Monday, March 14, 2011

The Eggs and Bacon Diet

Following the last post, I've been doing a lot of work reading up on recent scientific research on diet, nutrition and health.

I'm writing up a summary of what I've learned, complete with all the reference and research citations. But without a basic grounding in organic chemistry, it's hard to follow the mechanistic arguments, but it's easy to follow the resulting diet advice and the hand-wavy arguments.

I've been taking my own medicine and eating in accordance with the dietary advice and so I have some data.

So here it is:

1) Dietary Saturated fat is good for you. Dietary Polyunsaturated fat is very bad for you. Monounsaturated fat is ok.
What?! The government says otherwise and has done since the 1970s.
Well the government is wrong. Here's why: LDL and HDL cholesterol has been misnamed as bad and good cholesterol. LDL is not bad. LDL has a purpose in the body. However it comes in small and large variants. LDL is not bad, except that small LDL particles oxidize easily and oxidized LDL particles are what can invade the artery walls and start the process of plaque formation that leads to coronary heart disease (CHD).

What makes LDL cholesterol oxidize and kill you? Time and Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs). The longer that the LDL cholesterol circulates in the blood before returning to the liver, the more likely it is the oxidize. When they bump into PUFA molecules, the PUFA molecule does a good job at helping to oxidize the LDL.

Saturated fat is much more stable, promotes the generation of larger (non oxidizing) LDL. Whereas PUFAs help cause LDL cholesterol to oxidize.

2) Dietary Cholesterol is good for you
What?! The government has said otherwise since the 1970s.
Again the government is wrong.
Your own body makes cholesterol (there are several types). It makes more cholesterol than you eat. Typically, your body (I.E. every cell in your body) makes 85% of your cholesterol and you eat 15%.

The body wants to keep cholesterol at a level, so if you eat more, it makes less. If you eat less, it makes more.

To gloss over a complex sequence of organic synthesis steps, if you eat more cholesterol, your cells need to make less of it and so they get to build the safe, large LDL molecules in place of the easy-to-oxidize small (type b) LDL molecules. So you don't get CHD. Take a look at the increase in CHD in America since the government told people to stop eating cholesterol.

'but research shows that lowering cholesterol with statins reduces the risk of heart attack' you say. Yes, but they are talking about cholesterol in the blood, which is a completely different thing to dietary cholesterol. Statins, by lowering blood cholesterol overall, they also lower the amount of bad LDL and so in people at risk with bad LDL, it helps. However they would not be at risk if they only had good LDL. I.E. the benefit of statins relies on people have messed up cholesterol ratios.

3) High Glycemic index foods (sugars and starches) are very bad for you.
These foods stimulate a strong insulin response to control the sugar level in the blood stream resulting from the rapid breakdown of the sugars and simple starches into glucose and fructose. This has a lot of knock on effects, the end result of which is type 2 diabetes. But before that, the insulin tells the body to consume energy from sugars instead of from fat released from fat stores. Then after the sugar goes away, the insulin hangs around, leading to a blood sugar drop and leaving the fat cells holding only their energy, so you feel lethargic and hungry. So you eat more. This is a problem that leads to weight gain.
The alternative, low glycemic index foods, break down slowly and so don't lead to an insulin spike, so your fat cells feel happy about releasing fat stores into the blood for use by the body.

4) Vitamin A and D need to be in balance.
What?! My doctor told me to take massive vitamin D supplements.
However recent research has shown that vitamin A inhibits the function of vitamin D and vitamin D inhibits the function of vitamin A, so you want them to be in the right ratio. What's the right ratio? Well without quoting number, fatty fish have exactly the right ratio. So does cod liver oil. So dump the vitamin pills and get eating the salmon steaks and cod liver oil pills.

5) Choline is good for you
The government doesn't disagree with this, but their dietary advice doesn't provide for sufficient choline because its major source are in liver and eggs and they don't want you eating those because they have saturated fat and cholesterol, so their misguided advice on fat and cholesterol is messing up their choline advice.

6) Calories still matter but some are better than others
If you want to use up fat stores, you need to get the fat being released and you need to have an overall energy deficit so that it gets used. Fortunately you don't need to get hungry for this to be the case. If you're eating more or less your metabolic rate in saturated fats, cholesterol and low glycemic index vegetables, then you will not feel hungry, because you will have plenty of fat-energy in the blood to draw upon. There is a roughly 30% conversion loss when processing low glycemic index foods, compared to processing sugar. So you burn up energy faster. Exercise helps redress the balance and has lots of other beneficial side effects.

So what does it all mean for diet?

1) Do a bit of research and get a feel for how many calories are in the foods below so you can meter out about the right amount of daily calories. This should give you three good sized meals a day.

2) Eat foods high in protein and with saturated fat.
I like lamb and steak. If you like offal, then great, but I don't.

3) Eat eggs. 3-4 a day is good.
The cholesterol will bring your LDL and HDL ratios into better balance and increase the size of the LDLs, so protecting you from CHD. The yolks have a lot of what you need, including saturated fats, cholesterols, vitamins and choline.

3) Eat low glycemic index vegetables and Fruits
Brocolli and cauliflower taste great with cheese melted on top.
There are lots of web site that will show you the glycemic index of foods.

4) Eat fatty fish and/or take cod liver oil.
The fatty fish has healthy saturated fats and vitamins A and D in good ratios. So does cod liver oil.

5) Drink whole milk and enjoy your cheese.
Nutrients in milk and other foods don't transport themselves. They need to be transported on the backs of fat molecules. So the good stuff in skimmed milk never gets through.

6) Avoid wheat products (bread) rice and other high glycemic index foods.

7) Eat NO polyunsaturated fats.
None. You will get a little bit from fish and meat and you only need a little bit. Too much and you risk more LDL oxidation and hence CVD.

Trans fats are just bad, but you already knew that.

So after a few days of fried egg, bacon and mushrooms for breakfast. Steak for dinner. Side vegetables made palatable with butter and cheese. Snacking on fruit (in my case bananas, grapes, apples and oranges are top of the list). I have managed to not be hungry, to lose weight and to eat yummy food. I also get the satisfaction of knowing that modern research agrees that this will improve my odds of contracting from a handful of 'modern' diseases like cancer, CHD, Alzheimer's and diabetes. This seems like a good thing.

What are the numbers?

That's a little over a pound a day. 3.04% of body weight lost in 7 days, by changing nothing except following the above advice - high protein, cholesterol, good carbs. No bad carbs or PUFAs. Keeping half an eye on the calories, but not going hungry.

I'm signed up for a blood test, so I can find out how my blood numbers have changed.

It's hard to look at a plate of bacon, eggs and mushrooms and not think that they are unhealthy. But it seems worth trying. It's a shame I make good bread though.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pancake Dilemma

Today is pancake day.
That is British pancake day. The day on which you make pancakes and eat them rolled up with lemon juice and sugar sprinkled on the inside. do not confuse them with crepes, which are thin, French and whussy.

My mistake was to sit down and watch 'Fat Head' on Netflix the night before. But first - some context:

I'm a sciency sort of person. I can tell the difference between bald, unsupported assertion and properly conducted scientific research that supports an assertion. Amongst the many things I considered bald, unsupported assertions are the claims of the benefits of low calorie diets, the existence of god, P=NP and the Atkins diet.

I formed my opinion on the Atkins diet several years ago, around the time the Atkins diet grew in popularity in the early 21st century. It was literally unsupported by any published peer reviewed research, and as such, could and should be ignored until some data came out.

What I've learned since then, is that we don't really know how the whole stomach/hunger thing works. This realization came after reading a bunch of research related to wifey's laproscopic banding surgery. It works, but we really don't know why.

So back to the docu-movie. It addressed the fact that in the past couple of decades, a bunch of research has completed and has told us quite a bit about how the sugar/carb/protein/insulin thing works. It more or less supports the Atkins assertions. The film makes a few bald assertions of its own, but there's real research out there and you can go and find it.

I did what any vaguely interested lazy person would do and did a bit of googling at work when I was supposed to be working. I found a reasonably nice summary of the information in the movie, without the funny bits or Netflix here.

So back to the pancakes. Pancakes are made from an apparently (under low carb orthodoxy) toxic mix of refined carbs (flour) with saturated fat (butter, milk & eggs). Pancakes come out better if you mix the batter a few hours before you use the. So making it the night before is ideal.

So I mixed the batter last night, popped it in the fridge and sat down to watch the movie, which informed me of exactly why eating pancakes is a bad idea.

Never mind. It takes more than a scientifically proven carbohydrate hypothesis to keep me away from pancakes for breakfast on pancake day. The batter was poured into a hot pan and the seventh level of carb hell was entered once more. It was delicious. Never mind, I'll go get some steaks and coconut oil tomorrow.