Why Does Paleo Work?

Okay, if this whole paleo thing has you intrigued, then my first job is done. I got you interested. But I know that you are a smart person. You are a critical thinker. And that is why I must now convince you that paleo is effective not because it’s a fad diet… but because it is based on science and biochemistry.

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The first thing I am going to talk about is macronutrients. Don’t be scared by the long word though. It’s just a fancy term for FATS, PROTIENS, and CARBOHYDRATES. Everything we eat contains calories, and those calories are made up from fats, protiens and carbs. And the key to losing weight and becoming healthier is eating the proper amount (and type) or those macro nutrients. Yes, there are different type of protiens fats and carbs.

1) Carbs. This is a really just a fancy word for sugars. Common sources of carbs are bread, milk, pasta , cereal, crackers, oats, rice, potatoes, peas, yams, beans, baked goods, fruit, vegetables, candy, pop, etc. If something contains sugar then it contains carbs. Now… nutrition experts will break down carbs into two categories: simple and complex. The basic difference is that simple carbs are absorbed by the body and converted into glucose quickly. Examples of simple carbs are white bread, pop, candy, white pasta, or anything containing added sugar. Eating these foods will spike your blood sugar faster and lead to the dreaded 2 pm  crash that office workers hate. I will go into more detail on that later.

Complex carbs often contain fiber, which slows down the digestion and conversion of the carbs into glucose. This can make the blood sugar spike slower, which is obviously better. Examples of complex carbs include yams, beans, whole wheat bread, or whole wheat pasta. There is debate on whether fruits are complex or simple carbs. But I don’t really care about that. Because on the paleo diet, the amount of carbs you consume is very small. And you won’t be eating simple carbs at all. Carbs only make up about 10% of my daily calories, with almost all of that coming from vegetables and fruit.

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2) Proteins. From all of the research I have done, the best I can say is that proteins are proteins. They are all awesome for you. Proteins help build muscle and repair tissues. Proteins help us grow. Proteins are essential for several different bodily functions. The best kind of proteins are those that we get from animals. These contain the proteins that our bodies can’t make on their own. Proteins make up about 30% of my daily calories.

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3) Fats. Let me start by saying that I love fats. They are the ultimate appetite suppressors. Common sources of fats are meat, oils, nuts, and seeds. There are healthy fats and unhealthy fats. The easiest way to explain it is that fats that that come directly from food (in its natural state) are generally healthy. Fats that are artificially made, such as shortening or margarine are not healthy. I will leave it at that for now. Fats make up about 60% or more of my daily calories.

Now that I have explained what the different macronutriens are, I will explain  what they do for us. For every grams of carbs we eat, we consume 4 calories. For every gram of proties we eat, we consume 4 calories. And for every gram of fat we eat, we consume 9 calories. Now those numbers may scare you into thinking that fat calories are bad because they have more than twice the calories of protiens and carbs. But that is not the case. So repeat after me: FATS DO NOT MAKE YOU FAT. And that is the main point of this post. Carbs make you fat. And I will tell you why.

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Weight loss is all about 3 things: Insulin, blood sugar, and teaching our bodies to burn fat for energy instead of carbs. As soon as we eat something, our bodies convert the macronutrients into energy. This energy is used for various bodily functions, from basic things like breathing and digestion, to providing us energy for more vigorous things like the gym or fighting off angry lions. And with that, I will now talk about my main point. Why do carbs make you fat?

The standard north american diet (SAD) is heavily based on carbs as the main source of calories, and is often saturated with unhealthy fats as well. This can be attributed to several factors, including the proliferation of fast food restaurants, the increased use of hydrogenated oils in cooking, and what I call the “war on fat”. I prefer to attribute the new SAD to a combination of all of these things, among others. Now… all of these things are relatively new, if you consider how long humans have been on the planet. In the 40s and 50s doctors began warning the public of the dangers of fat. It will clog your arteries! It will make you fat! This was start of the standard north american diet. Fats became evil and carbs became the cornerstone of a healthy diet. The dreaded “food pyramid” was the result of this twisted thinking. And then begins the exponential growth in technology, often reducing the requirement for human-powered “elbow grease” for everyday tasks. This is when the obesity epidemic got started.

What was the result? I will let the statistics speak for themselves. In 1994, 19% of americans were obese. In 2004, 25% of americans were obese. That number grew to 27% in 2007, and 34% in 2008. I don’t want to bore you with endless statistics. But I will say that the stats on overweight and obese people living in first world countries is disturbing to say the least, and rest assured that Canada is a mirror image. And I believe that the standard north american diet is to blame.

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So what is the big problem with this diet? It all comes down to insulin, blood sugar, and what our bodies burn for energy. When we consume carbs as our main source of calories, our bodies eventually learn to expect the carbs, and we use them as our main source of energy. The body converts the carbs into glucose, which raises our blood sugar. The body responds by secreting insulin, which makes our cells absorb the glucose (to use as enegry), thus reducing our blood sugar levels. Insulin tells our bodies that our cells are about to receive glucose. This also tells our bodies that we don’t need to access energy reserves for the time being (aka burn fat). What does that mean? It means that the more carbs we consume, the more insulin our bodies pruduce, and the more we burn those carbs for energy (instead of fats). The most important thing to remember is this: When the body takes the glucose (carbs) out of the blood to use it for energy, the glucose gets converted into GLYCOGEN, which is stored in the liver & muscles for use as energy. The problem is that the body can only store a limited amount of glycogen. And that means any excess glucose is not converted into glycogen, and the body then stores it as FAT. And that my friends is how we gain weight.

Now… if we choose instead to eat fats and protiens as our biggest source of calories, think about what will happen. The lack of carbs means that our bodies won’t be producing a crazy amount of insulin, because fats and protiens DON’T SPIKE BLOOD SUGAR! Eventually our bodies will adapt to the lack of carbs/glucose, and begin burning fats for fuel instead. And burning fats for fuel is how we lose weight. We won’t have to worry about excess glucose being stored as fat. It’s how our metabolism is supposed to operate.

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By eating this way, we not only teach our bodies to burn fat for fuel, but we also prevent that terrible “crash” that so many of us experience in the late afternoon. That crash is simply our body over-compensating when we take in too many carbs. The carbs cause our blood sugar to rise, and the problem is that with most people, the body over-shoots on the insulin secretion. And then our blood sugar drops, causing us to become lethargic and sleepy. But when we consume mainly fats and proteins instead of carbs, our blood sugar stays more stable and we don’t get the highs and lows that cause the sleepiness and lack of energy. Repeat after me: Fats and proteins don’t spike blood sugar!

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The other negative thing that results from consuming so many carbs is insulin resistance. In short, insulin resistance is when your body stops responding properly to insulin secretion. That means that our pancreas needs to produce more and more insulin just to get our blood sugar to an acceptable level. Eventually, the body stops responding to the insulin, or the pancreas becomes damaged and doesn’t produce enough insulin any more. This leads to Type 2 diabetes. I won’t go into detail about diabetes just yet, but suffice to say that type 2 diabetes is largely caused by lifestyle and diet.

So there you have it. Why carbs make us fat. If I haven’t convinced you yet, then do an experiment for me. Stop eating grains / breads / pastries / cereal / crackers / pasta for 2 weeks. Seriously. Weigh yourself before and after, and take measurements of your stomach, chest, hips, and thighs. Then measure again after the 2 weeks. And don’t cheat. The results will speak for themselves. I lost 13 lbs in my first 2 weeks. Happy eating!

Craig

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