Busting Nutrition Myths: #1 – The Low Down on Carbs

Happy Labor Day! I hope you’re having a lovely day off or a decent day at work if you’re not lucky enough to not have classes like me! I just wanted to give you guys a quick life update before we get into this post: I rode in a helicopter yesterday! It was pretty amazing if I do say so myself. It was only a little scary when the guy stalled in mid-air just to freak me out. I mean I’m sure most people love the feeling you get in your stomach when you suddenly start falling out of the sky because what’s life without a little adrenaline? Anyways, I digress.

I am very excited to announce I will be starting a new blog series I dubbed “Monday Morning Coffee”. The way it is going to work is very simple…every Monday you are to grab a cup of coffee or beverage of your choosing and check my blog for a new article that will give you a little dose of nutrition knowledge to get you through the week. It is not going to be hard science at all, just a tid-bit of information you can take with you and apply to your life. My ultimate goal is to make you guys more aware and educated, that way you can make informed decisions about how to live your life in a healthy way. As you can tell from the title of this post, the first series I am starting is “Nutrition Myths”. Every Monday for the next 5 weeks, we will breakdown a common nutrition misconception and help you see what the current research is actually saying. So without further adieu…

Carbs, carbs, carbs…they are our best friends. From being there for us during breakups, finals, or celebrations, they always manage to make our souls feel good. I mean who doesn’t love to enjoy some Ben & Jerry’s on movie night or a slice of cake at a birthday party am I right? Its definitely a love/hate relationship though because too many of those late night ice cream runs quickly turns into shopping for a new, bigger pair of jeans, but jeans are expensive. So, we go on a fad diet and cut out carbs, lose a little weight, and gain it all right back when we start eating normally again. What happened?! Well, most of the weight you lost was probably water weight, and when you went back to eating “normally”, it wasn’t exactly a healthy normal. So whatever fat you did lose probably came right back along with more water retention…I hate to break it to you, but it isn’t the carbs that are making this happen, it’s the calories.

“Carbs” are short for carbohydrates, which are one of the three main nutrients our body uses daily. Why do we need them? Well, carbs are the body’s main source of energy. They give you the energy to stand up and walk to the kitchen, workout at the gym, or even type on the computer. Not only this, but they provide the brain with its only source of energy: glucose. While the brain can get fuel in other ways, these processes are very taxing on the body and can cause serious health issues. Two other activities that can only use glucose to function are the firing of your nerves and the creation of red blood cells.

Outside of this, carbs also contain many vital nutrients that our bodies need to function. Foods like oatmeal and whole wheat bread are great sources of fiber, iron, and B-vitamins. Fortified cereals tend to have these same nutrients in addition to calcium, which help us build strong bones and play a role in muscle contractions. Oranges are full of vitamin-C, which helps build our immune system. Potatoes and bananas are excellent sources of potassium, which help our heart to beat and muscles to contract. So as you can see, we need carbs, which is why it is recommended that your diet be between 45 and 65% carbohydrates. That more than half of your diet! Shocking right?

So if you need carbs to function, then why is it that you gain weight when you eat them? Like I said, carbs do not cause you to gain weight – calories do. Carbs contain 4 calories per gram, and while that might not seem like much, they can add up very quickly. In addition to being found in fruits and vegetables, dairy, and whole grains, carbohydrates are also found in foods like soda, cake, ice cream, or even condiments like ketchup and BBQ sauce. Needless to say, these things are extremely easy to over-eat (I don’t even want to know how many cookies I would eat in one sitting when I was a kid). In addition to being easy to overeat, carbs are also very concentrated in these kinds of foods. For example, one blueberry muffin from Starbucks has 55 grams of carbs, and one piece of whole wheat toast has about 12-15 grams of carbs. If you ate 3 pieces of whole wheat bread with a reasonable amount jelly, you still would not have eaten 55 grams of carbs! By choosing foods like whole wheat (not whole grain) breads and pastas, low sugar cereals, and fruits and vegetables, you will be nourishing your body, while still being able to eat your carbs. I’ll even bet that you won’t be hungry as often because these foods are great sources of fiber, which slows down your digestion and keeps your satisfied.

Am I saying you can never have a muffin or a piece of cake? Of course not! Mental health is just as important as physical health. Depriving yourself of these foods will not be good for you in either of those aspects, so just be mindful of what you are eating. If you fall off track one day, brush it off and get back on it the next day. Life is about moderation and balance!

 

So what are the take home messages here?

  • We need carbs to function! They give us energy and valuable nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
  • Aim for whole grains, vegetables, and fruits rather than sweets and sugar sweetened beverages.
  • Carbs do not make you gain weight, calories do.
  • Make mindful choices, and treat yourself once in a while 🙂

References:

http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-2468/T-3117.pdf

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