Progress

Since March 11, 2009, I have not had a single meal knowingly “off plan” … even while visiting Disneyland, notorious for its horrible choices. Its not that I’m a paragon of virtue and possess great willpower; the low carb diet suits me. And I’m never hungry.

The main reason for trying a low carb diet was to reduce my triglycerides from 462 and try to hold off the onset of diabetes. Having been given the word that I have more than three of the markers for “metabolic syndrome”, and have a great chance of becoming diabetic, I realized it was time to get serious. Past attempts at reforming my cholesterol included a low fat diet and exercise I adhered to for several years, but I was miserable. And my cholesterol numbers got worse, not better. Most “low fat” foods are also “high carb”, and I was employing the wrong tactics.

At my last blood test, my triglycerides were down to a respectable 113. I have some work to do to raise HDL, the “good cholesterol”, but increases in good fats, rich in omega 3’s, should help in that regard (my HDL has risen from 20 to 31, but should be above 40).

Weight loss isn’t my primary goal, but from a high of 248 pounds sometime before starting on low carb to my current 215 pounds is a plus. I’m on the verge of leaving an “obese” BMI and entering the range of merely “overweight”. In two years, I should be closer to my goal, 195 pounds (calculating at the average of 1 to 2 pounds lost per month).

So its all good. I talk about the immediate benefits I saw on the About page, and none of those problems that fell away so quickly have returned. No GERD, blood pressure remains normal without medication, even the more personal issues have resolved nicely. Its hard not to trumpet the benefits of the diet to everyone, but perspective demands that I realize what has worked so well for me might not work for everyone.

WSJ: Orange Juice and the Soda Tax

Periodically, the idea of a “soda tax” floats to the surface buoyed by the assertion that it will help curb obesity. But the arguments often fall apart when people start to compare different foods they think are more healthy than a 16 ounce bottle of Coca Cola.

The Wall Street Journal Health Blog contains this statement, pointing out a common fallacy:

But if you look at the prices with the hypothetical sugar taxes added ($2.02 for the two-liter bottle and $4.64 for a 12-pack using Sicher’s numbers) and compare them with the price of a half gallon (1.89 liters) of 100% orange juice, which the Health Blog is lucky to buy on sale for $3.50 at her local grocery store, it would still be far cheaper to buy soda.

From this statement, you would believe drinking 16 ounces of orange juice would be healthier than 16 ounces of Coca Cola. If you surveyed people, they would probably say overwhelmingly that orange juice is healthier than soda.

To be fair, the point of the statement is that even with an extra tax, soda would still be cheaper that what we consider to be healthier alternatives. While this tax masquerades as an attempt to improve American’s health like other “sin taxes”, it is simply a way to extract more money from the populace for whatever government program is being considered. Like all “sin taxes” those engaging in the “sin” oppose it while those who never indulge in that particular “sin” support it. But neither position is based on “health”.

“Unsweetened” orange juice has 3.75 grams of sugar per ounce, while Coca Cola has 3.25 grams. Orange juice, even given its paltry nutrients, is not a good substitute for Coca Cola. Orange juice provides even more sugar ounce for ounce. Sure, you get your daily value of vitamin C and small amounts of calcium and vitamin A, but you also get the bad effects of all that sugar.

Orange juice used to be served in small, 3 or 4 ounce glasses. These “juice glasses” have all but disappeared from the American cupboard, and the standard 12 or 16 ounce glass is the one most people reach for, and the drinks they put in it are most likely going to contain from 40 to 60 grams of sugar.

The portion of sugar our body retains either gets used immediately for energy or stored as fat. If you aren’t running a marathon, drinking 50 grams of sugar is going to add to your fat stores.

For perspective, imagine that instead of reaching for that glass full of orange juice you pull out a teaspoon and scoop up regular table sugar. And eat it. And then you dip the spoon in the sugar again, and eat another teaspoon. And then another. And another. After you have eaten 12 and a half teaspoons of table sugar you have almost the amount of sugar in the 16 ounces of orange juice.

Now, let’s talk about potatoes …

Obesity: Can you be too thin?

Two studies alluded to in my post “Does Being Overweight Harm Your Health” have been linked on our Obesity research page.

The surprising results of these two studies, and others like them, is that being in the overweight category when measured by BMI is not harmful. You have the same statistical chance of living to the same age as normal weight people.

Making Sense of the Studies
What about studies that show cancer deaths are reduced for people in a certain weight class, or that deaths from diabetes are higher for people who are overweight? What the two studies linked show is that overall, in the general population, people’s lives average out longer if they are normal or overweight, but are much shorter if underweight or obese.

But you are not an average. So you have to look at your individual risk factors. In my case, I have high risk for diabetes because of my “syndrome X” or “metabolic syndrome” risk factors. My diet is designed to reduce those risk factors and so far, I’ve made good progress. If the end result is that I’m not diabetic but still a bit overweight, I’ll fret that my profile isn’t what it was when I was 17, but I’ll live as long as my thin brother. And I’ll enjoy life.

I could go beyond addressing my individual need, and work for a vanity outcome: thin as a Hollywood star. But I wouldn’t enjoy my life nearly as much. And I would die younger, according to the averages. Its small consolation that a bunch of overweight people will cry at my funeral.

Healthy has to be the goal, and healthy might mean different things to someone with different family histories or other risk factors. Weight alone is not the standard.

Low Carb Better than Low Fat

Another article has been posted to our Research pages, this time recapping a study that compared a standard LCD (low carb diet) to the American Heart Association diet that emphasizes low fat. The study was published in the Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases journal, and is posted here.

The study selected 39 individuals and divided them into two groups. One group ate a carb-restricted diet for 12 weeks. The other group ate a carb-restricted diet for 6 weeks, and then switched to the AHA diet for the remaining 6 weeks.

In this study, the low carbohydrate diet followed the recommendations of most of the low carb diets: 20 to 25% of calories from carbs. The AHA diet, by comparison, doubles that amount with 50 to 55% of the calories from carbs.

One concern often expressed about eating low carb and increasing saturated fat in the diet is that LDL can rise using the normal calculated value. This study looks specifically at the type of LDL that each of the diets produces, using direct measurements rather than an inaccurate calculation.

The short version of the results is that the low carb diet “had a better effect on atherogenic VLDL and HDL than the low fat diet recommended by AHA.” Atherogenic VLDL and HDL are particles that lead to the formation of atheromas on the walls of the arteries, or what we commonly call atherosclerosis.

This is just one study, and won’t immediately change the dietary recommendations of nutritionists, doctors and the American Heart Association. But the “Low Fat Age” is seeing its reign come to an end, and the Low Carb Age is upon us.

Monday Round-up

Tom Naughton of the Fat Head Blog has another funny article, this time about low carb enthusiast Jimmy Moore and his surprising cholesterol numbers. In the post, he talks about the worldwide study of average cholesterol rate and heart disease. This short video shows the concept (and Tom expands on it quite a bit in his blog piece):

Laura Dolson at Low Carb Diets takes a look at a new study in the Annuals of Internal Medicine comparing a semi-low carb Mediterranean-style diet with a low fat diet. Oh, the study calls it “low carb” but as Laura points out, getting 50% of your calories from carbs is not low carb in the same sense as a Protein Power or Atkins diet.

What was the outcome? Well, as the diets weren’t extremely different, it’s not surprising that in most ways there wasn’t a huge difference. Both groups lost and kept off a relatively small amount of weight, averaging 7-8 pounds by the end of the study. (This is interesting in an of itself, as the participants reported that they continued on their low-calorie diets.) Additionally, on average the participants had (mostly small) improvements in most of the markers they were looking for in the study – markers of blood glucose control and heart disease risk. But on each one of those markers (there were 13 in all) the lower-carb Mediterranean group had more improvement. And on perhaps the most important marker of all – how many participants required medications for diabetes, there was a huge difference. By the end of the study, 70% of the people on the low-fat diet were taking diabetes medication, whereas only 44% of the people on the lower-carb were.

The study would have been more interesting if they had included a third group, a real low carb, higher fat diet utilizing the same type of fats as a Mediterranean-style diet (olive oil, saturated fats, etc.)