Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.
In trying to compile the information I’ve been learning, I feel it’s important to give place to objections and questions. I’m trying to go through the most common questions I get, first. Although some of them are more objections than they are true questions.
1. But your brain needs glucose, right?
I didn’t mind this question so much at the beginning. Now it’s beginning to irritate me.
It was one thing when I first started eating this way. But it has been years now, and after people get done telling me how I look great–usually qualifying that to explain it’s not just that I’m smaller, but that I look healthier and brighter and more alert–they respond to my explanation of how this happened with the shocked objection: “But, your brain needs glucose!”
It makes me question our educational system.
After all this time, if my brain wasn’t getting what it needed to function, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. You’d be bringing me flowers in the hospital as I recovered from my stroke.
So here’s what’s really going on.
First, know that your brain actually prefers to run off fat, not glucose, for 50-70% of its fuel. If you’ve read previous posts or any of the recommended reading, you know that when we eat foods that spike our blood sugar continually (like “healthy” whole grains and lots of fruit, but of course also refined flours and sugars), insulin ensures that our body is burning glucose and not fat. When we start to run out of glucose, we start craving our next meal–usually about two hours after the last one.
But stop eating that junk and your body will re-learn what it used to know how to do: burn its own fat for fuel. Your fat, being about the same makeup as bacon, is a fine fuel source and your brain loves it.
In fact, the brain loves fat so much that for more than 100 years doctors have treated childhood epilepsy with a ketogenic diet. Not to be confused with ketoacidosis–a toxic condition that diabetics are liable to–ketosis is a perfectly natural and healthy state. It is the state where your body produces fatty ketones for use as fuel instead of relying on a constant infusion of dietary glucose. We all can do this. We do it every night. It’s what keeps us from getting up every two hours to run to the fridge.
Most of us, anyway.
Anyway, this treatment for epilepsy had–and still has–a better track record for controlling seizures and improving brain function than any drug ever invented. It is a very high fat, moderate protein, close to zero carbohydrate diet. It works, and it doesn’t hurt the people who follow it. You can read more about it specifically as an epilepsy management tool here or here:
So, to review, our brain loves fat. Give it fat and it will adapt to get 50-70% of its energy needs from fat. Not only does your liver produce fatty ketones for your brain (and all your other cells) to enjoy, but your brain itself produces ketones for itself. An odd ability if God designed us to only be able to survive on large amounts of glucose.
Now, the second part of this question. Doesn’t your brain need some glucose?
But does that mean you require dietary glucose in order for your brain to work properly? Specifically, does that mean you require at least 150 grams of carbohydrates a day for your brain, which is the amount of glucose needed by the average brain on the average day. (And remember the USDA thinks you should be stuffing down a whopping 300 grams per day!) That’s the real question.
Let’s consider whether that makes any sense whatsoever.
Epileptics have been treated with this very low- to no-carb (under 20 grams per day) diet for 100 years, with tremendous success. Studies suggest around 13% of “normal” epileptics become seizure free, and another 14% see a 90-99% reduction in frequency and intensity of their seizures. Many of the rest see reductions of 50% or more. For intractable epilepsy, the results are even higher: a 50% cure rate with a 71% rate in seizure reduction overall. There are no side effects to this treatment, unlike every epilepsy drug on the market.
So these people with brain problems: is the lack of dietary glucose exacerbating or resolving their brain health problems?
Then let’s look at me. One of my favorite benefits to this diet came the day I woke up–around one week in–and realized a fog I had never realized I was living in had suddenly lifted. I could concentrate better, I could think more clearly, and I was more alert and upbeat. It’s been that way for more than five years since: no signs of stroke just yet. And I’m not the only one. Lots and lots of people follow some kind of low-carb, Atkins-y, Paleo-ish sort of diet without becoming mental morons.
It turns out that your liver can convert protein into all the glucose your brain needs.This is why people don’t stroke out when they fast, and why you won’t die if you eat fewer than 20 carbs a day.
Now, does this mean that you ought to eat fewer than 20 carbs a day for the rest of your life? Not necessarily. Everyone’s different. Some people thrive for years on a virtually zero-carb diet. Other people need more to function at optimum. Your mileage will vary. But what unites us all is two truths:
1. No one, not one person, has any dietary requirement of any refined grain or sugar. You want carbs? Fine. Here’s a sweet potato. There’s a banana. Look, apples! You want to get really wild and have a potato or some maple syrup? Go for it. But you don’t need, nor will you operate your best, on a diet of grain and refined sugar of any sort.
2. No one, not one person, has any dietary requirement of 300+ grams of carbohydrate, as the USDA wants you eating. The USDA wants to protect America’s grain growing interests. They have no genuine interest in your health.
If you’re enormously fat, why not ramp down your carbs intake gradually till you get to less than 50g a day. See if you’ll re-learn how to burn your own fat for fuel. If you feel better later and want to eat more fruit and starchy vegetables, by all means do so. But whatever size you are, please…put down the doughnuts.
Plato says he’s hungry
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