Nowadays, it seems like people, especially those who are into dieting, are really concerned about carbs. But is it something that we should really be worried about?
For the longest time, many people have been made to believe that dairy is essential in promoting or maintaining bone health. BUT it is a huge misconception that is still believed by lots of people across the globe. Dairy was never a part of the diet of early civilisations, yet they survived, so there’s no reason to believe that dairy is integral for bone health.
Likewise, it’s believed that carbs lead people to gain weight or contract some life-threatening diseases, thus, they should be avoided at all times. Fad diets such as the Paleo and Ketogenic diets are largely responsible for this ‘carbaphobia’.
The question is, should you really get away from carbs or is it just another misconception worth correcting?
Carbs: A Brief History
Plants are known for their ability to produce carbohydrates through the process of photosynthesis. They take energy from the sun to create and store energy called carbohydrates. This function has enabled other organisms on Earth that aren’t capable of photosynthesis to still flourish – all thanks to the plants that produce their own carbohydrates.
Humans aren’t capable of photosynthesis like plants are, but they use carbohydrates from plants as their main energy source. When broken down into glucose, carbohydrates play an important role in sustaining the normal functions of the brain and the red blood cells.
When it is in the form of glycogen, carbohydrates are also beneficial to the liver and the muscles because they provide steady levels of energy, even after strenuous activity. Now we know that carbohydrates play very crucial roles in keeping our bodies at optimal condition.
But if carbohydrates are actually useful, then why do lots of people treat them like a plague that should be avoided at all cost?
We know that plants are excellent sources of carbohydrates, and by staying from away from plants that are rich in carbohydrates, we are depriving ourselves of the other essential nutrients they can offer.
Unprocessed foods like plants, legumes, whole grains, and fruits are fortified with high amounts of carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants which are all beneficial to the human body. Unfortunately, many people have made a mistake on grouping these healthy foods with the unhealthy and damaging ones like table sugar and white bread. Thus, some people tend to shun these healthy sources just to get away from the carbs they also bring.
Long-Term vs. Short-Term
To reiterate, carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy. But because of some profound beliefs that carbohydrates are bad for the body, some people tend to follow a high-fat or high-protein diet, while completely avoiding carbohydrates.
With lack of carbohydrates, the body is then forced to burn fat in order to generate energy. Eventually, as it creates ketones from burning fat, it brings the body into a state of ketosis. This is, in fact, helpful in achieving short-term weight loss. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t work for a long period of time. Also, continuous consumption of a high-fat or high-protein diet will only lead to the onset of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other serious health problems.
So if you really want to lose weight for a long period of time, you should follow a whole food, plant-based diet. Basically, this diet type has low-fat yet high unprocessed carbohydrate content.
The Rise of Atkins
The low-carb hype started in 1972 when the Diet Revolution books were published by Dr. Robert Atkins – an American cardiologist, physician, and nutritionist. He believed that protein and fat should be the primary sources of dietary calories with a little addition of carbohydrates from certain vegetables. His books sold more than 15 million copies.
Considered as the father of the low-carb movement, he insisted that if people would consume a high-fat and high-protein diet while staying away from carbohydrates, they’d get slender and healthier bodies. However, this belief only encouraged gluttony. It made people believed that they are still on a “good” diet even while consuming a whole lot of bacon, steak, cheese, fried chicken, and other unhealthy foods. In effect, other people regarded this diet as nonsense, dangerous, unsound, unbalanced, and unsafe. However, despite this diet coming under fire for the harm it causes to health, its mainstream popularity has caused many to developed a profound fear of carbs.
Atkins Diet Spin-Offs
Because of Atkins’ success in perpetuating this low-carb diet, a lot of fad diets followed suit. In the 1990s, the zone diet, which followed a 40-30-30 approach, emerged. This type of diet claimed that 40% of the body’s calorie requirement should be acquired from carbs, 30% from fat, and 30% from protein. Basically, it’s still a low-carb diet.
Shortly, another spin-off called Protein Power was introduced into the market. This low-carb and high-protein approach also involved vitamin and mineral supplementation. Perhaps, the supplements are used to compensate for any deficiency triggered when people completely avoid fruits and vegetables that contain high amounts of carbohydrates and other nutrients.
Another type of diet which later emerged pushed the idea that food choices should depend on a person’s blood type. In this type of diet, people with blood type A should follow a meat-free diet while those with blood type O should focus on high-meat yet low-carb diet. The most common blood type among Americans is O. But just to be clear, no science backed the claims of this diet type.
In the 2000s, more low-carb diets surfaced. The South Beach diet limits carbohydrate intake to a mere 28% while encouraging the consumption of leaner meats. The book promoting this fad diet sold more than 17 million copies, and it generated additional revenue from major licensing deals and online services.
On the other hand, the Paleo diet discourages users from consuming dairy and processed foods while promoting low-carb, high-fat, and high-protein meal plans. This diet is patterned to the food choices of the hunters and gatherers during the Paleolithic times. It is claimed that 75% of the people’s diet during this time in history was comprised of animal food. Thus, proponents claim that our food choices should be based on this. Like South Beach, the paleo diet also gained commercial success from cookbooks, magazines, protein bars, and other Paleo products.
By capitalising on people’s desperation to lose weight, these fad diets definitely made huge success in the market. They’ve succeeded by making people believed in untruthful ideas about basic nutrition, while causing a wide range of illnesses they can possibly get from poor food choices.
The Major Players in Losing Weight
In the long term, high-fat, low-carb diets are not considered useful in achieving weight loss goals.
It is relatively easier for our bodies to use carbohydrates as an energy source and store fats as fats. When we consume too many calories, our bodies metabolise carbohydrates into fats. To do this, the body would use a huge number of calories. To be more specific, it will take 28% of the carb’s energy content.
Additionally, whole plant foods like fruits and vegetables are rich in carbohydrates but lower in calories than high-fat foods. Such whole plant foods are fortified with fibre which brings a sense of satiety even when you consume less. On the other hand, low-carb, high-fat foods often lack fibre and are calorically denser. This can easily trick the brain to eat more, leading to overeating.
A Lesson from The Past
A US senate report in 1977 was used by the proponents of the low-carb diet to emphasise the importance of a high-fat diet. The report recommended increasing plant food intake while reducing the consumption of dairy and high-fat meat. The advocates of a low-carb diet claimed that limiting the fat intake didn’t work and it only made Americans fatter.
But the basis of their argument is invalid.
First, it was specifically recommended that calories from fat should not exceed 30%. Technically speaking, this cannot be considered a low-fat diet. Second, most Americans do not follow a low-fat diet. On the contrary, calorie and fat consumption tend to increase.
An Important Lesson We Should Learn From History
From 1970s until today, Americans aren’t considered the healthiest population in the world. In fact, they are far from it. Illnesses such as cancer and Heart Disease are on the rise, and obesity rates are skyrocketing. This begs the question, then, who is the healthiest population in the world?
They are called the Blue Zones. They are groups of people who thrived on diets rich in carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, barley, rice, wheat, and corn.
Among those are the Okinawans of Japan. Eighty-five percent of their calorie intake is derived from carbohydrates and 60% of this comes from sweet potatoes. In effect, Okinawans had lower rates of illnesses that are relatively common in the West. Also, they were not obese and had a longer life span than everyone else on the planet. But things changed when their diet was altered, and Western foods were introduced. Nonetheless, older Okinawans who remained in their traditional diet are still considered as the planet’s oldest people.
Diet & Cardiovascular Risk
People who are on a low-carb diet are 50% more likely to experience death due to cardiovascular disease, while a staggering 51% are more likely to die due to cerebrovascular illnesses. Additionally, people who follow a low-carb diet have a 35% risk of dying from cancer.
Cardiovascular disease is closely associated with animal food consumption. Eating animal foods like fish, dairy, egg, and poultry triggers the body to produce a substance called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) in higher quantities. This substance has the ability to damage the lining of the blood vessels which make the latter susceptible to developing atherosclerosis. And this is just one of the mechanisms that causes animal foods to threaten health.
That could also be the reason a cardiologist named Dr. Kim Williams endorsed a vegan diet that is plant-based. When he was still the American College of Cardiology’s president, he said that cardiologists are divided into two groups – one group is comprised of vegans while the rest are those who failed to read the evidence.
Despite the fact that Dr. Atkins was into a low-carb diet which is supposed to improve his well-being, his medical records showed that this physician had a history of heart attack and congestive heart failure. However, this is something that his family and the Atkins organisation have always denied.
To optimise body functions, it is very important that we take adequate amount of nutrients from varied whole plant foods every day. However, it is difficult to do this, especially when replacing plant foods with animal foods just to get away from carbs.
While it is true that processed carbs and other foods should be avoided, it doesn’t follow that we should regularly indulge in foods such as meat, cheese, and eggs, which are shown to increase disease. Instead, we should be eating more unprocessed, whole foods like legumes, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, sweet potatoes, fruits, and vegetables.
Eating a healthy and balanced whole plant diet is essential in getting the right amount of phytonutrients, antioxidants, and other nutrients that the body needs to prevent disease and sustain well-being. And to manage weight effectively, a plant-based vegan diet could also be a great help!
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