What’s the Deal with Carbs?

I will start off by saying, to each is own. There is not one diet that fits everyone, and there is not one perfect food meant to fuel every individuals work out. That being said, there is a TON of misinformation out there about carbohydrates, and it is my job to help you clear the cobwebs and see your food clearly!

MYTH #1. Carbs turn into fat.

This information started with the infamous Atkins Diet… And is now prominent in many other modern diets such as the Paleo (ironic, isn’t it?) diet. The idea is this: when you eat carbohydrates your pancreas secretes insulin, which then stores all of those carbohydrates as fat. However, this is a very simplified explanation, and somewhere along the way insulin’s role has gotten this bad rep. What insulin actually does is allow your cells to intake carbohydrates (or sugars) and use them for energy. The issue arises when we start to eat too many carbohydrates, especially those of the processed and refined variety, in which case the excess, ends up getting stored as fat.

Bottom line: Depending on our activity level and lifestyle, we all have different carbohydrate needs. They can make up 45-80% of our total calorie intake. But this is true for everyone: aim to get your carbohydrates from the most unrefined sources available like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Start by focusing on the food not the amount, and notice what a difference you feel.

MYTH #2. We should try to eat “low carb” because then our body will burn more fat.

Some of you might be laughing at this point, because of my generalized “myths” but these are lines I hear day in and day out, and it really is just a result of failure to look at the big picture.

Our bodies need carbohydrates to burn fat. It’s basic biochemistry, acetyl CoA is a product of carbohydrate metabolism, and an essential step in the process of breaking down fat. Like I mentioned above, too much carbohydrate will get stored as fat, and too little will make your body rely heavily on fat for energy. Which in the short term is okay, but in the long term can cause ketoacidosis, which causes your blood pH to decrease (which then can cause a whole slew of unfavorable conditions).

MYTH #3. I shouldn’t eat carbs because they will increase my blood sugar levels.

Yes, when we consume carbohydrates (“good” or “bad”), that causes our blood sugar levels to rise, and then fall (once insulin is secreted). The problem arises when our blood sugar levels rise too high, or stay high for too long. This can happen for a number of reasons, one being that we are eating too many high carbohydrate foods, too frequently throughout the day, or there is a glitch with our carbohydrate metabolism (like diabetes). The answer here is not to eliminate carbohydrates all together, but to eat them in small amounts, on a scheduled basis. Choosing high fiber carbohydrates (like vegetables, beans, and whole grains), and choosing small amounts to incorporate into each meal is the best way to regulate carbohydrate metabolism. Ideally, your meals and snacks should be 3-6 hours apart (generally), to ensure adequate time for digestion.

Here are some FAQs that come up around this subject:

What if I’m addicted to carbohydrates?

Yes, it’s true that there have been studies that show that sugar can be addictive, just like cocaine. However, I’ve never heard of someone being addicted to black beans or tomatoes. The best way to kick the sugar cravings is to eliminate all processed sugar from your diet. That includes agave, maple syrup, honey, table sugar, etc. When eating grains, choose whole, intact grains (like brown rice, barley, and oats) and steer clear of pastas, breads, and sweets. You’ll be amazed at how sweet a fresh peach or strawberry tastes after just a short while.

My friend lost a lot of weight doing a low carb diet, so is it a good weight loss strategy?

I have no doubt that if you decided to go on a “low carb” diet that you would lose weight. However, much of it would start off as water weight, and the weight becomes very easy to gain back, which can result in yo-yo dieting. Every time you lose weight, gain weight, and lose it again, it becomes subsequently harder to keep the weight off, and the effects can be detrimental to what’s going on inside your body, like blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Your best bet is finding a well balanced, whole foods diet that you can stick to for life.

I hear potatoes are just as bad for you as pasta, is that true?

In the standard American diet, the majority of our vegetable consumption is coming from potatoes… and mostly in the form of french fries. Are french fries and potato chips the best choice? Hell no. But a baked potato with broccoli and chives? What a great side dish. Beef it up with some black beans, salsa, and avocado and you have yourself a full meal. Potatoes are high in fiber and nutrients, and can be part of a healthy diet, as long as you don’t deep fry them every chance you get!

I’m sure there are many other myths that you’ve heard floating around. What are some that you’ve heard or read of recently?

Comments
47 Responses to “What’s the Deal with Carbs?”
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    Great article
    In the past five years the reputation of carbohydrates has swung wildly. Carbs have been touted as the feared food in fad diets. And some carbs have also been promoted as a healthful nutrient associated with lower risk of chronic disease.

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