This is the most complete guide to carbs on the internet. It will help you learn everything you need to know to make carbs work FOR you.
Why are carbs important? Because it’s a love-hate story—nobody is indifferent to them nowadays.
But the majority of people have no idea about what carbs truly are.
And believe me, they are probably not what you think they are.
Do you want to know more?
About the Author
As I remember myself, I always had problems with carbs. You might call it a one-sided love story where the more you love them the more you hate yourself.
Just like in every Disney movie, things have changed—hooray, a happy ending. To keep the story short, this is what it looks like:
By the way, at my max weight, I was more than 20 pounds fatter than I was in the right photo but didn’t take any pictures of myself back then—the hate part was cruel, you know.
This guide is for you if your mirror is too small for your love for carbs.
And you won’t even have to give up carbs after reading it, I promise you.
Carbs are like Severus Snape
He showed us that we are all full of foibles and complexities, that no man is utterly good or bad. That nothing is absolute.
Before fighting against Voldemort, he was a Death Eater.
Was it because he ate too many carbs, which are often claimed to be nearly a synonym of death?
Of course, I’m exaggerating but I’m doing it on purpose.
Nowadays, people do care much more about carbs than fats and protein. Google Trends demonstrates this with the last 15 years of search dynamics.
Why is that so? Because carbs are highly controversial.
How many times have you heard this:
Carbs are the root of evil: they promote obesity, inflammation, and diabetes. You should stay away from them.
Your brain will die without carbs. Here, take a candy.
Which one is right?
To a certain degree, both. Carbs can promote obesity and related diseases like diabetes, and they are the most common source of fuel for your brain.
However, both statements are wrong as well. Your brain will be fine if you eliminate carbs, and you won’t become obese simply because carbs are in your diet.
Sounds vague, doesn’t it?
Let’s break it down from the very beginning.
Chapter 1: Carbs and Glucose
Tracking your carbs is the foundation of every successful diet.
Because carbs are incredibly important. In fact, they are one of the main reasons we’re even alive.
If not the most important reason.
How is this possible and what really are carbs?
Let’s dive right in.
What Are Carbs?
Carbs are called carbohydrates for a reason. In chemistry, a hydrate is a compound in which water is bound to another compound or an element. Technically, carbohydrate is a hydrate of carbon, or Cm(H2O)n (with exceptions as usual, but this would be too much to go over for weight loss purposes).
By the way, this explains why carbs hold water, and why you drain water when you restrict carbs. By removing stored carbs you literally remove the H2O part.
Carbohydrates are present in every plant. Literally, in every single plant—carbs are the byproduct of producing oxygen.
Or oxygen is a byproduct of producing carbs: it depends on the point of view and whether you’re a plant or a human, hah. Which leads us to a philosophical dilemma—which guardian of the galaxy is more important, Rocket or Groot?
Well, jokes aside. Look at this picture:
Plants take in carbon dioxide from the air, absorb water from the ground, and use the energy of sunlight to convert them into oxygen (a waste product for plants) and carbs (energy for plants).
This process is called photosynthesis.
Great, photosynthesis in an article about carbs. Ok, why not? Repetition is the mother of learning, and today we’re learning something.
TIL that humans are absent without oxygen, oxygen is absent without photosynthesis, and photosynthesis is created so plants can get carbs.
We’re only alive because a bunch of grass is hungry.
When people hear this, they are usually curious about how oxygen levels are maintained in deserts where very few plants are available.
You might be surprised, but most of the oxygen comes from phytoplankton – tiny ocean plants, one of which constantly tries to steal the patty formula from Mr. Krabs.
Scientists believe that oceans are responsible for about 70 percent of Earth’s oxygen, which is spread through the atmosphere by wind. This helps us breathe at night when the absence of sunlight impairs photosynthesis.
What do you think about humans being the superior species now? Of course, I might be wrong because who I am to judge Mother Nature, but… I’m sorry, Rocket.
In biochemistry, carbohydrates are a synonym for saccharides, which are divided into four chemical groups: monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides.
Monosaccharides are also called simple sugars. Disaccharides are two joined simple sugars. Oligosaccharides are three to ten joined simple sugars. Polysaccharides are more than ten joined simple sugars.
Despite scientists agreement that mono is one, di is two, oligo is more than two, the precise cut-off for poly varies. But honestly, this issue has zero value for weight loss.
Examples of monosaccharides: glucose, fructose, galactose.
Examples of disaccharides: sucrose, lactose, maltose.
Examples of oligosaccharides: raffinose, maltotriose.
Examples of polysaccharides: starch, glycogen, cellulose.
These are some examples of dietary carbs and the types of sugars they contain. What happens after we ingest them?
Digestion is a breakdown of large insoluble food molecules into small food molecules which can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Therefore, in order to utilize dietary carbs, your body has to break them down into simple sugars.
This process takes time. It explains why people divide carbs into slow and fast, or simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates—it’s just a more straightforward way to show the difference between poly, oligo, di, and mono.
Eventually, all carbs turn out as simple sugars, the only difference is how long they take to digest.
All carbs end up as simple sugars in your blood
Except for dietary fiber, which is also a carbohydrate but can’t be fully broken down by human digestive enzymes and thus passes through body nearly undigested. Nevertheless, it aids digestion and is a must-have part of any healthy diet. Read more about fiber in chapter 6.
By the way, you probably know that enzymes catalyze digestion, literally accelerating chemical reactions. But did you know that digestion starts right inside your mouth due to an enzyme called amylase, which breaks down starches into smaller molecules?
Amylase is found in saliva which is secreted in the mouth by the salivary glands. Which, incidentally, are excellent workers—they produce nearly 3 pints of saliva every day.
Now back to sugars.
The most abundant simple sugar in nature is glucose. All dietary carbs comprise either glucose only or glucose plus other simple sugars.
Potatoes, corn, wheat, rice, and seeds are starchy, and starch is simply a polysaccharide. Many fruits contain sucrose, which is glucose plus fructose. Milk contains lactose, which is glucose plus galactose.
Glucose is ubiquitous, but do we really need it?
Do We Need Glucose?
Blood sugar level is one of the most crucial health indicators: it represents the amount of glucose in your bloodstream.
High blood sugar is terrible. A condition which occurs when your blood glucose level is too high is called hyperglycemia, which in general is a symptom of diabetes.
But hold on putting an evil sticker on glucose.
In order to function properly, your body needs to maintain an optimal level of blood sugar. Not too much and not too little—about 4 grams of sugar for a 150 lbs person
Whenever anyone announces glucose as the root of evil, remember that any healthy person has about a teaspoon of glucose circulating in their blood.
Well, not so literal, but you get the idea.
Glucose is vital for your body.
It is used as nourishment for cells and your body is ready to do everything to maintain its optimal glucose level.
It can literally tear itself apart. In the absence of dietary carbs, it will turn your muscles, organs, tissues, and fat stores into glucose—it has mechanisms for this.
Unfortunately, your body has no idea about your goals. You might want to build muscles and burn fat, but your body wants to burn unjustified muscles and store fat. Your body doesn’t care about you being beautiful, it cares about you being alive.
The way you look is nothing more than challenges and adaptations. We’ll speak of them in another guide.
At the end of the day, glucose is neither your enemy nor your friend. It’s simply the most ubiquitous source of energy, which is, at the same time, irreplaceable.
Your body needs some glucose
In terms of calories, it makes absolutely no difference whether you get glucose from milk, rice, beans, chocolate, or by drinking pure glucose syrup. As long as the number of calories is the same, of course.
In terms of weight loss, the difference is huge.
Because theories are theories, and practice is practice. Try getting all your daily carbs from chocolate and then limit them by a hundred grams.
You will fail miserably.
Because chocolate doesn’t ask questions, chocolate understands.
Chapter 2: Cravings, Satiety, and Glycemic Index
Now you know carbohydrates are a source of glucose which is vital for your body.
Then 100g carbs from bread and 100g carbs from potatoes are equal—because glucose is glucose—right?
— “Of course, potatoes are better because of vitamins and minerals!”
Partly, and I’ll tell you how a lack of minerals can impair weight loss.
But nutrients are only a part of the equation. What’s the other?
Let’s find out.
Carbs and Eating Behavior
We’re not going to talk about severe eating problems such as bulimia, anorexia, or rumination disorder. These require urgent medical help and I strongly advise you to contact your doctor if you have any of them.
In our context, eating behavior is a set of causal patterns which affect your food cravings.
Or, why you eat as you eat.
Nobody argues that we want to drink more on a hot sweaty day. But it’s terrifying how many people link bad eating habits exclusively with their lack of will.
But does will even help?
Of course, it does: will is a powerful tool to help you achieve your goals. “Will is a skill,” they say, and they are absolutely right.
Will is good to help you cope with occasional emotional cravings like ransacking your fridge for leftover Hazelnut Snickers or driving-thru for a king-size hot dog-crusted pepperoni.
Occasional means they happened by an occasion: say, today your boss woke up on the wrong side of the bed; probably, his wife infuriated him and you were in time for his anger.
Will is good to prevent eating this kind of stress away, but it’s a poor basis for a diet. Why?
Because even the strongest will is finite.
Each day of sticking to an unhealthy diet wastes your willpower on following a track that leads to nowhere.
The further you go, the larger the setback will be.
What’s the setback? It’s you raiding your fridge. It’s you ordering a triple whopper and a large coke. It’s you taking a breath to tuck in one more turkey leg.
Because will might help with emotions but not physiology. You can’t fix cravings with willpower if they are promoted by physiological factors.
Try curing the flu with the power of will and you won’t get too far because flu is not in your head. It’s in your body. It’s a virus.
Sugar cravings aren’t the flu, you say. Well, eating sugar spikes insulin—try preventing this one by conscious volition.
(And if you can then write me an email, it would be material for a stellar Ph.D. thesis.)
Your body is a sophisticated system with countless parameters that can directly affect your cravings.
It’s not just “I can’t live without chocolate,” it’s way more complicated.
As of today, science knows 13 essential vitamins, 21 essential minerals, 2 essential fatty acids, and 9 essential amino acids.
They are the building blocks for your body.
Essential means you have to ingest these—your body has no other way to get them. Moreover, there’s a number of nutrients your body can synthesize. They are called non-essential—you still need these, but your body can create them from other sources if particular foods are absent.
Lack of each building block can promote certain cravings and impair your health.
For example, potassium deficiency affects carbohydrate metabolism and thus can make you crave more sugar.
What’s the science behind this?
Your body uses glucose as fuel, you already know that. Simplified, this is what happens after digesting carbs:
At first, your brain takes as much glucose as it needs. Secondly, your body replenishes the small inner carb storage called glycogen, which is located in muscle and liver. And then your body converts the rest into fat and stores it boundlessly all over your body.
The order is simple: brain, muscle, fat.
Lack of potassium ruins it. In order to make glycogen, your body needs roughly one potassium molecule for each sugar molecule. In the absence of potassium, your body can’t produce glycogen.
Of course, the complete absence of potassium is nearly impossible, but a lack of potassium impairs glycogen synthesis. This means some carbs which were meant to become glycogen might turn into fat.
But your body is used to glycogen. It wants to replenish its glycogen stores and hence keeps craving sugar to produce it. In the result:
A lack of potassium might lead you to overeating carbs.
Now imagine how devastating this situation could become if you add all the essential minerals and vitamins to the equation.
And what if we add up all nutrients?
Everything you eat makes your body respond in a certain way. In this article we’re focused on carbs, so what happens after ingesting them?
Your blood glucose level rises and your body reacts accordingly to the increase.
Can we measure this?
Yes, the glycemic index of food will help us.
What Is the Glycemic Index?
The glycemic index, or GI, was introduced back in 1981 to rate how individual foods affect your blood glucose.
According to the Boden Institute of Obesity at the University of Sydney, it is “a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar (glucose) levels after eating.”
To create the ranking, scientists have conducted a series of studies, where the value of 100 was arbitrarily given to the increase in blood sugar after ingesting 50 grams of pure glucose.
How can GI help you lose weight?
The glycemic index indicates the difference in how various products affect blood sugar, and this difference comes from their digestion rates.
Despite two foods containing the same amount of glucose, one might take significantly more time to break down.
The exact mechanism of how it helps you feel full for longer is debatable. Some scientists believe that it’s due to the time required to break the food down.
This makes sense – when a food contains the same amount of sugar but takes longer to break down, it makes the rise in blood sugar more gradual.
At a cellular level, it means that your cells get their nourishment for longer but at a slower rate. For a cell, you eating high-GI foods is like taking it to a fast-food joint, and eating low-GI foods is like visiting a top-notch restaurant where it might take several hours to serve several courses.
By the time you have finished eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant, you might have become hungry again if you ate at a fast food joint around the corner.
If this makes sense, why is it debatable?
Because feeling full literally means not having a desire to eat food, and this desire has many origins.
A physiological need to eat food is called hunger. Does it mean if you remove the physiological need for food, you won’t be hungry anymore?
No, because the need for food and the desire to eat food are different sensations. The latter is called appetite.
Or hyperphagia, the additional term which means absolutely the same – an increased appetite in the absence of hunger and hence an abnormally large intake of food.
Causes of increased appetite include stress, depression, anxiety, diabetes, hypoglycemia, premenstrual syndrome, genetic disorders, thyroid diseases, hypothalamus malfunction, and orexigenic drugs (both natural and taken as medication).
It’s widely believed that leptin and ghrelin hormones are solely responsible for feeling hungry, but later studies showed that appetite regulation involves the gastrointestinal tract, a number of hormones, and both the CNS and ANS.
Simply speaking, you might be hungry because of a large number of reasons some of which might yet be black boxes for us.
This all makes this mechanism debatable, but not a write-off.
It still makes sense, and it still might work in situations which I describe later.
While I was writing this, I had a major debate about this bold claim with a friend of mine.
For me, this statement was clear as day; for him, questionable.
Why was that so?
You see, both of us are obsessed with science. I’m mostly interested in the science of training and in training with science; he’s mostly interested in the science of sleep and in sleeping with a scie… Just kidding, let’s leave his personal life alone, haha.
One major thing which makes us different is our natural attitude to food.
I’m always hungry. “What’s better than a pack of nuggets? A double pack!”—I’m that type of person.
My friend never gets hungry too fast. He’s a smart eater: concerned about diversity, top quality, and proper nutritional value of food.
Not that I’m not concerned about these, but I’m also involuntarily concerned about quantity—the more, the better. That’s why I always try to find a way to feel less hungry.
Despite many studies showing that low-GI foods contribute to longer satiety, this is not the case for me unless I add on some protein.
I can eat up a bucket of muesli or pasta and nevertheless feel ravenous in half an hour. But if I add on a couple of eggs or some chicken, I can fill myself up with much fewer calories.
Two eggs can turn a bucket of carbs into a small bowl and make me full for 2–3 hours.
But this doesn’t work if my carbs have high-GI value. In this case, two eggs don’t make much of a difference—I’m still ravenous in about an hour.
The important remark is that these feelings are only true for calorie deficit situations, aka when I’m on a diet.
When I’m allowed to eat as much as I want, I can fill up with pretty much everything. But what bothers me is that when I fill up with “everything I like” I end up feeling full and terrible at the same time.
And I think we all know this definition of terrible.
What is the implication?
Feeling hungry has a number of origins (read about them in the adjacent blue notes), and pairing low-GI carbs with protein can help you eliminate at least some of them.
It seems to me that my friend simply hasn’t experienced some of those origins of hunger and thus it was impossible for him to grasp it at first hand.
After battling against cravings for years, I can say that this advice works both for me and for a lot of people who I know have similar problems.
It might be your case or it might be not—you will never know until you give it a try.
Equal caloric and sugar content doesn’t mean equal satiety
Therefore, if you want to stay full for longer, which literally means eating less, it’s reasonable to exclude foods which spike blood sugar (high GI foods).
Here’s the GI list for the most common foods:
However, GI helps only to a certain degree.
First, despite all tables providing one number, the glycemic index of a particular product may vary depending on:
- Ripeness. The riper the vegetable or fruit, the higher the GI.
- Cooking. Usually, the longer you cook, the higher the GI.
- Processing. Polished rice has a higher GI in comparison with unpolished; juices have higher GI compared to whole fruits.
Second, the glycemic index is for separate products, but we usually mix them. It would take a tremendous number of studies to measure every possible food combination.
The GI of white boiled rice is somewhere between 64 and 80, depending on the manufacturer. Adding on a steak lowers the GI of the dish. Throw in some veggies and it will drop even more.
What really affects your blood glucose is the total GI of the meal, and it’s almost impossible to predict.
Third, GI is for carbs only. Does it mean that proteins and fats do not affect your blood glucose? To a certain degree, yes; usually their effect is insignificant. But does that mean that proteins and fats do not affect your eating behavior?
Hell no, they do, and the effect is huge. We’ll speak about them in other guides. (No links means they are being written. Subscribe so you don’t miss them.)
Nevertheless, GI is a handy tool to pick better carbs. It explains why whole grains are better than refined for weight loss and gives you an idea about how to pick a proper source of carbs.
Pay attention to the “for weight loss” remark. Whole grains are usually preferable to help shed excess weight, but white rice is oftentimes better for building muscle. The glycemic index is not an ultimate list of good and bad carbs, it’s just a tool to help you pick the best option for your current needs.
High GI carbs aren’t evil. They are suitable for situations when you need a fast source of energy. For example, professional athletes use drinks enriched with glucose to maintain energy during training sessions or competitions.
Do not demonize high GI carbs but remember they are bad for weight loss
Lastly, low-GI products usually lead to better satiety, but not all of them help reduce sugar cravings.
So far we’ve learned that eating carbs raises blood sugar.
What happens next?
Chapter 3: Insulin and Food Insulin Index
And a Little Bit of Running.
Meet insulin, the main anabolic hormone of your body.
But what does anabolic mean?
And, more importantly, what makes insulin so crucial?
Let’s figure it out.
In case you’ve missed our guide about the very basics of metabolism, here’s what you need to know:
- Metabolism is a set of processes which help you maintain life.
- Two major metabolic processes are anabolism (building) and catabolism (breaking down).
- Hormones regulate metabolic processes.
Insulin is considered to be the main anabolic hormone, hence by definition it builds tissues.
It helps free glucose molecules get to where they are needed: to your liver, skeletal muscles, and fat.
This happens at the cellular level, where insulin acts like the Uber app for glucose—it asks a cell to send a cab to pick up sugar molecules from your bloodstream.
The cab in this sense is a glucose transporter called GLUT4, or more precisely a GLUT4 storage vesicle which “drives” to the cellular membrane to pick up free glucose from the blood.
As of now, science knows 14 GLUTs, each of which has unique functions. For example, GLUT3 is expressed mainly in neurons, is insulin independent, and makes sure your brain gets energy even in times of low glucose concentration.
It’s nice to know that your body has highly sophisticated systems to sustain living, but don’t bother too much about GLUTs for weight-loss purposes. Just remember that insulin and glucose have a strong relationship.
Where does insulin come from?
Your pancreas responds by secreting insulin as soon as your blood glucose rises.
More precisely, insulin is produced in the pancreatic islets or islets of Langerhans, which are the regions of the pancreas that contain hormone-producing cells.
These islets literally granted insulin its name, which derives from Latin “insula,” or island.
Not that the information about areas of insulin production was essential for weight loss, but now you know more about insulin than 95% of humanity. Didn’t take you that much time, right?
Functionally speaking, insulin is a key which opens a door into a target cell:
—Open the door, motherf*cker, I’m with glucose.
—Please, come in.
By the way, you might have heard that diabetes is connected with insulin issues. Simply put, this is what they are about:
Type 1 diabetes, the more rare one, is a situation where your body doesn’t produce enough insulin. In this case, there’s simply no “knock knock.”
Type 2 diabetes, the more common one, is a situation where the key is broken. The above mentioned “knock knock” case would look like this with type 2 diabetes:
—Open the door, motherf*cker, I’m with glucose.
—Pfff, get lost, loser.
That’s called insulin resistance. Then your body responds by producing more and more insulin, but the door is also getting thicker and thicker. Eventually, your pancreas can’t produce more insulin, but it’s still not enough to open the door.
This conception represents the well-known lock and key paradigm, where at some point the door becomes impossible to open due to the key not working properly.
Another approach to the origin of type 2 diabetes was suggested by a Canadian nephrologist, Dr. Jason Fung.
His overflow paradigm suggests that glucose molecules can’t enter cells simply because the cells are already full of glucose.
He explains it figuratively with the suitcase analogy. Imagine that you’re going on a vacation and your spouse is helping you pack your bags:
“Take this, and this, and a couple of these as well. Oh, and put in those shirts.”
You’ve packed all the this and thats, but as she utters the word “shirts”, you finally say no to her.
Have you simply decided to stop listening to her? Maybe, but this is not the only possible reason.
The lock of the suitcase might simply have broken after you opened it so many times—again, lock and key paradigm.
But it might also be that the suitcase is simply too full to add more. You’re not packing in any more shirts not because you’re defiant to your wife’s advice—there’s simply no room for them in your bag.
Jason states that the lock and key thinking is almost completely incorrect, and he has a clear explanation for that which he calls the central paradox of insulin resistance.
Simply put, insulin is responsible for a wide variety of functions, only one of which is to help glucose get into cells. But in so-called insulin resistance, the human body remains perfectly sensitive to insulin regarding its other functions.
Why is this important?
If you have type 2 diabetes, many doctors try to treat it with a large amount of exogenous insulin that doesn’t really help you solve your problem.
As you shift the focus from pushing more and more glucose into cells to lowering the amount of glucose inside your cells, magic starts happening.
Jason has proven his approach with hundreds of patients who managed to get rid of type 2 diabetes after decades of unsuccessful attempts.
What are the implications?
As for me, type 2 diabetes is usually a result of improper attitude towards food, especially carbs, and especially refined carbs (of which we speak in chapter 5).
If you want to prevent or cure type 2 diabetes, you need to change your attitude.
Think of carbs as simply a source of energy—if you get too much glucose, you need to either spend it or to lower your intake.
Lowering carb intake aka following a diet is the most efficient way. The world knows many diets—keto, paleo, Mediterranean, vegetarian—and they all have one thing in common: following any of them is much better than eating in a disordered way and having no idea about the food you ingest.
Alas, making everything clear would be too much for one guide, but at least you can be sure that as you finish reading, the “carb” part of your diet will not be a mystery anymore.
As for spending energy, aka physical activity, things are not that promising.
Of course, physical activity is beneficial to health in many ways, but in terms of calories, it’s probably not what you expected it to be.
If you wonder how much it takes to burn a cake—the answer is right here.
Earning Your Cake—How Much Running Does it Take to Indulge Cravings for Carbs?
It’s so comforting to have a small piece of cake.” ― Mary Berry.
We all love cakes, but nobody loves them in the way Mary does.
She is obsessed with food in a good way. She has published more than 75 cooking books, including the famous bestseller, Baking Bible.
You might have heard of her as the queen of cakes. She loves cakes, she always speaks of cakes, she has lessons on how to bake perfect cakes, and has even launched a series of cakes for supermarkets.
She once said, “Cakes are healthy too, you just eat a small slice.” How can I argue with a beauty who not only is a queen but also looks like a queen in her mid-eighties?
I wouldn’t dare.
Ok, now stop. I see you. Don’t even think about it. Well, at least promise you’re not eating a cake until you read over this guide.
Because we need to answer a couple of questions first.
Why is a small slice of cake healthy? Because small slices contain small amounts of glucose which have a decent chance of becoming glycogen and not fat.
How small is a small slice? It depends on how depleted your glycogen stores are. For example, muscle glycogen reserves are used by anaerobic physical training aka lifting weights. A small slice for an athlete can easily be half a pound, while for others a couple of ounces is already too much.
Nobody can tell you the exact weight of a healthy piece of cake, but as a former fatty, I can give you the secret recipe:
A piece of cake is only healthy when you’ve earned it through your blood, sweat, and tears.
No money is involved.
If you’ve already imagined yourself jogging for twenty minutes to indulge your cake cravings, I must disappoint you. You’ll most likely burn from 150 to 250 calories depending on your body weight and running pace.
Unfortunately, we usually overestimate the impact of exercise in burning calories. This is how much you burn per hour of various exercises:
And bathing your dog burns from 207 to 326 calories per hour according to the same source.
Not too much. Moreover, there’s one more catch: not all of these exercises utilize a lot of glycogen.
But why do we even speak about training and glycogen in an article about carbs?
There’s a good reason for this.
Glycogen is actually a form of starch that is larger than most starches in plants. Because of its highly branched structure, it holds a lot of water and is not the most efficient way to store energy—the glycogen reserves of an average 155 lbs person consist of 100g in the liver and 400g in the muscles.
Glycogen is comprised of individual glucose molecules—it’s a multibranched polysaccharide of glucose.
Structurally, it consists of a core enzyme called glycogenin which is surrounded by branches of glucose. The entire glycogen particle (or granule) might contain more than 50,000 glucose molecules.
Previously, I said that glycogen is stored in muscles and liver, but it is also stored in small amounts in brain cells, kidney cells, red and white blood cells, and even adipose cells. Muscle and liver glycogen are just the two most ubiquitous carb fuel sources in your body hence why people don’t usually refer to other glycogen locations in guides.
But despite the fact that both of these sources are considered the most important ones, structurally, liver glycogen particles might be 10 times larger than those of muscle glycogen.
That’s because the liver is responsible for constantly replenishing the 4g of glucose circulating in the bloodstream—the amount needed to keep your brain safe.
Moreover, the liver has a remarkable mechanism to replenish its glycogen by means of converting fructose into glucose via fructolysis. This happens almost entirely in the liver hence why you can’t directly replenish muscle glycogen with fructose.
Regarding fructose metabolism, it’s widely believed that fructose has two main pathways: it can either turn into liver glycogen or into fat stores, and thus someone on a diet should avoid eating too much fructose.
Without going too deep into details right now, contemporary science suggests that fructose vs glucose doesn’t lead to excess fat gain (the difference is within error bars) unless you overeat carbs and calories in general.
And here is a mechanism of the magic behind the rapid weight loss abused by fad diets.
Every gram of glycogen is stored with nearly three grams of water. When you drastically lower carb consumption, muscle glycogen is broken down, and the associated water is excreted via urine.
This type of weight loss usually lasts for a few days until your glycogen reserves are depleted. As soon as you introduce carbs back into your diet, your body starts storing glycogen and retaining water again.
Voila, the weight is back.
Glycogen is a great source of fuel for anaerobic exercises, which are sudden and short bursts of energy like lifting heavy loads or sprinting.
For aerobic exercises, which are about performing for longer at a moderate pace, fat is the better source of fuel.
Jogging, like other aerobic activities, mostly utilizes your fat but not glycogen.
(It still uses some glycogen but not much.)
Which is actually great unless you immediately reward yourself with a piece of cake, completely replenishing the calorie expenditure from running. Since you haven’t spent too much glycogen, this cake will turn back into body fat.
This 2-oz bar was worth it, wasn’t it?
However, I’m not diminishing the use of running. Running is cool, it benefits your cardiovascular system and I actually like it. I just want you to understand that a tiny piece of cake can completely waste all your weight-loss efforts.
Of course, nothing bad will happen if you stop eating after getting as many calories as you’ve burned.
The question is: can you stop?
One last remark about training. In contrary to most beliefs, anaerobic exercises have a notable advantage to aerobic training in terms of weight loss. Even if the same number of calories were spent during a training session. We’ll speak of this in one of our next articles.
Dieting is a much more efficient way to control insulin. But how can we know which foods are good and which are bad?
The food insulin index helps us with that.
Food Insulin Index
Here is the most important thing about insulin regarding weight loss:
Insulin is an anabolic hormone that promotes growth and inhibits the breakdown of fats aka fat catabolism aka lipolysis. Simply put:
You do not burn fat in the presence of high insulin.
Conversely, low insulin in the blood promotes catabolism, primarily of body fat.
Looking a bit forward, low insulin also promotes muscle catabolism which will lower your body weight too but might make you look worse. Physical training creates adaptation stimuli which help prevent muscle catabolism. Simplified, you lose significantly less muscle on a diet if you train.
I’m sure you’ve already figured out that if you want to lose fat, you have to aim for a diet which doesn’t spike your insulin too often.
Food insulin index (FII) will help you with that.
It represents the increase in blood insulin level after ingesting different foods. It’s quite similar to the glycemic index but instead of blood glucose level, it relies on insulin.
It may seem that due to the role of insulin the blood glucose concentration always strongly correlates with insulin concentration and thus the insulin index is redundant, but this is a fallacy.
First, some products may have a medium GI but high insulin index. For example, Mary’s favorite cakes or my favorite yogurts. The disproportion in the latter is huge.
You can see the difference in this table:
Great, a number of colored digits—so handy!
Try this one:
This diagram clearly shows that the insulin response doesn’t always strongly correlate with the rise in blood glucose level. Snacks and sweets are a great example of this disproportion.
If you are an attentive reader, you’ve noticed that the GI values in the “Glycemic Index” table differ from the GI values in the “Food Insulin Index” table. Especially for russet potatoes: 56 vs 141.
Why does this happen?
The first number, 56, was picked from GlycemicIndex.com—a specialized university-based portal about the GI.
Open their search section, type “russet” into the “food name” field, and you’ll see it with your own eyes:
Here it is:
Do you see how varied those results are? That’s because both GI and FII are not spherical indexes in a vacuum—they represent how different foods which are cooked differently affect different people in different circumstances.
Too many variables to attach one precise number.
The second number, 141, was picked from this study, in which russet potatoes were “peeled, boiled for 20 min, and stored at 4°C overnight; reheated in a microwave oven for 2 min immediately before serving,” and ingested by a group of 13 healthy subjects.
I see no reason to mistrust both of these sources.
What are the implications?
First, precise numbers only exist for simplification. Even your own body reacts differently to the same foods under different circumstances (during stress or even at different times of the day). Big discrepancies in certain studies might be explained by the different conditions in which those studies were held.
Second, despite extreme numbers which might differ a lot, average numbers are usually comparable for different people. This means that white bread usually spikes both glucose and insulin significantly for all people. If we discard the extremes, we see that tendencies exist.
Third, spiking insulin isn’t bad for a healthy person. Look at the insulin index table once again—a number of healthy foods have high insulin indexes.
These indexes only represent an elevation in blood sugar and insulin level within 2 hours after eating.
Look at this graph:
(In science, “Δ” represents a change of any changeable quantity. Here, of blood glucose concentration in comparison with the preprandial level.)
In 2 hours blood sugar is usually almost back to normal in people without diabetes.
What’s bad about spiking insulin is constant spiking. When you snack on high GI foods every hour, you don’t allow yourself to leverage the benefits of low insulin.
Not to mention that frequent insulin spikes might increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The insulin index is useful to see the whole picture. GI is usually used for carb-based foods, but fat-rich and protein-rich foods also increase both blood glucose and insulin levels.
For example, low-fat cottage cheese has GI = 10 and insulin index = 52. Usually, GI tables don’t even include this product because it doesn’t contain many carbohydrates. But its insulin index is far from being the lowest.
The effect of pure protein on your blood insulin is moderate and the effect of pure fat is negligible. Nevertheless, we don’t usually eat pure protein and especially don’t eat pure fat. But this still makes foods rich in fats a great option for a healthy diet. Dietary fat is not your foe, it’s your friend. We’ll speak about it in part 3 of this guide.
So, what are the implications specifically for weight loss?
As you might remember, you do not burn fat in the presence of high insulin.
I don’t call for banning foods which cause insulin to rise, but I suggest replacing usual snacks with those which don’t spike it. For example, replace bananas with cheese or peanuts.
I’m also sure that keeping insulin low helps curb cravings. I don’t know about you, but when I crave chocolate, I can resist only if I don’t indulge myself to take just one tiny bite.
If I do, I’m in trouble.
And you better hide your candies away from my sight, or you’re in trouble too.
Keeping insulin low between your main meals helps you lose weight. Moreover, that’s just one of the benefits.
Let’s look at the other ones.
Chapter 4: Autophagy, Apathy, and Leptin Resistance
Now you already know something about cravings and how easily they can be promoted.
But the question remains—can I curb my cravings when I’m depressed?
And what do these two words—autophagy and leptin—mean?
Are they even connected to carbs?
It’s time to find out.
Autophagy and Insulin
Which house is cleaner: the one that is being swept or the one that is not being littered? Both of them seem equally clean, but which is truly spotless?
The third one, which is both not littered and swept regularly.
Let’s talk about “sweeping” first.
If your body were a house, autophagy would’ve been a cleaning service which makes it shine.
It derives from Ancient Greek αὐτόφαγος (autóphagos), meaning “self-devouring.” But don’t be scared by this horrific name, autophagy is actually a great process.
It’s a natural mechanism which takes everything bad from a cell and transforms it into new building blocks. It’s great for your brain, heart, immune system, and for anti-aging in general.
Autophagy is a litter recycling service inside your body. What is the litter?
Many things, such as:
- Damaged or unused cell parts.
- Intracellular pathogens like microbes, fungi, and viruses.
- Misfolded proteins which cause proteinopathies.
Let’s look closer at the last item in this list.
Aside from water, your cells, tissues, and organs are mainly composed of proteins of different shapes. When these proteins are not shaped correctly, they are called misfolded proteins.
Why are misfolded proteins bad?
When their number grows, they accumulate into plaques called amyloids. Such plaques are seen in Alzheimer’s patients, Parkinson’s, oftentimes in diabetics, and in patients with other diseases.
When their number grows, they accumulate into plaques called amyloids. Such plaques are seen in Alzheimer’s patients, Parkinson’s, oftentimes in diabetics, and in patients with other diseases.
Such a useful image! Everything is clear now: the blue arrow goes into the light-blue one which goes into the green one and that’s somehow a dreadful thing to be afraid of.
Well, it’s here for just one reason—to show that despite how complicated our body is, behind every effect there is an underlying cause. One misfolded protein might eventually accumulate into a serious problem.
Isn’t it wonderful that we have a natural mechanism which takes misfolded proteins and recycles them into new healthy building blocks, preventing us from getting a number of diseases?
It is! Moreover, we have a number of ways to increase autophagy, such as exercise, high-fat low-carb dieting, intermittent fasting, and even simply sleeping enough.
These are huge and important topics to discuss and we’ll definitely do it later.
Now back to insulin. How is it connected with autophagy?
High levels of insulin are connected with high levels of oxidative stress which are connected with mitochondria damage which may lead to protein misfolding.
High levels of insulin are connected with high levels of oxidative stress which are connected with mitochondria damage which may lead to protein misfolding.
Simply put, high levels of insulin might lead to more misfolded proteins and thus more work for your “recycling service”.
Add on autophagy-reducing habits such as not exercising, lack of sleep, and poor dieting, and you can get an idea of how hard to clean your body can be.
To keep your body spotless, you should both “sweep it up” with autophagy and not litter much by controlling your insulin.
Do not litter your body.
Control your insulin
Of course, when all your services are functioning normally, you can afford to be imperfect from time to time. Don’t ban cravings from your life forever, but keep them under control. A piece of cake is ok sometimes. Just don’t interpret “sometimes” as three times a day.
“Keep them under control”, much easier said than done. I don’t have enough willpower to resist cravings!
But what if you do? What if low willpower is not the culprit?
What if something else is involved?
Lack of Will? Apathy? Leptin Resistance.
Let’s run a simple test.
Read this sentence out loud: “I can resist everything except temptation.”
There was no hidden meaning in that sentence. You know, I’m writing this and am free to choose whichever words I like. I like those. I could’ve also cited my favorite Lion King song, but couldn’t feel the… ah, forget about it.
I was just testing your ability to read out loud. How does it help?
In psychiatry, there are several groups of diminished motivation disorders: apathy, aboulia, and akinetic mutism.
Akinetic mutism is a situation when patients neither move nor speak. They aren’t paralyzed, they just don’t want to. To the extent that their bed might become their bathroom. It usually occurs after a brain injury or as a symptom of other diseases.
This is clearly not the case for you, right?
Aboulia is a situation between akinetic mutism and apathy. It leads to “difficulty in initiating and sustaining purposeful movements” and other interesting effects like chewing foods for hours without swallowing.
Reading this guide is “initiating and sustaining a purposeful movement,” thus I officially declare you free from aboulia.
Apathy. This is something that all people sometimes face in some capacity, it’s a normal way to cope with disappointment, dejection, and stress.
I agree that you might have apathy. I agree that it might lower your power of will.
I know how it feels.
But I also know that if you’re reading this, you have enough power to fight your cravings.
You just need to know your real enemy: leptin resistance.
Leptin itself is your friend. This hormone is produced by your fat cells and it tells your brain that you’re not hungry anymore.
High leptin benefits high satiety, low leptin benefits hunger.
Pretty straightforward. What’s the catch?
Likewise to insulin, when you constantly overeat, you constantly spike your leptin, which might lead to leptin resistance. Moreover, insulin resistance is thought to lead to leptin resistance as well.
You might eat a whole pizza or a loaf of bread and still be ravenous due to leptin resistance.
Furthermore, it seems that eating too much is not solely responsible for leptin resistance: fasting also promotes it and suppresses energy expenditure.
What are the implications?
Leptin tells you that you’ve eaten enough, but leptin resistance doesn’t allow you to hear this message.
To help your brain start hearing it again you need to change some of your habits.
- Omit foods with the highest insulin indexes. Usually, these are calorie-dense refined carbs—we will speak of them in chapter 5. For now, as a rule of thumb, these are foods which you don’t meet in nature. Cakes don’t grow on trees, you know.
- Reduce stress. Aside from multiple other threats, stress stimulates cravings and spikes the hormone called cortisol, which affects your metabolism in many ways. Combined with emotional eating, high cortisol is bad for weight loss. We’ll speak of this hormone in more detail in one of our next articles.
- Sleep enough. This massive study of 1024 volunteers has clearly shown that lack of sleep reduces leptin levels and may contribute to obesity. But you already knew that lack of sleep is bad for your health, didn’t you?
- Move. It’s that simple—just move more. Walk your dog for 5 minutes longer, make your bed and do the dishes, walk to your local store instead of driving. Do something. It is just as important as it is obvious.
Boring as beans and obvious as day to all of us, it’s far from being easy as cake.
Especially if you lack willpower.
What’s the way out? If you feel powerless to change, try doing it step by step. For example, be careful with refined carbs.
By the way, what are these?
Let’s find out.
Chapter 5: Refined, Processed, and Whole Carbs
Global warming, lack of potable water, and dietary carbs are the top 3 threats to humanity in the 21st century according to the American Association of Fake Facts and Unscientific Claims.
The last item in that imaginary list is clearly a lie, but thousands of “experts” on the internet still demonize all carbs to be pure evil.
Don’t let those health “gurus” play tricks on you.
You already know much about carbs, but one big question is left unanswered.
What Is the Difference Between Refined, Processed, and Whole Carbs?
Usually, both “refined” and “processed” are used as synonyms. However, linguistically they have different meanings.
Refined means “free from impurities”. Refined carbs are significantly modified from their natural composition.
Let’s have a look at a wheat kernel:
As we see, bran and germ contain significantly more nutrients than endosperm.
The first step of refinement is mechanical removal of bran and germ. It makes food slightly denser in energy but much lower in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
The next step, often absent, is enriching the refined product with some of the nutrients which were previously eliminated. Usually, these nutrients are vitamins B1, B2, B9, and iron.
You can see the precise numbers in this table:
The absolute majority of vitamins and minerals have been lowered tremendously, while only a few of them have been increased.
Does your body need only a few nutrients? Why has nature put all these nutrients in food then?
But whole grains are considered superior to refined grains not only because just a small part of the removed nutrients are added back (or even nothing), but also because of this:
• Refined carbs often have a higher GI, contributing to shorter-term satiety. Precisely, they give you 1 hour of satiety, while low GI foods such as whole grains keep you full for 2–3 hours.
• High intake of refined carbs is a risk factor for insulin resistance, independently of obesity. Scarce nutrients, particularly magnesium, promote inflammation.
• Refined carbs stimulate the brain regions that are responsible for cravings.
To sum it up, refined carbs give you less satiety, promote cravings and inflammation, and may lead to insulin resistance.
Why do manufacturers produce refined carbs then? Given the number of issues, there must be good reasons to do it.
Here are some of them:
- Longer shelf life. Just a pinch of chemistry and, voila, your product lives for months.
- Taste. I was about to write “better taste”, but it’s not better. It’s addictive. As long as you’re addicted to sugar, it tastes delicious; otherwise, too sweet and treacly. That’s partly because of a food additive called maltodextrin, which is commonly used in soft drinks and candy to improve mouthfeel.
- Shorter cooking time. Instant cereals and other time-saving foods are only possible due to refinement. Whole grains take time to be cooked.
- They don’t care about you. What manufacturers really care about is your money: it’s much more lucrative to hook you on sugar to make you buy up tons of their sh*t.
Large manufacturing companies don’t care about your health, they simply respond to consumer demands. If we demand whole and organic foods, they provide them. If we demand refined carbs, be sure they are filling all the shelves.
Demand creates supply, but not vice versa.
In order to get your money, businesses are ready for everything. Of course, exceptions exist, but the general rule of thumb is to assume that every manufacturer is trying to dupe you.
How does it look in real life?
Whenever you’re visiting a grocery store and looking at a food package, remember one thing: the front is for marketers and the rear is for you.
The front might claim those cookies to be the best option for athletes, astronauts, housewives, celebrities, dieters, and also your favorite doggo Charlie, but the truth is hidden inside the ingredient list.
Tip: ingredients on any label are listed in descending order by weight—the closer to the beginning of the list, the more of this ingredient is in the product.
Look for added sugars: raw sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, corn sweetener, fructose sweetener, glucose, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, trehalose, lactose, and others.
I’m not a huge proponent of putting stickers, but these are terrible for weight-loss. There’s a huge difference between eating oatmeal which breaks down into glucose inside your body and eating oatmeal cookies with added glucose syrup.
When you aim to lose weight, refined carbs are your worst nightmare.
- Candies, ice cream, and sweet chocolate. Nougat, peanuts, and caramel enrobed in milk chocolate? Eew, gross… I’ll take two, please. Hitting a diet starting next Monday, for sure.
- White bread. It serves as a baseline of 100 for an insulin index scale.
- Pastries and cakes. Aunty Mary will be mad.
- Sugary drinks and fruit juices. Drinks with calories are the worst thing for weight loss since sliced bread.
In a nutshell, refined carbs are those which don’t exist in nature. In a nutshell, refined carbs are bad for weight loss.
Now let’s move on to processed carbs.
Processed carbs are those which have been subjected to a process or a number of processes.
Refined carbs are processed because they were subjected to a process of refinement which we consider bad for health.
However, refinement is just one of many possible processes. Not all processed carbs are refined.
These foods are also processed:
Pre-cut and packaged vegetables. Cutting and packing are processes, but these veggies are as healthy as their whole counterparts. Nutrients and fiber are still there.
As long as they are fresh, of course. Make sure to eat them asap—because cut veggies have already been exposed to air, you have several days before vitamin levels drop off.
Brown rice. We all know brown rice is whole and nutritious, and white rice is refined and empty.
Let’s have a look at white African rice:
Do you see how inferior these seeds are? No bran, no germ, no fiber, low in nutrients. No good.
African white rice is a refined version of African brown rice.
Here is how it looks:
So whole and rich in nutrients—thank you mother nature for your gifts.
This would have been entirely correct if brown rice grew on trees, pre-packed and labeled with a “100% whole rice” sticker.
Unfortunately for manufacturers, in nature brown rice looks like this:
This is what I call rich in fiber.
Alas, it’s inedible: you have to remove the husk to fix it. You have to subject it to a process called dehusking.
But does this really mean that…
Brown rice is processed.
But the internet tells me processed foods are bad. Is brown rice bad then?
Brown rice is healthy, nourishing, and tasty. The kernel itself is intact, that’s why it’s often labeled as “100% whole grain”.
This is not carved in stone, but I distinguish between processed and refined carbs.
As I said previously, I can’t find refined carbs in nature. Neither can I find candies growing in soil, nor can I grind brown rice into white with my bare hands.
My rule of thumb is that I usually consider a product healthy when I can distinguish with my naked eyes what it’s made from.
When I look at a bonbon, I have no idea what’s inside. That’s refined carbs.
Looking at brown rice, I understand that it’s just a dehusked version of African rice. Processed but healthy carbs.
However, when looking at white rice I still understand that it’s just a milled and polished version of brown rice. But I consider it refined because milling and polishing are too complicated processes to be performed at home.
Of course, some people might argue with this point of view, but I consider these carbs processed but not refined: 100% whole-grain breads and pastas, pinhead oats, dried fruits, and frozen vegetables.
These are good carbs. They’ve gone through certain processes, but nothing important was removed or added.
Regarding frozen vegetables: blast freezing is extremely quick and it helps preserve nutrients. Not only are frozen veggies not bad, but they are also sometimes better than their fresh counterparts.
What is the takeaway?
Refined carbs are those which have gone through the process of refinement aka “removing impurities”. Quoted because these impurities are oftentimes benefits.
When you aim to lose weight, refined carbs are bad for you. Period.
They make you overeat and hence are suitable in situations when you need to eat more but lack appetite. Who needs to eat more? Underweight people to improve their health, or bodybuilders to gain more muscle mass.
Processed carbs are those which have gone through any process or processes.
Some processes are bad, some processes are good.
Bad processes harm you, good processes help you.
Avoid bad processes like refinement, artificial coloring or flavoring, but don’t be afraid of good processes. Blast freezing helps you get summer veggies in winter, cut and prepackaged foods save your time, 100% whole-grain bread is handy when you have no option to cook.
Incidentally, pasteurization is a process of heating raw milk to kill harmful bacteria. Should we avoid pasteurized milk then? No, this is a good process.
Whole carbs are those which you meet in nature.
They include oats, buckwheat, sweet potatoes, beets, legumes, whole grains, fruits, veggies, and others.
Whole carbs are one of the greatest sources of vitamins and minerals in the world.
And, of course, a source of fiber.
Which, coincidentally, is the topic of the next chapter.
Chapter 6: Dietary Fiber
What makes dietary fiber so worth a separate chapter?
The thing that nowadays everybody—dietitians, doctors, scientists—are talking about.
Are those benefits real?
And, more importantly, what is dietary fiber?
The Basics of Dietary Fiber
Dietary fiber is a part of plant-based foods: vegetables, fruits, and grains.
Structurally, fiber is a carbohydrate; it consists of polysaccharides, oligosaccharides, and other scary words which indicate chains of glucose and fructose such as resistant starches, beta-glucans, pectins, chitins, inulin, lignins, cellulose, and so on.
What makes fiber so special?
Dietary fiber can’t be digested by human digestive enzymes.
That’s why net carbs are total carbs minus fiber—no calories are in there.
Nerd mode ON: some fiber can be fermented by gut bacteria in the large intestine. But only a tiny amount, so don’t bother, we’ll speak of this in more detail in another article.
Great, “dietary” means it’s related to dieting, but “can’t be digested” indicates a reasonably distant connection to eating.
A lot of things are indigestible, but we don’t rush to eat all of them, you know.
Luckily, dietary fiber is a unique case.
Studies show that it has a number of great benefits:
Fiber aids digestion. It helps balance intestinal pH and treat gut issues: fiber adds bulk to the stool and establishes its regularity.
Fiber regulates blood sugar. It attracts water, forming a viscous gel substance, protecting carbs from enzymes which makes the absorption of glucose more gradual. Adding fiber makes the GI of the dish lower.
And the most pleasant one:
Fiber increases food volume without increasing the number of calories. Indigestible means we don’t get any calories from it but it still provides a feeling of satiety.
Adding sources of dietary fiber to your meal might help you eat more food while eating fewer calories.
Look at this picture.
Both foods contain 610 calories, but the right one is more than 2 times less in volume.
This feature can help you fight the pangs of hunger and spontaneous cravings.
I sometimes wake up at night ravenous for food. Usually, this happens if I miss dinner for some reason. Then I slink into a kitchen and eat everything I can find. Nights I’m usually too lazy to “find” a salad or a steak because it takes effort to cook it; so I find cookies, chocolate, or cakes, and wash them down with several glasses of milk.
At night you have to be sneaky and not waste time, so I usually devour those rather swiftly and my brain is oftentimes late with signaling me that I’ve eaten enough. Once I calculated my usual night fridge-raid and it was about 1700 calories in nearly 5–10 minutes. Half of them came from milk because I’m a milk devotee and half of them came from chocolate cookies.
If I replaced them with a steak and a salad, 400–500 healthy calories would be enough to satisfy my night famine. Exactly as many as I didn’t get due to missing that dinner.
An extra 1200–1300 calories are equal to nearly 5 extra oz of fat on my body after just one fridge foray.
The moral of the story—leave a salad and a steak handy in case you wake up in the middle of the night hunting for chocolate cookies. And don’t miss your dinner unless your will is made of steel. Mine isn’t. =(
Simply put, dietary fiber is a must for every healthy diet.
Eating enough fiber might have a great impact on weight loss. The US National Academy of Sciences (formerly called the Institute of Medicine) suggests that the recommended intake for women is 25 g/day and for men is 38 g/day. Stick to these numbers.
We’ll look at dietary fiber in more detail in one of our next guides. Including soluble and insoluble fibers, how they are fermented, and at the full list of their benefits.
For now, make sure to add fiber to your diet. The best sources are:
The Bottom Line About Carbs
Carbs are like Severus Snape.
Many of us thought he was iniquitous, villainous, sinful.
And he was, but only a part of him. In the end, he was fighting for the side of good.
Just like him, carbs have their dark sides.
Obesity, insulin resistance, uncontrollable hunger, inflammation—they are oftentimes a result of an improper attitude toward carbs.
Refined carbs are the darkest, the vilest malefactors. They worm their way into your diet, entrench themselves, and then start to manipulate you.
Don’t let them do it.
But carbs have a bright side as well.
They provide energy for your brain and muscles and fiber for your digestive system. Carbs are the most readily used source of fuel for your body.
Nevertheless, your body has alternatives. In the absence of dietary glucose, your body can fuel up with ketones—molecules formed from the breakdown of fatty acids. This process is called ketosis and it underlies the recent US diet craze called a keto diet.
You don’t need a single gram of dietary carbs to survive, that’s true.
But you don’t need a single piece of chicken to survive either. Is chicken evil?
Not all carbs are created equal.
Bad carbs impair your eating behavior, promote cravings and cause overeating. This leads to a number of issues mentioned above.
Good carbs provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Good carbs give you energy for living.
Carbs are controversial, just like Severus. But the young wizard wouldn’t become Harry Potter without his Potions Master.
Life didn’t become brighter when he was gone.
Why make carbs go then?
People don’t usually say hi in the very end, I know. But this afterword is the only place where I’m truly not restricted by anything, so I wanted to add on a couple of thoughts which go beyond the purpose of this guide.
And also to get to know each other a little bit.
Thanks for reading this far—you’re indeed inquisitive about carbs. I can only assume what drives your hunger to learn, but your curiosity is remarkable.
Why have I written this guide? Because I remember myself longing to learn everything that could help me lose weight. And the more I dove into learning, the more controversial all the topics became.
Carbs. Are they good or bad? One person says they are essential, another claims they are evil, but both of them have Ph.D. degrees in biochemistry.
Whom to believe?
This is a tough question to answer: scientists are clever and they can’t be wrong, right?
Well, science models particular parts of the world. Science defines, quantifies, simulates, visualizes, and helps us understand the universe we live in.
But a model is just a representation of real things, and by definition, it consists of fewer details. If we knew in every tiny detail how the human body works, we would’ve been able to create an alive human model.
Which, AFAIK, is not yet the case.
But does this mean humans can’t create other humans? Of course not! Every second four people are born somewhere in the world.
What I’m saying is that the fact that science doesn’t yet know HOW something is happening doesn’t mean that this something is NOT happening.
Or, in more general words, if science doesn’t know what the cause is, it doesn’t mean the effect doesn’t exist.
Why is this important to know for weight loss?
Science shows the link between the cause and its effect; for example, glucose ingestion makes the pancreas secrete insulin to deal with this glucose.
Is this ALWAYS the case? No, that’s why diabetes type 1 exists.
This shows us that humans are different—their bodies might react differently to the exact same impulse.
Even the most scientifically recognized meta-study doesn’t guarantee that its implications are suitable for you.
And, by the way, not only because everyone is different but also because scientists are humans, and humans make mistakes.
The most trustworthy meta-study can be wrong. The most widespread beliefs can be incorrect.
In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published his book in which the Earth was supposed to revolve around the Sun but not vice versa. In 1633, Galileo Galilei was convicted of heresy for following the position of Copernicus and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.
Looks like it took humanity quite some time to agree about how the universe works.
But do you think Copernicus was the first scientist who suggested that the Earth is not the center of the universe?
Hell no! Three centuries BC there lived one clever Greek called Aristarchus of Samos, who was the first known presenter of the heliocentric model of the universe.
Now, this is what I call long! It took us more than 18 centuries to finally get rid of the tortoise.
And I wish it was finally indeed—I’ve heard some flat-earthers are serious for real.
“Scientifically evident” isn’t always equal to “right”.
Think of that when somebody keeps repeating “evidence-based” over and over again.
Now, who of those above-mentioned scientists is right about carbs?
Only the one whose pieces of advice work for YOU.
Learning how your body works is the only healthy way to lose weight and maintain it for the rest of your life.
Science helps only to a certain degree because sometimes people make erroneous statements.
For example, I recall one huge meta-study which proved that the type of carbs you eat doesn’t affect your weight at all if your diet is isocaloric. Oatmeal is equal to sugar as long as you eat the same number of calories throughout the day.
To an extent, this is correct: equal calories mean equal weight change. Myriad experts then started to appeal to this study (and other similar ones) to indulge you to eat whichever carbs you want—why bother too much if they don’t affect your weight when you don’t overeat?
Some scientists go as far as claiming that the type of carbs doesn’t matter for weight loss at all.
This statement is so bold it could’ve only been made by somebody who has never been overweight.
Where is the catch?
“When you don’t overeat”—this part is oftentimes left without the proper emphasis. Eating the same amount of calories is presented as an essential prerequisite which doesn’t take much effort.
All the studies in the world can tell me that added sugar doesn’t directly correlate with weight loss, but what is the use of those studies then?
Because as a former fatty I know that they do correlate. Science might call it “indirect correlation”, but how indirect is it when I can’t stop raiding my fridge in the middle of the night? How indirect is it when I just can’t stop thinking of eating ice cream, and then one more, and one more in an hour or two.
To me, this correlation is pretty damn straight.
Because, my dear scientists, I’m not a subject of your studies. I’m a living person. I’m a human. I’m imperfect. I’m hungry. I’m desperate. I want cookies and milky.
And I want to make my life happier.
In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, the difference is huge.
Whenever I hear a famous scientist making bold claims about weight loss and “backing them up” with scientific evidence, I want to ask him one thing:
EXCUSE ME, MISTER, HAVE YOU EVER BEEN FAT?
Because you might be missing a part of the puzzle you will never be able to understand.
Now, why have I even said all this? To diminish the value of science?
Absolutely not; moreover, I value science very highly—it helped me finally lose weight, find my way in life, and become a much happier person.
But I want you to understand that the most important piece of the puzzle is you. Your feelings, your attitude, your goals—your unique personality. Science might help you find a way, but only you can tell if this way is right or wrong for you.
Who am I to be telling this?
I’m John, one of 7.5 billion people on the planet Earth. I’m a former fatty who wanted to do more with his life than just give up.
Why do you have to listen to me?
You don’t have to. We’re free people who live in a free world. We’re free to do whatever we want.
I’m just sharing my best advice which is based on a mixture of science and my experience of fighting obesity for years.
I don’t want to be writing for future generations—I’m doing it for you. What are you interested in? What bothers you?
Write about it in the comment section down below.
P.S. If you want more of this stuff—subscribe to not miss forthcoming publications. You reading them will make me a little bit happier.