Written by R. S Jacobs
Over the last decade, carbs seem to have had a bad reputation in the health and fitness industry, especially those who are trying to lose weight. There is no question that we have an increasing obesity crisis in the world and the main culprit seems to be carbs. Therefore, let’s ask ourselves, is carbs really the enemy?
If you look back to the early part of the 21st century, carbs were the main part of everyday life and most staple diets were based on high carb foods such as bread or potatoes, but there wasn’t the obesity that we see today. A key turning point seemed to happen during the 70s – 80s when agricultural laws changed. Food manufacturers developed scientific techniques to encourage faster ways to grow and preserve crops, purely for commercial purposes. These tactics resulted in the invention of food marketing to subliminally sway the consumer into thinking certain foods were good or bad for you.These marketing campaigns often encourage low/no carb or low/no fat alternatives to everyday living.
The commercialisation of the food industry in the 70s-80s meant that food manufacturers were allowed to cut corners by producing inorganic food, pumped full of artificial chemicals and genetically modified concoctions. This was the era when the food industry started to introduce processed sugar in everyday essential foods (such as bread, milk, butter, cheese) with complete disregard for the long-term impact on people’s lives.
Advertisers love to use low/no carb and low/no fat across many products, but what they fail to highlight is the fact that the food manufacturers have compensated the reduction of fat or carbs with an excessive amount of processed sugar to ensure that the food tastes nice. In my eyes, this is a lethal combination, as not only will the consumer be drawn in with the false promise of being healthier by having the low/no carb option, but they will also get hooked on the delicious (artificial) taste and worst of all, become addicted to the products which are a common consequence of consuming high amounts of processed sugar. While the consumers’ waistlines get bigger, so does the bank accounts of the food manufacturers!
Processed sugar is a simple carbohydrate which the body absorbs quickly, but too much of it will automatically trigger fat storage for later use (Note, “for later use”. The body assumes you have overloaded specifically for the purpose of using it at a later stage). Apart from the natural simple carbohydrate found in fruit and milk, the body sees the artificial sugar found in soft drinks, cakes, sweets, syrups and soft drinks as toxic.The form of sugar found in carbs such as potatoes, rice, wheat, pasta, oatmeal are called complex carbohydrates. This kind of carbs has a high glycemic index, which means the body takes a longer time to digest them, leaving you feeling fuller for longer. When your body digests them, it utilises the energy and nutrients by effectively distributing it to the muscles, cells, tissues, bones etc as required. It is no wonder why our forefathers were healthier, fitter, stronger and in better shape than our generation.
In other words, processed sugar used to enhance the flavour of low/no carb and low/no fat options is the main contributory factor towards increased body fat. Natural food or ‘clean’ food that has not been processed in any way, are perfectly balanced to reach your nutritional requirements when eaten within moderation. If your goal is to reduce your body fat percentage, it is absolutely essential that you do not cut out an entire food group, instead focus on cutting out processed food and in particular anything that contains processed sugar. Once you understand that your body has been designed to produce its required sugar from complex carbohydrates, it will be much easier to realise how little value additional sugar has in your daily diet.
To elaborate, when you consume complex carbohydrates your body begins to break down the carbs in your stomach first, and immediately uses this energy to fuel the cells to ensure they are working properly. If you completely cut carbs out of your diet, your body has to work twice as hard to get energy from fats and proteins in order to send fuel to your cells. While the cells are waiting for fuel, in many cases they will start to die. Of course, your body will reproduce and replace cells but it is better to avoid unnecessary strain on your entire digestive and circulatory system. By not eating enough carbs, you are more susceptible to hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue, muscle wastage, decreased human growth hormones and many more devastating issues.
Dangers of Cutting Out Carbs.
* Weight Gain. There are many low/no carb diet plans that seem to achieve visible short-term results. However, when you cut out carbs, your body rapidly loses water weight as it works overtime to break down stored carbs, and this loss of water is then seen on the scale as weight loss. The main consequence to this is, as soon as you start to eat any form of carbs, even a tiny portion, your body works hard to replenish the stored energy stores that have been depleted and also save extra to prepare for another shortage.
This cycle continues and leaves your body in a constant state of distress as it struggles to maintain some sort of equilibrium. Your body will never want to readjust according to a deficit diet plan, it will always aim to return to a state of balance according to what your body requires. So, for a long-term sustainable weight loss, never cut out carbs or any other food group for that matter.
* Muscle Catabolism. Most people on low/no carb or no carb diets always tend to look emaciated, very frail and in some cases, very ill. When you significantly reduce your carb intake, your body goes into survival mode and forcibly deplete protein and glycogen in the muscles in order to convert it to glucose for energy. This results in extensive muscle loss, fatigue and extreme lack of energy – Which explains why those who embark on low/no carb high cardio regimes often feel like they have little to no energy. At this stage, most people give up on exercise and crave high sugar foods in order to boost their energy input.
* Weak Immune System. Research shows that people on low/no carb diets are more likely to die before their time due to a weak immune system. Carbs provide the body with approximately 50% of its energy with a funneled and direct supply to fuel cells and organs to maintain a strong and healthy immune system. When you have a low/no carb diet, you basically deprive your body of the “petrol” it needs. A weak immune system can result in fatal consequences as a result of pathogen buildup, cancer, or organ deterioration.
* Elevated Cortisol Output. Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the body to regulate energy released by carbs, protein and fat. Too much cortisol production leads to increased blood sugar levels, which often causes weight gain and is linked to diseases like diabetes alongside a wide range of autoimmune conditions.
* Thyroid Problems. There is a special relationship between carbs and the thyroid gland.The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic rate in the heart, brain, muscle, and most importantly, the digestive system. Carbs support the production of this hormone, therefore by restricting carbs, you will have a decreased thyroid hormone. Common side effects for someone with a decreased thyroid function are heart problems, fatigue, lethargy and often, the dreaded weight gain that they have worked so hard to avoid.
* Reduced Bone Density. One of the main side effects of a low/no carb diet is a significant reduction of bone density due to a rapid decline of glucose and insulin levels. This makes the body lose calcium at an accelerated rate which is then deposited via the urinary tracts. 99% of calcium is found in the bones and teeth, therefore losing a large amount makes the bone brittle and easy to break. Many cases have been reported of people breaking bones during a workout, and reports are quick to blame the exercise but never the low/no carb diet plan.
* Poor Cognitive Function. Your brain is one of the most hungry organs when it comes the energy because it is constantly working to process every function, thought, action, reaction and recalibrate when we do something out of the ordinary – and this is maintained 24/7, 365 days a year for your entire life. Do you believe that up to 50% of glucose in the blood is used by the brain alone? Makes it pretty easy to understand why people on a low/no carb diet often complain of suddenly feeling really tired, hungry and moody.
The brain constantly sends warning signals around the body looking for carbs and letting the body know that glucose levels are low. These signals are often displayed as hunger, dizziness, feeling shaky or woozy, headaches etc. Though, don’t expect these signals to stay on high alert. As your energy levels continue to be depleted and not refueled, these warning signs start to become quieter. After a long period of deprivation or abstinence, the person would start to develop these signs – Lack of concentration, poor memory, poor coordination, impaired judgement, and confusion amongst many other symptoms. More devastating long-term cognitive side effects are diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In conclusion, Carbs are an essential part of your daily nutritional intake and are easily as important as the other food groups. They are essential to keep us alive, healthy, active, strong, and the cornerstone of all our daily functions. Low/no carb diets will only ever result in a constant fluctuation and imbalance, and cutting carbs out of your diet is a definite no-no. If you are looking to reintroduce carbs back into your diet, and have some concerns about knowing how much you should be consuming, my suggestion would be to aim for about 500-600 calories of complex carbs daily, spread out across all of your meals because your body needs a regular supply of this form of energy throughout the day.
I always advise, keep everything in moderation and focus on what each meal or food choice is providing you nutritionally. Get to know what your body needs and what each food group offers, and learn new ways of introducing different options into your diet so you don’t get bored. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and have fun with your food. And most of all, never restrict an entire food groups no matter what the latest (paid) celebrity promises! Just remember, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and if someone is shouting from the rooftop about how amazing the latest low/no carb product is, chances are their bank balance has had a recent boost!
Stay strong, warriors.
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