You can have as many calories as you want, but the wrong kind of calories won’t fill you up. You will keep coming back for more. You will keep gaining weight.
Without your most-feared friends’ fats and proteins, it is hard to feel satiated. Your body is not properly regulated and your energy, behavior and cognitive performance will greatly suffer.
This is part of the reason why the “calories in calories out argument” falls short. Yes, it is widely understood that you must maintain a calorie deficit in order to lose weight but this tempts people into thinking that all calories are created equal.
Frequently consuming calories via higher carbohydrate meals causes consistent peaks and valleys in blood sugar making it harder for anyone trying to lose weight. This article will explain what happens when we eat carbohydrates and why you should rethink the modern nutritional guidelines of higher carbohydrate consumption.
Before I begin, I want to be completely clear. I am not suggesting that all carbs are bad but rather that not all carbs are created equal. I do believe that carbohydrates contribute to a healthy diet. I do believe that carbohydrates are essential for athletes and highly active people.
The problem is that advocates of both the high-fat low-carb and low-fat high-carb diet are at war. It is a constant battle for who is right and who is wrong. Meanwhile, people are left with a tough binary choice which is only influenced by the “better” argument.
These generalizations are good for no one because when people argue for low carbs, people often associate this with no carbs which is never a good thing. Your body still needs calories to function.
However, I do believe that a healthier lifestyle (for most) relies on less starchy carbohydrates such as pasta, rice and bread. And if people want to lose weight, they must ditch a majority of the carb sources they hold so dearly and get more quality fats and proteins instead.
“The trick is to match your carbohydrate intake to your individual activity levels, metabolic condition, and physique or performance goals.” – Nate Miyaki
And for many, that carb sweet spot for maintenance and weight loss is between 70-125g’s of fibrous carbohydrate sources. Thus, making me a believer of the lower carb higher fat lifestyle.
The simple carb explanation
Carbohydrates are made up of three different components.
- Fiber – best
- Starch – ok
- Sugar/fructose – no way (ok, fruits in moderation are aight’)
When we eat carbs, they are broken down into simple sugars in the digestive tract with fiber being the exception. Simpler carbs such as most bread, white rice, fruits, and sweets are easily converted into sugars in our bodies.
During digestion, the body converts foods we eat into glucose to make it more readily absorbed by the body. The pancreas begins to produce a hormone called insulin to deal with the foods we eat. One of the functions of this hormone is to signal the body to bring the broken down foods (glucose) into the cells for energy or storage.
The skinny on insulin
Insulin is not necessarily a bad thing. It is one of the primary hormones that helps to:
- Build muscle
- Inhibit the breakdown of muscle
- Shuttle glucose to aid in muscle repair
However, insulin has many not so friendly properties including inhibiting the enzymes that break down fat and decreases the body’s ability to burn fat. Put simply, it causes fat storage but it doesn’t necessarily make you fat.
In healthy people, glucose is absorbed into the blood stream and moved into the cells where it can be used as fuel. The easier the food is converted into glucose, the more quickly our bodies can convert it to energy. While you may think this is a good thing, it is also the primary reason for energy crashes.
Simple carbs lack essential nutrients and fail to keep us satiated. In other words, they are “empty” calories.
When there is an abundance of simple sugars flowing through the body, the pancreas is unable to produce the high amount of insulin necessary to deal with this overload.
During this excess of high blood sugar, the bodies glycogen storage depots begin to fill. When these glycogen storages are full, the broken down carbohydrates (glucose) in your body have no place to go.
Instead, the body begins to absorb them in fat storages and triglycerides.
When glucose builds up in the blood, over time it can lead to a condition known as insulin resistance. This resistance causes the receptors in the body to become numb and prevents the cells from receiving the energy they need.
Until the glycogen stores are depleted (through exercise perhaps?), this excess of glucose in the bloodstream will continue to raise insulin and encourages simple calories in the body to be stored as fat.
Problems with glycogen storage overfill
The continued eating of simple or low-quality carbohydrate sources is only encouraging this resistance to happen more often. Especially if you eat a giant plate of pasta and sit inactive for 3 hours. Or if you consistently fuel your body with carbohydrates instead of replacing more of your calories with fats and proteins.
If glycogen stores never get depleted, fat storages and triglycerides will continue to grow larger as the carbohydrate cycle keeps repeating. If the body is burning glucose as its primary fuel, it inhibits the ability to access and burn body fat. It also inhibits the hormone glucagon, which signals the body to burn stored fat.
If you view it in terms of simple input-output, your carb sources are what is getting burned. Not your fat storages. And yes, this same process happens with even the “healthy” carbohydrates. Just to a lesser extent depending on the fiber available.
If you are wondering why I didn’t mention the Glycemic Index, I think this article sums the drawbacks of it.
A few myths on metabolism
Let’s reflect for a minute on the irony of the suggestion to eat 6 small meals a day. It is argued that this boosts metabolism but the truth is, there is little scientific evidence to back this up. A few of the other metabolism myths you may have heard are:
- Missing meals slows metabolism
- Breakfast revs up your metabolism
- Everything eaten late at night turns to fat
- Eating a very low-calorie diet will help you lose weight
Instead, a better route to fat loss is to avoid spiking your blood sugar (from carbs) and balance your hunger, energy and cravings with quality fats, vegetable and protein based whole food sources.
The Law of Metabolic Compensation
However, the trouble is the way people typically view their relationship with calories. With an “all calories are created equal” approach, it disregards the macronutrient levels of food. It also fails to account for the law of metabolic compensation.
Expert nutritionist Jade Teta explains:
“If you eat less and exercise more you’ll easily create a calorie deficit, but you’ll also create an unbalanced metabolism. Eat less and you get hungry. Exercise more and you get hungry and develop cravings. Do both to the extreme and your motivation goes out the window and your energy is sapped.
Let’s say you come to me at my clinic and ask me to help you lose fat. I take a purely caloric approach and tell you we need to cut your daily calorie intake by 500 calories per day through some combination of eating less and exercising more. You follow my directions and, for the first few weeks, are losing weight.
Then the Law of Metabolic Compensation kicks in. You start feeling hungry all the time. Your energy falls and becomes less predictable. You start getting late night cravings for salty, fatty and sugary stuff. But you have an iron will, so you suck it up. But now adaptive thermogenesis kicks in.
You not only stop losing weight, but you may even start gaining it. Not to mention you’re perfectly primed to go on a three-month eating orgy because your metabolism is making you crave and desire salty, fatty and sugary foods rich in calories.” – Jade Teta
- Eat more fat and proteins for weight loss
- Cycle carbs (ex. 150g on a high active day and 50-100g less active day)
- More weight training vs. slow steady cardio
- High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
- Choose fiber-rich vegetables instead relying on starchy carbohydrate food choices
Rethink your carbohydrate consumption with fats
People have been scared of fats for way too long. For the past 30 years, one person’s personal agenda and flawed scientific research have pushed the idea that low-fat, high carb diets are the way to go. Unfortunately, this couldn’t have been further from the truth.
This is the same misunderstanding that has created so much resistance to change in the process.
By choosing healthy fats, you are picking the most nutrient dense sources of foods. Since our brains are made up of 60% fats, it is essential that we feed it the right sources to optimize our health.
Fats have a wide range of health benefits including:
- Metabolism and cell signaling
- Hormone production
- Nutrient absorption such as vitamins A, K, E and D
- Building blocks for skin cell membranes
- Brain and heart health
- Cardiovascular protection
- Improve body composition
- Alleviate depression
- Preserve memory
- Preserve eye health
Eating low-quality fats such as vegetable oils and processed fats in combination with a high amount of starchy carbs is when the disaster happens.
And don’t even get me started on the bullshit we have been fed regarding saturated fats.
Did you know your body has a backup system?
The fact is, most of the quality nutrients from low-fat foods are in the fat. And that most low-fat processed food options on the market are loaded with added sugar.
Think about this: there is actually no requirement for any “essential dietary carbohydrates” in human nutrition. Your body has a natural process for dealing with the absence of carbohydrates that is actually more efficient than using glucose for fuel.
When you eat a lower carb and higher fat diet, instead of supplying glucose to the brain, the body uses ketones for energy from dietary fat intake. And through these ketones is where the real magic happens.
“It’s possible to live a very long and healthy life never consuming much – if any – in the way of carbs, provided you get adequate dietary protein and fat” – Mark Sisson, Marks Daily Apple
While most diets will have you believe that you need carbohydrates as your primary source of food, it disregards the acknowledgment that fats are a better source of energy for the brain. Which also happen to come without the added spikes in blood sugar.
But we’ll save that for another time.
I’m not here to tell you to abandoned your carbs at all cost. I do however challenge you to look beyond the beliefs about carbs you hold so sacredly. One of those beliefs is that you should get 5-6 servings of these “essential” carbohydrates per day.
Remember what I said before? No one is completely right in nutrition. But they are not wrong either.
Here are 7 things to take away from this article.
- Carbs are not inherently bad but not all carbs are created equal.
- Instead of choosing just simple carbs that spike blood sugar, again and again, satiating foods like quality fats and proteins in place of carbohydrates.
- Quality fats like Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Coconut oil, and all-natural grass fed butter are nutritious sources of calories. By replacing more of the starchy carbohydrate sources you eat with high-quality fats, you can avoid the problematic blood sugar spikes which can lead to weight gain.
- Be wary of completely eliminating all carbs. Instead, get a better fat and protein balance with every meal.
- The lower the fat, the better insulin works. The fewer carbs present, the more insulin works to your advantage.
- Choosing quality fats and proteins also keep you more satiated and better able to conquer your hunger and energy levels while reducing your cravings throughout the day. Thus reducing blood sugar spikes.
- While it may sound ironic, eating more fat and fewer net carbs can help your body burn more fat.
What do you think? What’s your relationship with carbohydrates?