One of the arguments we hear against the low carb lifestyle is that there have been (and are) many cultures that have eaten a relatively high percentage of carbohydrates in their diets with relatively little disease. So that is used as an example of how the low carb lifestyle is supposedly an unnecessary fad.
Even proponents of the low carb lifestyle at times will say that it is not necessarily the carbs that are the problem, per se, but the processing that causes the problem. Dr. Jason Fung discusses both on his website and his book that “Mother Nature” packages the “antidote” with the “poison.” In other words, while, say, fruit is high in sugar (the “poison”), it also contains other nutrients, like fiber (the “antidote”) that have somewhat of a neutralizing effect.
I can agree with these arguments with some exceptions, which I will get to in a minute. I DO believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with whole foods that are higher in carbs. I DO believe there are people who can eat more whole food carbs in their diet and avoid disease (although avoidance of disease does not necessarily equal good health). I DO believe the bigger problem is all the processed carbs, not necessarily the whole food carbs.
If you go back 100 or 150 years, before heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes were household words, what did the diet primarily consist of? Whole foods. Meat, eggs and full fat dairy, vegetables (both starchy and non-starchy) and fruit. No Pop Tarts for breakfast, no soda, no dwarf wheat, no chain restaurant food or fast food, no super sized portions.
If we look closer at this time period, people also worked physically hard. They lived in a less toxic environment. One with fresh air and sunshine, not air conditioning and electronic devices. So in the context of a people who ate a diet without processed, refined carbs, very little if any sugar, a people that worked physically demanding jobs, people that didn’t overeat, got plenty of sunshine and rest, then yes, I agree that some whole foods that are higher in carbs probably didn’t pose much of a problem.
Unfortunately, most of us today, due to decades of poor dietary advice, are very metabolically damaged, are overweight or obese, or are of normal weight but are still very unhealthy (TOFI = thin on the outside, “fat” on the inside). We are a population that eats too much, too often, that grew up on Cap’N Crunch and skim milk for breakfast and pizza for lunch. A people who eat out too often, are sedentary, spend too much time indoors, never lift anything heavy, rarely get fresh air, get so little sunshine that we are vitamin D deficient, don’t get enough sleep because we spend too much time on our electronic devices, are exposed to endless toxins in our air, water and food, and are just so darn stressed out…
So for most of us, the majority of carbs can be a problem, not just the processed ones,
Let’s contrast that to maybe a child today that is raised on a whole food lifestyle that still allows starches and fruit, like paleo. A child that is of normal weight, exercises daily, gets outdoors often, and gets adequate sleep. In this context, I really don’t think an apple or some sweet potato is a huge problem.
The answer is, you have to look at a person’s entire history and lifestyle to determine how carbs will affect them personally. That’s why there is no “one size fits all” approach. Because of my family genetics and many years of unhealthy living, I have a HUGE intolerance for carbs. I personally cannot tolerate fruit or root vegetables without very problematic blood sugar or weight gain issues. So you can’t point to a culture that eats a lot of rice and conclude that if they are healthy doing it, then so should I be.
So yes, when it comes to ALL people, the problem really is in the processing. No one needs processed and refined carbs like EVERYTHING made with flour, sugar and other refined grains. But over and above that, for those people that are metabolically unhealthy (which just happens to be the majority of the American population), then even many of the whole food carbs could likely be a problem. Unfortunately, the “antidote” may not be enough to overcome the “poison” for the majority of us. And no amount of studies comparing us to people with CULTURES THAT ARE NOTHING LIKE OURS, will change that sad fact. The fact that some remote group of people can eat sweet potatoes and thrive has NOTHING to do with whether I can eat a sweet potato and control my blood sugar (unfortunately, I can’t).
That is why in addition to encouraging folks to eat real food, I encourage them to “eat by their meter.” In other words, find out for themselves what their carbohydrate tolerance is and then eat in a way that will allow them to achieve and maintain optimal health markers.
It doesn’t matter who you are, if the foods you are eating (even if they are whole foods) are causing unsafe elevations in your blood sugar, you have two choices: 1. stop eating those foods, a solution that will improve your health, or 2. take medicines that will force your body to be able to more easily tolerate those foods…a process that will worsen your health.
Seems like a no-brainer…
For me, I have discovered that in order for me to achieve my health goals, I have to eliminate ALL sugar (natural or processed) as well as ALL starches. However, as they say, YMMV.
So please stop telling me that the low carb lifestyle that I live, one that helps me maintain near perfect health markers, is a a fad or unnecessary because the ancient Chinese ate 60% of their diet as starchy carbs. I didn’t live in THAT era, in THAT country, with THAT culture and THOSE genetics. I’m a typical American who was raised on the USDA low fat food pyramid which led to obesity, diabetes and a host of other health conditions, ALL of which my low carb lifestyle eliminated.
Once again, for ALL people, processed carbs should be eliminated as much as possible. They are poison (with no antidote, lol). But for me, and probably the majority of the people who follow this page (which is the demographic this page is designed for), our bodies will react to that apple almost as badly as it would to the Pop Tart, and therefore, unfortunately, has to be eliminated too. For us, all sugar (even natural) and food that turns quickly into sugar (starches) are all…well, still sugar 😦