Every now and then I get emails from people asking about a specific diet or health program and whether it can cure acne. This time a reader asked me about Dr. Graham’s 80/10/10 Diet. So let’s take a look at it and what, if any, it can do for your skin.
If you’ve been with me for some time you might remember that I used to be into 80/10/10 diet and it influenced the earlier versions of Clear for Life.
Who, What, Where
But first a brief overview of who Dr. Graham is and what his 80/10/10 Diet is all about. Dr. Douglas Graham is a chiropractic doctor and, I think, also natural hygiene doctor. Both of these disciplines are based on ancient ideas of vitalism and have been thoroughly bunked by science.
The 80/10/10 Diet is based on the idea that caloric ratio of 80% carbohydrates, 10% fat and 10% protein is optimal for humans. And everything you eat should be raw. So basically you eat tons and tons of raw fruits and vegetables and little bit of nuts and seeds. That, according to Dr. Graham is the elixir of health and longevity.
In all fairness I should point out that 80/10/10 Diet is much more than just a diet book. Dr. Graham also talks about the importance of exercise, emotional poise, sleep and other lifestyle areas.
In this post I’m going to focus on the diet portion of the book. Because that’s where I see the most glaring errors are. The other parts of the book are actually pretty good, if a tad extreme.
Fat, the evil nutrient that makes you sick?
80/10/10 is the perfect recipe for breeding fat-phobic people. That’s because Dr. Graham comes down hard on fat. According to him consuming more than 10% of your calories from fat leads to rapid decline of health.
I junked my copy of 80/10/10 already so I can’t check all the reasons Dr. Graham says fat is bad. But the main idea is that eating too much fat messes up your blood sugar levels. Dr. Graham claims that fat prevents insulin from taking sugar from bloodstream into cells.
As a result your blood sugar levels remain high and the pancreas has to pump more insulin to bring them down. Over time this leads to negative spiral where your blood sugar and insulin levels get steadily higher. This is a condition known as metabolic syndrome. Excessively high blood sugar and insulin levels can also increase inflammation, and this deadly cocktail is behind many of the major killer diseases of the Western world.
High insulin and blood sugar levels are also linked to acne. High insulin levels cause the skin glands to produce more sebum and block your pores.
So obviously high insulin and blood sugar levels are bad. But can you fix those by dropping fat and eating as much fruit as you want?
Well, like all good quackery there’s a grain of truth behind what Dr. Graham preaches. It’s a well-known medical fact that too much fat does lead to insulin resistance. However the maximum of 10% of calories from fat that Dr. Graham proposes is absurd. I have looked far and wide of the medical literature and I haven’t been able to find a single study to back that up. Not a single study that says that eating more than 10% of fat causes problems.
Dr. Graham justifies this claim by using the vegan/low-fat echo chamber. Basically it goes like this. Dr. YY treats his patients with low fat approach and he has cured many people. And so does this institute. Therefore this claim must be right. Among this echo chamber is Dr. McDougall, Dr. Fuhrman, Hippocrates Health Institute and so on. And even most of these docs don’t agree with the 10% of calories from fat claim.
How much fat?
So how much fat can you eat before developing insulin resistance? As always is the case medicine and health are complex issues, and they just can’t be diluted to simple 10% claims. How much fat you can eat depends on the kind of fat you eat.
The best study so far I’ve found is the Kanwu study, also here. This study showed that people who eat more saturated fat are more insulin resistant than those who eat more unsaturated fats. But this beneficial effect disappeared when fat consumption went above 37% of total calories. Note that the 37% is average of all people and there will be individual variation in this.
There are also countless studies that show that substituting saturated fat for unsaturated fat reverses this fat induced insulin resistance.
So in the end we are left with no credible evidence backing Dr. Graham’s claim that eating more than 10% of calories from fat is harmful. Note that he makes no distinction between different types of fat. From his book I got the impression that fat is fat is fat – and it’s all bad.
Dangers of too much sugar
This is where Dr. Graham rides his dogma fueled pony off the cliff of science and reason. He makes no mention that eating too many carbohydrates causes the exact problems he blames fat for.
The simple explanation is that eat too many carbohydrates also causes insulin resistance. This process is known as lipogenesis. Again we can’t say exactly how much is too many, but 50% to 60% of total calories is the most I would recommend. Excess carbs are converted by the liver into triglycerides (TG), a form of saturated fat. It’s been shown time and time again that too high triglyceride levels lead to insulin resistance. In a nutshell too many carbs are exactly the same as too much fat.
Out of all the sugars fructose looks to be the worst in this. Many studies have linked excessive fructose consumption with insulin resistance. Gorging on unlimited amount of fruit overloads the body with fructose, and this can lead to serious consequences for some people. Others seem to have no problems with it.
My 80/10/10 story
As I mentioned in the beginning I used to be into raw foods and 80/10/10 lifestyle. I wasn’t perfect with it, but I can honestly say I did it 85% seriously. I wasn’t religious about keeping my fat intake below 10% of calories but I can say it was below 15%.
For the first year I was doing well. My energy levels went up and I felt somewhat happier. My skin got somewhat better, but it never cleared completely. During this time I was also exercising a lot. Mostly running 45 to 90 minutes 4 times a week. I also did some bodyweight exercises.
However 15 months down-the-line things started to get worse. First I noticed persistent lack of energy. It got to a point where I was sleeping 11 to 12 hours a day and still feeling tired. I also developed severe joint pains. It got to a point where I had severe pain in my ankle, knee, shoulder and jaw joints.
First I chucked these as effects of detoxification and old injuries healing. However after 3 months I started suspecting something’s wrong. Dr. Graham helpfully blamed it all on me and said why I don’t do the program 100%. He also said that my joint pains were due to withdrawal effects from meat.
Anyway, I still wasn’t willing to consider that there’s something wrong with this dietary dogma. After all it felt so logical and made sense. I bought a blood sugar monitor to prove that eating a lot of fruit doesn’t’ cause blood sugar problems.
That’s when I got the rude awakening.
I was shocked to discover that my blood sugar readings almost touched diabetic levels. After that I got off the crazy diet and started eating more balanced meals. Within a month or two my joint pains disappeared and I started feeling alive again.
Dr. Graham’s 80/10/10 Diet is one of the crazier diets out there in the already crazy world of wacky diet books. It’s basically the invention of one well-meaning person, Dr. Graham, with zero credible evidence behind it (at least I haven’t been able to find any).
The way Dr. Graham tells the story of this diet it all makes sense and feels so right. Unfortunately in this case intuition and good feelings can leads to serious trouble later on. The diet itself is based on flawed premise (that fat is the cause of most health problems). And this premise is contradicted by actual research. There’s good evidence to show that excessive consumption of carbohydrates, and especially fructose, leads to insulin resistance. This then can make your acne worse.
Keeping all this in mind I wouldn’t recommend the 80/10/10 Diet for treatment of acne. In my opinion you are much better off with more balanced and sensible approach. Though, the other sections of the book can be helpful for acne patients.
I know fully well that some people do well with the 80/10/10 approach and Dr. Graham’s website is armed with countless testimonials. But just keep in mind that we are individuals. So even if the diet does work for somebody it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. Not to mention that many of the prominent success stories are very active athletes. Because they exercise much more than normal people they can get away with eating more carbohydrates.
If you are into Dr. Graham’s particular brand of raw food ideology, I also suggest you check out these two articles:
- Matt Stone’s post at 180 Degree Health blog: The 80-10-10 Diet (811rv)
- Science Based Medicine blog post: Simply Raw: Making overcooked claims about raw food diets
Did you like this? Then you will also love these products:
Clear for Life: Lifestyle for Health, Happiness and Clear Skin
Clear for Life Meditations: Melt Away the Stress of Acne and Finally Be Free
Emotional Healing for Clear Skin: Simple system for healing the emotional pain acne causes