By Dr. Mercola
Limiting your net carbohydrate intake is an effective way to normalize your weight and reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome, heart disease and many other chronic diseases. Net carbs are calculated by subtracting your net fiber in grams from your total carbohydrates in grams. The resulting number are your net carbohydrates. Your body needs fiber carbohydrates as a prebiotic to feed good bacteria and support a strong gut microbiome.
However, your body doesn’t need carbohydrates from grains, breads and pastas. In fact, the reaction inside your body from these foods actually feeds the development of chronic illnesses, which makes the most recent media headlines even more dangerous to the future health of Americans.
Headlines Tell Less Than Half the Story
Two studies in the past two years claim eating pasta doesn’t sabotage weight loss efforts, but instead may actually help. In both cases, the headlines only tell half the story — possibly even less. In the first study, published in Nutrition and Diabetes in 2016,1 the authors used two large data sets to evaluate the effect eating a side dish of pasta with a Mediterranean diet would have.
Nearly 20,000 people from two different ongoing research groups were recruited for the trial. Each person filled out a food questionnaire to determine what they ate and how much, and they had their weight, height, waist and hip measurements taken. The data demonstrated no correlation between eating pasta and being overweight. Instead, those who ate pasta along with a strict Mediterranean diet were more slender.2
What the headlines failed to communicate was the people who were more slender and eating pasta were already maintaining an overall healthy, balanced diet and ate only a small side dish of pasta, rather than pasta as the main meal. Instead, headlines read:3 “Pasta Isn’t Fattening, and Can Actually Help You Lose Weight, Study Finds” Unfortunately, for those who get their news from the headlines, this is misleading as many foods eaten in very small portions are not as dangerous as portion sizes common in America.
The most recent headline asks you to believe eating pasta will help you lose weight based on a study in which participants were eating a very low glycemic diet, to which an average of 3.3 servings of pasta per week were added.4 In other words, when small portions of pasta were added to a dietary plan in which participants were already following a low carbohydrate diet, the pasta did not interfere with their ability to lose slightly more than 1 pound over 12 weeks.5 In addition, the researchers acknowledged:
- The findings would only apply to eating pasta on a low glycemic index diet
- Results may not hold up in other healthy diet patterns
- The weight loss in the study sample was small
- It was unclear if people would keep the weight off in the long term
Normal Weight Does Not Mean Healthy
Although many equate maintaining a normal weight with being healthy, your body requires more than not being overweight to function optimally. It is true obesity is linked to a significant number of chronic diseases and cancer, but maintaining a normal weight will not reduce your risk of those conditions unless you maintain your weight in a healthy fashion.
In other words, you can be slender and have metabolic syndrome, placing you at risk for diseases you normally associate with obesity, when much of your nutritional intake is derived from carbohydrates.
To maintain optimal health it is necessary to both maintain your weight and eat a diet low in net carbs to reduce your risk of becoming insulin resistant. Physical movement is a leveraging agent to help you optimize your health and fitness, but your diet is far more important than exercise to help you lose weight and keep it off.
More than 700 weight loss studies have confirmed eating a healthier diet produces greater weight loss than exercise alone.6 Studies have actually found exercise may be unrelated to weight loss.7,8 And, while sedentary behavior is not strongly associated with weight gain,9 it is strongly associated with cardiovascular disease. This means your health is not contingent only on your waistline measurement.
What Happens to Pasta In Your Body?
All calories are not created equal. They have differing metabolic effects depending upon their source, so counting calories is useless for successful weight loss. Obesity isn’t conquered by simply increasing exercise as it is rooted in metabolic dysfunction, leading to abnormal energy partitioning. Eating foods high in net carbohydrates, such as pasta, contributes to metabolic dysfunction.
Metabolism of carbohydrates, including breads, grains and pastas, begins in your small intestines where monosaccharides are absorbed into the bloodstream.10 These monosaccharides (sugars) are controlled in part by insulin and glucagon. When the concentration of glucose in your blood is too high, your body secretes insulin, which stimulates the transfer of sugar into your cells. If glucose is not needed immediately, it is altered into glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles until a later time.
Fats and fiber digest differently as they are not converted into glucose. Although fiber does not add calories to your diet, it is essential to maintain a healthy gut microbiome, slow digestion and improve the absorption of nutrients.11 Your body can use both carbohydrates and fat for fuel, but they are not equal in terms of value and benefit. In fact, fat is far preferable fuel for your body, improving your metabolic health and reducing your insulin resistance.
The Result of Eating Foods High In Carbohydrates
Once your body releases insulin and blood glucose reaches your cells, you suddenly find yourself hungry again, sometimes just a couple of hours after your last meal. Some reach for a high sugar carbohydrate snack in the middle of the afternoon to get through till dinner, but this only perpetuates the cycle of high blood sugar, insulin release, plummeting blood sugar and reaching for another snack.
While this vicious cycle makes eating healthy difficult and increases your risk for weight gain, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, these chronically elevated blood sugar levels have a profoundly negative influence on your brain as well.12 Researchers have found negative cognitive effects occur even in people without Type 2 diabetes, suggesting keeping your blood sugar levels lower than what is typically considered “normal” is probably best for your brain health.
This supports separate research finding insulin resistance and diabetes were associated with a 56 percent higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and 127 percent increased risk of vascular dementia and cognitive risks.13 Other studies have also suggested higher blood sugar levels are detrimental to your neurological and cognitive health even without impaired insulin response.14
Each of these factors are associated with eating simple carbohydrates, including pastas and breads, and are related to the rising rate of obesity in America. A report from the National Center for Health Statistics shows nearly 40 percent of adults in the U.S. are obese.15
Importance of Fiber and Fat to Reduce Cravings, Increase Satiety and Control Weight
Simple carbohydrates found in breads and pastas feed sugar addiction as the foods metabolize into glucose. A meal rich in carbohydrates is often followed by low blood sugar several hours later, triggering hunger and sugar cravings. Fiber and fat, on the other hand, will help reduce your cravings, increase satiety and help you to control your weight. When your body has the opportunity to burn fat for fuel, your liver creates water soluble fats called ketones.
These burn far more efficiently than carbs and create far fewer harmful reactive oxygen species and secondary free radicals, which damage your cellular and mitochondrial cell membranes, proteins and DNA. Being an efficient fat burner may also improve your odds of living longer, as the fat burning process has many similar benefits as fasting, including improved glucose metabolism and reduced inflammation.
Your body’s ability to burn fat is inhibited with a high-carbohydrate diet, since when both fats and carbohydrates are available, the body uses carbs first. If your diet is high in refined fructose, this activates an enzyme causing cells to accumulate fat. Each of these processes may help explain why it’s so difficult to lose weight while you’re still eating carbohydrates, especially if you include them several times a day. Even getting exercise does not negate fat storage from eating carbohydrates.
The way out of this metabolically unhealthy loop is to eat more healthy fats and limit your net carbs. By incorporating intermittent fasting into the process, you will speed your liver’s ability to burn fat and improve your overall metabolic profile. In order to effectively burn body fat, you may need as much as 50 to 85 percent of your daily calories from healthy fats, which include:
Olives and olive oil (make sure it’s third party certified, as 80 percent of olive oils are adulterated with vegetable oils.
Also avoid cooking with olive oil. Use it cold)
Coconuts and coconut oil (excellent for cooking as it can withstand higher temperatures without oxidizing)
Animal-based omega-3 fat such as krill oil and small fatty fish like sardines and anchovies
Butter made from raw grass fed organic milk
Raw nuts such as macadamia and pecans
Seeds like black sesame, cumin, pumpkin and hemp seeds
Grass fed meats
Lard and tallow (excellent for cooking)
Ghee (clarified butter)
Raw cacao butter
Organic pastured egg yolks
White Flour Pasta Alternative
When only noodles will do, the healthiest choice are shirataki noodles. These may be the epitome of a low net carb food as they contain nearly 97 percent water and 3 percent fiber, with zero calories and no digestible carbohydrates. Sometimes called konjac noodles or miracle noodles, they are long, white and translucent and made from glucomannan fiber from the root of the konjac plant. As described by Authority Nutrition:16
“Glucomannan is a highly viscous fiber. Viscous fiber is a type of soluble fiber, and one of its main characteristics is the ability to absorb water and form a gel. In fact, glucomannan can absorb up to 50 times its weight in water, as reflected in shirataki noodles’ extremely high water content.
These noodles move through the digestive system very slowly, which helps you feel full and delays nutrient absorption into the bloodstream. In addition, viscous fiber functions as a prebiotic. It nourishes the bacteria living in your colon, also known as the gut flora or microbiome.”
Shirataki noodles are a high fiber food that nourish healthy gut bacteria and fill you up while reducing your net carbs. Another option you may consider is using spaghetti squash for noodles. This low carb Spaghetti Squash Carbonara recipe is published by Maya at Wholesome Yum.17
- 1 large spaghetti squash
- 1/2 cup cooked bacon bits
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 3/4 cup green peas (raw or cooked work best)
- 1 large egg
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Sea salt (to taste)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Slice the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise; remove the seeds. Place on a lined baking sheet, cut side down and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes or until your fork can easily pierce the skin.
- Sauté garlic and bacon bits in an oiled pan on the stove over medium to medium-high heat, until the bacon is sizzling (about two to three minutes).
- Add green peas and sauté for three to five more minutes, until peas are bright green. (If adding frozen peas, you can proceed to the next step right away.)
- Remove from heat.
- Whisk heavy cream, almond milk, eggs and Parmesan cheese in a bowl.
- When the spaghetti squash is done baking, use a fork to pull out the “noodles.” While they are still hot, stir in the egg parmesan mixture, then add the bacon mixture. Season with sea salt to taste. Garnish with fresh parsley and additional Parmesan cheese if desired.