5 Signs of the Low-Carb Apocalypse

photo credit: dogwelder

An article on The Huffington Post by Sarah Klein, Senior Editor, Health & Fitness and a Certified Personal Trainer, recently touted the “5 Signs You Should Be Eating More Carbs”.

Okay, admittedly, if you’re relying on HuffPost to provide your primary health guidance you’re already in a heap of trouble.  However, this article borders on the downright irresponsible.

Klein’s opening paragraph bemoans the bad rap the “poor carbohydrate” has received, citing the macronutrient as “an essential part of a balanced diet – especially if you want to do any sort of physical activity”.  Um, yeah.  Notably absent is any footnote or reference to the source of scientific evidence that carbohydrates are “essential” to our diet.  This is no doubt because there simply isn’t any.  Carbs are no more essential as they are the “preferred” energy source for our brain.

Klein goes on to say that “not all carbs are created equal” and that carbs that come from refined sources (sugar, flours) may cause some “troublesome cravings”.  What, no mention of inflammatory responses?  Higher cholesterol?  Adiposity?  If only those of us who are insulin resistant only faced “troublesome cravings” rather than watching most of what we eat become a ring of visceral fat around our middle.

But don’t worry.  Klein is quick to point out that the carbs form Whole Grains (queue saintly music and cherubs) and veggies don’t spike blood sugar like, well, sugar does – as reported by LiveScience (with no link or specific reference).  Has Klien been paying attention?  The GI of a piece of wheat bread is 53.   The GI for a spoonful of sugar is 58.  Both considered in the “medium” range on the GI 1.  What about those healthful veggies and grains she mentions?  According to LiveStrong.com Quinoa comes in between 35 – 53, depending on how it’s prepared.  Beans similarly range between 30 – 60, depending on type and preparation.  Perhaps she meant cruciferous and not starchy vegetables but you need to specify.  Especially since most Americans consider the brownie in their Hungry Man meal the vegetable side.

Klein urges us to skip sugary foods and pasta but fill up on the whole grains and veggies and if you don’t believe her, here’s what will happen if you don’t…

#1 You will have bad breath

Oh no she better don’t. Did she just pull the ketones-makes-your-breath-smell-bad card?  Anyone who’s been to a dentist in the past decade knows there are a myriad of reasons why your breath can smell bad but the overwhelming cause is gasses released from the bacteria, omnipresent in your pie-hole, that are happily munching on the sugars covering your teeth.  Those sugars came from the carbohydrates you ate.  One of the first things my dentist noticed once I went LC/HF was the complete absence of any tooth decay (and he didn’t flinch from my wretched keto-breath).  Trust me people, if you met me and Susan Klien first thing in the morning before we brushed our teeth, you’d want me to breathe on you.

That’s not to say that some people are impacted by keto-breath or that keto-breath isn’t a real phenomenon.  Let’s just keep it in perspective – you can achieve good health and weight control  and risk potentially some bad breath from time to time or you can have great breath and only worry about it going bad as you develop chronic metabolic diseases that require you to take medications that turn your breath bad.

#2 Your workouts are slipping

Now, I need to be careful here.  An avid gym attendee that I was, I do have to say I’m loath to work out these days.  But that’s not because I don’t have enough carbs in my system or because my body’s consuming my gastrocnemius because it needs energy.  I don’t work out because I lost faith in the “calories in/calories out” theory and my primary reason to work out was to lose weight.  I achieved weight loss by changing what I ate, not spending 45 minutes on an elliptical trainer trying to burn 700 calories.

Let’s get the facts straight.  Your metabolism slows when you restrict calories not carbs.  You can refuel your body, stave-off protein loss and promote healing by simply eating fat, protein and non-starchy vegetables.

’nuff said.

#3 You Feel Fuzzy/ #4 You Feel Cranky

Klein considers fuzzy separate from cranky but I’m lumping them together because I want to and I can.  My blog, my rules.

Klein asserts your brain relies on carbs and when it isn’t flooded in glucose you will not remember important things like why you walked into the room, where your children are and underwear.  She sites a 2008 study (here’s the link) proving women on a low-carb diet scored worse on memory tests.  Please read the fine print of this study.  Measurements were taken within the first week of low-carb eating.  Anyone starting a LC eating style will feel a little out of sorts, fuzzy, forgetful and foggy as your body makes the monumental shift from one energy source to another.  For some this can go on for weeks.  What would have been interesting to see are the results after a month or two on LC diets.  I know that personally, I’m sharper now that I’m not falling asleep every afternoon because I’m in a sugar slump.

Klien also tries (a bit desperately) to tie low-carb to a reduction in serotonin.  Klein refers to a short-term study done by Grant D. Brinkworth, PhD, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Association in Adelaide, Australia, which involved 106 obese and overweight people participating in either a low-carb or low-fat diet.  If you read this study more carefully, you’ll realize that a statically significant (24%) of the participants on in the low-carb diets were already on anti-depressants prior to the study and remain on them during the study.  This would suggest a skew in the assessment of “mood”.  Regardless, what is becoming more clearly understood is the links between wheat-derived exorphins and the heroin-like addition wheat creates in our brains.  I’d rather be a little cranky than be a addicted to a macronutrient that has done nothing but betray me and my body since my first piece of bread.

#5 You’re irregular

Watch out!  Low-Carb means never being able to go to the toilet again.  Really, really?  OK, admittedly, I did get constipated when I first ate low-carb.  But let’s again apply perspective here.  For years my gastro-intestinal track had been ravaged by the effects of wheat and carbs in general.  I had diverticulitis in my 30’s (and my surgeon didn’t bat an eye because, as he said, I see more and more young men like you now).  I had raging boughts of the opposite of constipation when I ate carb-laden meals.  I had all manner of elimination-related complaints.   All of which virtually disappeared the first month I ate low-carb.  It was such a difference, I’d forgotten what “normal” felt like.  But I was stubbornly constipated – until I figured it out.  I increased liquid consumption, I took some fibre in my morning tea and when necessary I used a gentle softener (not a laxative).  Problem solved.  Now, after 8 months, I pretty much go normally.  Less frequently and with less content (if you must know) but it’s pretty much my new normal.

And for those of you frightened by the specter of constipation-colon cancer risk, please know that recent studies show no connection between constipates and colon cancer 2.  In fact, quite the opposite, a recent study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2010, followed three thousand Dutch men for thirteen years and concluded that: “Frequent bowel movements were associated with an increased risk of rectal cancer in men, and constipation was associated with a decreased risk.”

Klein’s post concludes with her urging readers to post how they make sure they get a “healthy dose” of daily carbs.  I’d rather Klein find a healthy dose of reality.

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