livers

Is low-carb bad for your liver? (argued by a chef)

LOW-CARB WILL GIVE YOU FATTY LIVER AND YOU WILL DIE

The main reason people say low-carb is bad for the liver is because they think the supposed high fat content will cause fatty liver disease. The amount of fat we’re talking about is still in question, but even if we assume it is higher than normal, what does that mean for your liver?

When I am outweighed by academics data slamming each other, I like to dumb it down to common sense, and then, of course, what I know from restaurant and food industry.

The theory goes that low-carb is ‘really high in fat’ (which I actually disagree with), and that reducing your carbs and increasing your fat will give you fatty liver.

In culinary terms, the fattiest liver you get is a product called foie gras. Foie Gras is the liver of a duck or goose that has been force fed so much that its liver expands to up to ten times bigger than its natural size. You will see by the image below, that the liver is about as fatty as it comes.

Side note from the chef – I’ve cooked foie gras many times, one of the tricks to getting it perfect is using a hot enough pan to give it colour on the outside before it melts away completely. Why? Because foie gras is basically pure fat, and it more likely to melt away than burn.

It would be hard to argue against the fact that force feeding these ducks gave them fatty liver. Maybe not fatty liver disease, but I am yet to see a fattier liver than foie gras come out of any animal.

Below is an image of a force fed duck liver (foie gras) and a normal duck liver. No prizes for guessing which one is which.

Before we discuss what the ducks are fed to make their livers go fatty like this, we should examine what they eat in their natural habitat.

Below is an image explaining the natural diet of ducks taken from a textbook called ‘Raising Ducks’.

It looks to me like the ducks’ natural diet is made up of meat (insects, slugs, snails, frogs), green leafy vegetables (water plants), some grains and other plant matter (seeds, grains and plant matter) and fruit and vegetables (damaged fruits and vegetables).

I hope I’m not being Captain Obvious here, but that’s exactly what a ‘healthy’ human diet looks like. I’m trying to ignore the ‘grains’ under plant matter, but I’m sure even in the wild when times were tough we might have chewed on a raw wheat grain from time to time.

Grains aside, I think even the most inflexible Nutrition Nazi would agree that the ducks’ natural diet is almost identical, in terms of nutrient break down, to humans.

And you’ll never guess what the ducks are force fed to swell their livers?

Corn.

Ducks are force fed corn and other grains. And, on a diet of lots of corn and other grains, they develop (in only 20 days or less) a fatty liver that is up to 10 times its natural size.

This practice is roughly 2,500 years old and is thought to have started in ancient Egypt.

But there’s more. Ducks and geese aren’t the only animals whose livers we have tried to plump up. According to Wikipedia (I did say I would do this without quoting real science), they did the same thing with pigs in Rome. Quote:

“Apicius made the discovery, that we may employ the same artificial method of increasing the size of the liver of the sow, as of that of the goose; it consists in cramming them with dried figs, and when they are fat enough, they are drenched with wine mixed with honey, and immediately killed.”

Dried figs and corn have one thing in common. They are both low in protein, low in fat and ridiculously high in carbs.

Here is a nutrient breakdown of white sweet corn (that they use to fatten ducks livers with)

And here is a nutrient breakdown of dried figs (that they use to fatten pigs livers with)

Side note: Corn is actually much lower in carbs that dried figs, so if you’re still sneaking in some dried fruit but avoiding the corn, you might want to look into that. Figs top the carb table at 63.9g of carbs per 100g. Raw, sweet corn comes in at only 19g per 100g. Both of them, however, are low in fat with 1.2g and .9g of fat per 100g respectively. They’re also only 0.1g apart in terms of protein content per 100 grams at 3.3g and 3.2g.

A diet of figs or corn would be categorized as a low-fat, low-protein, high-carb diet.

For more than 1,000 years it has been common knowledge in gastronomy that the best way to fatten up the liver of two different animals, who share the same diet in the wild with humans, is to feed them a low-fat, low-protein, high carb diet.

But humans get fatty liver from fats not from carbs. Because science.

Seriously?

If you think something about that theory stinks and you’re interested in lowering your carbs,  download the Low-Carb Real Food Lists, and get to grips with what foods you should be eating.