Popular media often paint a picture that carbohydrates or carbs are unhealthy. You have probably seen it on TV commercials, magazines and all sorts of advertisement that eating carbs make you fat, are bad for blood sugar control, and the list goes on. You may even see this view endorsed by so-called medical experts.
This fearmongering is at the root cause for many that struggle with eating carbs, especially for those who have pre-diabetes or diabetes.
However, no reputable healthcare professional, including registered dietitian nutritionists, will discourage you from eating carbohydrates or encourage you to take them out of your diet completely.
There are three macronutrients - Carb, Protein, and Fat - that we need each day in a balanced way. If you cut out any of these macronutrients from the diet weight loss occurs naturally. So, ironically, I guess popular media is somewhat correct -Atkins, Keto or very low carb diets can cause weight loss and may help with some blood sugar lowering effect, but at what cost? For how long? Is this lifestyle sustainable? What are the long-term health effects of eating this way? These are some of the questions to personally consider and to discuss with your healthcare team when deciding to drastically reduce or cut carbs from the diet.
So, is there a more balanced approach? Yes, individualization in meal planning – this is where the expertise of registered dietitians comes in handy. Macronutrients are dispersed in the meal in such a way to achieve optimal blood sugar control and provide meal satisfaction and are based on many factors such as activity, gender, age, medical history, intolerances etc.
All three of these macronutrients are needed in the diet.
Carbohydrates are so important that the Institute of Medicine established the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for carbs to be a minimum of 130g of carbs per day for the average adult. This minimum amount is set with the expectation of preventing illness or disease. Amounts below this may not be acceptable for an average adult (1).
What are carbohydrates?
That’s a good question. They consist of fruits, sweets, milk and yogurts and starch (crackers, rice, pasta, etc). Fiber is a component in carbohydrate foods such as whole grains, and starchy and non-starchy vegetables and fruits. Carbohydrates are broken down even further to be classified as refined or unrefined. Refined carbohydrates' nutritional value is low and lacks fiber. They consist of white rice, crackers and pasta made with bleached flour, sugar-sweetened beverages and snacks, and ultra-processed foods. They should be eaten less often in the diet as they are correlated with an increased risk of heart disease (2). Some examples of unrefined carbs are legumes (beans, lentils, and peas), whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Some benefits of eating unrefined carbohydrates include providing the sense of fullness, bowel regularity, gut health, blood sugar control and lower cholesterol.
Carbohydrates are the main fuel for your brain and red blood cells, your body is counting on you to provide it what it needs. Now go ahead and beat the fear by giving yourself permission to eat a balanced amount of carbohydrates today!
References 1. Carbohydrates:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4224210/
2. Fat, Sugar, Whole Grains and Heart Disease: 50 Years of Confusion
Although this content is reviewed by Joslin Diabetes Center healthcare professionals, it is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.