Christine Cronau: high-carb, low-fat made me fat, sick, Banting cured me

Christine Cronau is an Australian nutritionist, best-selling author and a speaker at the low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) Banting Summit in Cape Town from February 19 to 22.  She  has studied nutritional medicine and qualified as a government-accredited clinical nutritionist. She is a natural health advocate and passionate about ensuring that the latest research on optimum nutrition is available to the public.

She has documented her extensive research about food and fats into groundbreaking books, such as The Fat Revolution. A leit motif running through her research and writing is the many  dietary truths ignored by ‘conventional wisdom’. She says the dietary advice doctors and dietitians have been giving us for the past 40 years, based on current dietary guidelines on low-saturated-fat and high-carb eating, has no scientific basis. It in effect made us all ‘part of the biggest failed health experiment’. 

Cronau has personal experience of the devastating effects on body and mind of conventional dietary advice. Here she tells how low-fat high-carb eating left her with a litany of health problems, and spiralling weight gain. – MS

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I’m Marika Sboros, reporting from the Low Carb/High Fat Summit in Cape Town.  With me today, I have Christine Cronau.  She is a nutritionist from Brisbane in Australia.  Christine, thank you very much, for taking the time to talk to me.

You’re very welcome.

Christine, I look at you and I have to say (without being sycophantic) that I thought you were at least 20 years younger than you are.  You wear a very short skirt and you look absolutely stunning.  You mentioned in your talk that you were once heavily overweight.  I can barely believe it.  How overweight were you?

Well, I was probably about 20-odd kilos heavier than I am now.

How long ago was that?

That was in my early 20s.  I was quite thin growing up but once I hit 18, I started to gain weight.  I really struggled.  I went up and down, tried to cut certain things out, tried different diets, and none of them worked.  In that photo I showed in the talk, it was me, at 23.

I couldn’t even recognise you in that picture. How did you eventually lose weight?

It’s a little bit of a life story but I grew up on the standard low-fat diet.  We were very poor so we didn’t have much access to protein or fat.  In fact, we were very low fat.  Even though we were so poor, we actually didn’t eat egg yolks because that’s what our parents taught us.  Don’t eat the egg yolks because of the cholesterol.  I was trying to diet and my mother was always dieting so we were very low-fat.  As I got older, I was doing all the right things according to conventional wisdom.

Or so you thought?

I started to gain all of this weight though, and I really couldn’t figure it out.  I struggled and I tried different things.  Eventually, I decided that I was going to go super healthy and I became a low-fat vegetarian.  I actually did lose some weight and I thought that was fantastic but after time, I actually started to feel unwell and I found out later on that the reason I lost the  weight was because I’d damaged my digestive system, and I’d become mal-absorbed, so I was no longer absorbing my nutrients.

So that was malnutrition as well as overweight.  You were still a bit overweight?

Well, I did lose some weight but yes, I wasn’t absorbing my nutrients so that’s why I was losing the weight.  Later on, my health really declined.  I went even lower fat.  I got rid of all butter and did all the right things.  My diet was full of whole grains and lentils.  I started my day with wholegrain cereal, soya milk, and a banana and I had to eat often because my diet was based on all these whole grains and they don’t last that long so we have to eat every couple of hours.

I was doing all the right things according to conventional wisdom but I ended up very sick.  I had chronic fatigue.  I had IBS.  I had leaky gut.  I had high blood sugar – insulin resistant.  You think you’re doing all this.  You’re putting so much effort into your health and people who were doing whatever they wanted were healthier than I was, and it was a huge shock.  I was fortunate enough to do some research and find the right information, and I drastically changed my diet to low carb/high fat.

How long ago was that?

That was 14 years ago.

Were you a nutritionist at the time?

No.  In fact, I wasn’t doing anything related to nutrition, although health was always a passion for me.  I just got it wrong.  I was very sick, so it did take me a long time to recover.  I had small improvements all the time and once you start eating fat, you do start feeling a little better, but if you’re so unwell, it does take a while.  It took me a couple of years to recover fully.  Most medical practitioners would say there’s no treatment for chronic fatigue, but I was able to recover fully from chronic fatigue and I healed my gut, and all the other issues that I had.  They’re all gone after changing to low carb/high fat.  The other fantastic thing is that after doing that, I haven’t had to think about my weight.

I can see that you don’t have to think about your weight anymore.

No.  I don’t have to count calories.  I don’t have to be deprived.  I don’t have to be hungry.

How’s your mood?  The one thing  dieticians and nutritionists often say to me is that women need carbs for good mood.  My own experience has been the opposite: that carbs will lift your mood as your blood sugar skyrockets, and then you plummet.  Is it true  you need carbs for serotonin?

No.  In fact, we need fat for serotonin.  Fat is a precursor for producing our serotonin.  People on low fat diets are often depressed and they often have very low energy.

I was like that.

I was like that, too.  I really struggled with all those things, such as anxiety and depression.  All kinds of neurological disorders come from this radical change in diet where we’ve gotten rid of the fats.  Our brain itself is around 60 percent fat.  Around 50 percent of that fat is saturated.

Christine, another question.  Dieticians often tell me  the brain needs glucose.  I know the brain needs glucose, but what’s the brain’s preferred energy source?

Well, the brain actually prefers a mixture of glucose and ketones and you’ll get ketones if you’re burning fat/burning energy, which means you’re on a low-fat/high-carb diet.  If we’re only using glucose for our brain, our brain actually runs sub-optimally.  The Inuit lived on fish, meat, and blubber.  Their diet varied between groups, but that was the main diet and they really didn’t have access to carbohydrates in any way.  Even in that situation where they don’t have any carbohydrates, they are still getting glucose to the brain because amino acids are converted to glucose via the liver.  In no situation would we not get that glucose to our brain, except if we become so insulin resistant that we can’t actually get the glucose from our bloodstream to where it needs to go.

Is that the mechanism by which, glucose or carbohydrate deficiency can lead to dementia?

Yes, absolutely.  If you take a person who iscompletely dependent on glucose for their brain function, which is the majority of the developed nations then once that’s shut off – once they’re having trouble getting glucose out of their bloodstream, then their brain cells just start to die.  One of the fantastic things about ketones is that they are another source of energy for the brain.  They’ve had some amazing results with people, if caught early enough in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s.  If they’re treated with coconut oil, which also produces ketones in the body, all of the low carb/high fat diet, especially ketogenic diets, then they are given some extra fuel for the brain and their brain cells start to come alive again if they’re not too far-gone.

Coconut oil was also on the no-no list because it’s a saturated fat.

Yes.  In fact, it’s one of the highest saturated fats.  It’s around 94% saturated.

Do you advise coconut oil?

Absolutely.  It’s wonderful.  For me, the more saturated the better.  I have no problem with coconut oil.  It’s absolutely, fantastic for so many different things.

What do you have for breakfast these days?

I generally have at least three eggs every morning and something on the side.  It might be a lamb chop or a health sausage that’s not made with all kinds of fillers.  It might be free-range bacon.  If I eat pork, I always make sure that it’s free-range and not grain-fed.  Generally, breakfast is like that.  We always cook it in butter and we put more butter on top.  Butter is key.  It makes you feel full.  It adds flavour to your meals.

Well, I have to say that you are the best advertisement for what you preach.  Christine, I can see that we’ve run out of time.  Thank you very much for taking the time in your hectic schedule, to talk to us.

You’re very welcome.  Thank you so much.

I’m Marika Sboros from Biznews, reporting on the Low-Carb, High Fat Banting Summit in Cape Town, and I have been speaking to Christine Cronau, a nutritionist from Australia.