Should Carbs Be Part of Your Diet?

 
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Who doesn’t love to dive into a big bowl of spaghetti or basket of warm bread—only to be hit with that instant pang of regret?

Since the rise of the Atkins diet in the early 2000’s, we’ve been told that carbohydrates are detrimental to our health. And we’ve come to believe that the only way to prevent diabetes, heart disease and weight gain is to go on a low carb diet.

But carbs aren’t the enemy.

In fact, just like we need fat and protein, our bodies need carbs to stay healthy and to help our brain function.

The problem lies with the types of carbs we consume.

What is a carbohydrate?

Carbohydrate or “carb” is an umbrella term for a number of different food categories. It refers to the sugars, starches and fibers that are found in grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy, and in soda, candy and other sweets. [2]

During digestion, carbs are converted into blood glucose which the body uses for fast-acting energy. The excess carbs we consume are delivered to the liver and muscles and stored as glycogen. [2] This fuels the body when blood glucose levels run low or when we exercise.

Refined Carbohydrates

For most of us, just saying the word carb conjures up mouth-watering images of bread, bagels, cake and doughnuts—the forbidden foods.

These types of carbs are called highly-processed or refined carbs. They have undergone extensive manipulation and don’t provide much nutritional benefit. In fact, some refined carbohydrates have vitamins and minerals added back in during the manufacturing process.

Have you ever felt hungry immediately after you’ve eaten foods high in sugar or white flour?

Refined carbs cause a reaction in your body that’s virtually impossible to resist.

First, your insulin spikes. Then your blood sugar plummets. This leaves you hungry and craving more carbs. In order to satisfy these cravings you give in and eat more.

A diet high in refined carbs can lead to inflammation, high triglycerides and blood pressure, low HDL (the good cholesterol), low testosterone in men, and infertility in women. [1]

When our activity levels are low and our lifestyle is sedentary, these excess refined carbs become belly fat.

Whole Carbohydrates

Whole carbohydrates exist in a relatively natural state. They include whole foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and barley.

Whole carbs also include foods that have been minimally processed for freshness or safety. This includes frozen or canned vegetables, yogurt, milk and whole-grain bread and pasta.

Almost all vegetables fall into the whole carb category.

Dr. Mark Hyman, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, calls these plant foods “slow carbs.” They are low-glycemic and won’t spike your blood sugar or insulin.

Slow carbs are packed with nutrients, fiber and phytochemicals. They can reduce your cancer risk, increase your body’s ability to detoxify, and keep your gut healthy. [1]

Complex Carbohydrates

Because of their complex structure and long molecular chains, complex carbohydrates take a fair amount of work for your body to break down. These types of carbs keep you fuller longer and slowly release glucose into your bloodstream.

Complex carbs are found in foods like grains, oats, legumes and sweet potatoes. Sources of complex carbs are typically rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. [2]

High and Low Carb Diets

High-Carb

A diet consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables high in phytonutrients may help improve chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Much of your carb intake should come from non-starchy veggies and low-glycemic fruits. By volume (not calories) most of your plate should be carbs. Many plant-based carbs actually have very few calories. [1]

Low-Carb

Ever hear of a “yo-yo” diet? This term stems from the low-carb trend.

Low-carb diets with extreme guidelines, such as Keto and Atkins, may provide short-term weight loss and other health benefits. However, when carbs are reintroduced, cells are flooded with glucose and fluid. People on these types of diets typically gain all the weight back—and then some.

That being said, there are several low-carb diets such as Paleo and Mediterranean that focus more on eating whole, real foods instead of highly processed and refined ones.

With the Mediterranean diet, in comparison to other low-carb diets, the emphasis is on eating unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats.

That means instead of butter, cheese and cream, you’re eating olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, seeds and avocado as your main sources of fat.

The main “pro” of this diet is that it’s heart-friendly. The “con” is that for some people, the lure of a low-carb diet is often the ability to eat highly palatable foods, like bacon and cheese. [3]

Should carbs be part of your diet?

Many people rely on family history to figure out if they are at risk for certain health conditions and that may influence how they eat. Your family history can give you hints about how your genetic impact will influence your health, however. And just because a relative has gotten a genetic-related disease doesn't mean that you're actually at greater risk. Analyzing your genes can help you gain clarity on what traits were actually passed down and which traits were not.

For instance, studies have shown that if you have a particular genotype (the CC genotype for the IRS1 gene) you are at higher risk for developing insulin resistance. However, you may reduce this risk from a diet that’s higher in carbohydrates.

If this is you, when picking out fruits, you may benefit from choosing one that has a higher fiber (a type of carbohydrate) content, such as passion fruit. If you don’t have this genotype, then studies show you’re not at greater risk for developing insulin resistance. In this case, GenoPalate recommends you eat the National Institutes of Health's daily recommended amount of carbohydrates.

Here’s another example: another specific genotype (CC genotype for the MMAB gene) can put you at greater risk for developing lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels on a high carb diet, and therefore may benefit from a diet lower in carbohydrates.

In this case, you may not need as much fiber, so you may pick out fruit lower in carbohydrates and fiber, such as plums or grapefruit. If this isn’t you, however, then studies show you’re not at greater risk for developing low HDL, and you can eat the National Institutes of Health's daily recommended amount of carbohydrates.

While we don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition we do stand firm in our position on carbohydrates. Carbs that are high in fiber and/or low on the glycemic index are always preferred over refined, sugary ones.

Your DNA can help you make smarter choices

GenoPalate’s nutrition DNA test is just like the one you’d take to research your ancestry. Once you’ve submitted your DNA test kit or existing test results to us, your DNA is analyzed. We’ll break down how your body processes carbohydrates, along with the other nutrients you’ll need for optimal health.

Based on your DNA results, we’ll create a customized nutrition profile for you. Your profile will include a detailed analysis of the type, amount and best sources for each nutrient, including carbohydrates.

The key is to follow a nutrition plan, and make long-term lifestyle changes that will help you feel good and keep you healthy.

It’s time to ditch the extreme diet of the day and eat for your genes. Get your report here.

 
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GenoPalate Team