The “C” Word

By November 3, 2016 Articles No Comments

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Oh the dreaded C-word…

Those evil carbohydrates…

There’s so much information about carbohydrates out there it’s hard to keep straight.

First, the food pyramid told us to eat a lot of grains.  They were the foundation of our diet.   Then, a few years later, a diet started by some Dr. Atkins guy gained popularity.  He said no more grains, no more carbs.  Goodbye corn flakes, and hello sausage and eggs.

Somewhere in between the two came TV commercials about some points system for foods.  There was also some other program that got Kirstie Alley skinny again… and then again… and then, like, a few more times.

Shortly after that, some South Beach thing took-off.  Then there was all this talk of high-glycemic this, low-glycemic that.  Then everything was all about how gluten is evil.  Now, apparently, we are supposed to eat like cavemen.

It gets kind of confusing, right? My head is spinning just writing all of that.

Well, today I want you to forget all the pyramids, fad diets, and Kirstie Alley.  While many of these programs and diets have good qualities, they are still programs and diets.  No one can stick to them forever. Therefore, since we’re about lasting change, we want to develop habits for life.  So, let’s get into the basics of carbohydrates and how to incorporate them into your diet.


You’re in Danger!

The health of North Americans, as a whole, is in serious jeopardy.

This might not be earth-shattering news, but Type II diabetes has become an epidemic.  The American Diabetes Association estimates that in 2012 there were 29.1 million Americans living with diabetes.  They reported that another 80.6 million Americans, 20 years or older, qualified as prediabetic.  To make matters worse, these numbers are still trending the wrong way.


Why is this?


North Americans’ diets are absolutely packed with sugars and other refined carbohydrates.  In fact, the average North American (yes, that includes you, Greenland) consumes 136 grams of sugar every day. That’s over three times the USDA recommendation. It totals 550 calories from just sugar every freaking day! That’s ¾ of a cup!

Seriously, go to the kitchen, get your measuring cups, and see how much ¾ of a cup is.


I’ll wait…


So, where are we getting all this sugar?!?

It’s not just from soda and candy bars.  Big-time food manufacturers are adding sugar to seemingly everything.  Dressings, sauces, frozen fruits, breads. . .you name it, it’s probably packing more sugar than you realize.  Here are a few quick examples:


Snickers bar = 30 grams of sugar

1 cup (8 oz) orange juice = 30 grams of sugar

1 bagel = 20+ grams of sugar

2 slices of white bread = 12+ grams of sugar


Sugar and Your Health

I could extend that list for pages and pages, listing foods that are staples of the North American diet and contain far more sugar than you would expect.  When you take these unexpected sources of sugar and add them to the high amount of sugary drinks and snacks the average person consumes, it’s no wonder we have a widespread health crisis in North America.

Since high-sugar intake is such a widespread issue, it’s important to understand the basics of how sugar affects your body and your health.  So, let’s go back to physiology class for a moment.

Insulin is a hormone our body essentially uses as a key to allow sugars in the blood to enter muscle and fat cells.  When the body is functioning properly, it produces just the right amount of insulin.  However, when a person regularly consumes a high amount of sugar, it can reduce the body’s ability to efficiently handle carbohydrates, and it becomes insulin resistant.

When a person becomes insulin resistant, the body is still producing insulin, but the insulin is not performing its job effectively.  Essentially, the muscle and fat cells become less responsive to insulin, and sugar begins to build up in the blood. When this happens, you can get a few undesirable results.

First, the body increases its insulin response to meals.  Since the muscle and fat cells cannot easily absorb insulin anymore, the body produces more insulin in an attempt to help the sugar enter those cells.  While the blood sugar levels may remain in a healthy range, insulin builds up in the blood.  High insulin levels cause excess body fat in the upper back and “love handle” areas, not to mention obesity, high blood pressure, and bad cholesterol.

When the body can no longer produce enough insulin to keep up with demand, sugar begins to build up in the blood.  This can ultimately lead to prediabetes, diabetes, and other serious health conditions.  One of these is glycation.

Glycation is a condition that results from chronically high blood sugar levels.  With glycation, sugars become bonded to proteins in the blood.  This can have many terrible effects, including premature aging, cancer, damaged vision, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and joint pain.

In short, if you maintain a high sugar intake, you’re going to have a bad time.


What to Watch For:

Now you know how sugar affects your body, so its time to take action!

Before we get into how your specific goals will affect your carbohydrate intake, let’s quickly review some of the commonly used synonyms for sugar that you need to avoid.


  1. The “-ose” words

Check those nutrition labels and stay away from words that end in “-ose.”  This includes glucose, fructose, maltose, and others.

  1. The sexy names

Beware of things like “organic agave nectar,” “pure cane sugar,” “turbinado,” or “sugar in the raw.”  Food manufacturers use these terms to trick you.  They are fancy names for sugar.  And yes, organic sugar is still sugar.

  1. Other forms of sugar that people think are better for some reason

This essentially falls in line with number two, but, just so it gets said…Honey.  Honey is pretty much entirely sugar.  It’s really not any better.  That goes for fruit nectar, too.


Carbohydrates and You:

I must clarify that this section presents general recommendations regarding carbohydrate intake, as is appropriate for either fat loss or muscle gain.  These recommendations are not entirely specific to any specific individual.


  1. Carbohydrate Intake for Fat Loss

If your goal is to lose fat, you will likely have the best success following a “carb-controlled diet.” This should not be confused with a low-carb diet.  While you’re carbohydrate intake may very well be reduced following these guidelines, it will not be lowered to that extreme.  Instead, the focus is placed on being more strategic with the type and timing of carbohydrate intake.


Carbohydrate Intake For Fat Loss
Simple Sugars/High-Processed Starches Minimally-Processed Starches Vegetables and Fruits


Rarely or never



Sports drinks, sodas, fruit juices, desserts, cereals, carb-rich snacks





Within 2 hours after workout



Whole-grain breads/pastas, potatoes, oats





Vegetables with each meal

Eat only small amounts of fruit



Spinach, broccoli, avocado, apples, berries



  1. Carbohydrate Intake for Muscle Gain and Competitive Athletes

For those looking to add muscle, or for those who are carbohydrate-dependent athletes, the carbohydrate intake and timing will differ considerably from the chart above.  This population will need to consume considerably more carbohydrates to effectively achieve their goal, or maximize their performance.


Carbohydrate Intake for Muscle Gain
Simple Sugars/High-Processed Starches Minimally-Processed Starches Vegetables and Fruits Recovery Beverages


Immediately after exercise



Sports drinks, sodas, fruit juices, desserts, cereals, carb-rich snacks



Within 3 hours after exercise



Whole-grain breads/pastas, potatoes, oats




Vegetables with every meal



Spinach, broccoli, avocado, apples, berries





During and after exercise



Sugary, high-protein drinks






The Take Home Point

I’ve thrown a lot of information at you this lesson, but don’t be overwhelmed.  We will have more specific guidelines down the road, however, for now try to just work on two things regarding your carbohydrate intake.

First, improve the types of carbohydrates in your diet.  Limit or eliminate refined, sugary carbohydrates, eat more vegetables, and select good starches when appropriate.

Second, work on the timing of your carbohydrate intake.  Select the chart that is most appropriate for your goals and follow the guidelines.


So, I’ll reiterate…

Don’t concern yourself with fad diets, pyramids, cavemen, or washed-up, overweight celebrities.  For now, just focus on following the two guidelines above.

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