Carbs and Fat Loss: The Facts

by | Aug 8, 2014 | Blog, Fat loss

I love the phrase “When you know better, you do better”. Information is one of our most powerful tools. With it, we can create and achieve just about anything we want as long as we have the desire and commitment to go with it. Unfortunately, there is an enormous amount of misinformation on food, nutrition and weight loss. You can have the desire and the commitment but if you’re misinformed you’ll end up frustrated and defeated. No bueno. I spent years in this cycle getting nowhere fast. Often I had the commitment and desire but acted on terrible information. Othertimes, I floundered with good information and a solid plan but just not enough commitment or desire. Today, I want to tackle some of the major misconceptions about carbohydrates and fat loss to arm you with the right information for when you’re ready to start moving towards your fat loss goals. Don’t let some of the technical terms make your eyes glaze over….I’m going to break it down and hopefully share some things that help you see carbohydrates differently.

Wheat-based products are the cornerstone of the Standard American Diet. Conventional wisdom has encouraged Americans to cut fat and cholesterol and increase their consumption of whole grains. Where has that gotten us? Fat and unwell.

Wheat is a grain and is considered a complex carbohydrate. Complex just means that they are longer chains of sugar molecules linked together. When people think of complex carbohydrates they often think of whole grains. When they think of whole grains they think “healthy”. That right there is the misconception I want to address.

Carbohydrates spell trouble for fat loss because of their ability to raise your blood sugar quickly. The more quickly it raises your blood sugar the worse it is for fat loss. The story we’re usually told about this is that simple sugars (think tablespoon of table sugar) is going to break down really quickly and raise our blood sugar fast while something like whole grain bread is going to break down more slowly and not mess with our blood sugar as much. Guess what: that’s not exactly true!

The particular type of complex carbohydrate found in wheat is the most easily digestible and therefore has a more significant impact on blood sugar than even straight table sugar!! We refer to the ability of a food to raise blood sugar as the Glycemic Index (GI) – the higher the GI, the more the food raises blood sugar. Here are a few examples that might surprise you.

   Food    Glycemic Index
   Whole grain bread    72
   Shredded wheat    67
   White bread    69
   Table sugar    59
   Snickers bar    41

So what do we see here? Pretty shocking, huh? Whole grain bread raises your blood sugar MORE than straight table sugar or a Snickers bar? Yup. Same with shredded wheat. Not only that, but whole grain bread increases your blood sugar more than white bread!

So what does all this blood sugar have to do with weight loss? Almost everything, really, but we’re going to hit a couple of highlights today.

One of the primary determinants of hunger is low blood sugar. Well wait, if that’s true, shouldn’t whole grains keep you full since they raise your blood sugar? Nope, that’s the thing: grains send your blood sugar on a rapid roller coaster ride. It shoots up quickly and then plummets – this is why you can eat a big bowl of cereal for breakfast and find yourself starving an hour later. Of course you eat more to silence your growling stomach and the cycle repeats itself, keeping you in the vicious peak-valley blood sugar cycle.  As Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly, puts it – wheat is an appetite stimulant.

These rapid surges in blood sugar also activate the release of insulin – the hormone that allows glucose to enter into the cells. Insulin is a major player in the fat loss journey. If insulin is chronically high, you CANNOT be in fat burning mode. It won’t allow it.

Here’s what goes down when we consume carbohydrates. After it’s broken down into glucose, that glucose is first fed to the muscles. Storage there is limited and is used when you have short, intense bursts of physical activity. If the storage within the muscles is full, it’s next sent to the liver for storage. Again, this is a limited storage area. When the liver storage is full, the glucose is sent to be stored in fat tissue – unlimited storage capacity. Your body perceives these as critical stores in case of famine and does not easily give them up. Energy is much more easily obtained from your muscle or liver stores. Fat storage puts up a fight.

Insulin is what allows excess glucose (or protein or fat) to be stored in fat tissue. When insulin is high, fat storage is high. When insulin is low, fat storage is low. High blood sugar results in high insulin and therefore accelerated fat storage.

If you want to access your fat stores, burn that fat and move it out of your body, you MUST regulate your blood sugar, avoid those dangerous peaks and valleys and that will regulate your insulin activity.

Wheat is one of the most dangerous culprits when it comes to increasing blood sugar (and insulin). It not only stimulates appetite but also fat storage – a very counterproductive and unhealthy combination.

By adhering to the Primal Principles of constructing your meals around protein and vegetables and avoiding processed foods, you’ll go a long way towards reducing your wheat intake. Start there and you’ll notice improvements in your energy levels, mood and body composition.

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