By Charlyn Fargo- Lately, I feel like I’ve had way too many conversations defending carbohydrates. Maybe it’s because of the popularity of the keto diet or the paleo diet or a revived Atkins diet, all of which promote an unhealthy combination of high fat and dangerously low carbs.
Simply put, carbs are not the enemy. Carbohydrates are the most desirable source of energy for the body. Their main role is to supply cells with fuel, primarily in the form of glucose. Our brain in particular relies on glucose to function, as do red blood cells.
Here are four myths about carbs, gleaned from personal experience and the Environmental Nutrition newsletter.
1. High-carb diets will make you fat.
In fact, it’s the opposite. A 2018 study published in Nutrients showed that people who followed a plant-based high-carb diet (about 70 percent of their daily calories) for four months experienced benefits in their body composition including a drop in body fat levels. And people at risk for diabetes achieved weight loss when they consumed complex carbs, which contain more fiber than simple carbs, as part of their calorie-controlled diet.
2. Whole grains are the best fiber source.
While whole grains can help you reach your fiber goal of 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men, there are also other good sources of fiber. Those sources include fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts, just to name a few. A cup of raspberries has 8 grams of fiber.
3. The gluten content of foods made from wheat is on the rise.
In reality, the gluten content of wheat hasn’t changed. But regardless, there is no evidence that the majority of people should avoid gluten. A study published in the BMJ found that people who follow a gluten-free diet but don’t have celiac disease may be at a greater risk for heart disease, largely because they aren’t consuming enough whole grains and therefore miss out on their nutritional benefits.
4. Fruit should be avoided because it’s full of sugar.
Natural sugars, such as those found in fruit and milk, are digested by the body differently than added sugars. Comparing the sugar in candy to the sugar in an apple doesn’t made sense. The sugar in fruit is also bundled with fiber, vitamins and antioxidants that you don’t get from the sugar in highly processed foods. There is also much less sugar in a piece of fruit than in a can of soda or a bowl of cereal. A medium-sized orange has about 13 grams of sugar, compared to the almost 40 grams in a can of soda.
The bottom line is we need carbohydrates to have a healthy diet. Cutting out any one food group is never a good idea.
Q and A
Q: I just heard that the latest recommendations say we don’t have to worry about how much cholesterol we eat. Is that true? Why the big change?
A: The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans do not include a recommendation to limit intake of dietary cholesterol. Previous guidelines had recommended limiting intake of dietary cholesterol to 300 milligrams or less per day, says Alice Lichtenstein, the executive editor of Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter and vice chair of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
This recommendation had meant cutting back on meat, eggs, full-fat dairy and shellfish such as shrimp and checking Nutrition Facts labels on processed foods. The 2015 advisory committee removed this limit on cholesterol because, within the context of amounts currently consumed in the U.S., there is a lack of consistent quantifiable evidence isolating dietary cholesterol as a main culprit in chronic disease.
Cholesterol is tasked with many important functions in our bodies, such as producing hormones and forming cell membranes. The human body can produce all the cholesterol it needs on its own, so it’s not essential that we get cholesterol from our diet.
Blood levels of cholesterol remain a strong risk factor for heart disease, but dietary cholesterol affects blood cholesterol inconsistently among individuals. If someone is told by their doctor that they are at high risk of heart disease, they should follow a generally healthy diet pattern rather than focus on dietary cholesterol.
Information courtesy of Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.
Here’s a great stew to warm up in this winter’s blast of cold. It’s from Cooking Light’s “Fresh Food Fast.”
1 cup pulled smoked pork
1 cup pulled skinless smoked chicken
1 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup frozen baby lima beans
1/2 cup frozen whole-kernel corn
1/4 cup Carolina sweet barbecue sauce
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a Dutch oven. Bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 12 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Makes 4 servings. (Serving size: 1 1/4 cups.) Note: This can also be made in a slow cooker. Combine ingredients and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6 hours.
Per serving: 293 calories; 28.1 grams protein; 18.3 grams carbohydrates; 11.4 grams fat; 76 milligrams cholesterol; 2.4 grams fiber; 569 milligrams sodium.
Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.