Tuesday, December 7, 2010

There Is No Such Thing As A No Carb Diet

Actually, that's not entirely true. You could eat absolutely no carbs. However, you wouldn't feel too well, because the body, especially the brain needs carbs to function. So, what are people talking about when they say "no carb"? Well, what they really mean is LOW carb, not NO carb. Although I'm pretty sure they don't know that. This certainly isn't the only expression out there that doesn't adhere to the literal meaning (btw don't get me started on the rampant misuse of the word literal!) and most of those expressions don't bother me. What's so bad about this one?

The issue I have with it is that it's part of a much bigger problem. In all my discussions with people about nutrition over the years it has become clear that the average person has absolutely no idea about nutrition. To make it worse, what they do "know" is usually wrong.

Let's take a look at what an actual no carb diet would consist of. In order to eat no carbs your diet would include meat (beef, chicken, pork), fish, oil, and butter. There are some cheeses that fit the bill but, not all. Even eggs have about half a gram of carbohydrate each. I admit, I'm being extreme here but, I think you get the point.

Most foods have at least some carbs in them and many, many foods are primarily made up of carbohydrates. So, what are people actually referring to when they call something a no carb diet? They mean a diet that excludes foods that are high in carbohydrates and high on the glycemic index. Some examples are bread, rice, pasta, cake and cookies.

The truth is that, even excluding these high carb foods does not necessarily mean you're eating low carb. It is likely you are still eating a diet that is mostly carbs. Fruits, vegetables and legumes are all in the carbohydrate category.

The real goal in terms of carbohydrates is not no carb or low carb. It's no bad carbs. Bad carbs are the ones that are high in starch, low in fiber, have little nutritional value (vitamins and minerals) and convert quickly into sugar in the blood stream. If you want to make it worse take one of these "bad" carbs and load on some saturated fat (think french fries).

The key is to stick to the good carbs. It will make a real difference in you health and your waistline. The good carbs include vegetables with dark or deep rich colors (e.g. spinach, tomatoes, butternut squash). Most fruits are also good. Just remember, the less processing the better. An orange is much better than orange juice. A whole, fresh pineapple is much better than one in a can or jar. Beans are a good choice. Just watch the sodium content. When it comes to grains (breads, cereals, rice, etc.), brown is better. Learn to read the labels and make sure to choose grains with the most fiber.

So, now you know some of the basics of carbohydrates. Maybe it won't stop you from using the term "no carb diet" but, at least you'll know what it means.

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