Ten years of carbohydrate restriction: here’s why
It was almost exactly ten years ago, in March 2008, that I read Ron Rosedale’s Insulin and Its Metabolic Effects. I now know that this is surely the one thing I’ve read that has had the most impact on my life. Rosedale’s presentation was a total revelation to me: I had never read anything about insulin before, and his explanations of the biochemical and physiological functions and effects of insulin on the body all made perfect sense in and of themselves, but also appealed to my appreciation and reliance on complete explanations that are consistent with the facts we can observe about them. I eliminated insulin-stimulating carbohydrates from my diet overnight. That was that.
We were then still vegetarian at home. Hence, the family breakfast, following Mercola’s example, became smoothies made of raw, local, pastured eggs with berries and stevia. That lasted quite a while. I always travelled with my hand blender and stevia, brought eggs if it was for short trip, or scouted out places to get good ones when the trip was longer. Throughout a summer trip along the American west coast, I made our raw egg smoothies every day, in hotel rooms and campgrounds.
At one point, I discovered coconut oil and coconut milk. The breakfast smoothies evolved to being made of eggs and coconut milk with berries, and eventually only coconut milk, berries and stevia. This period lasted several years until we moved on to cold pressed green juice with coconut milk; it was two thirds juice and one third milk. We also did this for several years until about two years ago when our son left for university, at which point we dropped having breakfast entirely to allow for a daily overnight fasting period of about 16 hours from after dinner to lunchtime.
Food intolerance testing in 2014 showed that all three of us were intolerant to eggs; we removed them from our diet. My wife and I had the most and our son the least intolerances; this was not surprising given we were a lot older than him. It also showed my wife and I were intolerant to most dairy products; we removed them from our diet. We were also intolerant to grains: both highly intolerant to wheat, and then I, in addition, somewhat less so to barley, malt, and quinoa—we ate quinoa almost daily for years as our son was growing up. He, although not intolerant to dairy or wheat, was intolerant to almonds, pistachios, and brazil nuts. (Here are my test results, if you’re interested.)
Imagine: vegetarian for 20 years, with a diet during these two decades from teenage hood to middle adult hood consisting primarily of wheat and grain products, beans, cheese and yogurt, eggs and nuts. Of course, also plenty of sweet fruit, starchy vegetables, and salads, as with is true for most vegetarians. But the bulk, both in volume and in calories, was from grain products, cheese, and eggs. The shocker for me was that the food intolerance test painted the profile of a meat-eater: if you remove grains, dairy, and eggs, what is left is animal flesh, vegetables and fruits.
If now, in addition, you remove (most) fruit and starchy vegetables (most of the time) to avoid insulin-stimulating carbohydrates, all that is left is animal flesh and green vegetables. That’s just how it is. We also used to eat almonds—the richest in magnesium, and brazil nuts—the richest in selenium, almost daily. But because our son was intolerant to both and I was intolerant to brazil nuts, we removed those from our diet as well.
These were all food intolerances; they were not allergies. But they were nonetheless intolerances, some stronger, some weaker. If you are concerned about health in the sense of being in the best state of health you can, then obviously you must not eat foods to which you are intolerant. Otherwise, your immune system is triggered each time the offending molecules in those foods enter the gut and bloodstream. This gradually but inevitably makes the intolerance greater, your system weaker, and body sicker.
Over these ten years, I’ve read quite a few books, articles, blog posts, and detailed discussions about health-related matters. I’ve also experimented quite a bit with my own diet, and learned a great deal from that. The other thing I’ve done a lot of, is have conversations with people about diet, nutrition, diseases, and the metabolic effects of different foods and of insulin.
My position—which has only grown stronger with time—is that the first and most fundamental pillar of optimal health is having a metabolism that runs on fat. And this means keeping insulin levels low by restricting sugars and starches. Not necessarily always, but most of the time, as in almost always.
The first question that people ask when they find out is why: Why do you not eat bread? Bread has forever been essential to humans. I simply couldn’t live without bread. Or, why don’t you eat potatoes, or rice, or pasta? They’re so good! I simply couldn’t live without potatoes and pasta. And, you don’t even eat fruit? But isn’t fruit full of vitamins and minerals?
The way I have answered has depended on a lot of things: the setting, the atmosphere, the company, the time available, but most importantly on the person. Some people are actually interested to find out, and maybe even learn something. Most, however, are not. Consequently, I have made the answer shorter and shorter over the years. Now, I even sometimes say: well, just because, and smile.
Maybe you have wondered, or even still wonder why. Maybe although you’ve read so many times in my writings that I think everyone seeking to improve their health should restrict insulin-stimulating carbohydrates, you still wonder what the main reason is, what the most fundamental reason for which I don’t eat sugars and starches. Here’s why:
It’s not primarily because carbs and insulin make us fat by promoting storage and preventing the release of energy from the ever larger reserves of fat in our body: I am lean and always have been.
It’s not primarily because carbs and insulin lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes; inflammation, dyslipidemia, water retention, and high blood pressure; kidney dysfunction, pancreatic dysfunction, and liver dysfunction: my fasting glucose, insulin, and triglycerides have been around 85 mg, 3 milli units, and 40 mg per dl for years; my blood pressure is 110/70 mg Hg, glomerular filtration rate is high, and all pancreatic and liver markers are optimal.
It’s not primarily because carbs and insulin promote cancer growth since cancer cells fuel their activity and rapid reproduction by developing some 10 times the number of insulin receptors as normal cells to capture all the glucose they can, fermenting it without oxygen to produce a little energy and tons of lactic acid, further acidifying the anaerobic environment in which they thrive. My insulin levels are always low, and my metabolism has been running on fat in a highly oxygenated alkaline environment for a decade.
It’s not primarily because carbs and insulin promote atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke by triggering hundreds of inflammatory pathways that compound into chronic inflammation and damage to the blood vessels, which then leads to plaque formation and accumulation, restriction of blood flow, and eventually to heart attack and stroke: my sedimentation rate, interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, and Apolipoprotein-A are all very low.
It’s not primarily because carbs and insulin promote the deterioration of the brain, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, both through the damage to blood vessels around and in the brain itself, and insulin resistance of brain cells, which together lead to restricted blood flow, energy and nutrient deficiency, and accumulation of damaging reactive oxygen species and toxins in the cells, and, unsurprisingly, eventually to dysfunction that just grows in time: because my metabolism runs on fat, this means that my brain runs on ketones, and is therefore free of excessive insulin or glucose exposure.
It isn’t primarily for any of these reasons, which, I believe, are each sufficient to motivate avoiding sugars and starches in order to keep tissue exposure to glucose and insulin as low as possible.
My main reason is that, at the cellular level, in its action on the nucleus and on gene expression, insulin is the primary regulator of the rate of ageing.
Insulin is essential for life: without insulin, cells starve and die. It is essential for growth: without insulin cells don’t reproduce, and there can be no growth. This is why at that most fundamental level, insulin regulate growth in immature individuals. But in mature individuals, once we have stopped growing, insulin is the primary regulator of the rate of ageing, both in terms of its effect in suppressing the production of antioxidants and cleansing and repair mechanisms within the cell, but also in stimulating cellular reproduction. And the more reproduction cycles, the greater accumulation of DNA transcription defects, the faster the shortening of telomeres, and the faster the ageing.
This is a fundamental fact that appears to be true for all living organisms. It is as true for yeasts and worms, as it is for mice and rats, as it is for dogs and humans. And the rate of ageing is the rate of degeneration, of growing dysfunction, of more damage and less repair, of lower metabolic efficiency and less energy, of increased cell death and senescence. I personally wish to be as healthy, energetic, strong, and sharp as possible for as long as possible. This is why I personally avoid sugars and starches. This is why I personally restrict insulin-stimulating carbohydrates.
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