How a health educator became convinced of low-carb eating
When Michael Wood M.S., M.P.H. went to the dentist back in 2014 he got the surprising question “What do you eat?” He ate by the USDA Guidelines, so what could possibly be the problem with his diet? But, since he had some health problem it did make him question his diet. That later led him to a low-carb diet. This is Michael’s story:
In mid-2014, my dentist told me my gums bled too much when he cleaned my teeth. “What do you eat?” he asked. “What is your HbA1c? What is your blood pressure?”
My blood glucose was pre-diabetic; my blood pressure was a bit too high. I ate by the USDA Guidelines.
I did; and it rocked my world.
I have degrees in health and physical education from two Big Ten universities. For eight years I’d worked in public health and nine years I ran my own wellness company; for 20 years I’d consulted with large health plans and employers.
And in 2014, learned I got nutrition all wrong — the entire time.
My master’s degree in health education research taught me epidemiology, research design and statistics. My master’s degree in public health taught me how to change health behavior. But nobody taught me how to critically evaluate the science of nutrition, which is based primarily on observational data, not experiments.I had learned about nutrition during my career by reading journal articles and attending conferences where I was universally told that sugar was harmless and that we should follow a low-fat diet, eat lots of carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and use margarine or polyunsaturated oils for cooking and dressings. I was also told — and believed — that high cholesterol causes heart disease.
I didn’t question any of it. After all, the research conducted over the past 60 years was peer-reviewed and seemed conclusive and infallible. Famous nutrition low-fat researchers like Fredrick Stare, Jean Mayer, Ancel Keyes, Nathan Pritikin, Kenneth Cooper, William Kannel, William Castelli, Dean Ornish and Jeremiah Stamler were gods to me.
But NOT NOW.
Now I know that they were blinded by their near-religious belief that saturated fats are bad for health, polyunsaturated fats are healthy and that grains—especially whole grains — are good. They deliberately ignored evidence to the contrary.
The US government continues to ignore scientific evidence that saturated fats really aren’t a problem and that grains and added sugars (in 74 percent of our food products) are not healthy for anyone with carbohydrate intolerance or insulin resistance.
After my wake-up call at the dentist, I became absorbed by all of Taubes’ work. Soon I began studying nutrition science in earnest, and I haven’t stopped. I’ve also read books by Teicholz, Ludwig, Westman/Volek/Phinney and DiNicolantonio, as well as hundreds of articles and watched lectures across the nutrition spectrum (including vegan and vegetarian researchers).
All this research has convinced me that low-carb eating is the best approach for nearly all human beings currently eating a Standard American Diet all around the world.For almost four decades I ate a low-fat, whole-grain diet that included margarine and PUFAs. I ate lots of fruits and vegetables. I ran 15 miles per week for 30 years. And look where it got me: When I switched to a low-carb way of eating, I lost 30 pounds (13 kilos) of fat, lowered my HbA1c from 6.3 to 5.8, lost three inches (8 cm) off my waist, cut my triglycerides in half and reduced my blood pressure from 140/90 to 110/70. My high coronary artery calcium score of 514 was caused by following those established dietary guidelines for 40 years. A score greater than 100 is associated with at least mild atherosclerosis.
Since 2014 I have learned the following, all of which are discussed in more detail on Diet Doctor and in the work of other low-carb pioneers like Taubes, Teicholz, Westman, Phinney and Volek:
I admit now I was just plain wrong, and I apologize to my colleagues, clients, family and friends. I’m afraid that I contributed to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. I have relatives and friends who’ve died prematurely from metabolic diseases. My sister has diabetes, as did my late father.
- The USDA “low fat” nutritional guidelines have been wrong since 1980, corresponding exactly to the increasing epidemic of obesity and diabetes.
- Reducing carbohydrate intake is vital for most people and moreover, a growing body of high-quality research evidence shows it is safe and effective.
- We should all cut the most highly processed foods from our diet. Eating saturated fat is healthy, but highly-refined industrial seed oils are not.
- Protein and fat from animal-sourced products are nutrient dense and healthy, too.
- Sugar is a dose-related toxin.
- Many people cannot tolerate grains, even whole grains.
- Eggs are a near perfect food, leafy green vegetables are just fine, but fruit can make blood sugar soar.
- Calculating Calories-In-Calories-Out (CICO) doesn’t work as a weight loss method — it actually causes people to become fat and not be able to lose weight over the long run.
- Chronically high insulin from high carbohydrate intake and the resulting insulin resistance are at the core of our metabolic health/obesity problems.
I was dogmatically wed, as are most people in medicine and public health today, to a set of misleading, weak and falsified data influenced by sugar and soft drink companies, seed oil companies, the NIH and other “expert” organizations, often funded by pharmaceutical and processed food companies.
This low-fat dogma has made strange bedfellows of the food and pharmaceutical industries, governments and health organizations, religion-based nutritionists (influenced by the Seventh-Day Adventist church) and passionate, albeit misguided and misinformed, vegans trying to do the right thing.
Sure, some people can do OK eating a vegetarian diet. But as they age, and their metabolism slows with the toll of 60 to 80 percent of their diets being carbs, I fear their pancreas may eventually burn out, liver fat accumulate, blood pressure rise secondary to inflammation and pre-diabetes/diabetes develop. I’ve known several long-time vegetarians who’ve had heart attacks and bypasses. They eat Trader Joe’s oat cereal “O’s” with almond milk, orange juice, whole wheat toast and “healthy” margarine. And they have heart attacks, nevertheless.
The preponderance of evidence, my personal experience and the experience of thousands of others has led me to the conclusion that restricting carbohydrates to one’s individual tolerance is healthy; and that meat, seafood, high-fat dairy, low-carb vegetables and fruit oils (avocado, coconut and olive) are health-promoting, affordable and environmentally sustainable ways of eating. See Allan Savory’s work on “regenerative agriculture” and Diet Doctor’s three-part Green Keto Eater Series:
Individuals, families, employers, schools, health care institutions, and the government could achieve better health and spend far less on health care, including prescription drugs, if we all ate in a low-carb way, individualized for each of us; even people with diabetes under a physician’s supervision can put their disease into remission.
One of the ways I decided to “pay it forward” was to instigate Low Carb Seattle, through the help of LowCarbUSA, May 3-5, 2019. Many of my heroes will be speaking, including Aseem Malhotra, Eric Westman, Ted Naiman, Gary Taubes, Ivor Cummins, Megan Ramos and David Diamond. I hope to see your there!
Michael Wood, M.S., M.P.H., advises early stage, consumer health companies & organizations. His 40-year career includes co-inventing the first 24-hour nurse-advice line/decision support service, and consulting with Fortune 500 companies on health & wellness for their employees. He is the president & CEO of Michael Wood Health Consulting, Inc.
Thank you for your story Michael. I agree that most people would likely have better health if they restricted processed carbs and sugar intake. Whether everyone would benefit from a low-carb lifestyle beyond that, even if they do not have diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity or similar conditions, is less certain. But it could most likely be a better option than a Standard American Diet.
/ Andreas Eenfeldt, MD
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