Myths Around Carbs and Perceptions

Myths Around Carbs and Perceptions

There was a time when fat was demonised in health and nutrition, cited to be the number one cause of all health problems.

Low fat this, low fat that, was promised to be the healthy option.

But the scientific literature has proved that to be incorrect, and diets like Atkins, keto and carnivore which promote higher consumptions of fat have been popularised.

Carbohydrates, or carbs, are the new public enemy number one. “No carbs before Marbs, no pizza before Ibiza”. Many people would have you believe that carbs make you fat, unhealthy and removing them is the holy grail of health decisions.

But do carbs really deserve the level of demonisation they’re receiving? We’re going to look at some of the myths and perceptions around carbs and discover if they’re really as bad as people think.

What is a carb? Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients found in food, along with protein and fat. They can be further broken down into the forms of fiber, starches and sugars, and the body is adept at turning these into glucose to provide your body and brain with a source of energy.

Myth 1 - Carbs Are Easily Stored as Fat

The idea that carbs are stored more easily as fat than protein or fat is just not true. In fact, after exercise carbs are favourably stored directly in the muscle tissue as glycogen to be used as energy.

As a secondary, your metabolic rate will increase, and additional carbs will be burnt off as heat energy. Ever had post-carb sweats?

The third and least favoured process of turning carbohydrates into fat is metabolically expensive and inefficient. This tends to only happen when you have eaten a large amount of food and are in a caloric surplus, and the two processes above reach capacity.

Myth 2 - Cutting Carbs Will Make You Burn More Fat

Have you heard of the term “becoming fat-adapted”? This is the idea that eating more fat will make you burn more fat. While it’s somewhat true technically, that doesn’t necessarily mean what you’re burning is coming from your own body fat, rather than directly from the food you just ate.

If you eat more fat, you will burn more of that fat. The same is true for eating carbs, if you eat more carbs, you will burn more carbs.

The body is burning fat stores continuously for fuel, in between meals and with movement activities like walking throughout the day.  What’s more, this fat burning process is more efficient when the muscles have some stored carbohydrates in the form of glycogen.

With a lack of glycogen available, the body breaks down additional protein stores to turn into carbohydrates through a process called gluconeogenesis. We want our body to use protein for muscle building and cell repair, not as a fuel source.

Therefore, including carbohydrates, especially while dieting, will help you preserve more of that hard-earned muscle mass.

Myth 3 - Only Breads, Pastas, and Grains Contain Carbs

Think you’re avoiding carbs by cutting out white rice, pasta and bread? Perhaps you’re removing some of the more processed options, but what’s often missed are the carbs in other foods, including fruits and vegetables.

Here are a few foods that all contain carbs that you might not think about: all fruit, lentils, beans, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower… they’re even found in higher fat and protein-containing items like nuts, seeds and yoghurt.

Would you still consider cutting out carbs to be a no brainer with that in mind? While it’s a good idea to limit processed carbs, studies show that more nutrient-dense, complex carb sources live longer and healthier lives.

That leads us nicely to…

Myth 4 - All Carbs are Created Equal

The large number of processed carbohydrates available means that more nutrient-dense carbs like fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy get put in the same category as pastries, chocolates, and other processed foods.

When tracking macronutrients, it’s common to look at all carbs as being the same, but the micronutrient content and response by the body is vastly different depending on how much sugar, fiber and starch that food contains.

What’s important to learn here, is that while some carb sources are healthier than others, not all of them are the same. There is room to balance both types in your diet, but with more knowledge around food, you can make more educated food choices depending on your goals.

Myth 5 - Carbs Spike Insulin and Make You Gain Weight

Low carb diets are raging in popularity at the moment, and a lot of them base their validity on the following notion: carbs spike insulin and insulin is a fat-storing hormone. If we limit carbs, we limit insulin and therefore limit fat gain.

The question is, does this really matter for fat loss?

Studies have shown multiple times that as long as calories are the same, high carb low fat and high fat low carb result in exactly the same amount of fat loss.

What we need to do is look at the big picture and understand is that fat burning and fat gain is constant process of in and out.

Think of it like a bank account that is constantly making deposits and withdrawals.

When you eat, some of that food gets deposited. In between meals and while you sleep is when the withdrawals are taking place.

So, what’s the bottom line here?

Regardless of the macronutrient breakdown of your diet, it’s the overall caloric deficit or surplus that ultimately leads to fat loss or gain. The diet that's best for you to follow is ultimately the one you can stick to consistently.

Many people find that eliminating foods can lead to binging cycles or more food obsession than you’re comfortable with, so be mindful of what works best for you as an individual for the long term.

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