Carbs: Healthy or not?
For decades carbs have been shunned in the diet world. The abundance of “low carb” diets have caused a wave of confusion. How many times have you or someone you know ordered a bacon cheeseburger and with no bun? Carbs have been blamed for weight gain more than any other macronutrient, but are they really bad for you? Do carbs really make people fat?
What do carbs do?
First, what are carbohydrates? Carbohydrates are found in many different foods particularly starches, fibers and sugars. They are one of the main sources of energy used by the body. They are broken down into glucose in the bloodstream and give use energy to do all sorts of things. The excess is stored in the body and used later when energy is needed. Carbs play an important role in any healthy diet. However, there are both good and bad carbs.
Good carbs vs. bad carbs
Carbohydrates vary greatly. They include beans, breads, candy, sugar, potatoes, rice, donuts, cookies, oatmeal and pasta to name a few. On a “low carb” diet all of these would be out. But what about the good carbs? Which carbs are okay to eat and why?
In simple terms, you should avoid bad carbs because they lead to obesity and other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Anything that is highly processed and highly refined are considered bad. Processing refers to foods where water, nutrients and fiber are removed in favor of sugar, salt and other additives. Chips, white rice, white bread, pasta, cakes, candies, cookies are just a handful of the highly processed foods on the shelves today. They are everywhere and Americans love to consume them. In fact, it accounts for more than 50% of our diet! The result of this type of eating is obesity and disease.
These processed foods are the basis for the low carb movement. It has led all carbs to hold the stigma of causing weight gain. As a result, we may miss out on the huge health benefits of unprocessed or “good” carbs. Things like beans, whole grains and starchy vegetables. The low carb “diets” have also caused many people to consume much more animal foods and fats, which have a whole host of health risks that are well documented.
Starches are bad
Starches have often been pointed at for leading to weight gain and obesity. However, there have been studies from all over the world that contradict this belief. Sweet potatoes, barely and even rice in its less refined form are all healthy staples of a balance diet. Again, we have to be wary of foods that are highly processed when it comes to understanding what to eat. Low carb followers will certainly eliminate starch from their diets. However, this leads them to eating more foods that are inflammatory to the body and can lead to more health issues such as meat and dairy.
Gluten and wheat sensitivities
There are people who have serious issues with eating gluten and wheat products because of celiac disease or wheat sensitivity. But this is a very small portion of the population (2-3%). Gluten-free has become a big buzz phrase in the diet world. The big misconception is that gluten-free equals healthy. However, a gluten-free donut is still a donut. If you think you have sensitivities to wheat, try eating more whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoiding larger quantities of meat and dairy.
How does this relate to joint and muscle pain?
Joint and muscle pain is caused by inflammation. Inflammation is directly related to what we eat (as well as other lifestyle behaviors). Studies have shown that diets high in whole grains, carbs, result in lower levels of systemic inflammation. On the other hand, diets high in meat and dairy have been shown to increase inflammation. So, what does this have to do with how my joints and muscles feel? Simply put, when the body is inflamed, it goes into a protective mode. Inflammatory toxins are pushed out away from the organs in attempt to protect them. As a result, these inflammatory biproducts end up in our muscles and joints leading to pain, stiffness and loss of function
So, don’t look at all carbs as evil. Most are quite the opposite and can help your body fight diseases and help you lose weight. Carbs are best avoided (as is any food) when it is highly processed and contains increase sugar and salt. Next time you consider ordering that burger without the bun because the bread will make you fat, remember, the meat, cheese and bacon will too.