Why Carbs Are Not The Devil

As it's Valentine's Day and love is in the air, I wanted to focus on something that hasn't received much love over the past few years....carbohydrates.

While I think it started with the Atkins diet, as well as the discovery that the entire "low fat" diet actually caused more disease than it prevented (yes, it's true), it's now pretty trendy to say that you are "low carb" or have gone "Paleo."

Don't get me wrong, people that switch to the Paleo diet do lose weight.  But is the war on carbs even necessary?  Nope.  And crediting weight loss to a lack of grains or carbs is actually setting us back in our own nutrition.

Enter the face palm: for when you just don't know what to say.

Enter the face palm: for when you just don't know what to say.

Before I go on, I think carbohydrates need to be staunchly defended, and I, for one, am up to the task.  Whenever someone tells me they gave up "carbs" my first reaction is to do a complete face palm.

Then, as I pick my forehead out of my palm, I usually ask them if they still eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.  About 9 times out of 10, the answer is yes, to which I say "well, you know, those are full of carbohydrates."  Inevitably, we talk about distinguishing between processed and unprocessed carbohydrates, as the former is much more dangerous to your health than the latter.

Simply put, the human body thrives on natural carbohydrates and grains.  Want proof?  Look at any diet besides the American or "Western" diet, and you'll see that grains are a staple in some way, shape, or form.  Yet, when people start to adapt the Western diet (read: processed food diet), they start to gain weight and suffer from the same dietary diseases as Americans.

Thus, it makes sense that when someone goes "Paleo" or "low carb," they're cutting out all the processed crap that used to be in their diet.  Doing so will lead to weight loss, but we need to keep our common sense.  To say that carbs or grains are bad for you is to do the same reductionist argument that was made (and failed) during the low-fat era.  Instead, take food in it's proper context and realize that not all carbohydrates are created equal.

(Quick joke: How can you tell if someone is Paleo?  They'll tell you.) 

So what are some guidelines you can use to navigate this beloved macronutrient?  I always go back to my old saying: "If man made it, don't eat it."  While this rule doesn't have to include bright, bold lines, you can think of it more along the lines of "the more man made it, the more you shouldn't be eating it."

Oatmeal with strawberries and blueberries? Good.  A bagel with cream cheese?  Not good.

Frosted flakes?  Well, then maybe it's time to have another discussion on what it's like to eat like a grown up.