The Common Currency

Currency (money) is useful because it represents mutually agreed upon means of measurement and exchange. That is, if we all accept American dollars as our currency of exchange, then items as disparate as a bus or an onion can be all measured in the same units. The bus is expensive and costs more dollars and the onion is cheaper and costs less dollars. But everything is measured in dollars and both parties accept dollars as the currency of exchange.

If one party decides to deal in dollars and the other accepts sea shells (as used historically in some primitive cultures) or salt, then it is impossible to deal. There is no common currency. The buyer wants to use dollars and the seller wants sea shells. No deal. Both parties need to agree on how to trade. That is the value of a common currency, whether it is dollars, sea shells, Bitcoins or gold. There is only power as long as the two parties agree.

It is just like a common language. English is particularly useful because many people speak it. Therefore, in the United States, it is very likely that you can speak English and somebody understands you. In China, Mandarin is more useful than English, again because both people are able to speak it.

Microsoft dominated the software wars because it was the most popular, which automatically made it the most useful. It sure wasn’t the blue screen of death, or Microsoft Bob that made it useful. Man, I hated that stupid paperclip. Made me want to poke my own eyes out. But Microsoft was the common standard, which made it useful.

But this post is about nutrition and obesity. So, what is the common currency of weight gain? Most people think that ‘calories’ fulfills this role of common currency. Sugar contains a certain number of calories and lettuce has less calories. We imagine, therefore that these calorically ‘expensive’ and ‘cheap’ foods can be measured on the same currency of calories.

There are other ways, of course to measure different foods. You could simply weigh them. So 1/2 a pound of sugar is the same as 1/2 a pound of lettuce. This is simply a different currency. You could make the same First Law of Thermodynamics argument for weight as for calories. If you eat 1/2 pound of food, whether sugar or lettuce, you must gain 1/2 pound of weight. After all, how can your body gain more weight? Does weight come from thin air? How can it gain less weight? The weight of food simply disappears? Thermodynamics is a law, not a general suggestion. In both cases (weight and calories), the confusion arises from misunderstandings about thermodynamics and body fat.

What’s crucially important, though, is to see if the body ‘cares’ about calories. Does the body have some mechanism to count calories? Does the body have sensors to detect calories? Do we have an internal bomb calorimeter to measure calories and change behavior/ metabolism based on calories? No, no and no.

Your body doesn’t give a hoot about calories. Calories are not an accepted currency in our body. It does not count calories so why should you? A calorie is a calorie. So what? Who cares? Certainly not your body. Consider two foods of equal caloric value. On the one hand, you have a bit of sugary soda, and on the other is a plate of lettuce. Calories are identical. OK. So what? When you eat those two foods, does your body somehow measure these calories? No.

200 Calories

The metabolic effect of those two foods is completely and utterly different. Sugar will stimulate insulin. It will not activate any of the other satiety hormone. It does not activate stretch receptors in the stomach (satiety signal). It does not activate peptide YY, cholecystokinin (satiety hormones). A piece of steak, on the other hand, will do all those things. Therefore, you feel full after eating the steak, but not sated at all with the soda.

So, why do we pretend that all calories are equal? There’s nothing equal about them. Calories are not the common currency of the body. It’s like we’re walking around with a bunch of sea shells in our pockets and trying to buy a hamburger in Philadelphia. Everybody wants dollars and we want to pay in sea shells. The burger guy don’t care about sea shells. Our body don’t care about calories.

The same applies to the weight of food, or the volume of food.

Your body doesn’t weigh the food coming in, and doesn’t care. The key is that eating a pound of lettuce and a pound of sugar produces completely different metabolic responses. In one case, the body may burn off that energy, and the other case, it may decide to store that fat. Weight is not the common currency.

No, our body gains or loses fat according to detailed hormonal instructions from our brain. So what does our body respond to? Insulin. The rise and fall of insulin is the main stimulus to weight gain. So, food that stimulate insulin are typically more fattening (cookies). Those that do not (kale) are typically not fattening at all. If the body cares about insulin (and other hormones, but mostly insulin), then we need to use the common currency, speak the common language of the body. Insulin. We can translate foods into insulin effect instead of calories. Marty Kendall at www.optimisingnutrition did just that.

He has constructed the best food insulin index available. You can estimate a foods insulin effect based on net carbs (carbs- fibre) + 0.54 protein. Even then, this formula only accounts for about 50% of the known insulin effect, so there is still much more we need to learn. The least insulinogenic diet is low carb, high fibre, moderate protein, high in natural fats. In other words, a real food, LCHF diet.

The same goes for counting carbohydrates. You body certainly responds to carbohydrates, but it doesn’t count them. Some carbohydrates will stimulate insulin and others will not. That means that all carbohydrates are not equal. Highly processed carbohydrates are very stimulating to glucose and insulin. Minimally processed carbohydrates have very little glucose or insulin effect.

 

So remember, the common currency of the body is not calories. But neither is it dietary fat, protein or carbohydrates. It’s not fibre. It’s not ketones.

 

The only currency the body really cares about is insulin. If you want to lose weight, reduce insulin. If you want to gain weight, increase insulin. That’s the common currency. Since our body only cares about insulin, we better learn the insulin effect of foods.

2017-10-14T21:34:31+00:00 35 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Fung is a Toronto based kidney specialist, having graduated from the University of Toronto and finishing his medical specialty at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2001. He is the author of the bestsellers ‘The Obesity Code’ and ‘The Complete Guide to Fasting’. He has pioneered the use of therapeutic fasting for weight loss and type 2 diabetes reversal in his IDM clinic.

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35 Comments on "The Common Currency"

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Dave
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Brilliant analogy!! Thank you, Dr. Fung! I’ll be using this and referring people to your blog DAILY, I’m sure.

Steve
Guest

Another masterpiece! Thanks again Dr. Fung. BTW…still hoping for a post about long fasts and positive impact on kidney health when you get a chance… 🙂

Pete
Guest

Thank you Dr. Fung.

Karen
Guest

Brilliant stuff again!! Can you consider addressing fasting and the gall bladder in the future? I definitely get some grumbles and right shoulder pain. I know the damage was done by the years of high carb low fat and now that I’m eating high fat my poor gall bladder is feeling the strain! Thanks Dr Fung

Sue
Guest

Karen,

I know that my husband had terrible gall bladder issues but after we started doing LCHF all of his symptoms went away. If you go to dietdoctor.com (someone that has close ties with Dr. Fung) he has quiet a bit of info on gallbadders. I really think if you just stay the course it will all work out. Best of luck to you!

sten bjorsell
Guest
Increase the fat slowly and the increased gall flow will slowly make the bile thinner and the thinner bile is able to dissolve both sludge and stones. More dietary fat is needed for this to happen. But a sudden increase of fat intake with many high fat meals will put high pressure on a partly blocked up gall bladder, so slow increase of fat content is required! Slow thick bile flow is the result of long term low fat diet. But a long term high fat diet provides thin bile with higher on average flow as the bile is primarily… Read more »
stephane
Guest

Hi

I wonder what’s your take on the recent video by S .Guyenet at AHS 16

https://youtu.be/2xh8jb2euQ0

According to him, Calorie Intake wether it’s Cheerios or real food seems to matter a lot. In short it doesn’t matter what you eat if you calorie restrict in the appropriate amount. That parameter alone seems to trump all the others.

Thanks

seebrina
Guest
We now know a calorie isnt just a calorie. The article above alone debunks that. Especially after years of trying to live this myth and becoming prediabetic I could eat 800 calories a day of supposedly healthy carbs and actually gain weight because my blood sugar stays up and my body stores everything from personal experience. Also both my parents lived the whole low fat myth pushed by their doctors and my mother died at 62 after years of suffering with diabetes and bad info from her doctors and my father has had open heart 3 times , just had… Read more »
joan day
Guest

brilliant and explained in such away we can understand it . I am forever grateful for this wisdom you so freely share . Thank you.

Roger Bird
Guest

Thank you again, Dr. Fung. Another masterpiece. And I appreciate your humor. It adds to the article.

BobM
Guest
Ok, I realize that everyone thinks that glycemic load is great, but in my mind, it’s not. Zoe Harcombe looks at the amount of sugar in fruit: http://www.zoeharcombe.com/2015/12/sugar-in-fruit/ That angelic, low-glycemic-load apple has 6 teaspoons of sugar (about 2/3 fructose and 1/3 glucose) in it. I know when I first tried a low carb diet, many years ago, I tried eating whole red grapefruit, thinking it was low glycemic (not load, which had not been developed then), and what I found was that it caused cravings and shot my blood sugar through the roof. I also used to eat brown… Read more »
sten bjorsell
Guest
BobM, you wrote: “I do believe, though, that once you become “insulin-damaged”, as I am even after being low carb for 2.5 years, even low glycemic load foods are suspect.” I agree totally, and it can take anything up to 40 years before “the shit hits the fan”, depending on genetics and how much “carb overload” over the years. I smoked so I saved my health from the apparently most damaging, cereal breakfasts, ahaving black coffee without sugar and a cig in the morning instead. But once I gave up fags in my late 40’s, all went haywire, including a… Read more »
roberta
Guest

Sten, thank you for sharing this regarding the IF solution to visceral fat. I had not found that yet on Dr. Fung’s blog (there is simply too much wonderful information here to get through it quickly). I do LCHF/keto (~15g net carbs/day), but I worry about visceral fat, insulin resistance, fatty liver, etc. I also do daily 16:8 but was concerned that I might need a more extended fast to address the issue – and now I have my answer!

David
Guest

How is it then that people can get emaciated eating only rabbit meat, which is a very lean meat of nearly pure protein? Doesn’t pure protein cause an insulin surge?

Perhaps the insulin surge from pure protein is irrelevant in the absence of carbs and fats?

Ryan
Guest

The human body needs fat to survive and rabbit meat is so lean something like 50 to 100g of fat per 2 kg of meat the person eating it either eats normally and feels hungry due to lack of fat or eats so much that excess protein causes issues.

Basically rabbit is so lean you would have to eat so much protein to the point where it would start to become toxic. The insulin has no involvement in the starving feeling from the lack of fat.

Barbs
Guest

Great analogies as always Dr Fung 😀

Roger Bird
Guest
This formula: insulin load (g)=carbohydrates (g)-fiber (g) + 0.56*protein (g) Is flawed. How do I know? Because I can tell from my own bodily reactions, and what is wrong I believe is that carbohydrates are not all of the same. This formula counts refined sugar as just any ol’ carbohydrate. I calculated “cookies and cream” ice cream vs. a good yogurt vs. DIY kefir. The cookies and cream ice cream was calculated to be about 45% insulin index, when it damn near kills me with all manner of diabetic symptoms. I have never seen a diabetic reaction with a good… Read more »
sten bjorsell
Guest

Did you check Jason’s link to https://optimisingnutrition.com/ above?
Yogurt is there listed as 9 g insulin load per 100 g. A lot less.
ice cream has today so much sugar in it, probably near the ice cream cone that reaches to 89% insulinogenic… And crackers, muffins, bagels are all too up there, so you reactions are correct and the approximation formula is wrong!

Audrilee Myers
Guest

Great article – thank you Dr. Fung for your studies – guidance and advice – down 48 POF (pounds of fat) and feeling great – another 48 will probably take me 1 year (I have been at this sine late Feb 206) – but I know at age 65 after years of yo yo dieting and junk food I am extreme insulin sensitive and this is working!

Martin Williams
Guest

Can I just say, Audrilee, that my admiration knows no bounds for someone who’s been fasting for more than 1,800 years. Attagirl!

I am, however, less impressed by an average weight loss of 4 ounces a decade.

And I won’t be alone.

JvN
Guest

Sies!

Nick
Guest

Loved this post, thanks for your work.

Wenchypoo
Guest

Your assessment of “Clippy” is THOROUGHLY CORRECT! I sent the image on to my husband at work, so he can use it as a screen saver. I’m sure this will thrill Microsoft to no end.

Jim
Guest

Insulin – the proper frame of reference for discussion of diabesity. Excellent, Dr. Fung. Thanks for sharing your insight and helping all who will listen and learn.

Cindy C
Guest

I read this recent article about the immune system and weight. Can it be that eliminating wheat and sugar leads to weight loss due to the effect on the immune system, and the effect on changes in microbes due to no sugar/grains?

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-09-immune-major-role-body-weight.html

sten bjorsell
Guest
Without IF I hit a plateau after 6 months without wheat and sugar, and more low carb. But 4 years later I tried IF and I got off that plateau as if in a dream! Seems insulin is what Jason says it is, and yet it is probably a lot more. To me it is also a main engine building up stenosis as we age. Looking forward to more J.F. articles about insulin, for instance: “calcium score scan correlation with IF induced fasting insulin reduction, randomized trial with control group”, so that cause and effect isn’t obscured.
Daniel B
Guest

Thank you for this Dr. Fung. Well communicated and clear to understand. So far, in four months, I’ve lost close to forty pounds and 6 inches of waist line. This approach of fasting and LCHF is definitely making a difference in my life.

The wolf
Guest

Excellent!☺

Danielle
Guest

So the body doesn’t recognise calories. But we know that certain restricted calorie diets will decrease metabolic rate over time (years, i.e. Biggest Loser study by Kevin Hall – ‘here’s $5 buy yourself a clue’-guy). Are there any studies looking at fat fast type diets? Does the metabolism slow when calories are restricted but fat is relatively high?

sten bjorsell
Guest
One of the findings in the study carried out by Kevin Hall showed just that metabolism did not decrease on a low carb high fat = ketogenic diet. Metabolism actually marginally increased, which gave a double whammy, meaning that 1000 calorie reduction on such a diet would burn at least 1000 calories of fat, while same on a SAD diet results in reduced metabolism and eventually freezing and non-thriving participants (Minnesota starvation trial) who also stop losing weight. All due to insulin levels being kicked up 2-3 times per day with high carb food, disabling fat burning. Eventually, when crisis… Read more »
Danielle
Guest
Yeah, I know what you are saying Sten. I know what The other Kevin Hall study is showing but it is not as long term and therefore not as definitive as the 6year following the Biggest Loser contestants (who gained all the weight back and more apart from the one who had a gastric bypass). You are supposing it is true just because fasting is similar to high fat. Since everyone is obsessed with calories I would like to see a long term study, over years, like the kevin hall Biggest loser study but with fat fast or comparing calorie… Read more »
sten bjorsell
Guest
Danielle, I am of course also missing long term studies. In between I see that lower insulin is enabling fat burning in the short term, so why not in the longer term? Or at least as long as insulin remains low. To “kick insulin down” if required, intermittent fasting (IF) is working exceptionally well starting out, providing at least initial increased metabolism, as JF describes here: https://intensivedietarymanagement.com/fasting-physiology-part-ii/ I see no reason that same insulin reducing and metabolism increasing effect can be achieved every 6 months or as often as required through short time IF to boost metabolism while on low… Read more »
Steven
Guest

Great post.

I get this all the time from friends. When I ask them if they will be healthier on 2000kcal of full fat coke or 2000kcal of spinach, they always change the subject.

However as I am a ketogenic diet, they think I am going to die of a heart attack anyway.

http://ketogenicendurance.com

Eric
Guest

Consider the results of Salk institutes time restricted feeding research.
Why not eat 8 hours and obstain for 16? Why not limit carbohydrate to 30 grams or less?
Why not adjust protein in take In the 60 to 90 gram range?
Eric

Lynn
Guest
I just have to share this. Several months ago my FBS was 126 and today it is 89. All I did was fast 48 hours per week and do various hours of IF the rest of the week. I only lost 15lbs but I am so impressed with my blood sugars that I will keep going. I am no longer insulin resistant too, I tried a milkshake last weekend and with an hour my BS had returned to normal. I am also no longer obese but still need to lose 40lbs to be what I should weigh. I secretly wish… Read more »