Yes, it’s come to that: every day brings a news story about a condition for which a low-carbohydrate diet is the most healthy diet to follow.
One such news article this week is really no surprise: low carbohydrate diets recommended for diabetics, types 1 and 2. The summary of the research on ScienceDaily.com goes into quite a bit of detail, handy because the original article, also available online, is quite lengthy, but good to read. The authors build the very logical, and scientifically validated, argument that since elevated blood sugar is the key feature of both types of diabetes, and dietary carbohydrate restriction best controls that problem. We (the western world, delighting in abundance of choice) have gorged on carbohydrates over the last few decades.
Important note about carbohydrates: Yes, fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates, but the problematic ones in recent history are sugars, grains, sugars, breads, sugars, sodas, sugars… we understand each other, right? Fruits somewhat and particularly vegetables, are dense in nutritional value and valuable fiber relative to their paltry sugar content. The problematic carbs are the sugars in our desserts, and all those desserts sneakily inserted into almost every form of processed food from bread to sausage.
The article goes on to explore the other health benefits, welcome by many diabetics of a lowered carbohydrate regimen, weight loss and sustainability being key. The authors do mention the one real danger with low carbohydrate diets: need for medication can fall so drastically that over-medication is a real problem. Any medication – metformin, sulfonylureas, or insulin – needs to be lowered prior to the diet or at least carefully monitored.
Great article, no surprise to anyone following the current nutritional literature, apart from the mainstream nutritional trends!
More surprising news emerged on the cancer prevention front. Although modern western diets have been associated with an increased risk of colon cancer, it has not been easy to tease apart the carcinogenic factors. If you ask Web MD, you’ll learn that you need to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grain, and less fat, readily accomplished by eating less meat, dairy and eggs. Researchers at the University of Toronto focused instead on the (ignored by Web MD) high carbohydrate portions in the typical western diet.
Working with mice prone to get colon cancer, they examined the effects of a low-carb diet (how low unspecified) and found that cell repair was enhanced, and carcinogenesis slowed, by eating a low portion of carbohydrates. Although low-carb’s health benefits in cancer have been evaluated primarily for the benefits of following a ketogenic diet and starving cancer, this study looks at the action (lower carbohydrates), the mechanism (altered bowel flora, a change in the microbiome) and the effect (reduced rates of cancer) in a nice tidy package. I have personally never recommended avoiding meat and fat to prevent colon cancer, but the newly identified mechanism opens fresh ground for inquiry.
Common sense does not always prevail, but I have to recall that comparing our current western diet to any diet that ever existed anywhere: other folks have eaten more meat, and/or more fat, than we have. No one has ever eaten more sugary carbohydrates than we do.
Meat is not the problem for colon cancer… except: charring your meat and eating the charred portion is indeed probably carcinogenic, which is equally true of charred eggplant. Enjoy your summer grilling, but keep the flame low under foods of all sorts and cook them gently. Enjoy that burger, and pass on the bun, ketchup, and soda, if you are at high risk for colon cancer, while we wait for more studies to follow up on this one.