Note: The following is an excerpt (about 5%) from the Truth about Carbohydrates Lesson in my Food First Program.
Sugar Got Hosed!
“Low-carb” approaches to DIE-ting have come and gone over the years since the approach of good ol’ Dr. Atkins became popular in the 90’s. We have now reached the point where just about everyone thinks that all carbohydrates are inherently “fattening.”
The current public view of carbohydrates and their role in human nutrition can be summed up in the following statements:
“Carbs spike your blood sugar.”
“Carbs make you gain weight and get fat, especially around the belly.”
“Carbs are not as important as proteins and fats.”
In many cases, cutting back on, or attempting to severely restrict, carbohydrate consumption can be tremendously detrimental to one’s physiology and health.
The ridiculous statements above are taken out of context and represent an extremely narrow view of the biological complexity of carbohydrates and sugar. Oversimplification is the enemy here. In other words, they miss the forest through the trees.
The Price of Carbohydrate Restriction
“Low-carb” DIE-t, restricting your carbohydrate intake too drastically, or for too long a duration, can lead to the following:
• Decreased thyroid output
• Increased cortisol output
• Decreased testosterone
• Impaired mood and cognitive function
• Muscle catabolism (breakdown of tissues)
• Suppressed immune function
[Note: The above are magnified in the presence of any sort of regular exercise regimen.]
In other words, your metabolism actually slows down (both short and long-term), the stress response is initiated, and the output of stress hormones goes up, and your muscle-building hormones go down. None of these things are good if your goal is to build muscle, lose fat, and improve body composition (the way you look, neked!).
Carbohydrates, Thyroid, and Metabolism
Every single cell in the body requires thyroid hormone (T3) for optimal metabolic efficiency and energy production. Generally speaking, T3 is the most active of the thyroid hormones and plays a huge role in blood sugar regulation and proper metabolic function.
The thing is, the thyroid gland itself does not produce an abundance of T3; it does, however, produce quite a bit of T4. That T4 must be converted to the more active form, T3. This conversion is enzyme-dependent, and the majority of it takes place peripherally in the liver. The enzymes that are responsible for this conversion are known as type-1 deodinase and 5’ deodinase, respectively. The type-1 deodinase enzyme is glucose-dependent! This means that if enough glucose is not in sufficient supply, the conversion will be down-regulated (slowed or inhibited). This will lead to a decrease in overall T3 levels and a decrease in metabolic rate and efficiency. The other enzyme, 5’ deodinase, is actually selenium-dependent. Therefore, a selenium deficiency can also, potentially, lead to decreased T3 production.
Low T3 levels can lead to a condition some experts call euthyroid sick syndrome, in which people are constantly cold and very lethargic.
Research has demonstrated that T3 is very sensitive to caloric and carbohydrate intake. When calories and carbs are too low, and glucose is in short supply, your T3 levels drop. (Vermont Study)
It has, furthermore, been demonstrated that another hormone, called reverse T3 (rT3), is also sensitive to calorie and carbohydrate intake. Reverse T3, as the name implies, inhibits T3, and lowers metabolic rate and efficiency. What do you think happens to rT3 levels when one does not eat enough carbohydrates? You guessed it – rT3 levels go up and block the pro-metabolic effects of T3. On the flip side, eating the right amount of carbohydrates from the right sources can down-regulate (inhibit) rT3 production. That’s what we want!
Low-Carbohydrate Diet = High Cortisol and Low Testosterone
Yet another detrimental aspect of the low-carb approach is elevated levels of cortisol, particularly in those individuals who are participating in regular exercise. Keep in mind, that many individuals implementing the “low carb” approach are exercising themselves nearly to death on a weekly basis.
Research has consistently demonstrated that those who exercise with low carbohydrate consumption have a sharp decline in their testosterone and other anabolic hormones. These same individuals correspondingly exhibit higher levels of the catabolic (destructive) hormone, cortisol. This is the perfect recipe for losing muscle and gaining fat. I do not know of anyone with either of those as part of their health or performance-related goals.
Low Carb Bafoonery and Female Physiology
I have worked with countless women who attempt a “low-carb” nutritional approach in an effort to create short-term weight loss and/or long-lasting health. Unfortunately, this approach creates far more problems than it solves, long-term. The damaging effects of low-carbohydrate diets on hormonal physiology is far more pronounced in females than it is in males because, well, females are simply more fragile hormonally than males (no real shocker there).
Due to altered endocrine (hormones) physiology, here are a few of the issues that females are likely to experience as a result of their “low carb” efforts:
• Irregular or absence of menstrual cycle (amenorrhea)
• Decreased fertility
• Hypoglycemia and blood sugar swings
• More body fat
• Loss of bone density (cortisol and estrogen demineralize bone)
• Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues
• Chronic inflammation
• Swelling, water retention, and edema
• Chronic fatigue
• Various insomnia (sleep) issues
• A host of other chronic problems
None of the above issues are on any female’s “Wish List”. Yet, many of them continue to struggle with one or more effects as a direct result of the low-carbohydrate diets that are endorsed by the so-called “experts” in the world of nutrition. In some cases, I have seen females struggle with this approach for years, even a decade or more, and CONTINUE the same nutritional strategy. The amount of metabolic damage created with this approach is staggering. More of the same equals more of the same.
The End Game…
The $64,000 question is, “How many carbohydrates should I eat in a day?” The answer is…I don’t know. Carbohydrate consumption is highly individual and depends on a number of factors. Your goals, genetic make-up, the sources of the carbohydrates, activity level (type, duration, and frequency), total caloric intake, current carbohydrate consumption, total protein and fat intake, and many others.
It takes time and work to customize your carbohydrate intake for YOUR PHYSIOLOGY. Simply dropping carbohydrate intake in the basement because some “expert” says its a good idea is playing Russian Roulette with your physiology and metabolism. It’s not about “high carb” or “low carb.” It’s about the “right carb” intake for you at this moment in time.
If you are willing to put in the work to customize your carbohydrate intake (and overall nutrition – don’t get it twisted it’s not only about carbohydrates), you can repair metabolic damage, improve your physiology, and look and feel the way you want.
For those willing to put in the work, the “low carb” world of nutrition can be forever a thing of the past. More importantly, your physiology and health will thank you for it!