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Carbs vs. No Carbs

Daily bread: Enjoy or Avoid?

By Wina Sturgeon
Posted // September 6,2011 -

It’s an ongoing argument, with science, studies and fans on both sides—and, of course, “facts” that constantly change. An all-meat diet is healthy! An all-meat diet will give you cancer!

This column won’t change anyone’s mind about his or her chosen diet, but the truth is that much of the discourse about no-carb or low-carb diets leaves out facts about which there is no possible argument—like, for example, the poo problem. If you’re not ingesting fiber from fruits, vegetables or grains, you don’t have the “broom” that moves food through your bowels. After a few days of eating only meat, you get quite packed up and constipated. It hurts. So you have to take laxatives to resolve the problem. This frequently leads to gas and bloating (and laxative farts are really noisy). But worse, nutrients are absorbed from food as it moves through the intestines, and laxatives may speed the process up too fast for all the nutrition to be metabolized.

Meg Danielson, a registered nurse who is the manager of health and wellness at SelectHealth, a nonprofit health-insurance carrier, says, “It isn’t smart to cut out all carbs, because there are good, healthy carbohydrates. Low-carb dieters should plan the carbs that they eat. Look for whole grains and products that have whole grains; stay away from high-fructose corn syrup and other sugar products. I have yet to see a whole-grain donut.”

There’s also a rarely discussed problem with a no-carb diet, one I personally and painfully learned after cutting all carbs from my own diet. After four months, I’d lost 15 pounds and was salivating at the thought of a carb-filled Thanksgiving with friends. I gobbled up mashed potatoes, candied yams and two pieces of pumpkin pie. At first, the overstuffed feeling was normal for Thanksgiving. Then it became painful, and the full stomach didn’t empty. Hours later, still lying on the floor, it got so bad that I considered going to the ER. A call to a physician friend to ask for advice provided the missing information: the adaptation issue.

The body is lazy and adapts to just about anything to save energy, from physical exercise to diet. Cut out all carbs, and the body adapts by no longer manufacturing the enzymes needed to digest carbs. That means they must be re-introduced gradually. Pack your stomach with a sudden load of high-carb food, and it will just sit there, fermenting and creating gas until your metabolism can produce the required enzymes for digestion.

In addition, some studies show that eating a lot of red meat can have adverse health effects. Washington Post writer Rob Stein points to the first large study ever done to examine whether there’s a risk of premature death from regularly eating beef or pork. The National Cancer Institute study examined statistics from more than 500,000 middle-age and elderly Americans and found “those who consumed about 4 ounces of red meat a day (the equivalent of about a small hamburger) were more than 30 percent more likely to die during the 10 years they were followed, mostly from heart disease and cancer.”

There are also some studies that show a low-carb diet can result in depression, which makes sense when brain chemistry is considered. The brain runs on glucose, a sugar. As Danielson points out, “Know that all food groups are broken down and metabolized in the body down to a glucose molecule, even protein.” But if you don’t have enough dietary protein in your system to provide sufficient glucose to the brain, you may become mentally lethargic, confused and depressed.

Regardless of the statistics or the research source, the most common dietary advice—which also makes the most sense—is that whether you eat lots of carbs or limit them, an all-around-balanced diet is the healthiest. Your own metabolism will have its own needs, and that’s what Danielson says is the most important factor in what you eat.

“It’s about how you feel, and how your metabolism reacts. Anybody on any kind of diet, they need to assess how they feel in general. If they have the energy to get through their day and carry out their exercise routine and activities of daily living, that’s what’s important.”

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Posted // September 7,2011 at 08:31 I'm always a bit amused at the idea that eating a low carb diet means you won't get fiber, or you eliminate carbs entirely. While most low carb diet plans eschew wheat (which many people have "hidden allergies" to anyway), they are almost universally high in green vegetables. My fiber content actually increased when I went low carb; instead of low fiber processed wheat products, I was eating broccoli, cauliflower and all manner of green leafy veggies.
Most low carb diet plans have an "induction" or starting phase that limits carbs to about 20 - 40g per day; some people stay at that level due to health conditions. I don't know of a low carb diet plan that eliminates all carbs.
"Whole grain" wheat bread has a higher glycemic index than table sugar. Even a Snickers candy bar has a lower glycemic index. If you are pre-diabetic, a type 2 diabetic, diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, or intent on reducing sugars in your diet, you are better off eating 100g of table sugar than you are 100g of whole wheat bread; a ridiculous suggestion, I know. But it illustrates why "healthy whole grains" are not healthy for many people. Modern wheat is a genetically modified food that was created in the 1970's, unless you can find einkorn or emmer wheat products.


Posted // September 7,2011 at 08:53 - Loads of today's veggies are GMO, too, and there are no laws in place forcing the producer to disclose that fact. Monsanto's GMO soy beans permeate the market, as do so many other veggies, many of them created in Monsanto labs. I eat tons of veggies daily. And I eat dairy. And I eat bread. And crackers. And rice - usually brown but I love basmati and jasmine, too. And beans and legumes. And fish. And chicken and beef (not often) and lamb. And olives and cheese and lots of grains. And I drink wine and beer. Last night I ate grilled chicken, grilled corn tortillas, grilled chilies, half an avocado, a couple fresh tomatoes, a fresh cucumber, and some pinto beans my wife cooked the day before. Afterward, I ate a piece of peach pie (wife made that, too) made with Brigham City peaches. I eat everything, with an eye on variety. I EAT, I almost always cook what I eat, and I don't worry about the rest. I also get plenty of exercise. Unless you're allergic to something, and many people are, I say fuck diets of any kind. If you're too fat, stop eating so much junk, stop eating too much food, and get some exercise. The diet will only set you up for failure, and that includes the low-carb diet.


Posted // September 7,2011 at 05:13

An all meat diet should definitely be avoided, but low carb diets can still have the bodily functions flowing. I am on a low carb diet and eat plenty of fibre rich vegetables and one portion of fruit per day.
Occassionaly things do get clogged, but I've found the cure is taking a magnesium supplement - it gets things moving in no time!
I recently launched a new site which will help people find a more diverse range of foods (over 30,000 from UK SupermarketS) so that they don't fall into the trap of eating the same thing every day - just Google for CarbGenie


Posted // September 7,2011 at 02:46 My experience is that my poo-situation has never been as good as when I eat extreme low carb. 7.30 in the morning, every morning. In and out in less than a minute.
Practically nothing comes out. Why? Beause when you eat real food, the body digests most of it.


Posted // September 7,2011 at 08:54 - Are you suggesting that whole grains are not real foods?