In my previous post; “Which Is the Healthiest Diet? and How to Find the Truth About Health and Nutrition” I suggested that in my experience around 95% of the nutritional and health related information that we’re exposed to online, in books, and through the media is inaccurate, incorrect and often deceitful (and sometimes dangerous). Common misconceptions and misinformation about carbohydrates (including sugars) are a perfect example of this problem.
It’s extremely important that those of us with chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis focus our efforts on the most important aspects of diet and lifestyle improvement in order to treat and reverse our diseases. This same rule applies to anyone who is overweight or obese, or anyone who’s suffering from diabetes; remove the main causes of ill-health before moving on to lesser contributors.
Fat makes you fat, but sugars and other refined carbohydrates and many other thieving dietary components contribute to this process when combined with fat. So if you’re overweight, obese, or suffering from diabetes, concentrate on the main cause of the problem: ‘fat and oil’. Animal bound fats and animal derived fats are the worst offenders in many ways, however refined vegetable oils and fats can be just as bad, in fact in one case vegetable fats in the form of ‘trans-fats’ may be the worst of all.
Sugars and other refined carbohydrates do not promote health; they damage health, they rob the body of vital nutrients, they acutely disrupt crucial physiological systems such as blood sugar/insulin balance, they cause mood swings and wide variations in energy status, they damage the endothelial lining of blood vessels, and the list goes on… However, sugars and other refined carbohydrates are not the primary cause of excessive weight gain, obesity, or diabetes; the primary cause is dietary fat.
Every day 25% of the energy you burn (calories) is used up by your brain. Your brain can’t function without sugar this is why diabetics risk going into a coma if their blood sugar falls too low, because the brain can’t function without sugar. I mention this because it’s a very strong indication that we were designed to consume carbohydrates (sugars, starches, and fibres) in our diet as a primary source of fuel.
Humans have six times the starch digesting enzymes compared to other primates. The glucose component of whole food starches is steadily absorbed and made available as a source of fuel to produce energy for your body. Excess glucose is converted and stored in muscles as glycogen, as a reserve source of energy for the next 24 to 36 hours. It’s extremely difficult to eat sufficient complex fibre containing carbohydrates to induce weight gain. The sheer bulk of the food required to achieve this makes it almost impossible, but even if you were able to eat let’s say 3000 to 4000 cal of whole foods in a single meal (easily achievable with junk ‘food’ by the way), most of the excess sugar absorbed would be converted to storage glycogen. Any remaining sugar would require 25% of its own energy in order to be converted into fat, which is very inefficient.
So although it’s possible to eat sufficient excess calories from sugars and other refined carbohydrates to contribute to weight gain, this would be extremely difficult using complex fibre containing carbohydrates. Weight gain is primarily caused by fat consumption and especially fat in combination with sugars and other refined carbohydrates.
Two Reasons Why Carbohydrates Are Mistakenly Blamed for Weight Gain
1) Whole food carbohydrates are often lumped in with simple sugars and other refined carbohydrates as a single group, even in various studies and trials. Also, this often occurs in books and media articles written by authors who want to vilify carbohydrates and promote a high-fat/protein diet.
However, there’s a huge difference between whole food carbohydrates and refined carbohydrates.
Whole food carbohydrates are complex, they include and are housed within plant fibres, and they’re combined with hundreds of other nutrients both macro and micro.
Sugars and other refined carbohydrates are very simple, they’re stripped of fibre and contain few if any additional micro-nutrients (the only macronutrient being the sugar itself).
Whole food carbohydrates are absorbed slowly over several hours and therefore release their sugars slowly which does not cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a corresponding spike in insulin.
Sugars and other refined carbohydrates are absorbed rapidly and cause a huge spike in blood sugar which is followed by a huge spike in insulin.
Repeated consumption of sugars and other refined carbohydrates throughout the day i.e. the Standard UK (SUK) diet and the Standard American Diet (SAD), leads to a chronically elevated insulin level which prevents your body from burning fat. So any fat you consume under these circumstances has less chance of being utilised for fuel and instead leads to additional weight gain.
2) Carbohydrates (mostly sugars and other refined carbohydrates) are generally consumed simultaneously (combined) with fats and oils in the Standard UK (SUK) diet and the Standard American Diet (SAD), for example; pizzas, pies, burgers, doughnuts, kebabs, chips, cakes, hotdogs and so on. All of these supposedly high carbohydrate ‘foods’ actually contain more fat than carbohydrate. It’s the fat which causes weight gain, but the relatively smaller amount of carbohydrate gets the blame.
Also, because your body is searching for carbohydrates to use as its preferred energy source, the sugars and other refined carbohydrates in these junk ‘foods’ are utilised for energy, and the fats are ignored as an energy source and stored for future use instead; hence more weight gain.
In other words if you eat fat by itself there is at least the possibility that some of it will be used to produce energy and some of it will be converted into glucose. But if fat is eaten in combination with carbohydrates (especially sugars and other refined carbohydrates), then those carbohydrates will take priority and the fat will just contribute to weight gain.
There’s an additional problem with these junk ‘foods’. Because the carbohydrates in burgers and pizzas and so on, are refined (or simple sugars in the first place), after eating the body absorbs the sugars very quickly, this creates a rapid increase in blood sugar followed by a spike in insulin which can subsequently cause the blood sugar to crash below its original pre-feed level. This then drives you to seek out more carbohydrates to try to raise your blood sugar level again. This causes you to eat even more junk ‘foods’, snacks etc., continuously throughout the day, and since these are inevitably combined with various fats and oils, they promote weight gain.
If you eat plenty of fibre and water containing complex carbohydrates instead of these junk ‘foods’, then the sugar is released more slowly (no spikes), energy is produced more evenly, and you feel more satisfied. Therefore, there are no sugar crashes driving you to eat junk ‘foods’ and junk snacks – so no weight gain. :-)
The primary point I wanted to make in this post is that whole food carbohydrates are health promoting and do not contribute to, or cause weight gain, obesity or diabetes (more about diabetes in a future post). Sugars and other refined carbohydrates can potentially contribute to weight gain (especially high fructose corn syrup through ‘de novo lipogenesis‘) but even then the primary cause is still the associated fat consumed at the same meal, for example; burgers, pizzas, ice cream, chips followed by soft drinks, and so on…
If you want to lose weight eat a whole food plant-based diet low in added salt, oil, and sugar. Avoid junk ‘foods’, alcohol, and reduce animal derived ‘foods’ (especially dairy) to a minimum; preferably zero. :-)
“Pie and Carbs” combined images are public domain