Complicated Issue of Carbohydrates

You don’t have to read more than an article or two about healthy diets to learn about the debate going on regarding diets that stress protein vs those that are high in carbohydrates.

And most often, carbohydrates get a bad rap. They’re considered by many as the cause of all evil. High protein diets such as the Adkins diet and caveman diet have become increasingly popular. And for a good reason.

And this is not just an issue of weight loss; what you’re about to learn will affect your blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and most other diseases.

But not all carbohydrates are created equal and some studies have shown a dramatically lower rate of chronic diseases among nations that use more carbohydrates than a protein rich diet. And there are some serious health concerns regarding low carbohydrate diets.

So in today’s feature article, I’ll explain this complicated issue. No doubt we are going to have a fun, educational conversation in the comment section following today’s information.

So read on and make your comment below.

In an oversimplification about nutrition, carbohydrates would be considered the main fuel of the human body, proteins are the building blocks to maintain and repair muscle, and fats are more like the long-term fuel storage for a rainy day.

However, we are so adaptable that if we don’t get enough of one nutritional type, our body can most often transfer one thing into another. Protein can, for example, be used for energy instead of building muscles and carbohydrates can be transferred into fat (maybe too easily).

This adaption ability makes nutritional science extremely complicated and controversial. Health experts have been pushing people for years to reduce cholesterol intake although every single cell has the ability to create its own cholesterol. Low-fat diets are still considered useful weight loss tools although sugars and other carbohydrates can just as easily be transformed into body fat as animal fat. Diary producers have for decades been selling us on drinking milk to strengthen bones, although repeated research shows that hip fractures among people over 50 are more common in countries where milk consumption is higher.

The USDA recommendations for most typically developing humans to consume in diet is about 30% fat, 60% carbohydrates and 10% protein. That’s about 66g fat, 300g carbohydrates and 50g protein in a 2000 calorie diet. The famous food pyramid puts food high in carbohydrates such as breads, cereals, rice and pasta as the foundation for a good diet. Vegetables and fruits are only in second place and animal products such as diary, eggs and meat show up third. Fat sits at the top to be used the least.

The interesting thing is that almost ALL successful diets researched to fight and prevent diseases such as heart diseases, diabetes, arthritis, and obesity use different food pyramid formats. This includes contradicting diets such as Adkins and Caveman diets vs. vegan and raw food diets.

The problem with the USDA pyramid may not lie in the fact they put carbohydrates in first place; but rather with what kind of carbohydrates is mostly consumed in the western world.

You see, there are at least two kinds of carbohydrates.

In its simplest form it’s just plain glucose or sugar. These sugars are called simple carbohydrates and are very seldom found naturally in big doses. Refined, white flour used in most breads, pastas and pastries is a form of simple carbohydrates. Also in this category are white rice and of course any kind of sugar and corn syrup.

Complex carbohydrates are, on the other hand, made up of a chain of glucose molecules commonly known as starch. They’re how plants naturally store glucose. Most whole grains (corn, wheat, rice, oats) and vegetables like potatoes and plantains are high in starch.

The problem with simple carbohydrates (majority consumed in the western world) is how quickly calories are processed into the blood stream. After all, the manufacturers have done most of the digestive work for you. Whereas complex carbohydrates release around 2 calories per minute into the blood stream, simple carbohydrates release 30 calories. This is the reason you may feel a quick boost of energy for a little while after consuming a candy bar or sugary energy drink. And then hit the low as it as quickly wears off.

Lets compare this to a burning fire. A small pot of gasoline (similar to simple carbohydrates) has as much energy as pile of firewood (similar to complex carbohydrates). But if you set both on fire, the gasoline will flare up for a few seconds and then die, whereas the firewood may burn for hours and keep the same heat level the whole time.

When you eat a lot of simple carbohydrates on a regular basis, your blood sugar goes in extreme waves – it surges and drops just like the gasoline fire. This puts an outrageous strain on your body as it tries to deal with the surging blood sugar level. Anyone who has ever fainted from type 2 diabetes knows how devastating it is for your system to have excessively high blood sugar.

As your body tries to drop the blood sugar level, it temporarily boosts metabolism, raising blood pressure, and then stores as much of the overloading glucose as quickly as possible as body fat. And for prevention measures, it may even go overboard and lower your blood sugar level too much. That’s when you feel the drop of energy and urge to eat another candy bar to raise the blood sugar again.

This triggers inflammation all over the body causing a series of health problems. Not only type 2 diabetes, but this reactive inflammation also contributes to high blood pressure, arthritis, obesity, kidney failure, erectile dysfunction, cancer and endless other diseases.

Because of how slowly your body consumes the calories for starch (complex carbohydrates), this rollercoaster effect doesn’t happen and you feel fuller for longer and don’t get hungry right away.

Note that it’s easy for your body to raise its blood sugar on its own. Most of us have more energy than we need stored on our hips and backsides. We don’t need a candy bar for extra energy.

USDA states on their website that at least half the carbohydrate-rich food in the foundation section should be in the form of whole grains (complex). If you really want to focus on your health, 100% of the grain you eat should be whole grain and never refined, as with the case for processed oatmeal or white flour.

Even fruits that are often loaded with simple carbohydrates also have enough fibers to slow down the digestion process enough to balance the blood sugar. One orange has around 12 grams of sugar. However, you don’t typically feel a ‘high’ followed by a drop in energy after eating an orange do you?

Many people who want to become vegetarians or even vegans, make the beginner mistakes of filling their diet up with simple carbohydrates (pasta, white rice, white bread etc) and miss out on most of the nutrition needed. No wonder they often gain weight and give up after a few days or months and look like death before it’s over.

Okay, now that we’ve set the record straight regarding carbohydrates, let’s look at where high protein diets fit into the picture. You see, since protein is mostly used as building blocks for the body, it takes much more energy to digest and convert protein into useable energy than even complex carbohydrates. And since fat is mostly designed for long term energy storage, it too is energy consuming to transfer into blood sugar. Research has shown that eating eggs and bacon for breakfast keeps a person satisfied for two hours longer than consuming the same calorie amount of a carbohydrate-rich breakfast.

The fundamental explanation for the success of high protein diets such as the Adkins diet includes a complicated explanation of insulin and metabolism. However, I believe the main benefit is that Dr. Adkins wholeheartedly refused the use of simple refined carbohydrates that add up to a big part of the general diet. This takes out ALL sodas, white breads, white pasta, candies, etc. that contribute as the main cause of modern obesity. Contrary to popular beliefs, the Adkins diet actually allows quite a bit of carbohydrates and promotes a pretty balanced diet (compared to many fad diets) at later stages of the diet.

The caveman diet (in essence a high protein diet) takes this a step further and bans any food that could not have been used by the cave man 10,000 years ago. This, in addition to Adkins, takes out any kind of processed meat and diary.

Note that very few studies have been made of the long term effects of a high protein animal diet. And some of the studies have indicated a higher risk of heart attack, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and cancer. So look out for extremes and use your common sense. The same success (and maybe even more) can be achieved with vegetarian, vegan or plain old balanced diet as long as the dieter focuses on healthy complex carbohydrates and unprocessed food.

Carbohydrates are not the enemy, processed food is!

We discussed many diseases in this article. Here at Blue Heron Health News, we have guides to tackle many of those health issues using natural resources without side effects. You can find links to all these guides on the right hand side of this page.

But first, please let us know what you think about the complicated issue of carbohydrates by leaving your comment below.

But first, I’d really appreciate it if you click the Facebook button below and share this articles with your friends. And then, of course, submit your comment below.

38 comments

  1. The man’s name was ‘Atkins’. Not a shining example to all of us as he was clinically obese and had a history of heart problems.

  2. Very intersting article.

    Complex carbohydrates are, on the other hand, made up of a chain of glucose molecules commonly known as starch. They’re how plants naturally store glucose. Most whole grains (corn, wheat, rice, oats) and vegetables like potatoes and plantains are high in starch.

    Does the above imply that eating complex carbs. will not cause fat to be produced, if eaten in moderation ?

  3. Your article here on carbohydrates is interesting. I am starting some nutrition classes in the near future(2 weeks) and they should build on what you have said here.

  4. eicosanoids (hormones ) are the key. They come in good and bad types. These hormonal levels are dictated by the foods that we choose to eat and if we choose to eat foods that keep insulin in check then we will look forward to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and increased mental clarity and fat loss. Furthermore, if our eicosanoid levels can be controlled then benefits like decreased joint inflammation and increased blood flow will be reaped which in turn means better athletic performance and overall mobility. Read the rest. http://all4all.info/zone-diet/zone-diet.php

  5. So – after all of the technical stuff, doesn’t it boil down to a “well-balanced” diet will keep the body stronger, healthier & better immunity against harmful diseases. (All diseases are harmful…I know.) Anyway, I say that people don’t want to eat well-balanced meals. Not really. But also, we must take into consideration resources available to people. Srs. are beginning to struggle for their very existence and the ones on that end of the spectrum tend to spend too little on food and skimp on nutrition. Then we have families stretching food and children who are not getting what they need for stronger, healthier bodies. ETC>, ETC, ETC. (Older people don’t feel like cooking, rich people tend to gorge themselves and I could go on forever.) SO I LOVE YOUR ARTICLE AND IT INSPIRES ME TO REMEMBER AND DO BETTER. WHAT MORE COULD ONE HOPE FOR…

  6. Wonderful comment.

  7. Great article! I learned so much. A doctor on a talk show said " the best food is food without a label." Your article confirms this.

  8. Please note I believe that it is Dr. Atkins, not Adkins.

  9. I completely agree with this article. Thanks for sharing

  10. Very helpful explanations, and easy to understand.

  11. I totally agree with the findings in the article. I do not use meat, not even eggs. Use rice, vegetables etc and found it the most stomach-friendly and satisfying diet.

  12. From your article, it is ok to consume complex carbohydrates. Now is it ok for one with high blood pressure to consume lots of rice and corn? Thanks

  13. Excellent article…. clear and concise. We do need to remember that everyone is unique. We need to find the right balance of carbs/proteins/fats that works best with our special system. I adore carbs but need to strive toward the goal of moderation which I believe is the key in general.

  14. I repeat Dorothy Huber’s question….Do you have a diet, a list of the foods we should/can eat?

  15. Once again, you have given me food for thought and reinforced my practice.
    I eat to live… NOT.. live to eat. I eat four times a day. I separate fruit from my meals. Fruit has now become a meal for me. My meat is ALWAYS untampered with!
    I have eaten 100% whole grain breads, pasta, etc for years. I am not a big sweets eater so that has not been a big problem for me.
    Thank you
    D

  16. I agree with the article. Next time for those who don't know..post the bad vs good carbohydrates. White rice, Pasta, Spaghetti, noodles, White bread…are bad carbs. Then list the good. Also, go into more detail about why meats are so damning to the body. Like for instance, they are high in acids which causes the bones to dump calcium in the blood to neutralize the acid which in turn causes bone loss. This in turn makes it harder for the body to fight infections. I think the article was a good write up, I'd just like to see the next one add more details.

  17. All good info, however I believe we are leaving out a very important factor and that is your attitude while you are eating. Our society all too often makes most of us feel guilty about what we eat. Gratitude and a positive attitude goes a long way in keeping our mind and body in check.

  18. An excellent article. My experience with low carb diets over the years supports your comments. I also have come to believe that different people have different metabolisms and that this is probably a major reason for such varied results. Do you have thoughts on that?

  19. I find the numerous typos distracting and, while I know this is not necessarily the case, put the precision of the author in question. Without proof-reading (or doing so accurately) and catching a mistake like "Adkins", have you really done your research with precision?

    Not that I have an quarrel with the article – but maybe that's because as a lay person I simply don't know enough?

  20. I have type 2 diabetes and carbohudrates are key to my control. If you have to take medicines to control high blood pressure and/or
    diabetes you may be damaging some organs in your body. This doesn’t mean you should stop all medications, but it seems to truly
    indicate a chaqnge in diet to lessen the effects of high glucose or
    weight gain. Many diets recommend exercise, but there are many people who are not physically able for many activities. The best recommendation is to see your doctor and get a recommendation
    for you diabetes and eat better to reduce blood pressure. With the increase in the price of food, many people are unable to afford the better foods for healthy diets. As a result, many diets are composed of carbs and not-so-lean meat. Even vegetables and fruit can be too expensive. When a person does seek help for their diabetes, a good clinic will recommend a dietician. This is the route that I took and it has been very successful.

  21. This article agrees completely with my understanding of the subject and I intend as far as possible to stick to the findings. Thanks.

  22. When I was a 28 year old male, I lost 87 lbs basically eating a high protein lifestyle. I went from 235 to 148, but at 148 I was too low of a weight for a 5’9″ average built man. I felt best around 160-165. If I were to look at a scale on a chart of what they say I should weigh for my size, the low end of the scale is too low for me. As far as how I ate then, it was a rather high protein and fat intake with lower carbs. Specifically I did not eat ANY starchy carbs. Only colorful veggies. Nothing white except for onions and mushrooms and the like. No breads, potatoes or rice or any of that stuff. No sugar of any kind. Then I did the Nautilus exercise routine 3 days a week, and No running. That was how I lost the weight.

    Today I am 61 but over the years I have gained back 23 lbs from 165 and was up to 192 recently. So I am back to eating a higher protein lifestyle. I am trying to follow the Primal Blueprint plan by Mark Sisson. I was having a skin problem for the past year and found Gluten and Lectin to be the problem and this led me back to the high protein lifestyle. But I think I need to keep my fats lower to loose the weight. So eating the protein will curb my appetite and then eat moderate good fats and all kinds of veggies and a little fruit should work. Excess fruit that has lots of carbs should not be eaten as it will slow the weight loss. Berries would be best. I want to be back to 165 so I have 23 lbs to go. But it is harder to loose weight at age 60 and higher vs. under 50. I think it is partially because of your activity level. Mine is due to back problems. but I figure if I loose weight, the back problems will be less.

    This was a very good article by the way. Alan

  23. We are now beginning to hear about “good” fats; butter,avocados,nuts,coconut oil,grass fed beef fat, krill oil etc.
    However I heard [or misheard?] on a recent radio broad cast about not consuming sugars [as mentioned above] at the same time. He said it undid any benefits? Unfortunately I didn’t catch everything at the time, so I am not sure what the speaker was saying. Anyone know more about this?

  24. Caitlyn James Yes I have to agree that the typos snd miss-spellings in articles and books are quite irritating and the differences between American and British spelling can be distracting.

    However, I can't agree about the research precision of the author being called into in question. Some of the most brilliant and knowledgeable people I have ever known have been dreadfully bad spellers with questionable grammar.

    The article contains excellent advice and proven sound facts.

  25. I welcome your article, since it stresses balance and that everyone’s unique. I’ve been hearing so much about the paleo/cave man diet and I was a very rare person who was raised vegetarian in the 40′s and 50′s. I now eat fish but it’s been hard to get behind the idea that all grains and legumes are bad for us. They say they contain antinutrients such as lectins. It doesn’t seem right to me that the generations who have been eating grains and legumes in some form or another since the ‘cave man days’ have been unhealthy because of this. I’d like to see more balanced studies. Now that soy has been more or less demonized, esp. by the paleo people, I have given it up to be on the safe side. But my feeling is that a limited amount of fermented soy would be acceptable for most people.

  26. food has always been my problem

  27. couldn't u have condensed that a little?

  28. I love your intention to help people be healthy

    The proof that a high prrotein diet is effective is the fact that we are here to write and read opinions about diet. The caveman diet is based on mans oldest diet. If it did not work we would not be here.

    I believe that there are different diets for different types and that no one diet is right for everyone. Personally I have run a health food store and an organic food buying club. I have been an organic gardener for 30 years.

    Eating the diversity of natural and organic fresh foods is what God originally provided to nourish our bodies. It seems to me when we stray from that our bodies and health pay the price.

  29. I have been aware of the complex carbohydrates because most everyone in My family is Diabetic.It is carried by My mother’s people. It is not hard to understand why so many people are now getting Diabetes, as their is corn frucose in nearly everything we eat. I cook from scratch,I buy very little processed foods. it is exspensive to buy produce,organic or otherwise. When food is imported,it’s doubly hard to know of growing practices.Before europeans came to these shores, there was a system in place to handle pests,insects,fungi,&other scourges of the gardener.We have destroyed all that,I can’t begin to know where to start to get it back.Many of the plants & animals that were part of the system are exstinct.many plants that were very healthy to eat & that were medicines of natives,that worked without side effects are gone,never to be seen again in our lifetime.I have been keeping a clean garden ,since I’m 7 yrs old,& I’ve never seen them again.

  30. no wonder I struggle with weight loss, because i tend to cut back on all carbs and fats replacing them with veggies and protein.the weight usually drops by a kilo or two and remains constant for weeks.

  31. Hi My name is caz 50 year old nearly diagnosed type 2 diabetic. I loved your article! I would like some tips on lowering blood sugar and what kind of diet is good for me!

    Many Thanks

    Caz……………………………..

  32. The spelling is "dairy" , not diary!

  33. I am a fairly uncomplicated person and have watched this debate for some time. I have chosen a low-fat (not zero fat) vegan diet and have followed it carefully over the last year. I can only go by my results. I have:
    -lost 70 lbs.
    -quit taking my type II diabetes med (doctor involved)
    -no longer type II diabetic
    -lost my high blood pressure
    -lost my high cholesterol
    -sleep apnea has diminished dramatically
    -I now exercise (bicycle) regularly

    So for me, the plant based lifestyle has had a dramatic effect on me.

  34. This article is so helpful to people who’re afflicted by diabetes, arthritis and other diseases. We get more information on how to take with our health. I hope you’ll publish more articles of this kind. Thank you very much.

  35. Some sort of diet sheet would be so helpful as my husband is a typeII diabtic thank you.

  36. Of all the responses, I have liked Robert Smith’s the most! The idea of being able to give up Diabetes and B.P. medicine is really appealing. Not only will it save my body from damage due to side effects of the meds, it will also be a relief to my wallet, as these pills are all really expensive.
    So Robert,will you plz elaborate more on what you exactly did and didn’t do – and your detailed diet plan? Also your age when u got on the diet…

  37. Ive just come out of Tesco Supermarket emty handed! I wanted to shop for dinner – home alone tonight, but everything was either full of fat or processed! No olives… I ate fish for dinner yesterday and the Pizzas were covered in cheese or other full fat items it appeared…

    Shopped elsewhere for olives and salad and healthy soup and small meat pie plus fruit. Bon Appetite! Bon ‘ealth!

    Ps The Tesco customers did not look v healthy… or happy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Scroll To Top