Carb-a-phobia

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Carbohydrates. Why is it that such a seemingly harmless macronutrient strikes fear into the hearts of so many? About 10 years ago, the low-carb craze was at its peak. In grocery stores, low-carb products were ubiquitous – low-carb pasta, crackers, cereal, milk, etc. Even restaurants were catering to the carb-phobic population with burgers without the bun, low-carb tortillas for fajitas, and cheesecake sweetened with only artificial sweetener.  It seemed like everyone believed that carbs were the enemy, and that they were the reason everyone had a weight problem.  But, just like all of the other fad diets in history, the low-carb frenzy eventually lost steam.

Interestingly, despite the low-carb movement’s decline in popularity, it seems like people are still wary about eating carbohydrates.  The majority of my patients believe that carbs will make you fat and that foods containing white flour and sugar are devoid of nutrition and therefore have no place in their diet. I’m here to tell you that this is not true!

Our body uses carbohydrates for a number of different functions, but the most important one is energy. When we eat carbohydrates, we break them down into glucose which can either be used immediately for energy or stored for later use in the liver and muscles. In addition to providing energy for our muscles, organs and tissues, glucose is essential for brain function. That would explain why many people who go on low-carb diets complain of feeling tired, foggy-headed, and unable to concentrate.  Not only that, carbohydrates are needed to regulate the neurotransmitter serotonin (the “feel-good” brain chemical), and when you are low-carbing, your serotonin levels go down. Well, that could explain why so many who go low-carb also become depressed.

“Carbs make you fat!” many of my patients say. Well, if you eat too many of them, yes you will gain weight. But that goes the same for eating too much fat or protein – any macronutrient in excess of your body’s needs will lead to weight gain. The trick is to eat in moderation.

So, the moral of the story? Enjoy your carbs – you will have a lot more energy and your brain will be happier, too!

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