Are carbs really so bad for you?

You can’t go too far nowadays without hearing about a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet. The question that many are asking is – are carbs really so bad for you? The short answer is… it’s complicated. It really depends on the kinds of carbs you’re consuming.

Carbohydrates are actually a really broad category and they don’t have to be completely excluded from your diet – but they must be consumed moderately, and it’s important to remember that not all carbs are created equally. While there may be many different schools of thought when it comes to healthy eating, it’s generally agreed that people should avoid sugars, starch, and refined carbohydrates. These are called glycaemic carbs, and they’re responsible for spiking your blood sugar and insulin levels, as I covered in the previous blog post. In case you missed it, I’ll repeat what I wrote: Refined carbohydrates are easily converted into blood glucose and as a result, increase insulin levels. Bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes, breakfast cereals, sweets and chocolate, sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices and even some fruits and vegetables are just some products that increase our insulin levels. Sustained high levels of insulin can result in a metabolic dysfunction called insulin resistance, which prevents the efficient burning of fat.

So what kinds of carbohydrates are considered “good”?

Good carbohydrates are those containing high amounts of fibre. These are called ‘low glycaemic carbohydrates’. Your body digests fibre-rich low glycaemic carbs slower than they do high glycaemic carbs resulting in  a more moderate effect on blood-sugar levels. The high fibre in so-called  good carbohydrates provides roughage, a healthy environment for your gut microbiome  and aids in digestion.

In the LCHF world, we are primarily interested in the carbohydrates that impact on blood glucose and, therefore, insulin levels. Insulin is the main ‘fat building’ hormone,’ and this means eating fewer high glycaemic carbohydrates is important in addressing obesity and the other conditions of the metabolic syndrome.

When you significantly limit the amount of carbohydrate you consume (good or bad), your body experiences what is known as nutritional ketosis.  This means it begins to use ketone bodies, which are  sources of energy  derived from fat. Your body produces ketones and uses these as a source of energy instead of  using dietary carbohydrate as a source of energy. This is a perfectly natural and health process. Traditionally, hunter-gatherer tribes such as the Inuit, Masai, San and others derived almost all of their energy from fat rather than carbohydrates. They go for very long periods of time without consuming almost any carbohydrate food at all.

When transitioning to a low-carbohydrate diet, your body might experience some withdrawal symptoms commonly known as ‘carb flu’. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but when some people dramatically reduce their carbohydrate intake, they might experience headaches, brain fog, crankiness, and tiredness. Carb flu often doesn’t last more than a few days and symptoms can be dealt with by increasing sodium intake by, for example, consuming bone broth. Once your body has adapted to a low-carb diet, perhaps the most marked positive effects you can expect to experience are a significant increase in energy, clearer thinking, absence of bloating,  an end to heartburn, improved sleep, better mood and, of course, weight loss.

Many people feel confused about good and bad carbohydrates, as what food and beverages contain is not always clear cut. I would love to see current food labeling legislation altered in a manner that will allow consumers to be able to clearly and easily distinguish high glycaemic foods from low glycaemic foods. This is important from a metabolic syndrome perspective and thus would be a very important and cost-effective public health intervention.

If you are interested in being supported on your journey to better health then I’m happy to put you in touch with a trained coach. Or, if you are interested in becoming an UpForIt health coach, we offer online training and support. Just email me at askdrhill@upforit.co.za

I’m Dr. Peter Hill from UpForIt, and our motto is Getting Healthy Together