Fat Fiction Fat, lies and measuring tape

8Nov/104

How to make the world fat with two foods

Can this make you fat?

If obesity is caused by hunger due to a lack of nutrients (see previous post), then there’s only three possibilities  - we’re either not eating enough in our diet, we cannot absorb the nutrients we’re eating, or something is stripping the body of the nutrients we need. So, given the astonishing rise in obesity over the past 30 years, what the hell has happened? What have we started eating more of that’s causing us so much trouble?

And sure, you might be skeptical – everyone knows the odd greedy food-hoovering machine who’s gorging themselves on junk food every moment of the day. No doubt they’re getting plenty of calories and not enough nutrients. But what of the millions of other people who aren’t eating junk food and yet still getting bigger? On the face of it, they’re clearly eating enough nutrients, so is it just a case of poor genes and they can’t metabolise fat? Greed? Or is something else at play?

More pertinently, what have we been eating that’s now causing an obesity epidemic?

White flour and sugar

Not directly because they spike insulin (insulin controls fat storage, so the perfectly sensible sounding basis of low-carb diets is to eliminate foods which cause high insulin response), but because both of them leave you with less nutrients than you had before you consumed them. White flour is especially poor; not only have the nutrients been stripped out, but anti-nutrients such as lectins and phytic acid actively prevent absorption of minerals. Not only that, but in many people, gluten causes an autoimmune reaction, which leads to destruction of the villi; the tiny hair-like lining of your small intestine responsible for absorbing essential fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E and K and minerals. These vitamins, minerals and fatty acids are essential to metabolise fat, and regulate insulin. So it's perfectly feasible that hunger continues until the body receives enough of these nutrients to survive at the very least. And unless you address the nutrient deficit by stopping eating the problem foods, the fat will never be burnt off.

Now on one hand, most people are aware that white flour and sugar aren’t good for us in excess. But it’s a big leap to suggest that these two foods are predominantly responsible for the entire world getting so fat isn’t it? And given we’ve been eating bread for thousands of years, what’s so different now? I’ll come back to sugar another day but for now, let’s look at wheat.

Me and bread
“Good God you’ve shrunk”, said someone this morning who I hadn’t seen for several months, using their hands to indicate that I used to be so big they couldn’t put their arms around me (this was a massive exaggeration but I’m not so sensitive). What was true though was that I’d lost nearly 4 and half stone (60+ lbs) in under 9 months. Prior to that my typical diet previously was low in fat and sugar but high in wheat-based products. A typical day would be crumpets in the morning, sandwich at lunchtime, and a big home-cooked meal in the evening, with lean chicken/beef/beans or some such, where pasta often featured heavily. Reasonable amount of fruit, some vegetables. Not a million miles off the UK’s recommended dietary guidelines;  OK sure I didn’t meet 5 a day every day, but not far off. And I was doing a lot of exercise. So what was the secret to this dramatic weight loss?

I started reducing carbs, following the idea of insulin control being at the heart of the problem, and my weight slowly but surely started to come down. But then I got gallstones. I started investigating and I quickly found out that gallstones and fat were close bedfellows. And it seemed to me the biggest cause of gallstones (which I’ll save for another post) is mineral deficiency which results in your liver creating bile supersaturated with cholesterol,  which then leads to the formation of gallstones. The people with the highest rate of gallstones in the world, are by no small coincidence, also suffering from some of the highest levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the world – the Pima Indians as I’ve written about before. And what were the two biggest changes in their diet? Their daily diet of tortillas and beans hadn’t changed by the 1950s, except their flour changed from corn flour to white wheat flour and they were introduced to the delights of sugar in the late 1800s. Sugar and white flour, and it turned them from athletic to fat in one generation.

So, it all started pointing to the same thing. I was deficient in nutrients, and wheat was the major culprit. I added other carbs back in, and simply cut out all gluten – that’s the protein known to cause problems found in wheat, barley and rye.

Once I cut out gluten, something bizarre happened. I stopped feeling ravenously hungry. That kind of gnawing hunger just disappeared overnight. And so did I. Weight loss started accelerating like I’ve never seen. 7lbs in 1 week. 14lbs the next month, until we get to today when I’m a tad over 11 ½ stone (160lbs) which is about right. As a diet goes, it couldn’t have been simpler. Eat anything, but don’t eat bread or pasta. My sugar consumption was not that high previously anyway, so that didn’t change. It was literally the bread that did it. What else? I started eating plenty more saturated fat (to compensate for the lack of calories from bread). I ensured I added foods high in minerals like spinach, lack of which I believe to be at the root cause of gallstones. I also rotated food – so if I was still hungry after eating, I’d ensure I’d eat something different on the basis that whatever I just ate clearly didn’t provide all the nutrients I needed.

Not only that, I’ve set up a live experiment to prove it. If obesity and gallstones are caused by a lack of nutrients, restoring those nutrients should result in weight loss and dissolving gallstones. I’ve proved the weight loss part, now I’m working on the gallstones (see D Day).

A sample of one
I know the drill. A sample of one proves nothing and there could be other reasons for my success.
Maybe it’s the reduction in carbohydrates – if anyone’s read Gary Taube’s excellent book Good Calories Bad Calories (called Diet Delusion in the UK), you’ll know there’s a compelling case for low-carb diets but I don’t buy it. Humans are infinitely adaptable; the Tarahumara tribe, home to some of the best ultrarunners on the planet survive on a virtually exclusive carbohydrate diet, whereas traditional Inuit diets are almost exclusively devoid of carbs and rely on fats and protein as energy sources. The body adapts to its surroundings. And don’t forget I increased carbs in my diet once I decided gluten was the culprit.

Maybe I’m just celiac (that’s a clinical intolerance to gluten); it hardly means that just because I lost weight by getting rid of bread and pasta, the whole world will do the same. But look at the Pimas – are they all celiac? Or is there something we’re doing to bread that’s causing abnormal reactions in perfectly healthy people? Is the autoimmune celiac reaction just the extreme  of a reaction to gluten that all of us experience to some degree or another?

>> Next up  - the evidence that places white flour right at the heart of the obesity epidemic

Picture copyright Will Simpson

Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. hi mike….any thoughts on gluten/sugar in beer/lager….
    or alcohol and gallstones ?regards robbie

    • Hi Robbie, good question. I abandoned lager completely because of the gluten and replaced it with cider. Drinking wine in a pub is a step too far personally but almost certainly better for you.
      From good to bad, I’d say none (!), followed by red wine, then white, then cider, then grain-based drinks – whisky/lager/spirits.
      The next day post a few drinks I also take b complex + c vitamins. Ordinarily I’d steer clear of supplements but gallstones is a special case.

  2. Spinach is also rather high in oxalates. I wonder if oxalates have anything to do with gallstones, as they seem to be involved in other bodily stones.

    BTW, do you supplement with vitamin D? This may increase absorption of some of the minerals. Just some thoughts for you to ponder.

    Good luck.

    • Good call – and yes although not entirely sure how. Because kidney stones are made up in part of oxalates, it used to be standard advice that all the greens were avoided in cases of gout. But just like cholesterol, dietary consumption doesn’t necessarily mean increase in body levels, or urine in the case of kidney stones. The link I noticed before is that all the high oxalate foods (greens, black tea etc) are high in the minerals that are needed for bile (poor bile > gallstones), and the foods which aggravate gallstones all contain nutrients that are essential for kidney functioning.
      It could be coincidence of course but I do think you’re onto something.
      No supplements of vitamin D at the moment, but yes will consider. thanks for the ideas.


Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

No trackbacks yet.