Anyone who has started to read into some of the controversies of nutrition will quickly find that there’s a lot we don’t know. Answering questions that appear to be trivial can end up taking 40 years and costing billions of dollars… and somehow we still don’t have an answer. Why?
A trivial example: If you take fat out of your diet by cutting out one hamburger, you may have added extra veggies or chicken or candy to your diet. Suddenly, simply determining what happens when you remove one serving of red meat from your diet becomes a multivariate matrix of macronutrients, micronutrients, fiber, and other strange considerations. And then you can repeat this for every feasible item in the grocery store and realize how futile your quest to answer simple dietary questions has become.
Beyond the universal understanding that “less processed is more better” we are left without a lot of understanding about nutrition, and for good reason: it is impossible to say definitively whether a vegan diet is more healthful overall than a ketogenic diet or vice versa.
Nevertheless, there are some basic considerations to which we can apply fairly straightforward logic. What follows are just a few of the examples of false nutritional hypotheses and general stupidity that I will address in kind.
I need Vitamin C. Oranges have Vitamin C. I need to have Oranges in my diet.
We all abide by this simple tenet in some form or another. We’ve discovered so many of these micronutrients and compounds present in food that are necessary for human health and metabolic function in a variety of ways.
Let’s analyze this with hypothetical micronutrient Vitamin Nick. Vitamin Nick is hypothetically known to be critical for Eye health by enabling process Andre. However:
- “More cowbell does not necessarily mean more better.” All that is required to ensure process A completes is sufficient quantity of Vitamin N. More vitamin N does not necessarily improve the performance of process A; it may simply be discarded by the body through the kidneys. Vitamin N in excess of what would normally be found in natural food groups may even be detrimental by overwhelming your body with an abnormally high concentration.
- Even if Vitamin N is not harmful in any excessive quantity, we need to establish a need for additional Vitamin N. If any reasonable permutation of your diet will continue to provide 10x the required Vitamin N for Process A, there is still no need to supplement additional Vitamin N. True, you could apply the precautionary principle and always take supplements “just in case,” but it’s also very difficult to rule out the possibility that Vitamin N would be harmful in excess if few have been subjected to its excess before.
- By the same token, just because fruit X has Vitamin N, we don’t need to add fruit X to our diet if we already have sufficient Vitamin N. Furthermore, if fruit X has 40g of sugar in it, we are subjecting our body to that sugar for the sake of a vitamin we already have in sufficient quantity.
Why is this important? In general, in this modern day and age, we are sufficiently nourished. You don’t hear about many individuals getting scurvy because they lack Vitamin C. Absent a base of evidence to suggest additional Vitamin in your diet is beneficial, there’s no reason to supplement your consumption.
- You probably don’t need a multivitamin, nor do you actually know what’s in there.
- Fruit and vegetables are not a necessary part of your diet from a micronutrient perspective if it’s possible to get necessary micronutrients from animal products.
Fiber is important because it tricks your body into feeling full faster on less food.
Satiety is a fascinating subject to study. A human able to maintain within +/- 2 lbs over 10 years has magically been able to ensure that, in aggregate, his consumption of food matched nearly exactly his caloric expenditure. This human most likely ate when he was hungry and stopped when he was full; through changing energy expenditure he was able to maintain a constant weight. A maximal gain of 2 lbs in that decade would have resulted from a difference of +2 calories/day on average, or a leaf of lettuce. And we can assume his energy expenditure was more than three orders of magnitude greater than that number (2700 Calories or so).
So what does this mean? Well, it suggests that our metabolism has the capacity to ensure caloric homeostasis with extraordinary accuracy. It didn’t matter than on half of those days he ate a salad with extra fiber or on one of those days he had a hamburger or a steak instead.
A lot of the research tends to focus on immediate satiety: give a study participant a bar with added fiber versus a bar without and rank difference in how full someone feels after an hour. Here’s the problem: we’re not talking about in between meals; we’re talking about a decade. It’s entirely possible that longer term metabolic processes dealing with satiety are going to realize this clerical error after two hours and make you just as hungry as you would have been without the fiber.
Anecdote 1 from the life of Nick
I will often eat a low carb Chipotle burrito:
- Black beans (I know, I cheat a lot)
- Double meat (chicken and steak)
- Sour cream
- Pico de gallo
- Guac (I fight through my mild allergy to avocados)
I have not added up the number of calories, but there are a lot. I typically eat this meal around 6PM. I noticed the following phenomena:
One day, I had eaten a substantive meal of 1000 calorie omelette around Noon. By the time I had finished my burrito a full six hours later, I felt exceedingly full. I did not want anything else whatsoever.
However, on a different day, I hadn’t had a substantive meal earlier in the day. This Chipotle burrito bowl was basically my first meal. I finished the burrito and even though my stomach felt full (nearly to the point of pain, because omgz that was a huge burrito bowl), I was still hungry. It appeared to me that my satiety was compensating for the total caloric intake in the day. Just because I had “made it” to the next meal did not reset the fact that I had undershot my daily caloric goal in aggregate.
Therefore, I have hypothesized that there are fairly long term processes dealing with satiety that help keep your energy consumption consistent even if you eat one meal per day versus two etc.
The insinuation here is that mass of the food and caloric density determine satiety. But that begs the question: how does your body determine satiety?
One common theorem: since fat has 9 Calories/gram and carbohydrate and protein have only 4 Calories/gram, fat fills you up less and contributes to weight gain in comparison with carbohydrate.
However, we know on some level that this is inaccurate. When we drink a lot of water, we don’t feel full. Our stomach may feel full, but we can still be hungry simultaneously. Clearly, presence of contents in stomach is just one of multiple inputs dealing with satiety. What are the exact other inputs and how do they interface? I have no idea, but:
Another Anecdote from Nick
Frequently I will consume a latte. Now, when I do a latte, I do not use “reduced fat” milk. Nor do I use regular milk. I use milk^2, or heavy cream.
This particular beverage has about 9-10 ounces of heavy cream, with a breakdown of around 1000 Calories and blowing away the USDA recommendations with 68g of Saturated Fat, over 342% of the Recommended Daily Amount. Lolol.
A heavy cream latte is basically the antithesis of the fiber hypothesis. It is purely liquid. It definitely does not take up volume or mass commensurate with its caloric content. So it ought not to fill you up, right?
Well I encourage you to try drinking one of these some day (you may have to warm up your Gall bladder first, but you can order one at Starbucks). Because somehow after consuming this delicacy — as if by miracle — you end up not hungry. I once tried to eat a meal shortly after one of these delicious lattes and found myself basically unable, even though my stomach was quite empty.
So does fiber make you feel fuller faster on less food? Maybe. Does that mean it is necessary to ensure caloric homeostasis over the long term? No. The effects of its satiety may be temporary. And what happens if you eat “too much” because you didn’t have any fiber? Perhaps those same long term satiety processes will ensure that you’re proportionally less hungry over your next few meals.
Therego: stop worrying about fiber content of meals with respect to how full or hungry you’ll feel. Don’t eat those fiber bars, try baby spinach. Just because everyone says “fiber fiber fiber!” really loudly does not mean it’s the be-all-end-all of health.
Fruit sugar is good for you.
A fructose is a fructose. When you juice the fruit and take out the pulp, you end up with the metabolic equivalent of soda.
Note, for instance, that this pomegranate juice has 31g sugar/serving and that this popular cola soda has 39g sugar/serving. The ratios of Fructose:Glucose in fruit is fairly similar to that of High Fructose Corn Syrup (even though it’s defined as around 65:35 Fructose:Glucose the ratio can skew upwards, so I’m told).
But fruit has vitamins, so it’s fine, right?
The only way to maintain your weight is to count calories.
Does a lion count calories? No.
Is the lion fat? No.
Does your body have miraculous ways of regulating satiety and hunger to match your caloric need? Yes.
Do excess sugar and refined carbohydrate interfere with your body’s satiety signals vis-à-vis the Insulin response to rising blood sugar interfering with your body’s satiety hormone, Leptin? Yes.
The way to lose weight is to count calories.
For a more thorough treatment to the subject, please watch Gary Taubes with Why We Get Fat.
- The suggestion that you can control energy balance by manipulating exercise or eating habits ignores the interdependence: exercising makes you hungry, eating less lowers your basal metabolic rate and energy levels.
- Just because someone was counting calories when they lost weight doesn’t mean that the weight loss was a direct result. It’s possible that they also simultaneously improved the quality of the food such that they ate less sugars, starches, and refined grains and lost weight for this reason.
- The processes associated with storing energy are entirely different for fat vs carbohydrate. Glucose is stored as fat through De Novo Lipogenesis, or the process of converting excess carbohydrate into fat. Fructose is converted to fat directly in the liver (as it cannot be processed anywhere else in the body). Fat is stored into fat cells directly using Acylation Stimulating Protein and Hormone Sensitive Lipase (and no I have no idea how those work). The important part of this is entirely separate metabolic pathways are associated with storage of fat in fat cells and carbohydrate in fat cells. The way in which fat makes you fat is different than the way in which carbs make you fat.
Some questions to answer:
- How does eating a lot of carbohydrate or sugar affect satiety? We know that Insulin, the hormone released in response to increases in blood sugar, interferes with Leptin, the satiety hormone. Therefore, we can hypothesize that eating excessive carbohydrate may interfere with normal satiety function and cause you to be hungrier sooner. Insulin also prevents the release of additional energy from fat cells until the levels fall, which can effectively prevent access to stored energy after all glucose has been processed and blood sugar falls.
- How does eating a lot of fat affect satiety? I don’t really know. It makes me full.
- On a diet low or absent in carbohydrate, if you eat an excess of fat, what regulates how much of that will be stored compared with the quantity you eat and exercise? I have no idea. Interesting question though 🙂
Saturated fat causes heart disease by raising your cholesterol
TL;DW: No, as Peter Attia can tell you.
Saturated fat raises good cholesterol, which is a good thing. Those familiar with the diagnostic criteria for Metabolic Syndrome will note that it is important to maintain high HDL “cholesterol” and that there is no mention of LDL “bad cholesterol” at all.
Though Saturated Fat raises LDL “bad cholesterol” as well, it creates the neutral larger, fluffier particles. The net effect is zero.
- Substituting fat for carbohydrate lowers your triglyceride count, which lowers your risk of CHD.
- If fat is more sating than carbohydrate or helps you lose weight, that is beneficial to your CHD risk. One of the better predictors of disease risk is a simple measurement around your belly button. The higher that goes, the higher your risk.