So, what’s the deal with carbs?

About 5 years ago, the entire nation became enthralled with the Atkin’s diet. Everyone and their mother was going carb-free in the name of losing weight and for some people, it did seem to work. People traded in their hamburger buns for lettuce wraps and ate all the bacon their heart’s desired. Now, we seem to have come back to our senses a little bit and the newest trends are distinguishing bad carbs from good carbs; high glycemic index foods from low and all-natural foods from processed. So what’s the deal? Do carbs really make you fat? And, is there such thing as a good carb or a bad one?

First, lets talk about what a carbohydrate is. Carbs are essentially sugar molecules strung together. A simple carbohydrate means that the sugar chains are very short and easy to break down, whereas a complex carbohydrate has long, complicated chains of sugar that your body will take awhile to digest. For example, soda or sugary drinks are simple carbs because they are essential just liquid sugar and your body breaks that down almost immediately. Whole grain oatmeal, on the other hand, is a complex carbohydrate and you body will break that down much more slowly.

 These characteristics are what the glycemic index (or GI) is based on. Basically, researchers compared how fast a person’s blood sugar increased after eating different types of carbohydrates in comparison to eating pure glucose (sugar). The sugar drink was given a rating of 100 and all foods thereafter were given a number in comparison. For example, kidney beans have a glycemic index of 27, but french baguette has a glycemic index of 95. Foods with a GI over 70 are considered high, and foods under 55 are low.

So, who cares? Why is the GI important to weight loss? Well, it may have everything to do with insulin; a hormone released from the pancreas in response to an increase in blood glucose. Insulin is basically a storage hormone. It’s job is to notice when your body has consumed excess calories  and figure out how to store those calories for later. You can store carbohydrates in your muscles as glycogen for later use, or you can convert them into fat and store them in your adipose tissue long term. Obviously, most of us would prefer not to increase our fat stores, so the key here is not to have huge spikes in insulin. Foods with a high GI will cause your blood sugar to sky rocket, and your insulin release will follow suit, but, if you eat foods that have a low GI, your blood sugar levels remain more level and you don’t release as much insulin.  That’s why all those diet books keep telling you to pick complex carbohydrates and to avoid “bad carbs.”

Stay tuned for how insulin and blood sugar levels can change with exercise!



4 responses to this post.

  1. Hey Guys,

    First, have you read Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes? It’s fascinating! It is such a departure from what most people think of as the way to eat. His main point is that, fat does not really make us fat, carbs do. I’m not quite sure how to answer your poll, because while I do eat pretty low carb by necessity (I don’t eat processed sugar or grains at all and try to stay away from potatoes and anything that starchy, because my stomach has been awful lately and this seems to help), I have never been on a “low carb diet”, because I don’t really ever count carbs, or calories for that matter. I try to limit more “treat like” or “indulgent” items, balance my meals, eat when I’m hungry and stop before I feel full, and get through the day without a horrible stomach ache that I can’t identify….
    Anyway, the bigger point is, that while carbs have not done “wonders” for me, I absolutely believe that not eating a ton of them is better, particularly for people like me with digestive disorders and hypoglycemia, or J, who has insulin resistance now and will certainly get diabetes later if he doesn’t watch out!
    Any pointers on making healthy meals that are satisfying for a “meat and potatoes” man that are lower on the GI index?
    Thanks, you are great, keep it up!



    • Hi K,
      You know, I am currently reading Taubes first book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, which is along the same lines. Maybe in a few weeks I’ll write a book review of it! SO far, I think it seems that eating balanced meals is the best option. I agree that we probably shouldn’t be overdoing the carbs, but living a totally carb free existance doesn’t seem to make much sense either, seeing as glucose is the only fuel your brain will really use effectively. I’m sorry to hear that J has insulin resistance!! You know, I’m going to be starting some research about the relationship btw Vitamin D and IR, so I’ll keep you posted! I found another cool blog called along the same lines and she has more recipes that you might find exciting. I’ll be on the lookout and let you know about some more healthy “meat and potatoes” food.


  2. […] and insulin response to a meal. (For more info on glycemic index, glucose and insulin, check out a past blog entry) In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adding cinnamon to pudding […]


  3. […] sugar from your diet. (For more on how sugar affects your waistline, check out our previos blog about carbohydrates, and this great nytimes summary article about research and sugar) Excess sugar consumption can […]


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