If you do a search on Amazon for books about nutrition, you’ll find there are over 40,000 titles available. Add the word “diet” to the search and you pick up at least an additional 10,000 titles. How could there be so much written about a subject that other species just know about intuitively?
Think about it. How many overweight deer have you ever seen in the forest? How many fat birds do you see in the park? They don’t know about calories. And they have plenty of food available, so it’s not that they can’t find enough to eat.
Have you ever seen documentaries of wildlife in Africa? You see lions sitting around while the gazelle graze nearby. Why don’t the lions kill and eat those gazelle, I used to wonder. But now I know the secret! The secret is they aren’t hungry at that moment—they only hunt and kill when they get hungry. Another secret is that when they eat, they do so until they are full. Then they stop eating. But neither of these two secrets are the one I want to reveal here, but it is related.
Like any other animal on the planet, we need to eat. Plants are the only living things that can make their own food. Everything else eats either plants, animals that eat plants, or both. We fit into the latter category.
We have known for centuries that there are three “macronutrients.” These are three broad categories for various classes of nutrients. There are several nutrients called fatty acids which belong to the macronutrient called “fat.” The amino acids belong to the macronutrient called “protein.” The various forms of sugar (glucose, fructose, galactose, lactose, etc.) belong to the macronutrient called “carbohydrate.” So far, no secrets here.
The science of nutrition makes a distinction between the nutrients our body needs, and the nutrients we need to eat. It seems a strange delineation until you understand that our bodies can take nutrients we eat and make other needed nutrients out of them. For example, we need 21 different amino acids to live—to thrive, if you will. If we don’t have enough of these 21 amino acids in our system we will eventually get sick and die an early death. But we only need to eat 10 of those 21 amino acids, because our body can make other 11 out of those “special” 10 amino acids (as long as we eat enough of them).
These special nutrients, the ones we have to eat and that can be used to make other nutrients we need, are called “essential nutrients.”
The field of nutrition has identified 12 essential nutrients for humans. As we just saw, 10 are amino acids (which come from protein). Two are fatty acids (from fat). And now the big secret, which, if you are good at math you have probably already guessed: There are no essential carbohydrates. Humans do not need to eat ANY carbohydrate to thrive and live a normal, long life.
This is something that most practicing nutritionists don’t know—and most doctors don’t know this, either. But now you do!
Check this out: In 2005, the Panel on Macronutrients: Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients) concluded “The lower limit of dietary carbohydrate apparently is zero, provided that adequate amounts of protein and fat are consumed.” You can see, by the fact that they added the word “apparently” in their report, that they were surprised by this finding as well.
We often hear, however, how important glucose is—that our brain needs glucose to function, and glucose comes from carbohydrate. If this is true, how can it be that we don’t need to eat any. As is alluded to in the quote above, as long as we eat enough protein and fat, our body will synthesize all the glucose we need. A bonus here is that if we don’t eat any carbohydrate, the body (specifically the liver) will synthesis only the amount of glucose we need.
I think most of us have heard of Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a condition wherein the body can’t make enough insulin to metabolize all the glucose in the blood—too much glucose in the blood can lead to all sorts of health problems including kidney disease and blindness. If you have a working pancreas (which makes insulin), you will have all the insulin you need to handle the glucose your liver makes out of fat and protein.
The implications for this little secret are huge. A diet high in carbohydrate leads to high amounts of insulin in the blood. This, in turn promotes fat storage while simultaneously inhibiting the use of fat for energy.
I’ve greatly reduced my carb intake—from the 65% recommended by the US government to about 5%. In the process (I reduced carbs in steps) I’ve lost, and have kept off, 175 pounds. In fact, today, I’m almost half the man I used to be, and all my health markers are, to quote my doctor, “excellent.”
The sad thing is that this secret has been known for over 100 years but was essentially buried for reasons of fame and fortune. The fortune side of the equation is strong, which is why you get doctors and nutritionist claiming you’ll die on a low-carb diet, even though humans evolved on a low-carb diet and didn’t switch to the very high-carb diet of the Food Pyramid until the late 1970s. Oddly enough, the obesity epidemic started shortly afterward. When you know the secret, its cause seems obvious.