Insulin Wars I: Zoe Harcombe

I thought I would share some thoughts on some of the responses of LC "experts" to James Krieger's excellent series on insulin.  For any who missed them, here are the links  “Insulin…an Undeserved Bad Reputation”, Part 2,Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

Jimmy Moore asked an array of people in LC circles for their thoughts HERE

********  EDIT:  There was confusion here and at time of initial posting Jimmy had "Anonymous",  Zoe Harcombe has since in the comments cleared up that she is the author.  I've since edited out speculation regarding the identity of the author.  ***********

This first installment will address "Anonymous LC Author", now self-identified as Zoe Harcombe.   
Myth 1 – who’s talking about healthy individuals? We’re trying to do something about the 1.1 billion overweight and obese people in the world and the fact that we have 171 million diabetics already confirms that there is nothing healthy about the workings of the pancreas of these people. Why would you want to elevate blood glucose levels if you do admit that they stop fat burning? ...
While carbohydrates do take precedence in the heirarchy of fuel partitioning, they never STOP fat burning.  If that is ever the case, you're probably dead.  There are also millions of obese folks with normal pancreatic function.

Myth 2 – there are other things that can impact fat storage and fat burning, but all pale into insignificance compared with insulin. Insulin is the big daddy of fat storage so don’t worry about the minor players. If you think a calorie is a calorie (even Weight Watchers pro points have finally admitted that this is not the case) then you’ve just violated the second law of thermodynamics, you haven’t understood Fine and Feinman or Jequier and you should do the experiment with 2 groups of people – one on 3000 cals of fat/protein (zero carb) and the other on 3000 cals of carb (sugar will do fine as the only 100% carb) and see who loses and who gains.
The 1D approach of focusing on insulin to the exclusion of "minor players" is one issue I have here.  Again, when insulin is measured there are rarely statistically significant differences in basal insulin between weight loss approaches or even much in 24 hour AUC's  that remain when weight loss is controlled for.   As to the 3000 cal challenge that is not really fair.  It should be fat/protein vs. carb/protein but we all know that such an experiment is not really sustainable for a length of time to produce significant results. Still, we have Jimmy Moore's extreme diet series going on now on his podcasts, and so far we have a man losing a lot of weight eating twinkies, and another eating potatoes.  I don't think anyone challenges the TEF of protein, but consider this:  If insulin is the big daddy of fat storage, why do higher percent protein diets tend to produce weight loss given that protein is also a potent insulin stimulator?
Myth 3 – “dozens and dozens of experiments” – the link goes to one study! ...If we don’t have a perfect functioning pancreas/insulin mechanism (and few people do because of our dreadful quantity and poor quality carb consumption) then we can release ‘too much’ insulin in response to the meal and our blood glucose levels then fall lower than they were before we ate the junk carb. ....
In my opinion, more people *think* this is going on than actually have this problem.  The pre-diabetic or mildly insulin resistant person tends to have mild impairment of glucose disposal for the insulin dose.  Rarely does the kind of hypoglycemia or wild blood sugar swings occur to cause cravings and such.  Blood glucose meters are cheap and strips to self-experiment are reasonably cheap as well.  If one eats carbs for a few days and then checks their actual BG's, probably upwards of 80% of folks who think they've got wild swings don't really have any such thing going on.
Myth 4 is not separating protein from carbs. ... Stress can trigger an insulin response, so things may be unrelated to the foods being tested. I have never seen anything suggest that red meat or fish requires insulin to be released (indeed this was how diabetics were kept alive before insulin – don’t eat anything that requires insulin!).
Harcombe appears to be woefully uneducated regarding insulin.  There are loads of studies demonstrating the insulin responses of just proteins, protein in conjunction with carb, etc.  But while ignoring these studies and criticizing for improper control in the cited studies, she throws in an unrelated variable "stress".  Harcombe is in dire need of reading:  Insulin: understanding its action in health and disease .
Myth 5 – if insulin is not a villain then go trigger some! We don’t care! Us low carbers will stay full, fit, healthy and hunger free eating only real food and managing our carb intake.
Sounds awfully in your face to me.  And Harcombe's use of "us" would imply she is a low carber when in actuality, she's not really (the subject of an upcoming post).


Sanjeev said…
interesting mix ... some go to any lengths to justify their pre-existing notions. excessive cherry picking, (for low - carbers)

Some are honestly trying to integrate the new information.
Zoe Harcombe said…
Hi again - it is me! Many thanks for blogging about this or I would never have seen it. I stand by my comment that I never post anonymously, but I didn't realise that Jimmy had!

I've dropped Jimmy an email this am to say - please put my name up there. I had no idea he had published an email of mine!

Jimmy and I had just done an interview (airing tonight actually) and he then dropped me an email about the JK blog and asked for my views. I gave him my view and said he was welcome to use anything that helped but there was no need to credit me. This has been misunderstood as 'anonymous'! I didn't realise that he had asked lots of people and was planning to do an answer from the low carb world. Great blog of his which I'm thrilled to be connected with - a funny misunderstanding!

Thanks again for sorting out a puzzle. Stay low carb yourself - you are SO doing the right thing - but you know that! I'm happy to send you a copy of "Stop Counting Calories & Start Losing Weight" if you can see my email and want to private message me. Seems like you go lower carb than this, but I think you'd find the stuff on how carbs and food addiction and these 3 conditions go together really interesting
Thanks again
Very best wishes - Zoe
Melchior Meijer said…
Hi Zoe,

Could you please address the points made by CarbSane against the rebuttal you mailed to Jimmy? Personally I think 'paleo' (or to a lesser extend low carb) works so well because it by default eliminates wheat, excess FUFA's and excess glucose/fructose (aka sugar). It seems like these neolithic factors (sorry CarbSane ;-) ) can mess with spontaneous energy intake (inducing leptin resistance, kidding the hypothalamus, etc). Any thoughts?

How do you explain the low basal and postprandial insulin levels of many very glucose tolerant, high carb eating folks?
CarbSane said…
Zoe, thanks for clearing up the mystery! I would love a copy of your book and will email you about that. Thanks :)
Sanjeev said…
>> Myth 1 – who’s talking about healthy individuals?

most of the obese are not "unhealthy". They get better overall outcomes than the "fit" on many measures.

Please look up the "obesity paradox" series [0]


or here

IMHO, when talking about those who want to lose weight (as opposed to needing to for specific reasons absolutely proven to be obesity related), for the most part we ARE talking about healthy individuals.

What I and IMHO everyone who loses significant weight in their adulthood should be concerned about:

>> But by every statistical analysis the authors attempted — including
>> adjusting for potential confounding factors that included age,
>> smoking status, and chronic diseases of aging (cancer, diabetes,
>> dementia, cerebrovascular disorders, heart disease and heart
>> failure, pulmonary disease, musculoskeletal disease and
>> hypertension) — the men who’d been overweight but lost weight
>> during middle adulthood to reach normal weights had about two times
>> the risk of death compared to normal weight men or the men who’d
>> just stayed fat.

That blurb is here

The study she's writing about:

[0] it may help to set aside the general populace's, and if you're in "health", also the medical profession's prejudices (known to be higher than the general populace's) against the obese for a while if you can
Sanjeev said…
My last post here is appearing & disappearing. Maybe the quoting I used is confusing Google/blogspot?

After that post (insomnia is a wonderful thing sometimes) I remembered where I had run across the name Zoe Harcombe before.

After an exchange with her on her forum, James Krieger wrote an article on

"the straw man" ...
CarbSane said…
I see it now Sanjeev. I have noticed that they have a (#) on the comment spam tab so I know to look there for new comments that might be flagged by blogger. There's no way to opt out unfortunately, that I've found anyway.
Sanjeev said…
> Myth 5 – if insulin is not a villain then go trigger some! We don’t
> care! Us low carbers will stay full, fit, healthy and hunger free
> eating only real food and managing our carb intake.

If Ms Harcombe is still here, Let's concentrate on ONE thing for a moment, without dragging in a lot of other stuff. Pick one at random, say fitness: do you think there were 20 olympians and 10 medalists on low carb diets?

Could obese, moderately active people learn something about diet from the vast majority of (maybe ALL) olympic athletes, who are on very high carb diets?