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15: Exploding The Low-Carb Myths | Dr. Eric Westman

15: Exploding The Low-Carb Myths | Dr. Eric Westman

AIR DATE: April 26, 2012 at 7PM ET
FEATURED TOPIC: “Exploding The Low-Carb Myths”


Duke researcher and health practitioner Dr. Eric Westman is a lifestyle medicine physician specializing in disease prevention primarily through the use of low-carbohydrate nutritional approaches that often improve conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity, PCOS, metabolic syndrome, sleep apnea, fatty liver disease and more. He’s the co-author with Dr. Stephen Phinney and Dr. Jeff Volek on the New York Times bestselling book The New Atkins For A New You (listen to my interview with him about this book in Episode 338 of “The Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Show”) and has performed some of the most influential scientific research on low-carb diets in the world over the past decade. He regularly teaches his patients about low-carb diets and has heard virtually every objection about it over the years. That’s why he’ll be here with us dispelling the myths people still believe about low-carb living.


NOTICE OF DISCLOSURE: http://cmp.ly/3

Here are some of the questions we addressed in this podcast:

Is there any such thing as a “safe starch” on a low-carb diet? Some say that foods like white rice and white potatoes are perfectly fine to consume unless you are already insulin resistant. If you have a healthy metabolism, then these foods won’t negatively impact your insulin or blood sugar.

Dr. Westman uses total carbs and not net carbs in his community class about the “No Sugar No Starch” diet because the nutrition labels we have today are so confusing that no one can do the math correctly. Are net carbs, which were promoted by Dr. Atkins in his books, just a myth? Aren’t net carbs just a way for low-carbers to sneak in more carbohydrates than their bodies can tolerate or is counting total carbs ignoring the benefits of getting adequate fiber?

A high-fat diet is a major cause of Type 2 diabetes.

There’s a lot of conflicting information about the role of ketosis on a low-carb diet. Can you address whether or not being in ketosis is the ideal metabolic state for optimal health, regardless of whether you are trying to lose weight? The myth is that being in ketosis long-term is somehow harmful to your health. Can you explain why this is not true?

Eating a low-carb diet will “burn out your adrenals” leading to chronic fatigue, increased cortisol levels and leads to autoimmune disorders.

We’ve long heard the myth that popular low-carb diets like Atkins are “high-protein.” But I am noticing in the low-carb world a downward trend in the amount of protein recommended as a percentage of calories. Are you in agreement with this trend? I see as low as 10-15% total calories from whole protein recommended. Many of my zero-carb carnivore friends swear by 20% and are quite fit and muscular. What is your opinion for the “right amount” of protein and has your opinion changed at all over the years?

Low-carb diets will only work the first time you do them.

We often hear from health experts that eating low-carb is dangerous because you need a minimum of 120g carbohydrate daily to produce enough glucose for your brain and body to function. But is there any such thing as an “essential carbohydrate”? Could we live a full and healthy life without ever eating another gram of carbohydrate?

How can carbs be the culprit in diabetes and obesity when Asians consume large amounts of carbohydrate and are generally thin and healthy?

The standard recommendations for diabetics is for them to consume upwards of 200g carbohydrate daily with 60-70g or so per meal? With what we know about what carbohydrates do to blood sugar and insulin levels, why is a low-carbohydrate diet so scorned for treating diabetes? What amount of carbs do you consider ideal for a Type 2 diabetic to be consuming?

Dietary fat is stored as body fat. But sugar/carbohydrates are used by the body for energy. So doesn’t this mean we should cut fat and eat more carbs?

I have been eating very low carb for almost two years, and started with normal cholesterol numbers. Now my HDL is up to 85, and my Triglycerides are down to only 20! That’s all good, as is my NMR Lipoprofile. But the LDL is now a “high” 155, putting total cholesterol at 244. Some doctors would be concerned that my diet has increased “bad cholesterol” and believe the myth that the dietary fat on low carb made my lipids worse. LDL goes down for many on low carb, but not everyone. Please explain what’s happening.

I have a friend on Dr. Bernstein’s 40g carbohydrate a day diet who has a total cholesterol of 324, LDL of 192, HDL of 123 and triglycerides of 48. We are very pleased about the triglycerides and HDL figures. We are less sure of the high LDL. According to some sources, the high LDL, too, is positive, as it likely indicates that the LDL particles are mostly the large, fluffy kind and less of the small, dense particles. While we put no stock in the lipid hypothesis and will certainly not consider statins, we wonder: why do many low-carbers tend to have high LDL numbers? Is this high LDL an indication of some pathology that needs to be considered even though triglycerides and HDL are in the healthy range?

People who eat high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb tend to be heavier than their high-carb, low-fat vegan counterparts. This means that low-carb isn’t very healthy and simply doesn’t work.

My family keeps claiming that eating a ketogenic low-carb diet is only safe to do for a year or less. I have no idea where this came from but are there any studies to prove them wrong? I’ve also read that eating very low-carb for extended periods of time can do damage to gut flora. Is this true?

The only reason people lose weight on low-carb is because the food is so boring and unpalatable that people tolerate it for a time. But then they go back to eating normal again and gain all the weight back. Therefore, it’s not sustainable.

I heard about something online recently that kids should be getting half of their calories from carbohydrates because they are growing so much and carbs are needed to build our bodies. Is this a common idea or did this person just get some misinformation? BTW, this person has a 2.5 year old child with Type 1 diabetes.

I have been reading on some blogs that low-carb diets cause a slower metabolism and symptoms such as low thyroid levels (reduced T-3 and elevated reverse T-3), cold hands and feet, and reduced body temperature. Have you seen any of these effects in your patients? Is there something that needs to change about the low-carb diet that someone could do if they are experiencing these effects?

Is it true you can never allow any high-carb foods into your diet again in the form of treats once you start a low-carb diet or you’ll gain weight and destroy your health?

  • Janknitz

    Hi Jimmy,

    I’ve noticed you get a lot of duplicate questions because nobody knows what others asked via email. Would it work to have people post questions here so they can see if someone else already asked the same question?

    • LLVLCBlog

      I don’t mind duplicate questions because I can combine them to ask together on the air. Plus, not everyone would post their questions here, so it wouldn’t be a perfect system. 🙂 THANKS for the suggestion.

  • Garry

    Question for Dr. Westman: I heard Steve Phinney say that once a person is keto-adapted, one overindulgence of carbs will knock them out of ketosis (which we know) but that it will then take another 4-6 weeks to get back into full ketoadaptation again. Has this been your experience?

    • LLVLCBlog

      We already recorded the podcast, but I think he answered this one. If not, I know he agrees with Dr. Phinney that becoming keto-adapted to get into nutritional ketosis can take 2-4 weeks.

  • melancholyaeon

    Great job Jimmy! Love Dr. Westman. 🙂 He’s the best.

    Just got the Phinney/Volek exercise book. Skimming through it sure makes it look like they think ketosis is “optimal!” Volek is really the world expert here, right? I mean, we shouldn’t defer to authority automatically, but it seems like a very powerful book.

    • LLVLCBlog

      He is amazing! That book is indeed powerful and the mind meld between Volek and Phinney is sensational.

  • Ss1c59

    Dwight Lundell is a cardiologist and he agrees with you about getting rid of grains and sugar.

  • Jillm

    Thank you Dr Westman and Mr Moore. I really enjoyed this interview.

    • LLVLCBlog

      This one was pretty special.

  • Ss1c59

    Have coconut water instead of Gatorade and other sports drinks.

    • LLVLCBlog


  • Jax4444

    Great interview! Everybody get his book! Really infomative!

    Thanks Jimmy!

  • rob

    I couldn’t help but be confused about the “insulin response being bad” very early in the interview and then no further discussion. Eating protein also triggers an insulin response, doesn’t it?

    • LLVLCBlog

      Of course it does.

  • CarbInSanity

    It’s truly insane that you’re still seen as an authority on LC living – to say nothing of STILL using all the old pics, etc. Get your act together, take time off, THEN come back once you’ve shown you can walk the talk. The whole thing is just too silly for words…

  • cancerclasses

    To figure out how much sugar is in common carb foods just remember the 1-5-20 rule, 1 teaspoon of sugar equals 5 grams by weight and has 20 calories. For example just 1- 20 ounce Dr. Pepper has 67 grams of carb sugars, times 4 calories per gram equals 268 calories, and 67 grams divided by 5 grams per teaspoon equals 13.4 teaspoons of sugar.

    Not good considering how the body fights to restore and maintain blood sugar to the homeostatic level of just 1 teaspoon of glucose out of the 1000 teaspoons – 5 liters of blood in the average body. And that doesn’t include the pizza, chips and other carbs eaten with the soda.

    As Dr. Westman says it’s a wonder we aren’t all diabetic. I can only surmise the reason we aren’t is due to the heroic efforts and power of the human pancreas. But here’s another scientific physiological fact that needs to be memorized: The Islets of Langerhans constitute ONLY 1 to 2% of the mass of the pancreas by weight, and the beta cells that produce insulin to drive excess blood glucose into the body’s muscle so we don’t kill ourselves with all the carbs we eat make up only 65-80% of the cells in the islets, and the other 33-46% are alpha cells that synthesize and secrete the peptide glucagon, which elevates the glucose levels in the blood after insulin overcompensates for excess carb intake and causes a post carb sugar crash, again so we don’t kill ourselves with over intake of carbs.

    The fact is that over 98 percent of the pancreas is designed to produce enzymes to metabolize FATS & proteins, and by that fact alone it’s obvious that humans are NOT meant or adapted to eat large volumes of carbohydrates, and that’s why people that try to maintain a glucose metabolism often burn out their pancreas and end up Type 1 insulin dependent diabetics.

  • Niccofive

    Hi Jimmy,

    Is there a place to find the podcasts in written form? There is so much great info in them and many times after I listen (when I’m taking a walk) there’s something I want to go back and look up or buy.


    • LLVLCBlog

      No unfortunately. I can’t afford to pay to have transcripts written out for my podcasts. However, I ALWAYS write detailed notes of each episode on my blog: http://www.livinlavidalowcarb.com/blog

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