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Carbohydrates: the controversy continues to swirl

What are carbs and what is all the fuss about?

Here's part 1 of a 5 part video presentation by Tom Naughton, creator of the movie Fat Head. Not only is this an extremely informative talk, it's also very entertaining. After each episode, simply click on the next one to continue. This is good stuff!

We are told by the "experts", including government dietary recommendations, to eat and not eat certain foods. For example, carbohydrates figure prominently in these guidelines, red meat is discouraged, as is saturated fat.

We’re told that a calorie is a calorie and, until recently were told that sugar really isn’t all that bad.

If it’s so straightforward, why is there so much controversy around our food and what constitutes a healthy diet?

Who is right?

The big question is, are we getting the straight goods about carbs, dietary fat, sugar, red meat, and the impact on our hearts, and indeed, our overall health?

We’ve been doing a lot of reading about these controversies. And though we would prefer this area to be cut and dry, it simply isn’t so. In fact, the controversies have been swirling for decades and show no sign of being resolved any time soon.

Much as we’d like to think that the "experts" could get together and use some good science to determine what’s really good for us, there is very little consensus.

What are carbs?

Carbs, or carbohydrates, are one of the three macro nutrients we consume (the other two being fat and protein). Carbohydrates are the class of foods including sugars and starches. They help the body store and transport energy but, while carbs are easier to digest than protein or fats, they are not considered essential nutrients. Proteins and fats can provide the body with all the energy it requires.

Examples of simple carbohydrates

  • White sugar
  • White rice
  • Potatoes
  • Bread, buns, bagels,etc.
  • Pasta
  • Crackers
  • Corn syrup
  • Soda pop
  • Fruit juice
  • Candy
  • Cake

According to the World Health Organization, sugars and other simple carbohydrates are a leading factor in the worldwide obesity epidemic.

Complex carbohydrates also contain other nutrients, such as protein and fats, in moderation. Some examples of complex carbs are

  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Beans and lentils
  • Berries

Take control of your body

Our conclusion – and this is only our conclusion – is that you’ll need to make up your own mind... that each of us must take control of our own bodies and make decisions that make sense for us.

This approach requires some effort

While it would be nice to think we could simply entrust our health to those in power, when you start to learn about the way some of the food policies have been established, and the powerful influences and economic forces that come into play, you might question the advisability of entrusting your health to these "experts".

If you think that your government is going to make decisions based solely on what is best for our health, think again!

When the various economic and political factors are included, it further muddies the waters. The food and agricultural industries are extremely powerful. Various factions (dairy, grain, meat, sugar, food processors, etc.) exert enormous pressure on governing bodies as to what regulations, rules, and recommendations are introduced and implemented. The pharmacological industry is another huge and powerful force that has influence on government policy.

Add to this the powerful marketing employed by food manufacturers to get us to part with our hard earned money on products that are highly profitable, but of questionable value when it comes to nutrition.

Where does that leave us, the consumer?

Sadly, when you start to really examine the situation, it’s very easy to start feeling as though we are the last thing on the minds of those who make decisions regarding our well-being.

That’s a powerful statement, but there is ample evidence to support it.

Here is a small taste of the nature of this controversy. According to Gary Taubes, author ofGood Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health, when Senator George McGovern published the first "official"Dietary Goals for the United States on January 14, 1977, it was the beginning of the government telling the American public they could improve their health by eating less fat and more carbohydrates.

This, in spite of the fact that there was no clear evidence to support this. The Dietary Guidelineswere based on the work of a researcher named Ancel Keys and his lipid hypothesis... a hypothesis that was "proven" using select data that supported what Keys wanted to show and that left out data that did not support his hypothesis.

Nevertheless, that official government doctrine has been pushed on us continually since then, in spite of the fact that there is still no conclusive evidence in support of the hypothesis!

It's been repeated by so many people for so long that it has become gospel... yet it is based on faulty data.

Taube’s research unveils astounding naïvety and bias on the part of the staff and politicians who wrote the guidelines.

Most importantly, the main writer of the guidelines was unqualified and extremely biased. His main source of information was from an admittedly biased nutritionist whose evidence came from animal studies and then from a study involving schizophrenic patients at a mental institution.

Although the report "...acknowledged that no evidence existed to suggest that reducing the total fat content of the diet would lower blood-cholesterol levels, justified its recommendation on the basis that, the lower the percentage of dense fat calories in the diet, the less likely people would be to gain weight..." And that "...Americans had nothing to loose by following the advice."

Oh really?

Curious to know more about possible risks of a low fat diet? See the lipid hypothesis page to read more about this aspect of the controversy.

You may be very familiar with the low carb vs. high carb controversy, or you may about to be awakened to it!

Either way, there is a swirling controversy that has been with us for a long time. It’s likely going to be with us for a long time to come. The different sides in this debate are thoroughly entrenched in their positions. So much so that there seems to be little room for additional, unbiased research, or for informed, intelligent discussion.

What's all the fuss about?

There is a large body of work, supported by an active group of professionals including doctors, researchers, science writers, and others, that essentially flies in the face of the "official" recommendations pertaining to the amount of carbohydrates, dietary fat, and protein that should be a part of a healthy diet.

So we have the corollary that a low carbohydrate diet, by its very nature, includes eating substantially more fat and protein than that found in government guidelines.

We've been fascinated by this controversy for some time. We've read numerous books and papers on it. The pages linked to this page outline some of the details of the controversy and point to additional reading and other resources for you to delve into this further, should you be so inclined.

Why bother?

Our feelings on this are simple: as stated above, each of us is the ultimate master of our own body. And while we entrust a certain level of care to health professionals, ultimately we must make the final decisions on what actions we are willing or want to take.

There is also the belief that the "official" doctrine we are fed is influenced by a wide range of interests, both corporate (profit) and political, that can vastly alter the meaning and value of what we are told.

In fact, should you choose to read some of the recommended resource materials listed on these pages, you will likely be shocked at the influence exerted by special interest groups that has changed our entire food chain, our perceptions of just what constitutes a healthy diet and the overall health of the western world.

See also

What are your thoughts on this important topic?

We Recommend
There are a number of books mentioned in this section on the lipid hypothesis. We strongly urge you to read some or all of them to better equip yourself with the knowledge you need to make informed decisions.

And be sure to check out these great online resources for
blogs and podcasts.

This is a confusing and controversial subject!

What are your thoughts? Low carb, high fat. Statins. Processed food vs. whole organic. "My Plate" and the food pyramid controversy. There's a ton information out there that goes way beyond what the so-called "experts" are telling us. What is your experience? What do you think?

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to have your say!