I’m sure we’ve all seen these infographics, progressively darker colors indicating a growing epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. It’s easy to look at these graphics and feel like there’s no alternative, that for some unknown reason we’re just getting fatter and sicker. But there is hope, really!
Around 50-60 years ago there was concern about the increasing rate of heart attacks. While there were a variety of possible causes explored by scientists (smoking, sugar, saturated fats), it was saturated fats that were singled out and held responsible for heart disease, weight gain, and any number of other conditions. There was not reliable evidence to make this claim, but there were some strong personalities behind this theory and it gained traction.
Starting with the US government in 1977, governments around the world began to publish dietary guidelines, urging their citizens to increase their consumption of carbohydrates by eating more grains, fruit, beans, and vegetables, and to reduce overall fat consumption, especially sources of saturated fat like red meat, eggs, butter, and lard, replacing them with poultry and margarine.
And we did as we were told. Over the next decades, breakfasts of bacon and eggs were replaced by cereal and 1% milk, and suppers of steak and potatoes switched to spaghetti with ground turkey meatballs. Naturally stable fats like butter, lard, tallow, and coconut oil were replaced with industrially produced seed oils like soybean, canola, and corn oils. Small serving sizes of hamburger rolls and french fries were replaced by foot-long subs and XXL servings of fries. Manufacturers embraced “low-fat” ideas and offered an ever increasing array of highly processed high-sugar foods that were advertised as “Healthy!” to replace natural, unprocessed foods. I’m looking at you Nutri-Grain bars, Raisin Bran, and low-fat yogurt. Soft drink container sizes increased dramatically, as did the portion sizes of most foods.
We can see the results of this experiment in human nutrition in the doom-and-gloom infographics and all around us.
What happens in the human body when we decrease natural fats and protein and increase carbohydrates (sugars and starches)?
We’re hungrier. Both because carbohydrates are less satisfying than fat and protein and because our body has hormonal controls for energy storage that kick into high gear when we eat more carbohydrates. So we eat more because it takes more to fill us up, but most of what we eat gets stored as fat.
We eat more often. Stored energy can’t be used if there are excess carbohydrates hanging around, and with the change in our diets, there usually are. When we can’t access that stored energy (fat), we quickly run out of energy, get hungry, eat a snack…rinse and repeat.
We have higher levels of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to push glucose (from sugar and starches) out of our blood stream and into our cells to be used for energy or stored (mostly as fat). Every time we eat, insulin is secreted. If we eat higher carbohydrate foods, more insulin is produced and more energy is stored (we gain weight). When we eat more often, insulin is produced more often and doesn’t drop down to low levels between meals. If we have higher levels of insulin all the time, our body has to produce even more to push glucose into our cells. Insulin levels keep increasing and the cycle continues until our overworked pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin to store any excess glucose in our blood stream and we’re diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
High levels of insulin (hyperinsulinemia) are also responsible for many other chronic diseases and conditions beyond high blood sugar, from heart disease to Alzheimer’s.
But wait, I said there was hope!
And there is! Dietary changes caused these issues, and dietary changes can fix them.
The solution is to control dietary carbohydrates (sugar and starches) and use the natural satiety that comes from eating nourishing proteins, natural fats, and colorful vegetables to eat less often.
This isn’t about willpower and motivation, those are easily depleted and temporary. Eating in this natural way will decrease levels of insulin, which allows energy to be released from storage (you burn fat) resulting in weight loss without hunger, increased physical energy and mental clarity, reduced blood glucose numbers, and improved health.