Why are Asian Rice Eaters Thin?

Thin Rice Eater

It’s a common question. If carbs can make you fat, why were some populations (e.g. Japanese people) thin while eating a high carb diet?

Dr Peter Attia has written a nice post on this: The War on Insulin: How do some cultures stay lean while still consuming high amounts of carbohydrates?

I basically agree with his ideas, although I think there is a few more answers to this question: 

The three big reasons

Here are the main reasons why I think populations could stay thin on high carb diets:

  1. Low to insignificant consumption of refined sugar (fructose). This may stop insulin resistance from developing.
  2. Eating mainly unrefined starch (e.g. brown rice, root vegetables) that is slow to digest, due to high fiber content etc.
  3. Traditionally more physical activity then sedentary western population. Compare a Japanese rice farmer (in the field all day) to an American office worker with a car. If you burn more glucose (via physical activity) then less insulin is needed when you eat carbs.

If you avoid sugar (fructose) and refined high GI starch and stay physically active you can probably stay thin and healthy on a high percentage of carbs. Lots of populations have done so.

Three more factors

  1. Poverty: These traditionally thin populations were on average fairly poor by todays standards, meaning perhaps they could not always afford all the food they would like to eat.
  2. Food reward / addiction. This may be controversial but I think there is a point to all this food reward talk that’s been going on in the blogosphere. Our processed junk food and candy is carefully designed to artificially make it taste great and be addictive. It also contains a lot of sugar and starch. It’s like cigarettes: The nicotine makes people addicted, thus they smoke a lot and the smoke gives them cancer. Fast food and candy is also addictive, thus people eat more of it and the sugar / starch overdose makes them fat.
  3. Genetic makeup. Asians do not look like Caucasians or Africans. They have (on average) way less musculature, they have a thinner build. This means that comparisons between the weight of Americans / Europeans and Asians using BMI is misleading, it exaggerates the difference. Asians are often “skinny fat” or even get diabetes at BMI levels that are considered normal for Caucasians (e.g BMI 24).

What do you say?

What do you think about this common question and the possible explanations?

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285 Comments

  1. @David, I don't want to be rude, but you make several basic mistakes.

    For example, you said "...glucose is converted to fat in the form of glycogen." No, glycogen is not fat. Glycogen is glycogen, it's the storage form of glucose. Fat is fat (more specifically, it's triglycerides), it's the storage form of fat.

    You said glucose is the primary source of energy, and textbooks say this. Maybe they do, but a simple look at the amount of glycogen stored vs fat stored tells us it's highly improbable that glucose is the _primary_ source of energy.

    You explain calories. Fine. I will explain the First Law of Thermodynamics: Energy can't be created.

    A child grows. Why does he grow? He grows because of growth hormone. But then, if he's growing, where does he get the energy and the materials for this growth? He eats more, of course. So, the cause of growth is GH, and the effect is eating more.

    An adult man grows fatter. Why does he grow? He grows because of hormones, too. Most especially insulin. But then, if he's growing, where does he get the energy and the materials for this growth? He eats more, of course. So, the cause of growth is insulin, and the effect is eating more.

    Both example are true, and obey the First Law of Thermodynamics. But as we can see, the cause of growth in both cases is not "eating more".

    Are you familiar with acromegaly or gigantism? It's a disorder of the pituitary that secretes excess growth hormone. In this case, even if somebody eats very little, growth occurs anyway. That's due to something called fuel partitioning. Excess GH cause a disproportionate amount of fuel (and materials like protein) to be used for growth, compared to normal maintenance functions, hence the growth in spite of apparent caloric deficit. I say "apparent caloric deficit" because we can't believe so little food can cause so much growth. We can't believe it because we believe the cause of growth is "eating more".

    If that's how it works for acromegaly, why should it be different for obesity? Fat tissue is regulated by hormones. All tissues are regulated by hormones.

  2. Those of us who have actually studied thermodynamics are distressed at how ideas are misused (largely because we found it a difficult subject and still do). Hormones regulate rates (frequently through enzymes). This is largely separate from thermodynamics which has to do with energy and equilibrium, and most important, with efficiency of energy storage. I don't want to be overly critical (no false modesty in saying I still find thermo hard) but "So, the cause of growth is insulin, and the effect is eating more" doesn't make sense and compromises the credibility of our position. if you have high insulin and no food, you will not get fat. If you are stranded in the Andes for two weeks, you will get thin, regardless of what your hormones are. Hormones and other controls on metabolism pick different chemical reactions which have different thermodynamic efficiency.

    The real problem is language. If we are going to make progress, then we have to use the language of bioenergetics. "Violates the first law" is the misinformed position of standard nutrition but to answer it, you have to answer correctly. Thermodynamics is primarily (that is, uniquely) about the second law or, more precisely, all the laws (they are physical laws).

    Bottom line: What we do in biochemistry, is focus on the system, not the system plus environment (where all the energies add up to zero). Chemical reactions are driven by potentials, (combinations of the energy and entropy from the second law, and T and P and V), analogous to physical potential energy -- the energy a boulder has by being at the top of a cliff. Potentials are dissipated. Bioenergetics is about dissipation not conservation.

    Nutrition and medicine have numerous faults, some of which have to do with re-inventing established subjects and arrogantly insisting that they are right. We don't want to make the same mistake. I am not the world's best expert on thermodynamics but there are experts and it makes sense to find out what the subject is about before jumping in.

  3. @Richard

    With due respect, saying "if you have high insulin and no food, you will not get fat." is what compromises our position. I could say the converse: "If you have food but no insulin, you will not get fat." and it would be equally true, because it is true with diabetes type 1. So saying "hormones regulate rates" is incomplete and also compromises our position. I could say instead: "hormones regulate functions" and it would be equally true, because in this case, without insulin, the function of fat accumulation or even just plain fat storage cannot occur, before any rate can occur. The same with GH, testosterone, estrogen, etc. All hormones.

    With the "if you have high insulin but no food", that's a fallacy. It implies that food is the cause of growth. In the chronological causality sequence, food is the last step. GH first, growth second, food last. But I understand the fallacy. It's driven by the fact that we can inhibit growth by starvation. It's an illogical approach. It means literally, if we can cause the inhibition of growth through starvation, then Occam's tells us the most likely cause of growth is feeding. A more logical approach yet equally within Occam's is that starvation inhibits the cause - GH - from producing its effect.

    Put it this way, you're saying that the cause of combustion in a car engine is the carburetor, i.e., rate of fuel delivery. And you're also saying it's like this because without the carburetor, there would be no fuel. I'm saying the cause of combustion is the ignition, i.e., the function. And I'm also saying without the spark plug, there would be no combustion no matter how much fuel there was in the chamber.

    As for First Law, I understand enough to know how it applies to the real world. I'm not as modest as you, Richard. I know when I know something, with or without formal training. My examples were for the sake of argument, specifically to address the equally simplistic reverse cause-and-effect assumption most of us are guilty of: "He grows because he eats too much". IOW, I merely pointed out that cause-and-effect can be reversed, and still be equally true.

    I agree, we must use the proper language. Yet even here, First Law comes before Second Law, and not through some random chance event. For Second Law to be even relevant, First Law always applies first. I.e., how much energy is there, is it being acted upon, where is it being sent, etc. All that before we can even think of how much it is being acted upon, how much is sent there, etc. IOW, the Laws of Thermodynamics are named specifically for their inherent nature: Function first, rate second. After all, without the disorders of diabetes type 1 or acromegaly, we most likely wouldn't have discovered the functions of insulin and GH, let alone their ability to regulate the rates of those functions.

    I jump in blind. I have no problem with that. I usually find out the hard way, but I do find out eventually. The "hard way" is an unforgiving teacher. It does not allow false ideas to persist. From my point of view, some experts - academics perhaps - are in dire need of a bit of the hard way.

  4. @ Martin, David may have meant to say "glucose is converted to fat in the form of glycerol", which has a sort of truth. I am always mixing up glycogen and glycerol.

    You are more likely to make dietary (or DNL) fats into triglycerides rather than burn them if you have a ready substrate for glycerol; glucose is convenient, but fructose is better.

    Carbohydrate upregulates the DGAT enzymes (make triglycerides), its absence upregulates PPAR-alpha (don't make triglycerides, burn FFAs).

    Dietary carbohydrate determines the fate of dietary fats, to quote Prof Feinman.

  5. Hamish MacColl
    I am very willing to believe that the hi fat lo carb diet works well but the science seems to be lacking. I was a vegetarian for 8yrs in my 20's and I was always slim. I'm now a meat eater and obese. I've tried vegetarianism again but it hasn't helped so I'll give this HFLC diet a go. Your experts give their explanations but ignore the fact that the majority of the population are slim and that most of those people are not on any diet and eat both carbs and fats. I think that a large part of this problem is genetic and involves which tribe we come from. I can't think of another explanation that fits the bill. The vegetarian rice-eating Asians (as above) eat almost no fats - China has an ancient history of vegetarianism - it was a Buddhist country in the 15th century and most vegetarians have long life expectancies. If the HFLC diet works as well then the explanation must be a lot more complex.
    And here's a thought - why is it that mildly obese people tend to get fatter as they get older (more sedentary?) and thin people get thinner - they're not more active are they?
  6. Wade Henderson
    Hamish, Not many Asians are vegetarian. Very few are. Those that follow the more traditional eating patterns in the rural areas eat rice, veggies and very small portions of meat.

    If you took them and placed them in Los Angeles or somewhere similar, and they consumed the typical diet there, their genetics would not stop them from becoming fat, just like other Americans.

    BTW, being vegetarian is no guarantee that you are eating low fat or even healthy. Even eating vegan doesn't guarantee that.

    I wonder, you said you tried vegetarianism again but that it didn't work. What were you eating?
    I'll bet it wasn't anything like those Asians you are referring to.

    "I can't think of another explanation that fits the bill." You aren't trying very hard.

  7. HeatherTwist
    It IS a really interesting question. My own answer to it is to experiment. Learn to cook "Asian". In visiting Asian stores (several different cultures) it is clear that the body types change as the younger generations "eat American food".

    What I have found that when eating a fairly authentic Asian meal ... stir fry vegies, rice, and shrimp, for example ... the meal sets well, I feel great, and tend to lose weight.

    After some experimenting, I think some of the variables are:

    1. Wheat and pastries. Some Chinese cultures are wheat-centered, but it is low-gluten wheat and eaten mainly in noodles. Not bread. In the China study, wheat-eaters are statistically more prone to problems than other Chinese.

    2. Iron. The Asian diet is very low in iron. The iron in the American diet comes from fortified foods (check breakfast cereals with a magnet), molasses, brown sugar, iron pans, white potatoes and beef. Iron overload is very much associated with glucose intolerance, no matter where the iron comes from.

    3. Fructose. The Asian diet is rather low in fructose. Some fruit, but not all that much. Rice syrup was the main sweetener, and THAT is all glucose, not fructose. Dr. Richard Johnson has done some great work on that. Fructose is a weird one in that fructose in an actual FRUIT doesn't seem to cause issues. So eating a dish of pineapple is ok, but clear apple juice is not.

    4. Ferments. Try eating some fermented soy with your meal, as most Asians do. Doen jang, miso, soy sauce, or fermented tofu. The stuff is super filling. Actually so is fish sauce, and salted eggs. I don't know why, but it makes it really difficult to over-eat.

    I'd really encourage anyone who is curious, to eat a semi-authentic Asian diet for a month or two. Most people lose weight. It's not vegan nor high-fat, but it results in slim people.

  8. Hamish MacColl
    You missed the point Wade. I didn't say that most Asians were vegetarians - of course they're not. I said that the Chinese have a long history of vegetarianism down to Buddhism and at one time the official religion was Buddhist. There is a whole school of Chinese vegetarian cookery which goes back hundreds of years. I wouldn't argue with you that they would also become fat on American food. American food, in my experience is the most adulterated food on this planet. I shall never forget my first visit to a US supermarket and seeing a wall of orange juice and trying to find one that didn't have added calcium - I gave up. Why would you want to add calcium to orange juice and where did it come from?
    When I tried vegetarianism again I was eating the trad Chinese vege diet - so yes it was just like the Chinese I was talking about. Stir-fried veg & rice, sometimes with cloud ears or wooden ears, sometimes with fresh tofu, sometimes dried, sometimes szechuan salted cabbage or pickled radish and occasionally a preserved egg.
    To come up with your disparaging remark that I'm not trying very hard does make you sound rather young and poorly informed. After all there are 10,000 diets and 10,000 doctors ready to approve them - if there was one that worked for everyone we'd all be doing it.
  9. Wade Henderson
    Hamish, My remarks followed your saying the following

    "I think that a large part of this problem is genetic and involves which tribe we come from. I can't think of another explanation that fits the bill"

    Well having lived in Asia for many years, and also living in America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe I have the following observations.

    You see "Europeans" living in Asia, eating the traditional rural diet, and you see almost all of them dropping weight. (those who begin with excess)

    You see Asians living in America, eating the traditional American diet, and you see almost all of them gaining weight.

    Most often the problem with my observation arises when the Westerner, with adequate resources, goes to Asia, but has the money to order or purchase, Western levels of meats, dairy and such, then mixing those in with the rice and veggies... gaining weight, then declaring that eating in the Asian manner doesn't really work. Thus it must be genetic.

    Similarly, if i see a Asian family going to America where the children tend towards the Amercican style eating while the older folks stick to the portions of meat, rice, and veggies found in Asia, I see the elders staying slender, while a portion of the children begin to fill out with excess weight.

    I'd say the major attribute that is inheirited, is not the genes, but the habits that go with the family lifestyle.

    Obviously there are exceptions as their are even in those who eat in the American lifestyle.
    We can all give hundreds of examples that contradict the true picture.

    However I do believe there are some genetic differences. Indians, from India, for example. I do believe they have a greater tendency for developing Type 2 diabetes.
    Also, on similar diets to what is found in America, Pacific Islanders have a strong tendency to gain lots of weight. I'm sure other examples exist.

    I would say, that most folks, Asian or Western, placed on a traditional Asian diet, or on a LCHF diet will lose weight if they stick with it. With the LCHF diet being perhaps the best for short term losing.
    However too many folks feel the need to knock or demonize the other way of eating.

    Its really amazing that so many people are completely lost on a subject that should be easily explored with some individual experimentation.
    When I look around the world as I travel around for many years, one thing I seldom see, is either a significant area where the people naturally eat either LCHF, or true "Low Fat" without any animal products.

    Seems that somewhere in the world, 10 million people would be eating in one of those two ways, but I never see it in my travels. No low carbers and no vegans making up the bulk of any area population.
    These Westernized "adjustments" don't seem to have naturally found their way into any sizeable world population.

    On the other hand, I am not Chris Christie no matter what I eat. But then again, if Chris Christie ate like Bill Clinton does now, I think over a few years, he would lose a significant portion of his "excess".

    Back to the Asia thing. What passes for low-fat in America bears little similarity to what is found in the traditional rural Asian diet. No SnackWells in those traditional Asian areas..

  10. Hamish MacColl
    Well your experience Wade has led you to this point as mine has - I'm 62. I have found over the years that I get fatter whatever i do. The only time I was slim I was a vege and did 9hrs exercise a day. I look at others of a similar age who eat maybe 3times what I eat and have similar lifestyles yet are slim and that is what leads me to conclude it must be genetic. I live in France now though for most of my life I lived in the uk. I have never grazed on crisps (chips in your language) I don't eat sweets or chocolate, nor do I drink colas - I don't like any of these things. I don't eat between meals and I don't eat ready meals. I don't have sugar in my tea or coffee so.......
    A few years ago I tried a Slimfast diet (I'd have tried anything) You drink these 330 calorie shakes - one for breakfast, one for lunch and an evening meal. Well I was determined to lose weight so I did 3 shakes a day and no evening meal - after 6 weeks I'd lost 2lbs. I've just tried the fasting diet where you fast for 2consecutive days each week - you eat for five days then just black coffee or tea or water for two days. I felt exceptionally well but lost no weight in seven months. Well that's my experience and why I'm still waiting for a diet that works - I'll give this HFLC a go and I'll see..........
  11. @Hamish

    As you try LCHF, read why it should work. This way, you'll know why it doesn't work, if it doesn't work. LCHF works primarily because it lowers insulin. It does that because it cuts out the foods that stimulate insulin the most: Carbs, sugar, wheat, starch, etc. It works also because it adds fat. That part is a bit more complicated, but suffice to say adding fat does things that should cause weight loss too. For example, eating fat cuts down hunger, so you eat less overall.

    Anyway, the point is that if LCHF doesn't work, then you know that there's something else going on that prevents it to work as it should. In other words, there's something else that keeps insulin high, and you should find out what that is. One way to find out is to use a ketostick to check your urine ketones. It's not very precise, but it's good enough for this purpose. You might ask why would you check urine ketones to check insulin? That's because insulin is the primary regulator of ketogenesis, and if insulin stays high, then there won't be much ketones in your urine. Checking urine ketones still doesn't tell you exactly what this other thing is, but at least it tells you there is something else going on if that's the case.

    One important aspect of LCHF is that you must not intentionally cut total calories. You must eat as much as you need. If you're hungry for more, then eat some more. One reason why LCHF works is that it cuts hunger, so you eat less. But to do this, you have to eat. If you don't eat enough, and you're still hungry, it defeats the whole purpose. Right way, it should be contrary to everything you believe. You know, calories, portion control and whatnot. But when you try LCHF, it's going to be just for a couple weeks, right? So what do you have to lose for those two short weeks? If anything, you're going to gain knowledge.

    Finally, choose a plan. There's one plan right here at the top of the page, the link "Health and Weight Loss", then the link "LCHF for Beginners". Start with that one, and go on from there. If you need help, there's tons of resources. I personally use the lowcarb.ca forums. I think a forum is much better suited than a blog to asking for and providing help you need. And basically all LC forums know about all LC blogs, including this one, so it's not like you'd be asking about things we don't yet know about. In fact, I first learned about this blog through the forum I mentioned.

  12. David Littman
    This is an interesting discussion but seems to be esoteric and philospohical rather than practical and common-sensical.

    There are plenty of obese people in asian countries. In Korea a meal finisher is a big bowl of heavily sweetened water topped with almonds that I estimated to have about 600 high glycemic impact carbs. Meal mates who drank this were "chubby". Those who did not drink it because they appeared to fill up on beef were not so chubby.

    Genetics play a role to be sure but the two primary causes of weight gain and failure to lose weight are, ceteris paribus, high caloric consumption along with significant consumption of high glycemic impact carbs.

    If you fashion a diet with those two factors as the foundation, you will likely lose and maintain - plus probably avoid Type 2 diabetes and other complications of insulin seesawing and obesity.

    If you are interested in this as a national food industry issue and would like to see more low-carb/glycemic products available at reasonable prices, you might visit the just-started Low-Carb Eaters Food Industry Issues Google Group.
    Thanks.

    Thanks.

    Reply: #213
  13. David Littman
    I meant philosophical, of course. sorry.
  14. Wade Henderson
    I can't speak about your Korean "meal mates", but in my travels across south east asia, I find hundreds of millions of people who eat the vast majority of their calories in rice, noodles, and veggies, but seem to easily stay slender.
    Very few of them have access to significant amounts of beef or other meats.
    Certainly not in western quantities.
  15. David Littman
    Mr. Henderson,
    Thank you for the comment.

    Korea is a beef-oriented culture - in Western quantities for those who can afford it in my observation - and has become more so with economic prosperity.

    I have the same overall assessment as you of rice and noodle consumption in Asia in general. However, I believe that cultural pressure not to overeat, economic hardship, and greater energy output maintain overall caloric input/output at a level well below an ad lib American eater.

    Interestingly, OECD recognizes the increasing prevalence of diabetes in the economically progressing asian countries.
    Thanks again.

  16. Wade Henderson
    Mr. Littman,

    "Interestingly, OECD recognizes the increasing prevalence of diabetes in the economically progressing asian countries."

    And what has changed in their diet from the time when they were eating as you indicated?

    "However, I believe that cultural pressure not to overeat, economic hardship, and greater energy output maintain overall caloric input/output at a level well below an ad lib American eater"

    What are the main parts of their prior diet that they have now increased?

    Is it more vegetables, rice and noodles, or is it more beef and other meats along with highly processed carbs and sugar?

  17. David Littman
    Mr. Henderson,

    If I understand your first question: I believe the main changes in diet are increased calorie intake and consumption of western-style snacks and sweetened beverages (e.g., Coke and Pepsi) that are high in refined sugar. I also think that as countries modernize the sedentary job class increases, reducing caloric output and general fitness, both contributors to type 2 diabetes.

    As to the second question, as children move into less traditional family arrangements, for example marrying and moving to cities for work and education, the historic cultural pressures to moderation and traditional menus decrease. I suspect that generationally they are becoming more "Americanized" in their eating and meal habits. That is, snacking and eating more of the easily available western-style high-sugar snacks as well as eating larger quantities of traditional food, such as rice, fish, and vegetables, because that is now economically feasible.

    I also think that economic prosperity increases liquor consumption, typically high glycemic sweetened liquors (Soju in Korea) and beer. Both have high glycemic impact and with additional money available more liquor, as well as sweetened soft beverages, such as Coke and Pepsi, can be consumed.

    Thank you.

  18. Wade Henderson
    Mr LIttman, I find it a little troubling that you include items A to Z, but some how leave out one grouping of calories.
    Those coming from increase consumption of beef, pork, and the like.
    In other words, you seem to be fitting the details to fit the LCHF solution, rather than having the Asian populations returning to their original way of eating, prior to some segments changing their traditional patterns in recent years..

    BTW, it seems you have traveled to Korea. Have you spent any considerable time in other Asian countries, including South East Asia. Vietnam, Indonesia, etc.

    I don't think the solution for more obesity, diabetes, and cardio-vascular disease should be the same for all cultures around the world.
    In fact, my first choice for most would be that they return to the diets they had prior to the onset of the above conditions.
    Seems that route is proven by history.

  19. David Littman
    Mr. Henderson,
    Thank you for these interesting comments.

    I have only traveled in Korea, not the SE Asian countries.

    Although I am a low-carb/glycemic eater by choice, I am not an evangelist.

    I believe pre-Modern (i.e., non-junk food) nutrition sources would be an appropriate choice as long as calorie intake is reasonably restricted and nutritional needs - especially protein - are met. I do believe that the pre-Western diets of the majority of the populations you refer to had a calorie input/output ratio of less than 1, which was probably good if it was not below, say, .80 and provided sufficient protein to prevent muscle loss.

    My sense is that the primary downfall of Western-type eaters - and dieters - whether in the West or not, is the glycemic seesaw that accompanies daily grazing on sugar-based "junk" food and also eating a full calorie load of "regular" food. Their calorie input/output ratio is frequently more than 1 and the excess is probably not nutritionally useful.

    I do think that white rice is a relatively poor overall source of nutrients so I am not an advocate of it as a major portion of daily calorie intake though I understand that economics and availability make it a necessity in some regions and socioeconomic strata.

    My fundamental belief, which started this interesting subthread with you, is that calorie excess + high-carb/glycemic intake is a prescription for diet failure and probably a setting condition for many late life diseases typically accompanied by obesity.
    Thanks again.

  20. alia
    Im Malaysian, I eat rice 4 times a day with other small dishes and a plate of raw vegetables(This is a must). I am 52 kilos, 5'7 and is in great shape. I exercise and I go for regular check ups to see if my insides are well. All my friends are the same too, same size and eat 4-5 plates of white rice everyday. I have Caucasian friends who gained a lot in one week because they started eating rice once a day. Im just wondering if it's the same for other Caucasians as well? Or is it just the way our bodies/metabolisms are built?
  21. Jen
    This is stupid. I'm asian and lived in america all my life. I eat all the same things my boyfriend (Scottish) eats, but I'm thin as a toothpick and he's not. I don't exercise and I don't work in the rice fields. I think it also boils down to genetics. And asians who eat high amounts of rice can and do get diabetes later in life. And they also get fat. Just not as fat as other populations.

    And that is correct. Most asians are NOT vegetarians.

  22. Michael Robinson
    This is definitely an interesting article. I feel like Asian diets are usually pretty light. Not too many cream based sauces, cheeses, or extreme deep fried fatty foods. Also, they might work out or just move around more than a typical American office worker. Its interesting to see other people's opinions on the subject, heres an article I was actually reading the other day that was shown to me by my friend about why this guy thinks Asians are skinnier via diets:

    http://www.chopsticklounge.com/2012/10/5-tips-to-be-skinny-like-asian...

  23. HeatherTwist
    You know, one thing I notice about traditional Asian food is that it has far less fructose in it. That was also true for traditional Mexican food. And traditional American food, for that matter. 100 years ago, Asian, Mexican, and American diets were all rather high in starch, and meat was considered rather a luxury. Right now there is zero evidence that starch, per se, makes people fat.

    But Asians used rice syrup for sweetener, but rice syrup is dextrose, not sucrose. Today we use mainly sucrose or HFCS or honey or agave etc. ... all of which are high in fructose. We also drink more pop, drink fruit juice, and snack on dried fruits. Besides all the sweet snacks of course. I think the issue is probably fructose, not starch. There is already good lab evidence that fructose raises uric acid levels and triggers fat deposition, as well as increasing appetite.

  24. @HeatherTwist

    You can't know everything. It would be more honest to say that you are not aware of any evidence that starch makes people fat.

    The mechanism for fructose-induced fat deposition starts in the liver. Then the liver becomes insulin resistant. Then the pancreas secretes more insulin. Then this surplus insulin causes excess fat accumulation at the fat tissue. As we can see, the excess fat accumulation at the fat tissue is a product of insulin, not fructose. Starch directly stimulates insulin. Here we have a completely plausible mechanism for starch to make people fat all on its own. If the mechanism is plausible, why shouldn't there be any evidence?

  25. Marianne van Toor
    My family is originally from Indonesia where traditional sweets and deserts are made from rice flour (instead of wheat) and palm sugar, which doesn't seem to raise/lower blood sugar the way white sugar does. When I travel in Indonesia and eat the sweets on which I grew up, I don't gain weight and don't suffer the effects of blood sugar spikes/drops (sleepiness, no energy, etc.).
  26. Zepp
    Strange.. but it seems that VLCD seems to work on Chines rice eaters too!

    "Abstract
    Aim. To investigate the effects of weight loss during an 8-week very low carbohydrate diet (VLCD) on improvement of metabolic parameters, adipose distribution and body composition, and insulin resistance and sensitivity in Chinese obese subjects. Methods. Fifty-three healthy obese volunteers were given an 8-week VLCD. The outcomes were changes in anthropometry, body composition, metabolic profile, abdominal fat distribution, liver fat percent (LFP), and insulin resistance and sensitivity. Results. A total of 46 (86.8%) obese subjects completed the study. The VLCD caused a weight loss of -8.7 ± 0.6 kg (mean ± standard error (SE), P < 0.0001) combined with a significant improvement of metabolic profile. In both male and female, nonesterified fatty acid (NEFA) significantly decreased (-166.2 ± 47.6  μ mol/L, P = 0.001) and β -hydroxybutyric acid (BHA) increased (0.15 ± 0.06 mmol/L, P = 0.004) after eight weeks of VLCD intervention. The significant reductions in subcutaneous fat area (SFA), visceral fat area (VFA), and LFP were -66.5 ± 7.9 cm(2), -35.3 ± 3.9 cm(2), and -16.4 ± 2.4%, respectively (all P values P < 0.0001). HOMA IR and HOMA β significantly decreased while whole body insulin sensitivity index (WBISI) increased (all P values P < 0.001). Conclusion. Eight weeks of VLCD was an effective intervention in obese subjects. These beneficial effects may be associated with enhanced hepatic and whole-body lipolysis and oxidation."

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/23573151/?i=4&from=diabetes...

    Or there are no strange thing about it at all?

  27. Linda
    FALSE. Asians do look like Africans a la tribes in south eastern countries who have the same signature eyeshape
  28. lionel
    Most the reasons given are wrong. First off, I would just like to say I'm an Asian so I have personal experience with certain details.

    Point 1: Probably true. Western countries consume more refined sugar in the form of cakes, chocoloate bars and sweets.

    Point 2: Couldn't be further from the truth. East Asians avoid brown rice like the plague. The only people who consume brown rice are westerners trying a whole grain diet. Go to any home, any restaurant in Japan, China, Korea, or Singapore and you'll never find brown rice. Go to the supermarkets in Asia and if you are lucky you might catch a glimpse of a sack of brown rice in a mountain of white rice sacks. To most Asians, brown rice just does not taste good.

    Point 3: To use a Japanese farmer to compare with a white collared American worker is unfair. Japanese farmers make up a tiny percentage of the Japanese population. By and large, there are probably more office workers in Japan by percentage than the US. There is also way less emphasis on physical activity than the West judging by the number of sports stadiums, gyms, etc in Japan.

    Point 4: Poverty. Doesn't matter. Rich Asian states such as Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan are as thin as poor states such as China.

    Point 5: Probably true.

    Point 6: Genetic makeup. Probably true, Asians do get diabetes even at lower BMI. In fact in Singapore, we have our own Asian version of BMI standards for determining obesity and whether a person is overweight. People considered regular size in the West are often considered fat in Asia and vice versa.

    My personal take as a person growing up in Asia and moving to the West subsequently on why Asians are thinner is that Westerners (yes broad term including Europe and America) generally consume more. It is weird that the recommended calorie intake is 2500 and 2000 for men and women respectively. Anyone eating that amount in Singapore is considered a really big eater. The normal calorie intake for the regular person in Singapore is nearer to 1200-1500. And yet that is considered near starvation by doctors and dieticians in the West. Why do people in America and other western countries have to eat so much to feel full is the question.

  29. @Lionel

    You already have your answer: Westerners are bigger, therefore they must eat more to compensate. This is true in all species. The elephant eats more because he's bigger than the mouse. The alternative is that the elephant is bigger _because_ he eats more. This obviously makes no sense. The elephant is bigger because it's an elephant. It's programmed to be the size it is. It's the same with humans. Big humans are programmed to be big.

    In other words, a priori, it's genetic. However, genes can be altered through environment. We call this epigenetics (epi = on top of). That's what we have with certain foods that make us fat, like sugar and wheat. That's why we saw Westerners grow very much fatter over the past 30 years since the beginning of the low-fat standard diet. And that's why we now see Asians grow fatter as well, as their standard diet is getting Westernized through the addition of more sugar and more wheat. And, as any of us grow fatter (bigger), we now need to eat more to compensate, and we see this with an increased caloric intake also coinciding with the past 30 years of the low-fat standard diet. However, in my personal opinion, we don't eat more real food, we just eat more of those "foods" that make us fatter, like sugar and wheat.

    Basically, that's the main reason low-carb works so well: We just cut out those fattening "foods".

  30. Wade Henderson
    "And that's why we now see Asians grow fatter as well, as their standard diet is getting Westernized through the addition of more sugar and more wheat"

    Amazing that you can make such a statement and just happen to leave out "more fat and meat"

    Or is that increase of no importance and only the sugar and wheat are the cause of the increased weight?

  31. @Wade Henderson

    It's a good idea to specify compared to what. Compared to Asians, or compared to before? If compared to Asians, then yes we do eat more fat and meat. But that is easily explained by the overall greater food intake, and this is easily explained by the overall "Westerners bigger than Asians" as I already explained. But compared to before, we don't. We eat about as much meat and fat as we did before. Furthermore, most meat we do eat is lean or leaner. In fact, all butchers and supermarkets I know of trim the fat off as standard practice. The "Zeitgeist" is fat-is-bad, therefore all fat is shunned as a rule. Personally, I know nobody who eats lots of fat, or even believes fat-is-good. It's the same Zeitgeist for meat, and it fits well with the low-fat dogma: Meat-is-bad, veggies-are-healthy. You must have heard of the all-one-word jokes: HeartHealthyWholeGrains and ArteryCloggingSaturatedFat.

    The alternative is that most people who are fatter collectively eat more meat and fat. But that's not what we see. In fact, "diet foods" mostly consist of whole grains and other low-fat alternatives. Therefore, those who want to get leaner - or prevent getting fatter - will preferentially select those low-fat alternatives. But as we can clearly see, this ain't working too well. We can see this with plenty of anecdotes of patients who tell their doctors "But I do everything I should (eat low-fat), and still grow fatter. How can this be?"

    I mean, why would low-carb work so well, if not because we remove those fattening foods, if not because those fattening foods are mostly sugar and wheat? One possible answer is that when you go low-carb, you spontaneously eat less overall. And it's true. However, once you look at the science of low-carb (there's a page on this website with a bunch of studies), you see that with equal caloric intake, low-carb works better anyway, so the spontaneous reduction of caloric intake isn't what makes it work compared to other diets. This is especially obvious with the A-TO-Z study.

  32. Wade Henderson
    @Martin Levac--you wrote,

    "And that's why we now see Asians grow fatter as well, as their standard diet is getting Westernized through the addition of more sugar and more wheat"

    Sorry but you completely missed my point.
    I was pointing out that you were attributing only sugar and more wheat as the reason why Asians were growing fatter.

    You failed to include the fact that those Asians were significantly increasing their consumption of meats and other animal products at the same time they were increasing their sugar and wheat.

    My point was to question why you excluded the meat or animal products from any possible causation. Clearly the increased consumption of meat and or animal products played a role in their weight gain. I don't think anyone who has studied the situation in Asia doubts that.

  33. @Wade Henderson

    I did miss that point. Thanks for clarifying it.

    I'll concede that Asians now eat more meat. But it's very difficult to show that they also eat more fat, if we also concede that their diet is now more Westernized, since our Western standard diet is low-fat. The point about eating more meat, and its contribution to obesity, comes solely from its fat content, not from some other property of meat. But since the bulk of the meat we eat is lean, it's hard to make that connection, i.e. meat > fat > obesity. If it's hard to make that connection with our diet, then it's equally hard to make the same connection with a now Westernized Asian diet.

    Instead, it's easier to first establish Asians' previous diet, which would have included more animal fat like lard for example (though not more meat per se) than it does today, and less sugar and wheat.

    Also, the nature of our fat intake has changed since the start of the low-fat era. We now eat much more vegetable fat (olive oil and canola oil for example), and much less animal fat (of all kinds, butter, lard, suet, etc). We could argue that this difference could account for some of the obesity, but it's probably more subtle than total fat intake vs total carb intake.

  34. Jayme Joy
    Why do I keep losing weight when I eat high carb and low fat? And lots of sucrose and fructose? I am following the 80/10/10 lifestyle, and a typical day for me will be 3500 calories a day at least.
    Reply: #235
  35. Zepp
    Nothing strange about this at all.. you lose fat, muscle and bone mass!

    Thats typical for nutrient defiency!

  36. Hamish
    Sorry Zepp but that's just b******s. I was a vegetarian martial arts teacher for 9 years. I was slim and healthy and very fit - 9hrs practice and teaching every day. I stopped both, became gradually obese and though I've tried the veggie diet again it didn't work 2nd time around so I've been on the hi fat lo carb diet and I've lost over 25lbs - I feel much healthier too. -But ...... everyone seems to make the same mistake in this - I think those of us who find this diet works so well are the same people who have developed the insulin blocking mechanism while those that are slim and healthy on carbs alone (as I used to be) just don't have that problem. I think my problems started when I began to eat a mixed diet that included meat.
  37. Martin Levac
    @Jayme Joy

    The 80/10/10 diet is raw vegan. Humans can't digest plant fiber so we can't extract the nutrition those plants contain. That kind of diet is equivalent to a semi-starvation diet. The result is emaciation and neurosis.

    The main basis for the 80/10/10 diet is that "fruits is the ideal food for humans". If that was true, then fruit would be available all-year long everywhere humans have lived through our evolution. That's just not the case. You can eat fruit all year-long today only because of agriculture and world commerce. In effect, the main basis of Dr. Douglas Graham's "ideal diet" requires that modern industry exist for as long as humans have existed.

    It could still be the ideal diet for humans, but the main basis for it is obviously wrong.

  38. Van Dammage
    im not asian, not have i ever been to an asian country. but i have been watching japanese mma (mixed martial arts), K-1 kickboxing, and am familiar with there pro wrestling shows.

    i can tell you out of ten years of watching high level japanese athletes, ive only seen a few that actually had muscle definition. and they also have less muscle mass than american athletes. so they are definitaly "skinny fat". even the roided out japanese pro wrestlers still have a thick even layer of body fat. so they are not as thin as you percieve them to be.

  39. Illuminati
    I'm from Denmark and here in Denmark most people are thin. We don't have obesity problems like in the US:

    I think, the reason why Americans are more fat is because of GMO and chemicals in the food. It is not allowed to sell GMO foods in Europe, and we are also buying more chemical free food.We often cook our own dishes and don't buy as much fast food as in the US.

    Youtube"dr. wallach"

    If you cook your own food and eat organic and eat healthy foods then I think you will become thin as we are in Europe. Asians are eating more healthy than Europeans. That is why they are even more healthy and thin than us here in Europe.

    Reply: #240
  40. Wade Henderson
    Illuminati, You give several reasons, but your main idea is the lack of GMO foods and chemicals.

    Then you also throw in not cooking at home and fast food, etc.

    I would say the lack of GMO foods and chemicals, accounts for less than 1% of the differences between Americans who become fat and people in Denmark.

    Its a politically or diet-ically correct theme with little or nothing to back it up.

    The points about cooking healthy real food at home is very important.

  41. jenn
    I watch a lot of Korean dramas and variety shows(really scientific, I know...lol) I noticed that they don't eat much wheat. You will often see comments like my stomach hurts or I look puffy because I ate wheat today. Yes, they eat a lot of rice but I don't think much wheat and they generally try to avoid it. Maybe it's the wheat.....hmmmm
  42. RnBramwell
    The initial post says "sugar {fructose}". That is immediately false. Table sugar is sucrose (a disaccharide of glucose and fructose.

    Many comments are really excellent, but I object to the claims that Lustig has cast aside scientific method. Not so. What he describes is KNOWN, and he is showing how that information should be properly used by conceptual minds. That is, he is integrating facts of the world to form objective abstract understandings of those facts.

    Those who object by demanding 'scientific' proof commit the fallacy of empiricism. Empiricism's opposite is rationalism:

    [Philosophers came to be divided] into two camps: those who claimed that man obtains his knowledge of the world by deducing it exclusively from concepts, which come from inside his head and are not derived from the perception of physical facts (the Rationalists)—and those who claimed that man obtains his knowledge from experience, which was held to mean: by direct perception of immediate facts, with no recourse to concepts (the Empiricists).

    The objective mind knows how to use facts to form abstractions that are valid products of reasoning. Lustig's lengthy lecture on sugar (on YouTube) does exactly that.

    Finally, the statistical news is that East Asians have less heart disease, despite eating a diet high in glucose via rice... but they still have SUMO wrestlers! :)

  43. HeatherTwist
    There is some very detailed and empirical work done by Dr. Richard Johnson, on the effect of fructose on fat gain. Basically there seems to be a gene triggering action going on with uric acid, to put animals (not just people) into "store fat" mode, esp. for, say, hibernation. Fructose raises uric acid, and raising uric acid triggers fat gain. Lowering uric acid (via gout medicine) causes fat loss. Sucrose breaks down into fructose and glucose, but starch is all glucose. It's really interesting work! I went on a "low uric acid" diet and have lost 40 lbs now.

    The Sumos are a really interesting case. The Sumos eat a diet different from most Japanese, and it is much higher in uric acid: beer, pork, beef, wheat (fructans break down to fructose) are all uric acid foods.

  44. RnBramwell
    HeatherTwist - have you a link?
    I can't see how hibernation is a consequence of amino acid breakdown... producing urea (in mammals) & uric acid in birds and reptiles.
  45. HeatherTwist
    In humans:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3203212/
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2917125/

    "Recent studies suggest that fructose may not be simply an energy source, but may have specific metabolic effects that may aid in increasing fat stores (15). Thus, if laboratory animals are pair fed fructose or glucose, only the fructose fed rats develop marked hypertriglyceridemia and fatty liver (22). Furthermore, fructose fed rats will also develop intraabdominal fat accumulation, insulin resistance and elevated blood pressure, even if overall energy intake is restricted (23, 24). These alterations are similar to what is observed in hibernating mammals prior to hibernation, and likely provides a means for survival during a period of food shortage (25). Interestingly, vitamin C is known to partially block the effects of fructose to induce this metabolic phenotype (26). Importantly, as fruit ripens towards the end of the summer season, the vitamin C content falls whereas fructose content increases (27). Hence, fruits are an important food source not only for their energy intake, but for their metabolic effects to increase fat stores. In addition, fruits are the most lipogenic at the end of summer, prior to seasonal cooling and a reduction in food availability."

    However, urea stores also go up when certain proteins are eaten ... whales and penguins get fat off krill and fish. There are a number of foods that raise urea in humans, and others that lower it. It's been studied a lot in terms of gout, so it's easy to find information.

  46. RnBramwell
    That's excellent HeatherTwist!
    It also fits with Lustig's indictment of fructose!
    Thanks... a lot!
  47. Janavi
    Very interesting comments. I live in USA but hail from India. My family are South Indians who are
    rice eaters. In my view today all of us have deviated from our traditional eating habits. Our old
    Folks ate big rice eaters with lot of vegetables and legumes. Less use of cooking oil. Fried
    Goodies and sweets were once a month treat. Fruits were seasonal treats. They all lived long
    Upto the age of 80 and died while still active. We were lacto vegetarians. Ate lot of carbs.
    But they did not indulge in recreational eating or snacking. These days people in India are also
    Snacking a lot with vegetable oil fried snacks , juices and sweets.Indians are very prone to heart attacks and Type 2 diabetes. Our blood vessels are thinner than the caucasians and Africans.
    Another important factor is we dont have enough physical activities but lot of corporate stress.
    It makes sense to cut the obvious villains like sugar first, then refined carbs and vegetable oils. These are just empty cals that offer nothing.
  48. Glen0
    Could it be that these older style rice grains were eaten with loads of green leafy vegetables so an appropriate amount of anti oxidants helped keep people healthy. Seems to me people can be reasonably healthy on a carb rich diet as long as they consume anti oxidant rich foods as well. I would still rather be keto adapted though as its much easier and my dick is bigger on keto ;)
  49. Justin Jools
    Re: Traditionally more physical activity then sedentary western population. Compare a Japanese rice farmer (in the field all day) to an American office worker with a car.

    I couldn't believe you wrote this, it sounds so arrogant and ignorant - have you ever been to East Asia?. I think your traditional comparison should be field workers in East Asia to field workers in the West. Japan, Korea, Taiwan are modern developed countries where people are just as sedentary as people in the west working in offices and driving everywhere by car and scooters.

    As someone who lived in Taiwan for 4 years as an English Teacher, I can tell you I lost weight dramatically eating a Taiwenese diet, my friend coming to visit called me anorexic and I was very thin. There are a number of factors, eating rice as an ingredient different from eating bread in the west is definitely a dietary difference but one other important factor is the way they eat, having much smaller meals: a bowl of rice and a small amount of meat and vegetables and eating 4 or more small meals a day, only eating enough to satisfy and eating more regularly. Culturally their eating habits are much healthier, enjoying eating lots of fruit and vegetables; there are abundant fruit smoothie stalls and food markets open till late, healthy food is cheap and easily available. Another important factor is the heat, which affects your diet and makes you feel like eating less.

    Changing your diet to eating rice and smaller meals with fruit and vegetables will make you thinner, like having any healthy diet will make you thinner. This has not been so easy for me being back in the UK and adapting again to the way people eat here, and the food available. Culturally we don't have the same choices of being able to eat in the same way, particularly being at work, and we don't have night markets, or many stalls where we can get fruit smoothies and the cold weather affects us differently in the body wanting to store fat to keep warm. It's much easier to live in East Asia and be thin than living in the West, but I am not saying this is an excuse it just requires more effort and control about what you eat; I often find myself just grabbing a banana at lunch time because I can't find the healthy food I want to eat.

  50. Angie
    a RICE farmer in Japan???? LOOOL.
    Do you realise that the Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese society is even more advanced- with a mass centralisation not even heard of in the states?
    I've lived here for over five years, and I can assure you that the people here do not even endorse gym-culture as much as they do in the western world. It is a healthy cuisine, a cuisine made from small proportions and much steamed/boiled non-fried condiments. Also a healthy eating-habit with less snacking, and much less sugar-intake.

    But a RICE FARMER IN JAPAN? are you serious?

    I hope you know how embarrassing you are for the rest of us. You make us westerners look extremely ignorant and also extremely extremely arrogant. WE are less city-people than they are!

    Reply: #251
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