Whether it is a news headline or current diet trend, there always seems to be a specific food or nutrient that is labeled “bad” and should be avoided. Currently, carbohydrates are public enemy number one. Unless a medical necessity, to simply avoid a category of foods due to one nutrient is generally misguided advice that is not beneficial for overall long-term health. Here are three reasons not to avoid carbohydrates.
- Carbohydrates are not all the same. Carbohydrates are a diverse group that includes nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and dairy products. A dietary pattern rich in these foods such as a Mediterranean style diet or DASH eating plan are associated with better health outcomes including lower blood pressure, reduced LDL cholesterol, decreased risk of certain cancers, and increased longevity. Carbohydrates can also be found in less nutritious foods primarily in the form of added sugars and refined flours. These foods include cookies, cake, snack foods, and sugar-sweetened beverages. A dietary pattern that minimizes intake of these foods can help maintain a healthy body weight and decrease the risk of chronic disease.
- Carbohydrates do not automatically equal weight gain. When it comes to body weight, the evidence demonstrates that the energy balance (calories in/calories out) is the determinant of weight loss or weight gain. Carbohydrate foods that often get blamed for causing weight gain are also part of foods that are high in fat i.e. cake, ice cream, baked goods, or potato chips. Or, they are eaten in combination with other foods that have a significant amount of calories. Claims about carbohydrates causing weight gain often derive from a misunderstanding of how snacks and meals are usually a combination of macronutrients which all contribute to total caloric intake.
- Carbohydrates are a major component of every culture’s cuisine.Whether it’s beans and rice in Latin American cuisine or homemade bread and lentil dishes found in traditional Indian food, carbohydrates are staple foods in most cultures. Exploring traditional foods from other areas of the world increases variety in the diet and helps expand an individual’s palate resulting in more balanced lifelong healthy eating habits.
Michael Sandoz, MS, RD, LDN, CDE