Many of us have tried or know someone who has tried a high protein, low carbohydrate or no carbohydrate diet. We also know that these diets often end in failure. Why? Sustainability. Advocates for protein-rich diets urge individuals to stay away from carbohydrates because they are responsible for the obesity epidemic and chronic disease burden of the world. Although these diets have been relatively successful in short-term weight loss and improving profits in selling supplements, they have done nothing to reduce the burden of chronic disease. Worldwide, carbohydrate consumption ranges from 40 to 80 percent of our total caloric intake. So staying away from carbohydrates is really not an option.
Carbohydrates are the purest form of energy for our bodies. They are the preferred fuel for our brain, red blood cells and nervous system. Although protein can be used as fuel, it must be processed by the liver and kidneys first. If you have problems with your liver or kidneys already, you don’t want to consume a high protein diet on a regular basis. Fat is another option for fuel. But as we discussed previously, if we rely on fat for energy, we develop high levels of ketones in our bodies which lowers our natural acid/base level. That leads to higher rates of bone destruction because we are tearing down bone (base) to balance things out. Also not a good option.
Carbohydrates have received a bad rap because of artificial processing. In areas of the world with high rates of chronic disease (the U.S. leading the charge), most people consume carbohydrates in a refined or processed form. What differentiates the world’s healthiest diets (most of which are high in carbohydrates) is that they eat them in an unrefined form. That’s why health experts agree that processed or refined carbohydrates are damaging to our health. If you are getting your carbohydrates from a bag or box, then you’re eating the bad carbohydrates.
In the past, carbohydrates were divided into simple (sugars) and complex (starches). Simple carbohydrates were viewed as bad and complex as good. This is inaccurate and misleading. It’s not important if it’s simple or complex because that only refers to their biologic structure. This has nothing to do with your overall health. Simple carbohydrates are wonderful and we can reap the health benefits by choosing carbohydrates full of fiber. These carbohydrates get absorbed slowly into our systems, avoiding spikes in blood sugar levels. Examples include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans. However, simple carbohydrates are not so healthy when they come from refined processing that is added abundantly to the products we buy off the shelves. This is exactly why you should “fear the carb.”
In the end, what matters most about the carbohydrate you eat is that you consume it in its natural form. When you eat carbohydrates as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, you receive loads of vitamins, minerals, protein, antioxidants, fiber and essential fatty acids associated with disease risk reduction.
However, if you are standing in a grocery store aisle and counting how many carbs are on the label, what you should be doing is fearing the box!