Carbs have gotten a bad wrap. The American people are always on the look-out for the bad guy when it comes to food. Being a nation that is obsessed with the quick and easy fix, we are constantly on the search for “The Master Villain”: the one thing that is the source of all of our problems and that, if eliminated, would end the pain, anguish and misery of living in the wealthiest and most food-abundant country on Earth. And once we find the culprit, we shall waste no time in pointing the mighty finger of blame from our incredibly high horses.
In the 90’s it was the evil Fat Content, spurring loads of so called “low-fat” foods that either tasted like shit, weren’t really fat-free at all, or both. People ditched the “fat-free” concept when the new millennium hit, mostly because everyone was tired of eating cardboard, and started to go after carbohydrates as the root of all weight-loss evils. This has not only caused a drastic and horrible demonization of wondrous and glorious bread (ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY BREAD! ACCEPT MY SACRIFICE OF THESE HERE EIGHTEEN VIRGINS AND BLESS MY CROPS WITH LONG LIFE!) but also created a fast-track fad diet that causes more damage than good and made it popular beyond belief. But losing a lot of weight doesn’t mean eating what other people tell you to, it means understanding what you put into your body and why. Have I said that enough in these posts yet? IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII don’t think so.
Goofus & Gallant – The Starchy Version
So, according to me a paragraph or two ago, carbohydrates are good for you. So good, in fact, that you should be eating a healthy portion everyday. But are all carbohydrates created equal? As opposed to protein, whose dietary value is measured by how many grams of protein you consume by how many calories come along with it, carbohydrates are guaranteed to bring calories because that is their job. But just as there are some people who work harder at their jobs than others, there are some carbs that do a lot more than just provide energy. You may have heard the terms “Simple” and “Complex” in relation to carbs , but to think of them as “Lazy” and “Productive” would probably be better in understanding what these two groups do.
Simple Carbohydrates (aka – Lazy Bastards, aka – Bare Minimum Achievers, aka -Me) are essentially comprised of one or two sugar molecules and their primary purpose is to get those sugar molecules into you. They are also easy (extremely easy) to digest, so not only do simple carbs get sugar into your system but they also do it very fast. Imagine hiring movers to help move your couch out of your apartment on the fourth floor of a building and instead of carefully taking it down the stairs, or even using the large and stable elevator located right near your front door, they just throw it out the window. That’s simple carbohydrates: throwing a couch of sugar straight down into your stomach so they have more time to sit around and talk about the latest episode of “House”. Food items belonging in this category: White bread, sugar, honey, rice, pasta, brown sugar, alcohol, and the list goes on.
Complex carbohydrates (aka – Hard-working, aka – Overachievers, aka – Not me) are made up of long chains of sugars linked together that take longer for our systems to digest, and sometimes our bodies can’t even digest them at all. Imagine, once again, you have hired movers to do some good old couch moving. Complex carbs won’t just take the couch down via the stairs, they will reupholster the couch, paint your apartment, fix your kitchen sink, and pay a couple months of your rent just for the hell of it. Food belonging in this group: oatmeal, bran, green vegetables, brown rice, yams and many other roots, and oh, so much more.
It not hard to tell these two classifications apart; if it’s white, fluffly and just generally delicious, it’s a simple carb. If it’s brown, dense, hard to chew, and generally not very appetizing without two or three buckets of melted cheese upended over it, then you have complex carbs. Now I’m not going to focus on complex carbs too much right now because they are usually loaded with fiber, which I am saving for later post. Instead, let’s take a closer gander at the simple carbs, which are the ones being harassed nowadays.
The reason people are hating on the simple carbs is because our bodies can easily render them into fat. The image of a fat person holding a box of donuts while they reach over to fill another mug with whipped cream, while incredibly insensitive and cruel (and a good idea), is also an accurate depiction of what can happen to your body if you load it with sugar. Another ill-effect of eating too much sugar is throwing your inner chemistry set out of whack, ruining your body’s natural insulin production and creating the truly horrible disease of diabetes. So a few people (one who had a medical degree) figured that if you stopped eating those carbs, that so easily turn into sugar that so easily turn into fat inside of our bodies, you’d lose weight. And they were right. If you are no longer eating things that your body can store as fat it will start to eat away at your reserves, which is generally what you want.
Now before we go on, I must admit that I haven’t been completely honest with you. Technically, carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient for the human body. Your body does not need carbohydrates as it can also get energy from the fat and protein already in your body.
Okay, hold on now, calm down and stop pointing that finger at me. While your body may not need it, it sure does want it. As I have mentioned in a previous post, carbohydrates (especially the simple ones) are the fuel for your body; they burn quicker and turn into energy faster and more efficiently than any other food. Glucose (which is the basic scientific term for sugar and what carbs are made of) is the largest energy source in all of biology. You can see I italicized, bolded and underlined that, so you know I ain’t fucking around. From the smallest bacteria to the largest animal, almost everything that breathes, eats and lives uses glucose because it is the most efficient source of pure biological energy. But it’s not just your body, it’s your brain, as glucose is the brain’s primary source of energy.
So, yes, cut out carbs and your body will stop storing fat for energy and burning it, thereby losing weight. But without the energy that comes from carbs and their glucose, at the same time you start burning away that fat your body is also going to start burning the protein in your body. You might think that just means a loss of some muscle mass (which is really scary in and of itself), which will also cause you to lose weight as muscle is heavier than fat. But when you realize that there are other things in your body made up of protein, like your liver, kidneys, heart, and everything else, suddenly the image of your body eating itself won’t get out of your head.
And what about your brain? Not only will your brain be starved for the wonderful glucose that the brain uses as food, but because of your carb-free diet, your body is starting to burn brain matter since your brain is basically a large lump of fatty protein. Listen, I’m dumb enough as it is, so I can’t go around doing things (or rather, doing more things) that kill off brain cells. I want to lose weight, but I also like my brain. Sure, it’s squishy and smells weird, but it helped me enjoy The Matrix without anyone explaining it to me and remembers how to make balloon animals. It’s just not fucking worth it!
Simple carbohydrates are not the bad guy. Sugar is not the bad guy. Fat and calories are not the bad guy. The bad guy here is misinformation, laziness and years of bad habits that have turned into detrimental behavior. You can not trick your body into losing weight. You can only understand what the food you’re eating gives you and start to learn how to utilize every bit of it. Anything else and you’re only hurting yourself.
So give white bread, pasta and sugar a break; they’re only trying to keep you alive.