Paleo Diet: "Carb Lovers Unite"

Dr. Atkins and a typical meal.


An article on the Fast Casual website titled  “Carb Lovers Unite” written by Suzy Badaracco, came to my attention the other day (hat tip Jimmy Moore of Livin La Vida Low Carb) which attempts to portray carbohydrates as the victim of some sort of malicious attack by low carbohydrate diet followers (i.e. Atkin’s, Paleo diet). But the article is, at best, on shaky ground as it tried to describe low carb diets failings. While no diet may be considered perfect, the reasons given for the failings of the low carbohydrate diets are non scientific and problematic.

First under attack is the Atkin’s Diet.

The Atkins diet is a broad-based, low-carb approach that actually has weight loss efficacy; however, it’s essentially a starvation diet. The brain functions on simples sugars – they are the fuel for the brain. Whether you consume carbs they are metabolized to simple sugars to act as fuel for the brain. Eaten in excess, the body converts carbs in the liver to fat and puts them into storage for later use. The Atkins diet cuts out carbs thereby starving the brain and reversing the metabolic process causing fat to change back to simple sugar to feed the deprived brain. And poof, weight loss occurs.

The downside of the diet however, is that the kidneys don’t like high protein diets; therefore kidney failure is a risk. Also cholesterol levels rise which contributes to heart disease, and since you are starving the brain, cognitive function issues arise. The diet has also been linked to higher intestinal cancer and the ketones produced when the fat is converted back to sugar causes brain damage in fetuses.

So the author admits that people have success in losing weight on Atkins, but calls is a starvation diet. What!? A starvation diet is classified as a calorie intake of 1000/day or less. From the :

Starvation Diet: A potentially dangerous fad diet that provides 300–700 kcal/day, which must be supplemented with high quality protein; given the risk of death through cardiac arrhythmias, starvation diets should be limited in duration. Adverse effects Orthostatic hypotension due to loss of sodium, decreased norepinephrine secretion, fatigue, hypothermia, cold intolerance, xeroderma, hair loss, dysmenorrhoea

It is interesting to note that the Medical Dictionary definition includes “must be supplemented with high quality protein“, exactly what the Atkins diet contains. The author is also repeating information that we now know to be incorrect, that the brain lives off of glucose.  In fact ketosis (the result of eating a high fat diet) is the brain’s best friend. From neurosurgeon Dr. Jack Kruse:

For many years it was believed that the blood brain barrier blocked lipid transport into the brain. This is why many believed that the brain had to run predominantly on glucose. (Listen up vegans!) We now know this is completely false and, in fact, the brain runs much more efficiently on ketone bodies.

As far as the other contention, that high protein diets damage the kidneys, there is absolutely no evidence that this is true. From the Oxford Journals:

…. there is certainly no scientific evidence that the high-protein diets are hazardous for healthy kidneys. Furthermore, real world examples support this contention since protein-related kidney problems are essentially non-existent in the body-building community in which extremely high-protein intake has been the norm for over half a century [2]. Also, men in the famous Lewis and Clark expedition across America reportedly ate as much as nine pounds of buffalo meat each day with no ill effects [3]. That is well over 600 g of protein as a daily minimum.

Lewis and Clark Image courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society

As far as the consumption of high cholesterol foods causing heart disease, this has been show to be false. The cause of heart disease is inflammation which, ironically is caused by the consumption of an excess of carbohydrates and damaged vegetable oils. To read more about the health benefits of eating foods high in cholesterol go here, here, here, here …… I could keep going you know. The information about the benefits of cholesterol is easy to find.

Also under attack is the gluten free diet.

Gluten free is also a medically indicated diet specifically for Celiac Sprue patients and has no weight loss or health benefits for the general public. In fact, patients have to be monitored closely because the diet creates a hostile environment for probiotics thereby impacting gut health long term. According to the Celiac Sprue Association, 1 percent of the U.S. population carries the genetic marker for Celiac Sprue. Of that 1 percent, about 30 perdcent have a genetic predisposition , so only one third of the 1 percent will actually manifest the disease. So the popular quote of “1 in 133 people suffer from Celiac Sprue is simply not true. According to the Celiac Foundation, there are only about 300,000 afflicted with Celiac disease in this country, and only another 150,000 are estimated to be undiagnosed.

Since the CDC does not require its tracking by hospitals or doctors there is no way to measure the actual number. Consumer survey research from groups such as Hartman, Mintel and Datamonitor have reported that many people are mistakenly on the diet due to ignorance of its purpose. Some 80 percent of people following the diet don’t medically need to.

Gluten free diets have been embraced by people who cannot tolerate gluten in their diet. This is generally not a weight loss issue but an overall health issue. People with celiac disease cannot digest and metabolize foods containing gluten. Pure and simple. To say that the gluten free movement is an attack on carbohydrates is ridiculous. Most people who follow a gluten free diet still eat carbohydrates, just those without gluten. Rice is at the top of the list of gluten free grains.

The objection here seems to be that the number of people suffering with celiac is probably lower that 1 out of 133 people. This may be true, but it is also possible that the numbers may be correct or higher.  Many people do not run to the doctor for every problem if it is self manageable. Some of us are capable of figuring out what might be wrong, not specific diseases, but problems we may have with various foods because we pay attention to our bodies and how they react. I know how poorly I feel when I eat gluten grains. I may not have celiac disease, but I am also not willing to find out or worse, eventually contract it by continuing to eat grains.

The last three diets that are accused of misleading people are the Dukan Diet, the Paleo Diet and the Wheat Belly Diet book.I will not speak about the Dukan diet since I also find it to be a problem, however the Paleo diet and Wheat Belly (which is basically Paleo) are two which I can address.

The Paleo Diet, also known as the Caveman Diet, is even more limiting and unsustainable then Atkins. It bans most carbs and dairy and encourages people to eat only lean proteins, veggies and fruits. Cavemen only lived to about 25 years old; think about that.

The make up of a Paleo diet (Source: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1997)

Well, the Paleo diet is dismissed, out of hand as unsustainable and limiting, even worse than Atkins! Considering that most of human evolution was spent eating a caveman diet, it is surprising to hear it called unsustainable. But then that is the point of following the Paleo diet. Most of human evolution was spent eating animal protein, vegetables, fruits and nuts. What we did not eat were grains, a lot of starches or sugars. Since we’ve become agriculturalists we’ve only changed 0.02% from our Paleo ancestors. The statistic of cavemen having lived to only 25 years of age is misleading. The number comes from the average lifespan of men in the paleolithic ear. To paraphrase Dr. Loren Cordain, if you take 4 people, two children who died at child birth and their parents, both of whom lived until 50, when you average out the ages you get 25 years. The paleolithic era was dangerous. People died of injury, infection and from infectious diseases, but not from chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease. There were no ERs to extend life. And life was more intense. But archeological evidence shows that humans were more robust, with high bone density than were their neolithic descendents. When we started to consume grains we became shorter and diseased. Most notably was the increase in caries in neolithic populations:

In the Palaeolithic people have fairly healthy teeth Palaeolithic and Neolithic subsistence with almost no caries, but in the Neolithic there is an increased use of plant foods which contain carbohydrates, so there is an increased caries rates. Neolithic teeth are also more worn down and pitted owing to hard inclusions from poorly ground-up flour.

There is, in many areas, an associated general decrease in body stature, dentition size, and an increase in caries rates. The smaller dentition is not due to more meat, but instead to the consumption of easier to chew processed foods like bread and porridges, and the carbohydrate contents of those foods result in the increased caries rates. There is also a range of diseases associated with the consumption of these processed foods and related to the sedentism and urbanization that often follow from the increased reliance on domesticated plants (Palaeolithic and Neolithic subsistence by MP Richards. Pgs 5-6)

Then there is “Wheat Belly” by cardiologist Dr. William Davis.

And finally there is the Wheat Belly diet book. This is a book by Dr. William Davis, who claims that wheat is the cause of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and in general, the lack of world peace apparently. None of the claims are supported by health research. The diet also attacks the Gluten Free diet, calling it an unhealthful diet riddled with processed flours, starches and gums. This book narrows the carb witch hunt to wheat alone.

Wow. “None of the claims are supported by health research”. I wonder if Ms. Badaracco read the book. Honestly I’m not sure how to respond to this. My copy of the book is lent out and I cannot refer to it for the scientific references it contains.  Or maybe I’m just tired of going over this poorly researched article piece by piece.  Perhaps Dr. Davis will honor us with a little response to the author’s weak argument on why “Wheat Belly” is just a vicious attack on on her favorite food.

Carb eaters! If you are smart you will unite and run away from a diet that will ultimately make you sick with diabetes, heart disease, cancer and more. You could unite and run to the Paleo diet banner. This is a way of eating an living that will keep you young and healthy for many years. Just ask Dr. Arthur De Vany, the 73 year old advocate of the Paleo diet and author of the “New Evolution Diet”.


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