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  • Sophie Lauver

Carbohydrates: Friend or Foe?

Updated: Aug 20

So often my clients come to me saying that their doctor recommended they stop eating carbs because they’re contributing to weight gain, elevated blood sugar, you name it. I’ll say it now and I’ll say it again-- carbs are NOT the enemy.


Carbs, which is short for carbohydrates, are a completely necessary part of the human diet! Carbohydrates are one of our three macronutrients, amongst protein and fat. The knee-jerk reaction most people have to carbohydrates are to what we’d call simple carbohydrates. They include:

  • sugary desserts

  • sugar sweetened beverages

  • fruit juices

Essentially, these are foods that are just sugar and do not contain starch and fiber.


Complex carbohydrates do contain sugar but also contain starch, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. These are the carbohydrates that are so often forgotten when people demonize carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates include:

  • whole grain bread/rice/pasta

  • whole fruit

  • sweet potatoes

  • beans

  • lentils

Complex carbohydrates are released more slowly into the bloodstream due to the time it takes our body to digest this higher fiber food. This is how complex carbohydrates keep our blood sugar more steady and allow us to avoid those peaks and valleys which are associated with simple carbohydrates. Sugar high, sugar crash, anyone? Complex carbohydrates have been shown to reduce our risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and obesity. The concept of glycemic load is now used to categorize how much carbohydrate a food contains and how quickly the food raises blood sugar after eating (also known as the glycemic index).


When we drastically reduce our carbohydrate intake a la the Keto diet, we’re increasing our intake of fat and protein, likely saturated fat, often to an excessive point. High intake of saturated fat and animal protein have been shown to be significantly associated with increased risk of death. Without adequate carbohydrates we also miss out on key dietary components like fiber, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium.


In conclusion, dietary balance is important! We’re naturally programed to derive pleasure from carbohydrates and given the nutrition they can provide, that is a-ok! Swap your refined grains to whole grains, your white potato to sweet potato, your fruit juice to whole fruit and dig in!


References:


1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2016, July 25). Carbohydrates and blood sugar. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/.

2. Willett, W., Manson, J., & Liu, S. (2002). Glycemic index, glycemic load, and risk of type 2 diabetes. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 76(1), 274S–80S. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/76/1.274S

3. Maino Vieytes, C. A., Taha, H. M., Burton-Obanla, A. A., Douglas, K. G., & Arthur, A. E. (2019). Carbohydrate Nutrition and the Risk of Cancer. Current nutrition reports, 8(3), 230–239. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-019-0264-3

4. Virtanen, H. E., Voutilainen, S., Koskinen, T. T., Mursu, J., Kokko, P., Ylilauri, M. P., Tuomainen, T.-P., Salonen, J. T., & Virtanen, J. K. (2019). Dietary proteins and protein sources and risk of death: The Kuopio ischaemic heart disease risk Factor Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 109(5), 1462–1471. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz025

5. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. (n.d.). The carbohydrate advantage. https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/the-carbohydrate-advantage.

6. Ventura, A. K., & Worobey, J. (2013). Early influences on the development of food preferences. Current Biology, 23(9), R401–R408. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2013.02.037





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