Thursday, May 17, 2012

Why We Get Fat: Part 2

In Part 1 we looked at the basic biology behind how your body handles carbohydrates vs fats.  There's plenty of evidence to show that eating carbohydrates triggers processes that remove fat from the bloodstream and store it in your fat cells.  You get fatter. So what should we eat then?  

( Sure its colorful.  But could this fruit make you fat and kill you?  Meh.  Probably not )

Fruits and vegetables have carbohydrates too.  But their composition is mostly water and dietary fiber which makes them harder to digest. They don't invoke as large of an insulin spike as refined carbohydrates do.  Still, it's a good idea to reduce your intake of extra sugary fruits like grapes and bananas and starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn. 

Most dairy products have natural sugars ( like lactose ) and are therefore associated with some amount of insulin promotion. Think of it this way. A woman's body is designed to produce milk when she has had a baby. A young child's pancreas will produce large amounts of lactase ( the main enzyme that helps us digest lactose ). But these are time-sensitive traits that are designed to feed a growing organism. If you follow the basic biology from Part 1 and understand that eating carbs ( sugars) will fatten you only makes sense that mothers produce and babies drink milk to fatten up. This provides the enormous amounts of energy required to sustain the growth process.  But we are the only mammals that drink milk beyond infancy and we are also the only animals that drink another mammal's milk.  

( Why you gotta drink all my milk Bro? )

Hard cheeses usually have fermented long enough to reduce/remove their original sugar content.  And clarified butter is almost completely composed of fat and saturated fat...which researchers now believe is healthier than once thought...more on that in Part 3.  Others will tout the digestive benefits of the bacteria content of foods like cheese, yogurt etc...but no studies have shown compelling evidence that this benefits weight loss.  

So that leaves meat.  Why don't we just eat a $#*tload of meat?  Seriously … why not?   

For years we have been told to eat less meat and in particular red meat. Popular opinion is that high cholesterol levels in red meat specifically will lead to heart disease. Many believe that vegetarian/vegan diets will not only help you lose weight but are also more "heatlhy" in general than diets including meat.  There are two main points to consider; what will help us lose weight?... and what will help us lower the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes?  The United States has the highest rate per capita when it comes to most of these illnesses....For now, we will focus on the issue of weight.

( Hey Bro, have you seen the Axe commercial where the women are grinding on the shower pipes? )

Let's take a stroll back in time…to the Paleolithic era…the Stone Age.  The two and a half million years when our human ancestors ate mostly the fattiest meats they could kill.  And some berries and roots for variety.  Around 229 hunter-gatherer cultures survived largely unaffected into the twentieth century and nutritional anthropologists ( yeah that's a job…what a world we live in ) got all up on their nuts and meats to see what they were eating. The answer? Fatty meats. The fattier the better…organs, tongues, gobs and gobs of fat.  It's what our bodies are genetically adapted to.  After all, we've only been eating refined sugars and flour for one thousandth of a percent of our time on this here planet.  

To quote from the book that I am spitting knowledge from :

"Modern foods that constitute more than 60 percent of all calories in the typical western diet…cereal grains, dairy products, beverages, vegetable oils and dressings, sugar and candy would have contributed virtually none of the energy in the typical hunter gatherer diet.  If we believe that our genetic makeup has a say in what constitutes a healthy diet, then the likely reason that easily digestible starches, refined carbohydrates (flour and white rice) and sugars are fattening is that we didn't evolve to eat them and certainly not in the quantities in which we eat them today.  That a diet would be healthier without them seems manifestly obvious.  As for meat, fish, and fowl, for protein and fat, these would be the staples of a healthy diet, as they apparently were for our ancestors for two and half million years."  

( Meat: It's what's for dinner. And breakfast. And lunch. And snacking. Just put it in your mouth. )

So does eating meat make you fatter?

And what's all this about good fat vs. bad fat? The meat of this conversation ( get it? ... ? ) will be discussed in Part 3 as it relates to health factors...but good fats vs bad fats need not entirely be discounted from the topic of why we get fat. Clinical trials dating back to the 1970's  have shown that subjects of meat-rich diets will lose more weight compared with subjects on diets with high levels of carbohydrates. Indeed doctors in the 1800's were prescribing weight loss diets that encouraged their patients to eat as much meat as they wanted, but to stay away from sugars, flour, alcohol, etc. 

To illustrate this point, Why We Get Fat cites a government-funded study conducted by researchers at Stanford University in 2007.  Subjects were divided into four groups and each group adhered to one type of weight loss diet….

The Atkins diet - less than 20 grams of carbs allowed for the first two to three months, fifty grams or less after that.  Subjects were allowed as much protein and animal fat as desired.

A Traditional diet or LEARN - Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitudes, Relationships and Nutrition.  Calories were restricted, carbohydrates make up 55 to 60 percent of all calories, total fat made up less than 30% and Saturated fat less than 10%.  Regular exercise was encouraged.

The Ornish diet - fewer than 10% of all calories came from fat and the subjects meditated and exercised regularly.

The Zone diet - 30% of calories came from protein, 40% from carbs, and 30% from fat.  

Here were the results:    

( Sexy fingers...I know.  It's both a gift and a curse )

For this discussion we will focus only on the weight loss results. Subjects of the Atkins diet were encouraged to eat as much meat as they wanted including copious amounts of red meat ( and thus the saturated fat that goes with it ). The results clearly show that the Atkins diet was the most effective for weight loss.  And as a side note, the Atkins diet allows for increasing numbers of carbohydrates the longer you are on the diet. Measurements from this study at 3 months when subjects consumed 25 grams of carbs per day showed an average weight loss of 9 pounds, 12 pounds at six months when subjects consumed 45g of carbs per day and back down to 10 pounds at 12 months when subjects consumed 55g of carbs per day.  It stands to reason that if the subjects would have consumed in between 25g and 45g of carbs per day throughout the duration of the study then the average weight loss would have been even greater.  

I don't mean to over-simplify weight gain/loss as only a matter of reducing the intake of carbs and instead eating mostly meat.  Surely we all have friends that stuff their faces daily with pastas, breads, beers, women and riches.  And yet they remain skinny as a rail.  Others will do their best to follow carb-cutting diets, exercise, pray and then weep as the scale shows little or no loss in total weight. 

Everyone's body is different and some of us are genetically predisposed to handle carbs better than others. The first two parts of this Why We Get Fat blog are mainly to illustrate two points; the biological process by which the human body deals with carbs lends itself to storing fat and therefore weight gain....and secondly that many doctors and nutritionists have long known that meat-rich diets are the most successful when it comes to weight loss.  They believed it back in the 1800's and they've proved it in clinical trials from the 1970's through today.  

But is getting 80 percent or more of your daily calories from meat healthy?  Stay tuned for part 3...

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