This week, I am particularly interested in topics related to "healthy eating habits" and for some of you out there who have been following me since day one, you would know that I'm kinda interested in most of the low carb diet out there. I mean, if you think about it and understand that glucose is a potential cause for the rising obesity issues nowadays, then, quite reasonably, you would want to avoid carbs at all cost. Nevertheless, carbohydrates can't be a 100% culprit since an individual's health, generally speaking, can be influenced by a variety of factors. If you were on a keto diet but rarely exercise or do anything in a day other than lying around, not doing stuff, sleep less or longer than what you were supposed to, binge-drinking alcohol all day long, then, you are not going to live much longer than anyone else, do you? Moreover, some of the studies that have been conducted on one of the populations in which their people have the highest lifespan on earth, the Okinawan people, proved that carbohydrates, in general, is not a problem. The number of centenarians living in Japan is currently 6 times higher than the total number of centenarians living in the United States, and this is a big deal, considering the United States has a higher number of populations compared to Japan.
Carbohydrates have been the staple food in a few Asian countries which make it difficult for people to comply with a no carb diet. Sure, some of us can get through it just as easily but most of us can't. It's really put things into perspective when people said that sugar, especially white sugars are eight times addictive than morphine proven by a few animal studies (mice) in which the test subjects got hooked up on sugar solution immediately when they were presented with both, at the same time; mice were 8 times more likely to drink the sugar solution compared to the solution which has been mixed with morphine. It seems that white sugar might have done a better job than a morphine in stimulating the brain to release dopamine but as the time goes along, we become tolerant to the effect which makes us feel that quitting sugar is not going to be a big deal until you start to crave for some. In this article, we are going to explore, how people who are getting on the high carbs diet bandwagon can live pretty much the same (healthily, energetic) with people who practised keto diet.
Not all people who quit sugar going to live long, not all people who chose high carbs diet going to die young and pretty much everyone knew that no one, not even the healthiest people on earth accompanied by the most sophisticated technology available in this era, can avoid death; it is a pretty much at-the-end-of-the-road diagnosis. The reason why we should have pay attention to what we eat, how we spend our days and how early we can get to bed is so that we are healthy enough to live as long and as healthy as we can in order to leave a significant contribution to the world of mankind for the future generation.
High Carbs Versus Low Carbs
So which one is the best? Which is the best thing that you could have done for yourself for the sake of living as long as you can and as healthily as you can? Inspiration or execution, which one would determine whether whatever you eat would keep you healthy. We have been taught in the school to eat a high portion of carbs and reduce fatty foods intake because some studies in the past have linked higher fat intakes with increased incidence of cardiovascular diseases; the most popular scientist which plotted the graph of several countries with cardiovascular incidences and determines that the country with higher fat intakes has the highest cardiovascular incidence is Ancel Keys. His recommendation was accepted by various organisations which are then popularised and contributed to the anti-fat movement by people living in the United States, believing that fat was the culprit that leads to a higher mortality and morbidity rates among various populations. Of course, people should know that it is way more complicated than that. The history of how fat becomes the bad thing was riddled with a lot of controversies.
In the past few decades or so, when ketogenic diet caught the attention of various media, people started to realise that, fats can't be all that bad. We are trying to connect the dot and found that glucose is the potential problem of the growing obesity phenomenon hence diabetes and cardiovascular diseases which has been pretty much increased since the introduction of the dietary guidelines in the 1970s. So it must be carbohydrates the culprit to the rising mortality rates, right? If you are thinking about it, right now, try to think about how people who were vegetarian or vegan can live healthily with a high carbs diet combined with a few essential supplements to suit their own physiologic needs. They pretty much eat lots of carbs for the rest of their life and we can see that, whatever they were eating seems to reverse their risk of getting cardiovascular diseases which is reasonable for us to make a conclusion that carbs, can't be that bad either (Source). People have been biased with the idea or principle they were trying to adopt in their life making it seems like they chose the best option there ever were when in fact, they might not.
Of course, in an ideal setting, we didn't really need to eat carbohydrates in order to nourish our body, even the glucose needed by the red blood cells can be made by utilising the fat cells or proteins (I'm sure you've heard about gluconeogenesis before); this is where "there is no such thing as essential carbohydrates" argument starts. People said fats can clog up our artery, proteins can destroy our kidney, well guess what, glucose, can speed up our ageing process; all of them can give certain benefits while causing harm if things pretty much go sideways. There is no point of assuming we are going to be healthy with the ketogenic diet without giving it much thought regarding what kind of meal you are going to eat every single day; ketogenic diet is quite strict. Keeping your daily carbohydrate intake to less than 50 gram per day can be pretty difficult, and committing yourself to higher fat percentage food don't necessarily means that you can gobble as much as oily foods as you want without consequences. It's true, ketogenic diet or any other low carbs diets have been proven by many studies to be effective tools in losing weight, but my main concern is the "health" part. Achieving an ideal weight doesn't necessarily mean you were on the right track towards longevity. This is why I have mentioned in my previous articles that eating can be a complicated factor to be considered if we want to assess longevity.
So which one is the best? Low carbs or high carbs? I'm not overzealous with the low carbs diet myself, I would say that it will depend on what you wanted to aim and how capable are you in sticking with that kind of routine in the long term. I have seen a lot of people who practised high carbs diet (which is pretty much common in Malaysia) and still in a good health. They can assume any kind of principle to ensure whatever they were targeting could be achieved. For example, some people might have believed that assuming the "calories in, calories out" principle, work for them and therefore, they should continue to do so. Even there are a lot of people out there have been explaining why "calories in calories out" doesn't work, at some angle, they were actually kinda important; people need to know how to control their own food portion to ensure they were not overeating. The most important thing is how to execute those plans into something that can be worth our time. Execution over inspiration. I mean, I can eat oily foods with fewer carbohydrates all I want in order to lose weight and end up with cardiovascular diseases. It's important for us to know and understand the mechanism behind the principle we want to adopt as our long-term plan.
Oh yeah, by the way, regarding people who are vegetarian or vegan, fibre is the most important component which controls the rate of glucose absorption in the body hence the insulin level. People have been familiarised themselves with the Glycemic Index (GI Value) but now I think we need to turn our attention to Food Insulin Index. In the simplest explanation, it is the amount of insulin needed in order to process certain foods so that the glucose in the food can be utilised. Different foods need a different amount of insulin and choosing foods which give a low food insulin index can be pretty much beneficial to people, especially those with type II diabetes. Controlling the secretion of insulin after a meal is so important for those who were having a certain degree of insulin resistance to stabilise the hormone and improve the pathological condition. Choosing food with a high food insulin index can lead to obesity and diabetes mellitus. Although the concept sounds simple, once again, the execution can be much harder. It will be much simpler if we can cook our own meal, every single day, so that we knew how much sugar we put in, how much rice we cook and of course, the portion of the foods relative to how active you are. However, it requires discipline, time and effort to make such feat works.
Okinawan People And Their Healthy, High-Carbs Lifestyle
People who practised a low carbs diet usually keep the portion of carbohydrates in their food below 100g; it will depend on your goal, the type of diet you are opting in and whether or not you want to achieve a fat burning state known as the ketosis. In Japan, one of the populations which have the most centenarians living is the Okinawan population. They live in islands located south-west from the mainland of Japan and have been an interesting subject to be frown upon when we are talking about eating carbs while having longer years to live. Okinawan people eat as much as 85% carbohydrates with moderate protein intake (around 9%) and occasionally, low fatty foods(Source). For those who really stick to the low carbs routine, 85% is like intruding into a forbidden area which could have made you being kicked out of ketosis. Nevertheless, Okinawan people have more than the number of centenarians living in other nations and I think it is reasonable to say that, it can be influenced by a variety of factors, one of them being eating habit.
Caloric restriction is one of the most important things that could have influenced the mortality rate among people in a population. I'm sure some of you knew that reducing calories in any living organism on earth would result in an increase in average lifespan. This conclusion was made based on a few animal studies and quite frankly, a lot of studies seem to act according to what has been predicted. In 1935, McCay et al published the first paper which shows some correlations between access to food and lifespan thus gave birth to the formal term of "caloric restriction". It seems like whatever things that have been happening physiologically, caloric restriction slows down ageing process which then reduced the mortality rate. It's undeniable simple but powerful concept; if we apply 30% caloric restriction to any living organism on earth, they will live 30% longer. Currently, there are a few factors which have been speculated by scientists to explain the prolonged lifespan experienced by the Okinawans population:
- Mild caloric restriction
- Organic foods
- Physical activities
Have anyone ever heard about Okinawan diet? They eat most vegetable and according to a research published in 2006, Okinawan elderly ate more vegetables (maybe three to four times) than the younger generation making it plausible to assume that they were the healthiest people in the whole wide world. Working in a clinic, I could have seen how struggled elderly people are with chronic diseases and the statistic presented by the latest research seems awful; it's going up. Even though there are a lot of things that we can take as the reason why this is happening, I can attribute those reasons mostly to dietary habits. Elderly people in Okinawa are mostly healthy with impressive arteries, cholesterol level and even the homocysteine level which are usually quite high among the elderly population. The chances for them to get stroke are quite slim and they were 80% less likely to get cardiovascular diseases than the general population.
There is a concept, which is called the Hara Hachi bu which means "eat until you were 80% full then stop" that is practised by the Okinawan people and frankly speaking, they were quite active too. If you combine the fact that they eat low glycaemic food while restricting calories and they have been naturally active for the rest of the day, they are the model of what healthy people should be. On average, Okinawan population stays between 18 to 22 body mass index ratio which means, they are physically fit and obesity might have been extremely rare among them. So how do we explain carbs as being evil when people in Okinawa thrive relatively well on carbs? Once again, it is the execution;
- They manage their daily foods well to satisfy their metabolic needs while reducing damage imposed biologically.
- They eat carbs with a lot of fibre which controls the rate of glucose absorption hence control the rate of insulin release.
- They eat organic foods which are not laden with pesticides which could do more harm than good to humans' health
- Most of their daily activities require them to be physically active, have an adequate exposure to the sunlight
- They eat a lot of soy-based foods which slows down the progression of osteoporosis, especially among women and for that reason also, some of the elderly people in the 90s are sexually active.
- Most of the activities are not isolated, they work and interact with each other which could have strengthened their social support and mental health. Okinawan people, especially the elderly, have low depression level.
What kind of carbohydrates were you eating every single day that you have thought might be the reason you were living healthily today? While some people are strict regarding what they were eating every day, some seem to have problems regarding portion and what kind of macronutrient they should have focused on. I would tell you that no one, could have given you the best explanation without knowing what kind of lifestyle/activities you want to lead. A bodybuilder might need more proteins, a diabetic might need to reduce carbohydrates and people who want to eat fat, should avoid oily foods and opt for high-quality foods with fats like eggs, avocados, low-carbs vegetables etc. Remember, it's the execution that's important.
Carbs And Longevity
In the recent year, like any other, scientists found that the relationship between eating carbs and mortality rate were U-shaped. People who eat too low or too high carbs are associated with a higher chance of death and the study involved 15,500 adults for the course of 25 years. If you were thinking that the samples are too small, the result was later reconfirmed by combining studies from 20 different countries which total up to 432,000 participants and the result pretty much behaved in a U-shaped manner. However, there are two types of people who practised low carbs diet that could have produced two different results:
- People who replaced carbs with animal proteins and fats
- People who replaced carbs with plant proteins and fats
The latter is associated with a low mortality rate. If you were wondering, there is no absolute indication that people died from a low-intake or high-intake of carbohydrates. Even though death is certain, the cause is usually not. Planning your meal, portion and how you want to prepare it is the first step towards achieving a better state of health. What should you do next? Execute those plans and be sure to stick with it in the long run, stay updated with the current research and most importantly, be active.
- Eating Some Carbs, But Not Too Many, Could Help You Live Longer, Study Suggests
- New Horizons: Dietary protein, ageing and the Okinawan ratio
- Secret of Eternal Youth; Teaching from the Centenarian Hot Spots (“Blue Zones”)
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