A month ago I wrote a post about why I eat moderate carb. This installment, why I don’t eat low-carb, has been inspired by Jimmy Moore’s Is There Any Such Thing As ‘Safe Starches’ On A Low-Carb Diet?
As the discussion on PaleoHacks indicates, there were some plusses and minuses about Jimmy’s blog post. On the plus side, there were many thoughtful responses from a number of folks; on the minus, there were many knee-jerk unhelpful responses from some surprising folks (hello, Dr. Bernstein!).
[As an aside, there seemed to be confusion about what constitutes a "safe" starch. For Paul's PHD, it's basically non-grain starches and white rice. See the argument against cereal grains (part 1 and part 2) from Kurt Harris for the rationale of calling non-grain starches "safe."]
Is LCing necessary?
My biggest reason for eating moderate, rather than low, carb is for flexibility. But I also rely on the implications of our ancestral past in terms of what is ideal for us, i.e., what we’ve adapted to.
This study of modern hunter-gatherers may not indicate exactly what our ancestors ate, but it’s a reasonable approximation to show what we are adapted to eat. It shows that their diets:
were characterized by an identical carbohydrate intake (30%-35% of the total energy) over a wide range of latitude intervals (11°-40° north or south of the equator).
Now, as Dr. Eades noted on Twitter, this is clearly lower in carbs (~165g per 2000cals) than the standard Western diet, but it’s higher in carbs than the typical LC prescription.
Your mileage may vary, but I am not convinced that I need to eat like an Inuit to be healthy. I eat moderate carbs, but I also eat some of these safe starches in order to retain metabolic flexibility and avoid having high BG spikes due to being primarily fat-adapted.
As I mentioned on Jimmy’s post, I think it’s probably better to match carb intake to physical activity level. Dr. Eades made an interesting comment at AHS11 that the liver can regulate glucose levels in the blood with a finer precision than the pancreas. In other words, we should let the liver regulate BG via gluconeogenesis rather than make the pancreas do all the work via insulin.
Yes, I’ll grant that there are real problems with elevated BG, and that the body works hard to keep it at a certain level. But even if that’s the case, for me, the implication is that you should avoid eating more carbs than you can easily use or store given your activity and diet. [As an aside, I think arguments that you should eat VLC because of the amount of glucose in our blood stream at a point in time less than convincing.]
As such, I think the problem with our standard Western diet is not that it is high carb per se, but that it is high carb AND high calorie AND nutrient-poor. Our bodies have not evolved to deal with this onslaught of crappy over-nutrition on daily basis. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to LCing as the solution.
All macronutrients all the time
One of the biggest issues I have with LCing is the over-emphasis on macronutrient ratios. I agree with those who believe that the reason LCing works for weight loss (at least initially) is what it omits from the diet … chiefly processed foods high in refined grains and sugar. But over the long term, I suspect the reason that many folks see stalls (or regains like Jimmy) is that the LC diet neglects sufficient emphasis on 1) micronutrients and 2) calories.
I suspect that for many the current emphasis on LCHF (low-carb, high-fat) results in unnecessary fat calories in the diet. As long as I am carrying excess fat, I do not see the reason to eat lots and lots of dietary fat. Instead, I eat fat prescriptively: for micronutrients (e.g., liver, egg yolks & pastured butter) and for satiety (I’ve found that a little bit of coconut butter helps here). That’s not a lot of fat in my case, perhaps 25g or so per meal.
And while I agree with Jimmy that LCers aren’t always given credit for their veggie intake, I think it’s more than that. I think that the emphasis needs to be much more on the critical micronutrients in our diet that some LCHF dieters may not be considering (one of the benefits from a paleo/LC overlap tho!).
Addressing the problem, not the symptom
Finally, as you might guess, I am not a subscriber to the carbohydrate hypothesis of obesity. I think that removing carbs from the diet addresses the symptom rather than the underlying problem.
Alas, there’s not a lot of discussion in this space, perhaps because most of the current discussion is at a completely different level (e.g., CHO vs food reward).
So for now, I’m plugging along with the idea that I may be able to actually restore metabolic flexibility through a combination of exercise, specific nutrient-dense diet (geared towards keeping the brain happy as well as critical downstream organs like the liver), and weight loss (to help reduce fasting insulin levels).
To be fair, my carb intake is definitely on the low to moderate side (I average about 100g on a regular day, 150-200 on an infrequent higher day). But I think my approach is meaningfully different from traditional LC.