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High Carb Diets Still Misunderstood

In 1976, Nathan Pritikin published an article in the Journal of Applied Nutrition (Vol 28, number 3-4) titled “High Carbohydrate Diets: Maligned and Misunderstood.”

42 years later  this article is still relevant, as the public is still deeply confused about nutrition. I’d say that the confusion is more profound than ever.

Current beliefs about nutrition often center around the following claims:

  • Carbs are the cause of the obesity epidemic, as well as the root cause of diabetes and so-called “metabolic syndrome.”
  • Low-fat diets, in vogue in the 70s and 80s, were unhealthy and we should instead seek to eat a lot of “good fats,” including oils.
  • In other words, carbs are bad, good fats are in, and everything we’ve heard about cholesterol and saturated fats is wrong.

Those claims are nothing new and go back all the way to the early days of “low-carb.” Those same ideas have been recycled over and over for at least a hundred years.

What Pritikin states in his 1976 articles is as accurate today as it was back then, except that now there’s even more evidence supporting it.

Here are some points made in the article that still resonate today:

An optimal diet will free you of heart disease, but also of hypertension, angina, diabetes and other degenerative diseases. It’s the same diet for all of those conditions and not one special diet for each condition.

* The heart disease rate of Bantus in Africa is almost zero. They lived on a 10% fat diet.

* Natives of New Guinea had a diet of 10% fat and only 7% protein and had no heart disease (one case in 600). Their blood pressure also does not rise with age.

* Japanese who change their diet when they move abroad lose their immunity to disease that they had back home. Diet is the factor.

* Cholesterol levels considered “normal” by American standards cause heart disease. New Guinea natives had cholesterols around 100 mg/dl, the African Bantus of 90-120 mg/dl, and 150 mg/dl in Ecuador.

* The diet of populations free of heart disease is 80% carbohydrates.

* This diet, notwithstanding its carbohydrate content, reverses diabetes.

* In one study, glucose tolerance tests were performed on different groups of people. Their menu was modified only to change the fat content. The group taking in 80% sucrose and 5% fat (and we’re talking pure sugar) tested normal on a glucose tolerance test, but the second group with 65% fat and 20% glucose tested diabetic. Even after seven weeks on the 5% fat diet (and high sugar), glucose tolerance tests were normal.

* More studies confirmed the same phenomenon.

* With cholesterol levels of 140 mg/dl, only 1% of people would develop heart disease. With Cholesterol levels of 360 mg/dl, 73% would have artery closure by age 28!

* Cholesterol levels over 140 mg./dl and triglycerides over 75 mg. create atherosclerosis.

* A 10% fat diet doesn’t produce deficiencies in essential fatty acids. 0.1% of total calories are needed as linoleic acid to avoid deficiency. That’s 1/300th of an ounce.

* High-fat meals lower the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood and can precipitate angina attacks. Drinking a glass of heavy cream can cause angina attacks in patients, and thickens the blood. The same number of calories and blood in a high-sugar drink cause no blood turbidity, no angina and ECG abnormalities in angina patients.

In light of this evidence, backed up by even more recent science, why do we keep hearing that carbohydrates are the cause of our health problems, with all of the healthiest populations on earth have lived on a high-carbohydrate diet?

Why do we hear the absurd, untested and unproven theory (without a shred of evidence) that heart disease is caused by sugar, and not by high cholesterol and saturated fat diets?

Why is there so much cholesterol and saturated fat denialism, using as pieces of evidence flawed studies sponsored by the egg or meat industry?

Often, low-fat diets are attacked, and studies are used to try to demonstrate that such a diet is less effective than a low-carb diet. But when we look at the evidence, it’s an unfair example.

Low-fat diets are often defined as diets containing 28% fat, when in fact a genuinely low-fat diet is 10-15% fat and 75-80% carbohydrates.

Such a diet has been used successfully to treat diabetes, heart disease and hypertension (among other types of degenerative diseases), EVEN when a large portion of the calories came from refined sugar! Even Denise Minger, who’s famous for trying to take down the China Study, exposes this in a fantastic (and very long) article called In Defense of Low Fat.

I encourage you to read the article by Nathan Pritikin. After 40 years, everything in it rings true!


Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.