Diet for a Healthy Asthmatic

“There is a medical term, known as the Respiratory Quotient (RQ) that represents the amount of energy expended by the lungs to rid the body of carbon dioxide generated by the metabolism of foods. Different foods have different Rqs. The higher the RQ, the harder the lungs work. Carbohydrates have a quotient of 1; fats are much less at 0.7 and proteins come in at 0.9. Therefore, if you have asthma, your lungs will have to work even harder if you consume a lot of carbohydrates.”
-(Schwarzbein Principle, p 169)

What should an asthmatic eat? What is a proper diet to make an asthmatic healthy? There is no mention of diet or food in 146 pages of the official Guidelines, from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The American Lung Association never mentions food or diet in 208 pages. American Medical Association experts (in Essential Guide to Asthma) mention dietary changes buried in a section entitled “Non-prescription and Alternatine Asthma Treatments,” stating emphatically that “The only scientifically tested treatments for asthma involve preventing asthma triggers and taking prescribed medications.” Further, “Although dietary changes may boost your general health, thse changes cannot cure asthma or replace medical care [i.e. drugs].”

Official dietary guidelines come from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Their recommendations for general good health in the populace is a diet containing approximately 30% fat, 20% protein and 50% carbohydrates. Most nutritional authorities would prefer a diet of 20% fat (and 60% carbohydrates) in the belief that less fat is much better for health. But they cannot say that because first, the reality of the average US American diet today is about 35% fat, maybe more—and no one wants to tell the American people that they are that far wrong in their eating habits. In addition, the meat, dairy, and fast food lobbies would not allow such a low level of fats to be in the recommended U.S. diet.

US diet authorities reached a consensus of sorts some years back, that a low fat, high carbohydrate diet was what the average American needed to live in good health. The low fat, high carb gospel has been followed by an eager food industry selling boatloads of “low cholesterol,” “no fat,” and “no cholesterol” foods to the public.

In the past ten years there has been a growing dissent to this dietetic orthodoxy, saying that it is exactly the high carbohydrate diet that has lead us into an epidemic of obesity (about 20% of the U.S. population is rated obese) and related diseases. Once these few were dismissed as high-fat kooks but as the evidence mounts, it looks like these “paleolithic-diet” proponents are right.

At the heart of the low-carb, paleo diet theory is insulin. As the human race developed over the past million years or so, insulin allowed people to store food as fat in times of plenty, ready for the hard times that usually followed. The insulin gene was a crucial gene for survival: people with good insulin systems tended to survive and pass on this important characteristic—to us today.

Our lives, diets and social habits today are radically different than they were 50,000 (and even 500) years ago. But our physiology has not changed to keep pace with our modern lifestyle. The fat storage genes controlling our insulin system still want to store up any calories beyond what we are “burning” in our life. Insulin is necessary for our survival today, but an imbalance—too much insulin, flowing too often through our arteries—creates imbalance in other hormonal systems, promoting “blood clots, heartburn, irritable bowel, allergies, asthma and inflammation, osteoarthritis . . . excess body fat, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, stroke, Type II diabetes and earlier death.” (Schwarzbein, p 213)

Another huge difference in our lives now compared to 20,000 years ago is that we expend far fewer calories as we did in times past. People just lived more physically active lives and were far closer to the hot and cold weather realities than we are today.

Add to this the often overlooked fact that the liver turns unneeded carbohydrates into fats (triglycerides) for storage in the body’s fat cells. And in the absence of foods containing cholesterol in the diet, the liver makes excess cholesterol on its own, due to the action of HMG Co-A reductase, an enzyme responding to “famine” signals of a low fat diet.

Carbohydrate consumption—whether it’s white sugar or a no-fat muffin—stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin which is necessary for storing carbohydrates as fats. On the other hand, dietary fat does not stimulate insulin secretion at all. Eating fat does not necessarily make you fat! (Protein in the diet stimulates some insulin secretion). However, eating fats and carbohydrates together—like a donut—will make you fat.

Dietary fats also carry with them powerful signals of satisfaction (e.g. CCK) which are not present in carbohydrates. So we tend to be less satisfied by consuming more carbohydrates which are turned into fat and cholesterol anyway. Fats are not evil and good fats are good for you, delicious to the palate and needed by the body. Unfortunately, most commercial fats and oils today are of very poor quality.

The last decade of “low fat,” “no fat,” and “no cholesterol” foods has been nothing less than a cruel hoax on the American public, surely contibuting to the growing epidemic of obesity and possibly asthma.

What the best of the low-carb, paleo nutritionists propose is not to eat more fat but to eat fewer carbohydrates. Some people can eat a high carbohydrate diet and do very well.

But many would do well to eat less in carbohydrates. The best diet includes better quality fats. And especially in asthma, the type and quality of dietary fat and protein is of the highest importance. [While we need protein, the problems caused by food—as in food allergens and intolerances [LINK]—are mostly due to the protein portion of that food.]

One nutrition authority introduces a 4th food group, after proteins, fats, and carbohydrates: non-starchy carbohydrates. This class of food includes onions, broccoli, tomatoes and leafy greens. These are highly recommended because, between the complexity of their carbohydrates and their asssociated fiber, they are broken down slowly and enter the bloodstream very slowly. Of course, their other nutritive factors are very high. And they are reasonably filling due to their fiber and slow motion through the digestive tract.

The bottom line for asthmatics is that the preponderance of studies shows a definite correlation between obesity and the incidence and severity of asthma. It is still not clear whether 10-20 pounds overweight can also influence asthma. The likelihood is overweight, physical conditioning and metabolic rate are all interlinked in affecting asthma, and that improvements in all areas will improve asthmatic health . . .

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