Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Whole Grain Hogwash

We can consider 2005 to be the year of the whole grains. This year the government released the newly updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Food Guidance Pyramid with emphasis on consuming whole grains each day.

We're told repeatedly that whole grains are good for our health, are packed with essential nutrients, and reduce the risk of things like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascual disease. We're encouraged to eat more foods that are whole grain (or contain whole grains) for our health.

So, what's the problem?

No matter how you slice it, the problem is context - the recommendation remains encouraging you to consume a diet that is ridiculously high with carbohydrate. No matter the source, a carbohydrate - simple or complex - is a sugar in your metabolism. The only exception is insoluable fiber.

Complex carbohydrates are just simple sugars holding hands, making what is referred to as a "chain" of connected sugars, thus "complex." Once you begin the process of digestion in your mouth as you chew your food, this complex chain begins to break to become the simple sugars that turn to glucose (blood sugar) in your body. Metabolic fact. No way around it.

The problem with the average diet isn't that it's too high in fat. The average diet contains excessive amounts of carbohydrate. Believe it or not, the body requires no carbohydrate - unlike "essential" fatty acids (from fats) and "essential" amino acids (from proteins), there are no known "essential" carbohydrates. There exist entire populations of indigenous peoples who consume no measurable carbohydrate in their diet and have significantly fewer health problems than those of us in industrialized nations.

But we continue to perpetrate this myth that carbohydrate is essential to our health and we must consume the majority of our calories each day from carbohydrate. The reason we're given is that carbohydrate provides energy, and glucose is our body's preferential energy source. And, guess what? That's true until you reduce carbohydrate and allow your body the opportunity to prefer fat for energy.

The dirty little secret of your metabolism, that the "experts" don't tell you, is that your body prefers whatever fuel it has - if you give it carbohydrate, it will run on glucose...if you give it fat instead, it will run on fat. When you have body fat you're trying to lose, it does not get converted to glucose for energy even if your body is primarily using glucose for energy and has its calorie intake restricted.

When you continue to eat a high carbohydrate diet as a means to lose weight, your metabolism is still primarily using glucose for your energy needs, leaving your body fat stores for use later when glucose is limited and it needs energy. With a constant intake of carbohydrates your body is given few opportunities to burn body fat for energy and will, in fact, cannibalize body protein - your muscle - to make glucose before taking from it's stores of body fat. This is one reason why those who follow a low-fat, calorie restricted diet lose higher amount of lean body mass as part of their total weight loss than those who follow a low-carb diet.

Many try to say that low-carb diets are dangerous because they contain a high percentage of calories from fat. Here's what they don't tell you - when you're restricting carbohydrate and your body prefers fat for energy the fat you eat and your body fat are now the primary and preferred energy source for your body. You're burning the fat you're eating for energy! You're burning your stored body fat for energy! When you have a lot of body fat to lose, your body has a lot of stored calories at its disposal to use for energy!

And, get this - once you're buring that fat for energy you're body keeps buring it preferentially as long as you keep your carbohydrate restricted. This is because without high levels of blood sugar your body continues to maintain stable levels of insulin, thus allowing the "fat burning" hormones, glucagon and growth hormones, to circulate and burn, burn, burn fat.

But, but, but...doesn't your body need glucose?

Of course it does and it has five different metabolic pathways to make glucose without carbohydrate! The first and most important of these when you're restricting carbohydrate is your dietary protein - the protein foods you eat will enable your body to make glucose from the amino acids they contain! This is one reason why protein intake is emphasized when you're following a low-carb diet - it ensures you have adequate intake of protein for essential amino acids and that you have a dietary source of potential glucose.

More importantly, especially when it comes to weight loss, your body will not make more glucose than it needs from sources other than carbohydrate, so glucose made from dietary protein will not be stored as body fat.

Are you starting to see a clear picture here of why a low-carb diet is going to work better than a low-fat, high carbohydrate, calorie restricted diet?

With a low-carb diet you're specifically giving your body an opportunity to PREFER burning fat for energy. With body fat loss as the goal, doesn't it make sense to make your body burn fat?

While many are going to continue to tell you to eat complex carbohydrates instead of refined carbohydrates as part of your low-fat calorie-restricted diet, I'm telling you the metabolic fact is that complex carbohydrates are still going to make excessive glucose in your body and are still going to keep your body burning glucose for energy instead of preferring fat for energy. Oh, you'll still burn some body fat - not nearly as much as if you did low-carb - and you'll also burn up lean body mass too as your body uses its stored protein to make more glucose while waiting for you to eat more carbohydrate for glucose...because your metabolism is stoked to prefer glucose.

If you want to burn fat - body fat - you have to eat fat for energy and limit carbohydrate intake to keep that fire stoked while keeping your glucose lower and insulin stable to allow your body to burn up that body fat it has stored - to make it actually prefer buring fat instead of glucose!

3 comments:

  1. Hi,

    As an athlete I must say this posting is hog-wash... come on! If I was to consume a low-carb diet my body would stop. It wouldn't work. Daily exercise is what is lacking in people's life. But it sounds so much simpler to just eat your way out of being fat. It doesn't work. You need to get more active, and when you start to exercise, you need to feed your body complex carbs. Simple as that.

    Mags
    http://roadrace1.blogspot.com/

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  2. Anonymous2:42 PM

    Additionally, the general context of "Eat more whole grains" is related to "Replace the refined-to-powdered-sugar wheat flour, bleached processed flour, sugar filled instant oatmeal packets that are ground into oat starch, empty white sugars and high fructose corn syrup carbs with whole grains including whole grain wheat and whole grain oats."

    The number of servings hasn't changed, it might have even been reduced in the latest food pyramid. Just eat a slice of whole wheat bread *instead* that slice of Angel Food cake.

    Cody

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  3. Anonymous9:00 PM

    You have got it exactly right. The very social institution that is supposed to be making our lives healthier is actually responsible for the current epidemics: Obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Doctors are intentionally ignorant about health and continue to spout 60-year old conventions rather than admit being wrong. Take charge of your own health and stay away from doctors, they make you sick.

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