7 CRITICAL FACTS ABOUT CARBOHYDRATES THAT YOU MAY NOT KNOW
*This is a guest post from Jonathan Carp, MD, drcarp.com.
If there’s one nutrient that people often get wrong when it comes to weight loss, it’s carbohydrates. Carbs have built a bad reputation over the years, as these have been blamed for weight gain and diabetes. But before you blame carbs any further, I’ll go through the seven carbohydrates facts that you need to pay attention to, especially if you’re aiming to lose weight or get help for autoimmune disease.
Nothing is a pure carbohydrate.
Nothing is pure carbs. Even foods that we normally consider carbs like potatoes or sweet potatoes aren’t pure carbs because these have additional ingredients in them. Think of the people who are on potato diets. These people weren’t suffering from any sort of macro nutrient deficiencies while they were on the diet. That means the potato has protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Those are the three macro nutrients. Not that I recommend such a diet, it’s just to illustrate that foods are a combination of macronutrients.
So when it comes to choosing foods or when it comes to thinking about carbohydrates, you have to realize that nothing is a pure carbohydrate, unless it's been refined. And if it's been refined, like white sugar as an example, then it's something in general that you should pay attention to and probably avoid.
Why? Because refined foods no longer contain their original ingredients. You have to understand that whole foods have a mixture of things that are good for you. The carbohydrates like rice or potatoes that we think of as carbohydrates are a mixture of things if they're in their whole plant forms. Even plants have fats, too. The cell membranes of all plants contain fat. It’s small but it’s there.
The key here is to focus on getting whole plant foods or whole foods that have a mixture of different nutrients. We are continually finding out that plants have additional ingredients that are actually beneficial to health, but are removed by processing.
When we're eating an enormous amount of vegetables, we're getting a lot of carbohydrates. But we're also getting a lot of fiber, which is also a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. We want this fiber to preferably come from plant sources.
If you're eating a lot of leafy greens, you're getting a lot of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which both have different health benefits from heart protection to keeping your bowel movements regular.
Longevity research matters when it comes to carbohydrates.
Right now, there is a resurgence of a diet called the ketogenic diet, which means that people are restricting the amount of carbohydrates in their system to such a low point that they are going into a state called ketosis, a metabolic process where your body starts burning fats for energy instead of carbs from food.
Now when we're thinking about weight loss, it is true that ketogenic diets do contribute to weight loss. A lot of people pursue this because if you look at it metabolically, it appears that ketogenic diets are actually more efficient. It's like increasing the miles per gallon on a car. Since it's fat, you're getting more energy off that. And so some people think that that's a preferred source. But, metabolic efficiency is only part of the equation and this is a reductionist way of looking at things.
We're excluding a whole host of other factors. One of them being the fact that in nature, in general, there are all kinds of redundant pathways in your body that don't seem efficient, and yet they’re perfectly normal. We don't have the full intelligence to be able to understand whether or not it’s going be beneficial by just looking at something from the efficiency standpoint because nature's filled with things that seem inefficient but work marvelously!
Scientists used to think that a bumblebee’s wings shouldn’t work, but they do and we have a better way of understanding it now. The same thing goes here. By looking through only the lens of metabolic efficiency, we can’t assume that it’s the best solution. This is where the body-hacking community sometimes chases things down rabbit holes.
In other words, we don't have evidence to be able to say that by increasing the efficiency of our internal motors, that's automatically healthy. And that's why longevity research matters.
Research into long-lived populations shows that people are not on ketogenic diets. So we can't exclude the populations around the world that are eating healthy, living a long period of time, and realizing that they have quality sources of carbohydrates that they eat. Like in Okinawa, where five times as many people live to be 100 years old, they eat the purple sweet potatoes. In Japan, they eat white rice. We have to understand that these things that are happening in international cultures that live a long time do matter when it comes to carbohydrates. If the body-hacking community starts living past 100 - then I will reconsider ketogenic for general use. Otherwise, for now I think they are best recommended for patients who have cancer, morbid obesity that’s not responsive to other diets, or resistant type 2 diabetes.
Low carb diets work.
When you look at the scientific literature studying diets, most of them reveal that low carb diets work. You might think what I just said are contradictory. And actually that's not the case.
When we look at low carb diets, they tend to perform better than other types of diets.
When we talk about quality carbohydrates, you're not going be in a state of ketosis. Quality carbohydrates matter. Foods like sweet potatoes and a little bit of rice are perfectly healthy. You're not going to see increases in inflammatory markers if you're eating proper quantities.
Leafy greens matter.
Leafy greens matter because they’re a type of carbohydrate. That's what they are, depending on the vegetable. I recommend eating around a pound of leafy greens per day. We'll get into more detail in future blogs about what those vegetables are and how to add them to your diet.
If you have some smoothie along with your breakfast in the morning, you can add a handful of greens. At lunch, you should be eating a big salad and there are times especially at dinner when there should be some steamed greens. It's very easy to get one pound of leafy greens in per day.
When I mention that to my patients, they often tell me, "There's no way that I could do that." But quite frankly, you will see amazing benefits in your health as well as your weight if you just focus on getting that pound of greens per day. The general rule here is to have one pound of leafy greens and one handful of nuts per day. These are the two things that everyone should be getting in their diet. Just adding leafy greens will reduce your appetite, boost your energy, and improve you health in general.
There are differences between different types of carbs.
I have seen no intervention that has caused more weight loss and made more substantial changes in someone's diet than reducing or completely getting rid of bread in their diet. I can't tell you how many times just the reduction of bread has caused people to lose ten to 20 pounds without changing anything else, but just getting rid of bread. And so that has to be said from the onset.
Now let's move on to rice. We'll talk about rice in number seven, which is where you're going to learn a little bit about a tool that I used with my patients called one carb per meal rule.
Generally speaking, white rice is actually better than brown rice because brown rice has lectin, a type of protein that is in the bran of the rice. And as a result of the bran, it prevents insects from eating it. If we ingest it, it causes irritation to the gut.
I know a lot of people are thinking, "Wow, that goes against what I’ve always been led to believe—that brown rice is better than white rice." That's the general consensus.
But if you compare white and brown rice from a nutritional perspective, they're really not all that different. But that little bit of lectin that you're getting from brown rice is problematic. There's a reason why most of the Asian cultures generally don't eat brown rice and there's ancestral wisdom about these sorts of things that we need to pay attention to even if we don't necessarily understand the science behind them. Now that we're learning about lectins and the irritation and inflammation they can potentially cause, it's important to make sure to stick to white rice if you’re going to have rice.
Beans are also a protein, but we're going to lump them into this kind of rough carbohydrate category. Beans are also another lectin-containing food and you need to be careful with them. They're okay to eat if you pressure cook them. Studies have shown that if you have beans and you pressure cook them, the amount of lectin in the beans decreases dramatically.
While I was with top heart surgeon and bestselling author Dr. Steven Gundry in Palm Springs, I was able to see in the lab reports that inflammatory markers in the blood drop as people go on lectin-free diets. Now this is really important for auto-immune diseases like psoriasis, and lupus, and multiple sclerosis. When we have these inflammatory markers, there's a general inflammatory state in our body that’s not conducive to weight loss and to your overall health.
Fruit is also potentially a problem if you're eating high sugar fruits like pineapple, papaya, or mango. You need to be careful of the quantities of these foods. As Dr. Gundry likes to say, in the animal kingdom, animals eat fruit to bulk up for the winter, so we need to be careful with the amount of fruits that we're eating. Opt for low sugar fruits like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and include them as you count them in the next rule.
You need to count your carbs.
For my patients who are trying to lose weight, this is what I recommend choose one carb per meal from the following choices:
- one carb per meal of rice
- one carb per meal of grain
- one carb only per meal of fruit
- one carb per meal of fruit juice
- one carb per meal of alcohol
So let’s say you’ve chosen an orange juice (which I am not recommending due to the high sugar content), then you can't have bread, you can't have rice, you can't have alcohol. If you wanted rice, you'd have one portion of rice, but you wouldn't have any fruit for dessert, or you wouldn't have any juice, and you wouldn't have any alcohol. If you wanted some wine, you can't have your potato, you can't have your bread, and you can't have your juice or your dessert.
Let's say you wanted to splurge and have one piece of dessert, then you need to knock out the carbohydrate like your potato or sweet potato in the first portion of your meal. Sweet potatoes are preferable to white potatoes because of lectin content. But if you're choosing to have the dessert, then you need to drop out the potato or the bread or whatever might have been accompanied with the meal. And if you do that and you are eating one pound of greens per day and your handful of healthy raw nuts per day, plus you're avoiding refined food products like white flour, and sugar, and refined oils, then you are 80% on the way to weight loss.
If you’re having fruits, pay attention to their source. Dried fruit for example is a condensed form of fruit. Keep in mind that with dried fruit, you can eat full fruits very easily and you’re going to get a lot of calories in a small portion of dried fruit. But if you were to have the whole fruit, you would never eat that many. You could quickly eat seven dried plums, but you would never be able to consume seven whole plums in one sitting.
Forget about fruit juices. Again you can choose it according to the rule I mentioned above, but if you wish to do that, keep in mind that it's all sugar and it's going to make your blood sugar go up and go down, especially if there's no fiber in the juice. And if do choose to drink fruit juice, make sure it is super high in anti-oxidants as these matter when it comes to sugar absorption. Opt for pomegranate or berry juices. Make sure it is not mostly apple juice, which a lot of companies add. Processed apple juice is low in anti-oxidants and is like drinking sugar water.
Learning how to count carbohydrates to keep yourself in the ideal range is easy. It's super easy to understand how to count carbs. You can refer to this video to learn how to do carb counting.
These are the seven items that I like to discuss with my patients when it comes to carbohydrates. I hope that this blog helps clear up some of the misconceptions about carbohydrates because that's one of the things that trips people up all the time.
Got comments or questions? Please comment below or join the conversation at our Facebook group.