It's Okay to Eat Carbohydrates
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard that “bread is bad” and “I’m avoiding bread” or “I’m trying to cut out carbs.” Why are breads (and other carbohydrates) vilified in the dieting world? Carbs are the focus of attack because non-evidence-based nutrition information spreads like wildfire. This is nothing new. With every decade, comes a new fad or trend. Carbohydrates seem to be the latest target for the diet industry.
With all the noise out there about nutrition, it can get confusing. Since I am often asked about carbohydrates, I thought it was high time to dedicate a blog post to them! So, let’s chat about carbohydrates for a moment, shall we? Here are my top three reasons why carbs are important to our body and why I don’t advise eliminating them:
1. Carbohydrates break down into glucose. Glucose is the primary source of fuel for the brain. Common side effects of carb restriction are headaches, fatigue, brain fog, and irritability. This is because the brain is being starved from glucose. Carbohydrates also play a role in our bodies production of serotonin, a chemical that nerve cells produce. Serotonin has many important functions including involvement in our cardiovascular system, mood regulation, sleep cycle, and bowel movements.
2. The muscles and liver store carbohydrate in the form of glycogen. Why? It's because carbohydrates (glucose) is the quickest, most efficient fuel source for the body. Your body loves carbohydrates so much that it saves them up to protect you. These storage forms are used when you are engaging in activity or are in a fasting state (such as during sleep). If your glycogen reserves become severely depleted, the body will begin breaking down the protein in your muscles into glucose, through a process called gluconeogenesis.
3. Last but not least, carbohydrates make up a huge group of foods, including: vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes, grains, milk, and yogurt. These foods are important sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. If we restrict them, we can run the risk for micro-nutrient deficiencies. The lack of fiber can also lead to digestive issues (hello, constipation) and a reduction of probiotics, aka the “good” bacteria in the gut.
Our bodies are designed to utilize a variety and balance of all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Additionally, if you look into any research studies on very-low carbohydrate diets (<50 gm/day), there are zero long-term studies (>2 years), and the attrition rate is significantly high in those that are at least 6 months. Simply put: there is not enough long-term evidence to justify their safety or to recommend to the masses. I don’t need research to tell me this because I’ve had plenty of patients and clients share their struggles with being “on and off” low-carb diets throughout their life. The aforementioned is telling of the fact that our bodies do not enjoy being starved of carbs and that restrictive diets don’t work long-term.
Also, if you noticed, carbohydrates are in several tasty foods. Food is meant to be pleasurable and enjoyable - it's why we have taste buds. Can you imagine going the rest of your life, trying to eliminate or restrict this huge food group? Why would we do this to ourselves when it is not necessary?
In summary, carbs are a crucial source of energy, nutrients, and deliciousness. And this dietitian is a fan of carbs. I’ve had many clients show significant improvements in their performance levels, health markers, and relationship with food by letting go of the fear of carbs and learning how to include them in their meals and snacks. Want to learn more? Or do you have some specific questions about carbohydrates? Comment below or send me a private message! I’d love to help.