As a dietitian, one of my biggest pet peeves is the bad rap carbohydrates get. Even though the low-carb crazed 90’s are behind us, I still find many people are confused about the role carbs play in our diets. These are six of the most common misconceptions about carbohydrates.
All carbs are created equal
Carbohydrates are not just in bread, cereal, and pasta. Fruit, milk, yogurt, vegetables – these all contain carbs too. Most of your daily carbohydrate intake should come from whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and dairy products. These foods contain fiber, protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, in addition to carbs. They digest more slowly in our GI tract, causing a gradual release of sugar into our bloodstream. Compare this to refined white flour products like bagels, white pasta, and high sugar foods like processed snacks, desserts, and sugar-sweetened drinks. These foods have very little nutritive value and contain quick-digesting carbohydrate that causes a spike in blood sugar. This spike can lead to low energy, fatigue, and cravings in the short term, and insulin resistance and diabetes in the long term.
Carbs are fattening
I have many clients who think they shouldn’t eat carbs because they will gain weight. Now, this may be true if those carbs are coming from highly processed snack foods or large portions of refined white carbohydrates. But whole grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables? Not so much – these food groups have been linked to better weight control. So why do people on low-carb diets lose weight? Carbohydrates are attached to water molecules in our bodies, and when you cut carbs out in the short term you may lose a few pounds quickly, but this is mainly water weight. Over the long-term, low-carb diets don’t fare any better regarding overall weight lost.
Avoid fruit because it is high in sugar
This one confuses many people. Yes, fruit does contain sugar, but it also contains many beneficial nutrients like fiber and antioxidants. This fiber means that the fruit sugar doesn’t cause as much of a spike in blood sugar compared to a snack food with sugar added to it. Now, if you eat too much fruit at once you may end up taking in too much sugar, but fruit is very filling, and it’s tough to eat too much of it at once. Stick to a one cup serving size (or about the size of a medium piece of fruit) and enjoy it two to three times per day.
White foods are unhealthy
White rice and white flour are refined grains, missing the fiber and nutrients found in their whole grain counterparts. But that is where the white foods myth ends. Many white food are high in nutrients, including potatoes, white beans, chickpeas, cauliflower, mushrooms, garlic, onions, and leeks. The potato in particular gets a bad rap, but it is actually a great source of potassium, vitamin C, and fiber (from the skin).
Foods lower in net carbs are better for you
Many think that by looking for “net carbs” on a food label, they can choose foods lower in carbohydrate. Unfortunately, the term “net carb” is just a term made up by food industry in order to make people think they are eating something with fewer carbohydrates. To arrive at a net carb number, they subtract any carbs from fiber or sugar alcohols from the amount of total carbohydrate. The thinking being that these food components are not processed by the body and therefore not absorbed. This is not the case. While fiber does blunt the blood sugar rise, it still adds calories and carbohydrates, and several sugar alcohols are shown to still have an effect on blood sugar. Net carbs on a food label is just another way the food industry tries to market their products.
Low carb diets are healthier
Some research has shown that low-carb diets improve blood cholesterol levels and the bodies response to insulin. However, most people can achieve these health benefits by cutting out highly processed carbohydrates and foods with added sugar. Low carb diets can run the risk of too little fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins and minerals. A healthy, balanced diet should include carbs from whole grains, fruit, dairy, legumes, and vegetables.