The Myth of the Low-Fat, High Carb Diet - Part 1 of 2


joel_kauffman__134By Joel M. Kauffman, PhD

Digestible carbohydrate (carb) is usually sugar or starch. The name came from the simplest formula that showed only which atoms in a carb were present and their ratio: CH2O. This looked like a hydrate (H2O) of carbon (C), thus carbohydrate.

Non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) is a result of excessive carbohydrate consumption, which leads to excessive insulin production in people who are carb-sensitive genetically. NIDDM is also called adult-onset or Type-II or Type-2 diabetes. 

Milder cases are called insulin resistance or Syndrome X. Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), also called juvenile onset or Type-I or Type-1 diabetes, is a result of destruction of most of the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, and injected insulin is an essential component of successful treatment.

Even so, eating much less carb than the American norm (45% food energy from carb) allows low blood sugar (serum glucose) to be maintained, and prevents many of the side-effects of high serum glucose (atherosclerosis for one), and low sugar (fainting from hypoglycemia for one), at least in the very carb-sensitive quarter of us. There is also a lesser benefit in the slightly carb-sensitive half of us.

In an ancient tale from Herodotus from the 5th century BC, Persians who already ate wheat bread did not commonly live beyond 80 years, even though they drank red wine. They were in contact with Ethiopians who ate boiled meat and drank milk, and claimed to live commonly to 120!

By 1825, the Frenchman A. B. Savarin had published on the connection between eating flour (starch) and obesity. In 1862 the coffin maker William Banting, who was so fat at age 64 that he could only go down stairs backward, had a serious umbilical hernia, weakness, and was going deaf.

His unusual physician recommended that Banting give up bread, sugar, beer and potatoes, his main foods. Banting lost 46 pounds the first year. The other problems went away, and Banting remained on the diet until his death at age 81, unusual then for English males.

Vilhjalmur Stefansson, MD, beginning at age 27 in 1906, spent a total of 15 years with the Canadian Eskimos, including eating their obviously healthful high-fat no-carb diet, which he grew to prefer. There are reports of many Eskimos living into their 90s in the 18th century.

In 1928 Stefansson and a former companion, Karsten Anderson, MD, entered Bellevue Hospital in New York for a 1-year trial of Eskimo diets. Anderson did well with an all-meat diet, but Stefansson required considerable fat to feel his best, finally settling on 80% fat and 20% protein, with a total caloric intake of 2000-3100 kcal/day. 

His total cholesterol went down about 10 mg/dL.  All kinds of other tests were done, but no bad effects of his diet were seen. In the last 6 years of his life, Stefansson returned to his Arctic diet until his death at age 83, spending a total of 22 years on such a diet.

Richard K. Bernstein, was diagnosed with IDDM at the age of 12 in 1946.  Following the advice of the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Diabetes Association (ADbA) to eat a high-carb (40%, then 60% carb) diet, his condition worsened and most of the complications of IDDM began to appear. 

He found that he could not normalize his blood sugars with any insulin regimen, and that exercise in his condition did not help.  By doing a literature search himself in 1965, he realized the potential benefits of normal blood sugars.

By using himself as the test animal he found that  about 30 g/day of slow-acting carbohydrate (essentially fiber with no simple sugars or high GI starches at all) was necessary to normalize his blood glucose levels, the rest of his diet being fat and protein.

He obtained an MD degree at about age 45 partly to have his observations published in medical journals, because the papers were rejected when he did not have the MD degree. 

He has continued the diet for 35 years so far, which includes on many days, 3 eggs for breakfast  and no fruit.  His total cholesterol dropped from 300 mg/dL to 179, of which LDL-C = 63 and HDL-C = 116 (that is not a misprint).  His triglycerides dropped from 250 to 45.

His lipoprotein(a) level, a marker of inflammation, became undetectable. In 1983 he began his own medical practice for diabetics. At the time of writing he is age 72 and he still works 12-14 hour days in his medical practice on diabetics.

Enough case-studies; how about looking at some trials in part 2 of The Myth of the Low-Fat Diet

Mostly excerpted from the book: Malignant Medical Myths.

Joel M. Kauffman, Ph.D.  
Former Professor of Chemistry of the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
Author of Malignant Medical Myths: Why Medical Treatment Causes 200,000 Deaths per Year

Updated January 2012

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