Are Carbs the Enemy?
Being a health care provider since 2006 I have seen a lot of changes every year as a new pivotal study is published and everyone rushes to be a part of the newest fad diet. During all of this I have continued to prescribe diets based on peoples constitution (vitality, digestive strength, mindset, etc and imbalance. This structure is not a reproducible and cannot be called a diet because it is uniquely tailored to the individual. However I have found some interesting data to support this.
In 2009 a study aimed at determined the effect of carbs was completed with 800 people placed in four groups. For two years, one group ate a low carb diet (35%), one ate a high carb diet (65%), and the last two groups ate diets with different levels of moderate carbs. The hypothesis was that the high carb diets would lose the least and low carb diets would lose the most. After 2 years all groups had an identical amount of weight loss, waist circumference loss and fat loss. What this tells me is that the attack on carbs is overblown. I have definitely found that people with autoimmune conditions do better with a diet low in carbs. So in certain circumstances I do think that a low carb diet is warranted, but it is not for everyone and I have found that most people do better with a certain amount of carbs included in their diet is a specific way.
So carbs may not lead to obesity, but there is a lot of pressure to not eat carbs, so why not. Can eating too few carbs actually harm you? Carbohydrates affect blood sugar and lead to insulin secretion. Insulin spikes from poorly timed consumption of carbs or too many carbs can create systemic inflammation and that is why carbs are often deemed the enemy. But carbs have a beneficial effect on the body and can balance blood sugar. If you have too few carbs, you can end up with insomnia, fatigue and depression. When we eat carbs amino acids are pulled out of the bloodstream. Tryptophan is one of the few amino acids that stay in the bloodstream allowing it to enter your brain and make melatonin. Melatonin is a neurotransmitter that is made when we sleep. So we need both protein and carbs. Good quality protein provides tryptophan and good quality carbs allow tryptophan to get into the brain. When we have adequate we have enough serotonin as well and we feel upbeat and in control. Carbs can raise serotonin levels and reduce the mood disorders associated with low levels of it.
Let’s look a little further into blood sugar. When we are under stress, our bodies will secrete cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cortisol has a wide range of effects on the body. One of them is to raise blood sugar levels and that is why it is often said that cortisol is an ingredient in making blood sugar. Blood sugar imbalances that are more complicated than “high blood sugar” or “low blood sugar” are a combination of both termed reactive hypoglycemia. Cortisol dysregulation can be the cause. This dysregulation can manifest as either vata, pitta or kapha.
Vata imbalances in cortisol levels leaves the person feeling tired and wired.
Pitta leaves them feeling stressed.
Kapha makes them feel crashed.
Each type needs to be treated in a different way. For example the vata type does best if they don’t work out in the afternoon or evening as this will make them more wired. In the morning they do well to take a walk or get some sunlight within the first hour of waking. They can also benefit from taking the herb Rhodiola in the morning, which will make the adrenals more sensitive to brain signaling, and Ashwagandha at night, which will desensitize the brain signals later in the day. Remember that studies show that your health has less to do with stress and more to do with how you feel about stress.
When we eat the right amount of carbs, it stimulates sugar to be absorbed into the cells and can actually reduce blood sugar. Every person is different, but on average 50g of carbs is a good daily amount. If we don’t get enough carbs, then the cortisol that is not used to make blood sugar will keep our minds active when it is bed time. Poor sleep can lead to weight gain and fatigue.
Cortisol and the adrenals can create fat storage in another way. Cortisol is made from a weaker hormone found in the fat cells called cortisone. If you don’t convert cortisone into cortisol, then it is likely that you will store more fat. The conversion of this fat happens early in the day and is supported by high cortisol levels. When we are in balance, our cortisol is high early in the day and it is best to eat foods that are higher in fat and protein. After 3pm you want your cortisol levels to decline. As this happens, you become more sensitive to insulin and you can help cortisol to go down by eating more quality carbohydrates.
The overall approach to getting enough carbs in your diet is to have 1 serving with breakfast, 2 with lunch and 3 with dinner. This will usually give you the 50g that you need and encourage the cortisol rhythms to be in balance. There is no one size fits all approach as you can imagine, but it is worth not getting caught up in another fad diet.