Why You Should Reduce Carbs in Your Diet

by on July 24, 2014

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The most important thing you can do for your diet, for your health and to maintain a healthy weight is to reduce your carb intake.

“Carbs” include bread, potatoes, rice and pasta as well as all forms of sugar including high sugar drinks such as fruit juice.

In evolutionary terms we have only had the high sugar diet we currently eat for a fairly short time. In fact, it’s since the agricultural revolution – when we started growing corn wheat, and barley. This was so recent in our evolution that our bodies have not had time to adjust to eat a diet so high in sugar. A high sugar diet in humans makes heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity much more likely.

In many cases we don’t so much choose to eat food which breaks down to sugar. It is often largely habit plus persuasion from advertisers. And now the massive sugar and grain industry is very resistant to any attempts to curb its power – and is always pushing higher consumption of these products.

We can take back control – of our diet and our health – by re-thinking our decisions about the healthiest things to eat. And these are, predominantly, lean protein, vegetables and small amounts of whole fruit.

Pure Sugar

It’s true that pure sugar from a sugar bowl or lump – “simple sugar” – is worse for us because it travels into the bloodstream very quickly producing an unhealthy “sugar spike”.

But bread, potatoes, and so on – the “complex” sugars – still produce an unhealthy amount of sugar – it just takes longer to get into the bloodstream. But it still gets there.

A high level of sugar in the bloodstream, from any source, is a danger to health. We will be healthier for longer if we keep our blood sugar as low as we can in its normal range.

Why Lower My Carbs?

I want you to get the “best bang for your buck” from changing your diet even if my suggestions challenge some basic assumptions you may have.

I am certain that nearly all of us need to reduce our carbohydrate intake – including both simple and complex sugars – to keep us healthier.

Carbs Make You Fat

Another reason to cut down on carbs is that they make you fat. They do this because excess carbs in the body are turned into fat. (It’s not fat that makes you fat! At least, it’s not healthy fat.)

There are good reasons why the body stores excess carbs as fat. Basically, it is storing food for us for the winter when we’ll be short of food. Our bodies just do not realise that these days we can just pop to the shops in winter to stock up!

So significant fat deposits are just not a requirement for survival as they might have been hundreds of years ago.

It is easy to eat too many carbohydrates as they are pretty much everywhere in foods, not only sugar itself but also bread, potatoes, pasta, beans, milk and soft drinks. Eating these foods keeps the blood sugar higher for longer and can so easily turn straight to fat.

Carbohydrates Are Sugars

When you think “carbohydrates”, think “sugars”. As I said, all carbohydrate – bread, potato, rice and so on – is broken down by your body into sugar.

You might be shocked to know how much sugar is in a can or bottle of normal coke.

The Sugar Stacks web site makes it very plain:

Sugarstacks2 We probably all know, deep down, that soda has a lot of sugar.

But few people realise just how much sugar there is – if you look at all sugar – in a typical Western meal of meat, potato, bread, vegetables and a pudding.

Take a look at that:

Now that is a lot of sugar – which can go straight to your fat deposits.

Check out the Sugar Stacks site for more examples of food “translated” into sugar cubes. Looking at food in terms of the sugar – of all types – it contains certainly brings home just how much sugar we can eat in a typical day, without realising it.

Simple Sugars, Complex Sugars

There are two types of sugars: simple sugars and complex sugars.

Simple sugars taste sweet – such as table sugar, honey, lactose Sugarstacks(from milk) and fructose (from fruit).

Complex sugars do not taste sweet when we eat them, but they are sugar nonetheless. They break down into simple sugars when we digest them. They are then absorbed into the blood stream – exactly the same as simple sugars. They just take a bit longer to get there.

The major part of carbohydrate-rich foods – such as bread, potatoes, rice and pasta – consists of these complex sugars.

We can divide foods into: high carb, moderate carb, and low-carb – in other words, high, moderate, and low sugar. This will be very helpful to guide us in what to eat to do the best for our health – and the best for our weight loss.

Example of food which fit into these three categories are given a little later.

You see when you consume carbohydrates you build up sugar in your blood and from there two things can happen. That sugar supply in your blood can be burnt off as you expend energy or else it is stored in your body as fat. Now the X factor in this process is your metabolic rate or MR.

If you have a fast metabolic rate your sugar supply will disappear quickly. If you have a slow metabolism rate then the sugar becomes an unwelcome house guest hanging around as a residual high blood sugar, or being laid down as fat.

One major fact about weight loss relates to your metabolic rate. Change that and you’re well on the way to shedding those pounds.

The best, and fastest, way to raise metabolic rate is through Interval Training, sometimes called HIIT, which only takes 5-10 minutes a day, and which raises our metabolic rate for the next 24 hours – burning off excess fat. No other form of exercise does this.

One expert in HIIT is the anti-aging expert, Dr Al Sears. His “PACE” exercise system is very worth reading and applying.

Cut Those Carbohydrates

There are a total of three major food groups – that’s all: fats, carbs and protein. Your body needs energy which can be obtained not only from carbs, but also from fats and protein. In fact, you don’t actually need carbohydrates-rich foods to survive: because the body can easily create carbs from fat or protein.

Here is a list of carbohydrates you can cut out completely or almost so. Avoid these foods whenever possible or at least minimise them.

All sugary foods and drinks

  • Sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Sweetened drinks and fruit juice
  • Any manufactured foods which have been sweetened. Eg “cook-in sauces”, such as ready pasta sauces, and ready-made curries often have high sugar content.

The well-known carbohydrates

  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Bread

Whole grains whose major constituent is carbohydrate

  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Wheat

Fruit and vegetables

  • Dried fruit
  • Fresh fruit other than berries

Now it’s possible you’re reading that list and thinking that many of those items would normally be considered healthy. And admittedly fruit and vegetables are listed as medium-carb food as opposed to high-carb foods like pasta, bread and potatoes, etc.

But a healthy diet aims to make massive reductions in your intake of high carbs and urges you to cut back on your intake of medium carbs as well. If you still think this principle sounds strange, here’s what well-known and prolific health writer Leslie Kenton says in her book The X-Factor Diet.

“Say you’ve just eaten a classic high-carb meal, the high insulin levels your body produces in response to that meal means that your body fails to burn the glucose as energy in your cells but instead stores it as fat. Over time, this process produces more and more body fat. So in the long term, a high-carb diet means more and more fat – and less and less energy.

Is This a Step Too Far?

So looking at this section on carbohydrates, you may be thinking that removing bread, potatoes, rice and pasta from your diet is simply a step too far. Even a reduction of 50% of those foods would be a massive change in your eating patterns and habits.

Well that’s a fair point but in reply I would say the following.

  • You don’t have to remove those well-known carbs altogether but the fewer you consume the quicker and the greater will be your weight loss.
  • Develop a new mind-set which is “I’ll occasionally or very occasionally have carbs”
  • Habits control our lives and if you develop the habit of swapping vegetables for rice and bread, you may discover your weight begins to fall and fall significantly

There follows some examples of food in the “high carb”, “moderate carb” and “low-carb” categories.

Remember, though, that measuring the carbs in a food is not an exact science: the measurements used are estimates. And secondly, carbs aren’t the sole consideration, they are just a guide. You can’t just go off and eat everything off the “low-carb” list daily – otherwise you could, for example, end up eating only meat.

That is not ideal as it might contain too much saturated fat and too few of the essential nutrients which the vegetable and fruit kingdoms provides. But this list gives you an idea of food I am going to recommend you try and include and those you should try to minimise or exclude.

High carb: this includes potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, grains, dried fruit, fruit juice, breakfast cereal, muesli, porridge, biscuits, deserts and pastries, many manufactured foods (check the labels for the % of carbs).

Moderate carb: this includes many vegetables, most fruit, and the (dried) beans and pulses.

Low-carb: Most protein foods – meats, fish, tofu, cheese; nuts and seeds; in the bean family, soya is low; green vegetables including lettuce, cucumber, watercress, broccoli, cabbage and all types of green leaves: mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes and cauliflower.

What to Do the Experts Say?

Finally, let’s have some more views to reinforce my contention that lowering carbs dramatically has a positive influence on health – as well as on weight.

It’s often helpful to turn to antiaging experts when considering the rights and wrongs of nutrition. That’s because these people are focused on what we can do to live a long time. And that coincides with what we can do to keep ourselves healthy

This is what acknowledged health expert Ray Kurzweil and antiaging expert Dr Terry Grossman say about carbs and sugar.

“It’s not unusual for people to consume 60% or more of their calories in the form of carbohydrates.” (Fantastic Voyage, 2005)

They go on to recommend that no-one should consume more than one third of their total calories – 33% – in the form of carbohydrates. In addition, they say high risk groups should consume only one sixth of their calories – 17% – as carbohydrates.

This is a serious reduction in carbohydrate intake.

What are their high risk groups who need very low carbohydrate intake? They include people who are trying to lose weight, and people with type II diabetes. (See page 58 of Fantastic Voyage).

Further recommendations from Kurzweil and Grossman for the high risk groups include:

“Eliminate high – GL (“glycaemic load”) foods, including pastries, deserts of all kinds containing sugar and refined starch, bread, pasta, and high starch vegetables such as potatoes, and rice… Generally avoid grains and fruit juices”

(“High glycaemic load” foods are those which pass sugar into the blood stream quickly. Wikipedia article)

These recommendations are toned down a little bit for the “medium risk” group of people.

But I think you can see the thrust of my argument, which is that our health is adversely affected by the habit of consuming large amounts of refined sugar, or foods which breakdown in our body to produce sugar.

Eat Low-Carb

So my dietary recommendations can be labelled a low-carb diet and some of you may wonder if that is safe. Well I think it’s fair to say that medical opinion on the issue of a low-carbs diet is divided.

There are some health professionals who support such a diet while others are sitting on the fence wanting to see the data from long-term trial studies which have been slow to arrive.

Low-carb diets have only been seriously popular and widely used since the late 1990s. Recent studies have produced data but there has been considerable debate regarding the information gleaned from such trials. You can read a summary of a variety of findings from professional medical publications in this article on Widipedia.

There is plenty of evidence that high blood sugar is bad for health – even before it causes diabetes: don’t expect your doctor to tell you that, though.

But you can check out an article on the well-known Mayo Clinic site which lists the ailments caused by diabetes, and points out that these start developing before the diabetes shows – with “slightly high” blood sugar. The conditions it quotes include heart attack, stroke, and eye problems.

And as far as weight gain is concerned, you don’t have to be a health professional to know that obesity is a proven health risk. Losing weight and maintaining an appropriate weight and general good health is the exact opposite. Obese people do not live well into old age whereas slim and healthy people do.

The Case is Proven

I hope I’ve told you enough to convince you that cutting down your intake of carbs – all types of sugar, simple and complex – is good for your health.

When you start, it does require a complete rethink of your diet; especially breakfast, for many people. You need to get away from toast, pastries, and all types of cereal – including supposedly healthy muesli which often includes dried fruit.

So yes, it will be a struggle, but it will be worth it to stay healthier as well as maintaining a healthy body weight.

  • Jan

    Porridge it seems is a high carb BUT we are informed that we should eat this healthy grain for breakfast daily as it lowers cholesterol and keeps you feeling satisfied and full until lunch time ensuring there will be no need for snacking on the sweet stuff between breakfast and lunch. Please discuss this.

    • Hi Jan – A good question. The answer is, it’s all relative.

      All starch – including all grains, so, including oats – converts into sugar in the body. Sugar is bad for us in general. Sugar which enters the bloodstream quickly is even worse for us. In other words, pure sugar, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, etc, as well as white flour product bread, biscuits, etc, and as well as fruit juice,. soda (coke), etc.

      Some foods are high in starch content but they get absorbed more slowly from the gut into the bloodstream. So there is not such a massive hit of sugar for the body to deal with. There is the same amount of sugar, but it is absorbed over a longer period of time.

      This is still not good, per se, but it’s “better”.

      As I said, it’s all relative. We have to eat something and we can’t avoid starch completely.

      I’d ask, “Do you have any sort of sweetener on your porridge?” Because that makes the porridge worse from a sugar point of view.

      Breakfast is a toughie. I used to have lettuce, tomato, Parma ham and poached eggs. But I didn’t really like having all those eggs everyday. Now I have found a breakfast of mixed nuts, fruit and seeds suits me very well.

      I have a mixture of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds, dried goji berries, shaves of almonds, dried coconut, and a few raisins. I soak these overnight and they are lovely next day with fresh blueberries added.

      Yes, the fruits have some sugar in, but less than most fruit does. And, as I said, it’s all a compromise: the nutrients supplied by those high-powered berries are worth the small amount of sugar (relatively) they contain.

      For soaking, I either use water and then next day add a little soya cream before eating. Or you can use oat milk for the soaking. Either of these options is tasty. Or just use water.

      I hope this clarifies a little.

      Malc

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