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To Carb or Not to Carb?

January 13th, 2011 11 Comments

–By Nutritionista

As some of you may know, I don’t think grains are great. I don’t think humans were meant to eat as many grains as we currently consume, and Idefinitely don’t think we were meant to eat as many processed grains. But I also don’t think Dr. Atkins was completely right about carbs.

I personally cut grains out of my diet almost completely last year — I looked and felt better for it. But I do think there are some good reasons to eat carbs (grains, starchy vegetables, etc.). There are also good reasons not to, so you all should know both sides of the story.

CARB PRO: Carbs are usually pretty filling. There’s something about adding a few potatoes to a soup, or eating your stir-fry with a small portion of rice that just does the trick in terms of satisfaction.

CARB CON: …But they’re not filling for long. Unfortunately, carbs aren’t filling for very long. Did you ever notice that, after eating a carb-heavy meal, you’re hungry again a couple hours later? When you eat a lot of carbs, you’re full, but not satisfied. That can cause you to overeat later.

CARB PRO: Carbs can give you instant energy. Before a long run, I used to always have an English muffin with peanut butter and banana. Tons of carbs, tons of energy.

CARB CON: …But again, that energy doesn’t last long. And if you don’t use it, your body will proabably store it as fat.

CARB PRO: Eating some carbs can prevent binges. What do people binge on most? It’s not meat, I’ll tell you that. It’s mostly carb-filled goodies: pastas, cookies, breads, bagels, muffins, etc. You won’t find someone sneaking pats of butter late at night! When you incorporate some unprocessed carbs into your diet (sprouted grain bread, potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.), you may not feel as inclined to gorge yourself on carbs than if you deprive yourself completely.

CARB CON: …But eating carbs can also lead to carb binges. It goes back to the last pro/con: Carbs are filling, but they’re not satisfying. At least not on their own. So you can end up eating way more than you intend to. You can help prevent that phenomenon by eating unprocessed carbs with plenty of protein and at least a little fat (and hopefully very little sugar!) in order to prevent overeating.

CARB PRO: Carbs are delicious! I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that carbs are just TASTY! That can’t be denied. And I never deny myself deliciousness.

CARB CON: Other foods are just as delicious, and that’s easy to forget. A really well-seasoned, juicy chicken breast can be just as heavenly as a plate of mac ‘n’ cheese, but the chicken may need a little bit more TLC. Non-carby food can be devine! So don’t think carbs are the only type of food that pleases the palate.

As you can see, carbs have their benefits, but there are some downsides too. Ultimately, how many carbs you choose to consume is up to you, but whatever you do, choose unprocessed carbs as often as you can!

Any other carb pros/cons you can think of?

  • Mikaela

    What would the body use instead of carbohydrates for
    energy? I think that in a diet completely absent of carbs, the body
    will use protein (muscle) first as an energy source before it dips
    into our fat stores. Perhaps a better way to maintain good
    nutrition is to use portion control, regular and healthy snacking,
    and a daily multivitamin. However, if someone is already overweight
    or obese, this may not be the best option.

  • Mikaela

    Oh I looked it up. The body uses fat and a small amount of
    protein unless glucose (made from carbs) is denied for long periods
    of time (more than 12 hours). Not sure how this fits into low-carb
    diets as I have never been on one.

  • Kaleigh

    I think the best piece of advice you ever gave me on this was to think of bread/cards as a condiment. It has helped me a ton to cut out processed carbs and to eat whole grains only in moderation.

    • It’s hard for me to say what the “best” advice she’s ever given me is….I find all of Leah’s posts to be so helpful!!

  • @Mikaela: Portion control can be tricky when your usual hunger signals are influenced by what you’re eating! For example, a lot of people I know find it difficult to eat bread and pasta in moderation. For some people, it’s easier to just focus on other types of food. But it really does depend on the person. I don’t recommend low-carb diets, per se, I just think it’s beneficial to be picky about what kind of carbs you choose!
    @Kaleigh: That’s exactly right! :) I think that’s a great way to think of it.

  • megan

    look up glycogen. your body needs carbohydrates to live.
    end of discussion.

    • I think Leah is referring to starches and flour, not all carbohydrates. You absolutely need to include carbs – which you can get through quinoa, oatmeal, barley, potatoes – in your diet.

  • Kirsten

    You can get the glucose you need from fresh fruit,
    vegetables, and milk. Starchy, floury, and grainy sources of
    carbohydrates are unnecessary. They only came into the diet 10,000
    years ago. Before that, humans existed just fine without

  • Ruth Anne Lemley

    What do you recommend for someone who does not eat meat? I love carbs and they seem to fill a void in my current diet. I dont want to go back to eating meat. Thanks for your ideas!

    • I love oatmeal, quinoa, and sprouted grain english muffins and tortillas for filling carbs.

      My favorite meat substitute is mushrooms sauteed with Worchestershire sauce and red wine. Or grill a big marinated portabella mushroom grilled. Serve with mashed or roasted potatoes! So yummy!