Dr. Gil Wilshire and his wife Regina are strong low-carb leaders
It's been a long time coming, but I was able to interview two very special people in the low-carb community for my blog today--Dr. Gil Wilshire and his wife Regina Wilshire. These are two names that you will most definitely want to get to know a lot better if you haven't already heard about them yet.
In the battle for the hearts and minds of people nutritionally, both Gil and Regina have put themselves on the frontlines of the dietary debate explaining in clear, understandable language why people should be eating a more "nutrient dense" diet than they are right now.
Prepare to be encouraged if you are already a supporter of livin' la vida low-carb. And if you are skeptical about this way of eating and want to hear from two bona fide experts who really know their stuff, then you will benefit from the wisdom these two have to share with us today. ENJOY!
1. It is my great pleasure to welcome Dr. Gil Wilshire and his wife Regina Wilshire from the "Weight Of The Evidence" blog with us today. I had the pleasure of meeting this amazing couple in January 2006 and spent some time getting to know them a little better. Tell my readers a little bit about who you are and what got you so interested in the subject of nutritional science as it relates to controlled-carbohydrate diets.
GIL: In the late 1990s, I let my weight slowly creep up to over 350 pounds! In the process of my investigations into the plethora of weight loss options, I discovered the Atkins diet and gave it a try. As my weight melted off, I continued to delve deeper and deeper into the current state-of-the-art with regard to nutrition and metabolism. I became increasingly horrified at the total lack of true science that purportedly supports the current low-fat dogma that pervades both government policy and "big name" medical circles.
Regina and I are both peas in a pod with regard to our motivation to make advances in this field. Nutrient-dense diets (as we now prefer to call them) have vastly improved the quality of our lives, and we feel it is our duty to share our experiences and ongoing insights with the community at-large.
REGINA: First let me thank you for the opportunity to share our success with your readers. When I failed to lose the weight I needed to following a popular plan--Weight Watchers--I decided to give the Atkins diet a try and, to my surprise, it worked.
What I didn't understand was why it worked and with all the publicity about low-carb diets came many warnings of dire consequences--I realized if I was going to continue with controlled-carb, I needed to know it was not only a plan I could follow for the long-term, but a safe and healthy way to eat too.
So, I took those studies as a starting point to learn more about nutrition and metabolism to try to understand why a low-carb diet was more effective for me than the traditional calorie restricted or low-fat diets and to see if it might be harmful to me in the long-term. What I learned was that the diet was far superior to the current recommendations and that's why I've continued to eat this way since 2001--it's simply a better dietary approach for health.
2. In 2003, you created the Carbohydrate Awareness Council in response to the growing need to educate the public, doctors, and researchers about the positive role of carbohydrate restriction on health. What progress do you see has been made in bringing about change?
GIL: We're just plugging ahead, doing our part to advocate truly evidence-based nutritional policies. Although I cannot point out one particular success, I can say with confidence that we have shaped the framework and terminology that has been bantered about ever since we became visible in the national arena.
One contribution we have made (particularly from Regina's efforts) is from our promotion of the concept of "nutrient density." Nutrient-dense foodstuffs give the most bang-for-the-buck--that is, they supply the most amount of nutrition per calorie. They also give the most nutrition with the highest level of satiety. This allows fat loss without hunger...what a concept!!!
Carbohydrate-laden foods are all, generally, very nutrient deficient (yes, even whole grains), hence the concept of high-density creates a diet that is naturally low carb; the term "low carb" never has to be mentioned when one creates a nutrient-dense menu.
REGINA: Since January 2004 there have been four major conferences we've either hosted or sponsored as an organization along with a number of conferences where either I've presented or Gil has presented information to attendees. We've seen the greatest progress in education and understanding from within the medical and scientific communities.
Whether you're for or against low-carb diets, it's hard to miss that there has been a slow, but steady adoption of many key concepts that form the heart of carbohydrate restriction--nutrient density, more non-starchy vegetables in the diet, reducing refined grains, starches and sugars, less reliance on convenience foods and the importance of protein and healthy fats/oils.
3. Dr. Wilshire, in response to the low-fat/low-calorie diets that have long been held as the standard for a healthy lifestyle, you issued a very public challenge to the American Heart Association last summer to place a moratorium on all dietary recommendations until enough level 1 evidence could be produced to support such recommendations. What was the response to that challenge and do you foresee anything changing about nutritional advice coming from the AHA or our government in the future?
GIL: As I mentioned earlier, the major organizations now pretend that their advice IS based on Level 1 evidence. Unfortunately, most people (including the important science and health reporters) almost never read the full-text of these studies. Some might read just an abstract, but even then, biased researchers frequently draw illogical conclusions from their own data. It takes determination and a fairly good grasp of experimental design and statistics to really challenge these papers and committee opinions head-on.
Until recently, only Gary Taubes has had the chutzpah and intelligence to even attempt to mount a public challenge against the status quo in a public forum from a legitimate platform (as an investigative reporter at the New York Times). Late last year, Adam Campbell took on the ADA and their dietary recommendations in his Men's Health magazine column.
4. Regina, you certainly caused quite a stir last summer as well with your ambitious $1,000 challenge to anyone who could come up with a one-day menu that met all of the nutritional requirements set forth in the dietary recommendations of the AHA. How did that go?
REGINA: I kept my money; none of the menus, and I received hundreds of them, met the AHA guidelines within the challenge rules. The fact the American Heart Association didn't immediately issue sample menus to show their recommendations were easy to follow and met all micronutrient requirements, well, I think that speaks volumes--with all the professional resources they have on staff, even they could not complete a single day menu that met all micronutrient requirements within the lifestyle guidelines they issued.
On the other hand, I can whip out a carbohydrate restricted menu that meets or exceeds micronutrient requirements in less than 15 minutes. You cannot do that if you're following the AHA recommendations for "healthy eating." And if you try to follow their advice, you're likely to be deficient in essential nutrients.
5. The science behind livin' la vida low-carb is quite literally exploding behind the scenes, including this recent one confirming there are no long-term heart health issues when you eat low-carb. Over the next few years, we will be seeing some more spectacular evidence confirming what so many of us low-carbers already know--that this lifestyle change is a safe and effective way to lose weight and bring about vast improvements in various health ailments. What can supporters of low-carb do to help people within their spheres of influence better understand the ramifications of this research?
GIL: I am optimistic that continued grassroots efforts will eventually filter up. However, it may take an entire generation for the effects to become fully manifested. When the decision makers do not see the concept as strange or foreign, that's when we will see it adopted. This has happened all throughout human history. Just look at concepts like hand washing, sterile technique...even quantum physics. These were originally met with heavy resistance and even hostility. People hold on to failed concepts until they die. This is, unfortunately, human nature.
REGINA: Continue to report on studies and analyze the data from a perspective the average Jane or Joe can understand. Most studies are published to the audience expected to read it--other scientists. So many people either don't have the time or inclination to pick through the data to get to the truth. That's where we and others come in--we take the hard stuff and try to make it easier to digest by writing or talking about it in a way that anyone can understand.
6. Will we ever see the day in our lifetime when the low-carb approach will appear alongside the low-fat diet as a recommended way to shed the pounds and get healthy? Is it possible?
GIL: I think this will happen within 20-30 years. I believe textbooks in 2040 will refer to the low-fat craze of the late 20th century with some amusement. It will also be used as a classic example of the bad things that can happen when evidence-based medicine is not used to generate public policy.
REGINA: I personally don't see an either/or option in the future partly because of our fear of dietary fats--that will take generations to reverse the accepted conventional wisdom.
However, what I do see is a continued, gradual modification of the current guidelines toward carbohydrate restriction without acknowledging it as such with emphasis on acceptable terminology. It's already happening--the DASH diet is now offered with the option of less total carbohydrate, significantly less refined carbohydrate and more monounsaturated fats; the acceptance that protein in the diet offers powerful satiety and has a greater thermogenic effect in the metabolism; and the slow modification of language used to present the concepts of carbohydrate restriction as a valid approach such as found in the last issue of JAMA where we find the term "modified macronutrient diets" rather than low-fat or low-carb as the discussion point.
7. What are the biggest obstacles standing in the way of the public embracing the low-carb lifestyle? Even if we call it something besides "low-carb," what is hindering people from trying what very well could be the answer they have been looking for to treat their obesity and metabolic syndrome?
GIL: I think the biggest impediment is the continued support of the (expletive deleted) Food Pyramid by the government. The way that special interests influence public policy in this country is a shameful embarrassment.
REGINA: Scare tactics went a long way, as did the perpetuation of myths. As the evidence continues to mount, we now see a change of tactics against this nutritional approach. Now it's "well, no one wants to eat that way" or "who can do that long-term?" opinions steeped with deep disdain that ignores the evidence that shows significant risk factor improvements and weight loss with carbohydrate restriction.
8. Regina, you recently stumbled upon a new version of low-carb that incorporates a better ratio of omega-3s and omega-6s. Several people who have tried this Omega Diet have experienced great success, including myself. Do you have any more information to report about this plan, including additional weight loss success stories or confirmations about why it works so well?
REGINA: Well, it's not my version really--it's from the wealth of information from various researchers who've been talking about the effect of omega-3 fatty acids for years. In January 2006, I had the opportunity to actually spend enough time and ask way too many questions of [The Zone Diet author] Dr. Barry Sears, who graciously explained things in terms I understood.
With that information I set out to see how well I was doing with my diet and learned that even though I was eating controlled-carb, my ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 was still higher than the data shows is better for us. So I tweaked and tweaked and played around with the numbers until I was satisfied I'd be eating in a way that was still nutrient-dense and also had a better balance of omega-3 to omega-6.
9. I am just a layman when it comes to discussing the subject of low-carb living after my personal weight loss experience using this miraculous way of eating. Most of what I have learned about livin' la vida low-carb has been self-taught. How did you become so knowledgeable about low-carb? Do you think some people are too intimidated by the scientific jargon that they sometimes miss the message you are trying to convey?
GIL: It has been a long but interesting road to travel! We stand on the shoulders of giants. Drs. Mary Enig and Robert Atkins boosted us all up. We are taking the baton and moving ahead with the best evidence as it is being created. This field is always evolving, and we must always be keeping our collective eyes open for new articles and findings that continue to shed light on the dark edges of our current understanding.
REGINA: Gosh, it's now been five years since I started reading, learning, researching and asking questions of some of the brightest minds in science and medicine--and I still have more questions!
I don't think any one person can know it all--it really takes the collective effort of many to bring all the pieces together and then everyone helps each other from their base of knowledge and expertise while learning from those who know better than they along the way.
That's how I've learned as much as I have in the short time I have--I ask a lot of questions, seek out the experts for answers to those questions, confirm data or things I'm told. And when I understand something, I also have to be willing to share what I know with someone else who is asking a question and point them in the right direction to confirm what I'm saying.
10. THANKS again Dr. Wilshire and Regina for agreeing to be interviewed. I'm sure we will be hearing a lot more out of you in the coming years as low-carb makes a comeback in a big way. Do you have any parting comments that you would like to share with my readers about low-carb?
GIL: You are doing a GREAT JOB in your own way, Jimmy. Bless you and yours!
REGINA: Just keep doing what you're doing - our readers deserve to know what the latest evidence tells us and share what our experience teaches us.
You can learn more about this amazing couple and what they are doing to promote low-carb by visiting CarbAware.org or Regina's outstanding blog "Weight Of The Evidence."