Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Killing Us Softly

Did you know that almost every modern disease is caused by the overindulgence of one thing?... Go on, ponder that for a second. Yes, "diseases of civilization" like Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Alzheimer's, Dementia, Parkinson's, Multiple Sclerosis, Gout, Gum Disease, even "Obesity," among countless others, were brought on by this ingredient, whether directly or indirectly.

One of the main reasons disease begins to manifest is that the indulgence of this "thing" causes a myriad of problems ranging from addiction to inflammation. It starts with the addiction, which propagates the cycle of crave and fulfill the craving. To fulfill the craving, one begins to indulge on this addictive "thing" leaving no room for nourishing food. Lacking in nutritious food, your body is deprived of essential nutrients required to function properly. Breakdown in the body begins, and the aforementioned "diseases of civilization" begin to appear. To illustrate the concept a bit better, I put together the "Vicious Cycle" flow below.

The Vicious Cycle

Heart Disease, for example, is caused by lack of adequate B6, B12, and B9 (Folate/Folic Acid) in the body, as Dr. Kilmer McCully explains in his book "The Heart Revolution." Dr. McCully discovered that homocysteine was the marker in the blood to determine heart disease risk. Homocysteine levels higher than 10 indicate a risk for heart disease. The B vitamins aforementioned keep the homocysteine level low and thus prevent heart disease. The main reason we see so much heart disease today is that we are not eating enough of the necessary B vitamins. And we're not getting these vitamins because we are overindulging on food devoid of nutrients, so we leave no room for nutrient-rich foods (like green or colorful vegetables and high-quality proteins).

The Great Enemy

So where am I going with this? Well, thus far my blog has, in many ways, discussed what a Paleo diet includes, but when it comes to the exclusions, I feel like I've been hinting. I have touched on this topic, mentioning things to avoid, but I haven't gone into great depths on why. In this post, however, I feel the time has come to reveal "the great enemy" I mentioned in my last post, and I warn you, if you don't already see it coming, be aware that it may be difficult to swallow. A Paleo lifestyle isn't so much about the things to include in your diet as it is about the things to exclude. It's good to know what to foods to include, but it's more important to know what to avoid. Following a Paleo-like lifestyle necessarily implies the omission of something in your diet, and it's something that, in our society, we are accustomed to eating all the time; so removing it from the diet can be very difficult, especially if it has become addicting.

Quality vs Quantity

Before I divulge the great enemy, however, I want to make a point about quality vs. quantity. As much as we hear that our food intake should be gauged by quantity/caloric intake, it's simply not true. You must take into account the source of the calories and the breakdown of fat, protein, and carbs. Controlling the quantity of calories alone without regard for quality is pointless. It's quality that is important, not quantity. As I mentioned in a previous post, when you eat in a Paleo-centric way, you're not only putting quality food in your body, but you are satisfied more quickly during a meal and for a longer period throughout the day. For this reason, I believe that quantity essentially takes care of itself when you're eating quality food. When you eat quality food:

  • You're more likely to eat until you're satisfied, instead of eating till you're stuffed.
  • You're more likely to eat fewer meals a day because you're not hungry as often.
  • You're obtaining quality nutrition which satisfies your body, allowing your body to function properly.

Your body will know how to control it's functions as long as it's being fueled properly. Problems arise when you eat that "one thing" I'll be talking about. This ingredient eaten in excess (as is the case in modern day) disrupts normal bodily behavior and control.

What is it?

So what is this "thing" that Paleo followers avoid as much as they possibly can? I say "one thing" because it does boil down to one thing in the end, but it isn't really just "one thing." If you haven't already figured it out, the Paleo diet drastically reduces, or better still, eliminates starchy/sweet carbohydrates, namely those that have a high glycemic index (and drastically raise your insulin). Most of these carbs are those that agriculture introduced, and I point out "agriculture," because not all carbs are created equal; the carbs in many vegetables are actually the Paleo-preferred carb. So what kinds of carbs did agriculture introduce that we are to avoid? Below is a list of some things that contain the kinds of carbs Paleo followers avoid.

  • Grains/Cereals
  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Corn
  • Potatoes
  • Other starchy vegetables

It should go without saying that Paleo also excludes processed foods that "technology" and "civilization" have introduced. This covers highly processed foods like most vegetable oils, but most importantly things like soda, juices, pastries, chips, crackers, breakfast cereal, candy bars, and anything that includes copious amounts of sugar, like ketchup and other dressings. Notice that the more "developed" and "civilized" our society has become, the more carbs we consume, and this is problematic.

Killing Us?

Some of you might be saying "...but my doctor just told me to eat more 'whole' grain and pasta and reduce the meat and fat intake. Aren't grains, oatmeal, and pasta good for me? Aren't they heart healthy?" Unfortunately, I'm going to have to burst your bubble. These carbs are not heart healthy at all; yes even whole grains. They are the opposite of healthy, which is precisely why I say they are killing us.

So now you might wonder how they are killing us. It doesn't help that the USDA Food Guide Pyramid promotes carbs, carbs, and even more carbs, as I mentioned in a previous post. This pyramid continues to propagate misleading guidance, which begins to explain the prevalence of "diseases of civilization" -- those diseases not present in our Paleo ancestors and very rare to not present in communities that ate Paleo-like diets up until the mid 1800s.

In the 1992 USDA pyramid, sweets were listed at the top of the pyramid, which is a good thing, because we want to avoid sweets, but the ironic thing is that all the other carbs were still listed at the base. Why is that ironic? Now, here is where some of you might have a light bulb go off in your head... Sweets and starchy carbs are one and the same when it comes to your bloodstream! Yes; they immediately turn into glucose (sugar) in the blood. Why don't many of our health professionals see this? It remains a mystery to me...

Now, what I just said was a mouthful, so I want to repeat and reiterate what I said. Eating bread (or something from the list I mentioned above) has the same effect on your bloodstream as eating something with sugar, like a candy bar. (So when you see bread, you can now think of it as sugar.) Starchy carbs like bread and sugary sweets both immediately turn into glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream. Not surprisingly, starchy carbs and sweets affect your brain in one and the same way too. Why? It's because, chemically, they both break down to glucose.

Now, since glucose is a quick and easy fuel, it causes your brain to crave more. I mention this because earlier, I indicated that this substance is addictive, but I hadn't pointed out that it is so highly addictive, it is more addictive than cocaine, making it one of the most, if not THE most highly addictive substance known to man, which goes to show why people cannot stop eating it. Going forward, when I speak of anything that has such an effect on the bloodstream, I will refer to it as "sugar," whether it is rice, pasta, potatoes, bread, soda, or candy. Remember, any starchy carb is essentially sugar.

So why do I say it's killing us "softly?" Well, if we think of Diabetes for example, isn't it called it the "silent killer?" Also look at the older population of today; many of them lose many of their abilities to be self-sufficient, and in their old age, they are sick with diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's for many, many years. This killer doesn't kill you instantly. It slows you down little by little; you barely notice it, if at all. Later, you'll hear people say that "Jane Doe lived 15 years with Parkinson's before passing away." Sugar is softly, gently, slowly killing us.

In fact, in Dr. Weil's movie about "Healthy Aging" he specifically mentions that "keeping blood sugar low and stable is one of the secrets of healthy longevity." Why? Essentially because low blood sugar equals stable insulin (no insulin spikes). He also notes that low blood sugar delays the onset of age-related diseases and discomfort. Why? Because blood sugar spikes cause abnormal reactions between sugars and protein, in effect producing pro-inflammatory products that accelerate aging changes in the body. As an example, let's say you will live to be 70 years old. You can limit the number of years you are sick before you pass away by keeping your blood sugar low. So instead of being sick for many years before you pass away, perhaps you will be sick only weeks or months before you pass away. The key is to keep blood sugar low to reduce insulin spikes. Why do we care about insulin? Is it really that important? Yes, but I will have to tell you more in a future post.

So now that you know the great enemy, you might finally begin to understand why I believe that the cure to all diseases is found in nature. Avoiding starchy carbs and sweets and highly processed foods keeps us from spiking our blood sugar and leaves room for nourishing, real food.