American nutritionist Dr Robert Atkins is renowned for turning accepted dietary wisdom on its head. He advocates a diet purported to halt the signs of ageing, extend lifespan up to 12 years and guarantee a healthy old age, and rejects many dietary rules that have held sway for decades. There is a growing body of opinion that the public has been misled by conventional so-called dietary wisdom. The radical Atkins approach to nutrition has for decades been ridiculed by some sectors of the medical profession, but today, ideas like his are gaining respect. They have certainly proved highly beneficial to the tens of thousands of patients he’s treated over 40 years. Decades of research have convinced Atkins that illnesses associated with old age, such as osteoporosis, senility, failing eyesight and heart disease, can be prevented by radically altering the way we eat. He emphasises plenty of anti-oxidants and a low carbohydrate intake – in contradiction to the many low calorie, low fat, high carbohydrate diets so widely recommended. He believes by boosting anti-oxidants intake, we neutralise free radicals, the damaged cells which cause ageing and disease. This view has become popular in the last decade.
Tuck into butter, cheese, eggs, steaks, and kiss refined carbohydrates goodbye! Atkins believes, for sound biological reasons, that a low-fat diet is not the best way to defy ageing, arguing that fats are essential for healthy cells and longevity. A diet high in refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar can disrupt the body’s natural sugar levels with disastrous results, causing diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and, above all, ageing. He is no longer alone in this belief which attributes the massive rise in heart disease in industrialised societies to our excessive intake of refined carbohydrates. They convert rapidly to glucose in the bloodstream, destabilising blood sugar and upsetting insulin levels. This imbalance can lead to diabetes, insulin disorder and heart disease, curtailing life expectancy.
The greatest threat to a long life-span today is atherosclerosis. Arteries become blocked by plaque which leads to heart attacks and strokes. For years the medical profession believed the dramatic rise in athersclerosis was due to cholesterol from the fats in our diets. This is no longer accepted as gospel, though it remains a widely held view in spite of much recent research pointing to other culprits in our modern diet. Atkins, and growing numbers of other researchers, are convinced the real culprits are refined carbohydrates and sugars. When we overload with sugary food and drink and refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white flour, biscuits, cakes and pastries, sugar and syrup, we flood our bodies with glucose. This hugely distorts insulin levels as our bodies struggle to maintain a balanced level of blood sugar. Overloads of insulin, the hormone which brings down sugar levels, can cause atherosclerosis! Atkins recommends a diet low in carbohydrates and sugars, which does not raise glucose and insulin levels. If you are overweight, the diet causes automatic weight loss, switching your primary fuel to stored fat. If weight is normal, eat a bit more carbohydrate to prevent weight loss. All this is not new! It is simply gaining greater respect. The Cheeseman, distributor of a wide range of cheeses and other dairy products, Claremont Trout, Lake Harvest Tilapia and other locally produced, unrefined, additive free, healthy foods, and long an advocate of eating pure, natural foods to stay healthy, supplies most of the recommended foods in this diet!
Eat lots of vegetables – plenty of spinach, broccoli, green beans, and other greens – if it’s green, it’s good! They are rich in folic acid, which protects against heart problems and Alzheimer’s disease, and they contain many antioxidants. Other vegetables, like carrots and peas, higher in carbohydrates, contain beneficial carotene, also an anti-oxidant. Starchy vegetables – beans and potatoes – are useful sources of vegetable protein, essential fatty acids, fibre, vitanutrients and phytochemicals. They are also high in starch, which the body converts into glucose, so eat moderately. Eat plenty of fish, an excellent sources of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids, plus eggs, cheese, butter, and meat, but limit potatoes, pasta and rice. Cut our refined carbohydrates altogether. This approach departs from long held views about animal fats, considering oils and fats to be nutritionally essential. The fats to avoid are trans-fats, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which release cascades of artery-damaging free radicals as your body tries to break them down, such as found in margarine. Eggs are a perfect protein food containing numerous nutrients, including the vital brain nutrient docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Replace simple carbohydrates like sugar with complex carbohydrates which keep your blood sugar steady. Avoid white rice, pasta and bread. The phytonutrients and fibre have been removed, leaving nothing but refined, concentrated carbohydrates. Your body converts these to glucose, sending your blood sugar rocketing. Whole grains, such as whole grain bread, are acceptable in small quantities, and brown rice is better than white. And of course, drink plenty of water!