What Is The Deal With Carbs?
I don’t know about you but I swear every time I scroll through Instagram, Facebook, or Pintrest I see low carb this, low carb that, want to lose weight? Try ketogenic…..Seriously, the carb thing is EVERYWHERE and super trendy right now! But what’s the real deal with all of these low carb diets? Is the ketogenic diet really a godsend to help heal all ailments? Is grain free really the new gluten free?
Well lets chat…
What is a carbohydrate?
First lets start with the basics….because there is A LOT of confusion about exactly what a carbohydrate is. When most people think or talk about carbohydrates it’s all bread, pasta, baked goods, and the odd grain like rice or beans. BUT the truth is that everything that is a living thing contains carbohydrates!! Sure the ones listed above are the most carbohydrate rich of the carb family BUT even meat has some sort of carbohydrates in it. Simply put carbohydrates are just a form of sugar, and as we all know not all sugars are created equal. BUT that’s a whole different science story for a whole different time! Right now there are only a few different carbohydrates we want to talk about, complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates!
Complex carbs in simple terms are complex. In their molecular form they are long chain sugar molecules which is what makes them harder to breakdown. These types of carbohydrates contain more fibre, which slows down the metabolism of the sugars and makes it so that you get less of a blood sugar spike. Most of the complex carbs are often referred/thought of as “whole grains” (think rice, beans, legumes, quinoa, buckwheat, etc) BUT there are more complex carbs out there than just whole grains! Some of the non-grain complex carbs are; sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, corn, beets, carrots, bananas, and dates.
Now these are the ones most people think of when they think of carbohydrates….Simple carbohydrates have a shorter chain of sugar molecule which makes them easier to breakdown in the body and thus create spikes in blood sugar…..Basically they are sugar bombs in hiding!
Now simple carbs are not necessarily just your processed sugars, candies and baked goodies. Some common “health foods” which are also simple carbs are; white rice, fruit juice, and white flour!!
So why all the carb hype?
So yes, low carb diets are trending HARD right now, and there is defiantly some benefit to them…but they are also NOT for everyone! Most of these diets are made and marketed towards those who want to lose weight and “keep weight off” (think fitness junkies for the second). BUT here is the thing…these low carb diets not only are usually NOT manageable in the long term (both physically for the body but also socially) AND they actually meant to be therapeutic diets NOT weight loss diets!
First lets talk about the weight loss thing….
The average North American actually eats more than DOUBLE the amount of carbohydrates it is recommended that we eat daily. The average persons intake should be around 275 grams of COMPLEX carbs a day and less than 20 grams of simple carbs a day. BUT the average North American is actually eating around 600 grams of carbohydrates a day with more than half coming from simple carbs…..So as soon as someone is put on a low carb diet like Keto, Paleo, Atkins (yes this is still a thing) or Dr. Bernstein OF COURSE they lose weight!!
But these diets are actually restricting carbohydrates more than what is recommended….
Keto Diets carb allowance is anywhere from 20 grams to 100 grams per day, depending on activity level…More activity equals more carb intake. BUT it is rarely over 100 grams.
Atkins Diet carb allowance is less than 20 grams per day. When you go through the different phases you can gradually add more carbs in BUT over all through all the phases you are still consuming less carbs than the Keto Diet
Dr. Bernstein Diet’s carb allowance is 30 grams per day. With a recommendation of 12 grams at lunch, 12 grams at dinner, 12 grams at breakfast. Basically 12 grams of carbs is about 1 cup of milk, or 3/4 cup blueberries, or 1/4 SMALL potato/sweet potato/yam.
Paleo Diet’s carb allowance is not limited but instead asks that ALL grains, high sugar fruits (like topical fruits), and sugars (yes even maple syrup) be taken from the diet. This lowers the over all carbohydrate intake through out the day. The average Paleo Diet person’s carb intake is usually around 175 grams to 200 grams. This type, and amount, of carb restriction seems to be most preferred and sustainable for the majority of people.
Now why are most low carb diets not sustainable longterm?
If you have ever been on any type of diet before you know just how hard it is to stick to…BUT these low carbohydrate diets are by far some of the hardest to stick to long term and for a many reasons.
Eating out becomes increasingly hard. Now I am not a huge advocate of eating out often BUT we are all human and eating out from time to time as a treat can be nice. And just trying to eat “healthier”, let alone low carb can be difficult while eating out. Avoiding things like processed sugars can be difficult….they are in almost every marinate, dressing or sauce in most restaurants, BUT then you add in carb restriction….You’re left with eating a dry, no sauce, piece of meat and maybe some steamed veg if you’re lucky.
Social events…Okay so here is the thing, most people do not understand why someone may be doing things differently from them. This can lead to increased tension and frustration at social events. Not to mention if you are going to holiday parties, family/friends gatherings, OR any sort of food get togther you might be SOL on food unless you choose to make something and bring it.
Carbs are needed to increase muscle mass! A lot of the people that I see and talk to are following a low carb diet to help increase fitness gains. BUT the thing is unless you closely monitor your macronutrient intake you may be doing yourself more harm when it comes to fitness…This is because the sugars from carbohydrates are actually needed right after a workout to help shuttle proteins into the muscles so that they can repair and regenerate. Simply put…if your not eating enough carbs and working out, your muscles will easily fatigue and you could end up with muscle tenderness and muscle wasting.
Valuable vitamins and minerals that are found in carbohydrates are needed for the proper maintenance of the adrenal glands and thyroid glands. So if you are someone that is constantly under higher amounts of stress, or dealing with thyroid/adrenal issues you are cutting out a whole group that could be helping you out to stay healthy!
The Keto Flu….Now this one is more specific to the Keto, Bernstein, and Atkins diets. The Keto Flu is a name that is given to something that about 90% of people experience when they “cheat” or start to come off of one of these diets. Literal flu like symptoms (fever, chills, headaches, aches, shakes, and even stomach upset) appear after someone increases their carbohydrate intake for even just 1 day. These symptoms can last for up to 3 days and are no picnic!!
Everybody’s Body is Different!
BUT here is the thing…everybody’s body is VERY different! We all have different genetic make ups, activity levels, stress levels, illnesses and even emotions that play into what our body needs and works best with fuel wise. Some people thrive on a diet that is a little higher in whole food carbohydrates and if they try to do low carb they would feel extremely low energy and their brain power/digestion/hormones would be way off. Others thrive on a low carbohydrate, moderate protein and high fat diet and when they eat too many carbs they feel low energy and it messes with their brain power/hormones/digestion.
These diets that become trendy are never going to fit everybody’s body because we no ones body is the same. So it’s really all about educating yourself about your food choices and listening to your body and how it feels when you eat certain foods.
But even though everybody’ body is different the average North American could stand to cut down their carbohydrate intake to help protect themselves against diabetes, cancer, hormone disruption, infertility, and obesity. Soooo here are some MORE SUSTAINABLE tips for reducing your carbohydrate intake to a more manageable amount…
Start Your Day Off Right. Starting your day off with a “lower” carb meal will not only set you off on the right path hunger wise BUT it will also mean that you will be craving less carbohydrates over all. Because carbohydrates are just strings of sugar molecules even the high fibre, complex ones do tend to spike your blood sugar a bit. So starting your day off with a “lower” carb breakfast (however this may look for you), will actually keep you from reaching for those cookies, cakes, pieces of bread and other processed carbs later on. My favourite breakfast is actually 2 boiled eggs (I boil 6-8 of them at a time so I can save time in the mornings), 2 cups of greens of choice sautéed in ghee, 1/2 an avocado, and whatever spices I am feeling. On days where you are feeling like you need a little bit more try adding 1/2 cup of roasted potatoes, sweet potato, OR squash!
Eat More Whole Grain Fibrous Carbs When Eating Grains. As discussed before complexed carbohydrates, such as fibrous grains, do not spike your blood sugar as much which is exactly what we want. So if you are going to enjoy some grains try opting for one of the following nutrient and fibre filled one; black beans, chickpeas, wild rice, long grain brown rice, kidney beans, quinoa, amaranth, or buckwheat.
Add More Vegetable Style Carbs To Your Meals. A lot of the time when we are talking about carbohydrates most of us think of breads, pastas, cakes etc. BUT there are some vegetables that are also rich sources of carbohydrates. The benefit of having your carbohydrates mostly come from vegetables is that they are very nutrient/antioxidant dense, naturally fibrous, and spike your blood sugar less than MOST of the grains. I personally rely mostly on vegetables for my carbohydrates and then have grains every once and while when I really feel like I need a little bit more because of these reasons. Some great vegetables that are also rich in carbohydrates are; yams, sweet potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, squash, potatoes, beets, turnip, and parsnips. I should also mention here that fruits are also rich in carbohydrates and sugars BUT MOST of them contain even more sugars than vegetables, because of this it is still important to eat more vegetables than fruit in your day to day.
Always Include Fat And Protein With Your Carbohydrate Meals. Having fat and protein present at each and every meal is very important to maintain proper blood sugar control and make sure that you are managing your hormones, mood, and energy levels. BUT having sufficient fat and protein intake during a carbohydrate rich meal/snack is even more important. Remember carbohydrates are just little sugar molecules stuck together in chains soooo it is important to slow the breakdown and release of this sugar so we do not get that big insulin spike in your system. Adding fat and protein to a carbohydrate will slow the breakdown of these sugar molecules so you don’t get that insulin spike.
Take A Closer Look At Your Cravings. A lot of the time when I am talking with client’s about reducing the carbohydrates to a more manageable level I get either a look of fear or I get told “but I crave them all the time”…I am all for honouring what your body is telling you BUT when it comes to cravings it is important to take a little bit of a deeper look at the “why”. A lot of the time when we are craving processed carbohydrates it is coming from either an emotional level OR an energy level. When your body is depleted of energy it will send signals/ask for the thing that will give it the quickest spike of energy…sugar/carbohydrates! Then there is the emotional cravings… carbohydrates/sugar actually light up the same pleasure areas of the brain as opioids, tobacco, and sex! Then there is the the whole level that most of us relate carbohydrates to comfort…SOOO basically there is a HUGE connection between carbohydrates and cravings, which is why it is important to take a little closer look at these cravings.
Disclaimer note: All of the information above as come from my own opinions, research, application with clients, and professional education. It is important to note that all body’s function different and before embarking on any diet you should consult a health care professional (nutritionist, dietician, naturopathic doctor or medical doctor).