Carbohydrates should be held to a limit in your diet. You might argue that the brain requires a certain amount of carbs or glucose to operate but the body can actually produce its own supply of glucose for the brain. This is a process called gluconeogenesis, which is just a fancy term for creating energy from fat and protein. This process can also ensure that the body has plenty of glycogen, which is the substance that powers your muscles. However, the source of these carbs is where most people hit a snag with life-changing consequences. Carbs from processed foods and grains as well as from high starch foods in excess can have long-ranging consequences on even those with the healthiest lifestyles. And though carbs are important and necessary in some ways, when eaten in excess from the wrong sources, these tricky nutrients make you fat.
Decades of Misguided Carb Recommendations
The recommended amount of carbohydrates for a low carb diet is no more than 50g per day, or under 30g for people wanting to get into ketosis. Most of the carbs will come primarily from meat and vegetable sources. The problem here however, is the average American consumes 350-600 grams of carbs per day, and it’s almost exclusively from sugar and grain products, which are surprisingly no better than sugar sources. Bread, pasta, “hearty” cereals, potatoes, rice, chocolate bars and desserts are all converted to the same type of sugar – glucose. For instance after eating a bagel from your favourite coffee house, which is often considered a healthy alternative to donuts, the body basically turns the bagel into a couple tablespoons of sugar.
These long touted and misguided recommendations such as the food pyramid, promote that we get about 60% of our nutrients through these unhealthy carbohydrate sources. Outdated resources like the food pyramid have misled Americans to eat high amounts of the foods that have proven to be unhealthy. Eating carbohydrates at recommended amounts from recommended sources turns into around two cups of pure sugar per day. One hundred years ago, the average American ate four pounds of sugar a year. In 1950, it had increased to twelve pounds, and now the average American eats a whopping 156 pounds of sugar a year. That means that we eat nearly our weight in sugar each year. As a result, the average American also gains 1.4 pounds of fat per year.
The All-Too-Common Cons of Carbohydrates
There is a big problem with carbohydrates that most people do not understand. Consuming too many carbs produces an insulin spike, which makes it impossible to burn off fat until that particular insulin spike has subsided. Also, eating more carbs than the body needs forces the body to store them as fat because it thinks it will need them later. What tends to happen then is water retention, causing puffiness and bloating. Processed carbs are even worse because they have additives and anti-nutrients which further contribute to the bloating problem. For many people, these complications contribute to a host of symptoms that they attribute to medications, diseases like diabetes and other suspects, when in reality their diet is to blame.
The Myth of the High-Carb, Low-Fat Diet
For years, people have believed that a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrates will help you lose weight, it only makes sense right? In reality, these diets are one of the chief causes of the obesity epidemic. So as a culture when we stopped eating fat, we got fat. This is especially the case when many of these foods that we do eat are processed and in less natural forms.
Many have said that complex carbs are actually good, such as those in grains, but again they only lead to high levels of sugar in the bloodstream. Then, just like mentioned above, this causes an insulin response which converts the excess sugar into fat. Not only that, Insulin also causes the body to stop using its fat for fuel, and it switches to sugar instead, or in other words the carbs that are taken in. Remember, having too much sugar in the blood is a condition that can actually kill you – and in this way insulin is designed to keep the body safe from danger. These fats are stored all over the body in a process designed to protect the body against future lean times where there may not be enough food, which for most never comes. Ultimately the fatty deposits continue to accumulate in the worst places, where they interfere with organ systems and cause a lot of problems.
This oscillation between high levels of blood sugar and high levels of insulin often leads to serious problems with the body. Insulin eventually loses its ability to give the same beneficial effect, with the body making more and more insulin to try to protect itself over time. This ultimately creates an ongoing state of high insulin levels and low blood sugar. In this situation, people may continue eating the same foods they’ve eaten their whole lives, but they now gain weight and suffer unexpected consequences. The reason that teenagers can consume such high levels of pop or sugar rich drinks and unhealthy food, yet not gain weight the way adults would is their tolerance to insulin. It is true that this varies by person, for most people, by their thirties these changes will lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and love handles.
Whole Grains: a Natural Enemy of the Digestive System
people have believed for years that whole grains were healthy carbs. The problem is that without fail, all carbs turn to sugar. To give you a better picture, eating two slices of whole wheat bread raises your blood sugar more dramatically than eating two tablespoons of regular white sugar. On top of that, these grain sources also contain gluten and other ingredients that can irritate other functions of the body. We have all heard about gluten recently, gluten binds to essential body nutrients and makes them impossible to properly absorb. In addition, gluten is the main culprit behind the increasing numbers of people suffering from Celiac disease, gluten intolerances and gluten sensitivities.
Lectin, another irritant found in many grains, can actually tear holes in the digestive system, allowing the contents of the intestines to get into the body. This condition is known as leaky gut, and it is the main reason that people get fecal matter in their bloodstream, which can create its own line of problems. Eating wheat also contributes to gut inflammation. It is now known that eight out of ten people who eat wheat gluten develop gut inflammation, and one in three develop anti-wheat gluten antibodies in the intestine. This means that for these people, their body recognizes wheat gluten as the enemy, even if their mind doesn’t.
So, How Should We Eat Carbs?
Though many people may have grown up eating wheat, dairy and legumes in their everyday diet and claim to feel fine, the reality is that their bodies could be operating much more efficiently. Taking a 30-day break from these foods can produce a startling change in the way that your body looks, feels and operates. Unfortunately, modern foods are primarily unhealthy carb explosions, often at times when you even think you are eating healthy.
Sources which are low in carbs are non-starchy vegetables and berries, which contain fiber, micronutrients and phytochemicals. They contain relatively low amounts of carbohydrates, but when eating a diet based on meats, berries, nuts and vegetables, they give the body all the carbohydrates it needs. Vegetables and berries also help to balance the body’s pH, countering the effects of eating animal products.
The optimal range for carbs is less than 50 grams per day, but remember if you are truly eating low carb then you do not need to count when you eat because you will naturally meet this level without trying. It is nearly impossible to stay in this range consuming processed foods, grains and sugars, and nearly impossible to get out of it when eating only a plant-based diet because you will be including many high starch foods. In short:
- Limit or eliminate processed carbs
- Limit or eliminate starch based vegetables
- Moderate quantities of fruits, stick to berries if possible
- Eat large quantities of fibrous and non-starchy vegetables