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Serbian English Language Student Sasa Lazic Presents Lecture Shunning Carbs, Embracing Fat For Health

Posted Sep 30 2010 7:34am

Last month I shared with you a student presentation by one of my enthusiastic blog readers named Holly Johnson from the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Livin’ la vida low-carb has changed her life so much that she just had to do a presentation for her public speaking class sharing with her fellow students the virtues of high-fat, low-carb living. Well, it’s happened again and this time around we head clear across the world to Niš, Serbia to meet up with a 23-year old English Language and Literature student there named Sasa Lazic .

Sasa has long been interested in the subject of human nutrition and it became especially important to him when he got up to 220 pound on his small-framed body. This motivated him to do something about it and so he did what virtually everyone these days does to learn more about the best way to lose weight–he Googled it! Inevitably, what Sasa found was a whole lot of information about low-fat diets where he “fell victim” to the conventional wisdom regarding nutritional health. Although he did lose weight eating a low-fat diet for a period of time, as soon as he started eating “normally” again (including 200 grams of bread at every meal which is a custom in Serbia) the weight came pouring back on again. It’s a scenario that many people desiring weight loss have found themselves in but Sasa wasn’t giving up hope that there was a way of eating out there that could work for him and keep him satisfied without feeling deprived so he could make it a permanent lifestyle change. He eventually found his saving grace in the healthy low-carb lifestyle.

Although he can’t remember exactly how he first heard about low-carb, Sasa did note that the “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb” blog opened his eyes to new information he had never seen or heard about before. He very quickly realized some of the most basic concepts about low-carb diets that helped him come to the conclusion that it was the right plan for him. From the harmlessness of consuming dietary fat in the absence of sugar/carbs to the amazing biological process known as gluconeogenesis , this education led him to begin his own customized low-carb plan which helped him lose weight and maintain that weight loss ever since. He did admit to me that with the stress of studying for his exams he will occasionally have a sugary treat, but only on rare occasions.

Sasa’s teachers gave his class an assignment to write an essay on the topic of their choice and then present a 5-minute oral presentation about it. Needless to say, with his newfound passion for sharing about healthy low-carb living, Sasa chose this topic to educate his classmates and teachers. When his speech was finished, Sasa noted “this is where the fun began.” Questions started flying at him from students inquiring to learn more about why fat isn’t fattening, why carbohydrates aren’t really necessary in the diet, how carbs turn to sugar in the body and so much more. Like a low-carb superstar, Sasa patiently answered all of their questions as thoroughly as possible by presenting the science supporting carbohydrate-restriction. He said he hoped his speech at least “tickled their brains” about learning the truth about the harmlessness of fat and the dangers of consuming carbohydrates that turn to sugar in the body. I’d say mission accomplished!

Here’s the written presentation by Sasa Lazic that started the hullabaloo amongst his classmates:

For almost every person in the world, sweets are something they simply cannot resist. But have you ever wondered what happens to your body when you load it up with sugar? Recent research suggests worst possible scenarios in terms of health once the sugar has been absorbed in your system, weight gain being only the tiny fraction of the malevolent effect. The alarming increase in childhood obesity and occurrence of Type 2 diabetes in teenagers is clearly the sugar’s legacy. To the human physiology sugar is just as foreign and poisonous as being bitten by a snake, but, sadly, the actual consequences are to be spotted only after decades of continuous consumption, though. So is there an answer? Of course there is.

Just think about your ancestors and look where you are now (with regard to the modern advancements) and how they evolved through history thriving on a NO-sugar diet. Indeed, many experts on nutrition nowadays maintain that the optimal diet for a human is that of the cavemen, consisting chiefly of meat. To convince a person that the fat is not bad for them, but rather that the sugar is the sole culprit for many a disease, is particularly hard a task, as we live in a “non – fat era” in which the authorities are (un)intentionally misleading us to minimize the consumption fat as much as possible and to make carbohydrates our staple food. Of, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, only the carbohydrates are a non-essential nutrient.

In addition, sugar, being a carbohydrate, is responsible for many diseases–obesity, malfunctioning of the brain, diabetes, etc. The supporting evidence lies in contemporary Eskimo peoples, whose diet is sugar-free, and abundant in fat, yet they have rare cases of heart disease, and it is only when they move to live in “civilization” that they start having, to them, unprecedented health issues. Therefore, it is important that people realize that it is the sugar, rather than the fat, that is the cause of these problems, and that the “experts” have been misleading us for a long time with regard to the correlation of fat and the hearth disease. Also, it should be preferable to decrease the amount of processed carbohydrates eaten, in other words, to follow a lower carbohydrate diet.

Proteins and fats both have their target functions when it comes to nutrition, and as such are classified as nutrients that are of vital importance to our health. Firstly, protein is classified as an essential nutrient. That is to say you cannot live without it, and it has to be eaten on a daily basis. More accurately, proteins are comprised of amino acids (isoleucine, tryptofan, lysine etc), which perform a myriad of functions inside our bodies–anything from enzyme production to cells’ detoxification process is the role of proteins. Next, fat is also classified as an essential nutrient. Just like the amino acids, fat molecules perform a variety of functions. Fats play a vital role in maintaining healthy skin and hair, insulating body organs against shock, maintaining body temperature, and promoting healthy cell function. Fats also serve as energy stores for the body, containing about 9 calories per gram. They are broken down in the body to release glycerol and free fatty acids. The glycerol can be converted to glucose by the liver and thus used as a source of energy.

Carbohydrates are organic compounds which, in human nutrition, have solely one purpose–that of providing the energy. So you may be wondering what is wrong with providing your body with energy. Well, the problem is that this energy comes at too high a cost. Human bodies possess the hormone insulin, which lowers the blood sugar, but what is also worth mentioning is that it also causes dietary fat (the fat we obtain from our diet) to be stored inside our bodies’ cells, through complex biochemical processes. So, here is the real trick; the fat we eat without the presence of carbohydrates in a meal, will not become a part of our body fat, as the insulin has no effect whatsoever on the dietary fat. It is also imperative to bear in mind the fact that we can also generate glucose by means of the process called gluconeogenesis, which is the process of new glucose molecules being created in the liver from the protein we eat. In addition, in no scientific textbooks will you be able to find the term essential carbohydrates, because there simply are not any!

It may get confusing up to this point, since we all know that it is the carbohydrates that “provide” you and your brain with energy. As a matter of fact, this is true. Our bodies have a “preference” to utilizing glucose as an energy source. The reason for this is the fact that glucose is most readily available source of energy to our billons of cells; it takes the least amount of time for glucose to be converted into molecules which are escorted to mitochondria (energy-producing organelles inside of cells) to be burned as energy. But our bodies also have other means of producing energy! As mentioned above, via gluconeogenesis, i.e. the proteins we eat, glucose is readily made. Moreover, throughout the animal kingdom, this is the chief way of generating glucose.

It is also well worth mentioning the Inuit peoples. The Inuit have traditionally been hunters and fishers. They still hunt whales, walrus, caribou, seal, polar bears, birds. The typical Inuit diet is high in protein and very high in fat–in their traditional diets, Inuit consumed an average of 75% of their daily energy intake from fat! The fact that at any given time human hearth uses about 70% of energy derived from triglycerides (fat) proves that Inuits’ high fat diet is perfectly sustainable, but also very healthy.

Sugar’s notoriety for being fattening is widespread. In fact, the first thing anyone would advise you while trying to lose weight is to decrease the amount of sugar and sweets in your diet, and rightly so. Not only is sugar what makes your fat cells to become larger, but it also exhibits a variety of health hazards upon human body, which has been extensively researched and documented. In the beginning of agriculture era, the middle and lower class citizenship had no access to high-carbohydrate foods such as white bread and sugar, simply because they were too expensive to them. These were available only to noblemen and royalty. Back then, it was fashionable to be fat, as it was a sign of you being able to afford sugar and white bread.

Nowadays, when nearly everyone is able to afford themselves, the obesity rates are sky-rocketing. Children load themselves up with gallons of sodas full of sugar, and then we wander how it is possible for a child to develop the Type 2 diabetes! Surely, you would think it is not the sugar to blame, because the sugar is not fat, and cannot be very fattening! But you are most definitely wrong. A child eating a Big Mac, consisting of French fries and a hamburger, would not gain ANY weight if he/she were to discard the bun and the French fries. In fact, he/she would likely even lose a few pounds. But how, you may ask, just how can a burger not be fattening when it is…meat? Any meat basically consists of protein and fatty acids (fat). As mentioned, both of them have their target roles, one of them being providing energy to your body.

But do carbohydrates also provide energy? Yes, but the difference is both the fat and the proteins we eat have no impact on insulin levels, by means of which we accumulate fat cells. The problem is that insulin is essentially a fat storage hormone, evolved to put aside excess carbohydrate calories in the form of fat in case of future famine. So the insulin that’s stimulated by excess carbohydrates aggressively promotes the accumulation of body fat. In other words, when we eat too much carbohydrate, we’re essentially sending a hormonal message, via insulin, to the body (actually, to the fat cells). The message: “Store fat.” SO, the kid eating Big Mac does, truth be told, store fat cells from the very fat he eats, but watch this–IF AND ONLY IF he eats the bun with, because, as I have stated, the insulin in this boy’s lever goes berserk, and wreaks havoc in terms of both his health and weight.

The success of low carbohydrate diets during the past two decades can well be the supporting evidence that sugar and, in general, processed carbohydrates are health villains, since people following them have had great success in not only losing weight but also in improving various health markers. Essentially, as proteins and fat have no significant influence on the insulin levels, most of the foods that are consumed on, say, the Atkins diet, are comprised of mixture of fat and proteins, such as cheese, eggs, bacon, all kinds of meat, fish. Of course these are fattening, but, again, I repeat, only if you would eat them at the same time with starches, bread and just about any refined and processed type of carbohydrates. One of the reasons a low carbohydrates diet works is that protein and fat satisfy your hunger. When you eat protein, you do not crave more protein. If you had a huge plate of chicken, you would not continue to eat it after you had enough. You would eat a certain amount and then you wouldn’t want to eat any more.

With carbohydrates, you can never get enough. You can be full, topped off, completely stuffed, and you could still go for some ice cream! Eating carbohydrates makes you long for more carbohydrates. But what about fruits? They are also high in carbohydrates. Yes, but a different kind of a carbohydrate. Namely in most of the fruits there is also the fructose, which does not cause a dramatic increase in insulin levels. So, it is safe to eat, but are normally to be avoided during the initial stages of a low carbohydrate diet, due to their higher than allowed carbohydrate content. Most of the low carbohydrate diets typically recommend that in the beginning phase one should eradicate virtually all carbohydrate-containing foods. The same case is with the vegetables, though they are bit less rich in carbohydrates and generally richer in dietary fiber than fruits. Dietary fiber is also beneficial for regulating the insulin levels, as they decrease the time the absorption of sugars from the stomach to the small intestine, where all of the food processing and absorbing of nutrients takes place. The foods you are to avoid as they trigger the malign insulin response are those that are rich in carbohydrates, as simple as that. What would fall under this category is all kinds of sweets, just about anything in which sugar was added, white bread, sodas, and high- carbohydrate fruits and vegetables such as bananas and potatoes.

Refined sugar is detrimental to health as it provides only what nutrition experts call “empty” calories. In other words, white sugar is refined to such an extent that it has no natural vitamins or minerals originally present in the sugar cane or beet. What is even worse is the fact that it it drains and leaches the body of precious vitamins and minerals through the demand its digestion, detoxification and elimination makes upon one’s entire system. Luckily enough human bodies are equipped with a defense mechanism against a high intake of sugar. Minerals such as sodium (from salt), potassium and magnesium (from vegetables), and calcium (from the bones) are mobilized and used in chemical transmutation; neutral acids are produced which attempt to return the acid-alkaline balance factor of the blood to a more normal state.

Sugar eaten every day leads to the over acidic condition, and more and more minerals are drawn from the inside of our bodies which attempt to fix the imbalance generated by sugar intake. Eventually, so much calcium is taken out of our bones and teeth that it ultimately it leads to osteoporosis and tooth decay. But excess sugar eventually affects all of the organs in the body. Initially, it is stored in the liver in the form of glucose (glycogen). Since the liver’s capacity is limited, a daily intake of refined sugar (above the required amount of natural sugar) soon makes the liver expand like a balloon. When the liver is filled to its maximum capacity, the excess glycogen is returned to the blood in the form of fatty acids. These are taken to every part of the body and stored in the most inactive areas: the belly, the buttocks, the breasts and the thighs. Excessive sugar has a strong mal-effect on the functioning of the brain.

The key to orderly brain function is glutamic acid, a vital compound found in many vegetables. The B vitamins play a major role in dividing glutamic acid into antagonistic-complementary compounds which produce a “proceed” or “control” response in the brain. B vitamins are also manufactured by symbiotic bacteria which live in our intestines. When refined sugar is taken daily, these bacteria wither and die, and our stock of B vitamins gets very low. Too much sugar makes one sleepy; our ability to calculate and remember is lost. What is also intriguing to mention is the fact that sugar is an addictive substance. Abruptly giving up sugar often brings on the sort of withdrawal symptoms associated with narcotic drugs–fatigue, lethargy, depression, moodiness, headaches, aching limbs. This happens as the body eliminates the left over toxins from the sugar and begins to bring itself back into balance. Sugar also makes the blood very thick and sticky, inhibiting much of the blood flow into the minute capillaries that supply our gums and teeth with vital nutrients. As a consequence, we end up with diseased gums and starving teeth. America and England, the two largest sugar consumers, have horrendous dental problems.

Diabetes is another commonly known disease caused by sugar. Some people claim that sugar is something they could absolutely not do without, as it provides them with a quick source of energy, in other words, a rapid increase in energy, but they could not be more wrong. The striking fact that there is no such thing as “essential carbohydrate,” as opposed to the essential fats and amino acids, clearly contradicts such claims by people who crave sugary foods. So, how is this possible? There is a perfectly logical explanation–sugar is simply an addictive substance, just like the nicotine. Furthermore, diabetes is caused by the failure of the pancreas to produce adequate insulin when the blood sugar rises. A concentrated amount of sugar introduced into the system sends the body into shock from the rapid rise in the blood sugar level. The pancreas eventually wears out from overwork and diabetes then stars to exhibit its disastrous effects. The fact that members of some of the Inuit tribes who are brought to “civilization,” and as a consequence get to consume our “modern” diet, immediately show symptoms of “modern” diseases (diabetes, hypertension, etc.) speaks for itself.

The Eskimo’s diet is based on large quantities of meat, in fact that is the only thing that is at their disposal, being hunter–gatherers. In other words, they eat a high-fat, high-protein diet. The conventional wisdom has it that you would dramatically die of heart disease were you to ingest such large amount of fat, which Eskimo peoples do, yet they do NOT! Quite the contrary, actually. Their heart rate is double than that of average person, cancer is virtually unknown to them, and they have one of the highest life expectancy in the world. All of this may well be attributed to their way of eating, one of the most contributing factors being the ABSENCE of refined sugar/bread, in other words, the absence of modern “nutritional hazards”. Perhaps it’s not a “fight against fat” we should be worrying about, but rather a fight against refined, processed, packaged modern “convenience” foods and a modern sedentary (lazy) lifestyle.

Of humans some four million years on earth, 99% of this time has been that of hunting game and gathering wild plants. And, when the animals had been hunted to either extinction or near extinction, then and only then did humans turn to agriculture and animal domestication. However, when humans turned to agriculture, a large percentage of the crops was devoted to rearing domesticated animals for meat. Meat has been, and remains so when available, the choice food of mankind because it supplies all the nutrients, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and essential elements necessary to sustain sound health. For example, the surest source of vitamin B-12 is animal protein.

No cultures or people in the world have ever been 100% vegetarians; however, a number, such as the Masai of Africa, Plains Indians, the Eskimo and the Lapps, in their traditional culture, subsist almost entirely on meat and have been very healthy. When they adapted to our modern diet which is high in refined carbohydrates, their health deteriorated rapidly; they developed a high incidence of degenerative diseases characteristic of our modern civilization, especially heart disease. Actually, there is no no positive nor a direct proof that eating the foods high in cholesterol raises serum cholesterol levels, that high cholesterol levels results in heart disease, and that consuming great quantities of polyunsaturated fats or oils may be detrimental to one’s health.

In his book, a renowned author with a special field of interest in the malevolent effects of high-carbohydrate dietary patterns, Gary Taubes, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” thoroughly examines the issue of the exaggerated high-sugar (carbohydrate) consumption prevalent in the modern societies. After years of research and conducting studies, therefore, with a myriad of supporting pieces of evidence he validly concludes the claim that carbohydrates are to kept at a minimum in one’s diets, in addition to them being a sole culprit to causing many diseases. To put it simply, low carbohydrate diets, with a high intake of fat will NOT cause the heart diseases, high blood pressure and just about anything stereotypically related to fats. Dietary fat, saturated or is not the cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization. The problem is carbohydrates, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation on homeostasis–the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body. The more easily digestible and refined carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.

Sugars–sucrose (white sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup in particular–are especially harmful, probably because the combination of fructose and glucose simultaneously elevates insulin levels while overloading the liver with carbohydrates. Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. They are the most likely causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and the other chronic diseases of civilization. Obesity is caused by an imbalance–a disequilibrium–in the hormonal regulation of adipose tissue and fat metabolism. Fat synthesis and storage exceed the mobilization of fat from the adipose tissue its subsequent oxidation. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this balance. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated–either chronically or after a meal–we accumulate fat in our fat tissue. When the insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and use it for fuel. By stimulating insulin carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. The fewer we consume, the leaner we will be. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also cause hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.

So, how can this happen, that we are persistently advised to reduce the amount of saturated fat we eat, and follow a low-fat diet in order to reduce the risk of heart disease and related conditions? It all started in the 1950s, when the biochemist, Ancel Keys, devised a theory called “The Lipid Hypothesis,” which roughly states that that there is a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and the incidence of coronary heart disease, that is to say, that the intake of saturated fat directly leads to the increase in total cholesterol, thereby causing the development of the heart disease. Numerous subsequent studies have questioned his data and conclusions. Nevertheless, Keys’ articles received far more publicity than those presenting the alternate views. The grain-processing industries, the main beneficiaries of any research that found fault with competing fat containing foods, began promoting and funding further research designed to support the lipid hypothesis.

Basically, what Keys did was to compare the consumption fat in 6 countries (America, Australia, Japan, Canada, Italy and the United Kingdom) with the incidence of heart attacks. The trend line was unmistakable–the more fat eaten, the higher the incidence of heart disease. Just one little problem–he left out the countries in which there was a very high intake of heart disease, such as Norway, Holland, or France, and also the countries in which people do not eat a lot of fat yet they do have a lot of heart disease, like Chile. The Lipid hypothesis is considered wrong and obsolete by majority of the scientific community, who agree that the occurrence of the heart disease is a complex process, often involving multiple factors such as stress, smoking, and sedentary lifestyle.

In the United States, 315 of every 100,000 middle-aged men die of heart attacks each year; in France the rate is 145 per 100,000. In the Gascony region, where goose and duck liver form a staple of the diet, this rate is a remarkably low–80 per 100,000. This phenomenon has recently gained international attention as the French Paradox. The French do suffer from many degenerative diseases, however. They eat large amounts of sugar and white flour and in recent years have succumbed to the timesaving temptations of processed foods). The notion that saturated fats per se cause heart disease as well as cancer is not only facile, it is just plain wrong. Most fat in our bodies and in the food we eat is in the form of triglycerides, that is, three fatty-acid chains attached to a glycerol molecule. Elevated triglycerides in the blood have been positively linked to proneness to heart disease, but these triglycerides do not come directly from dietary fats; they are made in the liver from any excess sugars that have not been used for energy. The source of these excess sugars is any food containing carbohydrates, particularly refined sugar and white flour.

All in all, there are many misconceptions about both sugar and fat. Sugar is probably the most dangerous type of food you can eat. If you could pack the human history into one year, we have only been farming and eating grains and sugar since yesterday, which is when we became fatter and more prone to different diseases. But somehow the “experts” came to the “obvious” conclusion–we need to eat a lot more of sugar and a lot less of animal fat. And so they convinced us that the human health depends on the foods we did not eat for more than 99% of our entire existence. The supporting evidence against the “Lipid Hypothesis” is omnipresent, if only you were willing enough to look–the dietary patterns of primordial societies, Inuit tribes who subsist almost entirely on fat, and even those of the modern societies, such as Norwegian, and yet they have low rates of the hearth attack, many times lower than those in countries that typically follow “normal, low-fat diets.”

Still, doctors continue to “prescribe” a low-fat, meaning, a high-carbohydrate/sugar diet, for people suffering from elevated cholesterol or triglycerides. Not only are they wrong, but are also working against the patient by doing so! It is actually the sugar that causes and aggravates many health conditions–the number of them is just far too big to enlist them. It is therefore essential that everyone be aware of what really is causing their health to deteriorate–not the fat, but the sugar. Very similarly to what sugar does to your teeth, as all of us are familiar with, it does inside your body–it brings about an over acidic condition which has got implications to many health problems, stomach ulcers, gastritis, indigestion, to name just a few, and that is only what it does to your digestive system.

A lot of people may think sugar is not that bad for them or even think is somewhat benign as it provides them with a quick source of energy, say, through the consumption of energy drinks which are normally heavily loaded with sugar. But they are surely not aware of the intricate mechanisms by which the body tries to process the sugar. Calcium and magnesium, the major constituents of our bones are readily mobilized to bring back the over acidic imbalance back to equilibrium. Over time this process leads to osteoporosis and a general calcium and magnesium deficiency, which in turn contributes to muscle spasms and fatigue, to name just a few of the chain reaction constituents. Not that you may not eat absolutely no sugar, as it is highly inevitable nowadays, or that you should eat an all fat and protein diet, just like the Eskimos do. It is just important to bear in mind what is right and what is not when it comes to nutrition, and therefore make smarter food choices, which does entail keeping sugar laden foods to a minimum. Consequently, this will over time lead to a healthier and happier you.

REFERENCES

124 Ways Sugar Can Ruin Your Health , Contributed by Nancy Appleton, PhD

Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes, page 23, chapter “Inadequacy of lesser evidence”

Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes, page 249, chapter “The carbohydrate hypothesis III: hunger and satiety”

WOW! For someone who is learning English as a second language, I think Sasa did a spectacular job with his presentation which is why I wanted to highlight it here at my blog. He included so much information in such a clear and concise way that I don’t think he could have done much better with the final product. Sasa, we are VERY proud of you, my friend, and wish you well as you continue to be a beacon of light for livin’ la vida low-carb in Serbia! If you enjoyed this presentation from Sasa Lazik, then how about sending him an encouraging e-mail or writing to him through his Facebook page . I know he’d get a kick out of corresponding with you!

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