I already started on the offensive, making it difficult to pretend that I'm okay with the diet. As usual, I am against the grain compared to the average professional in my field. Even still, I promise to keep my reasons lower on the emotional side than my title suggests, while addressing the objective problems with cutting carbohydrates (I'll refer to them from here on as carbs).
The reasons are seemingly countless, so by the end... should you have read all the way through this article, I hope that you will not have an objection that I haven't addressed. These include; how weight loss occurs while dropping carbs, how your brain responds, what must be concurrent with a drop in carbs and the subsequent impact, what eliminating specific foods do which are bastersized by nearly every low carb diet -- including Keto, and how a drop in carbs increases depression. So many issues, and so much science to cover in so few of words. I will do my best to keep it simple to ensure as many people as possible can benefit from this article.
How Weight Loss Occurs on Low Carb
Everyone is promised super fast weight loss... a very appealing proposition to lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks, which they teach is a quick loss of fat. Is that even possible? Let's take a look at the math... skip the following paragraph if you aren't interesting in math nerding it out.
My entire field says that there are 3500 calories in a pound of fat... I mathematically cannot agree. There are 9 calories in one gram of fat, and 453.597 grams in one pound ((1/2.2046=0.45359702)*1000=453.597024), then multiplied by the calories in a fat (9*453.597024=4082.37). There are roughly 4082 calories in one pound of fat.
This means to lose one entire pound of fat (which will include more weight from the water it is stored with), you must actually use 4082 calories. This means that 10 pounds of quick weight loss would be 40,820 if it all came from fat. In general, there is water loss along with weight loss, just like the majority of a fat cell is water. There isn't any doubt that some of the weight drop came from a loss in water, as when you use the stored energy from the fat cell you no longer need the water in that cell, however, is it possible to drop the amount of water in other non-used fat cells? I'm going to argue that yes, it is.
Going back to a bit more simplistic math, if someone lost the 40,820 calories from fat in 2 weeks, that means that they would have lost 2915 calories worth of fat every day... which should seem as far fetched as it is. If you don't understand how unrealistic that is, then let's compare that to running. To burn a comparable amount of calories it would take about 24 miles of running in 4 hours for a 165 pound person... except that we don't use only fat as fuel when running. The average out-of-shape person would burn approximately 40% of their calories from fat during that run, meaning that 10 hours and 60 miles should about get you to the same calories from only fat... convinced yet that this isn't possible?
So where does the weight loss come from? People have been measured with anywhere from 2000-10,000 calories worth of glycogen stored in their muscles and liver. Glycogen stored in the muscles and liver have nothing to do with body fat. We fill these stores, however much our maximum is, before storing the carbs we eat into our fat stores. This stored energy also has water that flows with it at a ratio of roughly 3:1, water to glycogen. When the stores are empty the water doesn't need to flow through there anymore, meaning less water is needed in the body (one of the reasons you need to pee so much more often on a low carb diet).
Using a similar math equation as above but for glycogen, shows that we will lose between 1 and 6 pounds alone from the stored glycogen, not accounting for the subsequent water loss. At a 3:1 ratio of weight, that means that you will lose an additional 3 to 18 pounds from that water, giving a total of 4-24 pounds lost from things other than fat.
Then what happens? As you thicken your blood (which will be discussed further later) your body draws more water from the other cells in the body in an attempt to bring the water level back to the percentage it is supposed to be, but your dehydration continues in those other cells, which is once again apparent from the fact that you can't drink without going to the bathroom every 30 minutes... this means that you are quickly dumping water into your kidneys, then bladder. You cannot keep the proper electrolyte balance, which allows your cells (such as your fat cells) to drop more and more water out of them.
Because you are losing weight in such an unhealthy fashion, you will cause a bit of bone loss in the process. This is accompanied by a nice drop in muscle, though not usually the skeletal ones that you are working so hard on keeping in the gym, but rather those 'less important' ones such as in the veins and arteries. This is due to an inability of your body to process enough protein to account for the muscle recovery needs as well as the creation of glucose from amino acids. If you attempt to consume enough protein to do both, your kidneys will overwork leading to kidney stones or worse. This is one of the issues that the Keto diet attempted to address, only keeping proteins at roughly 20% of your total calories... which I completely agree with.
Losing this extra muscle, bone, and water will account for quite a bit more of your weight loss during any low carb diet. Think about this... if you drop your water levels in your cells 25% down from where you started, that means that a 165 pound person will have lost 41.25 pounds of water. We can drop another 4-24 pounds from dropping the glycogen and water completely out of those stores. This means that a 165 pound person can drop from 45.25-65.25 pounds before accounting for the muscle and bone loss... which is incredibly difficult to decipher.
Every body fat analysis method claims to be able to figure out lean body mass, however, every single one has been shown to be influenced by hydration levels of the measured subjects. This means that if you are more dehydrated (such as if you lost the 41 pounds from water), then it will show you at a much lower body fat than if you are more hydrated.
Yes, I'm claiming that someone can lose weight to a completely healthy weight using a low carb diet while not losing any weight from fat. Do I actually think that's true? To be perfectly honest I am under the impression that people consume far too much fat on any low-carb diet (80% of the calories on the Keto diet) to ever lose much fat at all.
This would explain why almost everyone who stops eating low carb generally ends up with more body fat, and a slower metabolism than they had before they started the diet. It takes a while to increase the percentage of water back to where it was, which explains the somewhat slow increase back. The only people who keep it off for the long run eat low carb forever, which as I will show is terribly horrific for your health.
It's important to note that storing body fat costs calories. Since our bodies always do the path of least resistance, it will store that which is easiest. In order to store 100 calories worth of carbs into fat, it costs approximately 25 calories. The same 100 calories of fat will cost 10 times LESS calories than that to store. Since it's 10 times easier to store fat as fat (since it's already fat), your body will always look to do that when you consume too much (such as eating 80% of your calories from fat). Don't get me wrong... if you drink a 40 ounce soda while enjoying the sofa olympics, your body will gladly store that into your fat stores as well. The problem has always been too much fat AND too many crappy, processed, sugary carbs... mixed with salt creates a dopamine hit that your body will crave all day long.
I find it very hard to believe that people who eat 80% fat (or generally over 30%) can use enough of that consumed fat to ever have to tap into the stored fat. It will use the fat floating in your blood first since 1) it's easier to access, and 2) it wants to counter the thickening blood problem you are creating from eating too much fat.
How Your Brain Responds
People preach about the positive benefits of good fats for the brain, while usually not quite understanding how it all works. They seem to be under the impression that since the brain is mostly fatty tissue, that fat is used to feed the brain. The preferred fuel for the brain is glucose.
Using a fuel that works, but isn't optimal is comparable to putting 85 octane fuel into a Ferrari. It will make the car run, and could even seem mostly the same at first in normal circumstances. Once you step on the gas hard you will start to notice how much hotter of a fuel that car needs as the car sluggishly excellerates. This same thing happens when feeding the brain (and body) suboptimal fuel. Even if we have the ability to use the ketones to kick-start the citric acid cycle for energy metabolism, it's not ever going to work as well as glucose. It would be a survival mechanism ensuring we don't die when we can't find carbs for a few days. It isn't meant to replace carbs in the exact same way. This is why the strongest athlete eating carbs will outperform an equally strong athlete who doesn't eat carbs.
What does this mean for long-term brain health? One item of concern which will be discussed later on in more detail, is how carbs block heavy metal absorption into our blood. This means that a higher percentage of heavy metals (lead, mercury, silver, aluminum, etc.) could get into the brain, especially with the help of other ingested or medically injected ingredients such as lipid soluble, hypersomotic solutions, noxious agents, or even ultrasounds (mannitol, ethanol, polysorbate-80, X-irradiation, etc.) according to Bellettato and Scarpa, 2018... some of which are in your restaurant ice creams and chewing gums.
Increasing these extra metals into our brain can cause neurotoxic effects... probably not fast enough in most cases for you to demonstrously notice an IQ drop. The commonly reported problem with "brain fog" while doing low carb is not likely due to this. Your brain only eats glucose, which your liver can produce by breaking down muscle (amino acids) via a process known as gluconeogenesis. This process can only generate roughly 400-600 calories worth per day, which is close to what the average brain requires (usually 600-800). If someone only requires 400 calories for their brain per day, then they likely won't experience brain fog, while those who use more likely will.
According to a pretty old study from 1999 (has not been challenged) the optimal consumption of carbs for brain function in humans should be at least 50% of their diet. This in no way means that most of the breads out there are fantastic for your health, but it does add to the evidence against low carb diets while offering the idea that it is not optimal for one's brain health to eat less.
What Must be Included While Eating Low Carb and the Impact
In order to eat low carb, that also means that we either have to eat more of something else, or starve ourselves. Most people do not follow the starving yourself method, though some low carb diets suggest to do so such as the hCG diet. These are terribly risky since we need more nutrients than 500 calories can offer, while actually causing a decline of enzymes needed to break down foods you are staying away from. In general I am not a fan of any elimination diet or cleanse for that reason.
For most people, either an increase of proteins, fats, or both is coupled with eating less carbs. As discussed earlier eating too much protein causes kidney issues (from them having to overwork), while increasing urine in the blood (which forms uric acid crystals, eventually accumulating in the feet and ankles -- known as gout), and while making a high pH environment in the blood. Having acidic blood is a great way to increase the growth of bacterium, viruses, and fungi... which shouldn't be your goal. The original Atkins diet of eating as much bacon as you want didn't realize this, though the Keto diet takes this into account (though in my experience most people who tell me they are eating keto eat far more than 20% of their calories from protein).
Since eating too much protein is bad, that means the only possible 'healthy' alternative is to increase your fat consumption... or maybe not so healthy. I live in what's considered the healthiest state in the United States; Colorado... we were the last state to hit over 25% of our population as obese. I grew up watching my mother and her friends believing they were eating low fat (defined as less than 15% of a diet from fat) due to what's referred to as the "low fat craze."
At the time I didn't realize this, but looking back I realize that they didn't eat low fat at all. They made sure to buy the 1% low-fat milk (20% of the calories from fat), and non-fat yogurt (sugar filled), but then had a Big Mac (46% of the calories from fat) and large fry (43% of the calories from fat) for lunch. My peanut butter sandwich included a thick layer of peanut butter (77% of the. calories from fat) on both slices of bread followed by some jelly (sugar) on my wheat bread (caramelized white bread... basically more sugar). Fat (likely the partially hydrogenated soybean oil), sugar, and a small amount of protein was the main part of my lunch at the time. We would eat pizza (31%-41% of the calories from fat), spaghetti with meatballs (36% of the calories from fat), lasagne (49% of the calories from fat), for dinners. We would be treated with creme filled long john donuts (48% of the calories from fat), chocolate milk shakes (26% of the calories from fat), doritos (26% of the calories from fat), chocolate chip cookies (52% of the calories from fat), and Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls (41% of the calories from fat). When eating "healthier" we would eat an iceberg lettuce salad topped with Ranch dressing (93% of the calories from fat), seasoned croutons (41-50% of the calories from fat), cheese (72% of the calories from fat), ham (35% of the calories from fat), and an egg (60% of the calories from fat). The marketers convinced my mom and her friends that they were eating and feeding their kids low fat, while they very clearly were not.
I don't blame anyone, including my mom, as there wasn't the available knowledge that there is currently. But eating low fat is not what anyone I witnessed actually did while living in the healthiest state in the United States. The statistics in that time show that the average American ate more than 40% of their calories from fat... all while believing that they were eating less than 15%.
How did they accomplish this? It's simple when you legally lie to consumers about the fat quantity of foods. By claiming that a hamburger meat is 20% lean, that gives the consumer the idea that there are only 20% of the calories from fat, even though that's not at all what that's saying. 20% lean refers to the idea that 20% of the meat visually is fat, which equals about 56% of the calories coming from fat... that's more calories from fat than protein!
Clearly low fat was not actually ever really a thing for most... though some people actually did accomplish it. The ones that did would lose their hair, nails, and overall become really unhealthy. Fat is a very important nutrient, though in the right proportions.
Eating too little fat, though difficult to do, is very bad for you. At the same time, eating too much fat is also not healthy for completely different reasons. Increasing fat too much increases the thickness (called viscosity) of our blood. This makes it more difficult for nutrients to deliver as the blood won't travel as far with each pump (ejection fraction).
I would agree that we don't know the magical numbers for cholesterol that helps prevent heart disease, but elevating the lipids in the blood by eating too much fat isn't likely good. When this couples with dehydration, the lipids need to find another place to go in order to keep the thickness level down. This is where oxidative LDLs can break through the arterial walls allowing for plaque to start building up inside the wall (without blocking the artery... yet). Once the walls are filled up with plaque a sudden burst of a wall occurs, causing an immediate heart attack (how the majority of heart attacks occur).
There are other effects caused from dropping carbs. I brushed on one of those lightly earlier in this article; blocking of heavy metals. Consuming heavy metals is far different than, say, an injection of them into our muscles or intravenously such as what may be in a medical shot. Consuming them orally allows our body's defense mechanisms which are set up in our digestive system to block as much of those toxic metals as possible.
Our liver creates glutathione, which along with cysteine, N-acetylcysteine, glycine, selenium, vitamins A, C and E, all work together to block approximately 80% of consumed metals from absorbing. Eating a proper carb quantity increases that to about 92%... meaning that you are allowing more toxic metals to accumulate in your body if you stay away from carbs.
Another issue is the fermentation of foods, which creates the bacteria we need to keep us healthy... or creates the harmful ones that muck up our insides and make it so we can't absorb vital nutrients properly. The difference comes from which types of foods we mostly eat.
Atkins dieters of the past who ate a 48 ounce steak would have created a whole slew of unhelpful (bad) bacteria, while the Vegan will ensure very good intestinal health. I am not a vegan, nor am I saying that it is my belief that it is healthy to be a vegan. I am just offering the contrast to illustrate that meats create bad, while fruits, veggies, and carbs create good. Eating a balance of the right quantity of these is the key; a few ounces of meat, many veggies, the right amount of grains, and a few fruits.
Fruits, veggies, and whole grain carbs all have soluble fiber which is the food the good bacteria eats (known as a pre-biotic). Depending on when the food gets absorbed in the intestines will depend on where the bacteria benefits, meaning we need to eat foods of different varieties to cover the absorption of each part of the intestines. We also benefit from water absorption in the area where each food absorbs, which we want to absorb water in each section of the intestines for optimal health.
The first three parts of the intestines is known as the small intestines (duodenum, jejunum, ileum), while the last part is known as the large intestines (colon). Fruits, veggies, and crappy carbs will absorb in the first three parts of the intestines. Only whole grains and something that comes from milk (oligosaccharides) ferment and absorb in the colon. Interesting how these two items are bastardized by nearly every low carb diet... do they want your colon to be unhappy?
Long and short, for optimal gut bacteria (micro-flora) you need to eat whole grains and dairy. If you are lactose intolerant, good news! Even though your genetic on/off switch turned off, your gut bacteria can figure out how to create lactase within a few weeks of consuming a small amount of milk (start with 1/4-1/2 of a cup every day). You can blame these crazy fad diets and cleanses that claim that decreasing vital nutrients for a few weeks to a month will "reset" your gut, for causing your switch to turn off. Don't fall for their money-making scams!
Depression and Carbs
That's right, I'm going there. I'm about to claim that not eating carbs causes depression. But before I do, I want to make very clear that I'm in no way stating that this is the only cause of depression, nor that this in any way can diagnose you and help you figure out why you are feeling depressed right now. I hope you're not, but if you are I hope it's not due to emotions created from this article... I'm really just trying to help.
Okay that aside, let's get to the nitty gritty. Every time I hear someone who doesn't actually understand blood sugar, talk about blood sugar, they say something like, "When you eat carbs your blood sugar spikes, which spikes your insulin, which leads to diabetes... therefore carbs are bad." There is so much wrong with this statement.
First, if eating any carbohydrate "spikes" blood sugar right away, then why on earth would we need a chart describing how much different carbs elevate blood sugar (called the glycemic index)? What do they mean by spikes? Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is considered below 70mg/dL, where 130mg/dL is considered high blood sugar (hyperglycemic). I generally tell people to stay in a range from 80-120 for their non-fasting blood sugar. The spike they refer to would be an increase above the 140 mark for non-fasting blood sugar. Eating oatmeal will never accomplish such a "spike." Drinking a 40 ounce soda will likely very quickly.
It is improper to view all carbs as bad due to the misconception that all carbs elevate blood sugar off the charts. In a similar fashion, the statement I referred to also insinuates that insulin is also bad when elevated. Insulin helps kick start many bodily processes, and to say that it's a bad thing is a joke to every Type I diabetic out there who's pancreas cannot create any.
Raising insulin (not spiking it) actually decreases some neurotransmitters from bypassing the blood-brain barrier, which allows more L-tryptophan to get there. L-tryptophan creates a lovely hormone called serotonin; our happy hormone. In short, when you refuse to eat carbohydrates you are also causing less 'happy hormones' to be created, which has a direct link to depression (and SAD -- seasonal affective disorder). This is one reason that carbs make you happy.
Perhaps these are all of the reasons that this 2018 study found that eating less than 40% or more than 70% of your diet from carbs correlated to a higher death rate, where 50-55% was correlated to the lowest mortality rate. Eating carbs offers so many health benefits that absolutely nothing can properly replace them. Low-carb diets are a terrible idea, so please realize that it's the extra white-breads that nearly every restaurant serves, sugary drinks, and highly processed garbage foods that are generally extremely high in fat that likely caused your weight gain to begin with. Going from a high crappy-fat, high sugar diet to a no carb higher fat diet is not a very bright solution.
Eating roughly 50% of your calories from carbohydrates (oats, amaranth, rice, quinoa, whole grains, fruits, carrots, milk, etc.), 25-30% from good fats (nuts, seeds, grapeseed oil, avocados, eggs, fish, etc.(you will also get some from any consumed meat)) and the rest from proteins will keep you the healthiest you that you can be.
My Proposed 112 Calorie Diet
Keep in mind that if you need 4082 calories to gain one pound of fat, that means that 10 pounds gained was 40,820 calories. How long did that take you to gain your last 10 pounds? If it took 1 year then you would have only eaten 112 calories more each day on average to gain that weight. That means if you eat 3 times each day that you tend to eat about 38 calories more each meal than you need. Knowing this could change your life!
Think about this for a minute... to stop gaining 10 pounds per year, you simply have to stop eating only about 38 calories each meal, which means to lose 10 pounds per year you have to decrease your consumption by an additional 112 calories each day, or another 38 per meal. Then if I want to lose faster than that, I just have to multiply that 112 calories based on my commitment, and/or increase the amount of calories I burn with exercise while ensuring that I don't increase my consumption.
If I have a 3 month goal to lose 10 pounds, that means that I just need to multiply that 112 by 5 (4 plus the 1 since I'm eating that much extra)= 560. If I increase my exercise, decrease my intake, or a combination of both in 3 months I will lose 10 pounds.
I highly recommend splitting your meals up if you are only used to eating 2-3 times per day, and eat 4-5 instead. This keeps blood sugar happier with a steady supply of fiber (from veggies and carbs) and proteins (from beans, meats, oats, milk, etc), which regulate blood sugar.
I also recommend that you stay away from really crappy ingredients such as unfermented soy (soybean oil, edamame), coconut oil and milk (ask for my article on why these are actually bad, or watch my podcast at Sean Ruins Fitness on YouTube), palm kernel oil (same as coconut oil chemically), crisco, canola oil, shortening, anything that says partially or fully hydrogenated oil (such as margarine), mannitol, polysorbate-80 (also called Tween 80), cassia cinnamon, any of the FD&C food colorings (Yellow 5, Blue 1, Red 40, etc.), aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, fructose (if it's on an ingredient list it's different than what's found naturally in fruit due to the chemical process required to create it), carrageenan (possible intestinal inflammatory issues), wheat flour (if it doesn't say "whole" in front of wheat then it's white flour that came from a "wheat" plant before it was bleached and stripped of its husk), or saccharin. Ready... GO check out your pantry! 1 point for every ingredient on this list thrown away (comment your total! -- there could be a prize).
Keep your carb to fiber ratio (in grams) better than 4:1 (better would be a 3:1 ratio), with your fiber grams more than 25% of your carb grams. This doesn't mean that you cannot eat brown rice which naturally has a lower fiber content, but rather increase the veggies while decreasing the quantity of rice to match. Spinach has a better than 2:1 ratio (64% fiber to carb), so it's always an easy add.
This brings me to my spinach challenge. In an effort to eat more veggies (20 cups per week will likely be a vast improvement for you... let's not count those french fries), I challenge you to eat 1 pound (10 cups) of baby spinach every week. It will add about 69 whopping calories each week as well as a whole lot of fantastic nutrients (be aware of the Vitamin K levels if you are on a medication where you aren't supposed to increase your intake... consult your doctor before attempting).
I hope this article was insightful and will ultimately help you never want to cut your carbs again. Please send me a message or leave a comment if this information has helped you in any way.