Here’s why you shouldn’t cut ALL carbs from your diet.
There’s no question that America has a carb obsession. Carbs make up our morning bagels (white flour), fries at lunch (starch), and sweet afternoon lattes (sugar). On average, Americans consume 239 (for women) and 335 (for men) empty calories a day from added sugars alone. The excess of simple carbs, like sugar and white flour, contribute to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So should you give carbs the boot?
Let out a sigh of relief, because the answer is definitely no. The key is choosing the right kind of carb, according to nutrition experts.
“Simple carbohydrates are easily broken down by the body, which means that they also easily increase our blood sugar,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutritionist in New York City. These make up the most commonly consumed carbs: white bread, regular pasta, and desserts.
But not all carbs are that simple (pun intended). Complex carbs, including whole grains, vegetables, and legumes, take longer for your body to digest so they have less of a spiking effect on blood sugar.
In a long-term study of men without a history of diabetes or heart disease, those who consumed the least amount of whole grains (a complex carb) actually had the highest incidence of type 2 diabetes. Similarly, a six-year study of more than 30,000 women found that higher intakes of whole grains, as well as fiber and magnesium (which are found in complex carbs but not simple carbs), led to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. (Here are the top food sources of magnesium.)
“[Complex carbs] have more vitamins, more minerals, and mainly more fiber,” says Sandra Arévalo, RDN, a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Eating more beans and legumes, high-fiber veggies, and choosing whole grains instead of refined grains are all ways to up your complex carb intake, according to Arévalo.
The reason lies in the refining. The bran left in whole grains, such as brown rice or whole-wheat pasta, packs in fiber that slows down digestion. A 2017 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that whole-grain brown rice has a slower “gastric emptying rate” than white rice, which resulted in a lower glycemic response. (Learn more about why fiber is so essential for diabetes management here.)
When you make a habit of choosing complex carbs over simple ones, your blood sugar levels tend to be more stable. This can help prevent diabetes in the first place and help patients with diabetes manage the condition better. It may also reduce your intake of empty calories (which tend to satisfy in the moment, but leave you famished soon after), which could aid in weight management.
To learn more about balancing carbohydrates in your diet, here are a dietitian’s tips on counting carbs.
Frances Largeman-Roth is a nutritionist and cookbook author in New York City.Sandra Arevalo
Sandra Arevalo is a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and director of nutrition services and community outreach at South Bronx Health Center.Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe
Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe is an internist and health media expert in New York City.
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A lot of people are confused about
the difference between a simple
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a complex carbohydrate.
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Simple carbohydrates are easily broken
down by the body which means that they
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also very easily increase our blood sugar.
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So they can be found in everything
from fruits and vegetables,
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naturally occurring, and
also in dairy products.
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To added sugar things like table sugar,
brown sugar, molasses, honey.
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All of those things
are simple carbohydrates.
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Regular carb is every
carb that we know, and
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most people prefer,
like white bread, rice, cookies.
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And then complex carbohydrates we would
find in whole grains in legumes, beans,
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and starchy vegetables.
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So this just means that its a longer
chain carbohydrate, it takes longer for
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the body to break them down.
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And also we don't see as much
of a spike in blood sugar,
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it's kind of a more even peak.
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they are carbs that have more vitamins,
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more minerals, and mainly more fiber.
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So foods like beans,
like whole beans, red beans,
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navy beans, green beans, even lima beans,
are better carbs for you.
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Rice, instead of preferring the white
rice, you should go for the brown rice,
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pasta, same thing,
bread prefer brown over white.
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Those will be complex carbohydrates.
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When you eat a complex carb, your
body is able to sustain that glucose or
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those sugars and
carbs that you get from that source
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of food for
a more continuous period of time.
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It's not just a quick boost of
carbohydrates in the system.
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So we recommend more so
if you are indulging in carbohydrates
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to look towards more of
the complex carbs in the diet.
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Are carbs the enemy? Arlington, VA: American Diabetes Association, 2011. (Accessed on January 17, 2018 at http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2011/mar/are-carbs-the-enemy.html.)
Carbohydrates—part of a healthful diabetes diet. Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Diabetics, 2015. (Accessed on January 17, 2018 at http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/diseases-and-conditions/diabetes/carbohydrates-part-of-a-healthful-diabetes-diet.)
Facts and statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Accessed on January 17, 2018 at https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/index.html#footnote-2.)
Fung TT, Hu FB, Pereira MA, Liu S, Stampfer MJ, Colditz GA, Willett WC. Whole-grain intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a prospective study in men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Sep;76(3):535-40.
Know your limit for added sugars. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on January 17, 2018 at https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/know-your-limit-for-added-sugars.html.)
Liu S. Intake of refined carbohydrates and whole grain foods in relation to risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus and coronary heart disease. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002 Aug;21(4)298-306.
Meyer KA, Kushi LH, Jacobs DR Jr, Slavin J, Sellers TA, Folsom AR. Carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and incident type 2 diabetes in older women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Apr;71(4):921-30.
Pletsch EA, Hamaker BR. Brown rice compared to white rice slows gastric emptying in humans. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017 Oct. (Accessed on January 17, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29235555.)Types of carbohydrates. Arlington, VA: American Diabetes Association. (Accessed on January 17, 2018 at http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/understanding-carbohydrates/types-of-carbohydrates.html.)