4 things you should know about carbs

 In Nutrition

Macronutrients take the spotlight among debates in nutritional science.  Changes in ideology and evidence continue to trickle down through mainstream media. We’re dazzled with blushing headlines declaring how sugar is bad, carbs are bad, meat is bad, and fat is bad. Obviously not eating at all is not an option, but how do we really know what healthy eating should look like?

As an integrative doctor, I often come to the conclusion that while macronutrients and calories do count, they certainly don’t tell the whole story. Naturally, when transitioning to a whole food diet, we end up eating fewer carbs and more healthy fat proportionally to mainstream diets. The key point is about first choosing minimally processed whole foods then working out if carbohydrate restriction is for you.

Refined sugar and white flour has minimal to zero nutritional value and is damaging to your health

Sugar and white flour are refined carbohydrates are not worth your time. They have absolutely no place in an everyday healthy diet.

Found in heavily processed food products including sweets, sweet drinks, bread, crackers, and bakery items, they are low-cost calorie and flavour fillers. However, with close to zero nutritional value and you’re better off with them out of your mouth and life. Added sugar, in all its many forms, is devastating to your health. It is touted as the single worst ingredient in the modern diet. Refined white flour comes close as the second worst with having a similar action in the body as sugar.

There is strong compelling science, demonstrating that sugar and refined carbohydrates are at the root of critical society-wide health problems, namely obesity and metabolic disease. The short and not-so-sweet sweet bottom line is that added sugar and refined carbohydrate is bad news and should not be part of your everyday whole food lifestyle

Eating fewer carbs can be beneficial for weight loss

Often body fat around the middle and abnormal blood sugar levels (swinging on either the low or high end of normal) can be signs of insulin resistance.  For a person who is insulin resistant, stubborn body fat or the inability to lose weight results from the body not being particularly good at handling carbohydrates in the diet. Insulin resistance sits on a spectrum of pre-diabetes and type two diabetes. It is a metabolic intolerance to carbohydrate-containing foods.

If you’re looking to lose weight, getting to know your food by using a form of tracking to roughly identify your usual carb intake is a great tool. Particularly, if you’re a carb or sugar addict or have any signs of insulin resistance, tracking can reveal a lot.

Combining a whole food based eating plan with limiting total carbohydrates below a certain threshold is an effective way of losing weight and reversing insulin resistance, especially when combined with appropriate exercise and lifestyle changes.

There’s a sweet spot for everything, and it might change as your life does

Another layer of complication to our busy modern lives is in understanding that the same eating and lifestyle equation for health and weight does not necessarily work for everyone one or forever. We tend to be beings of habit; many of us enjoy much of the same for breakfast and lunch most days. However, nature has its own rhythmic tendency of pulling us through seasonal changes. Being in tune with your body and your nutrition needs is also about being aware of the macro-environment influencing your life and health.

If you’ve experienced the benefits of choosing a certain way of eating for weight loss at one point in your life, don’t feel disappointed if this equation doesn’t work when revisited in a different context.  Sometimes if you find yourself in this sticky space, it can be helpful to take a step back and find an integrative practitioner or someone you trust to help with laying out what’s working and what’s not working so well at this time.

We eat food, not single nutrients

We’re all subject to the latest food trends, articles, and research studies suggesting X, Y and Z foods are now good, bad, and ugly for us.  While it’s great to appreciate new science and new learnings, often taking controversial topics distilled down to one-liners can be potentially harmful. Particularly in the context of diet, it’s also important to acknowledge that the influence of food industry has a lot to answer for.

On the discussion of carbs over mass media, I advocate that carbs are neither good nor bad. They are a single nutrient, with the problem being that we eat food, not nutrients. In the context of natural whole food, carbs are complexly integrated within a food matrix. In both higher and lower carb containing whole foods, there are also many nutrients and health benefits that come from eating them.

Sweet potato, beetroot, parsnips, onions, pumpkin, and carrots are not only carbohydrates, they are whole foods. They are wonderful sources of phytochemicals, soluble fibre, vitamins, and minerals. These whole foods are certainly not to be feared. However, in relation to point 2, they may come with some level of awareness related to your heath, weight, and fitness goals.

The take home message from your integrative doctor:

First and foremost, chose to eat minimally processed whole foods. Don’t eat junk carbs in the form of sugar and flour. Totally avoid processed packaged food. If you have some level of insulin resistance which is negatively affecting your weight and health, track your carb intake for a starting point. Using certain degree of carbohydrate restriction will be beneficial to achieving your goals.

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