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What Carbs Are For

There are three kinds of macro nutrients, the caloric nutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrates. We must eat protein, for the 8 or 9 essential amino acids which our bodies cannot synthesize. We must eat fats, for the essential fatty acids, EFAs, which likewise cannot be synthesized. And while protein and fat are certainly used for caloric energy, the body is generally wise enough to spare the essential nutrients, the building blocks, unto the extremis of starvation.

But what of carbohydrates? There are no essential carbs, because there is only one carb, glucose. All forms of carbohydrates, complex or otherwise, digest solely into glucose, C6H12O6, and glucose is not essential. We can synthesize it out of protein, and substitute it with fat.  That doesn't mean it's not necessary -- otherwise why break down valuable protein into worthless glucose.  But it is not, technically, essential.

Looks bad for the plants, then, doesn’t it, in the Macronutrient War of Supremacy between carnivores and herbivores. Since there is no essential carb, no dire need for glucose (for all that there is gluconeogenesis), what then is the purpose of carbs? The case can be made, and has been, that an entirely animal-based diet is actually healthful for humans. So?

The fallacy of the logic is in emphasizing calories. Nutrition is not caloric only, as even the most primitive understanding must affirm, what with our modern Space Age 1950s knowledge of vitamins and minerals. No calories there, but plenty of nutrition. It’s not about calories any more than cars are about only fuel -- which is essential, yes, but does not define a car. The substance of and the reason for a car make it a car -- the metal, the motor, the potential and the purpose. Bodies, then, are not made of calories.

The necessary, the essential contribution to diet and health that carbs make to mankind is not via glucose calories. It is instead the phytonutrients, all those tens of thousands of molecules, bioflavonoids and lignans and isothiocyanates and phenols and saponins and thiols and who knows what all -- there are tens of thousands -- that feed our immune systems and our nervous systems and all our systems, so that we may have health, vibrantly, and life abundantly -- rather than just, oh, say, metabolism.  Sponges have metabolism.

That’s what is essential, from plants. Not a few amino acids, or a few fatty acids, and certainly not that blunt macronutrient, that nonessential of glucose. Rather, so vast and anonymous a mass of chemicals that their essential nature is lost in the flood and loses its force for its ubiquity -- individually negligible perhaps, but in array they create optimal health beyond the aspirations of any parasitical and prematurely-old carnivore. The greater the volume of nutrient-rich calorie-poor plant material eaten, the less cancer, the less degenerative disease, the less ... well, you make the list.

As for glucose, why is there such a caloric redundancy? -- since protein can be converted into energy, and since fat is energy. Indeed, considering that investigation suggests the brain and CNS function more efficiently when fueled by fat, via ketons, why does glucose even exist as a fuel?

The purpose of glucose is to make us fat. This is a good thing. Glucose raises insulin levels. It is a hormone manipulator. That is its job. Every day we need to store a little fat away, so we can make it through the nightly fast we end with breakfast, which breaks our fast with a daybreak feast. We need to store away more than a little fat as well, come the long dark desert of winter, when in humanity’s brief harsh history the choice has so often been to live off your fat, or starve.

The practical lesson of this insight is that nutrient-rich calorie-poor carbs such as fibrous vegetables and leafy greens are practically free fountains of youth and health, whereas the calorie-dense nutrient-poor carbs -- the grains, the starches, the white powders and flours and crystals -- have the metabolic function of making us fat. That’s their job, and they are good at it.

If you want to get fat, then, or stay fat, well God in his wisdom has provided a means to that end. Breads and cakes and muffins, and sugar and honey and high fructose corn syrup -- why, they have their own tiers on the Food Pyramid! All of these, and so much more, will definitely blast up your insulin level so that you can achieve the goal you must be coveting. After all, why would you do the thing that guarantees a result, if you don’t what that result?

So there it is. There is an essential nature to carbs, and it is two-fold. There is an infinitude of non-caloric phytonutrients, meant to feed your immunity and health and vitality. Meantime, carbs are the carriers of glucose, which manipulate insulin to feed your need to store body fat, for night and for winter. Without any ability to store fat you would be a true diabetic, who in olden days starved to death, no matter how much they ate. Not much danger of that nowadays. In these our modern circumstances, we can just about do away with the hibernation side of the dietary coin. But it’s good to know about.

Upshot? We could call it The Nutrivore Diet, or The Anti-Boreal or The Tree of Life or The Not-Stupid Diet, but what we want is optimal nutrition, defined as getting every nutrient we need, abundantly, and nothing in excess that would unbalance our homeostasis and our equilibrium. Simple. Leafy and fibrous plants, fruits, moderate complete grains, legumes and beans and seeds and nuts in condiment portions.  That is a lot to eat, and a lot of eating.  Who could be hungry, on that?  So?

Be excellent.


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