Somebody asked me the other day if I enjoyed science class growing up since I read so many research studies and analyze them for my readers. And the honest answer is absolutely not. In fact, science was my worst subject of all! I enjoyed social studies, English, and math the best and usually made an “A” or “B” in those classes. But science always dogged me and I struggled to get a “B” or “C.” That’s probably why I decided to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and English and then a Master’s degree in Public Policy. Science was for the birds–or so I thought!
It’s ironic how much diet, health, and nutrition have to do with science, but it’s true. The research that comes out in study after study either confirms or denies a pre-existing belief people have about a particular subject. While a singular study will probably not change the minds of someone who has strong anecdotal evidence or even other direct scientific evidence to support their dietary philosophy, the new research that comes out in this prestigious publications certainly should give you pause to think about the ramifications of the information that is being shared. And I have seven such new low-carb diet and health research studies to get your brain juices flowing today.
1. “The Effect of a Plant-Based Low-Carbohydrate (’Eco-Atkins’) Diet on Body Weight and Blood Lipid Concentrations in Hyperlipidemic Subjects” published in the June 8, 2009 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine
As if the original Atkins high-fat, low-carb diet wasn’t good enough already, these researchers attempted to make it better by using a plant-based low-carb, low-calorie diet instead. The theory was to see if similar weight loss results from previous studies could be replicated while simultaneously seeing drastic reductions in LDL cholesterol.
This so-called “Eco-Atkins” is designed to create a vegetarian Atkins diet which sounds like an oxymoron if you ask me. The researchers observed 44 overweight men and women with high LDL cholesterol and put half of them on a diet high in vegetable proteins from gluten, soy, nuts, fruits, vegetables, cereals and vegetable oils or on a high-carb, low-fat diet including low-fat dairy and whole grain products for a period of four weeks.
Both groups only consumed about 60 percent of their caloric needs to produce an alleged “calorie deficit.” Both groups lost close to exactly the same amount of weight (almost 9 pounds), but the “Eco-Atkins” study participants saw their LDL cholesterol and blood pressure DECREASE more than those on the high-carb, low-fat diet.
All I can say about this study is big whoopti-freakin’-doo! We already know from many other previous research studies on the low-carb diet like this Stanford study from March 2007 that this way of eating produces weight loss and reductions in blood pressure. Dr. Gardner found in his study that the traditionally meat-based Atkins diet kept LDL cholesterol levels stable, but significantly changed HDL (rose more than twice as much as any other diet) and triglycerides (dropped significantly compared to the other diets)–both key indicators in cardiovascular health. Why wasn’t HDL and triglycerides measured in this new study, hmmmm?
What was also missing from this new study is the kind of LDL they’re measuring. As I recently featured in a YouTube video about this, all LDL cholesterol is not the same. You have the small, dense LDL particles that are the dangerous kind that can lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart disease. And then you have the large, fluffy LDL particles that are virtually harmless to your health. Arbitrarily lowering LDL just to be lowering it is utterly ridiculous which is why taking a statin drug to accomplish this is just about as stupid as it comes. Eat a high-fat (and it can even come from animal sources), low-carbohydrate nutritional plan to make these healthier LDL particles, increase your HDL, and lower your triglycerides. You don’t need to turn to an “Eco-Atkins” because the REAL Atkins diet works just fine for producing amazing changes in your weight and health.
2. “Moderately reducing carbohydrates intake, without calorie restriction and weight loss, can help increase a sense of fullness” presented on June 11, 2009 at The Endocrine Society’s 91st Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
It seems there may be hope for the cause of carbohydrate-restriction yet thanks to new research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This preliminary study has found that eating a lower-carb diet without counting calories or even producing weight loss can increase satiety, the sense of hunger satisfaction and fullness after eating a meal, and thus spontaneously lower food consumption.
Despite lead author Dr. Barbara Gower’s claim that people can’t stick with low-carb diets because of the “drastic reduction in carbohydrates,” her lower moderate-carb approach of 43 percent of calories from carbohydrate sources compared with the typical 55 percent plus that most Americans eat exemplified the positive effect even a slight level of carbohydrate-restriction can produce. The extra carbs that were removed from this moderate-carb diet were replaced with fat so that 39 percent of their caloric intake was from that macronutrient source (leaving 18 percent of calories from protein sources).
Protein remained exactly the same in both study groups so the satiating effects of protein we are are aware of from previous studies will not impact the comparison. Dr. Gower placed 16 adults on the 39/18/43 fat/protein/carb diet and 14 adults on the 55/18/27 fat/protein/carb diet and kept calories at a level that would maintain their weight. Over a period of four weeks, daily weigh-ins occurred throughout the week and food amounts were adjusted based on whether the participant gained or lose weight.
At the end of the study, members of both study groups consumed a “test meal” that was appropriate for the diet they had been eating. Researchers measured insulin and blood sugar levels both before and after a meal and asked the study participants to rate their hunger level. The insulin and blood sugar tests were important to measure reduced insulin and stabilized blood sugar helps keep hunger under control.
Despite the lack of weight loss (by design), Dr. Gower found that a slight reduction in carbohydrate intake lowered insulin levels and stabilized blood sugar well enough that there was greater satisfaction and satiety from those consuming a lower-carb diet. Not surprisingly, the fullness of those in the moderate-carb diet group were higher both before and long after the test meal was consumed.
Okay, so this is good news, right? Well…sorta. Yes, we know that limiting carbohydrates in your diet can control insulin and blood glucose levels even without weight loss and that’s a good thing. We also know from previous research that eating a high-carb diet spikes insulin levels which makes your hunger signals go haywire (you know, that feeling that you could eat again just minutes after finishing a meal–it’s the insulin!). But a high-carb, low-fat diet is completely ineffective way of eating for people with elevated insulin levels and it makes me wonder if simply telling the tens of millions of people with high insulin levels to just “reduce” their carbs is enough.
A 2006 survey found that half of Americans are eating a lower-carb diet, but many of them still deal with obesity, diabetes, and other preventable health complications related to their diet. While I’m all in favor of people doing what they can do reduce their carbohydrate consumption because I do think it will put them on a better path to health than their current high-carb ways, a good portion of the population absolutely NEEDS to be on a genuine low-carb diet with even MORE fat in their diet and less carbs.
Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, that 39/18/43 ratio comes out to 87g dietary fat, 90g protein, and a whopping 215g carbohydrates. SHEESH! Compared to the “high-carb” group, this is certainly lower–but what kind of positive results would there have been not just for satiety but actual weight loss, lipid improvements, blood sugar and insulin control, blood pressure and lots more simply by cutting carbs down to 100g and replacing those with more dietary fat?
Let’s see, that would provide an additional 51g of fat (for a total of 138g fat) to go along with those 90g protein and 100g carbohydrate for a fat/protein/carb ratio of 62/18/20. Those ratios certainly look a whole lot closer to the livin’ la vida low-carb I know and love than the ones Dr. Gower came up with. And it is COMPLETELY doable as a permanent and healthy lifestyle change no matter what she claims about compliance.
One more thing on the satiety of these diets. While turning off the flow of insulin is essential by cutting down on the carbohydrates, you cannot underestimate the role dietary fat plays in hunger control. The satiating properties of this vilified macronutrient are tremendous and can help someone like me go for hours between meals without eating and never think twice about it. And when you remove the carbs from your diet, you have to replace them with another source of fuel instead–that’s the role fat plays in a healthy low-carb lifestyle change. And when you reduce the carbs, fat is passive in the body. There’s just no need to bring the “fat nocebo effect” into play.
3. “A Traditional Rice and Beans Pattern Is Associated with Metabolic Syndrome in Puerto Rican Older Adults” published in the May 20, 2009 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.
One of the most frequently-used antagonist viewpoints towards the low-carb lifestyle is the excuse that high-carb-eating cultures tend to be some of the slimmest people in the world. So it can’t possibly be the carbohydrates that are the culprit in obesity and disease, right? But my contention has always been that while foods like rice and beans may not necessarily pack on the pounds for everyone who consumes them, there are consequences to your health that will hit you down the road. And that’s exactly what this study from a USDA group shows.
The researchers observed that half of the senior citizen Puerto Rico population living in Massachusetts had symptoms of metabolic syndrome, the cumulative effects of obesity, insulin resistance, heart disease, and high cholesterol, and they wanted to know what was in the diet of this group of people that brought about such an alarmingly high rate of health-related problems. They observed the dietary patterns of 1167 Puerto Ricans between the ages of 45 to 75 years old and excluded those participants with diabetes for the purposes of this study.
Three eating patterns quickly became evident–a “meat and French fries” group, a “traditional” group, and a “sweets” group. Those who ate the meat and French fries experienced higher blood pressure and bigger waist sizes. The traditional Puerto Rican diet of black beans and rice led to a lower HDL cholesterol and greater odds of developing metabolic syndrome. And the sweets group also had lower HDL as well as larger waists. The researchers say more research is needed to “make appropriate nutritional recommendations for this high-risk population.”
Well, I don’t really know what else the researchers need to explore regarding their findings because we already know from this 2005 study by Dr. Richard Feinman and Dr. Jeff Volek that all the areas of health impacted by metabolic syndrome are effectively managed with carbohydrate-restricted diets. Deeply-ingrained cultural eating may be difficult to change, but not impossible. And the Puerto Ricans aren’t the only one who are eating poorly on a traditional diet. What are the “traditional” foods from the United States of America? Hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream, and mom’s homemade apple pie! The same holds true for us, too. Livin’ la vida low-carb is the answer to ward off the inevitable metabolic syndrome.
4. “Is obesity associated with lower body temperatures? Core temperature: a forgotten variable in energy balance” published in the June 2009 issue of Metabolism
Now this is a really fascinating review study out of Northwestern. The researchers contend the common reasons given for obesity and disease have it all wrong. These people are fat and lazy and we can’t simply point the finger of blame on them for eating more and exercising less. They surmise that there must be something much more complex going on within the body to determine the weight and health of the individual and the researchers believe it has to do with the core body temperature.
Interestingly, even slight changes in body temperature can actually bring about big differences in metabolism. The theory is that lower body temperatures (possibly brought on by reductions in inflammation) can lead to better metabolic function and weight loss. So maybe, just maybe these higher core body temperatures tip the scale for some people to be more susceptible to becoming obese and sick. Although this is merely a review of a hunch by a group of researchers, I think it could hold promise for future obesity research.
I will attempt to get the lead researcher from Northwestern on my podcast show this Fall to discuss this fascinating subject further.
5. “Vitamin D and Cancer Mini-Symposium: The Risk of Additional Vitamin D” published in the July 2009 issue of Annals of Epidemiology
One of the hottest health topics being discussed right now has got to be Vitamin D supplementation. I’ve blogged about Christine’s low D3 levels earlier this year and we even did a YouTube video about the subject because it is THAT critical for people to learn the truth about it. But one of the concerns about people supplementing their diet with Vitamin D is the unknown risks associated with it–namely a condition of toxicity that manifests itself as hypercalcemia.
Brief daily exposure of the skin to the ultraviolet light from the sun where there is adequate exposure gives adults a safe amount of Vitamin D that is equivalent to taking 10,000IU of D3 supplementation each day. This would give your plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) concentration a possible reading as high as 88 ng/mL. The take-home message: a prolonged intake of 10,000 IU daily of Vitamin D3 “poses no risk of adverse effects for adults, even if this is added to a rather high physiologic background level of vitamin D.”
All I can say is “what are you waiting for to get your Vitamin D3 levels up?!” Last year when I had mine checked and it came in at a dismal 42 ng/mL, I knew I had to do something about it. My podcast interview with Dr. William Davis convinced me this was something I needed to do and I immediately began taking 10,000IU of Vitamin D3 gel caps daily that I bought at Sam’s Club for about $12. In just six months of this, my D3 levels increased from 42 to 68 ng/mL. AMAZING! I’ve since backed down to ONLY 4,000-6,000IU a day, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. There’s just too much good that can come from it.
6. “Association between 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and cognitive performance in middle-aged and older European men” published in the May 21, 2009 issue of Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, & Psychiatry
Speaking of the negative health effects of low Vitamin D levels, here’s another reason to raise them–COGNITIVE FUNCTION! If you find yourself having difficulty remembering things, then first check to see if all those carbohydrates you’ve been eating could be the culprit. But if you’re livin’ la vida low-carb and still have issues, then it could be because of a lack of D3 in your system.
The researchers in the study observed 3133 men between the ages of 40 to 79 years old from Europe (as part of the European Male Aging Study ) with low Vitamin D levels and found they performed worse on a standard test of cognitive ability than those with normal D3 levels. The University of Manchester researchers admit the difference wasn’t substantial but it was worth noting. The lower the D3, the worse the cognitive performance. This especially hit older men over the age of 60 the hardest.
This is yet further evidence of the need for Vitamin D supplementation.
7. “Increased Food Intake Alone Explains Rise In Obesity In United States” presented on May 8, 2009 at the European Congress on Obesity in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Of all the things we’ve learned about how American got to be so fat since the 1970s, leave it to a research study shared at last month’s European Congress on Obesity to tell us it all comes down to us eating way too many calories. I’ll credit the researchers for downplaying the exercise factor that is often brought up and placing the blame directly on the diet. But I disagree it is solely based on calories.
The researchers tested 1,399 adults and 963 children to determine how many calories their body was using for energy. Then they calculated exactly how much food was required to maintain weight for the adults and to grow at a normal rate for the children. After gathering this data, the researchers determined how much the average American actually eats in the early 2000s compared with the 1970s to predict how much weight gain would be expected in the population. Using statistics from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) survey, the researchers could determine if the trend is because of changes in the diet, lack of exercise, or some of both.
For the children, the predicted weight gain since 1970 and the actual results were virtually identical. So it could be determined that increases in caloric intake over the previous 30 years directly contributed to the weight increase. As for the adults, the prediction was a 24-pound gain and the actual was 19 pounds. The researchers note that they still believe the bigger portions explain the weight gain but more exercise than they expected cut into what would have been greater gains in weight.
The researchers conclude that children would need to reduce their caloric intake by 350 calories/day and adults by 500 calories/day to “return to the average weights of [people living in] the 1970s.” The other suggestion for bringing about a return to the physique of the bell-bottom era is for children to walk an extra 150 minutes daily and adults 110 minutes daily. Yeah right! The conclusion is for Americans to adopt a few less calories and a little more physical activity to return to the thin “glory days” of the 1970s.
Okay, so here’s my problem with the study. It doesn’t distinguish between the varying types of calories as Christine and I shared about in this recent YouTube video. Something else the researchers don’t even bother acknowledging in this study is the sudden switch from sucrose to fructose that happened–SURPRISE, SURPRISE!–in the early 1970s. These extra calories and carbohydrates are undoubtedly why we have become so obese in 2009 America. Fat and protein consumption levels have remained virtually unchanged since the 1960s (although fat has gone down slightly), but carbohydrate/sugar intake has risen exponentially since that time. The rise in obesity and diabetes is not coincidental with these increases in carbs.
Have you seen a recent thought-provoking study about low-carb diets or health you think should be highlighted? Keep in mind that I try to stay on top of these things as they come out, so no older studies please. People send me stuff from two or three years ago that I blogged about way back when. I like to stay cutting-edge with the information I provide, so THANKS so much for your help! E-mail me the links anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.