Consider a baked potato. I’d say your average person would top that potato with some butter. Of course even though this is comfort food, it’s off limits right? Everyone knows this will make you gain weight!
So, question: is it the carbs in the potato, or the fat in the butter, that will make you fat?
In other words, hold the butter, or hold the potato?
If you pay attention to the loudest voices in the “health” movement, your answer would be to hold the potato/cut the carbs because carbs make you fat. Which would be wrong.
That’s the beauty of science. We can actually answer these questions!
And hey, a team of researchers has done that!
They took obese men and women and put them on completely controlled diets. In other words, researchers chose every single thing they ate during the study, which meant they had complete control over the amount of calories consumed, and the sources (i.e. carbs, fat, and protein).
In one group, participants reduced their calories by 30%, and achieved this reduction by limiting only calories from fat. The second group also reduced their calories by 30%, but they achieved this reduction by limiting only calories from carbohydrates. It’s carbs versus fat time!
Which group lost more body fat?
The group that limited their calories from fat lost 67% more body fat than the group limiting their carbs. 67%! Remember that total calorie reduction was identical. By all means their weight-loss should have been identical.
Instead, cutting fat lead to, well, cutting more fat. On the other hand, cutting carbs lead to, well, keeping more fat.
So, to answer your question — hold the butter, please!
Why This Matters.
This matters for several reasons, but the main reason is that carbs are only found in plant foods (aside from lactose in dairy milk). When so called “diet gurus” demonize carbs, they advocate for a diet low in plant foods. And since you have to eat something, these diets are high in animal fat and protein. Not good.
Of course, whole foods still matter as well. Saying “you are better off cutting your fat consumption” is not an endorsement of all foods with carbohydrates. Soda is 100% carbohydrate, and is decidedly unhealthy. Not because it has carbs, but because it is soda.
The real thesis here is to limit your fat consumption, and replace those calories with whole plant foods. That switch is a real winner! Make that switch and you will lose body fat and reduce your risk for heart disease, type-2 diabetes, certain cancers, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and more!
So the next time someone tells you carbs make you fat, you can remind them that science suggests otherwise. You can also be sure to show off all your knowledge about how whole plant foods are great sources of healthy carbohydrates and how you should eat them in abundance!
Check out this week’s video! Search “Plantiful Health” on YouTube 🙂
Exotic or not, eating vegan gets you some attention.
Like many people, I believed going vegan would just be too much.
After being vegan for a month there is also nothing special about eating cheese or meat again. You think your mouth will explode with joy at that first bite, welcoming them back into your life. But no. It’s not as good as you thought. What a letdown.
What views of food do you consider unimaginable? Maybe they wouldn’t be if you challenge them.
Written by Alex Blanski
Wait, so what did he learn that will “save your life?” He learned that going vegan isn’t actually that extreme! And going vegan can literally save your life.
As Dr. Ornish and Dr. Esselsyn proved, it can PREVENT AND REVERSE HEART DISEASE. As Dr. Barnard proved, it can PREVENT AND REVERSE TYPE-2 DIABETES. And it can even help reduce your risk of cancer and obesity!
The Vegan/Plant-Based diet is not as extreme as it seems. Give it a try for 31-days — you might find it actually works great for your body!
It’s hard to peg exactly where my journey toward a healthier diet really began, but I do know that early on I was influenced by two prominent food writers: Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan.
Reading their books is a great place to start if you are looking to learn about food, agriculture and nutrition.
Michael Pollan has contributed so much to the better food movement, but one of his biggest contributions is the coining of the term “edible food-like substances.”
This term is important in understanding what is undeniably his most important contribution, seven simple words that are quoted time and time again:
Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.
It’s crazy how good these seven words are. It’s crazy that you could find a healthy lifestyle just by following seven words. No arm-waving, no diet debates, just three short sentences.
But this post is about the first part. “Eat Food.”
Pollan defines things we eat into two categories: “Food,” and “Edible Food-Like Substances.”
“Food” is natural whole products, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. (Whole animal products make the cut in his definition, however as we’ll explore in future posts and videos, I question how food-like these items actually are).
“Edible Food-Like Substances” are things you can eat, that deliver calories to the body, but provide little else in terms of nutrients.
Mark Bittman helps to define this concept further. He consults his dictionary, which defines food as “any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink […] in order to maintain life and growth.” Note that “nutritious” is key to the definition of food. Nutritious food “provides those substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition.”
By this definition, these are not food:
- Chips and Crackers
- Cookies, Cakes, Pies, Donuts, Ice Cream
- Boxed Sugar-Sweetened Cereal
- Granola Bars
- Protein Bars and powders
- Processed Meats and Cheeses
All of those items deliver mostly empty calories with little nutrients. Most of whatever nutrients these edible food-like substances do contain were added by food scientists.
But the science seems pretty clear that nutrients cannot be isolated from their whole and still confer the same benefit. For example, studies on carrots find great benefits. Studies on beta-carotene pills find no benefit, and may in fact be harmful.
Over the last 40-50 years we have switched to a diet where the bulk of our calories are provided not by farmers but by food scientists. We now balk at people who eat whole fruits and vegetables. We label them as “health freaks,” and those who eat out of bags, boxes, and drive-thru windows are “normal.”
There is something wrong with this picture. Why is eating FOOD weird but eating processed junk normal? It is time to change that.
When first working with a new client, the single most important change I start with is eating more real food in place of fake foods, or “edible food-like substances.” If you are reading this, what are some “edible food-like substances” in your regular routine you could cut out?
Trust me we all have them. I still get suckered in by a Clif Bar or couple slices of Tofurky here and there. They make vegan junk food. No one is safe…
Stop eating junk. Eat. Real. Food.
More on this in this week’s video, out Thursday!
As we have been discussing the past few weeks, knowing what nutrients are essential — meaning they must be consumed from food, our body cannot manufacture them — teaches us a lot about what we should be eating.
This week we take a look at carbohydrates.
It’s a list of three this week:
- Simple Sugars (found in fruit)
- Complex Carbohydrates
Well, really, ALL carbohydrates are essential nutrients. Remember; being “essential” means our body cannot manufacture them. We are not photosynthetic plants, so we cannot make our own carbohydrates from scratch: hence, we need to get them from food.
But wait, why do I hear so much about carbs being the enemy, the cause of the obesity crisis, the diabetes epidemic – even the heart disease problem? Surely they must all be bad!
Notice that the list of essential carbohydrates left out one major category: refined carbohydrates.
But more on that in a second, let’s first talk about why carbohydrates are necessary to eat.
Carbs are the main energy source in the body. They are preferred over the other two types of fuel; fat and protein. What this means is when you eat a meal that contains carbs, protein, and fat (which essentially is all meals you eat) your body will preferentially choose to burn the carbohydrates for energy first.
Let’s say you need 500 calories of energy to power you until the next time you eat. If your meal is exactly 500 calories, your body will burn all of it — the carbs, protein, and fat — for energy.
However, if your meal happens to be over 500 calories, your body will burn the carbs first, and any excess fat gets stored in your body. This is one reason why following a low-fat diet is helpful in keeping a low body weight.
There is even evidence to suggest that the human body is very inefficient in its conversion of excess carbohydrates into fat.¹
Some animals, like pigs and bees, for example, are really good at turning carbohydrates into fat — flesh for the pig and wax for the bee. It appears humans are not so good at this conversion of carbohydrate into fat. Instead, excess carbohydrate fuel gets burned.
I know this goes against everything you’ve heard about how “carbs make you fat.”
But if we break this down further, it actually makes sense. See, most people in America eat a high carb AND high fat diet. We drink soda, eat french fries and have cheeseburgers. The soda is pure refined carbohydrate, the fries are carbs and fats, and the burger is tons of fat.
In this scenario, the body preferentially burns the carbohydrate fuel for energy. The excess fat energy from the meal gets stored. So it isn’t the carbs that are making you fat, but the fact that you ate a lot of fat with the carbs.
Delving further, from a biochemical standpoint this also makes sense. Taking fat from food and storing it in the body is a very efficient process. Your body breaks a few simple bonds in the fat, takes the fatty acid chains, and deposits them in your fat cells.
You actually have to make an entirely new molecule to turn excess carbohydrates into fat. Your body would rather conserve its effort and just burn it for heat.
So, how many carbs do we actually need?
Well knowing that your body prefers to run on carbohydrates (a clean burning fuel, with water and CO² as the only byproducts), I’d say you need A LOT. As we saw in the previous two posts in this series, the body’s need for protein and fat is very low, so essentially most of your energy should come from carbs.
Wait, am I crazy to suggest we need to eat more carbs? Seriously, carbs are demonized in America! They make you fat!
Enter: refined carbohydrates.
These are non-essential, and are easy to over-consume. Refined carbohydrates are fruit juice, white sugar, white rice, white bread, breakfast cereals, crackers, chips, the flour in cookies and cakes, white pasta, etc.
These carbohydrates came from whole plants — they started out really healthy! Then humans stripped away nearly all the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (what made them healthy) and left only the calories and a few token nutrients.
The soda and french fries are still not healthy, despite their carbohydrate content.
Fiber is really the key in all of this. With the fiber, carbohydrates are awesome. Without it, they cause blood sugar spikes, they don’t fill you up, and you overeat. Refined carbs have no fiber. Whole plants have tons of fiber. Eat more whole plants — and eat more carbs!
The YouTube Channel on Thursday will have MORE!
¹Hellerstein MK. De novo lipogenesis in humans: metabolic and regulatory aspects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1999 Apr;53 Suppl 1:S53-65.
I was wrong, and I apologize.
Last week, in my post about the Dietary Guidelines Committee releasing their report for the updates to the 2015 recommendations, I got something really wrong, and it appears I have egg on my face.
I made a big stink about the changes to the cholesterol recommendation and advocated that eggs are still unhealthy despite the proposed change.
That part I stand by. That’s not why I have egg on my face.
I concluded my post by stating: “It will be a long time before we see the official recommendation say anything negative about meat.”
Boy was I wrong. Unless by “a long time” I meant “a few days,” because that’s how long it took between my post and the guidelines being released, guidelines that stated:
Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use. This is because the current U.S. population intake of animal-based foods is higher and plant-based foods are lower.
Wow. Industry is already incredibly upset by this statement, and the guidelines now go into public comment before they become official. I urge you to keep an eye on this battle, because it is so important. Animal-based diets are unsustainable for the planet.
The guidelines also talk about patterns of eating for health, and highlight that a plant-based pattern of eating is healthiest. I also applaud this. Animal-based diets are unsustainable for personal health as well.
This is a great segue to the whole “egg” thing.
The proposed guidelines drop the recommendation to limit your dietary cholesterol intake. I talk about that in last week’s post.
People are passionate about their eggs. The push back from the pro-egg people was pretty interesting to watch, and has inspired me to clarify my position.
First, people try to claim eggs are low in saturated fat, but each egg has 1.5 to 2 grams. The tolerable upper limit for saturated fat was not set because all levels above zero raise your cholesterol.
Most people I know don’t just eat one egg, it’s usually two. So now we are at 3 to 4 grams.
Most people I know cook their eggs in butter. There are 7 grams of saturated fat in just one tablespoon of butter. So now we are at 10 to 11 grams (already exceeding the limit set by the USDA).
Lots of people I know add a little cheese to their eggs. There are 6 grams of saturated fat in an ounce of cheddar cheese. So now we are at 16 to 17 grams in your “healthy” breakfast!
Finally, plenty of people I know add some bacon to that breakfast. There are 4 grams of saturated fat in an ounce of bacon. This brings our total to 20-21 grams of saturated fat!
This is decidedly not a healthy meal! That is a huge load of artery clogging saturated fat you just pushed through your veins.
We have to talk about food how people talk about food.
Patterns of eating.
The ruling did not make eggs into a health food. At best it suggested that they aren’t as bad as previously thought. But patterns of eating matter.
If you eat 90% whole foods plant-based, and the rest of your calories come from eggs, its very different than if you eat 2% whole foods plant-based, and because of this new ruling you now look at your breakfast and think “yeah, I eat pretty healthy, I mean I got eggs on the plate!”
This is the reason the plant-based community got so up in arms about the new cholesterol ruling. Most people are SO far off from a healthy pattern of eating, that anything that suggests that their current bad habits are somehow healthy is a challenge to real progress toward a better diet.
If you already eat 90% of your calories from whole plants, then you can probably eat the other 10% from pretty much anything (eggs, meat, soda, or nails) — 90% is protective of most chronic conditions. Of course if you already suffer from a chronic disease, the recommendation is to go 100% whole foods plant-based.
And if, like most Americans, you eat closer to 2% plant-based, then know that eggs did not just become a health food.