When missionary and colonial doctors worked with the native populations of Africa, Australia, the North Pole, the Americas, and the Pacific Islands, they discovered that cancer, dental cavities, asthma, appendicitis, hypertension, diabetes, ulcers, and heart disease were rare or nonexistent in these populations. These doctors also noticed that those among the natives who followed the Western diet developed these diseases.
Of course, this does not mean that the natives of these lands were free of disease. They experienced many infectious diseases, such as malaria, cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, and so on.
According to award-winning science journalist Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, which is endorsed by Andrew Weil, MD, the search began by these doctors and others to determine what in the Western diet causes these diseases. Researchers came up with a number of hypotheses.
Hypothesis #1: Saturated fat in the Western diet must be the cause. The solution: a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. This ignored the fact that the Masai tribe in Kenya, the Inuit, Pacific Islanders, and other indigenous peoples lived on a diet very high in saturated fat and low in carbohydrates.
Despite a lack of clear evidence, the US Senate published "Dietary Goals for the United States," making the low-fat diet the official recommendation for preventing hypertension, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and so on. One expert testifying in front of the Senate committee said that there was no scientific evidence for a low-fat diet and that to endorse it would be to gamble with the health of the American people.
Mr. Taubes argues that the recommendation of a low-fat diet has led to the doubling of obesity in the United States in the past 30 years, from 15 percent to 30 percent, and an epidemic of type 2 diabetes. Also, many studies have shown that a low-fat diet, which replaces saturated fat, such as butter, with polyunsaturated fats, such as corn and soy oil, increases the risk for cancer.
Hypothesis #2: Lack of fiber in the Western diet can lead to constipation, and this can lead to disease. Constipation was observed to be rare among indigenous populations, so one influential doctor concluded that lack of fiber in Western diet leads to constipation and disease. This is another hypothesis that has been shown through controlled studies to be invalid. Although a high-fiber diet is good for preventing constipation, it has not been shown to prevent colon cancer or any other disease so far.
Hypothesis #3: Too much salt in the Western diet caused the indigenous peoples who adopted this diet to develop hypertension, heart disease, and so on. So the official recommendation for the past few decades has been to reduce or avoid salt. So far, studies have shown that restricting salt can reduce blood pressure by 4 or 5 points at best. So if your blood pressure is 160/95, restricting salt may lower it to 155/90-not that big of a difference. Keep in mind that for thousands of years salt was used to preserve food. So people were eating a sodium-rich diet for thousands of years prior to advent of refrigerators.
Hypothesis #4: The Western diet is high in refined carbohydrates-white sugar, white flour, and starches-which have become available in abundance only in the past 150 years. When the indigenous peoples adopted this diet, they started to experience cavities, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, heart disease, and so on with a few years. This hypothesis has been around almost as long as the other ones, but because no one of great influence has espoused it, this hypothesis has not received the kind of attention it deserves. Also, food manufacturers, whose products are made of mostly refined sugar and white flour, do not favor this hypothesis.
It is well known that those with diabetes have a greater risk of developing many of the Western diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer's. Scientists think it could be due to high blood sugar, high insulin levels, or both.
Cancer cells have more insulin receptors than normal cells.
Animal studies have also shown the negative effects of refined carbohydrates and high insulin levels. The constant elevation of blood sugar due to white sugar, white flour, white rice, starches, and so on, leads to a high level of insulin in the blood. Prior to the existence of refined carbohydrates, the human body did not have to process a great amount of sugar daily.
Under stress, our bodies release glucose into the bloodstream to help us fight or flee. This is the case even if the problem is a verbal dispute or a traffic jam. This in turn raises the insulin level in the blood. When we eat foods containing sugars, this exacerbates the situation, leading to excessive sugar and insulin in the blood.
It has been known for the past 100 years that carbohydrates make us retain fluids and can raise blood pressure. Those who go on a carbohydrate-restricted diet tend to lose five to ten pounds in fluids in the first few weeks. One of my relatives with hypertension stopped drinking or eating anything with sugar, white flour, and starches in general, and ate fruits and beans for carbohydrates (by the way, our bodies can make their own carbohydrate). She lost seven pounds in seven weeks, and her blood pressure has gone from 160/90 to 125/65-back to normal. She no longer takes blood pressure medication. With this new eating regimen, she is also no longer thirsty all the time.
Mr. Taubes also examines the prevalence of obesity. Native American tribes developed obesity and diabetes once their diet was changed to the government rations on reservations. Their diets became high in refined sugar, flour, and rice, and they drank a great deal of coffee. Despite an active lifestyle, the majority of adults and even many children became obese and developed diabetes.
There are indications that excess blood sugar and insulin can lead to accelerated aging of the skin and other parts of the body.
It appears that saturated fats in red meat, dairy products, and eggs are not bad for you after all. Salt in moderation is okay. And eating fiber is a good way of avoiding constipation. If we can avoid white sugar, white flour, and starchy foods and keep our blood sugar and insulin levels stable, we can expect to reduce our risk for cancer, cavities, Alzheimer's, appendicitis, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and so on, and stay healthier and feel better too. Certainly our genes, our habits, environmental toxins, how we deal with stress, and other factors can increase or decrease our risk as well.
What to do: So there you are with a diet full of white sugar, white flour, white rice, pasta, bagels, potatoes, ice cream, cakes, sodas, and fruit juices, and these foods could be making you sick. Now that is a serious dilemma!
Here's a simple way to incorporate this new knowledge into your life. Begin by eating low-carb dinners. This means until breakfast (for about twelve hours) your blood sugar level will be stable. Whenever possible choose grass-fed red meat, pastured chicken, or wild fish, non-starchy vegetables sauteed in butter or coconut oil, and salad. If you get hungry before sleep, have some nuts or half an avocado.
For breakfast and lunch, follow your usual diet for the first week or two, as your body adjusts to this new diet. Then begin to change your other meals and snacks accordingly. My clients have seen amazing results by making these simple changes in their diet. Those who were diagnosed with diabetes type 2, improved so much that their doctors call them to give them the good news that there were no longer diabetic. Other noticed improved sleep, more energy, less colds, and even losing those extra pounds. One reason for the weight loss is that your body will being to switch from a sugar-burning machine to becoming a fat-burning machine. So even in your sleep your body burns fat for energy.
Use more butter, olive oil, and coconut oil in your diet, and eat whole eggs and red meat. This will help you feel full longer and reduce the cravings. It will also help your nervous system get the essential fats it needs to function better. (see my post on Alzheimer's Disease). I have been on this diet for the past few years and have noticed significant improvements in my immune system, level of energy, recovery from workouts, and memory.
This was a brief overview of Good Calories, Bad Calories. Dr. Andrew Weil recommends that all doctors and medical students read it. Here's an interview with Gary Taubes, Dr. Weil, and Dr. Oz on Larry King Live.
Stay informed. Stay well