The Fat of The Land – Fats and Endurance Sports

While fat has been labeled the cause of all health problems, take any language and when it comes to expressions to describe plenty they all say roughly the same thing – “to live of the fat of the land” or “the cream of the crop” to name just a few. Therefore it begs the question why did fat hold such a place in the daily lives of our forefathers, so important as to be remembered for generations and yet we are currently told from plethora of sources to avoid fat at all costs.

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Part 4: Fats for Cycling and Endurance Sports – The Clean Burning Fuel

While fat has been labeled the cause of all health problems, take any language and when it comes to expressions to describe plenty they all say roughly the same thing – “to live of the fat of the land” or “the  cream of the crop” to name just a few. Therefore it begs the question why did fat hold such a place in the daily lives of our forefathers, so important as to be remembered for generations and yet we are currently told from plethora of sources to avoid fat at all costs.

Bad Science and Worse Timing: Why Fat Was Labeled the Villain

Cultural Bias and Bad Science

The eyes sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend

-Robertson Davies

Among other things, widely available food (and efforts to combat world hunger) is something that can be considered a hallmark of civilization. Therefore having to hunt for your meals and migrate according to food availability would invariably in most cases be considered as primitive. Millionaire financial guru Warren Buffet and one of the people responsible for modern computers as they are – Bill Gates, both agreed in an interview that outside societies as we know them today, they would be some animals lunch. How humanity has been developing and evolving is an ongoing study that anthropolgy focuses on, however, this is not the focus of this post.

Fuelled by our natural curiosity, mankind travelled and explored. The one caveat that with a lot of the documentaries is that they depend on the author’s point of view. We try to understand new information in the framework we know. As such civilizations that had the means to set forth and expand into new horizons considered the cultures they encountered as less developed (savages) and that observation was constantly reinforced into the numerous travel journals. It was the duty of the more advanced to teach their ‘brethren’ new and advanced ways. However, there was something that these cultures could teach or I should say remind ‘the white men.’ It is strange to see an explorer paying attention to what the indigenous have to teach him.

Fat, Cycling and Endurance Sports
Frederick Schwatka Taking Notes from the Inuit

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientsists.

-Richard P. Feynman

If we turn back to clock to when Homo sapiens or modern humans evolved it is about 2.5 million years ago, based on fossil evidence, and more or less our genes and dietary needs were developed at that time. At some point we were all ‘primitive’ and as the Warren Buffet/Bill Gates example pointed out – we had it a lot tougher before and somehow we made it.  When food was scarce how come we managed to survive, live to tell the story and even create literature, science, technology etc.. More importantly we had survived despite NOT having much technology. Food was a big part of it, especially that it was not always abundant as it is today, so we had to rely on slowly released stored energy – fat – to survive. The domestication of animals and beginning of agriculture occurred roughly 10, 000 years ago, creating dairy products 9,000 years ago, sucrose (table sugar) was refined 2000 years ago with it becoming widely available approximately in the last 200 years. The same goes for refined vegetable oils, high fructose corn syrup, refined grains and almost all of the food you see packaged in the supermarket – 100 or so years back. Those time periods are merely a blip on the evolutionary time scale where even 10,000 years represents less than 1% of the time we have been roaming the Earth. While our food has changed at warp speeds, our genes have stayed the same.

Early colonial physicians noted that “diseases of civilization” (obesity, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, various forms of cancer, peptic ulcers, diverticulitis, gal stones, haemorrhoids, varicose veins and constipation) appeared in the healthy indigenous populations once they were introduced to colonial food such as flour (biscuits), sugar, white rice and molasses. If one disease appeared, the rest followed. Diabetes was disease of the rich and wealthy until not too long ago. Gary Taubes has [amazon text=two fascinating books&asin=1400033462] that I highly recommend on the matter that go in historical detail., together with his 2002 NY Times article. I am not going to repeat what somebody has already published, however, to briefly summarise most studies trying to show a direct correlation between dietary fat intake and heart disease were ambiguous at best. Something to keep in mind when judging whether two events that occur at the same time – association does not equal causation, I repeat association IS NOT causation.

Furthermore our industrialised cultures are without a doubt on a path different from a one leading to wellbeing and health. Once known as Syndrome X, now referred to as Metabolic syndrome consisting of abdominal (central) obesity, elevated blood pressure, elevated fasting plasma glucose, dislypidemia (high serum triglycerides, and low high-density lipoprotein (HDL)) levels, is on the rise, with prevalence going for 30% from populations, with Type 2 diabetes and heart disease topping the chart for chronic diseases and cause of death respectively. Gerald Raven sometimes called as the father the term “insulin resistance” was among the pioneers that narrowed down the cause of all of the above conditions as excess dietary carbohydrates, particularly the highly refined ones (see the first paragraphs in my post about Sugar.

Therefore there are lessons to be learned from both our forefathers as well as some of the ‘primitive’ cultures. George Catlin surrounded by the Buffalo hunting plains indians, Frederick Schwatka and Vihjalmur Stefansson among the inuit and John Orr and J.L. Gilks together with the Masai indians in Africa all discovered that although isolated from each other, all of those hunting and herding peoples shared their esteem for fat, yes that is right of fat.

The cynics might say that this is probably the main reason why those civilizations remained primitive. The answer as usual is: “Not really because it’s more complicated than that.”

It’s insane to say that ancient foods cause modern disease.

-David Gillespie

Bad Timing

Vihjlamur Stefansson and his experience with the high fat Inuit diet and Orr and Gilks studies of the Masai coincided with discoveries of vitamins in the 1915-1925 period when Scientific nutrition really gained traction. Scientists started telling people what to eat and labeled the cultural wisdom about food of many generations as outdated. Fruits and vegetables were needed in order to prevent conditions such as scurvy and beriberi. Unfortunately cultures didn’t know why what they had been eating for generations worked, it just did, therefore such unsubstantiated knowledge was “not good.” In Victorian England right up to the 1860s when food was abundant and processed food was not available, working class people lived as long as we do today in the 21st century, mind you a good reason why modern people live as long as they do is due to medications that were non existent in the 19th century.

George Calin’s experiences with the Plains indians in the 1970 as well as [amazon text=Dr. Atkin’s&asin=006001203X], avoiding sugar, starches, grains and carbohydrates coincided with the mainstream consensus that crystallised in the “healthy” food pyramid stating that 60% of our daily calories should come from, grains, cereals, rice and pasta. Specifically Dr. Atkins was a pioneer in employing glucose tolerance tests to screen for insulin resistance in his patients, it is sad that he is most frequently referred to as a “quack” out to make money, while there was a solid scientific basis on his diets as well as historical evidence deeply ingrained in cultures, not to mention he helped millions to get healthy, lose weight and KEEP IT OFF for life. In addition having a massive food industry geared towards low-fat products has a huge influence on scientists and dietary policy makers.

You are probably eager to see more concrete details on what fat to eat and avoid and I assure you that is coming, however, the point I am trying to make here is that there are more than one side of every story and while the low-fat advocates have been very vocal for the last 30-40 years, it is undeniable that although complex biochemically Metabolic syndrome has a single cause – dietary carbohydrates or most specifically the huge insulin release that they cause. Insulin is the energy storage hormone that converts carbohydrates into fat and as such prevents the body from utilising the stored energy. Therefore the logical question is:

Why do we store fat if we don’t need it anymore in this time of plenty?

Fat and the Human Body

Two and a half million years ago food was scarce. The human body is uniquely adapted to thrive, not just survive while fasting by utilizing stored fat by breaking it down into small ketone bodies  going into a state of (nutirtional) ketosis (occuring when dietary carbohydrate is below 50g/day). This is the environment we are designed to be in most of the time and feel good about it; with ketones in the 0.5mM to 5mM concentration. think of it in terms of car – you cannot run diesel in a gasoline powered car without doing some damage to the engine, it’s just not designed to work that way.

A sidenote here that must be made: ketosis, even in university textbooks or diabetic patient material, is sometimes interchangeably used with the term ketoacidosis a state when in the complete absence of insulin (Type 1 diabetes) body fat gets broken down very fast (remember no storage insulin signal) so that the blood ketone concentration goes very high (10+mM) with a notable acidic pH balance and you go into a diabetic coma. If you have even a couple of beta cells in your pancreas to make some insulin you will never enter ketoacidosis.

However, the one thing that shuts the ketosis program down right away is insulin even at small concentrations. What causes an insulin response – dietary carbohydrates, particularly highly refined ones. As mentioned before, we don’t have an essential need for carbohydrates, there is not a single disease caused by carbohydrate deficiency. We can make glucose from other sources/pathways when needed quite efficiently. However, carbohydrate intolerance exists, once called Symptom X, now known as Metabolic Syndrome and Type II diabetes. Remember that we all  in a continuum between carbohydrate tolerance and intolerance. The more carbohydrate tolerant of you can get away with it for the most part, however, the intolerant ones are constantly struggling with weight gain and cravings. Even so the tolerance range is roughly 50-200g of carbohydrates/day and yet more than half of our energy comes from grains, rice and pasta. The results are not surprising with obesity rates in the 30%, predicted to reach 50% by 2030, with Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome trailing close behind. We are running a metabolic program not ideally suitable for us that is making people fat and sick.

What about the brain? Our most energy hungry organ preferably utilizes ketones, rather than glucose when available. In simple terms how would our ancestors been able to make rational decisions in the face of adversity (predators, etc) when in a fasting state if they relied on scarce glucose? Furthermore the ancient Greeks already knew what the Mayo clinic ketogenic diet in 1920s rediscovered – ketogenic diets prevents seizures in epileptic patients, something used to this day.

What about athletic performance? After a period of 2-4 weeks of keto adaptation (highlighted for emphasis), performance does not suffer and is even slightly improved in trained cyclists. [amazon template=thumbnail&asin=0983490708] in the field of keto adaptation is detailed in here with plethora of references and studies. Our body’s fat supply is virtually limitless, and almost any endurance sports coach emphasizes the need to burn fat predominantly and spare the glycogen, yet whole grains, pasta, low fat and sugary products are the norm. An oxymoron if I ever saw one.

But fat metabolism is too slow if you want to go fast!!! Like anything it needs to be trained and once fat/keto adapted high performance is possible (Mark Allen, Paula Newby-Fraser). African hunters chase antelopes for hours without stopping for food or water. I am aware of the research (some of the studies can be found here, here and here) mentioning glucose and glycogen depletion that started it all, however, the fact that glucose depletion and fatigue occurred at the same time does NOT imply causal relationship. The rest is history…with a whole industry behind the sports carbohydrate drinks/gels/bars. Not surprisingly majority of the”research,” pro sports and advertising is sponsored by the same companies to promote their products. I am repeating myself, however, once insulin gets thrown in the picture, fat burning cannot occur.

Ever hit the wall or bonked? A study by one of the big names in ketosis research that would be difficult to reproduce now due to ethical concerns, used subjects that were starved for 4 weeks (ketone concentration in the 6mM range). Their blood glucose levels were hovering in the healthy 70mg/dL range. When the researchers administered insulin, the glucose plummeted to 25mg/dL, or think of your worst bonking moment and that times 100, yet the subjects were fine because they had sufficient ketones that their bodies could use for energy.

Therefore if you restrict carbohydrates to below 50g/day you can enter nutritional ketosis in 2-4 weeks. What is there left to eat? Proteins and fat remain in the ring together with vegetables and fruits. Protein is not a preferred fuel source, otherwise we would be readily digesting our muscles, as well as eating that much protein (200+g/day) is highly impractical. That leaves fat as the clear choice.

But, but , but fats are bad for you and cause disease and clog your arteries….If you have gotten this far you are at least slightly curious what fats do in the human body. Now we come back to the aboriginal tribes and our forefathers who literally lived off the fat of the land.

The Fat of the Land – Not All Fats are Created Equal

The plains indians hunted the autumn buffalo that had fattened from the summer grazing. The fat was used together with dried meat to make pemmican that could be carried and stored over the winter.

The inuit similarly hunted the autumn caribou and the dropping temperatures allowed fat and meat to be preserved. The tribes along the Pacific Coast held the tiny oolichan fish in high regards; the fat grease was extracted and stored in cedar boxes. To illustrate among many of the photographs of the era, people were quite lean and heart disease free, even though they consumed most of their energy from fat.

Fats for Cycling and endurance Sports_Bannock Indians
Six Pack With a High Fat Diet

All of the fat praised by those cultures was solid at normal temperatures and did not go rancid over time. Why?

Saturated vs Unsaturated

Fats for Cycling and Endurance Sports
Saturated vs Unsaturated Fat (Source)

Fats or fatty acids (FAs) are made of carboxylic (COOH)  ‘head’ followed by a carbon chain. Each carbon in the “tail” if can accept four connections or bonds – when bound to another carbon, the remaining two/three are bound to hydrogen. When all spots are taken the fat is said to be “saturated” with hydrogen.  When some carbons in the tail are bound with double bond to each other, the fat is “unsaturated.” Double bonds are more reactive and as such are susceptible to being damaged by oxygen and fats go rancid quicker. Furthermore a double bond causes a “kink” so fatty acids cannot be packed so close to each other and are liquid at room temperature. Rancification causes the release of aldehydes and ketones and happens inside our bodies as well in response to reactive oxygen species+heat. Aldehydes crosslink proteins, hence why formaldehyde is used for tissue preservation; all in all it’s bad for us and a rancid fat causes inflammation as our immune system rapidly sweeps up the damage (oxidation). Ketones are aromatic – hence in some cases selected rancidification results in aged cheeses. Though I digressed a bit – saturated fats are stable and not easily rancid, therefore are better for our bodies. Whaaaat?!!!? Yes. Most fat of animal sources is predominantly saturated.

No fat is entirely composed of either saturated or unsaturated, rather than a mixture of FAs that vary based on:

  • The length of the carbon “tail” (short 2-4, medium 6-12 and long chain 14+) and
  • The number of double bonds present. Single double bond – MONOunsaturated, more than one – POLYunsaturated

Fat is stored in the body as a triglyceride – a backbone with 3 fatty acids attached to it.

Short FAs such as acetic acid (2 carbons), lactic acid (3 carbons)re as found in yoghurt, cheese, and some fermented vegetables such as kimchi and sauerkraut are readily oxidized, burned for energy

Medium FAs as found in butter, cream, milk and palm oil either end up in the cellular powerplants mitochondria where if they can be burned for immediate use; they are either utilized or any excess gets send to the liver to be converted to ketones that our brains love to use.

Long chain FAs require a transporter to enter the mitochnodria and as such are not the first choice when it comes to burning for energy and as such they can be either oxidized or stored. The longer the fatty acid the most likely it would be shelved for later.

Omega 3, Omega 6 and YOU

What the omega nomenclature means in terms of FAs is that there is a double bond present on the third (Omega 3) carbon from the omega (right side) or the sixth one (Omega 6) etc.

Why is that important?

Our bodies can only produce saturated and MONOunsaturated fatty acids, while we require POLYunsturated ones for making hormone-like substances (eicosnaoids), to control inflammation and immunity/disease prevention as well as messengers in our nervous system; the brain is 70% fat by composition. The fats we can’t assemble are essential ones – Omega-3 and Omega-6, we need to obtain them from our diet. Even so they represent only 3% of our total calories. As noted above having many double bonds (polyunsaturated) makes the fats highly unstable and you don’t want much of oxidized fat going around your organs/circulation. Therefore there can be too much of a good thing as described below.

The A, B, Cs Inside You

For human processes fats can be divided in 3 groups. Each groups makes it’s own hormone-like substance – eicosanoids which leads to other processes.

  • Group A fats are found in vegetable oils, they are Omega-6 and contain linoleic acid (LA). Group A fats make Group 1 eicosanoids which are anti-inflammatory. Group A fats can be readily converted (ie when in excess) to Group B.
  • Group B fats are found in butter, cream, cheese and in in meats; Group B fats are saturated and contain the essential Omega-6 arachidonic acid (AA). Group 2 eicosanoids are responsible for inflammation and chronic pain. Inflammation is needed as our first line response to disease and injury, however, currently by a huge margin most of our B fats are coming due to excess consumption of vegetable(seed) oils from Group A, rather than animal fat. Chronic inflammation and pain is at pandemic levels due to that fact (more in the next paragraph)
  • Group C or Omega-3 fats are found in wild coldwater fish and   and contain alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). Group 3 eicosanoids are anti-inflammatory.

An overall balance between A, B, and C fats is required for optimal human health, unfortunately we predominantly eat huge amounts of Omega-6 because….

When Your Demons Come Back to Haunt You

When saturated fat was labeled bad, based on [amazon template=thumbnail&asin=1400033462], a substitute was required. Starting in 1933 with cottonseed oil, vegetable-oils or seed oils as well as margarine and shortening filled everything  – supermarket shelves, restaurant kitchens, and fast food deep fryers. They come from plants so they must be good, right? Like you already know by know any fat that is liquid at room temperature is polyunsaturated (except olive oil) and is subject to becoming rapidly rancid. To make it solid, you can “saturate” it with hydrogens in a chemical reaction, however, that way you create trans fats, which even the food industry is not denying are behind heart disease. As of June 2015, food manufacturers in the US have a 3 year time to phase trans fats out.

And this is where hell broke lose….continued in Part 5: Size Matters – Cholesterol.

Take Away Points

Fats, particularly saturated ones, were labeled as the cause of heart disease in the beginning of the 20th century. Majority of the science was based on observational studies without a clear correlation and factors such as tobacco smoking did not appear to be taken into account. Cultural traditions about food, were replaced by the advance of science and food wisdom that had sustained generations before that was forgotten. In the face of modernization, aboriginal hunter gatherer cultures like the Inuit, Plains Indians still existed. Anthropologists were amazed at both the well-being and the esteem that these peoples held for fat.

The human body is uniquely adapted to utilising fat for energy, a trait that allowed us to survive periods of fasting and starvation. That fat burning is inhibited by insulin, released in response to refined dietary carbohydrates which is what the fat has been mostly replaced in our modern diets in the search of health. While we don’t have essential need for carbohydrates we all possess an inherited degree of intolerance. As such there is a condition caused by chronically exceeding it – Metabolic syndrome which includes obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

In addition not all fats are created equal, with the ones solid at room temperature, being more stable to goign rancid making them perfect for cooking and human use. While we do have a rather small inbuilt need for some of the more unstable polyunsaturated fatty acids, the global shift towards using vegetable (seed) oils have made us consume a very high amount of pro inflammatory fats, overloading our natural inflammation causing pathways.

Maybe it is time to rethink the low fat paradigm and go back to living off the “Fat of the Land.”

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[amazon text=The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living&asin=0983490708] – Dr. Stephen Phinney and Prof. Jeff Volek.

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[amazon text=Good Calories, Bad Calories&asin=1400033462] – Gary Taubes

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[amazon text=Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution&asin=006001203X]- Robert C. Atkins MD

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Home » Food » The Fat of The Land – Fats and Endurance Sports

6 replies on “The Fat of The Land – Fats and Endurance Sports”

The Inuit and the Masai et al. are exceptions rather than the rule among various human populations when it comes to diet. How do you think all the primitive (for lack of a better word) peoples with primarily carb-based diets manage to survive without all the Western world diseases?

Hi Pero,

Such isolated cultures were used as examples, since the populations were (at one point in time) truly isolated from our modern western diet. Sadly, this is not the case anymore and they are undergoing a so called nutritional transition. Gary Taubes’s – Good Calories, Bad Calories book goes into great details into how this is happening worldwide. I highly advise you to read it (or look up his talks on YouTube) since it is an extremely well researched and written;i.e. it is not just dry science.

Second, unfortunately the English language is somewhat limited and carbohydrates is a highly imprecise term. It is


carbohydrates, that are the problem since our physiology is not designed to handle huge insulin spikes as caused by rapidly fluctuating blood glucose levels.Refined carbohydrates include (table sugar/sucrose, flours, corn starch, etc.). I already answered another comment by you in my articles about Sugar, that it is the insulin resistance (as caused by the consistent and persistent high insulin levels over many years) that is the problem. To get similar insulin responses by eating real, non processed foods you have to eat a LOT of them the amount of fiber would prevent you doing that and would also cause slower absorption in our gut. Therefore while carbohydrates exist in almost all fruits and vegetables, it is the refined carbohydrates that get us in trouble. Furthermore, we are designed as fat burning creatures, we can make glucose (a carbohydrate) from other sources and we don’t need to eat it from our diet (I point you towards my article on carbohydrates for the full details). The fact that in the modern times we conveniently have both the opportunities and availability of that ‘fast kick of refined carbohydrates,’ does not change our primarily fat based metabolism. The refined carbohydrates are actually making us sick on a global scale, which is sad and quite disturbing at the same time.


But the majority of human populations, both currently and historically, subside on carbohydrates at times of plenty and only fall back to the ketosis mechanism at times of starvation. Those 50 grams of carbohydrates per day are the limit for entering ketosis, yet a typical human being spends their life eating a lot more carbohydrates daily than that. For an average human (and, again, here I include all human populations, current and historical), ketosis is an extreme response to an extreme situation.

This whole series, if I understand it correctly, is about the damage of refined carbohydrates at one end, and the supposed optimal fat metabolism with next to no carbohydrate intake at the other end. But I feel like there is a step missing here, the one that covers the average human diet of the average human. What is wrong with subsiding on complex carbohydrates combined with the necessary fats and proteins? Why do we, the highly optimised fat-burning specialists, naturally seek out carbohydrate-rich food sources at all?

Hi Pero,

I smile as I write this since you touch on two points of articles that I have in the making: Ketosis vs. Fat Burning and How are traditions and how is our consummatory behavior shaped – i cannot recommend highly enough the book ‘The Consuming Instinct’ by Gad Saad; he was guest on Joe Rogan’s podcast (episodes 519, 766, 681 and 837) as well.

On to your comments. We naturally and instinctively search fatty foods (no matter how much this or that agency tells us fat is unhealthy) i.e we know it’s ‘bad for us’ we eat it/crave it anyway. However, in very general terms our appetite is directly influenced by the hormones insulin and leptin. Although different in final effect, they share the same downstream pathways and high insulin levels inhibit the action of leptin so we feel the need to eat a lot (again i am generalising, not giving you a biochemistry lesson). It’s a mechanism that occurs naturally TWO TIMES in our lifetime – puberty and pregnancy – ie in order to grow and ultimately survive; and why you can get away with eating a lot of junk food in your teens and once in your 30s things go from bad to worse. The full details you can find in my article here. The dominance of refined carbohydrates in all (processed) foods out there causes the above process to occur daily. The bad part of it is that since insulin is the energy storage hormone, we store fat, rather than utilise it for energy and the constant fluctuations of blood glucose cause energy crashes and mood changes, even headaches, throughout the day; this is so engrained in culture that ‘i need to get my blood sugar up’ is taken a permanent place in most, if not all languages/cultures. As such since the body is used to relying on limited glucose for it’s energy requirements, and at the same time fast food is sometimes a phone call away, the body doesn’t burn fat or very little of it. Add to blood glucose rollercoaster, the stress of our fast paced lifestyle and it is indeed no wonder we crave sweet and starchy foods. Sugar (Sucrose) has an addictive component similar to opiod drugs – that doesn’t help either. From personal experience i can confirm and it is what most ‘converts’ report is that once you change your eating habits towards real and non-processed and high in saturated fat foods, the cravings for carbs disappear.

This is where I need to make a distinction that wasn’t always evident for me. Ketosis and fat burning are NOT the same thing. You can have a diet with about 100-150g of carbohydrates (from real non-processed foods) and still have predominantly fat based metabolism and not be in ketosis (0.5mM to 5mM blood ketones). Fats are utilised for energy via beta oxidation. Ketosis also relies on fats as the starting material, however, the process is different. In simple terms, while most cells in the body can use ketones for energy, the brain relies on glucose and ketones predominantly. Therefore when carbs are restricted and under insulin control (ie NOT ketoacidosis as even biochemistry textbooks would tell you) the brain switches from almost 100% reliance on glucose to 70+% on ketones, which if fat intake is adequate, are virtually limitless. The change of energy and awareness is truly staggering and the popular term for this is ‘keto-clarity’ labelling everything as ketosis. Beta oxidation and ketosis occur at the same time, it is not either one or the other type of deal ie you can be in mild ketosis (0.2-0.3mM) almost all the time while being a good fat burner. I tested my blood ketones and came up to the same conclusion (future article coming up). Therefore whether you need to go under 50g of carbohydrates/day and in nutritional ketosis is individual, there is no formula. Personal experimentation is the key here; just recently Dr. Phil Maffetone together with Paul Laursen PhD made a case study of a female athlete who through experimentation of daily carb intake came up that the amount resulting in ketosis (don’t know the exact numbers from the top of my head) is the one resulting in most optimal performance, etc.

Why do we seek carbohydrates in times of plenty and why does the average person has a diet based on carbohydrates? Short answer: Because we have let commercial and political interests tell us it is what we should do, without questioning it. What do I mean by that? Our food supply has changed in a negative way, you don’t have to go far – just look at cookbooks/recipes from couple of generations back and you will see how differently we used to do things. Most importantly the fat-phobic culture did not exist, let alone the processed food industry we have today in 2016. Through politics and bad science, saturated fats were labeled the villain (Google Ancel Keys) and grains and refined carbohydrates came to take their place. Populations on a global scale have let government agencies (the World health Organisation as well), corporate interests (that includes the pharma industry) and media advertising tell us what to eat. It takes less than a generation for those messages to become the norm, the average – or what ‘most people eat.’
Why did it work so well? I’m going to quote Gad Saad directly.

“All human behavior owes its existence to psychological mechanisms in conjunction with environmental inputs to those mechanisms. Psychological mechanisms, at some fundamental level, owe their existence to evolution by natural and sexual selection.

Humans possess a ravenous consummatory appetite. Most individuals will typically make hundreds of consumption-related decisions in any given day. Should I have breakfast or skip straight to lunch? What am I going to wear today?

The great majority of consumption acts can be mapped onto one of four Darwinian overriding pursuits, namely, survival (preference for the fatty smoked meat), reproduction (offering flowers as part of an elaborate courtship ritual), kin selection (buying a gift for my nephew), and reciprocity (organizing the bachelor party).”

All of what I just told you touches on all the right buttons in our heads – our uncertainties and desires (sex sells), etc.. I am not asking to take it all at face value, I am aiming for people to question in order to see the whole picture (even the obscured parts) and make well reasoned and conscious choices. Since food influences 80+% of our lives, it is the perfect place to start.


You are ignoring my actual question. Hundreds and thousands years ago, way before any of the consumerism, politics, bad science bogey-men existed, the major energy source for an average human being were (complex, unprocessed) carbohydrates. Yes, fatty foods were regarded as a supremely valuable food sources, most of them delicacies, but the staple foods for most people were carb and not fat based. Carbohydrates were the basis of the food pyramid for a large percentage of human populations way before 1977.

You speak of the Inuit and the Plains Indians low-carb diets, but what about the traditional Pima diet (70% carbohydrate, 15% fat, 15% protein)? Why don’t the Chinese and the Japanese traditionally suffer from all those diseases typical of the modern Western lifestyle? How did the Roman legions manage to conquer half the known world while eating 750-1000 grams of carbohydrates a day? The working-man staples of the Victorian-era England were grains and potatoes – starch – yet you yourself claim they lived as long as the modern Westerners. Finally, you are surely aware of the importance of grains and breads in the traditional Slavic diet, way before all the consumerism, politics and bad science bogey-men came into play.

So, to try to put it this way, why do you think that we function so well on whole-food carbohydrate-based diets? Once the processed sugars are eliminated, what are the reasons to replace them with fats instead of complex carbs like our ancestors ate?

Hi Pero,

Again apologies for my delayed response.

Indeed i didn’t know you meant going that far back in time regarding the groups you were targeting. The ‘curse’ of the omnivores is that we as humans can indeed survive on variety of foods and that is widely dictated by availability. Hence as you point out some cultures have diets predominantly based on WHOLE (my emphasis) carbohydrate foods. Of course the authors and propoents of high fat diets used examples in tune with their narrative. Both professor Tim Noakes and from what I understand Jared Diamond in his book Guns, Germs and Steel (it is on my to read list as of today, so I am telling you what I have heard) point out that the invention of agriculture was probably a bad thing and they quote evidence of drastic (negative) changes like shorter stature, thinner bones among human remains. That being as it may, our food supply has changed and as i mentioned in my other response to you is that the REFINED carbohydrates with the chronic elevated insulin response that is what is wreaking havoc on health worldwide. Indeed as you mention grains have a staple role in many cultures including our own Slavic ancestors, however, grains have changed drastically since 1960 in the efforts to reduce world hunger. I do point you again to see Dr. Robert Lustig’s talks on YouTube (Sugar the Bitter truth part 1 and 2) since he goes on the explain the many events (political, social, biochemical etc.) that converged to form ‘the perfect’ storm that is making us sick globally. Also Gary Taubes both in his books (Good Calories Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat) and his lectures on YouTube explains that refined carbohydrates (white flour, biscuits, molasses) were the harbingers of the ‘diseases of civilisation’ that colonists brought to the indigenous people – ie nutritional transtition happened. It is not a simple case of pointing fingers at a single macronutrient.

When we talk about China and Japan it is good that you mention traditionally. With Japan I can tell you from my own quite recent personal expreince that the palate of japanese food (sushi and what we see in the west is a tiny tiny part of japanese cuisine) is VERY different from our western food and particularly sugar, while slowly gaining ground, is not at all prevalent in food, people just don’t eat it or even have recipes with it…yet. I am personaly fascinated by Japanese culture (and literature in particular) and the common conflict there is the clash of the highly traditional values with the modern (especially US) products and ideas. A lot of food choices are done, ‘because it is western/foreign/new.’ while we both can agree it is not always, if ever, the good choice. About China, also traditional Chinese food is not what we have at restaurants here (ie rice based) and currently for similar reasons as Japan (western reverance) China is currently as I am typing this, undergoing massive and rapid nutritional transition; what took us a good part of the last century to happen to us, is happening in a span of 10-15yrs and CEOs of pharmaceutical companies worldwide have wet dreams about the new extremely large market.

I don’t know much about the Roman Legions’s food supply, though if it was grain based, grains were truly whole grain back in the day and a much more primitive (and less gluten containing) than the grains of the late 20th century. Also a legionnaire’s life was pretty active and even today, while you do see more and more over fat endurance athletes and army people, physical activity is a way to increase insulin sensitivity and there are Olympic gold medals won on extremely poor diets (Kenyan marathoners for example). A good number of athletes (myself in the past as well) are fit but unhealthy.

Yes we can function on whole carbohdyrate based foods, including potatoes and rice and can maintain healthy fat buring, however, the insulin system is the only one that can be influenced directly by poor food choices (refined carbohydrates) and the constant onslaught against it (high insulin) is what is ultimately detrimental. While it took me a while to wrap my head around it, diabetes and metabolic syndrome are a survival mechanism – you don’t die, you get sick/fat first/for life, etc. Also, I am repeating myself it is not a simple answer, it’s a complex chain of events (politics, GMO, social, advertising, etc.) that changed everything and it took some time.

Why replace them with saturated fats? Fats have many crucial roles in our metabolism and health just as well they provide us with clean energy.


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