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  • Writer's pictureYimin Xu

Are carbs bad? how to really enjoy them on this simple, healthy diet

Updated: Apr 25, 2022

"Carbs are bad and they make you fat". In fact, once upon a time, I used to believe this myth myself because of how frequently I was told it. “Unless you are running a marathon, stay away from the carbs.” The myths about carbs are both powerful and infuriatingly confusing.

Go on Google and you see people ask:

"Why carb is bad"

"Are carb-free diets healthy?"

"Who sells carb-free bread?"

That last question did surprise me a little. Bread is a staple of ours for thousands of years. Now we are bending over backwards to make them carb-free. The confusion becomes acutely frustrating since the rise of the ketogenic diet, which advocates that we use fats, as opposed to carbs, as the primary source of fuel, even though keto was originally intended as a treatment for epilepsy in the 1920s (but we will park keto as a separate topic for later).

We should begin the discussion with this fact: the human body and brain are naturally designed to use carbohydrates as the primary source of fuel. Our bodies break down carbohydrates into glucose, which is the main source of energy for our cells, tissues, and organs. Avoiding carbs (or eating a really low amount) as a macronutrient class is as counterintuitive as it is unnatural.

Holistic quality is key

The USDA recommends that we consume 45% to 65% of our daily calories from carbohydrates. If we eat 2000 calories a day, then around 1000 calories (equating to 250 grams) or more should come from carbs. There is no evidence that normal consumption of carbs causes weight gain. In fact, carbohydrates per gram contain the same amount of calories as protein and less than half of the calories of fat. We do not “become fat” because we simply ate carbs. On the other hand, not eating sufficient carbs will lead to nutrition deficiency, especially if the “carby food” was also a source of other important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

Healthy eating is about the foods we eat as a whole. What matters is where the nutrients come from. It is preferable to eat carbs from whole foods that are rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals. Great sources of carbs include whole grains, fruits, legumes, and starchy vegetables.

Whole grains vs refined grains

While most of us know that we should eat our fruits and vegetables, we tend to overlook the importance of whole grains. Whole grains include wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and soba noodles.

Whole grains are essential to a healthy diet because they have kept intact healthy starches (which are complex carbohydrates), fibre (another complex carb crucial to our digestive health), protein, vitamins and minerals. Whole grains have zero cholesterol and help regulate blood sugar levels as the body digests them more slowly. They are also associated with a lower risk of colon cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

In contrast, refined grains are the result of processing whole grains. While tasty, they have higher levels of simple carbohydrates and can spike the blood glucose level more quickly. They do not contain as much minerals or fibre unless fortified. We aim to avoid white bread, pasta and etc and replace them with the whole grains.

“Sugars” from fruits

I have also heard concerns that fruits should be avoided due to their sugars. There should be no worries about the naturally occurring sugars (“fructose”) from the fruits, when we eat them in their whole forms (not fruit juices). Fruits contain high amounts of water, fibre, vitamin C, potassium, folate, antioxidants, and more. They provide the essential micronutrients you need and can help you maintain a healthy gut. They are in fact an excellent fuel for pre-workout and mid-workout replenishment.

The whole-food plant-based diet

The whole-food plant-based diet is a nutrient-dense diet. On this diet, we embrace the most nutritious plant-based whole foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. We do not worry about our diet being “high carb” because the carbs are from the most nutrient-dense whole foods. The diet is incredibly beneficial to our gut health and the prevention of chronic diseases.

Finally, if you need help with delicious food pairing ideas or keeping up with nutrition, the Plantwise app is here to help. Sign up for our Apple App Store launch at the bottom of this page or on our homepage today for free!


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