Obesity is on the rise across the world almost universally and it doesn’t show signs of stopping. There are 10 times more kids obese now than there was 40 years ago and if we don’t do something, and quick, we are just going to become sicker and sicker as a race.
It is easy to blame carbs for the obesity crisis and lots of people do, especially if they’ve had success losing weight on a high fat diet. It is also easy to blame fat for the obesity crisis and lots of people do especially if they’ve had success on a low fat diet (and this has been the recommended advice for decades). Then there’s the calories in calories out (CICO) argument, where some believe it is purely energy balance (and perhaps it is), but often the subtlety of the metabolism changes caused by foods are not considered, or the satiety or lack thereof induced by certain food combos.
My own person belief has been that both approaches work for a very simple reason i.e. carbs+fat combos are autumnal, and by avoiding foods with this signature, you avoid hyperphagia (uncontrolled urge to eat), calorie input and maximise the time you have oxidising fat. I’ve written lots of blogs on hormones impacted by this combo, adult brown adipose tissue etc. to make the case that human beings are seasonally adapted creatures.
I’ve been seeking proof of this concept for some time and over time more and more emerges. Marty Kendall of Optimising Nutrition shows how analysis of a half million days worth of myfitnesspal data showed that the people who ate most calories were those who ate carbs+fat in an almost equal ratio. I sent Marty a message about the autumnal squirrel formula of 50% fat 40% fat and 10% protein and showed him how many junk foods match the signature of acorns (a major autumnal food for hyperphagic bears and squirrels), and human breast milk (a food designed to make human infants as fat as possible in as short a space of time as possible to aid early survival, which is a universal formula among humans) and how various junk foods like donuts and ice-cream match this signature perfectly. He expanded this list using his nutrient optimiser tool and found a list of 30+ junk foods that match the signature and only 2 natural foods were shown on this list… you guessed it: acorns and breastmilk!
Read this fascinating article on optimising nutrition https://optimisingnutrition.com/2018/06/23/dont-eat-for-winter/
Recently, I had a hunch that if I compared macronutrients eaten by nations across the globe (irrespective of calories) and compared this with obesity rankings I would find a trend whereby as fat and carbs converge, obesity would rise accordingly.
So I searched for the data and found 2 individual sets of data that would allow me to correlate the information.
a) WHO data on prevalence of obesity (BMI ≥ 30kg/m2) (2016) ref: https://www.who.int/topics/obesity/en/
Tabular data obtained from wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_body_mass_index#cite_note-3
b) FAO Statistics Division 2010, Food Balance Sheets, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy http://faostat.fao.org/
Tabular data obtained from http://chartsbin.com/view/1160
I whittled down the common countries so that I would have the headings and ranked the countries from lowest levels of obesity to highest and converted that to a percentage value.
Country, Obesity Rank, Carbs, Fats, Protein
Then it was simply a matter of plotting that data against the carb, fat and protein percentages (click to enlarge).
I think the graph says it all really but let me explain what my interpretation and conclusion is:
- As carbs and fats converge, obesity levels rise, this trend is clear from the graph
- Protein remains the same, the reason the patterns of carbs and fat mirror is because they make up 100% so as carbs increase fat decreases and vice versa
- This is irrespective of calories, I am not denying that there may be a relationship between calories and obesity trends too, but this is clearly showing a trend based on macro combinations. The relationship I believe here is that carb+fat combos like fatty meat and bread, donuts, syrupy coffees etc. drive hunger, or more accurately hyperphagia as it is faux hunger, a hunger that can never be satisfied for a creature that is hardwired to understand winter is coming.
- It is important to note that this is % calories from fat and not grams (1g of fat is 9 cals, but when we’re talking percentages we are looking at it from an energy point of view).
My conclusion therefore is that it seems evident that obesity rises as carbs and fats converge irrespective of calorie intake, globally.
This is potentially driven by a hyperphagic survival response in humans.
There are no diets recorded with higher levels of fat than carbs, though it is obvious that this would be the case in countries further from the equator in winter, as photosynthesis is required to create sugars and starches, therefore in non farming communities in times past, they would have had very little access to carbohydrates in winter as opposed to late summer during the harvest. I believe this is the key to why high fat low carb diets are effective. The simulate winter and spring.
The following images is a hypothetical graph showing the circannual changes in fat, protein and carb levels available during our early history, and the hormonal responses of our bodies.
Counties where there are many crops of fruit per year (closer to the equator), tend to be high carb low fat, however, people from these countries are not immune to carb+fat combos and seem just as programmed to gorge on this type of food. I’m not sure the implications of this but it stands to reason if our species dates back to the beginning of time where an uncountable number of migrations may have occurred during various climate change events.
The bottom line is that eating autumnally in every meal and snack, as per diets in many countries now, which are all tending towards more carb+fat combos in every meal, snack and beverages (milkshakes, syrupy coffees etc)., means autumnal hyperphagia and resulting weight gain.
Problems: in the graph above you can see the clear trend but some of the carb+fat data varies quite wildly from country to country. This could be for various reasons including but not limited to:
- Levels of manual labour vs sedentary lifestyles
- Types of carbs and fats e.g. fibrous wholefood sources vs refined starches, sugars and fats
- Longevity (typically weight gain increases with age, a younger population should correlate with less obesity)
- Levels of sunlight available
- Ethnicity factors (ability to deal with sugars and fats based on geographic latitude and ancestral diets).
A recent study by Dana Small et al showed that humans value carbs+fat more by sight alone, and this is evident in shops as they are front loaded with high carb+fat junk foods. Fauxtom foods?
Another recent study found that mice got fat on diets made up of up to 60% fats but then became less obese as fat percentages went higher. Finding out this figure in human beings would be useful.
I predict that it is approximately 50% fat, 40% carb and 10% protein that causes the most damage (the signature of acorns and human breast milk) and it would be useful to run trials to discover this once and for all.
Time will tell.
If you want to find out more about this hypothesis, and discover a sustainable anti-autumal eating strategy/pattern that includes carbs and fats in daily diet, check out my book ‘Don’t Eat for Winter’ on Amazon or explore the other blogs on this site.