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Are ‘Carbs’ Bad For You?

The Truth Behind The Hype

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few decades, you must have heard about the “evil” that is carbohydrates (aka “carbs”). Made popular by, among others, Dr. Robert Atkins in the 1960’s, and the “South Beach Diet” in the early 2000’s, the basic premise of this “nutritional truth” is that the consumption of carbs promotes weight gain, and that, if one wants to lose weight, all one needs to do is eliminate carbs from one’s diet. But does a no/low-carb diet really work, and is it healthy for you?

 

As we discussed in the last issue, carbohydrates are molecules that contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, otherwise known as “sugars”, and comprise three types including simple sugars (such as fruits), starches or complex (such as potatoes and bread), and celluloses or fibrous (such as broccoli – yes, vegetables are carbs). Carbs are the preferred fuel for the body; i.e., they’re the premium gasoline to power your engine. What that means is that, by consuming carbs, one spares the breakdown of the other two macronutrients, i.e., protein and fat. So, the logic goes, if one eliminates carbs from one’s diet, the body has no choice but to burn protein and fat for fuel and voila… one will lose weight. Magic!

 

Or is it?

 

Generally speaking, reducing the amount of carbohydrates you consume would indeed likely result in you losing weight, but that’s probably more due to the fact that you’d be eating fewer calories too; and losing weight doesn’t always mean losing fat either. Increasing your protein consumption to compensate for the reduction in carbs is therefore recommended, and will probably better assure that your weight loss is more from a reduction of fat than from muscle. But is it healthy? 

 

If eating fewer carbs means that your body will extract its energy from your fat reserves, surely eating NO carbs at all would be even better, right? Wrong. This is another one of those times when that all-American maxim “if a little is good, a lot must be better” doesn’t apply.

 

It’s been said that “fats burn in a carbohydrate flame”; that is, to burn fats efficiently and completely, some carbohydrates are needed – this is called fat oxidation. Additionally, although much of your body can use different macronutrients for fuel (i.e., carbs, protein, or fat), your brain can only use carbs for energy, so it’s very typical for those on a low-carb diet to experience a decrease in general cognitive ability. Other fun side effects include reduced athletic performance and overall weakness; irritability; nausea; dizziness; constipation; gas; and bad breath. Not to mention the fact that your liver is exposed to extra stress as it’s forced to assist with manufacturing glucose from fats and proteins (instead of easier-to-use carbs); and potentially toxic amounts of ammonia are produced as proteins (instead of carbs) are converted into glucose. Finally, it should be noted that some of the lost weight will be “water weight”, and will likely come right back on as soon as you start eating a more balanced diet again.

 

All of this, of course, brings me back to my previous article. That is, it’s a really bad idea to totally eliminate a nutrient from your diet. While one can certainly experiment with reducing the amount of carbs from your diet for a short period, in general, a healthy diet requires the consumption of all six nutrients – proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and water – in adequate and healthy amounts.

 

No. Rather than setting all your hopes on the latest and greatest “super diet” touted by the all-knowing media, a better plan of attack to reduce fat (and to keep it off) is to maintain both a healthy balanced diet and an effective exercise regimen that is suited for your body. There is no other way. There is no magic bullet, no easy fix, and no short cuts. In this microwave generation – where instant gratification with minimal effort is the typical expectation – we sometimes need to be reminded that, for anything worth having, there is no substitution for hard work, dedication, and patience. 

 

Finally, while it’s true that not all carbs are created equal and that some are healthier for you than others (as will be discussed in my next article), for now, suffice it to say that carbs are generally not the big bad wolf the media would sometimes have you believe. We all need carbs to survive; it’s how Hashem designed us.

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