What if carbs were our friends?

new-year-resolutions-carbs-carbohydrates.jpegThroughout my life, I’ve been told so many times that I had to avoid “carbs” in order to stay lean or lose body weight or fat. Accordingly, foods like bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes were likely to stand on the red list as made for bounty hunters. Diet regimes are praising the success of cutting carbs like it was a life philosophy. Easy job since cutting out “carbohydrates” as a macronutrient simplifies the rules considerably – in theory. Whoever tried to follow a low carb diet in the long term may not agree it is as easy. Our body just loves carbs!

And it’s not so strange since sugar is the preferred energy fuel for our system. The simpler the carb the faster it hits the bloodstream and is available for our cells. And what happens if we cannot feed our brain’s craving fast enough? Yup, we get hangry. Additionally, our natural carb addiction gets supported by the release of happiness hormones when we then give sugar to our system, leaving us wanting more. Biology the entire food industry lives on. On the other hand, low-carb diets like Atkins, Paleo, or the ketogenic diet are based on the effect of carbohydrates on insulin levels interfering with fat storage or mobilization – the ultimate key to fat loss as they believe: a low-carb diet would force the body utilize fat for energy thus promote weight loss.

No good times for loving carbs (so much discrimination among the “macros”, really!) – understanding and accepting carbohydrates as a nutrient of equal value as protein or fat may take its time. Even as a nutritionist I felt at times tempted to simply acknowledge the benefits of a low carb diet as they seem to work for many people especially when aiming for weight loss. However, as I shared with you earlier, I have learnt to be critical towards study results. So here again we have to ask us: How little is low carb followed in the respective study? What’s replacing the carbs in these people’s diets? How does the change of diet impact the overall energy intake? Does the changed lifestyle influence their physical activity level? And the list goes on… In the end what we know is that a calorie deficit plays the most important role when wanting to lose weight. To be honest I would rather spend my time on considering what I miss out when avoiding carbohydrates:

  • Carbs are not created equal! Okay, here I have to draw the line. Bare in mind the difference between complex carbohydrates as coming from whole foods – and sugar from processed foods or candy. Simple sugar simply doesn’t need that much time to be used – or stored as fat.
  • Where else to get the fibre from. Ok, ok. Foods don’t need to be high in carbohydrates to contain fibre when we look at vegetables. However, the nutritional density and variety of vitamins and minerals varies greatly. Including more whole grains, beans, lentils and peas moreover add extra protein to your diet which in combination with the fibre keeps you satisfied for long.
  • In need for quick energy? Carbs will do before all others. As much as keto diets claim to not affect your workout as your body adapts to the source of fuel it gets provided with, carbohydrates will always be the first choice maintaing performance for intense workouts. Moreover, carbs are vital for “recovery” (refilling our easy-to-access energy stocks in muscle tissue) and play an important role in preserving and building muscle mass.

Not sure if these arguments could convince you to including more carbs into your diet. Maybe you are right as happy, healthy, and achieving your personal goals with the oh so low carb diet. My intention after all was rather to consider the potentials carbohydrates may have for you and how you can use them for your wellbeing. Everyone works differently and research has by far not worked out individualized nutrition benefits. However, if you are not happy and don’t see any “results” why not just test to do something differently and change your habits? There is more than one single way to do things. Just pretend, what if carbs were our friends?

My New Year’s Resolution: Back to friends with carbs as part of home-cooked real food (yeah, at times got a little too convenient there)!