I am very afraid of spiders. I once lived in an apartment where spiders had infiltrated my air conditioning window unit! On more than one occasion, I woke up to an eight-legged friend on the bed next to my face. Years later, I’m still working on learning to re-home spiders. I mean, some people are afraid of bugs in general, others afraid of heights, and even more afraid of dying. But nope, not me. Just spiders, for the most part.
And then there’s the fear of carbs that everyone seems to have. It sounds crazy! I couldn’t cut them out; I love potatoes too much. But you know the drill: everyone wants to go on these low-carb diets because they’re told that carbs make you gain weight. But that’s simply not true. Here’s the rub:
Carbs are literally brain food. You read that right: your brain runs on carbohydrates. How? When your body goes to digest food, it takes the carbohydrates from your food and converts them into glucose, or basically a form of sugar. If you eat simple carbohydrates, which have more readily-available sources of glucose, your blood sugar will spike. If you eat complex carbs, your body will release the glucose more slowly, because it takes more to process them through your body. By eating complex carbs, you’re giving your body a steady source of energy rather than a burst.
It’s the calories, not the carbs. A lot of people tend to forget about the calories in food when eating but instead focus on the carbs in it, but here’s the thing: calories count, and if you’re eating more fuel than your body needs, it’s going to store those calories as fat. So if you’re eating a ton of pasta or bread, it’s not the carbs doing the damage to your diet; it’s the calories. A serving size of pasta is typically 1/2 cup of uncooked/1 cup of cooked, plain pasta, which equals out to around 200 calories. If you’re eating a plateful at Olive Garden, you’re eating several servings at one time plus the calories in the sauce, protein, and cheese. A typical pasta entree is around 1600 calories at OG, so if your basal metabolic rate is around 2000 calories, you’re probably bottoming out.
Carbs will probably make you gain water weight. Many people experience bloating when eating pasta, bread, or other carbs. Sometimes, this bloating is related to a gluten sensitivity (find out more here). However, it’s often just related to eating fibrous carbs, like whole grains, which contain fiber. Eating fibrous food when your body isn’t used to it will cause bloating, as your body is working hard to process something it’s not familiar with.
So who started this low-carb fanaticism?! More than likely: the Atkins Diet. The Atkins Diet was founded by Dr. Robert Atkins based on a single research paper he read from the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1958. The diet instructs participants to follow a low-carb, high animal protein diet in the sole interest of losing weight, not overall cardiovascular heart health. The diet even limits the number of carbs you can eat in vegetables, but allows participants to eat protein and fat to their heart’s (LOL) content. Vegetables– the lowest calorie foods available on the planet!
Admittedly, the diet does have some redeeming factors: participants are encouraged to eat complex carbohydrates… and that’s awesome! But a diet that encourages you to eat oil, butter, and red meat as “healthy fats” might not be the proper diet to clear your arteries.
So Dr. Atkins… where is he? Living the high life in southern Florida, in peak health alongside all of the rest of the retirees?
Throughout his life, Dr. Atkins (born in 1930) suffered from cardiomyopathy, hypertension, congestive heart failure, and a heart attack. Ultimately, he passed away in 2003 after falling into a coma after an episode of cardiac arrest. Some reports state that his death is in no way due to his diet, but upon his death, his wife refused an autopsy, so we may never (quite) know.
Ultimately, carbs are not the enemy. Carbs are brain fuel– literally. On the other hand, calories aren’t the enemy either. Calories are fuel your body needs to function. Each of us has specific calorie needs based upon something called our basal metabolic rate— the number of calories that our bodies need to function every day, based on our height, weight, body composition, gender, and activity level. The more exercise you do, the more calories your body needs to do that exercise to the best of its ability. Blinking, breathing, digesting, just moving takes calories. (You can find out more on how to calculate your basal metabolic rate here.) Everything but water has calories, and carbs are just one type, and if you eat too much of anything, even watermelon, your body has the potential to gain weight from it (though I’d love to try eating “too much” watermelon! 🙂 ).
Personally, I think of my calorie needs as you might think about fueling up your car. It’s about the kind of fuel you put in your car, and I think I’m a BMW. 😉 You wouldn’t put regular, unleaded gas into a BMW; you would put a more refined gas into it, to make sure it was running at peak performance. A lot of people see their car as an image they’re projecting to the world, but forget about their own health and well being. You treat your car well, so why wouldn’t you treat your body well when you go out to face the world? Sure, I have junk food occasionally, but after discovering so many delicious, healthy foods, I don’t want the junk as much. I want to eat foods that make me feel good.
As a note: I’m not a dietitian, just a regular person with a profuse interest in plant-based nutrition. To find a dietitian near you, check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ website’s search function here!
Questions for you:
What are some diets you may have tried in the past? Have you ever tried a low-carb diet?
What are some of your favorite carbs? I love pierogis! 😉