A recent Catalyst program discussed – and promoted – the high protein diet. Despite commentary from a number of ‘experts’ some basic facts were not clarified and overall the program would have only contributed to the general confusion about nutrition. There are a number of points that need clarifying before you can make a decision about the value of this diet – and it is a ‘diet’ in the true sense because it excludes food groups.
Firstly, the premise of the discussion was weight loss and weight management. I don’t recall ‘health’ being discussed at all. The fundamental problem is that there is a pervasive attitude that losing weight and achieving good health are one and the same thing. They are not. Skinny people get heart disease and cancer too. You have to achieve good health in order to lose weight, not the other way around. (I have written a book on this which will be out in February).
Secondly, in this program ‘carbohydrate’ was used interchangeably with ‘sugar’. Given there is so much hype about sugar lately, and it seems people are developing a phobia of it, it does not help when they confuse the two. Yes carbohydrate is made of glucose but there is a vast difference between polysaccharides (complex bonds of glucose) and di / monosaccharides.
Here’s the kicker – fibre is mostly commonly a polysaccharide, however it cannot be digested. It ferments in the colon (large intestine) and in the process probiotics (good bacteria) are formed. Probiotics are critical to healthy gut function. Your gut is the epicentre of your immune function. Therefore if you don’t eat fibre you don’t get good bacteria which means your gut becomes dysfunctional (gut dysbiosis) and your immune system is compromised. And you get all kinds of problems as a result. In Australia one in eleven adults eats enough fibre. Not good.
Gut dysbiosis also leads to compromised liver function. One of the results of this is poor enzyme production. Enzymes are critical to virtually every biochemical function in your body. So this is a real problem! It means you won’t be able to process proteins properly or absorb and utilise vitamins and minerals effectively. The general health of the general population is, well, pathetic, and gut dysbiosis is one the principle reasons.
The idea that you can avoid carbohydrate in your diet is a very dangerous one. These types of conclusions can only be arrived at if there is an over riding belief that losing weight is the holy grail. No, exceptional health is the holy grail and for that you need lots of fibre.
Thirdly, high protein and high fat does not automatically equate to lots of meat. I am not vegan or vegetarian, and I am not supporting any diet, but here’s the facts. There is lots of protein and lots of fat in plants too, and they have a much higher bio availability than animal products (I mean, what did the bull eat?). A 75 kg male with 65 kg of lean muscle mass only needs 52 grams of protein a day. That is a tiny amount. Plants can provide all of that very easily. Along with fibre. Unused protein will be stored by the body as fat.
The problem with meat is that it contains zero fibre and it’s net effect is to feed bad bacteria. Therefore it contributes to gut dysbiosis. And that’s just the start. The Cancer Council recommends that you should eat almost no red meat. This is because it is carcinogenic. Interestingly you will find the Cancer Council is quite at odds with the National Dietary guidelines – something we should thank them for, as no doubt the National Dietary Guidelines are a farce.
You can have a look at the discrepancies here: The Cancer Council Submissions
A diet high in red meat is known to cause acidosis and oxidative stress which is the mother of cancer and a multitude of other problems. An example is renal failure (kidney disease) which is a silently growing epidemic in Australia. The idea that you should give up carbohydrate and switch to a diet high in meat is fundamentally flawed.
So what should you do? Get your protein and fats from plants and some fish, eggs, and limited poultry. Cut out sugar.
Okay, now we need a definition of sugar. The most common are glucose and fructose. By far the most heavily consumed sugar is glucose sourced from refined starches. White flour, white rice (except basmati), and processed ‘foods’ (junk) as examples. Glucose as a monosaccharide or disaccharide hits your blood stream like bullets and the insulin response is massive. Cut a long story short, this results in shot arteries, weight gain, and mood swings. Fructose is a different story. Eating lots of high fructose corn syrup will make you fat and there are well noted consequences from that. HFCS is found in processed food, which is mostly made from refined starches. This is effectively sugar added to sugar. This has to be bad for your health!
Fructose found in fruit is another story altogether and should not be confused with HFCS. Fruit is very good for you. The real science on this is very clear.
In order to cut out most of the sugar in your diet you need to cut out processed food. If you want to eliminate it completely then you need to give up all grain products, especially bread, pasta, noodles etc. Personally I don’t eat any wheat. Modern wheat varieties are a nutritional disaster zone.
There is a lot of reductionist dietary propaganda flooding the media these days. How do you tell what’s what? If the premise is weight loss then it is going to lead you up the garden path. If a ‘diet’ is being promoted then alarm bells should be ringing. Personally I recommend a focus on foods lush with micro nutrients. Vitamins and minerals are the markers of nutritional value and food quality.