Calgary

Why you can't put down those barbecue chips

A group of Canadian physicians are passionate about a diet that's high on whole foods and low on carbohydrates.

Calgary doctor inspired by book that theorizes that carbs are as addictive as booze or cigarettes

Studies show that potato chips contribute more to typical weight gain than soda, candy or ice cream. (Matt Rourke/AP )

Dr. Miriam Berchuk has become a passionate advocate for a diet regimen that features more fat, more whole foods and fewer carbohydrates — and that's at odds with Canada's Food Guide.

Berchuk spoke Monday to host Jennifer Keene on the Calgary Eyeopener about the diet. She discussed the ways in which this new organization, Canadian Clinicians for Therapeutic Nutrition, hopes to force changes to the food guide.

Q: Tell us about the diet itself.

A:  We call it LCHF, which essentially stands for low-carb, high-fat. Essentially it's a diet where we keep our carbohyrdrates — especially processed carbs, so carbohydrates from processed foods  — low and then the rest of our food intake comes in the form of protein and fat.

And I really want to specify it's fat from whole food, so this is a whole food approach to dieting. LCHF is a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is what I call liberal low carb, where we're a little more liberal with our carbohydrates. At the other end is a very strict low-carb intake. We call that a ketogenic diet and that's been in the news a lot. 

Q: Is it the same as the old Atkins Diet?

A: Not the same thing, but similar in the sense that both Atkins and the LCHF diet are based on a low-carb approach.

Q: What was the genesis of your interest in this type of diet?

A:  I was a lifelong dieter, and like anyone who's ever dieted, you realize there's this constant chatter in your head around, what am I eating? What have I eaten? What am I allowed to eat? What am I not allowed to eat? What about all those foods I desperately want to eat and can't eat?

I just found that that chatter was exhausting.

I was in Italy on holiday and was succumbing to [eating] all those [carb-loaded] foods like tiramisu, gelato, and pasta. I felt like I was being controlled by all this food and was eating far more than I wanted.

A friend of mine from med school emailed me about a Facebook group of Canadian female physicians who were eating LCHF. I joined the group and saw a post there about a book called Sugar Free by Karen Thomson, where she addresses carbs as an addictive substance the same way people get addicted to cigarettes or alcohol.

I read that book and I saw myself so clearly reflected in the stories in that book — and I recognized that that was an issue for me, and decided I was going to beat this, and get home and start LCHF.

Dr. Miriam Berchuk is part of Canadian Clinicians for Therapeutic Nutrition, a new group that advocates for a high-fat, low carbohydrate-based diet that emphasizes whole foods. (Jared Sych)

Q: Once you started, how did you find the experience?

A: I found it life-changing. Which is why I have become so passionate about this topic.

Within a few days, it became obvious to me that I had fewer cravings, I wasn't hungry, I was eating foods I found absolutely delicious — and I didn't feel deprived.

This was different than any diet I had ever done before. That was within a week

Within a few weeks, I realized that that chatter that I had going on in my head that had been driving me crazy was just  gone. That was when I knew I would eat this way for the rest of my life.

Q: Is there anyone who should be careful eating this way?

A:  When we look at modern Canadian society, when we look at what adults eat, 50 per cent of our calories come from processed foods — and in children, that's 57 per cent.

First of all, as a Canadian society, we need to decrease our intake of processed foods. LCHF is primarily a whole foods approach.

And then again, when we look at illnesses in Canadian society, these are illnesses related to insulin resistance … things like high blood pressure, heart disease, fatty liver, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's, and people with insulin resistance — [all] respond beautifully to LCHF.

People who are on medication for high blood pressure or diabetes should be under the care of their physician … because often when people start eating this way, there is such a dramatic change in their physiology that they're coming off medications for diabetes or HBP — either decreasing doses or coming off them.

Q: Does this go against the Canada Food Guide?

A: It does, and that's why Canadian Clinicians for Therapeutic Nutrition are doing a lot of advocacy work with Health Canada — people would be shocked to learn that the Canadian Food Guide is not based on evidence.

So we're pushing for the next iteration of the Canada Food Guide to be evidence-based, and there's actually — on the Canadian Clinicians website — a link to a petition. 

We'd like to generate interest among Canadians. We want our next food guide to be based on evidence.

Currently, there's not strong evidence to say that saturated fat is bad for us, and there isn't good evidence around our current guidelines for salt intake.


With files from The Eyeopener

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca

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