Listen, you guys – I love carbs. When it comes to brown rice, sweet potatoes, succulent fruits and red wine, I’m always game (as long as I’m practicing my three rules of moderation, of course). But the truth is, when I look around me and observe the people in my life who don’t feel well 90% of the time, I really wish I could tell them to STOP EATING SO MANY CARBS.
I’ve already discussed why you shouldn’t eat sugar, but what about “healthy” carbs like whole-grain pasta, fibrous beans, vegetarian sandwiches or hearty oatmeal?
Although these carbohydrates definitely provide some nutritional benefits (including moderate levels of protein and fiber – they’ve got nothing on meat and veggies though!), eating them too often can take a toll on your digestive system, brain health, gut health and levels of inflammation. Let’s look at the research.
What Science Says About Carbs
Although study after study has confirmed that “fat fear” is unfounded and that natural fats are actually pretty good for us, many people still hold on to misguided fears about fats. While fats support our hormones, help maintain healthy cholesterol levels, and are easy to digest, carbohydrates are, in fact, quite the opposite.
They’re bad for your blood sugar: Carbs – even healthy ones – cause spikes and falls in blood glucose levels. This is perfectly normal in moderation, but when we overload our system with way too many carbohydrates, it can lead to problems. We’ll touch on this more in a sec, but suffice it to say that dramatic changes in blood sugar are pretty bad for our pancreas, which is in charge of producing a steady stream of insulin to help our cells metabolize glucose and create energy. This is one of the major reasons why we’re currently facing an epidemic of type 2 diabetes.
They’re hard to digest: Additionally, most sources of carbohydrate tend to be irritating on the digestive tract. While fruits and veggies are plenty fibrous, fiber sources such as grains and legumes often add too much to our system, giving us digestive trouble. To add insult to injury, they also contain anti-nutrients such as phytic acid, oxalates and lectins. These compounds, again, are perfectly fine in moderation, but too much of them can reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, leading to health issues.
They cause inflammation: And finally, there’s inflammation to consider. Though I don’t consider gluten a poison by any means, it’s not even up for debate that digesting gluten creates a state of mild inflammation for our bodies. Over time, inflammation is known to cause chronic health issues. Arthritis, fatigue and weight gain are some of the more mild results of inflammation, while heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s are some of the more alarming.
With all these consequences in mind, let’s go over five signs you may want to reduce your carbohydrate consumption:
You’re Tired All the Time
If you chronically feel drained and fatigued, there’s a good chance it’s because you’re eating too many carbs and not enough proteins and healthy fats. Because of the spikes and falls in blood sugar triggered by carb consumption, your system is going to feel constantly stressed from the effort of digesting carbohydrates. Yes, switching to only unrefined, whole grain carbs can definitely help, but it won’t eliminate the problem unless you combine the shift with additional energy sources from proteins and fats.
As a side note, feeling endlessly tired is also a sign of iron deficiency. People who eat a high-carb diet often shy away from primary iron sources (meat), which has the effect of making them tired much more often.
You’re Often Hungry Between Meals
I don’t care how accustomed you are to snacking, the human condition is not constantly hungry. Feeling this way has to do with how satiated you are after meals.
Because fats are so calorie-dense, our brains are hardwired to feel satisfied when we eat them. This is why you’ll likely feel much more satisfied after eating a lot of fat than you will after eating a low-fat, high-carb meal. (And don’t go saying “But pasta makes me feel satisfied!” Yeah…that pasta is usually combined with a fat-rich sauce containing either cream or olive oil.)
You Feel Bloated and Gassy
Whether you’re gluten-intolerant or not, carbs are difficult to digest. That includes fruits and vegetables! Fiber is important SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE you can’t digest it. It moves through your digestive system, taking with it leftover food particles and promoting regular bowel movements.
Too many carbs, though, make this difficult. When pockets of gas get trapped between the food moving through your digestive system, you’re likely to feel extremely uncomfortable. A proper fat to carbohydrate ratio will be much more beneficial to your digestive system than eating a high-fiber cereal.
You Have a Hard Time Concentrating
If you’re interested in learning more about how carbohydrates affect brain function, I highly recommend the book Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter. I’m not an alarmist – I don’t think that eating some fresh bread every once in a while is going to give me Alzheimer’s. However, I do acknowledge that there’s a very real connection between what we eat and how our brains work.
First of all, healthy fats are ABSOLUTELY BENEFICIAL for a healthy brain. Cholesterol has been demonized, but it’s actually thought to be a brain warrior. Cholesterol levels rise in older adults in order to help protect the brain from cognitive decline. Grain Brain cites numerous studies that have drawn a very clear correlation between the use of statins (medications given to lower cholesterol) and dementia.
Cholesterol doesn’t just affect the brain health of seniors, either. “Brain fog,” as it’s often called, plagues even young teens, and many nutritionists and doctors have postured that it’s a direct result of carbohydrate consumption – not only because of the spikes and falls of blood sugar that are triggered by carb consumption, but also because eating a high-carb diet often means skimping on healthy fats that are vital for brain health. A study published in the US National Library of Medicine even found that people following vegetarian or vegan diets (which I’m not necessarily opposed to, if done correctly) reported much higher levels of brain fog than those eating meat.
You Frequently Crave Sweets
Although everyone wants a donut every once in a while (myself included), constantly craving sweets isn’t a sweet tooth … it’s a dependency. And it’s caused by eating too much sugar (even if not in the form of fructose, then glucose, which is present in “healthy” carbs).
If you frequently crave sweets, it’s usually because of two things: 1. blood sugar problems, or 2. a lack of satiating fats in your diet. Again, I’m not saying that eating high-fat low-carb is going to mean you never want another slice of cheesecake … but your cravings will be much more rare, balanced and controllable.
If you’re interested in reducing your carbohydrate consumption, let me know! Or, if you’ve already done so, tell me how it worked in the comments section!