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Carb Myths

Spring Clean Your Nutrition by Clearing Up the Myth About Carbs

Carbohydrates get a bad rap in the health world. Many people cut out carbs assuming they are the culprit for unwanted weight gain. While a low-carb diet may be a good option for some, it is not necessarily the best nutrition plan for everyone. Before you clean out the carbs in your diet, it is important to understand carbohydrates and their role in your health.

First: What are carbs?

Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches, and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk products. They are not bad for you. In fact, carbs, along with protein and fat, are one of the three main macronutrients that our bodies rely on for energy.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that carbs make up 45% to 65% of our diet.

But people often have different understandings of what carbohydrates are, where they are found, and which ones to eat. Here we clear up some of the common misconceptions.

Myth #1: Carbs are just in foods like bread, pasta, crackers, or cereals

Carbohydrates are generally recognized as being in heavy foods, like bagels, pizza, and spaghetti. However, carbs are in almost all food -- vegetables, fruit, grains, dairy, nuts, seeds, soda, and sweets. After we eat, these foods get broken down into the sugars that provide our cells with energy.

Carbohydrates are defined as simple and complex. Simple carbs are fruit, milk, juice, and all forms of sugar such as honey. These carbohydrates are broken down quickly and are used by our cells as an immediate energy source. Complex carbs are found in whole grains, quinoa, starchy vegetables, beans, peas, and lentils. Complex carbs are high in fiber and take longer to digest, providing us with lasting energy and fullness.

Myth #2: Carbs cause weight gain.

Individuals often follow a no- or low-carb diet for weight loss. But it is important to understand that weight gain cannot be attributed to one specific nutrient. Rather, weight gain is directly correlated to overconsumption. When people eliminate a food group, such as bread, from their diets, their overall calorie consumption decreases, and therefore they lose weight. It is not necessarily because they are cutting carbs.  

Myth #3: All carbs are created equal.

Many people think that breads, pastas, crackers, and cereals are bad because they contain carbs. But the reason these foods should be limited is because they are low in nutrients, high in calories, and part of a poor diet.

To make sure you’re eating the right carbs, make sure the first ingredient on the nutrition label is whole grain flour rather than enriched bleach flour. Whole-grain products provide many important vitamins and minerals, whereas “refined” grains are those that have been stripped of their fiber and micronutrients and no longer have nutritional value. Also remember that fruits and vegetables contain carbs, along with the vitamins, minerals, fiber, micronutrients, and antioxidants we need for overall health.

Spring is a great time to refresh your nutrition. But keep in mind the truth about carbs. They give us energy and keep us healthy. So clean out the extra sugar, processed foods, refined grains, and sweetened beverages from your diet. But bring on the whole grains, fruits and vegetables!

For more truths about foods, diet trends, and nutrients, along with ways to live and eat healthy, talk to a Dietician.

Your friends at the YMCA

Nutrition expertise at the YMCA

Casey Spence and Pamela Cook, RDN, are helping members at the Littleton Family YMCA live healthy. The two dietary professionals are here to provide nutrition counseling, lead classes in healthy cooking and meal planning, and share helpful nutrition tips that can improve your overall health. If you’re struggling to meet your fitness goals, or you just want to start eating better, learn more about the Y’s nutrition programs, and look for regular YMCA emails on Healthy Eating at the Y.