Carbohysteria – An Open Love Letter to Carbohydrate

carbohysteria
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Dear Carbohydrate,
I love you. I do. I’ve always loved you. From the moment I first set eyes on your chemical structure – C6H12O6 – I knew you were the one for me.

Remember all the great threesomes we had over the years? Just you, me, and some pretty darn grueling exercise.

How about the time I ate you before, during, and after climbing Mount Whitney, a 35 kilometre (22 mile) day hike?

Or on our 80 kilometre (50 mile) weekend bike rides around San Diego?

And who could forget that time surfing for five hours straight in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa?

I couldn’t have done all this without you, Carbohydrate. You were there for me and now I’m there for you when you need me most.

Macronutrient muddled media

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written you a heart-felt love letter, but I just want you to know that I’m here for you despite all the negative publicity you’ve been receiving lately.

I’m sure all these venomous attacks must be hard for you. They’re plastered all over the tabloids. Donald Trump even tweeted that you’re nothing more than a “sweet poison” with no redeeming value whatsoever (#FAKE NEWS)! But why?

Maybe your old arch nemesis Protein is partly to blame for your bad reputation. I hear he’s been swanning around town like a rock star, hitting all the cool clubs, going to the best parties, towing an entourage everywhere he goes, picking up chicks, and promising to make them look like swimsuit models.

Racism is out, “carbism” is in

It just seems so unfair. Why the heck is everyone so “carbist” these days? They discriminate against you without really understanding all the nutritional wholesomeness you bring to the table.

Maybe it’s all the popular “alternative fact” carb-bashing books written by laypeople like lawyers and journalists with zero science training. They take a little bit of information out of context and then blow it out of proportion (just to make a buck and feed their egos).

They might be selling books like gluten-free hotcakes, but they don’t know you like I do.

They don’t know that you’re the preferred high octane fuel for the brain and rest of the nervous system – far more efficient and healthier than those clunky ketones spun off from high-protein, high-fat diets.

They don’t know that you come in all kinds of delicious shapes, sizes, colours, and flavours like brown rice, quinoa (I know, quinoa….so trendy, right?), wholegrain breads and, yes, your buxomly beautiful fruits and veggies!

Oh, and you’ll never believe this! The other day, I overheard some girl down at the beach say to her friend “I don’t eat any carbs at all. I just eat lots of vegetables and the rest is protein and fat.” Yep, I know! WTF?! (and I don’t mean the World Taekwondo Federation either). She’s so brainwashed that she’s eating carbs and doesn’t even know it!

I have to confide in you, all this confusing carb controversy is turning well-intentioned eaters into carbists. I really think they’re throwing out the proverbial carb baby with the lactose-free bathwater.

What the heck is a carb anyway?

I think the problem is that the terms “carbohydrate” and “sugar” are used interchangeably and the general public is now confused about the difference between what constitutes good and bad carbohydrates.

High quality complex carbs, like those mentioned above, are low in calories and packed with valuable fiber, vitamins, minerals, and lots of health-promoting phytochemicals (i.e., beta-carotene, lycopene, etc).

It’s pretty hard to overeat when you’re taking in the good stuff.  In fact, this one time, at band camp, I took a bet that I could overdose on broccoli. I bought three kilograms of it, but failed miserably when I was only able to get through one stalk. Further evidence that good carbs are the kind that fill you up without all the calories!

On the other hand, simple carbs, like the monosaccharides glucose, fructose (aka fruit sugar), and galactose are more refined and broken down versions of complex carbs and tend to be sweeter.

Fructose and the dark side of food fame

You know, now that I think about it, your sweet little brother Fructose might have thrown you under the bus.

Fructose was pretty cool when he only hung out in fruit, but his personality has really changed since those dodgy food company executives got a hold of him. They told him they were gonna make him famous. You know, give him a star on Hollywood Boulevard ‘n all that sh*t – wish granted but he’s probably more infamous than anything.

They took Fructose into the lab where their food chemists pulled him apart and perverted him into dozens of different incarnations with benignly pleasant names – like nectars and syrups – just so they could hide him in processed foods without anyone knowing any better.

And what about your inbred cousin Sucrose formed from an incestuous chemical bond between Fructose and Glucose?  These days, Sucrose goes by his better-known gangsta’ rapper name Table Sugar, well known for his greatest hits like soda, doughnuts, and candy bars.

FrankenSugar

The main problem is that your refined little brothers and inbred cousin have been chemically castrated and stripped of any real nutritional value – no fiber, no vitamins, minerals, or phytochemicals – turning them into slutty empty calories. People just can’t seem to get enough of them.

And because they’re already broken down to their simplest forms, they pass through the digestive tract very quickly, leaving their loyal disciples feeling unsatisfied, and therefore likely to eat more and more. Cha-ching! Every day is Christmas bonus time for food execs!

CSI Carbohydrate

I can’t tell you how many times I hear people say “carbs are fattening.” Yeah, ok, it’s true that people are eating massive quantities of refined carbohydrate (sugar) and they are getting fatter and fatter.

But while sugar is at the scene of the crime, does that make it wholly culpable or just an innocent bystander who witnessed the crime?

The answer to this is, probably a little of both.

Firstly, from the excess calories = obesity argument, it is far easier to eat too many calories when they’re in the form of two-litre bottles of soda, doughnuts, and ice cream than brown rice and veggies.

I don’t think the bog-standard calories in vs. calories out mantra accounts for everything, but it still accounts for a significant part of the obesity epidemic.

And let’s not forget, we’re unfit and out of shape. Physical activity levels are lower than ever since the technological revolution left us legless in the office tethered to a computer (or tablet) playing Candy Crush – I know, good carb pun, eh?

Lucky we don’t live on the African savannah ‘cause even a hyena with two broken legs could easily run us down for dinner!

Public health experts and government officials keep looking at the stats, scratching their balls, and wondering why our waistlines continue to expand.

Well don’t piss on my head and tell me it’s raining. Isn’t it obvious we’re not burning off all the calories we’re taking in? Plus we’re extremely deconditioned and metabolically unfit.

Secondly, aside from the “eat too much, move too little” argument, we also know that fructose is metabolised differently in the body than other sugars and may contribute to fat formation in ways not explained by the calories in vs. calories out gospel.

Plus refined sugar can wreak havoc on our blood chemistry in ways that leave us susceptible to metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes and hyperlipidemia (high blood fats).

Reduce sugar intake, not common sense

So my dear Carbohydrate, I fully support people limiting their refined sugar intake – especially since Fructose and Sucrose think they all that and a bag o’ chips, what with their big fat egos.

Unfortunately, the FEAR SUGAR campaign has backfired in ways that have left people scared shitless of sugar with no real consideration for the quality or quantity of carbohydrate they’re eating.

Sugar: The devil is in the dose

No matter which side of the carb fence you’re on, everyone still agrees the devil is in the dose (though the sugar-bashing brigade frequently tends to downplay and gloss over this fact because it goes against biases).

If people tend to eat clean and healthy, but have a small cup of ice cream once in a while at a birthday party, you know what will happen to them? Absolutely nothing!

If they eat three tubs of ice cream each day washed down with two-litres of cola, then you can bet they’re in for a world of hurt, sooner than later.

Did you hear that people are now cutting fruit out of their diets? What is this world coming to when people deny themselves nature’s candy?

Yes, fruit contains fructose, but does this mean it’ll have the same effect in the body as the FrankenFructose found in our children’s cereals? No. Probably not.

Natural fructose found in fruit comes packed with fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals, not to mention it tends to be much lower in calories than energy-dense, low-nutrient refined junk food. Therefore, the digestive profile of fruit is different than a glass of refined fruit juice.

Related: read my article Is Fruit Sugar Bad For You?

Carbohysteria and food anxiety

All this carbohysteria has created a climate of food anxiety. People are terrified of you, Carbohydrate.  They’re afraid to sit down for a meal at a restaurant unless they have a full accounting of each and every carb molecule.

Everywhere I turn, it’s low-carb this, gluten-free that, or lactose intolerance. We’re turning into a bunch of food sissies, I tell ya. Forget the sugar, a scoop of concrete in their coffees oughta harden ‘em the <bleep> up!

Hug a carbohydrate today

If Martin Luther King Jr. was around today and saw such hatred towards his carbohydrate brethren, his I Have a Dream speech would have sounded something this:

“I have a dream that one day, this world, with all its vicious “carbists,” with their lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will release the people from the tyranny of this carbohysteria, so they’ll be able to join hands with white sourdough and dark pumpernickel bread without fear of prejudice!

Well my beloved Carbohydrate, I just want you to know that, no matter how this turns out, I love you.  And when the smoke clears and the flour dust settles,  I’ll still be right here by your side.

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