During the 90’s, dietary Fat was the nutritional villain. But now Carbs are the world’s biggest “no no” when it comes to healthy eating. Hang tight, I’ll also tell you why low carb diets may actually do more harm than good.
Let’s give carbs their rightful place at the table by clearing up some misinformation.
What Carbs Do
First of all, please understand that Carbs, just like the other macronutrients, have a job to do. Their job is to give your body quick energy. This is really helpful if say, you’re taking one of my classes or it’s leg day. Your body can get energy from body fat (that’s part of why it’s there… it’s stored energy), but it takes a long time. I’m not a finance person, but I understand that if I need to purchase something quickly, I can take it out of my checking account. One day when I become a real. live. grownup (stay tuned!) I might have CD’s. But I understand it’s a whole lotta hassle to get money out of one of those. So Carbs are sort of like your checking account assets, and body fat is sorta like your rainy day reserves– which is why losing body fat is serious business. Your body is no dummy! Before I get derailed from my defense of carbs, understand that what you eat helps fuel your activity. This is why I’ve taught my clients that the two best times to eat carbs are in the morning– to give your body a kick in the pants to get moving, and before a workout, so you’re not laying in the floor flopping around looking rather like a fish out of its pond. (Eating correctly before a workout keeps you out of what I now call the “Sweet Tea Club.” About 95% of the people who have taken my classes have completely run out of carbs during a workout, because they didn’t eat enough for how hard they would be training. After they quit looking so green, I send them to go get sweet tea so they can have immediate glucose. It only takes once or twice for this to happen. After that, their number one priority before training with me is fueling properly. My work here is done. And if you haven’t heard me yet, this is another reason why having a meal plan is so important!)
Now before some other pro reads this and calls me an idiot, let me say this. Your body has another mechanism to get glucose (the usable form of energy–basically your “blood sugar”) that doesn’t involve carbohydrates. This process, called gluconeogenesis (throw that around at your next cocktail party!) is long and complicated, but the short story is that your body can use dietary fats and proteins to make glucose. It just takes a while. This was the premise of the Atkins diet. Eat plenty of fat and protein, and let the body take care of the rest. While some people have done well on it, a lot of others found that they were just too sluggish. This was especially true of athletes. Their bodies just couldn’t keep up with the energy demand.
How to Eat Carbs the Right Way
What I’m saying is carbs are important to a healthy life style. If you missed Myth #18, go back and check it out to learn what happens when you eat too many carbs, and how you might unknowingly be doing just that. A good rule of thumb is 30-40% of your calories should come from carbs. (The low end of that if you’re sedentary, the high end if you’re more active. Uhem. Get a meal plan!)
A lot of people talk about “Good Carbs” and “Bad Carbs”. That’s not my favorite way to think about them, as I don’t want to teach people to villiize food. I talk in terms of “fast carbs”, “medium carbs”, and “slow carbs.” Your fast carbs are basically just sugar–e.g. Candy, table sugar, honey, etc. (Remember “The Sweet Tea Club” I mentioned?) Medium Carbs have some fiber but are still fairly easily broken down– e.g. A banana or pasta. And your slow carbs, you guessed it, are the things your body is gonna be working on for a while, like oatmeal or a potato. Timing is everything, though.
Why Low Carb Diets Can be Dangerous
Before this post turns into something the length of War and Peace, here’s the problem with low carb diets, besides the aforementioned sluggishness. Your primary source of vitamins and minerals are carbs! I told you in an earlier post that anything that is not a fat or a protein is a carbohydrate. So that means your green beans and your broccoli and your morning grapefruit are all carbs. A great way to mess up your electrolytes and make your body feel generally crappy is to stop eating the foods that contain potassium and your other vitamins and minerals. They have work to do too!
In tomorrow’s post…
Think you need to spend hours in the gym to get healthy? I’ll be addressing that tomorrow!