Jim, a Vietnam vet in his mid 60’s, speaks in a booming voice when making a point. I’ll never forget the day over 20 years ago when he entered the office and announced across the room so that everyone could hear, “Hey Doc, I stopped that diet you put me on. It was making everything worse. I started this low carb diet. Give me two more months and everything will be better.” I knew it was futile to argue, so I made a deal to recheck labs in 2 months and show him how bad everything would look. He returned as promised and the first thing I noticed was a greater than 20 pound weight loss along with normal blood pressure despite having also stopped his meds. His labs were even more remarkable. Triglycerides dropped from >500 to 90 and blood sugar dropped to less than 100 for the first time in many years despite 2 blood sugar lowering meds being stopped (by him). His chosen diet was extremely low carb and the results were achieved with horrible choices like removing the bun from a Wendy’s triple for both lunch and supper. I was shocked and intrigued but far from ready to embrace a “fad” diet just because of one patient’s short term success. Rather, I began to read extensively about diet and metabolism and ultimately pulled out my med school physiology text and was astounded to find the claims of the low carb gurus lining up almost exactly with non-controversial basic science. It was shocking to realize that we were taught the accurate science of metabolism yet were then given a nutrition course which parroted what has turned out to be the actual unscientific fad of low fat diets along with solely focusing on creating a calorie deficit in order to lose weight. After these realizations, I began applying scientific principles to the treatment of many patients. As success stories mounted, learning about and applying science to diet and the reversal of disease gradually became a team approach at Trinity Medical Associates, and all of that experience and knowledge is being poured into our wellness arm, VitalSigns.
But all of this begs the question. How could so many intelligent and well meaning folks from universities, government, medicine etc… along with every agency or association that had anything to do with diet recommendations be wrong? Amazingly the American Heart, American Diabetes and American Dietetic Association as well as the government via the USDA were all confused about diet. Surely you remember the old food pyramid with all that starch at the base! Ask any farmer and he’ll tell you that those starchy foods are the best way to fatten livestock. All of this led to an unparalleled epidemic of obesity and diabetes as Americans obediently replaced fat with carbohydrates. How did most everyone get so confused? Gary Taubes in his 2007 tour de force “Good Calories/Bad Calories” first explained it thoroughly and Nina Teicholz in “The Big Fat Surprise” adds to what he started. It’s an interesting story which I’ll attempt to summarize in the next post.