What do we know and not know about nutrition, diet and health…..equally what do we know as a possible maybe ?.
Just over two years ago i started my one man experiment to sort out my health problems mainly by going against the standard mainstream approach of calorie restricted dieting plus or minus some added exercise ; rather than that i took the more radical approach of just eating low carbohydrate food and excluding some things altogether – like seed oils just as example. I determined to do away with sugar completely but a big discovery i made is that to some extent i’m a sugar addict and that harm reduction rather than total avoidance is the best that i can achieve. I’m lucky that iv’e never been into soft drinks that are loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) as they seem to be the ultimate culprit of, for instance, Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) in children.
Just to say that i didn’t know any of that…..the inflammatory effect of seed oils, sugar addiction as a real problem, ditto HFCS and i had no idea that many children , notably in the USA already have NAFLD, many of whom will go on to develop full on liver cirrhosis just as though they were alcoholics. One of the writer/presenters that i started to follow at that time was Professor Zoe Harcombe who swapped from Maths to nutrition and wrote her Ph.D as a study and challenge of then conventional thinking – one of her comments was that there’s a huge difference between people like me who have been ‘spoon fed’ their knowledge by medical/nursing and dieticians , and those who have learnt it from the ground up…….i was taught as a student nurse in the 1980’s and iv’e had to re-learn everything 40 years later.
Iv’e mentioned before that when i started my one man experiment that i knew so little about what i was doing that i didn’t even know what to eat – and really that all i knew about ‘diet’ was how to do caloric restriction, which i wasn’t going to repeat, or how to eat to train with free weights to put some muscle on……none of what i knew, or thought i knew was going to help.
Iv’e also mentioned that what i did do at the start was to ask some basic questions, however looking back i’d also say that my first questions were embarrassingly poor quality like for instance ‘what is the best diet’ ? – luckily i quickly changed that to asking what the best nutritional approach was that would cause rapid loss of body fat while preserving muscle and that didn’t cause unsustainable levels of hunger.
I can say now that what i learnt (just enough of) was that the evidence and the physiology both pointed to a big negative first, ie what not to do – and that big thing to avoid was the entire realm of caloric restriction as per the franchise ‘diet’ programmes while still eating a lot of ‘healthy’ carbohydrates. I find it interesting now that the first thing i really learnt ‘under my own steam’ as it were, was what not to do rather than what to do ; the Minnesota study should have shown once and for all what happens when you give volunteers (or yourself) a ‘healthy’ low calorie/high starch diet mainly derived from root vegetables ……the results being high levels of hunger, loss of muscle mass, lethargy , stalled fat/weight loss and a total obsession with food.
On the positive side i think i learnt just enough to accept the idea of a low carbohydrate and increased fat diet (LCHF), to not be afraid of saturated fats but rather to be much more wary with seed oils, vegetable based spreads and trans-fats – in other words that i learnt to totally reject the standard model of ‘diet’ as recommended by most dietitians , most doctors and the entire food industry. Outstanding though was the real need to reject as much as possible the presence of sugar, notably of Fructose and HFCS in whatever dietary approach we chose – just to go back to good and bad questions for a moment, that about six months into my experiment i began to realize that i needed to know a lot more about sugar and it’s effects in the body and as a side-line to sugar i also needed to learn a lot more about Insulin……thus my questions got a lot more detailed and technical.
I would like to talk about learning just for a moment……my years as a student nurse were a bit like an apprenticeship in that we spent study blocks in school but with most of our time out on acute hospital wards – and unlike today we were fully part of the staff roster : how much value we were i really don’t know !. I would say that in school we were mostly ‘spoon fed’ what the school of nursing thought we needed to know and it wasn’t until many years later when i did a post registration course that i discovered what it was like to be an actual student – having to go out and learn stuff from textbooks and scientific papers. Today i find active learning different once again courtesy of the internet ; starting in 2016 i became interested in the work of psychologist and academic Dr Jordan Peterson and from that time i spent some time most days sitting in on one of his classes getting the same lectures as his undergraduate students.
With an active interest in the subject and by doing a fair amount of reading as per JBP’s recommended books list i think i got most of a course in personality psychology . Starting in the winter of 2019/20 i kind-of did the same thing with my vital new interest in nutrition and ‘modern’ diseases except that i had no guidance from a single lecturer and instead i had to go my own way and gad around the subject from expert to expert. One of my techniques was to set my own questions and go looking for the answers – for sure that meant sitting in front of the computer a lot and watching a whole slew of video presentations and lectures but it also meant that i had to dive back into textbooks about basic physiology again and then go read the notes and references that came with the better presentations.
Taking one of my core topics (sugar) just as an example i had to break it down into sugar chemistry and metabolism, then sugar toxicity and the relationships between sugar and cancer say or the relationships between sugar intake and the mental health of children and college students. One particular moment i would describe as my cattle-prod moment…..a kind of jolt up the spine when i read that according to the independent line of research that sugar had all of these toxic effects but according to research papers supported by the food and sugar industry that there was no evidence or not enough evidence to suggest that sugar was the problem.
For me that took me back to my student nurse days in the 1980’s at which time a lot of people smoked in pubs and even in restaurants – quite common in those days to go for a night out and come home stinking of cigarette smoke ; while most areas of medicine took it as read that smoking really was causing heart disease, lung cancer and several other cancers the tobacco industry was still claiming that there was no causation and no evidence. My title above – what we know and what we don’t know is kind-of all about this one point, that today i think we know enough that sugar , particularly fructose and HFCS are the primary toxins in most of the ‘modern’ metabolic diseases from metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, hypertension , most inflammatory based diseases and highly likely most cancers too.
I can’t say i understand all of the mechanisms , say for instance, with sugar and cancer or sugar , mental health and problems like ADHD and autism but the links and associations do seem to be there. In 2020 when i did most of my work asking and studying a longer and longer list of questions i eventually left it when i felt i knew enough to know at least what to eat and that maybe fasting is a great idea……but there was a lot that i skimmed over and even more that i set aside for the long winter days like now when iv’e done my daily hundred , can’t work on the boat yet and want to do some serious work again.
So far, this winter, all iv’e managed to do is create a new list of questions and things that i don’t know……the relationships between ‘diet’ weight and obesity and inflammatory factors and Covid 19 of course.