Thursday, March 20, 2008

Weight Of The Evidence

What happens when you convince a small, remote town to modify their diet to restrict carbohydrate?

You get a study called "My Big Fat Diet," where everyone participating agrees to shun the carbohydrate and dig in and enjoy meat, eggs, cream, real cheese and a variety of non-starchy vegetables.

Dr. Jay Wortman propsed such a study, and after months of ethics reviews and consultations, Wortman and his team of researchers tested the theory that high-calorie Western foods are the root cause of those health problems, not due to the dietary fat content, but the carbohydrate.

As the CBC reported, "[h]e set up a year-long study of the diet in Alert Bay, where 60 people agreed to live on a more traditional aboriginal diet of meat, seafood and non-starch vegetables such as cauliflower.His theory is that sharply reducing the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar will cut deeply into the very high rates of obesity and diabetes in native communities.

People who took part in the study lost significant amounts of weight, Wortman said. They also showed improvements in their cholesterol levels and diabetes control."

The preliminary findings are captured in a poster abstract, available here.

The findings are, in a word, expected.

What Wortman and his team found is what others have found in other studies - those who modify their diet by restricting carbohydrates and eating protein and fat ad libitum lose weight, improve triglycerides and HDL, have no significant findings for LDL or total cholesterol, see improvement in glycemic control with reductions in HbA1c.

In this study's subjects, it is reported that they:

* Lost 10.1% of body weight
* Shed 9.7% of their waist circumference
* Improved their waist-to-hip ratios significantly
* Triglycerides (TG) declined 19.9%
* HDL rose 17.4%
* TG/HDL ratio improved 30.2%
* TC/HDL ratio improved 11.5%
* Total Cholesterol (TC) and LDL had no significant change

More importantly, in the initial analysis, those with diabetes were found to have significant improvements in their HbA1c levels - seeing a decline from a mean 7.1% to a mean 6.1%. This is again a study that finds diet alone improves HbA1c significantly while also reducing or eliminating medication!

Now one would think that results like this, and others before it, would inspire those whom remain skeptical to see the value in such a dietary approach; after all, it is helping those with chronic health conditions to lose weight, improve specific risk markers and also reduce medication requirements.

Well, not so fast say the 'experts' sought for comment by the CBC for their article!

"The diet he is advocating has been compared with the high-protein, low-carbohydrate Atkins diet, which has been criticized by the American Society for Nutrition for causing dramatic weight fluctuations, leading to illness.

The Health Canada Aboriginal Food Guide still recommends native people eat rice, bread and pasta."

So, Health Canada Aboriginal Food Guide is going to continue to tell native peoples to keep eating that rice, bread and pasta; despite evidence, from multiple studies now, showing eliminating these foods is benefiicial to health?

But worse still is the message that is now in vogue, that modifying diet to restrict carbohydrate is too hard to do, unsafe anyway, so don't try.

As well, living on a more traditional diet may present challenges for many native communities, said Bernadette Dejonzague, a registered dietitian and a diabetes prevention program co-ordinator. This is because access to food sources such as sockeye salmon may be limited by contamination and transportation issues.

More insulting however, is the insinuation that native peoples are too stupid to modify their diet back to the traditional!

Many people who live in native communities "wouldn't know what to do with a deer or moose, even if they were able to shoot one,'' said Dejonzague, who is a member of the Abenaki First Nation and based in London, Ont.

Let's just forget the fact that native peoples lived off the land for generations prior to the introduction of flour, sugar and refined carbohydrates!

As reported, "Starchy food such as flour for bannock, potatoes and pasta were introduced about a century ago and the impact on the aboriginal diet was devastating. Because of our people's low incomes we find it necessary to stretch out food and what better way than to add lots of starches such as bannock and potatoes. The Hudson Bay Company introduced us to bannock and we bought it hook, line and sinker. It found a market for flour at our expense."

At least had the guts to be open and honest about the choices one must make, "We need to return to our roots of healthy eating and exercising. Our people in both the urban areas and reserves must examine their eating habits and adjust accordingly.People who have diabetes have two choices: They can treat the symptoms through medication or they can go to the root of the problem and follow a more traditional diet.

So get off the couch and snare a rabbit, set a net, shoot a deer or moose, and when summer comes go out and pick a mess of berries. Walk past the junk food aisle at the supermarket and head to the vegetable section. Our good health depends on what we eat and the Namgis First Nation has thrown out the challenge."

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