Hi-Carb, Low-Carb, No-Carb


Field of Wheat

by Catherine Haug, April 16, 2012

(photo, right, fromWikipedia)

Over the last 40 years, dietary advisors have advocated different levels of carb and fat consumption, so that it is hard to know just what is good for YOU. Right now, the dominant advice is a high-carb diet; indeed, this is the diet pushed on us by the USDA in the food pyramid and food plate logos (see my post: New USDA diet recommendations: My Food Plate). Their current recommendation has carbs (grains, fruits & veggies) at nearly 75% of the diet. Protein and dairy comprise the rest of the diet. Fats aren’t even shown on the plate.

However, ever since the USDA started favoring carbs in their dietary recommendations, the rates of obesity, heart disease and other diet-related problems have skyrocketed to epidemic proportions. Obviously, somthing is wrong with this picture.

The ‘Paleo’ argument

Anthropologists believe human digestion & metabolism, as we know it today, evolved during the paleolithic period. They believe that these early humans were hunter-gatherers, which meant that they roamed in search of food. They had not invented tools like spades and rifles so they had to be satisfied with food that was already growing (nuts, berries, fruits, roots and leaves), or roaming/swimming (small game and fish they could readily capture and kill).

Putting these theories together, then, our systems are capable of handling a wide variety of plant and animal foods. But likely not foods that came about with the advent of agriculture – such as wild grains – because these early humans did not have the  grinding tools to make wild grains edible. Yet just how much of the diet was plant-based and how much was animal-based provides a lively debate.

Consequently we really cannot say just what nutrients comprised the paleo diet. We don’t know if it was hi-carb (mostly plant), low-carb (mostly animal) or no-carb (all animal). We don’t know if it was high-fat, moderate fat, or low fat.

My guess is that it varied with where the people lived. Those in tropical areas probably ate more plant-based foods but also had a fairly high-fat diet because of the availability of coconuts. Those in colder climes probably ate more animal-based foods, because the growing season is short; this diet likely also provided a fair amount of fat but was higher in protein than the diet of people in warmer climes.

Demonization of dietary fat, animal fat

I believe what is wrong with our modern diet is the demonization of fats, and especially of saturated fats. Mind you, I’m not saying all fats are good for you – trans fats & rancid fats in particular are very bad for you.

Most dietitians now recognize that Omega-3 fats are important, and recommend daily consumption of flax oil or freshly-ground flax seeds, fish oil and/or cod liver oil. But few recommend meat or dairy products from pasture-fed animals, even though these are also high in Omega-3 fats, because the common perception is that animal fat is all saturated fat and ‘everyone knows saturated fat is bad for you.’

Recently people have become enamored of coconut oil, which is predominately saturated fat. In fact, coconut oil is very similar to dairy fat from pastured dairy animals in its composition. So why would coconut oil be called ‘good’ while cream/butter are considered ‘bad’ for you?

Similarly, olive oil is in favor these days, but lard is demonized. Yet both are very similar in composition (if the lard comes from pastured hogs).

The other side of the carb/fat picture

Charles Welling, NTP (Nutritional Therapy Practitioner) has a great article on the NTP Talk website: Study On Type II Diabetes: Cut Carbs and Increase Fat Intake. In this article he sites the following findings:

  1. “Carbohydrate restriction improves glycemic control, the primary target of nutritional therapy and reduces insulin fluctuations.
  2. Carbohydrate-restricted diets are at least as effective for weight loss as low fat diets.
  3. Substitution of fat for carbohydrate is generally beneficial for markers for and incidence of cardiovascular disease.
  4. Carbohydrate restriction improves the features of metabolic syndrome.
  5. Beneficial effects of carbohydrate restriction do not require weight loss.”

He also reports:

  • “The [same] study included nineteen overweight Type II Diabetics who, for 16 weeks, participated in a low-carb diet and were able to reduce or …discontinue their diabetes medication altogether.”
  • “Another study cited in the present study showed that increased saturated fat lead to a decrease in small, dense LDL.” [small, dense LDL is believed to be the ‘bad guy” in arterial plaque)]
  • “A further study showed that greater intake of saturated fat was associated with reduced progression of coronary atherosclerosis; greater carbohydrate intake was linked to increased progression.”

These are amazing findings, considering most people believe just the opposite. And I suspect the same results would apply to non-diabetics and pre-diabetics as well.

What about protein?

Nora Gedgaudas, in her on the NTP Talk article: Protein: How much is too much? writes:

“From a “Paleo perspective” it’s certainly arguable that our more stone age ancestors readily consumed as much woolly mammoth at a time as their bellies would hold (or as hunting allowed).”

But she argues that science is shedding new light on this issue. She advises limiting the portion size of protein foods (both animal and vegetable) at each meal. It all has to do with insulin control. What? Isn’t insulin all about carbs?

Well, yes. But nothing is simple when it comes to metabolism and the regulation of metabolic pathways. She writes:

” …higher than needed amounts of protein can take away from your own maintenance and repair, lessen immunity, and make you far more susceptible to cancer.”

See also NTP Talk article: Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef and Lamb by Brenda Ruble, NTP

It all comes down to…..


So…if one should limit both carbs and protein in the daily diet, how is one to feel satiated? How is one to provide enough fuel for our bodily function?

The answer must lie in dietary fat. It turns out, it isn’t a demon at all, as long as you eat the right kinds of fat, in balance with carbs and protein.

The best fats are still in the whole food form: avocados, freshly-ground flax seeds, eggs, unprocessed or minimally-processed dairy, olives, nuts, meat from pasture-raised animals, coconuts, and so on.

Avoid highly processed and/or heat-treated fats such as corn, cottonseed, soy, safflower and canola oils. If you must use these oils, make sure they are cold pressed. And for goodness sake, don’t use them – even cold processed – for frying!

Avoid synthetic fats like margarine and Crisco-like shortening – even if it  is not partially hydrogenated, because margarine and shortening are highly processed.

Avoid meats, eggs and dairy from animals raised in CAFOs or fed a primarily grain and soy diet. This meat is laden with Omega-6 fats – not that Omega-6’s are bad for you, its just that we already get enough Omega-6 fats in our carb foods.

See also Carolyn Barringer’s articles on NTP Talk: Safer fats for cooking, Part 1 and Part 2. Note that Ms. Barringer is also the author of an article I discuss in my recent post: Wild Fermentation of Veggies.

For more information

Cat’s articles:

Related articles from NTP Talk:

One Response to “Hi-Carb, Low-Carb, No-Carb”

  1. Catherine says:

    We received a comment on the Paleo diet, but the commenter (“Paleo Cooking”) posted it on a mostly unrelated article (). So I copy the comment here:

    “Normally, every cookbook promotes a healthful output.
    The secret to success with a paleo diet is planning your meals ahead of time and stuffing your fridge, freezer and pantry with paleo friendly ingredients. What is important is, these can be eaten in its natural state.”

    The commenter also references a video on youTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sX_upsatgKw

    Check it out.