Why You Should Be Careful With Carbs
Part Four Of The New Nutrition Series
Rather than re-write a topic I’ve already dwelt on so many, many times, I thought I’d take an excerpt from my new book. I’m discussing point four of my New Nutrition Series, which is:
‘That over-indulgence of carbohydrates creates a vicious cycle whereby your body continually releases insulin, a fat-storing hormone that can also lead to diabetes, obesity and heart disease’
So what am I talking about?
Let’s start with this. Did you know that increased blood sugar levels have the ability to make you fat even if you don’t eat any fat? When you eat carbohydrate foods – and I don’t just mean candy bars and French fries, but even ‘healthy carbs’ the existing presence of glucose, amino acids or fatty acids in your intestine stimulates your pancreas to release insulin. And guess what? One of insulin’s most important priorities (although you may not agree) is to assist your body to store fat more effectively.
Are All Carbs are Evil? And What is a Carb Anyway?
Many of you have no doubt been on the BodyIncredible journey for some time. In fact, you may have come to think that carbohydrates are the ‘devil’ of nutrition.
‘Stay away from them at all costs!’, you’ve probably heard.
Well that’s one way of thinking . On the other hand, you may be from the pro-carb camp:
‘Steer clear of too much protein or fat, and focus on healthy fibre-rich carbohydrates like whole-grains, fruits, and vegetables’.
Before we bring on the battle of the pro-carb people vs the anti-carb people, let’s take a look at what carbohydrates actually do in your body.
The Functions of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are, by definition, sugar. To put it simply. they are different forms (some refined, some natural) of simple sugars which are linked together.
Your body uses carbohydrates to feed your brain. This is because your brain uses glucose (a form of sugar made from carbohydrate) as its primary energy source. In fact, the brain actually uses more than two thirds of the circulating carbohydrates in your bloodstream while you are at rest. As a result, your body will continually convert carbohydrate into glucose for the brain. Of course, this could be a little tricky if you’re not eating any of those carbs, which explains why some people experience extreme mental fog or loss of concentration on very low-carb diets.
Of course, not every carbohydrate-food you eat is used for brain energy. Especially if you are consuming vast amounts of the stuff! Anything leftover is stored as glycogen (a long string of glucose or sugar molecules), and goes first and foremost to the liver and the muscles. Glycogen stored in the liver can be used as an energy source for later (a sort of back-up), but glycogen stored in the muscles is there to stay.
I hope I’m not getting too technical for you. There’s still a little to explain, and this is truly vital stuff.
When you eat too many carbohydrates for your body, you basically run out of room to store all the glycogen that has been created. This doesn’t actually take that long. An average person can store about 300 to 400 grams of carbs in their muscles (that’s total), but only about 60 to 90 grams of carbs in their liver – roughly two cups of cooked pasta.
Here’s where it gets a little scary.
Once the liver and the muscles are full of glycogen there is only one place left for it to go – and that’s your fat cells. And it’s not as though it heads there as a back-up energy source. No, your body assumes that if you’re eating so many carbs, then you must be working up toward a hibernation period. So your smart body just goes ahead and turns those carbs, healthy or not, into fat – before shuttling that fat into your long-term fat cells. After all, if you’re not fattened up for hibernation, you could die while you’re sleeping! Unfortunately for you, hibernation never comes, but fattening time can go on for your entire lifetime.
Am I getting through to you? Pretty shocking, isn’t it?
If you continue to eat more carbs than your body needs, your body may even be forced to create new fat cells once the existing ones fill up. There was a time when health experts believed that new fat cells could only be created during growth spurts and pregnancy, but we now know that they can be made any time they’re required. Eeek!
The long and short of it is that even though carbohydrates themselves are fat-free, eating more carbs than you need will lead to excess fat being stored. Some experts even believe that up to half the carbs you eat may end up stored as fat. On top of this, all that carb munching will cause your blood glucose to rise, causing insulin to run rampant in your body and even more fat to be stored!
Just to make things worse, one of the outcomes of this is that your body will not release any stored fat for energy. Why? Because you have plenty of glycogen from all those carbs you’re eating – and that’s a much easier source of energy than dipping into your fat cells. Remember your body will always go for the easiest option when it comes to keeping your motor running.
Final Points On Carbohydrates
- Natural carbs (plant-based, minimally processed) are always going to be a preferable option to refined carbs. Studies have shown that diets high in refined carbohydrate release more insulin – increasing your body’s fat storing ability.
- High insulin levels from too much carbohydrate intake also suppress glucagon and growth hormone – two hormones that contribute to fat burning and muscle growth. Remember, muscle mass is known to enhance your metabolic rate.
- There are many studies to support what I’m staying. For example, Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D., found that there are two factors that influence the amount of fat in your blood stream (and hence in your fat stores). One of them is how much fat you eat, but the second is – you guessed it – that your body makes fat from carbohydrates. Jeff says: ‘The carbs you eat (particularly starches and sugar) are absorbed into your bloodstream as sugar. As your carb intake rises, so does your blood sugar. This causes your body to release the hormone insulin. Insulin’s job is to return your blood sugar to normal, but it also signals your body to store fat. As a result, your liver starts converting excess blood sugar to triglycerides, or fat.’
The good news is that in order to optimise weight loss, you don’t need to go so far as to avoid these foods altogether. Rather, it’s about combining them with other foods such as healthy proteins and fats in order to bring down the overall insulin-releasing-ability of the meal, and thus determine the way your body reacts
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Thanks for reading this article in the New Nutrition series. Follow these links to review other articles in this series:
Part One: How To Balance Your Hormones
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