In 1964 when I was a systems analyst at IBM – during that era IBM actually sold computers – my job was to program the 1401 and 1440 computers for IBM’s customers. IBM taught me how to do this. To test the programs, we used data furnished by the customers. The customers prepared “input” on IBM punch cards; each card was the size of a 1901 dollar bill. Punch card operators would enter financial information on a large punch card machine, which was a noisy contraption with a typewriter keyboard. The punch cards were gathered and then fed into the very expensive IBM computers, which tallied the data recorded on the cards. Our programs massaged the information and results were printed for the customer’s analysis and review.
Our customers were constantly warned that their data – i.e., the input – must be accurate. There were no “correction” tapes on these cards, since the machines would punch a small hole for each character. Periodically, the data entered was wrong (typos), which meant, the computer programs would produce erroneous reports.
We used the phrase “GIGO” to remind the customer that “if your input is wrong, the results of the reports will also be wrong: garbage in, garbage out.”
That phrase might well be the cornerstone of Sally Fallon and Mary Enig’s seminal books, Nourishing Traditions and Eat Fat, Lose Fat. Their premise is simple: if you feed bad stuff in your body, your body will create bad results. GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out.
As a type 2 diabetic, I can attest to that maxim. If I eat food containing loads of carbohydrates, the computers in my body will digest what I ate (breads, potato chips and pies), but my system will produce lots of bad results: the carbs are turned into glucose. Whatever un-needed glucose there is, has nowhere to go, so it simply travels through my blood stream (similar to ethanol in a car engine: using ethanol may void the manufacturer’s warranty, may cause gummy parts, weaken hoses and cause sluggish valves, and impair the performance of the vehicle’s engine) .
Over time, the un-needed glucose might impair my vision, weaken the walls of my veins and arteries, cause pain in my feet (which may create gangrene and loss of toes and feet), and shrink my brain size (which could lead to dementia and other unwanted neurological conditions, such as ADHD, autoimmune diseases, brain fog, etc.). So what must I do to get the unwanted glucose out of my blood stream and into my muscles and liver? Two easy answers: (a) I simply don’t eat bread, products containing HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), sugary foods, wheat products, etc. (such a regimen limits my food choices to eating pure protein and lipids (fats)); and/or I exercise a good portion of my day (the exercise will “burn” the glucose off).
Neither of these choices works for me. I enjoy eating a variety of foods, and I don’t want to exercise all the time. So I sought alternatives, beginning with my food choices. I had to learn more about biochemistry (a topic disdained by medical students – there’s nothing easy about biochemistry), to see if the sciences of nutrition and physiology might provide answers, providing I tweaked the foods I ate.
So I searched for a book that gave easy answers, sort of a “Swiss Army Knife”, an all in one, simple to read and understand treatise on nutrition, physiology and biochemistry. After searching for that book for 11 years, I can only report it doesn’t exist. The closest one I found is a cookbook, Nourishing Traditions, which begins with a thumb nail sketch of biochemistry and nutrition. The authors explain how the food we eat is processed in our bodies, in a concise and fairly easy to understand presentation. Each type of food we eat, whether it is fat, protein, or carbohydrate, produces a different physical reaction.
So let me distill some of what I learned: foods are grouped into 3 basic categories: fats (lipids), proteins, and carbohydrates (each gram of fat contains 9 calories; each gram of protein contains 4 calories; and each gram of carbohydrate contains 4 grams). Think of calories as “energy” — since fat contains more energy potential than carbs or proteins, if I don’t use the energy (i.e., the calories) in the fat I consume, I will gain weight.
Let me define a few terms. “Carbohydrates are simply long chains of sugar molecules, as distinguished from fat (which are chains of fatty acids), and proteins (which are chains of amino acids), and DNA.” (Grain Brain by Perlmutter & Loberg).
What does this mean to me? Let me give an example. Here’s what happens when you eat a slice of pizza: as you may guess, the pizza crust is classified as a carbohydrate. When it reaches your digestive system, the crust is converted to glucose (sugar); when that happens, your liver instructs your pancreas to release insulin into your blood stream. The insulin shuffles (or pushes) glucose into cells and stores the glucose as glycogen (glycogen is stored in your liver and muscles). The liver is also the body’s chief fat-building catalyst, which converts glucose to body fat when the liver and muscles have no more room for glycogen; the fat is stored at various places in your body. (from Grain Brain by Perlmutter & Loberg).
The physiology of those of us with Type 2 diabetes doesn’t work the same as described in the paragraph above: the glucose isn’t shuffled into our cells and stored as glycogen. The glucose has to be burned off (with exercise); alternatively, we take a medication (such as metformin) which re-programs our CPU (the liver), telling the CPU not to release stored glucose back into our blood stream. If that doesn’t work, we take insulin (by injection), which forces the glucose into our liver and other fat storage tubs in our bodies (people who take insulin tend to be chubbier than others).
So where does all of this analysis leave us? Think of your body as an automobile. To start the engine, you need gasoline, which is ignited in the engine and produces power (or energy) needed to move the car. Our bodies need the same sort of energy, so we can move, think, and operate properly. Our energy reserve doesn’t come from gasoline; it comes from something called ATP, which is ignited with oxygen and electrical impulses, and gives us needed energy.
Let’s get a bit more technical. Our stored glycogen is released (by directions from our liver) whenever we need energy (which is all of the time). To produce energy from the glycogen, it must be metabolized into Acetyl CoA (think of this as gasoline which will be turned into energy, through the internal combustion engine of your car).
By default, if you eat a lot of carbohydrates, the carbs will be converted to glucose which in turn will be metabolized into Acetyl CoA, the “gasoline” in your body. But what happens when you have been eating a low carb diet, and have used up all of your glycogen (your glucose fuel tank)? Your body is then required to tap protein and fat reserves, and turn them into Acetyl CoA (which in turn becomes part of the Krebs cycle, and ADP is converted to ATP, and vice versa, which gives “energy”, so you can scratch you head, think, digest your food, walk and run, etc.). Here’s a neat little chart which explains how this works:
So what does this mean for me? When you shift from eating lots of carbs to eating lots of fats and proteins, the fats and proteins — which are not “long chains of sugar molecules” (as are carbs) — will nonetheless be converted into Acetyl CoA, which in turn will produce energy as needed. This process is known as Ketosis.
Ketosis is a term which describes what happens when stored fat reserves are metabolized into ketones, which are converted back into Acetyl CoA, which is fuel for your cells. If you eat plenty of carbohydrates, you will never enter into ketosis. Instead, your body will simply use all that glucose as a fuel.
Ketosis has earned a bad name, though. For one thing, your body enters a ketogenic state when it starts starving itself. But if you’re eating plenty of calories and sticking to a nutrient-dense diet, you need not fear starvation. Ketogenesis doesn’t destroy muscle tissue, but is rather the process by which stored fat is turned into ketones — a perfectly usable energy source for every major body system. Others object to ketosis because it gets confused with ketoacidosis, a dangerous state in which the body not only becomes ketogenic, but also causes the blood to become too acidic. If you’re still getting your limited carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits, you need not fear ketoacidosis.
So there you have it. If you go on a Ketogenic diet (low carb, high fat), you will lower your carb intake, which will lower your BG readings. In addition, you will not be as hungry as before, since fats take a bit longer to digest than carbs. You now have permission to use butter and coconut oil in your cooking.
I will explain a bit more about fats in the next installment. In the interim, concentrate on eating and digesting short chain and medium chain fatty acids (butter, coconut oil, salmon and other fish rich in Omega 3), because those are easily converted into energy. Some long chain fatty acids (HDA), which primarily come in capsules, are extremely healthy for your brain.
If you can’t wait until the next installment, consider reading Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Mary Enid and Grain Brain by Dr. Perlmutter.
DISCLAIMER: Physiologists and nutritionists and others won’t approve of my slip-shod explanation of the concepts mentioned in this article. I don’t approve of their splitting infinities or misspelling “alright” (which is two words, all right). But I do disclaim errors in reporting how energy is technically produced. The purpose is to explain that fatty acids can be used to produce energy, and that is a good thing.
There are more varieties of salmon than I know about, but let me assume you bought a nice pink salmon filet from the New England coasts, or perhaps from Alaska. Your objective is to cook it so it turns out moist and juicy, producing a creamy taste. Here’s an easy fix for a fish rub, and can be used whether you cook the fish on a stove top or a barbecue unit: drizzle melted butter over the surface, then sprinkle dill weed and chives over the salmon, and then add a few drops of lemon juice to the filet. If you use a skillet to cook the filet, melt butter in the pan before you begin cooking (when it’s done, pour the unused butter over the surface of the meat).
Cook until done. This should be a tasty and nutritious dish.