Obesity is one of America's key health concerns. We spend an estimated 42 billion dollars a year on drugs, diet foods and surgeries to slim down. We are very concerned about the health risks of being overweight, and so are our doctors. Why then, do we continue to get fatter even though we are following their low fat, calories in-calories out diet advice?
Before we can work to prevent obesity, we have to understand why and how our bodies take in nutrients, distribute them to all the cells of the body and "store" what energy is left until we need it later in the day. In other words, we have to know what regulates fat accumulation.
You may be surprised to learn there are two factors that determine how much fat we store and both have to do with a hormone called insulin. When our insulin levels are high, we store more fat in our fat tissue. When insulin levels are lower, the fat is released so that we may use it for fuel. This isn't something new. Doctors and scientists have known this since the 1960s and it has never been disputed because there is no controversy surrounding the premise. It's a scientific, biological fact. The other indisputable fact is that our insulin levels are determined by the quantity and quality of the carbohydrates we eat, among other things.
Insulin is a hormone. Your pancreas produces insulin to help get the food you eat into the waiting cells of your body for nourishment and energy. In fact, your body begins producing insulin from the moment you even think about eating.
When we load up on simple, easy to digest carbs (especially sugary drinks, juices and beer), insulin kicks into high gear to begin breaking those carbs down in order to keep our blood sugar normal. Carbohydrates for all intents and purposes are basically nothing more than sugars once they enter your body. They essentially have no nutritional value when compared with other foods, but they are very good at making us and keeping us fat.
This is an oversimplified explanation to some extent because of the space constraint of this blog, but you get the picture. The big question now is: How can I manage my insulin levels to lose weight and keep it off for life?
In order to control your insulin, you have to stop eating foods that increase it. A normal insulin level enables your body to function optimally and distribute your nutrients evenly. Your cells get the energy they need and your appetite naturally decreases. Why? Because when you need energy your body uses stored fat. Carbohydrates, especially the simplest forms (sugar, starches, white flour, white rice, pasta and sugary beverages, for example) cause your body to be flooded with insulin in order to maintain your blood sugar.
As your fat cells grow, so do you and before you know it you're being diagnosed with type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease among other so-called obesity related illnesses.
Critics of low carb eating habits insist that your body needs carbs for fuel and therefore reducing or eliminating them is unhealthy. However, the science of biology paints quite another picture. Even a reasonable person with no expertise on the matter can conclude that if eating certain foods causes a hormone imbalance that in turn causes obesity that further still causes other dangerous health issues, then it's in his best interest to limit those foods. It's also interesting to note that the foods in question (unless fortified after refinement as in the case of rice or bread) that cause this insulin spike have almost no nutritional value whatsoever.
The one value carbohydrate rich foods have is that they are filling to eat and very inexpensive. Many disparaging comments have been made about food stamp recipients and the financially challenged in general being obese and looking as though, "they ain't missing any meals." Macaroni and Cheese, ramen noodles, rice, potatoes and cereal are the cheapest foodstuffs you can buy to feed a family of five. And that is the very diet that is also causing their obesity.
Refined and processed foods in general are not healthy. Most are loaded with sugar. Even ketchup has added sugar-an easily digested carbohydrate. It's not hard to understand how obesity has taken hold in our society when nearly everything we take off the store shelves has added sugar, even though we often cannot taste it.
Conventional wisdom as far back as the 1800s was that bread, potatoes, pasta and sugar were fattening and if you wanted to stay slim-or as slim as you could hope to be-you didn't eat very much of those foods. Soon after World War II and without so much as a shred of scientific evidence to support the claim, Americans were suddenly told that a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fat was the key, not only to weight management but also the prevention of heart disease. Nearly 60 years later we are fatter than ever, our hearts haven't benefited one bit and now Type II Diabetes has entered the scene at an alarming rate, affecting even our children.
Bad science and worse advice have created a nation of unhealthy people who are frustrated and disenchanted with their physical state. The experts have misapplied the laws of thermodynamics to the biology of the human body. They assume that we get fatter because we are taking in more calories than we need and not expending those calories by exercising. This premise is based on the first law of thermodynamics. It simply isn't true. Insulin levels and enzymes that are dramatically affected by how we eat regulate our fat accumulation. Until we understand this fact of biology we will never achieve good health or size.
Even if they could explain obesity based on thermodynamics (obviously we have to overeat to become obese) they can't explain why we overeat. And again, poor insulin regulation is responsible-not the law of thermodynamics. In other words, we are eating too much because we are getting fat, not getting fat because we eat too much.
A number of myths surround low-carb diets that have done more harm than good. Obviously, if you cut out all the carbohydrates in your diet by not eating sweet and starchy foods and those loaded with grain you are going to replace them with something else. Meats, fats, salad greens and vegetables will make up the bulk of your diet. Some "experts" have argued that this isn't a healthy way to eat, at least not for your heart. However, research and countless case studies have shown that this isn't the absolutely true. In fact, there is compelling evidence that high insulin levels may also be responsible for heart disease and that saturated fat has been getting a bad rap all these years.
Next week I will explore the "fat is bad" phenomenon - how it got started and where we really stand when it comes to dietary fat and obesity.
For more detailed information about obesity and the insulin connection, please follow the link posted below. I also want to make clear that while simple carbohydrates are largely responsible for the spikes in insulin levels that in turn contribute to obesity, they are by no means the sole cause. However, a diet low in sugars and other simple carbs will definitely allow you to lose significant amounts of weight if that is your goal. I encourage you to read, "Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It," by science writer Gary Taubes, who has spent years researching the reasons why obesity has become such an urgent health issue today.