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Do you need to add carbs?

Carbs are the preferred fuel source of the body. If you have been living the low-carb lifestyle for a while and not seeing the results you are after, it may be time to consider adding some quality carbohydrate into your diet.

Sometimes people need quality carbs in their diet. These people tend to be women, but there are plenty of men who need carbs, too.

A keto diet is great in theory, and great for many people. But it does not work for everyone.

For example, a keto diet does not work for young women with normal insulin sensitivity. And it does not work for anyone with HPA axis dysfunction or (previously known as adrenal fatigue). Missing your gallbladder? Keto may not be the best diet for you, either, due to the high fat content of the food and lack of bile storage.

The keto diet was created for epilepsy patients as a way to help control seizures. It has been around for 100 years, but just recently is getting a lot of press.

HPA axis dysfunction

The HPA axis is your hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (or connection) within the body. HPA axis dysfunction is about the body’s stress response. It’s actually more about the nervous system than it is about the adrenal glands. Essentially, HPA axis dysfunction means the nervous system is over-stimulated, and it causes elevated cortisol and low blood sugar.

The HPA kind of “low blood sugar” is not a problem with insulin. Instead, it’s a problem with neurotransmitters and stress hormones. HPA dysfunction can also cause cortisol resistance which impairs serotonin production and leads to insulin resistance.

Other symptoms of HPA dysfunction can include include: anxiety, low or high blood pressure, dizziness, brain fog, insomnia, and autoimmune thyroid disease.

Beneficial carbs

Beneficial carbs are starchy foods that are not inflammatory. They include rice and potato and are glucose (not fructose) so they don’t contribute to metabolic disease the way high fructose drinks do. When combined with with protein and fat and vegetables, and eaten as part of a low-GI meal, beneficial carbs do not lead to insulin resistance.

In contrast, potentially low quality carbs such as gluten grains and high dose fructose (sugar) cause metabolic disease and inflammation. These carbs, generally, provide less fiber, as well. (Disclaimer: there are some gluten carbs that are very nutritious for some such as rye, barley, spelt, etc.)

Starch and the nervous system

Starch increases GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) because starch feeds the healthy intestinal bacteria, that produce GABA. (GABA is the lovely, calming neurotransmitter that we all need more of.) Carbohydrates can also improve the cortisol or stress response and increase tryptophan uptake, serotonin, and sleep.

The nervous system and weight loss

The autonomic nervous system or ANS is the part of our brain that regulates bodily functions behind the scenes and is not under our conscious control. It’s responsible for functions such as our heart rate, digestion, breathing, blood pressure, immune and hormonal functions.

The ANS has two divisions: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) our ‘fight or flight’ system and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) our ‘rest and digest’ system. The SNS’s main function is to prepare the body for stressful or emergency situations while the PNS’s main function is to maintain normal body functions during ordinary situations. While both of these systems should work in balance –the reality is that, for most of us, they don’t.

In reality, most people exist in a state of SNS dominance which means they’re constantly in the fight or flight response. This means most of us are spending less time in calming restorative states which ultimately leads to improved digestion and overall restfulness (PNS)– and more time in stressful states. One of the implications of this can be stagnated weight loss.

You've heard it before: chronic stress is directly correlated to obesity. It’s also one of the primary reasons why people struggle to lose weight. Acute stress–which can be characterized as the type of stress that we don’t exist in for long periods of time–like when we’re working out, can actually be healthy. But chronic or persistent stress is a different issue.

When we’re under prolonged stress we’re constantly pumping out the stress hormone adrenaline which historically prepared our bodies to fight or flee from attacks. The blood supply is shunted away from processes such as digestion to the muscles, limbs etc. This can affect our digestive systems in a variety of ways. It can cause our esophagus to go into spasms, increase the acid in our stomachs and cause indigestion.

Another implication of remaining in constant states of stress is that the body can begin to make another stress hormone called cortisol which breaks muscles down. Having less muscle subsequently slows down metabolism. Various studies, such as one conducted at Yale University, have found that people with high cortisol levels tend to put weight on around their mid-sections.

The takeaway

Not everyone should eat high carb. Most people simply need a moderate balance. Quality carbs don't give the body trouble. Low quality carbs, like refined flours and sugars cause the problems. Eating plenty of carbs in the form of produce, legumes and certain grains can help to maintain a healthy stress response and regulate hormone cycles. Many times, people on low carb diets aren't seeing results because of some magic formula. They are seeing the results because the are eschewing refined carbohydrate sources!

Kelly Sherman, MS, CPT, is a licensed holistic sports nutritionist specializing in athletes transitioning from high school athletics to college athletics. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and is degreed in exercise science as well as a certified personal trainer. With over 20 years of experience in the field, she combines the best of both nutrition and sports sciences to best help her clients reach their potential. To nourish is to flourish!

All content of this blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this blog.


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