The REAL Truth About Carbohydrates

True or false?New John got me all fired up when he linked to an article on SparkPeople that talked about “truths” about carbohydrates.

That article’s got some pretty serious errors about carbs with respect to low-carb diets.

I don’t mean any ill will against the author. I’m sure she’s giving out the most correct information she’s gathered over her years of being a dietician. She’s not the only one who recommends these things, and she has far more experience than I do. However, my education on this stuff comes from other people who DO have some hefty experience under their belts.

It starts out OK. The author starts out by saying that carbs do have an impact on your waistline and actually make you hungry. She also says that “you can have your carbs and eat them too”, which is also true, but it’s only half true. What really got my goat was how she talked about low-carb diets.

The big mistakes

The first thing I need to address is what she says about low-carb diets:

Following an extremely low-carbohydrate diet is disastrous, dangerous, and above all—boring! Carbohydrates are NOT the enemy.

Low-carb diets are only disastrous and dangerous to the mainstream health gurus’ careers and the grain industry. We don’t know what kind of dangers she’s referring to, and she didn’t tell us via any study reference. Maybe she’s only thinking about extreme cases of no-carb diets that involve just protein and fat. But that is not a low-carb diet.

Here’s what I know low-carb diets do: help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart disease, help arthritis, all but eliminate diabetes, fix migraines, and a whole lot more.

And low-carb diets are FAR from boring. A lot of people say life is boring without drugs and alcohol. The rest of us know that stuff will get you into more trouble that it’s worth. Most carbs are the same way (and even have addictive qualities). On this site and many others you’ll find plenty of recipes that show you how “boring” low-carb diets are.

The real truth of the matter: grain carbohydrates actually cause damage to your internals. Sounds like an enemy to me.

Including the appropriate amounts and types of carbohydrate-rich foods in your diet is essential for long-term health and weight loss/maintenance.

This is indeed true. But we’ll no doubt disagree on which are the appropriate amounts and types of carbohydrates.

Eat all the veggies you want. Seriously, as much as you can handle. Veggies are awesome and contain all sorts of micronutrients that your body needs. So go nuts! Feel free to enjoy legumes if you’re not following a paleo diet. If you subscribe to paleo, you can even have some fruit once in a while!

Just stay away from added sugars, grains, and most starchy carbs. Some do a great job at spiking insulin, and others do a great job at irritating your digestive mechanisms.

Ketosis

She also references ketosis saying it’s nothing but bad. You have to be really carb restrictive, like less than 50 grams a day, to be in ketosis. That’s hard to do unless your only carbs are vegetables (i.e. no tubers, legumes, or fruits).

I mention it because she bases her next three points off of ketosis. That’s like saying having a beer is bad because drinking too much beer leads to drunkenness, which can lead to poor decisions, which could possibly lead to an accident.

She said because of ketosis, you’ll often experience “nausea, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, bad breath, and dehydration.” If you drink the amount of water you should be drinking, you won’t be dehydrated, and you probably won’t have the headaches. Sure, you’ll be fatigued, but it’s because your body is switching over to converting fat to energy instead of carbohydrates. You’ll probably get bad breath, so I need to give her that one.

Then she says because of the dehydration, you’ll get constipated. Again, if you’re drinking enough water, you won’t have this problem. I bet increasing fat helps with that as well.

What really got me was the SAD (Standard American Diet)-like recommendation for your diet (emphasis mine):

Fruits: 2-4 servings daily
Vegetables: 3-5 servings daily
Whole grain breads, muffins, bagels, rolls, pasta, noodles, crackers, cereal, and brown rice: 6-11 servings daily
Legumes, beans and peas: 1-2 servings daily
Low-fat and non-fat dairy products: 3 servings daily

Seriously?! 2-3 TIMES the amount of fruits or vegetables made up of GRAINS?! I still don’t understand why the USDA recommends that, especially since various studies have been done connecting wheat alone with several health problems.

You have to ask yourself: if the UDSA has it so right, why is the US so fat?

The biggest point I want to make is that she seems to be taking the extreme of low-carb diets and lumping them all together. If your carbs are limited to veggies and fruits or legumes, you won’t have any of the problems Ms. Hand talks about. The real truth is, you’ll see a whole lot more benefits for having changed your diet.

She does make valid points

When she’s categorizing carbohydrates, she does mention that simple carbohydrates cause a spike in insulin which can lead to fat storage. That’s why low-carb diets work: they don’t spike insulin and don’t lead to fat storage (again, this is another half-truth because even complex carbs can lead to insulin spikes).

While I disagree with her list of how many servings of what you should include in your diet, I completely agree with her “limit” and “eliminate” lists. I think in the majority of overweight people, if you’d observe those two rules, you’d start to see some changes in your body composition.

Disclaimer

Most of what I know about low-carb diets comes from Tim Ferriss, Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Gary Taubes, and other folks with books and blogs. I’ve listened to hours upon hours of Robb’s podcasts, in which he references study after study after study. It’s astounding the amounts and TYPES of benefits one gets by following a low-carb diet. He’s had several people, including PhDs, on his show to talk about it as well.

In addition to what I’ve learned from books, I also have my own anecdotal information. I’ve lost more than 20 lbs on a low-carb diet. My GERD is gone. I don’t get tired during the day like I used to. My blood pressure dropped into the normal range after YEARS of being elevated. My cholesterol is normal. I have not suffered one single “danger” from a low-carb diet.

How do YOU feel about low-carb diets and carbohydrates?

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Comments

  1. Hi Jason;

    Thanks for the effort you put into your blog. It’s great to see how you are progressing and shaking free.

    Good comments about this linked article. I have almost finished reading Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book ‘Eat to Live’ and highly recommend it. He has excellent explanations about why eating mostly vegetables and fruit is mandatory for health (I had the word ‘optimum’ in front of health but decided to remove it as the SAD leads to disease not health) … weight loss is a side benefit. Everything he writes in the book is supported by hundreds of studies. If anyone needs additional material to motivate themselves to eat well it’s in this book.

    Keep up your good work.

    • Thanks for that comment, John. I’ll have to check out that book.

      -j

    • Saw Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s on PBS last night talking up his book and method.
      From what I saw his take colletation data like “people that eat onions have less cancer, so onions are anti-cancer food” Which we know is rubbish. It’s about what you don’t eat.

  2. Wow those hours of listening to Robb are really paying off. I can feel the passion, you sure are fired up.

    You knowledge has expanded as well and it really shows in your writing style, I am impressed.

    I recently watched Fat Head the documentary (its no netflix) and it does a great job of explaining a lot of the cholesterol myth etc, talks about Taubes and the Eades Doctors as well. Great watch for us, and crazy to see that you can do “fast food less carb” not even low carb and still lose some weight and body fat.

    I do disagree that carbs are essential, I will cite the inuit diet on this. They can’t grow veggies up there so they eat mostly fish, they have low vitamin C but no scurvy. Here is an old article here http://discovermagazine.com/2004/oct/inuit-paradox/article_view?searchterm=inuit%20paradox&b_start:int=0

  3. “I’m not qualified to speak in detail about current problems. As a historian, I am qualified to say that less denunciation and more effort at patient study is the best way forward.” – Mark Noll

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