Sunday, March 20, 2011

Carbo-Hungry All the Time

This is my first time posting on this blog, my wife, Carey, asked my to share some information I recently came across concerning sugar and, more specifically, carbohydrates.  To set things up, I recently lost about twenty pounds using a low carb diet.  The science behind a low carb diet is sound and it works, very well and very fast—especially compared to calorie counting.  Low carb dieting scared me, I thought it was all about eating meat and fat, but it is doesn’t have to be that way.  Most natural foods are lower in carbs: nuts, vegetables, some dairy products, and, of course, meat, are low in carbohydrates.  So why does it work so well?  It is all about sugar.  Carbohydrates, even complex ones, turn into sugar in our blood.  Too much blood sugar quickly becomes toxic to our bodies so our bodies need to use it or store it, it can’t just hang around until it is excreted.  So, our bodies store the blood sugar it doesn’t use as, fat.  If you cut carbohydrates, and therefore lower your blood sugar, your body has to rely on the stored fat for energy because it isn’t getting enough energy from your diet.  The end result is you loose weight, most of it fat.
            So how does this help us understand sugar addiction?  It is related to the process of storing the blood sugar as fat.  When we eat lots of sugar and simple carbohydrates, like yummy white bread, our body has to work very hard to keep from becoming toxic.  It uses insulin to do this.  But, the more insulin we have to produce, the less effective it becomes.  It starts telling the body to store all that blood sugar as fat, so much so that our cells don’t get enough of it to use as energy.  This results in the dreaded cravings a sugar addict knows so well.  I’ll give an example of this, say I eat a bowl of sugary, high carb cereal for breakfast, by 10:00 I am usually starving and craving food.  My body processed all those carbs super fast, much of it going into my fat cells, and my muscles and brain didn’t get what they needed to sustain me.  So, my brain, being a self-preserving organ, tells my body I’m hungry, even though my belly may be full.  Think of eating a whole pizza and still craving food.  It happened to me all the time.  That is why counting calories while eating carbs is so hard, and ineffective. 
            Now, some quick things about fat, the kind we eat.  Fat has been blamed for a host of ills, including: heart disease, high cholesterol, obesity, and cancer, to name a few.  This isn’t necessarily true.  The body needs good fats for lots of functions.  The brain is mostly fat and there is even some research that suggests mental problems like depression can actually be caused by a low-fat diet.  In reality, the food pyramid should be more like a slightly tapered trapezoid, with fats and proteins getting larger squares than they have in the pyramid.  The FDA suggests eating 300g of carbs a day, an amount that lots of research suggests is too much for the sedentary lifestyles most of us lead.  Fat is not the real culprit for the obesity epidemic, it is carbohydrates, especially sugar.  Since the low-fat, high carb diet—as suggested by FDA—was instituted, type two diabetes has also become an ‘epidemic’.  Refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup consumption is a big part of that, but so is refined flower and starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn.  It might not seem like it while we’re eating them, but that bag of potato chips and those fries are turning into sugar in your bloodstream, and lots of it.
            In conclusion, it might seem like a hard way to live, cutting out yummy carbohydrates…so don’t do it, eat pasta and rice and potatoes, just do it in moderation.  Keep your daily carbs in mind, and try to get more carbohydrates from fruits than from white breads and other simple carbs.  The problem with dieting is extremes; when you are done with the diet, you go back to the way you used to eat and gain all that weight back again.  The key is to be balanced.  Eat protein to feel full and build lean muscles,  eat fat to keep your body functioning smoothly and for slow energy release, eat fruits and vegetables for nutrients and anti-oxidants, and eat carbs for energy.  Just don’t over eat them or your blood sugar will spike and you will be craving more food hours later, even with a full tummy.  Too many carbs, equal, high blood sugar.  There is nothing good about high blood sugar, nobody would dispute that.

Note:  There is a really educational documentary called Fat Head that explains all of this in much greater detail.  The documentary is a little slow, but well worth the watch for the information presented.  The link to Fat Head blog.