So, after 8 months or so on ZERO CARB, I decided to get some blood-work done. The results are all tabulated below, but before we go into any detail on those, I think it’s important that the reader understands EVERYTHING that I have been doing & what I have been eating, both over the last 8 months in particular and the last 5 years in general. As with many things in life, I believe that the context is important.
I started low carb/ LIHF exactly 5 years ago, in October 2012. Initially I was fairly liberal with my carb intake (>30g/day) but I quickly cut back when my weight loss stalled in the spring of 2013. It was at this time that I also discovered my dairy intolerance and, with the exception of ghee or clarified butter, went dairy-free. After my Cretan summer holiday in 2015, I also dropped ghee and, since then, I have been entirely dairy-free. My carb intake remained strictly below 30g/day, mainly veg & berries, from 2013 until the start of this year when I went onto ZC. Apart from carbs, I have never counted any other macros and, similarly, I have never counted calories either. There is absolutely no need to do so in my opinion. Also, once I’d figured out my dairy problem, I stopped measuring blood sugar & ketones altogether, and haven’t actively measured either since.
I started body-weight strength training in May 2016. Almost immediately my weight started to increase, along with a voracious appetite. My daily HIT strength training is short but very intense and, with the exception of 3 weeks off (1 voluntary, 2 due to injury which I will talk about in future posts..), I have followed my routine religiously throughout. What the table below does NOT show however is that my weight peaked around 12 months ago, 6 months after the start of training, at 98kg, a gain of 8kg on my original “bottoming-out weight” , after going LIHF back in 2013, and which is where it remained until I started ZC. Almost as soon as I started ZC my weight began to fall again, and today it’s back at 90kg, where it was after bottoming out in 2013. Critically though, my waist circumference is a full 8cm less than it was the first time round.
My ZC diet
So what exactly have I been eating for the last 8 months or so? Well, for a start, breakfasts have remained largely as they always have been; bacon (~ 300g) & egg (2-3), except for the addition of some chopped liver (chicken or beef, ~ 50g) on alternate days. I never have lunch but will have an early dinner, depending on hunger. For dinner, I try to keep to a very simple cycle of pork, beef, chicken & fish, which is largely driven by both price & availability.
Living in the high latitudes as I do, my preferred ruminant meats are very expensive. If I could, I would probably eat ONLY beef or lamb for most of the time due to their excellent SAT/MUFA and low PUFA fat content profiles but if I did, I would very quickly go bankrupt, and so I have to find a suitable compromise. That compromise comes in the form of pork, minced beef, chicken and fish; exclusively salmon in my case. All of these are relatively cheap, availability is good and the overall quality is high. Hence my dinner cycle typically looks something like this:
- Day 1: 800-1200g of pork shoulder, prepared in the oven.
- Day 2: 400g home-made lean OR full fat burgers + fried eggs (2-3) and/or oven-baked salmon at least once/week, usually twice.
- Day 3: Oven baked chicken legs, say, once/ twice per month.
- Day 4: Back to pork, see Day 1.
With the exception of when I first started (see “conclusions”, below), this is the dinner cycle I have maintained throughout my time on ZC. As far as liquids are concerned, I drink water when I’m thirsty & with most meals. In the mornings I have some filter coffee with coconut cream. During the day I have green tea, maybe 3-4 mugs. I tend to avoid coffee any later than lunchtime. I don’t drink any alcohol at all.
At the start of this year, I was supplementing vitamin D, calcium, O3, & zinc. I dropped the calcium & zinc when I went ZC, since I figured there would be no need for these on a diet high in meat. As discussed below, I supplement Vitamin D continuously due to my geographic location and I supplement O3 when I can’t source salmon for any protracted period.
Starting out with ZC
I know from personal experience that if you make any major changes to your diet and want to make a realistic assessment of the effects thereof, you MUST a) be strict in your adherence to the new diet and b) allow sufficient time for the dietary changes to have an effect on your body. In other words, you must be brutally honest with yourself and NOT stray from the path, and allow AT LEAST 2 weeks for adaptation, preferably 4. I have found that the body requires at least 2 weeks just to “settle in” to ANY new diet, especially ZC, and that a full assessment can’t really be made until after 30 days have elapsed. For example, in my case, I experienced 2 weeks of quite severe flatulence after starting ZC but it stopped completely in the third, and it wasn’t until the fourth week that I noticed both weight and waist beginning to fall. By the fourth week, it was also clear that I was sleeping much better and my GI health was better than it had ever been. Hence, I started out with seeing how I would feel after 30 days ZC and took it from there. As things turned out, I was feeling so good that I decided to do another 30 days. Finally, after that I was convinced, and decided to stick with ZC.. AT LEAST until my next set of bloods, which is where I am right now!
So here they are. I have tabulated ALL my bloods over the last 5 years since going low-carb (LIHF) in 2012 and ZERO CARB (ZC) at the beginning of this year. Unfortunately, I don’t have any blood-work prior to 2013.
I don’t propose to explain in detail what each marker means in and of itself. However, I’ve included some references for further reading for those who would like to know more. All I’m interested in right now are the values, whether the readings signify any kind of trend, and the significance of the key ratios.
Apo A1 & B
These are the lipid proteins associated “good” & “bad” (HDL & LDL) lipid particles and both are up significantly on ZC. This is not surprising considering both HDL & LDL are also up, see below. Critically, the ratio of ApoB/A1 has also increased which suggests an increase in CVD risk.
Vitamin D & inflammation are inextricably linked and are generally the inverse of one another. In other words, a high level of serum Vitamin D is associated with a low inflammatory state & vice versa. This reading is in line with the highest levels of serum Vit D that humans can obtain. There is little or no benefit to going any higher than this. I have achieved this through supplementing with 300ug/day vit D tablets and 2×10 min sun-bed exposure/ week throughout the winter. During the summer, I reduce to 100ug/day and at least 20 mins/day upper body sunlight exposure. If the weather is cloudy for for any length of time I revert to the higher sup regime until the weather improves. Clearly this regime has been working very nicely for me.
C-Reactive Protein (CRP):
CRP is a direct measure of the body’s inflammatory state and a reading of < 1.0 is associated with a very low risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
fp Glucose & HbA1c:
Short & long-term fasting blood sugars, respectively. Anything over 6 is associated with insulin resistance i.e. pre-diabetes. Whilst the trend is up, both are still within acceptable limits. However, it will be something to keep an eye on for my next test.
Cholesterol, Triglycerides, HDL & LDL:
Overall cholesterol is up significantly on ZC but when considered as a stand-alone reading it is largely meaningless. The same can be said for high density & low density lipids, both of which have also increased significantly. Critically, triglycerides are down, see below.
Whilst the ApoB/A1 ratio indicates an increased CVD risk, the TG/HDL ratio has improved even further on previous readings, indicating a very low risk of CVD. My waist/ height ratio has also improved, yet another indicator of low CVD risk, and a low inflammatory state in general.
I have suffered from “fluctuating” high blood pressure in the past, before going LIHF, and so it’s reassuring to see my blood pressure coming down even further. This reading was taken in the middle of the day whilst seated at my desk. As a matter of interest, the resting pulse rate was 55 (not recorded above).
My weight is back to where it was when I stopped growing, in my early 20’s, only this time my body comp is arguably superior, see below. During my college years, I was both lifting weights and playing sports but my diet was awful (HIGHLY inflammatory!) and, as far as overall strength & fitness are concerned, I believe I am in way better shape now than then, due to the dual potency of a v. low inflammation diet & intense and systematic full body-weight strength training.
If, like me, you believe in Red Line Strength Theory, you will realise that hypertrophy & strength do not necessarily go hand-in-hand, something I am also witnessing with my strength training clients. In fact, excess hypertrophy is highly inflammatory, ultimately catabolic and hence will result in a longevity penalty. My goal and, I believe, everyone’s goal, should be maximal gene expression, something I think I am now very close to achieving. By definition, this will also bring max longevity.
Particular lessons I have learned about ZC:
- Too much PUFA from pork makes you feel lousy! Within the first couple of weeks of going ZC, I ate just pork. It tasted real good at the time, and still does, but towards the end of the 2 weeks, I found I was beginning to gag when trying to eat it and I just couldn’t get it down. This is entirely consistent with Phinney & Volek’s findings in their book on Low Carbohydrate Performance; high PUFA diets just make you feel lousy and performance suffers. Over the last few weeks, I have noticed a levelling off in performance and I think this is the reason why. Hence, with the exception of bacon & egg in the mornings, I will be restricting my pork intake to max once/week for dinner and only relatively lean, prime cuts of shoulder at that. In its place I intend to increase chicken, (minced) beef and fish intake. I also intend cutting down on my egg intake.
- Don’t fear protein. By definition I am on a high protein diet and it has made me much leaner as a result. This flies in the face of the theory that too much protein leads to insulin spiking & weight gain. This has simply NOT been the case for me. When I went to Crete on holiday this summer, I deliberately ate much more (ruminant) meat than normal, literally gorging myself, in order to see if it would lead to weight gain. I came back 1kg lighter than when I left! It seems that no matter how much meat I eat, I simply can’t put on weight, despite a rigorous, daily HIT strength routine. Maybe this will change when I reduce my pork intake (inflammatory)? Who knows..
- My meat intake has been falling since about 3 months into ZC. I put this down to adaption. My body is now fully adapted to a high meat intake and there are days where I can easily go for 24 hrs without eating, not by design, but because I’m simply not hungry. This tends to happen when I’ve had a larger than normal dinner the day before, and it feels very natural.
My overall health check list:
Going from low carb to ZC is a big move, just as big in a way as going from HC to LC. In fact this is true of any step change along the dietary longevity curve, in either direction! Even a year ago, going ZC would have been a tough call for me, but at the start of this year it just “felt right” to give it a go and, so far at least, I have absolutely no regrets. I have learned that if you want to be successful with any dietary changes, not just ZC, you must adopt a heuristic, open-minded approach.
I often get asked the following question by my personal training clients, “But what about your liver & kidney functions on ZC? Shouldn’t you also test these?” Another common question concerns Vitamin C, an essential vitamin for humans. My view is simple: Major anomalies in my physiology are going to show up very quickly in the above tests. For example, any major deficiencies are more than likely also going to show up as increasing insulin resistance (hyperinsulinemia) , with a corresponding rise in blood sugars & other inflammatory markers, which is why I’m flagging up my blood sugars & Apos for particular scrutiny at the next set of tests. You can zoom in as much as you like but this is an unnecessary distraction in my view; keep the “big picture” in mind at all times and it will tell you all you need to know. Regarding Vitamin C (and D for that matter!) in particular, the Inuit survive quite well without it. Cancer, diabetes, CVD, dementia & stroke (The “Big 5 Diseases of Civilisation”) are all virtually non-existent in their societies. Once again, context is King and this suggests to me that human vitamin C & D requirements vary according to the type of diet you are on, simple as that. To that end, I have a simple health “check list” of questions that I am constantly asking myself, once I’ve made a step change along the longevity curve. If any of the answers is a “NO” then remedial dietary/ lifestyle changes must be made:
- Do I feel better on the new diet?
- Are my skin, hair, teeth & nails as good or better?
- Is my eyesight & hearing OK?
- Is my GI health better?
- Am I sleeping as well or better?
- Is my strength performance as good or better than on the previous diet?
- Is my weight steady or going down?
- Is my waist circumference steady or going down?
- Is my appetite under control?
- Do my latest bloods & all other bio-metrics reflect all of the above?
ZC & Compatibility with LIHF Theory
Based on the above checklist and these latest bloods, I believe that ZC fits LIHF longevity theory perfectly, but I also believe that the type of meats (& fish) you eat play a significant role in determining exactly which type of ZC diet is optimal. As discussed above, a ZC diet that consists almost exclusively of ruminant meat is probably best. Failing that, one high in oily fish, similar to the Inuit, is probably an excellent second choice. By making these small but significant changes to my own diet, I hope to see some further improvement in my bio-markers over the next few months. I’m planning to have another set of bloods done in the Spring of 2018.
If low carb was simple (just aim for less than 30g carbs/ day, keep fats high) then ZC is even simpler! One of the biggest reasons I’m such a great fan is that you don’t have to count anything. If you’re hungry, just get some meat, cook it and eat. If you’re still hungry, have some more! If you happen to have too much, fear not; there’s no weight/ waist gain penalty and you can afford to wait that bit longer until your next meal. Life is extremely simple and easy on ZC, as it should be.
I have never enjoyed my food more than I do now. Life is quite literally delicious on ZC and for now, with the exception of the small changes mentioned above, I plan to carry on just as I have been doing. Looking forward to the next set of bloods bring in the Spring..