If you're reading this post, congratulations! Because I'm pretty lousy at marketing/ publicizing this blog, a failing for which I have no real excuse. Anyway, despite my lack of efforts, my blog got mentioned by Jimmy Moore of the Livin La Vida Low Carb blog and podcast! Check this out.
If you look at the right side of this page you'll see a list of blogs I like and, further down, a list of podcasts I listen to religiously. Why? Well, the fact is that I have a 30+ minute commute to and from work each day and I fairly regularly have vacations that involve 4+ hours of driving at a clip. I also have a job where I sit at a desk and, at times, engage in fairly routine computer type work that doesn't require my full attention span. About five years ago I discovered a couple of podcasts that let me fill in that time while learning valuable things. Jimmy's is one of them.
Now the Livin La Vida Low Carb podcast is probably not the most valuable one on the list - I'd say start with The Paleolithic Solution or the Strength Coach Podcast - not because of any fault of Mr. Moore but because it's an interview show. Some of his guests are full of valuable information and some... are not. Mr. Moore does a very good job with the questioning and has a lot of knowledge about nutrition and weight loss (along with personal experience) and a ton of positive energy, but there's no way he's going to find 3-5 guests each week, week in and week out, who can fill 45 minutes with awesome information. The weekly shows are always going to be denser. If you have very little time to listen, keep that in mind. If you have a little more time to fill, absolutely add Jimmy Moore's show to your schedule!
Now Mr. Moore put me down as a low carb blog, and I wanted to go into some details about carbs and my opinion about their role in nutrition.
First of all, you absolutely do not need to eat carbohydrates for your health. I can't emphasize that enough. If anybody says you "need" carbs or starts talking about the importance of whole grains in a balanced diet nod politely and back away. They do not know what they are talking about. There are no essential carbohydrates - there are essential fats and amino acids, substances your body can't manufacture and can't live without - but no carbs.
Now your body does need some glucose to run. Certain cells can't get their energy directly from fat. I hear what you're thinking - "but Joe, isn't glucose a carb?" Yes, it is. But you absolutely don't need to get that glucose by eating it - you can survive just fine on the glucose your body can manufacture from extra protein through a nifty process called gluconeogenesis. Wikipedia it.
The story does get a little more complicated. To optimize health you probably need to eat some vegetables, berries, and fruits - there are some arguments against that, but the evidence is in favor of some veggie intake. And veggies mostly contain carbs - some more than others. The point is you need to eat some veggies despite the carbs they contain, not because of it. If we had a magic wand that could take all the carbs out of broccoli without altering it in any other way the broccoli would be just as good - if not better - for our health.
"But Joe, won't we fall into ketosis if we don't eat carbs?" Yes, we will. And no, that's not a problem. Ketoacidosis is a dangerous condition that can befall diabetics with out of control blood sugar. Ketosis sounds similar but isn't the same thing and isn't bad for us. In fact, there's all sorts of evidence that ketosis preserves muscle, helps fight cancer, helps us lose fat fast, and is, in general, a healthy state of being. Keep in mind that there are populations of people that spend most of their lives in ketosis and show perfect health.
The fact that we don't need carbs doesn't necessarily mean that they're bad for us, does it? Not necessarily, no. But there are a few problems with carb intake:
First, fructose specifically seems to cause a host of metabolic problems by increasing insulin resistance, especially in the liver. Basically, a high fructose intake will push you towards a pre-diabetic state, which is bad for all sorts of reasons including both health and performance. Does that mean you shouldn't eat fruit (after all, fruit has fructose in it)? Not exactly. Sure, fruit has fructose, which means you should somewhat restrict your fruit intake - you shouldn't get the bulk of your calories from bananas or apples or anything - but a much bigger danger is sugar, or sucrose (which is half fructose) and high fructose corn syrup. You need to eat a lot of bananas to get a dangerous load of fructose - more than one - but a can of regular Coke will damage you a lot more easily. Fruit juice will also make it easy to overdo the fructose intake. So eat your berries and fruits, in moderation, but cut out juice and sugar and HFCS completely and you'll be better off.
What about starches (which are made up of glucose molecules predominantly)? The problem with starches is where you get them from. Grains (especially wheat) and legumes (beans and peanuts), which are the source of most American starches, have all kinds of compounds in them along with the starch that damage you in a number of ways - increasing inflammation, irritating the gut lining, and increasing insulin resistance. They are also often empty calories - if you eat 250 calories of bread as opposed to, say, 250 calories of grass fed beef - you'll get a lot fewer nutrients like essential fats, vitamins and minerals, and protein. That's fine if you only eat 250 calories of starches, but if they make up the bulk of your diet you're going to have a hard time getting in optimal quantities of those other nutrients.
[As an aside - I suspect (but can't prove) that a big source of the health benefits for low carb dieters is that they aren't eating much fructose or grains. It would be interesting to take a group and put half on a low-carb diet and the other half on a moderate carb diet where all the carbs came from non-grain and non-sugar sources and see if the low carbers did all that much better. It also makes me feel sick when I look at some supposedly safe items sold to diabetics - like cookies sweetened with fruit juice. Yes, fructose won't raise blood sugar on its own, but it will worsen the diabetes. Oh well.]
So if all you're interested in is perfect health, I'd suggest just getting your carb intake as low as possible - just eat the carbs that you get with your fruits, nuts, and veggies and stop there. Try to keep the total number as low as you can (under 30 g/day is best for weight loss.)
BUT if you're interested in maximizing performance there's another side to things. If you engage in high intensity exercise (which, if you practice karate, you do) then your body will need to use glucose to fuel those workouts. The energy system involved in really intense, short term efforts just can't use fat well. Where can this glucose come from? Two places - either your body makes it from amino acids (protein) through gluconeogenesis or you eat it directly.
Say you need 400 calories worth of glycogen each day to make it through your workouts (which is quite a lot - that's enough to do a whole lot of very intense training every day). Say you need 75 grams of protein each day to support muscle growth and repair, cellular health, and so forth. Say you eat only 35 grams of carbs in your diet. Now 400 calories worth of glycogen is 100 grams of carb. If you eat 35 you need another 65 grams of glycogen from somewhere. Your body just isn't good at turning fat into glycogen and it isn't perfectly efficient at converting protein either. So you'll need to eat an extra 85-100 grams of protein to make up those 65 grams of glycogen through gluconeogenesis. So to stay very low carb and keep your muscles packed with glycogen you'd be looking to eat 175 grams of protein a day. That's a solid amount, but not ridiculously so - we're not talking protein shakes every 2 hours or anything.
I personally find that I feel better and perform better if I try to get that glucose directly from starch and keep my protein intake more moderate. What does that mean? I only eat 100-125 g protein/day but I try to eat 100-125 g carb/ day as well. The rest of my calories come from fat - primarily saturated and monounsaturated fat. Mmm, fat....
Does that still qualify me as low carb? I'm not sure. It's a lot lower carb than the Standard American Diet, that's for sure, but probably not low enough for me to be in ketosis most of the time. To be asolutely clear: I only eat that much starch because I feel it benefits my performance during very high intensity exercise, NOT because I feel it contributes to health. Most people do not need anywhere near that amount of carbs.
Now you might be wondering where I get my starch from if I am so opposed to grain and legume intake. The answer: Sweet potatotes! Stick to sweet potatoes and yams for your carb. Mix it with some cassava if you have to. You can also try white rice - it seems to have a lot less damaging effect on your health than wheat (which is part of why those eating traditional Asian diets tend not to show signs of the diseases of civilization like heart disease and atherosclerosis). For a yummy treat stop by the Asian market and pick up some white sweet potatoes instead of the orangey/ yellowy ones. I find them much tastier. Add in some fruit (in moderation) and some nuts (also in moderation, because of the high amount of omega-6 fats, not fructose) and some veggies (green leafy ones especially) and you'll have no problem filling up your glycogen stores to get ready for some serious training.
Thanks again to Mr. Moore for mentioning my blog!