Counterintuitive

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Each year my employer provides us with a free health screening and each year my cholesterol numbers have been troublesome.

My total cholesterol was usually around 220 to 230.  “They” say it should be less than 200.

My HDL — the good cholesterol — has consistently been less than 40.  “They” say it should be greater than 40.

Each year I read all the documents they would provide about cholesterol.   The recommendation always seemed to limit my cholesterol intake.

However, in Gary Taubes book, Why We Get Fat, he referenced studies that suggested limiting cholesterol intake could have the opposite effect.  These studies showed that low cholesterol diets could make your cholesterol numbers worse, especially the good type, HDL.

What stuck was that the studies kept describing some of my low-cholesterol foods as the troublemakers.  To paraphrase, it said folks who ate cereal with skim milk, and fruit think they are doing themselves favors, but could be hurting their cholesterol figures.  That was me.

Taubes provided cholesterol analysis of some “high” cholesterol foods, like eggs (with the yolks) ,and found these foods to have much more beneficial cholesterol than people think and not as much harmful cholesterol.

So, I thought I would give it a try.  Instead of eating my normal skim milk, cereal and fruit, I switched to a turkey bacon, 2 egg and cheese sandwich on an English muffin.  I eat that 3-4 days a week.  The other days I eat the cereal and fruit or yogurt or pancakes, eggs and turkey bacon.

I’ve been doing that for several months.  It takes about as long to make the sandwich as my cereal since I learned how to microwave eggs and I use pre-cooked turkey bacon.

At the health screening this week, by total cholesterol was lower at 206, and my HDL was 55 (remember the recommendation is greater than 40).  That’s the first time I recall my HDL ever being on the right side of the recommendation.

I was really surprised.  I expected my cholesterol levels to be off the charts.  I thought the health screening would prove my dietary experiment to be a sham and that I was foolish for even trying.

It seems to have helped.

“Why we get fat” by Gary Taubes

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In this post I said I would read Gary Taubes new book Why We Get Fat.  Here’s my book report.

Taubes presents a lot of (and some of it is convincing) evidence to support that we get fat because we consume too many carbohydrates and those carbohydrates raise our insulin hormone, which happens to control how much fat our bodies store.  The higher our insulin levels, the more we will eat and the more calories we will store.

His recommendation for weight control:

Eat fewer carbs and eat more protein and fats.

He doesn’t recommend an Atkins-style elimination of carbs.  But,  a moderation of around 70 – 80 grams of carbs each day.

To his credit, he doesn’t purport that this is new knowledge.  In fact, he goes to great lengths to say that this was well known by scientists before World War II, but somehow the scientific community in the west shifted to a paradigm of a more carbohydrate-based diet recommendation over past six or seven decades.

Taubes did make me rethink my own weight loss.

Based on my results, I recommend using the calories in/calories equation to balance your intake along with diet-based insulin control by consuming a balance of protein, fat and carbs.  I thought that’s what worked for me.

But Taube contends that my success resulted mainly from reduced carbohydrate consumption.  He may be right.

Thinking back to my diet trials and errors, I remember trying a calorie restricted Weight Watchers.  I reduced my calories, without changing my high carbohydrate consumption and I couldn’t maintain it.  The hunger pains were too great.  My body wanted more calories — which Taube would suggest came from my elevated insulin levels as a result of eating a carb-rich diet.  And, it would have stored those calories as fat.

When I reduced by calorie consumption and balanced my intake with more protein and fat, I also did reduce my carb intake, and the hunger pains weren’t there.

So, while I thought it was the calorie balance AND fat/protein/carb balance that enabled my success, I cannot argue with Taube’s contention that it was really just my carb reduction that led to my weight loss.

If that’s the case, all the better.  That’s fewer things to monitor.  Don’t worry so much about the calorie intake.  Just moderate the carb intake and limit breads, rice, potatoes, milks and sugars.

By all means, if you are interested in his rationale and evidence, read the book.   He also offers some good explanations for how hormones control the fat process in the body that’s worth reading.

If Taubes is right, that’s fewer things to know, but it does put a crimp on a lot of the good stuff.