Are All Carbs Bad? Understanding Carbohydrates and Your Health
Starting from our hunter-gatherer roots, carbohydrates have been our main source of food. To thrive, we developed ways to transfer the food available in nature into something edible and easily available for large numbers of people. Therefore, the types of food consumed today look drastically different than those of our ancestors.
Today, wheat is the most consumed cereal in the world. In the U.S., each person consumes an average of 60kg of wheat per year. The diet is now highly weighted toward refined carbs and sugar. As the consumption of refined carbs and sugar have gone up so have the rates of Diabetes Type 2 and cardiovascular diseases.
Whole Grain v. Refined Carbs
A whole-grain granule contains fiber, carbohydrates, magnesium, vitamin E, vitamin B, proteins, iron, zinc and inulin. The inulin is a complex carbohydrate that our body is able to digest only partially. Because of this characteristic, it is defined as a pre-biotic, which means that it is food for the gut bacteria. Moreover all the whole carbohydrates contain several phytonutrients that are strong anti-oxidants and help to support the immune system.
The process of refining brings us white flour and white rice, as two examples. This process involves the removal (in variable proportions) of several parts of the original granule. In refining, a lot of micronutrients are lost because the removed parts (the most external layers, the bran, and the internal one, the germ) contain the highest concentrations of micronutrients and fiber.
“Bad Carbs” and Nutrient Loss at the Cellular Level
By mainly eating refined carbohydrates (or white carbohydrates), we get the same (or more) calories with fewer nutrients. While our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate carbohydrates, they were nutrient- and fiber-dense carbohydrates.
The human body is an amazing machine that can manage a long time despite such a deprivation of fiber and micronutrients. The very process of living, breathing, keeping the body temperature and all the other physiological functions working requires an adequate intake of micronutrients. Besides these basic functions, our body must deal with emotional, physical and environmental stressors and the ageing process. The chronic deprivation of fiber and micronutrients can lead to the depletion of the reserve of micronutrients. This condition can challenge the cellular metabolism and contribute to malfunction and disease.
Refined Carbs and Glucose Overload at the Organ Level
Though sugar is technically an essential nutrient, it quickly becomes toxic to our cells and systems when its level in our blood rises too high and too fast. Any meal or food containing refined carbohydrates and/or sugar gives us a high load of quickly and easily digestible and readily available simple sugars. These simple sugars, mainly glucose, easily enter the blood stream from the digestive system and the blood sugar levels spike a very short time after eating. Once again the human body is an amazing machine, able to deal with this and restore the balance.
Two hormones primarily deal with the blood glucose level, with the pancreas serving as the body’s main regulation organ. When we consume refined carbs, we get a spike in blood sugar (it’s like a “sugar bomb” to our system). Because the fast and high rise of blood sugar can be toxic, this puts the body into an emergency mode. The pancreas has to react by spiking our blood insulin levels. After the blood sugar levels go back to the normal range, we get a rebound of a low sugar level due to the insulin spike. When this cycle represents an episodic event, this is not a big deal because we are well equipped to face it.
Insulin Resistance, Inflammation and Chronic Disease
On the other hand, when we chronically expose our cells and systems to this chain of events with every meal, snack and drink, this will represent a chronic overload for the pancreas, with repeated insulin surges that can instigate the development of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition in which insulin’s effect on controlling blood sugar levels is compromised and reduced. To get the same effects on glucose blood levels the pancreas has to increase the amount of produced insulin.
Because the insulin hormone interacts with several other hormones (estrogens, testosterone, DHEA, cortisol, thyroid hormones) and tissues (liver, adipose tissue, muscle) in a very complex network, a chronic state of high insulin levels can contribute to a state of chronic inflammation. After years, this may appear as a wide array of chronic diseases. It is well known how insulin resistance involved as a causative factor leading to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, polycystic ovary syndrome, and some cancers.
In our next article, we’ll wrap up this introduction to “good carbs” versus “bad carbs” and share what we can do to reverse the health issues caused by our modern diet.
Dr. Sara Laudani is specialized in treating chronic illnesses, women’s issues, fatigue and mood disorders as well as sleep difficulties. She tackles health problems with a combination of western medicine and functional and nutritional medicine. Click here to schedule an appointment with her in our Hongmei Road Clinic – Hongqiao and find out about how her holistic approach and protocols can help you resolve your health issues.