In our practice, we see intentional and subconscious carbohydrate restriction, sometimes even fear around eating carbohydrate rich foods. Under-eating carbs in the pursuit of health often manifests in under-fueling and very commonly contributes to hormonal imbalances, weight yo-yoing and frustrations with the scale.
Nutrition is a science – a relatively new, evolving science with very nuanced real-life application. Dietary approaches need to be highly individualized and dietary approaches and tools will look wildly different for each individual.
Will some people benefit from a lower carb approach? Absolutely! It’s a delicate balance and as dietitians we consider the context of a person’s health and lifestyle to make supportive dietary adjustments.
In learning about balanced nutrition, there is an emphasis on the importance of proteins and healthy fats to minimize big spikes in blood sugar, but it’s equally important to avoid low blood sugar and under eating carbs which can be a significant stressor on our body. When our body needs energy and glucose is not available, the body relies on cortisol (the stress hormone) to raise blood sugar. Yep – you heard that right, one of the jobs of cortisol is to keep blood sugar stable by raising blood sugar when it drops too low. When you increase the need for cortisol, you put more stress on your body and let’s be honest, none of us need any more stress!! Ensuring that you are eating enough carbs is essential for regulating cortisol level and supporting hormonal balance.
When carbohydrate intake is chronically inappropriate for your body’s needs, your body’s stress response systems are taxed and disturbed which contribute to any of the following: sleep disturbances, abdominal fat accumulation, impaired digestion, low libido, poor mood, increased anxiety and suppressed immune function.
So what’s the best way to include carbohydrates in your diet? Choose fiber rich carbs found in whole grains, starchy veggies, legumes and fruit; focus on quality and mostly whole foods; spread complex carbs evenly throughout the day to prevent low blood sugar; and pair carbs with protein and fats to promote blood sugar stability.
Many of our clients come to us after spending way too much time and mental energy restricting carbs and counting calories, yet still feel stressed out, exhausted, and completely disconnected from their body. While what we eat is important, how we eat and fuel our bodies cannot be overlooked.
Let’s dive into debunking some common carb myths:
Myth #1: A carb is a carb whether its chocolate candies or fruit
Fact #1: The quality of carbs impacts how our blood sugar responds. A slice of white bread has a different blood sugar effect than a slice of whole wheat bread. While a piece of fruit and a handful of M&Ms both raise blood sugar, a piece of fruit is going to provide our body with more stable energy from the plant fibers. Consistent research links consumption of fiber rich carbs like beans, legumes, whole grains, vegetables and fruits with healthier and longer lives.
Myth #2: You’ll burn more fat if you cut carbs.
Fact #2: Your body burns fat between meals and gaps throughout the day. This fat loss process is actually more efficient with some carb stores (glycogen). Without carbs, your body breaks down protein as fuel which is highly inefficient and also unhealthy if you want to preserve lean muscle mass. The best way to “burn fat” is increasing your metabolism by gaining more lean body muscle.
Myth #3: Carbs cause fat gain.
Fact #3: All carbs break down into glucose, the most basic energy block and fuel for our bodies. Our bodies prefer to run on glucose, so the body breaks down proteins and fats into glucose to fuel our engine. At their most broken down form, these sugars are the preferred energy source for the brain, muscles and organs. Excess Calorie consumption causes fat gain, which may come from carbs, proteins, fats and alcohol.
Myth #4: You can’t lose weight eating carbs.
Fact #4: Including complex carbs in portion sizes suitable for your needs make weight loss more sustainable … and enjoyable!
Myth #5: Carbs are not good for your health.
Fact #5: Fiber rich carbs are essential for managing blood sugar, cholesterol and healthy digestion. Remember, not all carbs are created equal so consider quality of carbohydrates in your diet.
Myth #6: You don’t need carbs for gut health.
Fact #6: Fiber, which is found in carbohydrate foods, plays a key role in feeding gut bacteria for a healthy microbiome. A healthy microbiome is not just related to digestive health, but also brain health and immunity. Carbs like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes support your microbiome health.
Myth #7: You don’t need carbs pre/post workout.
Fact #7: Carbohydrates provide our body quick, easy to utilize energy necessary to fuel muscle movements. Carbs are also essential post-workout and provide fuel for muscle rebuilding. Carbs work with protein to repair muscle and if skipped, can cause loss in muscle mass, poor recovery or plateaued results.
Myth #8: Low carb diets are good for your hormones.
Fact #8: Under-eating carbs can be a significant stressor on the body. When the body needs energy and glucose is not available, the body relies on cortisol to raise blood sugar. When you increase the need for cortisol in the body, you put more stress on your body. Eating enough carbs is essential for regulating stress hormones and supporting hormonal balance.
Myth #9: Processed and refined carbs are addictive.
Fact #9: Restricting all forms of refined carbs presents as all/nothing thinking. This creates you to feel out of control when presented with these foods. By allowing room for all food and consuming in moderation, you take back the power over your food choices. The most addicting foods? The foods you deprive yourself of.
For more information on healthy eating habits, our dietitians are here to help! We provide custom eating plans for your unique goals and preferences. We’re here to help you reach your goals in the most effective and sustainable way. Schedule a complimentary call now to learn more about how we can help you with better eating habits and lasting healthy nutrition.