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Balancing Act

In response to the obesity problem in this country and the “quick fix” attitude that most Americans have, the low carb diet is becoming ever more popular.  When you deprive your body of carbohydrates through diet, the liver responds by creating carbohydrates from proteins – through a process known as glycogenesis – by removing the amino acid chain from the molecules, which is what distinguishes a protein from a carbohydrate.  Why does it do this?  The simple answer is that the body needs carbohydrates in order to convert them into glucose, commonly called blood sugar.  Glucose is the “food” the blood, muscles, and organs use to maintain proper function.  The brain alone consumes well over 15% of the glucose in the body, and a steady stream of glucose is necessary for proper brain function.

Interestingly enough, the basis of low carb diets is linked to the traditional Inuit (Eskimo) style of eating.  For countless generations, their diet has been high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate, and they’re not suffering from any malnourishment as a result.  Through glycogenesis, their bodies continue to function normally.  Obesity is not a problem amongst the Inuit.  Those who adhere to low carb diets are quick to point out that fact.  Of course, the level of exercise innate to the Inuit lifestyle, the amount of calories expended by these people living in frigid climates, is not exactly the same as the Floridian driving a BMW on the highway and hopefully not simultaneously Googling some apparently vital piece of information that can’t wait until the car stops.

On the other side of the coin, Oriental diets are based in great part on carbohydrates, and so in accordance to those strict proponents of low carb diets, you’d expect the obesity problem to be out of control there, and yet it isn’t anywhere near as ubiquitous in oriental countries as it is here.  So let’s stop blaming the carbohydrates, shall we!  They’re not necessarily the problem.  Fiber-rich, whole grain carbohydrates are not the bad guys.

In fact, when one looks at the broad picture of the world and the varied diets that different countries have, the one outstanding feature of the American diet is the amount of processed foods we eat in the name of expediency.  Add to that the ever-increasing availability of do-less comfort features that are cropping up regularly, prompting the environment for a sedentary lifestyle, and you have the perfect recipe for an obesity epidemic.  At this rate, the characters depicted in the movie Wall-E aren’t so much a comedic representation as they are a forecast of our future.

Glycogenesis is a viable alternative; the body won’t allow itself to starve for lack of glucose when it has other sources at its disposal.  But saying that is like saying a blind person’s hearing is made the more acute as compensation for the loss of sight.  I’m not sure I’d give up one to have the other heightened, and I’m not sure that giving up carbohydrates is the answer to reducing the level of exercise the body needs.  It’s all about balance, about eating the right types of carbohydrates in their correct proportion, about setting aside a certain amount of time every day for exercise, and about keeping away from those processed foods.  Of course, that’s just one opinion.

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