Carbohydrates: Facts & Myths

Do you remember when fat was deemed “bad” just as carbohydrates are today? In about 10 years, society has shifted from avoiding fat to avoiding carbohydrates. With this shift, many myths about carbohydrates have emerged. Research has proven that fat is necessary for a healthy and functional body, but did you know that the same has been done for carbohydrates? This blog post will bust some common myths about carbohydrates so that you can nourish your body and refrain from engaging in diet culture.  

Myth #1: Carbohydrates Cause Weight Gain

Low carbohydrate diets are believed to be a great weight-loss method because individuals often see dramatic results fast, but what they don’t know is that their weight loss is primarily due to water loss. This is because carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen and glycogen holds water; thus, when glycogen stores are depleted, the associated water is also used up. However in the long-term, low carbohydrate diets are not a miracle method for weight-loss (hint: nothing is). The bottom line is that energy restriction from any of the 3 macronutrients can lead to temporary weight loss; fat and protein are simply not associated with rapid water loss. Similarly, increased energy econsumption from any of the 3 macronutrients can cause weight gain. Carbohydrates simply have a bad reputation because consuming them after restriction can cause “extra” weight gain due to normalwater retention in glycogen stores. In addition, eating carbohydrates at night does not cause weight gain as they are metabolized by the body in the same way all day and night.1So those rules about not eating after 7:00 pm? Nonsense. 

Myth #2: Low Carbohydrate Diets Are Healthier

Low carbohydrate diets are nothealthier than a balanced diet containing all three macronutrients. This is because whole foods that are rich in carbohydrates are packed with vitamins and minerals, some of which are not available in high-protein or high-fat foods. Thus, consuming a low-carbohydrate diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies in the long-term. Possible nutrient deficiencies include: B vitamins, magnesium, selenium, and fibre. In addition, low carbohydrate diets are associated with the following side effects: fatigue, poor concentration, weak immune system, constipation, mood swings, headaches, increased hunger, and bad breath (due to ketones).1Furthermore, in the long-term, low-carbohydrate diets may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer because they promote a higher intake of saturated fats and restrict whole-grains, fruit, and starchy vegetables.2

Myth #4: All Simple Carbohydrates Are “Bad” & All Complex Carbohydrates Are “Good”

Categorizing foods as “good” and “bad” is more unhealthy than a food will ever be because it can lead food obsession, stress, or guilt, which can pave the way to a darker path. We are meant to enjoy all foods. Simple carbohydrates are not “bad” just because they contain less fibre and micronutrients than complex carbohydrates.They still provide our bodies energy! It’s all about making the right choices for you and your body in a given situation. If simple carbohydrates are all that is available in a given situation when you are hungry, go ahead and fuel your body. If you have an option to choose between a simple carbohydrate and a complex carbohydrate, listen to your body and enjoy your pick, regardless of which one you choose! They will both provide your body with energy and that is the bottom line. 

Myth #5: Fruit Intake Should Be Limited Because Fruits Are High in Sugar

It is true that fruits naturally contain sugar, however, fruits are also high in water and fibre. These are all nutrients that are essential to the proper function of our bodies. Most importantly, fruits are packed with antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals. There is no need to limit fruit consumption as part of a nourishing diet. Fruits are a great snack, meal compliment, and even dessert!

Everything we have discussed today shows that carbohydrates are an important part of a nourishing diet. In fact, carbohydrates are so important that our bodies are capable of converting protein from the diet and from muscles into the simple carbohydrate glucose. Therefore, our bodies need carbohydrates and avoiding them brings no benefit to most people. Enjoy your favourite fruit, bread, baked good, or pastry and ignore the myths diet culture has created around you! 


References

  1. Fleming, K., & CCI. (2018). Carbohydrate myths & facts. In Centre for clinical interventions. Retrieved from: https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/CCI/Mental%20Health%20Professionals/Eating%20Disorders/Eating%20Disorders%20-%20Information%20Sheets/Eating%20Disorders%20Information%20Sheet%20-%2006%20-%20Carbohydrates%20Myths%20and%20Facts.pdf.
  2. Sports Dietitians Australia. (2009). Low carb diets for weight loss in athletes. In Sports dietitians. Retrieved from: https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Low-Carb-Diets.pdf.

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