Carbohydrates Are Not The Enemy!

No Carb SignThere have been a few popular diets that have vilified carbohydrates as something that is evil.  Like an apple or a carrot is bad.  Does this make sense to you?  It doesn’t make sense to me! Carbohydrates are not the enemy.  So, let’s discuss.

As I mentioned on Monday, carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the body, especially the brain and the rest of the central nervous system.  Carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and grains provide the body with all kinds of necessary vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber as well as energy to fuel the body.  The problem with any nutrient, whether it is carbohydrates, protein or fats, is that if you eat too much of it, it will cause you to increase your fat stores and gain weight.

Fruits and vegetablesLet’s start with the food groups.  Carbohydrates come from fruits, vegetables and grains.  Studies have repeated found that Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables.  This requirement is only 5 cups a day for the two groups combined.  So, obesity can’t come about from these two categories.  In 2007, the USDA released an Economic Research Report that stated that Americans eat 106% of the daily recommendation for grains.  While people are eating more refined grains than whole grains (which is bad), 6% above the daily recommendation isn’t going to really pack on the pounds, either.

So, where can you get sugars that aren’t in fruits, vegetables or grains?  How about table sugar (sucrose)?  While people may add sugar to teas or their breakfast cereal, I’m not sure that’s an issue, either.  What about the sugars found in sweetened drinks, like soda?  Hmmmm…. that could be a possibility.

Sugary DrinksThe American Heart Association recommends that people consume no more than three 12-oz. cans of carbonated soda per week.  Yes, you read that correctly – per WEEK.  Sweetened drinks can include soda pop, fruit drinks with sugar added (those that are not 100% fruit juice), energy drinks, sports drinks, and sweetened bottled waters and teas.  Sugar is added to practically everything these days.  Remember when I said that the food industry likes to add sugar, salt and fat to foods so that you eat more?  Added sugars are hidden everywhere in packaged and processed foods.  This isn’t even mentioning obvious sources of sugars such as from cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream and candy.  Even foods labeled as health bars can contain an awful lot of sugar.  I’ve known people who drink more calories in a day than they get from solid food.  Are any of these sugars necessary for human health?  While they may taste good, I hope you answered NO.

So, now you know why every time I hear someone pass up a fruit or vegetable because it happens to contain carbohydrates, I cringe.  Bread seems to be another item that people try to cut out when it comes to restricted carbohydrate diets.  While whole grain bread is better for you for a variety of reasons than refined white bread, even that isn’t causing the global obesity epidemic.  Sugars added to foods or drinks, though, are a problem.  More and more studies are coming out that point the finger at soda pop as the culprit for obesity, especially in children.  One 12-oz. can of an unnamed caramel-colored soda pop contains 39 grams of sugar.  That equals out to almost 10 teaspoons of table sugar and 140 calories.  What does that drink give you?  Nothing but sugar that you don’t need and, eventually, a trip to the dentist.

Let’s skip picking on the beverage industry for a minute and pick another example.  Let’s compare a whole apple against apple sauce that you buy at the store.  A large apple that you buy at the grocery store is about 100 calories.  Let’s compare that to a 4 oz. prepackaged container of cinnamon apple sauce, which is also 100 calories.

                                                           Apple (large)                      Applesauce (4 oz.)
Calories                                                       110 cal                                        100 cal
Protein                                                            1 g                                                0 g
Carbohydrates                                            29 g                                              25 g
Fat                                                                   0 g                                                 0 g
Fiber                                                                5 g                                                 1 g
Soluble fiber                                                   1 g                                                 1 g
Insoluble fiber                                               4 g                                                 0 g
Vitamin A                                                       6 mcg                                            0 mcg
Calcium                                                         13 mg                                              0 mg

Both of these are around 100 calories each.  The carbohydrate values are about the same, too. But where did all the fiber, vitamins and minerals go from the applesauce?  They got taken out during the processing of the food.  For the record, the fiber that is good for you is the indigestible, insoluble fiber.  The applesauce has none.  The whole apple has 4 grams of it.

It’s too bad you can’t see pictures of these two side by side.  The 4 oz. container of the applesauce is pretty little.  A big apple is, well, a big apple!  One apple probably made two or three of these little containers.  Which do you think will fill you up more when you’re hungry?  You’re right – the whole apple!

To wrap this all up, carbohydrates in general are not the enemy.  However, added sugars found in drinks, processed foods and restaurants foods are.  Look for hidden sugars in foods.  Read labels.  Ask restaurants for the nutrition guides for their foods.  And think before you drink a ton of unnecessary sugar calories.

Until next time, remember that… there are no excuses when it comes to your health!

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