It is interesting to think about food in its three basic constituents: Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates.
For each of these three constituents one can imagine a situation where there is excess or deficiency. In fact, over the centuries of recorded medical literature these states have been identified. Well, five of the possible six states have been identified.
Intake of excessive amounts of fat can lead to malabsorption. Your intestines can’t absorb the fat quick enough. This produces bloating and loose, frequent oily stools.
Deficiency of fat intake typically results when you have deficiency of particular essential fats. The omega 3 fats, long touted for their health benefits and found commonly in deep water fish, are types of fat that humans cannot manufacture. That is, if we don’t eat omega 3 fats we will not have them in our body to use. A lack of omega 3 leads to increased inflammation, reduced arterial flexibility, and overall worse outcomes in cardiovascular disease. In one recent study, over 90% of patients who were evaluated at an emergency room for cardiovascular disease had a very low omega 3 blood level. Omega 6 is another type of essential fatty acid but is found in more types of food products such as plant oils.
Excessive protein intake has been known to cause many gastrointestinal symptoms as well as a general feeling of malaise. The Inuit people have a native diet that is very high in fat. When the young hunters try and take the easy way out and eat rabbits, the older, more wise hunters know this is not a good idea. The young hunters develop a weakness and malaise given that rabbits are high in protein and very low in fat. In fact, this has been called “Rabbit Malaise”.
Deficiency of general protein intake causes a condition called Kwashiorkor. This is the most common malnutrition syndrome seen as it is the prevalent disease of children starving in impoverished countries. Additionally, of the twenty amino acids that make up all proteins twelve of them can be manufactured from other molecules by humans if they are needed. Eight of the amino acids are unable to be manufactured. That is, they must be eaten if we are to have them available in the body. It is interesting to me that all animals have all eight of these essential amino acids available in their meat. Whereas, there is only one plant on the entire planet that has all eight amino acids contained within it. It is possible to eat a variety of plants and get all the essential amino acids however.
Excessive carbohydrate intake can lead to sudden issues such as bloating and diarrhea. Chronic excessive intake of carbohydrates can lead to hyperglycemia, impaired fasting glucose, insulin resistance, fatty liver disease, and ultimately diabetes. We see this all the time in day-to-day life.
There has never been a disease discovered for failing to eat enough carbohydrates. In fact, our body has a plan through our liver to manufacture all the glucose required every day. So there is no such thing as a carbohydrate malnutrition. It is impossible to eat so few carbohydrates as to cause disease for the ordinary person.
Why then do we base our food and nutrition guidelines on products made out of something that isn’t necessary in life? Why is the bottom level of the food pyramid breads and pasta?
We teach patients to limit their carbohydrate intake to a level appropriate for their physiology. By doing so, we have seen monumental reversal of disease, weight loss, reduction in medication use, and overall improved health and well-being.