Carbs--The Misunderstood Macro

Posted by Lindsey Davis on 05/14/2019

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All clinical dietitians have been there…. sitting in morning meeting (or standing by the water cooler, nurse’s station, etc.) and we overhear another staff member talking about their latest diet. And usually this diet does not involve reducing portion size, embracing moderation or upping their physical activity level. It usually involves an extreme measure of restriction or selectivity and is likely unsustainable. In short, it’s another fad. 

 And you don’t just have to be a dietitian to experience this scenario. People all over the world are fascinated and mesmerized by fad diets. Looking for that magic pill to help them reach their health goals, the general population falls victim to a series of diet cycles and more often than not, does not succeed. 

 The latest of these fad diets is the Ketogenic Diet or “Keto.” This encourages a very low carb intake, no more than 50 grams net carbs per day, preferably 20 grams/day to put your body into a state of “ketosis.” Ketosis is when your body does not have a steady supply of glucose (carbs) so the liver starts to burn fat and turn it into ketones for energy instead. 

 It makes sense, and many people have experienced success using this technique, but this diet, in my opinion, is not sustainable. We also don’t know the long-term effects the keto diet will have on our bodies. But most importantly, I think this diet aids in an overall, nationwide misconception of what carbohydrates are, why they are important to the body and how we can eat them in moderation. Let’s break these down.

 What are carbohydrates? Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, vegetables, gains and dairy products. 

 Why are carbohydrates important? They are a macronutrient, meaning they are one of three sources of energy for our bodies. Our brains and skeletal muscles use this form of energy primarily. 

 Now for the “how.” I believe it’s very important for individuals to understand how to eat carbohydrates in moderation. This is a lifestyle skill that is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle in our oversized, overstuffed, over served Western culture. 

 How can we as dietitians help the general public better understand and ingest this nutrient? Simply put, education. Education, education, education. Let us not grow weary of trying to educate an uneducated society. It may seem unwanted at times, unheard, or unpopular at times, but there are individuals out there (especially diabetics) who need to hear this and most importantly need a professional to walk through this lifestyle change with them. Enter Registered Dietitians!