Dr. McDougall a.k.a Dr. Potato Head
The purveyor of the potato/starch diet, John McDougall M.D., strikes again with more starchy gobbledy-gook nonsense about low carb/paleo diets.
There is so much to dissect and render inert in his article that it may take me three parts to accomplish the task. Perhaps I can lick it in two. But whether it takes two or twenty parts, lick it I will. I sure ain’t no Denise Minger, but I just can’t let this guy get away with such nonsense. His misinformation must not go un-blogged. (BTW, after you read this blog, DO go back and read Denise’s wonderful dissection of the China Study. Have coffee in hand.)
OK, now, I know the doctor means well. I know he wants the best for his patients. I know that deep down inside he truly feels he’s Dr. PotatoMan to the rescue. The question is, is he willing to concede and admit that the majority of the information in the article in question is in error? Can a man like Dr. McDougall take it on the chin and reverse his position stand on paleo/low carb nutrition?
I hate to say it but I seriously doubt it. He’s got too much invested in it already to say “I’ve been wrong.” And as we all know this is typical of many doctors and experts in the nutritional field like Dean Ornish, Caldwell Esselstyn, T. Colin Campbell, Joel Fuhrman, etc. who spew forth more nutritional misinformation than the wind passed at a bean festival.
But we can hope, right?
I know that a lot of people reading this will think “But Fred – who cares about Dr. McWho? He’s not even on the radar screen of most people.” But it seems to me that when you let these unknowns go unassailed, they wind up on Dr. Oz and the world follows their every syllable. Given what Dr. McDougall is uttering, that can’t be allowed to happen!
Alrighty then, let’s get to it. Dr. McDougall states the following:
Low-carbohydrate (low-carb) diets are fueling the destruction of human health and our planet Earth. “Low-carbohydrate” means a diet high in animal foods and low in plant foods. Only plants synthesize carbohydrates (sugars). The body parts of animals, including red meat, poultry, seafood, and fish, and eggs, contain no carbohydrates. Animal secretions (like mammalian milk) contain sugars synthesized by plants (the cow eats the grass that made the sugar). The original Atkins Diet is the ultimate in low-carb eating. This diet works by starving the human body of carbohydrates in order to induce a state of illness (ketosis), which can result in weight loss. People become too sick to eat too much.
Wowee. Where does one begin? And this is just the very first paragraph!
OK sportsfans, how exactly does tossing the bun off your burger or saying “No thanks” to the bread basket at your favorite restaurant equate to fueling the destruction of human health?
But of course his point is that attempting to feed every single human being on earth enough daily grams of quality animal protein per day would have us seeing cows and chickens roaming the highways and bi-ways of the earth and sleeping next to you in your bed. Of course this is nonsense. Truth is, there’s plenty of seafood in the sea (as long as we stop polluting it) as well as larva and insects for us all. A lobster is nothing but a giant sea bug right? Even the bible says (Leviticus 11:22) it’s OK to eat all kinds of bugs:
These of them you may eat: the locust in its kinds, and the devastating locust in its kinds, and the cricket in its kinds, and the grasshopper in its kinds.
Ya hear that?! And luckily, no where in the Bible does it forbid us to fry them in coconut oil and/or drizzle them with dark chocolate! And there’s plenty of these little suckers to go around – trillions of them in fact – especially come plague time.
The largest known swarm covered 513,000 km², comprising approximately 12.5 trillion insects and weighing 27.5 million tons.
And that’s just the locusts. We can eat all the crickets and beetles too.
Like idiots, we try to wipe these little high quality protein morsels out of existence in order to save crops of soy and corn – the very foods that are arguably a strong contributor to what makes us fat and diabetic. I think we have our heads screwed on backwards.
I say, let the little fiends feast on the fields. Let them land on the crops and allow them to sink their little mandibles in for a minute or two. Let them think they’re in like Flynn. Then, when they’re not looking, BAM! We gather them up and feed the world! We’d have to develop some kind of giant whale-like, baleen aircraft to scoop them all up at swarm time. Then we put all 70 trillion of them into a huge machine that mashes them all up and makes locust loaves and cricket cakes out of them.
Why, I daresay I think I just cured world hunger.
OK sure – it might seem gross to eat such things, but soy burgers and tempeh cakes are pretty gross too. Blah. Give me a katydid crisp drizzled with milk chocolate any day. And for those of you who believe that the bible is the one, true word of God, seems to me eating animal matter is pretty OK:
These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep. Every animal that parts the hoof and has the hoof cloven in two and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. Of all that are in the waters you may eat these: whatever has fins and scales you may eat. You may eat all clean birds.
And this is just for the Jews. Non-Jews can eat a host of other things like animals that died naturally, pigs, camels and other animals that do not cheweth the cud. So if meat was so bad for us, why would God himself screw it up?
I’m jumping around the article like a grasshopper here, but McDougall states at the end of his article:
Dr. Cordain finishes his 2011 revision of his national best-selling book The Paleo Diet by warning, “Without them (starches, like wheat, rice, corn, and potatoes), the world could probably support one-tenth or less of our present population…” (p 215) Choose 10 close friends and family members. Which nine should die so that the Paleo people can have their uncivilized way?
Uncivilized? Pshaw. Here Dr. McDougall misses the point entirely. Even if it were true that the world could not survive eating mostly animals, its overpopulation that is the problem, not an animal-based diet. Personally, I am not going to eat like a gorilla and destroy my meat-oriented digestive system and watch my muscles wither away because there are currently too many people on the planet. No thank you very much.
Take a look at this paper. It’s mostly biased drivel, but go to page 490 or the third page. Look at the difference between the human small and large intestine and the other apes. Big difference wouldn’t you say?
But Dr. McDougall thinks we should be eating like them:
I know of no large populations of primates who have been strict vegans (ate no animal foods at all). However, plants have, with very few exceptions, provided the bulk of the calories for almost all primates.
And that exception is US. Humans. Homo Sapien Sapien.
Second, a low carb diet is not, as Dr. McDougall states, low in plant food. It’s low in grain “food” tis true. But this statement shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what a paleo/low carb diet is. Not even the Atkins Diet save for the first two weeks of the induction phase limits non-starchy plant foods.
McDougall says: “only plants synthesize carbohydrates (sugars).” Hmm. This statement confused me so much it made me look up the word synthesize to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind. Synthesize means to “produce.” OK. So, what’s the point of this statement I wonder? Why does it matter? Anyone want to take a stab at it?
Dr. McDougall states the obvious when he says that the body parts of animals don’t contain carbohydrates.) Well, they do a little.) But again, so what? He seems to think that carbohydrates are necessary in the human diet when they are not. The are, in fact, the only nonessential macronutrient for humans.
He says that the Atkins diet is the ultimate low carb diet. I don’t think so. I think the traditional Inuit got Atkins beat by a mile. Nary a leaf or a fruit is found in their world.
And now for the kicker:
“This diet (referring to Atkins) works by starving the human body of carbohydrates in order to induce a state of illness (ketosis), which can result in weight loss. People become too sick to eat too much.”
Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Moses.
He means ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis and ketosis are not the same thing. Says Dr. Peter Attia:
Ketoacidosis (DKA) is a pathologic (i.e., harmful) state that results from the complete or near absence of insulin. This occurs in the setting of type 1 diabetes or very end-stage type 2 diabetes, and often as the result of a physiologic insult (e.g., an infection) where the patient is not receiving sufficient insulin to bring glucose into their cells. A person with a normal pancreas, regardless of how long they fast (including the fellow I reference above who fasted for 382 days!) or how much they restrict carbohydrates, can not enter DKA because even a trace amount of insulin will keep B-OHB levels below about 7 or 8 mM, well below the threshold to develop the pathologic acid-base abnormalities associated with DKA. Let me reiterate, it is physiologically impossible to induce DKA in anyone that does not have T1D or very, very, very late-stage T2D with pancreatic “burnout.”
And in case you’re wondering, this is not a question of which doctor is right. It’s a question of fact. And McDougall has got his facts wrong. I love getting the chance to insert this quote:
Here’s what’s actually so. Dr. Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D., has done countless amounts of research focused on physiological adaptations to low carbohydrate diets with emphasis on outcomes related to metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Here is what he says:
When you reduce your carbohydrate intake significantly – typically to less than 50 to 75 grams per day -you enter a metabolic state known as ketosis. Ketosis is a term used to describe the NORMAL process of using ketones for energy. Ketones aren’t bad. They’re actually a fat breakdown product. That is, whenever fat is burned, ketones are created. So they’re always present in the body.
On a high carb diet, your body uses glucose, the simplest form of carbohydrates, as its primary fuel. But when glucose isn’t readily available to your body for energy your body begins burning fat at an accelerated rate, producing more ketones. These ketones are really just storage units, holding the excess energy that’s produced from the rapid breakdown of fat so that it can be used later as fuel. As ketone levels rise, your body’s reliance on glucose decreases.
In the simplest terms, ketosis is just a shift from using carbohydrates (glucose) as the body’s main energy source, to using fat (ketones). It’s NOT a dangerous condition; it’s simply your body adjusting to your diet so that it’s using the most efficient form of fuel.
Unfortunately many health professionals believe ketosis to be a dangerous metabolic condition. Why? Because over a hundred years ago, physicians discovered an overabundance of ketones in the urine of diabetics who were unable to control their disease. Naturally, the association of high levels of ketones with poorly controlled diabetes led to negative views of ketones. The high level of ketones in diabetics was given the name diabetic hyperketoacidosis (now known simply as diabetic ketoacidosis).
Diabetic ketoacidosis, which represents extremely high levels of ketones, is a life-threatening state that can occur in type-1 diabetics who aren’t treating their condition appropriately. While diabetic ketoacidosis is serious, the mere presence of ketones is not. The point here is that sometimes a lot of something causes problems, but a little can be advantageous. Sort of like your heart beating 300 times a minute might be bad, but your heart beating 60 times a minute is ideal – and certainly better than not at all. Now consider: the ketone levels in people with diabetic ketoacidosis are 8 times higher than those following a low carb diet.
Interestingly, ketones have many benefits. In fact, they may be the perfect fuel for dieters. Since ketones spare the use of carbohydrates for energy, they prevent the protein from your muscles from being broken down and converted to glucose. And that ensures that the calories you’re burning are far more likely to be fat, compared to typical diets where muscle loss almost always accompanies fat loss. Ketones also suppress your appetite. Research shows that increased levels of a compound called betahydroxybutyrate – the primary ketone in the blood -act as a satiety signal , meaning that it tells your brain that you’re full.
Of course, the other knock on ketosis is that even if it burns fat faster, it deprives your brain of glucose, reducing your mental capacity. However, your brain only requires a small amount of glucose, which can be met through gluconeo-genesis, the process of converting protein to glucose. Although not high in protein, by it’s nature a low-carb diet provides ample incoming protein. So there’s plenty available for the small amount of glucose that your brain needs, without having to breakdown muscle. In addition, encouraging new research from National Institutes of Health scientist Richard Veech MD, PhD, has found that ketones may help both your brain and heart run 25 percent more efficiently.
So as you can see, Dr. McDougall is sorely mistaken. Nutritional ketosis is not only not harmful, but a natural and beneficial state to be in. This is not a matter of one mans opinion vs. anothers. This is a matter of fact vs. fiction.
In part II we’ll tackle the other nonsense remarks about low carb/paleo diets that Dr. McDougall makes. Stay tuned and stay ketotic!