June 30, 2019

Nutritional Biochemistry

European Vacation

Read Time 2 minutes

I know I’m not alone in sensing this, as I’ve had this discussion with at least a dozen friends over the past few years. There is something fundamentally different about food in Europe, when compared to the food in North America.

Yes, there are the obvious differences—in Europe the portions seem smaller, they seem to contain less sugar, and meals tend to take longer (though this can be confounded by the fact that we’re on vacation there, but I still find that ‘on vacation’ in North America we still eat quicker). Europe also lends itself to more walking and coffee and myriad other things that make what I’m about to say anything but scientific.

All of these caveats aside, I am becoming convinced there is something different about the starches—especially the breads and pastas—there versus here. I don’t yet have enough information to suggest I know what I’m talking about, so this is pure hypothesis generation: Is it different strains of wheat? Is it different pesticides? Is it different ingredients used alongside the wheat? I don’t know. But here is what I observed on my recent trip to Italy. I went out of my way to never say “no” to food, which meant eating more pasta and bread in one week than the previous year combined. (I also ate as much gelato as possible on 4 occasions and each time came away feeling fine—not sick and not longing to drink 2 gallons of water—both feelings I experience at home if I have even 10% of that volume in ice cream, including “fancy” high-end ice cream.)

So to recap: Bread, pasta, and gelato seem somehow different in Europe (I’ve now experienced this in 4 or 5 European countries over the past few years) from North America. What gives? I don’t think it’s just that the pasta is more likely to be cooked al dente that’s pushing the needle here. And this is not to suggest a reasonably carbohydrate-intolerant person like me can consume all he wants without consequence. I also see little evidence to support that extreme view. But I do (and by extension suspect this is true for others) sense I can consume more than I can back home.

A few weeks ago my friend Mark Hyman interviewed me for his podcast (it’s probably coming out in the Fall) and after recording, we hit up his favorite local spot for dinner. The discussion centered around his next book, which explores this topic and more. As we get closer to the release of Mark’s book (late Q4 or early Q1 ’20) I can’t wait to sit down with him on The Drive and go crazy deep on this topic.

– Peter

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  1. Dear Dr. Attia,
    I have “stumbled” upon you and your expertise via Joe Rogan, which is funny, since I am a huge TEDx-fan and like the topics of nutrition and intermittent fasting (or TRF, as you name it), but it was Rogan who put the spotlight on you. I TRF since about 15 months now (with cheat days, though), with my doc checking my general blood values at the start (and he was positively surprised about them). So with this confirmation, I went along and figured how easy OMAD actually is. You explaining and discussing with Rogan the different effects of nutrition and even working out, I already feel results immediately. I wanna go Keto now for a while in order to get rid of my belly fat that I have since my childhood (was obese, probably some minority complex working there). So firstly I would like to thank you so much for sharing all this scientific background. I often argue wth my girlfriend about my TRF-extrimism (as she calls it), but you provide victorious arguments ^^
    Anyways, I am living in Germany and have Polish backgrounds (not sure if you are aware of polish cousine). Now, we Germans are proud of our bakery culture and we DO have several breads with complex carbs. The ketosis I wanna reach is planned only for a while, and I wanna go no-carb only for periods (not implement it as a lifestyle like TRF). When I found this article, I got extremely curious, of course. Hence my question, did you ever follow up on that observation of yours? I do have faith that the breads with complex carbs have a beneficial impact, but you are the expert.

    Best and grateful regards from Germany

  2. There are some pretty shocking differences in appearance between the average North American livestock and their European counterparts, which are no doubt a consequence of divergent animal-rearing practises. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if variations in farming practises were similarly responsible for the phenomena you’ve described here. Differences in soil nutrients probably affect both the taste and nutritional attributes of the wheat.

    Btw, big fan of the podcast and your wider body of work!

  3. In the hope that Peter sees this, I want to steer people over to fireinabottle.net and read his run down of the “ROS theory of Obesity”, “The croissant diet” (no it’s not stupid) and more recently “the SCD1 theory of obesity.”

    Good stuff and new insights on diet and obesity can explain some things about European diet.

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