Monday, January 23, 2017

Carbohydrates: Myths and Facts

Out of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat), carbohydrates have been considered the enemy since the day I was born. Between all the media headlines, magazine articles titled “Stay Clear of Carbs,” and food industry advertisement, it can be hard to distinguish if the claims about carbohydrates are fact or fiction. Luckily for you, I went behind enemy lines to figure out the truth about carbohydrates.

Fact or Fiction:

  1. Eating carbohydrates makes you gain weight. Fiction. Consuming more calories than you burn makes you gain weight, period. Consuming low carbohydrates and excessive amounts of fat and protein will not make you lose weight.
  2. Only breads and grains contain carbs. Fiction again. Most individuals don’t realize that fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates as well. Carbs are more than just breads, cereals, and rice. Carbohydrates are found in most plant-based foods and most milk products as well.
  3. Complex carbs are better than simple carbs. Fact, sort of, let me explain. True, as a dietitian, I strongly encourage complex carbohydrates such as 100% whole grain bread, rice, pasta, quinoa, buckwheat, etc. Complex carbs provide fiber, which may play a role in improving the gastrointestinal tract and protect against digestive diseases. Fiber also provides satiety so you feel fuller, longer. On the flip side, simple carbs or simple sugars are found in fruits such as apples, bananas, and milk products. These simple sugars are rapidly absorbed in the body and provide quick energy, which can be useful prior to a sporting event or a workout.
  4. Low carb, high protein is better for you.  While some studies have shown that low carb diets may improve metabolic markers in the short term, no consistent research shows that it reduces overall mortality. According to Dr. John Hawley, who presented at FNCE 2016 on Promoting Endurance Training Adaptation in Skeletal Muscle by Nutritional Manipulation, stated that “chronic ketogenic diet impairs performance by reducing economy movement and dietary extremes are dangerous and have no place in contemporary sports nutrition guidelines.”
  5. Don’t eat carbs after 9 p.m. Similar to my response on number one, consuming more calories than you burn will make you gain weight. If you have calories to spare after 9 p.m. go ahead and have a slice of toast with peanut butter. Not fueling your body properly could end up impeding your progress.

So there you have it! Carbohydrates aren’t scary and they shouldn’t be severely restricted or avoided. Choose mostly complex, whole grain carbs, watch those portion sizes, and enjoy a donut every now and then.

Allison Bokenkotter is an RDN in Cincinnati.  In addition, she’s the diversity/national nutrition month chair for the Greater Cincinnati Dietetic Association.  You can find her on LinkedIn: Allison Bokenkotter.