Tuesday, September 24, 2013

High Fat vs. High Carb and How the Tiny Word "Synthetic" May Turn Out to Be an Epic Game Changer That Puts a HUGE Question Mark Behind "If It Fits Your Macros"

Even if both "Fit Your Macros" you should know better than to select the "fruit" loops (where is the "fruit" in those loops anyway?).
A war is raging! Well, at least in the Internet the "battle" between the low-carb revolutionists and the low-fat veterans does sometimes in fact resemble an epic battle between god and evil... at least that's what the combatants believe.

As of late it seems as if the rebels, i.e. the low-carbers were getting the upper hand and that despite the constant supplies the low fat veterans are getting from their friends in the medical establishment - friends who pay for studies the veterans to agrue how stupid and off base the rebels' assumption that "low carbing" would help us to solve the obesity epidemic actually actually were.

Don't worry this post is not a war epic ;-)

I know, up to this point, all this may not have sounded much like a SuppVersity article, but this will change now that we are about to take a look at a soon-to-be-published paper by Bérengère Benoit et al. from the Lyon University (Benoit. 2013).

What do these Jerusalem artichokes, agave, bananas, burdock, camas, chicory, coneflower, costus, dandelion, elecampane, garlic,jicama, Leopard's-bane, mugwort, onion, wild yams, yacon and a whole host of other foods have in common? Right! They contain inulin. Whether you will be able to get a whopping amount of 10% inulin in your diet w/out the use of supplements or "enriched" foods, is yet as questionable as how beneficial this actually is for friends of physical culture (read more)
The French researchers started out with the hypothesis that the metabolic effects of a diet does not simply depend on its macro-nutrient composition. Instead, they made the SuppVersity standard assumption that the food quality is about as important as food quantity and assumed that negative effect of one of the standardized synthetic high fat rodent diets (sy-HFD) consumption would be
"[...]impacted by the choice of the control diet using 2 control diets that are typically used in HFD-induced obesity protocols. The specific research objectives were to test the impact of diets on typical parameters studied in HFD-induced obesity protocols: body weight gain, fat accumulation in tissues, alteration of insulin sensitivity, markers of inflammation, and markers of plasma endotoxemia." (Benoit. 2013)
And this means? Well, think about it as if you wanted to analyze the quality of the shiny new iPhone. Obviously, it will be all the shinier the trashier your baseline comparison is - right?

The French scientists assumed something very similar may apply for the high fat diets. Depending on whether you compare them to a "healthy" or a trashy diet, the outcome of your study and the message "Low carb is..." will be different. The same obviously goes the other way around. If you have a "high carb" diet that's all fructose and nothing else, your outcome will be different and you will draw different conclusions and may make diametrically opposed recommendation.

Ok, I got to be honest with you...

... this is not - at least not yet - the study that compares what you probably understand when I say "low carb" to what you probably think of, when I say "low fat". So this is not something like 25/5/70 (protein, carbs, fats) vs. 25/70/5 (protein carbs, fats). Rather than that, Benoit et al. used those "high fat" diets you see in 99% of the corresponding rodent studies. Diets that are high in both carbohydrates (45%) and fats (40%) - values expressed in weight units - and would thus imho qualify as "low protein" diets.
Figure 1: Differential effects of synthetic low fat (sy-LFD) and high fat diet (sy-HFD) on lean mass, fat mass, insulin, triglycerides, cholesterol and the amount of free fatty acids in the blood of the rodents; all data expressed relative to the corresponding values of the rodents in the regular chow group (Benoit. 2013)
What the researchers did though was to give their analysis a twist by including not one, but two control diets. One containing a synthetic and one containing natural low fat chow - both of them with identical macro-nutrient composition (18, 70, 12% - protein, carbs, fats), but with the former, the synthetic low carb chow being based on the same artificial (in this case this just means that the combination of nutrients was artificial and would not occur like that in nature) ingredients as the synthetic high fat diet.

This is hilarious, right? Identical macro make, up totally different results? Yep, that's right and it should be reason enough for us to look into the differences. So let's see what we've got
  • According to Wood et al. (1988) black pepper contains between 3-8% piperine. This means that 4 teaspoons of it should help you combat abdominal fat (-16% on cornstarch diet in rodent study) - at least according to these previously reported results.
    Barley, wheat, corn, those are the main carbohydrate sources in the regular low fat chow. In the synthetic diet, however it's corn starch, succrose and a tiny bit of lactose.
  • Soybean (not oil, but whole!) and fatty fish solubles, those are the main fat sources in the natural diet. The synthetic diet on the other hand contains soy bean oil, lard and milk fat.
  • Wheat bran that's the major source of fiber in the natural diet. It's synthetic counter-part on the other hand features pure wood aka cellulose
  • Inert proteins, i.e. those which are already present in the plant material in the regular chow diet are the only protein sources in the regular diet. The synthetic diet on the other hand features casein of which numerous previous studies have shown that it appears to promote the mass (lean and fat) accrual in rodents.
It is thus quite obvious: Hitting your macros is not all that counts. It's not all that counts for rodents and you can bet that it ain't all that counts for human beings.

So what's the real take home message then?
  • From a science perspective: At least the rodent-part of the (hi-)story about the good and bad effects of low fat and/or low carb diets does have to be rewritten, now that we know that we have been fooling ourselves with figures that are worthless unless you know exactly what (which foods) they represent. Ever since the late 1990s we know for example that a "natural" high fat diets with a high amount of whole eggs will delay (not accelerate) the natural decline in insulin sensitivity and that in rats (Berdanier. 1998)!

    So, have the synthetic rodent diets fooled us? Probably yes. And what about the synthetic Standard American Diet? Well, it may not have fooled, but certainly killed us - at least several millions of us.
  • From a real world perspective: Actually I already said, it, but I guess I will simply repeat that quality counts and macros are nice numbers with little meaning without at least a broad guideline (like: "Eat whole foods only!") on where you get them from.

Personally, I am curious whether anyone will actually take the results of this study at heart and finally throw the synthetic rodent chow away... you don't think so? Well, me neither.

  • Benout B, et al. High-fat diet action on adiposity, inflammation, and insulin sensitivity depends on the control low-fat diet. Nutrition Research. 2013 [epub ahead of print]
  • Berdanier CD, Kras KM, Wickwire K, Hall DG. Whole-egg diet delays the age-related impaired glucose tolerance of BHE/Cdb rats. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1998 Oct;219(1):28-36.
  • Wood AB, Barrow ML, James DJ.  Piperine determination in pepper (Piper nigrum L.) and its oleoresins - a reversed-phase high-performance liquid chromatographic method. Flavour Fragr. J., 3: 55–64.