Eating too many of the certain kinds of carbs has many bad effects on our bodies:
We gain body fat because we overeat.
We feel more stressed out.
We have trouble controlling what we eat.
We develop insulin resistance, elevated triglycerides, and other health problems.
But, eating the right kind of carbs is very beneficial:
It makes fat loss easier.
It improves sleep and minimizes our stress response.
It can improve athletic performance and make workouts feel better.
It eliminates food cravings and reduces our tendency to overeat.
How is that one macronutrient can have such a radical effect on our bodies and minds?
All carbs are not created equally. In fact, just like all foods, carbs are complicated mixtures, providing a vast array of different types of sugars, nutrients, and fiber, along with calories. Our metabolisms respond in different ways to carbs depending on how much of these different components a food contains.
This article will distinguish between the different kinds of carbs. Then it will cover five signs that you might want to dial back your intake of refined carbs and give you suggestions for what to eat instead.
Here’s a brief rundown of the different types of carbs:
Carbs are found in all plants (fruits, vegetables, and grains), milk, and beans. All fruits, veggies, bread, cookies, crackers, grains, yogurt, dairy products, and sweeteners, such as sugar and honey, contain carbs.
Some carbs are high in calories (grains, sugar, bread), others moderate (potatoes, most fruit), and others low (green vegetables).
Carbs come either in whole form (rice, a blueberries, an apple) or refined (bread, cereal, juice). Refined carbs have most of the fiber and nutrients removed, which radically changes how the body processes them.
The “wrong” kinds of carbs cause people problems because they are refined and often have added sugar. Plant-based whole carbs, on the other hand, tend to be highly nutritious and delicious parts of a diet aimed at optimizing body composition. The one catch is that people often like to pick and choose when to eat foods that are higher in carbs or are more quickly digested to get the best results.
For example, you could save starchy veggies like sweet potatoes or whole grains such as boiled rice for after an intense workout, but eat green veggies to abundance throughout the day.
Without further ado, here are five signs you should modify your carb intake and how to do it…
#1: You feel like you have no control over what you put in your mouth.
You’ve probably been there at one time or another: You knew it was necessary to burn more calories than you ate to lose body fat. Eating less seemed like a really easy way to do this.
But every time you ate, you found you just couldn’t stop when you wanted to. Some meals were better than others, but the worst was when you were under stress. You just couldn’t stop yourself with those tiny cookies, or that amazing bread at dinner. Even that side of rice and veggie dish, or those sweet potato fries you made at home overwhelmed your ability to STOP.
It’s not your fault and you don’t need to feel guilty about it, but you DO need to understand that these types of carbs stimulate food intake. They activate parts of the brain that make you keep eating.
This is because carbs are all composed of different types of sugars that provide a range of sweet sensations. In humans, the sweet sensation triggers food intake, especially when combined with fat.
There two key things you need to do:
First, plan every meal around a whole protein source because protein is filling and satisfying. You’ll feel more in control of your eating so that you eat fewer calories overall.
Second, remove refined carbs from your diet in favor of whole carbs. Use leafy greens instead of bread. Try making “pasta” noodles out of winter squash or the inside of spaghetti squash. Substitute cauliflower for rice. Turn to blueberries and strawberries instead of cookies.
#2: You are always craving carbs.
Carb cravings are usually about elevated cortisol and too much stress. Here’s the deal:
Anytime you’re sleep deprived or are under stress, the stress hormone cortisol is elevated. When your cortisol is elevated, serotonin, a brain transmitter gets depleted because the body uses the same raw materials to make serotonin as it does cortisol.
Carbohydrates supply many of those raw materials, which is the main reason that we desperately crave high-carb delights when we’re under stress or are tired. Our body is trying to get us to eat carbs so that we have what it needs to produce adequate serotonin and cortisol.
Here’s how to solve it:
Figure out a way to reduce your stress and focus on getting good sleep.
Just like in #1, plan meals around whole protein and replace refined carbs with veggies and fruit. Most people will benefit from eating some boiled grains or starchy vegetables to help lower cortisol and replenish serotonin.
If you’re trying to lose fat, do this every 5 to 7 days. If you’re trying to maintain body composition, eat these higher carb foods post-workout and/or at dinner.
For a little more guidance, here is a list of 13 practical nutrient-based solutions for carb cravings.
#3: You eat a lot but you’re hungry ALL THE TIME.
When you eat a diet that is high in carbs (60 to 65 percent of calories) you need to continually eat them every few hours in order to maintain blood glucose levels.
When your blood sugar is continually elevated, your body is not very efficient at shifting between burning fat and glucose, which means that if you don’t eat and blood glucose drops, you feel tired and brain function is not as sharp. The effect is often worse in people who are overweight or have insulin resistance.
The solution is to get your body metabolically flexible so that it can shift from burning glucose to using stored body fat for energy without a hitch.
There are two methods of adapting the body to burn fat readily:
First, reducing carb intake in favor of protein and fat has been shown to increase fat oxidation in lean people.
Second, performing high-intensity training (HIT) such as sprint intervals has been shown to increase fat burning in both lean and overweight subjects. For overweight, sedentary people, doing HIT training is the catalyst to improve metabolic flexibility, whereas altering diet alone does not appear to be effective in the short term.
#4: You can’t lose body fat despite working out and cutting calories.
If you’re trying to lose body fat by exercising and cutting calories, but it’s not working, it’s a good bet your carb intake is off.
Here’s a common scenario in people on higher carb diets:
They restrict calories and start working out to lose fat, but calorie restriction is very hard for the body. When you have a calorie deficit, your body releases cortisol, which triggers the release of glucose to raise blood sugar and give you energy.
Top that with the fact that counting calories makes your body feel threatened, which is what is called perceived stress. This kicks cortisol up even higher.
Anytime cortisol is elevated, we crave high-carb foods. If we’re in the habit of eating a higher carb diet that includes some refined foods, we give into our cravings, chow down, and negate our calorie deficit. Thus no fat is lost.
Solve it by choosing nutrition that is robust to faults:
Ditch the strict calorie approach to fat loss in favor of a higher protein, lower carb, healthy fat, whole food diet. Planning meals around protein naturally allows people to eat fewer calories and lose fat without counting calories.
Be sure your workouts include strength training and intervals if your goal is fat loss because this type of exercise will help you maintain metabolic rate when losing body fat.
Avoid refined and processed carbs in favor of fruits and veggies. Consider cycling high-glycemic whole food carbs such as boiled grains or high-starch vegetables like sweet potatoes, green peas, and other tubers in your diet a few times a week.
#5: You are insulin resistant.
Eating refined carbs or simply living on higher carb foods all the time reduces insulin sensitivity. This is because refined carbs lack fiber and the body digests them very quickly, leading to a quick spike in blood sugar and insulin. Repeated over and over this leads your cells to become resistant to insulin.
You can see the profound influence of intact fiber in a study that tested the effect of eating an apple, apple puree, or apple juice. Results showed that insulin was highest after participants drank juice, followed by the puree, but lowest in response to the whole apple. The scientists concluded that removal of fiber led to the following ill effects:
* faster and easier ingestion,
* decreased satiety,
* disturbed blood sugar and inappropriate insulin release,
* stimulated hunger and overeating
The long-term effect of diets lower in fiber can be seen with a survey of 187,382 people that found that those who drank fruit juice daily increased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 21 percent. Those who ate at least two servings of whole fruit—grapes, apples, and blueberries—decreased risk of type 2 diabetes by 23 percent.
How to tell if you’re insulin resistant?
Most people who are sedentary and eat higher carb diets have a degree of insulin resistance, and it’s more prevalent as we age.
Symptoms include the signs listed in this article: having trouble losing body fat, always feeling hungry, craving carbs, and feeling tired.
Diagnostic tests are used to measure fasting blood sugar (should be below 100 mg/dL according to the American Diabetes Association, but a better number is below 84 mg/dL).
An HbA1c or glycated hemoglobin test should be below 5.6 percent, but 5.3 percent is preferable.
Solve It: Favor whole, low-glycemic complex carbs. Examples are berries, cherries, grapes, plums, peaches, and citrus, and all veggies (be conservative with potatoes and sweet potatoes).
Avoid simple carbs, foods with artificial no-calorie sweeteners, and high-glycemic complex carbs. Examples of these foods include bread, pasta, crackers, foods with added sugar, soda, diet soda, juice, sports drinks, cookies, cake, cereal, and grains.
Work out, favoring interval training and lifting weights to improve the body’s ability to use blood sugar and boost the insulin sensitivity of the cells.