Let’s start by defining the word propaganda. The dictionary defines propaganda in this way:
information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.
So let me tell you a story about carbs and exercise, and you can tell me if you think that we are being propagandized.
I am a weekend bike rider. I either ride alone or with my father-in-law (we try to ride every Sunday morning). My father-in-law and I ride at least 20 miles on any given Sunday, and have trained up to do longer rides, for example 150 miles along the C&O canal in a weekend.
So yesterday (Sunday), my father-in-law and I went for a ride. A year ago, I would have prepared for this ride by eating plenty of carbs the night before (for example, a pasta meal) – a mild form of carb loading. In the morning I would have eaten carbs for breakfast before the ride. Then I would have consumed sports drinks during the ride lest my carbs or electrolytes fall too low, and every hour or so through the ride I would have had some kind of snack, maybe 150 calories, all carbs. Had I not done this, my fear would have been that I would “run out of fuel”, especially if I am riding 50 or 70 miles in a day. Carbs are seen as the official fuel for muscles, and without them (we are taught) there are big problems.
Take this brochure as an example of the messages people receive. It is published by The American College of Sports Medicine (www.acsm.org), which seems like a reputable, reliable source of information:
Mixtures of water and carbohydrate, sports drinks make an excellent fueling and hydration choice. Years of research clearly shows that for exercise lasting anywhere from 60 minutes to several hours, drinking these carbohydrate beverages significantly boosts endurance performance compared to drinking plain water. According to some research, you can expect an improvement in endurance of about a 20 percent or more in workouts lasting over 90 minutes.
When we ride, my father-in-law and I typically ride for 2 to 4 hours. This clearly falls into the “exercise lasting anywhere from 60 minutes to several hours” category described in the brochure, and therefore I am interested in the part where it says that a sports drink “significantly boosts endurance performance “.
But as you know if you read these articles, I have been on a low-carb diet called the Dukan Diet for about a month and a half now. And this diet is leading me to believe that all of the messages around carbs are bunk. The reason is because on Saturday I ate approximately zero grams of carbs. It was a pure-protein day for me, meaning that I ate mostly chicken and fish all day. At the very most I took in 10 grams of carbs for the day (to put that in perspective, a single 12-ounce can of soda has about 40 grams or carbs, as does a single slice of pizza or a typical bowl of breakfast cereal (before adding the milk)). A “normal American” eating normally gets something like 300 grams of carbs or more a day (300 grams is the recommended daily intake). So a “normal American” is taking in 30 times more carbs per day than I did on Saturday, never mind someone who is carb loading.
So I got essentially no carbs the day before. On Sunday morning I had a glass of water and 4 ounces of fish for breakfast – again, zero carbs. And then we rode for two hours. On the ride I drank nothing but water and had no snack at all.
Based on what we are told about carbs, what do you expect would have happened to me on this two-hour ride? You would think I would have collapsed from “lack of fuel”, possibly gone into a coma. You would expect my muscles to cramp up, for me to be unable to complete the ride. Yet none of that happened. I rode at a good pace on a hilly course for two hours without any cramps nor any “loss of energy.” At the end of the ride I could have easily gone much further.
It is very bizarre. Based on my experiences since starting the low-carb Dukan Diet, I would say that everything we are told about carbs and exercise is at least highly exaggerated, possible completely bogus. Probably if I am competing at the level of a professional athlete like Michael Phelps (who consumes 12,000 calories a day) or Lance Armstrong the equation is different, but for any normal person doing normal exercise, my experience tells me that carbs are highly, highly over-hyped.
As I have learned more about this over the last several weeks, I have noticed something else. We see dozens of ads everyday telling us that carbs are harmless. We see ads for soda, candy bars, ice cream, cookies, potato chips, bread, breakfast cereals, donuts, etc., etc. Yet we know that Americans have a major weight problem and that diabetes and high blood pressure are rising. The whole diabetes epidemic is shocking:
The United States alone is spending something in excess of $100 billion per year treating this epidemic:
Researchers from the journal Diabetes Care published a paper recently http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/32/12/2225.full that projects that over the next 25 years, the number of Americans with diabetes will increase from 24 million to 44 million. During the same time period, annual spending related to diabetes is expected to increase from the current $113 billion to $336 billion (in constant $2007).
If we took these tens of millions of diabetic people and said to them, “no more carbs”, much of this problem would evaporate before our very eyes as they lost weight and reduced the blood sugar spikes that lead to diabetes. This article is telling: “‘Many people are essentially cured of their [type 2] diabetes by low-carbohydrate diets, but that message is not getting out,’ says low-carb proponent and biochemistry professor Richard Feinman, PhD, of the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.”
It really makes you wonder. There are approximately 100 million households in America. America is spending more than $100 billion treating diabetes, and the number is rising fast. That’s $1,000 per household! Imagine being able to largely eliminate this disease and its costs, not with medicine, not with dialysis (which is horrible), but simply by eliminating carb propaganda and getting people to stop eating carbs. The change would be amazing, because diabetes is a nasty disease (This page mentions: “In 2004, about 71,000 nontraumatic lower-limb amputations were performed in people with diabetes” and “Diabetic retinopathy causes 12,000 to 24,000 new cases of blindness each year”, among other complications.”). Getting a nationwide handle on this disease would radically improve life for tens of millions of people and save gigantic amounts of money. And it appears that much of it could be eliminated with simple dietary changes.