Healing Connections

Reduce Grains and Sugar to
Lose Weight and Improve Health

Diet is a controversial subject with an abundance of contradictory advice being offered. For example, Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution advocates a high fat, very low carbohydrate diet. Almost completely opposite advice (very low fat and higher carbohydrates) is given in Eat More, Weigh Less: Dr. Dean Ornish's Life Choice Program for Losing Weight Safely While Eating Abundantly. Both authors would agree that refined carbohydrates (white sugar and white flour) and trans fatty acids (the fat in french fries and many baked products) should be reduced or eliminated. Beyond this, the ideal diet may depend upon an individual's metabolic type and preferences. The best solution may be somewhere between the extremes, and for most people reducing grains and sugar is a good start.

For several million years, humans existed on a natural diet that was not cultivated or domesticated. It was only with the advent of agriculture a mere 10,000 years ago — a fraction of a second in evolutionary time — that humans began ingesting large amounts of sugar and starch in the form of grains (and potatoes) into their diets. Indeed, 99.99% of our genes were formed before the advent of agriculture; in biological terms, our bodies are still those of hunter-gatherers.

The shift to agriculture has produced indisputable gains for humanity, including the comforts of civilization and the opportunity for longevity. But this dietary transition often contributes to obesity and nutritional imbalances. The Paleolithic diet was a combination of wild game and high fiber vegetation. Humans have not suddenly evolved good mechanisms to incorporate the high proportion of carbohydrates commonly found in the modern diet. Our sedentary lifestyle compounds the problem. In addition, meat that we buy is less healthful than that of our ancestors because animals are raised in feedlots, where they eat grain rather than grass or leaves.

We eat an excessive amount of sugar and starch and don't get enough exercise. Whole grain products are better than refined, and whole fruits are better than white sugar or corn syrup. Almost everyone can benefit from balancing carbohydrate intake with exercise. The ideal diet depends upon metabolic type, but usually includes changing from refined to whole, complex carbohydrates while reducing overall intake of carbohydrates (even if whole).

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, chances are very good that the excess carbohydrates in your body may be to blame:

  • Excess weight
  • Fatigue and frequent sleepiness
  • Depression
  • Brain fogginess
  • Bloating
  • Low blood sugar
  • High blood pressure
  • High triglycerides

Any meal or snack high in carbohydrates generates a rapid rise in blood glucose. To adjust for this rise, the pancreas secretes the hormone insulin into the bloodstream, which lowers the glucose. Insulin is essentially a storage hormone, evolved over those millions of years of human evolution, to store the excess calories from carbohydrates in the form of fat in case of famine. The body's storage capacity for carbohydrates is quite limited, so that excess carbohydrates are converted, via insulin, into fat.

Insulin, stimulated by the excess carbohydrates in our overabundant consumption of grains, starches and sweets, is responsible for our excessive weight. Even worse, high insulin levels suppress two other important hormones — glucagon and growth hormone — that are responsible for burning fat and sugar and promoting muscle development, respectively. So insulin from excess carbohydrates promotes fat and then wards off the body's ability to lose that fat.

Excess weight and obesity lead to heart disease and a wide variety of other diseases. But the ill effects of grains and sugars do not end there. They suppress the immune system, contributing to allergies, and they are responsible for a host of digestive disorders. Excessive carbohydrate intake is associated with many of the chronic diseases in our nation, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Cutting down on carbohydrates results in eating a higher proportion of protein and fats. Since consuming protein and fats produces a satisfying feeling of fullness, it is often easier to reduce caloric intake. People who try to diet by "cutting down" often spend too much time feeling hungry and deprived. It may be better to eat more protein and "good" fats (see Good Fats and Bad Fats article) for better nutrition and less struggle with weight and diet. Even people with heart disease don't need to worry as much about a "low fat/low cholesterol" diet. It may be that excess carbohydrates and unhealthful fats that are the biggest contributors to heart disease. For further detail, go to Dr. Mercola's web site (see below) and search for the New York Times article entitled "What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?"

Adapted from