Carbs equal pounds, doctor says

Diet expert gives take on healthy lifestyle, habits

Gerber Enlarge photo

Gerber

Escaping the modern scourges of obesity, diabetes and heart attacks will require people to adopt the diet of the paleolithic era about 2.5 million years ago, a family medicine physician says.

“We have to look at primal man, at the hunter/gatherer,” Dr. Jeff Gerber said during a presentation Wednesday at the Durango Public Library. “We have to rewrite the book on nutrition.”

The presentation by Gerber, who practices family and occupational medicine as Denver’s Diet Doctor in Littleton, was sponsored by Mercy Regional Medical Center and the Women’s Health Coalition.

Gerber’s talk was called “Understanding the Relationship of Carbohydrate Nutrition, Obesity, Diabetes and Heart Disease.” The subtitle added that it was a scientific and political overview of the effects of obesity on health-care spending.

“If we can address obesity, we can make patients healthier and save money,” Gerber said.

Sixty-eight percent of U.S. citizens is overweight as is measured by body mass index (BMI), a ratio of weight to height, Gerber said. Thirty-four percent of Americans is obese.

BMI is calculated by multiplying weight in pounds by 703 and dividing that by height in inches squared. A BMI of 25 is overweight, and 30 is obese.

“The United States is a world leader in obesity,” Gerber said. “Since 1980, obesity in adults has doubled and in children has tripled.”

Good health can be promoted through nutrition – by eating right, Gerber said. But it requires dispelling three urban myths – that eating saturated fats causes heart attacks, that eating fats make you fat and that exercising more and eating less cuts weight.

None of the three have been proved, Gerber said. They are based on bad science.

Gerber made it clear at the outset of his presentation that his convictions, based upon study and experience, aren’t shared by all doctors.

Carbohydrates in starchy vegetables, sugar and processed grains such as corn, wheat and rice are the culprits that fuel obesity that leads to diabetes and heart attacks, Gerber said.

When carbohydrates are eaten, they break down into glucose and the body releases insulin, a hormone in the pancreas, to carry the glucose to muscles for energy and to fat cells for storage.

But because the level of insulin doesn’t return to normal as fast as the level of glucose, it looks for more sugars, creating hunger pangs which, if satisfied, stores glucose the body doesn’t really need.

It becomes a vicious circle, Gerber said.

Dense foods such as meat, oils, berries, fruit, nuts, cheese and non-starchy vegetables don’t stimulate the production of insulin, Gerber said.

Apropos Gerber’s presentation, an article in the Thursday edition of SFGate, the online version of the San Francisco Chronicle, cites an article in the journal Nature that says the increased consumption of sugar is reaching epidemic levels worldwide and is the primary cause of a range of chronic diseases.

The consumption of sugar is so ingrained that it will require more than education to get people off sugar, the paper says. It will require gentle public policy toward people and “brute force” to remove sugar from foods.

Gerber said that old standby, the food pyramid, promotes the wrong message.

“We’re up against a big gorilla, the federal government,” Gerber said. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture promotes food that is inexpensive and profitable, without regard for health.”

Gerber received a degree in chemistry from Temple University in 1982 and graduated from the Temple School of Medicine four years later.

daler@durangoherald.com