Dr. Gray's Straight Talk

Honest and blunt healthcare discussion and advice.

Carbs Are Not Necessarily The Enemy

Posted by Dr. Gray on Thursday, August 13, 2009

Article by Dr. Josh Sonsiadek:

Ever since I have studied Nutrition and Biochemistry this has been the subject that has generated the most arguments without a doubt. I have patients that come up to me all the time and tell me that they are going to stop eating carbs so they can shed weight. Many diet programs advocate that you don’t eat carbs, and it’s true that is one way to lose a lot of weight in a hurry.

No-carb diets allow patients to shed weight quickly because for every gram of carbohydrate we consume, we store 3 grams of water. Storing water is a good thing because it keeps us hydrated and satiated (full). The problem with no-carb diets is that it is like taking a sponge and wringing the water out. You lose water weight, but as soon as you eat carbs again – and everyone does because you need the energy and can only go so long without them – then the sponge will fill up with water again. Unfortunately the weight will just come back on as quickly as it came off. That is not the only problem… no-carb diets may leave your body deficient in many vitamins and minerals not to mention fiber.

The real enemy is not the carbs themselves, but may be in the timing and amount in which we consume them. To understand this we must look at how carbohydrates are utilized and metabolized by the body. Unlike fat stores, which can expand to an infinite level, your stored glycogen levels (stored form of carbs in your muscles) has a limit on its capacity. A good example of this would be the gas tank in your car. If your car has a 20 gallon gas tank and you put in 30 the extra 10 would just spill to the ground. Well that is the same with carbohydrates and your muscle’s ability to store glycogen. So the problem is not the carbs, it is the storage capacity of your muscles to store extra glycogen. If you have excess carbs they overflow to the bloodstream then into the liver, and then these extra carbs get converted to fat. The other thing that happens with eating excess carbs is that it raises your blood levels of a very important hormone known as insulin. When the glycogen tank is full, insulin will put both your muscle and your fat cells in growth mode. Not so bad for your muscles, but terrible for the belly.

Low glycogen levels which can be achieved with the correct eating strategies and exercise, changes your body’s response to insulin. Insulin will still signal the body to make muscle, but shuts off fat cell growth. What essentially is done is that your body tries to work on refilling the glycogen tank. If the glycogen tank is not full then insulin can’t command the fat cells to grow. When the glycogen tank is not full the body is also forced to turn fat into the body’s primary fuel source and you begin to burn fat cells.

How do we keep track of all this stuff? Remember that eating carbs is not the problem, it is the timing and amount in which the carbs are consumed. If you eat when the glycogen tank is full then insulin will cause fat cells to grow. If you keep glycogen levels low then insulin will be constantly trying to replenish the tank, and this allows us to burn fat cells. This is done not through a no-carb diet , but it is done through a low-carb diet. The benefits of lower carb diets is that it tends to speed fat loss, regulates appetite, and decreases rate of heart disease.

This approach may not work for everyone. Certain endurance athletes may need more carb intake than others.

*This note is for educational purposes only. Before taking on any types of dietary changes please consult your physician*


2 Responses to “Carbs Are Not Necessarily The Enemy”

  1. Jadalyn said

    So if I do a lot of physical exercise, how many carbs should I be eating? How do I know what amount to eat, and when?

    Great article Dr Josh.

  2. Dr. Josh Sonsiadek said

    Jade that is a great questions. The first thing that you want to be aware of is the type of carbs you are consuming. 20 grams of cotton candy are not the same as getting 20 grams of carbs from say a high fiber source such as broccoli. The difference is the rate at which these carbs are absorbed into the bloodstream. Pure sugar such as cotton candy spike insulin levels drastically, so it will tend to overflow that tank. This turns on insulin which causes the fat cells to grow. Now the carbs from a high fiber source, such as the broccoli will be absorbed into the bloodstream at a much slower rate therefore regulating the insulin better. Now as far as how much to eat, I use the guideline of about a handful to measure my carbs. I also like to select whole grain or whole wheat for my breads and pastas. The body tends to absorb these better than say white flour products. As far as when to eat, that is quite simple. It is better to eat more times per day, but in smaller portions to keep the insulin levels regulated. A sample eating plan for the day may look something like this: (1) eggwhite omelette with 1 pc of whole wheat toast, (2)protein shake, (3) turkey sandwhich on whole wheat bread with romaine letteuce and slice of tomato, (4) mid-after noon snack low fat cottage cheese with apple slices, (5) dinner 1 portion of brown rice, broccoli, and salmon filet, and (6)protein shake. These meals are set about 2.5 to 3 hrs apart. I plan on posting examples of healthy meals in the upcoming weeks, so look for those.

    Dr. J

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