Researcher and chef Christopher Clark has written a new book: "Nutritional Grail: Ancestral Wisdom, Breakthrough Science, and the Dawning Nutritional Renaissance." In it, he discusses the benefits of Paleo diets and what dieters can learn by understanding the science behind the Ancestral Health movement.
Question: Most dieters have heard the advice: "Calories in, calories out." But in reality, do our bodies react in the same way to 100 calories of a Twinkie as to 100 calories of grass-fed beef?
"Quality is more important than quantity. Calories do matter, but I don’t encourage people to count them methodically. Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. Meals consisting of high quality, natural sources of protein, fat, and carbohydrates promote healthy leptin and ghrelin levels.
"In other words, by eating high-quality foods, we feel hungry before meals and satiated afterwards. Processed foods, on the other hand, typically contain flavor enhancers like MSG, very little fiber, and outrageous amounts of fructose. This is a perfect storm for imbalanced leptin and ghrelin levels. Compared to 100 calories of grass-fed beef, 100 calories from a Twinkie are far less satisfying and thus promote overeating," he said.
Question: After decades of being told to avoid saturated fat, many consumers are afraid to eat foods like butter, bacon and eggs. What's your view on saturated fat in terms of its benefits for weight loss and health?
"Especially for people with metabolic syndrome (at least 25 percent of the population), low-carbohydrate diets are more effective than low-fat diets for losing weight and improving other measures of health (better cholesterol levels, decreased triglycerides, etc.). This has been demonstrated in over twenty randomized controlled trials. Low-carb diets are higher in fat; so what are the healthiest sources of fat?" he asked rhetorically.
"Decades ago, we were encouraged to replace saturated fat with industrial seed oils like corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil, all of which are particularly rich in omega-6 polyunsaturated fat. Most prominent nutrition organizations, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, still recommend these oils. Excessive amounts of omega-6, however, prevent the absorption of omega-3 while promoting inflammation, an underlying factor in most degenerative diseases."
Christopher cites a study published in the British Medical Journal "in which researchers examined the effects of replacing dietary saturated fat with omega-6 polyunsaturated fat. Contrary to the edicts of the American Heart Association and many other prominent health institutions, this substitution actually increased the rates of death from all causes, including coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease. In short, I recommend mostly saturated (animal foods, coconut) and monounsaturated (olive oil, avocado) fats."
Question: Is moderation really an effective way to stay healthy? That is, does the concept of "you can have treats like cake in moderation" jive with what scientists now know about how our bodies react to sugar and white flour?
"The dictionary definition of moderation is “the avoidance of excess or extremes.” When it comes to sugar and other dietary villains, however, what we perceive to be extreme has been undermined by a century of extreme behavior. Consequently “extreme” is the new normal and the new extreme is something our ancestors would find unfathomable," pointed out Christopher.
"On average, Americans are eating about 97 pounds of sugar annually. At the turn of the twentieth century that number was 43 pounds and during the early 1800s it was around 7 pounds. Before that, for 99.9 percent of human evolution, sugar was absent from our diets (or consumed only in small amounts as fruit or honey). Therefore, even by 1900, from an evolutionary perspective, sugar consumption was already at extreme levels.
"Perhaps eating “bad foods” in moderation requires an historical and scientific understanding of what is and isn’t extreme. Earlier this year, the World Health Organization published a draft resolution recommending that added sugars comprise no more than 5 percent of total calories. This equates to roughly 25 grams, or two tablespoons, of sugar daily, including sugars naturally occurring in honey, fruit, and fruit juice. In my view, this represents a reasonable interpretation of moderation."
Question: For those who have struggled with losing weight and can't seem to slim down, what's your advice?
"Losing weight and getting healthy are not necessarily synonymous. During most of human evolution, food was much less available than today. As such, we evolved to eat when calories were plentiful and survive when they were scarce. Under normal metabolic circumstances, excess calories are stored as subcutaneous fat—fat under the skin, which typically accumulates around the midsection. Once these fat cells form, they’re not easily lost. Our bodies instinctively hold onto them to protect against future starvation scenarios, which, of course, are unlikely in today’s calorie-dense environments.
"Visceral fat is fat inside and around the organs. Visceral fat, not subcutaneous fat, drives various degenerative diseases. In other words, you can have subcutaneous fat and still be metabolically healthy. In his book, Fat Chance, world-leading endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig estimates that 20 percent of people who are obese by body mass index (BMI) standards are actually completely metabolically healthy, whereas upwards of 40 percent of people with normal BMI scores are “obese” and unhealthy with respect to visceral fat," he said.
Dr. Lustig is famed for battling sugar in foods and focusing on not just consumers, but the food corporations who hide sugar in various forms in packaged food products. Learn more about Dr. Lustig, including his "Fat Chance" sugar-free diet book series, by clicking here.
A day in Christopher's life includes these guidelines, and you can learn more about him at his Web site:
- Two square meals per day.
- Each meal has some source of protein (beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish, seafood, or eggs) and one or two vegetable dishes (usually a fresh salad and/or some steamed or oven-roasted vegetables).
- Occasionally I’ll add some white rice or starchy vegetables to my meals, but in general my diet is low in carbs, higher in fat, and has moderate amounts of protein.
- For breakfast, I usually drink a coffee blended with butter and coconut oil, or sometimes I eat fresh fruit with high-fat Greek yogurt.
- I love chocolate, especially 100 percent raw cacao chunks, which contain more fat and are tastier than those trendy cacao nibs you might be familiar with.