This week I received a letter filled with many of the often repeated low carb myths. After writing my answer, my husband and friends urged me to include it in the newsletter as this might help others. So, here's her letter (warning: it's a little acerbic), and my answer to her.
I found your website when a friend at work mentioned it, and said that there were recipes and articles that could help anyone out with losing weight with a low carb approach.
I spent a few days reading your site, and was actually quite appalled that like so many other FAD diet pushers, you actually pretend to want to help people when it's clear you're pushing misguided ideas that are the cause of this nation's obesity problem. When people think these FAD diets are the answer, they don't bother doing the work it takes to cut calories and fat and get healthy the sensible balanced way.
Your advocacy of eating a diet filled with too much protein and dangerous fats, including saturated fats that are known to cause heart disease and cancer (since you eat no fruits or vegetables) as well as obesity are sickening.
Plus, in a fatty, low carb diet, the body switches to a form of metabolism that produces ketones. The presence of ketones in the blood system causes the blood to become acidic. This means the person feels nausea, and becomes weak and headachy... the body's way of telling you to stop this nonsense. If allowed to go on, even death could follow! At the very least, it causes osteoporosis as calcium leaves the bones.
Then there's the problem the kidneys have with the excess of protein you feed it. Someday many of your "followers" could be out shopping for a new kidney. Then there's the cholesterol from the artery clogging fat in this zero carb diet. You're a heart attack waiting to happen.
Yes, I know people lose weight going without carbohydrates, but most of it is water weight, and what isn't, is muscle... very dangerous. Besides, the food is so bad that of course people hate eating and lose weight because they get no calories.
On every count, your no carb diet is a potential killer. All of you are nothing more than snake oil salesmen, and at least you'll reap what you sow.
First, no matter the content of your letter, I thank you for taking the time to write and for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me. It gives me an opportunity to answer a lot of misconceptions about low-carbohydrate eating.
Let me address your comments one by one, since I believe your letter might come from a genuine belief that low carb dieting is dangerous. We understand that there's a lot of "propaganda" out there about the diet that is simply based on erroneous information. We understand... the diet (low carbohydrate eating) is discussed nearly everywhere these days, and plenty of people still have the wrong ideas.
One thing that mystifies me is that you said you spent a few days reading my site, yet you still have all the wrong ideas.
To your comment that people don't work at dieting the "sensible" way when they can just do a FAD diet (obviously meaning low carb), I have to say that a commitment to any new way of eating, cooking, and looking at nutrition is always hard. Low Carbers have a disadvantage in that so many of their friends and families hear the unsubstantiated horror stories and have to be strong enough to stand up to them and often do it without family support. But they also have an advantage — they don't have to be hungry all the time.
Now, let's look at the myths of the science of low carb...
We'll start with your beliefs that eating fat and "too much protein" will cause high cholesterol, weight gain, cancer, etc...
It is claimed by low-fat supporters that cholesterol-rich foods like whole milk, cheese, meat, eggs, liver, and shellfish raise blood cholesterol levels when eaten. But there is overwhelming evidence to demonstrate that this is not true. When Dr. George Mann of Vanderbilt University studied the Masai, a people whose diet mostly consists of beef, whole milk, and blood, he found they had serum cholesterol levels well within the "normal" range (180-200 mg/dl). He also discovered that they had very little, if any, CVD.
A study conducted by Hitchcock and Bracey in Busselton, Australia studied three groups of mothers and children - one with high, one with medium, and one with low cholesterol levels. The researchers studied the diet patterns of each group and found no significant difference among their daily food intakes. In other words, their diet had no bearing on their cholesterol levels.
The liver manufactures most of the cholesterol the body needs for an assortment of biochemical processes - about 2 grams a day. Only a small amount is absorbed from food in the small intestines, but this quantity is needed by the body to give it the substrates necessary to manufacture enough cholesterol. Eliminating cholesterol foods from one's diet is a very bad idea indeed.
From my personal observation, I have seen countless cases of people who went low carb and therefore (without drugs) regulated their cholesterol levels to a healthy parameter. It should be noted that once a low carb regime has begun, it's best to wait nine to ten months before testing cholesterol levels, as this will offer your truest results from the effects of low carb. (This assumes you have not been cheating on the diet, of course.) We've seen the same results with blood pressure.
As for cancer, I don't know where you got the idea that we don't eat any vegetables or fruits. We eat lots of vegetables (many people eat more as low carbers than they ever did before), and most of us can incorporate some of the lower sugar fruits into our diets each week once we are past induction.
Diet is indeed a key factor in fending off cancer, but it's not the meat and fat that's the problem. Cancer cells feed on glucose as their primary fuel. Normal cells feed on oxygen. So getting the sugars (and starches that become sugar) out of our diets is primary! Secondly, anti-oxidants are an important factor in preventing cancer, and therefore choosing foods that are concentrated in their anti-oxidant content, most of which are fresh vegetables (as I mentioned above) is a major mechanism for preventing cancer. Only in the presence of high sugar or high carbs is high fat a danger. A study by Dr. Goodwin and associates in Toronto, demonstrated that women with the highest insulin levels, compared to the women with lowest insulin levels, had eight times the death rate from cancer. Insulin levels are increased by eating carbohydrates and decreased by avoiding them.
The exception to the rule where fat and cancer are concerned is trans-fats. Trans fats (found in most margarines and other hydrogenated oils) do not melt at body temperature and are a risk in and of themselves. Interestingly, many "standard" diets allow plentiful use of margarines and products containing trans-fats. Most accepted low carb diet plans strongly urge against their use, as do we.
Okay, let's talk about your assertion (from standard propaganda) that low carbing causes kidney disease or kidney stones because of the protein we eat. This is repeated time and time again... and often using the exact same language. Sometimes by professionals who should know better. My theory is that once some misguided individual published the comment, it was repeated by others assuming it to be a fact and has since snowballed from there.
In fact, however, no such facts or research have ever been published anywhere. No one has as yet produced a study for review, or even cite a specific case in which a diet high in protein causes any form of kidney disorder. The only remotely related phenomenon is the fact that when someone is already suffering from far-advanced kidney disease, it is difficult for that person’s body to handle protein. But protein has nothing to do with the cause of the kidney problem.
And the comments you made about ketosis fall into that same category. The snowball effect from some misunderstandings. Confusion about ketosis often comes from people mistaking it for ketoacidosis, a condition found in Type I diabetics; this occurs when a person's blood sugar is out of control and he or she cannot produce insulin. Since people are often overweight specifically because of an overabundance of insulin, it is essentially impossible for them to be in ketoacidosis.
Part of this bad press comes from the claim that ketones can build up to dangerous levels in the body. Studies show that ketone bodies are very tightly regulated in the body and will not increase beyond the normal range in healthy individuals. The body regulates ketone levels the same way it regulates blood-glucose or pH levels. Overweight people produce just enough ketones to meet their immediate needs for fuel, and no more. A person will have no more ketones after three months of controlling carbohydrates than they do after three days.
Lastly, let's look at your statement about low carb causing osteoporosis. This is another popular misconception often bandied about, but with no basis in reality. The best explanation I've ever seen about this myth comes from Dr. Stephen Byrne (one of my nutritional heros): "The studies that supposedly show protein causes calcium loss in the urine were NOT done with real, whole foods, but with isolated amino acids and fractionated protein powders. When studies were done with people eating meat with its fat, NO calcium loss was detected in the urine, even over a long period of time. Other studies have confirmed that meat eating does not affect calcium balance and that protein promotes stronger bones." Saturated fats, so vilified by the mainstream press, are actually required for proper calcium deposition in the bones.
"The reason why the amino acids and fat-free protein powders caused calcium loss while the meat/fat did not is because protein, calcium, and minerals, require the fat-soluble vitamins A and D for their assimilation and utilization by the body. When protein is consumed without these factors, it upsets the normal biochemistry of the body and mineral loss results. True vitamin A and full-complex vitamin D are only found in animal fats."
Your comment that the weight lost on low carb is mostly all water is barely worth responding to since thousands of us have lost over 100 pounds each (me included.) You don't think I had 107 pounds of water on me do ya? You say our food is so bad we eat no calories? The first few months on low carb, I was eating as much as 3,000 calories a day, and still lost weight nicely. Our food is rich and delicious.
I hope I've helped to dispel a few myths for you. The saddest thing is seeing people who could benefit from this way of eating ... indeed could have their lives saved, but never get the chance to try because they don't take the time to learn the facts. People used to just accept as a "given" that the world was flat too.
As for your "healthy" diet you advocate, you might want to check out some of the latest news stories that bring traditional nutritional dogma into question:
High Carb Foods Linked to Carcinogen When Heated
Feeding Babies a High Carb Diet from Birth Leads to Obesity
Canadians Declaring War on Sugar
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