Poor carbs, they have been demonized in the wake of this low-carb, fad diet era. First let’s get into the role of carbohydrates in the body. Unlike plants, who can produce their own energy from the sun, us humans need to eat to power ourselves. Carbohydrates are sugar molecules found in various types of foods, particularly sugars, starches and fibers. Carbohydrates are one of the body’s main energy sources. Our brains and red blood cells specifically depend on glucose (from carbohydrates) to operate.
I think at some point we’ve all felt a bit confused about carbs. Should we eat them? I’ll take the burger but hold the bread. Pasta? Surely that will make me gain weight. Eating fruits? I don’t want to end up with diabetes.
I know that at one point, I personally thought that the less carbs and the more protein I ate, the healthier I was. Lord, I was confused, but understandably so. There is so much misinformation out there about what a healthy diet looks like.
If we look at a low fat, whole foods, plant-based diet you typically get 65-75% of your calories from carbs, 20-25% of calories from protein and 15-20% of calories from fat.
Processed carbs vs complex carbs
Not all carbs are created equal. Complex carbohydrates in their whole food state, are loaded with antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber. Whole grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, and fruits are great fuel sources. Whereas refined carbohydrates, which have been processed in some form, are stripped of their healthful micronutrients and fiber. Without fiber your body doesn’t receive the same signaling responses to stop eating and you tend to overeat this addictive, sugar-filled, calorie dense food. It’s important to understand this distinction in carbohydrates, that way you can choose healthier options that will keep you fuller longer, and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Do carbs make us fat?
Sure, an excess of calories will lead to weight gain over time, but the origin of those calories will make a difference. Carbohydrates, when left unburnt in the body, will be converted over to fat to be stored, but that process alone requires our bodies to burn energy in the form of calories. Fat on the other hand, comes in a ready to store package. Not only that, but it is the last macronutrient to be metabolized. Our bodies must burn through alcohols, amino acids (proteins) and carbohydrates before we start to burn fat. Basically, it’s easier to gain weight from fat compared to carbs.
But what about KETO!?
Okay, so how do people lose weight when they eat a high-fat, low carb diet you ask? When you eliminate or restrict carbohydrates in your diet, you’re depriving your body of its primary fuel source and you begin to break down fats instead. Your body switches over into ketogenesis. In the short term, if you stick to the ridgid keto meal plan, you can lose weight but after time your body will crave carbs (since you’re human) and you’ll most likely go through the dieting yo-yo effect once you introduce carbs back into your high fat diet.
Short term vs long term
So instead of making yourself crazy by hopping on a short term diet fad, why not start eating in a non-restrictive way that is conducive to long term health. Studies have found that those who follow low-carb, high fat (usually from animal based products) are significantly more likely to have cardiovascular disease. If you’re a high fat diet you need to be aware of what is happening on the inside. Sure you might lose a few pounds at first, but you are also hardening your arteries the formation of atherosclerosis plaques from the high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat, over time leading to cardiovascular disease. Diets high in animal protein also cause metabolic stress on the kidneys and liver.
If you’ve never known someone with Type 2 Diabetes, you’ve probably heard them mention that they need to limit their carb intake. Restricting the amount of carbs, or sugars, can help someone “manage” their blood glucose, but it’s not quite getting to the root of the problem. A high fat diet, particularly high levels of saturated fat, can lead to insulin resistance due to the build up of intercellular lipids (fat) in your muscle cells. These fat particles interfere with your cells ability to metabolize sugars from the bloodstream. No matter how much insulin you have in your blood, your cells won’t be able to open the gates into the cell, causing blood sugar levels to build up in the blood. Not eating fruits, bread, vegetables, etc isn’t going to help reverse your insulin resistance. Only by reducing the amount of fat in your bloodstream and within your muscle cells, will you be able to not only manage but reverse your insulin resistance and or Type 2 Diabetes. People have long blamed sugar for causing their diabetes, but it’s not the sugar, it’s the fat. Now more than ever before, western diets are rich in animal products and saturated fat, and Type 2 Diabetes is rising at unprecedented rates. Researchers found that in one study, looking at data from 8,401 subjects over 17 years, those who consumed meat on at least a weekly basis had a 62% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who followed a vegan diet.
restricting carbs = restricting nutrients
By restricting this broad group of macronutrients you are also restricting the amount of nutrients, phytonutrients, antioxidants, fiber and minerals that are widely found in carbohydrates. If you’re minimizing the amount of starchy vegetables, whole grains and fruits you consume you will be taking in less of these anti-cancer, anti-inflammation, and protective micronutrients. The World Health Organization has classified processed meats (ham, hotdogs, bacon) as a group 1 Carcinogen, otherwise known to cause cancer. Meat, as a whole, was classified as a group 2A Carcinogen, with a probable cause of cancer. Swapping out health promoting foods like beans, whole grains, and potatoes for cancer causing foods doesn’t seem like a good trade off.
Diet fads vs long term health & wellness
People who are jumping on this low-carb diet without understanding the long term health consequences, are putting unnecessary strain on their bodies, the environment and contributing to the billions of needless animal deaths each year. Eating a plant based diet, where the majority of your calories comes from whole, complex-carbohydrates is a great way to naturally manage your weight. No calorie counting. No need for limiting the amount of food you eat. Blue Zones, or the healthiest regions on the planet, never got the memo that carbs were bad. They’re still eating rice and beans, sweet potatoes and whole grain bread and still tend to live 10 years longer than the average American.