The Truth About Carbs

Low-carb diet plans have become increasingly popular in recent years. Alternatively, there are many high-carb diets that claim to be beneficial as well.

Both types of diets claim that they have the best health effects for you, so how do you know which one is the best? Overall, both high and low-carb diets have different health benefits, so your current dietary and lifestyle choices will impact which diet is right for you.

If you are trying to decide between a high or low-carb diet, you need to understand what carbohydrates are and which benefits you get from having meals that contain more (or less) carbs. Once you know the differences between the two diets, you can compare potential advantages and disadvantages and determine which type of diet is best for you. Read the sections below to learn more about carbohydrates and the differences in diets involving them.

What are carbohydrates?

Certain carbohydrates occur naturally in food, while others are added to processed foods. Common examples of natural carbs are found in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains and milk. Added carbs come in the form of extra sugars and starch. Some of the healthiest foods containing natural carbohydrates include:

  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Oats
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Beets
  • Grapefruit
  • Blueberries

Refined carbohydrates refer to any carbs that are found in processed food. Most of these carbohydrates are considered unhealthy. This is because refined carbs are absorbed into your bloodstream and cause high levels of insulin and blood sugar. Consequently, many diseases are tied to the consumption of refined carbohydrates. Foods containing refined carbs include:

  • Refined grains. These are found in instant oatmeal and instant rice.
  • Added sugars. This includes white sugar, molasses and corn syrup.
  • All kinds of flour. This includes oat, rice and corn flour.

Carbohydrates are often blamed for gaining weight, which is why there are so many carb-free diets out there. However, it is important to note that carbs are not all bad.

When carbs are digested, your body converts them into glucose or sugar. Glucose is an important source of fuel for your body and brain, so it is helpful to get enough of it. Additionally, carbs provide you with energy. Some natural foods that contain carbohydrates, such as dietary fiber and whole grains, can reduce your chances of getting heart and blood vessel diseases. Furthermore, fiber may reduce your risk of getting Type 2 diabetes and becoming obese.

Are carbs good or bad?

Are carbs good or bad for your diet? As of late, many studies have vilified diet plans that are high on carbohydrates, claiming that they are responsible for weight gain. Studies by Harvard researchers have shown that there is a greater risk for premature death in both low-carb and high-carb diets. With such conflicting findings, it is no wonder many people have been left confused about the truth about carbohydrates.

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During the latest study of approximately 25,000 Americans, which was conducted over a period of six years, people on low-carb diets appeared to have a 32 percent higher chance of dying from any cause. Breaking those figures down into specific causes of death, it was found that people on low-carb diets had a 51 percent higher risk of heart disease, a 50 percent higher risk of strokes and a 35 percent higher risk of cancer. The study did not define exactly what was meant by a low-carb diet, so the findings are still up for debate.

A different Harvard study showed that people who ate an average amount of carbohydrates were likely to live the longest. This study looked at the dietary records from 1987 to 1989 of over 15,000 adult Americans between 45 and 64 years of age.

A follow-up study conducted 25 years later showed moderate carbohydrate eaters were less likely to die prematurely than both low-carb and high-carb eaters. Then, the results of this study were combined with seven other results, which involved over 432,000 people. The exact same results were found, proving that average consumers of carbs were more likely to live longer than high-carb and low-carb dieters.

Additional studies concluded that low-carb diets involving proteins from animal fats created a higher risk of premature death than diets involving plant-derived proteins. Carbohydrates from animal-based proteins and fats come from foods like chicken, beef, lamb and pork. Alternatively, carbs from plant-based proteins and fats can come from nuts, vegetables and legumes.

How are low, moderate and high carbs defined?

A low-carb diet is generally defined as a diet where 25 to 30 percent of your calories come from carbohydrates. In other words, this means that 250 calories would come from carbs per 1,000 calories you eat.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, high-carb diets are defined as obtaining 70 percent of your total calorie intake from carbohydrates. Furthermore, a moderate carb diet, which appears to be the best type of carb diet, means obtaining between 45 and 65 percent of your total calories from carbohydrates.

The Best Carb Diet

As discussed in previous sections, it certainly seems like the consensus points to not committing to neither a low-carb diet nor a high-carb diet. Rather, science shows that it is better to stick to a moderate intake of carbs.

Moreover, it is important to choose the right kinds of carbohydrates, as some are better for you than others. Generally, the best carbs to eat come from vegetables, fruits and grain foods. The next best carbs to eat are the ones found in dairy products, such as yogurt and milk.

When it comes to protein, you should eat plant-based proteins and carbs found in lean meats. For carbs in fats, stick to nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. Moreover, you are encouraged to select less-refined carbs, such as choosing whole wheat pasta and bread instead of regular pasta and bread.

If you are planning a carbohydrate diet, whether high or low, you are encouraged to speak with your doctor or a dietician to determine the best diet for your health. Depending on your past diet and health history, one type of diet may be better than all others.

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