Carbohydrate Myths Set Straight (January 2018)
In twenty years of being a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), there is one concept I have found to be true:
“History repeats itself” when it comes to various diet trends.
When I was in school studying to be an RDN, our culture was obsessed with dieting and afraid of fat. The mainstream food companies, such as Snackwell and Entemann, made baked goods that joyfully proclaimed they were “Fat Free!” Lays made chips with the same claim and gastrointestinal difficulties developed.
In addition to fat, protein got a bad rap that resulted in people cutting out the most important nutrient for rebuilding muscle and tissue stores.
Over time, the names of these diets and “meal plans” have changed but the pattern remains the same, with diet trends touting necessary food groups as “bad” and convincing the general public to cut out important aspects of their nutrition.
We have arrived at this place of fear, once again regarding the gold standard of fuel: carbohydrates, which includes starches, grains, white foods, gluten, etc. These are the nutrients that provide us energy. They fuel our brain, heart, liver, kidneys, and other organs in addition to our muscles.
As a reminder, when we ingest carbohydrates, they are converted into glucose, also known as sugar, which is the number one fuel our body needs. This glucose is stored in our muscles as glycogen. When our body needs to be refueled, it taps into these stores. Due to fad dieting trends, glucose has developed a bad rap. This article will clarify several misconceptions that people have about carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates will cause me to gain weight
When an individual has not surrendered to stopping of the scale I hear from clients that carbohydrates have caused weight gain. In an upcoming monthly insight, I discuss why you should ditch your scale but for now the most important point to emphasize is that no one food causes weight gain. In fact, our bodies shift with fluid several pounds per day. The more that we deny ourselves of a specific food group, the more we end up craving it and bingeing when we allow ourselves to have it.
People that diet often increase their consumption of protein, vegetable, caffeine, and alcohol (if they drink it) thinking that because there is no bread or pasta, they are not ingesting carbohydrates. The same is sometimes true of fruits as well, as people don’t realize these, too, contain carbohydrates. What they don’t realize is that many of these foods include carbohydrates, and there is a reason for that. Carbohydrates fuel our bodies and allow us to live healthy lives, therefore, we have adapted to ingesting those foods that contain them. Fruits, such as apples, contain carbohydrates and so do vegetables, like broccoli and kale.
Carbohydrates are notoriously blamed for causing weight gain but this notion is simply untrue.
Abolish these unfounded rules that the food police have embedded in your mind and work on understanding the necessity of this food group and the reality of what it does for your body.
Don’t eat carbohydrates in the evening
People are under the illusion that if carbohydrates are consumed in any form (grains, legumes, fruit, dessert) in the evening it will turn to fat or contribute to weight gain. Our body is a like an odometer. What I mean by this is that it is constantly burning fuel. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you are consuming any specific food group or nutrient.
Avoid fruit due to the sugar content
Fruit is a wonderful source of fiber and B-Vitamins and is composed of a sugar known as fructose. Contrary to popular belief, fructose does not cause problems for the liver. Furthermore, having glucose, the other sugar that carbohydrates are broken down into, doesn’t drive up the insulin level. The point here is that sugar is not the enemy. In fact, we need it. Certainly, for people who have various forms of diabetes mellitus, they may want to be more mindful how their blood sugar responds especially if they use a meter to check their blood sugar. Remember, all carbohydrates metabolize into sugar, which is normal. It would be unfortunate to avoid fruit as we would lose the benefit of important nutrients and could experience constipation.
Sugar Free equals carbohydrate free
I see many clients in my practice with type I diabetes mellitus, type II diabetes mellitus, gestational diabetes and medication induced diabetes mellitus. The first statement that leaves the individual’s mouth is “I am eating many sugar free items.” This certainly requires us to become reacquainted with understanding labels, as “sugar free” is not carbohydrate free. Sugar free items may contain fewer grams of carbohydrates due to the addition of sugar alcohols (aka: fake sweeteners) but these foods still likely have carbohydrates.
This is important for many of us, particularly those with diabetes. These individuals must be aware of the grams of carbohydrates ingested in order to promote blood sugar stabilizations.
All white foods are ineffective
Sadly, people judge what they eat due to the various fads circulating. In diet culture, we are told to eat whole grain carbohydrates instead of “white foods,” an example being white rice, because it assumed that these foods are simply “empty calories” that contain no nutrition. Believe it or not, all white carbohydrates contain B-Vitamins, taste good, and provide pleasure! Not everything we eat has to be loaded with all nutrients to be beneficial and enjoyable. Our emotional satisfaction is very important, too. How can we forget about potatoes? These spuds contain great potassium, vitamin C and fiber when we eat the skin. Also in the white food family cauliflower, mushrooms, garlic, onions and leeks have great antioxidants and nutrients.
When I was writing this article it wasn’t easy to choose the top 5 misconceptions in the carbohydrate world, as there are so many. Those listed above seem to be the ones that come up most with my clients. I hope this article will allow you to broaden your intake of tasty, delicious carbohydrates.