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Put down and bagel…(part 1)

July 6, 2010

How Grains Cause Problems, Part 1: Carbohydrates.  by Kara Graetz

A significant amount of evidence suggests that many modern disease processes, including cardiovascular disease, elevated triglycerides, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, hypoglycemia, and cancer, are the products of excess carbohydrates in the diet, and that fat is actually not the villain in the obesity epidemic.  

Carbohydrates turn to sugar once digested, and this sugar circulates in your body and bloodstream. Some of it goes back into your muscles to help replace your glycogen stores from whatever is used during your workouts, but on average, the Standard American Diet provides much more of this macronutrient than is needed to fulfill this function. This excess carbohydrate is then, essentially, sugar swirling around in your body and you are forced to produce an extra amount of insulin to lower your blood glucose level back into its “normal” range. Insulin is also a “storage hormone.” This is a problem because once your muscles are full of glycogen, the only other place to store the sugar is in your fat cells. When this dump into your fat cells becomes the norm, your waist size grows. Worse yet, overtime a condition known as insulin resistance creeps up—meaning that your body begins to need more and more insulin to perform the functions mentioned above. Insulin resistance is at the heart, no pun intended, of many of the diseases killing thousands upon thousands of Americans, annually.   

If you think about this from an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense. If our bodies have evolved with fat and protein as our primary sources of fuel; the dramatic shift in our macronutrient consumption, and overall carbohydrate consumption with the advent of agriculture, would certainly throw our bodies into quite the tailspin. Grains and legumes, in particular, are quite nasty, due in part, to the processing required to eat them.

Grains are mostly starchy carbohydrates. As these starches are digested, various enzymes attack the structures to break them down and digest them. The faster the digestion, the quicker the rise in blood sugar, and the heavier the insulin dump. Add cooking or any other preparation method, which further weakens the structures, and you have an even faster digestion process and resulting blood sugar spike and heavier insulin release. 

One myth is that slow releasing carbohydrates (beans, whole grains) cause a flat insulin response. This is only true when they’re eaten very sparingly…like as in a tablespoon of grains or beans as a serving. An average piece of whole grain toast represents at least a cup of these grains. Eaten in this quantity, blood glucose stays elevated for an extended period of time. These elevated blood glucose/insulin levels are major factors in what are known as “Syndrome X” diseases. Syndrome X diseases are defined as a collection or group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular disease or abnormality. Examples of these would be: high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, high risk of stroke/heart attack, hyperinsulinemia (diabetes), cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.

So, when you’re eating heavy amounts of grains (which must be processed to be eaten), you’re keeping your insulin levels very high. Especially if you’re following the rule of “eat six small meals per day, always including ‘whole grains;’ your insulin levels will be high ALL DAY LONG. Multiply this over a course of a year, a course of a lifetime, and you can see how the problems begin.  

For more reading on carbohydrates and their place in the Paleo lifestyle, peruse the following:

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