Dr David Ludwig seems to be the only one at Harvard who supports and actively encourages low-carb, high fat diets.
Those of us who have either personally experienced the benefits of a low-carb, high-fat lifestyle, or have seen its amazing effect on others continue to be baffled by the stream of ‘conventional wisdom’ which emanates from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University.
One voice providing a notable exception to that is Dr David Ludwig, an eminent Professor within that same department. He clearly leans in the higher fat, lower carb direction and yet in its PR releases, the Harvard news-team still tries to project an image of harmony and agreement which collectively supports establishment thinking.
Although he is featured in the lead photo discussing a ‘common ground in nutrition’ on the Harvard website, he notably did not form part of the group which gave ‘strong, collective support’ to the Recommendations of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee. In fact, not only was he absent from the Scientific Consensus Committee co-chaired by his ‘boss’, Walter Willett and Yale University’s David Katz, but he also was not one of the 9 additional signatories.
Dr Ludwig believes that traditional advice such as “Eat less, move more” is doomed to failure and in a recent interview with Experience Life magazine, he expressed his opinions about low-carb diets which over time, seem to be hardening in their conviction.
Beginning with a definition, he says that to be truly classified as a low-carb diet, you need to get to around the 20% level, in terms of total calorific input or just below. This is in stark contrast with the current US (and UK) average of between 55 - 60%. Simply counting calories and cutting back on protein, carbohydrate and fat at the same time makes no sense to him. In fact, it’s epitomized by the yo-yo dieting so many people experience with Weight-Watcher style approaches, as a battle develops between your mind and your metabolism.
He suggests that your starting point should be to consider the hormonal and metabolic effects of food. When you take that approach, you don’t count calories and go about things differently.
Insulin is in many ways the master hormone and given the direct impact of carbohydrates on insulin levels, Dr Ludwig believes that is the best place to start lowering food intake. And because fats and protein stimulate the ‘satiety’ hormone ghrelin, that means you don’t go hungry. Interestingly, he refers to type-2 diabetes which is being increasingly seen as a disease of carbohydrate intolerance, as the ultimate metabolic breakdown!
In the latest issue of Time Magazine, Dr Ludwig is even more direct:
“Like a cattle rancher, insulin herds sugar and the other calories from your meal into storage, which usually means your fat cells. This not only promotes weight gain, but it also tricks your body into believing you need more energy to satisfy your body’s needs, which in turn causes your hunger to rebound rapidly. If you also happen to be on a low-fat diet high in processed foods, all of this is intensified” Ludwig says.
At this stage, I will note that research also supports the widely held opinion that semi-starvation diets (also known as calorie-controlled diets) lead in most cases to that famous yo-yo effect. Infamously, most participants in the US Reality TV series, The Biggest Loser, found that their metabolism worked more slowly after their intense dieting. As a result, they had to continue their lives while eating less (effectively having a permanent feeling of hunger) or put on weight… which they invariable did. It is very sad to note that a number of successful contestants even weigh more now than when they started on their ultra-aggressive, calorie controlled diets.
But back to Dr Ludwig; as many readers will know, the ultra-efficient weight loss approach if you are low-carbing is known as going ‘ketogenic’ where you get as close to zero carbs as possible and your body uses body fat as its prime source of energy. It works for many, but Dr Ludwig states that dropping to 20% carbs will also bring many health and weight-loss benefits. He reminds us that an important principle of modern biology is that going 50% of the way usually brings 90% of the benefits.
Dropping to 20% carb intake or below invariably means cutting out all junk food since carbohydrates are their major ingredient. From personal experience, I can add that bread in all its forms was the most difficult ‘junk-food’ for me to avoid; for many others it is sugar, often hidden and named in ways which make it difficult to spot.
For those wanting to lose weight, I highly recommend the informative and inspirational website dietdoctor.com which cites many positive examples. Dr Ludwig’s book ‘Always Hungry?’ also provides a great introduction to this subject matter and the Experience Life video interview is well worth watching.
As for Harvard and Walter Willett, he is still adamantly against red meat although in recent years, he has moved on from being the leading spokesperson for the olive oil industry to embracing the possible benefits of regular milk as opposed to the tasteless low or no-fat versions. That being said, he’s hedging his bets and in the New Scientist earlier this year, is quoted as saying: “The picture of dairy foods and health is complicated and deserves further study”, which I guess nicely sums up much of what we genuinely know about nutrition today.
The Oldways Common Ground Consensus: http://oldwayspt.org/programs/oldways-common-ground/oldways-common-ground-consensus
Dr Ludwig’s interview with Experience Life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFHtNe0jEg4
"FAT IS OUR FRIEND" ADVOCATES A DIET:
Sammy Pepys was the pseudonym used by James Capon when writing this book. He is not a doctor or a nutritionist but has studied nutrition and holds an MPH from Edinburgh University. Over the years, he has become increasingly suspicious of today's conventional wisdom about diet and health. When it comes to what we eat, he has helped many learn to eat more healthily.