There are some major myths in nutrition and I constantly find these myths are being used at varying levels of medicine, some more startling than others.
If we describe our overall time on this earth from the caveman roaming the plains to the present day as 2 metres on a ruler, only 2cm would be our present day diet of high carbohydrates. The last civilisation which had a high carbohydrate diet was in Egyptian times, as they stored away grain during the feasts and when famine times hit they consumed the grain. However, on analysing the bodies of mummies from tombs it has shown that they suffered from diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart disease and diabetes – our modern day diseases.
Expressions like ‘carbo-loading’ are terribly misguided. Let us look at the basics. The evidence behind carbohydrates being bad is plentiful. Look at anatomy – only 2% of the pancreas (the enzyme factory of the body) is designed to produce insulin. If carbohydrates are so “key”, why do we have such a small area of production of the enzyme which deals with carbs?
Another myth is about fats being bad. In fact, fat is necessary for life but the modern day diet is full of the wrong types of fat. Over the last hundred years our consumption of different fats has changed hugely, with more saturated fats and Omega 6 fats from vegetable oils than ever before. Conversely, our intake of Omega 3 fats from oily fish has decreased by 80°. Only one third of people in the UK eat the government’s minimum recommendation of 1-2 portions of oily fish per week, whereas in Japan and among the Greenland Eskimos where oily fish is consumed regularly, there is a massively low incidence of heart disease, so a simple change in what fat is eaten can help prevent cardiovascular disease, arrhythmias, lessen inflammation and so lessen joint pain. By using fat as an energy source you will then also be able to access the fat that is present. For example in a very large person of say 23 stone, the fat burnt up for energy would be sufficient to take that person twice around the Equator.
Briefly in biochemical terms, when insulin is present from carbohydrate metabolism, its job is to pack excess glucose units into cells which are fairly full if not full already, so gradually it becomes harder to do this, so causing “insulin resistance” and is the first level towards developing diabetes. The body has to produce more insulin to pack more carbohydrate into the cells, until it is unable to do so and then high blood glucose occurs which is called Diabetes type 2, it is the developed form of diabetes. Diabetes type 1 is down to the lack of insulin production in the pancreas, so the body is unable to deal with carbohydrate metabolism.
It is also interesting to note that the reason we deposit fat (fat is the preferred storage pack to provide glucose units when needed) in the usual tummy, bum and thighs, is down to our lifestyle. As we live in a stressful environment the body chooses to deposit fat in areas for quick access, so that because the adrenaline response is triggered so frequently in the modern world, the body needs glucose quickly so it chooses the tummy, bum and thighs for their very good blood supply and so quick release to satisfy the stress response. Ideally we should have a diet which slowly dribbles fuel into the body as with low glycaemic (it demands little insulin response) foods such as proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates which (take a long time to breakdown into their simple (glucose) units). This is why I often use an approach called Metabolic Balance.
The basic ideas come from what you have already seen. You always start your meal with protein or fat to prepare the body’s cascade of enzyme action, so as you put some protein in your mouth (I often ask people to start with 3-5 mouthfuls at the start of the meal) the brain is told of this, so putting into gear the processes needed to assimilate this fuel. Even if you happen to have an alcoholic drink, before you sip your drink have a few mouthfuls of peanuts or olives. This continual rehearsal of the pattern gets more embedded in the local reflex arcs and so causes a new normal.
Fibre is hugely important too. With fibre at breakfast for example, you are then four times more effective at burning fats and protein in the afternoon. As with your complex carbohydrates, you mostly get fibre from vegetables. These can be divided up as you are trying to limit your intake of starch, so only eat that which grows above the ground eg spinach, broccoli, peas, mange tout, – your stir-fry or salad foods!
That is not to say don’t eat fruit. Another general idea is that the more sweet a fruit is, the higher it is in simple sugars, eg a banana is very high in fructose, a simple sugar absorbed quickly into the blood but also quickly burnt and gone, so you get a high then low and so hunger again. An apple a day keeps the doctor away – crucial!
Only have three meals a day, even if you are a high calorie burning athlete. Five hours between meals allows “the system” time to rest and self-maintain itself. If you eat “little and often” you end up with a higher insulin level at the end of the day than at the beginning, where the poor pancreas has been continually under demand. I mentioned earlier regarding cholesterol being potentially higher in high carbohydrate diets. There are quite a few reasons for this, but mainly when insulin is present in the body, biochemical processing of foods will make for more cholesterol, whereas we can only absorb 600 units of cholesterol through the gut wall! So the benefits of foods like eggs and the misinformation about how they are “high in cholesterol”, is dependent on how you use these foods!
Every time you eat there are parts of food which need the body’s cleaning system to mop up and this too needs a rest. Another observation which is important is that when insulin is present it inhibits Human Growth Hormone (HGH) which makes us grow but also maintains us eg bone, hormone system – you name it, HGH is involved in it. Athletes will be only too aware of this hormone importance and so to eat three times a day but by all means eat appropriate amounts (athletes may well eat a lot more).
Grains are another area of importance. It is well known that gluten is a substance which we as humans struggle to digest. We are now eating so much of this – which effectively is what wheat, barley etc are – and they have to be processed so much before we can even put them anywhere near our mouth, that it is best to stick to oats and rye.
Finally water: there are masses of research into how water is important. The equation often used is 35 mms water/1 kilo of body weight. The average person should be aiming to consume 2-2½ litres of water per day. Tea and coffee (no sugar!) are on top of that! With a higher protein and fat diet, that form of metabolism needs more water to fully make use of what foods you are putting in the body. It is especially good, when you are most dehydrated in the morning (most heart attacks occur between 8.30 and 9.30 am) to rehydrate, so try and drink 4-6 tumblers of water by the end of breakfast, so if you can drink 2-3 before breakfast you are well on the way. Your body will get used to this increase, just give it time.
The main reason for such intake of water is to allow water to be the substrate for the reaction for metabolising protein and fats. Without it, using these foods for energy cannot happen.
Metabolic balance takes all that has been discussed and provides an individual menu to take the person through a four stage approach as to how to optimise well-being. The process starts with a blood test. This looks as to how that individual is working and any peculiarities which should be dealt with before or may alter the menu produced. This combines with a consultation to discuss your likes, dislikes of foods, medication and other areas so that the produced menu contains food you will enjoy yet will do what is required.
Once the menu has been produced this will be discussed through so that the programme is understood and easy to follow.
As a practioner I have tried for 20 years to look for a robust, easy to follow way of eating to optimise weight and wellbeing and this is it. To learn more about metabolic balance, please contact John Brewster.