In the past few years, the low-carb diet has been the subject of much controversy; while gradually gaining more recognition in the mainstream, like a fire burning through the paper that’s trying to cover it up.
The scientific principle behind eating low carb is actually quite simple. The glucose in our bodies has one main source – the carbohydrates in our food and drinks, the majority of which are grains and sugar.
So, you would think it obvious that the solution to diabetes would be as simple as controlling glucose and limiting the intake of carbohydrates.
However, there have always been people making counter-arguments. Some say that people must maintain a high-carb diet, else they won’t get enough nutrients; others say that humans have been eating grains and cereals since the beginning of history; still, others ask how you deal with nausea, fatigue, and constipation.
But, in the face of such a severe diabetes epidemic, where one out of every two adults has abnormal blood sugar, millions of people die as a result of such, and the economic burden has become unsustainable, are we supposed to rule out all possible solutions? Humanity is about to land on Mars, artificial intelligence is poised to replace human brains, and you’re telling me that we’ll never find a solution for diabetes?
There is a process to understanding everything. Humanity once believed it was the center of the universe, and Copernicus’ heliocentrism was even considered outrageous. Even the Big Bang theory took humanity centuries to develop into its current stage. In studying the low-carb diet, there is a similar journey to be made. And what was once considered fact will be found to be a myth.
At the beginning of my journey, I relied entirely on information I found online.
Based on what I learned about low carbs, I merely gave up carb-based staple foods. I didn’t eat grains or sugar, but I still ate corn. At the time, I did not delve into the nitty-gritty details of the nutritional content of each food. At the same time, I kept taking my prescribed metformin as well as Brazilian green propolis from time to time. Very quickly, I paid a price for my lack of clear knowledge.
After my HbA1c initially plummeted from 10.4 to 5.8, I managed to keep it stable around 5.7-5.8 until August 2015. But good things never last. In the next two years, my blood sugar started to slowly but surely rise again! And in my blind optimism, I still believed that my blood sugar levels were doing well. When my family doctor prescribed more metformin to me in January 2016, I slowly reduced my dosage down to none and completely tapered it off!
Not only did I stop taking my medications, but I even started to eat rice again, although it wasn’t much. At every check-up, I thought that my blood sugar wasn’t high and I let the success get to my head. However, diabetes is like a formidable opponent, it stealthily and steadily takes back the ground it has lost while you are not paying attention. In February 2016, my glycated haemoglobin climbed back up to 6.1. By June 2017, it rebounded back to 6.4!
Around this time, I started to conduct more research. I wanted to understand more for my own benefit, but I also wanted to be able to share my success with interested friends. Through the research, I understood that lowering carbohydrates was not enough by itself. The largest problem is calories. First and foremost, we eat to provide our bodies with the calories it needs. An adult male needs about 2000 calories per day, and in a normal diet, over half of that comes from carbohydrates such as grains and sugar. You are left with a basic mathematical problem – if you are not eating grains and sugar, how can you make up this caloric deficit?
Aside from carbohydrates, calories in food can come from protein and fat. I’d learned about the low-carb, high-fat principle from Dr Jay Wortman, but I had no clue about the ratios and specific caloric calculations. So, although I’d given up grains and sugar, I wasn’t sure about how much fat and protein I should be eating.
Although protein does not raise the blood sugar level as much as carbohydrates, it can still achieve the same basic effect through a process called gluconeogenesis (GNG). GNG takes other substances (such as protein or fat) and converts them into glucose. The good news is that the effect fat has on glucose is very stable. Therefore, it is the ideal choice for supplementing the calories that you lose from cutting carbs.
To better understand the effect that food had on glucose, I bought and wore a continuous glucose monitor. Previously, the only time I’d measured my blood sugar was at my 3-monthly laboratory blood tests. While this method is very accurate, it doesn’t help you make daily decisions. Since I had confidence in my diet adjustment and I saw great readings from every blood test, I had decided not to regularly prick my fingers to test my blood sugar. If I am honest, I was afraid of the pain!
In my opinion, a continuous glucose monitor is the best choice for managing blood sugar change. It includes a sensor that can work continuously for two weeks, and I can keep track of my glucose reading 24 hours per day. I can even track and record my readings with a mobile app, and it can display a line graph. Painless and waterproof, checking the blood sugar impact of various foods and drinks couldn’t be easier.
As my research progressed, I realized that I needed to reduce the carbohydrate content of my diet even further. I stopped eating corn, which lowered the proportion of calories from carbs to 10%, with protein taking up 20%, and fats at 70%. Since fat has 9 calories per gram, and carbohydrates and protein both have 4 calories per gram, the ratio of carbs to protein to fat in terms of mass works out to around 1:2:3. That was easy enough for me to remember!
To further stabilize my blood sugar, I also kicked my habit of drinking lactose-free milk every night. Lactose is a sugar that will increase glucose. However, as part of the production process for lactose-free milk, manufacturers add white sugar to it! I cannot find milk that is lactose- and sugar-free on the market.
Following this strict low-carb diet, my glucose once again stabilized around 5.7, like a flood being tamed behind levees once again.
In order to keep the body functioning properly, you have to make sure that you are supplementing fat for the carbs you are no longer eating. If both ingredients are cut off, it equates to pulling the plug on a running machine. Low carb and high fat are two sides of the same coin, both have to be balanced.
According to senior research scientist Dr Stephanie Seneff, a lack of fat and cholesterol in the brain can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. In her 2009 thesis, she stated that statin medications, as well as a diet low in fat, may cause Alzheimer’s. As I considered my current mental state on a low carb and low-fat diet, I saw the sense in her words. I had begun to notice signs of dementia. As our brain is sixty per cent fat, naturally, it will be the first to protest when our fat intake is too low.
Fat is also a tricky topic of conversation. Assumed wisdom tells us that, although our brains like fat, our bodies do not. This brain versus body battle has long been controversial. For example, Chairman Mao would always ask for a bowl of red braised pork belly after having used his head too much, while his doctor would protest, citing the risks to his health.
We have been taught to believe that high-fat foods are like landmines – we must avoid them at all costs or else be blown up. But that means that our bodies have a fat deficiency. We can’t afford to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s just for the sake of reducing sugar. In reality, eating meat does not necessarily have a connection to diabetes.
Fat aversion stems from a fear of cholesterol. Many people like to eat eggs, crabs, or pork but are afraid to because they live in fear of cholesterol. Realistically, there are two aspects to the cholesterol problem:
Firstly, cholesterol is a double-edged sword. Too much is indeed bad for you, that much is clear. However, it also makes up a part of cell membranes and biosyntheses of steroid hormones and cholic acids, which are vital nutrients in the human body. Like most things in life, it is necessary in moderation.
Secondly, high cholesterol isn’t entirely because of food intake. A healthy body is able to regulate its own cholesterol levels. Less cholesterol from food is balanced out by the body synthesizing more; more cholesterol in food causes less synthesis. The human body can maintain homeostasis. In other words, there isn’t a significant connection between having overly high cholesterol in the blood and food. The most important factor is the body’s own ability to biosynthesize since 80% of the cholesterol in the body is synthesized and only 20% comes from food.
With all this information at my fingertips, the important thing wasn’t the theory, but what it meant for me. Should I eat food that is high in fat or not?
It was then that I remembered what I had read what Dr Jay Wortman had said about the need to increase fat intake while you are reducing carbs. And so it was that another piece of the puzzle fell into place.
Dr Jay Wortman is a public health expert in British Columbia, Canada and a true seasoned veteran who reversed his diabetes through the low-carb diet. In 2006, he headed a year-long experiment in an indigenous community in BC that targeted health problems such as the three highs (high blood pressure, high glucose/diabetes, and hyperlipidemia) and obesity. The subjects gave up the processed foods from the mainstream, especially avoiding starchy and sugary foods, and instead changed their everyday dietary structure to the traditional indigenous composition of fish, seafood, and vegetables that are high in fiber.
This study was a challenge to mainstream Western dietary notions and also a large-scale group testimony on the effectiveness of the high-fat, low-carb diet.
A majority of the Canadian population are immigrants from Europe, and the local indigenous people are made up of the First Nations, the Inuit, and the Métis. In today’s globalized world, most Canadians eat a classic Western diet. It includes processed grain products, sugar, and seed oil, in addition to vegetable salads and meats as staple foods. It is high in carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
Dr Wortman believes that the root cause for health problems is not high fat, but rather high carbohydrates. Thus, in his experiment, he introduced the dietary structure of the Inuit. That is, he maintained the intake of fat and eliminated foods that are rich in sugar.
Historically, the Inuit are unable to farm vegetables or fruits because of the harshness of their climate. Their diet contains no fruits or vegetables and is entirely composed of various animal products, including marine mammals such as walruses and whales, and land mammals such as reindeer and muskox. Supposedly, when European explorers first made contact with the Inuit, they were extremely curious as to how they didn’t develop scurvy as European sailors often did while at sea.
Modern science and nutrition have found that the animal organs and fats the Inuits consumed provided them with sufficient vitamins and trace elements to stave off diseases such as scurvy.
The Canadian First Nations people were also mainly hunter-gatherers before the arrival of the Europeans. Their food included an abundance of meat, many types of edible wild fruits and vegetables, and various dairy products.
In general, they did not have a high intake of carbohydrates. Dr Wortman said, when he was small, there were hunters throughout Canada who hunted according to the seasons, and they would sometimes share the moose jerky they had with him. He described it as having “an extraordinary flavor”.
The Coast Salish people eat the fat of Eulachon, a tiny fish with a high nutritional value that makes up over 25% of their caloric intake. Indigenous people in the north consume a large amount of bear and moose fat. And the prairies indigenous peoples eat a lot of traditional meat patties.
So, it would seem that, in early Canadian indigenous diets, almost every traditional cuisine had one vital source of fat. And these people were very healthy. It would be hard to imagine that obese and ill people lumbering around would be able to chase after their prey on land or sea and be able to reproduce.
Unfortunately, sixty to seventy years ago, while the indigenous people were still eating their traditional foods, the Europeans started baking high-carb foods such as bread, biscuits, and cakes using sugar and flour, which quickly became the mainstream in their society.
Whoever holds the economic advantage holds the right to speak. As a result of envy for the European lifestyle and pressure on their living space, the indigenous people gave up the food they already had and dove headfirst into horrifying piles of junk food.
The results from Dr Jay Wortman’s traditional food structure restoration program were shocking. These residents who had diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and were extremely exhausted resolved all these problems within one year. Some of them even lost up to 40-60 pounds, and they all regained their health and vitality!
There was one case in the program, a 48-year-old indigenous male with Type 2 diabetes, with a myriad of problems:
● Hypertension and abnormal lipidemia;
● History of stroke;
● Reliance on insulin for 17 years;
● Fasting glucose of 9-10 mmol;
● Weight of 291 lbs. (135 kg);
Within two weeks of starting the limited carbohydrate diet, he lost 17 lbs. (8 kg), his blood glucose returned to normal, and he was able to stop taking insulin. After 18 weeks, he lost 46 lbs., (21 kg) and all his vital statistics returned to normal: blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol, and he started to taper off all medications.
This experiment was followed and documented for one year by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and the resulting documentary, My Big Fat Diet, was screened nationally to a tremendous reaction.
Of course, Dr Jay Wortman’s research data was not the first theory on the high-fat, low-carb diet. as early as 1972, Dr Atkins’ Diet Revolution by American physician Robert C. Atkins first appeared, wherein the concept of the low carb diet was mentioned. It did not garner much attention at the time. Since the mainstream notion for caloric intake was a high-sugar, low-fat diet, there was a strong prejudice against eating high-fat and low-carb.
However, as time passed, famous people such as former president Bill Clinton, Hollywood stars Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt tried out the Atkins Diet and reaped the benefits. As a result, the public became more aware of the high-fat, low-carb diet, and the two sides started to debate.
On the basis of my new research, boldly added high-fat content foods into my diet to make up my caloric needs, in addition to B vitamins and apple cider vinegar to help digestion and minerals such as potassium and magnesium. My discomfort from a lack of energy quickly melted away.
Six years after this change, I’m doing great – not only in terms of my glucose level but my brain and body functions as well. My Body Mass Index (BMI) is in the healthy range, my ophthalmoscopy and colonoscopy results are quite normal, and I’m full of energy. I am managing multiple companies and authoring a book at the same time. I am living proof!.
Naturally, there are still cynics in my circle of fellow diabetics. After all, all the high-fat, low-carb studies that everyone sees aren’t any longer than five or ten years. Life is much longer than that, and there could still perhaps be unexplainable problems. If one sustains the high-fat, low-carb diet for decades, will there be unexpected side effects? Of course, I’ve also considered this problem. But then I discovered the inspiring story of Dr Stephen Phinney and it filled me with confidence.
Dr Phinney holds a doctorate in nutritional biochemistry from MIT, an M.D. from Stanford University, has completed post-doctoral research at Harvard University and is currently a Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of California. He is a world-class expert on nutritional metabolism and an internationally recognized academic authority on obesity, the low carbohydrate keto diet, and how essential fatty acids are needed for the metabolic mechanism, digestive, and exercise functions.
He turned 70 in 2017, having maintained the high-fat, low-carb diet for over 40 years. His personal experience combined with the results from his own academic research proves the long-term benefits of this dietary structure to the world.
Ironically, he had begun this experiment to disprove Dr Atkins’ theories by using himself as the subject! And the results?
In the first couple of weeks, he did find the lifestyle difficult. There was fatigue, anxiety, nausea, and indigestion. But after 3 weeks, he recovered. After 6-12 weeks, his preexisting hypertension and overweight issues improved fundamentally. Moreover, during his research, he found that the diet had more unexpected benefits, such as stabilized glucose, reduced fat in the abdomen, reversed fatty liver, and lowered triglycerides.
The body needs an adaptation process when transitioning from a high- to low-carb diet. But once the energy conversion from sugar to fat is complete, it will be better than before.
He turned from an opposer to a supporter to an advocator. He even published over 70 papers, 4 books, including The New Atkins for a New You, based on Dr Atkins’ foundation. That book later inspired and affected the South African Doctor Tim Noakes, who was also a diabetic, to use the low-carb diet in turning around his own illness and strive to promote this treatment to many more people.
I highly respect people like Dr Phinney – they have a truly scientific and objective attitude and are not entrenched in first impressions. Even if their initial belief is wrong, they still base their views on objective facts; they are not afraid to admit their mistakes and publish real scientific conclusions to serve the public.
In the face of continued debate over the efficacy of the high-fat, low-carb diet, I would argue that these cases are proof enough. It seems that what the world needs now is a diet revolution! Which must first start with a revolution of perspective!