Carbohydrates & Cholesterol…Good or Bad?

A few years ago when I began to really dive deeper into nutrition and wellness, the same theme continued to pop up: What we had been told to eat for the last 40 years or so to be healthy was not based on sound science.  When you look at how much sicker we are today than in the 70’s for example that becomes very clear.  Diabetes and all manner of chronic auto-immune diseases are reaching epidemic levels. Carbohydrates and cholesterol have both played a critical role in the mess we find ourselves in.  Are they good or bad for us?

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Although many diet fads have come and gone in that time, (and many more are sure to follow) in general it has been recommended that we eat much less fat and cholesterol in favor of a lot more carbohydrates. Again, it’s quite clear this is not working.  Even in the 70’s there was real evidence showing that basing ones diet in whole grains and other carbs was not in our best interest from a health perspective.  Especially in relation to diabetes, inflammation and weight gain. One big reason this data was ignored was because it didn’t make anyone a lot of money. It didn’t fit the governments nor farmers agendas very well.  Its much more profitable to grow grain and corn in excess (and put it in everything…I mean everything) than fruits and vegetables.

sad-bucs-fans-bags-on-head-550x385Cholesterol and fat have been blamed for everything from obesity to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers never winning a Superbowl.  Again this is based on flawed science and big business. The evidence is there for anyone who wants to look at the available science that high levels of cholesterol in our blood have very little to do with the cholesterol we eat in our food.  It’s also very clear there is no hard proof supporting the fact that higher cholesterol levels means a greater risk of heart disease and other coronary problems.  An excellent read on the subject is “Cholesterol Clarity” by Jimmy Moore, but there are countless other books and sources of information on the subject.

My Dad took a Statin drug to lower his cholesterol artificially like thousands of others.  After doing my research and completing relevant coursework in my studies, it became obvious that based on his numbers this was totally unnecessary.  Even my brother, a Harvard trained physician now agrees with me.  Statins, like antibiotics and pharmaceutical drugs in general are over prescribed to an alarming degree. Studies link this behavior to modern-day health issues like poor gut health, neurological problems, allergies and many, many more). Luckily, Dad was on a low dose statin so has hopefully experienced fewer side effects, if any, but that may never be fully known.  He doesn’t take them anymore.

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A little over a year ago the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology issued new cholesterol guidelines essentially declaring that millions of more healthy Americans need to start taking statins.  An article from the New York Times quotes both the above associations, although non-profit are heavily supported by drug companies.  The connection here is obvious and is nothing new.

So if basing our diet on carbohydrates is a bad thing and cholesterol is not nearly as bad as once thought what is the plan of action? Not surprisingly it comes back once again to just eating real food, but in ratio’s that better suit most people.  Carbs are not inherently evil, far from it.  They provide glucose which is fuel for energy. However, they need to come from clean sources and in conjunction with activity levels. Refined, processed, simple sources of carbs (most cookies, crackers, chips, pastries, cereals, breads, etc.) should be drastically reduced along with sugar (all carbs turn to sugar).

Look to sweet potatoes, yams, squash, plantains and green veggies instead as some healthy complex carbohydrate sources.  Even whole grains, while much better than refined grains tend to be inflammatory for many. If not prepared properly they can also inhibit absorption of other nutrients. Then of course gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye can be very troublesome as well.  Lastly, if you are not very active be careful as those excess carbs have to go somewhere.  If you don’t use them for energy they tend to make your butt, thighs and belly expand.

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It is shocking that cholesterol ever got such a bad rap. Its found in every cell of our body, forms the building blocks for our hormones, is part of the myelin or sheathing that protects our nerves, is vital for vitamin D production, our brains are full of it…need I go on? So eat those egg yolks, that grass-fed butter and beef and clean animal products in general!  The latest science is connecting too much carb intake with high levels of LDL pattern B cholesterol, high triglycerides and low HDL which is a very ugly trifecta you do not want. Yes, you read that right, eating too many carbs (especially the processed, refined kind) very well may be a big reason we are fat, sick and heart disease is rampant.

So the takeaway message here? Eat the right kinds of carbohydrates in conjunction with how active you are and do not “base” your diet on them.  They should occupy about 20% of your plate on average with plants taking up 65-70% and protein the last 10-15%.  Oh and eat lots of cholesterol, if you are like most people it will do wonders for you!

If you enjoyed this article and want to learn how to live strong and own your health then please sign up for my newsletter here and receive a free e-book on the 5 critical pillars of health.

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Bart Thurman

Break-Free, Own Your Health

Top Ten ‘Other’ Weight Loss Strategies

Successful, lasting weight loss can be tricky as many of you may have experienced.  Anyone trying to lose weight has most likely tried multiple diets and failed…at least in the long-term. This will be a series of 10 blogs with each one focusing on a weight loss strategy that works for many yet are rarely publicized because it doesn’t make anyone a lot of money.  Some of it will be familiar but you should glean some new knowledge which is my goal. There is great science out there but its hard to find, you have to know where to look, and you have to be able to make sense of it.  It takes an average of 17 years from when information like this is discovered before it becomes mainstream (if it does at all). I try to learn from people in the health industry who dig into the literature, studies and other relevant data and have no big agenda other than sharing truths with people when it comes to their health.  The following series is an example of just that.

macronutrients

 

 

#1: Macronutrients

There are three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates, each of which perform critical roles in the body. Most people do not get the right ratio of macronutrients for optimal health. Although we require other nutrients like vitamins and minerals they are needed in much smaller amounts so are referred to as micronutrients. 

All of the macronutrients play a huge role in fat/weight loss.  As a very general guideline your diet should consist of:

25% carbs
25% protein
50% fat

Remember this is in general only and to create a reference point in which to work from. Depending on your own bio-individuality, health goals, activity and other factors these ratios will vary.  Lets chat a bit more about each macronutrient and bust out some “truth bombs” as one of my favorite podcast hosts likes to say.

 

Carbohydrates

Based on personal experience and on the research I have done one of the main culprits in achieving fat loss would be excess carbohydrates.   Note that I say ‘excess’ carbs because we all do need some level of this very important macronutrient. They are only “bad” when not being used for bodily functions as well as exercise.  If you eat a lot of carbs and just sit on your butt then they will most likely turn into fat on your body.

Some common sources of carbs in a standard American diet:

  • Grains
  • Sugars
  • Fruits
  • Starchy Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Pastas
  • Breads
  • Pastries

If your goal is to lose weight you may want to consider taking it easy on your total intake of carbs as this approach has been shown to be effective.  Not all carbs are the same however and its important to understand the difference.

refined-carbs-bariatric-surgeryRefined, processed carbs found in things like bagels, breads, pastas, pastries, cereals, cookies, chips, crackers, sodas and other things can cause a lot of problems. Especially if eaten on a regular basis which most people do (like every single meal). They’re digested quickly which causes blood sugar spikes which in turn can reduce insulin sensitivity which leads to surges in cortisol levels in the blood, which finally leads to weight gain and a host of other likely health issues.  There is science that suggests it is this type of diet that plays a role in causing everything from diabetes to heart disease. Controlling ones blood sugar is crucial for proper health.

 

 

complex-carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates found in squash, yams, sweet potatoes and all other fruits and vegetables are very different.  For one they are real food, they have no ingredient list and come as they are.  The processed carbs above are more like a food like substance.  They also contain a lot of fiber and other nutrients and although your blood sugar will rise depending on what you’re chewing on it is a much more consistent and slower release.  All this helps you to feel fuller longer and is much better for gut health.  I don’t know about you but I can easily down an entire bag of tortilla chips for example because it’s all calories and no nutrition.  I can only eat so many vegetables however before I stop naturally.

When thinking about your carb intake experiment with how you feel as its different for everybody.  If you’re an endurance athlete your going to need a lot more unless doing the ketosis thing (using fat as your primary fuel source) but this can be very hard to dial in and many athletes can’t pull it off.  If you aren’t active at all then definitely cut way back on your carbs and see how you feel.  If your somewhere in the middle just cut back to about half of what you normally eat and again check in with yourself.  If I am not eating enough carbs it affects my sleep for example and I don’t have any ‘power’ when cycling.  This time of year when I’m less active I typically only eat carbs for dinner (other than vegetables and fruit) and it has really helped me to keep off those stubborn pounds. I’m as light as ever and if I didn’t wear a belt I would be in trouble.

 

Fats

This is a favorite topic of mine!  I want to be a clear as possible here.  Fat does not make you fat.  I will say it again…fat does not make you fat.  If this were true I would weigh 900 lbs by now.  The latest science as well as a ton of old science from 30 years ago clearly shows this yet it has been hidden from us thanks to big food, big business, the government, etc.  Saturated fat and cholesterol are critical for many bodily functions and very much an essential part of a healthy diet.

Just today while eating out with friends right there on the menu was the option for, ‘yolk free’ eggs whites only.  What!?  When is this message going to become mainstream?  Egg yolks are one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat and chock full of yummy, life-giving cholesterol.

Fat has been demonized for years and years as is associated with heart disease and cholesterol problems.  Nevertheless study after study is showing that the cholesterol you eat has little to no effect on your actual cholesterol levels and that it may in fact be the refined, processed carbs/sugars that instead are to blame.  To make matters worse low-fat foods typically have a lot of sugar and other chemicals to make them taste better (fat is flavor after all).

photoleadkepOne of the area’s I specialize in in my practice is helping men with low libido issues.  The sex hormones are very big fans of saturated fat and cholesterol so guys do not be lame and order egg whites to impress your partner…it may very well backfire on you.  Saturated fat also encourages your liver to function better and helps white blood cells recognize and wipe out viruses and bacteria.  This helps with immune function.  Real butter, pastured eggs/meats, coconut and olive oil, organ meats, wild caught salmon and full fat raw dairy are all excellent sources of fat.

Lastly fat is satiating, it fills you up!  If you don’t eat enough you will most likely feel hungrier sooner than you should because your body doesn’t get the message that you’ve eaten enough. I went through this debacle for years while training for endurance events on my bike and it was incredibly frustrating.

 

Protein

Gaining lean muscle by eating enough protein in conjunction with regular exercise assists in changing your body to look toned and in shape.  Also the more muscle you have the easier it tends to be to control your weight.  The protein found in seafood, eggs, and meat provides a plethora of positive health benefits.  Just like fat protein helps you to feel fuller longer but it also plays a role in blood sugar stabilization which helps to control cravings.

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Eating too much protein can damage your body but luckily when it comes to this macronutrient our bodies let us know when enough is enough.  It’s important to ingest a proper balance of fat, carbohydrates and protein to ensure your giving your body what it needs, especially if on a low carb or some other restrictive diet. You should never be “starving” either when observing any diet.  If your eating nutrient dense, whole, real foods in balance this will help you lose weight naturally without all the suffering (and then eventually watching the weight come back on).

Lastly please remember once again its okay to not be afraid of fat.  Eating 50% of your macronutrients from healthy fat sources is a great goal to work towards.  If your on a super low-fat diet right now start slower and add the fat in a little more gradually or you may experience some bowel distress. Eat your healthy fats, complex carbs, pastured protein and move your body!

 

Bart Thurman

Break-Free, Own Your Health