Image from the ADA.
Carbohydrates have long been demonized by diet fads and health influencers. From bread and pasta to fruits and vegetables, carbs are incredibly diverse and important sources of energy. But what exactly are carbs?
According to Medline Plus, “Carbohydrates, or carbs, are sugar molecules. Along with proteins and fats, carbohydrates are one of three main nutrients found in foods and drinks. Your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose. Glucose, or blood sugar, is the main source of energy for your body’s cells, tissues, and organs. Glucose can be used immediately or stored in the liver and muscles for later use.”
There are 3 main types of carbs: Sugars (simple carbohydrates), starches (complex carbohydrates), and fiber (complex carbohydrates). Simple carbohydrates are carbs in their simplest form, glucose molecules. Complex carbohydrates need to be broken down into glucose molecules in order to produce energy. In short, carbs -> energy.
So why do they get a bad reputation?
Since carbohydrates can be stored as fat, there is an assumption that all carbs will become body fat. However, this depends on the type of carb you eat. Eating too many simple carbs, i.e. sugar, can make you gain weight fast. Complex carbs like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are the way to go. In fact, studies of Blue Zones (areas of the world with large numbers of centenarians), have shown that a high-carb, low-protein diet is conducive to better, longer living. Funnily enough, this is the exact opposite of what diets like Atkins recommend, but according to Insider, a 90-100% plant-based diet with 65% carbohydrates is a trend in centenarian eating. In fact, the BBC points out that the “Okinawan ratio,” the ratio of carbohydrates to protein that Okinawan centenarians follow, is 10:1!
I have definitely fallen prey to the negative fallacies regarding carbohydrate consumption and the over-hyping of protein consumption, so I hope this article serves not only as an eye-opener, but a consolation that yes, bread is good for the soul AND the body (well, bread made from whole grains instead of refined grains but still). More veggies, nay, mostly veggies, and foods rich in fiber (fruits, whole grains) are the answer. Meat and animal products are okay in moderation, but certainly not as much as health and fitness gurus advertise. So, go forth, re-examine your diet, and adjust accordingly.
Maybe you’ll be around for 100 years.
Do you eat carbs?