By Dr Joe
Carb and fats together in the same meal, bad idea? Will it harm my health or hinder my fat loss efforts, if I keep eating carbs and fats together in combination?
These are some of the questions I get asked and I thought I deal with them today. There’s something primal about eating carbs and fats in the same meal.
It’s a culinary arrangement that precedes our very existence. It’s ancestral. Carbs have always been around. Fats have always been around too. Our ancestors ate them. So, we are not doing anything new consuming carbs and fats in one sitting.
As I write this today, a very nice gentleman in the name of Sir Peter Hall departed this world of ours. He was a Maestro in British theatre. He set up the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Sir Peter Hall once said his idea of paradise is “rehearsing a play of Shakespeare and listening to Mozart”. Para-phrasing him a little bit there. But you get the gist. That may not be your idea of paradise. It isn’t mine either. But Peter loved that combo.
The 2017 winner of Wimbledon Tennis, Garbiñe Muguruza once said in an interview that if you add butter and sugar to any recipe or food, it will taste good. Didn’t know Tennis players knew chef’s secrets inside out.
Garbine couldn’t be more correct, if she tried.
The combination of butter and sugar is all you need to fall in love with any food. Sugar and fat will enhance any food to make it pleasing to the palate.
Now you are talking.
So unlike, Sir Peter Hall whose idea of paradise is very niche, Garbine’s recipe suggestion or should I say, tip, is most people’s cup of tea.
Why is that?
Our taste buds have been trained to like carbs and fat together. We probably weren’t designed like that.
Humans were designed to eat anything we could lay our hands on that didn’t kill us literally. Foods, we understood to be safe.
How did we know what foods were safe? Well, by an analogue process of elimination. If one of our ancestors ate this food and he kicked the bucket as a result, the community knew that’s one food to cross off the food safety list…and we avoided it like a plague.
There was no Health and Safety Executive looking over our ancestor’s shoulders. If there was, they didn’t notice.
An analogue list of safe foods that was unwritten “hung on the wall” of the community. The community had no idea what food was carb and which was fat. They simply ate. The only requirement was a particular food did not send them six feet under.
Not safe? Avoid.
Rules were simple.
Carbs, fat…what’s that? You simply ate when you were hungry and when you could find the food. Lucky, you. Many times, you went without. Not by choice. But by availability or the lack of it.
Carbs and Fats Together: How times have changed.
Affluence means we now have food availability. The quality may be debatable but the choices are there all the same.
If you live in the kind of affluent society that we now find ourselves, you are spoilt for choice. The whole place is awash with foods. So much food our ancestors will look at us with envy.
Our ancestors may be jealous at the choices and easy accessibility (think takeaways). But I’m not so sure they will be jealous at how metabolically broken we have become with this abundance though.
Our ancestors weren’t asking the question of: would carbs and fat combination in the same meal break me further metabolically?
The reason: They ate whole foods, folks and you know something else? They actually expended energy to find the food.
> They probably grumbled at the time walking 10 miles a day to forage for the food. But little did they know that exercise was a big part of why they remained metabolically competent…despite unwittingly eating carbs and fat together more often than you’ve had hot dinner.
Which is what brings me nicely to why we are asking the question of fats and carbohydrates combination being a good idea or a bad idea.
Carbs and fats together dilemma
In absolute terms, there is nothing wrong with having carbs and fats together or in combination. After all, like I said before, a combination of fats and carbohydrates provide some of the best tasting meals on the planet.
Therein lies the problem.
Tasty foods mean you are very likely going to overeat. If you overeat on a consistent basis, then you will be courting obesity. A lot of carbohydrate foods and fatty foods in general do pack a punch when it comes to calories. Agree?
How often you should be combining your fats and carbs will therefore wholly depend on where you are in your health journey.
For a start, you need to be eating whole foods regardless of whether it is carbs or fats. Whole carbohydrate foods are actually good for promoting a healthy gut microbiome. These foods feed your gut’s ‘good bacteria’ as opposed to processed carbs that feed ‘pathogenic bacteria’ – the basis of some chronic diseases.
> My point being the first thing that needs to be addressed is food quality. If we concern ourselves obsessively with eating whole foods, then worrying about macronutrients i.e carbs and fats combination should become irrelevant, within reason.
Processed foods generally interfere with the neuro-regulation of appetite. This negates satiety. The end point being you are always hungry compounded by poor portion control.
There is dynamism as well in the way our bodies behave metabolically. A metabolically incompetent individual may have problems dealing with low fat high carb diet because of insulin resistance, right? Well, this same individual may later discover that low fat high carb is good for him/her once his/her insulin resistance has been fixed.
Insulin sensitivity does wonders for your body. Remember that and you will be a happy soul forever.
You may have started off with a high fat low carb to fix your insulin resistance along with your weight issues only to turn things around and carry on long term with a low fat high carb diet that diametrically opposes high fat low carb way of eating.
I make that point to stress the existence of that unique intra-individual metabolic dynamism that is not known to a lot of dieters and those of obsessed with healthy living.
You can’t be too dogmatic when it comes to nutrition, because there aren’t a lot of absolutes in it.
Here is the thing:
A good practice is to use what I call the see-saw principle depending where you are in health-seeking journey when it comes to fats and carbs combination.
What do I mean by that?
> You have to dial down carbs if you are dialling up fats. In the same vein, you dial down fats when you are dialling up carbs.
One of these food groups has to dominate whilst you cut down on the other macronutrient.
One reason being, high fat high carb meals will make you overeat.
Because as mentioned before, high carbs high fat meals are tasty.
And this scenario is what got us into trouble in the first place i.e being overweight, obese or having full-blown metabolic syndrome.
Wouldn’t it be crazy if we decided to continue along the same path if we want to fix our broken metabolic competence?
Don’t be fooled by gurus telling you that only carbs will make you store fat. That’s absolute hogwash. I can tell you that any food eaten in excess without due energy expenditure will result in fat storage.
This is regardless of whether it is carbs, fat or protein. If you don’t burn it, it will be diverted to fat stores for future use.
Oh, Yes. Fat can make you fat…just like carbs can make you fat. Now there’s a surprise given the current tune in the media online and offline.
> Let me repeat that. Fats can make you fat. Carbs can make you fat too.
As I write this piece, the weight loss benefits of the recent food craze called bulletproof coffee has been called into question. Obviously Dave Asprey who came up with the bulletproof coffee idea swears by it. Some celebrities appear to endorse it too. Dave Asprey has made millions of dollars selling the concept and the product. Nice!
But you have to be careful with your bulletproof coffee enthusiasm because it can derail your fat loss plan very easily. Especially if you don’t apply the carbs and fats principles that I am talking about here.
Nutritionist and Author, Zoe Harcombe made a commentary regarding bulletproof coffee to the Daily Mail. Zoe talked about the care you need to exercise when combining fats and carbs, if you want to avoid piling on the pounds. Hear Zoe:
“Based on scientific evidence, butter is not dangerous, but neither is it particularly nutritious. So Bulletproof coffee isn’t unsafe, but I’d still urge caution.
What people need to realise is that if you start adding extra fat to your diet, you had better make sure that everything else you consume is very, very low in carbohydrates.
If you think you can have a Bulletproof coffee and then devour a muffin without any consequences, forget it, you will start to gain weight. Basically, if you add butter and coconut oil to your coffee like this, you should also be eating low-carb foods equivalent to two cups crammed with green salad leaves or you’ll see an adverse impact on your waistline.
The bottom line is that although fat is satiating and thus people may feel fuller after drinking coffee spliced with butter and oil, if you want to lose weight, eating fewer carbohydrates, not more fat, is what makes the difference”
Couldn’t have put it better myself, Zoe, because that’s a real life example of how fats and carbs combo can be mis-applied when you follow the herd.
The main concern:
There has been a silent war (okay, not so silent if you are a healthy living fan) between two main groups of gurus and it’s a bitter war. Both camps being pretty self-righteous and considering opposing views as noises.
No one camp wants to listen to the other because each camp has entrenched views.
I am referring to the high fat low carb Vs low fat high carb nutritional camps.
The high fat low carb believers blame carbs for all our metabolic problems, so you get advised to either totally eliminate carbs altogether from your diet or reduce carbs to less than 20 gm per day. A tall order in my opinion!
The low fat high carb camp on the other hand blame fat for all of our metabolic issues and would advise you to cut down on fats.
Well, both camps are correct in their views and both dietary approaches work by the way. So, there is no need to fight this war of attrition.
I will say this here now. Not everyone is suited to both diets. And indeed, some diets are better suited to certain conditions at different times too. Remember the dynamism I mentioned earlier on.
The high fat low carb believers seem to lay the metabolic blame squarely on the feet of insulin.
Yes, the interplay of hormones does influence what you crave, how glutinous you get with food you eat and how the unused consumed calories get diverted to storage forms (body fat stores or glycogen)
And insulin plays a huge role in our relationship with food and food metabolism but it is wrong to blame insulin only for all of our problems, because other hormones get in the mix as well.
Yes, insulin promotes fat storage.
Insulin does this by:
- Stimulating lipoprotein lipase – an enzyme that helps store fat.
- Decrease the enzyme that helps break down fat called hormone sensitive lipase.
- Applying the brakes on the actual process of fat oxidation.
The view from the top floor of the high fat camp is that carbohydrates are the only influencer on insulin secretion. Wrong!
Fatty foods do influence insulin behaviour and fat metabolism too.
Have you heard the hormone called Glucose-dependent insulinotrophic peptide (GIP)? Thought not. Well, Glucose-dependent insulinotrophic peptide (GIP) has a positive influence on insulin secretion.
Not only that GIP does promote the action of lipoprotein lipase which if you remember is a fat storing enzyme. So, GIP is a lipogenic hormone, folks. Heard anyone talking about Glucose-dependent insulinotrophic peptide hormone? Me, neither.
> As it happens, Glucose-dependent insulinotrophic peptide (GIP) is stimulated by both carbs and fats.
Also, have you heard of this other hormone called Acylation stimulating protein (ASP)? Nope?
Acylation stimulating protein (ASP) is a nasty hormone that stimulates insulin secretion and insulin in turn stimulates the release of more Acylation stimulating protein (ASP) – a vicious circle.
Acylation stimulating protein also inhibits the action of hormone sensitive lipase making it another silent fat promoting hormone.
> And guess what macronutrient actually causes the release of Acylation stimulating protein (ASP)? It’s fat, folks. Fats NOT carbs.
So, as you can tell, fats don’t come out of this ‘body fat storing’ business squeaky clean…at all. Fats can be just as guilty as carbs when it comes to influencers of fat burning and fat storage.
I won’t even mention the effects of other hormones like ghrelin, cortisol and estrogens. These ones cheer on like football fans in a 60,000-seater stadium as the metabolic damage is being wreaked on our bodies.
The point being, it is not enough to blame one macronutrient for all of our obesity problems. Doing so will be over-simplifying the issue.
Having both carbs and fats combined together will potentiate the ill-effects of the hormones we talked about. If we can avoid doing so, that would be the way forward, especially if we are trying to optimize our fat loss.
However, I do realise that avoiding a combination of fats and carbs may be a difficult thing to do in practice.
A few guidelines may help you along the way and here’s what I suggest.
If you are insulin resistant or prediabetic, it may help that you go with high fat low carb approach initially. The presence of fat does blunt the glycemic effect of carbs. Do that for a couple of months. If you are comfortable with that, you may continue with that in the medium to long term.
Or you may turn things around and go for the reverse, once your insulin resistance is fixed. Turn to high carb and low fat after a couple of months and see if this works for you. I do believe that plant-based approach is a better one in the long term. Whatever you do avoid processed carbs.
Something to remember though is; fat may flatten the glycemic index of carbs but your body still has to deal with the glycemic load. Which means fat gain will still be an issue if you have a calorie surplus.
> By the way, I am living proof of that. I started off with high fat low carb strategy. Got myself insulin sensitive and now I eat high carb low fat.
The same approach applies to an individual who is trying to lose weight. You can try the high carb low fat approach first and see if it is working for you. If it is not, then go the other way and do high fat low carb. I have never been convinced that a high fat low carb nutritional strategy is a long-term thing. This is my personal view. Some people will disagree and that’s fine.
We have agreed that a combination of high fat and high carbs is not a good idea if you are trying to lose weight or are insulin resistant or even frankly a type 2 diabetic.
So, do not eat for instance:
Bulletproof coffee with the Bagel or cake.
French fries with that full fat mayonaise.
Whole milk with granola, museli, bran flakes.
Full fat yogurt and your sweet fruits like apples, grapes, raisings, apricots, nectarines, pineapples, bananas.
Avocados or guacamole and crisps (chips), doritos, pretzels
Those are few examples of high fat high carb meals that will frustrate your fat loss efforts because of the way they manipulate your hormones.
Some people will find that strategic carb cycling is one way of dealing with stubborn fat loss or conquering the weight loss plateau problem. Shaun Hadsall is a proponent of strategic carb cycling. Don’t know what strategic carb cycling is? Shaun Hadsall explains it here.
Fibre has very little impact on those nasty hormones that wreak our metabolism, so you can’t go wrong with fibre, folks. You can’t. You can have protein too but beware animal protein can be very insulinogenic. So, I would rather plant proteins.
Here is a good rule of thumb:
It may sound really nerdy but you can just use your visual power. You don’t have to be too precise.
If you are having hefty carbs in a meal, reduce your fat in that meal to less than 10 gms.
In the same vein, if you are having a fatty meal, reduce the carb in that meal to less than 10 gms.
Following this simple rule will create a well-optimised fat burning environment. This will make the job of fat loss an easier thing to accomplish than scratching your head wondering what the heck is going on when you aren’t getting the right results.
One last word:
If you have met your weight loss goals and are maintaining your weight or lost the fat and trying to build muscle, none of these really matter. You can eat all the macronutrients you want, fats, carbs and proteins. Just so long as you are hitting your daily or weekly calorie expenditure goals.
In fact, there is an argument for some insulin spike if you are bodybuilding as insulin protects muscles from wastage and actually promotes muscle growth and development. Bodybuilders have to have a ‘bulking’ and ‘cutting’ phases with carbs and fats anyway which is a whole different topic altogether.
This issue of carbs and fats combination only matters if you are in calorie surplus. If your energy intake matches your energy expenditure, the macronutrient composition matters not.
Fat will not be stored without excess calorie intake. In the same vein, excess fats or excess carbs will be stored as fat independent of insulin levels…even zero insulin level.
At the end of the day, if what you are doing is working for you, stick to it, regardless of what your favourite guru may be shouting from the roof tops. The human body is a very complex entity, you will find.
Suggested further reading:
Have you considered This HORMONE Yet?