The truth behind the “no carb” trend

Fad diets seem to have firmly planted their roots in the imaginations of many people I know.  I cannot tell you how often, from close friends and family members, I hear the phrase “carbs are the enemy,” or “I’m cutting carbs from my diet because they make you fat.”  With the abounding attention towards diets like Atkins and others, I can see where the misconceptions began.

What is important to remember, however, is that there is a difference between what are considered good carbohydrates and what are considered bad.  Good, or complex, carbs include whole grains, starchy vegetables and beans.  Bad, or simple, carbs are found in white flours and sugars.  Exceptions can be made with fruits and milk, which are considered simple carbs but are okay for healthy consumption.

What often gets lost in the carbohydrate debate is that in general, carbohydrates do not make you fat.  Over consumption and large portion sizes are the more likely culprits.  In fact, a diet balanced with good carbs can have several health benefits.

For example, carbohydrates in your diet can help boost your mood, based on a study by the Archives of Internal Medicine.  The study concluded that individuals consuming a very low carb diet of about 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates a day for a year showed symptoms of depression, anxiety and anger versus individuals who consumed a low fat, high carb diet of low fat dairy, whole grains, fruit and beans.  In other words, carbohydrates help to produce the chemical serotonin in our brains, which is a feel good chemical.

Speaking of brains, carbohydrates also keep two types of our memory sharp: working and visuospatial.

A healthy diet including carbs can also prevent weight gain, promote weight loss and help trim your waistline.  Brigham Young University studied the eating habits of middle-aged women over the course of two years showing that an increased fiber intake equals an increased weight loss.

In general, fiber is a large source of complex carbohydrates.  Additionally, the consumption of whole grains in place of refined grains can help reduce total body fat and belly fat.  The Journal of Nutrition shows adults that eat 3 servings of whole grains per day could have 2.4% less body fat and 3.6% less abdominal fat.

In turn, carbohydrates also aid in blasting fat at another level.  A breakfast of slow release carbs, like oatmeal and bran, three hours before you exercise can help burn additional fat. Why? Slow release carbs do not spike blood sugar levels like refined, or simple, carbs would.  This means that your insulin doesn’t spike.  Therefore, because insulin helps signal the body to store fat, lower levels will help you burn fat.

Adding to the benefits of a fibrous, carb healthy diet, carbs are also good for your heart.  An increased soluble fiber intake by just 5-10 grams per day could result in as much as a 5% drop of LDL (bad) cholesterol.  Generally speaking, individuals who eat a diet enriched with more whole grains, like brown rice, bulgur, and quinoa, have lower LDL’s and higher HDL (good) cholesterols.  Remember to decipher between good (complex) and bad (simple) carbohydrates in your diet.  Eating a sugar-packed muffin or an over-flowing bowl of pasta makes the above points moot.

What other ways have you found to counteract those “fad” diets?

Photo credit: dharder9475

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  1. Whole grains, especially wheat products contain harmful antinutrients such a gluten, lectins, and phytates. Whole grains are a completely inferior food source when compared to fruits and vegetabels. If you made the analogy that eating processed sugars is like getting hit by a bus at 50 mph, then eating whole grains would be comparable to getting hit by a bus at 20 mph. If you had to pick between the two, I’d rather be hit at 20 mph, but the best choice by far would be to just avoid the bus all together. A diet comprised of lean meats, vegetables, and fruits is optimal in every way.

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