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Carbs – The Real Culprit?

Written by Dr Estrelita van Rensburg

Isn’t it interesting, that throughout all our existence, humans have been lean and it is only over the last number of decades that obesity has become a worldwide phenomenon of epidemic proportions? The increase in obesity occurred immediately after we started eating more carbohydrates (carbs for short) and processed foods as recommended in the nutritional guidelines (see also Modern Diet and Lifestyle Diseases).

Meet the Carb Family

When we eat carbs such as sugar or starch, our body’s digestive system breaks down these food stuffs into its primary building blocks. These are mostly “glucose” and, in the case of fruit, they also contain “fructose”. When one molecule of glucose and fructose “holds hands”, it forms sugar.

A long string of only glucose molecules holding hands is called starch. The most common forms of starch are found in rice, pasta, wheat products and other grains (including breakfast cereals and bread) and potatoes.

Glucose and fructose are then absorbed from our gut into the bloodstream where it is transported to cells and used for energy or other metabolic processes.

Carbs and our metabolism

Carbs stimulate our appetite (tell our brain that we need to eat more), while protein and fat, through the hormone Leptin, send a signal to the brain to stop over-eating.

While carbs are bad for stimulating Leptin (“feel-full” hormone), they are very good at stimulating the release of the hormone Insulin from our pancreas. Insulin has many functions, but two specifically are important here.

First, insulin stores fat from excess carb calories - hence it is also known as the “fat-building hormone.” 

Secondly, it helps glucose, the primary building block of carbs, enter our cells to be used as energy (being insulin sensitive) or to be converted into fat.

Are carbs essential?

Of the three macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs), only carbs are non-essential for life. If so, where do our bodies then obtain glucose, which is an important fuel for our brain and other organs? As it happens, glucose can be produced by the liver from fat and protein by a process called “gluconeogenesis” or “new glucose”.

What happens when we eat a lot of carbs (sugar and starch)?

Over the long term, when we ingest large amounts of sugar and starch (i.e. our modern western diet of highly processed, carbohydrate-rich foods), many of us (perhaps the majority of humans) develop a metabolic state known as “insulin resistance (IR)” or pre-diabetes.

When this happens, glucose can no longer effectively be transported into our cells because insulin functioning become impaired (door is closing). IR is often the hidden metabolic abnormality underlying many of the chronic diseases affecting our body and brain and is currently reaching epidemic proportions (obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, dementia etc).

What can we do to turn IR around and prevent its consequences?

Change your diet - remove all the junk food (processed refined carbs, sweetened food and drinks), which will lead to a decrease in insulin levels. Our Wellness EQ Programme will teach you a step-by-step method of how and what to eat to become healthy and even help to reduce and, in some cases, stop the need to take medication for these lifestyle diseases.
For more information on this blog see also Library - The Experts Say.