Fix Nutritional Paralysis - no sugar, wheat or seed oils: Matt Metzgar

Matt Metzgar: Nutritional Paralysis
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August 20, 2011

Nutritional Paralysis

I saw where Stephan had a big post about carbohydrates the other day that garnered many comments. I think the substance of the post, that carbohydrates as a macronutrient class are not to blame for obesity, is correct, and I have written before along the same lines. However, this leads to confusion for some people who were pinning their hopes of low-carb: if not low-carb, then what now?

It's almost to the point where there is too much analysis going on with this. Instead, you could look at things very simply. The infamous Pima Indians back in the 1800s were healthy on a high-carb diet. Then they switched to government rations and consumed large amounts of sugar, flour, and oil. Obesity developed. So in a simple sense, you know that you have the villian as one of these three items (or a combination of the three). This was back before there were any modern co-founders: fast food, air conditioning, pollution, baby formula, etc.

So instead of a person asking what to eat, it may be simpler to ask what not to eat. Given that various cultures have consumed different ratios of protein, fat, and carbs, there doesn't need to be much control there.

The obvious candidate for elimination is sugar (including artificial sugar). Robert Lustig is building quite a case, as has the researchers who followed before him like Yudkin. How many people have cut out sugar and not lost weight? Not too many I imagine.

So before people begin diving into the details of leptin resistance, insulin resistance, etc., I feel the basics are starting to get overlooked: a basic step towards metabolic health is cutting out the sugar. (I should specify that I'm talking about cutting sugar but not within the context of a carbohyrate-restricted diet.)

Dana said...

Sugar's a carb. And two out of the three foods you say the Pima switched to are carbs. Even the oil they used more of came from plants originally, though of course you can't say it's a carb.

The Pima did have more plant foods in their ancestral diet, it's true. But in switching to government rations (not that they had a choice), they increased their digestible carb intake. Prior to then, the carbs they ate were high in fiber.

It's worth noting as well that the traditional Pima in Mexico have a higher rate of diabetes than other Mexican ethnic groups. And that the Pima in the U.S. were already seeing higher rates of diabetes and obesity right when they were *starting* to switch over to the government diet. *And* they were still busting their butts doing manual labor and despite that, were still obese and sick, which confused and confounded researchers of the time.

I actually agree that the *underlying foundation* of chronic disease (not just obesity--you can get type 2 diabetes and heart disease without ever having become overweight) is complex and that probably several factors are in play. But at the end of the day, diabetes and obesity are symptoms of that stuff, and what causes the symptoms? Carb intake. Whatever led to the imbalance that causes human bodies to react so badly to high glucose and high fructose intake, if you're not eating all that glucose and fructose in the first place, where's the obesity and the deranged cholesterol and the high triglycerides and the high BP and the diabetes going to come from?

You can't just tell someone to eat carbs and expect that nothing will happen. They will experience symptoms if they have whatever the underlying condition happens to be. End of story. Until that is fixed--if it can be fixed--then you need to remove what's producing the unhealthy symptoms.

So yes, some of us *are* still pinning our hopes on low carb. I sure as hell am. My mother was diagnosed type 2 at age forty and I'm three years away. Guyenet's hyperpalatability argument does nothing to help me. Discussions of leptin resistance do nothing to help me. What will help me is if I never develop hyperglycemia at all. That in the end is what does the real damage.

I really wish more people would listen to Weston Price, actually--read his work, and understand what the man was saying. We may not have identified Condition X that leads to all these other unpleasant things, but I suspect it arises from a combination of not eating the protective foods plus eating more of the damaging foods. The protective foods would be the reason the Pima could eat a high-carb diet and not suffer much damage (though they did suffer some). But you don't hear the Paleo advocates calling for this, for the most part. It's all "avoid this food" and "eat very little of that food" but not enough about what we need to eat *more* of. Just more fatty-shaming. I've no use for that.

Matt Metzgar said...

Thanks for your comment. You're saying "digestible carb", I'm saying "sugar" so there are some semantics there. I'm sure low-carb helps some people, but the long-term studies (>1 year) show it doesn't do that much on average.

As for protective foods, I don't see much research to support that theory. A simpler theory is that sugar is damaging, which has been shown to be true in multiple cultures with different macro ratios.

Alex Thorn said in reply to Matt Metzgar...

Hmm! Sugar is a carb. And aren't all readily 'digestible carbs' - ultimately - also sugar (glucose)?

Isn't all the rhetoric flying around the net about Kitavans, Pima, et al and their healthy 'high carb' diets also misapplying the term 'carb' and leading to some quite spurious conclusions?

If you eat a high proportion of plant foods that does not automatically make it a 'high carb' diet in the sense of readily digestible carbs that convert to glucose once consumed.

Also, any account of how these plant 'carb' sources are traditionally prepared, cooked and eaten are rarely specified or taken into account when it comes to how these diets impact on blood sugar and related metabolic effects.

There appears to be a degree of 'melt-down' going on in the low-carb and paleo communities at the moment, with people latching on to some very recent research and washing away everything that has come before it. But I think the baby is in danger of being thrown out with the bath-water here! People need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture: how does the newest research fit in with the enormous body of research that has been accumulating over many decades if not centuries?

There have been some peer-reviewed, journal published analyses that show modern medical and scientific research is often tainted by bias, fraud and financial inducement. I think taking a handful of recent research studies and using them to dismiss everything that has gone before is as bad, if not worse, than dogmatically sticking to the tried, tested and true!

Marc said...



A recent post. I tell friends and family that don't have interest to find outon their own to just eat real food!
Stay away from sugar and processed crap. There lies 90% of people's succes I believe


Sue said...

Dana, how did you gain your weight from 1999 - from having kids? On you blog you started at about 230 in March and now in August you are 217. Do you think low carb is working for you as that's quite a slow loss?

Robert said...

In the case of the Pima (and beyond), I think it might also be important to consider the role of psychological health, which is linked to physical health. IMO, there are many, many factors at play and trying to find one villain is too reductionist. Every now and then we need to take stock of our beliefs to see if we're falling into a reductionist trap.

Sue said...

Dana I only ask how low carb is working for you because initially people seem to do well on low carb and then start to plateau or gain again as can't comply.

Tuck said...

Matt, my own experience was that avoiding sugar was not enough. I did that from my late teens due to dental issues. Avoiding sugar stopped the cavities, but did not stop a steadily increasing weight. (The pound-a-year story many of us are familiar with.)

After getting scared by Stephan Guyenet's site into stopping eating seed oils, I noticed that my carb cravings also went away. So by accident I stopped eating wheat. (Long story there, but not really relevant.)

I continued avoiding sugar, seed oils, and wheat, and the weight dropped off. I lost 20 pounds over 2 months, getting my waist back to a diameter last seen in my 20s.

Unfortunately that would have left the Pima with nothing to eat, but for the rest of us, I think avoiding sugar, wheat, and seed oils is a pretty good starting point, with no downside whatsoever.

Matt Metzgar said in reply to Tuck...


Thanks for the story. I label avoiding sugar as step 1, but flour and then oils would be next. Glad getting rid of the big 3 worked for you.

Tuck said in reply to Matt Metzgar...

Yeah, getting rid of sugar made the rest easy. I'd been reading labels for 20 years.

Once I got over the "I'm going to starve!" panic of giving up wheat and seed oils, it was a joy.