Hormones – Insulin 1

I want to repeat this crucial point:

Hormones control every single activity in our bodies, including our metabolism of fat.

But for now we continue with the superstar – Insulin! I keep repeating that there are many players in this game, and I will introduce them in due course, but by far the most common cause of metabolic breakdown today is insulin dis-regulation.

In my last post I flirted with the idea that from our evolutionary perspective, it was important to make sure that we never end up with a low blood glucose (BG) level because that would kill us. We examined the chart below, and saw that we have a triple redundancy to make sure of that. Back in the day, getting BG up at the appropriate time was lifesaving. Today, however, keeping BG (and insulin) up all the time is quite literally killing us.

Insulin is not toxic. It is a damn handy hormone to have—when your body responds to it properly.

hormones

Well, let’s look at the chart again from the perspective of ‘fatty acid’. Three of these hormones—glucagon, epinephrine, and cortisol—all “stimulate fatty acid release from adipose tissue.” You know what that means, right? That’s lipolysis—the breaking down of fat—stored body fat! But now look at insulin. It is the only one—the only one—of these four hormones that “stimulates fatty acid synthesis & storage after a high-carbohydrate meal.” And you know what that means, right? The storing of fat on the body. Indeed, THIS may be the primary role of insulin: inhibition of lipolysis. (Or, anti-catabolism, in general — the building up, rather than the breaking down, of tissue. An anabolic role).

With 3 hormones initiating fat breakdown and just 1, teensy weensy 1, initiating fat storage, why are we becoming a fat world ?!!

For arguments sake, even if we consider that lowering blood glucose is the primary function of insulin ( and not building up of fat tissue), then the method by which this is accomplished sheds a lot of light on what insulin does and explains the rest of insulin’s effects more satisfactorily.

In tackling the role of insulin on the accumulation of adipose tissue, first we need to explore just a few more things about insulin’s biochemical & physiological roles. After that, we’ll see how it all plays out in the real world—that is, in our body.

Think about what happens when you eat a meal. The sugar (glucose) is released and taken into your body through the digestion process, during which it enters your bloodstream. Your body responds to the glucose in your blood by secreting insulin from your pancreas into your bloodstream. Insulin escorts the glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells. That’s what we vaguely know, right? Let’s see how this happens.

How insulin does this is another story. Insulin doesn’t actually escort glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells. What insulin does is act more like a signaling agent: insulin binds to a receptor on the surface of the cell membrane, and in response to the binding of insulin, glucose transporters (GLUTs) are moved (or “translocated”) from inside the cell to span the cell membrane. It’s the GLUTs that actually suck the glucose into the cell. And, just so we know the full story here, some GLUTs require insulin to stimulate their translocation; others don’t. So insulin is not the only way glucose can get into cells (physical activity is a great way to induce “non-insulin mediated glucose uptake.”)

Insulin: A must for Fat tissue
So, insulin’s action enables GLUT’s to move the glucose from the bloodstream into the cell, thus lowering our blood-glucose levels. What else does insulin do? Well, whereas cortisol, epinephrine, and glucagon are catabolic, insulin is anabolic. The first three break things down; insulin builds things up. What does it build up? At the very least, it stimulates the buildup of glycogen; the synthesis of structural & skeletal protein; and the synthesis of fatty acids via the conversion of glucose into triglycerides. (See, insulin is a hormone, not an enzyme. Again, as a hormone, it’s more of a signaling agent than something that actually does anything, itself. Insulin stimulates or inhibits various biochemical processes by affecting enzymes, which in turn, actually make things happen at the cellular level. So when we say that ‘ insulin does x, y, and z’ it actually means that ‘insulin signals other players to do x, y and z’)

Two of the enzymes insulin affects are hormone sensitive lipase (HSL) and lipoprotein lipase (LPL).

When we look at an untreated type-1 diabetics, it is easy to figure out that (barring any other hormonal complication) it is near impossible to accumulate body fat in the absence of insulin. On the other end, we need only to look at an insulin-dependent type-2 diabetic with poorly managed blood glucose to understand that sustained, elevated insulin levels make it near impossible not to accumulate excess body fat.

The reason is partly this: Insulin stimulates an enzyme that lets fat get into adipose cells, and it inhibits an enzyme that allows fat to get out of adipose cells. Talk about a double-whammy. Insulin is like a prison guard, who helps lock triglycerides into fat cells, and then stands there in order to make sure they never get back out. What the …..!

This requires a bit of explanation. Triglycerides—that is, three fatty acid molecules connected to a glycerol backbone—are too large to enter and leave cells freely. Many of you must remember this molecule if you have ever done a blood panel test!! They can’t cross the cell membrane. Therefore, in order for triglycerides to get into the cell, they have to be broken down into individual fatty acids. The primary enzyme that does this is called lipoprotein lipase. Once inside the cell, the fatty acids reassemble themselves into triglycerides (or TGLs, for short). So you see the problem now? If TGLs are too large to cross the cell membrane and get inside, then we probably need some other enzyme to break them back down into individual fatty acids before they can be released  back out of the adipose cells. After all, that’s what we want, right? Fatty acids to be released from adipose tissue so they can be used as fuel somewhere else, such as in cardiac muscle or skeletal muscle cells—that is, we want to burn fat.

Well, the enzyme that breaks TGLs back down into fatty acids inside the cells is hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL), and, as I mentioned earlier, insulin inhibits the action of this enzyme (there are lots of other things that might influence HSL, but insulin is a biggie). Basically you want this enzyme to be rocking!!

So, you can clearly see how insulin affects both the storage and mobilization of fatty acids. Leaving other potential influencing mechanisms aside for now, you can also see why, in chronically hyperinsulinemic people (people with elevated levels of insulin and inhibited HSL action), it is near impossible to lose body fat. The prison guard is always at the gate, never giving the inmates a chance to escape. And you can see why lowering insulin levels—be that through a low-carbohydrate intake, a moderated protein intake, fasting, physical activity, pharmaceutical drugs, nutritional supplements, or some combination of all of these—can result in fatty acids finally being able to leave the adipose cells.

meal-timing-6x-day

 FEAST – FEAST – FEAST – FEAST

Going back to the graph above, if we eat 6 times a day, big meals or small meals, insulin will be elevated to move the excess energy (glucose from carbs) to the cells that need it. If the cells say, “sorry Insulin, I am full, not opening the gates”, then insulin moves to other cells and knocks. When our system as a whole is overloaded with energy (as is the likely case when we eat constantly and our muscles and liver can store only a limited amount) and nobody opens the gates, insulin has no option but the move the excess glucose into the fat cells for storage. Besides, a constant state of feeding (insulin influx) means that the prison guard is always at the gate giving the inmates (fats) no chance to escape. A classic double-whammy!!

Bottom line: As long as insulin levels are high (area under the green curve), it will be extremely difficult to lose body fat. 

Insulin, in and of itself, is a good and necessary thing. It promotes the storage of nutrients after all. In our natural, primal state, this was an essential process. Even in our modern lives, this storage process is still vital. (We just have a nasty habit of flooding the system with energy these days.)

“Insulin is vital for lipogenesis. Its role as a lipogenic hormone is underplayed, but we know that without insulin, you can’t get fat.”
–Dr. Roger Unger

Just picture the modified graph below. This is what our ancestors did, this is what we did growing up, until Big Food with the help of accommodating nutritionists and professionals advised us otherwise.

insulin-fed-and-fasted

FEASTFAMINE FEASTFAMINE

This was the natural cycle of meals when I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. Snacking was taboo. It was during the ‘blue’ periods between meals that we burned our fat reserves. It was during this period that insulin was low and the enzyme HSL was rocking to unlock the fat stores to supply us with endless energy hitting balls until the street lights came on and it was time to go home. Our moms didn’t obsess about us being hungry. This was a normal daily cycle and obesity was rare. 

‘Get back to where you once belonged’ …..John Lennon/Paul McCartney

This is the starting point. First and foremost, we have to make sure that we do not put any edible stuff in our mouths in-between meals (yes, chewing gum does count). May not be the end game for everybody though, but a great starting point.

As a second step, we will talk about lifestyle based adjustments and of course, most importantly, what you put inside your mouth.

In the modern world, when we use our cars to drive around the block to the supermarket, or worse, when we can shop online and get things delivered to our doorstep, when we have smart homes to WhatsApp our loved ones in the other room, even this kind of traditional meal times may lead to excess energy. Excess energy will lead to sustained high levels of insulin (hyperinsulinemia) and lipolysis (inhibit fat burning).

Our ancestors, even our parents a couple of decades ago, used to work much much harder, walk much more, move much more than we do today. I feel, this feeding pattern is fine for growing kids, professional sportsmen, and high physical activity individuals, but NOT for ‘the new normal’ modern sedentary lifestyle.

For sedentary folks, folks sitting behind computers all day, you really need to modify the eating window according to your comfort zone. There is no such thing as the best way or the only way prescribed in some fancy article or by some high profile nutritionist of big star ‘celebs’!! As you can see, your breakfast is the first meal that stops your fat burning. But then again, it is not for everybody to skip it either. I never have breakfast, but that’s me. Believe me guys, if you’ve understood even a little bit of what you have read so far, you need to FIRST induce low levels of circulating insulin at some point in the day to even access your fat stores. There are many ways to achieve it and I will give you a few alternatives in the coming posts.

You can turn from a sugar-junkie to a fat burner in many different ways AS LONG AS you understand the actions of the hormones (mainly insulin) and as long as you understand your energy requirement for your lifestyle.

 

 

 

Life is energy -3 ; Hormones

Let’s get to the real deal.

This can be a fairly long post, but we are getting to the business end of my FUNDA’s, so stay with me for the next few posts.

Recap from the ‘Life is Energy’ posts (unlike the recap in the Indian TV serials, I’ll just take a few seconds)we have seen that the type of cells/tissue performing the activity and the kind of activity being performed largely determine which types of fuel our bodies prefer to use.

In the previous post, I mentioned how our bodies use of fuel for energy is NOT an all-or-nothing scenario. Thanks to the fascinating, wonderful, elegant and mind-blowing complexity of the human body we use a few different types of fuel concurrently – carbohydrates, fats or ketones.

However, so often, in spite of the abundance of fat deposits we are not able to utilize it for our energy needs and this source of fuel is kept locked away. To unlock the fat stores we need to look at the role of hormones.

Hormones control every single activity in our bodies, including our metabolism of fat.

Depending on what’s going on with our hormones, different bio-chemical pathways will predominate while others will take a backseat. maccaulay-culkin-playboy(Remember how your hormones made chemistry homework take a backseat to the magazines you found in your elder brothers room when you were 16…)

Hormones are powerful regulators of metabolic pathways that make you, overall, a ‘sugar burner’ or a ‘fat burner’.

At the most basic level, the one hormone which governs an overarching use of fat for fuel versus an overarching use of carbohydrate (sugar) is INSULIN. There are certainly more factors (about which I will write later on) than just insulin , but insulin surely is one of the biggest players.

What happens when we eat? How does insulin work? What does it do?

Forgive me for oversimplifying, but for the benefit of many readers, it may be helpful to review normal insulin action, since we will be talking about it – a lot. Insulin is a hormone that is released in response to food.

As we eat, every time we eat, the carbohydrates in food gets converted to glucose and is released in the bloodstream. In response, our pancreas pump out insulin to enable our cells to take up the glucose for energy. Just keep in mind that insulin is necessary for the cells to use glucose. When we eat a meal, we are ingesting much more food energy than our cells can use immediately. Insulin is also required to move the excess flood of glucose out of the bloodstream and into storage for use later on.  One of the ways our body can store this glucose is as glycogen in the liver.  Our body can convert glucose to glycogen and glycogen back again to glucose quite easily.

But there is a limited amount of glycogen that can be stored in the liver. Our muscle tissues also store up a limited amount glycogen if they have been depleted.  After that, any excess carbs/glucose will be turned into fat and stored in our fat tissues as triglycerides. Fat is harder to access but is in unlimited supply.  We have seen here that our fat cells can store unlimited amounts of calories compared to liver or muscle tissue.

Just remember this much for now.

Take a look at this cool chart below:

hormones

Do you see what I see? A quick glance at the right-hand column tells us we have at least three hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, and glucagon) that “stimulate fatty acid release from adipose tissue.” English translation: those hormones get fat out of our fat cells so some other cells (muscle, most likely) can burn it. Nice! I mean, using our fat stores is pretty much what we’re all after, right? (At this point, you might be a little confused about cortisol. I mentioned in my last post how prednisone, a cortisol, makes us fat, right? Look for the ‘note’ at the end of this post for an explanation. For now, let’s stick with the insulin story.)

So there are three hormones that help us get fat out of our fat stores. And there is one—ONE—whose job (among other things) is to “stimulate fatty acid synthesis and storage after a high carbohydrate meal.” Do we need another translation here? Synthesize and store fat after a high-carb meal? That means: make fat and lock it away on your butt, belly, hips, and thighs. Bad!!! 

Insulin gets a very bad rap in the low-carbohydrate health circles. But is it really all menace? Yes, it can be a roadblock to utilization of fat, but it can be your best buddy when it comes to building muscle. Agreed, it is a double-edged sword but if used the way evolution designed it, it is an asset. Consider a type-1 diabetic, who, without insulin, is wasting away to death by breaking down his fats, muscles, and organs for fuel (since he is unable to metabolize glucose in the absence of insulin). Insulin is his saviour.

Let’s think about it from an evolutionary perspective. Summer was the time of abundance of fruits, vegetables and most food sources. Summer also meant that autumn and winter was approaching, more specifically winter famines (shortages of food). Evolution designed our bodies to store the excesses of summer (by insulin’s action of moving excess energy to fat stores) to overcome periods of shortage when energy sources would be scarce. Not just seasonal, even on a daily or weekly basis, insulin would help store excess energy for the ‘rainy day’.

It’s fantastic! Without this mechanism, most of us wouldn’t be here right now, because our ancestors would have starved to death during periods of scarcity. This super-duper ability to stock awaybigstock-feast-today-famine-tomorrow-86473259 excess carbs/sugar/energy as fat in our adipose tissue is only a ‘problem’ in the modern world where we have an over abundance of energy rich food all the time.

Our present genome is in fact an ancient one and natural and cultural selection has built it to last under stressful conditions. Under optimal nutritional conditions, such as those our genome evolved on, we can live healthy and long lives.

Today, in 2017, the famine never comes. You can go to any super market in freezing winter and buy coconuts, papayas and litchies for godssake ! You can go to the remotest corner of the world and still find a Chinese take-away! These are not optimal nutritional conditions on which our genome evolved ! We do not have the chance to tap into our fat stores and activate the fatty acid releasing hormones, unless….unless, we impose the conditions that will enable us to balance periods of fat storage with periods of fat utilization on a day-to-day basis.

In the 21st century, we have endless summer: lights on all day and night, 24/7 super markets, cafe’s open all night and highly processed foods (insulin stimulating) all around us. We are pumping out insulin to remove the excess energy consumed (glucose) into storage zones (liver, fat tissues) like there is no 2-moro.

Going back to the chart above, I can’t help but think that:

The Main Purpose Of Insulin Is Not To Lower Blood Sugar.

If you see the counter-regulatory hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, glucagon) to insulin, all are designed to increase (mobilize) blood sugar not decrease it. I believe our genome evolved throughout most of our ancestral history to keep sugar in our blood from falling too low since there was not that much sugar to be had. The major source of sugar was fruit, and that was mostly available only seasonally, and even then we had to work and exercise to obtain it (try climbing a coconut tree for your sugar fix). The hormones cortisol, epinephrine and glucagon are  three fall-back options to make sure that we always have some glucose available to the tissues that need it (Our brain cells come to mind. How important is that!!).

Aretaeus’ classic description of type 1 diabetes “Diabetes is … a melting down of flesh and limbs into urine”.  That is, in spite of whatever calories you try to eat, the untreated type I diabetic is not able to gain any weight.  Until the discovery of insulin by Frederick Banting, this disease was often fatal. Insulin’s main role was to prevent breakdown of muscles, organs, fat tissues for energy and enable the cells to take up glucose for energy (thereby removing glucose from the blood).

High Blood Sugar Was A Rarity.

However when our blood sugar did become elevated after a feast, it was a sign that we had more energy available than we could currently burn and thus it would be a good idea to store the extra. “Waste not, want not.” Food was not always available; feast or famine was the rule. When blood sugar becomes elevated it is a signal for insulin to be released to direct the extra energy into storage. Thus, in this regard insulin’s major role is not to lower sugar, but to take the extra energy when available and store it for future times of need. Insulin lowers glucose as a side effect of directing the extra into storage.

Our bodies are essentially designed to prevent low blood sugar. It is the modern day excesses that has created the problem.

Interesting thought, makes a lot of sense to me.

Anyway, going back to the main story….

So we can stop pretending that the maintenance and accumulation of body fat stores is driven solely by excess calories, and if we can just get people to ingest fewer calories or expend more calories, all will be well. Well, good luck with that. We can talk in 2 years time after you have semi-starved yourself and hit the gym everyday day for 2 hours, and then slipped back to square one. Worse still you may have screwed up your thyroids or adrenals or digestive system as a side-effect and you are probably struggling to get out of bed every morning. If you belong to the  ‘been-there-done-that’ category, it will be worth your while to understand why your body is not so stupid and that a reset of your hormonal imbalance is the key.

Okay, so just like gigantism or acromegaly is a hormonal issue related to growth hormones, gaining body fat is (for many people, not all) also a hormonal issue related to insulin’s actions. So you might say it’s ‘Fait accompli’ ! I am unlucky! I have a hormone problem! It’s my genes!! Nothing I can do about it!! End of story , let me go back to my couch.

Not so soon, Speedy Lazy Gonzales!!

BIG DIFFERENCE here is that, unlike individuals with gigantism, who cannot control their levels of growth hormone, we can control our insulin levels. Some people’s bodies do this better than others naturally, while others among us have to work at it.

Yes, folks, insulin isn’t just for regulating blood sugar nor does it have to be a subject of discussion for diabetics only. A hugely important mega-starring role is inhibition of lipolysis (breakdown of stored fat). Doctors know this. Endocrinologists know this.

Insulin inhibits (stops) breakdown of stored fat! And if insulin inhibits the breakdown of stored fat, and someone wants to lose stored fat, then perhaps reducing insulin levels should be a primary strategy for fat loss.

The part I just can’t figure out is how someone can reduce their circulating insulin levels when the medical and nutrition professionals insist that they consume several servings of grains and starchy foods each day – precisely the foods that raise insulin the most- six times a day! meal-timing-6x-day

Does it take an exceptional IQ to figure out that if we eat 6 times a day, even small meals, our pancreas are constantly pumping out insulin (the green hills) to remove the resultant excess glucose from our blood into our fat stores. And while it is doing that, we cannot simultaneously breakdown our fat stores for energy. That would be stupid, right? I mentioned in my previous post that our bodies are not stupid. They won’t breakdown fat stores while they are also making new fat stores. Duh!!

It is that simple, and so many scholars have written a zillion papers on this.

Do I make sense when I say that insulin is the main hormone that flipped the switch over time? I say main, but it is not the only one.

High insulin levels result in the accumulation of body fat. We know this. All doctors know this. In essence, insulin is the signal to the body to gain weight.  If we give insulin, the body will gain weight.  If we take insulin away, we will lose weight.

I can only imagine that the entire breed of experts are taught the same lie because we know that BigFood and BigPharma have totally infiltrated the system. Someone makes money if we eat 6-times a day, more people make money when our pancreas can no longer pump out insulin 24/7 and we need pills to remove the toxic glucose from our blood, still more people make money when we need to do a thousand blood tests, yet more people make money when we need specialists to tell us exactly how many grams of what to eat, even more people make money when you need a cool place to run several miles and an expert to tell you how many miles to run. That’s how Donald Trump can create jobs!

I feel sad for the folks caught up in the web of ‘current dogma’. They are blamed for their lack of willpower and discipline. Your certified BigFood nutritionist will say ,“Lay off the fatty mutton ribs and order a salad, you fatso. You need to show some willpower and make sure you hit the gym and run a few miles (make that several miles) on the treadmill before you eat the salad. BTW keep eating those energy bars as well every 2 hours. Don’t pig, just keep grazing the whole day”. I thought cows were meant for grazing.

NO, no , no. That will never ever work. You can do that all your life, in the process burn your adrenals, but that will never work. It has never been like this since evolution. Your super lean grandpa never exhausted himself running aimlessly. He never grazed. He just knew what and how the hormones (insulin included) would be in balance and automatically regulate fat metabolism. He was handed down the wisdom by his ancestors. insulin

Unlike your certified nutritionist, what I would tell you is this, “Right now, your body is a ‘sugar-burner’. You are unable to access your fat stores so your body depends on frequent infusions of carbohydrates (frequent meals) in order to give you energy. But since all those carbs and the frequent meals have wreaked havoc with your insulin levels, and high insulin levels mean directly inhibit fat breakdown, we need to find a way to keep the insulin levels lower. But because you are dependent of frequent carbohydrate infusions, in order to break this dependence, you need to be strong and say no to probably some of your favourite stuff: cookies, pasta, bagels, sodas, sandwiches, jelly, bread, muffins and and and…. You need a bit of willpower for a few days and you’ll find that you crave those things less and less, and once your basal insulin levels get lower, your body will be able to access your stored fat for energy and you will actually have more energy than you ever had. BTW, I forgot to mention, while you have the willpower to resist those things, feel free to eat bacon, burra-kebabs, ribeye steaks with melted butter, ham& cheese omelets, prosciutto, lamb chops, butter chicken, fish and vegetables”. 

It is about calories in a way, but essentially the type of calories (not so much the number).

naiman-1

…. and as we will see in the subsequent posts : WHEN you eat !!

We don’t control our body weight any more than we control our heart rates.  This goes on automatically under the influence of hormones.  Hormones tell us we are hungry.  Hormones tell us we are full.  Hormones tell us when to increase energy expenditure.  Hormones tell us when to ‘shut down’ energy expenditure.

I hope this post helped you understand the basic physiology related to fat metabolism. I will cover a lot of sciency details in forthcoming posts to make things more clear, but I hope you have an idea (at least a bit) about why low-carb or high fat or high protein or any other diet might work. It’s the Insulin, yaar!  

Note:  Cortisol is a tricky one: Cortisol breaks down fat, BUT it also breaks down muscle and converts the resulting amino acids into glucose. It’s primary purpose is to raise glucose levels quickly in response to a stressor. From our evolution perspective, this stressor would have been a real emergency (like being face-to-face with a Royal Bengal tiger in the Sundarbans), and you would need a lot of glucose flooding your system to give you quick energy to stay and fight or RUN FOR YOUR LIFE (Hence the term ‘flight or ‘fight’ response). I presume you would run. Cortisol gets released, blood glucose goes up, muscles are fed this load of energy to make sure you can run as fast as you can.

Cortisol flooding your body with glucose is biologically a protective mechanism to keep you alive in very threatening situations.

Problems arise in the modern world stressors. We are normally not chased by tigers (dogs, yes), but our bodies are not designed to differentiate between physical and mental stressors. The response is the same. If glucose floods our bloodstream because our bodies perceive the traffic jams, work deadline, daughters boyfriend or the disagreements with our partners as emergencies, and since we are just sitting at home or in our car or in our office, insulin levels go up too, to move the excess glucose from the bloodstream into our fat stores. So you have broken down your muscle stores and added your fat stores...that’s a metabolic double disaster !! Just imagine a state of constant stress, day in and day out……you get an idea why we have stress-induced diabetes or why stress can derail your weight loss efforts even with the best of diets.

Happy New Year – Let’s get to the real deal

Happy New Year!

How time flies!! My first post was published on 28th Jan last year. I did manage to publish 13 really long fundas last year which, to be honest, I never thought I would manage when I started. However, I feel I could have written more.  I mean, I have some 20 –odd drafts in the pipeline so my conversion rate from draft-to-final could have been better.

I know reading lengthy- sciencey posts is not everyone’s cup of tea, but the subject I am dealing with requires this and it also helps me document all the information in detail. Maybe in future it makes sense to pick out snippets from previous posts, without going into details, and re-post as a refresher guide.

When I started, I thought I was convinced about a few things which, in my view, regulate the basic functionalities of our body, our metabolism, our usage of food to produce energy (which is the basis of our survival). Even then, I wanted to see if, after one year and reading a zillion more findings and research documents, my line of thinking would alter. On the contrary, more and more findings point to the same direction. The food we eat, the environment we live in and our lifestyle determine how our body adapts to keep us healthy, alive and breathing.

Personally, I had an amazing year. I haven’t popped a pill in the last 16 months (zilch!), the seasonal bugs didn’t bother me, I was in extreme temperatures – played golf in 46 deg Celsius and scraped ice in -10 deg.  My body seems to adjust easily to it. I am not too concerned when my colleague is sniffing and coughing away because I believe my immune system will deal with it. I have more energy to do things than I ever had since, probably, my 20’s.

It’s been more than a year now since we have been buying all our groceries from the local farmers market on Saturday mornings, which means eating mostly seasonal stuff. The kids love to accompany me to the market. They get their fare share of freebies from the farmers – a carrot here, an orange there. This winter, food was (and still is) mostly root vegetables, lot of stews, fair amount of meat and eggs, and good dollops of ghee to go with the Indian stuff. Lots of olive oil with other stuff. We cooked like crazy and our 18 month old kitchen looks well used already. Very rarely did we end up buying food stuff from supermarkets.

Among the few hardcore followers that I have, all are totally ‘begeistert’ with the results. That makes this all worth the effort. Even if it changes one person’s life for the better, it is absolutely worth it.

I talked about a few things last year:

  • Importance of ancestral diets – not general commercialized versions of ancestral diets like Paleo or Caveman or any other popular version, but YOUR ancestral diet. The diet which your grandparents, your great-grandparents, your ‘gharana’ has been eating for generations. The food that talks to your genes. You are genetically adapted for that food. There is no universal ‘one size fits all’ solution. That’s why I strongly believe that raging about chia seeds or quinoa in India is nothing more than a party conversation. The Aztecs had their local ingredients and we have ours.The foodstuffs our ancestors consumed were highly adapted to the specific regions they lived in and each local society learned over hundreds of generations which plants and animals were associated with providing vitality for or bringing sickness to the clan.
  • Trashing the ‘conventional wisdom’ – What experts call ‘conventional wisdom’ today should more appropriately be called ‘current dogma’. Conventional wisdom was always what our grandmothers told us when we were growing up. ‘Current dogma’ is what is being promoted by the industry as ‘healthy food’. ‘Current dogma’ focuses on calories and ‘blame-the-victim’. If you are fat, you either eat too much or are a lazy sloth (nothing could be further from the truth).
  • Pill-pushing pharma and the medical community – the system is designed to make money for those in-charge of your health at your expenses using fear-mongering. If you think Pharma cares about your health, you shouldn’t be out in the real world.  Find a cocoon to dive into. The graphic below will give you some sense of what is going on.big-pharma-infographic
  • In the kitchen series, I spoke about fantastic fats and the myths of breakfast.
  • Recall from the ‘Life is Energy’series that we’re thinking about the human body as a hybrid car. It’s not a perfect comparison, but it’s suiting us fairly well so far. We did a little bit of math and determined that, gram for gram, molecule for molecule, fats seem like a more efficient fuel than carbohydrates. We talked about how the body “runs on” different types of fuel, and we went right to the gas tank, to see what kind of fuel the body stores the most of—that is, which fuel the gas tank seems to prefer to hold in reserve. Here again, it seems like fat rules. (Remember the chart that showed the human body doesn’t keep a lot of carbohydrate on hand, but it’ll tuck away fat endlessly). We have seen that some types of cells can’t use fats for fuel? And that some don’t do so well on glucose? This is why, regardless of what type of food is coming in, the body is fueled by multiple kinds of fuel at all times. We have seen that some activities use predominantly glucose some fat.

Now let’s move on to the real deal.

Unlocking the fat stores:

How would it be if your hybrid car has 50 liters of petrol in the back seat and the tank is empty. You would be running on electric power only and that would not be too long lasting or powerful, would it? Your car has fuel, but it’s in the back seat!! What good is that when you are driving? What is the point in having your fuel source locked away where you can’t use it. We have seen that we have huge fuel source in our adipose tissues, but most of us are not able to use it. Most of us rely on the quick, short-haul, not-so efficient source of fuel from carbs, the fuel we need to top-up every now and then. (That’s snacking and eating every 2 hours!!)

Fueling the human body is not a binary system: one or zero; yes or no; on or off; fats or carbs. Like any good integrated system of systems, the human body has multiple redundancies, checks and balances, and fail safes, all designed to prevent single points of failure. These backups and overlaps ensure that pretty much regardless of what we put down our throat, our bodies can get the fuel they need. (For the most part, that is, and in the short term. This is not true for the longer term. Eventually, deficiencies will appear if we’re not sufficiently nourished). This is exactly why, in the long term, when we compromise on the food and the lifestyle, most of us evolve from being fat-torching skinny bundles of endless energy in our childhood years to this sugar-burning fatigued, fat storing, lazy lumps by the time we reach our 40’s.

Why does our body switch so drastically from being a cool fat burning machine to this mean fat storing blob?

The human body is rarely absolute about anything. There are metabolic and biochemical pathways, and for the most part, where one pathway predominates, another is limited. (Not shut off entirely, just limited.) Where one thing is stimulated, another is inhibited. (Usually because of scary things like enzymes, many of which counterbalance each other in stunningly orchestrated biochemical dances that no ballroom dance choreographer could ever hope to dream up. The body isn’t wasteful. It has redundancies and overlaps, but these are intended to protect us. To keep us alive. They’re there for a reason. Beyond that, the body isn’t going to waste energy simultaneously running processes that are antagonistic to each other. (For example: when you’re breaking down stored glycogen in order to release glucose into your bloodstream, you’re not also making glycogen for the purpose of storing glucose. That would be stupid,right? Same thing with fat: if your body is actively storing fat, it’s not simultaneously burning a whole lot of it.). That would be counter-productive, right? Like keeping the garden tap on and mopping up the water at the same time.

Even though our fuel usage system is not binary (either one or the other), and we use both glucose ( i.e carbs, sugar) and fats as fuel for energy, something controls and regulates which fuel we use predominantly. Something flips the switch for us over time, making us start storing fat more. It hits us suddenly when we struggle to get into our favourite pair of jeans.

From the ‘bindass'(carefree) days of our 20’s to this ‘beer belly, constant hunger yet no energy state’ of our 40’s, what happened? What flipped the switch?

IT IS OUR HORMONES!!! 

Hormones control every single activity in our bodies and that includes our lipid (or fat) metabolism.

When doctors or nutritionists see someone with gigantism or acromegaly, is their first thought, “Clearly, that person just needs to grow less and shrink more”? No. Obviously not. Because it is clear—like, crystal clear, beyond-the-shadow-of-a-doubt, that these conditions result from hormonal irregularities.andre_in_the_late_80s

People with gigantism or acromegaly aren’t abnormally tall or large because they want to be, or because they somehow willed themselves to be. They are at the mercy of hormones. Like I said, to anyone with half a brain, this is obvious. No one questions this. No one blames these individuals for needing custom-made clothing or other accommodations. No one says, “Well, if they had just not grown so much…if only they hadn’t let themselves get so tall, they wouldn’t be in this situation.” “They’d be fine if they were just less tall and more short.” No one says idiotic things like this because people understand that this is not within someone’s control.

So why, then, when it comes to the outward, rather than upward, expansion of the human body, does it all of a sudden become about willpower, discipline, and “calories?” Why is not more widely recognized that the horizontal growth of the body results from hormonal irregularities just as the vertical expansion does? obesity

Why do so few people in the specialist community get this?

We know that certain medications are known to cause weight gain. Prednisone, for example, which is a synthetic steroid/synthetic cortisol. Why does it cause weight gain? It has no calories. If weight gain is the result of eating more calories than are expended, why does a pill with no calories cause weight gain? Why does natural cortisol cause weight gain?

Why should high cortisol cause weight gain? Cortisol has no calories. Why does chronic sleep debt contribute to weight gain? Insufficient sleep has no calories. Talk to someone whose thyroid is on the fritz and can’t lose weight no matter how hard they exercise and how tightly they manage their diet. Why should this be? Low thyroid hormones have no caloriesWhat all of these things have in common is they change the hormonal balance of the body.

Hormones are powerful enough regulators of metabolic pathways that we can say, overall, you can be a “sugar burner” or a “fat burner.” Entire textbooks, books for laypeople, doctoral dissertations, magazine articles, and about a hundred gazillion blog posts have been written about what determines which one someone is.

I repeat: Hormones control every single activity in our bodies and that includes our lipid (or fat) metabolism.

Understanding the action of food we eat, our lifestyle and our environment on our hormones is the key  to understanding why we are the way we are and what we can do to change for the better.

The hormonal interplay coming up next…..

 

 

Kitchen series – Breakfast anyone?

These days I am often chided and told of the harm I am doing by skipping breakfast. I am told that we must eat a big breakfast to start the day. Even our parents, who were not at all fussed about breakfast when we were growing up (in the 70’s) are now totally in the big breakfast camp. The powers of advertising have influenced every family! If you keep repeating a lie, you start believing in it!

If you do a google search about ‘importance of breakfast’, the first 50 links will tell you it’s the most important meal of the day. The first link which comes up is obviously from ‘WebMD’ the white-coat spokesperson of the industry! The powers of SEO!! If you scroll several pages the more objective articles can be seen.

You are brainwashed and convinced that you just cannot miss breakfast even for a day. Not just that – you must eat something every 2 hours!! This gives the word breakfast a new meaning. Even an hour without food is now thought of as’fasting’!! Your system will slow down, your body will stop burning calories, and the thing you always dreaded, the muffin-top, will comeback. Wake up, eat and rev-up your metabolism like a Lamborghini! And just like a Lamborghini needs to be tanked up every now and then, you will need to keep eating and eating and eating!

Even though you were healthy, lean and a bundle of energy in your young days having eaten your small traditional morning bites, sometimes even skipping it without the slightest pangs of hunger (because you  would effortlessly burn the stored energy in your fat cells), you are now confronted with this ‘new found wisdom’ that the key to lifelong health is ‘breakfast like a king’!! How do you suddenly do that? Never mind that you are not really hungry but still you have to feast because you need to ‘kick-start’ your metabolism. So what if you just don’t have the time every morning to prepare food for yourself or your family. We have that covered too. CEREALS!! Isn’t it amazing that the ‘new found wisdom’ and the growth of the ‘breakfast industry’ happened at the same time (sarcy)!

The-7-Worst-Breakfast-Foods-to-Eat-in-the-Morning-Healthy-CerealsWhen you have to rush out in the morning, prepare your kids for school, serve your ‘pati-dev’ (hubby) his morning fix, while having a con-call with your horrible boss, what do you go for? Grab the carton of milk (low-fat, you have been told), pour some in a bowl, add some beautifully boxed cereals (high in all the nutrients science could come up with – sarcy), gulp down the contents and the whole family is are out of the door believing that they have just ticked-off the first criteria of a ‘healthy’ lifestyle !

Snacks

And what about the ‘eat-every-2 hours’ wisdom? We have that covered too. You see the ‘wise-men’ don’t leave anything to chance. You pack some cereal bars, a few muffins, some ‘healthy’ multigrain chips in the snack box. Yesssss! The guilty working mom, is now guilt-free. You’ve provided for the family, your kids are getting the ‘healthy’ start, your in-laws are happy their son (your pati-dev) is getting his ‘heart healthy’ meal, you are doing exactly what the ‘wise men’ told you to do. Nothing can go wrong! Right? WRONG!!

Obesity and obesity related conditions have never ever been so widespread, in epidemic proportions, in the history of mankind. Humans have never consumed so much sugar in the history of mankind. And it all starts with the modern breakfast…AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO EAT THIS S+#% OR FEED IT TO YOUR LOVED ONES!!

Breakfast cereals are big business. They dominate entire supermarket aisles, floor to ceiling, and generate some $11 billion in annual sales. Incredibly, the industry has even managed to persuade the public that breakfast cereals are an essential part of good nutrition and weight management. They have also co-opted the science demonstrating that fibers from vegetables, fruit, legumes, and nuts can somehow be replaced by the inert bulk of cellulose through bran cereals for bowel health (see the picture above screaming ‘fibers’).

Use your own wisdom. Listen to your body. If you have been following the advise of the ‘wise men’, chances are you are no longer healthy nor the bundle of energy you once were. Don’t accept it as part of ageing. My grandma was full of energy, I never recall her being fatigued, ever! Try to remember what you ate growing up. Thank your stars for that, get back to it and give the same to your children.

BREAKFAST IS NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY!! IT NEVER WAS (until Kellogs came on the scene)!! BREAKFAST WAS NEVER SUGAR-LADEN, IT WAS ALWAYS SAVOURY (until Kellogs came on the scene)!!

TRADITIONS to SAVOUR(-Y) !!

A Chinese reaches for a bowl of porridge of soybeans or rice, a Japanese sips miso-thickened broth and a Korean might eat beef dumplings in broth. On the side are little sly, dishes of pickled cabbage, lettuce and radish. Breakfast, washed down by tea, is savory, not sweet; seldom greasy, and to an Asian palate tasty. It is a meal thousands of years old.

What Japanese eat in restaurants and in their homes, whether in Düsseldorf, or in Tokyo, is what their ancestors ate at least as far back as the seventh century. The typical breakfast,  is soup, rice and pickles. Anything you have in addition, like grilled fish, relates to circumstance — wealth or geography — rather than an era.

China has two traditional breakfasts, northern and southern, dictated by local agriculture. The breakfast of northern China, where soybeans and wheat grow, is eaten in Beijing, Shanghai, Taiwan. The southern Chinese counterpart of soy-milk soup is congee or jook, a soup made by cooking rice for two hours, until the grains amalgamate into the broth. Because rice is scarce in the north, the soup there is served thin, but in the south, where rice is plentiful, the jook is thick. Jook is to the southern Chinese as chicken broth is to Jews. Jook is truly ancient, and dates at least to 171 B.C. This somewhat bland soup, sometimes cooked with chicken broth, is a medium in which the Chinese boil bits of beef, chicken and pork balls. Some people eat the jook by itself; some with side dishes of peanuts, pickled lettuce or slivered ginger.

Koreans could have the same meals for breakfast, lunch or dinner. What makes Korean meals special is not the foods, but the ritual, where family hierarchy prevails. The eldest person takes the first dish, and then it’s passed. The meal can be as simple as a bowl of steamed rice, a side dish of pickles and a bowl of beef broth. Or it can be more elaborate, with dumplings floating in the broth, and many little dishes of pickled vegetables.

If you have breakfast in a Korean inn, you get the rice, the soup, a bit of fish, often grilled, and as many side dishes as people have the imagination to give you.

Depending on the region of Mexico, typical breakfast items may vary slightly, but often include ingredients such as corn tortillas, eggs, beans and sauces, compiled in different ways. One common breakfast item is chilaquiles — fried corn tortilla chips topped with green or red salsa (or mole) eggs, pulled chicken, cheese and beans.

In Africa, ….North Africa shares a proximity to the Middle East in both location and cuisine. While a typical breakfast in the Northern African countries of Egypt and Tunisia will probably consist of coffee or tea and a bread item (usually made with sorghum or millet), it is not unusual to see the following regional items on a breakfast plate: fish from the countries’ numerous sea ports, peppers and spices usually associated with the Middle East, bean dishes, and stews or gruels made from beans and corn. Yogurt is a popular breakfast item in North Africa, as are eggs.

“Falafel” – little deep-fried bean burgers served in pita bread – are popular at breakfast in Egypt and Sudan, as is “Ful” – a spread or stew made from fava beans also served on pita.

A typical Nigerian breakfast is deep-fried and made from peeled black-eyed beans and cooked with spices. Though typical as a breakfast, this is a great snack that can be eaten at any time of the day. It is often eaten with pap(ogi), a custard made from corn.

Tanzanian breakfasts, like many others, are kept quite light, and never without the accompaniment of a steaming cup of tea.

Unlike the Tanzanian breakfast, Ghanaian breakfasts tend to be heavier. A typical breakfast food found in Ghana is called Ampesi. This dish consists of cassava, cocoyam, yam, and a plantain mixture that’s boiled with fish and onion. Pumpuka, a second breakfast item, is made from ground millet.

Uganda : roasted plantain with grilled beef / beef stew and milky tea.

No such thing as ‘breakfast’ in India…  from ancient times, there has been no such thing as ‘break-fast’ in India. No such concept existed because the average Indian doesn’t think that by consuming food in the morning he/she is “breaking the fasting period” of the previous night, as the term ‘breakfast’ suggests. For Indians a proper fast is much much more than going to bed every night!!

luchi1

There is ‘Naashta’ that is eaten in the Indian household and like many things Indian; the ‘naashta’ echoes the diversity of the country. In fact, the Indian Naashta varies quite a bit from region to region be it from Kutch in the West to Kolkata in the East; Srinagar in the North to Kanyakumari in the South. Normally naashta is based on wheat or rice with vegetables and dips (chutneys) as the accompaniment.

idli

A typical ‘nashta’ in India varies depending on region, but is often quite similar to a lunch or dinner. A breakfast plate in India might include roti (flatbread), dosas (thin crepes made of rice and lentils) or idlis (steamed rice-dough pancakes), and different dips and chutneys, as well as spiced potatoes. It could be a dish comprising flatenned rice – poha – spiced up and flavoured.

However, when you step out of India or even in urban India today, the naashta is increasingly influenced by what I call as ‘BigFood breakfast’. The urban Indians simply follow the crowd by consuming supermarket dependent convenient foods, where boxed cereals, cold reconstituted fruit juice or coffee-in-a-hurry is the norm.

The traditional breakfast has a strong Ayurvedic influence. There are some cardinal rules in Indian breakfast – food is freshly cooked (cooked from scratch), almost always vegetarian, served warm, generally savory, spiced moderately and in small portions. There is no such thing as an ideal homogenous Indian breakfast as the authentic Indian food is highly individualized based on individual, location, availability, season.

The Indian naashta follows the principle of ‘agni’ i.e. the fire element in digestion, as expounded in the Ayurveda texts. Agni is the digestive and absorption process called as Pakwagni (digestive fire) that drives all digestion and metabolism in our bodies. So if the breakfast doesn’t kindle the digestive fire, it is not that good for the body. Spice is added to gently stoke the Agni.

Nora Isaacs, a popular health journalist remarks, “At the start of the day, sometime between 6:00 and 10:00 a.m., Agni is quite low, and it’s not easy for most bodies to digest a big breakfast.” The inner Agni follows the path of the sun. The highest Agni happens when the sun is on top by afternoon. That’s when the body is ready for a heavy lunch.

Unlike modern health directives, in Ayurveda and other time-tested natural health sciences, breakfast is not recommended to be a large meal, let alone the most substantial meal of the day. In long-living groups such as the Okinawans, Vilcabambans, Campodimelani and Abkhasians, none have breakfast as the most important or substantial meal of the day. They have understood that the time when the sun reaches its peak is when we are best equipped to eat more.

Thus influenced by Ayurveda, the traditional Indian breakfast “naashta” is more of a warm-up for the body. Eating warm, fresh, well-spiced, easy-to-digest vegetarian foods is the Indian naashta trademark.

BACK TO THE PRESENT

How can we incorporate the traditional wisdom of ‘nashta’ in the modern, fast-paced, morning rush-hour? Kellog’s or it’s desi-version (maybe Patanjali!!) might come up with a packaged ‘poha’ or an ‘upma’, but that is the same poison in a new package with a ‘desi twist’.

The toxicity is in the processing!

There are no short-cuts to health. You have to cook or get someone to cook! It takes 60-120 secs to fry a free-range egg in grass-fed butter, toss some chopped onion, tomato and spinach in the same butter, and another 120 secs to eat this deliciously small ‘nashta’. You can also have any leftover dinner dish as a small meal. REMEMBER – IT WAS ALWAYS SAVOURY! There are many ways to find your own work-around meals. Just use your imagination. All real food is great, anytime of the day.

 

 

 

 

 

Kitchen series – Fat Facts 1

Almost everyone I meet is scared of fat.

Ask your grandma (who probably lived to celebrate her 90th birthday and never had a heart disease) to name the fats she ate (and cooked with) and she would finish the count in the fingers of half of one hand. Coconut oil (or Mustard oil, depending on which part of India you are from) and Ghee. Period!! In the western world, it was lard and butter. Full stop!!

I am very fat-friendly, but the fact remains that all fats are not created equal, and there are some awful ones around these days. And these awful ones have given a bad name to the entire community. These awful ones are the ’nouveau-riche’. They are the new kids on the block. They were never around 50 years back. So who are they? Where did they come from? Let’s take a peek behind the fatty lot (… not the fatty behinds ;)) and see who is who.

The English language has a lot to do with the fat-phobia. When we say eating fat makes us fat, the word fat has an all too evident connection between dietary fat and body fat. If we said that consuming lipids (dietary fat) may cause an increase adipose tissue (body fat science speak), suddenly the association seems rather less obvious. Now, suddenly, we can be open to the possibilities that increase in our adipose tissue could also be related to a whole lot of things, for example, carbohydrates, or proteins, or oils, or animal fats or fructose.

For simplicity, I will refer to fats and oils collectively as fats. Basically lipids in liquid form are oils and in a solid state are fats. To truly exorcise the fat phobia you need to know:

  1. What the different types of fat really are
  2. The background of this phobia
  3. What are the different functions of different fat types in the body

What are fats?

When you hear the word fat, different images probably come to mind, like a big gob of goo or a chunk of meat dripping with oils. But fats are much more complicated than gobs of goo that you try to avoid.

Chemically, a fatty acid is a chain of carbon atoms paired with hydrogen atoms, with an “acid group” (-COOH) attached to one end of the molecule. They exist in chains of varying lengths, shapes and orders. They are one of the vital nutrients required by the body for both energy and the construction/maintenance of structural elements, such as cell membranes.

There are so many…it’s so confusing!!

There are different types of fatty acids, based on how many of their carbon bonds are paired with hydrogen:

  1. Saturated Fats (SFA’s): Fully loaded with hydrogen atoms forming straight chains, and are typically solid at room temperature (for example, butter, ghee and coconut oil). It means one thing and one thing only – it just means that all available carbon bonds are saturated (paired) with hydrogen atoms, hence the name saturatedIT DOES NOT MEAN THAT SATURATED IMPLIES SOMETHING STICKY AND GOOEY THAT WILL CLOG THE ARTERIES AND PIPES!! It is the name given to the molecular structure!! It’s a term used in biochemistry! That’s it !! It does not equal a heart attack, atheroschlerosis or obesity.fa_fatacids01These are highly stable fats. Saturated fats serve critical roles in the human body. They make up 50 percent or more of the fat in our 70 trillion cell membranes (fatty bi-layers) structure. They enhance calcium absorption and immune function. They aid in body’s synthesis of the essential fatty acids and provide a rich source of fat soluble vitamins.
  2. Unsaturated Fats: These fats have lost at least one of their pairs of hydrogen atoms from their carbon chain, resulting in molecules that kink or bend at each double bond. The more hydrogen pairs that are missing, the more bent the molecules. The more bent the molecules, the more space they occupy, thereby making the fat a liquid at room temperature (oil). Unsaturated fats come in two varieties:
    1. Monounsaturated Fats (MUFAs): Missing one pair of hydrogens. They have one (mono = one) double bond between carbons. fa_fatacids02This ‘so-called magical’ double bond (being sarcy) in monounsaturated fats (like oleic acid, mainly found in olive oil, mustard oil) for reasons that have nothing to do with biochemistry has been anointed with the powers of making your heart ‘healthy’. Sesame seed, avocado, flaxseed, peanut are other such oils. These oils contain varying levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, the rest is a mix of saturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are liquid at room temperature, but solidify when cooled.
    2. Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs): Missing more than one pair of hydrogens . fa_fatacids03They have more than one double bond (poly = more). And by ‘expert’ opinion, if one ‘missing’ bond is good for you, more must be better, right? (more sarcy). These oils tend to be liquid even when refrigerated. The problem is they also get rancid easily (those stale smelling fried peanuts, remember?). They are found in grain products, soybeans and fish oils. When we heat them (and we often do), they often get oxidized and we open ourselves to all kind of free radical pillaging – everything from cell membrane damage to wrinkles to arterial plaque build-up. Vegetable oils such as sunflower, corn, soybean, cottonseed are high in PUFA’s.

All foods containing fat- even pure oils- contain a mixture of three kinds of fat- saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. (Foods are often identified by their predominant fat- for example, olive oil as “monounsaturated”, butter as “saturated” – but all real foods contain mixtures of the three).

Most vegetable oils are high in ‘unstable’ PUFA, whereas most animal fats are high in SFA and MUFA (except for palm, coconut, and olive oils which are from plant sources). Comparison_of_dietary_fat_composition

Mustard oil has about 60% monounsaturated fatty acids (42% erucic acid and 12% oleic acid); it has about 21% polyunsaturated fats (6% the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid and 15% the omega-6 linoleic acid), and it has about 12% saturated fats.

All three types of fats are necessary and important to human health and should be incorporated into the diet in a balanced proportion.

What about the OMEGA’s ?

Unsaturated fats are further comprised of Omega-3, Omega-6, Omega-7, Omega-9 fatty acids, which is basically the position of the double bond in the carbon chain (Omega-6 -the double bond is in the 6th carbon in Linoleic acid pictured above).

Vegetable oils such as corn have low level of saturated fats, but are very high in polyunsaturated fats, the majority of which is omega 6.  There is virtually no omega 3 fats here. Whereas the main component of animal fats (e.g butter) is saturated fats with omega 6 fat content being extremely low. Butter-vs-corn-oil

The unintended consequence of vegetable oil industry boom was that intake of omega 6 oils increased significantly (the yellow part in corn oil).  To be more precise, this was a known consequence.  We just closed our eyes to it’s detrimental effect on human health.  These are highly inflammatory mediators.  This is not good.

Omega-6Increasing inflammatory molecules could conceivably contribute to worsening atherosclerosis, heart attack and strokes. Omega 3 fats tend to oppose the effects of Omega 6 fats and therefore increasing attention is being paid to the ratio of these fats. Vegetable oils have extremely high Omega 6:3 ratios.

It is estimated that humans evolved eating a diet that is close to equal in Omega 6s and 3s. Throughout evolution the balance between O6:O3 was thought to between 1:1 and 3:1. However, in the modern diet the ratio of O6:O3 is estimated to be closer to 25:1! It takes a pea-sized brain to realize how much damage we are doing to our body by consuming such levels of Omega 6 from vegetable oils. 

The massive increase in consumption of omega 6’s in the diet can be traced to technological advances that allowed modern methods of making vegetable oil. Overproduction of seeds, the invention of the continuous screw press (Expeller), steam-vacuum deodorization and solvent extraction techniques were critical to the production of vast quantities of vegetable oils.

Vegetable-oil

It’s actually a minor miracle (and with a little help of huge advertising budgets) that vegetable oils were (and still are) considered healthy at all.  Consider the substantial amount of processing  – pressing, solvent extraction, refining, degumming, bleaching and deodorization – that is required to squeeze the oil from a non-oily vegetable such as corn. There is virtually nothing natural about it.

The Chemical Instability of Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs)

Because your tissues are made up mostly of saturated and monounsaturated fats, your body requires more of them than polyunsaturated fats (which is true of all mammals). The main dietary PUFAs are omega-3 and omega-6 fats. These are called ‘essential fatty acids’ because our bodies cannot make them and they must be obtained from dietary sources. Although your body does need these, it needs them in relatively small quantities. And we have always got them from natural, unprocessed food sources like fish, nuts, seeds, grains.

One of the problems with PUFAs is that they are very chemically unstable, and highly susceptible  to being altered and denatured by what’s around them. Think about what happens to the oils in your pantry—they are susceptible to going rancid as a result of oxidation. In your body, PUFAs undergo a similar process when exposed to the toxic byproducts of proteins and sugars—especially fructose.

When we talk about “oxidized fatty acids,” we’re talking about oxidation of the carbon atoms that lie between double bonds (the ones with the missing hydrogen atoms). PUFAs are highly unstable because they have two or more double bonds; that’s two more weak spots vulnerable to oxidative damage. SFA’s are highly stable, resistant to oxidation, because they have no double bonds, no weak spots. MUFAs, with their one double bond, are theoretically vulnerable to oxidation—but it rarely actually happens. The literature shows that MUFA-rich oils, like olive, mustard and avocado, are generally resistant to heat damage during cooking.

When you eat too many PUFAs, they are increasingly incorporated into your cell membranes. Because these fats are unstable, your cells become fragile and prone to oxidation, which leads to all sorts of health problems, such as atherosclerosis, maybe even cancer.

Quite literally, the chemical structure of saturated fats will not be easily damaged by things that will easily damage (or oxidize) unsaturated fats, namely: heat, light and air.

Ever wonder why your high-quality olive oils are sold in a dark green glass or other opaque container? It’s to keep light from damaging the oil until it reaches your shelves. Ever wonder why coconut oil doesn’t go “off” or smell rancid from sitting out on the counter without a lid on it but a vegetable oil like corn or soybean oil will? Air, heat, light oxidizes those oils and makes them rancid. That is, damaged beyond the point that they are already just from the point of bottling.

You have to understand this, guys! It is all in the structure of the molecules.

TRANS FATS

What the processed food and fast food industry needed was a cheap stable oil to increase the shelf life their products. Think about all the packaged food you see in supermarkets – muffins, cupcakes, chips, packaged ready-to-eat sauces, soups, cookies, biscuits, frozen meals (this list can go on…but you get the idea, right?) – which hardly ever get spoilt. How did they use these cheap, industrial oils which were prone to get rancid and manage to make them stable? Welcome to the world of new plastic fats!!

You saw the missing hydrogen in a PUFA’s above? These oils are hydrogenated (the missing hydrogen atom is added but they don’t get the same structure as a natural fat) to give them stability and long shelf-life. In food industry, liquid PUFA’s such as vegetable oils are hydrogenated to produce saturated fats called Trans fats. Margarine, is a chemically processed vegetable oil which has been hydrogenated to make it saturated and therefore solid at room temperature. It’s structure is actually very close to the plastic tub it is packaged in!! These hydrogenated saturated fats flooded the processed/packaged food industry.

The other ‘new kid on the block’ is Interesterified fats: (terrified…you should be!) What are these? Also artificially saturated! We see it everywhere. These are a new breed of chemically modified fats created to avoid the trans fat label now reviled and even outlawed in many countries. Now get this. Research is showing that the effects are not just similar to trans fats but worse. Turns out these fats “may raise blood sugar levels even more than trans fats.” Just what we need in this country! The researchers suggest that this new fat actually “alters metabolism in humans.”

A little known fact is that even vegetable oils often contain massive amounts of trans fats. In one study that looked at soybean and canola oils found on store shelves in the U.S., about 0.56% to 4.2% of the fatty acids in them were toxic trans fats.. If you want to reduce your exposure to trans fats (you should) then it’s not enough to avoid common trans fat sources like cookies and processed baked goods, you also need to avoid vegetable oils.

(GUYS : Is it very difficult to understand that these industrially made saturated fat is not the same as natural occurring SFA’s like butter, coconut oil).

I will refer to Trans fats and Interesterified fats collectively as ICSFA ( Industrially created saturated fatty acids!). You have to understand this. One (SFA) is an integral part of our cells in structure and function while the other (ICSFA) is created chemically to increase the shelf-life of otherwise unstable oils and is a destroyer of cellular integrity. They are both called ‘saturated’ fats and have been collectively demonized.

When you hear the words, “avoid saturated fat,” ask which one?  ask WHY? Will you avoid the one which offers a variety of nutritional and physiological benefits, including providing structure and stability to our 70 trillion cell membranes?

From the chart (Comparison of dietary fats), the predominantly blue oils are most susceptible to damage (high in PUFA). The bottom 4 are best suited for cooking.

Despite what you’ve heard, saturated fats are not all animal fats. As an example, 18 carbon saturated stearic acid in beef, 18 carbon  stearic acid in chocolate, and  18 carbon stearic acid in olive oil are identical.

I hope you have some idea of the ‘WHY’ of fats by now. Once you understand that, you will not get carried away by some magazine article or your well meaning neighbour claiming that saturated fats will kill you. Ask, which saturated fats? ask why? ask about unsaturated fats being prone to oxidation. Ask them if ghee or chocolate or chemically created saturated fats from vegetable oils are the same.

aid1822317-728px-Balance-Omega-6-With-Omega-3-Step-1You now know the importance of Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio. If you read a ‘latest research’ about the greatness of Omega-6 , you should ask ‘WHY’ because now you know that oils high in Omega-6 can cause cellular damage without the balancing act of Omega-3. It is known fact that we have always got our essential Omega’s from food sources and not from oils. You don’t need the Omega’s from industrial vegetable oils and nobody can convince you to buy this poison with a heart shaped picture. When you see an Ad like this you can laugh it off because you know the WHY!!

Our ancestors have always cooked in saturated fats (butter, coconut oil, animal fats) because of the stability it provided in high heat conditions. And no latest industry-sponsored-research can make idiots of us unless we have left our brains in the toilets this morning.

If you ask me today to name the fats we eat I would finish the count in the fingers of half of one hand, just like my grandma.

 

Good or bad? Moving on to the do’s and don’t’s…

Until now, I have talked about importance of real food and ancestral wisdom, abject failure of the science of reduction-ism and oversimplification of nutrition in preventing diseases, calories-in calories-out fallacy in dealing with obesity and the big bad influence of BigFood and BigPharma along with their big bad influence on the medical community. If you have read my earlier posts, some alarm bells are likely (and hopefully) to be set off when you are told to eat ‘Whole-grain cereal fortified with calcium, fibers , iron, magnesium’ or when your doctor tells you that an ‘aspirin a day’ will prevent you from getting a heart attack in some future date.

I also dedicated 2 posts on the ‘Energy’ series to explain that the whole essence of our life is the production of energy by our cells 24/7. We are a power plant and when we shutdown, we shut down forever. Our cells need the right fuels to keep the energy furnace burning. I explained how our fat reserves have tons of stored energy waiting to be used. I will come back to this topic later to explain how to unlock your fat stores for energy.

Off the blog, my friends and family, are already getting endless ‘funda’ on the good and bad stuff of everyday life. Which oil to use? Which salt? What about carbs? Can I eat rice? …….It just makes sense to bring those ‘fundas’ here on this blog as well.

Okay, look. I know I’m pretty bad at keeping things short and sweet. All I really want to do is make clear what we should eat and what we shouldn’t eat. But I don’t want to just make lists of “good foods” and “bad foods,” or say that you can eat as much x, y, and z as you want, but you should limit intake of a, b, and c. I think it’s important to explain ‘why’. WHY should we limit some things and not worry so much about others?

I can tell you that ghee is great, cereals are bad, eggs are super, wheat is mostly bad, milk is not required, high stomach acid is essential, good salt is very important, cola is a killer, fruit juice is a no-no etc. etc. There are a million websites where you will probably read just the opposite.  Why should you believe me  or anybody else unless you know WHY? You must know WHY! And then, HOW do you start implementing the changes?

During my long-ish hiatus from blogging I was thinking about how to bring these aspects of everyday food choices in my writings. Instead of bashing the bad guys (BigFood, BigPharma) all the time, I wanted to move on and start talking about ‘what can we eat to stay healthy’ given the situation we are in. How to move on and start the change in our homes and kitchen. I want to tell you about super foods, reasonably good food, the okay-ish food and the  throw-it-out food, and at the same time get a bit ‘sciency’ to explain in simple terms the ‘WHY’ and the ‘HOW’ as I understand it.

I feel like it’s irresponsible of me to trash-talk cottonseed oil and praise butter if we don’t even know what those things are on a chemical level, or to say we should eat certain foods and avoid others without knowing what they do inside us because of their chemistry. When we stick to the facts, we can tune out the TV pundits, the supermarket tabloids, the misinformed practitioner, and our ‘wannabe supermodel’ neighbour, who lost 30 pounds by drinking shakes for a month but will gain back 40 next month.

Good or Bad?

‘Are you feeling good or bad? good or bad?’ – words of a song written and sung by a very talented kiddy girl band from Germany, the Singing Flowers.

I am often asked whether a particular food is good or bad.  My answer might be “good for me or good for you?” or “ handful of it or a whole lot?” or “today or last week?” or “how often?”. That’s because the answer depends on these questions. They are:

  • What food?
  • Who is eating?
  • How much are they eating?
  • How often?
  • When are they eating?

From our traditional Ayurvedic point of view, food and nutrition can be sub-divided for individuals based on a number of variables like prakriti (constitution), agni (metabolic status), kal (age/time/season), desh (geographical location), satmya ( compatibility) and many more.

Matra (quantity) is individualized, dynamic and flexible, contrary to the serving size idea of modern nutrition. In Ayurveda, food requirements may differ among people of the same gender and of similar age. In real life I see it everyday with my twin daughters.

Ayurveda recognizes that food quantity may vary depending on the individuals agni bala (digestive capacity) at a given time. This too may change depending on season, time of day and age. Prakriti is a genetic- epigenetic conceptualization of Ayurveda which also influences food requirements. Depending on the metabolic levels the 3 body types are categorized as Vata (or irregular metabolizers) who require smaller and more frequent quantities of food, Pitta (or fast metabolizers) who require large quantities of food per meal also frequently and Kapha (or slow metabolizers) who require smaller quantities of food less frequently. This is extremely important in determining the fasting tolerance of individuals.

Even the same person is a Kapha dominant in early age, a Pitta dominant in middle age and a Vata dominant in old age.

Even the time of day requires consideration – morning is the time of kapha ( therefore small meal). Daytime is marked by pitta (substantial consumption). Evening again is a period of kapha.

Not just in Ayurveda. In “Regimen in Health” written in the fifth century BC, Hippocrates, who we recognize as a father of western medicine, outlined guidelines for healthy eating which profoundly influenced western thought for two millennia. Later classified by Galen in the second century AD, the system describes foods according to their natures (hot, cold, dry, damp and so on) and advocates that we eat to balance the nature of the prevailing season as well as according to our own temperament. Although the modern scientific view no longer describes foods in these terms, such an understanding of food has characterized western thought until very recently (until the advent of smarty-pants nutritionism).

In Chinese thought, the five flavours (sweet, pungent, salty, sour and bitter) are a literal description of a food’s taste as well as indicators of a food’s effects. Each flavour, for example, moves the body’s energy in various directions. Sweet foods moisten, harmonise and nourish; pungent foods move energy from the centre to the surface, stimulate circulation, disperse stagnation and tend to be drying; salty foods sink, moisten and detoxify; sour foods are contractive, move energy inwards and tone the body’s tissues; bitter foods have a drying action and tend to move downward. Balance is understood to be the skillful blending and inclusion of the “five flavours” and the balance of “thermal natures”. The question of balance also includes balancing the person with their environment, eating in harmonious relationship with the climate, weather and season. A balanced diet is also one which is individually tailored according to a person’s constitution, condition and lifestyle.

So, the answer to whether a food is good or bad will be moderated by for whom, when and where it is being eaten. At the midwinter solstice in the arctic circle you are offered the choice of a slice of watermelon or a slab of chocolate. Which do you choose? It’s a no-brainer really. At midday in the heat of Dubai desert?

So, the answer to whether a food is good or bad will always be, it depends…

There is no ‘one size fits all’. There never was!! Some ancestral diets were very high in meat and fats – such as the Inuit.  Others, like the Kitavans and Okinawans, were heavily carbohydrate dependent.   Yet both traditional diets were associated with good health. Balancing our genetic make-up with climate, seasons, local bio availability play an extremely important role in the diets we need to predominantly eat.

Obviously, none of the traditional diets included large amounts of processed food – whether they were processed meats or processed carbohydrates. The toxicity is in the processing.

If we go about copying the highly processed Standard American Diet (SAD) or any other diet which is not in harmony with all factors (genetic and epigenetic) which influence us as individuals, we will be sick. That is the simple truth.

Even though every persons requirement of food is unique, there are some basic rules for everybody. I will start with those.

One thing I must warn every one of you reading this blog and hoping to incorporate some lifestyle changes: YOU HAVE TO START COOKING (or have someone cook for you) !! There is no way around this, I’m sorry. This is the real deal. This was a given, a normal, when we grew up a few decades back. My grandma and mother would cook meals for us everyday. So why not do the same for our kids and give them the chance to be healthy individuals.

Cooking is fun, it is a family activity, no gender bias, you can be creative, you can experiment, you can make the tastiest treats and sometimes not so great dishes. And most importantly you know what you are eating.

First things first: Clean out your kitchen of all the junk. Whether you cook or someone cooks for you, lay down the rules. Even if you have only seen your kitchen from the outside and left everything that goes on inside to your trusted cook, please make sure that you buy the right stuff.

Let’s move on to the ‘Kitchen series’ where I will kick off with the most debated subject – FATS !!

 

 

Comeback Rant – Pharma and Fear

Finally!! I am back with my fundas after a long long hiatus…well, 3 months and counting!

I was off to India with my family during the Easter break. Imparted a lot of ‘funda’ to my friends and relatives. My first ‘flesh and blood’ convert was my brother-in-law.  We got talking about health issues, the deceptions of modern marketing machinery, traditional food habits and medical practices.  As the number of pegs increased we moved to vedanta philosophy and self, micro-macrocosm, and the whole cosmic stuff. He is the philosophy ‘guru’.

Physically, he was not in great shape, pretty much overweight with associated issues. He has been wanting to bring about a lifestyle change for quite sometime but could not get started. These are sensitive issues and every person must realize for himself whether or not he wants to change his lifestyle. At best, I can give certain information, some reasoning, some convincing arguments and plant the seeds of change. It is like telling a smoker to quit smoking. I mean, you can tell him any number of times, but he can only quit if he decides to. Self-realization!! People talk of willpower etc, but it doesn’t mean anything without self-realization. That automatically takes care of willpower.

I returned from the trip and got really busy with my day job. Suddenly on April fools day, an email  pops up in my inbox from my B-I-L – ‘How do i get started?’, he asked me. It has been more than 2 months since he started and he is doing amazing. This is what self-realization is. He wanted to do it. I did plant the seeds during my trip but at some point HE realized that he needed to change. Something on April 1st turned that switch on for him and that was self-realization. I can’t do that for him, nor can a nagging partner or parent (except for children). His wife followed him into the new lifestyle, and together they are really happy converts!!

Since then, more enthusiastic followers within the family have enrolled themselves and I am sure they will benefit hugely as well. I can get people thinking on these lines, but they have to take the decision to improve their health and well being. It is especially important for those of us with kids to know the good from the bad because we are being tempted and tricked everyday, in every instance, into consuming extremely harmful ‘so-called healthy’ products for which the long-term consequences can be disastrous. It is important for the parents to understand the consequences and be a guiding factor for their kids.

Even though I did not post since March, I was heavily into research and reading medical journals on the go. I wanted to learn about the human physiology, how the systems in our bodies actually work, the traditions, the cultures, the centuries old philosophies of Ayurveda and Chinese Qi. A lot of questions got answered, a lot new questions came up. The search for ‘why’ never ends.

The body is the most amazing thing on planet. It is self-healing. It is super smart. It’s prime objective is to keep us alive in any which way it can. It is healing all the time to keep us ticking. It will do everything to keep you alive. Everything works in such an intricate and complex harmony that it is beyond complete scientific explanation. One book I read and continue to read is the Textbook of Medical Physiology by Hall and Guyton (a bible for medical students). You won’t believe how many times it is written that ‘we are still not sure how this mechanism takes place’!! But that’s the truth! We are groping in the dark, yet we claim to know it all. We think we know it all. HDL is good cholesterol, someone said. So we produce a drug that increases HDL. We have conquered arteriosclerosis, we claimed. We give the drug and …ooopppsss patients fall dead. There must be more to it, we realized. Yes, there is more and much more and much much more about which we have no clue!!

Pharma Ranting:

Don’t get me wrong. I have huge respect for a lot of guys in the medical community. A whole lot of doctors in our real food, natural health community are eminent people in their profession. They are doctors who practice the oath they took when they started their medical studies – ‘First do no harm’. But people will lose faith in this noble, life-saving breed if  BigPharmas continue to infiltrate and corrupt the community.  If I end up with my bones in pieces I know the guys in white coats can fix me. Great progress has been made in emergency treatments and surgeries. It is the ever widening net of so-called conditions and the management of symptoms that has flourished as a multi-trillion dollar industry and this industry only profits from people being made sick and remaining sick for the rest of their lives. It has sadly infiltrated the medical community at large. For migraines, elevated blood sugars, hypertension, stress, fatigue, depression, skin issues, weight issues,  acid reflux, IBS and a host of such chronic symptoms, your condition is managed but never cured.

The 10 largest drugs companies control over one-third of the multi-trillion dollar global pharma market, and profit margins of about 30%. Six are based in the United States and four in Europe. Companies currently spend one-third of all sales revenue on marketing their products – roughly twice what they spend on research and development.

As a result of this pressure to maintain sales, there is now,  “an inherent conflict of interest between the legitimate business goals of manufacturers and the social, medical and economic needs of providers and the public to select and use drugs in the most rational way”.- WHO

The late medical journalist Lynn Payer addressed the issue in the early 1990s in her book Disease-Mongers: How Doctors, Drug Companies, and Insurers Are Making You Feel Sick. She wrote: “Disease-mongering—trying to convince essentially well people that they are sick, or slightly sick people that they are very ill—is big business…. Disease mongering is the most insidious of the various forms that medical advertising, so-called medical education, and information and medical diagnosis can take.”

Disease mongering got rolling in 1879 with the invention of Listerine, which was originally considered a surgical antiseptic. It was named for the famous English surgeon Joseph Lister, who performed the first antiseptic surgical procedure. Soon, however, Listerine’s inventors, Dr. Joseph Lawrence and Jordan W. Lambert, were selling it in concentrated form as a floor cleaner and as a treatment for gonorrhea. In 1895 they began to market it to dentists for oral care, and in 1914 it became the first over-the-counter mouthwash marketed in the United States. By the 1920s, the Lambert Pharmacal Company, Listerine’s maker, was confident they had found a cure; now all they needed was a disease. So they made one up: “halitosis.” Before that time, halitosis was an obscure medical term that almost no one had heard of. Advertisers began to promote Listerine as a cure for this condition, which, they said, could blight anyone’s chances of succeeding in romance, marriage and work. Soon, people all over America were suffering from halitosis.

disease_mongers_inc_600

Since direct-to-consumer drug advertising debuted in 1997 in the US, pharma’s credo has been When The Medication Is Ready, The Disease (and Patients) Will Appear.

  • Drugs approved for devastating illness, such as clinical depression, are now indicated for milder conditions, such as shyness, which is now dubbed ‘social phobia’.
  • One Eli-Lilly advertisement shows a series of photographs of an uptight-looking model, and asks in the headline: “Distracted? Disorganized? Frustrated? Modern Life or Adult ADD?” The advertisement notes that adult ADD can go undiagnosed because “its symptoms are often mistaken for a stressful life.” The commercial suggests that readers get checked out by their physician, because Strattera®, the first approved medication for adult ADD, can help “you stay focused, so you can get things done at work and at home.”
  • Who knew so many people suffered from restless legs?
  • Insomnia has been a goldmine to Big Pharma. To goose the insomnia market, Pharma has created subcategories of insomnia — chronic, acute, transient, initial, delayed-onset and middle-of-the-night as well as early-morning wakening non-restful sleep.
  • Cholesterol – the mother of all deceptions- making Statins the biggest revenue generator.
  • Osteoporosis
  • and now even balding, which makes me sick (pun intended)!!

The list can go on…..

Social media and internet presence are the direct-to-consumer channels. WebMD, for example, is the voice of Pharma on the Web.

Arthur Caplan, Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA, told the popular American TV programme 60 Minutes, “If you want to stir up worry in the public, and you’ve got the advertising dollars to do it, you can turn almost anything into a disease.”

How many times have you heard statements like ‘it is a lifetime disease’, ‘unfortunately it’s your genes’, ‘it’s not serious but you have to live with it’, ‘just take the pink pill in the morning the blue pill in the afternoon, the green pill in the evening and the red pill at night and you will be fine‘!!

You will be put on life-long medication. You will be required to make regular visits for check-ups. The doctors make money, the pharmacies make money, the diagnostic centers make money.  Everybody makes money. You are the cash cow for life and in the process you get sicker and sicker.

The way forward may be in immunizing ourselves psychologically against the messages from Big Pharma that invade our lives on every hand. We have to learn to stop being suckers for pills. We have to learn to question. It is not difficult to be informed enough to ask pertinent questions. If a doctor can’t satisfactorily answer your queries, sack him. Look for another doctor who works with you. You are the one paying for the services. That’s the reality today. They are no different than a lawyer you might engage, or an insurance policy salesman.

Today, because the comforts of religion are no longer real for many people, death seems more final, resulting in a panicky rush to use anything that offers better health and increased longevity.

We have not lost faith, but we have transferred it from GOD to the medical profession.- G.B.Shaw

We must realize that our body can self heal and reverse most of the chronic conditions if we give the right message to it. The only way your body gets messages is through the food you eat. Your food talks to your genes. Your body is pleading with you to give it the right stuff. The headaches, the hypertension, the fatigue, elevated blood sugars, IBS, acid reflux etc are messages the body is giving you that you need to change whatever you are currently doing. Listen to your body. You are the doctor.

Our cells have learnt to survive over 3 billion years. It survived when there was no oxygen on planet. It evolved to adapt to oxygen and grow into the present human form. Our DNA’s evolved to live in harmony with the plant and animal kingdom. Our gut learnt to live in harmony with 100 trillion bacteria, each of which have specific roles. 3 billion years without pill-popping is not too bad !!

All we need to do is provide our super-smart, self-healing body with the natural ingredients from the plant and animal kingdom to keep us healthy.  Your body will immediately recognize and welcome a pumpkin, a blueberry and a lamb chop, but it doesn’t know how to deal with a high fructose corn syrup, butylated hydroxyanisole, brominated vegetable oil or hexane.

Our health is determined mainly not by the pills we choose to swallow, but how we choose to live our lives — the ways we eat, exercise, work, play, love and relate to others. Realizing that, we can outsmart the efforts of the disease mongerers to pathologize every moment of our existence.

Amen.

 

 

Life is energy – 2

Which fuel type is our body best suited for? That was the open question from the last post. Just like my friends’ Lexus Hybrid is designed to run on petrol and electric, what is the human body designed to use and when? Just like the hybrid car is designed to switch fuel sources on a steep uphill when it requires extra power, and cruise along on electric power on a flat country road, is our body also designed to use different sources to fuel it’s energy needs? Most definitely !!

For an individual weighing 70.5 kg, let us look at the stored potential sources of fuel. First up – protein.

Fuel comparison Protein

Source: Devlin, T., ed. Textbook of Biochemistry with Clinical Correlations. Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2011

*Based on an individual weighing 155 pounds (approx. 70.5kg)

The muscle mass of this individual has typically about 6000 grams of body protein, which means 24,000 calories of stored fuel (remember proteins and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram). WOW, that is a lot of stored energy! But where is that protein stored? In our muscles, right? And our organs, glands, bones, and other precious tissue that we do not want to break down (catabolize) for fuel. (More on this when we get to weight loss—specifically, why we want to aim for fat loss or “waist loss” rather than “weight loss.” We don’t just want to lose weight; we want to lose fat and hang onto as much muscle mass and other lean tissue as we can.) Proteins are essential nutrients of our body. The building blocks of body tissue, so why would you want to break that down for energy? Proteins are made of essential amino acids which we must obtain from food …therefore ESSENTIAL!! Anyways, protein is not what we want to use as our primary fuel. It has too many valuable jobs to do. Bottom line: those 24,000 calories are awfully tempting, but as a fuel source, but they’re out.

Let’s move on to carbohydrate. (Abbreviated as CHO in the chart below)

fuel-comparison proteins and carbs

Source: Devlin, T., ed. Textbook of Biochemistry with Clinical Correlations. Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2011

Our bodies digest the food we eat by mixing it with fluids (acids and enzymes) in the stomach. When the stomach digests food, the carbohydrate (sugars and starches) in the food breaks down into another type of sugar, called glucose. The stomach and small intestines absorb the glucose and then release it into the bloodstream (blood sugar? anyone?). Once in the bloodstream, glucose can be used immediately for energy or stored in our bodies, to be used later. This is the 20 grams (or 80 calories) of fuel you see above. It’s not much. 80 calories isn’t anything to write home about, so let’s move on to the other form of stored carbohydrate in our bodies: glycogen.

Glycogen is to humans what starch is to plants. It is the form in which we store carbohydrate. (We store it as glycogen, and a potato, for example, stores it as starch.) Since our blood can only hold so much glucose at any given time (even for a type 2 diabetic with sky-high blood sugar), any excess has to be removed quickly and our bodies have to find somewhere else to stick it. This “somewhere else” is our liver and our muscles. Looking at the chart above, the liver can only hold about 70 grams of carbohydrate as glycogen, for about 280 calories’ worth. That’s still not much. So this liver glycogen, like the glucose in the blood, and like the protein in the muscles, doesn’t seem like such a great fuel for the body to rely on.

But the muscles—now we’re getting somewhere. Even a relatively non-muscular person still has a fair bit of muscle mass. The hypothetical 70.5 kg person represented in this chart stores about 120 grams of carbohydrate in their muscle glycogen, for around 480 calories. Not too bad, but nothing to write home about, either. Plus, another mark against relying on muscle glycogen as a fuel for the whole body is that it can only be used to power activity in the muscles in which it’s stored. It does the rest of the body no good. Glycogen stored in, say, your biceps, can’t be released into the bloodstream when your blood sugar is getting a little low.

Only liver glycogen can do that. In fact, that’s pretty much liver glycogen’s ‘reason for being’ — to keep you from getting woozy and feeling faint if you find yourself needing to go a few hours without eating any carbohydrate, or any anything, for that matter.

Remember: carbohydrates supply only 4 calories per gram (in our car analogy it was 4 km/l). We have to keep fueling the fire (refilling the tank) constantly. We will need to have a snack every two or three hours (which is what BigFood wants you to do BTW and you will see endless sponsored research telling you the benefits of snacking). I’d rather use a fuel I don’t have to top off quite so often, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t have to stop often and you wouldn’t get those hypoglycemic symptoms when your tank starts getting low, because your body would be running on a fuel that you didn’t have to constantly put more of in the tank.

Let’s look at fat.

fuel-comparison - all

Source: Devlin, T., ed. Textbook of Biochemistry with Clinical Correlations. Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2011

 

Do you see what I see? OMG

The hypothetical person, weighing 70.5 kg, stores about 15,000 grams of fat in his adipose (fat) tissue, for a whopping 135,000 calories!! (9 cals per gram for fat) NOW WE’RE TALKING, PEOPLE. And he is of normal weight, not fat, not obese. A normal bloke. This is like a 45 day store of energy for the body. Did you ever wonder how some of our great leaders could go on hunger strikes for days and live to tell the tale?!! (those were the days of our good old fat- burning lean politicians. Can you imagine the jokers today going on hunger strikes after being fuelled by the Sodas, BigMacs and Donuts!! They won’t last 30 minutes!! That’s why hunger strikes are so out-of-fashion!)

Anyway, THAT is some serious fuel storage. The human body has an almost unlimited capacity to store fat and accumulate adipose tissue. Taking this into account, it almost seems as if nature (or evolution, or the big voice in the sky, or Bramha or whatever you happen to believe in) evolved/created/designed our bodies to run on fat, because that is the type of fuel our gas tanks are designed to hold the most of.

The single most fundamental – and simple – way to improve mitochondrial function is to turn away from relying on sugar-burning and transform yourself into a fat-burning beast. See, mitochondria burn fatty acids cleaner than they burn carbohydrates and generate way more ATP as we have seen in my previous post.

We have seen so far that fatty acids are the most preferred fuel of the mitochondria, fatty acids are available in abundance in our bodies, they are the long lasting and produce way more energy per molecule than any other fuel source. Remember this next time you hear some poor, misguided soul say that carbohydrates are the body’s “preferred fuel source.”

How do our bodies know which fuel to use?

Is there a way to prime our bodies so that they’ll run more on fat than on carbohydrate? (Yes.)

Is this fat/carbohydrate debate like the Apple OS/Android thing? (No.)

Is fuel partitioning absolute? If I’m running on fat, does that mean I’m not using any carbohydrate at all? (No.)

Can my entire body run on fat? (No.)

Does my body need some glucose? (Yes.)

HOWEVER – and the big CAPITAL HOWEVER – let me take a moment here to tell everyone that being a sugar- or fat-burner is not a binary thing. It’s not a yes/no, on/off scenario.

Unlike the lovely Hybrid car , it is not the case that the human body—every single cell in every single organ, tissue, and system—is either fueled by glucose OR fueled by fat.

Different parts of the body are running on different fuels concurrently, and the proportions of different fuel types that are used can change, based on the type of activity a tissue is engaged in.

Here are a few examples:

Red blood cells: RBCs have no mitochondria. Therefore, they must use glucose exclusively.Remember, mitochondria are the “powerhouses” of most cells. The energy factories, if you will. And when fats are used as fuel, they are “burned” in the mitochondria. So if a cell has no mitochondria, it can’t use fat, right? (If your stove isn’t a gas stove, then it can’t use gas. It has to use electricity or some other form of energy. Simple enough.) And since we’ve already said fat is our primo, go-to fuel (maximum ATP per molecule), why would there be cells in our bodies that can’t use it? You must love your creator, the ultimate guru: In producing energy, the mitochondria use up a lot of oxygen. But what is the job of RBCs? They transport oxygen (via the bloodstream) to the rest of the body, right? Well, what good would it do if RBCs used up all the oxygen they’re supposed to deliver to the rest of the body? It would be like using the services of the DHL man who keeps all the packages for himself so that none of the cargo gets delivered. If you think you would be dead if your shipment of books from Amazon never got delivered, imagine how dead you’d be if your heart (or gonads) stopped getting oxygen.

Cardiac/heart cells: Your heart is one of the most aerobically active of all your cherished parts and pieces. Think about it: your heart is using energy 24/7/365. IT. NEVER. STOPS. (Well, that is, until it stops for good. But other than that, it is a muscle that is contracting and relaxing every minute, every day of your life.) It never gets a rest. It needs to be fueled all the time, no matter what. In order to make sure this happens, your heart is loaded with mitochondria. Oxygen users like crazy! So since the heart has all these mitochondrial fuel generators available, it might as well use them to generate some fuel—and what did we see ? The nutrient that gives us the most fuel per gram is fat. So the heart uses fat like a champ. But don’t just take my word for it. According to people way smarter than I am, “Between meals, cardiac muscle cells meet 90% of their ATP demands by oxidizing fatty acids. Although these proportions may fall to about 60% depending on the nutritional status and the intensity of contractions, fatty acids may be considered the major fuel consumed by cardiac muscle.” “The heart has virtually no glycogen reserves. Fatty acids are the heart’s main source of fuel, although ketone bodies as well as lactate can serve as fuel for heart muscle. The point is, the heart runs on at least two different types of fuel better than it runs on carbohydrate.)

Brain cells: The brain requires glucose. No two ways about it. Even the most ardent low-carber can’t deny that the brain needs glucose. However, it doesn’t need as much glucose as we tend to think it does, as long as the glucose debt is made up for by fuel coming from an alternative source, like ketones. Fatty acids are generally not used as fuel for the brain. Glucose and ketones are the main players in the upper level.

EnterocytesThese are the cells that line the small intestine. And what is one of their big jobs? To move nutrients (such as glucose) from the lumen of the intestine into the bloodstream, yes? (Yes.) So what good would it do if these cells used that glucose to fuel themselves? The rest of the body wouldn’t get its requisite share. So instead of glucose, the main fuels for these intestinal cells are the amino acids L-glutamine and L-glutamate.

Let us take a look at different activity levels.

Generally speaking, when your heart rate is lower, and your exercise is less intense, it is likely being fueled more by fat than by carbohydrate. (Another way of saying this is that anaerobic activity is fueled more by carbs, and aerobic more by fat. Note: aerobic is the stuff you can do for a long time at a sufficiently slow pace. Anaerobic is the stuff that makes your muscles hurt after just a short time, assuming you’re doing it right).

chihuahuaThat means, the intense stuff require a lot of glycolysis and/or glycogen breakdown – i.e., a lot of glucose. Intense activity—CrossFit, intense lifting, sprinting, running from a chasing chihuahua, for example—that is fueled more by carbohydrate than by fat. This isn’t a binary all-or-nothing deal, just a balancing act where, in this case, the balance leans toward carbs.

43139373-couch-potato-cartoonWhat about the non-intense stuff? What about a nice, comfortable stroll through the park? What about all the stuff I’ve said before we don’t think of as “exercise” or “burning calories,” but which does use energy? Think about it: pretty much anything we do requires at least some energy, even just sitting in your chair reading this blog. (Think about all the postural muscles in your back and neck working hard just to keep you upright the entire time you’re there on your rear end.) All that kind of sitting-around-doing-nothing type activity is mostly fueled by fat ( Yes Guys, tell your wife to read this blog!! ). Again, this isn’t a binary all-or-nothing deal, just a balancing act where, in this case, the balance leans toward fats.

According to the smarties“Fatty acids are the main source of energy in skeletal muscle during rest and mild-intensity exercise. As exercise intensity increases, glucose oxidation surpasses fatty acid oxidation.”

The body is a hybrid engine that can and does run on a variety of fuels concurrently.

We have now seen that the type of cells/tissue performing the activity and the kind of activity being performed largely determine which types of fuel our bodies prefer to use.

Why is it that in spite of the abundance of fat deposits we are not able to utilize it for our energy needs and keep this source of fuel locked away.

To unlock this mystery, we need to look at another key factor which determines the type of fuel our bodies use and that is the interplay of our hormones. 

Next up in the ‘energy’ series, we will start exploring the hormonal milieu under which different activities take place which in turn determine the type of fuel our bodies use.

 

 

Life is energy – 1

I have been slamming BigFood for convincing every one of us , with a bit of help from friendly researchers, that all calories are the same. I have been slamming the nutrition-ism in food, the reduction-ism of food science and the over simplification of the calories number game.

But, I haven’t been slamming everyone – my grandmother, our ancestors, – because I am convinced that they knew so much more, not because they fed mice in laboratories, but just from wisdom passed down from generations. They hardly experienced any food related chronic illnesses, or any lifestyle diseases because of their food habits.

It is impossible to figure out whom to believe with the hundreds and thousands of opinions related to diet and health. Is my slamming of the BigFood, and the modern concepts of nutrition, and the mumbo-jumbo of calories at all justified? Have I lost it?…you might ask.

I started upfront with the topic of ‘calories’ in my previous 3 (I think) posts because we are inundated with that word everyday. I had to set you thinking whether it is all that it is made out to be after all. At least you can ask the right questions to your gym instructor or your ‘eat less/move more’ advisors. In the next few posts, I’ll take a step back and talk about some funda issues about food so that you understand your body. You don’t need to believe me or anybody else nor get confused with the endless advises. When you understand the basics about how the human body really works, you will know why calorie counting, fat slashing, (yes , you read that right), and eating less/moving more is a one-way ticket to a black hole of frustration.

So let’s get cracking at what it is all about..

For the benefit of my friends who bunked the biology and physiology classes (me included, that’s why I had to catch up much later in life) I will just explain some simple fundas to understand what really is the role of food in our bodies. We talk about calories and carbs and proteins and fats and lipids and oils  and hormones and enzymes and micronutrients and vitamins…and…and…and, but do we really know how all of this fits into the whole concept of our being. Why is food such an important part of our lives? Is it just for that tiny little burp which escapes our lips at the end of a satisfying meal or is there more to it? What does it really do ?

SHeldonThere are many theories on the origin of life. Whether God or Sheldon’s Big Bang (take your pick) created the first energy form on planet a few billion years ago, or, as some scientists believe, that in the beginning, there were simple organic chemicals. And they produced amino acids that eventually became the proteins necessary to create single cells.  And the single cells became plants and animals. After billions of years, life on earth has evolved as we see it today. And humans have evolved to be one of the most complex, intricate multi-cellular organism if there ever was one. We have trillions of cells, each of which produce energy. We are a bundle of energy packed into skin and bones of varying shapes and sizes. Our whole existence is the energy we contain. We die because our cells die when they can no longer continue to generate energy. Life is energy.

Your ability to maintain a healthy body temperature, support your breathing, and a host of other functions to keep you alive, is called your basal metabolic rate, and you use more energy for these functions than for any other. Your body also uses energy to build new tissue, repair damaged tissue, and generate new, healthy cells. Even a simple eye movement requires energy.

Energy – our cells need to generate energy non-stop, 24/7, as long as we live. They need fuel to generate energy. This fuel comes from the food we eat. That is why we need to eat. So we see a broad level connection between food and our existence. It provides our body with stuff which keeps us alive. Cool! But why the fuss over carbs and fats and proteins and whatever….How do these different food types matter in the generation of life’s energy?

2015-lexus-ct-200h_100474240_hA beautiful red Lexus Hybrid. Our dear friends just bought this amazing car !! And I thought that if we are to talk about different fuel sources then this would be a great, though oversimplified analogy.

Think of the human body as a hybrid car. Just like a hybrid car, which can run on different types of fuel, depending on the situation, the human body can do the same. We can run on many different kinds of fuel, depending on how much of each type is available at any given time, and also depending on what kind of activity needs to be fuelled, which tissue type is performing the activity, and what messages our hormones are sending throughout our body regarding which fuels to use.

The main types of fuel the body can run on are:

  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Carbohydrate
  • Alcohol
  • Ketones

tintin_captdrinks

For obvious reasons, we don’t want to fuel ourselves primarily on alcohol. A little hooch now and then is no problem (hic…), but we certainly don’t want it to be our main source of fuel.

Next up is protein.  Even though protein is a source of energy, and therefore something we can consider as “fuel,” we really don’t want to use protein as our main energy source. It’s far too valuable for the myriad other purposes it has in our bodies. Besides contributing to the physical structure of muscle tissue, here’s just a small sampling of what else is made from protein: Antibodies, peptide hormones (like insulin and glucagon), neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine), organs, and blood vessels. Protein has too many other jobs to do for it to be siphoned off as an energy source under normal circumstances. Sometimes amino acids from proteins are used for this as well, but only when your body doesn’t have enough of the carbohydrates and fats available. .

We’ll table ketones for the time being. They’re actually fantastic source of fuel, but they deserve a much more detailed explanation than I can give here at the outset.  We will talk about this alternative in later posts.

So that leaves us with carbohydrates and fat. These 2 sources of fuel are the most talked about by food scientists, nutritionists, dieticians, the media, doctors, laymen, everyone…..Let’s compare carbohydrate and fat as fuel sources and see if we can tease out which one it makes more physiological sense for us to run our bodies on.

As a general rule carbohydrates contain 4 kcal per gram; proteins are about the same; fats contain approximately 9 kcal per gram. In our analogy of a car, one fuel gives us say 4 km/liter and one gives us 9 km/l. So obviously if we use the 9km/l fuel we won’t run out of fuel so easily. Assuming that we use the 4km/l fuel, we would need to stop more often to fill up the tank as compared to the 9km/l. That’s obvious.

The thing about the human body is that we don’t just burn fuel. We don’t burn “calories,” and we don’t even burn carbohydrate, fat, protein, alcohol, or ketones. You see, the body can’t actually do anything with those macronutrients, per se.  The human body can’t use carbohydrates or fats (or any of the other fuels) as they are. They have to be converted into something called ATP (adenosine triphosphate), —the “energy currency” of human physiology. Our cells can only use ATP. So we can think of pau bhaji, fish fry,  steak, ice cream, chicken, eggplant, or even a well-aged Lagavulin and everything else we might toss down the hatch not as calories, or fuel, or energy, but as potential sources of ATP ( Why potential? – we will see that just because we ingest a food doesn’t mean that food is going to be converted into usable energy). 

Mitochondria, you may remember it vaguely from your biology class, are present in nearly every cell in every organism in the world. It is the energy generating furnace in the cells. What we often call “burning” foods for energy, is really a process of breaking the molecules down piece by piece and transferring the energy that is released during this breakdown. The carbohydrate or fat is destroyed in the process. This breakdown of foods and transfer of energy in mitochondria requires oxygen, which you get from breathing, and results in carbon dioxide and water as waste products. The primary role of mitochondria is to produce ATP, which our body uses to create energy for a whole host of cellular processes. We are constantly using ATP, whether we’re sprinting, walking, breathing, pumping blood through our cardiovascular system, or doing long division. Think of a physiological process, and ATP is probably involved.Without mitochondria, then, we wouldn’t be able to get much of anything done. We simply wouldn’t exist.

Without going into the complex metabolic pathways involved in producing ATP from the food we consume, all that my non-nerdy friends need to know is that molecule for molecule, fatty acids provide way more ATP than carbohydrates do. My nerdy friends can check out the links below.

From Carbohydrates (cellular respiration) – 36ATP

From Fatty acid (ß oxidation) – 131 ATP

Energy Funda # 1: Gram for gram, molecule for molecule, fats give us more energy than carbohydrates. And not just “more,” but longer lasting, slower burning energy—the kind that can keep us feeling fine—physically, emotionally, and cognitively—for several hours without consuming more food, and without experiencing mood swings, irritability, immediate and urgent hunger, lightheadedness, dizziness, or any of the other unpleasant signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia, even if it’s been many hours since we last ate.

In some cases, our cells can also produce energy, in the absence of oxygen, from glycolysis, a fairly old biochemical pathway. This is done outside the mitochondria. It doesn’t require oxygen, which means it could have happened (and, in fact, was happening) way back when, in the very early days of life on Earth, like billions of years ago, when organisms were extremely simple, and the planet’s atmosphere was not oxygen-rich. Without a lot of oxygen in the atmosphere, it’s a good thing organisms had a way of generating energy that didn’t require any oxygen, right? And not only is glycolysis rather old, it’s also very inefficient. 2 ATP per one molecule of glucose. This anaerobic process is called fermentation. In spite of being so inefficient and primitive, this energy generating process is not all useless. For example, when oxygen levels are low, skeletal muscle cells rely on glycolysis to meet their intense energy requirements. This reliance on glycolysis results in the buildup of an intermediate known as lactic acid, which can cause a person’s muscles to feel as if they are “on fire.”

So now we know that some fuel lasts longer than the other. But what kind of fuel is the body designed to hold? If our hybrid car is designed to run on petrol and electric power, we will surely not tank it with diesel or orange juice!!

It’s the same with your body’s fuel tank. It is designed to store and use some fuels better than others.

I will reveal all in my ‘life is energy’ series. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

EAT LESS and MOVE YOUR BUTT……Really??

In my previous posts, we saw how easily the blame got shifted to us for being gluttons and sloths; how  we have been led to believe “ a calorie is a calorie”,  it doesn’t matter whether it comes from a broccoli or candy; how they tried to convince us about the laws of thermodynamics which basically translates to the CICO ( Calories in vs Calories out) hypothesis ( Fat = Calories in – Calories out).

I mentioned how it was almost impossible to measure our daily energy expenditure or the ‘calories-out’ part of the equation, considering the various metabolic and physiological functions that goes on all the time in our body, over which we have no conscious control. We also saw that exercise or conscious movement to expend energy is only 10% of the daily energy which the body expends. Yet we are always told to ‘eat less and move more’ in order to lose weight!! Eating less?? Well, maybe it works……

In this post we will discuss a few studies to test the CICO hypothesis in reality.

This sick-o (CICO) hypothesis tells us 2 things:

  1. balance your calorie intake with your calorie expenditure ;
  2. the energy we consume and the energy we expend have little influence on each other. That we can consciously change one (eat less) and it will have no consequence on the other (expend energy), and vice versa.

Almost a 100 years ago, the first study on effects of calorie intake reduction Entitled “A Biometric Study of Basal Metabolism in Man”, was done in 1917-18 at the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Nutrition Laboratory on 12 healthy young men. They were put onto ‘semi-starvation’ diets consisting of 1400-2100 calories per day and then observed with measurements of energy expenditure taken. Their energy expenditure dropped substantially – a whopping 30%. The men complained constantly of being unable to stay warm, even with an “abundance of clothes”. Heart rate and blood pressure dropped. Men showed a marked inability to concentrate and marked weakness during physical activity. In other words, their metabolism was shutting down.

Let’s think about what is happening here. Let’s assume these people normally eat 3000 calories per day. Since they are neither gaining nor losing fat, they are burning 3000 calories per day. Now we restrict calories to 2000 calories per day. With roughly a 1/3 reduction in calories the body responds by reducing caloric expenditures (shutting down).

Calories are needed to heat the body. So, the body turns down the body heat. Result – the patients feel cold, no matter how much they try to put on clothes.

Calories are needed to pump the heart. So, the body slows that down. Result – heart rate decreases.

Calories are needed to maintain blood pressure. So, the body turns that down. Result – blood pressure decreases.

Calories are needed to think (brain is very metabolically active). So, the body turns that down. Result – inability to concentrate.

Calories are needed to move. So, the body turns that down. Result – weakness during physical activity.

In other words – the body more or less imposes an ‘across the board’ reduction in caloric expenditure.

Why does the body do this? Well, because the body is smart and doesn’t want you to die. Consider a person normally eating 3000 calories a day. Now, he eats 2000 calories a day. If he were to continue to expend 3000 calories daily, he would soon burn all his fat store, then his protein stores and then he would die. Nice. Why would he want to do that? The smart thing to do is to immediately reduce caloric expenditure to 2000 cal/day to restore balance. Why do we assume Mother Nature is so damned stupid?

Any rational person would adjust to the new 2000 calorie a day diet by reducing energy expenditure to not just 2000 calories but a little less (just in case), say 1900 calories. This is exactly what the body does. Because it is the SMART thing to do.

In the study, what happened to their weight under strict calorie restriction? The men did initially lose weight, but what happened next is probably familiar to all those who have tried to diet. After the experiment ended, they regained all of that weight and even a little bit more. The total energy expenditure- TEE- (or Calories Out) dropped so substantially that returning to a normal diet meant that the men started to regain the weight. When they lost the weight, they lost muscle and fat. When they regained the weight, it was all fat.

Moving forward several decades, the noted scientist Ancel Keys, sought to study the effects of caloric reduction in the famous Minnesota Starvation Experiment, published in 1950.

Ancel Keys estimated that these subjects were eating roughly 3,200 calories per day. They were put onto a ‘semi-starvation’ diet of 1,560 calories per day with foods similar to those available in war-torn Europe at the time – potatoes, turnips, bread, and macaroni. They were then monitored for a further 20 weeks after the semi-starvation period.

What happened to them?

Coldness, incessant hunger, weakness, exhaustion, dizziness, muscle wasting, and hair loss were some of the symptoms.

Heart volume shrank by 20%. Heart rate slowed. Body temperature dropped.

The total energy expenditure – TEE- dropped by 40%. Interestingly, this is not that far off of the previous study from 1917 that showed base energy expenditure decreased by 30%. In other words, the body was shutting down. Let’s think about this again from the body’s point of view. The body is accustomed to getting 3,200 calories per day and now it gets 1,560. In order to preserve itself, it implements across the board reductions in energy.

The heart gets less energy – heart rate slows and heart volume shrinks. Blood pressure drops.

The heating system is turned down – body feels cold.

Muscles get less energy – physical exhaustion.

Hair and nails get less energy – hair loss and brittle nails.

Not to mention the psychological effectsObsessive thoughts of food. Bingeing behavior. Extreme depression. Severe emotional distress. Irritability. Loss of libido. Interest in everything other than food vanished. Social withdrawal and isolation. Anyway, I’m sure you are beginning to get the picture.

The key to remember, though, is that this ensures survival of the individual under a time of extreme stress. Yeah, you might feel lousy, but you’ll live to tell the tale. This is the smart thing for the body to do. It is not so stupid as to keep burning energy it does not have.

Consider the alternative. The body is used to 3,200 calories per day and now get 1,560. The body still burns 3,200 calories. Things feel normal. Three months later, you are dead. It is absolutely inconceivable that the body does not react to caloric reduction by reducing caloric expenditure.

What happened to their weight after the semi-starvation period?

In the 24 weeks of the starvation period both body weight and body fat dropped. As they started upon the recovery period, they regained the weight. Actually, the weight was regained rather quickly – in about 12 or so weeks of recovery period, the weight is back to original. However, it does not stop there. The body weight continues to increase until it is actually higher than it was before the experiment started.

And body fat! It goes soaring above baseline. The dirty little secret of most dietary studies is that as weight is lost, both fat and muscle weight are decreased. But when weight is regained, most of it is fat.

eat-less-exercise-moreThink about it in dietary terms. Let’s review what happens when you go on a calorie restricted diet of 1,560 calories/day – just like your doctor tells you to do. You feel lousy, tired, cold, hungry, irritable and depressed. That’s not just because you are dieting, there are physiologic reasons why you feel so crappy. Metabolic rate drops, hormones make you hungry, body temperature drops and there are a multitude of psychological effects.  Our weight may reduce initially, but then the body would respond by reducing TEE to about 1,560 cal/day. Even after 1 year, things are exactly the same. We feel lousy and the weight is not coming off despite our best efforts to eat only 1,560 cal/day. If you have ever been on a diet – you probably know how that feels.

Discouragement sets in. We get tired of feeling so lousy so we go back to our regular diet. All the weight comes racing back with a little extra for good measure because now we are eating 3,200 calories/day and expending only 1,560. Sound familiar? Consider the last time you tried to diet by reducing calories and portion size. Does any of this sound familiar? Yeah, thought so.

But in truth, the failing was not ours. The portion control diet, the essence of the CICO hypothesis, is virtually guaranteed to fail. It has been proven over and over in the last 100 years. The only reason we think that it works is because everybody – the doctors, the dieticians, the ‘scientists’, the media – has convinced us that it is all about ‘Calories in vs. Calories Out’. Eat less -Move more and that kind of idiocy.

CRAP

When you follow the advice that all the “experts” repeat over and over, in every source you see and hear, and you don’t see the expected results, it’s logical to assume you are not following the advice hard enough, or well enough, right? It’s logical to assume you are to blame, rather than stopping to question whether there might be something wrong with all that “expert advice.”

It is increasingly clear that one of the key assumptions of the CICO hypothesis, that the energy we consume and the energy we expend have little influence on each other, is incorrect.

The caloric expenditures and caloric intake are inextricably linked to each other.

We saw how our metabolism was shutting down when we reduced calorie intake, but what happens when we increase our portion sizes!

Let’s now fast forward to the modern era, and look at this study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. 

The question they wanted to answer was what happened to energy expenditure (TEE) when weight was increased or decreased. Would the body automatically compensate by increasing or decreasing energy expenditure? In other words, if we reduce or increase our Calories In, what happens to Calories Out?

In this experiment, 18 obese and 23 non-obese subjects with a stable weight were recruited. They were fed a liquid diet of 45% carbohydrate, 40% fat and 15% protein until the desired weight gain was achieved.

Well, what happened?

In response to increased portion sizes, instead of a simple calories in, calories out model where fat is deposited according to an excessive intake of calories, it appears that the body responds to excess calories by trying to burn it off! In other words, an increase in Calories In causes an increase in Calories Out.

Let’s put this into a dietary context. Suppose we increase our portions keeping our diet composition constant. Weight may increase but the body’s response would be to increase TEE – body temperature may increase, energy and sense of well being may increase. We may eat 2,500 cal/day but the body has now increased TDEE to 2,500 cal/day. No further weight will be gained and the body will attempt to reduce our weight back to the original. In the meantime, we feel great.

Rather than the simple balancing scale of calories in=calories out, it appears that our body acts much more like a thermostat. That is, the body seems to have a certain Body Set Weight (BSW). Any attempts to increase above this BSW will result in our body trying to return the body to its original weight by increasing TEE (increasing metabolism to burn off the excess calories).

Any attempts to decrease below this BSW will result in our body trying to return the body to its original weight by decreasing TEE (decreasing metabolism to regain lost calories). No wonder it is so hard to keep the weight off!

Something changes the BSW, something causes the thermostat to malfunction. We see that so often as we age. What regulates our BSW? Can we re-program our BSW to our lean mid-twenties setting?  Understanding that is the key to end our unhappy relationship with food.

Our bodies are very finely tuned with respect to what they store.  What you eat matters a lot, but much less because of the actual caloric content of the food.  The reason what you eat matters is because of the hormonal impact food exerts over your body.