I always raise an eyebrow when the topic of carbs come up. It usually has something to do with the latest fad diet, or “cutting-edge” research, which changes every year. Years ago, it was the low sugar diet, then the Atkins diet, then the Mediterranean diet. Now the talk is of “Paleo”. Bread is the enemy, right ? Wrong. I’ve read and studied the topic for over 20 years, reading dozens of nutrition books and helping countless people lose weight and perform at a high level.
The truth about carbs is it depends. It depends on what type of carbs, on how much, and on the person. It may be helpful for many people to take a break completely from bread, rice, cereal, and pasta because they do come with their downsides, and insulin resistance is a real issue for many people. For me though, I eat some significant carbs, including wheat, rice, oats, and fruits, and I need to. What needs to happen is a differentiation between good and bad carbs. For example, it is a complete myth that Gluten is bad for you, unless you have a food allergy. Wheat, which contains gluten, is a viable and healthy food if eaten in moderation and in the right form. Consuming whole grains is the key for this type of carb. Look for healthy carbs, and avoid bad ones, and you’ll be fine.
The problem with carbs works like this:
Simple Carbs > ^ Blood Sugar > ^ Insulin > ^ Fat Storage > ^ Insulin Resistance > ^ Insulin > Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Here are some tips about carbs:
- If you are obese or overweight, try going 3 months with very little carbohydrate in order to prime your hormones to become more sensitive to insulin, which is one key to weight control, health and aging.
- If you are extremely active, like I am, standing up at work 8-10 hours per day, reading 2-3 hours per day, and doing some type of activity 1-2 hours per day, you will need to eat at least some carbohydrates. Otherwise you’d have to eat so much protein, you would damage your kidneys and immune system.
- Fiber is one key to carbs. Choose carbs with high fiber and your gut will be healthier, your blood sugar will remain more steady, and you will eat less. Apples, oatmeal, berries, whole grain breads, and brown rice are excellent options.
- Avoid any wheat product which contains the word “Enriched Bleached Flour” or something like that to begin with. What you want to look for is the phrase “whole grain”. Simple carbs like bleached flour turn straight into sugar.
- Sugar, simple carbs, and fried foods are really the worst things you can eat. In this form, carbs are bad for you because of the havoc they play on your insulin and blood sugar.
- Carbs can be stored as glycogen in the muscles or worse, converted to fat by the liver.
- The Glycemic Index (GI) is a helpful measure in evaluating carbs. If a food has a high GI, that means it turns in to sugar quickly and you want to avoid it. Consume foods with a low GI.
- Practically speaking, if you have a desk job like most people, you won’t need more than 100-150 grams of carbs per day, and you should mainly consume fruits.
- Consuming healthy fats or proteins in conjunction with a whole grain carbohydrate can blunt the insulin response and make it healthier metabolically. For example, a turkey sandwich, which contains some protein, is better than just eating bread because the protein in the turkey slows down the insulin response.
- By controlling and reducing your simple carb intake (sugar and processed foods), you will feel better and have more energy, because you will have fewer energy crashes.
- The worst possible thing you can eat is a french fry, hash brown, potato chip, or tater tot. A combination of addictive salt, unhealthy fried fats, a high insulin response, and no nutritional value is deadly.
- There is nothing inherently wrong with eating carbs.
- Foods should be chosen for their nutritional value, not because they fit a trendy diet.
- Foods which don’t come in packages are usually healthier than those that do.
- Fruits, which are carbohydrates, are some of the healthiest things you can eat. They come with vitamins, energy, minerals, and phytonutrients, which are all good for you.
- Again, use a food tracker for the only way to guarantee weight loss, otherwise just focus on eating healthy and enjoying your life.
Eat smart with your carbs, but don’t think you can’t eat them. It’s not necessary to give them up completely.