3 Myths About Carbs
by Katy Keogh, MS, RDN, LD
Last Updated: December 14, 2020
In the ‘80s and ‘90s it was fat, now it’s carbohydrates. It seems every decade or two, our society likes to demonize one macronutrient and celebrate another. Protein is certainly seeing its glory day and fat is way more acceptable than it once was…but no one wants to be seen eating carbohydrates anymore. They were the cool kid, and now they’re not. Protein is essential, and we dietitians love that people are finally getting more protein in their breakfast and lunches, but it is often at the cost of carbohydrates. Sometimes we see people completely over-consuming protein as a result. “Can’t we all just get along?!” Dietitians dream of the day when all nutrients will be equal and accepted! Balance is so important in all aspects of life, and this certainly applies to nutrition as well.
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate advocate that around half of our calorie intake should come from carbohydrate sources as part of a healthy, balanced diet. We still enjoy carbohydrates and encourage our patients to as well. There are many myths about carbohydrates, so let’s bust some of the top carbohydrate myths:
MYTH: Diets high in carbohydrates lead to the development of Type 2 Diabetes and can spike blood sugar.
FACT: Diets moderately high in carbohydrates (like the MyPlate guidelines), specifically from whole grain sources, fruits and vegetables, protect from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancers, and a slew of other health conditions (1). Whole grains, fruits, starchy vegetables, and legumes are all primary carbohydrate sources but are also essential sources of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and prebiotics. They benefit our gut health, glucose tolerance, immune system, and heart health (1-2). Whether you have diabetes or not, carbohydrates help maintain stable blood glucose (e.g., blood sugar). When eaten as part of a balanced diet, and if mostly from unrefined carbohydrate sources, we are more likely to maintain stable and ideal blood glucose levels and improve energy levels, nutrient intake, and health outcomes.
MYTH: Low carb diets are more effective for weight loss.
FACT: There is actually quite a bit of research to the contrary (2-3). When you look at longer-term data, low carbohydrate diets are not necessarily healthier nor more successful for weight management than a diet containing moderate carbohydrate amounts. In studies that show low carb diets are more successful (in the short term), there tends to be a very high dropout rate in the low-carb groups; when data is looked at the longer-term, the results of moderate carb diets show to be just as successful (2). It could be concluded that moderate carbohydrate diets are actually more successful because they are easier to stick to, are more realistic long term, and contain more essential nutrients. There is no single diet that has ever been proven superior for weight management. We know that the healthiest diet is not actually a “diet” but is a style of eating that you can easily stick to, helps you feel and function your best, and includes various foods that you like (including treat foods). We want to foster a non-restrictive, healthy relationship with food and movement. As we always say, “If you can’t stick to it forever, then it doesn’t really work, does it?”
MYTH: Fruit is too high in sugar.
FACT: While fruit does contain sugar, it contains natural sugar. Unlike added sugar, the natural sugars in fruit bring many benefits from vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. You’d struggle to find those same benefits in your average cookie or other sweet that contains added sugar…not that we’re opposed to cookies! After all, “all food fits” is our motto!
The carbohydrates in fruit do impact our blood glucose but not in a negative way. As explained before, we need carbohydrates for steady blood glucose levels. It is surprisingly rare that we find someone having so much fruit that it is negatively affecting their blood glucose or health outcomes. This doesn’t tend to happen since the fiber, sweetness, and water content of fruit makes it satiating, especially when combined with balanced eating.
Hopefully, we’ve convinced you that carbs rock and belong in your life. We know you may be a little nervous, so here are some tips to ensure carbohydrates serve you best:
- Unprocessed - The type of carbohydrate likely matters more than the actual amount. Eat carbohydrates mostly from whole grains (like quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice), fruits, and vegetables (starchy vegetables and legumes are great sources).
- Balance - At meals, balance high carbohydrate foods with lean protein, dairy or dairy alternatives, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.
- Consistency - Try to keep the number of carbs you consume consistent from meal to meal, especially for people on glucose-lowering medications, like those for diabetes.
- Enjoy - Most importantly, enjoy what you eat, avoid restriction, and follow your hunger and fullness signals to guide your eating.
Feeling even more confused? Our Dietitians can help answer your questions and personalize information for your scenario. Book a free Telenutrition appointment at www.krogerhealth.com/telenutrition.
- Oldways Whole Grains Council. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2020, from https://wholegrainscouncil.org/
- Wylie-Rosett J, Aebersold K, Conlon B, Isasi CR, Ostrovsky NW. Health effects of low-carbohydrate diets: where should new research go?. Curr Diab Rep. 2013;13(2):271-278. doi:10.1007/s11892-012-0357-5. Access: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3595318/
- Warshaw H, S. T. (2018, November). Very Low-Carbohydrate Diets. Today's Dietitian, 20(11), p. 28. Retrieved December 1, 2020, from Today's Dietitian: https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/1118p28.shtml
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.