macronutrients

Grains - The Real Cereal Killer

By Dr. Mercola

The persistent myth that dietary fat causes obesity and promotes heart disease has undoubtedly ruined the health of millions of people. It's difficult to know just how many people have succumbed to chronic poor health from following conventional low-fat, high-carb recommendations, but I'm sure the number is significant.

In the featured documentary, Cereal Killers, 41-year-old Donald O'Neill turns the American food pyramid upside-down—eliminating sugars and grains, and dramatically boosting his fat intake. In so doing, he improves his health to the point of reducing his hereditary risk factors for heart disease to nil.

Watching people's reactions to his diet brings home just how brainwashed we've all become when it comes to dietary fat. Most fear it. Yet they will consume sugar in amounts that virtually guarantee they'll suffer all the devastating health consequences they're trying to prevent by avoiding fat, and then some!

Fat versus Carbs—What Really Makes You Pack on the Pounds?

The fact is, you've been thoroughly misled when it comes to conventional dietary advice. Most dietary guidelines have been massively distorted, manipulated, and influenced by the very industries responsible for the obesity epidemic in the first place—the sugar and processed food industries.

Shunning the evidence, many doctors, nutritionists, and government health officials will still tell you to keep your saturated fat below 10 percent, while keeping the bulk of your diet, about 60 percent, as carbs.1 This is madness, as it's the converse of a diet that will lead to optimal health.

A recent Time Magazine2 article highlighted a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which showed that many breakfast cereals contain more than 50 percent sugar by weight! Cereals marketed specifically to children are among the worst offenders. Kellogg's Honey Smacks and Mom's Best Cereals Honey-Ful Wheat topped the list with 56 percent sugar by weight. If you're looking for alternatives for your family you could try Snackimals from Barbara's. Snackimals is not on the EWG's list because it is a newer product. All of their flavors have only 7 grams of sugar per serving.

Even diabetes organizations promote carbohydrates as a major component of a healthy diet—even though grains break down to sugar in your body, and sugar promotes insulin resistance, which is the root cause of type 2 diabetes in the first place.

As noted in the film: "If we could get all diabetics to eat a high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, we would cut the insulin requirement so dramatically that it's been estimated that six pharmaceutical companies would go out of business tomorrow."Contrary to popular belief, you do not get fat from eating fat. You get fat from eating too much sugar and grains.

Refined carbohydrates promote chronic inflammation in your body, elevate low-density LDL cholesterol, and ultimately lead to insulin and leptin resistance. Insulin and leptin resistance, in turn, is at the heart of obesity and most chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's—all the top killers in the US. 

Don't Fear the Fat

In the film, O'Neill switches over to a diet where 70 percent of his calories come from healthy fat—most of it in the form of macadamia nuts (my personal favorite)—and the remaining 30 percent of his caloric intake is divvied up between protein and fibrous fruits and vegetables. Over the course of 28 days, O'Neill:

  • Loses weight and body fat
  • Increases his lean muscle mass
  • Feels more energetic and improves his athletic performance
  • Increases his resting metabolic rate
  • Improves his blood pressure, cholesterol, and other measurements to the point that he no longer has any risk factors for heart disease, which he's genetically predisposed for

Of particular importance here is that O'Neill's total cholesterol and LDL levels wentup, which initially caused significant concern. However, once they tested the LDL particle numbers, the results showed that his LDL particles were the largest species known, and he had virtually no small LDL particles at all.

This is phenomenal, as it's the small, dense LDL particles that cause inflammation. Large particles do not. Also, the markers for inflammation were virtually nonexistent, showing that he has no inflammation in his body at all. All in all, his one-month long high-fat, no-carb diet experiment proved that:

  • Eating fat helps you lose fat
  • Eating saturated fat decreases your risk factors for heart disease
  • Regardless of your genetic predisposition your diet is, ultimately, the determining factor

I would also add that his results show the benefits of a high-fat, low-carb diet for athletes, many of whom are still convinced that this type of diet will make them heavy and sluggish. On the contrary, O'Neill breaks his own athletic record during his experiment, and refers to his renewed sense of vigor as feeling like a "spring lamb."

This high and sustained energy is a hallmark of ketogenesis, where your body is burning fat rather than sugar as its primary fuel. When your body burns fat, you don't experience the energy crashes associated with carbs.

Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Are Both Necessary for Optimal Health

Contrary to popular belief, saturated fats from animal and vegetable sources provide a number of important health benefits, and your body requires them for the proper function of your:

Cholesterol—another wrongly vilified dietary component—also carries out essential functions within your cell membranes, and is critical for proper brain function and production of steroid hormones, including your sex hormones. Vitamin D is also synthesized from a close relative of cholesterol: 7-dehydrocholesterol. 

Your body is composed of trillions of cells that need to interact with one another. Cholesterol is one of the molecules that allow for these interactions to take place. For example, cholesterol is the precursor to bile acids, so without sufficient amounts of cholesterol, your digestive system can be adversely affected. It's also critical for synapse formation in your brain, i.e. the connections between your neurons, which allow you to think, learn new things, and form memories. In fact, there's reason to believe that low-fat diets and/or cholesterol-lowering drugs may cause or contribute to Alzheimer's disease.3

Replacing Refined Carbs with Healthy Fat—The Answer to Most of Your Health Concerns

Underlying most chronic diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are inflammation and insulin/leptin resistance. When you eat carbohydrates, your blood sugar, insulin, and leptin will all temporarily rise, and these spikes are very pro-inflammatory. Where you have inflammation, disease and dysfunction follows. An excellent editorial in the journal Open Heart4 reviews the cardiometabolic consequences of replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates, which includes the following:

The answer, then, lies in avoiding these inflammatory spikes in blood sugar, insulin and leptin, and reversing insulin and leptin resistance. To do this, you need to:

  • Avoid refined sugar, processed fructose, and grains. This means avoiding processed foods, as they are chockfull of these ingredients, along with other chemicals that can wreak metabolic havoc
  • Eat a healthful diet of whole foods, ideally organic, and replace the grain carbs you cut out with:
  • Moderate amounts of high-quality protein from organic, grass-fed or pastured animals (this is to ensure you're not getting the antibiotics, genetically engineered organisms, and altered nutritional fat profile associated with factory farmed animals)
  • High amounts of high-quality healthful fat as you want (saturated and monounsaturated). Many health experts now believe that if you are insulin or leptin resistant, as 85 percent of the US population is, you likely need anywhere from 50 to 85 percent of your daily calories in the form of healthful fats for optimal health. Good sources include coconut and coconut oil, avocados, butter, nuts (particularly macadamia), and animal fats. Avoid all trans fats and processed vegetable oils (such as canola and soy oil). Also take a high-quality source of animal-based omega-3 fat, such as krill oil.
  • As many vegetables as you can muster. Juicing your vegetables is a good way to boost your vegetable intake

Another "add-on" suggestion is to start intermittent fasting, which will radically improve your ability to burn fat as your primary fuel. This too will help restore optimal insulin and leptin signaling.

What's the Deal with Protein?

Dr. Rosedale, who was one of my primary mentors on the importance of insulin and leptin, was one of the first professionals to advocate both a low-carb and moderate protein (and therefore high-fat) diet. This was contrary to most low-carb advocates who were, and still are, very accepting of using protein as a replacement for the carbs.

The problem is that, along with grains, most Americans tend to eat far too much protein. While your body certainly has a protein requirement, there's evidence suggesting that eating more protein than your body needs could end up fueling cancer growth.

Dr. Rosedale advises limiting your protein to one gram of protein per kilogram of lean body mass (or 0.5 grams per pound of lean body weight). For most people, this means cutting protein down to about 35-75 grams per day. Pregnant women and those working out extensively need about 25 percent more. I believe this theory is worthy of consideration. The key though is to add healthy fat to replace the carb and protein calories you're cutting out of your diet. Again, sources of healthy fat include:

Your Health Is Within Your Control

Groundbreaking research by the likes of Dr. Robert Lustig and Dr. Richard Johnson (author of the books, The Sugar Fix and The Fat Switch) clearly identifies the root cause of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and numerous other chronic diseases, and it's notfat. It's refined sugar—particularly fructose—consumed in excessive amounts. Their research, and that of others, provides us with a clear solution to our current predicament. In short, if you want to normalize your weight and protect your health, you need to address your insulin and leptin resistance, which is the result of eating a diet too high in sugars and grains.

For a comprehensive guide, see my free optimized nutrition plan. Generally speaking though, you'll want to focus your diet on whole, ideally organic, unprocessed or minimally processed foods. For the best nutrition and health benefits, you'll also want to eat a good portion of your food raw.

Sugar is highly addictive, and if you're like most people, you're no stranger to carb cravings. Just know that once your body gets used to burning fat instead of sugar as its primary fuel, those cravings will vanish. Many cereals and other grain products would not be quite as harmful if they didn't also contain so much added sugar. Even many organic brands contain excessive amounts. This is unfortunate, since many (Americans in particular) are really indoctrinated to eat cereal for breakfast. I've been working on a low-sugar cereal line for some time now, to provide a healthier alternative for those who really don't want to give up their breakfast cereal. I hope to have it ready sometime this summer.

Last but not least, for those of you still concerned about your cholesterol levels, know that 75 percent of your cholesterol is produced by your liver, which is influenced by your insulin levels. Therefore, if you optimize your insulin level, you will automatically optimize your cholesterol, thereby reducing your risk of both diabetes and heart disease.

Also, remember that even if a high-fat, low-carb diet was to raise your total cholesterol and LDL, it doesn't automatically mean that your diet is increasing your risk factors for heart disease. As O'Neill did in this film, you need to test your LDL particle number. Large-sized particles are good, while the smaller, denser particles can penetrate the lining of your arteries and stimulate the plaque formation associated with heart disease. The former does NOT increase your heart disease risk, while the latter one will. To learn more about LDL particle numbers and how to test them, please see my previous interview with Chris Kresser, L.Ac., which goes into this in some detail.

Too Much Protein??

Media sources often report, “too much protein stresses the kidney.” What does science say? Martin and colleagues reviewed the available evidence regarding the effects of protein intake on kidney function with a particular emphasis on kidney disease. The researchers found: “Although excessive protein intake remains a health concern in individuals with preexisting renal disease, the literature lacks significant research demonstrating a link between protein intake and the initiation or progression of renal disease in healthy individuals.” In addition “At present, there is not sufficient proof to warrant public health directives aimed at restricting dietary protein intake in healthy adults for the purpose of preserving renal function.” Protein restriction is common treatment for people with kidney problems.

Protein: The Facts, the Myths, and the Real Science

Everyone has an opinion about protein, and the myths surrounding it are rampant. That's why sorting the facts from the crap will lead to better choices regarding your own diet and protein intake. Answer the questions below and see if you've been falling for the myths.

Fact or Myth?

The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) protein suggestions are just fine for people who work out.

Hint: The RDA guideline for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day. So if you weigh 190 pounds (86 kilograms) you'd need about 69 grams of protein.

The Answer: Lifters and athletes concerned with their performance or physique require more protein than what's recommended by the RDA. So it's a myth (and a joke) that the RDA protein recommendations are adequate for ass-kicking individuals.

Here's Why: RDA protein recommendations are too low for certain groups. Those recommendations were never intended for people attempting to enhance performance, maintain, or gain muscle. In fact, a higher protein intake may have positive benefits regarding different health ailments including obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and muscle wasting.

The RDA guideline reflects the minimum daily needs of protein required to maintain short-term nitrogen balance in healthy, moderately active people. Nitrogen balance compares the amount of nitrogen coming into the body (from dietary protein) to the amount being lost. It's often used as a measurement of protein balance since protein is 16 percent nitrogen.

If you're consuming the same amount of nitrogen that you're losing, you're in nitrogen balance. If you're consuming more than you're losing, you're in positive nitrogen balance. If you're losing more than you're consuming, you're in negative nitrogen balance and are losing protein.

Nitrogen balance studies often involve examining urinary nitrogen levels. Approximately 90 percent of the nitrogen in urine is urea and ammonia salts – the end products of protein metabolism. The remaining nitrogen is accounted for by other nitrogen-containing compounds.

This nitrogen balance method is useful, but it has problems: Urine collections tend to underestimate nitrogen losses, dietary intake tends to be overestimated, miscellaneous skin and hair losses are prone to error, and the response to increased protein intake varies tremendously.

The Really Geeky Stuff

  1. In a review published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition, researchers concluded, "Those involved in strength training might need to consume as much as 1.6 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram per day (approximately twice the current RDA) while those undergoing endurance training might need about 1.2 to 1.6 grams per kilogram per day (approximately 1.5 times the current RDA)."
  2. In another article published in Nutrition & Metabolism, researcher Donald Layman argued that the dietary guidelines should be improved and reflect new understandings about protein requirements. According to him, "During the past decade a growing body of research reveals that dietary protein intakes above the RDA are beneficial in maintaining muscle function and mobility." Diets with increased protein have been shown to improve adult health when it comes to treatment or prevention of obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and muscle wasting.
  3. A review published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism was conducted to evaluate the effects of dietary protein on body composition in energy-restricted resistance-trained athletes, and to provide protein recommendations for these athletes.

The researchers concluded that "...the range of 2.3 to 3.1 grams per kilogram of FFM (fat free mass) is the most consistently protective intake against losses of lean tissue." In other words, for every kilogram on your body that's not fat, you should be consuming 2-3 grams of protein in order to preserve lean tissue. So if you have 190 pounds of lean tissue, up to 258 grams of protein would be optimal for you.

In addition, the goal of the athlete should be considered. Leaner athletes or those having a primary goal of maintaining maximal FFM should aim toward intakes approaching the higher end of this range. Even higher levels of protein than those recommended in the review are not uncommon in exercising individuals. It's unlikely that negative health consequences will follow from higher levels of intake, assuming there are no related health problems that would suggest limiting intake.

Fact or Myth?

The thermic effect of protein is the same as it is for carbs and fat.

Hint: The thermic effect of feeding or diet induced thermogenesis (DIT) is the amount of energy your body has to expend in order to digest and assimilate food. So picture a lean chicken breast (mostly protein), a bowl of rice (mostly carb), and tablespoon of butter (mostly fat). Which do you think your body will have to work hardest to digest?

The Answer: Among the three macronutrients, protein ranks highest in diet induced thermogenesis. So it's a myth that they're all equal in terms of their thermic effect. That means it'll cost you more calories to digest and absorb protein than it would fat and carbohydrate.

Here's Why: The consumption of protein requires an expenditure of 20-30% of the calories derived from protein. So, if 200 calories of protein are eaten, 40-60 calories are burned during digestion. DIT from carbohydrate is 15-20% and 2-5% for fat.

Fact or Myth?

Protein is more satiating (filling) than fat or carbohydrate.

Hints: Protein has an influence on CCK (cholecystokinin) and ghrelin. Protein may stimulate cholecystokinin (CCK) and decrease ghrelin. CCK is secreted mostly from the inner layer of the gastrointestinal tract has been shown to act as a satiety signal. The satiating effect of CCK was first demonstrated when administering CCK to rats. It "dose dependently" reduced meal size. Ghrelin is produced primarily in the stomach and has appetite increasing properties. Ghrelin levels are relatively high prior to a meal and they decrease after a meal.

The Answer: It's a fact that protein is usually more satiating than fat or carbs. When comparing protein, fat, and carbohydrate, protein is generally reported as the most satiating (satisfying to a point of full or beyond) and fat as the least satiating.

Here's Why: Research indicates that one of the primary factors involved with the satiating effects of protein is the thermic effect of feeding, mentioned above. Though protein's influence on ghrelin and CCK may play a large role in its satiating effects, more research needs to be conducted in these areas, as findings have been indecisive. Future research should concentrate on different levels of protein, different types of protein, and consumption of proteins in short and long term.

The Really Geeky Stuff

  1. A review published in Nutrition & Metabolism reported that protein induced thermogenesis has an important effect on satiety. "Protein plays a key role in body weight regulation through satiety related to diet-induced thermogenesis."
  2. A study published in Physiology & Behavior investigated the relative satiating effect of the macronutrients in lean women. On four separate occasions, the composition of an iso-caloric lunch "preload" was controlled in 12 lean women. Macronutrient composition had a significant effect on short-term hunger – the women were less hungry after the protein preload compared to the preloads with the other macronutrients. They also ate less after the protein preload.
  3. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tested the prediction that increasing protein while maintaining the carb content of a diet lowers body weight due to decreased appetite and decreased calorie intake. The study showed when increasing the protein intake from 15% of diet to 30% of diet (while eating the same amount of carbs) there was a decrease in appetite and fewer calories were consumed.
  4. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism published a study that compared the effect of different proteins and carbohydrates on indicators of appetite and appetite regulatory hormones. CCK level was one of the primary outcomes measured.

Calorie intake was higher after the glucose preload compared with lactose and protein preloads. CCK level was higher 90 minutes after the protein preloads compared with glucose and lactose level. Researchers concluded that "acute appetite and energy intake are equally reduced after consumption of lactose, casein, or whey compared with glucose."

One Quick Caveat

The research sometimes gets a little messy. For example, some studies are indecisive when it comes to protein intake and ghrelin levels. This is why you need to rely on your own reasoning, logic, and experience while gathering info from the research.

References

  1. Blom, A.M., Lluch, A., Stafleu, A., Vinoy, S., Holst, J., Schaafsma, G., & Hendriks, H. (2006). Effect of high-protein breakfast ont he postprandial ghrelin response. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(2), 211-220.
  2. Bowen, J., Noakes, M., Trenerry, C., & Clifton, P.M. (2006).Energy intake, Ghrelin, and Cholecystokinin after Different Carbohydrate and Protein Preloads in Overweight Men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 91(4).
  3. Helms, E., Zinn, C., Rowlands, D.S., & Brown, S.R. (2014). A Systematic Review of Dietary Protein During Caloric Restriction in Resistance Trained Lean Athletes: A Case for Higher Intakes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 24, 127-138.
  4. Layman, D.K.(2009). Dietary Guidelines should reflect new understandings about adult protein needs. Nutrition & Metabolism, 6(12), Lemon, P. (1998). Effects of exercise on dietary protein requirements. International Journal of Sports Nutrition, 8(4), 426-447.
  5. Lucas, M, & Heiss C.J.(2005) Protein needs of older adults engaged in resistance training: A review. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, 13(2), 223-236.
  6. Moran, L.J., Luscombe-Marsh, N.D., Noakes, M., Wittert, G.A., Keogh, J.B., & Clifton, P.M. (2005). The Satiating Effect of Dietary Protein Is Unrelated to Postprandial Ghrelin. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolsim, 90(9).
  7. Poppitt, S.D., McCormack, D., & Buffenstein, R. (1998).Short-term effects of macronutrient preloads on appetite and energy intake in lean women. Physiology & Behavior, 64(3), 279-285.
  8. Weigle, D.S., Breen, P.A., Matthys, C.C., Callahan, H.S., Meeuws, K.E., Burden, V.R., & Purnell, J.Q. (2005). A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 82(1), 41-48.
  9. Westerterp, K.R. (2004). Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutrition & Metabolism, 1, 1-5