Anyone conscientious about what they put in their body is likely familiar with the confusing, often conflicting, information around nutrition swirling around the web today. Carbohydrates, in particular, inspire intense opinions ranging from those who declare carbs the enemy to those who hail them as vital to our diets.
Health myths can be easy to latch on to, but they can also be detrimental to our quest for the healthiest life. These nine carb theories are ones you’ve likely heard a thousand times, but only some of them are backed by science. Here’s your definitive guide to which common carb myths you should take as fact, and which you should discard right along with nutrient-lacking carbs themselves.
Digesting carbs leaves you lethargic and in a fog — False
Carbohydrates are an essential source of energy. If the brain is denied glucose from carbohydrates for its fuel, it turns to the ketones in fat instead. This isn’t as good as it sounds. One major study in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that running off ketones instead of glucose can actually lead to impaired brain function.
A healthy diet is a low-carb diet — False
Your diet can be low in carbs yet still be very unhealthy for you. Carbs are your body’s preferred source of fuel. Plenty of healthy foods are high in carbohydrates and provide essential nutrients (think: quinoa or bananas). The carbs that should be cut are the processed, nutrient-lacking carbs found in junk food and desserts.
Cutting carbs can help your heart — True
While the difference in weight loss between high-carbohydrate vegetarian diets and low-carbohydrate vegan diets has been found to be minimal, low-carb diets like the Atkins diet can be useful for other health benefits, like improved blood lipids and blood pressure.
Carbs leave you gaseous — Sometimes false
Some individuals do experience indigestion from carbohydrates, but most don’t. Attributing gassiness to carbohydrates could be a misdiagnosis of a different food intolerance, such as a sensitivity to soy or lactose. You can typically find out which foods are giving you trouble through process of elimination, but your best bet is to take this journey with the help of a doctor.
You’ll lose weight through a low carb diet — True, but there’s plenty of ways to lose weight
A Harvard study found that “there is some evidence that a low-carbohydrate diet may help people lose weight more quickly than a low-fat diet—and may help them maintain that weight loss.” However, a two year trial called POUNDS LOST (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) determined that diets varying in different macronutrients—whether that be carbs, proteins or fats—actually worked equally well in the long run, with no diet achieving results any faster than the others.
Pasta and bread must be avoided — False
it’s all about moderation. When eaten in the actual intended serving size, there’s no reason either of these foods would ruin your diet. One cup of pasta contains 45 grams of carbs. While that portion can easily inflate to two or three times what you should be eating, a little self-discipline goes a long way. Saving portions for later so they’re out of sight limits you to a well-balanced meal, and pairing your pasta or bread with a low-calorie salad or vegetables keeps your meal healthy. Whole grain pastas contain more fiber, which will leave you feeling fuller for longer.
Everyone should avoid gluten — False
With less than 1% of the Western population actually possessing celiac disease, plenty of people are misdiagnosing themselves or following a fad to avoid a major essential food group. Not only are there seven conditions that closely mimic the signs of celiac disease, but many gluten-free options aren’t necessarily healthier than their carb-carrying counterparts.
White foods are the only foods containing carbs — Totally false
High fiber carbs and high protein carbs exist in abundance. Foods like corn, sweet potatoes, peas, fruits and winter squash, among others, are all carbs with additional nutrients.
Carbs make you fat — False
This misunderstanding of the function of carbs might come from carbohydrates’ effect on insulin. Eating carbs raises your insulin, prompting glucose to be redirected to your cells. However, complex carbohydrates aren’t “fattening” foods. It’s the type and quantity of carbohydrates ingested that determine whether you’ll gain weight.
Carbohydrates with tons of extra sugar and calories, like processed baked goods and some coffee drinks, are fattening because of those other components—not necessarily because of carbs themselves. Fibrous carbs like brown rice actually raise blood sugar much more slowly, meaning less insulin is required and you’ll feel full for longer. Carbohydrates can be a healthy source for some of your daily calories, as long as they’re balanced with lean proteins and healthy fats.
Before you write off carbohydrates entirely, consider their complex benefits. Opt for nutrient-filled carbohydrates that offer minimal calories and maximum benefits, and you might just find that you can stay fit while keeping some of your favorite carbs in your diet.