There is a lot of confusion when it comes to the question of what constitutes the ideal diet. So what do we know for sure about diet? First, we know that the Standard American Diet (SAD) is not healthy. The SAD is based on the USDA’s food pyramid, which has grains as it’s foundation. Therefore the SAD is mainly a high carbohydrate diet. Consider also that the average American consumes well over 100 pounds of sugar in a year, largely in soft drinks and baked goods. There is also a lot of fear about cholesterol, so the consumption of eggs, butter, dairy and other saturated fats have decreased. At the same time the comsumption of trans fats in the form of hydrogenated oils and deep fried foods has increased. The end result is that over one third of all Americans are now clinically obese, and this has all happened in the last 30 years. The incidence of Type II diabetes and heart disease have skyrocketed along witht the obseity rate. Excessive consumption of carbohydrates causes chronic elevation of insulin levels which leads to a condition called Metabolic Syndrome. This is discussed in more length and detail in my blog titled Sugar and Your Health.
So we know the high carb diet has been a disaster for our waistlines and our health. Then in the late 1990’s came the Atkin’s diet which advocated low carbs along with high amounts of proteins and fat. The medical community screamed that we would all die of heart attacks if we followed this diet, but it turns out Dr. Atkins was on the right track. There is now good scientific evidence that a low carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diet may be the healthiest diet for us after all. This is also known as the “paleo”, or paleolithic diet, based on the idea that before the advent of agriculture, our ancestors consumed a diet much lower in grains. By cutting out grains we eliminate most processed food which have wheat, corn, and sugar as their primary ingredients.
For an excellent review of the extensive science supporting this type of diet I highly recommend the book by Gary Taubes Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It. Quoting Taubes: “We now know that carbohydrates make us fat, and it’s been demonstrated in numerous clinical trials that low carbohydrate, high fat diets imporve each and every one of the metabolic and hormonal abnormalities of metabolic syndrome – the low HDL, the high triglycerides, the small, dense LDL, the high blood pressure, and the chronically elevated levels of insulin. This suggests the obvious: that the same carbohydrates that make us fat are the ones that cause metabolic syndrome.” Taubes also writes; “As it turns out, both Alzheimer’s disease and most cancers,- including both breast and colon cancer- are associated with metabolic syndrome, obesity and diabetes. This means that the fatter we are, the more likely we are to get cancer and the more likely we are to become demented as we age.”
Some health advocates like Sally Fallon have been preaching this message for years. Now science confirms that this is so. Not only do those following the LCHF diet not die of heart disease, they can even turn around Type II diabetes. One of the best studies done on the effects of eating a LCHF diet was released by researchers at Stanford in 2007 and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Quoting from this study; “Many concerns have been expressed that low carbohydrate weight loss diets, high in total and saturated fat, will adversely affect blood lipid levels and cardiovascular risk. These concerns have not been substantiated in recent weight loss trials.” This study showed that a LCHF diet resulted in weight loss , lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides, increased HDL (good cholesterol), and significantly dcreased risk of heart attack. I highly recommend you take the time to watch a video from Ancestralhealth.org (click to view)by Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, a Swedish medical doctor. I also highly recommend his website, http://www.dietdoctor.com/, for more information, including links to the scientific studies that validate the health benefits of LCHF diets. Another excellent resource is the Weston Price Foundation. This organization was founded by Weston Price, a dentist, who studied native cultures around the world before they were exposed to modern, processed foods. His book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, is a classic work on nutrition, and I highly recommend it. If his pictures of natives before and after exposure to processed foods don’t convince you of how damaging these foods are to our health, then probably nothing will.
Another great resource are any of Mark Sisson’s books, especially The Primal Blueprint 21 Day Total Body Transformation. His cookbooks are my personal favorites, and his website www.marksdailyapple.com is a great source of information. I also highly recommend Michael Pollen’s book “Food Rules” as a simple guide to healthy eating.
The bottom line is that if we stop consuming processed and refined foods we will most definitely be healthier. We need to eat real food to achieve real health.