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The Carbohydrate Conspiracy

Exclusive commentary by Greg Lewis / WashingtonDispatch.com
December 2, 2003

Fred Smerlas, for those of you who don't follow pro football, is a retired five-time All-Pro defensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills. Fred Smerlas is also a Christian and a political conservative, and he's got very definite views on pretty much any issue you'd care to discuss. He's especially articulate when you bring up the subject of the Atkins diet. He's even gone so far as to suggest that there may be some sort of conspiracy associated with the fact that high-carbohydrate diets have been pushed so hard by so many people for so long.

Fred, like me, is an Atkins Diet advocate. He's an Atkins lifer, as are many of us who have been successful with the diet and understand just how important it is, not only to physical health, but to mental well-being as well. Which brings us to the subject of carbohydrates and the possible conspiracy associated with them. Fred's experience, like mine, has been that withdrawing from excessive sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption is just about the same thing as withdrawing from drugs.

In this insight he's right on the money. In fact, so detrimental is the overconsumption of carbohydrates that in End Your Addiction Now, a book I co-authored, high-carbohydrate diets are identified as a risk factor for substance abuse. The more carbos you consume, the more likely you are to also develop a problem with alcohol or drugs.

The Atkins program, as many people now know (and many more are coming to realize), is based on practically eliminating carbohydrates from your diet. On this terrific regimen, you eat lots of protein, lots of green vegetables, lots of fat, and not much else. And you get thinner and healthier. You lose weight until you feel so good you can't believe it, and when your body finds an ideal weight for you, it just directs you to a natural maintenance level, again, with very few carbohydrates. We don't really need carbohydrates, so, after we get off of them, our bodies just don't crave them any more.

This is your brain . . . this is your brain on carbohydrates

Part of the reason we're able to reach a balance without carbohydrates is because of what the excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates does to our brains. First, the consumption of large quantities of sugar and other refined carbohydrates causes the level of a brain chemical called serotonin to increase significantly. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, one of the chemicals that gets shuttled from one neuron to another as part of the infinitely complex process of communication among brain cells.

Serotonin is one of the important "relaxing" neurotransmitters. When your brain is producing adequate levels of serotonin, you feel calm, relaxed, unflustered. Adequate levels of serotonin also help you sleep soundly. It's one of the important feel-good brain chemicals: when you eat lots of carbohydrates, you feel good. Up to a point, at least. The problem is that when you continue to eat large amounts of carbohydrates, you begin to overtax your brain's ability to produce serotonin.

Let me back up here and explain a little bit about the process. Serotonin is produced from nutrient molecules, particularly amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. (Notice there's no mention of carbohydrates here.) Neurons literally assemble serotonin molecules from these nutrient substances. Then they transmit them across a synapse (or gap) to adjacent neurons in order to send a message that helps you relax. This process takes place billions of times every hour in your brain as hundreds of millions of neurons communicate with each other.

When you stimulate your brain to over-produce serotonin by eating excessive amounts of carbohydrates, you use up your body's supplies of the nutrients necessary to produce serotonin. This often results in a kind of backlash, where your brain will struggle to produce serotonin when it is stimulated, but when it's no longer got the nutrients it needs, serotonin production is actually cut back. Eventually, if you eat lots of carbs, you're going to get fat and you're going to experience symptoms of depression due to reduced serotonin production.

Conspiracy Theory

That's where the carbohydrate conspiracy comes in. For the past 20 years, doctors, politicians, nutritionists, marketing vice presidents, and anyone else who could manage to get a platform have been telling us that we should eat lots of carbohydrates. "Cut down on fats, load up on carbohydrates." That was the message. If you didn't consume massive quantities of carbohydrates, you were doomed to ill health, or worse. The problem is, they were wrong. And not only were they wrong, their advice has caused and is causing millions of Americans to suffer. Obesity levels, incidences of depression and anxiety, and — shudder — cholesterol levels are all up dramatically over the past 20 years, and it's not a stretch to point to excessive carbohydrate consumption as the single most important contributor to all these conditions.

And this is not to mention the fact that if you're not consuming fats in significant quantities, your brain doesn't have another of the most important nutrients it needs. Brain cells (all cells, for that matter) are surrounded by a fatty membrane, and if your body doesn't have adequate amounts of fat, it's not going to be able to patch up the damage its cells incur as part of normal wear and tear. This is especially critical for children on low-fat diets. Kids are often starved for the fatty acids their brains and bodies need for healthy growth, and this hidden malnutrition can play a part in everything from decelerated development to behavioral problems.

And as far as the cholesterol issue is concerned, the notion that if you don't gorge on carbos, your cholesterol levels will go through the roof is simply absurd. The fact is, as we're finally realizing, the exact opposite is true. Levels of bad cholesterol invariably go down and good cholesterol goes up for people on the Atkins diet.

Now, the question becomes, "Who benefits from this?" Obviously, the sicker the American populace, the more drugs you can sell to them, so drug companies benefit enormously from the perpetuation of false information about the need to consume lots of carbohydrates. But politicians also benefit.

As we all know, you can't be a liberal if you don't have an absolutely pessimistic outlook on life. You're simply not going to buy the liberal message — higher taxes, larger and more intrusive federal government, welfare expansion — unless you're convinced that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and there's nothing you can do about it. And it's much easier to get you into that frame of mind if you can be convinced to eat large quantities of carbos.

Bring on the soda, the candy, the baked potatoes, the fruit juices, the doughnuts, the bagels, the pasta . . . you name it, if it's a refined carbohydrate you won't have to look far to find a liberal pushing you to consume it. You have to be depressed to be a true liberal, and eating excessive amounts of carbohydrates is going to help keep you depressed. It's going to burn you out over-producing serotonin and leave you wailing for someone, some doctor or some flak in a socialized medicine scheme, to bail you out with your daily dose of brain destabilizers.

That's one possible reason why the Atkins diet has met with so much resistance until fairly recently. If you go on the Atkins diet for even as short a time as a month or two (depending on your current physical condition), the changes in your frame of mind and your physical well-being will be so dramatic that you'll start to wonder about the motivation of those people who kept pounding home the message that you should eat large quantities of carbohydrates. By the end of your first month, you'll probably have gone through carbohydrate withdrawal, and that carbo brain fog you've been experiencing will have lifted, and you'll start thinking clearly again. Your self-confidence will begin to reassert itself as the low-level depression you've been living with starts to ease up, and you'll begin to understand that you really don't have to be a victim of the liberal mentality. Or the carbohydrate conspiracy.

Liberals hate people who think for themselves, and liberals hate the Atkins diet. OK, maybe conspiracy is a bit too strong a word. But given the other tactics those on the left have tried, don't rule it out completely. If liberals realized that cramming carbohydrates down your throat would soften you up to receive their message, they'd do it in a heartbeat. But don't just take it from me. Take if from Fred Smerlas.

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