The Great Carb Debate

We could spend all day just getting caught up on The Debate, so let’s not. I’d rather give you something actionable. So here’s what you should do:

Source your carbs from natural foods only (unprocessed, straight off the plant). Eat an abundance of vegetables. Green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach, mixed greens, broccoli, chard, kale, arugula, lettuce, bok choi, and cabbage. Just eat them at every meal until you can’t even anymore. Season them a little (some olive oil is fine, vinegar, garlic, etc.) and cook however you like so that you enjoy them. Find a low/no-sugar salad dressing and enjoy salad with a bunch of vegetables. I like the pre-washed mixed greens containers that Costco has. Use a big bowl! I also like to splurge a little bit for some nicer tomatoes like heirlooms when possible, because they have a great flavor. Add some avocado if it fits your macro/plate method budget, then dress with a tasty balsamic vinaigrette. Voila!

Moderate your intake of fresh fruits and starches (like sweet potatoes and plantains). Fruit and starch should only take up 20-30% of your plate at given meal. Only eat carbs with protein, i.e. as part of a balanced meal. Don’t eat carbs by themselves, as this generally just makes you hungrier for more carbs. For fruits, focus on berries, which are generally low Glycemic Index, and high in vitamins and antioxidants.

White and brown rice (and derivatives like rice noodles) qualify as a starch and are generally okay in moderation. They’re not as good as fruit in most cases, but great for convenience, shelf life, and ease of preparation.

Trying to lose fat? Eat slightly fewer carbs and more fat, and only have starches (rice, sweet potatoes, or Rx Bars) on days you workout. Happy with the fat level you’re at and/or training for performance? Have a slightly higher amount of starches at your post workout meal.

And now on to the Do Nots :). Do not drink sugary beverages like soda or juice. Not even on special occasions. Unless you’re an alcoholic (or recovering one), I’d rather you have a strictly alcoholic beverage on a special occasion than soda, it’s that bad. Drink water, sparkling water (no sugar or sweetener), or tea (no sugar or sweetener added). Even 100% fruit juice has high concentrations of sugar that your body is not prepared to deal with in a healthy way. It just quickly stores it as fat, which is why you get hungrier after a sugary drink.

Soda is basically THE WORST thing for you, because it is easy to drink a lot of, has almost no nutritional value, is cheap, still societally acceptable to drink a lot of, and is addictive. Alcohol is a close second worst, because you make bad decisions with it obviously, and as a bonus its type of sugar can’t even be converted into glycogen (for your muscles) at all. It all turns into fat, baby. But most of us have some sense to not drink alcohol at every meal, or give it to our kids for regular consumption. If you feel like this message is talking to you, you probably need a sugar intervention (and a coach), because sugar is chemically addictive, no joke. We can help.

Diet sodas/drinks? Don’t do it. Artificial sweeteners mess you up. They trigger your body’s response the same way sugar does, except it doesn’t get the cookie it expected, which is at the very least disruptive to your system. The jury is still out on long-term negative effects, but why risk it? It also numbs your sense of sweet, because the sweeteners themselves are 10-100X as potent as regular sugar. So you end up thinking natural foods taste bland, and increasingly crave more sugary tasting foods.

If you’re trying to lose fat, do not eat reduced products like dried fruit, because this basically concentrates the sugar content and removes the water and fiber that generally dilutes and slows the digestive process.

If you’re trying to lose fat, do not eat products with added sugar, like donuts, cereals, or most desserts. After dinner, brush your teeth. Dessert is not mandatory. If you’re at a healthy body fat percentage and workout regularly, have a small amount of your favorite treat once in a while if you find it satisfying. Not because it’s someone’s birthday though, because it is almost always someone’s birthday. My small treat is a really good slice of flan from Casa De Chocolates in Berkeley. But I only get one slice, and no more than twice per month.

If you’re trying to lose fat, or find it addictive or gut irritating, do not eat corn or wheat-based products, especially breads, cakes, tortillas and chips, or wheat-based pasta. I know it’s tough, but you can do it. Some of you may have a lower tolerance for gluten (or FODMAPs more generally), and will have to be more deliberate as a result. Sometimes you can find rice-based substitutes for these items, and if you do you will have to make sure you moderate them as per your macros and plate method.

And now to address the greater issues at play a bit. It’s not really a debate: we have a problem in this country with sugar. Actually it’s a problem in almost all developed countries now, because it has to do with the economics of development. Simply put, it is more profitable for big corporations to feed us shit that makes us sick, so they do. All the major economic and political incentives drive towards this. You will need a strong motor (determination) and a sturdy boat (network of support) to become an outlier — to push against the current — in order to be healthy, because our institutions have failed us. Some out of greed, some out of ignorance. But when it comes to your health, and your children’s health, does it really matter why?

Fortunately, real, evidence-based education has persisted in pockets, empowering a small but determined minority of us to take matters into our own hands, and build new, grassroots organizations that will not accept this. This is a great part of CrossFit’s mission today: to disrupt the cycle misinformation and sickness, and wake people up. Progress is being made, but the future of this movement still depends on people just like you making a choice… a choice to take the road less traveled. Do it. For yourself and your family, and if you don’t think you can go it alone, ask for help.

Mauricio Leal
Cypher Health & Fitness Owner


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