Part 2: Why does eating carbs pile on the weight but eating the more calorific fats doesn’t?

Delicious low carb homemade marmalade (keep in fridge)

Delicious low carb homemade marmalade (store in freezer; keep in fridge)

We eat to keep our bodies functioning on an even keel. This is part of homeostasis – our cells functioning perfectly so together everything just works like a well-tuned car. Ideally everything ticks over with as few highs and lows as possible.

Unlike cows and other herbivores, we don’t want to spend all day, every day, grazing boring old grass. Instead we eat, on average, three times a day, plus the occasional snack. What we eat, of course, is the argument.

There are three important points to keep in mind when we make decisions about what to eat.

  1. To fulfill the aims of a stable homeostasis so our individual cells never go ‘hungry’, we need to have systems in place to keep things even, and a constant (yes, constant) supply of food circulating to all our cells.
  2. For body cells, fuel is fuel. They can utilize fuel that comes from all three food groups: proteins, fats or carbohydrates. Any or all of them.
  3. Fuel to the cells comes via the blood stream. They neither care nor can tell where that fuel comes from – from an ice cream cone you’ve recently eaten or a succulent steak or from nutrients stored in fat cells within the body, glycogen stored in the liver or – never to be recommended – protein stolen from the body’s own muscles.

If fuel is freely available in the blood stream, we don’t think about eating. (Big corollary here – we can be tempted at any time by sights, smells, even reading about certain foods – temptation is not hunger!) But if fuel is short in the bloodstream, we become genuinely hungry.

Most people don’t realize that fat cells are highly active cells and not passive little balloons of fat that just sit there as many imagine. Every time we fast (that means every time more than a few hours go by without taking in new food – the word ‘breakfast’ is just a description of a real phenomenon), we release fuel into the bloodstream from our fat cells and the liver, to keep a steady supply of nutrients available to the body cells. Homeostasis, remember? Keeping things on an even keel.

Overnight we essentially live on fats from fat cells. When you start thinking of breaking your fast, insulin begins being released from your pancreas, speeding up as you eat. Insulin works for homeostasis too – making sure the fuel in our bloodstream isn’t overwhelming the cells of the body (too much fuel damages cells; long term it shortens the body’s life, so you can say, too much fuel circulating in your bloodstream kills you.) What tells the pancreas to secrete insulin? The brain, the hypothalamus to be precise, receives feedback from the body or other parts of the brain and triggers all sorts of processes.

Insulin puts fat into fat cells. Insulin lets body cells use fats for fuel and that includes muscle cells and all sorts of other cells involved in processes particular to being awake and active.

Eventually, the circulating fuel decreases as the body cells consume it and insulin packs it into fat cells, the release of insulin slows and fats stored in liver or fat cells start being released into the blood stream again. Homeostasis.

Weight gain and hunger are first cousins and both those processes are triggered by anything that elevates insulin. A muffin. A so-called energy bar. A sugary drink. Chips. Things made from flour or sugar are the most potent triggers.

We gain weight due to too much stimulation of insulin or stimulation that lasts longer than nature intended. And we’re driven to eat more often. Eating carbohydrates stimulates hunger through the stimulation of insulin. Eating fats does not because it’s the sugars in the blood that stimulates insulin, not circulating fatty type fuels.

Weight loss comes from lower insulin levels. Besides, we don’t feel hungry.

We can only use our fat reserves when insulin production quiets down. Remember, insulin builds fat, and fats can only be released to be used for fuel when insulin lessens.

The way to lose weight is to make sure you increase the time every day when insulin production is not being stimulated and cut the carbs so insulin is not being stimulated so strongly. But you can eat fats. Lots of them. And you won’t put on weight if your carbs are controlled.

A year ago or so, I read Gary Taubes’ Carbohydrate Hypothesis (in The Diet Delusion or Good Calories Bad Calories) and checked out the science he was writing about by accessing the original articles he cited written by top scientists in the area.

I wanted to tell everybody!

But instead of shouting from the rooftops, I wrote a popular-science book that explains the science behind eating, a book that could be understood by anyone. FULL STOP – eat until you’re full and stop gaining weight is the book, available as a low-cost e-book or as a paperback, which costs only a little more. You’re a click away from reading it!

By the way, insulin levels rise in the autumn and winter. Maybe because human animals need a bit more stored fat on them with cooler weather? The implication of this is that weight loss is somewhat easier in the spring and summer.

Part 1 – Why does eating carbs pile on the weight and eating the more calorific fats doesn’t?

This is how I understand it:

When we eat fats, they are metabolised into free fatty acids, taken to the liver and converted into triglycerides. Fine.

When we eat carbs, they are digested into glucose some of which is directly used by muscle cells and other cells of the body and the rest is taken to the liver and converted into triglycerides and some into glycerol. Okay.

So eating both carbs and fats should pile on the weight if we’re consuming more than our cells need, right? Well, it isn’t so simple.

Given a set number of calories in a so-called ‘balanced diet’ – let’s say bang on the average –  (and keeping protein constant), consuming both fats and carbs seems to be a recipe for slowly but inexorably putting on weight. With the same set of calories, consuming relatively more carbs (even ‘good’ carbs) and cutting down on the fats to keep the calories constant, most people will still put on weight, maybe even faster. With the same set of calories, consuming relatively more fats and cutting down on the carbs, most people will stop putting on extra weight and some will take it off. Those are facts and they’ve been demonstrated over and over again.

If you cut the fats, you have to diminish the calorie count significantly to take off weight. That’s why such a way of eating is called a ‘semi-starvation’ diet. A period of weight loss is usually followed by a period of weight gain. More than before. Most people lose energy on such a diet and muscle mass as well. So, it’s not particularly effective and it is not easy to follow for many of us, yet still it is the most recommended diet around.

If you cut the carbs down, you don’t have to diminish the calorie count. The extra calories can be fats (and in our hypothetic situation, they will be); it doesn’t seem to matter, you will stop gaining weight and maybe start to take some of it off.

But why?

Maybe it has something to do with glycerol phosphate. And glycerol phosphate is manufactured from carbs.  If glucose is burned by the cells, glycerol phosphate is produced. Glycerol Phosphate is used to turn fatty acids into trigycerides (yup, fats) and that’s necessary to put fat into fat cells. Carbs.

And maybe it has more to do with insulin. Eating carbs stimulates insulin release from the pancreas. Insulin has a number of activities, but its most prevalent use by the body is to pack triglycerides (fat) into cells. Yes, one of the effects of lowering blood sugar and packing fats into cells is to fatten us up. Eat something heavy in carbs (breakfast cereal, sandwiches, spuds, rice, fruit juices, fizzy drinks etc.) and insulin is secreted.

The problem is that a heavy carb intake load ups the blood sugar dangerously. The human body can only function in a narrow band of blood sugar levels or vital organs (especially the brain) can be badly affected. So insulin is needed to cope with this heavy carb loading we have self-inflicted. And it does. It removes blood sugars by shoving triglycerides into fat cells. As the levels of blood sugar decrease, insulin production drops off. Eventually, there is not enough insulin putting fat into fat cells to counteract the fat cells giving out fatty acids for the cells of the body to use as fuel (fat cells are really active cells). And the cells of the body quite like using fats for fuel and there is nothing unphysiological about the process. It happens in you and me all the time.

But if your insulin surge was big and fast enough, it drops just as quickly leaving the body depleted of blood sugars and without enough fatty acids being released from the fat cells to compensate. What happens? You get hungry. Somebody called it ‘internal starvation’.

One famous study had people on huge amounts of calories every day – up to 10,000 calories – up to five times normal. But these calories were from fats and proteins. Then, for experimental purposes, some of the subjects were asked to eat a meal of carbs in addition to their heavy fat and protein intake.

Believe it or not, those people became hungry a few hours after the carb ingestion. Even with all those calories! All due to that surge of insulin which was produced to lower the blood sugar level after eating carbs.

Carbs make us hungry.

Carbs make us put on fat.

Physiologically, we don’t need any carbs other than those found in green and yellow veggies.

If you’re interested in the scientific background to eating the low-carb way, check out FULL STOP – eat until you’re full and stop gaining weight.

Click here:

Carbs deplete vitamins from the body

A balanced diet. All nutritionists, most doctors and other experts (like my grandmothers and yours) have always advocated eating a balanced diet. Most still do today. Why? So we have the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats giving us the nutrients and vitamins and minerals our bodies need. Yet in the 1930s it had already become an established fact that eating carbohydrates deplete the many and vital B vitamins from our bodies. The flip side of this fact is that eating carbohydrates increases your need for these vitamins to maintain health. Simple. Eat carbohydrates and you need to eat more vitamin B complex. Sadly, many just swallow a daily pill instead of removing the offending carbs.

Then there’s vitamin C. Having high levels of blood sugar (and we’re not just talking about the many diabetics and pre-diabetics: latest stats = almost 20% of the population have high blood sugar levels and are classified pre-diabetic) mean the body’s requirement for vitamin C goes up. Diabetics have 30% less vitamin C in their bodies because of the high levels of blood sugar, or so says Gary Taubes in his fact-filled tome ‘The Diet Delusion’. Any non-diabetic who eats a carb-rich breakfast or a bread-dominated lunch will have high blood sugar for a time – high blood sugar means your vitamin C levels will go down. The reason is simple. The vitamin C molecule is somewhat similar in construction to the glucose molecule. Glucose muscles the vitamin C out of the way and is taken up preferentially by the cells. The vitamin C that is not absorbed into the body’s cells is wasted, peed out with the urine. That means you need to eat more vitamin C rich foods to flood your system – but only if you are eating carbs.

A famous experiment in 1928 saw two men, both well-known Scandinavian explorers who had lived with meat-eating Inuit tribes, confine their food to that of fatty meat only – about two pounds a day, 2600 calories more or less – for an entire year. I can’t imagine a more unbalanced diet. The men were supervised by scientists from such impressive universities as Harvard, Cornell and Johns Hopkins – and the scientists performed frequent checks of psychological and physical variables including the analysis of the men’s urine to make sure the men weren’t breaking the meat-only diet. But they stayed the course for the year as instructed. Both men took off some weight with their meat and fat-rich diet, as we would expect with no carbohydrates, but, to the surprise of many, they did not develop scurvy. You’ll remember scurvy is caused by too little vitamin C, a deficiency disease that killed sailors and explorers regularly unless sources of vitamin C, like the pickled veggies/sauerkraut used by Cook, or the limes of the British navy, were added to their diet.

Doctors also predicted Stefansson and Anderson would develop a severe depletion of magnesium and calcium (vital to many activities within the body) because the acid-rich diet promotes excretion of minerals, but they did not. And those B vitamins: they were not eating the husks of rice or barley, the traditional preventatives of vitamin B1 deficiency (beriberi), just fatty meat. Yet Stefansson and Anderson remained healthy. The amount of vitamins and minerals found within the meats they were eating was perfectly adequate to maintain their health. Their blood pressures were good and they had masses of energy in spite of a rather sedentary life style.

Stefansson and Anderson got away with eating such an unbalanced diet because they were eating no carbohydrates.

Do I recommend a meat-only diet? Nope. It’s expensive and it lacks variety. So I recommend some carbs? Not particularly, but all veggies include carbs and I recommend a variety of vegetables, a small piece of fruit every day (half a pear, for instance, or a handful of berries) – eaten with something fatty like butter, olive oil or cream, and protein – eggs, meat or fish. What I don’t recommend is anything sugary or made from flour; white or whole grain, it still raises your blood sugar to unacceptable heights. And depletes you of vitamins.

Wheat? Which wheat?

Did you know the products we eat made from flour (white, brown, whole wheat) is not made from the same grain we’ve called ‘wheat’ for millennia?

I received a copy of Dr William Davis’s WHEAT BELLY book for Christmas. He claimed, with much scientific backup, that ‘beer bellies’ so frequently seen on men is much more likely due to excessive carbohydrate consumption, especially products made from flour, than excess beer. In particular, he points the finger at one of the proteins found in wheat flour called gliadin.

Gliadin is a protein and associated with glutens which cause many people to react unfavourably to products made from flour. Symptoms of varying severity can result, up to and including coeliac disease which can be fatal. What Dr Davis claims is that the gliadin found in flour today is vastly different from gliadin found in flours ground from the type of wheat grown in the past.

Back in the fifties and sixties when I was a child I remember fields of Manitoba wheat swaying in the breeze, rippling, undulating from here to there all the way to the horizon. It was a fascinating sight – no parts of the field were still – yet it was a coordinated dance, a choreographed wonder. I can remember the wheat was taller than me in those days, well over a metre. Those fields are now gone, replaced with short ‘dwarf’ varieties of ‘wheat’ with heavy cropping heads held on short stalky stems – a grain producing grass which has huge genetic differences from the wheat of my childhood. Ninety percent of wheat grown today is this heavy cropping substitute.

So what’s the problem? Farmers are producing up to ten times the grain from their fields. And nobody is complaining about the excessively mild taste nor the light and fluffy bread and goodies bakers can produce using this new grain.

The problem is that more and more people are having adverse reactions to flour. Dr Davis says when products made from flour are digested, the gliadin becomes an ‘exorphin’ – or an appetite enhancing, brain-changing chemical which reacts with the opioid receptors in the brain. What happens when we take in exorphins like morphine or heroin? We become addicted, and Dr Davis claims this addiction to gliadin has fuelled the obesity epidemic in the world today.

The symptoms he attributes to gliadin intake include cerebellar ataxia, all sorts of allergic responses, tummy discomfort, behavioural outbursts, inattention (how many more ADHD kids are there around today?), maybe even the autism spectrum (ditto about Asperger’s kids today) right up to exacerbating the symptoms of the major psychotic disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia.

For most of us the problem is more insidious; we are just enticed to eat more floury products and our hidden addiction means we feel we cannot do without them. And we get fat. Dr Davis points to studies that show if we cut wheat from our diets, we naturally consume 400 calories less per day without realising it. And that’s because we get over our addiction to gliadin and stop craving floury sweet treats – plus bread, pizza, pies and all savoury products made from wheat too.

Can you cut wheat from your diet? At first it is difficult because we do have to battle the addiction (and we have so many flour based products in the pantry we ‘need to eat up’) but it can be done. Emerging from the other side is a freedom. We no longer slaver over cupcakes, toast, croissants, pastry, breakfast cereals, sandwiches or heavy gravies.

Is WHEAT BELLY a good read? It certainly is. The diet he recommends is similar to the recommendations I make in ‘FULL STOP – eat until you’re full and stop gaining weight’ even though he, naturally, puts more attention on this one hugely important source of carbohydrate, the new ‘wheat’ (and everything made from it).