It was some time ago that the world was exposed to the evils of carbohydrates. Unbeknownst to those of us living on low-fat, high-pasta diets, we had misplaced our fear in the wrong macronutrient. With the quality of “scientific journalism” you find in The Huffington Post and your Facebook feed, it’s easy to be led astray. Don’t worry though; we here at OTM have done our research and have a definitive answer to the question: Are carbohydrates evil?
The answer is no. And yes.
Now that we’ve clarified that, let’s dig a little deeper so those of you on ketogenic diets can eat a piece of cake. Once upon a time, some scientisty people decided to group our food into three categories: fat, protein, and carbohydrate. Since then, we’ve spent billions of dollars on research vilifying them in turn. Perhaps worst of all, we keep trying to define a one-size-fits-all solution to eating that will keep each of us looking like the cast of 300.
Should we be low-carbing? Many of us are athletes, weekend warriors, or soccer moms who have to shop and chase children with veritable stamina. The idea of fewer carbohydrates and a pie-less life makes us shudder. The scale for a low-carb life is based on the ridiculously high amount of carbohydrates in the average American diet. Recent research suggests the average American gets 64 percent of their calories from carbohydrates alone. In my clinic, I typically recommend between 20 and 25 percent, depending on the lifestyle and goals of the client. The problem is, carbs provide a big calorie bang for a minimal nutrient buck. Eating too many of them means we might be missing out on other important things, such as the fatty acids that help our brains function and build our hormones, or the proteins that repair our muscles after an adventure.
Research shows us many things regarding a low-carb life. Doctors Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney spent 20 years researching long-term, low-carbohydrate intake in athletes and found their endurance did not suffer. Their social lives and sense of joy likely did though. Extremely low-carb diets (anything under 50 grams a day) are used to induce ketosis or “nutritional” ketosis — a metabolic state in which your body effectively converts fats into ketones for fuel (as opposed to using glucose stores). Research shows this is an effective way to lose fat; however, it places a higher demand on the liver and is not always recommended for long periods of time. Also, you can’t ever eat cake, which makes pretty much any nutritional dogma unsustainable and miserable.
The reality is, Americans eat a ridiculous amount of carbohydrates because they are available, cheap, and transportable. The results are becoming more and more evident: increases in diabetes, heart disease, digestive disorders, and an obesity epidemic that is an embarrassment to our nation. That doesn’t mean we must avoid them entirely. Here’s a little secret the dietitian authors seldom mention: Every single human body is a little different, so no cookie-cutter plan is going to be quite right for you. To figure out what is right for you, you need to have an honest look at what you are eating, what your goals are, and what your lifestyle is. Then make some space for your body’s unique history and state of health.
It is not so much that we must fear carbohydrates as it is that we must embrace a well-rounded approach to our nutrition. Our needs for macronutrients are as dynamic as our days. If you are out riding long miles, you’re going to crave and need more carbohydrates. If you’re soaking in the hot tub, maybe stick to some lean protein and sautéed veggies. If we are what we eat, then we must take a look at our plates and ask ourselves if that is what we want to be. It doesn’t disappear into a black hole inside of you. It becomes you. So make sure your plate is balanced. And leave a little room for dessert, for the soul must also be nourished. //
Ammi Midstokke is a nutritional therapist in Sandpoint. To find out more about saving the world with kale, visit her website at www.twobirdsnutrition.com.