Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Easiest Change

Starting with my first experience with the Zone Diet in 1996 or so, and my intermittent success from then until 2007, one of the strongest tools for health maintenance is also a simple one. It involves breakfast, carbs, metabolism, and habits.

Most folks think of breakfast as a carb fest - cereal with sugar, bagel, toast, jelly, milk, and banana. Don't forget the plain yogurt with no additional sugar (yeah right! Four people on the planet eat yogurt without sugar added). A few people, but too few, may add a token dose of fat/protein via sausage/bacon/eggs - which is a hangover I presume from the government's recommendations over the last 30-40 years to avoid fat and eat more carbs. After all, carbs have only 4 kcal/gram whereas the evil of all mankind, dietary fat, has more than twice as many! Therefore you can eat more food, feel more full, eat fewer kcal, and not be hungry.   Pretty simple, if dead wrong.

But let us take a look at a few numbers. The government says you need 2000 kcal/day if a female, and 2700 kcal/day if a male (these numbers are estimates and highly variable by individual, so they are just a starting station for this train of thought). The government also says you need low fat, 30% of kcal or less, low protein, 15% or so, and thus you'll get the other 55% as carbs. You carb dose then is 275-370g/day respectively (by gender). If you get 30% of that dose at breakfast, your carb intake will be 82.5g/111g. This my friends is a fairly hefty dose of carbs, all of which will be metabolized to glucose (unless some of your breakfast is fructose, such as table sugar, or an HFCS flavored fake OJ of some kind, and to a lesser degree, OJ too). This dose of sugar, will rocket your blood sugar higher (which you can easily measure for yourself), especially for those of us old or fat enough to care about our diets. Blood sugar is both essential to keeping your brain working, and a neuro-toxin when above a certain concentration in the blood - about 160mg/dl.  Those with out of control blood sugar, aka diabetics, lose their vision and peripheral nerves, if they don't die from cardiovascular disease, kidney disease or cancer first.

The body is not well equipped to dispose of large quantities of blood glucose, but it has an emergency mechanism, insulin secretion from the pancreas, to help the body pack away sugar where it can, and to turn the rest into fat via the work the liver does in the presence of high insulin levels. This emergency mechanism works in many of us like most emergency mechanisms - it does too much too fast and leaves a mess. One consequence is that many of us have crashing blood sugar levels after we overeat carbs and suffer the insulin response. In the presence of falling blood glucose levels, we feel hungry, because keeping the brain fed is a very high metabolic priority.

We learn by experience we can rapidly restore glucose levels via ingestion of high carb snacks.

So the high carb crazy train starts with a high carb breakfast followed by a "see food" diet in which we often perpetuate the high carb/insulin/hunger cycle. In the later stages, we feel "mind fog", grumpy, and often cold as the body reacts to falling blood sugar just as it would to starvation. In short, this is no way to live.

So, there's an obvious solution - skip the carbs in your breakfast. You actually don't need any breakfast carbs, although most of us will do better if we break our fast rather than skipping the morning meal. Instead of the Neolithic monstrosities that we think of as "breakfast", I recommend you start the day with a serving of protein and fat. Keep protein/fat snacks handy throughout the morning, and eat when hungry. Have a lunch plan that will allow you to eat some good quality carbs - a big salad for example, or a grapefruit/avocado.

When you are sleeping, great stuff is happening for your metabolism. By eating on fat/protein for breakfast, you allow these metabolic health and healing stages to continue. You make room for your body to store any excess carbs you eat for lunch/dinner/snack, and allow insulin levels to fall, restoring the possibility for insulin sensitivity. Most importantly, you set up a situation that puts a demand on your body to provide its own fuel, from its primary storage source, fat. AND, you keep up the demand for your body to make enough fat oxidation enzymes (at the cellular level) to keep your cellular fires well stoked all day long.

Any day that you follow this pattern is a day your body is allowed to move towards a normal metabolic state, without excess insulin and all the related consequences of the high carb crazy train. Once you are very comfortable running your body's fuel system this way, you can consider skipping breakfast altogether, a state termed intermittent fasting (more on which I will write later; and you can check the archives for info about IF).

IOW - if you want to make the easiest change towards a thriving you, a leaner you, a healthier you, skip the carb fest in the AM, and enjoy some bacon, sausage or eggs (or all three!) with your coffee or water tomorrow morning. 

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