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Debunking Myths about Carbohydrates

Julie Harris, RDN |

Can you have your carbs and eat them too if you have diabetes? With all the low-carb diets to choose from, it might seem impossible. Yet, when you dig into the research that’s just one of many myths about carbohydrates.

In the 1990s, fats were out, and now they’re back in. It’s confusing because the media goes back and forth to try and sell you on the latest diet. Welldoc’s Registered Dietitian suggests that a balance of nutrients is what’s most important. We all need the three macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) in our diet—and staying healthy is about finding the right balance for you. So let’s debunk a few of the most common myths about carbohydrates.

Myth: Carbs Are Fattening

This myth lives on because many people who go on a low-carb diet tend to lose weight. Yet, it isn’t because they’ve cut out all carbs, it’s because they’ve cut out many calorie-dense foods (like potato chips and soda). In fact, research shows that after one year, weight loss levels are the same for those following a moderate-carb diet as it is for those following a low-carb diet.

Unprocessed carbs by nature are no more calorie dense than protein, as both macronutrients have four calories per one gram. Typically it’s the way we cook the carbs that adds the extra calories.

Take for example, a potato. A medium sized potato has: 163 calories, 37 grams of carbs, 4 grams of protein, and less than 1 gram of fat. It’s not a high-fat food in its natural form. You bake it and you’ve got roughly the same nutrients as what you started with. Yet, if you fry the potato in oil to get chips, you now have a food with at least 10 grams of fat per serving. Also, remember that fat is not the enemy either. Both are essential to a healthy lifestyle.

myths about carbohydrates

Really the secret behind carbohydrates is to highlight eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. As well as pay attention to your hunger signals to not overeat.

Truth: Carbohydrates are not naturally high in fat. It’s the cooking process that adds fat and calories.

Myth: Our bodies don’t need carbohydrates

Glucose, a carbohydrate, plays a vital role in every organ system in the body. From the kidneys, to the liver, to the brain, each organ uses glucose.

The easiest way for our body to get glucose is from the carbohydrates we eat. As we eat, blood sugar increases and the pancreas releases insulin. Then, our body either uses the glucose for energy or stores excess glucose as glycogen, which we use in times of fasting or during exercise.

Our bodies can also break down fat and protein into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. This process takes a few more steps and a few more supporting nutrients. But it gets the job done. And demonstrates that the body absolutely needs glucose.

Truth: Carbohydrates are essential to fuel your brain, boost our energy and maintain our metabolism.

Myth: The best way to lose weight is a low-carb diet

Low-carb diets have become popular because people see fast results. Yet, the research shows that long-term low-carb diets are not sustainable for most individuals. In addition, one recent study compared grain avoiders to grain eaters. The researchers found that the people who ate grains were less likely to be overweight or obese, and had a lower risk of metabolic complications, like type 2 diabetes.

One of the reasons people see quick weight loss with a low-carb diet is water weight loss. Molecules of glycogen retain water and therefore the more glycogen you store the more water you retain. When you start following a low-carb diet, your body uses stored-up glycogen first, resulting in loss of fluid as well.

Truth: Weight loss from a low-carb diet is not always fat loss or sustainable long-term.

Myth: Fruit is bad because it’s high in carbs

Thanks to many diets, fruit has also gotten bad media. People often say that fruit has too much sugar in it. Yet, along with a natural form of sugar, called fructose, fruit is full of nutrients that our bodies need. Research continues to find that those who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of developing diabetes, along with other chronic diseases.

In a large study of middle-aged American women, eating fruits and vegetables was not associated with the development of type 2 diabetes. The same study did show that replacing whole fruits with fruit juice increased the women’s risk for developing diabetes. Fruit juices lack the same amount of fiber and other nutrients as whole fruit. The positive connection between fruit juice intake and diabetes risk may also be related to the liquid state and the additional sugars added to juices.

Truth: Fruit provides many nutrients that have been shown to decrease risk of chronic disease.

Other myths about carbohydrates

While low-carb diets can promote weight loss and some health conditions benefit from lower carb diets, remember there are many myths about them. Dig into the research behind a specific diet recommendation and you may find yourself going a different direction.

The important part is getting as many whole, healthful foods onto your plate. What your plate looks like will depend on your personal needs and preferences.

The information we provide at welldoc.com and welldoc.com/blog is not medical advice, nor is it intended to replace a consultation with a medical professional. Please inform your physician of any changes you make to your diet or lifestyle and discuss these changes with them. If you have questions or concerns about any medical conditions you may have, please contact your physician.