Oh, carbs. Love ’em or hate ’em… who are we kidding? You love ’em. We all do. But are they good or bad for you? Well, it’s complicated.
With so much conflicting information out there, it’s hard to know what’s what. What was good has become evil and what was evil has become good in a dietary sense, and round and round we go.
Here are a few myths about carbs explained to help you navigate the nutritional seas.
1. Cereal is a heart-healthy breakfast
Cereal is a staple in what we we think of as “a balanced breakfast” because it’s “light”. But it’s composed of highly processed carbohydrates for easy eating, which are just as easily broken down to sugar in our bodies.
Some brands try to offset this fact by adding “oat clusters” or nuts, but they’re usually coated in some form of sugar. How did you think the clusters clustered?
All those simple carbs and sugars can actually do damage to your heart according to the Cleveland Clinic.
2. Grains and legumes should be the base of a “healthy” diet
Remember the classic Food Guide Pyramid from the USDA? The one with grains and legumes dominating all along the bottom of the image? It’s out of date! The USDA Food Pyramid has been replaced by MyPlate.gov, a more comprehensive and vegetable heavy approach to eating a balanced meal.
Guess what you should actually be eating most of? Veggies of course!
3. Granola bars are a “healthy” option
Candy bars are bad and granola bars are good, right? Not so, I’m afraid.
Granola bars are compact little blocks of processed carbohydrates. Even if they’re composed of more slowly broken down grains like whole oats, (most aren’t) they’re held together by sweeteners from corn syrup to honey.
You’re better off snacking on some raw nuts or maybe an avocado, both of which have sustaining healthy fats to hold you over and won’t spike your blood sugar.
4. Exercise is more important than watching carbs
Let’s face it, we all hate cutting carbs. They’re so comforting and delicious.
If you’re trying to loose weight, or just be healthier, they really are one of the first things that should be reduced. Some people exercise more rather that eat fewer carbs. Anything not to cut back!
But according to this article from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, that’s not the best method. Over the past 30 years, obesity has reached new highs. While our physical activity levels haven’t reduced much, our carbohydrate and sugar intake has increased considerably.
Some people even manage to maintain a healthy weight by exercising more, but the strain on the system from all that exertion as well as the inflammation caused in the body from eating too many carbs and sugars can put seemingly fit people at risk for hypertension, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and heart disease.
5. Fruit has “healthy carbs” so you can eat as much as you want
You may think that “eating clean” means loading up on a big, fresh fruit salad first thing in the morning to get yourself started on the right foot. Not so fast.
Simple carbohydrates, be they the much-feared high fructose corn syrup, or regular old fructose occurring naturally in most fruit, will burn up quicker than a phoenix in the California hills.
This will spike your blood sugar and bring you crashing down just as if you ate a couple doughnuts. Not to say fruit is bad. Just that there’s always too much of even a good thing.
For a better start, have a protein based breakfast like an egg or some chia pudding with green veggies.
6. Gluten is the cause
Celiac disease is very real, and those who have it should absolutely avoid gluten. But for those who seem to experience gastrointestinal issues when eating glutenous grains and are not celiac, you could be misdiagnosing yourself as “gluten sensitive”.
Recent studies have been pointing to the more likely possibility of a sensitivity to fructans, a carbohydrate found in some glutinous grains, garlic, artichokes and some fruits. There’s also evidence pointing to sensitivity to the lactose in some dairy products and galactans, which are found in some legumes.
It might be more complicated than simply a sensitivity to gluten. The particular details of this sensitivity are outlined in the diet movement known as FODMAPs. Read more about it here.
7. All carbs are the enemy
There are carbs in almost every food, even vegetables! Complex carbohydrates in grains and starchy veggies have health benefits and nutrients too.
A wide variety of foods consisting of mostly whole, low sugar options is ideal. Just do a little research into what carbs are better for you. (Spoiler alert, white bread and sugar will be on the naughty list). But you can enjoy whole grain or grain-free baked goods as occasional treats, even if you’re living a low carb lifestyle.
Variety makes life interesting. And who wants to live an uninteresting life? Happy conscious baking!