The Biggest Myths (and Truths!) About Carbs
Confused about the difference between “good” carbs and “bad” carbs? Heard that you shouldn’t eat white foods? Or that low-carb and gluten-free are the way to go? Sally is here to clear up all those myths you’ve heard about carbs and set the record straight.
Every January, carbohydrates — aka “carbs” — are the target of a serious smear campaign. It comes mostly from folks pushing weight-loss diets for the new year, who claim the only way to be healthy is to swear off bread forever.
The end result is that a whole lot of people end up thinking carbs are bad and something to avoid at all costs.
But that’s just not true.
In fact, all the carb slander has spread a lot of misinformation. Time to clear it up! Here are the facts:
You’ve heard: “Carbs” means “grains.”
What’s true: When people say “I’m not eating carbs,” they usually mean “I’m not eating bread and pasta.”
And yes, grains like bread, pasta, and sweets like cookies are rich in carbohydrates. But so are fruits, vegetables like corn and beans, and dairy foods including plain milk and plain yogurt.
You’ve heard: You should cut out carbs.
What’s true: Carbohydrates are the main fuel source for the body and brain. They prevent your blood sugar from bottoming out and keep your energy level up.
Some people may need to be more mindful of carbohydrate foods because of a medical concern like diabetes. But even people with diabetes shouldn’t avoid carbohydrates altogether.
That’s because carb-rich foods supply a lot of important nutrients: Fruits and vegetables are loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants, dairy is a major source of calcium, and grains (especially whole grains) contain fiber, B vitamins, and protein.
In fact, there’s evidence that people who eat whole grains are more likely to have a healthy body weight, lower cholesterol levels, and a lower risk for heart disease.
You’ve heard: There are “good carbs” and “bad carbs.”
What’s true: When these categories are used, the “good” kind typically includes whole grains, fruits, veggies, and beans.
“Bad” carbs are considered to be refined grains (like white bread) but also snacks and sweets.
While it’s smart to focus most choices on the “good carb” category, it’s fine to have refined grains, desserts, and crunchy snacks sometimes too. A healthy diet leaves room for all foods, especially where kids are concerned.
You’ve heard: Carbs turn into sugar in the body.
What’s true: Yes, carbs turn to “sugar” in the body–but that doesn’t mean that eating a banana is the same as eating spoonfuls of table sugar.
Any carbohydrate-containing food, whether it’s a whole grain bagel or bowl of plain Greek yogurt, breaks down in the body into glucose, a sugar that enters your bloodstream and travels to the cells to supply them with energy.
So yes, carbohydrate-rich foods convert into a “sugar” your body uses. But unlike table sugar, these foods also deliver a lot of nutrients you need.
You’ve heard: Carbs and gluten are the same.
What’s true: “Carbs” are foods that are rich in carbohydrates, and that can be anything from pasta and crackers to apples and milk. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
So not eating gluten isn’t the same thing as not eating carbs. If you need to avoid gluten, you can still have foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy, plus grains like rice, corn tortillas, and quinoa.
You’ve heard: You shouldn’t eat white foods.
What’s true: This seems to be a catch-all phrase for cutting out white bread and pasta. The Dietary Guidelines do recommend getting at least half of your grains as whole grains, but that doesn’t mean refined “white” grains are nutritionally-empty or harmful.
White pasta, for instance, still contains fiber and is enriched with iron and B vitamins. Ditto for white bread.
Aim for whole grains where you can, but some “white” grains are okay too. Another reason “don’t eat white foods” is lousy advice: Cauliflower! Need we say more?