I have always had a deep and instinctive mistrust of low fat foods based on the entirely rational reflection that nothing as yummy as butter could possibly be bad for me...as it turns out, after much reading into the biochemistry of lipid metabolism and into the various hypotheses about the causes of cardiovascular disease (which runs in my family), I decided this instinct was bang-on.
Most of my life I have suffered from allergies, arthritis, gut problems, poor respiratory immunity, skin eruptions, recurrent infections and have struggled with the overwhelming desire to eat sugary stuff all the time. I had always eaten quite a lot of wholegrains and fruit, whatever manner of dietary experiment I was tinkering with, and always lapsed into sugar consumption, despite my constant attempts to convince myself not to want the stuff.
Then about 5 years ago, episodically, at all times of day and night, I started to have trouble remembering words. Not just difficult words, but words that I really needed to express my ideas as a scholar. I was not otherwise scatty or foggy -headed. It was very specific. I would look at letters on a page and just could not quite make the words cohere into a sentence as I read it. I became very depressed. Because there is multiple sclerosis in my family too, I started to fear the worst. I consulted a neurologist, had an fMRI scan, and some minor demyelination was indeed identified, but I was told that this was clinically insignificant.
I wondered if blood sugar could be part of the reason for the aphasia attacks and feared that my life-long pattern of sugar treats might finally have trashed my pancreatic beta-cells. I had a Hemoglobin A1c test and bought a glucometer and discovered, to my surprise that I had very low and stable blood glucose. Even with a really high carbohydrate post-prandial reading, I never got over 6 mmol/L (108mg/dL). But after measuring it every time I got one of the aphasia attacks, I noticed another kind of funny pattern. Even though my blood glucose was not going up very high after I ate sugar, it did seem to drop very suddenly and drop quite low (down to 3 mmol/L). Reactive Hypoglycaemia. And these were exactly the moments when my brain stopped being able to comprehend words...
I read a lot of different things about brain health, nutrition and metabolism, and to cut a long story short, came the conclusion that I had little to lose by experimenting with getting my blood sugar as stable as possible, and hence, doing whatever would ACTUALLY WORK to keep me from lapsing into sugar treats. I realised that there were more than enough clues suggesting that a low carbohydrate diet with more protein and more saturated fat might be helpful. As a consequence, a few years ago I started to eat a lot more fatty foods, a little more protein, removed all grains from my diet, and continued my sometimes successful attempts to resist sugar treats.
Activated nuts became my go-to snack, cream was added to my lattes; berries with cream-so-thick-a-spoon-stands-up-in-it became my favourite treat; every vegetable I cooked was smothered in butter, olive oil, cheese or coconut oil, and every salad filled with avocado and walnuts. Bacon desires were fulfilled in raptures of sinful liberation.
The aphasia seemed to improve a bit, but it was hard to tell because I also just started to feel a lot happier and healthier, and thought I could be just not worrying about it as much.. My sweet addiction still lingered on and off, as did the some of the other health issues....I alternated between being relatively low-carb and high fat, and being unintentionally high-carb (in the form of sugar and starchy treats) along with the high fat. That second combination was not quite working, for the obvious reason you might imagine. I was basically just consuming about 1/3 more calories, and for the first time in my life, I started getting fatter. Given the evidence that caloric restriction extends life span in all animals, and that fat cells are themselves metabolic agents, I figured this could not be good thing, even questions of vanity, wardrobe crisis, and foiled handstands aside. I also just seemed less well after every bit sugar pig out.
Then I read some stuff (especially Volek and Phinney's books) that made me think there was indeed another way to go about my gloriously lipid-rich ways - to have my butter and eat it too: Lower the carbs and up the lipid intake even more. Bingo ketosis. This did not merely fix my caloric balance issue. Within a few weeks, I had clear skin for the first time in my life, my teeth started to look shinier and harder, I had constant energy throughout the day and seemed to be getting stronger just doing the same exercise I always do (yoga daily, rock climbing 2x week, weights once a week, combat aerobics 2x a week, the occasional run, lots of walking, belly dancing at intervals throughout the day whenever I start feeling too serious). Suddenly, I felt happier, more alive, and finally, after a lifetime of struggle with it, I no longer desired sugar at all and have not eaten even a smidge of it since July 16th 2013.
Now my diet is, by order of priorities: 1) high in fat (organic pastured butter, coconut oil, olive oil, activated nuts, fatty ethically raised animals, wild-caught oily fish, genuinely free-range eggs, avocados); 2) low in carbohydrate, though NOT low in vegetables of which I consume a wide diversity every day; and 3) sufficient though not excessive in protein (mostly fish, eggs, some organic pastured land animals if I am assured of their happy lives, much bone broth from said animals, and their organs at least once a week, some cheese, cream and fermented milks from said animals).
Most days, the only major carbohydrate I eat comes from vegetables. I don't touch gluten in any form. I rarely eat anything that is not fresh and minimally processed - except by me. I avoid seed and vegetable oils, there is no sugar in any form not even starch-rich foods, no grains in any form (except an occasional tablespoon of sprouted buckwheat flour in a pancake (though buckwheat is not a cereal, of course), rarely legumes of any kind (I cannot say 'never' here because I am infrequently partial to felafel made with chickpeas); I am very picky about the sources of my food to ensure that I am not undermining myself with added hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and fertilisers. The foods I eat more of than anything else at the moment are butter, olive-oil, garlic, kale, mesclun greens, activated hazelnuts, bone-broth and salmon.
I have read obsessively about nutrition for over 20 years, always intrigued by the debates and health claims, the novel culinary ideas and notions of how best to eat. I have experimented with many different dietary regimes, never for weight-loss since I have never perceived myself as overweight, but for sheer curiosity, as a form of self-tinkering adventure, or sometimes in the hope of improving some or other health condition I or a loved one suffered from. I was lacto-vegetarian for much of my 20s, vegan macrobiotic for several years, tried raw-food pure plant matter low calorie eating for a few months, then reverted to various forms of wholefood omnivory. I have experimented a lot with probiotic foods, sourdough breads, activating nuts (soaking to release enzymes then dehydrating for storage), and with Indian Ayurvedic, vegan macrobiotic, Chinese, Thai, French and Tuscan culinary traditions.
A few years ago I decided (insanely) to augment my busy career as an academic historian with a new degree in biomedical sciences. Oh boy, did the nutrition knowledge monster get going then...
But, I do have the odd spare moment here and there to post recipes and pictures of the lipophilic delights I am constantly dreaming up and cooking...And since my friends who hear me blab on all the time about how awesome fat is are constantly asking me "but what do you actually eat?" I thought this blog might help fill them in.
Low-carb high-fat dietary (LCHF) patterns do not have to be repetitive, vegetable-deprived, or all about just bacon and eggs. At least part of the challenge for many people in eating for optimal aliveness seems to be working out how to do it on a day-to-day level. This has never been a problem for me since my brain just seems to be wired for culinary imagination. I also spent a bit of time looking up exactly how many CHO calories are in most vegetables and realised that it is, as a general rule, bugger-all. By just steering away from the starch-rich vegetables (eg.tubers) and the sugary vegetables and fruits (eg. rare but occasional beets and carrots, total avoidance of all sweet fruits), the LCHF has actually proven to be the MOST phytochemical rich diet I have ever lived on.
Oh isn't that unnatural avoiding the sweet fruits and veggies? No. For most of human history, fruits and vegetables were always fibrous and low in sugars. About 8-10, 000 years ago some cultures began cultivating them to be large, juicy and sugary (Cambridge World History of Food, 2000). It does seem likely that starchy tubers have been part of some human diets in some places for longer than this, and some people seem to thrive on them. I don't. Starch just gives me a bloated belly and pulls me back into craving sugar.
I won't be getting too caught up here in the various nutritional debates about what we should or shouldn't eat, what makes us fat, what causes CVD, metabolic syndrome etc...In part because I don't have time, but also because optimal diet is such an individual thing, it always strikes me a bit a crazy to judge anyone's else's food choices. But, for the record, I do think that there is a mounting body of evidence that it is high carbohydrate consumption and industrial food practices, NOT high fat consumption or eating animals, that is the main driver of all the current forms of "Western disease". In my links you can find some of the stuff that has inspired and informed me. I am engaged now in an experiment to see if eating loads of fat, especially saturated fat, in a low-carbohydrate setting results in high triglycerides and poor HDL status, as all the world dietary councils would currently predict. I plan to have some tests done in a few months and will post the results once I have them.
Basically, this blog exists because I just always liked fatty foods especially saturated fats, and now that they are my main source of calories and I feel so much more well than ever before in my life, I want to celebrate them and share the love that I have of them.