Since the turn of this century, Carbophobia – the fear of carbohydrates – has rooted itself in American food and nutrition culture. With the rise of type 2 diabetes, some people will swear that carbs are the food equivalent of Satan himself. And of course an entire cottage industry of low carb diets with billions of dollars in revenue has sprung up, perpetuating some irresponsible myths.
But not only is this carbo-fear mongering unbased, it can lead to worse outcomes for people with prediabetes and diabetes. In an excellent piece published on Present Diabetes’ Nutrizine, Registered Dietitian and Diabetes expert Hope Warshaw outlines the reasons. You should read the entire article, but if you don’t have time, here is a summary of 4 carb myths:
Myth #1: People with diabetes need to drastically reduce their carb intake.
WRONG! In healthy adults, carbs should account for 45-65% of total calorie intake. People with diabetes should be in the lower range, but not below the 40% mark.
Our bodies need carbohydrates to survive: they provide the fuel for our body and brain, and they provide essential nutrients. America’s problem is the TYPE of carbohydrates we consumes are the wrong ones. We eat too many simple carbs, and not enough nutrient dense carbohydrates. Our cookie to kale ratio is the problem, not carbs.
Reducing carb intake while on a low calorie diet (less than 1500 calories daily) may lead to deficiencies in many nutrients provided by carbs such as dietary fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium and vitamin A,C,D.
Additionally, less carbs in the diet means more fat and protein. Often these choices lead to higher levels of saturated fat consumption. Saturated fat has been demonstrated to be a cause of insulin resistance, one of the key symptoms of diabetes and prediabetes.
Myth #2: Reducing carb intake improves blood glucose levels
In studies comparing cohorts of people with diabetes, those with regular carb consumption (above 50%) had slightly BETTER blood sugar levels than those on very low carb consumption (less than 40%).
Myth #3: Carb restriction eliminates the need for medication
A proper, balanced diet, with a focus on calorie reduction, may help people with prediabetes stave off type 2 diabetes. But once a person is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, medication is just a matter of time. Studies have shown that only a small fraction of people at the onset of type 2 diabetes were able to postpone any type of medication through intensive lifestyle changes.
Myth #4: A low carb diet decreases chances of other diseases as well.
One of the complications of diabetes is co-morbidity. Diabetes increases the chances for heart disease, kidney disease, and a host of other complications. People on ultra low carb diets consume more fats (and saturated fats) which are a risk factor for heart disease. They also consume more protein, which above safe levels can be problematic for overburdened kidneys.
In summary, carbs are not evil. People should choose foods that have nutrient rich carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting low quality carbs (read: sugars) from soft drinks, candy, and refined flours.