The Science of Human Potential

Curing Type 2 Diabetes

I’m writing this post and getting these videos out there after a conversation with a diabetes nurse who was very happy to go around telling her diabetic patients, and anyone else who would listen, that “you can’t cure type 2 diabetes”. Really? No chance of completely reversing all the symptoms?

First is an interview with Dr Jay Wortman by the Diet Doctor (one of my favorite bloggers in the LCHF field)

The second is Dr Wortman’s film about curing diabetes in Canadian first nations’ people. It’s called “My Big Fat Diet“. It comes in three parts.

Enjoy

Help! My husband is a high cholesterol triathlete

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Hey Grant
I’m a bit stuck what to do and would appreciate your opinion on something:
My husband Bob is 43, weighs 80kgs, is a builder, very active (does half ironman etc) with me at triathlon club, seems to deal with work/stresses etc very well and yet every year is told that he has high cholesterol. Traditionally this would mean really watching the fats, butter etc, which we have done, but the readings never change. Obviously we need to look at trying something else but I’m not sure about the LCHF way for him. I already follow a lot of the principles and he will try whatever I give him quite happily.
Your thoughts?
Grant: Yes very interesting.
A few things to consider:
1. How much of a risk factor is high total cholesterol anyway? TC is really meaningless; I would want to see the numbers, especially the triglycerides to HDL ratio. LDL is also pretty meaningless as it is really LDL particle size and number which provide the risk. So it may well be that high cholesterol is not something he actually needs to worry about.
2. Inflammation can be a problem. That’s CRP on the blood test, and that is often exacerbated by loads of triathlon training, a very active job, a high carb diet and consumption of polyunsaturated fat. That’s really the main risk factor for heart disease and all the other metabolic disorders, like diabetes, cancer etc.
3. LCHF is probably a good option, but with a strict fat adaptation phase with reduced training and heaps of coconut oil, just to prove his body can run on ketones and that you can defeat the need for loads of carbs. That is a great self experiment. Then my advice is to stay with that basic approach but supplement with carbs as he sees fit. That way
you get the best of both worlds. But it’s a self experiment every human should do in my opinion – get fat adapted and prove to themselves that they can have a stable mood and energy, with dietary fat as the major source of dietary calories.
4. The LCHF approach is anti-inflammatory, which is great for reducing chronic disease risk factors. A modified “paleo” like LCHF, where you supplement more carbs, is also anti-inflammatory, so long as the carbs are things like kumara (sweet potatoes and yams also). All the work so far shows that this is the best way of reducing health risk for chronic
disease.
5. Being a fat adapted highly active person, who also trains for triathlons may, at least in my opinion (more research needs to be done for sure), reduce the inflammation and oxidative stress and cellular damage done by loads of glycogen -burning chronic cardio exercise. This is that moderate intensity training that triathletes engage in for hours on end. I’m not convinced that this is risk free for health. The heart damage seen in several high profile endurance athletes is some evidence of what I’m talking about. It’s likely that relying more on fat in training reduces this stress. It also forces you to do some really short, high intensity work because you simpy don’t have the available glycogen for higher
intensity threshold intervals, which are the most stressful on the body (e.g. 8 by 1 km running at race pace is stressful, but how about 10 by 1 min sprints instead?) Again, more research needs to be done, but it’s my contention that triathletes could be healthier by eliminating that mid-range chronic cardio training. You might lose a little race pace
speed, but that will be offset by not getting sick as much and being fat adapted for racing, which has significant benefits.
So that was just a few, now longish, thoughts. Good luck and get back to me if you have any other questions…..
Thanks Grant. So if he were to basically follow your usual eating programme (first blog) , also with some kumara/yams, this would be a good place to start?
Yes. Diet Doctor.com also has some more lengthy resources which I aspire to get up myself in due course
To increase coconut oil usage, what would you do -besides using it to fry with?
Yes, extra virgin coconut oil to fry with is great. It goes well at high temperatures. Best of all it’s a medium chain triglyceride (MCT). MCTs can’t easily be stored as fat; they are burned intra-muscularly or in the brain too. They likely have anti-inflammatory effects, even if it’s just because they burn with less oxidative stress than carbs. You can use coconut cream and/or coconut milk to make “fat” smoothies. Berries, coconut cream, some ice – yum! Some people also add butter and/or coconut oil to their coffee in the morning. This is the so called “bullet proof” coffee. Not sure about the name but it’s a cool way to get extra fat.

You mention reducing poly unsaturated fats, is this not oily fish, nuts etc? I thought they were good to have…

I’d avoid trans fats and manufactured poly unsaturated oils, like canola, peanut oil and other “industrial seed oils”. I would (and do) use copious amounts of olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, butter and coconut oil. Oily fish (Tuna, Salmon, Sardines, Mackerel) is awesome and eat plenty. Nuts are great too. Some researchers think that nuts are quite high in Omega 6 fats which are inflammatory and compete with Omega 3 fats (oily fish). I actually eat quite a lot of nuts, mainly almonds, and should probably eat slightly less of these. Cashews are one to watch as they are quite high in carbs. They can be good for long runs and bike rides though.

Quite a bit to get the head around with only a small amount of knowledge on my part! I’ll continue to follow your blog, I’m finding it interesting and I’m slowly getting there!

My view is that it is worth taking some time to get up to speed with some of this stuff. I’ve spent most of my personal life and professional career thinking exercise is the most important thing you can do for your health. I still think it is important, but the nutritional context is by far the most important part of human health. While some people seem to go alright on high carb diets, others just don’t. Many seem to have trouble controlling their weight on such diets even though they are doing all the “right” things according to the healthy eating guidelines (low fat, eat grains, etc). The reasons seem to be a combination of chronically high insulin (their biology is easily overwhelmed by carbs), and/or intolerances, to wheat in particular. It doesn’t mean full blown celiac disease, it just means their body works better when they eliminate wheat. Much more research needs to done in this field. That’s mainly why I’m immersing my self in it.

Eating in the right state of mind

14119619-spark-of-genius-in-the-human-brain-as-a-symbol-of-invention-and-wisdom-of-creative-thinkingGuest blogger Christian Thoma from the Physical Activity & Exercise Research Group  and MoveLab, Newcastle University Medical School looks at how your state of mind affects your body when eating.

Christian makes a very important point in his email to me about this blog:

“Even though I work in a team which includes health psychologists, the behaviour around the act of eating rather than the choice of what to eat never enters the conversation. The same held true when I worked mostly with nutritionists.”

I absolutely agree with you Christian, this is a massive point….our state of mind is a critical factor.

Eating in the right state of mind

When it comes to food and health, it’s not all about how much we eat. It’s not all about what we eat. It isn’t all about the exercise/physical activity we do, or even how well we’ve been sleeping. As much as these things influence how our bodies process what we eat,  there is at least one more factor that I think is underrated and under-researched. How we feel when we eat also matters. That we make poorer food choices when we eat in response to our emotions, or when we’re very hungry, probably isn’t very controversial. You can test it on yourself by observing what you eat, or feel like eating, the next time you’re upset or ravenous.

Food choices aside, the mental/emotional state you’re in when you eat matters, irrespective of your food choices. Have you ever been so stressed or upset that you were put right off eating? Or have such unhappy bowels that you find it hard to concentrate on anything else? Those are sobering illustrations of how much your mental state and your digestive system influence each other.

Extremes aside, does the state you’re in when you eat matter? I believe the answer is yes. It’s not my idea, it’s not a new idea, but it isn’t exactly given much air time. The question is why, and for a scientist like me — how? The physiology of stress and relaxation continue to be a hot topic of research, as does the process of digestion, but the two are seldom looked at together. This should be perplexing given that the extremes of the states we can be in are often referred to as rest and digest, and fight or flight.

Where we are along the spectrum of fight/flight vs. rest and digest is controlled by part of our nervous system known as the autonomic nervous system; think automatic, because it controls things that need to happen even when we aren’t concentrating on them, e.g. our breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion. The two sides of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, are in a constant tug of war pulling us between fight/flight, and rest and digest. Or put another way, between stress and a relaxation.

When our survival depends on fighting or fleeing, our sympathetic nervous system pulls hard to ensure our fuel stores, i.e. glucose and fat, are released from storage into the blood stream, and that this energy rich blood goes primarily to the muscles that need it. One key way it does this is by causing the release of the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline (epinephrine and norepinephrine for US readers). These hormones signal to the liver to make and release glucose, and the fat cells (adipose tissue) to release fat. Cortisol also directly interferes with the actions of the hormone insulin, which is responsible for controlling glucose and fat levels in the blood, and assisting protein in getting into cells, especially muscle.

The problem is many of us experience chronic stress. Stress from things we’re unlikely to either be able to fight or flee effectively. Stress not from physical danger, but traffic jams, financial worries, and relationship problems. As a result of this unresolved foundation of stress, our sympathetic nervous system dominates our bodies too much of the time. Being trapped in various degrees of fight/flight interferes with our digestion and metabolism of food.

Grant: In other words, the fight or flight system was really designed to go off quickly and for acute dangerous events.  It’s likely that most of these events would be over with quickly (2 min?) AND we would have had to expend some energy dealing with whatever it was.  In modern times, however, stress can activate the sympathetic nervous system for a much longer time, we call this chronic stress. Chronic stress is an issue because the physiology of acute stress in maintained for a long time.  It’s unlikely this is a natural state for humans to be in, especially when we are sedentary and stressed.

Having cortisol and other stress hormones making sure our blood is already full of glucose and fat when we eat is not a good idea. It forces our bodies to deal with the fat and carbohydrates, and hence glucose, in the food we eat as well as that released from our stores. And insulin, the hormone in charge of the cleanup, is at a disadvantage because it has to contend with cortisol. In addition, blood is directed to the muscles, not the bowels, when we are stressed. That almost certainly doesn’t help digestion.

On the other hand, when we are relaxed and eat, our blood is directed to our bowel where it ensures our internal organs can do their work efficiently and make sure we get the greatest benefit from our food. When relaxed our blood glucose and fat are likely to be appropriately low in anticipation of the fresh supply from food. And, once nutrients from our food start entering our blood, insulin can do its job without contending with the opposing effects of stress hormones like cortisol.

So how do we achieve relaxation needed for good digestion and healthy metabolism? There are plenty of options to get some relaxation into our lives, but in the context of eating, the most obvious are: 1) take a little time to prepare food and really focus on the task of preparation while you do it; and 2) focus on the act of eating by minimising distractions, eating slowly and chewing thoroughly. The very act of eating can help put you into the more relaxed rest and digest state, if you give it half a chance. So, enjoy your food by taking time to savour the flavour.

Grant: This is really the idea of mindfulness. Its really powerful idea that we can achieve more wellbeing and a more fulfilled life by staying present. Eating is a perfect place to start practicing mindfulness.  Just a quick check, I call it the Schofield keyboard test.  If you are working on a computer, pick up the keyboard and turn it upside down and bang it hard on the desk.  If stuff that was once food falls out, then there is evidence that you have been eating and working at the same time.  That’s the opposite of mindful eating!

Thanks Christian for the blog.

 

PS from the low carb dabbler – Part 2

Although my food diary wasn’t as complete as it could have been during the 7 day ‘low carb high fat’ experiment, and the FoodWorks software used to analyse it has its limitations, this is what it found:

  • Most of my calories were definitely coming from fat, although according to Mikki, an even higher fat % and lower carb % would be desirable on a LCHF (or ketogenic) diet. Suggested ratios are Fat > 75%; Carbs 5-10%; Protein 5-15%. Mine were…..

Diet analysis

  • Of more interest to me however was the total grams of carbs consumed each day and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this averaged 79 g. Although not at ketogenic levels (<50 g per day), it was certainly below the 100 g suggested for a LCHF diet. Not bad for a dabbler! In fact, on one day, I consumed only 33 g. I wouldn’t have thought this was possible without me keeling over!
  • Despite all that fat, total energy intake was considerably less than the Estimated Energy Requirement for a moderately active, lactating, 37 year old female. Less even than if I wasn’t lactating. This is probably partly due to error in the recording and analysis of my food diary, but even so, it still suggests that total energy intake might actually be reduced when fat intake is increased.

I kept meaning to do the experiment again and do some pre- and post- measures, but it’s become more about how I feel and less about what the numbers say. And I feel great – stable energy levels, reduced bloating and diminished symptoms of one of the more annoying side-effects of two pregnancies. I kept a more accurate food diary for a while[1], to get a feel for my carbohydrate intake, and this was a useful exercise but not something I would recommend doing long term. I learned a lot about what my body needs and likes (it can perform quite nicely with as little as 20 g carbs a day, has often been getting less than 50 g a day, and has only had more than 100 g once in over a month), all without having any effect on my mood or milk supply. I could get my ketones checked, but the fact that I rarely wake up starving now, despite sometimes being up to feed Tom a couple of times in the night, would suggest that my body is now using sources other than sugar for fuel.

The fact is that I’m eating more fat than I’ve ever eaten in my life, and eating meat for the first time in years, and without wanting to or trying to, my jeans are feeling looser than they were before I was pregnant. I have no idea what I weighed at the start, but I must have lost weight and if I have, I’m pretty sure it’s fat and water rather than muscle. It seems like it was impossible not to lose weight. I’ve drunk as much, if not more wine, than I usually do and I haven’t felt deprived, skipped meals or ignored hunger. So if your goal is weight loss, and if you avoid fat and/or meat in an effort to achieve this, I’d say think again. Clearly the key is cutting out the sugar (all types) and replacing it with fat, so that a) you feel satisfied; b) your body has plenty of this essential nutrient to ensure proper vitamin absorption and metabolic functioning; and c) you’ve got access to an efficient fuel source for physical and mental performance.

I have got a few more questions though:

  1. When I start upping my training for an event, what does the LCHF approach suggest I should eat before, during and after training and racing?
  2. If for a period of time I just choose to go “lower” carb rather than “low” carb, what should I do about fats and protein? Or is there no point in doing this in the first place?
  3. If/when I choose to eat some carbohydrate, is there a better time of day to do this?
  4. Whether eating LCHF or not, I think there are times I eat/graze out of boredom, but maybe during the 7 day trial I kept this in check so as not to ruin the experiment. My point is, once the novelty of a new way of eating has worn off, will people who need to lose weight still boredom/comfort eat, even if their bodies are more satisfied?
  5. And finally, how can we make this way of eating attractive, accessible and affordable to those who need it most?

So I’ve started to think about ‘where to from here’. And this is what I’ve decided: I’m going to listen to what my body’s been telling me about some of the foods I used to eat and use some common sense moving forward. If I was more carbohydrate sensitive and wanted to lose lots of weight, my plan would be different, but in my current state of health, this is what I’m going to do….

  • Breakfast will usually be variations of YCBNS, but every so often I might have a weetbix thrown in or some porridge, for variety and to warm me up as winter draws in
  • When I’m out it will be an omelette, or bacon and eggs
  • I’m going to avoid full strength hot chocolate and other sweet drinks – I feel too sick afterwards
  • Meat is back on the menu, but no processed stuff
  • I’ll only eat sweets, cakes, biscuits, etc on the odd occasion, just like I always did
  • The sugary cereals and flavoured/reduced fat yoghurts are out, and the nuts, cheese, cream, full fat milk and butter are in (for the whole family)
  • I’ll eat rice and pasta occasionally, but bread rarely
  • I’m not going to beat myself up about having an occasional/small Pepsi Max. It doesn’t make me crave other sweet stuff, causes me no side effects (yet) and we’ve all got to have one vice surely?!
  • Chips, crackers, etc will be occasional treats, for me and my cracker-addict daughter
  • Same for canned baked beans…they will no longer be our ‘go-to’ meal for her
  • Lastly, I will not be using any more sugar, preservative and additive-ridden packets and jars.

So to go back to my original post, I’m happy to say that I think I’ve tackled most of the issues I set out to address on a personal level. I’ve banished my sugar highs and lows, I’ve learned that I don’t need carbs to be dominant at every meal to be satisfied, and my fears relating to changing my whole way of eating and consuming more fat were unfounded. I was, however, right to worry about how I would cope as a pescatarian and am sorry that I wasn’t able to address that issue for those people who really don’t want to eat meat. Maybe someone else could do that?? My concerns for the rest of the family have resulted in us all eating less processed food and trying out new things, and it hasn’t quite broken the bank.

But there are still plenty of questions to be answered, at a public health level and for individuals with different needs, so let’s keep tapping away with personal case studies, group challenges and full-on randomised controlled trials, to see if we can really make a difference to the long term-health of the whole of New Zealand, and indeed the world!


[1] The EasyDietDiary app is great – just ignore the calorie counter and focus on the grams of carbs. The myfitnesspal app does a similar thing but uses a UK database of foods. Both are useful tools to give an indication of your carb intake and/or to find out the nutritional content of a food. After a while, you get to know what’s what and can stop recording.

PS from the low carb dabbler – Part 1

Thanks to everyone reading and passing on this blog.  Its grown really fast and already is closing in on 10,000 hits in a little more than 6 weeks.  So thank you. Helen Kilding started editing my blogs, and as you can see after a few weeks of that she really got the blogging bug herself.  She’s also having quite a journey converting from low fat vegetarianism to a whole foods high fat diet including plenty of meats.

Helen can speak for herself, and will continue to do so in this and subsequent blogs, but the most obvious outward thing I’ve noticed is just how healthy and vital Helen looks.  Read on and thanks again. Over to you Helen.

Grant

It’s over a month now since my 7 day LCHF experiment and I’ve had time to digest things (excuse the pun) and give some thought to the future. I was also lucky enough to discuss what I ate and how I felt with nutritionist Dr Mikki Williden, who kindly analysed my rather rough and ready food diary. The results were interesting, but we’ll get to that in Part 2.

First I want to share the key things that have happened since the ‘experiment’ ended:

Breakfast

  • I’ve still been having yoghurt, cream, berries, nuts and seeds (YCBNS) for breakfast. Why? Because I really like it, I don’t get a sugar high or low soon after, and it keeps me full for longer. This from the person who when once asked “if you had to live on one food only, what would it be?” answered “breakfast cereal”
  • When I’m out I have scrambled eggs or an omelette
  • Occasionally I’ve had weetbix, or a bowl of porridge. I’ve enjoyed it but it hasn’t satisfied me as much.

Lunch

  • I’ve still been having high fat salads and omelettes. Why? Because I’ve come to like them and I like the way I feel afterwards. It still feels a bit strange using so much mayonnaise, oil and cream but I’m getting used to it. I do sometimes miss the ease of a sandwich or sushi though
  • As the temperatures have dropped, I’ve started feeling like something more warming at lunch time and have been experimenting with different soups which has been nice (how could they not be when they’re laden with coconut milk and cream?!). And I’ve discovered a new favourite lunch, a kind of hot salad I guess….bok choy sautéed in lots of olive oil with a can of tuna in more olive oil, sesame seeds and soy sauce to taste.
  • I must say though, lunches aren’t satisfying me for as long as they were at the start, possibly because I’m more active (see below).

Dinner

  • This is the meal where I thought the LCHF wheels could fall off, for three reasons: 1) I didn’t want to have fish/meat and salad/veggies every night and I didn’t know what else to have; 2) it’s the meal I always eat with my husband and he likes his carbs and I quite like some carbs too; and 3) I’m conscious that my previous HCLF diet wasn’t “bad” and am still unsure if a strict LCHF diet is a better alternative for me
  • I’ve realised though that I didn’t make much of an effort looking for alternative meal ideas during my experiment, so I’ve been having a read and a play…. lasagne made with aubergine slices instead of pasta sheets is delicious, a takeaway curry served with some faux rice really hits the spot, and cooked veggies (other than potato) mashed with butter and cream are addictive and go with everythingSpot the difference

Dinner for 2 – spot the difference…..

  • So I don’t really know how it happened, but eating LCHF has almost become a habit now and doesn’t seem any effort at all. I’m enjoying experimenting and it helps that I know so many people who are doing it as well. The last thing I want is to finally not be one sort of food freak (vegetarian), only to become another!
  • Speaking of meat, I haven’t stopped eating it since the experiment ended! Even the types I said I wouldn’t. Turns out chicken isn’t so “foul” after all 😉
  • Every now and then I have eaten higher carb foods, but definitely in smaller portions – a large portion of Bolognese, with just a bit of spaghetti underneath, for example
  • I’m still in the dark though about how high on the fat I should go if/when I’m having a moderate carb meal
  • My husband, although still wanting to see more evidence of the LCHF approach for a range of individuals, is certainly happy to – and indeed is enjoying – having some LCHF dinners, especially if he’s had a good carb fix during the day 🙂

Snacks

  • The whole family is eating less processed snack foods; partly because I’m not as hungry late afternoon and partly because we’ve broken the habit of always doing so
  • I miss the crunch of crackers, toast and chips though so loved the seed cracker recipe shared by Alex over at www.lchfchallenge.wordpress.com. Alex and her husband have just completed their own LCHF challenge which is worth a read if you’re thinking of giving it a go (comment from Grant – these are really really yummy. I haven’t got the actual skill to make them myself, but they are so good).

Seed crackers My version of Alex’s seed crackers

  • I still haven’t had a chocolate frappé. I used to crave them and have 3 or 4 or week, but I really don’t fancy something so sweet at the moment. I’ve struggled to find low-sugar cold drinks in cafés but a friend introduced me to the Ti Tonics drinks range which are reasonably low
  • I thought I could never give up café hot chocolates but I’ve been feeling quite sick after having them so have been trying alternatives….crazy hey! A cup of warm milk was a good alternative one morning or I ask for a quarter strength hot chocolate which seems like a nice compromise and I feel fine afterwards
  • I’ve been drinking Pepsi Max nearly everyday 😦 I can’t believe that someone so committed to their health and wellbeing puts this stuff in their body. I think it’s partly because I haven’t had any nasty side effects and partly because I don’t drink coffee or tea and really need a caffeine boost later in the afternoon (probably due to my current sleep deprived state). But I’ve decided not to beat myself up about it…I can’t and don’t want to be a complete saint when it comes to what goes in my body. And compared to what I could be doing to it, I don’t think my body can complain.

Training/exercise

I’ve definitely been more active this month, due in part I’m sure to better and more stable energy levels. Energy availability hasn’t been an issue, no matter what time of day I’ve tried to do something and no matter how many times I’ve been up in the night, which can only be because of the LCHF eating. I’ll be on fire when I finally get some proper sleep!

Will sweeteners make you fat or sick?

sweeteners

Now here’s a very controversial topic: aspartame and other artificial sweeteners. My conversations with (usually) men on sugar and substitutes usually go something like this:

Me: ‘Have you thought about replacing your fizzy drinks with diet drinks like Coke Zero or Diet Coke?’

‘No.’

Me: ‘Why not?’

‘I don’t drink that shit.’

Me: ‘What do you mean?’

‘It’s full of that artificial crap, like those sweeteners and other chemicals. They cause cancer. Diet Coke is a girls’ drink, as well.’

Me: ‘So you’d rather drink that 500 ml of Coke, which has 12 teaspoons of sugar in it?’

‘Yep.’

Me: ‘Even though half of that Coke will send your blood sugar through the roof, raise your insulin, and leave you hungrier than before you had it, while the other half that is fructose will go straight to your liver and screw you up in several other ways? And even though there is no evidence for negative outcomes, especially cancer, in the artificial sweeteners like aspartame, one of the most tested and long-standing additives to the human food supply?’

‘What are you talking about, [usually some profanity starting with d or f and ending with -head]?’ (Returns to drinking, laughing at me.)

Okay, my overall approach was probably fundamentally flawed and really misses the mark on the ‘how to win friends and influence people’ scale, but this is very typical of the responses I hear from men. I’m not a promoter of diet drinks for their own sake, but if you want a sweet drink I think the choice is a no-brainer. Sugary drinks – and fruit juice is in this category as it contains exactly the same amount of sugar as regular Coke – are a worse choice than a diet drink. Sugar is relatively toxic to the body. Aspartame is probably not.

What the heck does “probably not” mean? That’s a very good question. The answer is that there isn’t much evidence, especially experimental evidence with humans, showing adverse health outcomes.

Don’t you hate it when researchers sit on the fence and say that sort of stuff? There isn’t convincing evidence that sweeteners don’t harm you either. So it’s a double edged sword. The reality is that you would be better off drinking water. But that’s not the social and environmental reality of the world we live in. I’m saying that all things being equal, I’d prefer the diet drink to the full sugar version.

OK, I hear all the paleo, whole foods guys screaming – and I hear you. But how do you balance that approach with the pragmatism of public health? (clue: think about our approaches to reducing smoking which is obviously bad for you).

Here’s why I would take a more pragmatic approach to sweeteners. First, all foods are made of chemicals. Nutrients are chemicals. Too much or too little of any nutrient has adverse effects. In other words, when we exceed our biological capacity to deal with a nutrient it is almost always a problem. This is why high carb diets are a problem for some people. Aspartame, when synthesised, breaks down into phenylalanine (an amino acid), aspartic acid, and methanol – all of which are found naturally in foods. So I think it’s a matter of perspective and harm with sweeteners. We can deal with these substances in small amounts.

This isn’t everyone’s view, but I think there is now enough evidence to make this recommendation a public health one. In other words, on the continuum of water being the best and sugary drinks the worst, sweetened drinks and meals fit somewhere in between. That’s different than a personal health choice. It might be considered “harm minismisation”. Some people will say that by drinking sweet (even artificially sweetened) drinks you are giving people a taste for sweet stuff. My response is that we already like sweet stuff and no amount of abstinence from sugar will completely cure our taste for it. That being said, lower carb, sugar free diets do go a long way to curing the actual addition many people develop. Through sweeteners, food technology allows us to enjoy sweetness without the sugar.

Besides aspartame, which can have an aftertaste that some people find off-putting (and was originally developed as a fly spray which is even more off putting), there are two other popular sweeteners available in New Zealand: Splenda and Stevia.

Splenda is sucralose, which is made from sucrose (normal sugar), but with a refining process that reduces the calories. Because sucralose is inert (not metabolised) in the body it is calorie free. This product looks and feels a bit more like actual sugar and doesn’t have the same aftertaste as aspartame sweeteners, so it is much better for cooking and baking.

Stevia is a natural plant extract. In New Zealand it is sold under the name Sweete in 2 g sachets, which contain 1 calorie. Compared with sugar, the onset and duration of sweetness is slower and longer. Stevia is, however, about 16 times sweeter than sugar, the 2 g sachet providing the same sweetness as a teaspoon of sugar. So if you are worried about being natural, this plant-extract additive is pretty good.

On balance, I much prefer the Stevia sweetener.

A few comments about research on these sweeteners:

  1. None are likely to stimulate an insulin response on their own.
  2. I acknowledge that actual experimental trials with these substances on humans will never happen because that research is unethical. So we are left with only some prospective study showing no harm. That’s not that convincing.
  3. A study out last week in the journal “Diabetes Care” showed something very interesting. The paper by Pepino et al was entitled “Sucralose Affects Glycemic and Hormonal Responses to an Oral Glucose Load“. So you can see from the title that Sucralose (Splenda), although on its own doesn’t stimulate an insulin response, combined with glucose does magnify the glycemic and insulin response and area under the insulin curve. That’s interesting. I have no idea why that would happen, whether it happens with other sweeteners, how much glucose is required for this response, or whether it applies in slimmer subjects (average BMI was 42). In any case, it is a bit of a warning about Splenda in particular. Not sure about the others.
  4. Watch out for emotional claims about research in this space. Here’s a great example of one about the above paper which is titled “Splenda and Sucralose shown to contribute to the development of diabetes“. That seems to happen all the time in this field. Let’s agree that absence of evidence isn’t the same as evidence of absence. But let’s also agree that the evidence just isn’t their yet for the outright harm of these substances.

So will they make you fat and sick? They might, but sugar is more likely to do so. Are they harm free? Probably not entirely, but in an obesity epidemic let’s be pragmatic in public health.

Bliss – Cheez doodles, Menthos, and Chocolate bars?

Even if you don’t understand a word of Norwegian (which I don’t), I think you will figure out and the essence of this fabulous clip.

Here’s the context: Its Day 86 of Norwegian explorer Aleksander Gamme ‘s solo trek to the South Pole and back. He’s lost 25 kg of body weight.   He has left stashes of equipment and so forth along the way. This video shows him coming across one he left almost three months prior. He has no idea what’s in his stash.  Initially it looks like junk…even so he rifles through full of hope….then unexpectedly he comes across some Cheez Doodles.. and more.

Bliss….is bliss the difference between the previous state and present state?

Enjoy the message, and I think it reminds us that treats really can be treats.  This is the extreme end of treats of course.  But there is a point here!

A tale of two meals

Check out this cool ideograph of how high carb and low carb affect energy metabolism and fat storage. Nice picture for you to get your head around and explain to others.  Source for the lovely ideograph

A tale of two diets

A tale of two diets

Final installment of the diary of a low carb dabbler – Part 5

Helen Kilding with Ella and Tom

The final day of my 7 day LCHF dabble is here. I’d love to tell you that meal 21 of 21 was a big eye fillet drenched in a creamy butter sauce served with deep fried broccoli but hey, that’s not what dabbling is all about. Poor planning , a lack of motivation to go shopping and wanting to have the same meal as my husband, meant that my last supper was, of all things, a bowl of pasta, albeit with a very oily sauce.

So I’ve done it, the 7 days is over, and it’s time to think about what I’ve learned, and what I haven’t learned. In the end, I didn’t really dabble; I actually think I hit it quite hard. I say ‘think’ because my first observation is that I have absolutely no idea how much carbohydrate I actually consumed each day. In the absence of a simple tool to do this (but watch this space on that), my approach was to try to eat pretty much none. Hence why without planning to, 20 out of 21 meals ended up being LCHF, although whether they were L enough and H enough is anyone’s guess. What I can tell you is that:

  • I definitely had less sugar highs and, to start with at least, less sugar lows
  • I found the food I ate tasty but lacking in variety, but this bothered me less as the week wore on, probably because my normal diet isn’t particularly varied either and that doesn’t/didn’t bother me
  • I realised I don’t have to have bread, pasta, rice or potato at every meal to feel satisfied
  • Eating LCHF didn’t affect my ability to exercise, or my exercise performance, except on one occasion
  • It didn’t seem to affect my milk supply either
  • The extra cost of things like raw nuts, seeds, good quality canned fish, more fresh fish than normal, high fat yoghurt, etc undoubtedly outweighed any savings from cutting out milk, bread, cereals etc.
  • Eating out was about 50% more expensive
  • Dietary fat does not immediately appear on your hips! Although I think I was still a bit tentative about adding fat to things – old habits die hard
  • I was more thirsty than normal, or at least I drank more water
  • Going LCHF takes some planning and preparation
  • Pepsi Max is highly addictive[1].

Although 7 days is a very short period, I could still kick myself for not doing at least some baseline measures, but that’s what happens when you start a trial accidentally and only plan to ‘dabble’. So I probably have more questions than answers right now. Some might be impossible to answer and/or the answers are only relevant to me, but others might form the basis of future research to a) confirm the benefits (or otherwise) of the LCHF approach, and b) help make the approach more appealing and/or accessible to the general population. So here goes…..

  1. Is eating LCHF some of the time better than eating LCHF none of the time? How often is enough?
  2. If I do it for a while and then go back to my old diet, will I end up worse off than if I hadn’t done it at all?
  3. Am I helping myself in one way but doing damage in another?
  4. If I have a cheat day or a cheat meal, is it better if it’s HCLF, HCHF, MCMF, or any other combination of the above? And is there a better time of day to cheat?!
  5. Why did meals/snacks that satisfied me at the beginning of the week not quite hit the spot as much by the end of the week?
  6. Does being told that if you do this diet right you shouldn’t feel hungry affect your perception of whether you feel hungry or not?
  7. Could there be any negative effects, for mother or baby, of breastfeeding while on a LCHF diet?
  8. Would a diet based on real food (and not necessarily LCHF) be more appropriate for someone like me?
  9. Should I be changing how I feed my toddler?

I’d love to know what “the experts” think about what I did and what I ate. I’d love to discuss some possible research projects that might answer some of the questions identified above. And I’d love to know what I can eat to make my little boy sleep through the night and my 2 year old stop having tantrums! Over and out from the LCHF dabbler…..for now.


[1] On Day 6, feeling a bit tired, I decided an inch of Pepsi Max wouldn’t hurt. It tasted OK but not as nice as normal. And when the glass was empty….I had no need for any more. But the following night, I felt the need for another inch and this time an inch wasn’t enough and I could feel myself falling back in to old habits. At my worst, I would drink up to a litre of Pepsi Max a day but in recent years, I’ve been able to limit it to 1-2 glasses a night.

Diary of a low carb dabbler – Part 4

Helen Kilding with Ella and Tom

Oh dear….maybe when you reintroduce meat in to your diet after over 20 years, you should start with a small portion, not a LCHF diet portion! Stomach ache and nausea in the middle of the night, whilst trying to feed a 3 month old, is not fun. I felt almost back to normal by morning and after some YCBNS and a lovely run/walk on the beach, all was good in the world again. Today was my first real experience of eating out as a LCHF dabbler. My usual café lunch of a smoked salmon bagel or pancakes was replaced with a vegetable omelette. I was very proud of myself for asking for the toast to be replaced with avocado and the café accommodated my request without issue. It looked lovely, a good size but not massive, so I wondered how I’d feel afterwards without the toast. I hadn’t asked for extra butter, cheese or cream, but neither had I asked for these to be omitted like I might usually have done. It was delicious and no need to worry about being satisfied, I was stuffed for hours!

More firsts later in the day with the first night of entertaining as a LCHF dabbler, made much easier by three of the guests also being LCHF dabblers (sorry for the label guys). Despite the previous night’s meat experience, I decided to keep things easy and just make one dish and opted for a beef casserole with mashed potato for the carb lovers, and faux mashed potato (cauliflower blended with butter and cream) for the carb loathers. Guess which one hardly got touched….the faux mash was a big hit with carb lovers and loathers alike and will definitely be on the menu again.

So Day 6 began with a little bit of a sore head but no hangover-style food cravings, so just the normal YCBNS breakfast. Lunch was at a function with a sausage sizzle and an array of salads and desserts. Unfortunately, although delicious looking, most of the salads were either high carb or low fat, but I managed to find a few that didn’t look too bad (or good!) and topped them off with a large helping of fried onions off the BBQ! I was hungry a couple of hours later though so a bowl of yoghurt and cream and a handful of nuts got me through the afternoon, along with plenty of water, which I’m still finding I’ve got more of a thirst for.

Strangely, after being bored silly of canned fish based salads, I really fancied one tonight and really enjoyed it. And now, sitting here writing this, I’m trying to decide if I’m still hungry, or if my old habit of having a yoghurt or something else sweet after dinner is fighting its way back in. No….I think I’m hungry….so in the absence of knowing what else to have, it’s yoghurt and cream again for me. Night night.