It seems like everywhere you look, you see “low-carb” products or hear about someone on a low-carb diet. But we’re here to tell you why low-carb dieting isn’t the healthiest choice. So go ahead, hug your bread, and let’s talk CARBS.
“Is butter a carb?”
Well, no. Butter is mostly fat. But Regina George brought up a good point—there’s a lot of confusion about what a “carb”actually is. Carbs are found in a lot of places: grains and grain products (think cereal), bread, fruits, many vegetables, beans, dairy and sugar. See anything healthy in that list? That’s right–fruits and veggies, your body’s best friends, contain carbs. And the USDA Dietary Guidelines for healthy adults currently recommends you get 45-65% of your calories from carbs, more than from fats or proteins. That means most of your calories should come from carbs.
So why do carbs have such a bad rep?
A lot of carbohydrate-dense foods, including big, cakey muffins and baked goods in general, greasy fries, chips, gooey cheese-covered pasta and anything with added sugar are, as we all know not always the healthiest of food choices. The extra sugars and oils in them don’t provide a lot of nutrients per calorie. But not all carbs are bad! Whole grain breads and cereals, grains (like oatmeal, quinoa and barley), fruits, veggies, beans and legumes are bursting with tons of body-friendly vitamins, minerals and fiber to keep you healthy, happy, full and satisfied.
Then why do low carbohydrate diets work?
Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy since they’re the easiest for you to metabolize. When you don’t have many of these around, your body makes do with what it has, which may include breaking down and metabolizing fat. But often times, low-carb diets work because people consume less calories overall. If you’re cutting out carbs, you’re probably eating less in general. Think about it. You might easily enjoy a cupcake or chips with your afternoon coffee, but would you have some chicken or steak instead? It’s more likely you’d just skip the snack all together.
But low carb diets can be harmful!
While they may help some people get to a healthier weight, for healthy individuals, long-term, low-carb diets can cause some pretty bad side effects. When the brain and muscles don’t get enough energy from carbohydrates to maintain normal functions, the body gets pretty unhappy. Particularly true if your low-carb diet is high in saturated fat and cholesterol as many are, diets like the Atkins diet may, in the long term, increase blood cholesterol and triglycerides, among other icky stuff, like issues with your livers and kidneys.
And let’s not forget to mention mood – a yearlong study by the Archives of Internal Medicine found that those who followed a restricted carb diet for a year experienced more depression, anxiety and anger than those on a low-fat diet. You’re not imagining your low-carb dieting friends having their cranky pants on—some speculate that limiting carbs gets in the way of your body’s ability to make mood-boosting serotonin in the brain.
Don’t shun carbs. Eat them, just be smart about it. Incorporate plenty of grains, fruits, veggies and beans, and when choosing grain products like cereal, bread and pasta, aim for to 100% whole grain versions at least half of the time.