Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
9 Jun

Dear Mark: Signs You Should Eat More Carbs

carbsFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’ll be addressing a single article from a highly-lauded intellectual institution: the Huffington Post. I’m kidding of course. The HuffPo has some great stuff, but they’ve also got to pay the bills and fluffy articles inevitably slip through the cracks. This article is one of the latter, claiming to give five definitive signs that you – the personal “you” – absolutely need to be eating more carbohydrates. How does it stack up?

Let’s find out:

While I know you have answered all of these statements in one way or another in various posts I would love to see a response to this article about why we should eat more carbs. While I know it isn’t true, many people see these links on Facebook and other media and believe every word. Reassuringly, there were actually many comments arguing with the article which was great, I just thought it would be interesting to see your response.

Thank you!!!

Crystal

Excellent question. It’s good to have this stuff together in a single post as a reference, because these are common arguments. Let’s take each one apart separately:

“You have bad breath.”

This is ketone breath, caused by the expelling of ketone bodies through respiration. It’s normal if you’re in ketosis, and it’s actually a good indicator of that particular metabolic state.

So, is bad/ketone breath a sign that you should eat more carbs? That depends. If you’re trying to avoid ketosis, bad/ketone breath means you should eat more carbs. If you’re trying to stay in ketosis, or at least dally there for a bit, bad/ketone breath means you should not eat more carbs. It means you’re doing it right. So I guess it’s true in a sense for certain people in certain situations with certain goals, but it’s not a proclamation of absolute truth for everyone.

“Your workouts are slipping.”

The article bases this claim on the supposition that without carbs, you can’t build muscle – that instead of being used toward muscle protein synthesis, the protein eaten by a low-carber is broken down into glucose. Sounds somewhat reasonable. However, a recent review of the evidence concludes that while it’s a popular claim, there is no evidence that the addition of carbohydrates to a protein supplement will increase, acutely, muscle protein synthesis and, chronically, lean body mass to a greater extent than protein alone. All you need is protein for hypertrophy, according to the evidence.

What about the claim that we need tons of insulin to boost muscle growth? Well, we need some insulin, but we don’t need carbohydrates for that. Good ol’ leucine, an amino acid found abundantly in meat and milk, provokes enough insulin secretion to handle muscle protein synthesis when systemic insulin levels are already low. Anyone eating Primal will get plenty of leucine, and almost anyone eating lower-carb will have fairly low baseline insulin levels.

I’ve always said that eating some carbohydrate after a high-intensity, glycogen-depleting workout is the best time to eat it. You’re more likely to fill glycogen reserves that way and your muscles are insulin sensitive and thus require less to do the job. Exercise even up-regulates something called non-insulin dependent glucose uptake, a glycogen-repletion pathway that allows carbohydrate utilization without any insulin at all.

In my upcoming book, Primal Endurance, I’ll be exploring low-carb, high-fat, and ketogenic endurance training. It’s largely unexplored territory, and since the entire fitness industry revolves around the carb paradigm, I think this book will really turn some heads and open some minds.

“You feel a little fuzzy.”

Going low-carb impairs cognitive functioning, in other words. They cite a press release about a study in which women were either placed on a low-carb or low-cal (but normal carb) diet. After a week of eating their respective diets, the women took memory tests. The low-carb women performed more poorly than the low-cal dieters, and once they resumed eating carbs, their results improved. Here’s the actual study (and here’s the full PDF).

It turns out that they were testing the Atkins diet. The first week was Atkins induction, which basically eliminates carbs except for a few grams plus fiber. The second and third weeks introduced small amounts of carbs back in. According to the Atkins website, this phase of the diet involves eating 12-15 net carbs (carb grams minus fiber grams) and increasing the amount you eat by weekly 5-10 gram increments. So they didn’t go back to bagels for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch; they did not resume eating the same amount of carbs they were before the diet. They simply introduced a few more carbs after eating almost zero and this was enough to restore their mental faculties. They were still low-carb, or even very low-carb and they were almost certainly in ketosis. This sounds an awful lot like the Primal Blueprint Carb Curve, which supports up to 150 grams of carbs per day for maintenance or gradual fat loss.

The difference is that they’d had a week or two to become fat-adapted and get over the low-carb flu. They had begun compensating for the “missing” glucose by incorporating ketone bodies into brain metabolism. Being low-carb is a very different beast than going low-carb. It gets better.

“You’re cranky.”

While serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, has difficulty crossing the blood brain barrier, its precursor, tryptophan, can slip past the barrier with the help of insulin and be converted into serotonin. Since carbs famously spike insulin, the article claims that carbs are required for serotonin synthesis and mood maintenance. Is it true?

Kinda. According to some studies, pure carb infusions – think marshmallows, rice cakes, plain toast – do increase serotonin levels and boost mood in certain populations, like people engaged in cognitively demanding tasks. Or high-intensity athletes who are burning up lots of glucose, like dancers (many of whom are elite athletes). They do see mood benefits with moderate carb intakes, but that’s not a matter of carbs so much as it’s a matter of avoiding hypoglycemia. One study cited in the article found that women on a low-carb diet reported a worsening of their mood over the course of a year, although the low-carb arm of the study had twice as many participants already taking anti-depressants, meaning they were kind of in a funk to begin with. That may be why depressed people often have carb cravings, as an unwittingly desperate attempt to synthesize the serotonin they so desperately miss. The problem is it’s not a sustainable or healthy path away from depression (what, are you just going to live on potato chips?) and often (and unsurprisingly) leads to weight gain.

There are better ways, I think. Carbs may boost your mood for a bit, but what happens after? We all have those coworkers who must constantly snack lest they fall asleep at their desks or snap at their cubicle mate. Heck, you probably once were one of those grouchy, snacking coworkers. Meanwhile, your protein and fat-rich breakfast may not get you cracked out and hyper, but it doesn’t leave you yawning when 11 AM rolls around. You’re not cranky if you’re asleep, though, so I guess they win on a technicality.

Exercise also increases the brain’s uptake of tryptophan. In fact, increased brain tryptophan uptake and serotonin synthesis may explain the astoundingly effective antidepressant effects of exercise.

Carbs can certainly help tryptophan uptake, and I’d argue that sane levels of carbs (see the Carb Curve again) are perfectly adequate in this regard, but you can’t get by on carbs alone. The best sources of tryptophan are animal products which the manufacturer tends to package with animal fat, so you can’t really escape the necessity of eating fat and protein for mood. All in all, I’d say most people who’ve gone Primal report improved mood, steadier energy, and a better overall outlook on life. I certainly have. And we don’t need to keep a plastic baggie of crushed up rice cakes on hand to maintain these benefits.

“You’re irregular.”

Constipation, diarrhea, or both are among the most common gut ailments across the Western world – and the vast majority of the afflicted are eating standard industrial diets, not low-carb Primal ones. This is not a problem unique to low-carbers. I’ve always supported the intake of prebiotic fibers to help normalize gut health and digestion. Everyone should probably be eating more fermentable fibers from fruits and vegetables. This is where something like resistant starch comes in.

Remember, low-carb is not zero-carb or zero-plant matter. In my experience, Primal people eat way more vegetation and get way more non-grain fiber than most vegetarians. But if this is a blind spot for you and you are having trouble in the bathroom, then I suppose your gut flora need to be eating more carbs. It doesn’t mean you, the host of the flora, necessarily need to eat more carbs.

Bottom line: this article makes some technically true statements, but misappropriates them in a sneaky, misleading, underhanded way. These “laws” don’t apply to everyone.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. OK, I’ll start upping the carbs. To whom do I send my address so they can start mailing me my disability check? I’m certainly going to need one because once the addiction starts up again I’m going to become too fat and ill to work quickly and then of course someone can pay for my grave plot as well. I don’t want a wake because I’ll be too ashamed of how I’ll look in the piano case and all!

    Groktimus Primal wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • GP, I’ll make sure we hand out cronuts to everyone who attends your funeral, and that when we make a toast to you, it’s done with an extra-large Slurpee. No use in letting your mourners escape in good health!

      BonzoGal wrote on June 9th, 2014
      • OMG, I wish I hadn’t just googled cronuts……

        Pip wrote on June 12th, 2014
  2. It still amazes me how the body can adapt to different carb intakes. My girlfriend went low carb ((not Atkins level though!) about a month ago, slogged through about 2 weeks of “low carb flu”, and now has become a fat burning beast…err.. goddess. Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of folks equate low carb with Atkins…and this is certainly not an optimal intake.

    Brian Stanton wrote on June 9th, 2014
  3. Good Dr Atkins, he would be a Primal champion if alive!

    wildgrok wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • Apparently Dr Atkins died in 2003 as a result of slipping on some ice and hitting his head, at age 72 (quite a primal way to go I guess – i.e., not dying of I’ll health, but accident, lets face it, all of us have our number coming up at some time) – I think his work definitely paved the way for the paleo concept – it just needed the next logical evolvement, but at least he took the “high carb, wheat no fat” promoters on head first.

      Storm wrote on June 12th, 2014
  4. These articles are part of this weird phenomenon that warns against doing what’s right. The battle is over. Eliminate refined carbs and sugar and eat more protein, veggies, and fat. I don’t know a single person who is actually trying to improve their health, who has not come to this simple conclusion – and mostly through experimenting. So it’s not theoretical. Yet the media keep cranking out these false warning puff pieces. Don’t exercise too much, don’t cut out too much junk food…everything is moderation. It’s like they are talking about a different planet and species entirely. Where is this mythical society of people that are so fit and eat so well that they are at risk of become, well, uh, too healthy? What next, an article waring about saving too much for retirement? Driving too safely?

    Personally I think these pieces serve two purposes. One, to fill space. The 24/7 media cycle needs content. ANY content. Two, it’s a way to make the writers and readers feel a little better about not really doing anything to improve their health.

    It reminds of this story a guy in college told me. He refused to wear seat belts. I asked why and he said he had a cousin who lost control of his car on a mountain road and because he wasn’t belted in, he got ejected out as the car rolled down the cliff. So he too refuses to wear seat belts because if should ever drive his car off a cliff he’d like the odd chance of being ejected to safety.

    This is exactly the same thing as warning a grossly obese society, where at least half the population is suffering from various metabolic issues, to not eat TOO LITTLE carbs. Eating too few carbs is the least probable risk outcome and causes the least harm.

    Insanity.

    Clay wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • Yes. Obviously an article that says people can eat more carbs is going to be very popular with readers and boost readership.

      Harry Mossman wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • I wish that were true.. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/06/08/305860073/james-cameron-backed-school-to-terminate-meat-and-dairy

      My veg/vegan friends still think carbs are the way to go :(

      kate wrote on June 9th, 2014
      • Why does the phrase “plant-based diet” irritate me so much (found repeatedly in this article)? It has really proliferated over the past several years and is now everywhere. Why hot just say “vegetarian,” or “vegan”? Where the hell did this whole notion of a “plant-based diet” come from? I suspect the marketing world (to sell vegan books?) Never mind that, in theory, everything is a plant-based diet, since even the animals we eat depend on plants for their survival. Anyway, I’m suspicious of this phrase, which sounds like a propagandistic vegan term that refers to something we already have more straightforward words for (again, like vegan, vegetarian). On another note, and as somebody who suffered terrible, debilitating blood sugar imbalances as a kid on a high-carb diet, I feel for kids forced onto vegan diets. :(

        Alma Mahler wrote on June 9th, 2014
        • It’s like the difference between the phrases “global warming” and “climate change”…one gets all kinds of friction from the public, and the other goes over amazingly well. “Plant-based diet” goes over much better than “vegan” or “vegetarian.”

          It’s all about the marketing…

          Wenchypoo wrote on June 10th, 2014
        • “plant-based diet”

          But most Primal people do eat a plant based diet. For example, my lunch today was 5 oz fat steak and 9 oz(!) mixed salad with arugula, baby spinach, romaine lettuce, watercress, oak leaf lettuce, edible radish flowers,cucumber, radish, cherry tomatoes. 1 tablespoon butter on the steak and 1 tablespoon olive oil dressing on the salad. So I ate nearly 2x as much plants as steak. ;)

          greensleeves wrote on June 10th, 2014
        • I have the same problem with “Bone Broth” – why not just call it what it has been called forever- stock, which I have been making “forever”. I guess it’s for the same reason sales people are called “associates” and customers are called “guests”. I agree “plant-based diet” sounds silly. After all the grass-fed beef we ate last night had a “plant based” diet, so therefor, based on this kind of thinking , we have a plant based diet, too.

          Leslie wrote on June 10th, 2014
        • I just ate my first steak in about seven months last night (staying with family for a while) after chugging the beer it was marinated in. I woke up and the coffee was already made. Cue chorus of angels.

          Animanarchy wrote on June 23rd, 2014
    • I’ve already seen those articles on saving too much for retirement. Made me laugh and cry at the same time.

      Sara wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • Well said, Insanity.

      I think an important point of Mark’s piece is that following the Primal way of eating is not a one size fits all approach. Each of us always has to keep in mind what we already know about our body and our history and adjust accordingly along the way. Mainstream press is often supported by companies with agendas – Huff Post is very much mainstream and full of contradictions.

      bryan wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • Great comment x

      Maggie wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • You may have left out: Three, to offer the truth about it ultimately upsets the larger economic construct – an activity that would eventually lead to loss of sponsors and eventual demise of HP. We’re all in the status quo together, willingly or not.

      zDavid wrote on June 10th, 2014
    • I agree totally. If nothing else, we should at least show control over our bodies and what we put in it. Processed anything is definitely not the way to go. Natural foods nourish our bodies. Chemicals destroy it. Pretty simple.

      Christina wrote on June 11th, 2014
  5. Thanks, Mark. My diabetes was well controlled by Metformin for seven years. In the last few months, my glucose has gotten out of control, despite my eating low but not very low carb (a bit under 50 grams/day). Many helpful carb lovers in the forum have insisted that eating MORE carbs. But the relation between my carb intake and glucose level seems to be linear. No, I don’t need more carbs.

    Harry Mossman wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • I am with you there, I eat to my meter, and my meter says very few carbs and lots of fat. No dairy at all except for butter. I find even protein can tend to set me off. Which I have been experimenting with that also, and I find that lamb treats me better than beef or chicken. I am not sure what the difference is there but my blood sugar is lower if I use lamb as my protein source instead of beef and chicken. Has anyone else seen this?

      rdzins wrote on June 9th, 2014
      • I eat quite a bit of fat. Maybe too much. I still have fat to burn off. I eat butter, plain yogurt, sour cream and cream. With a British/Irish ancestry, they don’t seem to bother me.

        I have never gotten into eating lamb or veal. As a former vegan, it was hard enough to start eating other meats. However, I am now eating grass-fed/mother’s milk veal liver (Strauss).

        I cheated over the weekend. Saturday was my grandson’s birthday party. I ate lots of rice noodles. Yesterday, I went to a BBQ and had corn chips and potato salad. Glucose extra high today.

        Harry Mossman wrote on June 9th, 2014
        • Yea all it takes for me is one cheat, it takes hours for mine to come down. When I cut the dairy it really dropped. I guess it is not for me, To bad because I loved the plain yogurt and cheese, cream all of it, but it made such a huge difference in my glucose and I have lost over 30 pounds in just about 3 months, it came off fast.

          I wish I could tolerate it. That is the only thing that I really changed and I was really reluctant for years to do it even though my weight was slowly creeping up with my blood sugars and I had no idea why since I have not eaten sweets or grains for years.

          I think for me dairy spikes my insulin.

          If you are not used to eating something it takes time to adjust to that, you being a vegan that would be hard to start eating meat again. I grew up raising sheep so lamb was something that we had. It is now actually pretty really difficult to find and when you do find it you pay for it. It seems like the only foods that are offered are the ones that are conventionally raises like chicken, beef or pork.

          Many people think it is weird when I mention lamb and ask how can I eat something like that.

          rdzins wrote on June 9th, 2014
        • rdzins. Lamb usually has much more fat than other cuts of meat. I eat lamb ribs all the time and they are about 50% fat. That’s probably why your blood sugar is lower.

          Nocona wrote on June 9th, 2014
        • Oh, and I eat cheese. All the dairy is local, grass-fed except the cheese, which is New Zealand cheese I get from Trader Joe’s. I guess I should try cutting back dairy. I don’t think I am willing to give it up even if that means going on another diabetes med. I mean, wtf am I supposed to eat? No, I am not going strict paleo. Period.

          Harry Mossman wrote on June 9th, 2014
        • Harry, I feel your pain. I’m not diabetic, but am doing the Seyfried protocol for tumor suppression (low protein, very high fat, 12 grams of carb per day). Even using metformin, my glucose levels shoot right up with the tiniest amount of carbohydrate. I don’t eat grains, starchy vegetables, beans or fruit AT ALL. I do have a half glass of wine twice a week, and eat little bits of 90% cocoa chocolate (my only sugar). If I have a full glass of wine my glucose is up for the whole next day.

          It’s been an education for me – I started this 18 months after going primal, am six months into it, and can’t believe how insulin resistant I still am. On the plus side, I lost another 20 pounds (after losing 15 pounds going primal) and the tumors aren’t growing. It turns out that not dying provides excellent incentive to eat this way.

          Still, my glucose numbers need to get better. This summer I’m going to do a series of ten two-week experiments to see what factors affect my blood glucose most (food stuff like dairy and alcohol, but also things like sun exposure and exercise). Maybe you could try something similar. I know it’s incredibly frustrating to work so hard on your diet and still see crappy blood glucose numbers.

          Allison wrote on June 9th, 2014
        • You have just become physiologically insulin resistance.

          Just increase your carbs, to about 150gr for several days, and then re-check your glucose response again;:

          http://ketopia.com/physiological-insulin-resistance/

          Markus wrote on June 10th, 2014
        • Thanks, Allison. Good luck! I think cutting back on dairy is the key for me – cutting back, not out. My glucose had been good until earlier this year. Then my doc and urologist said to cut out all high oxalate foods. Uh, there went almost all of the healthy plant foods, coffee, black pepper, the list goes on and on.

          Then a nephrologist said to just get calcium *at the same time* as oxalates. He said to take a Tums, which I wasn’t going to do. I wanted natural calcium, not a pill. So I started putting half-and-half in my coffee and eating some dairy with lots of my food.

          I think if I cut back on dairy I should be OK. Maybe I’ll take a good quality calcium tab with some food. As I said, I’m not eliminating dairy (from cows.) Period.

          @rdzins and nocona: We can get good lamb here. There are ethical ranchers here. The meat is available at the co-op and other places. I know that lamb is pretty much always 100% grass-fed. Not sure I will ever eat it though.

          Harry Mossman wrote on June 10th, 2014
      • Ruminant meat is the difference here–sheep eat grass, and not much else.. We’re starting to find that cheese can cause as much as a +35 rise, so we’re going to experiment with goat and sheep cheese to see if the same thing happens–if it does, it’s goodbye, cheese!

        Wenchypoo wrote on June 10th, 2014
  6. Glad I got rid of my baggie full of crushed rice cakes and filled it with macadamia nuts and coconut flakes.

    Nocona wrote on June 9th, 2014
  7. I have a dyslexic friend who says he’s on a low-crab diet…:)

    Wenchypoo wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • Dyslexics of the world untie!

      Tom B-D wrote on June 9th, 2014
      • Bahahahaha!!!!!

        casey wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • I have a dyslexic friend who is looking for signs he should eat more crabs.

      Chyrhopyro wrote on June 9th, 2014
      • In fact, some dyslexics have reported going so low crab that they saw “Dog”

        Mark Sisson wrote on June 9th, 2014
        • Downward facing?

          Nocona wrote on June 9th, 2014
        • Some get down on their knees and rape two Dog before they fall asleep.

          Animanarchy wrote on June 23rd, 2014
  8. (Hobby) farming season has started up again, and I find myself eating more carbs now. (If I don’t eat enough of them, I find myself coming home from my year-round job very “disinclined” to go outside and work.) Yet, I’ve still dropped five pounds this Spring. Chopping wood, digging post holes, etc., will do that for ya. :D

    Rick wrote on June 9th, 2014
  9. The article caught my eye because while I have been primal for at least two years my mood has been shaky. Of course my wife and I just had a baby on January 30th. In addition, we have a two and four year old. Sleep has been an issue.

    When I do get adequate sleep I feel great. Excess carbs just aren’t necessary.

    C L Deards wrote on June 9th, 2014
  10. of course everyone should eat more crabs! they’re delicious!

    err….wait…

    mihir wrote on June 9th, 2014
  11. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that Mark’s carbohydrate curve is valid, and that a person is in bodyweight equilibrium for their level of calorie consumption and activity. For carbs, let’s say they consume 100 gms per day. Now suppose that person cuts, for religious reasons, their carb intake to 50 gms/day. And suppose that they make up the 200 calorie difference with protein/fat. Is it likely that person would experience none of the effects listed in the HuffPo article? Might they go into ketosis, for example, and get ketones on their breath?

    Rick wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • Jimmy Moore might be a good one to ask this.

      Wenchypoo wrote on June 10th, 2014
  12. It completely amazes me how much confusion, misconception, and obessesion surrounds “carbs” in society. As long as that continues to go on, these overly simplistic, misguided articles that are meant to stir up controversy and tell (some) people what they want to hear will continue to circulate. And people will keep taking them as blunt face value fact.

    Mark, I give you a lot of credit for having the patience to continue dissecting and exposing these types of articles systematically. These things can be really frustrating for me.

    Michele wrote on June 9th, 2014
  13. What does the vegan zombie eat? GRAAAAAIIIIINS GRAAAAAIIIIIINS

    Milan wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • ROFLMAO (as a long-ago-reformed vegan, I find that especially hilarious ….

      linda wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • What does a gymrat zombie want? Gaaaiiins!

      cndnrose wrote on June 9th, 2014
      • They also want this:

        CUUUUUURLS, CUUUUUUUURLS, MO CUUUURLS

        (especially with the bar in the squat rack)

        wildgrok wrote on June 11th, 2014
  14. Just wait, HuffPo will probably contradict itself and feature an article on “Signs You Need to Stop Eating Carbs” (or maybe crabs)

    Stephen wrote on June 9th, 2014
  15. Hi there – So are you saying ALL carbs are unnessary? Or just refined carbs? Given there are carbs in unrefined foods, I think they must be there for a reason. The body needs a balance of both. When I eat say meat and salad, I am hungry 2 hours later ,if not before. I add oil, doesn’t help. What i have tended to notice with paleo, is that people tend to be VERY high protein, and very low fruit and veg. Too much meat is not a good thing either. Even though bacon is very nice. :) Personally, I tend to go with is it healthy, rather than ‘the diet says’. I am not overweight, it is not an issue I have to deal with. However I am intolerant to sugar and wheat, so the paleo recipes are great. Without carbs, I would become invisible I think :) You guys prob know far more than I around carbs etc, but it just seems from an onlookers perspective, that people can’t seem to find a balance in any diet. They invariably go off it, and all the weight goes back on again. If that is what they are dieting for. Most have issues around self control ( or lack of it) when it comes to eating, myself included at times. Should the emphasis not be on healthy eating rather than cutting out carbs?

    tracy wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • There are no carb (amount) restrictions in Paleo per say. It’s about the type of carbs. Someone who works out hard and has no metabolic issues can easily eat more sweet potatoes (and will probably feel great doing it) than someone who already has diabetes and doesn’t exercise. What is restricted is the type. Grains and sugar are a non-no. The reason we are mocking the article is that it’s a straw man argument. There is no danger to the general public regarding too little carbs. It simply doesn’t exist. And the worst side affects of this imaginary threat is maybe bad breath and irritability. The cure is eating few sweet potatoes. No biggie.

      However, the risks of excessive refined carbs is diabetes and heart disease. Really serious stuff that is hard to reverse.

      It would be like warning a nation of cocaine users not to drink too much green tea because the caffeine may make you jittery. A serious mix-up of priorities and total failure to accurately judge risk factors and probabilities.

      Clay wrote on June 9th, 2014
      • ok that makes sense ( says me eating my carb breakfast of rolled oats :) I look forward to learning more :)

        tracy wrote on June 10th, 2014
    • The disconnect arises because when some people refer to “carbs” they are talking exclusively about sugar and refined grain products. Other people think that only sweets, pasta and pizza are carbs. In fact, fruit and veggies are also carbs, but this nugget tends to get lost amid all the confusion. (Hey, it’s confusing to even write about it.)

      I think it’s fairly safe to say that someone who claims to have “eliminated all carbs” is eating more than just fat and protein. It’s more likely a case that most people don’t understand what a carb is or isn’t. Maybe the term “plant-based diet” came about to help distinguish between good carbs and bad ones since most Paleo types do eat a lot of plants. Perhaps Mark could do a tutorial article on carbs and eliminate the confusion–if he hasn’t already done so.

      Shary wrote on June 10th, 2014
  16. OT:

    A new study says that *fasting* can help our bodies generate an entirely new immune system:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/10878625/Fasting-for-three-days-can-regenerate-entire-immune-system-study-finds.html

    William in OC wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • Great clueless quote from a doctor in that article:

      “But I think the most sensible way forward would be to synthesize this effect with drugs. I am not sure fasting is the best idea. People are better eating on a regular basis.”

      Yep, drugs are waaaay safer than letting nature do the same thing.

      Clay wrote on June 9th, 2014
  17. I suspect it’s a deliberate strategy on the part of the food industry to keep the population confused with contradictory messages, so most people will just go with what they think tastes good ie sugar and grains.

    Korree wrote on June 9th, 2014
  18. I will personally never go again very low carb. I was Primal for months, then I went Paleo-keto and all hell broke loose. My thyroid got tanked, my adrenals too. I was cold in the summer and TWO years afterwards now, I haven’t managed to get my adrenals back in order. I still feel extremely tired all the time.

    Please understand that when that happened, I was already fat-adapted, doing Primal for many months already, at around 100 gr of net carbs per day. But when I went down to 40 gr, my body simply broke.

    These days, I do anywhere between 80 and 150 gr of net carbs per day, which is probably still considered somewhat low carb. But I will never go very low carb/keto again as long as I live.

    Other similar stories from other women can be found online too. In my opinion, women need more carbs than men. I know that many men can do well in keto, but I think women don’t.

    Eugenia wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • Judging from every woman I have ever met, women are happiest with more carbs then men. Put a steak and a bagel with cream cheese on the table and ask men and women to choose. Overwhelmingly the women with choose the bagel, men the steak (and I say this as a vegetarian who hasn’t eating meat in 28 years…so I have no skin in the game on this one). Of course, readers of this blog don’t count, we’re talking a global representation of non diet-specif people. Women will grab the barbs, men the protein.

      Clay wrote on June 9th, 2014
      • I live in the alternate universe, my “men” will choose the carb every time, unless they see me frown and then maybe the meat. However, they may not get a chance to have more than a bite of it since I’ve already put it on my plate anyway (muwahahahahaha). However, I am a reader of this blog so this doesn’t really count. In my defense, I have always prefered non-grain type foods – veggies and meats, BUTTER and fresh water, even before becoming a “reader of this blog” type of person. I stumbled onto this site because my chiropractor said that my food choices sounded like “paleo” so a few google searches for recipies later here I am. I’m not at all a “barb” grabber.
        And I liked your comment under tracy’s comment…. if you are that Clay.

        2Rae wrote on June 9th, 2014
        • I, too, have always preferred non-grain foods. Going Paleo was a natural fit for me. I simply upped the protein and fat a bit and dumped the sweets and what few grain products I ate. I got a little too carried away at first. I was eating a lot of fatty protein but mostly low-glycemic veggies and very little fruit, and I was getting too thin. I have since added more in the way of starchy veggies and a little rice now and then to maintain a healthy weight.

          Shary wrote on June 10th, 2014
    • Eugenia, I agree that women need more carbs than men. I was low carb (no sweet potato or white potato, just colourful vegies) for over 6 months, but the ‘spaciness’ in my head, and occasional balance issues gradually became worse. I now eat sweet potato most days, white potato after exercise, and occasional fruit. Without these carbs, on top of salad for lunch and vegies for dinner, the funny head feelings come back. I also eat natural, full fat yoghurt most days. My husband manages on lower carbs than me.

      If you read Stephanie Ruper’s blog, there is plenty of evidence from her and others about the different requirements of women on a Primal/Paleo way of eating. Good luck with your healing journey.

      Debbie wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • Well not only women. I´m a male and I shot my metabolism too. I became depressed and anxious since going low carb Paleo. Went back to eating what i craved which was loads of carbs and felt like myself again. I´m doing lots of sports – maybe that was the problem with going low carb

      Markus wrote on June 10th, 2014
    • Here’s one woman who does great very-low carb, and gets migraines, acne etc with more carbs. Some PEOPLE do better or worse with more or less carbs. Please don’t add to the pile of stupid gender stereotypes.

      Sofie wrote on June 10th, 2014
      • I wouldn’t say it’s a stupid gender stereo type, it’s just a observation that hold pretty true. It’s also backed by some of the latest science. It’s not a stereotype to say women have better peripheral vision and men have better tunnel vision any more than to say women are generally shorty than men. There are differences. In the case of vision, it turns out that women really are better, literally, at “seeing the big picture” while men are better at single subject focus. I think most of us are sophisticated enough to understand observable generalities while not believing that biology is destiny. We’re all different, but taken as whole there are differences. To pretend it doesn’t exist doesn’t help us discuss the matter as it’s a stepping stone to understanding.

        I remember learning in my 30′s that I’ve had night terrors my whole life and it was a real thing. I wasn’t imaging it. I found out about it by reading an article about the symptoms and the causes and suddenly it became clear as to what I was going through. I’m glad someone decided to write that article making general assumptions about what night terrors feel like, even though how they are expressed varies from person to person.

        Clay wrote on June 10th, 2014
        • And by “night terrors” I mean sleep paralysis. It doesn’t scare me anymore but it’s hella’ annoying to suffer through it. If there is someone in the room I can ask them to rock me to break the paralysis, if I’m alone I just need to ride it out.

          Clay wrote on June 10th, 2014
        • The secret to night terrors is to relax funnily enough. The more you fight it the worse they are. By relaxing the parts of the brain that have not ‘woken up’ will come right quicker. Horrible, horrible thing to endure. Stress is another factor in it also, like it seems to be in everything. But you probs know all this. Feel for you. :(

          tracy wrote on June 10th, 2014
        • Once as a kid I woke up lying on my back but I was still dreaming while seeing what was there, so basically I was hallucinating. What I hallucinated were giant spiders lowering themselves from their web on the ceiling toward my face. I couldn’t move. It was terrifying until I suddenly became totally awake.
          Another time I woke up and rolled onto my back but had been sleeping on both arms and when I rolled my hands both landed on my throat like I was trying to strangle myself and since they were too numb to feel for a moment I actually panicked and thought I was being strangled.

          Animanarchy wrote on June 23rd, 2014
    • yes I agree with you. I need a certain amount or I feel hungry and weak.

      tracy wrote on June 10th, 2014
    • Glad you mentioned that, Eugenia. Same thing happened to me. Adrenals are a very difficult (and SLOW!) thing to repair. Not fun.

      Hallations wrote on June 12th, 2014
  19. I’ve just increased my intake of carbs to about 150g: per day using sweet potato, potatoes & white rice, after 12 months of low carb & I feel much better, my memory & brain fog is improving & I’m putting on some good muscle too. Low carb is not for everyone.

    Terry Newton wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • The trouble with very low-carb is that it’s automatically low-calorie as well. Some low-carbers (but not all) simply don’t get enough caloric sustenance to maintain their body in good functioning condition. I ran into this problem early on after going Paleo. I started losing too much weight and was not feeling very well. An astute family member said, “No wonder you don’t feel good. You’re starving yourself.” I took stock and realized he was right. I am one of those women who does need more carbs for optimal functioning.

      Shary wrote on June 10th, 2014
  20. The key to the brain fog and lack of clarity is to increase your sodium intake. When one goes on a low carb diet the body flushes itself and water weight and sodium. Increase it and problem solved.of

    Primal Soldier wrote on June 9th, 2014
    • I also got dizzy and light headed going low carb and my bullion cubes definitely helped. My problem(once again dizziness) came with high intensity strength exercise such as squats or dead lifts so I ended up going off keto and upping my carbs. Was I doing something wrong and are there perhaps other minerals I should replenish with keto combined with high intensity workouts?

      victor wrote on June 11th, 2014
      • Um, yes. The glycogen stores in your muscles are there spefically for use during high intensity exercise. While gluconeogenesis can convert protein into up to ~100g of glocose per day, it is fastest and easiest to replace the carbs with carbs and let the protein remain protein.

        Bill C wrote on June 11th, 2014
  21. These points are all valid, THE FIRST WEEK (OK maybe month for some) of switching to Paleo/Primal! And that’s why most people give up soon. They all go away after sticking with it for a while, depending on the person.

    Personally I experienced all of them during the first couple of weeks or so, but it was definitely worth it now that I’m almost 2 years in! Never going back!

    Theodora wrote on June 9th, 2014
  22. mood!! i have begun having a normal life since being low carber, my mood has stabilized and i feel well. every time i slip into the crap cravings i need to start again because i get on the verge of depression, especially if this carbs contain gluten. but nutella and ice cream do a good job too

    paleozeta wrote on June 10th, 2014
  23. The feeling fuzzy comment confirmed what I have been wondering all along.
    When I eat a primal diet consisting of only fat and proteine I experience dizzyness and a complete out-of-it feeling after an hour or so… this doesn’t happen when I eat carbs with breakfast.
    My only challange is to add primal approved carbs into my diet. I want to avoid wheats at all costs. For now I’m eating home-made rice cookies (just baked eggs and rice) and bacon for breakfast but I would prefer to cut out the rice as well

    Marielle wrote on June 10th, 2014
  24. Dr. Jeff Volek has some great stuff on low-carb athletic performance, specifically in endurance athletes. Should be a helpful resource for that new book that I can’t wait for!

    EK wrote on June 10th, 2014
  25. When I follow a primal diet, without slipping too much (alcohol, sweets, bred) my body knows exactly what and when to eat. So the question of how much carbs I need is nothing that bothers me much. It seems to be in my genes. Only when I confuse my taste buds with non-primal foods I get lost. When I’m eating primal, I know when it’s time for carbs (fruit and potatoe in my case) and how much meat, veggies and fat I need. I have also noticed that if I slip, my body can deal better with sugar than with grains. But I have to make sure that I reduce these incidents to a minimum, or else I react like an addict and lose every sense for what is good for me.

    Margit wrote on June 10th, 2014
  26. This article does not mention the real signs of too low carb. I think Paul Jaminet covers this well here: http://perfecthealthdiet.com/category/zero-carb-dangers/
    When I started paleo I ate for 6 months no starchy vegetables at all. I ate lots (10-12 cups a day) of non-starchy vegs and some days a cup or two of berries. I experienced a few things: dry eyes, dry mouth and dizziness when getting up. I could turn the dry eyes on or off just by eating the berries or not that day. Since then, I introduced a bit of starch: plantains, cassava, sometimes rice and the symptoms are gone. I agree with Jaminet that you should not count non-starchy vegs as carbs. Most of them are consumed for digesting the vegs.

    Teo wrote on June 10th, 2014
  27. Hi mark, great blog post as ever,

    dr.peter attia has done some research on ketogenic endurance training etc over at the eatingacademy.com, might be worth a read if your interested in that area.

    steve w wrote on June 10th, 2014
  28. Interesting comments about the difference between the sexes.

    My wife is quite happy to reduce the carbs, but less inclined to compensate with increased saturated fats. Still removes the skin/fat from chicken and bacon and grills rather than fries (in butter/olive oil) lots of food. Is this common?

    Could this be part of the reason why some women are suffering from the tiredness and fuzziness?

    Dec O wrote on June 10th, 2014
  29. I realize “bad” is very subjective, but just how “bad” should one expect to feel when starting out with low carb? I am at a healthy weight and I exercise regularly. I went grain free for a week and felt absolutely awful. Literally falling down dizzy and, somewhat bizzarely to me, I experienced intense sadness (??). I kept my caloric intake the same as usual and ate additional fats to replenish the cals I took out by removing grains. (Note, “additional” is key here; I’ve never been fat phobic and ate plenty of fat before-it was just that I needed even more beyond that to make up for lost calories that previously went to grains). Recap, calories constant, fats increased, felt like utter feces. Please advise, anyone and everyone. Thank you very much.

    J wrote on June 10th, 2014
    • Always keep in mind that “Paleo” is a social construct. It doesn’t really exist. It has certain agreed upon principals (no junk and fake foods for example) but the details are subjective and results vary from person to person. If the industrial food complex never existed, if we never learned to refine sugar, if we never invented soda, candy, breakfast cereals, etc, this blog wouldn’t exist. The construct of paleo exists because it has a perverted food paradigm to work against. If we all ate whole natural foods, and processed food didn’t exist, we would simply just be living our lives. There would be no definition for it.There’s an exercise and fitness industry because our modern industrialized society has eliminated most of our natural day to day activities. So we find replacements to keep us healthy and from going crazy. Gyms were invented because we needed to simulate what was removed (physical activity, play, danger, hunting, gathering, etc) Aboriginal cultures don’t work on their abs doing planks. Their whole life is an ab workout. Paleo exists for the same reason, to present an alternative thesis for living. What you do with it is up to you.

      So if eliminated all grains makes you feel terrible (give it a least a couple of weeks to get used to it first, just to eliminate a false positive) then pick some grains that make you feel good and eat them. There are no Paleo police to write you a ticket. You’re not going to lose any status as a human being. Who cares what Mark says? His basic premise is try this, and the modify to suit your needs. See how you feel. Listen to your body. That’s why I enjoy MDA. It accurately reflects how individual we all are and embraces the idea that this is a “work in progress”.

      Clay wrote on June 10th, 2014
      • I agree 100 percent regarding MDA and understand this to be one of the more flexible sites not set in dogma. Mark simply wants people to life long and strong and can care less if his opinions might evolve cause hey, we’re all “a work in progress”.

        victor wrote on June 11th, 2014
    • There is the so-called “Induction flu” when you suddenly shift to ketogenic low carb, you know. I thought I was gonna die 5 days into it. I went off entirely and later when I did it again, it wasn’t so bad. GIGO and all, I think the body first dumps the fat cells with the most toxic ingredients to get rid of them and so all the sudden tons of crap is in the bloodstream. This may not be how it truly works, I just assumed. Read a book like ‘the protein power life plan’ for details.

      PJ (RightNOW) wrote on June 10th, 2014
  30. It is rare that I disagree with an article on MDA but I believe it is true that some people need to increase their carb intake in order to be happy, healthy, and energetic.

    Go to forums like PaleoHacks.com and you’ll find a lot of people who went low carb and did worse and corrected their problems by increasing carbs. Not radically, and not with bad carbs, but they had more and it was better.

    I personally went very low carb initially and it was great for about 5-6 weeks and then I hit the wall. I was miserable all the time, my digestive issues came back, and my workouts suffered. The workouts especially were miserable and I was constantly craving carbs morning, afternoon and night. Finally I gave into it, made sure they were pretty good carbs (sweet potato, plantains, root veg, occasional rice or white potato) and I felt a LOT better. I did gain a little weight and girth (but still way down from my peaks) but felt so much better that I was sure it was overall healthier.

    Unfortunately I read this article on MDA as Mark simply being in denial about a bunch of perfectly good reasons to moderately increase carb intake. The increase can be moderate, say 50-100g per day, and they can be high quality nutritious carbs, but the increase can help a lot. I am sure there were many Paleo cultures that were successful eating a more-than-low-carb diet.

    Uncle Long Hair wrote on June 10th, 2014
  31. I never quite understood why some people try to live very low carb, at least MDA doesn’t advice in this direction. If you want to loose weight, you can experiment with it, but you didn’t put the weight on over night, so it doesn’t make sense to be so radical as to avoid carbs as much as possible. To me it would make sense to reduce carbs little by little, or to make alternative days. Carb-phobia is just as bad as fat-phobia. If you avoid grains, legumes, refined sugar, alcohol and probably milk (fine for me) you can stop being restrictive to yourself and eat how you feel like. Your body will start asking for the right foods if you give it a chance just by eliminating the bad ones. You don’t feel fine with fruit restriction? Then make a fruit day once in a while or just eat more of it and see if your body stops asking. I don’t understand why some people choose to live in a food prison and force themselves into a structure that doesn’t fit them.

    Margit wrote on June 11th, 2014
    • “Food prison”? Oh well, I lost 30+ pounds in that “prison” and felt great! Funny thing is that it never felt like a prison to me but I did go off my ketogenic diet because I realized my goal in three months. Your advise is sound for a metabolicly fit person but when one becomes insensitive to glucose(our country is 30 percent obese and growing) going low carb could get a person out of an “obesity prison” .

      victor wrote on June 11th, 2014
  32. At first glance I misread this as “Signs You Should Eat More Crabs.” I was all “hell YEEAHH!”

    I love crab.

    Violette wrote on June 11th, 2014
  33. I am a type O+ blood. I don’t eat a lot of carbs simply because they don’t make me feel great. I’m talking good carbs, not donuts, etc. I do better with protein and raw veggies. Funny thing is, despite my blood type, I only eat seafood, fish, eggs, and some chicken (but only if I’ve prepared it). I haven’t done any type of other meat since I was about 8 years old. Too much of an animal lover. :)

    Holly wrote on June 11th, 2014
  34. For me low carb (approx 100g a day, sometimes less) works very well. I eat lots of fat. Maybe in the future when I decide to lose some more weight I may reduce the fat, but I feel well with my current weight (hovers around 183 lbs) for my height (5 feet 11 inches and a half). Long live the bacon, butter, coconut oil and lard!

    wildgrok wrote on June 11th, 2014
  35. Bruce Lee summed it up in one sentence “I try and avoid eating empty carbs” – he said that back in 1970.

    Empty carbs to him was things like flour, biscuits, etc, he liked Chinese food “because its really great”

    Based on this idea, I keep a notional “carb budget” and try and spend it well…

    Storm wrote on June 11th, 2014
  36. I recently subscribed to this site because it looks quite interesting. However after reading some articles I can see some overlapping articles like this article which is stating to eat more carbs and then I receive (Lesson #3: Why Eating Animals Makes Everything Easier) saying ‘But if you remain entrenched in the Carb Paradigm, your body never gets the message to start accessing body fat for energy…..’

    Not really sure which way should I be heading !

    Mark wrote on June 12th, 2014
    • Hi
      Don’t get confused by postings and opinions including mine here :-).
      It is not complicated: once you train your body to use fat as primary fuel (“become keto adapted”) is when the magic happens. And to do that reduce the daily consumption of carbs: the less the better.
      There you go

      wildgrok wrote on June 12th, 2014
  37. What about the ammonia sweat smell? I Google it (which doesn’t mean anything I read was true) but 2 or 3 sources say the smell was from muscle breakdown due to lack of carbs. I also read it could be due to too much of a caloric deficit. Just wondering if anyone else has ever smelled this or knows what could cause this?

    Justin Smith wrote on June 12th, 2014
  38. I love this discussion thread. So many fantastic views and insight. I have now confirmed that my brain fog, dizziness and jittery feelings are probably adrenal fatigue. I think the interesting thing for women is our hormones drive so much change each month and we need to cycle in and out of supporting these swings. Oestrogen drives enormous and powerful changes in our bodies and we need to nourish ourselves accordingly. Perhaps the key for women ( without over-simplifying it) is to be in tune to our cycle and adjust carb-fat-protein balance accordingly. Men probably find it easier to balance sugars with diet because they don’t have a reproductive party happening each month. Thoughts?

    Sarah T wrote on June 13th, 2014
  39. Why would my gut flora need more carbs but I don’t necessarily need to eat them?

    Laura wrote on June 15th, 2014
  40. Might not be right for everybody but it brought me back from the edge of death. 400+ LBS and CFH the whole 9 yards many years ago and going strong.

    Groktimus Primal wrote on June 11th, 2014

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