Want to lose weight? STOP eating carbs. Sounds familiar? Of Course, it does.
The funny thing that runs in the fitness industry is that certain 'gurus' or 'experts' thrive on spreading misinformation and fear-mongering.
The reasons behind it may be plenty, like a quick shot to fame, or to give magical results, or to have found a secret trick which nobody ever knew of.
The so-called fitness experts who thrive on the fear mongering stop at nothing, just to prove a point.
Lately, the beloved macronutrient carbohydrate or 'carbs' have been at the receiving end of this fear mongering. They have suddenly become the root of everything evil in the world. Ranging from obesity to cancer, anything that can kill you stems from carbs.
Leaving medical issues aside, let's talk about obesity. When it comes to obesity and fat loss particularly, low carb-ers blame insulin as be the main culprit and ALWAYS point to the 'carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis’ to validate their argument.
If you have fallen for this earlier, you are at the right place. If you have not fallen for this baseless theory yet, you have a valid argument next time when a pseudo-expert pulls this rabbit out of his hat.
Let's have a look at what is insulin before we try and understand what carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis is.
Carbohydrates, when eaten is broken down into glucose which then enters your bloodstream. This rise in your blood glucose levels is sensed by an organ called the pancreas. On detection, pancreas secrete a hormone called insulin.
Insulin then acts as a gatekeeper and shuttles the glucose to your liver, the muscle tissue and the fat cells from the blood. This is done to get the blood glucose levels back to normal.
When insulin is spiked, body's fat burning ability goes down and in promotes storage or you can say, the 'storage mode' is turned on. Subsequently, when the blood sugar levels go down, insulin levels drop simultaneously.
These elevations and decline of insulin levels happen every time you eat a meal.
Now that we know what insulin is, let’s look at the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis and understand the fallacy.
The hypothesis: A high carbohydrate meal/diet results in higher insulin levels through the day which results in increased fat storage because of decreased lipolysis (fat burning). This is what makes you fat.
This is the logic which means the end of the world for the low carb/ketogenic communities to validate their arguments, and according to them, a low carbohydrate diet will secrete less insulin which will lead to reduced lipogenesis (fat storage) i.e decreased body fat.
If only it worked that way…
The fallacy of this logic is that even dietary protein increases insulin secretion. In fact, some studies have shown that protein can spike insulin even more than simple carbohydrates, especially dairy protein (due to their higher leucine concentration). So following this hypothesis protein should be fattening as well, well this can be true but only when you are consuming a very high amount of calories.
Fun fact is that your body does not need elevated insulin levels to store fat. Insulin has the effect of suppressing Hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL), which means that the body is unable to burn body fat.
However, dietary fat also suppresses HSL, even when the insulin levels are ‘low.’
Let’s try to understand how insulin works with a simplified infographic and an explanation:
Essentially, insulin acts as the 'signal' to store the incoming energy. Think of it as cars arriving at a parking lot to be parked, with the cars representing the incoming and outgoing energy i.e food (calories) which can be stored as fat, and the valets/drivers representing insulin.
Even if there are more valets present, the number of cars in the parking lot won't increase, unless the incoming cars are more than the cars leaving the parking lot.
In a similar way, if your maintenance is 2000 calories and you eat 1700 calories, then any given amount of insulin won't be able to increase the body's fat stores because there's no energy to store in the first place.
Calories in vs Calories out drives weight loss or gain fundamentally, not insulin.
The next time someone tries to breed fear by talking about the 'carb-insulin hypothesis', treat yourself to a piece of cake. Or show them a packet of sugar, they might run away.