Fasting – An Experiment

The first thing I want to say is if you are thinking about doing this fast, PLEASE SEE YOUR DOCTOR FIRST. This is a personal experiment, and I am completely responsible for the choices I make here. I do not want people doing this fast because of what they read here. As you will see, it doesn’t go well and there are risks involved.  If you have an undiagnosed condition, fasting could be a step too far for your body.

My partner and I have been getting a bit squishy around the middle.  We have a pretty good diet, but when we over indulge it has immediate effects; this is due to an inactive lifestyle.

I recently started running again, and even though I am running every day, my weight has stayed the same.  Apparently this is quite normal, and it will take a few weeks before my body starts reacting to the increased activity.

So, drastic measures are required… well not really, but we fancied doing something a little extreme and controversial – no, not LIPO!! This isn’t just about weight loss.  I have various aches and pains due to an auto immune disease, and I’ve read that fasting can not only help with these pains, but can also bring wider health benefits.

So, what is fasting?

…the willing abstinence or reduction from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time.

Ask anyone about fasting and you tend to get extreme opinions; people who think it’s dangerous and unhealthy, and the people who think it’s really good for us.  You don’t tend to find anyone in the middle!

We are designed for this

We haven’t evolved much from Palaeolithic man.  Back then, we could go days and sometimes weeks without eating because we relied on hunting and gathering.  So our bodies have adapted to this, it’s designed for this.  We store energy as fat when we have too much glucose in our bloodstream, and then our body breaks down that fat when we run out of glucose in our bloodstream.

So, why do people think it’s wrong or dangerous?

Well, there are a couple of concerns. After a couple of days of fasting the body starts to produce ketones when it starts using your fat stores to produce energy; this can be life threatening and even toxic to some people, as ketones can cause a sharp decrease in blood pH, particularly in people with diabetes. So if you are considering fasting, please check with your doctor first.

In addition, if you don’t have an excess supply of fat on your body, your body will start breaking down muscle to maintain supply of energy your brain and heart – this is NOT what you want! This is what people are referring to when they say your body goes into ‘starvation mode’.  The cut off point is 4% body fat as a man or 8% as a woman – at this level, fasting should not be attempted.

Women and fasting

Reading up about the effects of IF (Intermittent Fasting) on women, it appears that I should keep an eye on how my body is reacting.  This article points to women experiencing problems with hormones and glucose tolerance when practicing IF on a regular basis. There is very little research into IF effects on women specifically, so proceed with caution.

Fasting vs fast mimicking diets

Do a search on the internet, and you will see quite a few articles on fasting and fasting mimicking diets;  the latter is encouraged over complete fasting because of the possible dangers of total fasting if people are not careful.  Here are a couple of mainstream media articles;

Five day fasting diet slows down ageing and may add years to life  (The Telegraph, 2015)

Fasting could slow the onset of brain diseases such Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (The Guardian, 2017)

Anyway, lets get on with it

So, here we are.  We are going to do 5 days of proper fasting.  We are allowing ourselves coffee, water and tea.  I’m going to write up how it goes and I can only apologise if I seem a little grumpy – I’m one of the ‘hangry’ types!

The Diary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A New Chapter

Last November I was asked to become an admin on the UK Specific Carbohydrate Diet group that I had joined.  It is a great privilege to use my knowledge of SCD to help people, who are desperately ill, regain good health once more.

I realised how much I not only enjoy helping people, but how much I enjoyed researching functions such as how our body processes lactose; I spent hours researching so that I could provide a simple answer to a question.

So, back in January I decided I needed to do something with this passion; I decided to start studying biology, chemistry and physics (again), so I can enrol on (another) science degree, but this time in nutrition science, instead of geology!

I started off thinking that the link between chronic disease and nutrition is where I wanted to focus, however, I am developing a new interest in the link between nutrition, and neurological and behavioural issues; either directly caused by bad nutrition, or made worse by bad nutrition. Depression, autism, Aspergers, ADHD, ODD, and old age issues such as Alzheimers could be impacted by what we eat (or what we don’t eat)!

Now, I don’t think that all disorders, such as autism and aspergers, are caused by bad nutrition but diet can have a huge impact on symptoms.  There is an undisputed link between our gut and our brain – what we eat, impacts our gut flora, which affects brain activity,  so it follows…

…what we eat impacts how we feel and how we think.

Children on the autism spectrum often suffer from gastrointestinal issues. I spoke with a mother of a girl who has aspergers, and she told me how her daughter struggled to read, but after 6 months on SCD she is now ‘devouring’ books.  This isn’t coincidence; many parents of children on the autism spectrum use SCD or other diets to alleviate some of the behavioural and intestinal symptoms experienced by their children.

Links between depression and food have been researched to death, and there is clear evidence that mood and outlook can be altered by introducing certain foods.

There are countless studies that have looked at effects of increased nutrition on the behaviour of children and adults; Health Benefits of DHA and Effects of nutritional supplements on ADHD for example.

The problems are obvious…

…the diet of the general population is terrible.

Public Health England’s survey (2014) into National Diet and Nutrition indicates;

  • Children under 18 are consuming more than 3 times the recommended allowance of free sugars (sugar added to food and drinks), and adults are consuming twice the amount.
  • On average, under 24% of adults and only 8% of children manage ‘5 a day’ of fruit and vegetables.
  • Oily fish consumption is pathetic; of the 170g single portion we should be having as a minimum each week, children are eating maximum of 29g  which basically equates to one portion every couple of months, and adults are eating 87g a week.

So what can we do?

It’s not a surprise we are seeing increasing rates of Alzheimers, depression and behaviour disorders when our diet is so poor.  Whilst we wait for a mass awakening of the general population, all we can do is read the labels, think about what we are buying, be conscious about what we are eating and try to feed our families good nutritious food.

Educate yourselves about nutrition and teach your kids how to cook; you will be giving your whole family the best chance for a long and happy life.

If you want to read a little more on this subject, please read this paper on the links between diet and behaviour.

SCD Lifestyle

About a month ago I realised I was waking up nearly every morning feeling terrible again – pain in my abdomen mostly.  So I decided to start on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) AGAIN!  It has been a feature in my life for the last 14 years.

I joined a Facebook group for the diet, one run from the USA (SCD Group).  However, I found the USA group focussed a lot on whether or not they could eat certain packaged foods, which for us in the UK was a non-issue.  In the UK we have strict labelling laws where the producer must list everything that has gone into making the product, whereas in the US things are added and not labelled.  A huge number of the members hadn’t even heard about the Breaking the Vicious Cycle book which I found quite frustrating – I know it’s my issue but I don’t understand how someone can plan to go on a diet and not have done their research! In addition, I noticed that a lot of the posts in the US group were just about finding ‘legal’ ways to recreate the bad food that probably contributed to them having IBD in the first place; pizza, cakes and breads, and identifying supplements that could help them.  For me, this is so far away from the point of SCD.  The diet is trying to bring people back to eating proper wholesome foods and getting nourishment from that food, and some people seem to miss that point.

After about a week, a notice went up from one of the members to say he was starting a UK group – this was great news!

The UK group (UKSCD) started up and I joined immediately. The atmosphere is totally different to the US group – more like a family.  We don’t have the issue with labelling, so most of the time is spent providing support and encouragement to those starting out, or going through a bad patch, figuring out whether a mystery ingredient is legal or not, and swapping recipes for what I consider normal wholesome food.

A month on, and I’m still feeling motivated to continue with this diet.  I think being part of a group of people that help each other, motivates me.  I can’t help and advise people if I am not walking the talk, so I need to be strong.

I will admit that I am not 100% strict.  If I’m out with friends then I’m happy to go with the flow if there isn’t a good alternative.  I make the conscious decision to deal with the consequences, and until recently that worked out fine.  However, last weekend consisted of three nights pushing the boundaries and now I’m paying the price.  The interesting thing is that I am feeling the effects in a much more intense way than I did before.  It seems my body has decided it really doesn’t want this bad food and is really letting me know.

Insane in the membrane…

‘Breaking the Vicious Cycle’ is an amazing book.  My all time favourite. It’s the only thing that helped me recover from IBD, and I still refer back to it to this day.  Reading it again this week, I’m reminded of the link made between food and our mental health.

LET ME EXPLAIN…

In simplistic terms, the book suggests that Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) such as Crohns and Ulcerative Colitis, is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the colon.  This bacteria feeds on carbohydrate that the body can’t absorb, mainly because the high levels of bacteria damage the gut and cause malabsorption issues – causing a vicious cycle of more carbohydrate ,and thus bacteria, building in the gut.  Ergo, the title of the book ‘breaking the VICIOUS CYCLE‘.

The solution?  Limit carbohydrate intake; if you starve the overgrowth of bacteria, balance is restored.  Read this article – it’s more than just theory.  For some people, damage to the gut is so severe that recovery is sadly not possible.

OK, GET TO THE POINT….

Whilst the book is mainly concerned with eradicating inflammation in the colon, it touches on mental health disorders impacted by, and in some cases possibly caused by, intestinal issues resulting from high carbohydrate diets.

For the record, all carbohydrates are not bad.  Carbohydrate is necessary for our health, and is contained in various quantities in most of our food, including fruit and vegetables.  However, high intake of carbohydrates, typically the type found in processed foods, can cause bacterial overgrowth and it’s thought that the resulting toxicity from the bacterial overgrowth may cause or contribute to mental health disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.

A three part paper on the topic can be found here if you want to read and understand more.

CONSPIRACY!

There are scholarly articles all over the internet, but I haven’t seen anything in mainstream media about this.  Call me paranoid, but I imagine a lot of money is made by pharmaceutical companies on drugs for depression, and if it was possible for people to treat debilitating depression with a diet, well… it doesn’t take a genius to do the math!

 

Sugar Coated Lies

Some of you may have read my previous ‘rants’ about sugar and fat.  Well, an article in yesterday’s New York Times has ‘outed’ the conspiracy that has made generations believe that saturated fat in food makes you overweight (and obese) and causes heart disease.

In summary, the article indicates that during the 1960s scientists were paid to play down the link between sugar and heart disease, and instead point their chubby finger at saturated fat.  This happened in a time when it wasn’t necessary to disclose sources of financial funding – if anyone had looked into it, they would have been surprised (SURPRISE!!) that the studies were financed by The Sugar Research Foundation (now called the Sugar Association).

The article in the New York Times also refers to a 2015 article where more recently Coca Cola are accused of providing millions dollars in funding to those research scientists who play down links between sugar and obesity!  (Clearly, it’s the business to be in!)

So, where does this leave us?  I refer you back to my previous blog ‘ Big Fat Lies!’ and the huge amount of well researched, scholarly articles out there on the internet.

One area that I find very interesting, and I don’t see/hear much about it, is the link between sugar and mental health.  It’s quite a complex relationship, as it’s related to intestinal issues, but it’s something I want to try to tackle here at some point.

Free Styling

Well, that last post was quite a while ago.  The diet improved my health no-end, and then a little treat ‘here and there’ turned into a little treat ‘here there and everywhere’! I’m so weak!!

I realised that I have adapted to not quite feeling 100%.  It got me thinking about how our health and wellbeing baseline changes over time. Aches and pains creep in and we just put it down to getting older. Feeling slightly unwell after eating and drinking and we just put it down to eating too much.

But is that all it is?  Or is my body reacting to the bad things I’m putting in my body? Will these reactions culminate in my body giving up and developing some (another) horrible disease?  Why do I just put up with feeling this way and continue doing the things I know my body doesn’t like?  What’s wrong with me!??

I recently met someone who is very ill with IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease).  Her situation reminded me of how far I have come from being diagnosed with IBD myself and how when we are desperately ill, we will do anything and everything to feel normal again.

She is an inspiration in many ways; her positivity is infectious and although her journey back to health is a hard one, she is embracing it completely.

I’ve introduced her to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet which helped me recover all those years ago.  I’ve decided I’m no longer calling it a ‘diet’, it’s now going to be known as the Specific Carbohydrate Lifestyle (SCL) – because this has to be a lifestyle change, not just a short term fix.  Approaching it as a ‘lifestyle’ means rejecting all that has gone before and not going back to it – it is a different mindset.

This morning I emailed my friend with a link to a Paleo diet blog that has loads of recipes allowed on the ‘SCL’.  I was looking at the recipes thinking how great they sound and then wondered why I’m not eating this way myself – it’s not like I am in the best of health at the moment.  It all comes down to effort…

Today’s fast paced life makes it hard to actively plan meals, shop for quality produce and then spend time cooking.  But maybe it’s not necessary to really plan or to spend lot of time in the kitchen when you are just dealing with really fresh and healthy ingredients – maybe it’s possible to just buy whatever looks good and throw it together quickly- lets call it ‘free style cooking’.  (And no, I didn’t steal that phrase from Jamie Oliver, although I admit it does sound like something he would come out with! Meh!)

I’m not quite ready for free style cooking yet, but I wonder if I follow the Paleo diet for a month or so will I become more inventive and imaginative?

So this is going to be my next experiment.  Paleo for a month.  Then we will see how we feel about free styling …now I have Groove Armada’s Superstylin‘ in my head… and now you do too!!

Big Fat Lies!

Here’s a summary of the lies we have been told since the 1960s:

  1. Saturated fat causes heart disease
  2. Fat makes you fat
  3. Low-fat foods are healthy options
  4. The healthiest diet is low-fat
  5. Processed margarines are more healthy than butter
  6. High cholesterol foods are bad for you

We have been told these lies for the last 50 years, so it’s no surprise that the truth is hard to swallow (‘scuse the pun).

We are only starting to realise how important fat is for our health.

If you want to know more about these lies, read this full post, but if you just want to know some easily digestible (oops, there I go again) fat facts, here you go;

  1. Foods containing trans fats should be avoided at all costs. Trans fats are found in processed foods and will be noted in the ingredients on packets as ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’ oils. These fats are now banned in the US.
  2. Cooking oils and fats need to be used in different ways to avoid bad cholesterol (LDL).  See the table further down giving guidance.
  3. Eating in moderation is key.  Don’t overdose on coconut oil, and stuff your face with lard or butter ‘just because you can’. A healthy diet is a balanced diet, so mix-up your consumption of fats and oils; eat nuts and seeds, eat oily fish, have a steak now and again, have some butter on your vegetables, use coconut oil with your stir fry!
  4. If you are still eating a lot of carbs and sugar, then adding the wrong fats to your high sugar diet will lead to heart disease, cancer, and diabetescarbohydrates and sugar are the root of heart disease.
  5. You won’t be hungry just because you cut down on carbs: fat is more fulfilling. Food cravings significantly diminish as your body shifts from burning carbs and sugars, to burning fat as its primary fuel. Once you’re fully fat adapted, cravings are a distant memory. If you’ve reduced your carb intake and replaced it with healthy fat but still struggle with hunger pangs, it’s a sign that you need to add more fat to your diet.
  6. If you want to start eating more fat, see your doctor first (preferably one that knows about nutrition).

The bottom line is…

We cannot live without fat – it’s essential to life and is a necessary part of every cell in our body.

So here’s some background information on the lies outlined above.

Lie 1. Saturated fat causes heart disease

Before 1920, coronary heart disease was rare in the US, but between 1920 and 1960 the incidence of coronary heart disease rose dramatically, so much so that by the mid fifties heart disease was the leading cause of death among Americans, and it remains so.

In the ’50s, an American Pathologist called Keys excluded key demographics and used statistically insignificant samples in his research in an effort to prove his own hypothesis that saturated fat causes heart disease. Keys had friends in the right places in the US government, and in ’77 they adopted his view that saturated fat causes heart disease, and very soon the rest of the world followed suit.

British researchers held out for decades, pointing out the huge amount of evidence from around the world, from India to the Arctic that contradicted Keys’s hypothesis, but unfortunately too much money (half a billion pounds) had been put into support of Keys’s hypothesis, and so the idea that saturated fat causes heart disease just started to seem like common sense (see ‘The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet’, by Nina Teicholz).

If heart disease results from the consumption of saturated fats, then we would expect to find a corresponding increase in animal fat in the American diet. But this isn’t the case. In fact here are some figures for you (taken from The Skinny on Fats);

  • from 1910 to 1970, the proportion of traditional animal fat in the American diet declined from 83% to 62%;
  • butter consumption declined from 8kg to 2kg per person per year;
  • During the past 80 years consumption of dietary vegetable oils in the form of margarine, shortening and refined oils has increased about 400%;
  • The consumption of sugar and processed foods has increased by about 60%.

I don’t need to spell out the significance of these numbers (or if I do, just say and I’ll update this post).

In the last five years, many researchers have recanted on their stance against saturated fat, after numerous scientific studies showed “no significant evidence” that saturated fat in the diet is associated with heart disease. Have dietary fats been needlessly vilified?

Lie 2. Fat makes you fat. 

The presence of fat in the small intestine produces a hormone that acts as a hunger suppressant.  Unfortunately, bodies on LOW FAT diets will keep sending and receiving hunger signals; you may have eaten your calorie allowance for the day but you will still be hungry, therefore you will end up snacking or eating more than you should.

If you eat more than your daily calorie allowance in fat, then yes, you will probably get fat; eating excess calories of anything makes you fat.  It’s more likely that your body fat is caused by a high carbohydrate (AKA sugar) diet (see my other blog post on Sugar).

Lie 3. Low fat foods are healthy options. 

Foods that are labelled as ‘low fat’ are created by removing the fat and adding sugar and other chemicals (take a look at the ingredients on ‘low fat’ foods the next time you shop).  I’m not going into the ‘sugar’ thing again and how it causes cancer and diabetes.

Lie 4. The healthiest diet is low fat. 

The reality is, that without fat, we can’t efficiently absorb and utilise the vitamins A, D, E, and K. Not absorbing these vitamins has a dramatic consequence on our reproductive system, our ability to burn calories and, more importantly, our ability to stave off wrinkles …joke, obviously!  But on a serious note, eating a low fat diet will stop you absorbing vitamin A (you may recall ‘Retinol A’ references in adverts for face creams) and thus increase the likelihood of acne and wrinkles – so forget the botox and eat more fat.

Lie 5. Processed margarines are more healthy than butter.

Processed margarines and spreadable butters contain trans fats. Not only do trans fats raise levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol, but it also strips from our bodies the good (HDL) cholesterol; the kind that unblocks arteries.

Trans fats are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.  Hydrogenation is a process used to turn liquid fats into solids, helping to extend the shelf life of processed food. These fats are now banned in the US, however I’m sure it won’t be long until manufacturers find an alternative that is just as bad.

Lie 6. High cholesterol foods are bad for you. 

There is good and bad cholesterol.  Measuring total cholesterol is not a measure of health.  Low or no cholesterol diets have been linked to health problems like mood and sleep disorders, adrenal burnout, infertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and extreme PMS, due to the body’s inability to manufacture key hormones.

Good cholesterol (HDL) is an important antioxidant, it helps the body to heal and counteracts bad cholesterol (LDL) by unblocking arteries.

Oxidised cholesterol (LDL) is bad. It is created when certain fats are heated to high temperatures. This includes trans fats. This is where the type of fat we use in cooking is absolutely key. The table below gives guidance on what fat to use for what purpose.

What fats can I use?

Some oils are not on the list for a reason…

Rapeseed (Canola) Oil: The jury is still out on this one.  I pulled this out from the general Vegetable and Seed oils below because I know a lot of people in the UK use it.  Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil is perfectly safe when its cold, and its said to be high in Omega 3 & 6, but that doesn’t mean much – read this article and read on further below.  It’s actually a genetically modified oil, as the original ‘Rapeseed’ oil was banned in 1956 because of its toxicity. In fact, it’s called Canola Oil in the US specifically BECAUSE there are negative associations with the original name. If you do decide to use it, don’t heat it.  Its a polyunsaturated fat, which when heated, forms free-radicals (stuff you don’t want in your body!).

Vegetable and Seed Oils:  As above, these ‘unsaturated’ oils produce free radicals when heated, but also they are very high in Omega 6; this is an easily accessible nutrient because it’s in so much of our food, and if it’s not in balance with Omega 3 (found in oily fish), is a major cause of inflammation. Data from observational studies suggests that consumption of oils containing a high amount of Omega 6, is strongly associated with violent behaviour and murder. I’m switching to lard for my Sunday roasties to avoid arguments!!

Fat Type How to use it
Coconut Oil (Saturated) cooking at heat above 275 degrees
Butter

(Saturated)

cooking at heat above 275 degrees
Lard

(Saturated)

cooking at heat above 275 degrees
Cold Pressed Olive Oil,

(Monounsaturated)

cold or at low-medium heat
Avocado Oil

(Monounsaturated)

cold or at low-medium heat

You can’t find the oil you like to use?  Well that’s probably because it’s a vegetable or seed oil as mentioned above.

Weight Loss: Basics

The word ‘diet’ has a lot of negative connotations amongst those who don’t believe in weight loss ‘diets’, so I find myself explaining to people that when I use the word ‘diet’ in reference to the SCD, it’s about a change of approach to food as part of a lifestyle change, not a short term fix for being overweight.

And this should be anyone’s approach to weight loss: a lifestyle change. What you’ve been doing before has only led you to where you are now.

Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result each time is a sign of madness!

Actually, it’s just plain stupid!

There is a lot of information out there on the best ‘diet’ for weight loss and health maintenance, and it can be hard to figure out what’s what when we are bombarded with information from all directions.

People that want to loose weight are not interested in the mechanics; they just want something simple that will help them loose weight without taking too much effort or involving too much analysis/thinking.  And that’s understandable; we lead busy lives and things need to be easy and straightforward. So let’s make this easy to understand….

“Calories are tiny creatures that live in your wardrobe, who sew your clothes a little smaller every night”

It might feel like that, but I think we know that’s not the case! Calorie is a measure of energy.  Food contains energy.  When we move around we use energy.

Calories is a simple way of measuring energy INPUT (the amount of energy we take in when we eat) and OUTPUT (the amount of energy we use moving around).

So here are three simple weight loss facts and they revolve around ‘Calories’:  

  1. On any given day, if you eat more calories than you use (more input than output), you WILL GAIN WEIGHT.
  2. If you REALLY like your food (lots of input) and you don’t want to put on weight, then you REALLY need to like exercise too (lots of output).  Exercise, uses that excess energy produced by your food.
  3. If you don’t want to exercise, then just eat less.  Start cutting down your intake until you see your weight going down.  When you reach your ideal weight, increase your intake until your weight becomes static; this level is your ideal food intake for your activity level.

But, before we get too excited, there are some other things we need to take into account, because it’s not just about loosing weight any way we can; our priority is EATING NUTRITIOUS FOODS to keep our bodies running efficiently, fighting disease and feeling energetic.

‘Nutrition value’ refers to the level of vitamins, minerals & other essential nutrients in food.  So, here are three other points to take into account when counting calories;

  1. Processed foods (cake, wine, beer, bread, pasta, rice, pastry) in general, are HIGH calorie and have LOW nutrition value.
  2. Non-processed foods (vegetables, fruit, meat, beans etc..) in general, are LOW calorie and have HIGH nutrition value.
  3. This means that if you are trying to loose weight by eating fad-diet foods and other processed foods (1) you will have to eat less, and (2) you are not taking in any nutrients, thus making yourself tired, sick and probably sapping your willpower to stay on track.

The picture below shows two lots of food; processed (left) and non-processed (right).  The total calories in each picture are exactly the same (around 1600), but the NON-processed foods will (1) keep you fuller for longer and (2) provide you with ample amount of nutrition that you will NOT find in the processed foods.

Untitled

Notice how processed foods are always on the beige/brown part of the colour scale? YUCK!

But on top of this, there are other things to consider:

  • Hopefully you read my blog post on sugar and carbohydrates; constantly using carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, pastry, low calorie cakes & sweets) to feel satisfied will be slowing, if not stalling, your weight loss. A high protein and fat diet has been shown to keep people satisfied for longer, thus stopping them snacking (a key problem with diets).
  • Studies show that people on low-carb diets, taking in the same number of calories as people on high-carb diets, actually lose more weight. It has been found that a diet of LESS than 10% carbohydrates (AKA sugar) will aid weight loss. You WILL notice a difference.
  • There are many myths around low-carb diets, which I will cover in a separate blog, but in summary: no, it’s not dangerous; the main myth is around Ketoacidosis which is a problem suffered by diabetics, not general low-carbers; and, if you eat less than 10% cabs, then yes, you might get funky smelling breath when your body starts using fat to create energy AKA Ketosis (ask Terry about my morning breath!).
  • I will cover the topic of ‘fat in food’ in another blog, because there is a LOT to say.  But in summary, the thinking on fat has changed over the last couple of years; fat from NON-processed foods, even saturated fat, is good for you. Trans fats are NOT good for you; trans fats are found in processed foods.

But this doesn’t mean you should rub your hands together at the thought of the next fry-up! Just eating fat and protein, like all things, can cause other health issues. Have your eggs and bacon, but also have an avocado and fresh tomato with it! KEEP A BALANCE!  For weight loss and health maintenance you must ensure you are having a balanced diet containing healthy protein, vegetables and some carbohydrates.

But what is balanced, and how much of each should I eat? Your activity level will determine how much of each food group you should eat. Guidance on this varies: there’s the old food pyramid for the average person that indicates a very high intake of carbs, which I do not believe is right. And then there’s very high protein and no carbs, which contrary to popular opinion, is not good either, especially for body builders who need to ensure they have enough carbs in their diet to prevent their body cannibalising their hard-won muscles for energy.

There is a happy place somewhere in the middle for those of us who live an active or sedentary lifestyle. But here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Carbohydrate (sugar) is in most vegetables and fruit, so you don’t need to add bread, pasta or rice to your meals;
  • Fibre is in all fruit and vegetables so you do not need to eat bread, cereals etc;
  • Protein can be found in veg, nuts, seeds – you do not need to just eat meat all the time for protein intake;
  • You should have veg with each meal; this makes up most of your fibre, vitamins and minerals! If you can’t stomach veg at breakfast, then have a small portion of fruit instead (see my green smoothie recipe at the bottom of this post to start having veg at breakfast);
  • Vegetables are your friend; the more you eat them the more you will like them, and the easier it will get;
  • Portion sizes are important; the ‘serving size’ on a packet is NOT necessarily a healthy portion size (you shouldn’t be eating anything out of a packet anyway!!).

The chart below gives a guide to portion sizes for each meal for a normal person; I would suggest you keep carbs below 20%, and flex the other groups accordingly. For weight loss, your carb intake probably needs to be lower.

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If you are trying to lose weight or give up smoking, but you always feel hungry, cut out the processed foods and start increasing your vegetable, fruit, and protein intake: boiled eggs, carrot sticks & hummus, sliced chicken breast…  it’s not complicated, just a case of using your imagination and planning ahead.  I have 2 boiled eggs mid morning as a snack, and that’s me happy till 1pm.  I also make my own yoghurt; it’s protein rich and thick like greek yoghurt, and has hardly any bitterness unlike commercial yoghurt.  As an afternoon snack, it keeps me full till dinner time!

If you are suffering from any health issues (e.g. diabetes), then it’s important to see your doctor if your planning on changing your diet. However, there is growing evidence that low-carb diets improve blood glucose levels and aid weight loss in diabetics.

Anyway, just to prove that low carb diets are not boring and bland, here’s a lovely recipe for you.

Recipe

Pistachio and Parsley Stuffed Chicken

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For two people – or keep the other portion for lunch the next day!

This is easy and tasty!  I would suggest having it with a salad of various leaves, roquefort cheese, walnuts and crispy pancetta.

Ingredients

  • 2 portions of chicken breast butterflied,
  • handful pistachios; shelled, unsalted, roasted and chopped,
  • handful fresh parsley, chopped,
  • zest from half lemon,
  • juice from half the lemon,
  • 2 cloves minced garlic,
  • black pepper,
  • sea salt,
  • 2 tbsp of butter, softened.

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200C.
  2. Butterfly chicken breasts – basically cut the piece of meat in half longways, but leave the two halves attached (making it look like an open book).  You can pound the chicken between plastic to make it flatter if you need/want to. Use string to tie it all together if you have some, otherwise don’t worry too much – filling might some out but you will still get the flavours.  You could also buy the chicken with the skin on and stuff the pesto underneath the skin (I buy all chicken breast like this because chicken with skin on hasn’t been rolled in water & protein to make it swell up).
  3. Combine all the ingredients (except the chicken!) in a bowl.  As long as the butter is soft it should go into a chunky paste.
  4. Put the mixture in the middle of each piece of chicken.
  5. Fold it over and tie it up.
  6. Oven bake at 400C for 20-25 minutes – cut a fat part of the chicken breast to ensure it’s done (no pink).
  7. Let chicken rest for a few minutes before serving.

Acid, Heartburn and Digestion

A few nights after starting the SCD, I woke in the early hours wanting to vomit with acid burning in my chest. It was very painful, and continued into the next day.  I couldn’t figure out what I had done to cause this but I must have done something as these things don’t just happen for no reason.

I decided to do a bit of research to find out what was going on, and hoped to identify a way to solve it.

Food is digested in two ways; in our stomachs and in our intestine. The job of the stomach is to digest proteins (e.g. meat). It does this by producing hydrochloric acid (AKA HCL) and pepsin (an enzyme) that breaks down the protein.

So what causes heartburn or indigestion?  When we eat meat, as an example, it enters our stomach and the acid and enzymes start working on it.  A build up of pressure in the stomach can cause malfunction of the lower oesophageal sphincter (little door at the top of our stomach), which then allows acid from our stomach into our oesophagus (tube from our mouths to our stomach), causing all sorts of pain.  When I woke up that night feeling sick, this is exactly what I felt in my stomach; a great pressure like it was going to burst.

The diagram below is taken from this website and shows all the important parts referenced above.

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Acid reflux is not caused by too much acid; on the contrary it’s believed that heartburn and acid reflux is caused by LOW stomach acid, which encourages overgrowth of bacteria and malabsorption of carbohydrates (remember, our old friend SUGAR AKA carbohydrate?).  Therefore, reducing your carbohydrate intake should help resolve the problem over time, however other factors may be affecting the pressure in your stomach, and these issues can be easily and quickly addressed:

  • Don’t lie down after eating: leave at least 4 hours after eating before you go to bed, and lie on your left side when in bed;
  • Don’t consume fatty foods: high fat meals and fried foods tend to delay stomach emptying, building pressure, thereby increasing the risk of reflux;
  • Don’t over-eat: get smaller plates and know your portion sizes – this is a useful visual guide to portion sizes;
  • Don’t bend over or slouch after eating: stay upright for 4 hours after eating.

Obesity is another cause.  The extra weight has the same effect as lying down after eating.

Looking at the above, and being able to discount some of the possible causes, I think my problem was caused by too much fat in my diet during the previous day; having moved to a low-carb diet for health reasons, I was enjoying my fried breakfast and meat feasts a little too much, so I paid for it.

If you don’t think any of the above have caused your issue, then finding the cause may need to involve visits to the doctor.

  • GERD (GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease) is heartburn happening so often there is serious risk of damage to the oesophagus. There are diets out there to help this condition, but being a food nazi I’m avoiding recommending some of them because although they may be low fat, they are still carbohydrate packed and use packet ingredients in some of their recipes.  I do however recommend the SCD – just be conscious of your fat intake.
  • Stomach ulcers can be caused by an overgrowth of a bacteria called Helicobacter Pylori, which can be obliterated with a course of multiple antibiotics; it worked for me back in my 20s. However, it doesn’t work for everyone (like my Dad), and knowing what I do now about bacteria and carbohydrates, I wonder if it was my diet that had caused the issue in the first place.  Had I changed my diet, could I have rid myself of the bacteria and the issue without antibiotics?

As we get older the amount of hydrochloric acid we produce can decrease, meaning these stomach issues will only increase with age unless we start looking after ourselves now and ensure we eat a healthy balanced diet.

The recipe below is easy on the stomach and includes ginger, which is a great digestion aid.  Make this soup and you’ll have a healthy lunch for three or so days.

Recipe

Ginger & Butternut Squash Soup

  • Half thumb of ginger (about 25g), peeled and sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • Half a red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped to thumb sized pieces
  • 500ml of vegetable or chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste (I like LOTS of pepper)

Instructions:

  1. Put everything in a stock pot.
  2. Bring to the boil, then turn to simmer until the butternut squash is soft.
  3. Add seasoning.
  4. Blend with a stick blender or blend in batches in a jug blender.

A Rant: Sugar and Carbs

A delayed blog….

We are on our way to Budapest for the weekend. I love travelling, but what I don’t like is airport food, or more to the point, the lack of healthy options at the airport. I would be happy with some carrot sticks and a pack of cooked meat, but no such luck.

This is the first time since I started on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) that I have eaten out, where my food choice is limited and I’ve had to wrestle between spending a fortune on something healthy or just eating something/anything.

I decided on the cheaper option, and after devouring a cheese sarni I already regret saving the money.

I have two issues:

  1. Bread is carbohydrate, and carbohydrate is sugar. Yes, carbohydrate is sugar. Sugar feeds ‘bad’ bacteria in my gut which causes me all sorts of digestive issues. This is why sugar and specific carbohydrates are not allowed on the SCD.
  2. Eating very little carbohydrate means I am loosing weight (yay!), I have loads more energy (yay!), finding it easier to wake up in the morning (yay!) and finding my skin feels softer and smoother (yahoo!). Eating the crappy bread does not support all this.

People think fat in food makes them fat, and that’s where it all goes wrong. Eating more sugar and carbohydrates than you need for energy makes you fat. We need fat in our diet, of course it matters what type of fat, but it’s not fat that makes you fat.  Just in case you missed it …. EATING EXCESS CARBOHYDRATES (Sugar) MAKES YOU FAT (and sick).

Here’s a rough idea how it works….

All your favourite things (bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, pastry, wine, beer, cakes, low fat biscuits, flavoured drinks, most types of flour, the list goes on…) CONTAIN SUGAR.

When we eat sugar, AKA carbohydrates, it is converted to glucose in our intestinal tract. The glucose enters our blood stream and travels to our liver, where the liver either farms it out to organs immediately to be used for energy or stores it as glycogen in our liver and muscles for later use. Any excess glucose is stored as fat. This is why if we eat a lot of carbohydrates and sugar we will just GET FAT. If you are exercising and not loosing weight, check your carb intake!

This isn’t just about weight: if we consume carbohydrate (AKA sugar) at a high level consistently, our body has to keep producing more and more insulin to stay on top of our blood sugar level. Eventually the insulin has little or no effect, and this is when you can develop DIABETES (Type 2).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) draft guidelines states that people should consume no more than 25g of sugar a day. A can of Coke has 35g of sugar!

In the UK we have a traffic light system on packaged food that indicates the level of sugar, salt, and fat content, but the maximum allowance for sugar is higher than WHO recommends, so this traffic light system is not doing what it should be doing. People are still consuming far more sugar than they should be. This high sugar intake is not just creating the obesity epidemic, but it’s contributing to the multitude of diseases and issues, such as diabetes, bowel disease and cancer.

Why is this happening? Well, people don’t really know what is good or bad when it comes to food labels.  Kids are not taught about nutrition facts at school; the food pyramid poster is still stuck on the wall of the food science (that’s a joke) room! People still think food marked as Low Fat or Low Calorie will help them loose weight or keep them healthy: this is a myth brought about by marketing companies, funded by food companies and, even more surprisingly, governments. This so called ‘Low Fat’ food is tasteless in its basic form because the fat has been removed, so it’s laced with sugar and salt to add flavour, and as we now know, EXCESS SUGAR/CARBOHYDRATE CAUSES FAT.

Some of this ‘ignorance’ is just plain old denial: people do not want to stop eating the lovely sweet/savoury crappy processed food or admit that this ‘food’ is shortening their life. Sugar is a drug. They are addicted. They are addicts.

The taste buds and brain of an addict are so dependent on getting a sugar fix, that when he tastes ‘real’ food, like green vegetables for example, he is revolted. To stop eating sugar he has a drug like withdrawal and he can’t deal with it. And actually, he doesn’t care.

Over the last few days I have been reading a blog of a lady who started a ‘diet plan’ where all the food is sent to her house in a box.  It’s all muck; sugar, carbs and sauces. The idea is you add more calories to supplement what they have sent you i.e. vegetables and fruit.  However, her supplementary food is bread and smash.  She admits she doesn’t like veg. She is loosing weight, but as soon as she stops paying for the diet plan, she will be back to square one. The only good thing this diet is doing is teaching her portion control.

Some people might argue that people need to find a diet that works for them – but this isn’t just about weight loss. This is about feeding our minds and bodies the nutrients it needs to run efficiently to prevent us getting sick. It strikes me that some people have been feeling like crap for so long, they think it’s normal.  They can’t even imagine what it’s like to feel light and full of energy. They don’t know that a week or so after they start eating nutritious food (veg, protein & good fats) and cutting down their sugar/carbs intake, it would be easier and they would start feeling so amazing. Why are schools not teaching this from the outset?

In summary

The answer to most of our health needs are through a natural diet, not in a packet of pills or packaged diet food. Whilst I’m not into the paleo diet per se, I do recommend you read this article: Better Health: it’s less complicated than you think!

One other thing… have you noticed how all processed food is the same colour? It has a kind of yellow/beige hue.  Look at your plate, packet, box, or bag.  Is it a rainbow of colours? If not, you need to have a think about what you’re eating.

Recipe

Green Smoothie

I struggle to keep time in the mornings before work, so my quick and nutritious breakfast is a green smoothie.  For me the key is to have veg, protein and only a small amount of fruit – it’s too easy to overload on the sugar with fruit. You can do what you like with this recipe and you can find loads more online if you search for ‘green smoothie’, but don’t be tempted to just go for fruit smoothies.

  • 2 handfuls of spinach or kale (I keep mine in the freezer)
  • 1.5 cups of water
  • Half an avocado
  • Handful of frozen berries or fruit (blueberries are my go-to as a superfood)
  • Big dollop or two of full fat natural yoghurt (mine is homemade but Total is a good alternative)

Good additions to this one are peanut butter, flaxseed or egg white.

Want something zingy? Look for recipes with lemon, lime or ginger.

For SCDers, be aware the nuts and seeds may irritate your tum when you are starting out.