The Numbers Game with Carbs

What is it about carbs that freaks people out? I just had a friend ask me that if it’s all about numbers, why does it matter if the carb numbers come from beer or fruit? I’m going to try to answer this question to the best of my ability with my limited knowledge and my experiences from the summer. So let’s take this thing one step at a time.

Carbs. What they do.

Carbs are really interesting because we don’t need them in surplus – in the way we get them (we don’t need too much at all, really). Our paleo ancestors got carbs when they were available. They had less-sweet fruits when seasonal, some vegetables when they were available, and they had a bunch of meat when they could get it. But they coveted fats because that’s where the energy is.

From this awesome diagram, you can see that stored fat is going to provide the most energy. The carbohydrates you eat can help fuel the fire, but they don’t provide the best amount of energy.

Instead, carbs in excess can cause: hormonal imbalances (acne, anyone?), insulin resistance, sugar crashes, diabetes, impaired immune functioning and probably some other stinky things.

Now, you’ve probably heard that carbs provide food for the brain, red blood cells, and the retinas. You’re right. I’m not saying carbs are bad, but I am saying that your body can make glucose out of the fats & proteins you eat. So you may never really be in need of carbs, but they can help you feel better (especially if you’re an athlete or pregnant).

Are all carbs created equal?

You look at a green apple. Oh hey, then you see some alcohol right next to it. You’re pretty hungry. Would it hurt to have one over the other? What about that sweet potato…? Looks pretty filling…

So here’s the deal. An apple and that sweet potato have fiber. Because of that fiber, they’re going to digest more slowly into your system. That translates to your blood sugar not spiking so high. Isn’t that the reason you’re exploring low carb in the first place?

On the other hand, that beer is going to go right into you. There’s no fiber to slow it down. Plus, it’s alcohol which means it gets absorbed right into the blood stream. And it has no nutrients or vitamins. So if you have to choose between a sweet potato and a beer, you get more bang for your buck by eating the sweet potato. Fiber + nutrients = happy body!

Playing the numbers game

I know, this is the part you really care about. If you try to maintain a low carb approach, say on Atkins, does it matter if it’s a 20-carb sweet potato or a 20-carb beer?

If you’re consuming the beer, the sugar will go right into your system. Go read this post to understand more about the blood sugar rollercoaster. You don’t want to ride this rollercoaster because it leads to inconsistent energy levels, can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, weight gain, mood swings, etc. So you’re just not going to feel great. Plus, the more you eat sugar, the more you’ll crave it. I know this from experience. It’s why I’m doing the 21 DSD. Do you really want to feel trapped like that?

Feelings aside…

If you really don’t care about how you feel after you have sugar, your blood sugar spikes, your impending diabetes (just kidding, no I’m not), then you’re right – the numbers equal out. Have the beer. Don’t worry if it’s low carb. Just drink and be merry, like the hobbits! Sometimes you need to indulge for your own sanity. Sometimes cyclic low carb is better than straight low carb, anyway. I like chocolate, so I eat it.

I’m going to warn you right now though. Don’t do it everyday. Don’t even eat that sweet potato everyday. It’s okay to have green veggies everyday! Don’t fret, please! Embrace the zucchini, cucumber, spinach, mushrooms, onions, etc. (it doesn’t all have to be green). Only have one piece of fruit a day though (green apples and green-tipped bananas will give you the sugar you crave without the sweetness that might make you crave other sugar). But potatoes have the composition that resembles bread more than vegetable, so be careful with that. On the 21 DSD, no sweet potato is allowed. And I’m not craving carbs under this regimen!

*You also need to find out what works with your body type. People don’t like doing this because it takes time and you have to pay attention to your body’s reaction to the food. But it’s important. Listen to your body; you’ll feel better in the long run if you feed it what it wants. Also, make sure you’re not emotionally eating.

So, does that help answer the question? Is anyone battling carbs right now? What have you learned through the experience?

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