It is a common thinking that a healthy diet is a balanced diet. Broadly speaking this is correct, but first need to define what balanced means. In today’s post we are talking about balance between fats and carbs.
The search for balance
You would assume that nutrition balance comes from eat both fat and carbs at equal amounts. But we need to revise this definition in light of the body’s physiology. And in this case balance comes from
- Supplying enough nutrients based on the demand required
- Giving the body everything it needs
- Respecting the metabolic processes
We can rephrase the above by saying
- Get every day 100% of the nutrients you need, by not exceeding your body’s caloric needs and by providing only one energy source at any given time.
It maybe sound obvious that exceeding your caloric needs will lead for example to a weight gain, but it is also important to understand that our bodies work more efficiently in either a carb burning or a fat burning mode. This can be explained by the Randle cycle
The Randle cycle
The Randle Cycle also called glucose fatty acid cycle is a metabolic process where glucose and fatty acids compete for oxidation. There is always a certain competition between different fuel in the body, namely fatty acids and glucose. The Randle cycle controls the selection of these fuels in different tissues.
Muscles and adipose tissue interact with each other via hormones that regulate fuel partitioning and utilization. Hormones that control fat oxidation affect circulation of fatty acids, and fatty acids, in turn, control fuel selection in muscles.
In the context of nutrition, the Randle cycle explains what kind of fuel get burnt off in what order of priority. You’re always burning a mixture of everything (glucose, ketones, fatty acids, protein, lactate etc.) but the body prefers to burn the most readily available one. The hypothesis is that combining fats and carbs together promotes obesity and metabolic disorders because of confusing the body’s priorities for burning these fuel sources.
Eating fats alongside high insulin and carbs shuttles the fat into body fat stores much more easily and quicker because of the higher insulin to glucagon ratio. Lipolysis will resume once the insulin-glucagon ratio drops to a higher glucagon state.
The most important rule of nutrition is to not eat high amounts of fats together with carbs that spike your insulin. This is what the standard Western diet is composed of. Not only does it make fat storage much easier on the physiological level but also over-rides control mechanisms in the brain thus making you want to over-eat because it feels rewarding.
- Glucose and fat compete against each other as energy sources.
- In the presence of excess calories fat will block glucose from being used and wise versa. This can lead to high BG, increase triglycerides and fat storage.
What is the problem
The main issue here is awareness of how our eating choices contribute to what are body needs.
The pasta example
Let’s take for example eating pasta which is a staple for many people. How much protein or other essential nutrients do you get from a bowl of pasta? Not much unfortunately. On the other hand you will get in the form of glucose a lot of energy. More than you probably need and you body can handle, unless you were engaged in some intense exercise. By adding on top of the pasta a rich cream sauce you still don’t contribute much to the nutritional profile of your meal, but now you have just gone complete over the top with your energy intake. Your body now needs to process both fuel sources which follow complete different pathways and it can’t do that efficiently.
High carb and high fat
Most people in an attempt to make food tasty (according to their taste buds), go to the extremes. A sweet and sour sauce will typically have plenty of surar along with the various oils. The effect is not so much different from having nutella. 30grams of fat and 50grams of sugar per 100g. This combination of insulin spike, fat, sugar you cannot find in any natural food in nature.
I challenge you to name one.
The combination of high-fat, high-carbs makes our taste buds go crazy and lead to over-eating. Have you ever felt full with a bag of chips? Unlikely. Even though a typical bag of chips can have a whopping 900 calories
- Most people eat foods with too much energy and not enough nutritional value
- Eating a high-fat, high-carb food leads to over-eating.
What can you do
We already discussed that it’s not a good idea to combine fats and carbs together because they make fat storage much easier and promote over-eating. What can we do?
- Avoid to combine fats and carbs together because they make fat storage much easier and promote over-eating.
- Do not exceed your caloric intake. Follow the 80-20 rule. Eat until you are satisfied but not full.
Another way to look at this is
- Do not eat if you are not hungry.
- Prioritize protein with each meal.
- Prefer a salad to get essential minerals and electrolytes.
- Fill the rest of the calories based on your body energy needs by choosing fat or carbs.
Measuring your fasting BG can also help you better understand the effect of food choices. Even in a couple of days of eating a high-fat and high-carb foods and in excess of your caloric needs, you will probably find your BG to be higher that usual.
- Balancing your nutrition means being mindfull about your body energy needs. Don’t go overboard!
- Balancing your nutrition also means being mindfull about your percentage of fat and carbs in your meals. Prefer one or the other. In the context of which energy source to prefer, I believe a low-carb lifestyle is more nutrititious and easier to sustain so I suggest keeping fat as they main energy source, while implementing a weekly carb-cyclying where you can enjoy some healthy carbs and keep your metabolic flexibility.
- Randle Cycle explained