Carbs are the enemy for most of us. At least this is what we have been led to believe. What has sprouted are many diets, the Paleo diet included, that promote low carb solutions to not only losing weight but living the healthiest life possible.
In recent years however, many Paleo-promoting specialists have refined those parameters to include carbs again. Why? Aren't they bad? The blog will cover the pros, the cons, what you may be confused about, and how to use carbs properly.
Just for background, let's remember that excessive carb intake is transformed into fat cells inside the body. This is where obesity and fat storage come from, rather than in the intake of fat in our diet. So when it comes to carbs, we tend to understand that limiting is best for our weight and overall health.
One thing to note about carbs, however, is that there are different quality of carbs. Some increase inflammation, increase our insulin levels and blood sugar. Some don't have those effects. Corn syrup, candy, muffins = yes, bad effects. Broccoli, sweet potatoes, brown rice = not bad effects.
Reducing carbs in your diet has some costs. If you've ever done this, these symptoms will be a rough reminder: you feel lousy, cranky, sluggish and sometimes even sick.
This happens because most of us require some level of carbohydrates to function properly long-term. Emphasis here because while you may be able to cut out carbs temporarily, it likely won't feel good for you in the long run, especially if you workout. If you do, in fact, workout regularly, some side effects of reducing your carb intake includes:
- decreased thyroid output - Hormone T3 is the most active thyroid hormone and is responsible for managing blood glucose levels and metabolic function. We also have rT3 (reverse T3) which inhibits the production of T3. When we don't have enough carbs, not only does our T3 slow down in production, but rT3 increases and blocks the capacity of the T3. What does this mean? Your energy levels go down, your metabolism slows down, and you probably feel like junk.
- increased cortisol output - Cortisol is your stress response hormone. We want to cortisol in our body to help us get jazzed up for workouts and for fight-or-flight situations, but too much means we have too much stress on our body and can begin to break down normal responses (hey, adrenal fatigue).
- decreased testosterone - In conjunction with increase cortisol, we see decreased testosterone with the reduction of carb intake. "I'm female, so no big deal." Wrong. Testosterone is important for everyone regardless of gender. Testosterone gives us the ability to grow our muscles and function actively, as well as promote bone strength . The combination of these two hormones being out of whack leads to negative effects in performance.
- impaired mood and cognitive function - This goes without saying. Ever been hangry? You're probably missing some carbs, going through low blood sugar, or something like that. You shouldn't feel like you're up and down on a roller coaster (this is part of why refined carbs are bad for you), but your brain needs carbs for energy to function in addition to both protein and fat.
- muscle catabolism - When you're exercising, the goal is to typically break down muscle (get sore) and then rebuild it to be stronger. When you aren't eating enough carbs, however, your muscles breakdown and are unable to rebuild themselves. "But I'm eating a TON of protein so I should be fine." Wrong again. We needs carbs in the diet as well because building muscle requires the release of insulin in order to replenish depleted glycogen stores in the muscles that are doing all the work for us during exercise. When your muscles breakdown and aren't being replenished, your body also stops creating new proteins to rebuild, so nothing happens. The result is that you'll see a big decrease in muscle mass as your tear them up without rebuilding them, no matter how much you workout.
- suppressed immune function - All of this in combination can lead to a decreases functioning system overall. When this happens, we put a lot of stress on our immune system to keep us healthy, and it's not always able to pull us through. Which means that you might end up with a cold upon reducing your carb intake.
Now, there is no one-size fits all diet for everyone. Some people (like ultra endurance athletes) do really well with high carb intake. Some also do really well with low intake (such as the Keto Diet). But most of us are somewhere in between the two extremes. Carb intake is typically determined base on your body type. Some body types tolerate carbs incredibly well, meaning that they don't automatically convert carbs into fat cells. Others, however, do exactly that. Feel like you can't eat a little bit of rice without gaining a few extra pounds? You're that body type. And it's okay - there is a nutrition plan for everyone to be able to eat carbs suited to them individually and achieve the results they want, which for most of us means a lean body with energy to enjoy it fully.