Spirituality and Nutrition/Now fat os OK?

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Question
James
I am sick of this fat vs carb debate. In the good old days a high fat diet was bad, high carb good. Now the 'experts' have flip flopped!?
For years my husband tried to lose weight on a very low carb diet. Lots of meat and cheese, and basicly no carbs except fruit. What happened? His weight crept up and so did his cholesterol and blood pressure, he got irritable bowel, and precancerous polyps.
His doctor kept telling him that he had to eat less meat and fat. After all, that was the position of the medical community, traditionally people ate very little meat anyway, and the countries that ate less meat and fat like China and India had less obesity and heart problems. We live in a multi-racial community and the Asian immigrants I know that still eat a traditional diet are slim. I am Italian and grew up eating pasta and bread and pizza-mostly plain or with only a bit of cheese or sauce-the old fashioned way. Me and my family are slim.
It was only after his friend died from a heart attack my husband decided to give low fat a try. This time he counted all grams of fat and stayed very low. Surprise surprise, he is losing weight, and his blood pressure is now normal! Waiting to see cholesterol numbers but I bet they are now good. If you go by the popular media and internet, So where the heck do the experts get off saying that carbs are now bad and meat/fats are now good? How can all the experts change their minds so quickly? I bet its the meat/dairy industry behind it. Thanks for your thoughts!

Answer
Hi Susan. I think the experts are doing the best they can, considering that expert opinion tries to rely on scientific, objective data, which, for better or worse, is sometimes contradictory. We have to give them credit for at least admitting that previous conclusions were incomplete. Knowledge in the scientific age, it seems, is an evolutionary and incremental process.

But to your points about the low-carb/low-fat debate: At the end of the 19th century, it was becoming clear that high-carbohydrate diets were causing problems, primarily because the industrial revolution had ushered in the widespread availability of cheap refined carbohydrates like white sugar, wheat flour, and rice. Because it seemed clear that they were linked to chronic diseases, with obesity as the first symptom, low-carb diets were prescribed and worked for a lot of people. Such diets were the primary treatment for obesity up to the 1950s. They were also prescribed for diabetes as well, and worked for that too. In the mid-twentieth century, the low-fat diet became in vogue, partly because of epidemiological studies like the 7 countries study of Ancel Keys, documenting the reduced rates of chronic disease among low-fat eaters in places like China and Mediterranean countries. The low-carb movement, however, beginning in the 1960s and still continuing, has amassed an impressive amount of scientific evidence demonstrating that low-carb/high fat diets can be healthy. The evidence is undeniable.

What is often overlooked, however, is the issue of quality, such as refining carbohydrates, or damaged fats, like hydrogenated oils, that definitely lead to trouble, as well as the confounding effect of mixing carbohydrates and fats. The body prefers to digest carbohydrates first; fats will get stored if too many calories are ingested, and fat calories add up to weight gain quickly. Low-carb diets, work, however, because fat gets burned as fuel. Low-fat diets work too, because the body doesn't like to store carbohydrate and finds ways to burn it off, even if a lot is ingested.

It's hard to know why the low-carb diet wasn't working for your husband. Perhaps he was ingesting more carbs than he realized, which stifle the burning of fat. In any case, he has to go by his experience. The diet wasn't working, and a low-fat diet is. He should continue as long as he feels well. But it would be a good idea to have a doctor involved who can monitor closely what's going on.

From an historical point of view, there is a definite trend towards towards a high carbohydrate diet, and from a spiritual point of view, this is desirable, because limiting fat and animal food stimulates inner activity, which can be beneficial to spiritual development. But that's no reason for preferring a high-carb diet. We all seem to need some animal food for good health, and some people more than others. You can't go by the ideal. You have to trust your intuition and instincts about what's right for you. Quality, again, is important. Refined carbs should be limited, and damaged fats too. Research has also uncovered that grass-fed beef is healthier than grain-fed beef. The issue, then is not meat or fat per se, but quality. It's taking time, but scientific knowledge is working these things out. Grass-fed beef, however, is expensive. What should you do? Traditional diets emphasizing carbs, with smalls amount of quality animal food, are probably a good general rule, as long as room is left for individual considerations. Some need more animal food and fat. Trust your instincts.

I hope these considerations help, Susan.

Sincerely,
James

Spirituality and Nutrition

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James Morgante

Expertise

I can answer questions about the relationship between spiritual and religious teachings and nutrition -- why some advocate vegetarianism (yet most don't require it), why some have an ambivalent attitude, and why some pay no attention to the subject or even reject it. Based on my research, I would generally recommend to everyone that they include some form of animal food in the diet (dairy at a minimum) because of the nutritional importance of animal foods. There is no religious tradition that requires adherents to exclude all animal foods. I cannot answer personal questions about diet as individual diet must be based on individual needs. Personal questions should be addressed to a qualified dietary or medical practitioner.

Experience

I have been studying the relationship between spirituality and nutrition for over 30 years and wrote an academic thesis on the subject. I have now completed a manuscript and am seeking a publisher.

Publications
Health Progress, "Toward a Theology of Wellness," November-December 2002, http://www.chausa.org/2002_Annual_Index.aspx

Education/Credentials
M.Div. (Master of Divinity) and BA and MA in psychology

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