Ever since Time magazine and many other media outlets published articles and ran segments about the actual misconception of fat consumption and the link to obesity, I have encountered more people in the last year following low-carb diets. Although, the science behind the logic is sound and there is research backing this new trend, what is reported in many of these short blurbs for the layman have left out some important information. This article will discuss how this information can be misinterpreted by the general audience in believing that if they were to cut out many or all carbs from their diets, they would be healthier, and ultimately, for the people I see, thinner.
In June of last year, I pulled out my subscription of Time magazine from my mail slot and read the cover, “Eat Butter. Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong.” I perused the article later that week and was fascinated to read that research showed a higher correlation between eating a low-carb diet and weight loss versus eating a low-fat diet and weight loss (1). The logic sounded right. If one consumes too many carbohydrates, the body will convert some of the excess to fat. Therefore, if we didn’t have any excess carbs in our system, then there would be no need to convert it into fat. In addition, if there aren’t enough carbohydrates in our system to use for energy, then we’d start utilizing our fat stores. Bada bing, bada boom, instant weight loss.
The general public hears this and all of a sudden there is a line out the door for the latest low-carb cook book. The worst scenario is the person who just stops eating carbohydrates all together in hopes that they can continue this lifestyle. The problem we face is that this type of diet is not realistic. The key point that the research highlights that the general public might have missed when reading or listening to all the news about the study is that the participants of the study changed their eating habits to a basically healthier diet of high quality carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. Neither groups were eating french fries, Twinkies, fried chicken, or drinking Coke Zero. Yet the average American consumes 31% more processed foods than fresh foods (2).
The fact is we use carbohydrates as our primary source of energy (a.k.a. fuel). Without it, we would fatigue quickly and not be able to function as efficiently. Our brains and muscles need carbs to fuel our thoughts and movements. It is recommended by the Dietetic Guidelines for Americans that we aim to get 45% – 65% of our total daily calories from carbohydrates. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, 45% – 65% of that would be a range of 900 to 1,300 calories (divide that by 4 to find how many grams that you would need = 225g – 325g/day). Carbohydrates are not only found in grains, starches, and sugar, but also in fruits and vegetables. According to the CDC, the latest data that was complied between 2009-2012 showed that the average American male was consuming 48% of total calories from carbs and females were consuming 50.7% of total calories from carbs (3). WAIT A MINUTE HERE! That’s within the guidelines that we should be consuming. How can that be correct if the newest study is showing that we’re gaining weight because of our increased carbohydrate intake?
Additional data from the CDC indicates that the average American has been consuming on average 335 kcal from added sugars in processed foods which has been the cause of a decrease in natural macronutrients (carbohydrates) and weight gain (3). The US population as a whole is not meeting the recommended daily intake of vegetables and fruits (4). Only 24% of Americans meet the recommend fruit intake, and only 13% meet the vegetable recommended intake.
So that brings me back to the study on the low-carb diet. When the participants were placed on a low carb diet, they were asked to eat only 30% of their total daily calories deriving from carbohydrates, but those carbs were to come from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. They were not consuming refined or processed sugars in their diets. French fries, diet Pepsi, Whoppers, Chick-Fil-A sandwiches, and endless pasta were not on the menu. If you’re going to follow a low-carb diet, which as proven can reduce weight and risk factors for disease, the key is to eliminate the highly processed and sugar laden foods we enjoy eating and not the healthy carbs.
As you can see, Americans are eating the recommended allowance of carbohydrates, however, the quality of our food selection is not up to par with what we should be consuming. We need better carbs rather than fewer carbs in our diets.