Monday Medical: Carbohydrates: A conversation about health
Carbohydrates. Are they good for me? Do they make me fat? What foods contain them?
The list of questions about carbohydrates, often called carbs, is long. What I can tell you is that, as humans, we need carbohydrates for energy. How much is the debate.
Let’s start with the basics. Foremost we want to focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods. Many foods contain carbohydrates including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains and beans. Most of these also provide fiber, which is important for weight, heart and gut health. You can get plenty of carbs into your diet without ever touching bread or pasta, if that suits you.
The carbohydrates we want to eat less of are processed, nutrient-deficient and sugar-laden. These would include chips, sugary drinks, candy and overly processed breads and baked goods. Does it mean you can’t eat bread? No. It simply means that you need to choose breads that are the most nutrient-dense and least processed. It’s not about the type of food, it’s about the ingredients that make up the food.
Apples, sweet potato, quinoa, beans and some local honey in your tea can be part of a healthy day. These are not to be maligned. What is important is understanding how much you are taking in. I analyze many diets and typically see that people who think they eat a lot of carbs, often don’t. People who believe their intake is appropriate are actually eating too many.
How much is too much?
First, let’s talk portions. A serving of carbohydrate is 15 grams. This information can be found on any product label. Two different yogurts can have 12 grams and 50 grams per serving. I have seen a deceptively healthy-looking bottled green tea contain 75 grams. This is equal to five servings! For reference, an apple, ½ cup of cooked oatmeal, ½ cup of corn, ½ cup of sweet potato, 1/3 cup of hummus or one cup of acorn squash are all one serving.
One person may need only 110 grams of carbohydrates a day, another 250 grams. It’s all individual. If you are overweight or have diabetes, you need to monitor carbs. You may do well to keep carbs down to two servings per meal. Someone else may need more.
Extreme reduction of carbs is a recipe for accelerated weight loss that results in rapid and often increased weight gain once you quit the “diet.” Balancing carbs is what works, whether that’s for sports performance or weight loss.
Diets don’t work; let’s just get that straight. Changing your lifestyle is what works. Constantly gaining and losing weight is detrimental to your health. Anything that you cannot maintain for a lifetime is not worth your time.
We don’t need to be perfect all of the time, we need to be consistent, whether it’s with food or exercise. We need carbs just like we need fat and protein. It’s much more about the type of carbs you choose than trying to avoid them. It’s also the overconsumption of too many processed carbs that is keeping this country’s obesity rate on the rise.
The right amount of carbohydrates will fuel your body for sports and daily activity. An excess or choosing the wrong foods will lead to elevated triglycerides, extra fat storage and diseases like diabetes.
Education is important and benefits you more than spending your money on the latest diet craze. We should focus less on labeling our diet and focus more on the ingredients that we put in our meals. You can be happy and healthy while enjoying good food.
Cara Marrs is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Yampa Valley Medical Center, as well as Align Steamboat, and helps organize the Steamboat Springs Running Series.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Things are normally pretty quiet around the base area of Steamboat Resort this time of year, but a lot has happened since the ski area closed following the 2020-21 season.