In response to a recent article titled Six Carbohydrate Myths Debunked, I offer the following debunking of her debunking:
Myth 1: All carbs come from bread, pasta, or other food made with grains
Why is this a myth? Is there some sort of secret cabal working to undermine the “carb-ness” of certain foods? There are only four macro nutrients: carbs, fats, proteins, and alcohols. If a food doesn’t fit into one of the latter three, then it’s a carb. I take particular umbrage with the author’s use of the term “healthiest” carbohydrates when referencing beans, legumes, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. That is a huge swath of foods and within that range exists higher and lower levels of carbohydrates. What exactly makes an orange or potato a “health food”? It would seem she is basing it upon caloric and protein content. If that’s the case, then fats and proteins are much healthier foods as fats have significantly more calories per gram and proteins are…well, proteins.
Myth 2: Carbs are bad for me
I would like to see scientific evidence to support the statement “Healthy carbohydrates are a necessary part of your diet…”. Inuit tribes have been known to go for years without so much as a single gram of carbohydrates. Dr. Vilhjalmur Stefansson spent 11 years living with the Inuit, living off of fat and meat, without any negative side effects to his health. Also, there is no known medical condition that results from the absence of carbohydrates in one’s diet. There are dozens tied to diets containing carbohydrates. Some carbs may contain fiber, but all carbs cause insulin increase (though some cause smaller increases than others), and insulin is the primary hormone responsible for fat accumulation in cells. On the macro level, that fat retention typically manifests itself around the midsection, which has been shown to exacerbate several metabolic illnesses (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and heart failure). As carb intake has increased over the last 40 years, so have the instances of metabolic disorders. Is there some wisdom to eating certain kinds of carbs? Yes. Green leafy and other low carb vegetables provide variety to one’s diet. But replacing processed carbs with other high glycemic foods (potatoes, most legumes, whole grains, and most fruits) does nothing to improve health for someone who is insulin resistant, already overweight, or already obese.
Myth 3: I will lose weight if I cut carbs out of my diet
The very first sentence in the explanation of this “Myth” contradicts the “Myth”. The fact is: If you cut carbs from your diet, even if you keep the same caloric intake (or increase it, even), you will lose weight. I take exception with the use of the word “weight”, though. Really, you will lose fat if you cut out carbs. You can cut off your arm, and you will lose weight. Weight loss isn’t the issue, fat loss is. The real problem with this “Myth” is that the author attempts to explain any weight loss by saying that it takes more energy to convert protein to energy than it does to convert carbs to energy, so that’s why. But that’s not why. First of all, the human body doesn’t jump from carb-based fuel to protein-based fuel in the absence of carbs. It prefers to utilize fat as a fuel source before protein, and I would argue that the human body prefers to run on fat as it much healthier when doing so. The mistake here is that the author assumes the calorie hypothesis is true, which evidence shows it is not. One does not put on weight (fat) by increasing caloric intake in excess of caloric expenditure. Fat accumulation is guided by insulin; insulin is guided by carbohydrate intake. Fat accumulation is not based on calories in > calories out. Not only will you lose weight by cutting out carbs, you will lose fat. I do applaud the author in her statement that counting calories is not necessary for a healthy lifestyle.
Myth 4: The way I get carbs doesn’t matter, because I should cut them out of my diet
I have to say, this makes absolutely no sense to me. If you’re cutting the carbs from your diet, then it really doesn’t matter where you get them, because you aren’t getting them. So it’s not a myth, it’s a logical tautology.
Myth 5: My body doesn’t need carbs
Where to begin with this? First, as I stated above, there is no known medical malady resulting from lack of carb intake. Scurvy, you say? Well, that’s not from lack of carbs, that’s from lack of vitamin C (liver is a good source, too). Since the medical community has no known illness associated with lack of carbs, it might be safe to say that, generally speaking, one does not actually need carbs. What about fuel, as the author points out? Well, carbs aren’t the only, and I would also argue that they are not the best, fuel source for our bodies. The body prefers either carbs or fat. Either one will work. In the absence of carbs (glucose, glycogen, or other sugars), the body will begin to oxidize fat to sustain energy. The result of oxidizing fats is known as ketogenesis, which supplies the body, primarily, with beta-Hydroxybutyric acid, which can be broken down and used by 85% of the body/brain for energy. The remaining energy needs are satisfied by the glycerol (and dietary protein, both through gluconeogenesis), all of which is supplied by burning fat as the primary fuel source and not carbs. So if your body can be completely fueled by fat and protein, why do you need carbs?
Myth 6: The best way to cut back on carbs is to stop eating them and tough it out for a few weeks
Again, this isn’t a myth. It’s a logical necessity. The best way to cut out carbs is to stop eating them. Of course, the author makes the mistake of suggesting that the only way to fill the gap is with protein and veggies (which she says isn’t sustainable, and with which I beg to differ), but the absence of carbs can be easily filled with fats, specifically saturated fats (animal fats, cheese, coconut oil, palm oil, and butter) and monounsaturated fats (avocados, olive oil, nuts, etc.). Increasing the amount of fat intake will lower appetite, sustain caloric requirements, improve health, and, last but far from least, expedite the process of fat loss. Eating a high fat, low carb diet is known as a ketogenic diet. When the body is in ketosis, its energy is received from fat, both dietary and stored, so not only are you getting all your energy requirements, but you are burning the fat stores to do it. In addition, the author states that one should “get rid of all processed or refined products” and suggest that those products be replaced with “bread, English muffins, pasta, wraps…”. I have news for her; those are all process and refined products, even the “whole grain” varieties. They are also highly glycemic and will cause intense insulin spikes and result in fat accumulation in the majority of the population. The best solution is to avoid all grains and stick to fats, proteins, and green leafy vegetables.
In short, this article isn’t well researched and it presents a lot of incorrect information. The nutritional community has a long way to go to throw off the blinders of their preconceived (and unevidenced) ideas of proper nutrition and this article does great violence to the progress that should be made in order to help people live healthier lives.