Macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates) seem to be under attack quite often. First, fat was thought to be harmful to your health. Now coconut oil and bulletproof coffee are in style, and carbohydrates are the new public enemy. It seems like everywhere you turn, someone is recommending cutting out carbohydrates. For example, the Ketogenic diet is very trendy right now. This diet restricts intake of carbohydrates to about 5-10% of all calories (Masood, et al. 2018). Many claim health benefits and weight loss from following diets like this. Should we banish this macronutrient from our diets? Read on to find out.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are foods made up of sugar, starch, and fiber. They serve as fuel for our body, particularly for our brain (Gropper, et al. 2017). Although many people envision pasta and bread when they think of carbohydrates, this macronutrient is present in a variety of foods. Carbohydrates are found in foods groups such as: dairy, grains, fruits, legumes, and starchy vegetables.
What is the recommended daily intake of carbs?
The US dietary guidelines recommend that 45-65% of your daily calories come from carbohydrates. A good rule of thumb is to fill about a quarter of your plate with grains or starchy vegetables, half your plate with colorful, non-starchy vegetables, and a quarter of the plate with lean protein.
A recent study showed that eating a moderate amount of carbohydrates reduces risk of death:
Our bodies break down carbohydrates into sugar for energy.
Eating carbohydrates raises your blood sugar level. To keep your blood sugar stable and your energy steady, try to incorporate protein, fat, and carbohydrates into your meals and snacks. For example, instead of eating a banana by itself, try it with some nut butter. The protein & fat in the nut butter will help slow down the absorption of the sugar in the banana, making for a more balanced snack.
Some carbohydrates are higher quality than others.
(Ludwig, et al. 2018).
To benefit your health, try to incorporate more complex carbs and less simple carbs.
• Whole fruit is also a much more recommended choice than fruit juice, for the same reason.
→The bottom line - Eating more foods closer to their whole, unprocessed state is a good strategy to get plenty of fiber and nutrients that help keep you healthy.
Won't cutting carbs help me lose weight?
The recent DIETFITS study demonstrated that macronutrient distribution may be irrelevant to weight loss (Gardner, et al. 2018). Two groups of people attempted to lose weight, one on a low-carbohydrate diet and the other on a low-fat diet (both diets were composed of a variety of healthy foods). After one year, both groups had lost about the same amount of weight.
When considering going on a diet, especially one that is very restrictive, you should ask yourself how realistic it is that you will follow it long-term. Many people lose weight on a diet, then gain it right back when they resort to their old eating habits. Weight cycling can be harmful to your health (Montani et al. 2015).
It is best to think of making changes to eat better as a lifestyle, not a diet. Make small changes and have some flexibility. It's definitely ok to eat some pasta, just try and have some balance in your meals and incorporate a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Eat your fruits and vegetables! And your legumes and whole grains.
For individualized support on making changes to your diet & optimizing your health, talk to a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist: eatright.org/find-an-expert
Danielle Davidson, dietetics student at San Francisco State University
Gardner, C. D., Trepanowski, J. F., Del Gobbo, L. C., Hauser, M. E., Rigdon, J., Ioannidis, J., Desai, M., & King, A. C. (2018). Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion: The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA, 319(7), 667-679.
Gropper, S. S., Smith, J. L., & Carr, T. P. (2017). Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Ludwig, D. S., Hu, F. B., Tappy, L., & Brand-Miller, J. (2018). Dietary carbohydrates: role of quality and quantity in chronic disease. BMJ, 361.
Masood W. & Uppaluri K.R. (2018). Ketogenic Diet. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. Accessed at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/.
Montani, J. P., Schutz ,Y., & Dulloo, A. G. (2015). Dieting and weight cycling as risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases: who is really at risk? Obes Rev.;16(Suppl 1):7-18.
Seidelmann, S.B., Claggett, B., Cheng, S., Henglin, M., Shah, A., Steffen, L.M., Folsom, A.R., Rimm, E.B., Willett, W.C., & Solomon, S.D. (2018). Dietary carbohydrate intake and mortality: a prospective cohort study and meta-analysis. Lancet Public Health, 3(9), e419-e428.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services & U.S. Department of Agriculture (2015). 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th ed. Accessed at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
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