February 28, 2010

What's Up With Saturated Fats?

One of the biggest problems I've had lately with the South Beach Diet book is Dr. Agatston's stance on saturated fats. It's as extreme as the American Heart Association's recommendation that one shouldn't consume more saturated fat than 7% of one's total calories.

However, I've been trying to keep an open mind about the whole issue. Especially since not all Cardiologists agree with this view. But that isn't exactly easy when research is limited, and studies to date are contradictory.

If there's no conclusive studies, why does the American Heart Association demonize saturated fats? Why as a nation, are we taught to literally fear them?

It's my current understanding, backed up by an article at Diabetes Life I was reading this morning, that research-to-date has shown a correlation between saturated fat intake and LDL cholesterol, as well as Total cholesterol. However, there is lots of individual variation within these studies, plus other factors that need to be taken into consideration when making future health risk assessments. Things like HDL cholesterol, blood level of Triglycerides, and the size of our LDL particles.

In Richard Feinman's article, entitled "What if Saturated Fat Is Not the Problem?", he makes the point that the real problem with lowering saturated fats isn't about the fats themselves, since data is too contradictory and there's not enough scientific evidence to make any recommendations yet. But the real problem is what nutritionsts are likely to tell us to replace those fats with.

Instead of telling us to use more monosaturated fats, fish oils and such, generally speaking, the recommendation is to replace the saturated fat with more carbs. But that might make our individual situation worse, depending upon how many carbs we are already eating.

So where does that leave us? What is the BEST diet in regards to heart and artery health?

According to Richard Feinman, professor of biochemistry and medical researcher at State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn:

"We don't know the ideal diet composition. We do know that saturated fat, unlike trans-fat, is a normal part of body chemistry and extreme avoidance is not justified by current scientific data. Removing some saturated fat to reduce calories is good, but adding back carbs appears to be deleterious. It appears that healthy, carbohydrate restriction will trump the effects of any kind of fat."

So while the stance of Dr. Agatston is on the side of extreme caution, the general stance of the low carb community (where saturated fat is a free-for-all) might be just as premature. Because we don't really know the long term effects of going with either extreme. Plus there's the problem of over-consumption of calories. We know saturated fat need not be feared, but we don't actually know just how much of it is healthy to consume on a daily basis.

Richard Feinman (who's also co-Editor-in-Chief of the online medical journal, "Nutrition and Metabolism") does admit that lowering saturated fat in order to reduce calories is not detrimental to one's health. It's good even. But replacing those saturated fats with carbs is not.

So while the controversy doesn't look like it's going to be solved anytime soon, it does look like that for some of us, circling back around to the old cliche of a moderation in all things, might not be such a bad idea. And while eating a diet loaded with saturated fats might be working well for some, with no adverse effects, let's not forget that not everyone can lose weight on a low carb diet without limiting their calories.

Yeah it's kind of a knee jerk reaction to see the ANA recommend lean meats in their Atkins primer series at the official Atkins website, but it isn't as out of touch with regards to current biochemistry as a lot of high-fatters would like to make us believe.


February 27, 2010

Should I Go Back On Induction?

After indulging in a higher carb meal, a higher carb day, or even an entire weekend or vacation, one of the first things those following the Atkins' diet tend to ask themselves is:

"Should I go back on Induction?"

We know it's the lowest level of carbs that Atkins currently recommends, and because we're stuck in this mindset of lower-is-better, it sounds reasonable. But how effective or detrimental is it?

There is a lot of misunderstanding regarding Induction (now referred to on the Atkins' official website as Phase 1), even though Dr. Atkins was pretty blunt in his books as to just what it is, and what it's to be used for.

First, there is nothing magical about Induction/Phase 1. There really isn't. It is arbitrarily set at 20 net or total carbs (depending upon which plan you're following), because Dr. Atkins wanted to make sure that almost everyone who decided to try out the diet would be able to enter into Ketosis and experience the metabolic effects of being in that state.

Now if you've ever read the Letter on Corpulence, you know that lots of folks are able to experience the metabolic effects of being in Ketosis at a much higher number. When I first came back to low-carb at the end of December, 2006, I was eating 60 total carbs a day, and had no problem entering into Ketosis at that level. It took me the same 3 days to rid myself of my appetite and begin spilling ketones into my urine, as it generally takes on a 20 carb Induction. There was absolutely no difference for me.

So the controlled-carb level needed to experience the metabolic effects of Ketosis is very individual.

Another reason for Induction/Phase 1 is to kick-start one's weight loss. It's to help you see, and understand, that low carb does in fact work. Since someone recovering from a higher carb episode doesn't need to learn that low carb works, this reason for returning back to Induction doesn't apply.

The best reason to return to Induction levels, and the only reason that Atkins actually gives for doing so, is if one's cravings are out of control. Even then, he does not recommended staying there for any longer than a few days. Just long enough to get one's hunger under control and drop the excess water one has accumulated from glycogen storage.

Granted, 20 net carbs is going to use up liver glycogen faster than 60 total carbs would, and granted some folks need to go pretty low in carb in order to keep their appetite and cravings under control.

But the truth is, Ketosis itself is entered into fairly quickly. Generally less than 24 hours, because the body has a limited amount of glycogen stores even when full. Ketosis is a matter of ketones being produced and circulated in the bloodstream. It has nothing to do with whether or not the body is spilling some of those ketones into the urine.

So if you're eating less than 100 carbs a day, you are probably in Ketosis, and are reaping the metabolic benefit of predominantly burning fats.

One of the concerns with someone who is constantly yo-yo-ing between overindulgence and Induction is that it can easily become a pattern for rationalization. A pattern for abuse. A pattern that keeps us from actually implementing healthy habits into our life.

But for me, as a lot of us have discovered, the main problem with yo-yo dieting is that each time we go off of our low-carb plan, gain our weight back (or not as in my case), then return to what we know worked before -- we find the plan to be less effective with each attempt.

It's like the body becomes more and more resistant each time. More and more adaptive to what we are doing. More and more effective at burning those ketones for fuel. So what we could get away with before, we can't get away with today.

But that also means that what we can get away with today, we won't be able to get away with tomorrow.

Downright scary, if you ask me.

Because it appears to be the state that I'm finding myself in today. The point where, after all these years of trying to achieve a normal weight, general low-carb is no longer enough to rid my body of it's remaining fat stores. No longer enough to get me to a normal weight.

The key word here being ENOUGH.

With 50 lbs still to go, the future doesn't look good. Been trying to get to 125 lbs for over 3 years now. But I'm hoping that with the help of the structure pattern of South Beach, that I can fine-tune my current low carb ways to once again find the sweet spot (without a whole heck of a lot of hunger) that will enable me to continue my low carb journey to the finish line.

But at this point...I don't know.

So far, my success with that has been minimal. Partly because my body seems to be extremely resistant to fat loss these days, and partly because I just can't endure how I feel when I go too low in carbs. Plus I get all of those elevated glucose levels and all.

Since I was unable to handle the amount of dairy recommended on Phase 1 of South Beach last week, I was trying to do Phase 1 this week without the dairy carbs. But with no income, and my husband in between jobs himself, buying extra veggies to do that was not an option.

So yesterday, I moved to Phase 2. Early, and not by the book, but I figure that's a heck of a lot better than crashing and burning...yet again.

If there's one thing I've learned over the years, (and I've been doing low carb off and on now since the 70s), it's that when we return to our old ways, our old habits of eating and relating to food, we only worsen the problem.

We don't really solve it.

February 25, 2010

How Much Does Protein Foods Raise Insulin?

Most Low Carbers Do Not Believe that Protein Raises Insulin Levels
Body Secrets Insulin to
Help Amino Acids Get Into Cells
I was watching a short piece of a U-Tube video in the Main Lobby of Low Carb Friends, which disturbed me a little bit.

The title of the thread was "Don't you Just Love Gary Taubes."

Since I got distracted while reading Taubes' book last year, and forgot to go back  to it, I thought it would be informative to see what he had to say.

The video clip dealt with the inaccuracies of the science behind what does, or does not, constitute a healthy diet. At least, in Gary Taubes' opinion. He was putting forth the typical low-carb belief that "saturated fats are probably harmless."

If you look closely at those words, the word PROBABLY might jump out at you.

It did for me.

In fact, while listening to the video, Gary Taubes' emphasized that word not just once, but -- twice.

February 21, 2010

The Danger of Keeping Your Carbs Too Low

One of the dangerously false assumptions within the low-carb community is that if low carb is good, then very low carb, or even zero carb is better. But that isn't necessarily true.

The body needs to maintain a proper pH environment in order to remain healthy. It does this by keeping adequate alkaline reserves in order to meet the daily demands of neutralizing acidic metabolic waste products produced from the normal function of cellular metabolism. When the acidity level of the blood rises, due to either diet or stress, the body uses these reserves as a sort of buffer, so that the excess acid can be safely eliminated from the body.

Like all other body reserves, however, these buffers need to be replaced or the body in its efforts to maintain proper pH, will borrow the minerals it needs from our vital organs and bones. If such borrowing continues for any length of time, due to chronic acidosis, the result can raise all sorts of havoc within the body like osteoporosis, weak brittle bones, frequent hip fractures, and bone spurs.

The buffers needed to neutralize the metabolic residues are any of the electrolytes (calcium, magnesium, sodium, or potassium), which is why some low carb folks suffer from leg cramps during Induction. With the minimal plant intake, and the higher protein intake, acid levels rise and the body uses up it's buffer reserves trying to keep everything neutralized, causing an imbalance in electrolytes.

If the moderate protein, low vegetable intake continues for any length of time, without taking corrective measures, electrolyte reserves will be depleted and the body will begin taking the buffers from elsewhere.

So what foods result in acidic residues and which foods are alkaline?

I tried to find a reliable chart on the web, but there's a lot of contradiction in regards to exactly which foods provide acidic metabolic ash, and which foods are alkaline. Maybe because its the mineral content in any particular food that determines its potential acidity or alkalinity. Which means it becomes a matter of which plant food was grown where?

However, the general consenses between all of the websites I visited was that meat, eggs, dairy, grains, sugars, salt, and saturated fats are acidic, while most fresh fruits and veggies, and monosaturated fats are alkaline.

Now, there are simple changes one can make to their diet to protect themselves, even on very low carbs: Lots of dark green leafy veggies, lemon juice and/or slices in your water and salad dressings, apple cider vinegar, green and herbal teas, garlic, kelp, flaxseed, fish oil, olive oil, and the avoidance of aspartame. Plus calcium, magnesium, and potassium supplements.

But I don't know how you would protect yourself from the body's higher acidity and therefore bone-robbing tendency if you're strictly following a zero carb diet.

The kicker is that acidity itself can cause havoc with our health.

Of particular interest to the low carber: elevated acidity interferes with the response of the insulin receptor cells, which results in higher and higher insulin resistance. Correcting that body acidity is supposed to reverse insulin resistance, and aid the inflammation that's contributing to the problem. Also, when acid levels are elevated, the body has a tendency to hold onto fat, blood sugar balance is impaired, and you can have a lot of serious food cravings.

So maybe it isn't such a good idea, with all of the meat, eggs, dairy, and saturated fats we eat to charge too quickly into the whole grains, until we've learned how to balance out our food intake with lots of veggies, low-glycemic fruits, and other corrective measures mentioned above.

Cuz over acidity can be a very dangerous situation.

February 20, 2010

Zero Carb - Buyer Beware!

I've been spending quite a bit of my time this past week over at Mariasol's blog, reading the latest posts about the ZIOH website. (The links to those posts are found on the right hand side of her blog, for anyone who's interested.) While the four posts themselves are small, the comments made to those posts were quite extensive. It has taken me literally days to weed through all the legitimate arguments, the concerns, information, and links, the Mickey Mouse forms of science, the irrelevant arguments, demands, and trolls.

And I'll be blogging about some of that stuff.

But first, I want to talk about how interesting it was to watch how far folks were willing to go to rationalize their current eating habits and lifestyle. The blindness they have voluntarily taken upon themselves while chasing after some magic bullet of health and/or fat loss. Because it can be equally true of ourselves.

Let's face it. How many of us demand scientific studies and what we believe to be true evidence before we are willing to entertain something new? Something that could demolish and erase what we currently want to believe in? How many of us go so far as to deny within our own minds the rationality of researching, pondering, and accepting anothers' experience for what it is. Something more than the derogatory title of being an n=1?

It doesn't take a very smart cookie to "see" all of the symptoms of ill health going on over at ZIOH. The health complaints and disturbing symptoms of malnutrition and high body acidity were going on even back when I was there. The cult-like mindset, the abusive treatment, the control issues....none of that is new to me.

So why did I keep reading? And why did I keep going back to the comments that had in the process, taken upon themselves, a life of their own?

Maybe for the same reasons that folks caught in the mud of a ZIOH-type diet keep clinging to their current assumptions that their prophet knows what he is talking about. It's addictive. And more than that, it's just plain easier to sit back and follow the prophet.

If he says no supplements are needed, then no supplements are needed. If he says give up salt and other seasonings, diet soda and sugar substitutes, all low-carb products, all plant matter, and eat just beef and water, then that's what you do. If he says your health concerns are a matter of the body detoxing, and ridding itself of the carb poisons, because you haven't yet adapted to a zero carb diet, then by golly, the reasons why you're getting diarrhea, leg cramps, headaches, weakness, elevated blood sugars, reactivation of peripheral neuropathy, heart palpitations, and belly fat is because you haven't yet adapted to the diet. You gotta give it a minimum of 6 months before we can even begin to examine what is going on.

WHY????

Because we've bought into the ideas, opinions, and preconceived ideas of someone else. And that's just as true for the low carb community, as it is for the zero carb one.

How many times have you heard someone say, Dr. Atkins said this or that. Dr. Eades says this or that. Dr. Bernstein says this or that. Dr. Atgatston says this or that. And how many times have you heard someone say, I did some research and this is what I found. This is what I discovered. Let me bounce some of these studies and n=1 experiences off of you, and see what you think.

Not very often.

Because we really don't want the responsibility and power that comes from thinking for ourselves. We'd much rather buy into the ideas and beliefs of others, rather than actually taking a little bit of time and doing some real, solid, research for ourselves.

We'd rather sit back and hear from C.W. that he doesn't suffer from any nutritional deficiencies whatsoever, even though he's never produced any blood work to document that claim, and believe that because he believes that's true for himself, and others, that means it would also hold truth for us. Irregardless of the fact that we all come to the table with differing levels of physical damage. Different levels of ability to absorb the nutrients from the food we eat.

I personally haven't done a whole lot of research, yet, but you know what? The more I read, and the more I ponder all of this, the more I'm coming to the conclusion that in general, zero carb is probably not a very healthy lifestyle. It's extremely deficient, and most folks would probably not be willing to do what is actually necessary to make it work.

But that's just my opinion. The opinion of a n=1.
So buyer, beware!

February 17, 2010

The South Beach Diet

After my last post, I started thinking about what I was going to do in regards to diet and fat loss, and began looking at the various options:

Should I modify Atkins to fit the fat and protein parameters I used before? Should I do Protein Power at Level II? Should I construct my own diet from all that I've learned and embraced so far? Or should I look around at the various other diets available, and try something completely different?

I was actually leaning towards constructing my own diet, but decided to go into the South Beach Diet subgroup over at Low Carb Friends first. I was curious in regards to how that higher-carb diet handles the problem of fats.

I knew from watching a lot of people climb the Atkins' Carb Ladder, and fail, that very few of them knew, or were willing to, cut back on fats in order to make the higher carb level work for them. Most wanted to take their current luxurious lifestyle with them, while dining on higher carb items they'd been denying themselves for months.

Which really isn't possible without getting yourself into trouble. Because when you add carbs, fats have to come down to compensate. Otherwise you'll end up stalling at best, or you'll begin repacking on the pounds.

Now the South Beach Diet Group posters seem to be a friendly, helpful bunch. They've got wonderful testimonials to this way of eating, and many of them have achieved and are maintaining their goal weight. Have been for quite some time now. They're more than willing to explain what has worked for them, how they've personally tweaked the diet for themselves, how they've rectified the conflict of the principles of the diet with the changes and recommendations that don't always fit into those guidelines.

What I've observed there, is that many pre-Atkinites who only reached part of their goal with the Atkins' diet and then stalled for months, have made the switch from high-fat Atkins to lower-fat South Beach, and have gone on to complete their journey. Probably because it teaches them what the Atkins Carb Ladder failed to do.

In fact, results in lowering their fat intake was so dramatic for most of them, that even those who were coming to the table from a stalled low-carb plan were making claims of losing anywhere between 5 and 14 pounds after following South Beach's Phase I diet for 2 weeks.

Needless to say I was intrigued...not because of the dramatic weight losses, but because I couldn't figure out why folks were reacting to Phase I as if they were totally carbed up. Yes I had read all of the food lists posted to that sight, and yes I had read countless posts describing what they were doing and why. But it still didn't make sense to me.

So I went to our local library and checked out the original version of the plan.

I knew from my food lists that it wasn't low-fat as I had initially supposed. That it was higher in fat than the old Weight Watcher exchange program was, even though it was quite a bit lower in fat than typical Atkins. What I wasn't prepared for was Dr. Agatston's attitude and beliefs regarding saturated fats. The black and white thinking that they are completely bad.

I had assumed that the lower fat dairy products and other recommendations was in regards to one's total fat intake. Not their saturated fat intake. However, I happen to be an open-minded soul, and began to realize that my beliefs regarding saturated fats don't come from personal study, but from what others have told me. What others' believe.

So I made a note to change that. Especially since I have read a couple of studies over the years I've been on Atkins, posted now and then on low carb sites, where the research showed a strong connection to saturated fat intake and insulin resistance. Leaving the low-carb community, and especially the poster of the study, completely baffled. It didn't fit into their current paradigm.

Now I'm not saying saturated fats are bad. I'm saying that at the current time, I don't know if an "unlimited" and "over-abundance" of them is good. Because even though the testing I had done on my arteries awhile ago said my arteries and heart were in excellent condition -- thanks to low carb -- I was also eating lower-fat and very low saturated fat for months prior to that testing.

I do understand that polyunsaturated fats have a tendency to become rancid and cause havoc on our bodies. And that saturated fats are less likely to become denatured, thus creating less free radicals. But, from what I read so far, the saturated fat that protects our cells is created by the liver. Not from the foods we eat. So for me, the jury is still out on that.

Now granted, there are those who have tried to take their higher fat content with them into this plan, and stalled. And there are those who have made the transition from Atkins to South Beach who want to skip Phase I, thinking it isn't a necessary part of the plan. Mostly because they just want to add carbs back into their diet, and don't want to wait any longer to do that. But those types of individual folks can be found within any plan.

So far, the results of this plan look promising. So I have decided to give Phase I a whirl.

I actually started the plan a couple of days ago, Monday morning, but didn't get the opportunity to post about it until today, because I accidentally glutened myself with some unsweetened coconut I ate over the weekend. I had forgotten that we had bought it out of a bulk bin at the health food store, and it turned out to be contaminated.

My initial weigh-in for this trial period is 179.8 lbs. I will be weighing in again come next Monday. The half-way point.

February 10, 2010

Chicken Alfredo Bake

Chicken Alfredo Bake Uses Raw Chicken
Pre-Cooking the Chicken
Isn't Necessary for
This Tasty Low-Carb Casserole
Since I'm gluten free now, I don't do Dreamsfield pasta anymore, so traditional Chicken Alfredo has been off the menu since I started low carbing.

I don't care much for gluten-free low-carb pastas, so I've been thinking about other ways to use Alfredo sauce without having to eat all of those carbs.

We really, really like Alfredo sauce. How about you?

I can still remember how much I enjoyed it when one of my sons made Chicken Alfredo using a package of McCormick Alfredo Sauce mix. But you know what? That rich and creamy sauce spiked with freshly grated Parmesan, is what I really remember. I have no idea what type of noodles he used. It was the Alfredo sauce that made the dish memorable.

So, with that in mind:

I set to work creating this ultra-simple Chicken Alfredo Bake that's good enough to serve to company, yet so quick and easy, that you'll want to make it a work-day staple.