Monday, May 11, 2015

Let's Be Honest

I was poking through Diet Doctor's New page this morning (which is an RSS feed of lots of low carb and paleo blogs), and happened to see an interesting looking post by Dr. Adam Nally titled Much Ado About Ketosis.  The post was a pretty good one; it wasn't exactly enlightening to me since I've already read just about everything that has to do with ketosis, insulin, low carb, paleo, and food in general over the last three years, but it was good nonetheless and I'm sure it will help educate plenty of people about this subject, and that's really important in our society of sheep blindly following the conventional food gurus. 

However, there was something he said that kind of touched a nerve.  It's clear to me that he didn't intentionally try to trick people with what he said, unlike many a government food committee, but the point he was making is important to the conversation about low carb and paleo eating.  I don't want to seem like I'm attacking Dr. Nally, because I'm really not.  I think his writing is good and that he's doing a good thing by educating people.  It's just that what he said follows a pattern I've seen in the low carb and paleo scene, and I think we need to point this out and get really honest with ourselves.

So what the heck and I even talking about?  Well, here's the comment Dr. Nally made that bothered me:

Our bodies recognize the seasons we are in based upon inherent hormone release.  The key hormone is insulin.  Insulin is the seasonal indicator to our bodies.  Insulin tells our bodies when it is a “time of plenty” and when it was a “time of famine.”  Why?  You ask.  We didn’t have refrigerators 100 years ago and you were lucky if you had a root cellar.  The body needs to know when to store for the famine (the winter) that was around the corner. Insulin is that signal.
During the summer, potatoes, carrots, corn and other fruits are readily available.  These are all starchy carbohydrates and they all require the body to stimulate an insulin response so that they can be absorbed.  Insulin stimulates fat storage.  Just like bears, our bodies were designed to store for the winter.
During the winter, when carbohydrates are less prevalent, insulin production decreases to baseline levels.  If you think back in history, your grandparents probably used stored meats & cheeses that could be salted or smoked for preserving during this time of year.  Those crossing the plains were commonly found with pemmican, a concentration of fat and protein used as a portable nutrition source in the absence of other food.  Think about conversations you may have had with your grandmother when she told you that for Christmas, she received an orange.  A single orange for a gift?! Many of my patients drink 12-15 of them in a glass every morning.  The winter diets of our grandparents were very low in starches and carbohydrates.  When carbohydrate intake is low, little insulin is produced.

And here is the comment I made to his post:

I appreciate your post and the good data found within it, but I have to argue one important point you made. As a gardener and wanna-be homesteader, I know for a fact that there were plenty of carbs available to most folks before refrigeration, and yes, even in much older times. You mention that carrots, potatoes and corn are plentiful in summer but not in winter. It’s funny you mention those foods, because they are amongst the longer storing crops. And actually, potatoes have to last all winter long because you start next year’s crop by planting last year’s tubers. Fruit is easily dried by cutting it up and placing it in the sun. Many native Americans did this with wild native fruits. They even made fruit leathers. And while we’re on native plants, the native Americans also grew native winter squashes, which last anywhere from a few months to literally two years. And let’s not forget acorns, which are super plentiful, easy to store, and nearly 100% carbs.
As for grandma getting one orange for Christmas, that was because shipping fruit was nearly impossible before our modern highway system. However, that doesn’t mean grandma didn’t have fruit in the winter, though admittedly she didn’t eat as much as we do today, and mostly what she ate was preserved in a heavy sugar syrup.
I’m not trying to be a troll. I think your message is a good one, but we need to be honest when we talk about low carb and paleo. Otherwise, we’re just as bad as the health officials and scientists that spout bad dietary advice.
Yes, it's pretty easy to store carbs for the winter, and it seems paleolithic people did indeed do this whenever possible.  Tom Naughton, the guy who introduced me to low carb in the first place, and a blogger I can trust to always be honest and upfront, mentioned this last fall in a post titled My Previous View of the Paleo Diet Got Squashed

Again, I'm not trying to bash Dr. Nally.  What I really wanted to get across with this post is that we need to be really open and honest when we talk about food in this low carb/paleo community.  The conventional wisdom about food, with it's grain-based pyramid and low fat hysteria, is based on lies and untruths, bad science and money-making agendas.  Those of us who are fortunate enough to have found out about these lies early in the game, and who are trying to spread that information to the rest of the world, have a responsibility to not only be truthful but also well educated.  It's easy to say that past people didn't have carbs in the winter and therefore neither should we, but that's simplistic thinking.  Maybe it's true for some populations, but it's clearly not true for the human species as a whole.  That kind of logic is akin to the idea that fat causes you to become fat; it makes sense at first because it's such a simple idea, but it's clearly not right. 

Don't get me wrong; this isn't just about Dr. Nally's post, either.  I've seen this a lot over the years reading blogs and articles.  When you're trying to make a point that you believe in, it's easy to simplify data or ignore conflicting information.  It's not something we do because we're evil; I've been known to do it myself, and I'm pretty sure I'm not a bad person.  We do it because we truly believe in what we're saying, and we want to help people.  I totally get that.  But it's not the way we should be acting.  If we're dishonest or not totally upfront with people, they may listen to us at first, but then after a while it will breed mistrust and contempt, and may end up turning them away from this way of eating all together.  They may even end up feeling the same way about low carb/paleo as they do about the standard American diet; like they can't trust us, and don't know what to believe.  Which would be a shame, because this is clearly a very healthy diet.

So here's my call to every low carb/paleo/WAPF/whole foods blogger out there; be totally honest when you blog.  If you're trying to educate people, make sure to do your own research and not just depend on another's opinions.  If something seems overly complicated, don't assume telling the whole truth will confuse people.  If you don't understand all of the information yourself, be honest and tell people that and give them links so that maybe they can read it and make their own conclusions.  We don't have to be perfect; as a society, we're still trying to figure out what's best for our bodies and our health.  But we should at least be honest.

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