Adventures in Macro-Nutrient Land

win02-macronutrient1When Alice fell down the rabbit hole, she found herself in a bewildering world where magic potions made her grow large or small, where school masters taught reeling and writhing and where tea parties lasted all day long.

Should Alice suddenly develop an interest in nutrition today and begin to read popular books on the subject, she would find herself in a bewildering world where small things are made large and large things small, where nutrition commentators engage in much reeling and writhing and where the academic tea party on macronutrient values never ends.

For in the academic world funded by the food processing industry, macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) loom very large, food quality is pushed to the background and there is much reeling and writhing around the Mad Hatter notion that fats should be limited.

The first to attempt simple dietary guidelines were the dieticians, who came up with the Four Food Groups—meats, poultry, fish and beans; milk and cheeses; vegetables and fruits; and breads and cereals—an innocuous construct that offended no one and completely avoided making any judgements on dietary fats.1 Emphasis on macronutrient ratios came in with the USDA Food Guide Pyramid in 1992, which reflected the pro-grain conclusions of the McGovern Committee by giving prominence to carbohydrates and relegating animal foods to the smaller areas at the top of the pyramid. Fats and oils are mysteriously put with sweets (which are carbohydrates)—for reasons unknown except to government bureaucrats—and placed at the top of the pyramid with the admonition to “eat sparingly.”

Chasing the White Rabbit

Both the US government and the American Heart Association (AHA) preach fat restriction as the key to good health. Both recommend that less than 30 percent of dietary calories come from fat, with 15 percent from protein and the balance—up to 60 percent—from carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice, cereal, fruits and vegetables. (Milk products, nuts and beans are also sources of carbohydrates.)

To the average consumer, these guidelines might seem entirely reasonable. After all, if Alice fills her plate with meat, potatoes and vegetables, and then puts a generous pat of butter on the potatoes, it looks as though she is well within the guidelines—that pat of butter makes up far less than one-third of the volume of food on the plate.

But the diner’s claim to virtue fades away when the mathematics of caloric values are explained. Proteins and carbohydrates provide about 4 calories per gram (except for fiber, which is indigestible carbohydrate, which for humans provides 0 calories per gram). But fats provide about 9 calories per gram. So that pat of butter provides over twice the caloric value per weight than the proteins and carbohydrates in the meat and vegetables. Even so, at twice the caloric value, a pat of butter would still come in at under 30 percent of calories based on a visual assessment of the volume of food on the plate.

But it gets worse. Most of the volume of the meat and vegetables is made up of water, which has no calories at all, whereas fats contain very little water, if any. You need to eat about 300 grams of lean meat to obtain 50 grams of protein—the daily amount recommended by the USDA—because over 80 percent of the meat is water. (A serving of meat according to the Dietary Guidelines, by the way, is 100 grams, or about the size of a deck of cards.)

Compounding the problem is the fact that meat contains hidden fat. A 100-gram serving of lean beef brisket, for example, with no visible fat, still contains over 10 grams of fat, or 44 percent of total calories as fat, because the cell membranes of the meat are composed of fat. Even vegetables contain traces of fat, although usually less than 0.5 grams per 100 grams.

Thus, although Alice’s meal contains only about 8 percent of total weight as butter, it contains 58 percent of calories as fat—not a saintly diet at all, but one for the Sybarite! Twenty-eight percent of calories in this meal comes from protein and a mere 14 percent from carbohydrates, even though Alice consumed two carbohydrate foods. Total calories for the beef brisket, broccoli, mashed potatoes and butter is just under 500 (see Table 1).

Table 1: Calories in a Typical Dinner
Food Item
in grams
Moisture
%
Protein
Carbs
Fats
Calories
grams kCal %kCal grams kCal %kCal grams kCal %kCal
100g beef brisket (no visible fat) 59.1 29.7 118.8 56% 0 0 0% 10.5 94.5 44% 213.3
100g mashed potatoes w/milk added 82.8 2.1 8.4 13% 13.0 52.0 78% 0.7 6.3 9% 66.7
100g broccoli steamed 91.3 3.1 12.4 38% 4.5 18.0 54% 0.3 2.7 8% 33.1
25g butter (less than 2 T) 15.9 0.2 0.8 1% 0 0 0% 20.3 182.7 99% 183.5
Totals for 325g of food 35.1 140.4 28% 17.5 70.0 14% 31.8 286.2 58% 496.6

If Alice prefers rib eye steak to brisket, if her mashed potatoes are made with cream instead of milk, and if she puts a little butter on the broccoli, she doubles her caloric intake to just over 1000 of which 663 or about 66 percent are calories from fat. Should she treat herself to a dish of ice cream for dessert, she adds another 260 calories, including over 100 calories as fat, but her percentage of calories as fat drops 9 points to 57 percent because of the high levels of carbohydrate calories from the sugar in the ice cream. The grand total for her satisfying meal including dessert is 1367 calories with 57 percent as fat, 16 percent as protein and 27 percent as carbohydrate. Thus we can conclude that a good way to decrease your percentage of calories as fat is to eat ice cream!

Of course, this is not what the dieticians had in mind when they urged us to lower the fat content of our diets. Let’s see how we must manipulate Alice’s steak dinner to bring it into conformity with USDA guidelines. In order to lower the percentage of protein to a level near the magic 15 percent, while at the same time drastically reducing fat and raising carbohydrates, we must slash the portion of beef brisket to a measly 25 grams or less than 2 tablespoons, one-fourth of the original amount. We must reduce the butter to 1 teaspoon, triple the amount of mashed potatoes and add two slices of dry bread (see Table 2).

Table 2: Calories in a High-Carbohydrate Dinner
Food Item
in grams
Moisture
%
Protein
Carbs
Fats
Calories
grams kCal %kCal grams kCal %kCal grams kCal %kCal
25g beef brisket 59.1 7.3 29.2 55% 0 0 0% 2.7 23.9 45% 53.1
300g mashed potatoes w/milk added 82.8 6.3 25.2 13% 39 156 78% 2.1 18.9 9% 200.1
100g broccoli ,steamed 91.3 3.1 12.4 38% 4.5 18.0 54% 0.3 2.7 8% 33.1
5g butter (1 tsp) 15.9 0 0 0% 0 0 0% 4.1 36.9 100% 36.9
Roman Meal bread (2 slices) 38.0 12.6 50.4 16% 54.8 219.2 71% 4.6 41.4 13% 311
Totals for 634.6 kCal 29.3 117.2 18% 98.3 393.2 62% 13.8 124.2 20% 634.2

win02-macronutrient2This protein-deficient, high-carb meal contains a total of 634.2 calories—140 calories more than the meal that contained a generous portion of butter—with 20 percent of calories as fat, 18 percent of calories as protein and 62 percent of calories as carbohydrates—the white stuff. And while the dieticians might be satisfied with these numbers, Alice most certainly will not. On the contrary, she is likely to feel stuffed and sleepy after all those carbs and then ravenously hungry two hours later when her blood sugar drops. Then Alice’s alter-ego will probably conclude that it’s time to visit the kitchen for a snack of chips or ice cream—to satisfy her craving for fat.

Down the Rabbit Hole

What’s clear from this exercise is that the only way to achieve the dietary guidelines with foods that Americans enjoy eating is to drastically reduce meat and fat and pile on the carbs. If we follow this argument down the rabbit hole to its logical conclusion, we are led to one of two choices—either add lots of sugar to standard American meals or cut way back on animal foods and eat heaps of beans and pasta.

The latter course is the one advocated by extremists like Dean Ornish and John McDougal (and backed by Dr. Neil Barnard of the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine). Using the Alice-in-Wonderland logic that if a little is good, then even less is better, Ornish and McDougal promote a diet containing only 10 percent of calories as fat, a proposal that makes normal eating impossible. Even nuts are taboo on such a diet. Since beans can contain up to 25 percent protein and have less than 5 percent fat, they are given as the ideal protein source. If you want the complete protein provided by animal foods, your only choices are skim milk, egg whites and shellfish. These diets were invented by academicians, not cooks, and are too unpalatable—not to mention deficient in nutrients—to be taken seriously.

The Cheshire Cat

Diets high in carbohydrates and low in fat don’t stick to the ribs. Unimpeded by fats, which have the effect of slowing down digestion, carbohydrate foods flood the bloodstream and quickly raise the blood sugar. Without adequate fat in the diet, the blood sugar is likely to tumble shortly thereafter, causing intense hunger and food cravings that are satisfied either by more high-carb foods—or by giving in to fats. Either way, the result is more calories. It’s no coincidence that as Americans have tried to avoid dietary fats, the rate of obesity has climbed. That’s because we’re eating too many calories, say the dieticians, wagging their fingers with disapproval. Unfortunately, only those with iron wills can eat high-carb and low-cal for any length of time. The weak-willed raid the cupboard or the refrigerator, bingeing and splurging on snack foods and sweets.

win02-macronutrient3The role of fats in curbing appetite was recognized as long ago as 1863, when William Banting first proposed a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet for weight loss. Today this diet is promoted by the famous (or infamous) Dr. Atkins, who looms over the card-carrying dieticians like the Cheshire cat. Atkins’ guidelines of 55 percent or more of calories as fat, 25 percent as protein and less than 20 percent as carbohydrates is exactly what Alice achieves with her initial diet of brisket, broccoli and potatoes with butter. If she eliminates the potatoes and puts butter on her broccoli instead, she lowers her caloric intake by about 70 calories and raises the percentage of fat to 65 percent. To achieve a really high fat diet, one that would put her into a state of metabolic ketosis (where the body burns off stored fat), she would need to eat a rib eye steak instead of brisket. This would raise her total calories to 651 with a whopping 83 percent of calories as fat (see Table 3).

Table 3: Calories in a Low-Carbohydrate Dinner
Food Item
in grams
Moisture
%
Protein
Carbs
Fats
Calories
grams kCal %kCal grams kCal %kCal grams kCal %kCal
100g rib-eye steak 40.0 19.9 79.6 18% 0 0 0% 39.4 354.6 82% 434.2
100g broccoli, steamed 91.3 3.1 12.4 38% 4.5 18.0 54% 0.3 2.7 8% 33.1
25g butter (less than 2 T) 15.9 0.2 0.8 1% 0 0 0% 20.3 182.7 99% 183.5
Totals for 225g of food 23.2 92.8 14% 4.5 18.0 3% 60 540 83% 650.8

Dr. Atkins has been vindicated in a study that was presented at the annual meeting of the American Dietetics Association (ADA) in October of this year.2 The study enrolled 53 women, ages 31-59. All women followed a low-calorie diet of about 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day. Half followed a lowfat approach while the other went on Dr. Atkins’ low-carb diet. The Atkins group lost on average 18.5 pounds compared to 9 pounds in the lowfat group. The ADA’s response to this news is the response that always pops up when study results contradict tightly held paradigms—”more studies are needed.”

But the Atkins diet does have its dangers. In order to “improve” on the diet, many are tempted to restrict not only carbohydrates but also fat, ending up with a diet that has a high percentage of calories from protein—the brisket dinner rather than the rib eye (see Table 4). Dieters often add protein powders to up the protein content without adding too many calories at the same time. The result can be a diet unnaturally high in protein, something that all primitive peoples avoided. Protein requires vitamin A for its metabolism and a diet too high in protein without adequate fat rapidly depletes vitamin A stores, leading to serious consequences—heart arrhythmias, kidney problems, autoimmune disease and thyroid disorders. Diets too high in protein also cause a negative calcium balance, where more calcium is lost compared to the amount taken in, a condition that can lead to bone loss and nervous system disorders.

Table 4: Calories in a Calorie-Restricted, Low-Carbohydrate Dinner
Food Item
in grams
Moisture
%
Protein
Carbs
Fats
Calories
grams kCal %kCal grams kCal %kCal grams kCal %kCal
100g beef brisket 59.1 29.7 118.8 56% 0 0 0% 10.5 94.5 44% 213.3
100g broccoli, steamed 91.3 3.1 12.4 38% 4.5 18.0 54% 0.3 2.7 8% 33.1
25g butter (less than 2 T) 15.9 0.2 0.8 1% 0 0 0% 20.3 182.7 99% 183.5
Totals for 225g of food 33 132 31% 4.5 18.0 4% 31.1 279.9 65% 429.9

A clue to making the Atkins diet successful comes from studies of the diets of carnivores like dogs and lions. Weston Price reported that lions could not breed in captivity when fed on steak alone. When liver was added, they bred easily.3 When lions in Africa are fed exclusively on muscle meats, they become cripples due to spinal collapse. When they were given bones that they could crush, the problem resolved.4 Bones provide calcium and liver provides vitamin A—among many other nutrients—and they work synergistically with the protein in muscle meats. Those on the Atkins diet should eat liver at least once a week or take cod liver oil daily (or both) and use bone broths frequently.

In Wonderland

No diet has been accompanied with as much hype as the Zone Diet, invented and popularized by Barry Sears. This regime calls for a strict balance of 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat and 40 percent carbs—with these ratios, Sears promises, one enters the Zone, where “the mind is relaxed, yet alert and exquisitely focused. . . the body is fluid, strong and apparently indefatigable”.5

The 30/30/40 Zone Diet puts one in “a metabolic state in which the body works at peak efficiency. win02-macronutrient4Outside the Zone, life is its normal self—sometimes rewarding, mostly frustrating, filled with perplexing problems, missed opportunities and illnesses great and small. But inside the Zone life becomes easier and better. In the Zone you’ll enjoy optimal body function: freedom from hunger, greater energy and physical performance, as well as improved mental focus and productivity.” Has any nostrum been huckstered with greater promises than these?

In response to Ornish and McDougal, who promise optimal health with very lowfat diets, Sears argues that the body actually does need fats. But some fats are bad, he says. We should avoid saturated fats and also too much arachidonic acid, found in nutritious foods like liver, eggs and butter. He recommends lean meat along with sources of monounsaturated fat such as avocados, almonds and olive oil.

Someone dipping into Sears book for the first time might think that at last he had come across a diet that was truly satisfying. After all, it contains lots of protein and, according to Sears, plenty of fat. But Sears comes up against the same mathematics that bedevils our dieticians. Fat contains 9 calories per gram, compared to 4 for proteins and carbohydrates, so you can’t add very much fat to meals before you surpass the magic 30 percent. In a meal composed of 6 ounces of white fish for protein and 2 cups steamed vegetables plus 1 piece of fruit for the carbohydrates, the added fat is—don’t laugh—4 teaspoons of slivered almonds! With 4 ounces of chicken breast (skinless of course, to avoid arachidonic acid6) you get a large salad mixed with 4 teaspoons of olive oil. A strange sounding meal consisting of 1 cup lowfat cottage cheese and 1 1/3 cups of cooked oatmeal gets four macadamia nuts. An “omelette” consisting of 6 egg whites and 1 ounce of nonfat cheese gets 1 1/3 teaspoons (that’s teaspoons, not tablespoons) added olive oil.7, 8

If you have trouble figuring out all these ratios, or if you need a between-meal snack (Sears recommends a carefully balanced snack at least two times per day), you can eat Sears’ BioZone meal replacement bars, which have the magical proportions of 30/30/40. The protein comes from soy and whey, the carbs from fructose syrup, and the fats from palm and palm kernel oils (the only two healthy ingredients in Zone bars). It’s easy to formulate a bar with exact ratios when you are using processed ingredients that are 100 percent protein, 100 percent fat and 100 percent carbohydrate, but when it comes to real food, things get tricky. We wonder whether Sears put his bars together first before turning his attention to food, and whether when he did so he was surprised at how little fat you could add to a meal before surpassing 30 percent. In any event, the result is unlike any traditional diet found on earth, is severely deficient in nutrients and carries the inherent danger of diets in which high levels of protein are not supported by adequate fats.

Similar to the Zone Diet is the Paleo Diet, proposed by Loren Cordain.9 Although Cordain notes in his own published papers that hunter-gathers “relished certain fatty portions of the carcass including brain, marrow and depot fat,”10 his own diet is much lower in fat than the typical Paleolithic diet (which can be as high as 80 percent of calories as fat).11 The diet is very high in protein with typical proportions of 33 percent protein, 25 percent carbohydrate and 42 percent fat. He promotes lean meat, shellfish and some organ meats over cheese, whole milk, sausage and fatty meats, because they have a high protein-to-fat ratio. Only six eggs are allowed per week, because the protein-to-fat ratio of eggs is low. The rest of the diet consists of fruits, vegetables and nuts but no grains or legumes. Salt is forbidden in the Paleo Diet.

Cordain’s analyses found a range of 59-66 percent of saturated in the depot fat that hunter-gatherers relished, but he advises his readers to cut all the fat off our meat and replace butter and lard with olive oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil, canola oil, mustard seed oil or avocado oil, because these oils contain “heart-healthy” monounsaturated fatty acids. He recommends organ meats but they don’t show up very often in the recipes and the skin comes off in his chicken recipes, even though chicken fat is rich in monounsaturates. (We haven’t yet figured out why people who write diet books foster such a hatred for the part of the chicken children love the most—the crispy, succulent skin.)

Cordain admits that his diet contains virtually no vitamin D but he says that Paleolithic man got his vitamin D from the sun. (How he did that in cold northern climates is not explained.) There are no good sources of calcium in this diet either and the vitamin A it supplies is inadequate for all that protein. No sweets are allowed in Cordain’s diet, of course, but his logic breaks down when he recommends diet sodas instead.

The Paleo Diet ends up being lower in fat than almost all traditional diets. Moreover, it contains no sources of concentrated carbohydrates that the body could turn easily into the saturated fat it needs. And without grains or rice or potatoes to provide carbohydrate calories, you have to eat a lot of vegetables to get the carb proportion up to even 25 percent. Children and even grown men who hate vegetables might have trouble on this diet, and there are no high-fat or high-carb comfort foods that make mother’s cooking something they would want to come home to. Like the Zone Diet, the Paleo Diet is one created by professors rather than food providers faced with the challenge of putting satisfying meals on the table day in and day out—meals their families will actually eat.

Table 5: Fat Content in Common Foods
Coconut Milk 89%Avocado 88%Salad with Oil and Vinegar Dressing 86%

Rib Eye Steak 81%

Peanut Butter 77%

Cheddar Cheese 74%

Hamburger 68%

Eggs 65%

Potato Chips 63%

Mackarel 59%

Tuna Salad 56%

 

Caviar 52%Whole Milk 50%Ice Cream 47%

Lean Beef (brisket) 43%

Apple Pie 39%

Cookies 38%

Pepperoni Pizza 32%

Salmon 32%

Oysters 21%

Skim Milk 4%

Lima Beans 4%

The only protein foods that can be consumed without surpassing the USDA guidelines of 30 percent or less of calories as fat are shellfish, skim milk and legumes. The Alice-in-Wonderland logic of the US Dietary Guidelines means that apple pie and cookies are healthier than eggs, whole milk and cheese. Coconut milk, avocado, salad dressing, steak and peanut butter are off the charts and can’t be included in any diet that conforms to the Food Pyramid unless combined with foods very high in carbohydrate and low in fat such as bread and pasta.

The Reaven and the Writing Desk

The Reaven diet, named after Dr. Gerald Reaven, calls for 5 percent protein, 40 percent fat, 45 percent carbohydrates.12 Dr. Gerald Reaven spent many years researching Syndrome X, characterized by high blood cholesterol, obesity, insulin resistance and high blood pressure. There is no proof that this bizarre macronutrient balance will help cure Syndrome X. In fact, this ivory tower diet is typical of those invented at writing desks rather than by cooks working with real food. While the level of fat in this diet approaches that of diets in the real world, the amount of protein stipulated is far too low. Saturated fat is held to be bad because it raises cholesterol and since it’s hard to find animal proteins that don’t contain saturated fat and a “cholesterol burden,” the preferred protein in the Reaven diet is soy. The diet consists of soy foods like tofu and vegeburgers, monounsaturated vegetable oils, grains and legumes (sources of insoluble fiber) and lots of fruits and vegetables. Should Alice put her kids on this diet, she shouldn’t be surprised when they sneak out for a burger and fries.

You Are Old, Father William

win02-macronutrient5The latest salvo in Macro-Nutrient Land is the Calorie Restriction Diet, inspired by animal experiments in which mice, guppies, water fleas, yeast, spiders, Labrador retrievers, a microscopic water invertebrate called the rotifer, and rhesus monkeys are said to live longer on diets that restrict caloric intake.13 Researchers are encouraged by the longevity of a single monkey who has reached 38 years on a diet in which the portion of monkey chow—dried compressed pellets of wheat, corn, soybean, alfalfa, fish and brewer’s yeast—has been cut by 30 percent compared to controls. (Other rhesus monkeys for which records exist have lived to 36 and 39 years so far on normal diets. The life-span of rhesus monkeys in the wild is unknown.) Researchers describe C58, their long-lived calorie-restricted monkey, as “in excellent health,” even though he suffers from “a touch of arthritis and a cataract.” In his younger days, C58 was an aggressive “alpha male,” reaching out of his cage to grab passersby. But C58 has lost his pep on calorie-restriction. He now sits quietly in his cage “munching contentedly on a handful of chow and gazing out of his cage with mild curiosity.”

In humans, calorie-restriction translates to about 1500 calories per day, with the arbitrary stipulation of 18 percent of calories as fat, 32 percent as protein and 50 percent as carbohydrates. A typical calorie-restriction meal plan is given as 1 cup of quick oats, 2 tablespoons of toasted wheat germ, 1 cup skim milk and blueberries for breakfast and vegetables, fruit and a small portion of fish for dinner—in other words, two measly meals and no lunch at all. Obviously this diet will be severely deficient in nutrients, which the elderly need just as much as the young.

But volunteers are already testing the “Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition (CRON)” plan. At least 800 of these “Cronies” participate in an on-line chat group in which they crow about the predicted outcome of starvation—weight loss, a drop in cholesterol values and lowered body temperature. Unfortunately, a common complaint is that many of the Cronies become irritable and snappish. Testosterone drops, causing some of them to lose interest in sex. Several have developed early signs of osteoporosis and one became severely anemic.

Nevertheless, the Cronies continue with the Spartan life-style on promises that they will add a few years to the human carcass. Many have been misled by claims that the diet on Okinawa—where there are 34 centenarians for every 100,000 people, more than triple the US rate—is a low-calorie, lowfat diet consisting of “soy, vegetables and small amounts of fish, meat and rice.” This is an example of dieticians “painting the white roses red” because the earliest article on the Okinawan diet described it as “greasy.”14 Lard was traditionally used in cooking on the island and although it may not be used as much today, the Okinawan centenarians were using lard most of their lives, lives that began long before the USDA decided to tell us all to eat canola oil.

The sad thing about the Cronies’ collective renunciation is that the calorie-restriction movement was precipitated by a complete misrepresentation of the original calorie-restriction experiments on rats. These were carried out by Morris Ross and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania starting in the late 1950s.

Studies have shown “that a lifetime regimen of restriction in total food or caloric intake resulted in a remarkable increase in the length of life and a reduction in incidence of several debilitating and life-shortening diseases,” reports Ross boldly.15 Unfortunately, the “benefits” of calorie-restriction only accrue when rats are given severely calorie-restricted diets immediately after weaning. Such a regimen actually results in stunting, impairment of structural, functional and behavioral development including reduced learning ability, and hormonal deficiencies that prevent the rats from going through puberty. When mature rats are given calorie-restricted diets, the length of life is either drastically curtailed or significantly lengthened depending upon the level of caloric restriction and the protein-calorie ratio of the diet. Surprisingly, the restricted diet imposed at maturity resulting in the longest survival was a diet of moderate restriction with a lower protein level. In older, heavier rats, the sudden imposition of calorie-restriction drastically curtailed the duration of life.

win02-macronutrient6In one experiment it was reported that rats on normal diets had more and larger tumors than those on a calorie-restricted diet. However, close examination of the data reveals that the calorie-restricted rats had more tumors per body area and the tumors were more malignant.16 Very high protein diets caused a dramatic increase in the incidence of renal, myocardial and prostatic diseases. The details of these studies should give pause to Sears, Cordain and others who advocate calorie-restricted diets with high relative levels of protein.

Stephen R. Spindler, professor of biochemistry at the University of California at Riverside is the current guru of calorie restriction. “Low-Calorie Diet Slows Aging in Mice in Study,” claimed a recent headline.17 According to the article, “Putting elderly mice on a very low-calorie diet for as little as four weeks reversed many of the changes in the activity of various genes that had occurred during normal aging. . .” The resesearchers were not looking at actual signs of disease, nor were they measuring lifespan, but instead focused on the analysis of 11,000 different genes using a method called microarray technology in which Spindler has large financial holdings.

Actually, none of these studies is particularly relevant to humans eating real food because the rat and mice chow used is a highly artificial concoction straight from Macro-Nutrient Land. The chow used in Ross’s rat studies consisted of 22 percent casein, 6 percent corn oil and 59 percent sucrose! Thus, calorie restriction in these studies means restriction of isolated protein (produced at high temperatures that produce carcinogens), vegetable oil (invariably rancid) and refined sugar (completely devoid of nutrients and a stress on any living system). If this research has anything to teach us, it is that the calories humans of every age should restrict are the empty calories of white flour and sugar in processed foods; instead we are being urged, over and over again, to cut back on fats.

A primary cause of aging is free radical damage.18 Therefore the equation for a longer life would include minimizing exposure to vegetable oils (the primary source of free radicals) and maximizing intake of protective nutrients such as vitamins A and D (found exclusively in animal fats), vitamin E (found in butter, egg yolks and olive oil), vitamin C and key trace minerals like calcium, selenium and zinc. Digestion becomes more difficult as we age so it is important for the elderly to consume foods prepared in such a way as to maximize assimilation. Raw dairy products, bone broths and soups based on broth, and lacto-fermented foods are important elements in a diet for those would-be centenarians who wish to do more than sit in the corner “munching contentedly” on their chow.

Which Way?

In order to find our way out of the confusion of Macro-Nutrient Land, we turn to Dr. Weston Price. What he found in his studies of healthy primitive populations was great variety in macronutrient ratios. All groups had a certain amount of animal foods, but the levels of fat and carbohydrates varied widely—from almost no carbs in northern climates to lots of carbs in tropical regions. The carbohydrates were supplied by grains, legumes, tubers, honey and fruits like bananas. But even in the tropical regions there were good sources of fat, from meat, fish, milk, insects and palm and coconut oils.

Virtually no traditional diet falls within the USDA dietary guidelines of 30 percent or less of calories as fat except when there is an actual shortage of food. If meat or dairy products are consumed, the percentage of calories from fat will be well over 30 percent. Olive oil used in the Mediterranean, palm oil used in Africa, coconut oil used in the tropics all add to the modern dieticians’ collective nightmare.

The exception to the rule is Japan. The largest source of calories in the Japanese diet is fish, with consumption averaging almost half a pound per day.19 If the average fish contains 3 grams of fat per ounce (and many contain more), then the diet will contain about 200 calories or 10 percent of fat from fish. Other fats such as lard, tallow, sesame oil, perilla oil, whale oil, meat and egg yolk (all used in the traditional Japanese diet), and even from milk products (used in fairly large quantities today) will raise fat calories to something like 20-30 percent of the total. The fats that the Japanese do eat, however, are rich in fat-soluble activators A and D—fish heads, traditionally consumed at breakfast, are a particularly rich source of vitamin A—and white rice in the diet is easily converted to fat.

What is consistent throughout the world, during periods of both plenty and scarcity, is that protein rarely exceeds 20 percent of total calories. Dietary surveys conducted 100 years ago—when Americans were eating real food and not inhibited by any strictures on fats or carbohydrates—recorded a range of 10-21 percent protein, with a surprisingly narrow range of 10-15 percent for American diets (see Table 6).20 The American diets were also surprisingly high in calories, ranging from 3400 to over 6600 calories, so the low percentage of protein was not due to economic hardship. In fact, 14 percent of calories in a 3500-calorie diet translates to 123 grams of protein per day, or well over 1 1/2 pounds of meat—far higher than the current USDA recommendation of 50 protein grams.

Fat content in the American diet of 100 years ago ranged between 34 and 48 percent. In a diet of 3500 calories per day, 40 percent of calories as fat translates to 155 grams of fat. Assuming that half that fat comes from meat and the balance from dairy products, the daily intake of butterfat would be almost 3 ounces, equivalent to 3/4 stick of butter per day.

Table 6: Macronutrient Ratios
in America and Other Nations in 1902
Protein Carbohydrates Fats Total
grams kCal %kCal grams kCal %kCal grams kCal %kCal kCal
Football team in CT and CA 226 904 14% 634 2536 38% 354 3186 48% 6626
Farm Families in eastern US 97 388 11% 47 1868 55% 130 1170 35% 3426
Laborer families in US 120 480 12% 534 2136 54% 147 1323 36% 3939
African Americans in AL and VA 86 344 10% 440 1760 52% 145 1305 38% 3409
US Army Rations 120 480 13% 451 1804 48% 161 1449 39% 3733
Lawyers, teachers in US 104 416 13% 423 1692 52% 125 1125 35% 3233
Italian families in Chicago 103 412 14% 391 1564 52% 111 999 34% 2975
French Canadians in Chicago 118 472 15% 345 1380 42% 158 1422 43% 3274
Poor families in New York City 93 372 13% 407 1628 57% 95 855 30% 2855
Swedish mechanics 189 756 16% 714 2856 62% 110 990 22% 4602
Russian peasants 129 516 16% 589 2356 75% 33 297 9% 3169
Japanese professor 123 492 21% 416 1664 71% 21 189 8% 2345
German laborer 52 208 13% 287 1148 69% 32 288 18% 1644
Note that for all but one of the diets, protein consumption greatly exceeds the USDA recommended amount of 50 grams. Protein consumption varies from 10 to 21 percent of calories, with an average of about 16 percent. Only one of the American diets falls within the guidelines of 30 percent or less of calories as fat, and that is for poor families in New York City. The values for the non-US diets—more in line with USDA guidelines—actually reflect difficult economic conditions in these parts of the world, including actual famine. All but two of the diets would be considered very high in calories by today’s standards. These high-calorie diets contain very high levels of carbohydrates. If the carbohydrate content were lowered to reduce caloric intake, percentage of calories as fat would be much higher. Adopted from W.O. Atwater, PhD. Principles of Nutrition and Nutritive Value of Food. Farmers’ Bulletin No 142, US Department of Agriculture, 1902.

Waking Up

The notion that all of us should consume lowfat diets with the same ratios of macronutrients comes from wonderland. If you suffer from hypoglycemia or diabetes, or are prone to seizures, you will need more fat in your diet to keep blood sugar levels stable. If you want to lose weight, you will need to cut back on total calories. This will be easier to do if you eliminate a large portion of the carbohydrates and keep the fat percentage relatively high. If you are an athlete, farmer or laborer burning up large amounts of energy, you can eat more carbohydrates than the rest of us without gaining weight.

If you are eliminating most carbohydrate foods from your diet, then it is important to consume plenty of fat. Several researchers have reported that a diet of lean meat leads to nausea in three days, symptoms of starvation and ketosis in 7-10 days, severe debilitation in 12 days and possibly death in a few weeks.21 Vilhjalmur Stefansson lived for many years among the Eskimos and thrived in a diet that was 20 percent protein and 80 percent fat.22 When he and his colleagues tried to eat lean meat, they quickly developed diarrhea and a lack of energy.

Dr. Price did not focus on macronutrient values but on micronutrients—vitamins and minerals. He win02-macronutrient7pointed out that when the foods are dense in nutrients, fewer calories are needed to maintain optimum health. Humans are not designed to exist on purified macronutrients, but need a wide variety of nutrients found in the proteins, carbohydrates and fats in real foods. In fact, Price believed that the nutrients in animal fats were the most important of all.

The current dietary guidelines make a mockery of Price’s discoveries. We analyzed a diet of real food based on the USDA dietary guidelines (see Table 7). Levels of most nutrients met the stingy amounts called for in the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), but these amounts are much lower than the levels of nutrients Price found in the diets of healthy primitives. If you find a politically correct diet of real food unpalatable—actually only a masochist could stay on such a diet for any length of time—then you can still stay within the USDA guidelines and get your RDA of vitamins and minerals by eating processed foods with synthetic vitamins added—which is the whole point of the exercise.

Dieticians are trained to dispense processed foods and what the focus on macronutrients does is turn us away from the real foods that nourished our ancestors. Whole milk, eggs, cheese, organ meats, sausage, bacon, hamburgers, roast chicken with crispy skin, gravy, butter and even nuts simply don’t qualify under the US dietary guidelines, but dry breakfast cereals, pasta, lowfat dairy and veggieburgers certainly do. Only when we recognize the dietary guidelines and their spinoffs (Ornish, McDougall, Sears, etc.) for what they are—nothing but a pack of cards—can we wake up and enjoy real food again.

TABLE 7: EATING ACCORDING TO USDA GUIDELINES
Breakfast: 1 poached egg, 1 slice dry toast, 1 cup skim milk, 1/2 grapefruit, 1 large wedge of melonLunch: 1 ounce Swiss cheese, 1 baked potato with skin, 1 cup skim milk, 1/2 cup sliced raw cucumber, 1 medium apple, 2 slices dry breadDinner: 1 cup salad greens (no dressing), 3 ounces lean beef, 3 cups cooked spaghetti, 1 cup cooked broccoli, 3/4 cup tomato juice, 2 slices dry bread

Total Calories: 2101
Protein: 110 grams or 440 calories = 21%
Carbohydrates: 314 grams or 1256 calories = 60%
Fat: 45 grams or 405 calories = 19%

SIDEBARS


Meat and Wapatos—Was the Paleolithic Diet Actually Low in Carbohydrates?

In a most interesting thesis, anthropologist Melissa Darby postulates that in the Northern hemisphere as the ice sheet was retreating, there were considerable wetlands that supported Sagittaria latifolia, an emergent wetland plant spread by waterfowl and known as a pioneering plant because it was one of the first to colonize these areas. It grows as a monoculture and can take over a wetland. On the lower Columbia River and in the Mississippi delta there are places where there is no other plant except S. latifolia for hundreds of acres. The Chinook Indians called these tubers wapatos. Darby suggests that S. latifolia was widespread in 10,000 BC in the shallow lakes, ponds, streamsides and wetlands that were draining the water from the ice sheet (PhD Thesis 1996, Portland State University).

S. latifolia produces a tuber that tastes like a potato, cooks as fast or faster than a potato and does not need to be processed with stone tools. It can be baked in hot ashes so it is hard to find in the archaeological record. It is available and harvestable from early fall to mid-spring when plant foods are generally considered to be scarce, and was very cost effective to harvest. It dries well and can be stored for long periods of time. It has been recovered in Paleolithic sites in Poland and in the caves in the Great Basin.

This does not mean that the Paleolithic diet was high in carbohydrates in the same way that modern diets are high in carbohydrates (mostly refined carbohydrates), but it does indicate that the diets of primitive man contained some high-carbohydrate foods.


The Optimal Diet

Taking Dr. Atkins one step further is Polish doctor Jan Kwasniewski, who recommends an extremely high-fat, low-carb diet in his book Optimal Diet. His rationale is the claim that mother’s milk contains the proportions of 1:3.5:0.3 of protein to fat to carbohydrates. Actually, the proportions of mother’s milk are more like 1:7:5. Human milk contains only 6 percent of calories as protein, with 54 percent of calories as fat and 40 percent as carbohydrates—proportions that definitely exclude human milk from USDA recommended foods! While Kwasniewski is mistaken about the composition of mother’s milk, his adherents claim relief from many ailments. Kwasniewski forbids all refined carbohydrates and recommends consumption of plenty of saturated fat and bone broth, both of which supply nutrients sadly lacking in modern western diets.


Can Low-Protein, High-Carbohydrate Diets Be Healthy?

Although most of the diets described by Dr. Weston Price contained generous amounts of animal foods, a few were characterized by low levels of animal foods and a high carbohydrate intake. Several African groups consumed insects, small dried fish and shrimp, and small amounts of shrimp paste as their chief animal foods, with large amounts carbohydrates from tubers, grains, fruits like bananas, and vegetables. Natives of the high Andes consumed small amounts of animal foods in the form of Guinea pigs and dried seafood, particularly dried fish eggs, with large amounts of carbohydrates from potatoes and grains. Even the Swiss diet was relatively low in protein (milk has 2 percent of calories as protein, Swiss cheese has 23 percent of calories as protein) and high in carbohydrates from bread and milk. Protein intake may have been less than 10 percent in these diets, and carbohydrate intake in the range of 60 percent, yet these groups had excellent dental health and a high level of overall good health.

These healthy high-carbohydrate, low-protein diets have several factors in common. One is that the animal foods were of exceptional quality. Insects, dried fish, shrimp, fish eggs and butter from pasture-fed cows are all excellent sources of the fat-soluble activators. Secondly, the carbohydrate foods were usually fermented, a process that greatly increases nutrient values and makes minerals more available. Finally, these diets contained no refined or devitalized foods.

A low-protein, high carbohydrate diet is risky for those living in the industrialized world, where nutrient-dense animal foods like insects and fish eggs are avoided, where carbohydrate foods are not usually fermented, and where it is difficult to completely avoid refined and devitalized foods. Higher levels of animal foods in conjunction with quality animal fats supplying ample amounts of vitamins A and D, provide an extra measure of protection in western diets.

The following letter was received in April 2006 from a member in Poland: Dear WAPF Team, Further to your comment may I point out to you that it is not Dr Kwasniewski who is mistaken in his calculations. It is your analysis, which mistook calories for grams. Dr K gives his proportions in grams, as this is the practical way to control food intake. However, in energy terms, he clearly says in his writings that in human milk, depending on mother’s diets, well over 70% comes from fats. Plus, the baby’s body converts 90% of the lactose into TGL & fats, too, so a baby’s body runs mostly on fats, protein and the remaining 10% of lactose – for the building purposes. Best regards and thank you for your wonderful work, especially that you are doing it in the U.S., the land of the profit above all.–Izabela Niewiadomska (Poland)

REFERENCES

  1. “The Basic Four” was developed by Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, presented at the 38th annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association in St. Louis, October 19, 1955 and published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Nov 1955;31:1103-1107. Later a fifth group was added consisting of fats, sweets and alcohols. The Food Guide Pyramid contains six food groups: bread, cereal, rice & pasta; fruit; vegetables; milk, yogurt & cheese; meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs & nuts; and fats, oils & sweets.
  2. http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2002-12-09-life-cover_x.htmWeston.
  3. A. Price. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, 1945, The Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation (619) 462-7600.
  4. Michael Crawford and David Marsh. Nutrition and Evolution, 1995, Keats Publishing, New Canaan, CT
  5. Barry Sears. The Zone: a Dietary Road Map to Lose Weight Permanently: Reset Your Genetic Code: Prevent Disease: Achieve Maximum Physical Performance, Harper Collins, New York, 1995.
  6. Sears’ tables showing sources of arachidonic acid actually contain many errors. Ibid.
  7. The Zone Diet is actually very low in calories, totaling 1100-1200. An excellent analysis of some of the problems with the Zone Diet is found in Today’s Chemist at Work, Sept 1997, pages 57-52. Author Trevor Smith cites several cases in which athletes developed serious health problems on the Zone Diet. He reports that these problems resolved when more carbohydrates were added, but they could also have been resolved by adding more fats.
  8. Barry Sears. Mastering The Zone: The Next Step in Achieving Superhealth and Permanent Fat Loss. ReganBooks, New York, 1997.
  9. Loren Cordain, PhD. The Paleo Diet. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.
  10. Loren Cordain and others. Fatty acid analysis of wild ruminant tissues; evolutionary implications for reducing diet-related chronic disease. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2002;25:181-191.
  11. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, The Fat of the Land, MacMillan Company, 1956.
  12. Stephen Holt, PhD. Combat Syndrome X, Y and Z. . . Wellness Publishing, 2002.
  13. Laura Johannes. The Surprising Rise of a Radical Diet: `Calorie Restriction.’ The Wall Street Journal, June 3, 2002.
  14. Deborah Franklyn. Take a Lesson from the People of Okinawa. Health, September 1996, pp 57-63.
  15. MH Ross, Length of life and caloric intake. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Aug 1972;25:834-838.
  16. MH Ross. Nutrition and Longevity in Experimental Animals. Current Concepts in Nutrition 1976;4:43-57.
  17. Susan Okie. Low-Calorie Diet Slows Aging in Mice in Study. Washington Post, September 3, 2001.
  18. D Harmon. Role of free radicals in mutation, cancer, aging and the maintenance of life. Radiation Research 1962;16:753.
  19. A Taste of Japan, Thompson Learning, 1993.
  20. W.O. Atwater, PhD. Principles of Nutrition and Nutritive Value of Food. Farmers’ Bulletin No 142, US Department of Agriculture, 1902.
  21. Noli & Avery. Protein Poisoning and Coastal Subsistence. J Archaeol Sci 1988;15:395-401; Speth & Spielmann. Energy source, protein metabolism and hunter-gatherer subsistence strategies. J Anthr Archaeol 1983;2:1-31; Speth. Early Hominid Subsistence Strategies in Seasonal Habitats. J Archaeol. Sci 1987;14:13-29.
  22. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, The Fat of the Land, MacMillan Company, 1956.

This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2002.

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