Why We Need Good Carbs

By: Joe Martinez,RPh, PDE, CMS, Founder and CCO, HMS
Contributor: Stephanie Wu

Selection of good carbohydrates sources – vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Healthy vegan diet

When it comes to losing weight, a lot of people may agree that cutting carbs is the first place to start when it comes to a diet. Helping people in a retail drug store back in the day, part of the job was coaching our patients to lose and manage their weight for their hypertension, diabetes or cholesterol.  Often, the first thing my patients thought to do was cut back on the carbs, skip the rolls at dinner, drink less alcohol  and forget about the chips and salsa at the favorite Mexican restaurant in town. 

As an insulin-using person with diabetes, I’ve had to be extra conscious about my carb-intake because carbs “spike your blood sugar and require more insulin.” Insulin is really an energy storing hormone (aka fat storing),…so in reality, “Carbs increase fat”. 

This may be news to you, right? I hear you. Okay, so now to tell you some things you may not know.

How about some of the myths about carb-restricting diets….. like…..the myth that carbohydrates completely hinder weight-loss and low-carbohydrate diets are bad for the heart. 

Instead of looking at the problems that come from eating carbohydrates, let’s consider the issues that may occur if we go without carbohydrates. 

Some consequences of completely cutting carbohydrates include:

  • decrease thyroid output
  • increase cortisol output
  • decrease testosterone
  • impair mood and cognitive function
  • interrupt muscle building, and 
  • suppress immune function. 

Restricting carbohydrates have clearly worked before, but this diet ultimately does cost us. This is because our bodies need some carbohydrates to function at our prime.  Also, those carbs should be of the right quality and appropriate amounts. Essentially, completely eliminating carbs from your diet increases your stress hormones while slowing your metabolism…and metabolism is certainly important to overall health!

A certain level of carbs are still needed by the body to function properly. Rather than eliminating carbohydrates completely, there are many scientific studies looking at the effectiveness of low-carbohydrate diets. In fact, the ketogenic diet (low carbohydrate,high fat and moderate  protein) accepts anywhere between 20-50 grams of net carbohydrates a day.

A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity found in the New England Journal of Medicine, 63 individuals were placed in either a low-fat diet group or a low-carb diet group for obesity. After 12 months, the low-carb group lost more weight, 7.3% of total body weight, compared to the low-fat group, which lost 4.5%. It also found that the low-carb group had greater improvements in blood triglycerides and HDL (the good cholesterol). 

A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine looked at 120 overweight individuals with elevated blood lipids and were randomized to a low-carb or a low-fat diet. The low-fat group was calorie restricted. After 24 weeks, the low-carb group lost 20.7 pounds compared to a 10.6-pound loss in the low-fat group. These studies show that a low carb (not no carb) diet can produce significant weight loss and other medical improvements.. 

Are low-carbohydrate diets bad for the heart?

Another question that I am often asked is if low-carb diets are bad for the heart since low-carb diets tend to be higher in cholesterol and fat.  Many people claim that these diets raise blood cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. However, some studies suggest that neither of these (cholesterol or saturated fat) increases risk. 

On the contrary, data shows that low-carb diets may be a positive factor on heart disease risk. This includes: 

  • decreasing blood triglycerides
  • increasing HDL cholesterol
  • lowering blood pressure
  • decreasing insulin resistance and 
  • reducing inflammation. 

Good Carbs Vs Bad Carbs

When it comes to carbs, it is also extremely important to differentiate between refined and/or processed carbohydrates such as pastas, breads, cereals, cookies, pizza and unrefined and/or unprocessed carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and whole grains like quinoa. These foods not only provide a healthy source of carbohydrates but they also contain necessary vitamins, minerals and fiber that our bodies need to function. 

Refined carbohydrates are often loaded with sugar, preservatives and many other unpronounceable ingredients that the body does not like and may not even be able to recognize…..not to mention the fact that they are mostly devoid of fiber and are often loaded with salt (and not the good kind of salt either). These foods wreak havoc on the system as previously mentioned by being stored as fat but when it comes to your natural, unrefined and unprocessed sources of carbohydrates, these foods have all of the fiber, water, vitamins and minerals in tact which your body loves, recognizes and burns as fuel rather than storing as fat. 

Due to a high fiber content, these foods are slowly released and burned as to prevent the sudden spike of your glucose levels, making for an easy, steady energy release.  

Final Thoughts

The quest for a diet appropriate for losing weight and also a healthy-body can be a challenge and there are a number of myths floating out there today that have a lot of misinformation! When it comes to cutting carbohydrates completely out of your diet, why not try reducing them instead?  For most people, it will be less of a shock to the system and your body will thank you! 

Here are some delicious, low carb (fitness) meals and a dessert to try that will enable you to lose weight and still enjoy the benefits of good carbs:

Impossible Vegetarian Meatballs in Marinara Sauce

Served with Garlic, Spinach, Cauliflower and Carrots

Sweet n’ Sour Turkey Meatballs

With Broccoli, Carrots and Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar

Dark Chocolate Black Bean Collagen Brownies

With Spicy Cucumber Salad and Edamame and Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

* Always check with your doctor or healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.

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