The rate of obesity in America and the West is just as much in an incline as low fat and low carb diet fads. Do you know someone who successfully lost weight recently from a strictly low fat diet?
Obesity and Low Fat Diets
Low fat diet fads started to appear in the 1980s, but the obesity rate then was nowhere close to what it is now. Also, after the introduction of low fat diets, the rate of obesity did not fall, rather it increased. So where did we go wrong?
For the past 20 or 30 years, ads for low fat food products started to proliferate the market at an alarming rate. What also increased at a steady pace was the average American food portion. Furthermore, there was a rapid replacement of fat with carbohydrates, including sugars. For the food companies to be able to produce products that people would salivate over, this was a necessary step. This is a step backward in the fight against obesity. Let’s not forget that the food companies don’t have our best interest in mind. The amount of ingredients also doubled, or even tripled for some items, such as JIF peanut butter. Try to compare the ingredient list between the regular JIF peanut butter and the low fat version.
Enter Low Carb Diets
After seeing that obesity was far from being solved by a low fat diet fad, we turned to a new approach; limiting our carbohydrate intake. We have realized that we are consuming way too many simple and processed carbohydrates. Carbohydrates make up the majority of a Westerner’s diet. We saw the rise of such diets as the Atkins diet. There are countless forms of low carb diets out there. This seems to have partially solved the problem as lowering overall carbohydrate intake does decrease the rate of obesity to a certain extent (many studies have even linked low carb diet with blocking the effects of aging!). Despite many successful cases, the West is still fighting obesity more than ever. Perhaps there is a crack in this low carb diet that needs to be patched up.
Successful High Carb Diets
A local tribe in Papua New Guinea called the Kitavans have a diet that is comprised of 65% carbs, 17% saturated fat, and high fiber, yet their obesity rate is at 0%. Literally no obesity at all has been reported thus far. They are also not prone to strokes, diabetes, nor heart disease. Their diet mainly consists of starchy root vegetables, fruit, some fish and meat, and coconuts. Food is also abundant and they don’t suffer from scarcity.
The Machiguenga people, local to Peru, also have a diet that is high in carbohydrates and fiber. Their diet also consists of mainly root vegetables, fruits and nuts. Meat and fish are eaten in low amounts. These people also don’t have reported cases of obesity.
The Mexican Pima Indians have a diet that roughly consists of 62% carbohydrates, high fiber intake, and 25% saturated fat. There is a 7% obesity rate in males, and 20% obesity rate in females. Incidence of diabetes is at 7%. Their diet mostly consists of beans, wheat-flour tortillas, corn tortillas, and potatoes.
Just across the border, the Arizona Pima Indians have a diet that consists of 49% carbohydrates, 15% protein, 34% fat, and more than 10% of it is saturated fat. Even though they consume less carbohydrates, the obesity rate in males is 64%, and in females it is 75%. Over 30% have been reported to have diabetes. The big difference between the two people is in their diet. The Arizona Pima Indians consumed fried breakfasts, processed meats, hamburgers, pork chops, beans, white bread, flour tortillas, fried or baked dough, cereals, canned foods, and fruit juices.
The Culprit: Carbohydrate Density
According to the National Institute of Health, the diet of these people is closely tied to the diets of people in the Paleolithic period. The main trait that these people share is consuming cellular carbohydrates as opposed to acellular ones. Foods that have living cells such as fruits and vegetables contain the carbohydrates inside the cells themselves. The maximum density of carbohydrates that a cell will allow is at 23%. Most of the cell’s mass is comprised of water. When digesting these sources of carbohydrates, it also takes time for the stomach to break up the cellular walls and take in the energy from the carbs.
Acellular carb sources, on the other hand, are very simple in form and contain no cellular walls. There is nothing between them and the stomach microbiota. They are easily taken in by the body and swiftly used. These include all wheat products, grains, and sugars. These are also what currently dominate the ingredient lists in Western diets. All things being equal, macronutrients, amount of carb intake, calorie intake, etc.; it is the foods with the higher carb density that relate to the promotion of obesity. The chart in the beginning of the article shows foods (in grey) that are dominant in the modern diet, and the ancestral diet (white).
The discussion about carbohydrate density and its relation to obesity will continue in a follow up article, but for now, the main point that I am trying to summarize is: stick to foods that have a lower carbohydrate density, and you will be more than likely to prevent obesity.
Image Source: http://paducah2poland.blogspot.com/2012/06/dont-be-ignorant-know-your-food.html