Deny the body carbohydrates and it goes into starvation mode. It starts digesting fat already stored. This can be a problem for dairy farmers. If cows don't get enough feed when they start lactating, they can develop "fatty liver" disease from all the fat their body metabolizes. It can be a very serious problem for Type I diabetics as well. The blood becomes dangerously acid, to the point of being life threatening. My diabetic wife, once sick with flu and unable to keep food down, had to be hospitalized and sustained intravenously.
Actual starvation will bring on this condition as well, called ketosis. It's a natural self-preservation mechanism: faced with a lack of food, the body begins to feed on itself, starting with its stores of fat. More than 100 years ago, the medical profession discovered the carbohydrate trigger. Denying carbohydrates to induce ketosis became an extreme form of dieting.
Carbohydrate abstinence remained more or less in the background until a certain medical doctor specializing in alternative healing, Robert C. Atkins, made a fortune advocating a way to lose weight fast and remain slim on a reduced carbohydrate regimen.
We here at The Slow Cook disdain fad diets and generally reject "dieting" in favor of consuming a wide range of healthful foods. We grow plenty of our own and enjoy playing with our food in the kitchen. We're not purists, and we sometimes eat more than we should, but we try to stick with foods you might call "natural" or "real" over those that have been manufactured or processed in a factory. But as I settle into middle age, and after taking the tender remonstrations of my spouse into account, I have decided that a fat belly, high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure require a closer look at my diet. To give myself a better chance at seeing grandchildren, I've decided to give up carbohydrates and go ketotic.
At least temporarily.
For all his trouble, Robert Atkins was tarred for not being able to produce scientific proof supporting the safety and efficacy of his diet. The "Atkins Diet" was ridiculed by people who thought it was all about gorging on bacon and eggs. In fact, that's not what the Atkins Diet is about. It is about ketosis as a first step toward mitigating the effects of too much insulin coursing through the body, storing fat everywhere, as a result of too many carbohydrates in the diet. Many others have written about the carbohydrate effect. Michael R. Eades and Mary Dan Eades, for instance, have authored some of the most compelling works on health and nutrition I have seen, all centered on the dangers of carbohydrate-induced insulin in the body.
I won't bore you with a lecture or a scientific treatise here. I'll save some of that for later. Feel free to read more about it yourself. Meanwhile, I'll leave you with a few bullet points that I hope explain in general terms what my detour into the world of ketosis and carbohydrate abstinence is about:
* This is not just a vanity issue for me, but a matter of facing up to certain glaring indicators of potential heart disease and premature death. Over the coming weeks and months, I hope to get back to my college trim, which means dropping between 30 and 35 pounds and learning to keep it off.
* I am satisfied that ketosis brought about by abstinence from carbohydrates does not pose a danger to my health. I am monitoring my weight and blood pressure daily. My hope is that losing weight will reduce my blood pressure enough that I can discontinue the blood pressure medication I am currently taking. I will be consulting with my physician about this, as well as about certain potassium issues that arise with blood pressure medication and carbohydrate withdrawal.
* For the time being, my diet will consist almost entirely of proteins. I will not be eating breads or pasta or potatoes or cake or fruits or juices at all. My daily carbohydrate intake for at least the next two weeks will be about 20 grams, approximately the amount in one oatmeal raisin cookie.
* It's true that this style of eating incorporates lots of animal fats along with "good" fats such as extra-virgin olive oil. The human body historically has an amazing ability to put these lipids to good use when carbohydrates are out of the picture. I will be losing weight--not gaining it--and my cholesterol levels should go down, not up. That's the wonder of eliminating much of the insulin the pancreas produces when we are consuming too many carbohydrates.
* Over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, humans ate meat and fats whenever they could get their hands on it, along with a wide variety of low-carb berries, nuts and seeds. And they were healthier. It wasn't until grain cultivation came onto the scene 10,000 years ago--practically yesterday in evolutionary terms--that humans developed a hankering for a carbohydrate diet. Now we are surrounded by carbohydrates and we can't get enough them. We are practically addicted to carbohydrates, whether in the form of french fries or potato chips or sodas or fruit drinks or cakes or candies. Nearly everything in the supermarket is loaded with carbohydrates, resulting in an epidemic of modern diseases: obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardio-vascular disease. For this we can thank an agriculture and food matrix-- subsidized by our tax dollars--that thrives on a glut of cheap corn and other grains.
* Protein and fats are essential for survival. Our bodies cannot function without them. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are--nutritionally speaking--absolutely unnecessary. We would do fine without carbohydrates. Think of the Eskimos, who survive on seals and whale blubber and fish.
* I'm beginning to think that what this country needs it not so much tweaking around the edges of its agriculture policy as an all out war on insulin levels nationwide. Let's get carbohydrates out of the nation's schools, and stop encouraging kids to follow a food pyramid based on grain products. Let's stop training children to be our future diabetics and cardiac patients.
Today I begin Day 3 of the new regime. Yesterday I had fried eggs and sausage for breakfast, salmon salad and avocado for lunch, a snack of oily sardines and a few almonds. Dinner was soy-glazed chicken breast with mustard greens. So far I feel fine and I'm looking forward to devising more high-protein, low-carbohydrate meals. I promise I will update you with important details as developments warrant.