Monday, May 19, 2014

Eat More Fat!



In my last post, 'Crappy Carbs can Kill', I explained that the chronic overconsumption of nutrient-poor refined carbohydrates is at the root of metabolic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease and also a contributing factor to many other modern diseases. 

Well that was all a bit heavy, but the good news is that if you are willing to take control of your health it is relatively simple to eschew these crappy carbs and instead eat healthy real foods that our bodies have evolved to thrive on over millions of years. 

Eating a healthy, whole foods diet that is in line with our evolution enables us to live the healthy, happy and disease-free lives we are entitled to.  


While I am biased towards the Paleo/Primal template of eating I am not saying this is the only way to be healthy. So long as your diet focuses on whole, real foods, of the highest quality and nutrient density and the lowest toxicity, I don't really care if you are eating bison, sea urchins, parsnips or kale smoothies - there are many diets that allow you to achieve optimal health. 

Anyway you look at it, the crappy carbohydrates I admonished in my last post need to be replaced with something more nutritious and that won't spike insulin levels. So here are some of my opinions and recommendations: 

Firstly, EAT MORE FAT! We need to get over this rubbish concept that fat is bad. It is a tragedy that some time in the 20th century the media and health advocates managed to make fat the scapegoat for our escalating health issues with obesity and heart disease. 

Just look at the body composition of an average American or Australian in 2013. Two-thirds of us are overweight or obese! The number of people at a healthy/normal weight are outnumbered two to one! Unconscionable! 

Now compared that to our grandparents' generation in the 1950s. Even in the post-war consumption boom less than one-third of Americans were overweight (Bird, 2011). Back then they were not afraid of fat, lard, butter and other naturally occurring fats… and they were all the leaner for it. 

Clearly our recent fear of fat and its substitution in processed foods with sugar and other grain-based fillers has not worked out too well. Not when being overweight or obese is now the norm. 

Yes some fats are indeed harmful - trans fats and industrial seed and vegetable oils are horrible, as I have mentioned many times and will continue to harp on about. However, many fats - both unsaturated and saturated - are very healthy. 

In fact, saturated fats from healthy animals, wild caught seafood and plants (avocado, olives, coconuts) are some of most nutritious, satiating and delicious foods available. These fats are readily digestible, abundant in energy, do not spike insulin, are often anti-inflammatory and unlike modern 'frankenfoods', our bodies know exactly what to do with them.

So do your body a favour and eat more fat from quality sources such as pasture-raised (or wild) ruminant animals (beef, lamb, bison, elk, venison), from free-range pork and eggs, from coconut oil/cream/milk, avocado, nuts, olive oil (not for cooking though), grass-fed butter, cocoa and even bacon, duck fat, ghee or render your own lard. 

How many carbs?
While it is possible to eat high-carb Paleo and still be healthy - the Kitavans ate nearly 70% of calories from carbohydrates and were free from metabolic disease (Guyenet, 2008) - most people seem to get the most benefit out of a higher fat, moderate protein and moderate to low carb diet. If you are overweight you will likely drop weight far quicker if you go low carb at the start. 

If you are trying to lose fat, Mark Sisson of The Primal Blueprint recommends you aim for 50-100gm of carbohydrates per day (Sisson, 2012). This is not really that much, particularly if you currently follow a Western diet. To give you some idea, if for breakfast you ate two slices of whole wheat toast, one banana and a large glass of orange juice you would have already exceeded 100gm of carbohydrates… and I guarantee you would be ravenous, tired and probably grumpy two hours later and reaching for more simple carbs.  

For people who are happy with their current body composition Sisson recommends 100-150gm of carbohydrates, which is still very low compared to the 300-400gm one would consume on a "healthy" diet recommendation such as the Food Pyramid farce we were taught in school.

If you are particularly active or already lean you can bump up your carbohydrate levels until you 'look, perform and feel' your best, to steal a phrase from Robb Wolf. I would certainly recommend NOT going low carb if you do intense glycogen-demanding exercise such as CrossFit. 

Personally, if I go too low carb and still train hard I start to feel like crap. Then I'll throw in some more sweet potato or maybe even some white rice and that will generally fix my mood, sleep and performance. 

Some athletes might require as much as 300+ grams of carbs on intense training days. So long as the source of these carbs is Paleo and you tolerate them well you should be fine.

Be smart and eat carbs relative to your activity levels. If you are doing METCONs, MMA or sprint triathlons then by all means eat enough carbs to replenish your glycogen stores. But even then I would go for whole food carbs from vegetables some fruit and vegetables and perhaps some potatoes and white rice, but definitely not from Gatorade and energy gels. 

Fructose shmucktose
Please note that consuming fruit as a main source of carbohydrate is not a good idea. Fructose requires metabolism by the liver, can be potentially harmful in high doses (I'm looking at you high fructose corn syrup!) and is not particularly well tolerated by a great proportion of the population (Lustig 2009). For these reasons and more that I won't go into here, fructose seems to be inferior to glucose as a source of carbohydrates for fuel. 

Some whole fruit is fine, especially fruits that are lower in fructose (fruit also contains glucose), however I certainly wouldn't recommend eating 10 apples a day to reach adequate carbohydrate levels if you are training for a triathlon! Starchy tubers (sweet potato, yams etc) are a much better option.

I'm going to leave it there for today's post. Check out these related posts for more detailed info on macronutrient breakdowns and how to burn fat by eating more fat:

Fat eggs, rabbit starvation and the mercury myth

The Big Three Weight Loss Myths: #3 - Eat Low Fat to Lose Weight

Seven Controversial Health Tips to Getting Lean


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References

Beverly Bird (2011), 'How Much Have Obesity Rates Risen since 1950?' Livestrong, 17 Feb 2011, http://www.livestrong.com/article/384722-how-much-have-obesity-rates-risen-since-1950/ [Accessed 12 May 2013]

Dr. Stephan Guyenet (2008), 'Kitava: Wrapping it Up', Whole Health Source, 21 August 2008, http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2008/08/kitava-wrapping-it-up.html [Accessed 29 Apr 2013]

Dr. Robert Lustig (2009), 'Sugar: The Bitter Truth', video presentation, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM  

Mark Sisson (2012), The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health and boundless energy

Robb Wolf (2010), The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet 

[Image source: www.muscle.iuhu.org] 

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