Like many in the New Year I went on a diet—to shed weight accumulated over the past decade. I say ‘diet’, but actually I just changed what I ate. It was one of the low-carbohydrate variants—Low Carb High Fat (LCHF).
Whilst there are many low-carb diets out there, they all appear to work around the same principle—take the carbohydrate out of the diet and the body shifts from a fat storage orientation to a fat burning orientation. The variants seem to be all about what you substitute the carbohydrate with to make sure you get enough calories.
The theory behind it is that our metabolism evolved in a naturally low-carb environment—there was no abundance of grains and starchy vegetables 200,000 years ago; as hunter gathers humans sustained themselves on meat, fish, vegetables, nuts & berries—with larger fruits being a seasonal treat.
So, largely fat and protein.
It took the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago to change that—to produce large amounts of carb-rich crops—such as wheat, to make bread.
So, the theory goes, our bodies are finely tuned for that 200,000 year old diet—such that they are not set-up for the modern carb orientated diet that we stuff ourselves with.
This all makes sense to me—but what do our ancient metabolisms actually do with carbs—after all, they were around all those millennia ago; vegetable roots and fruits for example.
Perhaps the way to look at it is that our bodies see carbohydrate as a rarer food group than fat and protein and, given that carbs are a high-density energy source, something to be taken advantage of when they come along—such as seasonal fruits.
And this is exactly what we see—intake of carbohydrate stimulates the appetite, encouraging you to eat more. So, you find some carbs and your brain gets you to eat as much as you can—the body burns what it needs immediately and stores the rest as fat.
That makes sense as a design when it comes to carbs being seasonally available.
The mechanism is controlled by insulin—raised insulin supresses fat burning and promotes fat storage. Insulin rises with the level of sugar in the bloodstream. Carbs break down to simple sugars. So, loads of carbs boosts insulin, and the fat storage machine is turned on.
Clearly, this sounds like bad news for the modern world—there are carbs everywhere. They are a staple in our diet.
It suggests we are constantly in a fat storage mode. And what do we see—obesity and diabetes epidemics.
Since being on the LCHF I have lost 7lbs every three weeks. But how is that actually happening? It takes a burn of 3500 calories to remove 1lb of fat—and that is on top of my normal calorie requirements.
Part of it is probably that my body has switched to fat burn mode, but largely it is likely to be down to reduced calorie intake.
With carbs largely out of the picture my metabolism would have appeared to have reverted to its prime directive, and the appetite control mechanisms are back in the driving seat. I just simply don’t feel as hungry—the ‘eat-all-you-can-while-it’s-there’ signal has been turned off. Those fine-tuned appetite controls now keep the calorie intake just right.
Now this is all fine and dandy, but surely it all adds up to what should be the dietary advice for the entire population.
But it isn’t. Governmental advice is for a high carb low fat diet—completely the opposite.
The national dietary advice isn’t in itself bad in terms of the menu—the suggested foods are healthy and nutritious.
The problem is that, as a diet, all the controls look to be turned through 180 degrees—normal appetite regulation appears to be all but turned off.
National dietary advice seemingly counters this by applying calorie intake limits and emphasizing the need for exercise.
In what reality is the bulk of the population going to stick religiously to calorie intake limits?
And don’t forget—that would still seem to leave them with permanently elevated insulin level.
It’s like driving your car everywhere in first gear.
There is some suggestion of purely political reasons, and the legacy of prevailing mantra—supposedly, in the seventies, governments decided to side with the low-fat argument, believing it to be (rightly or wrongly) the source of heart disease.
Even if that were true, what politician would stick their head above the parapet to counter it these days?
But I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a more fundamental reason—the government won’t change the advice because they can’t—they simply have no choice.
Why would I say that? Economics? Great swathes of the food industry being wiped out? When you are next in the supermarket, imagine the shelves containing high carb food being empty—bread, pasta, bakery, biscuits, confectionery, sugary drinks, ready meals, soups…
It’s a consideration but, no—not really.
Could it be food security?
In the second world war farmers in UK were required to switch away from cattle and instead grow a lot more crops. Why? Because you get more calories per acre from crops than meat.
Meat production was still maintained—protein and fat are essential elements to the human diet, but the amounts were scaled back.
Indeed, even after the war farmers were required to grow two acres of potatoes each year, and put them on the open market. That went on for years.
So, in the twentieth century food security could have meant an agricultural side to the economy that was crop orientated. And if you are reducing the dependency on protein and fat, then you have to substitute it with carbs to balance the calorie equation.
But that approach would still have to work in the broader economy—to make a crop-orientated agriculture fiscally affordable, the population have to consume it.
And that could be why we have the national dietary advice that we do.
* * *
Not much of conspiracy, really. So, as a bit of fun, how about this.
Advancing economies need a large population to back them—to provide labour and consume. Capitalism, in particular, requires and ever increasing economy—increasing consumption.
And the elites need that large population to be there—without it there is no advanced economy to provide power, luxury and healthy life.
The quality of human life, as it will be perceived by some (but not all), is greatly improved by endeavours such as medical services and research.
The elites can’t cure cancer on their own—that needs a prosperous economy behind it.
Or, at least, it did.
The rise of automation and machine intelligence looks to hollow out the population in terms of employment.
But it goes further than that.
Throw things like programmable fabricators (like 3D printers) into the mix and you begin to wonder what the general population is needed for.
Whilst it could be argued that such advancements could give rise to new facets to the economy—just like the industrial revolution did—it does not necessarily equate to that being required.
In the industrial revolution mechanization meant greater production volume—and that required more transport, shipping, merchants, accountants and so on. More people employed—because the machines themselves could not balance that side of the equation.
With machine intelligence that does not have to be the case.
It always amuses me that some dystopian movies depicting a robot future have the broader human population as underdogs manufacturing the machines themselves (think, Elysium, for example). Why, as an elite, would you do that? It would be far more profitable to get the machines to make more machines.
But then, you only need so many machines because there are so many people.
If the bulk of the population, being surplus to requirements, was ‘scaled back’ then you would be left with a sustainable elite culture.
So, from that perspective, there are about 7 billion people too many on earth.
What to do about that?
Perhaps a particularly unhealthy national diet, disguised and promoted as completely the opposite, and then let time do the rest.