Why Carb Free Foods Rule:
There is No Such Thing as an "Essential Carb," So Why are We Told to Eat Mostly Carbs?

Why should we bother with carb free foods? Isn't "a calorie a calorie?"

Most of us are raised to believe that all calories are, in a sense, equal. To lose weight, it doesn’t matter where you get your food energy from -- a bagel, a slab of meat, a tub of cinnamon -- as long as the quantity of calories you eat is less than the quantity of calories you burn off through exercise and metabolism.

We, this site's authors, used to buy into this conventional idea. But we have come to reassess it. We now believe that different kinds of calories have different effects on the human body. In particular, carbohydrate calories tend to be fattening because they cause us to make insulin, a hormone which locks fat in our fat tissue.

Understanding what carb free foods are.

All carbohydrates eventually break down into sugar in the body. For an example of this, try chewing on a cracker for a while without swallowing it. At first, it will first taste starchy. But as your saliva breaks down the starch molecules into smaller simple sugar molecules, the mush will start to taste sweet.

Whether you eat whole grain rice or high fructose corn syrup straight out of a pouch; eventually, the carbohydrates will become sugar in your body.

Carbohydrate content in foods

  • Truly carb free foods include: water, oil, lard, and bacon fat
  • Nearly carb free foods include: meat and eggs. (Believe it or not, even these carnivore options contain trace amount of carbohydrate, often in the form of glycogen, a long chain starch that's stored in animal muscle tissue.)
  • Low-carb foods include: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cheeses, nuts, butter, mayonnaise
  • Pretty low-carb foods include: Squash, string beans, blueberries, strawberries, cashews
  • Moderate carb foods include: Carrots, apples, yogurt, peanut butter
  • High-carb foods include: Potato chips, cookies, fresh squeezed juice, pasta

Are all carbs the same? In other words, is "a carb a carb"?

No. Different carbohydrates impact different people differently. Here are just a few of the factors that can be important:

  • Whether the carbs are processed or not. White rice is more easily digested and thus more insulinogenic than whole grain rice.
  • When you eat the carbs. If you gorge yourself on high carb dessert right before bed, this can prevent your body from burning fatty acids at night.
  • Whether you take hormones or medications. These non-dietary factors can radically influence how the body processes sugars and maintains insulin levels.
  • Whether foods contain fiber. Fiber, a non-digestible carbohydrate, can slow down the digestion of sugars, which can slow down the compensatory insulin response.
  • How much you eat. Did you know that many low calorie diets turn out to be low carbohydrate diets in disguise? If you cut calories, chances are you will cut carbs, too. After all, most of the excess calories we eat are carbohydrates (e.g. junk food, soda, sweets, etc). So even if you do not change the percentage of macronutrients in your diet, you will likely cut carbs in some way on a low calorie diet).
  • The insulin sensitivity of your muscle and fat tissue.
  • Your genetics.
  • Whether the carbohydrates are specially “protected” from digestion somehow. For instance, Carbalose Flour and Dreamfield Pasta apparently contain protected, indigestible carbohydrates that taste like “real” carbs.

Essential foods

  • Fats: We need fats in our diet. Essential fatty acids include: arachnoidic acid, linoleic acid, and linolenic acid
  • Proteins: We need proteins in our diet. Essential amino acids (derived from protein) include: phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, isoleucine, methionine, leucine, lysine
  • Carbohydrates: We do NOT need carbs in our diet. There is NO SUCH THING as an essential carbohydrate.

What is your first reaction to these ideas?

Ours was: “this can’t be right!” Carb free foods can’t really be that much better for you. Indeed, mainstream health authorities make many arguments to the effect that carbs are indeed important.

Here are a few popular pro-carb arguments (along with counter-arguments!):

Conventional Wisdom Counter Argument
The brain needs around 120 grams of glucose per day to function. Not true. The brain can function quite fine on what are known as ketone bodies -- even when you consume way less than 120 grams of carbs a day.
We need carbs to get essential vitamins and minerals. A balanced diet of protein and fat should provide all necessary vitamins and minerals. Sugar in the diet actually destroys vitamins and minerals.
Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet, so you need some carbs for fiber. That fiber is essential is a myth. Read more about that here.
Too much fat in the diet can lead to heart disease. That fat (and saturated fat, in particular) causes heart disease is also a myth, believe it or not.
Too much protein in the diet is also bad. Studies have found that low fat, high protein, low carb diets can be problematic for some people. We believe that a high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet is probably best of all.
Eating mostly carb free foods can cause health problems. Millions of low carb diet success stories contradict this. Anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson, for instance, famously lived for an entire year on nothing but meat and suffered no ill effects. Anthropological evidence shows that many people throughout human history have lived on low carb, high fat, moderate protein diets and thrived. For more on this topic, see the Weston Price website.

What about the food pyramid?

To understand why we have been discouraged from eating carb free foods and encouraged instead to eat low fat foods, we need to understand the history of the food pyramid. How have we come to believe that the base of the human diet should consist of 6 to 12 servings (300 grams!) of carbohydrates a day? Why do we believe that saturated fat is bad for us? Why do we believe that salt is bad for us? Why do we believe that fiber is an essential part of the diet?

For a thorough dissection of the science and politics behind the low fat diet and the food pyramid, we recommend the book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.

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10.18.11 Beyond Caloriegate Cover Art

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