The best low-carb book in print
I’m going to tell you about the best low-carb book I’ve ever read. In fact, it’s exactly the book I wish I had written myself. And I’ll tell you why I didn’t in a bit, but first I want to clear up a few misconceptions I may have spread in my last post.
I get feedback on the posts I write from three sources. First, MD looks at them and tones them down if I’ve gone off on some sort of political tangent or if I’ve scattered in a bit of too colorful language. After she gives me the go, I put the posts up and wait to see what the commenters have to say. The third source for feedback is my friends, some MDs and/or PhDs and some not, who pick up the phone and call me.
MD okayed what I wrote. The readers who commented seemed to realize what I was trying to say. But the phone calls were a different story.
One friend called to say she had been low-carbing since Jan 1, and when she read my post she became so depressed she almost quit. “How can you tell people it’s hard,” she said. “It’s the easiest thing I’ve ever done. I can eat till I’m full. I’m losing weight; I’m losing the water I’ve been retaining; I feel great. What a downer that post was.”
I heard different versions of that rant from three other people. They all wanted to know why I would be idiotic enough to put up such a post right at the time everyone was trying to commit or recommit to losing weight. Depressing was a word everyone used.
I guess I got off easy with the written comments on the blog.
I didn’t really mean for the post to be a downer. Really. I wanted to tell people who might be struggling to lose that MD and I fall prey to all the same problems. We gained weight over the holidays. We are back on the straight and narrow. I was trying to say that we were right in there with everyone else working away to reestablish our own thinner selves. (In fact, we’ve made great progress in the week or so we’ve been on the plan.) I just wanted people to be aware that long-term weight loss requires effort and constant vigilance. And to view the process as a life change and not a quick one-time fix. My goal was to get people to recommit seriously, not to depress them.
Obesity is a medical problem caused by a damaged metabolism, which is why one person, without the damage, can eat the same foods without gaining weight that pack the pounds on someone else. Once you realize you have the underlying problem that leads to obesity, you simply have to recognize that you have to deal with it for the long term.
Let’s look at it in terms of another medical problem: high blood pressure. For argument’s sake, let’s ignore the fact that about 80 percent of cases of high blood pressure can be reversed with a low-carb diet, and let’s just assume that the case we’re talking about is responsive only to high blood pressure medication. If you were the patient with the high blood pressure, and I gave you a pill that brought your blood pressure down to normal, you would consider the medication effective. Would you then say, Hey, my blood pressure is normal, yippee! now I can quit taking the medicine? I doubt it. You would say, Great, the medicine is working. Furthermore, if you quit taking the medicine and your blood pressure went back up to what it was before you started taking the medicine, would you say the medicine didn’t work?
Of course not. Your high blood pressure was kept in check with the medicine, and your BP, not surprisingly, went back up when you quit taking the medicine. The medicine itself was effective.
Same thing with dieting. If you have an obesity problem that responds to a low-carb diet and you lose to your target weight, then go back to your old way of eating and gain your weight back, it isn’t the low-carb diet’s fault. You have a problem that responds to a low-carb diet, and you pretty much have to stick with a low-carb diet (although not in nearly as extreme a structure as when you are trying to lose) for the long haul.
Having said all that, I can tell you that in my experience there is nothing that helps people lose weight more quickly and with less deprivation than a good quality, whole food low-carbohydrate diet. You don’t have to be hungry. You can eat rich, delicious foods, you’ll get rid of heartburn, drop your blood pressure, ditch excess fluid, and feel remarkably better. You’ve just got to hang in there until you lose what you need to lose (which process you can speed along if desired with a little Metabosol), then you can loosen up and start adding some of the foods you’ve been foregoing. And continue to eat them in moderation on maintenance.
Virtually all the studies in the medical literature show that at worst the low-carbohydrate diet equals the low-fat diet in all parameters and at best completely leaves it in the dust. As far as I’m concerned, there is no faster, safer, more delicious way to lose weight. Hell, a study was just presented recently showing that women who did low-carb just two days a week lost almost twice as much weight as women following a calorically-restricted Mediterranean diet daily. So, to be clear: Is weight loss tough? Sure. Is it easier when you cut the carbs? Absolutely! Low carb rocks!
Which brings me to the book that started this post. In my opinion, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living is simply the best how-to book on low-carb dieting ever written. As I wrote above, it is the book I wish MD and I had written.
The reason we didn’t write it is because a) some of this information wasn’t available when we last wrote a book (much of it is now available thanks to the work of Drs. Volek and Phinney), and b) no mainstream publisher would pay an author for this book. If a mainstream publisher would buy it, the editor would force the authors to change it. What do I mean by that?
All books fall into different genres, as they’re called in publishing. One genre is diet/nutrition books. So if you come to a publisher offering a diet/nutrition book, it gets pigeonholed into that genre and has to conform structurally to that genre’s standardized format. Editors of mainstream publishing houses believe that the great mass of readers of nutritional books are not very bright and so have to be served real scientific information in small, small bites and not very many of them at that. So the genre formula for a diet book is to have the actual diet regimen way up front because these editors don’t believe the readers of these books are smart enough or patient enough to wade through the explanations of why a particular diet works in order to get to the plan. They want the plan up front within the first couple of chapters so people can get started without really having to read the book. They also want a ton of recipes and meal plans to fill up the last half of the book. Squeezed in between the plan and the recipe section is where they want to meat of book cubbyholed, and, in their view, with as little science as possible.
MD and I fought this structure tooth and toenail with Protein Power and ended up beating our editor down by agreeing to write a summary of each chapter called The Bottom Line that explained what each chapter said in non-scientific terms. (Fortunately, we’ve been able to use this strategy in most of our books.) We worked well with our first editor, but we ended up in the hands of another editor when the paperback came out. Editor Number Two hated all the stuff on the Paleolithic diet and the data from the ancient Egyptians. This info was the first time in the popular press that the pre- verses post-agricultural diet was used as an argument for low-carb dieting. And she wanted to ditch it from the book. We went postal on her, so she ended up agreeing to leave it but only if we buried it in the very back of the book as an Epilogue. That was one of the chapters of the book I wrote, and I thought it was pretty exciting information. So, apparently did many others. But not this editor. Sadly, she is not unusual. Most want to conform to the genre.
Drs. Volek and Phinney self-published their book, and, as a consequence, could write it however the flip they wanted. It is extremely well written and suffers none of the usual flaws of a self published book. And it lays out the rationale for a low-carb diet as the treatment of obesity and other related disorders in a linear fashion instead of adhering to the typical diet book format.
As I finished writing the above paragraph, I clicked over and checked for comments on my latest post and found one with the following line:
This low-carb world can be a lonely place if one needs a navigator…
I can think of no better navigators than the authors of this book. Both of them have done a large part of the hardcore research on low-carb dieting that is in the medical literature today. Go to PubMed and enter Volek JS or Phinney SD in the search window, hit ‘Search,’ and you will be rewarded with more peer-reviewed scientific papers on low-carb dieting than you will have time to read. Many of the experiments described in these papers are explained in easy to understand language in their book.
Disclosure: Both Dr. Volek and Dr. Phinney are friends and colleagues of mine. But they did not send me a copy of their book for review. I purchased it from Amazon and paid the full price of $29.95 (it is now $19.95). I bought it months ago and carried it with me all over Europe and on a half dozen other trips since but didn’t have time to even crack it until I was on the last leg back from our holiday trek. It sounds cliché, but I couldn’t put it down. I read and annotated the entire book over the course of two long flights. Virtually anything anyone could want to know about the science behind low-carbohydrate dieting can be found in this book.
I’ll give you just one example. It is common knowledge among many nutritionist, doctors and journalists that saturated fats are bad for us. Most believe eating saturated fats leads to higher levels of saturated fats in the blood, which they inevitably describe as ‘artery-clogging saturated fat’. Drs. Volek and Phinney, who certainly don’t believe this nonsense, understand adaptation to a low-carbohydrate diet changes the way the human body metabolizes different fats. Eating more fat on a low-carbohydrate diet speeds up the burning of fat in general and saturated fat in particular.
There are only three things the body can do with saturated fat from the diet (or saturated fat made from dietary carbohydrate — and, yes, the body can and does make saturated fat from dietary carbohydrate). It can burn them, store them, or convert them to a mono-unsaturated fat. When people go on low-carbohydrate diets, they reduce their insulin levels, which in turn allows fat to escape from the fat cells to become the body’s primary fuel.
But what happens when a person increases saturated fat intake as part of a low-carbohydrate diet? Drs. V & P knew that saturated fat burning would increase, but would enough burn to offset the extra amount of saturated fat coming in as part of a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet?
To find out, they put 20 subjects on a low-carbohydrate diet for 12 weeks and another 20 subjects on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate weight loss diet for the same length of time. The subjects in the low-carb group consumed three times the saturated fat per day (36 g vs 12 g) as did those in the low-fat group. The blood from the subjects in both groups was then tested to determine total triglyceride level and specific fatty acid composition.
What did the good docs find?
In the serum samples done at baseline and again after 12 weeks, serum triglycerides in the low fat group went from 187 to 151 mg per 100 ml, a tidy 19% reduction. But in the low carb group, the before and after values were 211 and 104, a whopping 51% fall. Both visually (just looking at the numbers) and statistically, the low carbohydrate group had a much greater (better) reduction in serum triglycerides.
The above should come as no surprise, because everyone knows that a low-carb diet reduces triglyceride levels. But what about the amount of saturated fat in the blood?
As a proportion of the total, the low carb group had 33% saturates [saturated fatty acids] at baseline and 29% after 12 weeks, whereas the low fat group started at 30 and ended at 29%. So after 12 weeks of dieting, the proportion of saturated fats in the blood triglycerides was the same for both groups despite the fact that the low carb group was eating three times as many grams per day of saturated fat in their diet.
But there’s more. Because the low carb group ended up with blood triglycerides of 104 mg per 100 ml compared to the low fat group’s 151, they actually had about 30% less total triglycerides circulating in their serum. So although the two groups had similar relative proportions of saturates, this means that the absolute serum content of saturates in the low-carb group was 30% lower than the low fat diet group. So what we found, in a nutshell, is that despite a higher intake of saturated fat, the proportionate blood level of saturated fats did not increase, and their absolute levels fell dramatically with the low carbohydrate diet.
The bottom line on this point is that when our metabolism adapts to a low carbohydrate diet, saturated fats become a preferred fuel for the body, and their levels in blood and tissue triglyceride pools actually drops.
To summarize, a three times higher intake of saturated fats leads to a 30% drop in saturated fats in the blood of those following a low-carb diet as compared to those following a low-fat, high-carb diet.
Which means, of course, that if you want to decrease the artery-clogging saturated fats (should that be what you want to call them) in your blood, a low-fat, high-carb diet, the very diet almost every health care professional recommends for the job, isn’t the way to do it. All you have to do is simply follow a low-carb diet.
The description of what happens to saturated fats in the blood during a low carb diet took two pages out of a 300 page book, so you can imagine how much content the entire book contains.
There is so much invaluable information in this book that I’m having to fight back the impulse to quote the whole thing. You’ll learn
why you need more sodium on a low-carb diet and why the sodium prevents lean tissue loss,
why you need to increase fat intake during maintenance,
why a low-carb diet decreases inflammation,
why the low-carb, high-fat diet improves gall bladder function,
why excess carbohydrate converts to saturated fat and how,
what all the lipid parameters mean and how they’re affected by a low-carb diet,
and what the Paleolithic evidence tells us about diet.
And this list is just scratching the surface. As I read this book, I kept marking parts that I needed to use for this blog. In going back through, I would have to practically reprint the whole thing to give you just the important parts because the entire book is a gem.
Unlike most traditional diet books, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living doesn’t contain a lengthy section on how to execute a low carb diet. There are plenty of books out there – some written by MD and me – that do that. The book does have about 10 pages of the authors’ favorite recipes for low-carb foods and a seven day meal plan incorporating many of these recipes. (Another disclosure: The authors recommend Protein Power as a good book on low-carb dieting, but I would have written this review the same had they never mentioned our book.)
The strength of this book isn’t in its meal plans and recipes, although those are delicious, it is in the wealth of information about all aspects of low-carb dieting. If you have a question, almost any question, about any facet of low-carbohdyrate dieting, this book will have the answer. And the answer will grounded in science, and in many cases from work done by these two scientists on the front lines of low-carbohydrate research.
As far as I am concerned, if you are planning on going on a low-carb diet and can afford only one book, make The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living that one book. If you are a long time low-carber, this is the one essential reference book you should have on your shelf.
If you are getting going on a low-carb diet the first part of this year, grab this book before you do another thing. Once you see the world of benefits that will accrue to you from following such a diet, you will probably be able to overcome any depression that may have been inflicted on you from my last post. So don’t hold off, grab a copy of this book today. You will be very glad you did.