Get ready for a fruit punch! You wouldn’t start your day with a Pepsi and consider it healthy, yet breakfast plates filled with fruits are anything but nutritious. Like pugs, poodles, and the infamous labradoodle, healthy, genetically winning traits like strength and mental sanity were bred out of these dogs in favor of absolute cuteness. Similarly, everything that made fruits nutrient dense and immuno-protective has been lost in the quest for the sweetest, most eye-appealing specimens. Over the past several generations, food scientists have bred oranges, apples, bananas, and many other staples not for nutrient density but for sugar content and shelf life. Stack that with any of the other “heart-healthy, whole-grain” options as “part of a balanced breakfast” and you have a meal that is shockingly high in carbohydrates.
Wait, what? Heart-healthy grains aren’t healthy?
Not really. Yes, you’ll get a little fiber and a few vitamins, but the cumulative effect of a diet high in carbohydrates is the same as a diet high in sugar, because a diet high in carbohydrates IS a diet high in sugar. By the way, if you want to get that “heart-healthy” label slapped on your cereal box, all you need to do is send the American Heart Association a rather large check. It’s branding. It’s marketing. It's not nutrition.
This wasn’t much of a problem a hundred years ago, because people’s eating habits and active lifestyles were totally different from the modern American’s. A hundred years ago, carbs were already under control. The modern American is under-rested, over-stressed, and inundated with advertising and food additives that drive excessive feeding. This type of excessive feeding leaves us particularly vulnerable to the effects of carbohydrates. While fats and proteins can be delicious, they don’t have nearly the effect on our neurological reward system.
Why does this matter?
Even though we’ve been raised to believe that the sugars in fruits and the “complex carbohydrates” from grains are a healthy source of calories, the truth is that they are little better than that can of soda when it comes to their collective effect on our blood sugar, insulin response, waistline, and brain function.
Carbohydrates, regardless of their glycemic index, turn into sugar. That sugar goes to the bloodstream, upsets its delicate composition, and requires a rapid insulin response to literally prevent death by blood toxicity. To put it in perspective, at any given time we should only have a teaspoon of sugar in our entire six liters of blood. A single modern banana contains six teaspoons of sugar by the time it’s digested. Insulin keeps us alive, but not without consequence. The problem with over demand of the insulin system is twofold. First, a system that is constantly flooded with insulin will eventually become insensitive, and this is what we call type 2 diabetes. Hopefully you don’t need an explanation for why that is bad. Second, insulin can make us more susceptible to weight gain via its promotion of fat storage. This is because all the sugar removed from the bloodstream (to prevent us from dying) has to go somewhere. And you guessed it, it goes to storage as body fat.
Remember the balance of blood we were just talking about? In an environment inundated by carbohydrates, our blood vessels actually get sticky. That’s right — the same way sugary foods make a toddler’s hands a sticky mess, so it is with your arteries. This is a big issue because arteries need to be flexible and adaptable. They are covered in a layer of smooth muscle that helps them regulate blood pressure and blood flow so that your body can perform optimally in all types of situations, whether lying down for a nap or “laying up” for two points in a pickup basketball game. Over time, carbohydrate molecules bind with proteins on the surface of your arteries, causing them to be rigid and sticky. Believe it or not, the scientific term for these bonds is “advanced glycation end products,” or AGEs. Carbs literally AGE your blood vessels!
While most folks are afraid of cholesterol-causing arterial plaques, it is really the assaults against the integrity of the arterial wall such as AGEs that set us up for vascular failure.
Chronic high-carb consumption also contributes to high levels of systemic inflammation. Every chronic disease known to man has been linked to inflammation. Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, and even Parkinson’s all have a bevy of research linking them to inflammation.
Alright, so we’ve got your attention and you want to get control of your carbs. But what do you eat? Many clients we work with begin to go through their day and wonder how they will get enough calories from the food they are eating. Ubiquitous staples like oatmeal for breakfast, turkey on wheat for lunch, and spaghetti for dinner all contribute to overconsumption of carbs. Instead, imagine a delicious egg and vegetable scramble for breakfast, a beautiful fresh salad for lunch with avocados and lemon vinaigrette, and a petite ribeye with herbs and asparagus for dinner. Throw in a few nuts, seeds, berries, and a probiotic-rich yogurt or pickle here and there and you’ve got everything your body needs. Just to be clear, this is not a “Keto” diet because the body is not going into ketosis. Neither is it Atkins. We wouldn’t even call this a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet. We would consider it a historically accurate average carb diet. However, that does not have a ring to it, so for now, it will be unnamed!