Key takeaways from "Good Calories, Bad Calories"  #Books

01 May 2019

There is an array of “diseases of civilization”, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, some types of cancer, Alzheimer disease and others, which were virtually observationally absent in most “isolated societies” (African tribes, eskimos, village populations in Europe, etc) as recently as early-to-mid 1900s. With the expanding introduction of western diets, these diseases spread out to these populations, which implies that western diet has some damaging factors that significantly increase the risk of these chronic diseases in the long run. While this much is obvious, the precise causing factors were hard to identify deterministically. A series of widely accepted theories and respective dietary practices were proved to be wrong or unsubstantiated; nevertheless, many of the established believes and aforementioned practices seized to vanish and are still present in the society. Here are a few theories that were proven WRONG: * Fat and especially saturated fat leads to elevated levels of cholesterol, which in turn leads to the increased risk of heart disease; * Elevated salt consumption is the prime reason for hypertension; * Lack of fiber (usually found in fruits, grains and vegetables) in the diet leads to increased risk of diabetes and intestine and colon cancer. Some theories that are claimed to be right by the author: * It is the refined carbohydrates (sugar, starches, flour and white rice) and their elevated consumption that cause most of the “diseases of civilization” in the long run. At the very least, we should consume less processed versions of these products (raw sugar, brown/wild rice, wheat/whole flour). My overall sentiment from the content of the book is that nutrition scientists (leave alone the rest of the humanity) know with certainty frustratingly little about the effect of diet on our health. Exploiting this ignorance are all sorts of food companies who will ship explicitly health-damaging products that will be widely consumed, or will ship healthy-appearing but not really healthy products (such as processed fiber cocktails that by the virtue of being processed lost most of the value of fiber food) - and in my view the oversight control over offering and consumption of these products is almost nonexistent. Thus, it is our personal responsibility to get educated about the long term implications of consuming such products, as the price to pay is gargantuan! As for the book itself, I must say it is intolerably long for someone who does not care about the history of development of various theories and science of nutrition and just wants to get a good advice about healthy nutrition. Given that various publications praise conflicting theories, the elaborate work of the author definitely helps to establish credibility over other sources, but his lengthy explanations and descriptions go far beyond purpose. Below are some additional notes on more narrow topics: fructose is mistakenly considered a more healthy sugar as it is present in larger quantities in fruits (4%) than glucose (1%). Nevertheless, its effect, if anything, is likely more damaging to human organism that glucose, because all of the consumed fructose needs to be processed by the liver (which is not true for glucose). Constant liver loading leads to eventual insulin resistance, which in turn leads to diabetes. Diabetes, in its turn, increases the risk of cancer, Alzheimer disease, etc. This does not imply that fruits are necessarily bad for our health; however, the presumed “friendliness” of fructose over glucose led to mistakenly positive public sentiment toward such products as Gatorade, Snapple, corn syrup, etc. Here are the key conclusions as outlined by the author himself: 1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is NOT a cause of obesity, heart disease, or any other chronic disease of civilization. 2. The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on the insulin secretion, and thus, the hormonal regulation of the homeostasis - the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body. The more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight and well-being. 3. Sugars, sucrose (50% glucose, 50% fructose) and high-fructose corn syrup specifically, are particularly harmful, probably because the combination of fructose and glucose simultaneously elevates insulin levels while overloading liver with carbohydrates. 4. Through their direct effect on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches and sugars, are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. They are the most likely diet causes of cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other chronic diseases of civilization. 5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating and not sedentary behavior. 6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter, any more than it causes the child to grow taller. Expending more energy than we consume does not lead to long-term weight loss; it leads to hunger. 7. Fattening and obesity is caused by imbalance, a dis-equilibrium, in hormonal regulation of adipose tissue and fat metabolism. Fat synthesis and storage exceed the mobilization of fat from the adipose tissue and its subsequent oxidation. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of fat tissue reverses this balance. 8. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated, either chronically or after a meal, we accumulate fat in our fat tissue. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and use it for fuel. 9. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. The fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be. 10. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.