Oh, to Carb or Not to Carb (the Battle of the Low-carb, High-carb Diets)

“Americans have more food to eat than any other people and more diets to keep them from eating it.”  — Unknown

Let the frustrations begin.  This post will be about clearing up a few things about our diets.  Paleo will be explained in Layman’s terms and, by and large, I am going to rant and vent. But try and spin my frustrations with nutritionists, the industry at large, and pop culture into a piece of beautiful intellectual poetry that hopefully will leave you going “huh… well, now it makes sense!” and hopefully will allow you to take the knowledge to help aid you in your quest for all things awesome!

Carbohydrates, or “carbs,” are macro-nutrients we find in foods.  It is short for anything your body consumes where the majority of the molecule is made up of carbon and hydrogen.  These molecules are generally more complex than your simple sugars, such as glucose and sucrose and—the devil—fructose.  But the major point here is that the majority of these “carbs” get broken down into… glucose, which, of course, your body then breaks down at the cellular level and ultimately into ATP.

Here is where I get just a little annoyed about all the naysayers regarding Atkins and the Paleo world in general.  Carbohydrates exist in vegetables!  I repeat… there are plenty of “carbs” in your vegetables!  There also just happens to be a tremendous amount of useful nutrients in your vegetables that are extremely hard to find in your run-of-the-mill GMO bread/pasta/pastry/fettuccine alfredo.

But the problem is that we use the term “carbs” to mean the grains of this world.  As a result, this has led to more confusion, not less, and more people having more problems than ever before.  So at this point,  I am going to break down a little history and science and then ask a couple questions just for you to think about.  And then below I will have some links where you can see what I saw first-hand for yourself.  Then you can call them liars, and not just me, if you still don’t believe us.

First, Atkins/Paleo or as we will call it, the “low carb” camp, statistically works very well for a lot of people who switch to it.  There are those who go on it and fail to lose weight; some even gain.  Generally, these people failed to adhere to the diet.  Second, when testing the “high carb,” some lost weight—not as many as the low carb, but some did.  What both camps had in common was if they consumed fewer calories, they lost weight.  The biggest thing was adherence to the plan and being careful not to eat too much.  This last sentence is going to come up again later in the post.

But what drives me nuts is that there are carbs in your vegetables, and even in these experiments they really treated them separately from all the grain products.  Why?  I don’t know, but it annoys me nonetheless.  Oh, and the high-fat vs low-fat diet tends to go along with this, but this also confuses people thanks to our heart specialist in the 70s who know a great deal about hearts, but who honestly knew jack about anything else in the human body….  (I’ll get to that in a minute,too.)

So that we are clear, good fats are better than the bad, but science is not really sure what is good and what is bad.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say olive oil, coconut oil… good!  Trans fats from McDonalds, canola oils… bad!  But the more important thing to realize and understand about why the low-fat crusade backfired and caused more obesity and more heart disease and more Diabetes is they forgot some very critical things.  But first, the history: When doctors back then looked at a patient dying from heart disease, they noticed a lot of cholesterol in the arteries.  Their conclusion was that the person had consumed too much of the foods which were high in cholesterol and therefore, “fat—bad! Stop eating fat.”  The mistake in their logic was similar to showing up to a house on fire, and seeing the firefighters there to put it out, and going “Huh… house on fire… firefighters… they must be why the house is on fire.  Get rid of ‘em!”  They missed that part where the cholesterol was going there to try and repair the damaged caused by the inflammation, which is, in fact, caused when we consume too many foods of an inflammatory nature, i.e., too much sugar (fructose) being the culprit.  So, what happened? They pulled the fat. We eat more to feel full, or think we can eat more just cause it is fat free so “we’re allowed,” and what has happened? More heart disease, because now we eat a heck of a lot more of the sugars that cause all the problems in the first place.  I need to be clear.  People think that the fat in the meat or yogurt or coconut is the fat that will go straight to their hips.  The truth: Most of that gets used for cellular membranes and pretty much all of your tissues as well, being the preferred source of fuel.  Too much sugar is what will go straight to the gut because it can only be used as a fuel source, and if your body can’t use it? The body is very good at throwing it into the fat cells. But let us also be clear that too much fat, as in too many calories, will then also go to your hips.

Okay, now the big thing I want us to get from this post, because the other concern in the weight-loss industry is inactivity: We, as a Western society, are much less active than our primal ancestors.  But a recent study has determined that is not the case; when researchers studied energy expenditure, East-coasters in the U.S. were compared to tribes living today as hunter-gatherers.  Differences in size were allowed for, etc. They have discovered that we are about the same in that department. In fact, I couldn’t help but notice many Westerners were actually more active than the average hunter-gatherer.  Remember, our big brains have helped us be physically lazy in nature; we will only work when it is deemed necessary.  Here is where it got interesting.  When they looked at energy consumption and plotted that on the graph… holy supersized sundae, Batman!  The East-coasters blew the hunter-gatherers out of the water—by, like, a lot!  More than double in some cases.  And a side note: The average hunter-gatherer is about 20 kg smaller than his Western cousin, and far leaner.

Finally, I would like to clear up that the Paleo diet is very high in vegetables, along with being okay with a bit more meat and fat in the diet.  What the leaders of this movement are really trying to push is the reduction/elimination of refined sugars, i.e., bread, pasta, cereal, jalapeno kettle-cooked potato chips, and all foods that have a ridiculous amount of high fructose corn syrup in it.  I would like to add, and quote Dr. McGuff in doing so, “is that if you took a bunch of us and went out into the woods to find food… What do you think you’d find?”  When you answer that question, you might get a much better picture of what we are generally supposed to eat on a daily basis.

The last thing I would like to say is anecdotal in nature.  A few years ago I was talking with one of my aunts, and she noticed I had not put any bread on my plate, or macaroni salad, or potato salad.  I simply explained that I was going to eat some macaroni salad (my other aunt makes the best!), but in general, I had cut most of those types of foods out of my diet.  Her question to me was “Well then, what do you eat? Won’t that get boring?”  I love my aunt, but we’ve looked at that damn food pyramid for so long,  no wonder she felt sorry for me.  She has no idea that angel-hair pasta is the exact same as fettuccine, which is the exact same as spaghetti, which is only less fluffy than bread and less sweet than my honey crueler.  There are hundreds of species of plants we can eat, and are actually supposed to eat.  So, just to sum up… A lack of variety is NOT going to be the problem when you go more “Paleo” in nature.  Low-carb, high-carb… who cares!  Eat lots of vegetables and a lot less crap, and you’ll be better than fine!

Great lectures for your own interest:


Dr. McGuff:

Paleo Diet and Strength Training biochemistry


Low carb Diet: Fat or Fiction


The Battle of the Diets: Is anyone winning (at losing)


Professor James A Timmons.  The truth about exercise and public health



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