...but You Can Stop Them
Carbohydrates account for a very large part of the standard American diet. Through MyPlate, the government’s food recommendations for health, we are encouraged to eat about half of our calories as carbs. But, given the amount of health problems in the U.S., can this really be healthy?
We have a lot of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. You have probably been told that those things come from eating a lot of fat, meat and sodium. That would leave you wondering what could be wrong with carbohydrates. Let me explain.
Carbs = Sugar
Carbohydrates are sugar, or glucose, and eating a lot of sugar is not healthy. True, they are technically fiber, starch and sugar, but did you know that starch is basically a chain of glucose? By the time they are ready for absorption, carbs have been broken down into a big load of sugar.
Carbohydrates are in all plant foods and even in milk (lactose is milk sugar). Grains, tubers, fruits and legumes tend to have a lot of starch or sugar. Leafy vegetables tend to have a lot of fiber (most of which isn’t digested) and very little starch or sugar.
What Happens to the Sugar?
When the glucose is absorbed, the storage hormone insulin is produced to clear it out of the blood. Some glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen for short-term energy use so that you don’t need to eat constantly. The rest is converted and stored as fat. If you are eating half your calories from carbs, that’s a heck of a lot that’s becoming body fat.
A lot of insulin is needed to deal with a large load of glucose, and insulin takes a few hours to clear from the blood. If you eat several small meals and snacks full of carbs, then your insulin levels are always elevated. When insulin is always high, we start to get insensitive to it and have to produce larger amounts to get the job done.
In studies, eating a lot of starch resulted in high insulin, more hunger, more eating and enjoying sweet tastes more. [1, 2] In contrast, lower insulin levels meant less carb cravings, eating less carbs (and calories) and having less body fat.  This leads us to how glucose is used.
Sugar or Fat?
Glucose is energy. Yes, we need energy, but do you want to burn sugar or fat? Glucose is the energy your body will use first. You can’t start burning fat (stored energy) until you have no more glycogen to use. When you eat the recommended amount of carbs, that just won’t happen.
To lose weight by reducing body fat, you need to get fat to come out. But in order to do that, carb intake needs to be – and stay – very low. Once you eat a larger amount of carbohydrates, your body will switch straight back to using sugar, and fat cells’ doors will go back to “enter only.”
Health Issues Related to Carbs
It should be pretty apparent by now that carbs contribute to obesity, but there’s more. Remember how we can become insensitive to insulin and need to produce more? That’s called insulin resistance, and it is a self-feeding cycle that can lead to type 2 diabetes. And since insulin use is known to cause weight gain, diabetics face a higher likelihood of obesity.  Studies on carbohydrate restriction prove its effectiveness against insulin resistance and even show that most type-2 diabetics can come off of insulin. [5, 6]
What about the other issues I mentioned at the start? High blood pressure, [7, 8, 9, 10] high cholesterol [11, 12] and heart attack and stroke risk [5, 12] are all related to carbs as well. Carbohydrate restriction improved all of those conditions, even though it meant increasing fat consumption. In fact, eating less carbs and more fat improved all those things more than reducing fat!
How to Take Back Your Health
Understanding that carbohydrates can have all these negative effects is the first step to reclaiming your health. Since carbs are such a large part of our diet and we are used to having them around, it can be difficult to make the switch.
If you can keep your carb consumption between 20 to 50g net carbs (total carbs minus fiber), you’ll make great progress. Carbs should only be 5 percent of your total daily calories, and 20g net will work best. Getting through the first week or two is the toughest but, when you do, you’ll find that carb cravings decrease. You’ll be less hungry, and you’ll lose weight even without cutting calories and despite eating a little more fat.
While processed carbs are pretty obvious, it can be hard to see whole grains as not healthy. But the fact is, beneath that thin layer of fiber is a whole kernel of starch. And don’t forget that that includes fresh corn. Besides, it’s the fiber of whole grain that studies cite as the beneficial component, and fiber is available in large quantities in leafy vegetables.
What to Cut:
- Sweets (cookies, pastries, cakes, etc.)
- Grains, whole or “white”
- Grain flours
- Grain products (bread, pasta, cereal, etc.)
- Juice, soda and alcohol
Some things are more of a gray area. Legumes and tubers (like beans, lentils and potatoes) are other things that are considered healthy plant-based vegetables and foods but that are fairly high in starch. Fruit is tasty and has fiber, but all that sweetness is sugar. Small dark berries are lower in sugar than most other fruits, but you still need to keep the serving size low. Keep an eye on the carbs in nuts.
What to limit:
- Beans and lentils
- Root vegetables (potato, carrot, turnip, onion, etc.)
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient.  To help satisfy hunger, you need to make sure you get enough of it. Make sure to get meat or eggs at each meal. Your palm is about the same size as a 3- to 4-ounce portion of meat, which is a good serving. Add full-fat cheese to meals for a small protein boost and some healthy fat; low-fat cheese often has starchy fillers.
Lots of Leafy Veggies
Leafy, flowering and fruiting vegetables have less carbohydrates than root vegetables, and they are high in fiber. Greens like spinach and kale are quite low in carbs, and you can eat as much of them as you like. Adding some healthy fat to your vegetables will make them tastier, and they’ll also satisfy hunger better.
Eat Healthy Fat
Fat itself is not problematic. Studies show that processed carbs (which are also high in bad fats) are to blame for fat’s bad reputation. You’ll also lose more fat and be less hungry eating low-carb, high-fat than you would on a high-carb, low-fat diet. One study in particular showed that a diet with no carbs did better than three other diets in satisfying hunger and burning calories, and they were not eating at a calorie deficit! 
“Vegetable” oils aren’t good for you, especially when they’ve been hydrogenated, like margarine, shortening and vegetable lard. The fat that is in cuts of meat is perfectly healthy (and delicious).
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Butter, ghee and heavy cream
- Lard, tallow and other rendered animal fats
Get Water and Electrolytes In
This is very important. Eating a low-carb diet will result in a loss of sodium, potassium and water, and most people are low in magnesium already. When you are low in electrolytes and water, you can have headaches, weakness or dizziness, muscle cramps and heart palpitations. Fortunately, these symptoms are easy to prevent.
For sodium, simply use a good-quality sea salt. You’ll benefit from the trace minerals, and you’ll avoid the dextrose (sugar) that can be in regular salt. Simply use it to season your food. You can also keep a little dish around to drop a pinch on your tongue. Sea salt is tasty and hits the spot when you want a salty carb snack like chips.
Make sure to stay hydrated; it will help you avoid unnecessary snacking. You’ll lose a lot of water weight during the first few days of low-carb eating. The glycogen in the liver and muscles needs to be stored in two to three times as much water. As you use the glycogen up, that water will be shed, but you’ll also naturally keep eliminating water. The normal recommendations for water will get you what you need.
- Dark leafy greens
- Cocoa powder
- Epsom-salt soaks
There are so many benefits to limiting carbohydrates that it makes obvious sense to do so. It can be strange at first since we are used to having carbs at every meal, but it will soon become more natural. Simply replace bread, potatoes or rice with a hearty portion of vegetables and maybe some fruit. You’ll find weight loss easier to achieve and maintain, and you’ll feel great. Take control of your health today!