Many people ask the question: “Do carbohydrates contribute to my health?” And, “Don’t they just make me gain weight?” These are really good questions because there is so much conflicting information on the subject.
Basically carbohydrates are energy foods. In fact, carbohydrates are the “gold standard” for energy because they are the easiest for our bodies to convert into useable energy. The important factor about carbohydrates though isn’t how much energy they give us, but how the foods that the carbs are in affect our health.
Carbohydrates, when obtained from whole foods like beans, whole grains, carrots, squash, zucchini and potatoes, are very healthy. These are complex carbohydrates and along with the energy we get from these whole foods, we get vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. These all contribute to our health.
Refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, offer energy but not the nutrients needed to stay healthy. If you get your carbs from refined and processed foods like potato chips, pasta and white bread, you’re getting the energy from the carbs, but without many of the important nutrients found in the whole foods, and that makes all the difference.
Unfortunately most people today consume large amounts of refined carbohydrates and only a small amount of complex carbs. In my opinion, this is a major reason for the obesity epidemic as well as unnecessarily high rates of diabetes and high-cholesterol.
If you look at the High Nutrient Density (HND) chart at the end of this article you’ll see that the processed food sources of carbs are at the bottom of the list, whereas the whole food forms are at the top. This HND chart shows the foods that provide our bodies with the nutrients they need to fight disease and stay healthy. All of the foods at the top provide good levels of complex carbohydrates to give us all the energy we need PLUS the nutrients to stay healthy.
To quote T. Colin Campbell, PhD., and top researcher of nutrition at Cornell University “The healthiest diet you can possibly consume is a high-carbohydrate diet. It has been shown to reverse heart disease, reverse diabetes, prevent…chronic diseases, and yes, it has been shown many times to cause significant weight loss.”
Dr. Joel Fuhrman in his book Eat to Live says it well, “There is nothing wrong with carbohydrates; it is the empty-calorie, or refined carbohydrates that are responsible for the bad reputation of carbs.”
So, what about the “Low-Carb” diet movement and all the bad publicity carbohydrates have received from that arena? Low-Carb diets like Atkins and South Beach and the “low-carb” foods that have been developed to go with them have been given lots of positive press.
In my opinion, over the long term these diets lead to very poor health. I tried the Atkins diet myself when I was opening and running weight loss clinics, and it was clear to me that if I continued eating this way, my health would deteriorate and be difficult to rebuild.
These Low-Carb diets that include high levels of animal protein put tremendous strain on the liver and kidneys. Dr. Joel Furhman has this to say about Low-Carb diets: “The Atkins diet, along with other similar plans … has almost no fibre, utilizing instead the precise foods that science has established as the primary causes of cancer and heart attacks, and specifically excludes the food that have been shown to have a powerful anti-cancer effect.”
What is important to understand is that complex carbohydrates from whole foods give the body great energy, great health, and don’t put weight on. A major research confirms this point. The China Study, T. Colin Campbell’s book, relates how the Chinese eat 25% more calories than Americans, but Americans carry 30% more weight. How could this be? Part of it, you might think, is a difference in lifestyle, but the research actually used Chinese office workers, not physically active field workers. The main factor was the type of carbohydrate they were eating.
The Chinese ate mostly complex carbs from whole foods. The Americans ate mostly refined carbs from bread, pasta and refined sugary foods. Dr. Campbell shows conclusively how different forms of carbohydrate create different results. Complex carbs from whole foods don’t result in weight gain, whereas eating processed foods with refined carbs often does.
Working with hundreds of people eating High Nutrient Dense whole foods, full of delicious complex carbohydrates, people improved their health and lost weight as a result. They lost weight while eating all the complex carbs they wanted on the High Nutrient Dense food plan shown below.
In summary, in my personal experience and also in many research studies, complex carbohydrates from whole foods are the best way to get our energy needs met, stay healthy and maintain our ideal weight. Follow the principles of the High Nutrient Dense foods shown below and see what happens. No need to fear complex carbohydrates, they are a very good friend.
To your amazing health,