The concept that “carbs” are evil can be put to bed with one statement:
All Vegetables and fruits are Carbs!
So it should come as no surprise that any diet attempting to completely purge carbohydrates, or anyone suggesting all carbs are evil, need to take a step back, take a hard look at reality, and make sure we’re all clear on the real rules of carbohydrates.
So why is it that carbs get such a bad reputation?
There’s a huge gap between understanding foods that have healthy qualities (think “micronutrients” like vitamins and minerals) and foods that play a part in weight loss. While foods are digested differently, almost any food can be part of a weight loss plan.
The trick is finding the balance between eating foods you enjoy, like rice or potatoes, and then trying to follow a bland, frustrating diet that you inevitably abandon out of frustration and shear hunger.
You might find that carbs make you feel bloated and fat. Especially when those carbs come from sugar, candy, or lots of overly processed foods. At the same time, the overreaction to carbs is often a by product of a poorly designed diet.
Here’s what happens to most dieters:
Step 1: They “determine” carbs are bad.
Step 2: All carbs are removed.
Step 3: Weight is lost within the first 1-2 weeks. Sometimes quite a bit. But fat loss is not a rapid process. (Although it can be for people with lots to lose) So what’s happening? Your body is dropping water weight because carbs hold water, but not necessarily in a bad way.
Step 4: Hunger and frustration builds, focus drops, and energy levels suffer. Eventually you return to carbs after a period of withdrawal.
What happens? You might feel bloated, sick, and even see the scale dramatically shift. Many things are occurring within your body, but at the most basic levels, you’re replenishing your depleted carbs stores and gaining back the water weight.
The end result is you’re thinking, “See, carbs are bad!” Which inevitably begins an ongoing struggle of figuring out what you can eat and not be miserable. Is the “carbs are good and bad” stance meant to confuse you? Of course not. It’s designed to draw an important dietary line in the sand.
How many carbs you can eat and what you can tolerate is based on your body. It’s not a sexy answer, but it’s the truth. You can’t assume that high carb diets are bad. Just as you can’t assume that high protein or high fat diets are bad either.
That’s because different types of diets work for different types of people. Part of it is how your body responds, and another aspect is less physiological and more psychological.
The physiological nature is often controlled by insulin, which at the most basic level is a storage hormone. In general, the less body fat you carry, the better your insulin sensitivity. (Your body doesn’t react as aggressively to larger amounts of carbohydrates, often viewed as surging blood sugar). While insulin is important for weight loss and overall health, it’s not a black and white situation. If you are more insulin resistant it doesn’t mean you can’t lose weight; but it does have a big impact on the type of diet you should follow.
If you’re more insulin sensitive (typically lower body fat), your body will respond better to a higher carbohydrate diet. If you’re less sensitive (more resistant), then it can often feel like higher carbs will go straight to your gut or your ass. And most of the time, it’s not just in your head.
Unfortunately, determining insulin levels isn’t an easy process and requires blood work. But you can see how your body reacts to higher carb meals. The simplest test (although far from perfect) is consuming carbs in a post workout period. Do you feel great or do you feel miserable and more bloated? If it’s the latter, either your insulin sensitivity isn’t great, or you just ate too much.
A more balanced and successful approach is to select a diet and then measure fat loss every 2 to 4 weeks, but not more frequently. Remember, fat loss isn’t magic.
If you think your insulin sensitivity is good, then you can start with about 50 percent of your diet form carbohydrates.
If you’re not confident and worried you’re resistant, or you know you have a lot of weight to lose, begin with about 20 to 30 percent of your calories from carbs.
The Paleo diet works for many people. There’s no magic, rather removing carbs often means you’re eating fewer calories per day, and focusing on a diet that consists of animal proteins, vegetables, and fruits. That’s definitely a recipe for success, but not what is required to drop the kilo’s. Not to mention, if you eat unlimited amounts of anything (even if it’s natural) you will gain weight.
The bigger issue with the “carb-less” approach is that it doesn’t consider the foods you love. Removing foods is one way to structure an eating plan, but if your “withdrawal” pushes aggressively against personal preference, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Research has even shown that having desert can help with weight loss. Case in point: Put a pasta lover on Paleo and prepare for pain.
We want a flashy one-size-fits all solution, but I’ve seen too many different diets work for every type of person to know that a broad generalization is not the solution. It’s actually the foundation of the problem. So we need to stop with the scare tactics and suggestions that might create imbalanced diets and actually do more harm than good.
How do you know carbs aren’t really bad?
Science does uncover some truths, and it’s important they’re not ignored. And in the case of carbs, insisting that “all carbs are bad” just isn’t a fair conclusion that can be applied to everyone. And if you’re trying to build muscle, removing all carbs is potentially going to make the process a whole lot harder.
The idea that “carbs are the enemy” is a common appeal to emotion and popular folklore, rather than the full range of scientific evidence.
The best example is a recent meta-analysis that compared carbohydrate intake ranging anywhere from 4 to 45 percent of total calories in low-carb diets, and fat content at 30 percent or lower in low fat diets .
Here’s what the researchers found:
* Low-fat diets were slightly more effective at lowering total cholesterol and LDL.
* Low-carb diets were more effective at increasing HDL and decreasing triglycerides
* Neither diet was more effective than the other at reducing bodyweight, waist girth, blood pressure, glucose, and insulin levels.
This overall lack of differential effects led the researchers to conclude that both low-carb and low-fat diets are viable options for reducing weight and improving metabolic risk factors. What’s more, the cuisines of some of the healthiest populations in the world consist of diets that have heavy carbohydrate components.
The best examples are known as the “longevity hotspots”. These places have the longest life expectancies and the lowest rates of chronic and degenerative diseases. The main energy sources for all of these “hotspots” are carbohydrates. Need more evidence? The Top-10 countries in the world with the lowest obesity rates all consume a carb-dominant diet.
So where does that leave you? Are you supposed to assume that a high carb diet only makes Australians fat?
No, but we can use that to better understand and guide our eating habits. Let’s face it, We can’t discount that low carb diets have been found to be a very healthy way of eating. There’s plenty of research that indicates lower carb diets can do everything from helping with weight loss to building bodies designed to fight off disease .In fact, unless you’re trying to build muscle, typically you would follow a lower carb approach. But notice I said, “lower carb” instead of “no carbs.” Because lower can mean 100 to 200 grams per day.
The more important message, and the one that will influence how you eat, is developing an understanding that while carbs are not all bad, they’re not all good either.
A practical approach to eating carbs:
Saying carbs are ‘ok’ does not mean you should shovel in bucket-loads of refined flour foods and chase them down with gallons of soda. Instead, be smart about where the majority of your carbs come from. It’s always best to create a diet that’s filled with whole and minimally refined foods. In other words eat more good foods (proteins, vegetables, fruits) and less of the stuff that you know tastes good but has limited nutritional value (candy, soda, sugar-loaded foods, and boatloads of pasta).
Finding the right diet for you can take some some work, but it’s important to remember that it can include carbs. And a healthy diet can also include some of the carbs that you might not consider healthy, whether that’s breads, grains, rice, or even some sugary dessert every now and then. The main point is to make the majority of your diet, say 80 to 90 percent, come from the good stuff, and keep the minority to the bad. (Or avoid it altogether if that’s your preference, or you know that a small taste might open the gateways to a binging episode.)
Some people will thrive on more carbs, while others will suffer. Your best bet is to play around with food options that are both healthy and work for you. This type of diet is sustainable, and while it’s not really a diet as such (or that exciting), it is the best approach to dietary success.
Experiment and be patient. Find the right balance for your body and let that become the truth when it comes to your dietary stance on carbs and the message we need to spread.