In the 80’s, it was FAT. A study or two came out saying that dietary fat was the reason we were all fat. So, fat became a villain. The food industry proceeded to replace animal fat with other things…one of them being SUGAR. The calorie contents remained nearly the same on most foods while the calories from fat were simply replaced with other things…which essentially increased the carbohydrate content while reducing the fat content. This has lead us to ask the question, “Are Carbs the Devil?”
Many have now made carbohydrates the villain. Protein is now just about all anyone talks about and fat seems to be mostly accepted as ok as long as it is “healthy fat”. A wide variety of the diet plans you see out there make carbs the enemy and have some people going to quite the extremes to eliminate carbs. Once again, the food industry has responded by making a ton of “low-carb” products that simply replace the carbs with other things.
At 90/10 Nutrition, we do NOT focus on eliminating carbs….or fat for that matter. If you have been following us for a while, you probably know that our main focus is on eating REAL food and not on eliminating a particular food group or macronutrient. We have written about the popular keto diet here (spoiler, we’re not totally against it), but it’s not our thing really.
With that said, too many carbohydrates and the wrong type of carbohydrates CAN affect your waistline negatively. So, let me give you some tips to help you manage your carbs appropriately.
Why Carbs Can Cause Weight Gain
Carbohydrates cause a spike in blood sugar. Why? Well, I am not a dietician and this isn’t the deep science of blood sugar and carbohydrate, but all carbohydrates turn to glucose eventually and raise your blood sugar. This is how you fuel your activity. It’s a good thing. Have you ever had “low blood sugar” like some diabetics get? You cannot function. You need to have carbs to fuel your body and keep your blood sugar up. So, what’s the problem? The problem is excess blood sugar.
Again, this is not a truly scientific discussion from a dietician or doctor, but here is a very general sequence of events to help explain:
- You eat carbs
- Blood sugar level goes up
- At some blood sugar level, your body responds by releasing insulin
- Insulin shuts down your body’s fat burning process to allow it to focus on using the excess blood sugar
- If you ate too many carbs for your activity level, the sugar in your blood won’t be used up by your activity
- Your body will convert the excess sugar to fat and store it
Again, that is a relatively simplified scenario but it is helpful for understanding how to deal with carbs in your diet…especially if you have a lot of trouble leaning down and getting rid of fat.
Tips for Dealing with Carbs
Now, that you understand that, here are three important tricks you can use to manage your carb intake and help you cut fat.
1) Never eat carbs without some protein and fat. That’s right! That banana that you eat every day at 10am while you sit at your desk at work with 6 hours of limited activity ahead of you….it’s probably not the best thing. That healthy banana is spiking your blood sugar but you have no activity to burn it off. So, the first trick is to add some protein and fat. Cut that banana in half and eat it with a serving of almonds. The protein and fat will temper the blood sugar spike and help keep the insulin response from completely shutting down fat burning.
2) Eat the bulk of your carbs before, during, and/or after your periods of greatest activity. If you workout daily, you can feel free to fuel your workout with carbohydrate (especially for high intensity workouts). Then, keep your carb intake lower during the low activity periods of the day such as sitting at your desk, playing on your computer, or watching TV.
3) Finally, opt for slower releasing, complex carbohydrates like whole grains instead of white flour or white rice. If you eat any “simple carbs” like sugar or white flour products, they should only be in conjunction with a high intensity workout for fuel purposes and even then I stay away from them. All the carbs on the green tier should fit the “complex” definition so stick with those as much as possible.
So, carbs are your main source of fuel. Are Carbs the devil? No. They are NOT the enemy. If you want to be a cranky mess, feel free to limit carbs to the extreme and make them the enemy…but, if you want to perform well, enjoy your life, and not alienate your significant other, follow a more balanced approach to carbs and only adjust to more extreme if you really have trouble cutting the fat with these tips.