Endless hours of debate and terabytes worth of data have been attributed and spun in favor of and against the poor carbohydrate. Is there a truth, one final word on this misunderstood category of nutrient that we can all live with and live by?
In a word, no. This does not mean there is not science that proves certain things about the various categories of carbohydrates-plant, grain, processed, sugary, simple, refined, complex, starchy-it means there is not now nor will there ever be one definitive carb prescription for everyone. For every low carb doctor prescribing that way of eating there is a low fat loving doctor touting his. People are serious about their carb theories.
Here is the simple definition of a carbohydrate just so we are clear and in agreement on something:
Noun ; any of a large group of organic compounds occurring in foods and living tissues and including sugars, starch, and cellulose. They break down into indigestible fiber, glucose or fructose.
There's a world of confusion surrounding this word carbohydrates due to the fact that well meaning but not well trained health reporters, health coaches, and health mind lay people have exploited the characteristics of this nutrient to suit their health promoting dietary beliefs.
All manner of foods are lumped in to the category "carbs" then used in the ever more maddening moral judgment rhetoric so popular today. How can white or whole wheat bread and peas coexist in the same category? I'll tell you where; in the category "food." That they all have some carbohydrate content is without question. That they have very different effects on the body should be indisputable.
One key inconvenient truth, or call it a detail if you are not able to go there yet, is this. There is no need for carbohydrates in the human body.
Essentials nutrients include fat, protein, water and minerals. That said I'm not advocating for no carbs. Not only is it near impossible unless you are an Eskimo who gets about 90% of its calories from fat it would make life in this modern day world of ours dull and eating uninteresting.
No sweet potato for my breakfast?
No spinach, mushrooms, and onion for my salad? The minerals I mentioned as needed by the body come in good part from the plant kingdom-veggies, nuts, seeds, fruit – but also from animal protein.
Eating foods with naturally occurring starch or sugar like that found in fruit, starchy and other vegetables as well as grains, should not cause problems for most people with a healthy metabolism. Eating refined carbohydrates like those found in bread, pasta, and french fries is problematic when the metabolism can not clear the resulting glucose deficiency and causes insulin resistance and diabetes. Let's not forget the portions size of these foods.
What about weight loss and carbs? Although I can cite you more studies that prove that less carbohydrates from starchy, processed, and grain based sources, results in greater weight loss there are plenty that show low fat diets, which will conversely have to be higher in carbs, work as well.
Why? Low fat diets, just like any other healthier-than-what-you-were-eating-before-it-plan, means you will be eating less of the kinds of foods that are fattening (so called). You think you are only lowering calories when you cut out donuts, scones, soda, grande lattes and you are but you are also cutting back on sugar, the kinds of processed carbs that induce insulin spikes which pushes fat into storage, and so on.
One sure way to weight loss is to limit grain sources of carbohydrates. As a nation we eat far more than the body can use and process without doing damage. A medium carrot (16 grams worth) costs you 25 calories, has about 6 grams of carbs, 1.5 grams of fiber. In terms of satiety I'd say it will provide way more than one serving (1 slice, 41 grams) of whole grain bread. That bread will cost you 109 cals, 18 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber. (Added of course)
If you were to try to eat 41 grams worth of raw carrot-about 2.75 medium carrots-you'd be quite full and still only spend 75 calories and an equal number of carbohydrates in the form of naturally occurring sugar, starch and fiber. This is what I'd like to see talked about more in the carb debate. Rather than make all carbs bad let's look at the nutrition they come wrapped in and how the body responds when we eat them. And I have to say it again, one prescription for all does not work.
Here's my final word. Let's not lump any food into categories that double as judgments or scare tactics. If weight is an issue cut back on starchy carbohydrates, super sweet fruits, and foods with bar codes. If weight is not an issue and you eat a variety of whole foods including starchy vegetables and fruit, keep doing what you are doing. The only conundrum should be what's for dinner when we have so much to choose from?