The Inconvenient Truth About Carbohydrates. February 22, 2012.

The history of science is filled with brilliant discoveries that were not warmly welcomed. In fact, it’s almost a truism that it takes about 50 years before a revolutionary concept is truly accepted by the mainstream, particularly when that concept challenges prevailing dogma.

Take vitamin C and scurvy. Although the first documented experiment showing that fresh fruit or lemon juice could prevent scurvy took place in 1746, it wasn’t until 1795 (almost a half century later) that lemon juice was officially made part of the rations of the British navy. In our own times, Kilmer McCully, MD of Harvard University put forth the theory the revolutionary theory that homocysteine- a toxic inflammatory compound in the blood- predicts heart disease and stroke better than cholesterol does. McCully was lucky. He was only ostracized from the medical community for a mere 25 years. McCully is back at Harvard, his theory has been vindicated and homocysteine is now routinely measured in blood tests and accepted as the risk factor that it is.

Now the notion that carbohydrates are a major culprit in obesity may be turning the corner on its road to eventual vindication. Evidence continues to mount that Dr. Atkins was right when he suggested that carbohydrates – and the hormonal response to them – is a huge factor in weight gain. Yet the notion that carbs are linked to obesity continues to meet with almost religious resistance to this day.

Here’s how carbohydrates figure in the weight gain equation:  When you eat carbohydrates, your blood sugar goes up – sometimes very quickly (when you eat processed carbs, refined cereals, sugar, sodas and the like) sometimes much slower (when you eat, for example, beans or berries). When your blood sugar rises, the pancreas responds by secreting insulin, a hormone whose job it is to remove that sugar from the blood stream and take it into the muscle cells where it can be used for energy. The problem with eating a high-carb diet, especially combined with a sedentary lifestyle, is that both blood sugar and insulin become continually elevated past the point of good health. To make matters worse, the muscle cells aren’t interested in accepting that excess sugar because they’re not being asked to do anything but move keys on a computer and a remote control!

With nowhere else to go, Insulin, also known as the “fat storage” hormone, escorts the excess sugar from your bloodstream into your fat cells. And because high blood sugar has created a disproportionately high insulin response, all that insulin eventually causes blood sugar to drop way below the point where you’re feeling good. You experience cravings (for more carbs) mood swings, and low energy. You overeat. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The reason for the success of a low-carb program is that it gets people off this “blood sugar roller coaster”. By normalizing levels of both blood sugar and insulin, your energy levels are restored, your cravings diminish, you stop storing fat and you can begin actually losing weight. It is almost impossible to “burn” fat in the presence of high levels of insulin, one of the many reasons why a high-carbohydrate diet is so difficult for many people to lose weight on.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that carbs are always bad, nor that calories don’t count. But it is hard to ignore the evidence that some people are far more sensitive to this “roller coaster” effect than others, and that for these individuals a high-carb diet is precisely the wrong prescription for weight loss.

These days, one of the champions of the low-carb approach to weight loss and good health is Gary Taubes, an award winning science writer and a Harvard graduate who studied physics and aerospace engineering and holds a masters degree in journalism from Columbia. Taubes is an expert on scientific controversies (he previously chronicled “bad science” in a book on cold fusion), and has recently turned his laser-sharp focus to the “science” behind the high-carb, low-fat dogma of the last several decades in a ground-breaking book called “Good Calories Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control and Disease”. In over 500 pages, densely notated with hundreds of references on dietary research dating back to the 1800’s and continuing through the present, he documented how the medical community and the federal government have consistently misinterpreted scientific data allowing a bad hypothesis (“high-carb, low-fat diets keep you healthy and thin”) to turn into uncontested dogma. “Good Calories Bad Calories” (aptly titled “The Diet Delusion” when it was published in England) has deservedly become a best-seller and Taubes been invited to speak before medical societies.

We at Atkins continue to believe that no one diet is perfect for all people at all times in all situations, but that virtually everyone would benefit from a diet low in sugar, with minimal processed carbs, plenty of protein, no trans-fats and as much fiber and antioxidants as possible. And we can’t help pointing out that while the percentage of fat in the American diet has steadily decreased over the past decades, the percentage of Americans who are obese or overweight has steadily risen – along with our increased intake of sugar and processed carbs. Fat, as Dr. Atkins pointed out decades ago, is not the problem here.

To ignore the influence of processed carbohydrates on the obesity epidemic is sheer folly. Dr. Atkins may yet be fully vindicated in our lifetime!


  1. I have been following the low carbohydrate, no sugar, no starch eating plan for 3 days now and noticed that I am not hungry or looking for that snack or sugar fix after dinner. I have to do a better job preparing and having my food available before hand because otherwise I am tempted to grab the quick fix.

  2. Elizabeth Fox says

    Week one has not been as bad as I imagined. It’s been 3 days and already I have lost 5 pounds. I don’t even miss the sugar, or carbs. Well maybe a little.

  3. Ok Im starting again. This will be my second time trying the low carb diet but I now realize some big mistakes I made the first time so we’ll see how it goes this time. Fingers crossed, toes too!! LOL

  4. Peter Holmes says

    Way to go Liz – 5 lbs! Nice job.
    Hey Cheryl stick with it – one step at a time.

  5. Day 2!! I made it through and no mistakes that I know of. Im actually full, and can I hear a I told ya so??!!! Anyway, Im not sure if I should feel this full on only the second day but I think Im eating ALOT more than I was so that may explain alot too.. More to come. I know I have you on the edge of your seat!!!

  6. Peter Holmes says

    How is everyone doing? Hey Cheryl good job. You should feel comfortably full if you are eating according to plan. I am down 6 lbs in the first 5 days. I have noticed I have to drink more water than I have been accustomed to drinking. Here is a tip – Tea, green or black 3 to 5 times/day will help with the fluid replacement and assists in the fat mobilization. If you don’t like tea try putting a little cinnamon in your coffee, no more than 1 1/2 teaspoons total for the day- very important- do not exceed.

  7. elizabeth fox says

    I survived the first weekend with 2 birthday parties. I had lots of salad to fill me up and get me through birthday party #1 and I bought my own steak and bacon with salad and sugar free jello to party #2. This way when everyone was enjoying the cake I didn’t feel left out and had a jello instead. It worked it’s getting easier and I’ve lost 7 pounds so far.

  8. Peter Holmes says

    If your energy levels are running low pay attention to how you feel. It takes a little time to adjust to running on fat instead of sugar don’t try to overdo things. One more week and we start to increase the net carbs a little bit. It sounds like everyone is having some success. Stay focused.

  9. Well, I have a weekend where I had great success!! By that I mean no cheating!! I stuck to diet (god I hate that word). I went out Saturday night (with Patti) and drank water all night. I have been eating as I should but heres the bad news…….I havent lost a pound!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I see you (Peter) have lost 6 pounds after 6 days and I havent budged not even 1, so Im saying are you kidding me?? Im sticking to it and I will. I know my thyroid plays a big part in this but to see someone say they lost 5 pounds in a few days and 6 in 5 days and I havent lost even one………Oh yeah motivation is high ova here!!!

  10. So I weighed myself this morning and guess what??? Yup I gained 2 lbs!!! I couldn’t be more frustrated. I am doing everything I am supposed to and if I’m making any mistakes I have no idea what I’m doing wrong. The only thing I like about this right now is this blog I am asked to do, its actually cathodic in way. I get some of my frustrations out. But through it all have no fear, I am not giving up…….not yet anyway…….

  11. Elizabeth Fox says

    Well I’ve been sticking to it and resisting temptation and it’s been hard at times. I’m stuck in the 7 pound loss and haven’t moved in a couple of days. This is getting disappointing. I’m the type of person that stays motivated by the decreasing number on the scale, the minute I see it stop moving I start to give up. I’m trying not to do that and keep telling myself “you’ll see a change tomorrow work harder today” hopefully this will work. Cheryl don’t give up your doing good.

  12. Peter Holmes says

    I gained 2 lbs over the weekend and it took until Wed. morning before I saw my weight start to go down again. I realized I was eating some hidden carbs – a little bit of flour on the chicken breast things like that. I haven’t been hungry between meals so 3 meals/ day is working for me. I’m going to start counting my carbs and see how much of them I’m actually eating.
    If your energy levels are good now is the time to start adding some exercise if you haven’t been .

  13. One week in and the news is changing!! I lost the weight I gained and today I got on the scale and lost 2 pounds!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I never thought Id be that excited over 2 pounds but I am. So after a week only 2 pounds but at least thats something. Peter I think you found the 2 I lost!! LOL I truly hope this is the start of losing. Elizabeth thank you so much for the words of encouragement. I need it and it really helps. Hovering at the same weight for a period of time when your expecting a loss is frustrating but its at those times where we really have to be strong and keep going. We are strong and we can do this!!! Lets keep telling ourselves that and maybe we’ll believe it enough to stay focused (and not cheat) LOL I think the thing that helps me the most is when I get encouragement from someone, so heres to you Elizabeth…..Keep up the good work, your doing great!!!!!!!

  14. Peter Holmes says

    Way to go Cheryl! Trust the science, the plan works.
    I am now losing approx. 1/2 lb per day so I am back to where I was before last week end and realized that my sleep cycle is important. The days I don’t get my 6-8hrs of sleep I don’t lose any weight. I am counting and recording my carbs now and it is making a difference. That which is measured get’s managed.

  15. This is my 5th day and I have lost 4.5 pounds! I am really happy about these results and can’t believe the effect carbs have on my body. I plan my meals a day or two in advance because after the first day it became clear that I needed to have a couple of choices of the right foods that I can make quickly. The most fun I am having is all the new foods I am mixing in with my eggs!

  16. elizabeth fox says

    I’m hovering at 8 pounds lost, but hey they are gone and hopefully for good. I need to plan a little better, I realize that there are days when I don’t pack enough and get hungry later on in the day. That’s when it’s the toughest. I’ve learned to carry around an atkins bar for days like that, because if I don’t I will be visiting the snack machine and I know they don’t carry anything good for you in there. I’m determined to change my ways of eating no matter how hard it may be, I know I have the support I need and that it can be done. Thanks!

  17. I totally went off the plan yesterday. I went to the St. Pats parade in Providence and had several drinks and a couple of sandwiches over the entire day. I didnt feel too bad because I’ve lost 8 lbs in less than 2 weeks. Today I was back on the plan, though I have been averaging around 40-50 carbs per day since day 3. I do need to make sure I take my vitamins because when I did not take them, my muscles felt weaker than normal. Overall this has been great for me.

  18. elizabeth fox says

    I’ve lost a total of nine pounds within the 28 days. I just could not make it to the 10 pound goal, that last one would go and come back. It was an eye opening event and helped me see things in a new light. The senseless eating I use to do at the desk has come to a halt. Sugar actually tastes sweeter than what I remember it being. lol Thanks Peter!

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