"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thinking Aloud 5: Low Carb Alternative

There appear to be some real health benefits to living on a near-starvation diet, but almost no one eats that way willingly. Roy and Lisa Walford have led a movement toward this, using the CRON longevity diet they developed, but of the 50 people I found online who tried it, only 2 made it past two months. If for no other reason, readers of this blog would not follow it because few calories means no exercise.

But what if you could trick your body into thinking it's starving? One way to do this is by intermittent fasting. It's been shown that fasting every other day and eating ad libitum alternate days is the best way known for maintaing constant low blood glucose levels, even in diabetics. No one's tried it for long, though, as it's difficult.

After one day of fasting, one's body has depleted its glycogen stores and is using fat and protein for fuel, so one doesn't need to eat any carbohydrates. If one ate a diet with no carbs, one could mimic starvation. This is essentially the Atkins diet. Nutritional experts were surprised to find that people on this diet did not suffer problems from the high amounts of saturated fat eaten; as long as one is eating fewer calories than one is taking in, the body burns the ingested food before it uses its own stores. High cholesterol and other warning signs do not appear until one's body has become used to the diet and one's calories in equal (or surpass) calories out. The diet requires one to take a multivitamin, as it cannot supply all the vitamins one requires; it is not a natural diet. Some have done well with it, including Monica Scholz, who apparently completed a 100 mile race every weekend for two months, consuming nothing but dried meat during the runs (what she ate otherwise, I have not heard). The popularity of this diet has declined, as the food choices are limited; some diets have implemented a "jump start" using this approach for a few weeks, before introducing a more well-rounded diet - the South Beach diet being the best-known. [For those seeking to lose 10-20 lbs. by diet alone, South Beach, Volumetrics and Jenny Craig are all reasonable. For those seeking to lose much more than 20 lbs., I recommend Weight watchers and following a doctor-supervised plan.]

There are few scientific studies that are fun to read, but there's a famous study that tried to test endurance athletes eating no carbohydrates, known as "the pemmican study." (I'm missing the citation. It's listed in Tim Noakes' "The Lore of Running.") People were to have their endurance tested on stationary bikes while eating only pemmican. Most of the volunteers opted out before actually eating any, saying the look and smell were too much to bear. At least one took a single bite, gagged and quit. After the first day, there were only two volunteers left; one desperately needed the money and wouldn't quit, no matter how sick he got (he reportedly was paid for the whole time and was asked to quit early, as he was losing weight) and the other happily ate all the pemmican he could get. The experimenters had gone from an experiment to a case study of one man, but they could still salvage something - except that the lab techs refused to do the study, because the volunteer reeked of pemmican and they were getting nauseous being near him!

Instead of no-carb, one could try low carb. The idea here is to allow carbohydrates, but only small amounts of low-glycemic index foods, eaten with fat and protein to further slow their entry into the bloodstream. The prime example of this is The Zone, which I recommend for those who have diabetes; the meal planning involved is probably too involved for those who aren't already counting calories, fiber, grams of carbohydrates, etc. Reading the Barry Sears' Zone books, I had to go back through some deep biochemistry texts, trying to recall alpha-linoleic acid versus alpha-linolenic acid (the "n" is critical) versus gamma-linoleic acid. His entire reasoning is faulty; there are no "bad" prostaglandins and they all work at sub-microgram quantity and only locally - diet will not change this, nor should it. Still, there might be something to tricking your body into thinking it's starving.

The other common low carb diet is the Paleo Diet, which is not intentionally low carb (one can make it high carb by adding huge amounts of fruit, as I once showed), but, by eliminating grains, legumes and dairy, becomes low carb almost by default. This diet takes a different approach to food, eliminating anything that wouldn't be recognized by paleolithic man as food. My main concern with this diet is that it is very difficult to supply all vitamins and minerals with it and that most practitioners of it reply "well, you don't really need that much calcium (or thiamine, etc.)" It can be followed and be healthy, but it's difficult to follow and eat with anyone else who's not on it.

There's considerable overlap between CRON, Zone and Paleo and it is possible to follow all three at the same time. Here's an example (1600 cal.):

Meal 1
3.5 oz roasted skinless turkey breast
1 oz almonds
1/2 c. boiled button mushrooms
4 cooked shiitake mushrooms
1/2 c. boiled asparagus
1/2 c. boiled spinach
1/2 banana
1/4 tsp. salt

Meal 2
turkey, as above
2 sardines, Atlantic
1/4 oz. walnut
1/4 oz. pine nut
1/2 tsp. flax oil
1c baked acorn squash
1 c. watermelon
celery stalk
1/2 c. boiled broccoli

Meal 3
7 oz. canned salmon
1/2 oz. clam
1/2 tsp. cod liver oil
1 c. blueberries
2 tsp. olive oil
10g raw carageen (irishmoss)
10g raw kombu (kelp)

There are some strange foods and odd amounts (1/2 banana?!), but it is nutritionally complete and also low in saturated fat, though that was not required by any of the diets.

Lastly, if one takes the above 1600 calories, which are roughly one third each of carbohydrate, fat and protein and adds another 1600 of pure carbohydrate ingested during exercise, it becomes identical to the ratio of carbohydrate, fat and protein in the diets of the Hunza, Vilcabamba nad Tarahumara discussed earlier!


Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

His entire reasoning is faulty; there are no "bad" prostaglandins

I know a guy who used to think this, too - that there were only "misunderstood" prostaglandins, not "bad" ones. Then he got mugged by one, after which he discovered Teh Teachings of Rush Limbaugh, and he realized that prostaglandins hate us for our way of life and want Teh Terrorist Lipids to Win.

And it's hard to argue with this line of thought because the people who give voice to it are usually profoundly f*cktarded. (Hi, Dr. Nic!)

There are few scientific studies that are fun to read ...

I was going to ask you to define "fun", here, since this sentence implies that there are some scientific studies that are "fun" to read, but then I remembered: You run 100-mile races for "fun" so I think I've got a pretty good read on what you mean by "fun".

For me, "fun" is coming to your blog and leaving concealed kertwangs for Dr. Nic that he may or may not ever see.

So, of the three of us, who is the REAL f*cktard?

(Answer: Dr. Nic. No that was NOT a rhetorical question!1!)

GeorgiaSnail said...

Holy Sh!t that went over my head!!!

Get Primal said...

Ah, now we're talking about something I can get my arms around! My diet, as you already know, is what I call primal. Similar to Paleo but with far more fat than Cordain recommends. Also not intentionally low carb but it ends up that way. I'm always under 50g per day, some days I'm at zero. I'm aware of the nutrients I could fall short of but haven't done anything about it yet;)

I'm the furthest thing from a scientist, but I can tell you that my current diet has made me stronger and leaner than I've ever been. Not many people would believe that I eat about 60% of my calories from fat with a huge amount of saturated fat. They would be even less likely to believe that my NMR lipid profile has dramatically improved on this diet.

I've become a huge believer in the value of fats. If you're eating the right kinds, nothing is more valuable or healthy. Even the dreaded red meat the country thinks is a killer...if you're eating grass fed flesh and fat it's one of the most healthy foods we can consume (IMHO).

Did I totally get off subject here? Probably. Glaven's posts confuse me and cause me to ramble;)

Kathleen said...

I eat a rather low-carb diet myself. It's really odd to be with runners (even plodders like me), who are all refueling with all sorts of carb-centric stuff. I'm curious how it will go as my mileage increases.

Ross said...

I've also thought about this idea of tricking the body into thinking it is starving. As you suggest, it seems to come down to glycogen levels. If you glycogen tank is full, your body will store excess energy as fat. If it is empty, it will try to fill it up (but can't if one only eats fats).

What about exercise, though? High intensity sprints seem to be an efficient way to deplete the glycogen tank. The trick is NOT to have any recovery carbs following the workout.

I believe there are some studies that confirm this? I have had some success with it myself.

bryan said...

I love how your example out of the sample menu for "strange foods and odd amounts" is the half banana, and not, say, the 10 grams of raw irish moss.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering what category my normal evening meal is : 1 bowl of Honeycomb and milk topped with honey and dates, along with 2 chocolate chip cookies topped with Hershey's chocolate sauce.

SteveQ said...

Ross, you're skipping ahead to the next two posts.

Bryan, that was just for you.

Adam, I'm still thinking that you're improving DESPITE the diet, but whatever works, I guess...

Steve said...

Steve, your assessment of the Paleo diet being one that is difficult to get proper nutrition is way off base. There are plenty of sources of calcium and thiamine in other foods than dairy and grains such as pork, broccoli, catfish, spinach, oranges, almonds, etc. These are all "Paleo" or "real" foods which are loaded with vitamins and nutrients. There is nothing less nutritious than anything made with grains. Take a look at the nutrition label on a bag of flour. Every nutrient listed on there (niacin, thiamine, folic acid, riboflavin) are listed as ingredients because they are ADDED. Otherwise, flour would be nothing but EMPTY calories. Better to eat real food like fruits, meats, nuts and veggies loaded with healthy nutrients and which don't wreak havoc on your insulin system, than waste your time eating grain-based foods.

In regards to Adam's success despite his diet, I guess I'm an anomaly too, as well as 1000's of others. BTW, how's that traditional or "high-carb" diet working for you?@

SteveQ said...

Steve, Adam's admitted that he's had trouble maintaining optimal levels of some nutrients and I think it's a common problem. Yes, there are many ways to get enough calcium, but most of the people I know who've tried Paleo don't eat enough of them. My comment about his diet was based on the high saturated "primal" aspect, rather than the paleo.

My flour's ingredient list: wheat flour (it's whole grain, stone-ground). It has pretty good amounts of many nutrients, as they weren't taken out to give it better shelf life.

Check out the nutrients on these grains: teff, amaranth, quinoa. Nothing wrong with them!

Steve said...

While quinoa, teff, and amaranth are more "nutritious" than wheat flour, they are still laden with excessive amounts of carbs, which I don't need. I get what I need from fruits and veggies, which are far more nutritionally dense and don't wreak havoc on the insulin system (although teff is supposed to be fairly easy on the system in that respect). So, I'll take a pass on the grains, but thanks for the suggestion.