Carbohydrates are NOT Killing You: Part 2

Carbohydrate Logic Flaw #1:  All Carbohydrates are Created Equal

Refined and unrefined carbohydrates are not created equal.

They have different effects on how the liver and pancreas respond to the incoming glucose load.  Refined carbohydrates that are proportionately higher in the ratio of fructose:glucose result in large boluses of insulin secreted into the bloodstream, typically followed by reactive hypoglycemia (a low energy feeling caused by oversecretion of insulin).

Refined and unrefined carbohydrates have completely different effects on insulin secretion.  Unrefined carbohydrates (above) are metabolized slowly due to the presence of fiber, water, and micronutrients.  Refined carbohydrates (below) are metabolized quickly, given that they are stripped of fiber, water, and essential micronutrients.
Refined and unrefined carbohydrates have completely different effects on insulin secretion. Unrefined carbohydrates (above) are metabolized slowly due to the presence of fiber, water, and micronutrients. Refined carbohydrates (below) are metabolized quickly, given that they are stripped of fiber, water, and essential micronutrients.

Unrefined carbohydrates derived from plant sources including fruits and vegetables are ingested in combination with water, vitamin and mineral micronutrients, and fiber.  The presence of these non-caloric nutrients drastically affect the action of both the liver and pancreas in regulating blood sugar concentrations, resulting in a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream, and therefore a slower release of insulin in the bloodstream.

Foods that are “starchy” contain long chain carbohydrate necklaces that require more time to break down than do short chain carbohydrates.  This is exactly why they are recommended for sustained energy throughout the day.

The infographic does not clearly differentiate between refined and unrefined carbohydrates.

Unrefined carbohydrates = REAL carbohydrates.

Corn, when eaten as corn, will not make you fat.  Potatoes, when eaten as potatoes, will not make you fat.

Refined carbohydrates = FAKE carbohydrates.

Foods that require processing and cannot be eaten in their natural state are suspect.  They require the process of refinement in order to become edible.  These foods include rice, pasta, cereals, and breads.  These foods have been stripped of fiber and valuable micronutrients.  This results in atypical digestion, absorption, transport and utilization of carbohydrates resulting in…weight gain.

Massive Health does state “Easily digestible = worse for you.”  Very good point.

Carbohydrate Logic Flaw #2:  Fatness is Caused by a Single Dietary Component

Fatness is generally not the result of a single dietary component.   Instead, fatness is caused primarily by an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure.  When energy intake exceeds energy expenditure, the human body stores this excess energy, leading to weight gain.  Whether the excess energy comes in as carbohydrate, fat, or protein, mammals have molecular machinery that is specifically designed to store surplus energy as…you said it, FAT.

Only a limited amount of carbohydrates can be stored in the human body, as an intricately designed ball of glucose residues known as glycogen.  Glycogen is stored primarily in the liver and muscle, and has a finite capacity.  In the same way that the fuel tank in your car can only hold 10-15 gallons of fuel before it overflows, the human body can store on average 500g of carbohydrate, or the energy equivalent of about 2,000 kcal.  That’s just about enough energy to power your body for 24 hours.

Protein is generally not stored in the human body.  When eaten in excess, both the liver and the kidney work overtime to degrade unwanted protein, and in the process synthesize a compound called urea which is then excreted in urine.  Muscle tissue has the highest protein content of all tissues in the body, and can be thought of as your body’s protein “storage” depot.  Much like carbohydrates, the protein storage tank is finite in capacity.  If it weren’t, then the mere act of eating large amounts of protein would result in a body builder physique.  If only it were that simple…

Fat, on the other hand has a somewhat infinite storage capacity in the human body.  Adipose tissue (a fancy word for “fat”) is specifically designed to store large amounts of fat.  Evolutionarily, humans adapted to storing fat in order to survive famine.  Our predecessors survived for long periods of time by fasting, resulting in the slow breakdown of adipose tissue.  Think of adipose tissue as the eternal fuel tank.  It’s designed to protect against starvation.  The problem is that as a society we accumulate fat over time by the consumption of excess energy –and act as the nutritional equivalent of pack rats.

Carbohydrate Logic Flaw #3:  Low Carbohydrate Diets Result in Sustained Weight Loss

As the infographic points out, subjects on the Atkins diet lost about 10 pounds on average vs. 5 pounds on a traditional diet.  And the conclusion?  That high carbohydrate diets “don’t coincide with a decline in weight…”  Am I missing something here?

I think it is misleading that people on the “traditional diet” lost 5.5 pounds on average and yet the conclusion was “carbs make people fat.”  Instead, we find that Atkins consumers lost more weight on average, yet indicators of long term health were not assessed.  Consumption of a high proportion of fat and protein in the diet can lead to increased load on the kidney, and increased insulin resistance in the muscle and liver tissue.  Insulin resistance is the primary driving force behind the development of type II diabetes.

Low carbohydrate diets result in rapid weight loss for a number of reasons:

  • Reduced carbohydrate = reduced glycogen storage. Glycogen attracts water in a 3:1 molar ratio, meaning that the loss of glycogen results in 3x the loss of water. Water loss means weight loss.
  • Carbohydrate restriction results in the production of compounds known as ketones. Ketones are produced by the liver and act as an appetite suppressant.
  • High protein intake is also a satiety signal to the brain. The more protein you eat, the fuller you feel.
  • Consumption of a diet high in fat and protein usually results in the consumption of less calories overall. In other words, carbohydrate restriction is synonymous with calorie restriction (CR). Weight loss is a primary result of CR.

 

Reduced carbohydrate = reduced glycogen storage.  Glycogen attracts water in a 3:1 molar ratio, meaning that the loss of glycogen results in 3x the loss of water. Water loss means weight loss.

Carbohydrate restriction results in the production of compounds known as ketones.  Ketones are produced by the liver and act as an appetite suppressant.

High protein intake is also a satiety signal to the brain.  The more protein you eat, the fuller you feel.

Consumption of a diet high in fat and protein usually results in the consumption of less calories overall.  In other words, carbohydrate restriction is synonymous with calorie restriction (CR).  Weight loss is a primary result of CR.

Many scientific studies have now investigated the effect of carbohydrate restriction on weight loss, and found that weight loss is not sustained over periods of time longer than 12 months1,2.  In a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors wrote:

There is insufficient evidence to make recommendations for or against the use of low-carbohydrate diets, particularly among participants older than age 50 years, for use longer than 90 days, or for diets of 20 g/d or less of carbohydrates. Among the published studies, participant weight loss while using low-carbohydrate diets was principally associated with decreased caloric intake and increased diet duration but not with reduced carbohydrate content.

I leave it to you to make up your mind about carbohydrate feeding.  While I believe the author of this graphic was most likely acting on their best intentions, this information should be interpreted very cautiously.  Before you stop eating carbohydrates altogether, think of your long term health.  Personally, I’d rather work at Enron than eat a high fat diet the rest of my life.

 

References:

1. Samaha, F. F. et al. A Low-Carbohydrate as Compared with a Low-Fat Diet in Severe Obesity. N. Engl. J. Med. 348, 2074–2081 (2003).

2. Freedman, M. R., King, J. & Kennedy, E. Popular diets: a scientific review. Obes. Res. 9 Suppl 1, 1S–40S (2001).

3. Bravata DM, S. L. Efficacy and safety of low-carbohydrate diets: A systematic review. JAMA 289, 1837–1850 (2003).

About The Author

Cyrus Khambatta

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 22, I have spent over a decade learning the fundamentals of nutrition at the doctorate level. My goal is to share my knowledge of practical nutrition and fitness with people with prediabetes, type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is an OPPORTUNITY to attain excellent health. Reversing the effects of insulin resistance can be a fun and enjoyable process if the right system is in place. That's why I've spent over 10 years developing a rock solid system that can minimize blood glucose variability and insulin resistance.

Leave a comment or question below