Let’s say you buy into the idea that eating low-carb can be a good idea for diabetics or the overweight. You agree that carbohydrates raise blood sugar, so in order to keep it under control, you restrict until your blood sugar looks good. You also agree that insulin can cause your body to hold onto fat, so to help lose weight, you restrict until you are happy with your weight. Is that the end of the story? You may eat as many carbohydrates as you desire and can “get away with”?
As I learn more about glucose metabolism, my answer is that even if I can “get away” with X carbohydrates, in the larger picture (beyond blood sugar and fat tires) my health still suffers. Even if I could eat 100g a day (which I can’t), I wouldn’t. Here’s why:
I eat my 100g (yum!) and my blood sugar magically stays rock steady at 85 because my body made enough insulin to cover it. Yay for me, right? Wrong. Since I am insulin resistant, that means that it took a LOT of insulin to achieve that. After reading Gary Taubes books, Good Calories Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat, I understand that insulin plays a major role in keeping fat locked away in my cells. So that higher insulin hurts my weight loss and prevents me from using fat for energy, making me feel tired and probably hungry.
But what if I have already hit my target weight and the extra carbs aren’t causing me to gain weight. Surely it’s okay then, right? Wrong again. This is where it gets frustrating. I can measure my blood sugar, I can hop on a scale and the consequences of my carb consumption are right there in my face. It is unavoidable, it is motivating but unfortunately not all effects are so easily measured. Many diseases have been associated with glucose metabolism and while you may “get away with” extra carbohydrates in the short term, I am arguing that you aren’t doing your health any favors in the long term.
Now going back to the amount of carbs I ate, even if my blood sugar and weight remained steady, my body still metabolized that glucose. When glucose is metabolized, it creates by-products such as methylgyoxal (MG). MG is one of the molecules that create AGEs (Advanced Glycation End-Products). Just as the name implies, AGEs contribute to aging. They react with the cells in your body and cause all sorts of damage: from wrinkles and age spots to systemic inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease and more.
My understanding is that every molecule of glucose I consume contributes a little bit more to my eventual demise. Is glucose (carbohydrates) the alpha and the omega of aging and disease? No. Life is more complicated that that. However, it is one piece of the puzzle and whether you can “get away with it” or not, is something to be considered if you care for your health.
I am working on an article which backs up my assertions with SCIENCE! but for the moment, here is a sampling of citations to show that I’m not a whack job with a blog and an unsubstantiated vendetta against carbohydrates. At the very least I am a whack job with sources! :) If you are interested in more, I pulled these citations from Dr. Ron Rosedale’s incredible post on Jimmy Moore’s blog. The page is very long, so search for the word “Rosedale” and start reading from there.
- There is no “safe” blood sugar threshold
Is there a glycemic threshold for mortality risk? Diabetes Care May 1999 vol. 22 no. 5 696-699 “…the lowest observed death rates were in the intervals centered on 5.5 mmol/l [99mg/dl] for fasting glucose and 5.0 mmol/l [90 mg/dl] for 2-h glucose. CONCLUSIONS: In the Paris Prospective Study, there were no clear thresholds for fasting or 2-h glucose concentrations above which mortality sharply increased; in the upper levels of the glucose distributions, the risk of death progressively increased with increasing fasting and 2-h glucose concentrations.”
- Glucose promotes the effects of aging
Pro-Aging Effects of Glucose Signaling through a G Protein-Coupled Glucose Receptor in Fission Yeast PLoS Genetics, March 2009 | Volume 5 | Issue 3 “…excess of glucose has been associated with several diseases, including diabetes and the less understood process of aging. On the contrary, limiting glucose (i.e., calorie restriction) slows aging and age-related diseases in most species…The pro-aging effect of glucose signaling on life span correlated with an increase in reactive oxygen species and a decrease in oxidative stress resistance and respiration rate. Likewise, the anti-aging effect of both calorie restriction and the Dgit3 mutation was accompanied by increased respiration and lower reactive oxygen species production.”
- Glucose is the preferred food of cancer
Glucose restriction can extend normal cell lifespan and impair precancerous cell growth through epigenetic control of hTERT and p16 expression. FASEB, December 17, 2009 “Cancer cells metabolize glucose at elevated rates and have a higher sensitivity to glucose reduction…The altered gene expression was partly due to glucose restriction-induced DNA methylation changes…Collectively, these results provide new insights into the epigenetic mechanisms of a nutrient control strategy that may contribute to cancer therapy as well as antiaging approaches.”