Carbs are complicated…
There I said it!
Not only are they complicated, they’re also controversial. One minute you hear some doctor on Instagram talking about how you need to “cut carbs completely and go keto” then the next, you hear some coach say, “carbs are your friend, consume!”
Before you even realize it, there’s a cloud of confusion surrounding your knowledge about carbs and you’re stuck in the middle of it lost and lacking direction.
Here’s the reality—carbs aren’t the issue, communication is!
That’s why I’ve taken it upon myself to help you tackle the complicated subject of carb-cutting and debunk the major myths you’ve probably heard before.
Before we do…
Like protein and fats, carbohydrates are a macronutrient, meaning they are one of the three main sources by which the body obtains energy. Carbs are made up of three components—fiber, starch, and sugar—and can either be simple or complex.
Simple carbs are ones that are simple for our bodies to break down and are found in foods like table sugar and syrups. Complex carbs pack in more nutrients than simple carbs. They’re higher in fiber and digest more slowly. Complex carbs contain longer chains of sugar molecules, which the body can convert into glucose and use for energy. They’re found in foods like beans, oats, quinoa, barley, and sweet potatoes.
Some types of carbs—like refined sugars, refined flours, processed foods, and soft drinks—can cause health problems like obesity, heart disease, liver disease, depression, and more.
Healthy carbohydrates, on the other hand—like vegetables, fruits, and legumes—can reduce your risk of chronic disease. These carbs are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber that digest efficiently, fight inflammation, disease, and bacteria in the body.
Sounds awesome, right? So what’s the problem with carbs?
Many people have the picture painted wrong! They spend time on Google or deep in Facebook comments looking for the answers to their carb complications and usually fall victim to one of these 5 myths.
Because carbohydrates are found in such a diverse array of foods, some extremely unhealthy and some extremely healthy, health claims about carbs as a whole tend to be off the mark. The claim that carbs make you gain weight certainly is. When carbs are consumed in excess (if you eat more than your body needs) or if unhealthy carbs like refined flours, sugars, and sodas are part of your regular diet, these habits can cause weight gain.
The Reality: Overeating and regular consumption of sugar, and refined carbs can cause weight gain. If you are eating healthy carbs—whole grains, sweet potatoes, pulses—in the proper quantities, you’ll actually experience more energy and better digestion.
Doctors agree that healthy carbs, like veggies, fruits, and beans, are essential to keeping the body on track and functioning properly. However, if a patient is struggling with obesity, their doctor may recommend that they lower their carbohydrate intake. That said, cutting out carbs completely and indefinitely can create some issues.
Without any carbohydrates, our bodies would struggle without adequate fiber, which is important for long-term health. Healthy carbohydrates are also an important source of nutrients that are critical for our body to function, like calcium, iron, and B vitamins. In addition to being our body’s main source of energy, carbohydrates in their whole food forms, help our bodies stay healthy over time.
The Reality: Some doctors may recommend that patients who are struggling with obesity lower their carbohydrate intake without cutting them out completely. For the everyday individual, cutting carbs out completely will leave you lacking in other essential nutrients, so getting some healthy carbs into your diet will benefit you in the long run.
Low-carb diets can be useful in the short term to lose weight, improve blood sugar levels, and lower blood pressure. However, continuous and extreme carb restriction in the long-term has been linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other complications.
Carb cycling, an eating schedule that alternates back and forth between high-carb days and low-carb days, allows you to eat the perfect amount of carbs for your body. It’s healthier and more practical over time than sticking with low-carb diets for the long-term since you can adjust your carb intake day to day or to your liking.
The Reality: Low-carb diets can be effective for seasonal periods, but consistent carb-cutting can lead to deficiencies or diet issues. Carb cycling is a safe way to gain optimal health benefits and ensure that your body is receiving the proper amount of healthy carbs on a regular basis.
Like carbohydrates, sugar can come in helpful or harmful forms. Natural and added sugars differ greatly from one another and can directly affect your health.
Foods full of refined grains, like white bread, are rapidly digested by our bodies and turned into sugar, having similar effects on our bodies as if we ate table sugar. These refined carbs cause rapid increases in our blood glucose and over time, can contribute to serious health problems like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Natural sugars on the other hand are found in many whole, unprocessed foods, like fruit, root veggies, pumpkins, squash, nuts, and milk. These foods are also full of many important vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and protein.
The Reality: Many healthy foods contain complex carbohydrates and natural sugars, while many unhealthy foods contain simple carbohydrates and added sugars. When it comes to sugar, natural (in proper portions) is always better, as it keeps your body healthy and prevents disease.
Carbs are critical and they’re found in a variety of healthy and unhealthy foods. Like we emphasized above, cutting out carbs completely can help with weight loss, but only for a period of time. As you continue cutting carbs, you may encounter nutrient deficiencies, a lack of energy, and increased stress levels due to the lack of needed nutrients found in many healthy high-carb foods.
The Reality: Bad carbs are bad carbs. Enjoy whole foods, and avoid highly processed and packaged foods—aka fast food, junk food, sweets.
While some weight-loss programs give carbs a bad rep, the key to long-term health and fitness is finding the right carbs, not avoiding them altogether. Low-carb diets catch attention because of their quick results, but they’re lacking in long-term weight and health maintenance.
Carb-cycling, a method that intentionally alternates carb intake, is that happy medium I recommend to all of my clients.
It allows our bodies to burn fat as fuel and maximize the benefits of the healthy carbs we eat. In this practice, carbs can be adjusted purposefully from day to day to match the body’s need for glucose.
Higher carb days are for refueling your muscle glycogen stores and improving workout performance. Lower carb days allow the body to switch back to burning fat as its main source of energy instead of carbs. For example, if your heaviest workouts are on Monday and Tuesday you could eat low carbs on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, moderate carbs on Fridays and Saturdays, and high carbs on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Carb-cycling can help your body jumpstart weight loss and keep it off without compromising your long-term health. You’ll find that this way of eating isn’t rigid or restrictive and encourages you to find the carbs that are best for you.
If you’re eager to learn more about carb cycling, I’d encourage you to hop over to my article on it and check out the menu examples I provide.
Although carbs take a lot of crap these days, they are one of our body’s main sources of energy. Cutting them completely won’t benefit your health or weight maintenance in the long run, but carb-cycling can offer the best of both worlds.
Get out there and give it a try! Cut a few carbs out of your meals today, then tomorrow cut some up (literally) and add them to whatever you’re eating. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just consistent!
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