Low Carb or Slow Carb?

I heard the term “Slow Carb” from Tim Ferriss in his book “The Four Hour Body”, and I got to thinking what a useful description it really is.

Because while  limiting the amount of carbohydrate in your diet always seems to engender controversy, there is no denying that building your carbohydrate consumption around “slow carbs” is the best way to control blood sugar/insulin output, and therefore positively affect your body composition (read: fat loss).

Good nutrition really is not opinion based, it is science based. It doesn’t necessarily mean that every person has to (or can) eat the same way and get the same results, but your body is designed to work in a certain way. Your body has very specific chemical reactions to not only how much you eat, but what you eat.

The aim of this article is to explain the science behind the “slow carb” recommendation.

Slow Carbs

Goal: Control Insulin Response and maintain insulin sensitivity by eating slow (read complex) carbs

Why? When glucose (sugar) from the breakdown of carbs enters the bloodstream, your pancreas secretes insulin, which allows this glucose to enter the cells in the form of glycogen. This is important to remember because unconverted glucose is toxic to the body. Once insulin is secreted, blood sugar levels go down and insulin production slows. Your body wants to maintain this even keel.

Unless: You don’t make enough insulin, as in Type 1 diabetes, or your body has become insulin resistant.

Insulin Resistance: Your liver and muscles cells only need so much glycogen (storage form of glucose from carbohydrate metabolism). When you eat more carbohydrates than the body needs, the pancreas keeps pumping insulin (just like it’s supposed to) but because you are already “filled up” those cells start to become resistant to the call of insulin. The insulin “receptor sites” on the cells start to decrease in efficiency as well as in number (Down Regulation). Double whammy! Now we have a real problem – there is still too much glucose in the blood stream, so the pancreas keeps pumping insulin, which still can’t get it into the liver and muscle cells. Voila  – the insulin shuttles the glucose into your fat cells, where it is stored as fat. That’s right, it’s not fat that gets stored in your fat cells, it’s carbohydrate!

A Vicious Cycle: As the process described above goes on over time, your pancreas eventually gets “overworked”. This is what causes Type 2 Diabetes, which can eventually lead to needing insulin therapy such as injections just to stay alive.

Not To Mention: High carb and fast carb dominant diets can also cause excess inflammation, keep your cells from absorbing amino acids from protein intake, keep the liver from converting thyroid hormones, and lead to plaque build up in the arteries. (This is by no means an exhaustive list, but you get the point – it’s not good!)

Good News: Insulin sensitivity can be improved with exercise! Who knew?

Your muscles burn your stored glycogen as fuel during and after your workout. These muscles need that glycogen back in the cells, and will “up regulate” your insulin receptors to make that happen. That is why exercise is so important for Type 2 diabetics and those who don’t want to be one.

Good nutrition plays a huge part as well. Choosing carbohydrates that digest slowly causes the whole process of glucose/insulin response to slow down, which helps maintain normal function. Unrefined carbohydrates have the added benefit of increased micronutrient (vitamins, mineral) absorption, greater fiber intake, and enhanced satiety. Examples: REAL Whole grains, non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus.

You control a lot more than you think you do.

Every time you put a bite of food in your mouth, there is a cascading reaction. It’s not just about being full, it’s about providing your body with what it needs. Disease is caused when we don’t give our body what it needs in the right amount. The human body is an amazing machine, capable of withstanding a tremendous amount of abuse, but eventually the system breaks down.

Running your body on refined carbohydrates (sugar, soda, cereal, bread, pasta) is just as bad as running on a broken leg, it isn’t as painful as fast, but it will catch up with you.

Treat yourself nicely – go slow carb starting today!

Make It Happen,


Dean Carlson is a Certified Professional Fitness Trainer with the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association, a Level 2 Youth Conditioning Specialist with the International Youth Conditioning Association and is a Level 1 Certified Precision Nutrition coach.

Dean was recognized in 2010 as Best Fitness Trainer in Concord by the Hippo Press and Best Fitness Trainer in the Capital Area by the Concord Insider.

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