Are Carbs the Enemy?

These days, it seems like everywhere we turn we’re hearing about low-carb diets and zero-carb snacks.  My treadmill even has a carb counter so you can calculate the grams of carbs you are burning during each workout.  Many of you may have given The Atkins or South Beach diets a try at one point or another.  It’s definitely easy to believe that all carbs are evil!

But here’s the thing.  Before we mount an attack on this macro-nutrient based on what we’re seeing in the media or reading on food labels, I think we better make sure we really know what carbs are and what roles they play in our bodies.

What are carbs and what is their purpose?

When I say the word “carbohydrate,” what comes to your mind?  Most people probably think of high-starch foods like pasta, bread and cookies, but here’s the real 4-1-1 on carbs.

Chemically, carbs contain carbon and water, and they make up about 2% of our bodies.  Not only included in this food group are grains, breads and legumes, but also fruits, veggies and many sweeteners.  If fruits and veggies are carbs, why would we want to cut those out of our diets?  That’s right, we don’t!

You guessed it: Everything you see here is in the carbohydrate category!

So now that we know what carbs are, it would be tempting to do what so many people do and classify them into “good carbs” and “bad carbs.”  All bread is bad and all squash is good, right?  Wrong!  Instead, I suggest that we judge a carb based on quality, as in how it’s produced and if it’s whole. For instance, not all breads are alike.  A piece of high-fiber, whole-wheat bread is very different than a piece of white Wonder Bread!  And lightly steamed fresh squash is very different than squash fried up in hydrogenated oil!

While carbs are not essential for life like fats and proteins, they contain many vitamins and minerals that are essential, and they play many important roles in the body:

  • Provide fuel for the brain
  • Provide a quick source of energy for our muscles
  • Help regulate protein and fat metabolism
  • Provide a source of fiber, which helps with waste elimination
  • Help fight infections
  • Promote bone and skin tissue growth
  • Lubricate the joints

How do I know how many carbs I can eat each day?

As a general rule (some people can benefit from a bit more or a bit less), carbs should make up about 40% of your diet.  The other 60% should be 30% proteins and 30% fats.

  • The majority of your intake should come from low-glycemic veggies that are raw or lightly cooked.
  • Include 2-3 fresh, whole fruits each day (Juice does not count!)
  • Occasionally, include starchy carbs, but go for whole grains and breads, potatoes and brown rice.  Try to keep your intake of the starchy carbs to less than 15% of your diet.
  • Select organic products whenever possible (Hint: A Twinkie is not organic!)

So are there any carbs I should avoid all together?

Yes!  Stay away from carbs that are refined and processed, such as sugary, white-flour foods, whenever you can!  These are man-made concoctions and they’re stripped of their body-building nutrients, so they don’t support life.  Also, digestion of empty carbs depletes the body of it’s own reserves of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.  So not only do these refined foods not contribute to health, but they also take away from it!

These are not your friend!

If you’ve been looking at all carbs as your ultimate nemesis, then I hope this post encourages you to change your perspective and put more thought into the quality of the carbs you put into your body.  Be on your guard against fad diets that encourage you to cut out carbs all together, and remember all their beneficial properties.

Have a great Friday, and eat all kinds of nutrient-dense, properly prepared whole carbs this weekend!

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Filed under Healthy Tips, Rants and Cravings

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