Why are carbohydrates the latest macronutrient to suffer the scrutiny of the health and fitness industry?
When it finally seemed like we were through the years of demonization of fats, carbs become the next victim. Yes, some food companies do add more sugar to products to make us buy more and yes, we can eat more carbohydrates that we require (although that is true for all three macronutrients).
Unfortunately, what we think we know about carbs being bad isn’t even true, a lot of the bad foods we consider to be high in carbs are in fact just as high in saturated fats, pizzas and chips being two such examples.
Let’s examine some of the misconceptions about carbohydrates that might be causing confusion.
- Carbs make you fat
A macronutrient cannot cause any weight gain, let alone fat gain, unless overall caloric intake is greater than overall caloric expenditure. This means that yes, carbs, protein, and fat can each technically “make you fat,” but only if they make up excess calories that you are consuming.
- Fruit has too much sugar
Many think that fruit is too high in sugar – specifically fructose – to include in one’s diet. In actual fact, there is a difference between eating pure fructose and fruit. Fruit also contains fibre, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds. A common mistake when dieting is to cut out fruit without getting enough vegetables. This can contribute to low intake of key nutrients and potentially even nutrient deficiencies.
- You don’t need carbs
One common claim is that carbohydrates are not a required macronutrient, not just for fuelling workouts, but in general day to day life. As a matter of fact though, we do need carbs as they are our preferred energy source in any moderate to high intensity exercise.
The exception to this is when individuals choose to follow a ketogenic diet, through which the body switches to ketones – a type of fat – for fuel instead of carbohydrates. The keto diet can have its own range of issues though.
- Don’t eat carbs at night
Avoiding carbohydrates at night does little to nothing for weight loss (or weight gain) efforts. Carbohydrate timing can still matter though when it comes to short-term effects, like raising insulin levels or impacting one’s sleep quality.
- White bread is worse than brown
Generally, all types of bread have similar long-term effects on the body. Highly processed grain products, like white bread, are often fortified with vitamins and minerals, so the only notable difference is the typically higher fibre content in the less-processed grains.
This can change how the food affects our blood sugar levels, but when we compare white and whole-grain bread consumption as part of a balanced diet with overall caloric intake set for goals (e.g. a caloric deficit for weight loss), there is no notable difference.
It is important to remember that single foods and macronutrients can have short-term effects on our bodies but cannot cause any long-term harm (or benefit) on their own. Additionally, it is important to pay attention to your own body and mind in addition to the scientific evidence. For example, some may not sleep as well after a high carb bedtime meal, whilst others find they sleep better.
In short, don’t avoid a vital part of your dietary needs. For more advice on your nutrition, don’t hesitate to speak to one of the Fitness Team.