One of the things that people are currently doing is cutting carbs. There is this myth going around dieters that carbs are evil and are the reason why we have an obesity crisis. If you cut them down, the thinking goes, you will lose weight. It literally is another magic solution to the problem.
For those of us who are old enough, we remember the war on fat. It was so bad that we had a slew of low-fat and no-fat foods. I also remember Olestra, a fat substitute that when used in moderate quantities, led to people having diarrhea. Then, as time went on, fats became ok. To be clear, not all fats.
We simply developed a better understanding of them. Animal fats are still not that ok. That is because of how they are put together chemically and how our body processes them. Some vegetable fats are better for you than others. However, back in the 1990s, it was a war on fat, all fats. There was no distinction. These days, the lesson from that war is that you can eat them. In fact, your body needs them. And to be brutally honest, your liver makes them too. It’s a balance thing. Some are better for you than others, but in reality, a little animal fat is not going to do damage to you anyway. It is the excess that is a problem.
Fast forward a couple of decades and we are seeing the same with carbs. They are evil!
So what exactly are carbs? Well, at the most basic level, what you and I need every day is Glucose (C6H12O6). This is the basic molecule that is broken down in the cell, to maintain the functions of the cell. You need glucose every day…and your brain is really hungry for it. Twenty percent of the energy you eat every day goes there. Brain fog could be too few of these lovely molecules for your body to use.
Good Carbs vs less Good Carbs
Most people think that bread and pasta are horrible. Therefore, a lot of dieters cut both from their diets. Let me tell you something not all bread is terrible, and the same goes for pasta. What you have to watch for are things like white bread versus whole grain bread. White bread is highly processed and has lost a lot of the good things in it, such as fiber and complex carbohydrates. If you are a diabetic, ergo far more sensitive to things that will have more simple carbs, you should know a slice of white bread will raise your blood sugar faster, spike it, because it is closer to eating a lump of sugar.
So if you want to lose weight, or maintain it, cutting all carbs from your diet is not just not sustainable, but a really bad idea. Your body needs glucose to function. Period. Getting low blood sugar is not just brain fog. If you really get very low blood sugar, more likely to happen with people who have trouble maintaining it, to begin with, you could also go unconscious, get seizures and die. Your brain is telling you that you need to eat energy for it to work if you get brain fog. This is a typical problem of people following a Keto diet because they are cutting that many carbs. Yes, the brain can function on Ketones, but…
Yes, the Ketogenic diet is actually indicated for certain things, like epilepsy. But it is hard to sustain long term. While fans of it will sing its benefits, the best and most sustainable diet is the one you can maintain long term, as in for a lifetime.
So what carbs should you eat? Try to aim for a balanced diet, meaning, yes, if you want to have baked goods rarely, yes, you can. But for the most part, go for things that are high in complex carbs, that will absorb much more slowly in your gut. Also, you need fiber. Americans are really bad about consuming enough of it, but it will not only keep you regular, but your gut bacteria love it, and need it. A healthy gut biome is a good gut biome. Eating fiber will also help you to keep yourself full.
A good source of fiber is whole grains, avocado, some fruits, many vegetables, and legumes. So a nice slice of whole-grain bread is perfectly acceptable. Try to go for bread that is made by a local bakery. They are delicious, and good for you, in moderation. If you have celiacs or are gluten intolerant, tortillas are always a good choice of fiber.
What about pasta? There is whole grain pasta, and I might add, there is pasta made with other things than just wheat. Gluten-free pasta can be even more processed than white wheat pasta since they have a lot of white rice. So reading labels is a necessary evil.
Starting in the 1960s we saw artificial sweeteners hit the market. They have been a boom for diabetics, and they include saccharine, Splenda and sugar alcohols. My preferred one is stevia. There have always been questions about cancer, and other effects from consuming these, but under moderation, they seem to be mostly ok,
If you don’t need to take them for medical reasons, try honey. It has other things that are good for you if you want a tad of sweetness in your coffee. As always moderation is the key. If you are a diabetic, well, then these things are a boom.
A note about sugar alcohols. They can confuse your body, and like Olestra, they can give you diarrhea. So personally I avoid them. My gut is that sensitive.
How many Carbs?
If you are following macros, and some dieters do because they think it will help them lose weight, it really depends on your activity level. If I am intensely exercising I will go over my personal goal of 110 grams per day. It is simple, my muscles need that energy to perform, and more than once I have taken a blood sugar in the midst of an exercise session, and went for the cheerios.
If I am not exercising I try to still to that max or go lower. How much lower, about 90–100. I avoid the very low carb diets with a passion because my body needs energy and I really will not try much lower than that. Reversing sugar lows means automatically getting more than I was planning to. This is also dangerous for the reasons I wrote above. Severe hypoglycemia can be deadly.
So it really depends on the activity level.
If you are dieting, and want to not feel that hungry, try to go for a diet that is higher in protein, and fiber. Just be careful that your protein is mostly lean. Both will help to keep you full.
When I was growing up, we did not care that much about carbs. We all knew that eating cakes and cookies was a rare treat. The same went for things like chips, and other highly processed foods. Desert for me quite often was fruit, and every meal included veggies, mostly cooked in water or grilled on the stove, and beans or tortillas. These days I am mostly eating this way. In other words, while I do track macros for medical reasons, my diet is a balanced diet.
We have no sugary sodas at home. We mostly have fruit for dessert, and always have a veggie with a protein source, and cakes and cookies are rare. We have a source of whole grains as well. Due to my intense exercise, I might have gained a little weight in muscle mass, but that is another story.
Remember, we have a multibillion diet industry that relies on magic bullets. If you are relatively healthy and have no medical reasons to prevent you from losing weight, we have known the formula for decades. Eat proper portions, have a balanced diet, and try to increase your exercise level. You do not need to go crazy. But going from no exercise to ten minutes a day is a good start. The American Heart Association recommends 150 active minutes a week.
And no, neither fats nor carbs are evil. We need both for a healthy diet. Will the next war be on protein?