Beware: Low-Carb Diet Insanity Continues…

Los Angeles.  8-8-10.  7:12 AM.  Headline News.  Dr. Sanjay Gupta.  CNN’s Fit Nation.  I do not believe what I just saw and heard.

Right before bedtime this morning (yes, forever the night owl…), I happened upon a disturbing piece of television.  A (presumably) credible health expert, on a major cable network, during a well-branded news segment, stood before two plates of food.  One represented a “low-fat” diet – a turkey sandwich with white bread and a side of oily pasta salad.  The other represented a low-carb diet – a greasy-ass hamburger patty covered with a slab of melted cheese, a tablespoon or two of mayo, and a side of veggies.  Dr. Gupta was reporting on a newly published two-year study funded by the NIH (National Institute of Health), which compared the effectiveness of “low-fat” and low-carb diets.

[By the way, in the context of this study, I have to put the distinction of “low-fat” diet in quotes, since this studies’ version allowed for a whopping 30% of the total calories to come from fat… with the majority of that, it seems, coming from the saturated variety in animal products.]

Anyway, it turns out that both diets yielded approximately the same results in terms of weight loss: the study participants – all obese, by the way – experienced an average loss of about 24 pounds the first year, then maintained a 15-pound loss the second year.  No surprise there, as the marginal weight loss successes of both of these diets hinged primarily around the fact that, if you take in fewer calories – even if those calories are coming in via a shitty diet, as both of these clearly were – you will lose weight.

And then, the unspeakable.

Dr. Gupta discussed what appeared to be the studies’ media trump card; that it was the low-carb diet that actually appeared to be more heart healthy, since the low-carb participants experienced a greater increase in their HDL (good kind) cholesterol.  Gupta said that this had “a lot of scientists and doctors really paying attention.”  (Really?  Which ones?  Truckloads of data discrediting the low-carb diet have been circulating since the first-generation Atkins craze of the 70s, with another avalanche of info pouring out in the 90s.  Have these doctors and scientists missed this?)  He also went on to suggest that these results were mainly attributable to glycemic index and insulin factors, given that there is “more flour and sugar” in the low-fat diet.  (Really?  Which low-fat diet?  There’s not much sugar or flour to speak of in the low-fat regimens that I recommend.)

A Closer Look

The truth is, this was not a meaningful or cutting edge study on any level.  Here are the highlights:

1. They started out with about 300 participants, all of whom were obese, as mentioned (which could limit the studies’ relevance and validity to people in other weight ranges).

2. Well over one-third of these participants dropped out during the study – 42% from the low-carb group, and 32% from the low-fat group – which, of course, speaks to the sustainability issue of “diets” to begin with.

3. After two full years, the remaining participants were only able to sustain a weight loss of 15 pounds… which, if you’re 250-plus and really out of shape, this is not a great result on any level.

4. At the end of the study, the low-fat group did better in terms of overall weight loss, lower LDL (bad kind) cholesterol, lower triglyceride levels, and lower total cholesterol levels (the only reading that ultimately matters when it comes to assessing heart disease risk).

And yet, what is the big daddy headline of this study for Dr. Sanjay Gupta and a host of others to rave about?  The low-carb groups’ higher HDL levels.  What the fuck?

I’m not sure what role a crack pipe might have played in these findings, but I figured I’d better include a pic of one, just in case!

A Quick Rant

I really don’t mean to bust balls on Sanjay Gupta.  I know very little about him or his philosophies, and I’ll presume he’s a highly educated doctor and a skilled surgeon.  And perhaps Dr. Gupta was just “phoning it in” on this segment… simply reporting the results of this study without the filter of his own personal research or scrutiny.  I really don’t know.

What I do know is, if you’re gonna assume the role of “Chief Medical Correspondent” of a major cable network with a d and an r in front of your name, you better understand the social responsibility that entails. Folks are listening.  Folks trust you.  Folks presume you know what the hell you’re talking about.  So now I shudder to think about how many motherfuckers will be having a low-carb-style “bunless” burger today for lunch – with extra cheese – thinking that it’s heart-healthy because “Dr. Gupta” suggested it was.  I don’t mean to over-dramatize the point, and I’m sure no ill-will was intended, but the propagation of this particular message is fucking criminal negligence, and I am stunned that so many MDs and health authorities still buy into this low-carb lunacy.

And, of course, it doesn’t stop with Dr. Gupta’s little segment.  Google this bitch, and you will find a variety of well-known sources regurgitating the results of this study as the public blindly takes it in, then continues to regurgitate it amongst themselves.  Trust me; people will be quoting the findings from this fucked-up study for years to come.  And it will likely sound something like this:

“A 2010 study by the National Institute of Health showed that a low-carb diet was more effective for the prevention of heart disease than a low-fat diet.”

(Sigh)

“Bobby… Why the harsh tones?”

Listen – I acknowledge that I am clearly annoyed and frustrated by this whole thing, and that my blood pressure is feeling a bit higher than normal as I’m writing this.  But just so you’ll know where I’m coming from here…  This is not some kind of herbivore vs. omnivore issue, veganism vs. animal products debate, or even a my-dick-is-bigger-than-your-dick sort of bravado about who has the healthiest eating regimen.  This is about quantifiable, irrefutable science.  This is about a fad diet philosophy that, from a health and wellness perspective, has been categorically, comprehensively, and consistently dismantled through the decades.  I understand that people can lose weight on the low-carb diet.  But to remotely suggest that running high amounts of animal fat through your bloodstream will decrease your risk of heart disease?  Again… criminal.

And this whole thing is also a bit personal for me, as well.  It really bothers me to know that so much unnecessary suffering will stem from this kind of ignorance… that as a direct result of someone trying to do the right thing and adhere to the findings of a supposed “credible study,” that now someone’s friend, sibling, cousin, parent or child is gonna wind up getting their fucking chest split open on an operating table so they can have all of this “low-carb” animal fat cleared out of their arteries.  And those will be the lucky ones.

No thank you… not in this lifetime!

Low-Carb Diet Bottom Line

If you’ve ever given any credence to the low-carb diet or, God forbid, if you’ve recently run across this ridiculous study and are thinking about taking it all to heart (so to speak), please do me a favor and consider the following:

1. To the extent that people lose weight on a low-carb diet, it is usually because of two main reasons.  First, the highly-acidic, ketogenic nature of the diet creates a dehydrating effect in the body, which causes a loss in water weight… which shows up on the scale as weight loss.  Second, low-carb diets are almost always lower in calories when compared to most people’s version of the standard American diet.  And when you reduce calories, you generally lose weight.  Simple mathematics.  (Also, however, when you return to your “regular” diet, all the fat and water you lost comes roaring back… with a vengeance.)

2. To the extent that a low-carb diet causes an improvement in cholesterol or blood pressure numbers for somebody, it can only mean one thing: the eating regimen they were on prior to the low-carb diet was really fucked up. Seriously.  And this would include any version of a “low-fat” diet that they may have been trying.  (As I alluded to earlier, the “low-fat” diet that was apparently used in this study was not really low-fat, and, if it involved a bunch of flour and sugar – in addition to all of the animal products – was not really healthy, either.)

3. If – for whatever number of potential reasons – the low-carb diet causes an increase in HDL, so what?  It doesn’t much matter where your HDL winds up if your total cholesterol is over 150.  And I would wager that the vast majority of these folks – most of whom remained in the obese range, don’t forget – did not wind up with a total cholesterol under 150 unless they were already genetically predisposed to an ultra-low total, regardless of what they ate.

POST NOTE: As one of my readers pointed out – yes, no doubt – a higher HDL will certainly come in handy in a high cholesterol situation, so I shouldn’t have written that it “doesn’t much matter” where your HDL is.  But what I meant to articulate with the above point is that even if you have a healthy looking HDL, once you get over 150 with your total cholesterol, you’re still playing with fire, and there is little guarantee that the higher HDL will be able to neutralize the inherent, time-tested danger of a plus-150 total cholesterol level.

4. There has never been a culture of people who have eaten the insane amount of animal protein inherent to the typical low-carb diet, that have exhibited any level of the superior health, wellness and longevity that the most long-lived cultures in our history have exhibited from a lower-fat, more plant-based regimen (like the classic Hunzan and Okinawan models that have been studied).  We have never seen it, and I can tell you right now we never will.

5. Every single example I have ever seen of actual heart disease reversal through diet (either primarily or exclusively), has only involved a low-fat, heavily plant-based eating regimen.  Every single one.  (And these low-fat diets were low in fat, in the 10% to 15% of total calories range.)

6. From a global environmental perspective, the low-carb/high animal protein diet is absolutely unsustainable as a long-term eating philosophy.  Between the gluttonous misappropriation of our earthly resources required to sustain modern animal agriculture, as well as the dire environmental ramifications that the factory farming industry has on the earth itself, it just doesn’t make sense that the same eating regimen that would prove to be the deadliest for the planet, would wind up being the healthiest for us.  It simply cannot be.

So I say, let’s forget about these “flash in the frying pan” fad diets.  Instead, let’s focus on healthy and sustainable lifestyle changes that promote wellness for us humans, the planet, and all the animals who share this space with us.

BR

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About Bobby Rock

Bobby Rock is a world renown drummer, the author of seven books, and a recognized health and fitness specialist with certifications in exercise, nutrition and meditation. He has recorded and toured with a variety of artists, released three CDs as a solo performer and is recognized as a top drumming educator. (He is currently touring with rock icon, Lita Ford.) Through speaking, writing and activism, Bobby remains committed to a number of animal and environmental causes. Bobby lives in Los Angeles.
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15 Responses to Beware: Low-Carb Diet Insanity Continues…

  1. Laurie says:

    I can barely stand to watch the news programs. Most are working toward entertaining the masses. After years of numerous medical visits with hubby, reading up on RX studies for various meds offered, and interning at a pharmaceutical trial firm, I am convinced that most studies are manipulated. I received my college degree in Healthcare Administraion, and bailed after experiencing the lunacy of the insurance companies/clinics/pharmacy insanity. Doctors need to treat patients based on individual needs, and most tend to turn to the studies and stats instead of their patients. Weight loss? It seems pretty simple, eat less, exercise more!

  2. Trevor says:

    “…it just doesn’t make sense that the same eating regimen that would prove to be the deadliest for the planet, would wind up being the healthiest for us.”

    Good one Bobby.

    A couple more hypotheticals for you Bobby, if you don’t mind.

    (A)
    Two of Australia’s most popular sports, Australian Rules Football and cricket, when played at the higher levels, involve the use of leather products (predominantly the football and cricket ball). Naturally, it is many a young player’s dream to represent their country/state/club in these sports. What would you suggest a person do, if wanting to adopt a vegan philosophy, but still wanting to participate in these sports, particularly if they have spent years as a junior player training to reach the highest level? Should a parent, if vegan, discourage their child to partake in such sports at levels where leather equipment is used?
    Is it simply a case of priorities; putting animal rights ahead of personal fulfillment?

    (B)
    Should/Would a vegan refuse to ride in a vehicle with leather upholstery or sheepskin seat covers? Sit on a leather lounge suite at a friend’s house?

    Again, hope you don’t mind me asking (in this thread). They are questions I ask myself quite often, amongst others.

    Hoping you can share your views.

    Trevor.

  3. Lisamarie says:

    LOVE your questions Trevor. These are definitely something to think about, although I admit I myself as a 98% vegan(I say 98% because sometimes it is hard to avoid hidden minute amounts of dairy and eggs in things, esp when I eat out) don’t think about when I go to a place that may have leather furniture, which perhaps I should question these situations. It will be interesting to hear what Bobby and others have to say to your intelligent and insightfull inquiries! 🙂

  4. Kathy says:

    Low-carb saved my life! I was placed on it after a heart attack. Animal fats combined with refined and processed carbs can clog arteries. No offense, but you should study nutrition a little more. The original food pyramid was instituted by one of the Kelloggs. That pyramid was never tested, never researched, just accepted. My Grandmother came to the US from France. She was a thin, petite woman. She cooked in lard and ate all the fat on the meat. She was never the least bit overweight. She died at 104. Her aunt died at l05. Perhaps you are buying into the food industry hype. Even on Atkins induction period, 19 carbs are allowed. That’s 19 cups of fresh spinach! I can’t eat the fat on meat. I really don’t like meat very much. I do use cream, butter, and feast on cheese. My cholesterol is 167. My heart condition has improved. I’m 65 and low-carb and loving it. No reply is necessary. I do not mean to offend. I’m suggesting that you research both sides and make sure the food industry isn’t your teacher.

  5. heather says:

    A friend of mine a few years ago was a true disciple of the Atkins diet. He dropped a ton of weight (he had weighed in the 400 lb range), but while he was happy with his weight loss, he often felt incredibly unwell. The meat-based meals he was addicted to contained virtually NO vitamins, and he never took supplements. His cholesterol was through the roof. Finally, another friend (who had a heart attack at the ripe old age of 27 after 5 years of a fairly strict carnivorous diet) talked a bit of sense into him. He’s still obsessive about his weight, but is finally laying off the meat & gobbling up the veggies.
    The sad thing is that he had to be scared into it. He would have taken this “scientific evidence” very much at face value a few years ago.

    Trevor, excellent questions. About 10 years ago, I inherited my parents’ leather furniture when they redecorated. Most of the time, it’s just part of the background, but occasionally I’m very aware of the cruelty that went into what I’m lounging around on. When it comes time to redecorate, I know that it will NOT be with leather, but for now, I think it’s fair to say that a.) I wouldn’t want to profit by selling it, and b.) in some way, since the furniture already exists, I feel like it’s better for it to be owned by someone who at least from time to time thinks about how it came to be.

    Another question I often have involves feeding my pets. While just about all of my pets are total fools for at least some vegetables (asparagus in particular), everything I’ve ever been able to find suggests that cats & dogs need protein & are set up to digest it. I’ve never seen rodent- or non-poultry-bird-based cat food or squirrel/bunny dog chow (as if a cat woul run around eating beef in the wild!), probably because we humans wouldn’t be likely to purchase it. Mmmmm….mousy morsels….

  6. Tracey says:

    Several years ago when all the low carb diets were starting to be a huge craze I decided to try it. I talked to a few people and I read many of the books. The interesting things I found were – most people tend to simply add meat to replace the carbs. So instead of Pasta they had steak. They were not looking at veggies and other forms of protein etc. This freaked me out at the time because I remember being keenly aware of how bad that could be to someone’s health. I also know that after about 2 weeks of trying this diet I felt so completely disgusting and unhealthy that I stopped it immediately.
    I have watched a lot of people lose a lot of weight on it – yes they can lose weight and look amazing but I also watched those same people put back the weight almost immediately after losing it and they usually gained a few more along the way. It’s what I would call and absolute fail.

    As for the leather questions I remember hearing from people who became vegan who obviously had materials made of leather etc prior to becoming vegan. They felt that while they would never buy them in the future it was simply wasteful and hurtful to toss them away if they were still useful to themselves or someone else. In particular I think of things like running shoes etc that many people have that are made of leather. If you had a new pair and suddenly became vegan – you could donate the pair to someone else or you could use them until they fell apart. It would be wasteful to just throw them into a trash can “on principle”

  7. Little to No Carb says:

    Interesting interpretation of the results. Regardless of whether the low carb diet is a fad or not it is more natural than a high to medium carb diet. You have to think more basic and ask why is diabetes running rampant in our society and is diabetes a self created disease. I believe it is 100%. If what you eat can not be found in nature in it’s natural form don’t eat it ie., flour, pasta, refined sugar, corn syrup…..The jury is still out on what truly causes heart disease. However, I do believe those eating a high carb diet will have a greater chance of having a heart attack than those eating a moderate fat low carb diet with genetics being equal. So your pic of not visiting them ever may not be accurate.

  8. RankUT says:

    I have to make a definite correction to your article where you mention that your HDL doesn’t matter if your cholesterol is high. Being a 3rd year medical student with a sufficient understanding of basic medicine and pathology I can tell you that this is absolutely important. HDL level itself can essentially neutralize 1 risk factor for cardiac disease. In fact some individuals with some genetic predisposition to high cholesterol may have an usually high HDL which in effect balances this cholesterol risk factor so they don’t become overly prone for heart disease (this is due to the function of HDL which I won’t go into here).

    Most of the rest of the article you have written I have no issue with and I do think Dr. Gupta made a mistake in his supporting the results of this study in favour of a low carb diet.

  9. luniet says:

    Being a vegan is an option. I think being healthy is not that hard as long as we keep all the nutrients intake in balance.

  10. Lisamarie says:

    Rankut: I’d like to point out that cholesterol, particularly the
    “bad” kind, is obtained only from eating animal products, and yes fat and cholesterol are the main, if not THE, causes of heart disease and strokes. I know that sadly you are not taught about proper nutrition and its relationship to health in med school, which is tragic. But just fyi just about all diseases and illnesses, in most cases, are caused by diet.

    Luniet: being vegan is imperative if we’re going to truly save our health, our fellow beings, and our planet. ANYone can survive and be healthy on a vegan diet; people should just move toward it at a pace that feels right for them and not beat themselves up if they make a mistake along the way.

  11. dan says:

    I’ve been on low carb for over 10 years. I went on because of some high blood pressure. Love the diet and it works very well for me. I like how everyone knows what’s best for everyone else. Things effect people in different ways. So whatever works best, stick to it. If it’s not for you, don’t knock it for someone else. Just my opinion.

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  13. Paloe Diet says:

    can you – should i say would you – give an informed opinion of The Paleo Diet please? it seems it’s rocking the internet and people are speaking very highly of it’s health benefits as well as rapid fat loss benefits

  14. Trevor says:

    This link to ‘Heart of the Matter’:

    http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/view/76561611

    may be of interest.

    Would love to hear your views Bobby if you have the time to view the program.

    In a nutshell, the program (Australia’s ‘national science TV program’) points out that the whole cholesterol thing is just a myth.

    WOW!

  15. Trevor says:

    More from Australia’s ‘national science TV program’, just a few weeks ago:

    “Low Carb Diet: Fat or Fiction?”

    …and updated ‘Heart of the Matter’ episodes:

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

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