6.4 Carb Restriction & Getting Carb Smart

Now that you are familiar with the glycaemic values of specific carbohydrate-rich foods, the next step is carb reduction and being carb smart. Looking at your overall carbohydrate intake is of massive importance here, both for managing insulin resistance and diabetes, but also the complications that are associated with these conditions. In general, in the western world, our intake of carbohydrates has gone a little insane. We are consuming more of these foods than any other period of history or our evolution. The pattern has changed to an alarming degree.

This is due to a series of events that took place about 50 years ago, in the form of a very ill-informed public health campaign, sparked in essence by just one man. His name was Ancel Keys. Keys was an American physiologist with a strong interest in nutrition. He had been part of many dietary projects with the US government, including the development of the K ration – a nutrient dense bar given to American troops in the field to provide daily sustenance in a small portable unit. Keys had a theory that cardiovascular disease was caused by saturated fat and a nation’s heart disease statistics would be a direct reflection of the amount of saturated fat that the population ate. He set about to prove this and devised a study into the dietary habits of 22 countries. Each population’s intake of saturated fat was compared against cardiovascular disease rates to search for the connection. Once the study was finished, the findings were published, and boy did they prove the saturated fat and heart disease hypothesis perfectly. Case dismissed…or was it? The only problem was that the data published was from only seven of the 22 countries. What happened to the rest? Well, if the data from all 22 countries were published, Keys’ theory would have completely fallen apart. The data showed absolutely no connection at all between saturated fat intake and heart disease. But, Keys was an ambitious chap, and also had a lot of investment and backing from companies keen to see a specific result. So, data was selected that showed what Keys wanted to show. He used the data from countries where a connection between saturated fats and heart disease could be found, that supported his ideas and completely threw out the rest. This outright fraud should have been massive news and a scandal. Instead, Keys became a national hero, and in no time at all was on the front cover of Time magazine. Next, he began to advise on government public health policy. When this happened, the US government developed a public health campaign that warned the American public to drastically reduce their intake of saturated fats and replace them with low-fat starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta and the like. These were low-fat foods so must be ‘heart healthy’ right? This message almost instantly shot across the Atlantic and became policy in the UK.

What happened next was the biggest public health disaster of them all, and boy there have been a few! You can literally chart this on a graph when you look at disease patterns in populations from institutions like the World Health Organisation. We took on this message and our diets changed, massively. It pushed low-fat breakfast cereal and margarine all round before you could say ‘death diet’. As we moved increasingly into the low-fat high starch diet, our waistlines began to expand. People were beginning to notice things changing, and diet clubs began to pop up. It’s been an absolute public health apocalypse ever since. As the changes started taking hold, obesity, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes soared. They went from a relatively small problem to epidemic proportions in a few generations. Bearing in mind that we have been evolving for millions of years, a change that severe and that rapid can only be the result of an environmental impact upon our physiology. It must be something we are doing or that we have changed, that is causing this. Our intake of starch and the wrong types of fats went through the roof. This caused our blood sugar to go bananas, overloading our insulin system and unleashing metabolic chaos. Constantly high blood sugar, coupled with poor fatty acid balance, meant that we were synthesising fats and storing them around our midsection at a rate of knots. Our insulin sensitivity went south, and cardiovascular disease became the single biggest killer in the developed world. This unnatural increase in carbohydrate intake, particularly intake of refined carbohydrates has been killing us in our millions. You may not be directly aware of the amount of these foods that you are eating. But look at this picture, and think if it sounds familiar. How many people would start the day with a bowl of cereal and maybe a slice or two of toast? Then at lunchtime, it’s not too extreme a statement to say that most people’s weekday lunch would be a sandwich. An evening meal could include pasta, rice, potatoes, or a slice of bread to mop up the juices on the plate. Between meals, there may be crisps, a cereal bar, a biscuit, or a fruit smoothie. These are everyday patterns. The sad thing is that we have been told for so long that these are healthy eating choices, and we believe that we are doing the right thing. So many people truly want to make the right changes, but based on the poor information they have been given in the past, have been inadvertently destroying their health. When you look at it, the amount of starchy foods and fast release carbohydrates in our diets has increased enormously.

So what should we do? At Sano School of Culinary Medicine, we encourage everyone to consider reducing their overall intake of foods such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes etc. When you do want to include some of these types of foods, then you need to be carb smart as we call it. This means choosing the best sources. So, you want some rice? Go for brown. You want a bit of bread, have multigrain. These versions of the staple carbs in our diet are much more complex in their structures, take longer to digest, and release their energy more gradually. The key overall message, however, is to reduce your overall consumption of these foods right across the board. Instead of nasty breakfast cereals, opt for something like scrambled eggs or a frittata. If you must have a cereal-based breakfast, then porridge would be the best option, with a few nuts on top. Main meals should be incorporate lean proteins, as many vegetables as you can possibly shoehorn in, and generous helpings of good fats, like olive oil, avocados, nuts etc. Before you think we are promoting a carb-free diet, we want to point out that vegetables are carbohydrates. They are just carbohydrates that have a very low GL score, giving you a nice slow sustained energy release. These are the smartest carbs of them all, and the ones that we should be filling up with as much as possible.

A little note about fruit: fruit is considered the perfect food by many and is seen as the ultimate healthy snack option. Well, we are kind of 50/50 on this one. For people that don’t have any blood sugar issues, and are very active, fruit is great. But, for those of you that are suffering from blood sugar issues, be a little bit cautious here. Try to avoid all the sweet juicy fruits, and if you do want to incorporate some into your diet, apples and berries are the better choices, as they have the lowest GL value.