Adding carbs without gaining weight: yes, it’s possible!

weightlossAbout 8 months ago I decided to go low carb. I was pretty strict with myself. Bread and pasta were not part of my diet anymore, and I drastically decreased my intake of carbs like potatoes and rice. I also limited my intake of fruits, especially the ones high on sugar. My intake of processed sugars was already low, so cutting those out was not a big deal. Within a matter of months I lost 22 pounds, and without being hungry I reached what is probably my natural weight.

About 2 months ago, as an experiment, I started to add whole food carbs back to my diet until the point that right now they are my main fuel source. On top of that I eat three or four pieces of fruit a day, including pears, kiwi’s and bananas. If you think a low-carb diet is the only effective way to lose weight, this may surprise you: my weight remained stable! I know, N=1 in this experiment, but I couldn’t help asking myself: how on earth is this possible? After all, the theory behind a low-carb diet made perfect sense: avoid carbs because they increase your blood sugar and consequently your insulin production, which makes your body store fat.

So why did I add carbs back to my diet in the first place? After all, a low carb diet was clearly effective for me? What inspired me to do so, was what I read about indigenous cultures. These cultures seem to thrive on their natural diets which, in some cases, are high-carb. Cultures like the Inuit and Masaai eat mainly animal based foods, but the Q’ero of Peru or the Tarahumara indians get most of their calories from carbs. Yet, obesity is unknown to them, let alone diabetes. Cardiovascular disease is very rare among these folks, and so are other modern diseases. Apparently the human body is adapted to eat a wide variety of foods. And although the diets of all these indigenous cultures vary a lot, they all have one thing in common: the absence of processed foods. This includes bread, pasta, foods with added sugars and basically everything that comes in packages. So this is what I did: yes, I added back carbs, but only the good ones. The ones that come from whole foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes and fruits.

Honestly, I was perplexed that the addition of multiple fruits and potatoes to my diet didn’t make me even gain a gram. Maybe the carbs–>insulin–>fat story is over simplified after all? Then, about a week ago, I was listening to an episode of Chris Kresser’s podcast about the Glycemic Index, in which Chris referred to this very interesting paper.

The paper’s suggests that it’s not the amount of carbohydrates, but the carbohydrate quality that may contribute to diabetes, obesity and other modern diseases. Because plants store their carbohydrates inside fiber walled cells, whole foods never have a carbohydrate density that exceeds 25%. Processed foods containing flour or sugar however, which are non-cellular carbs, have a much higher carbohydrate density (a property quite independent of glycemic index) than you would ever find natural whole foods. Our bodies seem perfectly capable of remaining homeostasis when consuming carbohydrates from whole foods, but often have trouble remaining homeostasis when confronted with evolutionary unprecedented carbohydrate concentrations. The hypothesis suggests that ‘ in parallel with the bacterial effects of sugars on dental and periodontal health, acellular flours, sugars and processed foods produce an inflammatory microbiota via the upper gastrointestinal tract, with fat able to effect a ‘double hit’ by increasing systemic absoption of lipopolysaccharide’ (these are endotoxins which cause a strong immune response in humans and animals). This may cause resistance to leptin, the “satiety hormone” that helps to regulate energy balance by inhibiting hunger. So, a simplified schema of this theory would probably look something like this: acellular carbohydrates –> inflammation –> leptin resistance –> lack of satiety–>obesity.

I highly recommend listening to Chris Kresser’s episode about the Glycemic Index. It made me conclude that the GIĀ  probably is an overrated tool, at least for most people, when it comes to weight control. It doesn’t explain the absence of obesity in indigenous cultures that rely on whole foods with a high GI. And it doesn’t explain why my weight remained stable after adding back carbs. The paper however, provides a theory that makes perfect sense.

So, if you’re on a low-carb diet and struggling to avoid all those delicious fruits and potatoes, maybe it’s time to start your own little experiment. Just a whole-food diet may be just as effective for you. It’s worth a try!

Categories: Food, Health, Other

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