I have a confession to make. When I first started eating a low-carb, high-fat diet ten years ago, one of the major go-to fats I included in my diet was mayonnaise. Living in the South, the only REAL mayonnaise to eat is the Duke’s brand. Whether I was making chicken, tuna, or egg salad or dipping my favorite meat and cheese roll-up in it, I was thrilled to have a product that was both low in total carbohydrates and high in dietary fat. All I was focused on coming into this way of eating as a 410-pound man on three prescription medications and on the wrong pathway to getting healthy was limiting my carbohydrates. That was then, but this is now.
In the years that followed and especially in 2011 when I officially shifted to a low-carb Paleo approach, I became more and more convinced that food quality matters just as much as carbohydrate restriction for people who have metabolic challenges that made them obese and sick to begin with. And what that means is that you shift your attention not just to the Nutrition Facts label of whatever food you are eating, but also on the ingredients–something my friends Dr. Jayson and Mira Calton shared in this “Ask The Low-Carb Experts” podcast and in their fabulous 2013 book Rich Food Poor Food: The Ultimate Grocery Purchasing System (GPS) (and they also gave a terrific presentation about how to shop for the better quality food items for people on a low-carb diet in their lecture on the 2013 Low-Carb Cruise).
You might be thinking, “But Jimmy, who cares what the food quality is like so long as it’s low-carb? Isn’t that all that really matters?” I used to believe that and was convinced that limiting my carbohydrate intake was the only thing that was necessary for me to manage my weight and health. However, this is perhaps a low-carb reality check for so many people and an interesting thought experiment to engage in and come to your own conclusion about. This is by no means a settled issue as even several prominent members of the low-carb community disagree about this. That would include me and my Cholesterol Clarity and Keto Clarity coauthor Dr. Eric Westman, MD.
Dr. Westman sees this issue through the prism of an obesity medicine doctor certified by the American Society of Bariatric Physicians who is keenly focused on getting his patients to shed the pounds and improve their diabetes in his Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic in Durham, North Carolina. Dr. Westman believes that new patients should first begin by removing the damaging carbohydrates as a means for controlling blood sugar and insulin levels. He believes this is the critical element in getting people back on the road to health again. And I totally agree that finding your tolerance level for carbohydrates is a vitally important factor for his mostly overweight and obese patients to nail down right off the bat. But is it the only thing that matters if we’re seeking to educate patients on making better long-term choices for the sake of their health in the years to come?
This area of disagreement between me and Dr. Westman came to light during a joint Cholesterol Clarity talk/Q&A/book signing event we had in January at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina. During my presentation explaining to the audience of 100+ people about the foods that could raise inflammation levels in the body and lead to heart disease, I went on a mini-rant about the inferior ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup and omega-6 rich vegetable oils like soybean and canola oil that food manufacturers like to put in conventional mayonnaise as an example of a “low-carb” food you probably would want to avoid because it will likely have a negative impact on your high-sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hsCRP) levels–the key blood test for measuring the presence of inflammation that we discuss at length in Chapter 20 of Cholesterol Clarity on the “Eight Advanced Health Markers You Should Consider.”
But Dr. Westman offered up a more conciliatory response to mayonnaise stating that he would rather his patients eat that instead of processed high-carb junk food or fast food. No doubt. And from the standpoint of carbohydrate-restriction, mayonnaise certainly fits the bill. But after interviewing people like Dr. Kaayla Daniel about the problems with consuming soy and all the known issues with fructose that have been outlined by bona fide health researchers such as Dr. Richard Johnson and Dr. Robert Lustig in recent years, we can no longer give a product like mayonnaise a free pass. Yes, it’s without a doubt a whole lot better than crappy carbage, but does that make it good for your diet? As my friend and New York Times bestselling author of Wheat Belly named Dr. William Davis would analogize, “Are filtered cigarettes healthier than unfiltered cigarettes?” The answer is of course not. So why would we take something that is less bad (mayonnaise vs. processed carbohydrates) and automatically assume it is good?
So what is a low-carber who wants a mayonnaise without these cruddy vegetable oils and sugar to do? Is there a commercially-available version that would be both low-carb and made with high-quality ingredients? The answer is not yet. The Caltons shared with me that they are working on a full line of quality fat-based condiments like mayonnaise, salad dressings (another notoriously horrible product that far too many low-carb followers are eating), and more–COMING SOON! I’ll let you know when these are available for purchase.
Beware of mayonnaise products pretending to be made from better oils such as olive oil because they’re usually a mix of both olive oil and soybean oil like this one from Hellman’s. Some companies are getting sneaky knowing that people are becoming wiser about the games they are playing with these products by claiming to be soy-free, but then they use another stinky oil like canola oil in things such as Earth Balance Mindful Mayo. Read those ingredients labels like a hawk and make the best choice for you and your family.
In Keto Clarity coming in hardback, Kindle e-book, and audiobook on August 5, 2014, we’ve got a fantastic “Homemade Really Real Keto Mayo” recipe to share with you (a reference to the “real” marketing language put on the front packaging of so many packaged mayonnaise products–what exactly is real about it?). In the meantime, I highly encourage you to start making your own mayonnaise by learning how to make your own mayonnaise at home using avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, or other healthy fats and ingredients you can feel confident about putting inside of your body. Here are a few of my favorites from Michelle Tam at Nom Nom Paleo, Bill Staley and Hayley Mason from Primal Palate, Melissa Joulwan from The Clothes Make The Girl, and Sarah Fragoso from Everyday Paleo. Let me know how it goes making your own mayo from home.
Do you still eat store-bought mayonnaise in your low-carb diet? Why or why not? Share your thoughts on this issue in the comments section below.