The Los Angeles times recently ran story entitled, “A reversal of carbs.”
The story purports that many leading nutritionist believe that fat is not the real culprit behind diseases, such as, heart disease, high blood pressure, or type 2 diabetes but carbohydrates are the real enemy.
“Carbohydrate is the new metabolic bully,” says Dr. Stephen Phinney, a nutritional biochemist and an emeritus professor of UC Davis who has spent the last 30 years researching carbohydrates1.
Phinney has some evidence to back up his claims. A study published by he and his colleagues placed both men and women on a 1500-calorie a day diet. One group was placed on a high fat, low carbohydrate diet and the other on a high carbohydrate, low fat diet.
At the end of the study, levels of triglycerides (associated with disease) dropped 50% in the higher fat, low carbohydrate group. Their levels of the HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) also increased by 15%.
In the high carb group, low fat group, triglycerides dropped only 20% and there was no change in the HDL cholesterol. The study suggest that fat may not negatively affect blood cholesterol, as much as, carbohydrate.
According to the article carbohydrate intake is steady on the rise and the average American takes in 250 to 300 grams of carbohydrate a day, accounting for more than half of your total calorie intake, approximately 55%.
Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health goes so far as to fault a 30-year-old government mandate to cut fat as completely misdirected:
"The overemphasis on reducing fat caused the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar in our diets to soar. That shift may be linked to the biggest health problems in America today1."
Don’t throw out unprocessed food like fruits and vegetables, these nutritionists are suggesting to cut back on the refined carbohydrates: white flower, sugar, sugar beverages (soda), pasta, and rice.
They believe that the increase in processed carbohydrate intake is directly related to an increase in metabolic syndrome, which is represented by three or more of the following factors: high blood triglyceride levels (greater than 150) high blood pressure (greater than 135/85), a waist measurement of over 40 inches for a male or over 35 inches for a female, low HDL cholesterol (less than 40 for men or less than 50 for women), or elevated fasting blood glucose levels (greater than 100mg/dl).
One in four adults has metabolic syndrome, which could be a sign for predicting more serious diseases to come like or type II diabetes and heart disease.1
NutritionX Los Angeles Commentary: Randell Allen is a nutritionist-personal trainer in Los Angeles and the creator of NutritionX. NutritionX customizes nutrition plans based on your body type. NutritionX determines your carbohydrates percentage based on your body composition (body fat compared to lean mass ratio).
High carb diets may lead to high insulin levels and suppress fat utilization
After over 20 years of research it is possible to read between the lines of most articles or studies dealing with weight loss. The fact of the matter is a diet too high in carbohydrate (and excess calories) is counterproductive for weight loss. Any time your body takes in an excess of carbohydrate, insulin is secreted by your pancreas to assist in transporting glucose to your cells (carbohydrate breaks down into glucose), which suppresses the enzyme lipase, which is known to halt the release of fat for energy.
In short, over consumption of carbohydrates (and calories) stimulates insulin and signals your body to stop burning fat (refined carbohydrates will spike insulin levels more than carbohydrates coming from unprocessed foods).
Not all bodies are the same
What is high carb for one person is not high carb for another. Most studies do not take into account the varying degrees of body types (muscle mass compared to fat mass), which not only influence the total amount of carbohydrates that can be consumed, but also the total number of calories you can consume without developing health problems related to metabolic syndrome.
Look at it from this perspective. A nutritionist in the Times article recommended no more than approximately 130 grams of carbohydrate a day. Is this the same of a man 6’ 4” 225 pounds, compared with someone 5’6’’ 150 pounds? For a bigger person with more muscle mass, there is no need to cut your carbohydrate grams to 130.
In addition, your activity level is another major factor. A “couch potato” can stand to cut back on the carbohydrates compared to a long distance runner, who probably needs more carbohydrates.
Your Body type, activity level, and type of carbohydrate (refined vs. unprocessed) need to be taken into consideration before making for absolute dietary recommendation for carbohydrate.
Reading between the lines
The Phinney study may not have taken into account that the group taking in the low carbohydrate, high fat diet, which had better results in triglycerides and HDL cholesterol, may have taken in more protein.
Protein being the most thermogenic food may have accounted for the better results. The article failed to specify the differences in the protein intake between the two groups.
Studies have also linked a higher protein diet with better short-term results in reducing triglycerides, HDL cholesterol and faster weight loss.
Whether your diet is 55% carbohydrate or 25% carbohydrate your calorie intake, protein intake, and exercise type and activity level will highly increase or decrease your chances for avoiding metabolic syndrome and fatal disease.
While it is highly recommended to limit your intake of sugar and refined grains, the first culprit in avoiding metabolic syndrome is overeating not necessarily high carbohydrates.
In fact, the 2002 The Institute of Medicine published recommendations of carbohydrates of 45% to 65%.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a carbohydrate intake of 58%. These numbers are adequate, if you have a moderate activity level and do not overeat.
Tips: If you believe you are eating too many refined carbohydrate
- Cut out the bread, pasta, and rice at dinner time and replace with two different vegetables
- Add a handful of nuts instead of chips or bread
- Replace soda with herbal teas or diet sodas (if you must)
- Go protein style on your burgers (no bun) In and Out burger will do this for you
- Take the rice out of your burritos and add more vegetables: lettuce, tomato, etc…
- A favorite sushi restaurant trick is to order a hand roll with avocado, cucumber, and salmon with no rice
- Drink more water and less fruit juice
1. Marni Jameson (10 December 2010) "Reversal of Carbs." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 21, 2010.
2. Donald K. Layma et al (2009) A Moderate-Protein Diet Produces Sustained Weight Loss and Long-Term Changes in Body Composition and Blood Lipids in Obese Adults. J. Nutr. 139: 514–5213.
3. Ace Person Training Manual (2010) Fourth Edition
4. NCCPT Personal Training Manual (2010)
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