It’s been a Paleo-friendly world for quite a while. Even before the Paleo trend, carbs were getting bad press for years.
I hope I did my share by slamming sugar over and over again. (I started doing that back in the early 1990s.)
Add the gluten-free trend to this, and some of your friends and family members may be avoiding carbs completely.
People who avoid “carbs” are usually referring to bread, pasta, crackers, cereals, potatoes, and such. I use the term “starches” for those foods because it’s more accurate. After all, vegetables and fruits are carbs, too.
Carb-avoiders tend to avoid many sugars, too – cakes, cookies, candy. But fruits and syrups (including agave) are not always avoided.
I say they should be, even if you’re not going low-carb. But I digress.
So When Is Low Carb a Bad Idea?
Avoiding carbs doesn’t fit with athletic training, especially tough training. In extreme cases, a low-carb diet might cause a full-fledged bonk. But even without that, low-carb eating can make it difficult, if not impossible, to perform high-intensity intervals successfully.
A very low-carb diet may lead to cardiac arrhythmia, especially for people who train hard. If you run hard, take tough cycling classes, or kick butt generally when you work out, you might need to include starches both before and after the workout.
Fueling and refueling are important in fitness and health. The right carbs – and the right timing – become an important factor in both.
You can avoid grains and gluten if you want, but lots of other carbs are out there – vegetables, lentils, beans, sweet potatoes, squash, and more. Many are good for health and for workout fuel.
But My Workouts Aren’t That Tough
In that case, you won’t need quite as many starches. But losing them altogether isn’t wise.
Did you know eating too few starches can increase your appetite? This is about serotonin production. Serotonin produces satiety, the feeling we’ve had enough food and don’t need to eat more. And carbs help with serotonin production.
Satiety from serotonin is sometimes a general satiety. Not having enough serotonin may lead to increased appetite or food cravings generally.
Satiety caused by serotonin may also be carb-specific, so a high-carb lunch often leads to a lower-carb dinner.
But if you won’t eat starches, you might crave sugars. And without that general feeling of satiety, you might give in to your sugar craving and eat a lot of sugar.
Sugar is always dietary trouble, and eating a lot of it is a recipe for health issues.
It doesn’t stop there. Eating too few starches can also lead to cravings for alcohol. The serotonin explanation applies to alcohol, too.
Many food logs submitted by my clients do, in fact, show low starch intake, plus substantial alcohol consumption. Rave all you want about resveratrol benefits from wine, but alcohol in quantity can result in a number of health, sleep and mood issues, as covered in a previous post.
Starches are a safer and saner alternative.
Geeking Out With Carbs and Insulin
Long-term, a low-carb diet may cause up-regulation of insulin receptors.
Up-regulation is sometimes misunderstood. It happens when the level of insulin is low. An example? When the diet contains very few insulin-triggering foods, like starches.
In its ever-vigilant effort to maintain homeostasis, the body responds to a shortage of insulin-triggering foods by increasing the number of insulin receptors and making the existing ones more sensitive.
The result? The body is ready to receive ANY insulin that’s released and respond vigorously to it. In someone who’s susceptible, that may translate to serious weight regain if and when he/she returns to “normal” eating, even temporarily.
Gluten-Free Doesn’t Have To Mean Carb-Free
If you need – or want – to avoid gluten, you can still consume healthful starches. As mentioned, gluten-free starches include squash, quinoa, lentils, beans, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, parsnips, rice and more.
These foods will help you avoid the low-carb health issues described above and also keep you working out often – and as hard as you like.