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A Plea to Please Read Dietary Books Before Jumping In

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One thing I love to do is defy stereotypes. In 3rd grade, a boy told me girls could never be as good at math as boys. So I went to college, studied math/electrical engineering/computer science, and I'm now a computer programmer! When I switched to a low carb diet, I defied the portrayal of all-you-can-eat-bacon and-steak by eating way more veggies and fruit than my low fat days.

Back when I weighed 160lbs, I tried numerous diets and failed. Mostly because I didn't know what the heck I was doing. I was just trying something - anything - in order to lose weight. Sometimes it worked, most of the time it didn't.

At one point, I thought I'd try 'Atkins'. Except it wasn't Atkins at all. I didn't buy the book. I didn't know the reason for the methodology. I just thought, hey all the meat you can eat! So I ate more meat in the form of double quarter pounders.


Yes, people. I was really that stupid.

"Youth is wasted on the young."

So obviously I didn't lose weight. I gained weight and dismissed that Atkins doesn't work.


Years later when I grew a brain, I actually did research. When I decided to switch to low-carb, I read as many books as possible until I understood what I was supposed to accomplish. I think Atkins is great for bariatric patients who have a lot to lose. However, the level of restriction was unnecessary for me because I was non diabetic, and already lost most of my weight. I ended up choosing the "Protein Power" method, which allowed more flexibility.

One of the things that bugs me on the message boards is people who said they tried low carb and it didn't work. I'm not going to deny that it might not work as well for everyone. What raises my shackles is sometimes if you ask them which book they read, and they didn't read one.

If you didn't read a book, you're just fumbling around like I was with my double quarter pounders.

Low carb is very different than the conventional knowledge most of us were raised on. If you didn't read one of the many books out there, then you don't know the mechanism that makes it work.

Even worse, you don't know what pitfalls you're setting yourself up for. Particularly in mineral balance.

Strangely, when I switched to low carb, I found I was hitting my vitamin/mineral needs more easily. I credit the additional produce consumption, for sure. But there were still supplements I needed.

SODIUM - This is one that throws people for a loop when switching from high carb to low carb. High carb diets causes sodium retention due to increased insulin load. Insulin tells the kidneys to retain water and sodium. Elevated insulin levels tell the kidneys to retain a lot of water. Low carb diets flushes that water and sodium out of the kidneys. It is true that first week on induction (if doing Atkins) is mostly water loss due to this reason. Reduced insulin load signals the kidneys to release the retained water. Sodium goes with it.

An essential part of what makes low carb work is the low processed foods. Please, people, stop buying the Atkins bars. This is another one of the stereotypes that I cringe at. The Atkins bars are a marketing gimmick and a processed food. Ditch it.

When you're eating less processed food, you are also eating less sodium. If you are eating less grains and starches, you have lower insulin load, thus less sodium retention. Thus, you need to add sodium back into the system. The best salt to add is Celtic Sea Salt or Himalayan Pink Salt. Both contain other essential minerals like magnesium and potassium (which I'll cover shortly). Do not use ordinary table salt, which has been bleached and stripped clean of all these minerals.

POTASSIUM - Potassium, along with sodium, are essential for regulating electrical signals in our bodies, and heart rhythm. Our bodies like to keep our potassium/sodium ratios at a certain level, and expels excess in normal circumstances. But when we have an imbalance due to excess insulin, then excess sodium is retained and the ratio is skewed.

Back in my high carb days, I used to suffer from arrhythmia and spontaneous tachycardia events. I went to several cardiac specialists, who were never able to determine the reason why, but they said it was benign. When I switched to low carb, these disappeared, or at least to the point where I don't notice. I could never prove it, but I suspect that excess sodium from elevated insulin levels was interfering with heart rhythm by way of blood pressure. My blood pressure dropped significantly after going low-carb.

When switching to a low carb diet, there is a side effect. When the kidneys release retained water, they also flush potassium along with sodium. Sodium and potassium are also lost through perspiration. This lost sodium/potassium MUST be restored.

Muscle weaknesses, cramps, and palpitations are a few symptoms of low potassium.

Everyone knows bananas are rich in potassium, but many chose to forgo them because of the high sugar content. No problem. Choose these other high potassium/low sugar veggies:

Tomatoes/sun dried tomatoes
Spinach (raw)
Swiss Chard
Kale (raw)
Brussel Sprouts
Zucchinis with skin (my favorite!!)
Green snap beans
Palm Hearts

Once you are out of induction, have a sweet potato. More potassium per gram than a banana.

TONS of veggie potassium sources. You have no reason not to eat these every day. If you say, "But I don't like any of these vegetables", you're making it harder for the rest of us by perpetuating stereotypes, and discouraging people who might be helped by this.

There are over the counter potassium supplements, but proceed with extreme caution. If you are on medication of any kind, check before taking a potassium supplement. Potassium overdose is rare because normally our bodies will remove excess through the kidneys. Certain medications interfere with this process, and cause potassium to be retained. Impaired kidney function will also interfere with this. Unnaturally high levels of potassium is deadly. But you read the books, and you already know this, right?

CALCIUM - One of the arguments made to dissuade people from trying low carb is that it leeches calcium from bones, thus increasing risk of osteoporosis. Well, this is actually true, but you need to know why. You read the books, but let's review anyway. Our bodies like to keep a neutral pH of about 7.4, and will aggressively change body chemistry to keep it there. Eating protein, and ketone production from burning fat does have a slight acidifying effect. How this is countered is usually with calcium. If you aren't eating dietary calcium, then this calcium will be taken from bones. So continue to take your calcium supplements. The ingested calcium will be used to maintain neutral body pH, excess will be flushed through kidneys.

One other point about calcium. Bone density comes from weight training. If you want to lower your risk of osteoporosis, pick up the weights. Eating calcium alone won't make stronger bones.

MAGNESIUM AND ZINC - These two minerals almost all of us will have some deficiency with. I had trouble meeting the minimum requirements even in my low-fat diet days. The reason is because modern conventional produce is mostly devoid of minerals that used to be abundant. The plants are fed with steroid level artificial fertilizers, instead of naturally nutrient rich topsoil.

Magnesium is important for almost 300 different biologic functions, including metabolism. Magnesium deficiencies can also trigger cravings. It was primarily obtained by our paleo ancestors in drinking water. City tap water is a poor source of magnesium these days, and if you use a reverse osmosis filter or similar like I do, all of it is stripped out. (I remineralize my water with a couple rocks of Himalayan salt).

Zinc is essential for the immune system. Zinc deficiencies are more serious for children, but not deadly. Not right away anyway. The suppressed immune system will allow other diseases to proliferate to eventually kill you. Phytates from beans and whole grains from high carb diets suppresses zinc absorption. Increased zinc supplements may be needed in these cases.

No matter what diet paradigm you choose, BUY THE BOOK. If you want to be vegetarian, read "Becoming Vegetarian", which will tell you how to get all the nutrition you need. B12 is essential, it is not optional. I was appalled when I saw a comment from a vegetarian member on a spark blog saying that B12 is overblown, and she gets enough from the vegetables she eats. No, no, no! If you're not eating animal protein, then you must take a B12 supplement or fortified B12 foods. Less of a problem for ovo-lacto vegetarians, but the less animal products, the more supplementation needed. B12 deficiency will lead to permanent brain and nervous system damage. Don't mess around. Don't assume you're getting enough because you feel fine. B12 deficiency will take 10-15 years to manifest as a crippling impairment. If you want to be an informed vegetarian, I'll support you. But the person I mentioned above is making the same mistake as my double quarter pounder diet.

I'm not sparing the rod for low-carb either. If you want to try low carb, read one of the many books first. You, too, won't get the best out of it if you don't know the whys and hows.

My recommendations (for the record, I have read ALL of these):

"NEW ATKINS FOR A NEW YOU" - Dr. Westman, Dr. Phinney, Dr. Volek
It enjoys a wide following as the most popular low carb plan among all fitness levels. Ideal for people who are obese or morbidly obese, or have severe metabolic syndrome, because that was for whom the diet was originally designed.
"PROTEIN POWER" - Dr. Michael Eades, Dr. Mary Eades
For those who think Atkins might be a little too restrictive to stick with. This is the one I favor.
"PALEO DIET" - Dr. Loren Cordain
Great for people who are purists. Kind of like an omnivore "Raw Food" diet.
Unlike the others, he's not a doctor. Just a former ironman triathelete who reformed his diet and lifestyle based on paleo principles. He has a very large following for its easy to follow and moderate restrictions.

Sometimes we'll read the books and the diet still doesn't work out for whatever reason. At least we have an informed base for discussion.

Which did you chose? If you haven't yet, what's it going to be?
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Love this blog. The mineral balance is something that my family has been working on, especially more since my dad has suffered from trying those medications. I wonder sometimes about how much mineral balances are thrown off by medications, and the doctors do not seem to admit that the meds can do that.
    3108 days ago
    CHRISTINATOBIAS: Thanks for the suggestion on adding the authors.

    I have not read the book you mentioned. I found "Paleo Diet" more interesting from a historical perspective (there's a lot of discussion about diets of early human history). Given the choice between "Paleo Diet" or "Primal Blueprint", I prefer "Primal Blueprint". It is a very casual writing style, and very easy to follow. Mark Sisson does a good job of making the complex biochemistry accessible for newbies. "Paleo Diet" recommends against dairy and beans, so it might not be a good choice depending on your preference for that.

    I do enjoy math, and all sciences, really. :)
    3108 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/19/2012 11:47:42 AM
  • no profile photo CD12459382
    Thanks. I admit I"m '.lazy' - or rather short of time to read and research a lot. So my suggestions is that it'd be useful if you added names of authors for us newbies... and/or an ISBN number.

    I was actually thinking of getting "Primal Body, Primal Mind: Beyond the Paleo Diet for Total Health and a Longer Life" by Nora T. Gedgaudas. Have you read that? Given that I'm not a native speaker of English and such books are pretty hard to read: Which would you say would be best to start with - that book or 'The Paleo Diet' or 'Primal Blueprint'?

    PS I hope you actually LIKE doing math! emoticon

    3108 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/19/2012 10:33:47 AM
    _RAMONA: Sure, be my guest!
    3108 days ago
  • no profile photo CD4892468
    I always love your explanations! You are one smart cookie! Um.....or maybe apple?
    3109 days ago
    FANTASTIC blog... THANK YOU! If you don't mind, I'm going to link to it from my blog!
    3109 days ago
  • LILBIT-2008
    Great Blog.. thanks.
    3109 days ago
    Thanks for all the information. I think your blogs are a very important part of Spark. You do a great service because you stress being informed consumers.... which should translate to everything we do in our lives. We can be in control and be the "expert." Thanks for the reminder.
    3109 days ago
    emoticon emoticon
    3110 days ago
    What a great blog - I'm so glad you posted this!

    3110 days ago
    Thank you for all this info. I am new to the low carb thing and this was a good, quick overview. I plan to read and get a book about it so I am not wandering around not knowing what to eat. emoticon
    3110 days ago
    It's good for people to know alternative sources of potassium than just potatoes and bananas because they can both have a bit of a constipating effect. I grow plenty of spinach, zucchini and broccoli so we're never short of that.
    3110 days ago
    Thanks for the potassium sources, I'll pass those to my mom. She's flirting with low carb after going through some blood pressure problems.

    And I agree - people shouldn't let unfiltered opinions on forums (especially pro-grain ones like the SP main boards) be a substitute for picking up a darn book and READING!
    3110 days ago
    Wonderful advice!! I actually have one of the books you mentioned on your Spark page - recommended by my SIL - Why We Get Fat. I'll start right in on it, and also look at some of your menus and recipes.

    Thank you so much! And thanks to Woubbie who linked me to your blog!

    3110 days ago
    *stands up and applauds*

    Thank you for speaking up! I have overloaded my own brain with several LC books, and I am finally coming to the point of seeing that I function best on a moderate approach. I could only get there by informing myself and experimenting.

    I detest hearing someone say that LC doesn't work - that statement is far too black and white to have any meaning at all!

    And, by the way, you were my original inspiration for trying LC (and for buying about 8 different books - Amazon should give you a kickback! LOL)!!
    3110 days ago
  • CATH63
    Thanks again for a wonderful and informative blog! I have read the book - more than once - but it helps to be reminded to continue to consult it as needed.

    I had not thought about all of the minerals you mentioned. I'll get on that right away!

    BTW - the stick is still pink!
    3110 days ago
    guilty...I jumped in without reading the Atkins book because everyone else in the office was doing the diet too
    3110 days ago
    Y'know, it's funny, but it never occurs to me that someone would just jump in and say "I'm doing low carb!" without actually reading anything or planning anything first, but come to think of it, that's probably all too common.

    Considering how complex the subject is even if you HAVE done your homework it's no wonder why so many people claim to have failed at it.
    3110 days ago
    I second that idea of becoming informed as much as you can. I have a whole library of books. Some good, some, not so much.
    3110 days ago
    I'm glad you posted this! It's just some reminders to review and think about. I consistently forget about the magnesium concern. I'll try your re-mineralizing of water!
    3110 days ago
  • no profile photo CD5912796
    wow! what an informative post, thank you!
    3110 days ago
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