Are Carbohydrates Good?

Are carbs bad for you? Are they good for you? Should I be on a low carb/high fat diet? Should I be on a high carb/low fat diet? There seems to be a lot of confusion about carbohydrates. In today’s blog, I’ll share by my observations to these questions and more.

To start, let’s look at the definition of a carbohydrate from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They define a carbohydrate as one of three macronutrients in food that provide calories, or “energy,” for the body. Each gram of carbohydrate provides 4 calories. They consist of sugars, starches and dietary fiber foods. These are a few examples:

  • Sugar – sugars found in foods such as fruits and vegetables; refined/processed sugar (the bad sugars)
  • Starches – beans, peas, lentils, grains (barley, brown rice, corn, oats and wheat), and vegetables
  • Dietary Fiber – beans and peas, fruits, nuts and seeds, vegetables, and whole grain foods (such as brown rice and whole grain breads, cereals, pasta)

Foods with high carbohydrates are the best sources of vitamins C & E, magnesium, potassium, B-vitamins, energy and other great nutrients. If you limit these nutrients it will lead to dietary deficiencies. If this is all good, why would someone want to avoid carbs? There are a couple reasons I’ve found. Either someone is on a diet prescribing high fat/low carbs or they have been eating refined carbs and finding they are not healthy, over weight, or both. Let’s take a look at good carbs and bad carbs.

Unrefined (Good) Carbs – foods that are “unrefined” meaning they are as close in form when eating as to how they were grown. Example- eating a baked potato vs. eating french fries that have been deep fried and loaded with oil and salt. I am constantly trying to eat more “whole” foods vs. processed, refined, etc. Unrefined, unprocessed carbs are high in water, fiber, nutrients and are low in calories. Examples of these are listed in the bullets above.The great part about this and I’m living proof is you can eat a lot more food and lose a lot of weight, then easily maintain it. Since going plant-based I do not encounter weight swings. Diets on the other hand will come and go and come and go…

Refined (Bad) Carbs – now let’s touch on where carbs get some blame. They are the “refined/processed” carbs which are high in calories, have little or no fiber, vitamins and nutrients. Examples of these refined carbs include:

  • White flour
  • White sugar
  • White rice
  • White pasta
  • White bread
  • Potato chips
  • Used often in cookies, cakes, pastries

When it’s estimated 90% of the carbohydrates Americans eat are refined/processed it’s easy to understand how carbs can have a bad reputation.

What can we learn from this? The focus should be on eating as many unrefined carbs as we can, limiting the amount of refined/processed carbs. When looking at the healthiest people in the world they consistently consume high quantities of carbs. A simple example of one of these places is Japan who consume very high quantities of carbs. In this 2016 Huffington Post blog, they share how the Japanese have the second-highest life expectancies compared to any other country in the world (the U.S. comes in at number 43) and have an obesity rate of just 3.5 percent, which is one-tenth of America’s 35 percent obesity rate.

I reflect back to a question I asked Dr. Michael Greger earlier this year and shared in an earlier blog. I was curious how some people I talk to state they lose weight on a high fat/low carb diet. His response to this is consistent with other research I have found. He stated people who go on a high fat, low carbohydrate diet simply are eating less calories by eliminating carbohydrates. They also lose a significant amount of water in their cells quickly, plateau, and then they gain it back at some point as carbohydrates are brought back into the diet. He stated it’s inevitable the carbs return and there will be another book probably coming out tomorrow promoting how their weight loss routine will work. Hence how diets come and go and come and go.

In a future blog I’ll share more about what is called the Blue Zones, characterized as the healthiest places (people) in world. On a nutrition spectrum, they are consistent with this high carb/low fat consumption while also consuming no or little animal products. There are other factors in these “Blue Zones” but that is for another blog…oh the suspense.

Fats

Since fats have been mentioned here in the context of high carb/low fat or high fat/low carb diets, I should share a bit about the fats. Not to mention we add fats to carbs and then blame the carbs for the weight gains. Back to the example of the french fries. Add in a bunch of oil (fats) when deep frying and oh boy, you have just added in a good amount of calories. I love a quote I just heard about fats from one of the doctors I follow, “fat will make you fat.” Pretty plain and simple…

We store fats and use carbs right away so I’m not sure how again, carbs get blamed for weight gain. And to make it clear, I’m talking about unrefined carbs, not the refined (junk) carbs. Also, foods high in fats contribute to our chronic illnesses including the number one killer, cardiovascular disease, followed by cancer and others.

When I had the chance to ask Dr. Greger about those who choose to eat a high fat/low carb diet he responded by saying, ” by eating high amounts of fats, you simply are raising the risk of chronic disease, allergies, surgeries, use of medications, and use of health services.” I also like another thought on the subject from Dr. Alan Goldhammer , whom I blogged about previously, where he summed up when people consume an excess of processed foods they unfortunately get over weight, obese, sick, leading to chronic illness, feeling terrible, then hooked on pharmaceuticals for life and ultimately die prematurely. He’s very direct…love it!

From all the scientific evidence I have uncovered, it’s the type (unrefined) of carbs we should be eating in high quantities while limiting fats.

– Add Health to Your Life

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