On finishing the two-week test, and gently adding carbs back in

The two-week test of eating very low carb went pretty well. Except for a day and a half at the beginning, I felt fine right on through, and I did a pretty good job of actually following the diet. I also saw pretty good improvement in the things I’d hoped a low-carb diet might improve.

So now (starting yesterday), I’m trying to add carbs back in—slowly, just one thing at a time, with an eye toward learning how much and which kinds of carbs I can eat without finding myself right back where I was.

I do know a couple of things already. The biggest is that I’m pretty much over sugar.

I always ate huge amounts of sugar as a child, and continued to consume sugar in vast quantities as an adult. It was only in 2003 when I finally cut most soda pop out of my diet, and I still got plenty of sugar—children’s breakfast cereals, sweet pastries and deserts, sugar in my coffee, high fructose corn syrup in my tomato soup, and even small quantities of soda pop as a mixer for my cocktails.

That’s done. I feel a lot better with almost no sugar in things, and things with sugar in them taste too sweet now. I don’t want to give up chocolate, but the chocolates I’ve been eating have only 7 g of sugar per square, and there are darker chocolates with even less that I’ll probably want to switch to. (And I have no problem making one square a serving.)

We’re making plans to donate the remaining unopened packages of children’s breakfast cereals, peanut butter with sugar in it, and so on to the food bank. (I feel a little bad about giving food I consider unhealthy to poor people. On the other hand, I think poor people should be able to eat what they want, rather than what affluent people think would be better for them. In the end, I come down on the side of figuring it’s better to donate this stuff than to trash it.)

Other carbs are more complex. (Genuinely no pun intended.) I really miss breakfast cereal in the morning, and there are plenty that are low in sugar. I miss toast. I miss sandwiches. I miss rice, and chapatis, and potatoes with my meat dishes.

Jackie and I bake our own sourdough bread, and can make it full of whole grains with no added sugar. That’ll be the last thing I delete from my diet, if it turns out I can’t handle even a little milled grain in my diet.

Oh, and I miss beer. But I miss good beer, and have little interest in “low-carb” beer.

In fact, I have little interest in “low-carb” anything. I’ve become a whole-foods kinda guy these past 10 years. I quit eating anything with artificial sweeteners a long time ago, and don’t expect to eat any going forward. So-called “natural” sweeteners are either just another way to eat sugar (various syrups or fruit juices) or else they’re unnatural as far as I’m concerned, even if extracted from a natural source.

The only exceptions I expect to make are for special cases: non-food items like toothpaste, cough drops, etc.

I’ve been very pleased with my success in giving up my cocktails with sugary mixers—I’ve switched to drinking my whiskey neat or on the rocks. That’s had the side effect of tempting me to the more expensive whiskeys in our liquor cabinet, but that’s not been a problem so far. In fact, just the small amounts of soda pop I drank as mixers probably added a few dollars a month to our grocery bill. Saving that money will not completely offset the cost the more expensive whiskeys, but will subsidize it some.

To touch on the things I was specifically hoping a low-carb diet would help:

  • Allergy symptoms: Seemed to help a lot, but hard to be sure because the allergen load is so variable and idiosyncratic. Adding carbs back in seemed like it might be bringing my congestion right back, but hard to be sure for the same reasons. I’ll continue to monitor, but I’m prepared to go back to very low carb, if that’s what it takes to stay off the allergy meds.
  • Blood pressure: It was not immediate, but around the middle of the second week my blood pressure had gotten a good bit lower. I have cut my lisinopril dose in half (informally, by cutting the tablets in half), and will continue monitoring to see if it stays down while I’m adjusting my carbs. If it settles in this range, I’ll talk to my doctor about changing my prescription.
  • Blood sugar: The Savoy Rec Center, where I teach tai chi, has a free health screening once a month where they’ll check your blood pressure, but also your blood sugar! It’s not a fasting number, so not really comparable with the number from my physical, but it came up 111 which I gather is perfectly fine for someone who has eaten and is not yet just about to eat again.
  • Weight: Over the two weeks, I lost 6.8 pounds, taking my weight from 160.2 to 153.4. I’m assuming that about 5 of those pounds were glycogen and associated water, and will not be surprised to see a large fraction of them come back on as I allow myself to consume more carbs. Still, taking those numbers at face value, I’ve reduced my BMI from 24.7 (near the top of the healthy range) down to 23.7 (much closer to the midpoint of the healthy range). Purely for aesthetic reasons I would be pleased to have less of a spare tire, but frankly I’m looking pretty good already.

I have to call this a tentative success. If I can add in just those few carbs I mentioned—occasional instances of cereal and bread at breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, a starch course with dinner, a piece of dark chocolate now and then—I’ll upgrade it to an unqualified success.

Oh, and beer. For complete success, I’ll have to be able to drink a beer now and then.

Experimenting with low-carb

I’ve resisted low-carb eating for a long time, even as the evidence has increased that high-carb diets are terrible for us.

Via Christopher McDougal’s book Natural Born Heroes, I discovered Phil Maffetone and his two-week test, which caught my eye.

I’m generally very healthy and feel great, but I do have a few health issues—and there seems to be at least some evidence that a low-carb diet might help all of them. The point of the two-week test is to test exactly that: If you go very low-carb, does it make things better? If not, then you’re done—excess carbs are probably not your problem. If it does make things better, then you follow up the two-week test by gradually experimenting with adding carbs from various sources in various amounts, and figure out how much (and which kinds) of carbs you can consume without problem.

The things I’m hoping a low-carb diet might help are these:

  1. Allergies. Over the last twenty years I’ve gone from claiming that I don’t have allergies, to admitting that I get sniffles for a couple of weeks in the spring and the fall, to needing to take both Claritin and Nasacort daily. There’s some reason to believe that a low-carb diet might reduce inflammation. If true, that might ease my allergy symptoms (besides improving my general health), and might mean that I could eliminate those drugs, or perhaps just reduce them from constant to occasional.
  2. High blood pressure. My blood pressure is well-controlled with lisinopril, and I’ve been able to cut the dose since I’ve lost some weight these past 5 years, but it’s another drug that I take daily. It seems very likely that a low-carb diet will reduce my blood pressure, very possibly eliminating the need for this drug as well.
  3. High blood sugar. Back in 2003, I got a high blood glucose reading, and a stern talking-to about pre-diabetes. I responded by sharply reducing my consumption of soft drinks. That brought my blood glucose down to 91 in just six months. The past two years, though, my glucose has been ever-so-slightly high again. It’s not at a scary level, but I don’t like it even a little bit high. Undoubtedly, a low-carb diet will improve this.
  4. Weight loss. My weight is in the normal range, and has been since 2014. Further weight loss probably has no health benefit. Still, purely for aesthetic reasons, I’d be pleased to lose another few pounds. A low-carb diet will probably produce this result as well.

The main purpose of this post has simply been to get my thinking in order regarding what I’m hoping to accomplish. I have little doubt that a low-carb diet will produce the latter two improvements, but those issues could be dealt with easily enough through less drastic means. I have much less confidence about the former two, but improving those things would be a big deal for me—big enough to undertake the two-week test (at least), and maybe to change the way I eat going forward.