Why are carbohydrates getting such a bad wrap these days? As you might know, following a low carb diet for weight loss has become quite popular and for a good reason. There is plenty of research and evidence proving that reducing the amount of carbohydrate in the diet is a very effective strategy for many people. But first you must understand that carbs themselves are not bad; the main problem is the quality and quantity of carbohydrates consumed.

I think that most of us would probably admit that carbs are the devil. In Robb Wolf’s latest book “Wired To Eat” it is explained in great detail how and why the human brain and body crave this troublesome macronutrient. With just a little bit of manipulation and processing, carbs become a substance that is addicting as drugs, alcohol, and cigarets. One example of how carbohydrates can be a problem is to acknowledge how often we gravitate towards them whenever we have an “off” day. We simply need a little fix to make ourselves feel a bit better. Be it salty or sweet, sounds like a drug to me.

So it is time to bring a little clarity to the carb discussion. Carbohydrates themselves are not bad; we just need to pay attention to the amount we consume and try to avoid the carbs that mess with our brain and metabolism.

The first issue with carbohydrates is how quickly they are broken down and absorbed into the blood stream. This is the “simple versus complex carbs” discussion. Refined simple carbohydrates are like sugar in that they break down very rapidly and get dumped into our blood stream rapidly. This spike in blood sugar also causes a corresponding release of the hormone insulin. Rapid up and down fluctuations in blood sugar is an unhealthy process that leads to a cascade of mental and physical challenges.

Refined simple carbohydrates may taste good, but as I just mentioned, they can wreak havoc on our metabolism and brain function. For some, a diet that is higher in these foods can lead to metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes and is one of the primary causes of the obesity epidemic. Additionally, the blood sugar fluctuations that occur when we ingest refined carbohydrates is also an issue. Low blood sugar forces us to seek out more food. Just to be clear, low blood sugar is not hunger, but it does drive us to eat more food, especially refined carbs, and sugar. For some of you, this should shed some light on why it might be difficult to lose weight. We end up eating more refined carbs to get our blood sugar back up, but the truth is that the body doesn’t need the extra calories.

Here are some examples of simple versus complex (refined versus whole) carbohydrates.

Good carb choices:
-Starchy roots and tubers (sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, beets, etc.)
-Whole grains – slow cooked
-Fruit – berries are best, limit other fruit to 1-2 per day
-Winter squash
-Legumes – beans & lentils

Poor carb choices:
-Soda, juice & other sweetened beverages
-Flour products – bread, pasta, cereal, crackers, et cetera
-Dried fruit (concentrated sugars)
-Alcohol – wine, beer & spirits (yep, it turns right into sugar)
-Sugar – candy, ice cream, cakes and other baked goods

The trick is to consume carbohydrates that digest slowly, contain fiber and are nutrient rich. Refined flour products (bagged, boxed and baked goods), sugar, and alcohol have no nutritional value and negatively affect our metabolism and brain function.