Why do they have such a bad rep?
Is it justified?
To discuss carbohydrates, we need to start by understanding how the nutritive content of a food is determined.
First, the amount of fat and protein are calculated. Then, whatever is left over is considered to be carbohydrate. It's that simple!
So let's look at a carrot. 10.6% is fat and 5.9% is protein. The remaining 83.5% is therefore carbohydrate.
Similarly a tomato (6.4% fat, 14.3% protein, and 79.3% carbohydrate), purple beet (2.5% fat, 18.9% protein, and 78.6% carbohydrate), and white onion (2.6% fat, 11.4% protein, and 86% carbohydrate) are all predominately carbohydrate rich foods!
So what does this tell us?
Carbohydrates are not just pasta, bread, and cotton candy - vegetables and heart-healthy whole-grains also fall into this category!
And while refined, processed carbohydrates (e.g. white pasta) wreck havoc on your body, this is due to the food's glycemic index and lack of beneficial nutrients, NOT to the mere classification of carbohydrate.
So avoid carbohydrates and what happens?
You're putting your health at HUGE risk. In fact, a low-carbohydrate diet is the least healthy diet you can follow!
Carbohydrate consumption actually provides protective benefits to your health, depending on the quality (i.e. level of process) and digestibility of the carbohydrate (Scheppach, 2013). Carbohydrates maintain GI integrity/function, transport phytochemicals and micronutrients, and enable protein folding, all of which your body needs! Whole grains also work to maintain a healthy gut microbia (Smith, 2002). Cut out fruits or veggies and your body will suffer from the lack of fiber and antioxidants that can't be found elsewhere.
Restricting carbohydrates may also impair cardiovascular function (Flemming & Boyd, 2000; Schwingshackl, 2003) and cause long-term weight gain (Green et al., 2000). Fad diets that promote low-carbohydrate, high-protein consumption as a means of quick weight loss (Ruden, 2007) reduce the function of the peripheral small artery (Merino et al., 2013), a risk factors for cardiovascular disease! In addition, these diets increase your risk of obesity and its co-morbid conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, hyperuricemia and gout, sleep apnea, gallbladder disease, hypertension, and osteoarthritis (Khaodhiar et al., 1999).
If you've been carb - counting for years, try focusing on the quality of your carbohydrates instead.
Eat healthy, whole-grain, nutrient-rich carbohydrates and avoid processed foods. Your body will love you - and you may even drop some weight in the long-run (Green et al., 2000). Because after all, a diet high in quality carbohydrates coupled with regular physical activity is the healthiest lifestyle you can have!
Fleming, R.M. and Boyd, L.B., (2000). The effect of high-protein diets on coronary blood flow. Angiology, 51(10), 817-826.
Green, S.M., Wales, J.K., Lawton, C.L. and Blundell, J.E. (2000). Comparison of high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods in a meal or snack on short-term fat and energy intakes in obese women. British Journal of Nutrition, 84(04), 521-530.
Khaodhiar, L., McCowen, K.C. and Blackburn, G.L. (1999). Obesity and its comorbid conditions. Clinical cornerstone, 2(3),17-31.
Merino, J., Kones, R., Ferré, R., Plana, N., Girona, J., Aragonés, G., Ibarretxe, D., Heras, M. and Masana, L. (2013). Negative effect of a low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat diet on small peripheral artery reactivity in patients with increased cardiovascular risk. British Journal of Nutrition, 109(07), 1241-1247.
Ruden, D.M., Rasouli, P. and Lu, X. (2007). Potential long-term consequences of fad diets on health, cancer, and longevity: lessons learned from model organism studies. Technology in cancer research & treatment, 6(3), 247-254.
Scheppach, W., Luehrs, H. and Menzel, T. (2001). Beneficial health effects of low-digestible carbohydrate consumption. British Journal of Nutrition, 85(S1), S23-S30.
Schwingshackl, L. and Hoffmann, G. (2013). Low-carbohydrate diets impair flow-mediated dilatation: evidence from a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition, 110(05), 969-970.
Smith, M.M. and Bryant, J.L., 2002. Mind-body and mind-gut connection in inflammatory bowel disease. Gastroenterology Nursing, 25(5), 213-217.