PeerWell has been running a series of articles on tackling sugar addiction, including articles on fighting craving, winning without willpower and whether or not sugar addiction actually exists (which, btw, has even more clinical foundation as of last week), so it may seem strange that we are coming out with a positive article about carbohydrates.
We are doing this because we find it troubling that carbs of all kinds have become today’s dietary four lettered word. The reality is carbs are essential to the human body. Yes, that’s right, unless you are on the kind of extreme and carefully managed diet found in a clinical study or hospital you need to consume carbs. For an excellent, detailed write up about how carbohydrates are metabolized head over to Dr. Cyrus Khambatta’s page Carbs Are Not Killing you.
So how did something so important get such a bad rap? Here are 3 of the biggest myths about carbs:
Lie #1: Your body doesn’t need carbs:
The truth is that more than 50% of the glucose in your bloodstream is used by the brain. Why? In a non-starvation state your brain runs off of glucose exclusively. And not just does it only glucose, it uses a lot of it. Brain cells use glucose at 2x the rate of the other cells in your body.
If your brain does not have enough glucose its ability to function, to learn, to construct new memory and your willpower are all impaired. Now this does not mean that you should go out and drink a bunch of soda if you want your brain to function better. Your brain requires a sustained supply of glucose, not spikes in blood sugar which leads us to our next point.
Lie #2: All carbs are the same and they are all bad:
Carbohydrates can be refined or unrefined. Processing often produces refined carbohydrates low in fiber and full of simple carbohydrates. This is bad for you. The easiest way to tell if a carb is refined is if it has gone through some kind of manufacturing. Pasta, cereal, cookies, chips, and white bread are all examples of refined carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are simple and rapidly broken down and absorbed by your body causing insulin spikes. Those shocks are what you want to avoid.
Unrefined carbohydrates are foods that look the same in a grocery store as they do in their native state. Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds are all examples of unrefined carbs. These are things you should be consuming on a regular basis. These foods come with a healthy dose of fiber which means they are processed and absorbed slowly, meaning more sustained energy for your body and brain.
Lie #3: Early humans did not eat carbs:
Fast growing plants like grains and grasses use a different kind of photosynthetic process to convert sunlight to energy. Since you are what you eat, this leaves a signature on bones that can be detected today. The verdict? Human ancestors as late as 2.9-3.9 million years ago were consuming unprocessed grains. The key is they ate unprocessed food so they avoided the pitfalls of getting sugar shocked.
In fact, if anything one of the key contributors to the evolutionary sucess of humans is our ability to subsist off of a wide variety of foods. They were able to leave the forest, travel through the savannah and populate diverse environments across the world.
Despite what the some nutrition gurus say, unrefined carbs are an essential part of the human diet.