Humans have a long, fascinating journey on this planet. Carbs and sugar are totally normal, healthy, and a natural part of this journey. Here’s why you shouldn’t freak out about them. It’s popular for low carb (LC) and very low carb (VLC) diet authors/bloggers to refer to sugar as a ‘poison’, say that it is more addictive than cocaine and that there are ‘dangerous’ starches. Despite the fact that there are high carb eating cultures all over the world who are not obese, diabetic or addicted, these low carb ‘experts’ (using religious overtones) are giving people bad reasons and unnecessary food phobias.
Zoom out from the oversimplified, liberate your mind from the ‘perfect diet’ or ice age warrior narrative, and you’ll find a more delicious & enjoyable story.
Most Asian countries, including India, Japan, China and Taiwan have traditional diets that are high in carbohydrates. In many of these cases, the prevailing carbohydrate is white rice. Yet traditional Japanese, Chinese and some Indian populations are well known for being lean. Japan traditionally has had a very low rate of diabetes; however, as more traditional cultures ‘follow the leader’ to the US, the times, diets and disease rates are a-changing.
The Kuna are native people of Panama who do not get hypertension. They have less heart disease and cancer than their relatives who move to the city. This has been known for decades. Their diet is higher in cholesterol and sodium than the Standard American Diet. About 65% of their calories come from carbohydrate (plantains, corn, yucca, sugar, beans). The fat in their diet is mostly saturated and omega-3 fats (coconut, cocoa and fish).
Kuna girl with friends. When asked if her diet contained ’safe starches’, she told reporters to stop reading The Onion.
“The Kuna are half hunter-gatherers, half agricultural. They cultivate plantains, corn, cocoa, yucca, kidney beans, and several types of fruit. They trade for sugar, salt, some processed cocoa and miscellaneous other foods. They drink 40+ oz of hot cacao/cocoa per day, some locally produced and some imported. A little-known secret: the Kuna eat an average of 3 oz of donut a week. They also fish and hunt regularly.”
Thanks to the work of Staffan Lindeberg, MD PhD, (Department of Medicine, University of Lund, Sweden), author of ‘Food and Western Disease: Health and Nutrition from an Evolutionary Perspective’ we know the diet of Kitavans (Papa New Guinea) is about 69% carbohydrate, 21% fat and 10% protein. It consists of root vegetables (taro, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, cassava), coconut, fruit, vegetables and fish. They also smoke, yet they have no cardiovascular disease, stroke and are not overweight.
Currently, the Pima (Southwestern US) have the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in the world; but this was not always the case. In fact, early explorers reported the Pima to be lean, strong and healthy. Their diet was high-carbohydrate, low-fat and made up of corn, beans, starchy squash, wild animal and plant foods from local forests and rivers.
Then they were forcibly removed from their land and sent to prisoner of war camps (known as ‘Reservations’) on barren land that couldn’t be farmed. Settlers re-routed the main river causing their land to dry up. With no water or ability to grow crops, the Pima endured a 40-year famine. When the US government finally intervened, they were ‘rescued’ with government rations of white flour, sugar, partially hydrogenated lard, canned meats, salt and other canned/processed goods. This would be the introduction of the Standard American Diet of processed foods (more total calories, increased industrialized fats, refined carbohydrates). They ate less carbs and couple that with massive chronic stress, the Pima later became obese, diabetic and have never recovered. This was pattern of ethnic cleansing repeated throughout the Americas leading to multigenerational disease & dysfunction (epigenetics). http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130110075406.htm
However, just across the border in the Sierra Madre Mountains (Mexico), the genetically identical Pima cousins did not suffer the same tragic fate. They eat a diet about 60% carbs and have valuable lessons to share.
Effects of Traditional and Western Environments on Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes in Pima Indians in Mexico and the U.S. (2006)
‘The much lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and obesity in the Pima Indians in Mexico than in the U.S. indicates that even in populations genetically prone to these conditions, their development is determined mostly by environmental circumstances, thereby suggesting that type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. This study provides compelling evidence that changes in lifestyle associated with Westernization play a major role in the global epidemic of type 2 diabetes.’ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16873794
Similar changes in health can be seen across the globe when native/indigenous people move to a city and give up their traditional diets – overweight, obesity, and diabetes/metabolic syndrome often ensue.
The Tukisenta, (Papua New Guinea) eat a diet of 94% carbohydrate predominantly of sweet potatoes. They have exceptional glucose tolerance at all ages.
Bantu (Central African Republic) live on a diverse diet of starchy foods including beans, grains, plantains and tubers. Similar to the Tukisenta, they have excellent glucose tolerance.
Indigenous people of central Brazil live primarily on cassava and freshwater fish and similarly share excellence in glucose tolerance.
The Aymara (Peru, Bolivia, Chile) whose diet is largely potato-based, have an impressively low diabetes rate of 1.5%. The frequency of pre-diabetes is 3.6%. The incidence of both remains low, even in the elderly.
These colorful little packets of squishy, delicious fun are carbs. All carbs are made of and broken down into sugars (glucose, fructose, galactose, etc). Sugar phobia – similar to the ’satanic panic’ hysteria of heavy metal music in the 80’s – is unnecessary and bad for your health.
From Africa to Nepal, humans appreciate the delicious & nutritious wonder of honey. If you haven’t already, check out the documentary Human Planet – simply amazing.
This bad ass is hunting for honey. (Human Planet)
It is not only OK, it is normal for humans to seek out delicious foods to enjoy and share with loved ones. The food fears promoted by the dieting industry and the ludicrous idea that enjoying carbs and sugar is ’addictive’ is insulting.
In fact, some of the earliest stone tools may have been used to collect honey some 2 million years ago.
Humans interacting with the environment in ingenious ways to find awesome foodstuffs is what makes us human. It is not ’sinful’ to enjoy sweet foods, it is normal. Some people have developed unique relationships with animals which lead us to honey.
“While out hunting, the men listen for the call of a small, robin-size bird known as the greater honeyguide (Indicator indicator.) The bird dines almost entirely on beeswax and bee larvae, but it needs help to crack open hives. So the honeyguide calls to both honey badgers and Hadza hunters. When human hunters whistle back, the bird gradually leads the men by call-and-response song to the nearest colony.” The Sweetness of Human Evolution
Fitness geeks might be interested in how some humans evolved to be expert tree climbers (phenotypic plasticity): Tree Climbing and Human Evolution http://www.pnas.org/content/110/4/1237.abstract
See more in the References section for some amazing facts about honey.
Champions of VLC diets. Although theirs is a low carb diet, they go to great lengths to find and prepare plant foods. Think there are no plant foods up north? Think again.
This is a friend and mentor who, like me, eats up to 400 grams of carbs some days, many days in fact. He does no fasting or dieting. He is not fat. Not diabetic. Not addicted. Not obese. Not crazy. Not restricting his diet to be lean.
You can friend him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=637986611&fref=ts), but your brain should not be deprived of glucose if you wish to appreciate his wisdom on human health, well being and good foods.
How many carbs and sugar one can eat is determined by energy demand/activity level and of course, personal preference. The more active you are, the more carbs your body needs. There is no magic and no evil.
If you want to enjoy food, but avoid carbs/sugar, you’re not going to have a good time. Some ‘experts’ promote the idea that to be healthy, you must not enjoy food. Carbs and sugar represent a food demon to be cast out, as if pleasure is somehow sinful. Don’t fall for it. You can eat and enjoy carbs and sugar. Relax and eat the food, people!
Some cool facts about honey:
The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-science-behind-honeys-eternal-shelf-life-1218690/?no-ist
Honey Helps To Heal Wounds http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081007192524.htm
Honey Fighting Antibiotic Resistance http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140316132801.htm
More amazing photos of humans hunting for honey:
More on Sugar:
More on Sugar Addiction:
Part 1- Is Sugar Addiction Real?
Part 2- Why We Believe Sugar is Evil
Part 3- Sugar Addiction Part 3