Are Carbohydrates Bad For You ?

We are reductionists, things need to be good or bad and it is easier that way. This isn’t always the case, especially in nutrition. When it comes to nutrition context is king.

Everybody has different goals, genetic predispositions, sleep habits, familial medical history, metabolic flexibility, ancestry, stress levels and many more  factors that make the one size fits all nutrition approach a disaster. Are carbohydrates bad for you ?

Just like your ex that you still “hang out” with, Its complicated.

Because people differ so greatly, their ability to handle carbohydrates will also be different. A highly active athlete is going to require more carbs to fuel their activity and recover compared to a sedentary desk jockey who will need less.

Those who are obese or suffering from metabolic problems are going to do much better or fewer carbs because they do not metabolize carbohydrates very well. Your individual circumstances really dictate how your body is going to respond to carbohydrates.

For the average person who is noticing their waist growing each year and their belly getting larger and larger, dialing their amount and quality of carbs in the diet is going to be an important part of moving towards getting healthier and maybe losing some body fat.

If the weight gain stays steady year after year chances are there is some metabolic damage that could be addressed by lowering carbs as well.

Our standard american diet is very very heavy on the processed carbs and sugar, compared to how we have evolved to eat. This new carb dominant diet lacks the balance and nutrients  we have historically gotten from our diet.

There are absolutely cultures that eat a carbohydrate dominant diet and are in peak health. The carbohydrates in these cultures diets are natural sources though, not from cereal grains and sugar.

We have never before in mankind had the emergency need to lower blood sugar due to diet, until recently. It is not that carbs are evil, but a lot of times the poison is in the dose, and out standard american diet is causing us to overdose on carbohydrates.

This overdose of processed carbohydrates and sugar is reflected in the overall health of our society.  We are experiencing skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease as a society due to the way we are eating and living.

Abbreviated Blood Sugar Explanation

You consume a carbohydrate rich food which turns into glucose when broken down. The pancreas releases the main storage hormone insulin in response to the glucose in the system.

The body converts and stores that sugar in the liver, muscles and a little bit in the skeleton. When the basic needs for sugar are met the body gets the signal that all the necessary areas are topped off.

When the cells no longer accept any more sugar the body pumps out more insulin in the hope that more insulin will convince the body to respond. The body is smart and realizes that we are topped off, but have unlimited energy storage all round the body in the form of body fat.

This body fat can be utilized in times of food scarcity, the only problem is that the scarcity never comes and the body continues to get an influx of carbohydrates and sugar daily continually storing more body fat.

This daily blood sugar roller coaster keeps insulin elevated meaning that accessing that body for energy is impossible. Eventually our cells stop responding to the storage hormone insulin because it is constantly circulating.

You combine that insulin resistance with poor sleep and a basic sedentary lifestyle and you have a one way ticket to a wrecked metabolism and a host of health problems.

The Trinity

Carbohydrates comes in three basic forms glucose, fructose and fiber. The body uses glucose and fructose to produce energy. The body prefers to use glucose as its fuel over glucose.

Glucose in large amounts from non foods such as high fructose corn syrup is treated like a poison and shunted to the liver where it is processed. Fiber can’t be used as energy for the brain or cells, but does feed the beneficial bacteria in our gut.

An interesting fact is that carbohydrates are the only non essential macronutrient. macronutrients are protein, fats, carbohydrates and water.

The body is able to makes its own glucose using amino and fatty acids through a process called gluconeogenesis, however this process can fall short in providing what some will need.

This glucose is then used by the brain and the rest of the body. While this is an interesting fact I do not believe that going low carbohydrate is the best choice for everybody, but for some it can be very therapeutic.

Context is king, and your individual context matters in this equation.

Anti Nutrients: Phytic Acid & Lectins

Phytic acid is an anti nutrient found in large amounts in  commercial grains and legumes. Phytic acid is found in the bran of a grain and along with the protein layer in legumes.

Phytic acid binds to minerals in the body rendering them unavailable for absorption and turning into phytate.

Phytates prevent minerals from absorbed in the small intestine and negatively impacts the digestion of protein, fats and carbs causing digestive issues.

Lectins are a protein that can bind to cell membranes, and are found in high concentrations in commercial grains and legumes.

Lectins found in grains and legumes are resistant to digestion allowing them to pass through the digestive tract undigested. Lectins resistance to digestion causes gut inflammation by damaging the gut lining quicker than it can repair.

With the constant damage and inflammation, the gut starts to become leaky. Leaky gut allows undigested foods into the bloodstream causing inflammatory responses. When leaky gut happens it also allows essential nutrients to pass through the gut lining instead of being digested and used.

Gluten and Leaky Gut

Gluten, you knew it was coming and that I was going to to talk about it. Before we can talk about the negative impacts of gluten we should define it clearly.

Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley and is the protein combination of gliadin and glutenin. While there are people who have zero “reaction” to gluten on the outside, every client I have worked with has seen improvements in blood sugar and digestion after removing gluten containing foods.

The protein gluten is very difficult to digest and break down causing aggravation in the gut.The lining of the gut eventually gets worn down by the constant irritation of undigested foods.

Because the gut lining is worn down and beat up it allows improperly digested foods into the bloodstream.

The body only recognizes properly digested foods in the blood stream, and our immune system views these undigested foods as a foreign invader that needs to be attacked.

This also allows essential nutrients to pass through the gut lining instead of being digested and used. This chronic use of the immune system to attack foods leads to chronic inflammation and over time food allergies can develop.

The Good: Carbohydrates That Come From Nature

On to the good stuff already, enough doom and gloom already When you consume carbohydrates that come from nature, and are not man made many of these problems are avoided.

These sources of carbohydrates that come from nature are rich in vitamins and minerals and are packaged with enzymes that are beneficial to health.

Some great sources of carbohydrates to consume are: Spaghetti squash, Sweet potatoes, White potatoes ( if tolerated), Plantains , Acorn, squash, Beets , Parsnips, Winter squash, Cassava, Taro root, Butternut Squash, Yams.

The carbohydrates that are available from nature do not cause the same kind of blood sugar surges and insulin secretion that we experience from processed carbs for most people.

Have you ever eaten a bowl of pasta and felt tired/bloated afterwards ? You would be hard pressed to get the same feeling from eating blueberries or a sweet potato.

While they can be vilified carbohydrates do play some important roles in the body. Carbs provide a quick source of energy for muscles and help to shuttle protein into muscles for recovery after exercise.

Glucose is a source of fuel for the brain, but the brain and heart can also be fueled by fat in the form of ketones. Carbs do help with the lubrication of joints and contribute to the protective mucus produced in the highly acidic stomach, and can be helpful to some people who struggle with constipation.

Where to go from here ?

I hope that given the insights from above you have a general idea of where you fit from highly active athlete to sedentary with constant growing waistline or metabolically damaged.

I highly encourage you to experiment and find out where your specific sweet spot is with carbohydrates. Use the Primal Carbohydrate Curve from Mark's Daily Apple to help you find that sweet spot. 

The average american or those  looking to lose weight would do better to lower their carbohydrates, and make sure they are consuming enough healthy fats and protein.

There are some folks who would even do much better going very low carb and shooting to get into ketosis where the body uses dietary fat and body fat as the main source of fuel.

Those who are serious athletes or are frequently engaged in explosive physical activity such as crossfit or mixed martial arts are going to need more carbs to fuel their athletic endeavors.

If you’re tired of working hard, and not getting the results you want, I can help you adopt the simple habits necessary to reach your health or fat loss goals.

These habits are based on getting you to your goal in a sustainable fashion that can be maintained. I’ll be there every step of the way to support and keep you accountable.  

Get on a Strategy Call with me to Discover how to achieve your health or fat loss goals, and make them yours to keep this time around.

Whether you decide to work with me or not I can guarantee you will leave this call with more knowledge on how to achieve your goals.


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