Metabo-What?

We all want a higher metabolism and every fitness guru throws the word around, yet very few actually define it. If I were to ask you what metabolism means, could you tell me? Here’s a typical response: “It’s that thing that skinny people have and I don’t. Skinny people have a high metabolism and can eat whatever they want, yet I even look at a cookie and I gain two pounds.”

What if you too could rev up your metabolism and be one of those people who could eat whatever you wanted (within reason, of course)? The good news is that you can, it just takes some changes to make it possible.

Metabolism simply means the speed with which your body burns through food. If you want to increase your metabolism, then you simply need to tell your body to burn through food faster, which means putting unprocessed foods into your body frequently. If you do this your body will, in turn, increase the speed with which it burns through that food.

For example, say you were only given one banana to survive off of each day. Would your body want to burn through that banana quickly? Or would it take its time so that you have energy for later? Now, what if you were to eat a meal every three hours? Your body would then burn through that food rather quickly since you’re giving yourself an ongoing supply of energy. Quite contrary to popular diet wisdom isn’t it?

That’s where diets fail you! Diets teach you to avoid food, which will create rapid weight loss in a short period of time. However, more weight ends up coming back. What has happened is you’ve slowed down your metabolism as a result of your diet.

From now on anytime you see the word “diet”, be warned! Diets wreak havoc on metabolism. Sure you might be saying, “But I’ve lost 20 lbs before on Atkins, I’ve lost 10 lbs on Weight Watchers, and I’ve lost 15 lbs on Slim-Fast.” Well, if any of those had actually worked, you wouldn’t have had to try all three diets, nor would you be reading this right now! The good news is, none of those diets work for anyone in the long-term. Advertisements with thin models deceive you into thinking that these diets work, so you buy the product. Score one for the company, they’ve just made a sale- but do they care about what actually happens to you? That psychological game continues when the diet doesn’t work, and you feel the blame. But you’re NOT to blame.

There are three components to metabolism:

  • Muscle (the amount you have)
  • Thyroid hormones
  • Frequency and type of meals you ingest

Dieting also has a negative impact on your thyroid hormones. By not eating enough food to sustain proper functioning, the thyroid will alter its production of T3 and T4 hormones which will slow down metabolism.

Fat tissue is burned in muscle. The more muscle you have on your body the more calories you burn. Ever wonder why men can eat more than women? This is one of the reasons. You have to perform resistance training to stimulate muscle in order to increase your metabolism. If you’re not on a resistance-training program yet, you should be. The benefits outside of weight loss are numerous, but any weight loss program that neglects resistance training is flawed from the beginning.

Finally, how often you eat throughout the day as well as the quality of those calories will have a direct impact on metabolism. Eating five to six meals a day rather than the typical three meals a day is superior when it comes to fat loss. Studies have shown that when two groups of people ate the same number of calories per day, the group that ate more often not only burned more body fat, but also decreased their blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Sounds like a win-win situation to me. The tough part is actually being able to eat that often throughout the day. Later articles will share tips and tricks on how to master this tough challenge.

In the meantime, be sure you eat enough food frequently, and start a resistance-training program immediately. You too will start losing body fat and enjoy being one of those eat-what-I-want people.

Big Fat Lies

The role of nutrition in disease prevention can at times be simpler than it is made out to be. However, when you start focusing on several different factors of how conventional dietary advice has led us astray, it can become a bit more complex. I’ve done my best to keep this article as simple as possible. My hope is that the average reader can come away with a better understanding of the lies we’ve been fed, and at the same time find just a “few” references available in the event you wish to open up a discussion on health and wellness with your health professional.

Today, 1 in 3 people are pre-diabetic or diabetic and 66% of the U.S. population is either overweight or obese. The standard dietary recommendations from the government, medical professionals, nutritional experts, and non-profit organizations like the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association follows a low-fat, high carb approach. That advice was propagated by the government in 1980. I’d say we’ve got some catching up to do.

Since such recommendations made Americans fear the intake of whole, unprocessed foods such as butter, beef, whole eggs (yes, the yolk too), and coconut oil, the development and marketing of processed, fake “health” foods has exploded and so has our weight.

 

 

The presumptions about food in the 1970s and 1980s were based on two flawed ideas. First, that eating fat makes us fat, and second, that fat in the diet – specifically saturated fat and cholesterol – was associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

Setting the Record Straight

Myth #1: Fat makes you fat

Fact: Excess of any macronutrient (fat, carb, protein) over prolonged periods can lead to weight gain. However, not all macros are created equal. While it is true that carbs and protein have less than half the calories of fat, looking at food from a pure mathematical aspect does not fully explain how the body treats each macro differently.

For example, in this study comparing a fat/protein breakfast (whole eggs) to one of mainly carbs (bagels), researchers found that those eating the egg breakfast compared to the bagel based breakfast reported lower levels of hunger and on average consumed 400 calories less per day.[1]

Another study looked at how a low-fat diet compared to a low-carb diet could possibly lead to more difficulty maintaining weight after weight loss. In this study they found that those on a low-fat diet saw greater reductions in resting metabolic rate than those on a very low-carb diet.[2]

So, if we wanted to design an ideal meal or diet that would lead to a) increased hunger, b) the consumption of more calories, and c) a bigger decrease in metabolic rate, what would that meal or diet look like? There are a few distinct ways this “advice” could have unintended consequences.

Numerous other studies on a higher fat/low-carb diet have shown weight loss as well.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9] In fact, most of the time this type of diet outperforms lower fat diets up to the six month mark, though by year’s end they tend to be equal.

What about skim versus whole milk? Well, it should be clear by now that fat does not make us fat. Fat keeps us fuller longer, and helps us absorb fat soluble vitamins. Take this recent study comparing weight in 2-4 yr olds.[10] What they found was that those who drank whole milk had the lowest Body Mass Index (BMI, which is weight/height), those that drank 2% milk had the next lowest BMI, and those that drank 1% milk had a higher BMI than the other two groups.

While the study could lead us to believe that reducing fat in milk causes kids to weigh more, it does not definitively provide that proof. This is an observational study only, but what this study can show us is that higher fat in milk does NOT cause increased weight.

To use this graph from earlier, if fat did indeed making us fat, why is it that obesity rates were lower prior to Americans being instructed to reduce fat?

 

 

Myth #2: Fat, specifically saturated fat causes heart disease.

Fact: Saturated fat has not been associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD).[11] Let me repeat that again. Saturated fat has not been shown to be associated with CVD.

I could write a book on this topic alone, but it has been become clear over recent years that the original saturated fat and heart disease studies had serious design flaws.[12][13] And, those studies were observational, which could never have proved a direct link between the two anyway.

One type of saturated fat that is showing some benefit is the kind found in coconuts. Coconut oil has long been made a villain, but evidence shows that some societies consumed copious amounts of coconuts as part of their native diet without detrimental health problems.[14] More recent research is showing them to be even beneficial for heart[15] and dental health[16]. And while it’s way too early to tout coconut oil as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, it does have some unique properties (medium chain triglycerides) that warrant further investigation.[17]

In a systemic review of dietary factors and heart disease, the authors commented:

“The general consensus from the evidence currently available is that a reduced consumption of saturated and trans–fatty acids and a higher intake of fruits and vegetables, polyunsaturated fatty acids including omega-3 fatty acids, and whole grains are likely beneficial.

This is reflected in the revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 from the US Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture.24

However, little direct evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) supports these recommendations. In some cases, RCTs have not been conducted, and RCTs that have been conducted have generally not been adequately powered or have evaluated surrogate end points rather than clinical outcomes.

Despite this lack of information, evidence-based recommendations derived from cohort studies have been advocated. This is cause for concern because dietary advice to limit the intake of a certain nutrient (ie, dietary fat) may result in increased consumption of another (ie, carbohydrates), which can have adverse effects on coronary heart disease risk factors…We found strong evidence that trans–fatty acids are associated with CHD risk, but weak evidence implicating saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and total fat intake.”[18]

Myth #3: Higher fat diets worsen our lipid (cholesterol) profile.

Fact: It sounds crazy, but the idea that cholesterol causes heart disease is widely accepted to be false.[19][20] What seems to be among the underlying causes is chronic inflammation.[21] In fact, your lipid numbers are actually helped by a higher fat/low-carb diet[22][23][24][25][26][27] and at the very least are just as beneficial to a low-fat diet.[28][29] The role of oxidized cholesterol is also leading some to question about the simplicity of labeling all LDL as “bad” cholesterol.[30][31][32]

Myth #4: Eating cholesterol raises blood cholesterol.

Fact: Again, one must first assume that cholesterol causes heart disease, which it does not.[33][34] But, let’s assume for the moment that it did. For the majority of people, if they eat more cholesterol, their body produces less, and if they eat less, their body produces more.

However, about 25% of people are hyper-responders and may see a bump in their total cholesterol[35][36], but this is because of an increase in both HDL and LDL levels, which is considered a “wash” by even those that still fear higher blood levels of cholesterol. Emerging evidence points to the importance of the size and if oxidized LDL particle[37] and triglyceride levels being for heart health[38], both of which are improved by a lower-carb diet.

Myth #5: To lower your risk of diabetes, decrease fat and saturated fat intake.

Fact: Excess processed carbohydrates in the diet along with sedentary lifestyles are likely the main drivers in the diabetes epidemic today.[39] A recent meta-analysis has shown that low-carb diets, and Mediterranean Diets (though usually lower in saturated fat) kicked low-fat diets’ butts when it came to improving health status’ of diabetics.[40]

Other studies show that low-carb diets work well for blood sugar control as well.[41],[42],[43] One review mentions a study comparing intake of saturated fat and monounsatured fat being equal, yet no significant difference in blood sugar control following a meal.[44]

Myth #6: To lower your risk of heart disease, replace butter with “buttery spreads” that contain “heart-healthy” vegetable oils.

Fact: Numerous people in the health field have been saying for years that vegetable oils, because they are easily oxidized and throw off the balanced ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s in the diet are anything but “heart-healthy”, and likely cause much more harm than good.

Just recently “recovered data” from a 1970s study was reported on in which people reduced butter intake for safflower oil (one of the common vegetable oils). Keep in mind this is what the American Heart Association recommends for improving heart health. The study found that those who changed their diet and dropped butter intake for vegetable oil died sooner and suffered more heart problems than those who did not.[45]

This is such an important finding that I’m actually going to quote the study’s authors

Conclusion: Advice to substitute polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats is a key component of worldwide dietary guidelines for coronary heart disease risk reduction. However, clinical benefits of the most abundant polyunsaturated fatty acid, omega-6 linoleic acid, have not been established. In this cohort, substituting dietary linoleic acid (safflower oil) in place of saturated fats (butter) increased the rates of death from all causes, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease. An updated meta-analysis of linoleic acid intervention trials showed no evidence of cardiovascular benefit. These findings could have important implications for worldwide dietary advice to substitute omega-6 linoleic acid, or polyunsaturated fats in general, for saturated fats.”

So, what about those worldwide dietary recommendations that need changing? While it’s no big surprise to me, considering the amount of money at stake the American Heart Association released a statement that basically stated their recommendations are not going to change.[46]

Are You Different?

I will end this article on a personal note. Ultimately, we can talk studies all day long, or we can actually try them out and see what works for us, which some people are doing in what they call an “n of 1” (or n=1) experiment. I’ve done this myself. If you care to read about my experience, you can find it here http://www.fitnesscoachmark.com/nutrition/i-should-be-dead/

Summary: TL;DR = Too Long Did Not Read

  1. Fat does not make us fat.
  2. Fat, saturated fat and cholesterol do not cause heart disease
  3. Low-carb/high-fat diets outperform low-fat diets in the short-term for weight loss and outperform them as well when it comes to improving your cholesterol numbers and measures of blood sugar control in relation to diabetes.
  4. Advice to ditch butter for vegetable oil in the hopes it would protect our health have been shown to be completely wrong and have caused more deaths than butter ever has.

 

Sources:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20226994
  2. href=”http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1199154
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23155696
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23035144
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12679447
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892194/
  7. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/90/1/23.long
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC538279/
  9. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022637
  10. http://adc.bmj.com/content/early/2013/02/13/archdischild-2012-302941.short?g=w_adc_ahead_tab
  11. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/3/535
  12. http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/12/3/228.pdf
  13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19751443
  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7270479
  15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC538279/
  16. http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/coconut-oil-battle-tooth-decay-article-1.1151478
  17. http://www.cbn.com/tv/1472017228001
  18. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1108492
  19. http://blogs.cbn.com/healthyliving/archive/2012/10/23/cholesterol-not-the-cause-of-heart-disease.aspx
  20. ttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21951982
  21. http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20040223,00.html
  22. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21992535
  23. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18950537
  24. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa0708681#t=abstract
  25. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022207
  26. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00125-004-1603-4
  27. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11745-008-3274-2
  28. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12679447
  29. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892194/
  30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3130805/
  31. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15047623
  32. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11031210
  33. http://dietheartpublishing.com/Cholesterol/10/09
  34. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130227151254.htm
  35. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21776466
  36. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19751443
  37. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21776466
  38. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/96/8/2520.abstract
  39. http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0057873
  40. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2013/01/30/ajcn.112.042457.abstract
  41. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1463-1326.2009.01151.x/abstract
  42. ttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15148064
  43. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15801687
  44. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/35/2/434.long
  45. http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.e8707
  46. http://newsroom.heart.org/news/no-change-in-aha-recommendations-on-saturated-or-poly-unsaturated-fat

I Should Be Dead

For the past six weeks I’ve been experimenting with a very high fat diet where I’m getting 65% of my calories from fat. No, that’s not a misprint. The vast majority of my calories are coming fat, and a good chunk of that has been saturated fat. The very same fat you’ve been told to avoid for decades because it would “damage your heart, build up in your arteries, increase your risk of cancer and even lead to obesity.” Curious about how this was affecting my body, I scheduled a full blood panel with our doctor. After seeing the results of that blood work, I shared with my doctor the details of my diet and how I teach people that fat is actually beneficial. She warned me that while this diet may be working for me, I may be the exception to the rule.

Gary Taubes, in his ground-breaking book “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, dug through TONS of research and found something surprising. Fat, touted as harmful for your diet, is a lie. And it’s a lie that has been covered up and repeated so many times, it’s been accepted as truth. We all know what that’s like – we all have that one friend whose stories are so far out of whack but so often heard, that we begin to believe them. I was guilty of thinking this way too; most of us at some point have been. However, not only did Taubes’ studies uncover the truth about saturated fat and cholesterol – both wrongly put on the “naughty list”, but new studies are now showing just how beneficial they really are[i].

One study centered on coconut oil, which is a fantastic oil to use for cooking and baking, in shakes, and when topically applied, is a detoxifying agent for skin. Coconut oil is very heavy in saturated fat. It has higher saturated fat content than red meat, which by the way, has more monounsaturated fat than it does saturated. Yet, thanks to the misguided war on red meat and saturated fat, we’ve come to believe that red meat is loaded in this stuff. But I digress. A Brazilian study showed that when middle-aged women replaced their intake of canola oil with the EXACT number of calories from coconut oil, an interesting thing happened. Their HDL (good cholesterol) increased, triglycerides lowered, and they lost abdominal fat. By including more saturated fat from coconut oil in the diet, regardless of the calorie content, several markers for heart health and diabetes risk drastically decreased. I’ll bet they looked younger and more vibrant as well.

It’s unfortunate. We’ve been told for decades to avoid these foods and build our diet around “good” carbohydrates. Yet, sadly, a high carbohydrate diet can promote weight gain for most people, decrease their HDL, and increase their triglycerides; this is in complete opposition to what conventional dietary wisdom says will happen. And yet we wonder why our children are obese at such young ages, and why our health across the nation is worse than ever. Even my doctor wonders why the vast majority of her male patients don’t have HDL numbers as good as mine.

Personally, I don’t believe it’s “simply” a matter of will-power, or one of individual responsibility. There are tens of thousands of people who spend hours at gyms and fitness clubs throughout the country, but who are frustrated that the pounds just won’t come off. I see it every single day. These folks tell me they’re eating healthy foods, have cut back on saturated fat and cholesterol, and are increasing their whole grain consumption. Are you seeing the pattern yet? This is NOT WORKING. Living a lifestyle with these parameters only causes us to avoid the foods – the REAL foods – that help to control our appetites, our weight, and lower our risk of disease.

So, how has a diet of high fat and high cholesterol worked out for me? Below is a picture of my results. Look specifically at the numbers circled in red.

These numbers squash claims that saturated fat and cholesterol are the “bad guys”. We’ve been told that red meat, eggs, and bacon increase our blood cholesterol. But I eat these foods everyday and it looks like I’m doing just fine. In fact, I’m doing better than a lot of people. The studies I’ve mentioned prove that though your total cholesterol may go up, it’s your HDL that’s holding the torch, and the LDL that’s struggling to catch up. When she saw my HDL of 71, my doctor’s eyes widened, “I almost never have guys with levels that high.”

If you’re not familiar with triglycerides, they are another piece of the puzzle that can clue us into our health status. When levels get above 150, doctors will get worried that you are at a higher risk of heart or diabetes issues. Mine clocked in at a low 45. My high fat, low-carbohydrate diet lowered my triglycerides. My daily shot of fish oil doesn’t hurt either.

How can you predict the future of your heart health? Take your triglycerides and divide them by your HDL. This is your triglyceride to HDL ratio (TG:HDL). As your ratio creeps above 3.0, the risk of heart problems is increased. Aim for 2.0 or lower, which is optimal. My TG:HDL ratio is a svelte .63.

At this point, I should note that genetics are not on my side. Heart disease runs rampant on both sides of my family, affecting both parents at an early age as well as my father’s parents. As the saying goes, “genetics load the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger.” By steering clear of the lifestyle habits on which I was raised, I was able to avoid that smoking gun. High blood pressure also runs in my family and mine is usually “normal” at 120-125/80-85. While on this low-carb diet my blood pressure has only improved and is now usually at 110-115/65-75. No surprise here as a high carb diet will elevate insulin levels which in turn will raise blood pressure. Plus, you retain more water on a high carb diet which will also increase pressure. If anything, I’ve been adding more salt to my diet lately because I’m eating more vegetables. It’s no wonder so many people have high blood pressure these days. They’re just following conventional dietary wisdom.

The American Dietetics Association still supports the idea that saturated fat plays a role in increasing our odds of Type 2 diabetes. Yet, if we look at my A1C levels above, which is an average of blood sugar over the past three months, I’m well below the pre-diabetic category, let alone the diabetic one. Some health practitioners believe that 4% is ideal, so personally I’d like to see my number even lower. But after six weeks of this lifestyle, I’ve been able to bring down my fasting blood sugar by almost 10 points.

These recommendations of antiquity, in my opinion, immensely contributed to the obesity epidemic we see today. In fact, many of us don’t see it at all; we take it as the norm. But our “norm” shouldn’t be to expect heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s as inevitable. Regular physical activity and REAL food will heal your body and your mind; which may give your doctor a stroke, metaphorically, of course.

So, eat up America! Red meat (from pasture/grass-fed cows), organic/local eggs (yes, yolk included), and organic bacon is back on the menu. Skip the stuff that comes in packages and anything that has a shiny and colorful “healthy” sticker on it. Remember this: health doesn’t come packaged like a toy in a cereal box, or down the chip isle at the organic store. All we have to do is eat REAL FOOD.

Study Links

http://www.ajcn.org/content/91/3/535

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19751443

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20354806

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20683785

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21951982