (no crackers) before dinner and some wine both before and with dinner. That is a feast meal indeed! Dessert held no interest for me (and I wasn’t even offered any of the homemade pecan or apple pies that were served).

That wasn’t always the case. My wife or my host used to always ask if I wanted dessert. They know not to ask now, and I no longer have to politely decline. I have reached the point where I can say I have “commitment.” This is in part due to the example others have shown me on the Internet Forum I visit. There are some stellar examples there who’ve inspired me to think it is possible to have “commitment.” And I now know that it is. I hope I can inspire you to feel that way too.

I feel pretty secure that I am “there” now, but we’ll see. It is now the day after Thanksgiving as I write this and the cookie baking season has begun. There are ten pounds of flour on the counter and five pounds of butter in the freezer. Soon the smell of some of my favorite types of cookies will be wafting through the house. I have never before been 100% successful in avoiding the feeling of being denied and deprived when it comes to home-baked cookies. This will be a test. We’ll see if I really do have “commitment” this year.

© Dan Brown 11/24/12

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #75: Low Carb Dieting the “Cold Turkey” Way

If you haven’t tried low carb dieting before, one of the first questions you will ask yourself is, “Do I want to just cut down on carbs gradually, or do I want to go ‘cold turkey’”? For the uninitiated, “cold turkey” refers to a sudden and abrupt cessation rather than a gradual reduction. I make the argument that going “cold turkey” (with respect to eating carbs) is by far the better choice. It has all the advantages of cessation and none of the disadvantages of gradual reduction.

The principal advantages are 1) you won’t feel hungry (because you’re burning fat), 2) you won’t crave snacks (to feed your sugar addiction), 3) you will feel full of energy (because ketosis is ‘the natural state’), and 4) you won’t be thinking about food all the time (because your body is ‘happy’). Of course, if you haven’t tried this before, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary), and there may be a few bumps in the road until you “get there;” but in a short time (1-2 weeks) you WILL get there, and all these advantages will come to you. They will come if you are disciplined and do not stray from this path.

The disadvantages of gradual reduction are that you will never get to ketosis, and without ketosis you will always be a sugar burner. A sugar burner needs to eat carbs in order to satisfy hunger. If you just eat fewer carbs, gradual reduction translates to gradual starvation. The food you eat is digested for the most part in a few hours. After that your blood sugar, which surged as the digested carbs entered your blood stream, will drop. That elicits a call for more carbs since the insulin that carried the glucose (sugar from digested carbs) to your cells is still in your blood stream (especially if you are already insulin resistant), and it won’t allow the fat you have in storage to supply the energy your body needs.

It tells you to eat more carbs to supply energy. Save the fat. Use carbs which appear to be abundant. Eat more now to prepare for leaner times later. It’s all in your best interest, your body knows this. These primordial mechanisms were developed in our Paleolithic ancestral times. It’s only been a thousand generations and our genes haven’t adapted to the year-round abundance of food we now have, and to all the processed foods that convert to sugar so quickly.

So, if you can’t get to ketosis by reducing carbs, you’re not going to succeed. Gradual reduction means “slow starvation” with all the disadvantages: hunger, craving, and volatile blood sugars (spikes and dips, leading to feeling tired, sleepy, listless, and then “pumped”). All these disadvantages are perpetual. They are with you always, whether you are dieting by gradual reduction of carbs or just eating a normal “balanced” diet, as recommended by our government. That’s because when you are a “sugar burner,” you have to continuously “prime the pump” to keep water (energy) flowing.

In contrast, dieting by going “cold turkey” with carbs is “slow starvation” without any of the disadvantages mentioned above (hunger, craving, volatile blood sugars), and all of the advantages: You quickly (more or less) become a fat burner. You’re not hungry and your body doesn’t crave sugar because it transitioned to burning fat, your body fat, for energy. That is, so long as you don’t feed it too much food – too many carbs, or even too much protein. It will burn the few carbs you eat first, then glucose it makes from some of the protein you eat (so be careful not to eat too much), then the fat you eat, and then the fat your body stored for just this purpose and time – when it is needed.

Obviously, since your body fat is last in line, as it was designed to be, you’ll have be diligent with respect to the first three sources of energy your body will use. But that’s easier than it looks, if you learn to eat carefully and not too much.  In The Nutrition Debate #69, “In Praise of Small Meals” here, I discuss this in some detail, including describing what I eat. What I didn’t mention there, and I feel may be an important consideration, if you stop eating carbs almost entirely and eat just protein and fat, won’t that increase your food budget? Not really, because you will eat a lot less, honestly.

It’s hard to get used to, having eaten too much for my entire life, but if I listen to my stomach, and monitor my meter and my scale, and think about how my ancestral forbearers lived, and how good I feel now that my body seems to be very happy not to be fat and heavily medicated and suffering from a “progressive” disease (Type 2 diabetes) and  high blood pressure, I’m very thankful that my doctor found this Way of Eating (after reading Gary Taubes’ “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie”), and suggested more than 10 years ago that I try Atkins Induction (<20g carbs a day). Thanks, doc.
© Dan Brown 11/17/12

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #74: No Added Salt? Why?

Why add salt? Well, maybe YOU shouldn’t. Many prepared and processed foods in cans and boxes already have a lot of added salt. It is added to enhance flavor and make the product more palatable. Of course, if you eat mostly real food, i.e., whole foods – the meats and vegetables found in the cases on the perimeter of the supermarket, you may find them tastier if you add salt in their preparation or on the plate. I do. I add lots of salt. I do it because I believe my body has a natural sodium “appetite.” I add salt “to taste.” I believe adding salt to food is a fundamental behavioral response to a primary survival mechanism – to maintain homeostasis and electrolyte balance. I do it so I can live in that healthy state.


 So then why is salt restriction universally recommended by the public health authorities and the medical establishment? There is very little evidence (and no “proof”!) that salt “causes” hypertension. It’s another one of those hypotheses that, according to Gary Taubes in his 2007 book, “Good Calories – Bad Calories” (pg. 146), scientists say is based on “biological plausibility – it makes sense and so seems obvious,” like eating fat will make you fat. Taubes first addressed the subject of salt reduction here in his award-winning article “The (Political) Science of Salt,” published in Science on August 14, 1998. He revisited the subject here with “Salt, We Misjudged You,” an op-ed in the New York Times on June 3, 2012.


There is also evidence that salt restriction in some populations, among them Type 2 diabetics, may be harmful. On February 2, 2011, Diabetes Care online reported a University of Melbourne study that found “patients with the highest levels of sodium in their urine had the smallest risk of dying over a 10-year period. The study followed “638 people with longstanding Type 2 Diabetes, often accompanied by heart disease and high blood pressure.” The report describes, “At the outset of the study all the patients were in their 60s and nearly half of them were obese.” The researchers reported, “Over the decade the study spanned, 175 patients (27%) died, mostly due to heart disease.  The average amount of sodium in their urine (the ‘gold standard’ for measuring sodium consumption) was 4.2 grams per day. For every extra 2.3 grams of sodium (equivalent to 1 tsp. of table salt) in their urine, their risk of dying during the study dropped by 28 percent.” Doctors who worked on the study said, “It raises the possibility that in people with Type 2 diabetes, low salt intake is not always beneficial.” Boy, those Aussies are cautious (but open-minded) scientists!


In his series “Shaking Up the Salt Myth,” Paleo blogger Chris Kresser wrote an article, “The Dangers of Salt Restriction,” in which he reported on a study in JAMA in 2011 that “demonstrates a low-salt zone where stroke, heart attack and death are more likely.” He concludes, “These findings demonstrate the lowest risk of death for sodium excretion is between 4 and 5.99 grams per day” (emphasis mine). The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans “reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (1 tsp) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults,” the guidelines state (emphasis again is mine). So, the lowest risk of death is associated with consuming from 267% to 399% more sodium than Type 2s or hypertensives or older adults are being “guided” to eat. What a disconnect!


Then there’s the physiological explanation for why Type 2 diabetics who are following a Low Carb or Very Low Carb diet should not restrict their sodium (salt) intake. Michael Eades, M.D., author with his wife Mary Dan Eades, also M.D., of “Protein Power,” blogs about it here in “Tips and Tricks for Starting (or re-starting) Low Carb Part II.” He explains that when your body is depleted of carbs, your blood insulin drops and your insulin sensitivity improves. The excess insulin that made you store fat also drove your kidney to retain fluid. When the insulin level drops on a low carb diet, “the stimulus to the kidneys to retain fluids also goes away.” Dr. Eades says, “The kidneys begin to rapidly release fluid” (urine) and sodium, changing your electrolyte balance. When this happens, “symptoms often occur: fatigue, headache, cramps, and postural hypertension” (light-headedness). “You simply need to take more sodium drink more water,” Dr. Eades says. “You’ve got to start thinking differently.  The low carb diet is one that absolutely requires more sodium. A lot more sodium.” “An easy way to get extra sodium, along with magnesium and potassium, is by consuming bone broth.” “You can also use commercially available bouillon,” he adds, which might help you “get through carb cravings.”


In my opinion, the Dietary Guidelines recommendation that salt should be restricted is just bad advice.  And it certainly should not be a universal recommendation. In particular, it should not be applied to Type 2 diabetics who eat a diet of less than 50 grams of carbohydrate a day, aka a Low Carb Diet. This population should eat more salt. This may sound crazy when the “accepted wisdom” of the government “Dictocrats” is that we should eat less; remember, however, that these are the same “experts” who tell us that T2s should be eating a balanced diet containing carbohydrates and sugars.

© Dan Brown 11/10/12

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #73: Newly Diagnosed Type 2 or Pre-Diabetic? Scared?

I wasn’t (scared).  And I paid a price. I did just what my doctors told me to do, mostly. I took the pills they prescribed and continued going to see them regularly. I continued to eat the same types of foods I ate before (a “balanced” diet, as they recommended); and I tried to lose weight, as they also recommended. But my body didn’t want to be starved, so the weight loss part didn’t work out so well.

The result: I continued to gain weight and over the years my diabetes got worse. As my blood sugars got worse, I was prescribed more types of oral diabetes medications and larger doses. Eventually, I was maxed out on two types and starting a third. In those days the only option, when the third med failed to control my blood sugar, would have been to inject insulin. I was that close 10 years ago when I found another way. I found a way to both lose weight and manage my diabetes. My doctor suggested I try the Atkins diet.

Today, with a Type 2 diagnosis, if “diet and exercise” doesn’t work after one or two office visits, many physicians prescribe Metformin and then injected insulin as a primary treatment. That may be a good idea if you continue to eat a balanced diet.  It would scare me, nevertheless, knowing that there’s an alternative as I do. You don’t have to do the same old, same old “restricted-calorie balanced diet” in which you starve your body and you are always hungry. It doesn’t work, or at least not for long. If you lose weight, you soon gain it back. And exercise just makes you hungry and justifies eating more as a reward for good behavior. Whew…

 Alternatively, many patients who are newly diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes go home and immediately go on line to learn for themselves how best to treat their condition. They take charge of their own health. In doing this they avoid expensive medications and manage their diabetes through diet alone. I say “manage” ‘cause ONCE YOUR METABOLISM HAS BEEN DAMAGED BY BETA CELL LOSS AND INSULIN RESISTANCE, YOU WILL BE CARBOHYDRATE INTOLERANT FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. You MUST accept this. If you want to manage this disease without drugs, or with minimum doses), and without the dreaded complications (blindness, amputations and/or end-stage kidney disease), you can do it, but you MUST make VERY dramatic changes in your diet. You must drastically reduce the carbs you eat at every meal.

There is a learning curve to the low and very low carbohydrate Way of Eating, and you will need to keep an open mind and relearn a lot of behaviors if you are going to succeed. There’s lot of help on-line, though, and the best advice I think comes from forums like Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Forum (registration required), but there are other good ones as well. I migrated to Dr. B’s forum and have been a regular there for almost 6 years. And over the course of the last 10 years I managed to lose 170 pounds, all without hunger, because I was NOT starving my body. My body was getting the energy it needed from its own fat storage. That’s what it’s there for, in the evolutionary sense, if you think about it.

More importantly, almost as soon as I started eating Very Low Carb (+/- 20 net grams of carbohydrate a day on Atkins Induction), I needed much less medication. I know this because I was getting hypoglycemia (very low blood sugars) from the very beginning. I called the doctor and he told me successively to lower or eliminate all the diabetes meds I was taking. This all happened before I lost weight. And after I lost a lot of weight my blood pressure also improved a lot (on the same meds), and my blood lipids (cholesterol) improved dramatically, especially my HDL and triglycerides.

The key to losing weight without hunger is getting access to your body fat. And the key to that is not eating carbs (both simple sugars and complex carbohydrates), which all convert to glucose. Eating carbohydrates has two effects: 1) they cause the pancreas to secrete insulin which carries the glucose (that the carbohydrates all break down into) to their destination cells. These carbs provide “quick energy.” Our body “craves” them (making us “feel hungry”) if it is in a “glucogenic” state because it relies on glucose as the primary source of energy; and 2) when the body is in a glucogenic state, the insulin blocks fat (both our body fat in storage and that which we eat) from being broken down and used for energy. If we have enough “ready energy” from carbs, we don’t need to use stored energy from body fat. It’s the way our bodies work. Our body fat remains as stored fat, and the fat we eat and the carbs we overeat make more body fat.  Insulin stops our body from being in a “ketogenic” state where it burns both the fat we eat and our body fat for energy.
So, by eating a VERY LOW CARB diet, and losing a lot of weight, all these good things happen. My body is happy. My DOCTOR is happy. I have lots of energy, and I am much healthier today in every sense (BS, cholesterol, BP) than I was when I was fat and heavily medicated. All I had to do was take charge of my own health and use the internet, my meter and my scale to figure out what to do. Your meter and your scale will give you the feedback you need too, if you decide not to be scared and to take control of your own health and what you put into your body. It’s your life, after all.             

© Dan Brown 11/3/12