Carbophobia is rampant
Media, celebrities, and scientifically invalidated fad diets like Atkins, Zone and South Beach have perpetuated the myth that carbs are bad. Of course everybody likes to hear that they can eat more fat but people have become so afraid of carbs that they avoiding eating healthy foods like fruit and whole grains.
The public has just eaten it all up (excuse the pun!). From all the hype it would seem that carbs are nutritional public enemy number 1, and any dieters greatest hurdle to weight loss.
But let me ask you, when was the last time you ever met someone struggling to control their weight because they ate too many apples or too much brown rice? I am guessing never!
No wonder people struggle with what to eat. They are being told that they shouldn’t be eating one of only three macronutrients – CARBS, FAT AND PROTEIN.
if you are not eating carbs, by default you have to be eating either protein or fat. And although we need both of these nutrients in our diets, too much of them is not a good thing and can cause a number of health issues (heart disease, stroke, cancer etc).
And it makes no logical sense to say that all carbs are bad for us.
Carbs are supposed to be our main source of energy. They are the fuel that Nature intended us to eat. You wouldn’t try to run your car without the right source of fuel. Why would you want to run your body that way? But that is what is happening if you avoid eating carbs.
A huge mistake has been made by labelling all carbs as bad. Of course eating donuts and potato chips all day is bad – but how can that be equated to eating broccoli and sweet potatoes. It can’t. ALL CARBS ARE NOT THE SAME.
I’m tired of hearing people worrying about carbs. I’m worried about people who are depriving themselves unnecessarily of a vital and healthy nutrient.
I think a big part of the problem is, is that most people don’t even know what carbs are – so I am going to give you a crash course.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are the most important source of food energy in the world supplying people with anywhere between 40 and 80% of their daily calorie needs.
They are created by plants through the process of photosynthesis. By combining carbon dioxide, water and chlorophyll, plants manufacture glucose which is arranged in a collection of simple to very complex molecules that we know as carbs.
Fruits are often more than 90% carbohydrates, while most other vegetables, grains, tubers and legumes range between 70-80% carbs.
With the exception of milk, which contains lactose, no carbs are found in animal foods.
By avoiding carbs you are avoiding incredibly healthy and wholesome plant foods like fruits, veg and wholegrains and eating way to much of less healthy foods like animal products.
Can you get the energy from anywhere else?
Carbs are definitely our prefered energy supply. They can be used efficiently and safely by the entire body for all our energy needs.
Protein and fat can be used for energy too but not as effectively or safely as carbohydrates. Converting protein to glucose for energy can lead to organ damage. As protein is converted to glucose for energy, ammonia is created as a byproduct which can in turn cause stress on kidneys as they have to work hard to remove waste products from your blood.
Energy from fat cannot be used by the brain or the nervous system.
But aren’t carbs bad for you?
It’s true that too much of some carbs is definitely bad for you. Refined and highly processed foods like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white flour and white rice should be avoided. These types of carbs may lead you to gain weight and cause other health problems. They are low in fibre and often packaged with plenty of salt and fat. Foods made of refined carbs are usually calorically dense and nutrient void, which means that it is easy to eat too much and gain weight. As these products are highly refined they also have a high glycemic load. They are quickly absorbed by the body which causes blood sugars to spike.
BUT NOT ALL CARBS ARE MADE EQUAL.
The complex carbohydrates found in whole plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts are highly beneficial and are not only an essential component of any healthy diet, but should make up the majority of it.
Lumping all carbs together as unhealthy has meant that the most healthy foods – plants – have been demonised and significantly reduced or even eliminated from many people’s diets. This can only lead to long term health issues.
Why are the good carbs so important?
Well besides providing us with a lot of great energy, whole food sources of carbs come with a host of other benefits.
It has been shown over and over again that populations eating carbohydrate-rich, plant heavy diets live longer and have lower rates of chronic disease than those populations whose diets are heavy in animal foods, rich in protein and fat. Populations who eat plant rich (and thus carb rich) diets are slimmer, fitter and live longer than those who don’t. If you haven’t read it check out the book The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner (a very interesting read about those areas of the world that produce the most centenarians).
Good carbs come packaged as nutritious whole plant foods that provide a host of benefits to our bodies and health. There are at least 100,000 protective substances found in whole plant foods – phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, carotenoids, retinols, sulfaraphanes and so many more. Not to mention all the fibre which you won’t be getting if you are only eating fats and protein. And all these nutrients work together to help protect us against diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
If you avoid eating carbs, you won’t benefit from any of these health promoting substances and there is no supplement in the world that can effectively replace all the goodness you get from whole plant foods.
The bottom line is, if you don’t eat plant foods (aka carbs), your health is likely to suffer.