The Enemy In Plain Sight

Although things are changing in the world view of weight management, for fifty years there has been one mantra spoken to us by most doctors: “Eat a diet low in fat, and replace it with carbohydrates.” 

Not to publish my age, but I come from a generation BEFORE the U.S. Government decided fat was bad for us. And when I asked my mom how to lose weight, she said “Eat less starchy and sugary food.” And it worked. I could switch to protein (it was easier back then –– she did the grocery shopping) and drop five pounds in a week.

But what do I mean “the Government decided fat was bad”? Well, in the 1950s and 1960s, we noticed that the rate of heart disease post-World War II was going up. Science began to look at the problem. A guy named Ansel Keyes did a study to look at consumption of saturated fat and the rate of heart disease. He got data from 23 countries (give or take a few) and then threw out the evidence that didn’t match, picked the seven countries that fit his hypothesis, and gave us “The Seven Countries Study” which showed a perfect curve linking saturated fat to heart disease. This got a lot of attention but the idea was still being batted around until George McGovern and the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs made the decision that fat is bad and all America must go on a low-fat diet to avoid heart attacks. This led to the famous USDA food pyramid that had as its base grains and bread and cereals. One must eat at least 6 servings of these a day, and avoid saturated fat like the plague (well, you can eat a little –– it’s at the top of the pyramid).

BUT that diet didn’t work and instead precipitated upon the country an epidemic of obesity. Taking natural foods out of the equation, the U.S. gravitated towards refined, “low-fat” foods. And there’s a little problem here:  you take out the fat and there goes the flavor. So food processing companies began loading up those “low-fat” foods with sugars and chemicals that put the taste back in. And Americans buy this stuff because it’s inexpensive and quick and easy to prepare. Forget eggs and bacon for breakfast and grab a “Protein Bar” and run out the door. You don’t even have to sit down long enough to eat a bowl of cereal. How many kids get sent out the door with the cereal bar to consume on the way to school?

Until recently most doctors have worshipped at the altar of low saturated fat. And the reason no one is losing weight is explained away as chronic, country-wide non-adherence to the recommended diet. Nobody is sticking to the low-fat diet. And further, they tell you that to lose weight you must “Eat less and move more,” which has NEVER worked. When you come back weighing the same, they tell you it’s your fault. You ate too much. You didn’t exercise enough.

But the Enemy is in plain sight. It’s the carbohydrates, folks. Carbohydrates are the breads and grains and cereals (even before you add the sugar) and pastries and cake and pasta and flour . . . .  Yup, all those foods to which you have become addicted (more about that subject in a later blog). Why are they so bad? Why do they make obesity levels soar? It’s because they’re so simple.

Simple?!?!! Try to make a pineapple upside down cake from scratch. Or a cheesecake. No, I mean the molecular structure of a carbohydrate. Most of them are long strings of saccharides (sugar moieties) attached to a carbon backbone. Have you ever noticed that when you bite into a piece of bread, you get a sugary taste before it leaves your mouth? You haven’t noticed? Go get a slice of bread and give it a try.

OK, you’re back now. Did you taste that? Carbohydrates are so easy to break down into sugar that your saliva starts breaking them down before they even get to your stomach. And there, they are digested into monosaccharides and polysaccharides which further break down into glucose, which gets sucked up in your small intestine and delivered directly to your blood stream to make your blood sugar to up.

So what? you say. Don’t we have our own insulin to deal with the blood sugar? What if you’re diabetic? Well, they have all sorts of insulin and medications to deal with that.

True. But insulin does more than signal the muscle cells so they open up and let glucose into the cell. It also spends its time packing excess glucose into fat cells and storing them where they should not be. Like in your liver, or pancreas or around your intestinal organs (not to mention the cellulite, which may concern some of you more than the abdominal stuff). 

Even worse, carbs are easy to eat lots of. Everyone knows one person can sit down with a family-sized bag of potato chips and eat the whole thing while watching a made-for-TV movie. You just never get full with carbohydrates, especially the refined carbs they sell nowadays. They don’t trigger your satiety (fullness) hormones, so you keep on eating. Now you’ve got more glucose than your cells need. And since you’ve been eating the chips for the past two hours (I know, some of you can do it faster), your insulin is elevated and it’s taking all that extra glucose and doing what with it?

If you said, “making fat”, you are absolutely correct!

We’ll talk more about insulin and insulin resistance next time.

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