23 thoughts on “Refined Carbohydrates”

  1. Of courses, we have a problem in that a healthy diet is an expensive one.

    I wonder to what degree this is due to agricultural subsidies and trade barriers. I suspect this is a major influence.

  2. Not only is the FDA wrong about saturated fats, they have it completely backwards. Natural saturated fats (such as butter) are actually good for you. It’s the artificial vegetable oils that are poisonous, both in liquid form and as margarines or Crisco.

    Note that I’m not defending overly processed carbohydrates. White flour and sugar are awful for you. I’m just point out that the whole “Heart Healthy” margarines that have been pushed on us for 30 years are actually the worst possible thing we could be eating for cardiovascular health.

    Here are some links of interest (hardly my only sources, but good reads nonetheless):

    Full Fat Dairy for Cardiovascular Health

    Saturated Fat and Insulin Sensitivity

  3. Of courses, we have a problem in that a healthy diet is an expensive one.

    Whoa, I missed this quote until Martin commented on it.

    In brief, this is a misconception. A healthy diet consists of unprocessed foods from the edges of the grocery store, which are far, far cheaper per calorie than the boxed crap in the aisles where all the processed carbs are. Not to mention the money you save drinking water or brewed tea as opposed to Coca-Cola.

    Some really cheap sources of healthy calories include brown rice (that’s been soaked in water at least 8 hours prior to cooking), white rice (if you’re not into the soaking), potatoes (Yukon, sweet, whatever), whole kernal corn and beans. And there’s nothing wrong with the regular red meat in the butcher’s section. I personally prefer to get the hormone and anti-biotic free stuff, but I’d rather take the regular ol’ chuck steak over Fruit Loops any day of the week.

  4. It is always going to be more less expensive to grow vegetable or whatever food than meat. Given animals eat plants there is always going to be some sort of energy loss associated, entropy being the bitch that it is. The question is how to make meat cheap. Presently it is cheap enough. It could be cheaper still IMO. If there is one thing I loathe much more than food production subsidies however, it is subsidies to reduce food production. Insanity.

  5. Oh and I do not get what is the big problem with vegetable oils. People have eaten seeds since prehistoric times. Seeds have vegetable oils. These oils can be extracted merely by using a press. The problem is boiling these oils, or hydrogenating them. It should also be considered that these oils were traditionally consumed with the seed’s hydrocarbons, not just by themselves.

    Then there is glucose-fructose syrup: a terrible, terrible idea. People often pine about how honey has a similar composition, but even honey has some amount of maltose and sucrose in it. Plus vitamins. Sometimes the body needs some substance B to enable proper processing of another substance A. These factors are not properly accounted for.

  6. If there is one thing I loathe much more than food production subsidies however, it is subsidies to reduce food production.

    It can be a precursor to abolishing subsidies altogether if it is a pay off to get out of small scale family farming. In either case it is little different from theft, but one is still preferable over the other.

  7. Oh and I do not get what is the big problem with vegetable oils. People have eaten seeds since prehistoric times. Seeds have vegetable oils. These oils can be extracted merely by using a press.

    People have been eating fruit since pre-historic times, but highly refined white sugar will still give you diabetes.

    And your statement about the press is just wrong. Here’s the steps to making vegetable oil margarine:

    1. Farmers grow seeds.

    2. The seeds are harvested.

    3. The seeds are crushed to extract some of the oil.

    4. The rest of the oil is extracted by mixing the seeds with hexane, a chemical solvent.

    5. The hexane is (supposedly) all removed.

    6. The oil is pumped full of hydrogen gas and nickel powder. (Even the margarine makers know hydrogenated oils are a tough sell these days, so they may skip this step. I don’t know what, if anything, has replaced it.)

    7. The remaining oil is subjected to heat and high-pressure CO2 gas.

    8. The oil is mixed with sodium hydroxide and passed through a centrifuge.

    9. The oil is mixed with water and passed through another centrifuge. At this point, the margarine is a gray, speckled, oily mass that doesn’t smell so good. So …

    10. The oil is mixed with hydrated aluminum silicate that binds to and filters out the unwanted pigments.

    11. The mix is heated again and the oil is extracted.

    12. The oil is passed through a steam distillation chamber to remove unwanted odors.

    13. Yellow food coloring and artificial flavors are added.

  8. I can tell you that when I switched from eating a hi-carb, pasta-heavy diet to a low-carb, vegetables-and-meat diet, I dropped thirty pounds. Also my digestion improved. Basically I just went back to the way I ate as a child in the Seventies (meat was the main focus of the meal, no double starching it, have at least two vegetables, no snacks between meals, or at least make that snack a raw vegetable or something). I also went back to 1970s portions. I have noticed over the years, in restaurants as well as my own plate, that food portions just got bigger and bigger. I think the worst offender was The Cheesecake Factory, which basically brought you a week’s worth of food in one meal. And the desserts were things like huge bowls of strawberries and cream, and slabs of cheesecake as big as your head. It was crazy. No wonder so many people are fat.

  9. At last the news is getting out…

    Five years ago, (I’m in my 30’s), I was diagnosed as a diabetic. MODY, Mature Onset Diabetes of the Young, which is much akin to type 2. (all type 1’s are insulin dependent, but only some type 2’s are)

    I was stunned. It wasn’t from eating too much sugar; that much, I felt sure of. I’ve never had a sweet tooth (I was the kid who hated candy… I always loathed the stuff, it just tastes bad to me). Turns out, MODY is genetic… but it’s much like Type 2, so I was put on oral drugs and also insulin (my blood sugars were exceedingly high.)

    It didn’t help that I was 20 pounds overweight.

    The diet prescribed? It stuck me, even though I new very little, as insanity; high carb, low fat. Carbs are what elevate blood sugar, so having more of the very thing causing the problem seemed.. insane. So, I started reading, and within three days I deposited the prescribed diet in the roundfile.

    Long story short, I went low-carb. Basically, an Atkins diet. I never believed the claim that it would reduce cholesterol, but other than that, it looked good, and my cholesterol, unlike my blood sugar levels, wasn’t bad.

    Eight days later, my blood sugars were low enough that I no longer needed insulin. A month later, and I was able to drop all drugs except metformin; no more pancreatic stimulators.

    That 20 pounds? It didn’t melt away, but by getting lots of exercise, it was gone within 3 months.

    Cholesterol? To my shock, it really did go down.

    Today, My HB1AC level (measure of long-term blood sugar) is 5.4.
    For comparison, the Diabetes association advises 7 or under. Normal (non-diabetic) reference range runs from 4.5 to 5.7.

    Am I still diabetic? Of course, and I always will be. If I ever need reminding, I can eat a slice of bread and watch my blood sugar soar (I use a blood glucose meter). However, by keeping my blood sugars low, and even more importantly avoiding post-meal spikes, I have a far better chance of surviving for longer.

    Low carb saved my life… I honestly feel that.

    I avoid sugar (or course!) including fructose. I also avid equally bad things like white flour, though I do have low glycemic (such as whole wheat) in small amounts, same with fresh fruit (small amounts, with meals only)

    I agree that vegitable oils, margarines, etc are bad. One oil that I do support though is pure, extra-virgin olive oil

    I’m a bit of a fanatic… I’m on a vendetta right now regarding “Diabetic jam”. I’ve seen this for sale in “health” stores, listing a sugar content of around 40 grams per serving! The excuse is that it’s somehow “okay” because it’s “natural” sugar (fructose). That is utter BS. So, I make it a passtime; I go in and make a pain of myself to any store I see selling this stuff as “diabetic jam”.

    I also denounce the American Diabetes association at every opportunity. Their dietary guidelines are written for type 1’s (10% of diabetics) not type 2’s (close to 90%). They are high carb, and to eat those carbs, you take pancreatic stimulators. Result? Damaging spikes, plus your already-damaged pancreas is worked to death, leaving the diabetic insulin dependent in around 10 years. This is horrendous.

    Low carb is becoming more and more accepted by diabetics for one reason: it works.

    Okay, rant over. 🙂

  10. Arizona CJ,

    I am very happy for you and your recovery. The ADA really is a blight on our society, so I’m glad you got away from them. You’re probably familiar with the paleo blogger/economist Art De Vany? He battled them for decades trying to treat his wife and son for Type 1 diabetes.

    Be that as it may, low carb doesn’t have to be your final answer if you don’t want it to be. A too-low carb diet can have serious side effects in the long run, particularly for your thyroid and basal metabolism. Dr. Atkins acknowledged this in his book.

    I don’t agree with everything (or even most) of what Joel Fuhrman has to say in his dietary advice (like most he’s wrong about saturated fat), but he undeniably cures Type 2 diabetes regularly on a very high-carb vegetarian diet. Very high carb.

    The trick is that there’s a difference between high-glycemic foods like potatoes and low-glycemic foods like fructose. The former (because it’s pure glucose) spikes your blood sugar temporarily but doesn’t do any long term damage. The latter spikes your blood sugar much less (because blood sugar is glucose, not fructose. Fructose is metabolized by your liver) but causes severe insulin resistance in the long run. Here’s a YouTube lecture from UCSF Chair of Pediatric Endocrinology Dr. Robert Lustig making this point.

    If you cure the insulin resistance you can go back to having rice, potatoes, beans, corn, etc. if you want to, without doing yourself any harm whatsoever. Here’s a good link from a health blogger I respect on his experience with the Fuhrman diet. Long story short – lots of damage, but super-humanly low blood sugar levels after just two weeks.

    If you like that you can search Matt’s site for the term “Sunny D”. That should bring up most of his posts on the Fuhrman diet written while he was actually on the diet.

    Best of luck,


  11. When I was diagnosed with T2D in (IIRC) ’07, the nutritionists I was sent to made it clear that carbs were the problem. I wasn’t given a diet per se, but I was given a lot of very intelligent advice, which finally enabled me to start getting the numbers under control.

    Before that I’d been trying to avoid sugar, and getting nowhere.

  12. he undeniably cures Type 2 diabetes regularly on a very high-carb vegetarian diet. Very high carb.

    I’ll bet he stresses non-starch vegetables.

  13. I can attest to the cholesterol benefits of going low-carb. Previously, I had been avoiding things like cheese, eggs, beef, etc. and managed to pork up by 20 pounds in one year. Then, on my doctor’s advice, I went low-carb, increased the eggs, beef, cheese and nuts, and in one year I dropped all the weight and then some, and my cholesterol dipped from 161 to 142… in a year in which I basically trebled my intake of things like eggs and cheese. I’m waiting for someone to wake me up.

  14. I’ve gone mostly primal (marksdailyapple.com) in the last 3 months. My weight went from 167 to 145 (5’9″) and I now have tons of energy and I’m not hungry. I haven’t been below 160 in a decade! Next up for me is to work on fitting in some occasional lifting and sprinting.

  15. I’ll bet he stresses non-starch vegetables.

    You’d lose that bet, badly. Oatmeal, chick peas, rice, corn, etc. are all on the diet. Starch is pure glucose, and perfectly healthy. Glucose can be used by every tissue in the body, and does not induce insulin resistance.

    What he suggests you avoid are overly refined carbohydrates, like white flour and sugar. Those are what screws up your metabolism. But there’s nothing wrong with the sugar in fresh fruit, and you can even have wheat if you prepare it correctly at home.

    The problem with wheat in America today isn’t wheat’s “fault.” Wheat is fine if you prepare it correctly, but industrial food processors don’t do that. A true sourdough leavened loaf of freshly ground wheat is a completely different animal, both in a nutritional and epicurean manner, than anything sold at Shop Rite.

  16. Margarine is hydrogenated vegetable oil. Precisely the kind of thing I said was not a good idea.
    Uncooked vegetable oils by themselves (i.e. the stuff you put into salad) are no issue. I know people with cholesterol problems who use plain salad oil instead of butter. It lowers blood cholesterol significantly. Another thing that helps is yogurt (blech) instead of cheese. Or fish instead of meat (same cholesterol but better HDL/LDL ratio).

  17. Also, another thing I forgot to say, different parts of an animal have different fat ratios. Brain matter, which is considered inedible today (plus disgusting to me personally), has high omega-3 fatty acid levels just like perceived “more healthy” fish.

  18. Godzilla,

    Uncooked vegetable oils are NOT fine by themselves. Hydrogenated oils are worse for you, but that doesn’t make the non-hydrogenated ones harmless. High polyunsaturated fat diets are associated (in a causative sense, not just epidemiologically) with all sorts of bad outcomes. When the liver metabolizes them it starts a chain reaction leading to dangerously high intracellular levels of arachidonic acid (AA) in every tissue in the body.

    AA is highly inflammatory, and it’s this sub-clinical but persistent inflammation that eventually causes a list of symptoms that couldn’t possibly fit in this comment section. Among other things it’s associated with statistically significant weight gain, higher rates of cancer, and autoimmune diseases of all kinds.

    It’s true that all food sources, even beef and fish, have polyunsaturated fat omega-6 as an ingredient, and we have been eating it since prehistoric times. But pork and chicken (the two richest sources of O-6 in a natural diet) are only 10% O-6 by calories. Seed oils are highly refined, often 50% or more O-6 by calories. That sort of difference in concentration (and the great abundance of seed oils in industrial and restaurant food) is why Americans have gone from 2-3% of daily calories from PUFAs (both O-6 and O-3) to over 20% of daily calories, almost exclusively O-6.

    Our bodies just can’t metabolize that much O-6, and the ratio of O-3 to O-6 deteriorating from 1:1 to 50:1 is also problematic.

    For a more in depth answer I can recommend this website.

  19. I don’t know much about diet. Dietary strategies have always been presented as fact. What I do know is that when I got out of graduate school with a PhD, spent some time working at Yellowstone, and then helped my brother finish his basement in Colorado, I lost about 35 pounds (going from 210-215 to 175-180 over the course of about a year). There was some reduction in my starch consumption, a significant increase in activity (and at higher elevation), and a far less stressful and depressing environment. I think more than diet, activity and outlook made me healthier (though I might have eaten much healthier as well through related behavioral changes).

  20. This was already known to some extent. The recommendation never was to replace saturated fats with simple sugars, but with complex ones (mixed carbohydrates to be exact) found mostly in fruits and whole grains.

  21. Karl,

    You are 100% correct. Cortisol (the stress hormone) plays a huge role in the onset of obesity and metabolic syndrome. Exercise, sleep and “good vibes” all reduce cortisol while increasing insulin sensitivity.

  22. I’d take this more seriously if the new advice didn’t have the same rhetorical tricks (our diet used to be better until the evil capitalists force fed us saturated fat/starch/trans fat/high fructose corn syrup/omega six fats/whatever’s next) as the old advice.

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