Calcium: Nutrient Combination and Ratios

Calcium is centrally important, as most people already know. Not only is it necessary for the health of bones but also for the health of the heart, nerve cells, gut microbiome, hormonal system, skin, etc and will affect such things as grip strength and fatigue. As usual, there is a lot of misinformation out there and newer information that has changed our understanding. Let me clear up the issue to the degree I can. The following represents my present understanding, based on the sources I could find.

We can store calcium when we are younger, but lose this ability as we age. On the other hand, it turns out we don’t need as much calcium as previously assumed. And too much calcium can be harmful, even deadly as can happen with hardening of arteries. In fact, the healthiest societies have lower levels of calcium. It’s not so much about the calcium itself for, as always, context matters. Calcium deficiencies typically are caused by a health condition (kidney condition, alcohol abuse, etc), rather than lack of calcium in the diet. Importantly, other nutrients determine how the body absorbs, processes, utilizes, and deposits calcium. Furthermore, nutritional imbalances involving deficiencies and excesses create a cascade of health problems.

Let me explain the interrelationship of micronutrients. There is a whole series of relationships involved in calcium processing. Vitamin B6 is necessary for absorption of magnesium; and magnesium is necessary for absorption of vitamin D3 — zinc, boron, vitamin A, bile salts, and a healthy guy microbiome are all important as well. Of course, cholesterol and sunlight are needed for the body to produce it’s own vitamin D3, which is why deficiencies in these are also problematic. Statins block cholesterol and sunscreen blocks sun; while stress will block vitamin D3 itself whereas exercise will do the opposite. Then vitamin D3 is necessary for absorption of calcium. But it doesn’t end there. Most important of all, vitamin K2 is necessary for regulating where calcium is deposited in the body, ensuring it ends up in bones and teeth rather than in joints, arteries, brain, kidneys, etc.

About on specific issue, the often cited 2-to-1 ratio of calcium and magnesium is actually on the high end indicating the maximum calcium levels you don’t want to exceed as part of your total calcium intake from both diet and supplementation. So, if you’re getting a 2-to-1 ratio in your supplements combined with high levels of calcium from food, such as a diet with plenty of dairy and/or greens, your calcium levels could be causing you harm. Speaking of magnesium deficiency is a relative assessment, as it depends on calcium levels. The body is rarely depleted of magnesium and so, on a superficial level, your body is never deficient in an absolute sense. Yet the higher your calcium levels go the greater your need of magnesium. Nutrients never act alone, such as how vitamin C requirements increase on a high-carb diet.

Here is another example of nutrient interaction. With more salt in your diet, you’ll need more potassium and magnesium to compensate. And potassium deficiency is associated with magnesium deficiency. But that isn’t to say you want to decrease sodium to increase these others, as research indicates higher salt intake is associated with greater health (Dr. James DiNicolantonio, The Salt Fix) — and I’d recommend getting a good source of salt such as Real Salt (although natural forms of salt lack iodine and so make sure to increase iodine-rich foods like seaweed, that being a good option since seaweed is extremely nutrient-dense). As an interesting side note, calcium helps your muscles contract and magnesium helps your muscles relax, which is why muscle cramps (also spasms, twitches, and restlessness) can be a sign of magnesium deficiency. Plus, excess calcium and insufficient magnesium will increase cortisol, the stress hormone, and so can interfere with sleep. There is yet another dual relationship between these two in the clotting and thinning of blood.

Macronutrients play a role as well. Higher protein ensures optimal levels of magnesium and is strongly linked to increased bone mass and density. Fat intake may also play a role with these minerals, but I couldn’t find much discussion about this. Certainly, fat is necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. If you’re eating pastured (or grass-fed-and-finished) fatty animal foods, you’ll be getting both the protein and the fat-soluble vitamins (A as beta-carotene, D3, E complex, & K2). Even greater, with cultured, fermented and aged foods (whether from animals or plants), you’ll get higher levels of the much needed vitamin K2. Assuming you can stand the taste and texture of it, fermented soy in the form of natto is the highest known source of K2 as the subtype MK7 which remains in the body longer than other subtypes. By the way, some multiple vitamins contain MK7 (e.g., Garden of Life). Vitamin K2 is massively important. Weston A. Price called it Activator X because it controls so much of what the body does, specifically in relationship to other nutrients, including other fat-soluble vitamins. And all of the fat-soluble vitamins are central in relationship to mineral levels.

Another factor to consider is when nutrients are taken and in combination with what. Some minerals will compete with each other for absorption, but this probably is not an issue if you are getting small amounts throughout the day, such as adding a balanced electrolyte mix (with potassium, magnesium, etc) to your water or other drinks. Calcium and magnesium are two that compete and many advise they should be taken separately, but if you take them in smaller amounts competition is not an issue. Some research indicates calcium has a higher absorption rate in the evening, but magnesium can make you sleepy and so might also be taken in the evening — if taking a supplement, maybe take the former with dinner and the latter before bed or you could take the magnesium in the morning and see how it makes you feel. By the way, too much coffee (6 cups or more a day) will cause the body to excrete calcium and salt, and yet coffee is also a good source of potassium and magnesium. Coffee, as with tea, in moderate amounts is good for your health.

As a last thought, here is what you want to avoid for healthy calcium levels: taken with iron supplements, high levels of insoluble fiber, antacids, excessive caffeine. Also, calcium can alter the effects of medications and, in some cases, should be taken two hours apart. Keep in mind that many plant foods can be problematic because of anti-nutrients that bind minerals or interfere with absorption. This is why traditional people spent so much time preparing plant foods (soaking, sprouting, cooking, fermenting, etc) in order to eliminate these anti-nutrients and hence increase nutrient absorption. It is irrelevant the amount of nutrients in a food if you’re body can’t use them. For example, one of the highest concentrations of calcium is found in spinach, but the bioavailability is extremely low. Other foods, including other leafy greens, are a much better source and with any leafy greens always cook them.

This problem is magnified by the decreased nutrient content of most plant foods these days, as the soil itself has become depleted. Supplementation of many micronutrients is maybe necessary for almost everyone at this point, although great caution should be taken with supplementing calcium.

* * *

Sometimes I write posts about diet and health after doing research for my own purposes or simply for the sake of curiosity about a topic. But in many cases, I have family members in mind, as my own health improvements have gone hand in hand with dietary changes my parents also have made, and my brothers are health-conscious as well although with a vegetarian diet quite different than my own. This particular post was written for my mother.

Just the other day she was diagnosed with osteoporosis. She had osteopenia for decades. Now looking back, she realizes that her bone loss began when she started taking fiber and antacids, both of which block calcium. And all the years of calcium supplementation were probably doing her no good because, even to the degree she was absorbing any of the calcium, it wasn’t balanced with other needed nutrients. I gathered this information in order to help her to figure out how to improve her bone health, as her doctor was only moderately informed and her recent appointment was rushed.

This was researched and written on Mother’s Day. I guess it was my gift to my mother. But I hope it is of value to others as well.

* * *

Without Magnesium, Vitamin D Supplementation May Backfire
by Joseph Mercola

Calcium with Magnesium: Do You Need the Calcium?
from Easy Immune System Health

Expert cites risk of calcium—magnesium imbalance
from Nutritional Magnesium Association

Optimum Calcium Magnesium Ratio: The 2-to-1 Calcium-to-Magnesium Ratio
by A. Rosanoff

Nutritional strategies for skeletal and cardiovascular health: hard bones, softarteries, rather than vice versa
by James H O’Keefe, Nathaniel Bergman, Pedro Carrera-Bastos, Maélan Fontes-Villalba, James J DiNicolantonio, Loren Cordain

Why You Need To Take Vitamin K With Calcium Supplements
by Stacy Facko

For Bone Health, Think Magnesium
from Harvest Market Natural Foods

Calcium Deficiency: Are Supplements the Answer?
by Jillian Levy

Calcium to Magnesium: How the Ratio Affects Your Health
from Juvenon Health Journal

How to Correct Your Calcium-to-Magnesium Ratio
by Sandra Ketcham

Calcium & Magnesium: Finding the Right Ratio for Optimal Health
by Dr. Edward Group

Magnesium, NOT Calcium, Is The Key To Healthy Bones
by Jackie Ritz

Calcium Supplements: Things to Consider before Taking One
by Chris Kresser

How to Get Enough Calcium Without Dairy
by Katie Wells

Is The Paleo Diet Deficient In Calcium?
by Michael Ofer

Paleo & Calcium | Friendly Calcium Rich Foods
by Irena Macri

Mineral Primer – The Weston A. Price Foundation
by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig

The science of salt and electrolytes (are we consuming enough?)
by Will Little

13 Signs Of Magnesium Deficiency + How To Finally Get Enough
by Dr. Will Cole

Top 10 Magnesium-Rich Foods
by Rachael Link

Vitamin K2, Vitamin D, and Calcium: A Winning Combo
by Joseph Mercola

Vitamin K2: Everything You Need to Know
by Joe Leech

The Ultimate Vitamin K2 Resource
by Chris Masterjohn

Vitamin K2: Are You Consuming Enough?
by Chris Kresser

Promoting Calcium Balance Health On A Paleo Diet (Easier Than You Think)
by Loren Cordain

Calcium: A Team Sports View of Nutrition
by Loren Cordain

How To Keep Your Bones Healthy On A Paleo Diet
by Chris Kresser

Human Adaptability and Health

What makes humans unique? There are many answers that can and have been offered. My own dietary experimentation, from paleo to keto to carnivore, has led to certain thoughts. After two months of carnivory (and before reintroducing plant foods), I ended it with an extended fast, three days to be precise, as inspired by Siim Land. There is something impressive about fasting, far beyond its intermittent variety. Yes, ketosis is involved, but lengthening the fasting state steps it up to a whole other level, specifically to be scientific what is called autophagy along with stem cell activation. With autophagy, your body cannibalizes damaged and dead cells in order to build entirely new cells, including in the brain, and in the process of three days of fasting every cell in your immune system will be replaced. That is pretty kick ass!

More basically, fasting simply feels good or it can, assuming one isn’t sick or stressed. It’s not as hard as one might think, assuming one begins it in a state of ketosis and fat-adaptation. That is the way it has been for me, in the several extended fasts I’ve done. I’ve even done part of the time in dry fasting, that is to say not even water. With fasting, energy doesn’t necessarily decline and sometimes there is a boost of energy, specifically when ketones kick into high gear. And even without water, the body shifts into a different mode and one doesn’t get thirsty, at least not for many days (breathing through one’s nose helps as well), since the body stores water similar to how it stores fat. Fasting has been a practice among probably every traditional society that has ever existed, from early Native Americans to early Europeans, and is found in diverse religions, from Buddhism to Christianity — fasting only became uncommon since vast food surpluses were created in recent generations.

I’ve done fasting in the past, but I always limited myself to one-day fasts. It was never difficult and, even though few people ever do it, I never considered it an impressive feat of personal strength and willpower. It simply meant not eating food for a time. More interesting on a personal level was a different kind of fasting. Maybe a couple of decades ago, I got into the habit of jogging before eating and I would sometimes go for hours. I never lacked energy and, if anything, I had more energy than before I began. A strange side effect was that my hunger also decreased for the rest of the day, a rather counter-intuitive result as one would think exercise would make one hungry to make up for the calories lost.

I didn’t understand it at the time, but I had independently discovered ketosis. Once you run out of glucose in your blood and glycogen in your muscles, your body switches to turning fat into ketones. As long as you have enough fat (not a problem for most people), you can continually produce ketones for long periods of time without any food. Even the small amount of glucose your body needs can also be produced by the body without any need of dietary intake of carbohydrates. For a fat person, they literally can go months without food, as the body doesn’t only store energy in body fat but also nutrients. Cole Robinson of Snake Diet fame is an advocate of this method of fat loss — as he puts it, If you want to lose weight, fatty, stop stuffing food in your mouth. While in this state, you can remain active. The Piraha, according to Daniel Everett, would regularly go without eating on some days for no particular reason and at times would dance for several days without stopping for a meal. Cole Robinson talks about continuing his heavy weight lifting routine many days into fasting, not that most modern people with inferior health would want to try this. Under Genghis Khan, Mongol warriors began their war campaigns with an extended period of fasting, maybe to prime their body for ketosis that they maintained with their low-carb and animal-based diet (mostly meat, blood, and milk).

This relates to our evolutionary needs. Early humans survived as a hunting pack. We aren’t the fastest animal, among either predators or prey. We are rather slow actually and our lack of claws and fangs are a disadvantage, but we are endurance runners with the capacity to develop immense tracking skills. Along with ketosis that puts our large brains into overdrive, particularly the use of the pseudo-ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate, we have a special knack for sweating that keeps us cool, partly because of our lack of fur. Also, because of our upright position, our lungs aren’t constricted by our running gait and so our breathing is free to follow it’s own rhythm. Humans did all this while being barefoot for most of our existence, often running across rough ground. In particularly harsh environments such as Australia, the natives would develop thick callouses on the soles of their feet. We run better and more safely without shoes than with them — barefoot running (or using thin footwear such as sandals or moccasins) forces us to use good running form with impact shifted toward the toes rather than the heels. As natives observed, most animals move with the weight put on their toes. This is also what we humans are designed for.

Running is what humans do. Hunter-gatherers can track animals for days without having to stop for food and water and, as long as there is a water supply, could go on for weeks without food. This is natural. This was once the norm. This is how the human species managed to travel across deserts and oceans, how our ancestors survived starvation and ice ages. For hundreds of millennia, humans maintained such high levels of physical strain typically without harm to their health and rarely with injury. Fasting and feasting. Extended activity and periods of rest. And we are able to retain our physical capacities well into old age. Hunter-gathers in their sixties have the same level of running ability as they had in their late teens, with the developmental peak hitting around the late twenties. Many individuals in traditional societies go on running as their normal mode of travel until the day they die and, excluding early deaths from infection (infections, I might add, that mostly were introduced through colonialism), traditional people live as long as do modern Westerners. As said by Geronimo, a man who lived and fought under fierce conditions into older age, “My only friends are my legs. I only trust my legs.”

Even cold weather is not a big issue. An intriguing side of ketosis is that it has a built-in inefficiency. Burning fat produces excess heat, that is to say wasted energy. As Benjamin Bikman has speculated, this is likely because ketosis most often has occurred in the winter. The extra heat was a side benefit. So, fasting will not only give you immense energy from the superfuel of ketones but keep you warmer as well. Cold temperatures, like fasting, also promote autophagy which is healing. The body goes into its most optimal mode of functioning. Humans who are adapted to it can swim in freezing cold water for long periods of time or hike barefoot and half-naked in the snow as Wim Hof has demonstrated and, shown in research, all humans have such capacity for cold adaptation — it’s related to meditation techniques of warming the body where one sits in snow or on ice until it melts. Cold bathing and sleeping out in the open on cold nights, including with little clothing has been done by numerous populations: Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, etc. Make it a practice to take cold showers and you’ll get some small sense of the effect this can have — something I’ve been doing for a while and, to say the least, it is invigorating, but I’ve always been one of those crazy people who will go outside in the winter underdressed. By the way, Wim Hof at the other extreme has also run a half marathon through a desert without water. He has set many other world records, twenty-six in total.

Humans are adaptable, but a too easy and comfortable lifestyle has caused modern people to lose their adaptability. We aren’t meant to always be at the same temperature, always eating, always sedentary, or always anything else. Pushing the biological boundareies is a good thing to do on a regular basis. Consider hormesis — small amounts of stress actually increase our health. A similar thing is seen with exposure to bacteria and parasites when younger that can strengthen the immune system for life and alter how our bodies function. Even in seeking health, we moderns often get it wrong. We aren’t meant to continually do the same exercise in the same way over and over. Variety isn’t only the spice of life for it is also the meat of life. If we don’t use it, we lose it. This is why we should alternate how we exercise.

One method designed for this purpose is high-intensity interval training (HIIT) which is alternating between strenuous activity to exhaustion with periods of rest and repeating this multiple times. It forces the rhythm of your heart rate to expand its variability and that is good thing. Continuous exercise at the same pace, such as typical long distance running does the opposite in decreasing this variability. This is what can sometimes cause seemingly health long distance runners, once reaching the finish line, to drop dead from a heart attack. The lack of heart rate variability strains their heart too much in going from running to stopping. But this could be easily prevented by doing some HIIT exercise such as wind sprints, something I did a lot as a kid during soccer practice. Sometimes walk, sometimes jog, and sometimes run as fast as you can. That is what most of us did as children when playing and often we did it barefoot — I recall running on gravel alley barefoot, walking through the woods barefoot, and climbing trees barefoot. Why do we forget such natural behavior as we become mature, respectable adults? Don’t exercise. Just go play outside.

Our loss of connection to our species inheritance has cost us our health. But this loss isn’t an inevitable fate of modern civilization. We should take advantage of what we now know about human physiology. We humans are amazing creatures. There is a reason we have survived and thrived and spread all over the earth in nearly all environments and ecosystems. Even with all the unnatural strain and harm we put ourselves under, we still somehow manage to keep many of our physiological abilities. Imagine what we could accomplish if, rather than being sickly, our society operated with optimal health.

* * *

Persistence hunting
from Wikipedia

Endurance running hypothesis
from Wikipedia

Endurance Running and Persistence Hunting
by David Carrier

Running After Antelope
from This American Life

Running After Antelope
by Scott Carrier

Born to Run
by Christopher McDougall

Why We Run: A Natural History
by Bernd Heinrich

Becoming the Iceman
by Wim Hof

The Way of the Iceman
by Wim Hof

What Doesn’t Kill Us
by Scott Carney

Science Explains How the Iceman Resists Extreme Cold
by Joshua Rapp Learn

Breathe Like The Iceman: How To Use The Wim Hof Method
by Harry J. Stead

Caloric Confusion

In human biological terms, there is no such thing as a calorie. It’s an abstraction measured by machines, in breaking down matter to determine the energy it contains. That isn’t how the body functions. It’s similar to the view of nutritionism where chemical analyses determines the amounts of specific vitamins and minerals found in any given food. None of this, however, tells us how the body absorbs, processes, and uses them.

Take sugar, for example. It is worse than empty calories. Rather, we are talking about actively toxic calories. It also interferes with nutrient intake and so can contribute to malnourishment. In the 1890s in Britain and by 1940 in the United States, a shockingly high number of recruits and draftees were being rejected because of malnourishment and tooth decay. This had been preceded by decades of rising levels of sugar and carbs in the diet, combined with processed vegetable oils that were replacing saturated fat.

A commonly discussed example of this is how more vitamin C is required on a high-carb diet because glucose competes with it, whereas on a low-carb diet very little vitamin C is needed to avoid scurvy. Sugar is causing harm simultaneously on multiple levels. That it is fattening is bad enough, especially considering all that is involved: dental caries, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver, depression, etc — no minor set of health consequences and that list could go on much longer. Yet sugar was exonerated while saturated fat was scapegoated, which is rather inconsistent in that saturated fats have never been treated as mere empty calories equal to anything else.

It turns out calories aren’t all equal and on some level everyone probably always knew that was true, but in its simplicity it was an easy way of describing nutrition to the public. The problem is that it is so simplistic as to be fundamentally wrong. It is meaningless to speak of calories-in/calories-out. That doesn’t explain anything. We are still left with the issue of why the body burns some calories while turning others into fat. Recent research has shown that there is a metabolic advantage to low-carb diets in that more calories are burned in ratio to calories consumed. This is particularly true in a ketogenic state where the body efficiently burns fat. Fat easily turns into fat when eaten with carbs, but this is not true to the same degree when carbs are limited.

It is understandable how this all came about. We study what we can perceive and we ignore what we can’t. Scientific researchers early on learned how to measure calories with machines and it was assumed that the body was like a machine, burning a fuel in the way an engine burned coal and released heat. It became not only one model among many but a defining paradigm to explain human behavior and even morality, with the sins of gluttony and sloth taking key roles. Calories-in/calories-out created a perfect moral calculus. If you were fat or whatever, it was your fault. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the severely health-destroying food system, demented nutritional advice, and sub-par healthcare.

Other models of dietary health developed such as the endocrinological study of hormones and the hormonal systems, but the calorie model was already established. Besides, most of this other early research was done in Europe, much of it in German. The World Wars scattered the European research communities and their scientific literature mostly remained untranslated. When the US became the new center of nutritional research, English-speaking researchers were largely ignorant of all that previous researchers had already figured out.

Until this past decade or so, this state of affairs has remained that way, more than a century after that early research was done. Only now has the American-dominated nutritional research begun to return to old knowledge long forgotten.

* * *

The Curious History of the Calorie in U.S. Policy:
A Tradition of Unfulfilled Promises
by Deborah I. Levine

The Progressive Era Body Project:
Calorie-Counting and “Disciplining the Stomach” in 1920s America
by Chin Jou

Death of the Calorie
by Peter Wilson

* * *

The Case Against Sugar
by Gary Taubes
pp. 23-25

Meanwhile, the latest surge in this epidemic of diabetes in the United States— an 800 percent increase from 1960 to the present day, according to the Centers for Disease Control—coincides with a significant rise in the consumption of sugar. Or, rather, it coincides with a surge in the consumption of sugars, or what the FDA calls “caloric sweeteners—sucrose, from sugarcane or beets, and high-fructose corn syrup, HFCS, a relatively new invention.

After ignoring or downplaying the role of sugars and sweets for a quarter-century, many authorities now argue that these are, indeed, a major cause of obesity and diabetes and that they should be taxed heavily or regulated. The authorities still do so, however, not because they believe sugar causes disease but, rather, because they believe sugar represents “empty calories” that we eat in excess because they taste so good. By this logic, since refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup don’t contain any protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, or fiber, they either displace other, more nutritious elements of our diet, or simply add extra, unneeded calories to make us fatter. The Department of Agriculture, for instance (in its recent “Dietary Guidelines for Americans”), the World Health Organization, and the American Heart Association, among other organizations, advise a reduction in sugar consumption for these reasons primarily.

The empty-calories argument is particularly convenient for the food industry, which would understandably prefer not to see a key constituent of its products—all too often, the key constituent—damned as toxic. The sugar industry played a key role in the general exoneration of sugar that took place in the 1970s, as I’ll explain later. Health organizations, including the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association, have also found the argument convenient, having spent the last fifty years blaming dietary fat for our ills while letting sugar off the hook. […]

This book makes a different argument: that sugars like sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup are fundamental causes of diabetes and obesity, using the same simple concept of causality that we employ when we say smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer. It’s not because we eat too much of these sugars—although that is implied merely by the terms “overconsumption” and “overeating”—but because they have unique physiological, metabolic, and endocrinological (i.e., hormonal) effects in the human body that directly trigger these disorders. This argument is championed most prominently by the University of California, San Francisco, pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig. These sugars are not short-term toxins that operate over days and weeks, by this logic, but ones that do their damage over years and decades, and perhaps even from generation to generation. In other words, mothers will pass the problem down to their children, not through how and what they feed them (although that plays a role), but through what they eat themselves and how that changes the environment in the womb in which the children develop.

Individuals who get diabetes—the ones in any population who are apparently susceptible, who are genetically predisposed—would never have been stricken if they (and maybe their mothers and their mothers’ mothers) lived in a world without sugar, or at least in a world with a lot less of it than the one in which we have lived for the past 100 to 150 years. These sugars are what an evolutionary biologist might call the environmental or dietary trigger of the disease: the requisite ingredient that triggers the genetic predisposition and turns an otherwise healthy diet into a harmful one. Add such sugars in sufficient quantity to the diet of any population, no matter what proportion of plants to animals they eat—as Kelly West suggested in 1974 about Native American populations—and the result eventually is an epidemic of diabetes, and obesity as well.

pp. 117-121

The second pillar of modern nutritional wisdom is far more fundamental and ultimately has had far more influence on how the science has developed, and it still dominates thinking on the sugar issue. As such, it has also done far more damage. To the sugar industry, it has been the gift that keeps on giving, the ultimate defense against all arguments and evidence that sugar is uniquely toxic. This is the idea that we get obese or overweight because we take in more calories than we expend or excrete. By this thinking, researchers and public-health authorities think of obesity as a disorder of energy balance,” a concept that has become so ingrained in conventional thinking, so widespread, that arguments to the contrary have typically been treated as quackery, if not a willful disavowal of the laws of physics.

According to this logic of energy balance, of calories-in/calories-out, the only meaningful way in which the foods we consume have an impact on our body weight and body fat is through their energy content—calories. This is the only variable that matters. We grow fatter because we eat too much—we consume more calories than we expend—and this simple truth was, and still is, considered all that’s necessary to explain obesity and its prevalence in populations. This thinking renders effectively irrelevant the radically different impact that different macronutrients—the protein, fat, and carbohydrate content of foods—have on metabolism and on the hormones and enzymes that regulate what our bodies do with these foods: whether they’re burned for fuel, used to rebuild tissues and organs, or stored as fat.

By this energy-balance logic, the close association between obesity, diabetes, and heart disease implies no profound revelations to be gleaned about underlying hormonal or metabolic disturbances, but rather that obesity is driven, and diabetes and heart disease are exacerbated, by some combination of gluttony and sloth. It implies that all these diseases can be prevented, or that our likelihood of contracting them is minimized if individuals—or populations—are willing to eat in moderation and perhaps exercise more, as lean individuals are assumed to do naturally. Despite copious reasons to question this logic and, as we’ll see, an entire European school of clinical research that came to consider it nonsensical, medical and nutrition authorities have tended to treat it as gospel. Obesity is caused by this caloric imbalance, and diabetes, as Joslin said nearly a century ago, is largely the penalty for obesity. Curb the behaviors of gluttony (Shakespeare’s Falstaff was often invoked as a pedagogical example) and sloth (another deadly sin) and all these diseases will once again become exceedingly rare.

This logic also served publicly to exonerate sugar as a suspect in either obesity or diabetes. By specifying energy or caloric content as the instrument through which foods influence body weight, it implies that a calorie of sugar would be no more or less capable of causing obesity, and thus diabetes, than a calorie of broccoli or olive oil or eggs or any other food. By the 1960s, the phrase a calorie is a calorie had become a mantra of the nutrition-and-obesity research community, and it was invoked to make just this argument (as it still is). […]

The energy-balance idea derives ultimately from the simple observation that the obese tend to be hungrier than the lean, and to be less physically active, and that these are two deviations from normal intake and expenditure: gluttony and sloth. It was first proposed as an explanation of obesity in the early years of the twentieth century, when nutrition researchers, as we discussed, were focused on carefully quantifying with their calorimeters the energy content of foods and the energy expended in human activity. At the time, the application of the laws of thermodynamics and particularly the conservation of energy to living creatures—the demonstration that all the calories we consume will either be burned as fuel or be stored or excreted—was considered one of the triumphs of late-nineteenth-century nutrition science. Nutrition and metabolism researchers embraced calories and energy as the currency of their research. When physicians began speculating as to the cause of obesity, they naturally did the same.

The first clinician to take these revelations on thermodynamics and apply them to the very human problem of obesity was the German diabetes specialist Carl von Noorden. In 1907, he proposed that “ the ingestion of a quantity of food greater than that required by the body, leads to an accumulation of fat, and to obesity, should the disproportion be continued over a considerable period.”

Noorden’s ideas were disseminated widely in the United States and took root primarily through the work of Louis Newburgh, a University of Michigan physician who did so based on what he believed to be a fundamental truth: “All obese persons are alike in one fundamental respect—they literally overeat.” Newburgh assumed that overeating was the cause of obesity and so proceeded to blame the disorder on some combination of a “perverted appetite” (excessive energy consumption) and a “lessened outflow of energy” (insufficient expenditure). As for obese patients who remained obese in spite of this understanding, Newburgh suggested they did so because of “various human weaknesses such as overindulgence and ignorance.” (Newburgh himself was exceedingly lean.) Newburgh was resolutely set against the idea that other physical faults could be involved in obesity. By 1939, his biography at the University of Michigan was already crediting him with the discovery that “ the whole problem of weight lies in regulation of the inflow and outflow of calories” and for having “undermined conclusively the generally held theory that obesity is the result of some fundamental fault.”

The question of a fundamental fault could not be dismissed so lightly, however. To do that required dismissing observations of German and Austrian clinical researchers who had come to conclude that obesity could only be reasonably explained by the existence of such a fault—specifically, a defect in the hormones and enzymes that served to control the flow of fat into and out of cells. Newburgh rejected this hormonal explanation, believing he had identified the cause of obesity as self-indulgence.

Gustav von Bergmann, a contemporary of Noorden’s and the leading German authority on internal medicine, * 1 criticized Noorden’s ideas (and implicitly Newburgh’s) as nonsensical. Positive energy balance—more energy in than out—occurred when any system grew, Bergmann pointed out: it accumulated mass. Positive energy balance wasn’t an explanation but, rather, a description, and a tautological one at that: logically equivalent to saying that a room gets crowded because more people enter than leave. * 2 It was a statement that described what happens but not why. It seems just as illogical, wrote Bergmann, to say children grow taller because they eat too much or exercise too little, or they remain short because they’re too physically active. “ That which the body needs to grow it always finds, and that which it needs to become fat, even if it’s ten times as much, the body will save for itself from the annual balance.”

The question that Bergmann was implicitly asking is why excess calories were trapped in fat tissue, rather than expended as energy or used for other necessary biological purposes. Is there something about how the fat tissue is regulated or how fuel metabolism functions, he wondered, that makes it happen?

The purpose of a hypothesis in science is to offer an explanation for what we observe, and, as such, its value is determined by how much it can explain or predict. The idea that obesity is caused by the overconsumption of calories, Bergmann implied, failed to explain anything.

p. 129

These revelations led both directly and indirectly to the notion that diets restricted in carbohydrates—and restricted in sugar most of all—would be uniquely effective in slimming the obese. By the mid-1960s, these carbohydrate-restricted diets, typically high in fat, were becoming fashionable, promoted by physicians, not academics, and occasionally in the form of hugely successful diet books. Academic nutritionists led by Fred Stare and Jean Mayer of Harvard were alarmed by this and denounced these diets as dangerous fads (because of their high fat content, particularly saturated fat), suggesting that the physician-authors were trying to con the obese with the fraudulent argument that they could become lean without doing the hard work of curbing their perverted appetites. It is a medical fact that no normal person can lose weight unless he cuts down on excess calories,” The New York Times would explain in 1965.

This battle played out through the mid-1970s, with the academic nutritionists and obesity researchers on one side, and the physicians-turned-diet-book-authors on the other. The obesity researchers began the 1960s believing that obesity was, indeed, an eating disorder—Newburgh’s “perverted appetite”—and the ongoing revolution in endocrinology, spurred by Yalow and Berson’s invention of the radioimmunoassay, did little to convince them otherwise. Many of the most influential obesity researchers were psychologists, and much of their research was dedicated to studying why the obese failed to restrain their appetites sufficiently—to eat in moderation—and how to induce them to do a better job of it. The nutritionists followed along as they focused on the question of whether dietary fat caused heart disease and perhaps obesity as well, because of its dense calories. (A gram of protein or a gram of carbohydrate has four calories; a gram of fat has almost nine.) In the process, they would continue to reject any implication that sugar had fattening powers beyond its caloric content. That it might be the cause of insulin resistance—after all, something was—would not cross their radar screen for decades.

pp. 199-201

In 1986, with the perceived FDA exoneration of sugar, the public-health authorities and the clinicians and researchers studying obesity and diabetes had come to a consensus that type 2 diabetes was caused by obesity, not sugar, and that obesity itself was caused merely by eating too many calories or exercising away too few. By this logic, the only means by which a macronutrient could influence body weight was its caloric content, and so, calorie for calorie, sugar was no more fattening than any other food, and thus no more likely to promote or exacerbate diabetes. This was what the sugar industry had been arguing and embracing since the 1930s. It was what Fred Stare of Harvard had in mind when he said publicly that he would prefer to get his calories from a martini than from a dessert.

A more nuanced perspective, one nourished by scientific progress, would be that if two foods or macronutrients are metabolized differently—if glucose and fructose, for instance, are metabolized in entirely different organs, as they mostly are—then they are likely to have vastly different effects on the hormones and enzymes that control or regulate the storage of fat in fat cells. One hundred calories of glucose will very likely have an entirely different effect on the human body from one hundred calories of fructose, or fifty calories of each consumed together as sucrose, despite having the same caloric content. It would take a leap of faith to assume otherwise.

Nutritionists had come to assume that a hundred calories of fat had a different effect from a hundred calories of carbohydrate on the accumulation of plaque in coronary arteries; even that a hundred calories of saturated fat would have an entirely different effect from a hundred calories of unsaturated fat. So why not expect that macronutrients would have a different effect on the accumulation of fat in fat tissue, or on the phenomena, whatever they might be, that eventually resulted in diabetes? (Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia, as Rosalyn Yalow and Solomon Berson, among others, had suggested in the 1960s, seemed to be a very likely bet.) But obesity and diabetes researchers, as we’ve seen, had come to embrace the mantra that “a calorie is a calorie”; they would repeat it publicly when they were presented with the idea that there was something unique about how the human body metabolizes sugar that sets it apart from other carbohydrates. The long-held view was based on the state of the science in the early years of the twentieth century, and to cling to it required a willful rejection of the decades’ worth of relevant revelations in the medical sciences that had come since.

By the 1980s, biochemists, physiologists, and nutritionists who specialized in the study of sugar or in the fructose component of sugar had come to consistent conclusions about the short-term effects of sugar consumption in human subjects, as well as the details of how sugar is metabolized and how this influences the body as a whole. The glucose we consume—in starch or flour, or as half of a sugar molecule—will be used directly for fuel by muscle cells, the brain, and other tissues, and can be stored in muscles or the liver (as a compound called glycogen), but the fructose component of sugar has a much different fate. Most of it never makes it into the circulation; it is metabolized in the liver. The metabolic pathways through which glucose passes when it is being used for fuel—in both liver and muscle cells—involve a feedback mechanism to redirect it toward storage as glycogen when necessary. This is the case with fructose, too. But the metabolism of fructose in the liver is “unfettered by the cellular controls,” as biochemists later put it, that work to prevent its conversion to fat. One result is the increased production of triglycerides, and thus the abnormally elevated triglyceride levels that were observed in many research subjects, though not all, when they ate sugar-rich diets.

While cardiologists and epidemiologists were debating whether elevated triglycerides actually increased the risk of heart disease (in the process, challenging their own beliefs that cholesterol was key), biochemists had come to accept that sucrose was “the most lipogenic” of carbohydrates—as even Walter Glinsmann, author of the FDA report on sugar, would later acknowledge—and that the liver was the site of this fat synthesis. * 2 The Israeli biochemist Eleazar Shafrir would describe this in the technical terminology as “the remarkable hepatic lipogenic capacity induced by fructose-rich diets.” It was also clear from the short-term trials in humans that this happened to a greater extent in some individuals than others, just as it did in some species of animals and not others. In human studies, subjects who had the highest triglycerides when the trials began tended to have the greatest response to reducing sugar intake, suggesting (but not proving) that the sugar was the reason they had such high triglycerides in the first place. These same individuals also tended to see the greatest drop in cholesterol levels when they were put on low-sugar diets.

Does a Healthy LCHF Diet Protect Against Sunburns?

As I’ve written about lately, there is something unique about a low-carb, high-fat diet. People feel better and have more energy. Diverse symptoms disappear, including from serious conditions that for some people are reversed, from autoimmune disorders to mood disorders. That is particularly true in the context of exercise, calorie restriction, fasting, OMAD, ketosis, autophagy, etc and when combined with traditional foods, paleo, carnivore, etc. Many have experimented with this area of dietary changes and have observed major improvements, but it isn’t always clear exactly what is causing any given improvement.

We do understand certain things well. I’ve already discussed in detail ketosis and related factors. And there has been more info coming out about autophagy, an even more fascinating topic. There is the signaling in relation to mTOR, IGF1, and AMPK. And there are the hormones that deal with hunger, satiety, and fullness. Everything is context-dependent. For example, the carnitine in red meat can be turned into carcinogenic TMOA by the Prevotella gut bacteria, but that is a non-issue as long as you aren’t eating the grains that feed Prevotella in the first place. Or consider how vitamin C deficiency that leads to scurvy is rare on carnivore diets, even though vitamin C is found in such small amounts in animal foods, since on a low-carb diet the body needs less vitamin C. Issues with gut health, inflammation, and neurocognition are also more clear in explanation as they’ve received much scientific attention.

Other results are more anecdotal, though. This is largely because the research on low-carb, high-fat diets has been limited and in many cases, such as with zero-carb, scientific evidence is even more sparse. But what thousands of people have observed remains interesting, if yet not entirely explained. Many LCHF dieters have noted that their thoughts are less obsessive and compulsive, something I’ve argued has to do with eliminating addictive foods from the diet, especially added sugar and grains. An example of this is decrease of intrusive sexual thoughts reported by some (and less distraction in general), although at the same time some also state decrease in erectile dysfunction (the latter being unsurprising as the LCHF diet are causally linked to hormonal functioning and cardiovascular health). Sexuality definitely is changed in various ways, as demonstrated in how early puberty becomes common when populations switch to agriculture with high amounts of carbohydrates, in particular grains, and maybe dairy has something to do with it as well since dairy triggers growth hormone — maybe why agricultural societies were able to outbreed hunter-gatherers, overwhelming them with a continually growing supply of cheap labor and cheap lives to send off to war.

There are some confounding factors, of course. Along with more nutrient-dense foods with an emphasis on fat-soluble vitamins, people going on various kinds of low-carb diets also tend to increase cholesterol, saturated fat, and omega-3s while decreasing omega-6s. Cholesterol is one of the most important substances for brain health and it helps your body to process vitamin D from sunlight. Saturated fat is a complicated issue and no one fully knows the significance, beyond our knowing the fear-mongering about it appears to be no longer valid. As for omega-3s, they are essential to so much. The main problem is that omega-6s are at such a high level in the modern diet that they are inflammatory. In using healthier oils and fats, most low-carbers eliminate vegetable oils in junk food and in cooking with vegetable oils being the main source of omega-6s.

This could explain why some think sunburns are less common on a low-carb diet (read down through the Twitter comments). It may or may not have anything specifically to do with carbohydrates themselves and, instead, be more about the general eating pattern common among low-carb dieters. This might have to do with oxidation and free-radicals in relation to omega-6s. Or it could have something to do with fat-soluble vitamins or dietary cholesterol that is typically greater in low-carb, high-fat diets. There are similar patterns in multiple areas of dietary changes and health, and they indicate something that can’t be explained by mainstream health ideology. Consider how Americans have experienced worsening health as they have followed expert opinion in eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and vegetable oils while decreasing red meat and saturated fat. Americans have been following expert advice from mainstream institutions and from their doctors. The same kind of thing has happened with people protecting themselves against sun damage. Americans have increased their use of sunscreen while spending less time in the sun, as they were told to do. What has been the results? The skin cancer rate is going up and those avoiding the sun are less healthy. Is it a mere coincidence that the intake of omega-6s was also increasing during the same period? Maybe not.

When the actual causes are determined, we can isolate them and re-create the appropriate conditions or mimic them. This is biohacking — Siim Land is great in explaining how to get particular results based on the scientific evidence. If omega-6s or whatever is the problem behind sunburns, then it’s far from being knowledge of value limited to the low-carb community. Omega-6s haven’t been as clearly on the radar of many other diets, but health issues with omega-6s are already well known in the scientific literature. So, the advantages in this case might be attained without restricting carbs, although we don’t know that as of yet, assuming the anecdotal observations are proven valid. The interaction between omega-6s and carbohydrates might be a total package, in terms of pushing the body more fully into an inflammatory state where sunlight sensitivity becomes an issue. All we can do at the moment is offer hypotheses to be tested in personal experience and hopefully soon in scientific studies.

The body is a complex system. Change even a single factor and it can have cascading effects. But change multiple factors and the entire functioning can shift into a different state, altering numerous areas of health. Many of the results will be unpredictable based on present science because most research up to this point has had a narrow focus in the population being studied, almost entirely those on the Standard American diet and variations of it. What is true for most people following the past half century of health advice won’t always apply to those following entirely different diets and lifestyles. It’s not that LCHF is going to heal all that ails you, but we find ourselves at a rather fascinating point in the views on diet, lifestyle, and health. We are coming to realize how profoundly affected is the body and mind by even some minor changes. We have more hypotheses at present than knowledge, and that isn’t a new situation. So much of what we thought we knew in the past, the basis of mainstream ideology of health experts, were largely untested hypotheses when first advocated and much of it remains unproven.

Now it’s time to get serious about exploring these other glimpses of entirely different possibilities of understanding. That is the point of hypotheses that often begin as observations and anecdotal evidence.

* * *

Effects of high-fat diets rich in either omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids on UVB-induced skin carcinogenesis in SKH-1 mice
by You-Rong Lou et al

Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?
by Rowan Jacobsen

Don’t Drink (oil) and Fry (in the sun) – the link between polyunsaturated vegetable oil and skin cancer
by George Henderson

N=Many on Omega-6 and Sunburn: Can Sunburn be Reduced?
by Tucker Goodrich

Don’t Blame it on the Sun!
by Dawn Waldron

American Diabetes Association Changes Its Tune

Over the past decade, ever more mainstream health organizations and government agencies have been slowly reversing their official positions on the dietary intake of carbohydrates, sugar, fat, cholesterol, and salt. This was seen in how the American Heart Association, without acknowledgment, backed off its once strong position about fats that it defended since I think 1961, with the federal government adopting the same position as official policy in 1980. Here we are in 2019, more than a half century later.

Now we see the American Diabetes Association finally coming around as well. And its been a long time coming. When my grandmother was in an assisted living home, the doctors and nurses at the time were following the official ADA position of what were called “consistent carbs”. Basically, this meant diabetics were given a high-carb diet and that was considered perfectly fine, as long as it was consistent so as to manage diabetes with consistent high levels of insulin use. It was freaking insanity in defying common sense.

While my grandmother was still living with my parents, my mother kept her blood sugar under control through diet, until she went to this healthcare facility. After that, her blood sugar was all over the place. The nurses had no comprehension that not all carbohydrates are equal since the glycemic index might be equivalent between a cookie and a carrot, irrespective of glycemic load and ignoring that maybe diabetics should simply be cutting out carbs in general. Instead, they argued that old people should be allowed to enjoy carbs, even if it meant that these nurses were slowly killing their patients and profiting the insulin companies at the same time. My mother was not happy about this callous attitude by these medical ‘professionals’.

Yet here we are. The ADA now says low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets aren’t a fad and aren’t dangerous. They go so far as to say they are beneficial for type 2 diabetes. Those not completely ignorant have been saying this for generations. And the research has been accumulating for just as long. The shift in official recommendations that happened in the decades following the 1960s never made sense even according to the research at the time. Many academics and researchers pointed out the lack of evidence in blaming saturated fat and cholesterol. But they were ignored and dismissed, then later attacked, discredited, and silenced by influential and, in some cases, downright charismatic figures (e.g., Ancel Keys) in powerful organizations that became aligned with leading politicians and bureaucrats in key positions. Many careers were destroyed and debate was shut down.

Now those victims of dietary authoritarianism are vindicated, not that this helps all the average folk harmed. There was many decades of bad dietary advice was force onto the American public. This determined official policies and practices of government healthcare programs, school lunch programs, and healthcare providers. Because of the central position of the United States as a geopolitical power during the Cold War, countries all over the world adopted this unhealthy dietary ideology as part of their own official policies.

This also influenced the food system with the government subsidizing high yields of corn and grains to meet the recommendations of these nutritional guidelines. Big ag and big food changed their business models accordingly and put out products that were high in carbs and sugar while low in saturated fat, replacing the latter with unhealthy hydrogenated oils. At least hundreds of millions, if not billions of people, worldwide over multiple generations have suffered a horrible diet, increased sickness, bad medical care, and premature mortality as a result.

Without admitting they were wrong all this time, without apologizing for all the harm they caused, these leading experts and officials are changing their opinion. Better late than never. Mark this date for it is a historic moment.

* * *

Nutrition Therapy for Adults With Diabetes or Prediabetes: A Consensus Report
by Alison B. Evert et al, American Diabetes Association
(also see here)

EATING PATTERNS: Consensus recommendations

  • A variety of eating patterns (combinations of different foods or food groups) are acceptable for the management of diabetes.
  • Until the evidence surrounding comparative benefits of different eating patterns in specific individuals strengthens, health care providers should focus on the key
    factors that are common among the patterns:
    ○ Emphasize nonstarchy vegetables.
    ○ Minimize added sugars and refined grains.
    ○ Choose whole foods over highly processed foods to the extent possible.
  • Reducing overall carbohydrate intake for individuals with diabetes has demonstrated the most evidence for improving glycemia and may be applied in a variety of eating patterns that meet individual needs and preferences.
  • For select adults with type 2 diabetes not meeting glycemic targets or where reducing antiglycemic medications is a priority, reducing overall carbohydrate intake with low- or very lowcarbohydrate eating plans is a viable approach

New Consensus Report Recommends Individualized Eating Plan to Meet Each Person’s Goals, Life Circumstances and Health Status
news release from American Diabetes Association

“‘What can I eat?’ is the number one question asked by people with diabetes and prediabetes when diagnosed. This new Consensus Report reflects the ADA’s continued commitment to evidence-based guidelines that are achievable and meet people where they are and recommends an individualized nutrition plan for every person with diabetes or prediabetes,” said the ADA’s Chief Scientific, Medical and Mission Officer William T. Cefalu, MD. “The importance of this consensus also lies in the fact it was authored by a group of experts who are extremely knowledgeable about numerous eating patterns, including vegan, vegetarian and low carb.”

Nina Teicholz:

Just out: @AmDiabetesAssn guidelines–most comprehensive review to date of Dietary Patterns + diabetes prevention/treatment. What’s new: low-carb recommendations are prominent. (Says low-carb “are among the most studied eating patterns for T2 diabetes.”) […]

This is the key advancement of new @AmDiabetesAssn guidelines. Low carb is no longer “dangerous”‘or “fad”‘but a “viable”‘diet supported by “substantial”‘research and considered best for a number of T2 diabetes outcomes.

Dr. John Owens:

This is an historic day! My case managers and dietitian have been supporting my low-carb recommendations for years, going against ADA guidelines. Now they don’t have to!

Dr. Eric Sodicoff:

Still….They seem a little backward here. Bust out the low carb diet when meds not working?? Really? IMHO-Carb restriction is JOB #1 in diabetes management for use early and always. It is NOT second to medication my treatment protocol.

Starofthesea:

If you go back to the beginning, like back in the 1930’s, the doctors were telling diabetics to stop eating carbohydrates. Then somebody fabricated the cholesterol theory of heart disease and invented a drug called statins. Then suddenly carbs were okay for diabetics.

Nutrition Therapy for Adults With Diabetes or Prediabetes: A Consensus Report — American Diabetes Association
from r/ketoscience

lutzlover:

“Eating patterns that replace certain carbohydrate foods with those higher in total fat, however, have demonstrated greater improvements in glycemia and certain CVD risk factors (serum HDL cholesterol [HDL-C] and triglycerides) compared with lower fat diets.”

Yay! Ack that higher fat isn’t deadly.

“The body makes enough cholesterol for physiological and structural functions such that people do not need to obtain cholesterol through foods. Although the DGA concluded that available evidence does not support the recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol for the general population, exact recommendations for dietary cholesterol for other populations, such as people with diabetes, are not as clear (8). Whereas cholesterol intake has correlated with serum cholesterol levels, it has not correlated well with CVD events (65,66). More research is needed regarding the relationship among dietary cholesterol, blood cholesterol, and CVD events in people with diabetes.

Or, in layman’s language: While the data doesn’t support vilifying cholesterol as causing heart attacks, we’re going to keep on searching in hopes we find the answer we want.

dem0n0cracy:

Are protein needs different for people with diabetes and kidney disease?

“Historically, low-protein eating plans were advised to reduce albuminuria and progression of chronic kidney disease in people with DKD, typically with improvements in albuminuria but no clear effect on estimated glomerular filtration rate. In addition, there is some indication that a low-protein eating plan may lead to malnutrition in individuals with DKD (317–321). The average daily level of protein intake for people with diabetes without kidney disease is typically 1–1.5 g/kg body weight/day or 15–20% of total calories (45,146). Evidence does not suggest that people with DKD need to restrict protein intake to less than the average protein intake.

dem0n0cracy:

“The amount of carbohydrate intake required for optimal health in humans is unknown. Although the recommended dietary allowance for carbohydrate for adults without diabetes (19 years and older) is 130 g/day and is determined in part by the brain’s requirement for glucose, this energy requirement can be fulfilled by the body’s metabolic processes, which include glycogenolysis, gluconeogenesis (via metabolism of the glycerol component of fat or gluconeogenic amino acids in protein), and/or ketogenesis in the setting of very low dietary carbohydrate intake (49).”

dem0n0cracy:

Low-carbohydrate (110–112) Emphasizes vegetables low in carbohydrate (such as salad greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, cabbage, and others); fat from animal foods, oils, butter, and avocado; and protein in the form of meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, cheese, nuts, and seeds. Some plans include fruit (e.g., berries) and a greater array of nonstarchy vegetables. Avoids starchy and sugary foods such as pasta, rice, potatoes, bread, and sweets. There is no consistent definition of “low” carbohydrate. In this review, a low-carbohydrate eating pattern is defined as reducing carbohydrates to 26–45% of total calories. c A1C reduction c Weight loss c Lowered blood pressure c Increased HDL-C and lowered triglycerides

Very low-carbohydrate (VLC) (110–112) Similar to low-carbohydrate pattern but further limits carbohydrate-containing foods, and meals typically derive more than half of calories from fat. Often has a goal of 20–50 g of nonfiber carbohydrate per day to induce nutritional ketosis. In this review a VLC eating pattern is defined as reducing carbohydrate to ,26% of total calories. c A1C reduction c Weight loss c Lowered blood pressure c Increased HDL-C and lowered triglycerides”

dem0n0cracy:

Low-Carbohydrate or Very Low Carbohydrate Eating Patterns

“Low-carbohydrate eating patterns, especially very low-carbohydrate (VLC) eating patterns, have been shown to reduce A1C and the need for antihyperglycemic medications. These eating patterns are among the most studied eating patterns for type 2 diabetes. One metaanalysis of RCTs that compared lowcarbohydrate eating patterns (defined as #45% of calories from carbohydrate) to high-carbohydrate eating patterns (defined as .45% of calories from carbohydrate) found that A1C benefits were more pronounced in the VLC interventions (where ,26% of calories came from carbohydrate) at 3 and 6 months but not at 12 and 24 months (110).

“Another meta-analysis of RCTs compared a low-carbohydrate eating pattern (defined as ,40% of calories from carbohydrate) to a low-fat eating pattern (defined as ,30% of calories from fat). In trials up to 6 months long, the low-carbohydrate eating pattern improved A1C more, and in trials of varying lengths, lowered triglycerides, raised HDL-C, lowered blood pressure, and resulted in greater reductions in diabetes medication (111). Finally, in another meta-analysis comparing lowcarbohydrate to high-carbohydrate eating patterns, the larger the carbohydrate restriction, the greater the reduction in A1C, though A1C was similar at durations of 1 year and longer for both eating patterns (112). Table 4 provides a quick reference conversion of percentage of calories from carbohydrate to grams of carbohydrate based on number of calories consumed per day.

“Because of theoretical concerns regarding use of VLC eating plans in people with chronic kidney disease, disordered eating patterns, and women who are pregnant, further research is needed before recommendations can be made for these subgroups. Adopting a VLC eating plan can cause diuresis and swiftly reduce blood glucose; therefore, consultation with a knowledgeable practitioner at the onset is necessary to prevent dehydration and reduce insulin and hypoglycemic medications to prevent hypoglycemia.

“No randomized trials were found in people with type 2 diabetes that varied the saturated fat content of the low- or very low-carbohydrate eating patterns to examine effects on glycemia, CVD risk factors, or clinical events. Most of the trials using a carbohydrate-restricted eating pattern did not restrict saturated fat; from the current evidence, this eating pattern does not appear to increase overall cardiovascular risk, but longterm studies with clinical event outcomes are needed (113–117).”

dem0n0cracy:

What is the evidence to support specific eating patterns in the management of type 1 diabetes?

“For adults with type 1 diabetes, no trials met the inclusion criteria for this Consensus Report related to Mediterraneanstyle, vegetarian or vegan, low-fat, low-carbohydrate, DASH, paleo, Ornish, or Pritikin eating patterns. We found limited evidence about the safety and/or effects of fasting on type 1 diabetes (129). A few studies have examined the impact of a VLC eating pattern for adults with type 1 diabetes. One randomized crossover trial with 10 participants examined a VLC eating pattern aiming for 47 g carbohydrate per day without a focus on calorie restriction compared with a higher carbohydrate eating pattern aiming for 225 g carbohydrate per day for 1 week each. Participants following the VLC eating pattern had less glycemic variability, spent more time in euglycemia and less time in hypoglycemia, and required less insulin (130). A single-arm 48-person trial of a VLC eating pattern aimed at a goal of 75 g of carbohydrate or less per day found that weight, A1C, and triglycerides were reduced and HDL-C increased after 3 months, and after 4 years A1C was still lower and HDL-C was still higher than at baseline (131). This evidence suggests that a VLC eating pattern may have potential benefits for adults with type 1 diabetes, but clinical trials of sufficient size and duration are needed to confirm prior findings.”

Like water fasts, meat fasts are good for health.

I was on a low-carb paleo diet for about a year with a focus on intermittent fasting and ketosis. Influenced by Dr. Terry Wahls and Dr. Will Cole, both former vegetarians converted to paleo, this included large helpings of vegetables but without the starchy carbs. It was a game-changer for me, as my health improved on all fronts, from weight to mood. But every time my carbs and sugar intake would creep up, I could feel the addictive cravings coming back and I decided to limit my diet to a greater extent. Zero-carb had already been on my radar, but I then looked more into it. It seemed worth a try.

So, I went carnivore for the past couple of months, mostly as an experiment and not as an idea of it being permanent. It is the best elimination diet ever and it definitely takes low-carb to another level, but I wanted to be able to compare how I felt with plants in my diet. So, a couple weeks ago with spring in the air and wild berries on their way, I ended my zero-carb carnivory with a three-day fast and reintroduced some light soup and fermented vegetables. I felt fine. Even after the extended period of low-carb diet, this zero-carb experiment made me realize how much better I feel with severely restricting carbs and sugar. Now back on a paleo-keto diet, I’m going to keep my focus on animal foods and be more cautious about which plant foods I include and how often.

Dr. Anthony Gustin offers an approach similar to Siim Land, as discussed in the first four videos below. A low-carb diet, especially strict carnivore (no dairy, just meat), is an extremely effective way of healing digestive issues and reducing bodily inflammation. The carnivore diet is a low residue diet because meat and fat gets fully digested much earlier in the digestive tract, whereas lots of fiber can clog you up in causing constipation. A similar kind of benefit is seen with the ketogenic diet, as microbiome imbalance and overgrowth is improved by initially starving and decreasing the number of microbes, but after some months the microbiome recovers to its original numbers and with a healthier balance.

Still, as Gustin and Land argue, it’s good to maintain some variety in the diet for metabolic flexibility. But we must understand plants stress the system (Steven Gundry, The Plant Paradox), as they are inflammatory, unlike most animal foods (though dairy can be problematic for some), and plants contain anti-nutrients that can cause deficiencies. There are other problems as well, such as damage from oxalates that are explained by the oxalate expert Sally K. Norton in the fifth and sixth videos; she argues that plants traditionally were only eaten seasonally and not daily as she talks about in the seventh video (also, written up as an academic paper: Lost Seasonality and Overconsumption of Plants: Risking Oxalate Toxicity).

Even so, one might argue that small amounts of stress are good for what is called hormesis — in the way that working out stresses the body in order to build muscle, whereas constant exertion would harm the body; or in the way that being exposed to germs as a child helps the development of a stronger immune system — with a quick explanation by Siim Land in the second video below. Otherwise, by too strictly excluding foods for too long you might develop sensitivities, which the fourth video is about. As cookie monster said about cookies on the Colbert Show, vegetables are a sometimes food. Think of plant foods more as medicine in that dose is important.

Plant foods are beneficial in small portions on occasion, whereas constantly overloading your body with them never gives your system a rest. Fruits and veggies are good, in moderation. It turns out a “balanced diet” doesn’t mean massive piles of greens for every meal and snacks in between. Grains aren’t the only problematic plant food. Sure, on a healthy diet, you can have periods of time when you eat more plant foods and maybe be entirely vegan on certain days, but also make sure to fast from plant foods entirely every now and then or even for extended periods.

That said, I understand that we’ve been told our entire lives to eat more fruits and veggies. And I’m not interested in trying to prove zero-carbs is the best. If you’re afraid that you’ll be unhealthy without a massive load of plant nutritients, then make sure to take care of potential problems with gut health and inflammation. In the eighth video below, a former vegan explains how she unknowingly had been managing her plant-induced inflammation with CBD oil, something she didn’t realize until after stopping its use. She later turned to an animal-based diet and the inflammation was no longer an issue.

But for those who don’t want to go strictly low-carb, much less carnivore, there are many ways to manage one’s health, besides anti-inflammatory CBD oil. Be sure to include other anti-inflammatories such as turmeric (curcumin) combined with, for absorption, black pepper (bioperine). Also, intermittent and extended fasting will be all the more important to offset the plant intake, although everyone should do fasting as it is what the human body is designed for. A simple method is limited eating periods, even going so far as one meal a day (OMAD), but any restriction is better than none. Remember that even sleeping at night is a fast and so, skipping breakfast or eating later, will extend that fast with its benefits; or else skipping dinner will start the fasting period earlier.

Even on a vegan or vegetarian diet, one can also do a ketogenic diet, which is another way of reducing inflammation and healing the gut. For this approach, I’d suggest reading Dr. Will Cole’s book Ketotarian; also helpful might be some other books such as Dena Harris’ The Paleo Vegetarian Diet and Mark Hyman’s Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?. Anytime carbs are low enough, including during fasts, will put the body into ketosis and eventually autophagy, the latter being how the body heals itself. Carbs, more than anything else, will knock you out of this healthy state, not that you want to be permanently in this state.

Still, I wouldn’t recommend extreme plant-based diets, in particular not the typically high-carb veganism. Even with the advantages of low-carb, I would still avoid it as this will force you to eat more unhealthy foods like soy and over-consume omega-6 fatty acids from nuts and seeds, one of the problems discussed in the fourth video. Some vegetarians and vegans will oddly make an exception for seafood; but if you don’t eat seafood at all, be sure to add an algal-source supplement of EPA and DHA, necessary omega-3 fatty acids that are also beneficial for inflammation and general health. If meat, including seafood, is entirely unacceptable, consider at least adding certain kinds animal foods in such as pasture-raised eggs and ghee.

If you still have health problems, consider the possibility of going zero-carb. Even a short meat fast might do wonders. As always, self-experimentation is the key. Put your health before dietary ideology. That is to say, don’t take my word for it nor the word of others. Try it for yourself. If you want to do a comparison, try strict veganism for a period and then follow it with carnivore. And if you really want to emphasize the difference, make the vegan part of the experiment high-carb and I don’t necessarily mean what are considered ‘unhealthy’ carbs — so, eat plenty of whole wheat bread, rice, corn, and beans, — that way you’ll also feel the difference that carbohydrates make. But if you don’t want to do carnivore for the other part of the experiment, at least try a ketogenic diet which can be done with more plant-based foods but consider reducing the most problematic plant foods, as Gundry explains.

Of course, you can simply jump right into carnivory and see what happens. Give it a few months or even a year, as it can take a while for your body to heal, not only in elimination of toxins. What do you have to lose?

* * *

I’ll add a personal note. I’ve long had an experimental attitude about life. But the last year, I’ve been quite intentional in my self-experimenting. Mainly, I try something and then observe the results, not that I’m always that systematic about it. Many of the changes I’ve experienced would be hard to miss, even when I’m not paying close attention.

That playing around with dietary parameters is what I’m still doing. My dietary experiments likely will go on for quite a while longer. After a few days of fermented vegetables, I felt fine and there were no symptoms. I decided to try a salad which is raw vegetables (lettuce, green onions, and radishes) and included fermented vegetables. Now I notice that the inflammation in my wrist has flared up. I’ll take that as my body giving me feedback.

One of the best benefits to zero-carb was how inflammation had gone away. My wrists weren’t bothering me at all and that is a big deal, as they’re has been irritation for years now with my job as a cashier and all the time I spend on the computer. Inflammation had gone down with low-carb, but it was still noticeable. There was further decrease with zero-carb and I’d hate to lose those gains.

As I said, I’m being cautious. The benefits I’ve seen are not slight and far from being limited to joint issues, with what is going on with my wrists probably being related to the crackling in my knees I experience earlier last decade before reducing sugar. A much bigger deal is the neurocognitive angle, since mental health has been such a struggle for decades. Possible inflammation in my brain is greater concern than inflammation in my wrists, not that the two can be separated as an inflammatory state can affect any and all parts of the body. I take depression extremely seriously and I’m hyper-aware to shifts in mood and related aspects.

I’ll limit myself to fermented vegetables for the time being and see how that goes.

Having written that, I remembered one other possible offending food. The day before the salad I had a slice of oat bread. I had asked someone to make me some almond bread, as I explained to them, because of the paleo diet and they misunderstood. They apparently thought the paleo diet was only about wheat and so they got it in their head that oats would be fine. Because they made it for me, I decided to have a slice as I’m not a dietary Puritan.

So maybe it wasn’t the salad, after all. Still, I think I’ll keep to the fermented veggies for a while. And I’ll keep away from those grains. That was the first time I had any oats in a long time. I’ll have to try oats again sometime in the future to see if I have a similar response. But for now, I’m keeping my diet simple by keeping animal foods at the center of of what I eat.

* * *

My own experience with diets makes me understand the attraction of carnivore diet. It isn’t only the most effective diet for healing from inflammation and gut problems. Also, it is so simple to do, it is highly satisfying with lots of fat and sat, and the results are dramatic and quick. You just eat until you’re no longer hungry.

Few other diets compare. The one exception being the ketogenic diet, which is unsurprising since zero-carb will obviously promote ketosis. Both of these diets have the advantage of simplicity. One quickly learns that all the struggle and suffering is unnecessary and undesirable. You eat until satiety and then stop. Overeating is almost impossible on carnivore, as the body returns to normal balance without all those carbs and sugar fucking up your metabolism and hormonal signaling for hunger.

We live in a dominator society that is drenched in moralistic religion and this impacts everyone, even atheists and new agers. This shapes the stories we tell, including dieting narratives of gluttony and sin (read Gary Taubes). We are told dieting must be hard, that it is something enforced, not something we do naturally as part of a lifestyle. We are taught to mistrust our bodies and, as if we are disembodied ego-minds, that we must control the body and resist temptation… and when we inevitably fail, one might argue by design, we must punish ourselves and double down on self-denial. If it feels good, it must be bad. What bullshit!

The addictive mentality of diets high in carbs and sugar are part of a particular social order built on oppressive social control. Rather than an internal sense of satisfaction, control must come from outside, such that we become disconnected even from our own bodies. It is a sense of scarcity where one is always hungry, always worried about where the next meal will come from. And in order to control this addictive state, we are told we have to fight against our own bodies, as if we are at war with ourselves. We lose an intuitive sense of what is healthy, as everything around us promotes imbalance and disease.

But what if there could be another way? What if you could feel even better with carnivory or in ketogenic fasting than you ever felt before?

* * *

I’ve written before about low-carb, fasting, ketosis, and related dietary topics such as paleo and nutrient-density:

Ketogenic Diet and Neurocognitive Health; Fasting, Calorie Restriction, and Ketosis; Fasting and Feasting; The Agricultural Mind; Spartan Diet; Sailors’ Rations, a High-Carb DietObese Military?; Low-Carb Diets On The Rise; Obesity Mindset; Malnourished Americans; Ancient Atherosclerosis?; Carcinogenic Grains; The Creed of Ancel Keys; Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet; Clearing Away the Rubbish; Damning Dietary Data; Paleo Diet, Traditional Foods, & General Health; and The Secret of Health.

This is the first post about the carnivore diet. Some of the other posts come close to it, though. In a couple of them, I discuss diets that were largely centered on animal foods, from the Mongols to the Spartans. It was specifically my reading about and experimenting with fasting and ketosis that opened my mind to considering the carnivore diet.

I bring this up because of another interesting historical example I just came across. Brad Lemley, a science journalist, is a LCHF practitioner and advocate. He writes that, “I’ve always been fascinated by Lewis and Clark’s expedition. What gave the 33 men and one dog the strength to traverse the wild nation? Nine pounds of meat per day per man”.

From the journal of Raymond Darwin Burroughs, there was a tally of the meat consumed on the expedition: “Deer (all species combined” 1,001; Elk 375; Bison 227; Antelope 62; Bighorn sheep 35; Bears, grizzly 43; Bears, black 23; Beaver (shot or trapped) 113; Otter 16; Geese and Brant 104; Grouse (all species) 46; Turkeys 9; Plovers 48; Wolves (only one eaten) 18; Indian dogs (purchased and consumed) 190; Horses 12″ (The Natural History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition).

“This list does not include the countless smaller or more exotic animals that were captured and eaten by the Corps, such as hawk, coyote, fox, crow, eagle, gopher, muskrat, seal, whale blubber, turtle, mussels, crab, salmon, and trout” (Hunting on the Lewis and Clark Trail). “Additionally, 193 pounds of “portable soup” were ordered as an emergency ration when stores ran out and game was scarce or unavailable. The soup was produced by boiling a broth down to a gelatinous consistency, then further drying it until it was rendered quite hard and desiccated. Not exactly a favorite with the men of the Corps, it nonetheless saved them from near starvation on a number of occasions.”

That would be a damn healthy diet. Almost entirely hunted and wild-caught meat. They would have been eating head-to-tail with nothing going to waste: brains, intestines, organ meats, etc. They also would’ve been getting the bone marrow and bone broth. This would have provided every nutrient needed for not just surviving but thriving at high levels of health and vitality. Yet they also would have gone through periods of privation and hunger.

“Despite the apparent bounty of the ever-changing landscape and the generosity of local tribes, many were the nights when the crew of the Corps went to sleep hungry. Many were the days when shots went awry and missed their mark, or game remained hidden from sight. Relentless rain ruined drying meat, punishing heat spoiled perishable provisions, and clothing rotted right off the backs of the men.”

That means they also spent good portions of time fasting. So, there was plenty of ketosis and autophagy involved, further factors that promote health and energy. Taken together, this dietary lifestyle follows the traditional hunter-gatherer pattern of feasting and fasting. Some ancient agricultural societies such as the Spartans intentionally mimicked this intermittent fasting through the practice of one-meal-a-day, at least for young boys training for the life of a soldier.

Nina Teicholz has pointed out that a meat-heavy diet was common to early Americans, not only to those on expeditions into the Western wilderness, and because of seasonal changes fasting and its results would also have been common. The modern industrial style of the standard American diet (SAD) doesn’t only diverge from traditional hunter-gatherer diets but also from the traditional American diet.

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Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4

Video 5

Video 6

Video 7

Video 8

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Bonus Video!

This one particularly fits my own experience with mental health. The guy interviewed offers a compelling conversion story, in going from the standard American diet (SAD) to carnivore after decades of everything getting worse. His example shows how, as long as you’re still alive, it is never too late to regain some of your health and sometimes with a complete reversal.

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Other videos:

Sailors’ Rations, a High-Carb Diet

In the 18th century British Navy, “Soldiers and sailors typically got one pound of bread a day,” in the form of hard tack, a hard biscuit. That is according to James Townsend. On top of that, some days they had been given peas and on other days a porridge called burgoo. Elsewhere, Townsend shares a some info from a 1796 memoir of the period — the author having written that, “every man and boy born on the books of any of his Majesty’s ships are allowed as following a pound of biscuit bread and a gallon of beer per day” (William Spavens, Memoirs of A Seafaring Life,  p. 106). So, grains and more grains, in multiple forms, foods and beverages.

About burgoo, it is a “ground oatmeal boiled up,” as described by Townsend. “Now you wouldn’t necessarily eat that all by itself. Early on, you were given to go with that salt beef fat. So the slush that came to the top when you’re boiling all your salt beef or salt pork. You get all that fat that goes up on top — they would scrape that off, they keep that and give it to you to go with your burgoo. But later on they said maybe that cause scurvy so they let you have some molasses instead.”

They really didn’t understand scurvy at the time. Animal foods, especially fat, would have some vitamin C in it, whereas the oats and molasses had none. They made up for this deficiency later on by adding in cabbage to the sailors’ diet, though not a great choice considering vegetables don’t store well on ships. I’d point out that it’s not that they weren’t getting enough vitamin C, at least for a healthy traditional diet, as they got meat four days a week and even on the other meat-free banyan-days they had some butter and cheese. That would have given them sufficient vitamin C for a low-carb diet, especially with seafood caught along the way.

A high-carb diet, however, is a whole other matter. The amount of carbs and sugar sailors ate daily was quite large. This came about with colonial trade that made grains cheap and widely available, along with the sudden access to sugar from distant sugarcane plantations. Glucose competes with the processing of vitamin C and so requires higher intake of the latter for basic health, specifically to avoid scurvy. A low-carb diet, on the other hand, can avoid scurvy with very little vitamin C since sufficient amounts are in animal foods. Also, a low-carb diet is less inflammatory and so this further decreases the need for antioxidants like vitamin C.

This is why Inuit could eat few plants and immense amounts of meat and fat. They got more vitamin C on a regular basis from seal fat than they did from the meager plant foods they could gather in the short warm period of the far north. But with almost no carbohydrates in the traditional Inuit diet, the requirement for vitamin C was so low as to not be a problem. This is probably the same explanation for why Vikings and Polynesians could travel vast distances across the ocean without getting sick, as they were surely eating mostly fresh seafood and very little, if any, starchy foods.

Unlike protein and fat, carbohydrate is not an essential macronutrient. Yes, carbohydrates provide glucose that the body needs in limited amounts, but through gluceogenesis proteins can be turned into glucose on demand. So, a long sea voyage with zero carbs would never have been a problem.

Sailors in the colonial era ate all of those biscuits, porridge, and peas not because it offered any health value beyond mere survival but because it was cheap food. Those sailors weren’t being fed to have long, healthy lives as labor was cheap and no one cared about them. As soon as a sailor was no longer useful, he would no longer be employed in that profession and he’d find himself among the impoverished masses. For all the health problems of a sailor’s diet, it was better than the alternative of starvation or near starvation that so many others faced.

Grain consumption had been increasing in late feudalism, but peasants still maintained wider variety in their diet through foods they could hunt or gather, not to mention some fresh meat, fat, eggs, and dairy from animals they raised. That all began to change with the enclosure movement. The end of feudal village life and loss of the peasants’ commons was not a pretty picture and did not lead to happy results, as the landless peasants evicted from their homes flooded into the cities where most of them died. The economic desperation made for much cheap labor. Naval sailors with their guaranteed rations, in spite of nutritional deficiencies, were comparably lucky.

On Salt: Sodium, Trace Minerals, and Electrolytes

There has been a lot of debate about salt lately. The mainstream view originated from little actual scientific evidence. It wasn’t well-supported. But research since then has been mixed.

The isn’t limited to disagreement between mainstream and alternative thinkers. Paleo advocates such as Dr. Loren Cordain (considered to be the founder of the paleo diet) continue to recommend lower salt intake. Still, there have been an increasing number of scientists and physicians coming out in favor of the benefits of salt: Dr Barbara Hendel, Dr. F. Batmanghelidj, Dr. Esteban Genoa, Dr. Eric Westman, Dr. Jeff S Volek, Dr. Stephen D. Phinney, and Dr. James DiNicolantonio. Many of these experts argue that increased amounts of salt is particularly important for a low-carb diet and that is even more true with high-protein. This relates to issues transitioning into ketosis, what is referred to as keto flu. Basically, the electrolytes temporarily get out of balance while one is adapting to ketosis. Yet Sally Fallon Morell states that it is a plant-based diet that requires more salt to increase HCL in the stomach for digestion.

All of this was brought to my attention because of Dr. DiNcolantonio’s book The Salt Fix that came out recently. His simplest advice is to salt to taste since your body (presumably under normal conditions) should know how much salt it needs. He argues that salt isn’t addictive like sugar. So, according to this view, salt cravings can be safely treated as a genuine need for salt. I haven’t read The Salt Fix, but I have skimmed a bit of one of his other books, Superfuel. In that book, he states that salt, besides maintaining healthy blood pressure, helps maintain insulin sensitivity. Also, salt goes back to the fat issue — more from the book:

“Diets very low in sodium (salt) increase adrenaline and aldosterone, and these hormones reduce activity of D6D and D5D. For this reason, low-salt diets increase the need for EPA and DHA due to the reduced desaturase enzyme activities. Another extremely common hormonal issue these days, one that interferes with conversion of the parent omega-6 and omega-3 fats into their derivatives, is hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormone is required for proper activity of D6D and D5D, so individuals with suboptimal thyroid hormone levels may benefit from consuming more EPA and DHA or taking good-quality supplements.”

There is a number of issues with sodium, potassium, and magnesium in relation to insulin, adrenaline, and aldosterone. Shifting the diet can affect any or all of these. The problem is most research has been limited to people on the standard American diet. We know very little, if anything at all, about salt intake or electrolyte supplementation with other diets. That forces people into experimentation. Anything true of high-carb diets may or may not apply to low-carb diets. Nor do we know that the same will be true between moderately low-carb diets, extremely low-carb diets, zero-carb diets, etc. Then there are other factors such as fasting, ketosis, autophagy, etc that alters the body’s functioning. It’s possible that, on low enough carb restriction, the need for electrolytes and trace minerals decreases, as is the case with vitamin C. Sounds like a great hypothesis to be tested.

Then there is the issue of what actually helps vs what might harm you. What are the potential risks and benefits of getting too few electrolytes and trace minerals vs higher levels? I’m not sure self-experimentation can exactly figure this out, although maybe some have strong enough responses to salt or its lack that they can figure out what works for them. My own experimentation hasn’t indicated anything particular, either positive or negative.

Like anyone else, I enjoy the taste of salt. But unlike sugar, I’ve never craved salt in the addictive sense (and I know what addiction feels like). According to some of what I read, the danger seems to be specifically with refined salt, as is the case with so much else that is refined. Refined salt doesn’t give your body what it needs and so throws off the balance, disallowing healthy processsing of glucose, and so according to this explanation this is why refined salt disposes you to sugar cravings. I remember reading about this sugar and salt craving cycle back in the 1990s, but apparently it only applies to refined salt, if I’m understanding the research correctly. It just so happens that processed food manufacturers love to combine refined carbs and sugar with refined salt, where taste has become disconnected from actual nutrient content because almost all nutrients have been stripped away. They also throw in addictive wheat and dairy for good measure.

I noticed that Dr. James DiNicolantonio says to worry less about sodium and instead focus on potassium. But he emphasizes natural sources of potassium. His point is that salt simply makes high-potassium foods more palatable, foods that otherwise would be more bitter. He points out that there are both animal and plant foods that have greater amounts of potassium: fish, shellfish, greens, beans, potatoes, and tomatoes. The significance of the salt is that once potassium hits a threshold the sodium supposedly will balance it out. Seafood is particularly high in these particular micronutrients, along with much else that is healthy (e.g., EPA and DHA). Many healthy populations have lived near the ocean, as observed by Weston A. Price and others. Some argue that seafood shaped human evolution, the aqauatic ape theory.

“Most animals with a sodium deficiency display an active craving for salt which, when satisfied, disappears. In humans, salt intake has little or no relation to the body’s needs. Some Inuit tribes avoid salt almost completely, while people in the Western world consume 1520 times the amount needed for health. In other works, a single African species (assuming humans have an African origin) possesses a wildly different scheme of salt management. Humans are also the only primates to regulate body temperature by sweat-cooling, a system profligate in the use of sodium. Proponents of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis believe that sweat-cooling could not have developed anywhere except near the sea where diets contain considerable salt, in fact much more salt than the body requires.” (William R. Corliss, Our aquatic phase!)

An interesting theory to explain the unusual aspects of salt in the human species and why there is so many differences even across traditional societies. Whether or not the aquatic ape theory is correct, it’s for certain that the foods in the standard American diet are far different in numerous ways, likely including nutrient content of magnesium and potassium. It would be useful to measure the levels of micronutrients in a healthy hunter-gatherer diet, not only from salt but food sources as well. Besides seafood and certain plants, especially seaweed (Birgitte Svennevig, Did seaweed make us who we are today?), many have noted that it is a common practice among hunter-gatherers to consume blood along with organ meats and interstitial fluid, all of which are high in salt.

I wonder if this is something we overthink because dietary experts came to obsess over it, as a convenient scapegoat (as they scapegoated saturated fat). The whole debate has become polarized, those arguing for low-salt vs those for high-salt. But other factors might be more important. Besides the problems of a high-carb diet, maybe salt levels aren’t that big of an issue. Assuming there aren’t specific health conditions, most people might be perfectly safe to salt to taste or largely ignore salt if they prefer. Potassium and magnesium seem a bit different, though. Those mostly come from foods, not salt. I don’t know of research that compares people who eat foods high in these micronutrients and those who don’t. It’s another one of those confounders with the standard American diet. And even a zero-carb dieter can eat foods that are either high or low in these micronutrients. For those not using salt, it would be useful info to know which foods they eat and their micronutrient profile.

My conclusion is simply that salt tastes good and, until better science comes along to tell me otherwise, I’ll salt to taste. I’m definitely a fan of the philosophy of listening to one’s body. I self-experiment and find out what works. In my experience, there is a big difference between craving sugar and enjoying salt. One is clearly an addiction and the other not, at least in my case. I was reminded of this just moments ago. I got a glass of water. Since it was on my mind, I sprinkled some sea salt in it and a few drops of electrolytes, along with a capful of apple cider vinegar as I’m wont to do. I quickly downed it and realized how refreshing it was. Earlier this morning I had a glass of water without anything in it and it wasn’t nearly as thirst-quenching. I’m not sure why that is. Something about water with salt and trace minerals in it is so satisfying. I suppose that is why many people love Gatorade and similar drinks. They go down so easily, even though the other ingredients are horrible for your health.

My advice is this. Enjoy salt. It tastes good and makes food more satisfying. Certain trace minerals are necessary for life and health, although only small amounts are naturally found in salt. As for potential downsides, there is yet no clear evidence and no consensus. So, do as many others do, find out what works for you.

* * *

There is a secondary issue or rather some related secondary issues. Angela A. Stanton advises against consuming rock salts that have to be mined, such as Himalayan pink salt and Real Salt (The Truth About Himalayan Salt). She gives two main reasons. First, there might be impurities, including radioactive elements and heavy metal toxins such as lead, although she mentions there are also impurities in sea salt as well. The other problem is that these natural sources of salt lack iodine, an important nutrient. So, for both reasons, she recommends a refined salt that has been purified and iodized.

Her second point is the strongest. Iodine is, without a doubt, an essential nutrient and a deficiency is serious. I’m not sure how likely deficiencies are these days for those eating an otherwise wholesome diet, but it is something to keep in mind. Of course, you could solve this problem by occasionally sprinkling on your food some seaweed, a great natural source of iodine. Her fear about impurities, though, is maybe less substantiated because the amount of impurities is so small as to be insignificant. If we are to be paranoid, impurities are almost everywhere and in almost everything — the air you breathe and the water you drink, the food you eat and supplements you take. The human body evolved to handle such miniscule exposures.

If you have health concerns with iodine deficiency, then go ahead with iodized salt. But otherwise, it probably doesn’t matter too much which kind of salt you use, as long as it comes from a high quality source. But if you want to learn more about the issue of contaminants, David Asprey has directly responded to Stanton (Is Pink Himalayan Salt Toxic?) and so has Jeremy Orozco (Is Pink Himalayan Salt Toxic? Radioactive?). There are others as well who respond to the issue more generally to the topic. There were some responses to a Quora inquiry: Is the amount of plutonium in pink Himalayan salt dangerous? (less than .001 ppm). Also, in the comments section of a piece by Harriet Hall (Pink Himalayan Sea Salt: An Update), there were useful responses:

Jeff Mink • 2 years ago
“In case it wasn’t clear from the article, Himalayan sea salt does not contain “84 trace elements”. If you follow the link to the spectral analysis, it simply lists all non-noble gas elements in the periodic table. If the concentration is “< X ppm”, that means that none of that element was detected. That leaves it with a total of 29 elements (NOT MINERALS!) detected, assuming I counted correctly. In fact, they didn’t even test for as technetium and promethium, since there’s no chance (according to our modern scientific theories) that those could be in there. None of the elements that are actually contained in the salt are radioactive (at least not that I saw), but thallium and lead are definitely not good for the human body. Of course, at the concentrations listed, you’d probably succumb to sodium poisoning long before you got a harmful dose of heavy metals.”

Mathew Taylor • 2 years ago
“There are two main parts to this article: 1) Pink Salt does not provide any health benefits, or they are overstated grossly. I concede this point.

“However, the 2nd part, that pink salt is HARMFUL appears to be wrong. You state that it is full of poisons / contaminants. Lets look at a few of them;

“Arsenic – <0.01 ppm – There is more arsenic in some foods than this. In fact, local authorities limit arsenic concentrations in some seafood to 2mg/kg, thats 2ppm, orders of magnitude more than in pink salt and in something you would consume an order of magnitude more of.

“Mercury – .03 ppm in pink salt. Contrast that with Tuna, where levels are at least TEN TIMES higher, and the volume you would consume in a serving is many orders of magnitude higher.

“Lead – .1 ppm – There is lead in a variety of foods, but usually lower concentrations than this. Remember that salt is not used in massive quantities, unlike vegetables. The target for blood lead levels is less than 10 mcg/dl, or approx 500 mcg total. To get that much lead from pink salt, you’d have to consume 5 kilograms of the stuff. Good luck with that.

“Uranium – <0.001 ppm – Lots of food has uranium in it. Mushrooms can have over 100 μg U/kg (Dry mass).

“So don’t use it if you don’t want to, but don’t make out like this stuff is bad for you, it is, after all, 97.3% table salt.”

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If you want further info about salt, here is a somewhat random collection of articles and videos, all of them bringing new perspectives based on the latest research:

The Salt of the Earth

Salt: friend or foe?

Why Salt Is Good For You, But Some Salt is Better Than Others

Dr. James DiNicolantonio On Sodium-Potassium Balance

The Potassium Myth

The Importance of Potassium and Sodium for Fertility Health

On Keto Flu and Electrolyte Imbalances

Leveraging basic physiology to prevent ‘keto-flu,’ ‘Atkins-flu,’ and ‘adrenal fatigue.’

How much sodium, potassium and magnesium should I have on a ketogenic diet?

Salt

Slow, Quiet, and Reluctant Changes to Official Dietary Guidelines

Nourishment
by Fred Provenza
pp. 236-237

In 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) issued a report with a striking recommendation: Eliminate dietary cholesterol as a nutrient of concern. This change astonished the public but is consistent with scientific evidence reporting no appreciable relationship between dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol or clinical cardiovascular events in general populations. A less obvious change was the absence of an upper limit on total fat consumption. With this report, the DGAC reversed nearly four decades of nutrition policy that placed priority on reducing cholesterol and total fat consumption throughout the population. As with other scientific fields from physics to clinical medicine, scientists contend understanding of nutrition has advanced in recent decades.

Yet, despite the apparent increase in understanding obesity and diet-related diseases continue to rise. In 1960, fewer than 13 percent of Americans were obese, and fewer than 1,100 scientific articles were published on obesity and diabetes. Today, 49 percent of Americans are obese and the United States ranks number one among thirty-five nations in childhood obesity. In 2013, 44,000 scientific articles were published on these topics. In total, over 600,000 articles have been published alleging to provide worthwhile information on diet-related disorders.

The Government’s Bad Diet Advice
by Nina Teicholz

FOR two generations, Americans ate fewer eggs and other animal products because policy makers told them that fat and cholesterol were bad for their health. Now both dogmas have been debunked in quick succession.

First, last fall, experts on the committee that develops the country’s dietary guidelines acknowledged that they had ditched the low-fat diet. On Thursday, that committee’s report was released, with an even bigger change: It lifted the longstanding caps on dietary cholesterol, saying there was “no appreciable relationship” between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. Americans, it seems, had needlessly been avoiding egg yolks, liver and shellfish for decades. The new guidelines, the first to be issued in five years, will influence everything from school lunches to doctors’ dieting advice. […]

In 2013, government advice to reduce salt intake (which remains in the current report) was contradicted by an authoritative Institute of Medicine study. And several recent meta-analyses have cast serious doubt on whether saturated fats are linked to heart disease, as the dietary guidelines continue to assert.

Uncertain science should no longer guide our nutrition policy. Indeed, cutting fat and cholesterol, as Americans have conscientiously done, may have even worsened our health. In clearing our plates of meat and eggs (fat and protein), we ate more grains, pasta and starchy vegetables (carbohydrates). Over the past 50 years, we cut fat intake by 25 percent and increased carbohydrates by more than 30 percent, according to a new analysis of government data. Yet recent science has increasingly shown that a high-carb diet rich in sugar and refined grains increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease — much more so than a diet high in fat and cholesterol.

My Beef With The AHA’s Saturated Fat Recommendations
by Larry Husten

Reading the new AHA paper I was struck by its extreme self-confidence, paralleled by its unwillingness to acknowledge the disastrous consequences of the last time the AHA pushed back against dietary fat and cholesterol. The result, as we all should know by now, was to unwittingly help unleash or at least contribute to the obesity and diabetes epidemics, as saturated fat and dietary cholesterol were replaced by carbs, often refined carbs, and sugar. Notably, the AHA took a long time to change its guidelines, and when it did those efforts were far less aggressive and received far less publicity than the original campaigns.

Now the memory of that catastrophe is fading, at least in some people who would rather forget it. In an article in Medscape one nutrition expert, defending the new AHA paper, offered the following quote: “But the AHA has always taken the stance that saturated fat is bad and that we should be eating more plant oils, and this view is endorsed by the vast majority of nutritionists who are scientifically qualified. [emphasis added]” He’s already forgotten that, in fact, in its earlier campaign the AHA did not explain that saturated fat should not be replaced with carbs, or even sugar.

Government revises Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Go ahead and have some eggs
by Peter Whoriskey

The federal government on Thursday told Americans not to worry so much about cholesterol in their diets, that lots of coffee is fine and that skipping breakfast is no longer considered a health hazard.

The recommendations were part of a new “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” the influential nutrition advice book that, updated every five years, expresses official thinking about what constitutes a nutritious meal.

In what may be the most striking change, the new version drops the strict limit on dietary cholesterol, stepping back from one of most prominent public health messages since the ’60s.

But there were several other notable changes. Salt limits were eased, if only slightly, for many people. Coffee won official approval for the first time, with the book saying that as many as five eight-ounce cups a day is fine. And apparently, skipping breakfast is no longer considered a health hazard: While the old version of Dietary Guidelines informed readers that “not eating breakfast has been associated with excess body weight,” the new version is silent on the topic. […]

Nevertheless, the new version seems inconsistent in places, or torn between new science and past recommendations.

For example, the new document dropped the warning about dietary cholesterol from its key recommendations and the document no longer calls for people to limit their cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams per day. This change was recommended by its own expert committee, which found that cholesterol is no longer “a nutrient of concern.”

But elsewhere in the report, the guidelines cite a 16-year-old report from the Institute of Medicine and advises people to “eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern.”

Similarly, the report calls for people to limit the amount of saturated fat in their diet to 10 percent of their calories, and accordingly to choose milk and other dairy products that are no-fat or low-fat. But newer research, also cited by the guidelines, shows that merely reducing consumption of saturated fats may offer no benefit if people merely replace those saturated fats with carbohydrates, as they often do. […]

For all the debate, whether the guidelines have made American healthier is also a matter of debate. Critics have faulted the guidelines for failing to prevent the nation’s epidemic of obesity, and say major changes are necessary in the advice given.

“Given the same advice, it’s not clear why we should expect different outcomes, especially when consumption data shows that over the past decades, Americans have, in fact, followed USDA advice,” said Nina Teicholz, the author of Big Fat Surprise and a board member at the Nutrition Coalition, a new group, funded by Houston-based philanthropists Laura and John D. Arnold, lobbying for changes to the way the government develops dietary advice.

American Heart Association doubles down on outmoded saturated fat
by Dr. Ronald Hoffman

Are you suffering from health news whiplash? It seems lately that all the news has been about the how saturated fats have been exonerated—studies show that meat and high fat dairy contribute negligibly or not at all to the risk of heart disease.

In the face of all this new evidence, I’ve railed against the American Heart Association’s obdurate refusal to acknowledge that they were wrong. They continue to maintain, on their website and through their public pronouncements, that consumers should curtail their consumption of saturated fats and substitute instead polyunsaturated oils—corn, soy, and safflower.

A recent National Institutes of Health reviewshattered that premise: It showed that by swapping dietary saturated fats with vegetable oils, subjects indeed lowered their cholesterol. But that cholesterol reduction didn’t translate into protection against atherosclerosis, heart attacks or death from all causes.

But last week, to my astonishment, the American Heart Association reiterated its position: Its “Presidential Advisory on Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease” states “Lower intake of saturated fat and coupled with higher intake of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat is associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease and of other major causes of death and all-cause mortality.” The magnitude of this protective effect is estimated to be a whopping 30%, comparable to the use of statin drugs [irony intended!].

This is reminiscent of the way a religious orthodoxy, whose authority might be threatened with facts that undermine its cherished dogma, would fight back with renewed vigor: Science declares, “The earth is round.” Counter this heresy by delivering a pronouncement that, indeed, the earth is flat. Order it proclaimed from every pulpit.

The Big Fat Surprise
by Nina Teicholz
pp. 184-185

Taken together, these trials have shown that the low-fat diet has at best proved ineffective against disease and at worst aggravated the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The standard, AHA-prescribed low-fat diet has consistently failed to produce better results for health than diets higher in fat.

A review in 2008 of all studies of the low-fat diet by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization concluded that there is “no probable or convincing evidence” that a high level of fat in the diet causes heart disease or cancer. And in 2013 in Sweden, an expert health advisory group, after spending two years reviewing 16,000 studies, concluded that a diet low in fat was an ineffective strategy for tackling either obesity or diabetes. Therefore, the inescapable conclusion from numerous trials on this diet, altogether costing more than a billion dollars, can only be that this regime, which became our national diet before being properly tested, has almost certainly been a terrible mistake for American public health.

“It is increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health consequences,” wrote Frank Hu, a nutrition professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, in 2001. With this growing pile of evidence on the table, health authorities clearly see the need to update their advice. Yet they are understandably reluctant to reverse course too loudly on fifty years of nutrition recommendations, and this hesitance has led to a certain vagueness on the subject. The USDA and AHA have both quietly eliminated any specific percent fat targets from their most recent lists of dietary guidelines. Those 30–35 percent fat targets that we’ve abided by for decades? They’re now gone. And so is, actually, any discussion of the topic in their reports. How much fat should we be eating? These groups now don’t say, and this silence on the issue—it must be said—does not seem like the clear, confident leadership from our authorities that we might like to see on the subject of how we should eat to fight the major diseases of our time.

Of course many of us who’ve been paying attention to the science have been welcoming fat back into our diets for some time already. We’ve given up spraying with Pam, stopped poaching, and started using salad dressings again. And if there’s a silver lining to those low-fat years, it’s this: we learned that fat is the soul of flavor. Food is tasteless and cooking nearly impossible without fat. Fat is essential in the kitchen to produce crispness and to thicken sauces. It is crucial in conveying flavors. It makes baked goods flaky, moist, and light. And fat has many other, essential functions in cooking and baking. To satisfy all these compelling needs, nutrition experts coming out of the low- to nonfat 1980s and looking for a solution found one apparently perfect candidate: olive oil. And that is one of the reasons why, in the early 1990s, the “Mediterranean Diet” entered the picture.

pp. 339-342

Americans have dutifully followed official dietary advice to restrict fat and animal products for more than sixty years now, ever since the AHA first recommended this diet in 1961 as the best way to avoid heart disease and obesity. Nineteen years later, in 1980, the USDA guidelines joined in. Since then, the government’s own data shows that Americans have reduced their consumption of saturated fat by 11 percent and overall fat by 5 percent. XXXIV Red meat consumption has steadily declined, replaced by chicken. According to a USDA report, Americans also complied with official advice to lower the dietary cholesterol found abundantly in egg yolks and shellfish, even though the cholesterol in food has long been known to have little impact on serum cholesterol (as discussed in Chapter 2). XXXV The original rationale for cutting back on fat was to lower serum cholesterol, and Americans have successfully done that, too. Since 1978, total cholesterol levels among US adults have fallen from an average of 213 mg/dL down to 203 mg/dL. The portion of Americans with “high” cholesterol (over 240 mg/dL) has dropped from 26 percent to 19 percent. Moreover, most of that drop has been due to declines in LDL-cholesterol, the target most emphasized by officials for the past thirty years. In 1952, when Ancel Keys first started arguing for the reduced-fat diet, he predicted that if “mankind stopped eating eggs, dairy products, meats and all visible fats,” heart disease would “become very rare.” This has certainly not been the case.

Indeed, during these years, and despite or perhaps because of these efforts, Americans have experienced skyrocketing epidemics of obesity and diabetes, and the CDC estimates that 75 million Americans now have metabolic syndrome, a disorder of fat metabolism that, if anything, is ameliorated by eating more saturated fat to raise HDL-cholesterol. And although deaths from heart disease have gone down since the 1960s, no doubt due to improved medical treatment, it’s not clear that the actual occurrence of heart disease has declined much during that time.

Authorities are naturally reluctant to take responsibility for this outcome. The same recent USDA report that documents the public’s success in adhering to its dietary guidelines nevertheless places the onus of blame for obesity and disease squarely on American children and adults, “very few” of whom “currently follow the US Dietary Guidelines”—an unsubstantiated assertion that is repeated throughout the report.

The dietary recommendations now offered by the USDA and AHA for solving the nation’s health problems are basically: stay the course. Both groups have backed off their limits on fat slightly. The most recent set of AHA dietary guidelines shifts its dietary fat recommendation from a limit of 30 percent of calories to a range of between 25 percent and 35 percent, arguably a meaningless change to most people. And the USDA’s latest Dietary Guidelines, published in 2010, scrapped any specific percentile targets for the three main macronutrient groups, protein, fat, and carbohydrates, altogether. XXXVI Yet the prohibitions against saturated fats remain strong, and the USDA report continues to take the stance that “healthy diets are high in carbohydrates.”

Meanwhile, the same biases that have sustained the diet-heart hypothesis for so many decades remain, and those biases continue to steer the nutrition conversation every step of the way. So, in 2006, when the Women’s Health Initiative reported that a low-fat diet made no difference to disease or obesity, the WHI investigators, as well as officials at the AHA and NHLBI, issued press releases stating that this half-a-billion-dollar study had not been conducted well enough to make any conclusions about changing our diets. In 2010, when Krauss’s metanalysis came out with good news about saturated fats, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition minimized its impact by publishing the critical editorial by Jerry Stamler as an “introduction” to Krauss’s work. And inconvenient findings, such as those by Volek and Westman, continue to be ignored, reasoned away, or misinterpreted by the great majority of nutrition experts.

Moreover, the alliance between the media and the nutrition mainstream endures. Mark Bittman, a food columnist at the New York Times , is perhaps the most prominent example of a voice in the media encouraging a diet based on fruits and vegetables while minimizing meat, a mantle he inherited from Jane Brody. Journalists and nutrition authorities also continue to dovetail in amplifying any study finding that appears to condemn either red meat or saturated fat. XXXVII And the public gets the message. Americans continue to avoid all fats: the market for “fat replacers,” the foodlike substances substituting for fats in processed foods, was, in 2012, still growing at nearly 6 percent per year, with the most common fat replacers being carbohydrate-based. XXXVIII

If, in recommending that Americans avoid meat, cheese, milk, cream, butter, eggs, and the rest, it turns out that nutrition experts made a mistake, it will have been a monumental one. Measured just by death and disease, and not including the millions of lives derailed by excess weight and obesity, it’s very possible that the course of nutrition advice over the past sixty years has taken an unparalleled toll on human history. It now appears that since 1961, the entire American population has, indeed, been subjected to a mass experiment, and the results have clearly been a failure. Every reliable indicator of good health is worsened by a low-fat diet. Whereas diets high in fat have been shown, again and again, in a large body of clinical trials, to lead to improved measures for heart disease, blood pressure, and diabetes, and are better for weight loss. Moreover, it’s clear that the original case against saturated fats was based on faulty evidence and has, over the last decade, fallen apart. Despite more than two billion dollars in public money spent trying to prove that lowering saturated fat will prevent heart attacks, the diet-heart hypothesis has not held up.

In the end, what we believe to be true—our conventional wisdom—is really nothing more than sixty years of misconceived nutrition research. Before 1961, there were our ancestors, with their recipes. And before them, there were their ancestors, with their hunting bows or traps or livestock—but like lost languages, lost skills, and lost songs, it takes only a few generations to forget.

Obese Military?

I came across some articles on obesity and the military (see below). Metabolic syndrome, obesity being one part of it, is on the rise in the military and in the population in general, along with much else such as autoimmune and mood disorders.

Weight issues are not an issue of mere exercise, as I discovered in aging. The weight began accruing in my thirties and continued into my forties. I’ve always been active and so, in response, I became even more active. I had long done aerobic exercise multiple times a week, often long jogs and sometimes carrying extra weight. Weightlifting was added to my regimen these past few years. Still, the body fat wouldn’t budge. Besides, the worst rates of obesity are found among the young and so aging is not the issue, as further demonstrated by age-related diseases (e.g., what was once called adult onset diabetes) hitting hard at younger and younger ages.

Why is that? Some of it is basic biological changes in aging, of course — still, that couldn’t explain it all since it is happening in all age groups. I had improved my diet over time, but admittedly I was still eating a fair amount of carbs and sugar, even if no where near the amount the average American gets. In the wider population, the consumption of carbohydrates and added sugars has drastically increased over time, specifically as dietary percentage of red meat and saturated fat has gone down while dietary percentage of vegetables and vegetable oils has been on the rise. There are other complex factors that could be mentioned, but I’ll keep it simple.

The point is that the American population, in and outside of the military, are in compliance with official dietary recommendations. The military is even able to enforce a high-carb, low-fat diet on military personnel since they have few other choices when food is prepared for them, and it is specifically during deployment that military personnel have the worst diet-related health decline. There is no greater opportunity than the military for gathering highly-controlled dietary data, as the only other segment with more controlled diets are those locked away in institutions. Also, the military enforces a rigid exercise program, and those who join are those who self-selected for this lifestyle and then had to meet high standards to be accepted. Yet military personnel apparently are getting fatter and fatter.

The amount of carbohydrates we’re talking about here is not insignificant. The USDA recommends 50-60% of the diet to consist of carbohydrates with an emphasis on grains, most of those simple starchy carbs. Even adding some fiber back into processed foods doesn’t really make them any healthier. Grains alone brings up a whole mess of other issues besides gluten (e.g., grains block absorption of certain key nutrients) — it’s long been known that the best way of fattening animals is with grains.

To put in context how distorted is our diet, a recent study compared a high-carb and a low-carb diet where the latter consisted of 40% carbs. If that is what goes for low-carb these days, no wonder we are such a sickly population. Most traditional societies rarely get such high levels of carbs and what they do get usually comes from sources that are fibrous and nutrient-dense. Look at hunter-gatherers — 40% carbs would be at the extreme high end with many groups only getting 22% carbs. As a concrete example, compared to potato chips or a baked potato, chewing on a fibrous wild tuber is a laborious process because of how tough it is, only gaining slightly more calories than you’d be expending for all the effort.

For further perspective, a study published this month implemented a ketogenic diet (Richard A. LaFountain et al, Extended Ketogenic Diet and Physical Training Intervention in Military Personnel). That by itself isn’t noteworthy, as ketosis has been scientifically studied for about a century. What is significant is that it was the first time that such a diet done was done with military personnel. If you’re familiar with this area of research, the results were predictable which is to say they were typical. Military personnel aren’t essentially any different than other demographics. We all evolved from the same ancestors with the same metabolic system.

The results were positive as expected. Health improved in all ways measured. Body fat, in particular, was lost — relevant because the subjects were overweight. Benefits were seen in other aspects of what is called metabolic syndrome, such as better insulin sensitivity. All of this was accomplished while physical fitness was maintained, an important factor for the military. Going by what we know, if anything, physical fitness would improve over time; but that would require a longer term study to determine.

Ketosis is how I and millions of others have lost weight, even among those who don’t know what ketosis is. Anyone who has ever restricted their diet in any way, including fasting, likely has experienced extended periods of ketosis with no conscious intention being required — ketosis simply happens when carbs and sugar are restricted, and even commercial diets like Weight Watchers are quite restrictive along these lines. Other ketogenic gains often are experienced in relation to hunger, cravings, mood, energy, stamina, alertness, and focus. The point here, though, was weight loss and once again it was a glorious success.

That such studies are finally being done involving the military indicates that, after a century of research, government officials are maybe finally coming around to taking ketosis seriously. It’s understandable why drug companies and doctors have been resistant, since there is no profit in a healthy sustainable diet, but profit isn’t a concern for the military or shouldn’t be, although military contractors who provide the food might disagree (high-carb food is cheaper to provide because of high-yield crops subsidized for a half century by the government). If the USDA won’t change its guidelines, maybe the military should develop its own. A military filled with those of less than optimal health is a national security threat.

As for the rest of us, maybe it’s time we look to the studies and make informed decisions for ourselves. Not many doctors know about this kind of research. And if anything, doctors have a misinformed fear about ketosis because of confusion with diabetic ketoacidosis. Doctors aren’t exactly the most knowledgeable group when it comes to nutrition, as many have noted. And the government is too tied up with agricultural and food corporations. Any positive changes will have to come from the bottom up. These changes are already happening in a growing movement in support of alternative diets such as ketogenic low-carb, which is maybe what brought it to the attention of some military officials.

Government will eventually come around out of necessity. A global superpower can’t maintain itself in the long run with a malnourished and obese population. The healthcare costs and lost sick days alone could cripple society — even now most of the healthcare costs go to a few preventable diseases like diabetes. I’m willing to bet that when the next world war is fought the soldiers will be eating low-carb, high-fat rations made with nutrient-dense ingredients. Not doing so would risk having an inferior military. For-profit ideology only goes so far when the stakes are high.

* * *

Is U.S. Nutrition Policy Making the Military (and Recruits) too Fat to Fight?
from Nutrition Coalition

This year, for the first time since 2005, the Army fell short of its recruitment goal, according to the recent report, “Unhealthy and Unprepared,” by The Council for a Strong America, a group of retired generals and admirals. Obesity was largely to blame. Some 71% of young people between the ages of 17 and 24 fail to qualify for military service, says the report. These alarming numbers raise the disturbing question of whether the U.S. will be able to continue the luxury of maintaining an all-volunteer army in the future.

Another recent study, this one by the Rand Corporation found that some two-thirds of the nation’s active military personnel are overweight or obese. Topping the scale is the Army, with 69.4% of its personnel overweight or obese. But even the trimmest military branch – the Marine Corps – isn’t much better, at 60.9%. These numbers may be misleading, since “obesity” is defined by BMI (body mass index), which does not distinguish between whether extra pounds come fat or muscle—the latter being more likely to be the case in the military. Still, rates of 60-69% are disturbingly high. Since these folks are following the military’s exercise program, we certainly can’t blame them for shirking on physical activity.

It seems, in fact, that the U.S. military diet actually worsens health, according to an Army publication six years ago. Chanel S. Weaver of the U.S. Army Public Health Command wrote, “Even those Soldiers who are actually fit enough to deploy can face challenges in maintaining a healthy weight while serving in the deployed environment.”

In the article, Dr. Theresa Jackson, a public health scientist at the U.S. Army Public Health Command, states, “Literature suggests that fitness decreases and fat mass increases during deployments.” This is an astonishing fact: fitness declines in the military, despite mandated regular exercise.

This paradox could be explained by the growing understanding that exercise plays a relatively minor role in weight loss. “You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet,” is the new common catchphrase among experts. Instead, the principal factor driving obesity, as the data increasingly show, is poor nutrition.

A look at the Army’s nutrition guidelines shows that they emphasize low-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. The Army recommends eating “…high protein, low-fat items such as: fish, beans, whole wheat pasta, egg whites, skim or 1 percent milk, and low-fat yogurt” while avoiding “items such as: fried items, high fat meats, egg yolks, and whole milk.” This guidance comes from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), a policy that has been co-issued by USDA and US-HHS since 1980. The military essentially downloads these guidelines and serves food in mess halls to reflect DGA recommendations.

Ironically, this reliance on the U.S. Guidelines could well be the very reason for the military’s obesity problems. This diet tells the entire U.S. population to eat 50-60% of their calories as carbohydrates, principally grains, and just as a high-grain diet fattens cattle, a large body of government-funded science shows that a high-carbohydrate diet, for most people, is inimical to sustainable weight loss.

The argument that Americans don’t follow the guidelines is not supported by the best available government data on this subject—which demonstrates widespread adherence to the Dietary Guidelines.

New military study: “Remarkable” results among soldiers on a ketogenic diet
by Anne Mullens and Bret Scher

Those on the ketogenic diet lost an average of 17 pounds (7.5 kg), 5 percent of their overall body fat, 44 percent of their visceral fat, and had their insulin sensitivity improve by 48 per cent. There was no change in the participants on the mixed diet. Training results in physical strength, agility, and endurance in both groups were similar.

The researchers noted:

The most striking result was consistent loss of body mass, fat mass, visceral fat, and enhanced insulin sensitivity in virtually all the ketogenic diet subjects despite no limitations on caloric intake. Physical performance was maintained…. These results are highly relevant considering the obesity problem affecting all branches of the military.

[…] Although neither group counted calories, the ketogenic diet group naturally reduced their caloric intake while eating to satiety.

The most noteworthy response was a spontaneous reduction in energy intake, resulting in a uniformly greater weight loss for all ketogenic diet participants.

The military should lead the U.S. fight against obesity
by Steve Barrons

That advice, driven by the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, has largely stuck to the familiar low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that calls on us to cut meat, butter and cheese. Yet in recent years, the science has evolved, and it has become increasingly clear to people like me that fats aren’t the enemy. Indeed, as I ate more fat and reduced my intake of sugars and other carbohydrates like grains, I lost weight and became healthier.

Experiences like mine are now backed by a fast-growing body of science, showing carbohydrate restriction to be effective for fighting obesity and diabetes while improving most heart-disease risk factors.

For many, it’s hard to get past the basic assumption that the fat on your plate becomes the fat in your body. But the truth is that it’s excessive carbohydrates that turn into body fat — completely contrary to what Americans have long been told.

So why hasn’t the government’s dietary advice caught up to the science? According to a rigorous investigation in The BMJ on the dietary guidelines, the experts appointed to review the scientific evidence relied on weak scientific standards in their report and failed to review the most recent science on a number of topics, including optimal intakes for carbohydrates, saturated fat and salt. Most critically, the report relied heavily on observational studies in which researchers follow test groups over long periods of time. But even the best epidemiological studies, according to the BMJ, “suffer from a fundamental limitation. At best they can show only association, not causation. Epidemiological data can be used to suggest hypotheses but not to prove them.” This is science 101.

The U.S. military serves more than 150 million meals per year to its personnel, and when those meals are based on a government-advised, high-carbohydrate diet, our troops have a harder time staying trim and healthy. The Army’s own website warns people to stay away from high-fat meats, egg yolks and whole milk and advises “eating less fatty food for better overall health,” while encouraging a diet that includes pasta and bread. Making matters worse, service members usually have fewer options for avoiding these nutritional mistakes, especially on deployments when they often can’t cook their own meals.