It is impossible not to notice the many health and fitness magazines on display in line at your local market. Have you ever taken a moment to try to count how many times a low carbohydrate diet is mentioned? We are being inundated daily with unsolicited advice, often contradictory, regarding our calorie intake, food decisions, and meal choices. When a lifestyle change through diet and exercise is on your mind, how do you know what to believe and when? The common theme within modern nutritional advice is that carbohydrates should be avoided. That is a rather passive theme, so let’s try to find some clarity.
Myth #1: Do Not Eat Carbohydrates, They Are Bad For You
Fact: When eaten in moderation, carbohydrates are not bad for you. The moderation rule goes for any food you choose to eat. Carbohydrates can be tricky because they are a fixture in both nutrient rich and low nutrient foods. The more nutritious carbs include:
- whole grain pasta and bread
They are a better choice because they are more satisfying, which prevents overeating. The less nutritious carbs are:
- processed foods
- white pasta and bread
- donuts and candy¬†
They are considered empty calories because, while they taste good, they provide an excess of calories without putting a dent in your hunger. Without carbohydrates our bodies would be deprived of essential nutrients, so completely avoiding carbs is actually unhealthy.
Myth #2: Your Body Processes Carbohydrates Into Sugar, Which Then Turns Into Fat
Fact: Carbohydrates are actually a form of sugar, so our bodies do not process them into sugar. We need carbs for energy and the energy we use burns off the carbs. If we consume more carbs than we burn off, our bodies do hold on to the extra and it could be metabolized into fat. The conundrum lies in how much we eat versus how much we burn. We are not like cars, we do not have a gas gauge to tell us when our “fuel” is running low. We know that, to lose weight, we must burn more than we consume – yet we must consume to have the energy to burn. Ugh, dizzy yet? The best way to solve this problem is through trial and error and sticking to good carbs. Remember to think of your intake / burn ratio on a 24 hour schedule and you will be less likely to “top off” on fuel and thus gain weight. After a few days in a row of topping off, yes, there is a good chance your body will process the excess into fat. But, no, it did not grab the carbs and immediately turn them into the cellulite on your thigh.
Myth #3: You Will Lose Weight if You Eat a High Protein / Low Carb Diet
Fact: A high protein / low carb diet can be frustrating to follow when you are trying to lose weight. If you are exercising regularly (20 – 40 minutes of cardio 4 times per week), it is much more effective and satisfying to follow a well balanced diet containing good carbs and low fat proteins. When following a high protein / low carb plan, you may notice immediate results on the scale, but do not be fooled – those immediate results are most likely just water weight you are losing because proteins create more waste for your kidneys to process. When you are losing water continuously, you get dehydrated and put unnecessary stress on your kidneys and bowels (weight loss with a side of constipation anyone? No thanks!).
In the midst of these often less noticeable long term side effects is your extremely noticeable fatigue and general crabbiness. In addition, depriving your body of good complex carbs (essential nutrients!) makes you feel hungry more frequently so you are more likely to eat more calories than you are burning off – which is overeating! It is much easier to maintain a balanced low fat protein / good carb diet over a longer period of time which promotes real, long term, healthy weight loss.
Myth #4: There is No Such Thing as a Good Carb
Fact: At this point we know that this myth could not be further from the truth. Our bodies require the essential nutrients found in whole grains and other good carbs to survive and thrive. The natural vitamins and minerals found in good carbs help keep you healthy and disease free. The natural fiber helps you avoid overeating by satisfying your hunger and it lowers your cholesterol and prevents fatigue. While processed carbs can actually do damage to your system, natural carbs are an essential part of a diet balanced with lean proteins.
Myth #5: If You Eat Carbohydrates After 7:00pm, You Will Gain Weight
Fact: It is important to think of your diet and activity schedule on a 24 hour format and not a 12 hour format. If you eat anything after 7:00pm, it alone will not make you gain weight. If you stay within your calorie limit for the day, it does not matter what time you eat your meals or snacks. Also, your body processes the food into reserves or “fuel” that it holds on to in order to burn when you are exerting excess energy. As long as you are not overeating and you are exercising regularly within your target heart rate zone, you do not need to watch the clock.
A good reason to not eat too close to bedtime is the discomfort you may feel as you digest while lying down. To avoid heart burn and acid reflux at bedtime, you may want to refrain from too much snacking too late at night. Also, it is understandable that people “feel thinner” in the morning if they do not eat carbs after 7:00pm. You will weigh less in the morning because you have lost some water weight, but you might also have a hard time getting out of bed because you are so tired, and you are more likely to overeat when you wake up famished.