There are many different ideas about carbohydrates: “Carbs make you gain weight. You need carbs to be healthy. Whole grains are good. All carbs are bad.” What’s the truth about carbs and how does a person know what to eat? The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 130 grams of carbohydrate daily for all Americans. Although this recommendation may seem reasonable it bears consideration in light of the current obesity and chronic disease epidemic. The prevalence of adult obesity was 39.8 % in the United States and it affected 93.3 million U.S. adults in 2015-2016. In younger ages the prevalence was 18.5 % and obesity affected 13.7 million children and adolescents. Conditions that are linked to obesity, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer, are also one of the leading causes of preventable death. What’s going on? Are Americans eating too many carbohydrates and do they really need 130 grams of carbohydrate every day?
There are many factors that contribute to weight gain and obesity however one of the most notable contributors is excessive carbohydrate intake. When carbohydrate intake is too high and the body struggles to metabolize it both insulin resistance and leptin resistance begin to develop. Fasting glucose and post-meal glucose levels also begin to rise and eventually an increase in metabolic conditions, including obesity, prediabetes, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and a host of other conditions occurs. There is also an impact in how people think and feel (fatigue, sluggishness, difficulty concentrating, poor mood, etc). All of these effects lead to frequent hunger, reduced fullness (satiety), and an increased appetite, especially for highly processed carbohydrate items (examples: regular soda, sweetened tea, desserts, snack chips, candy, etc).
Is it possible that a reduction in carbohydrate intake can help? YES! Eating fewer carbohydrates and choosing whole food sources of carbohydrates (example: vegetables and fruits versus soda and cookies) helps prevent and reverse both obesity and a variety of health conditions. It also promotes mental clarity, higher energy, and better mood. It also helps reduce medical treatment, including the purchase of costly prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. Considering the fact that healthcare costs continue to rise this seems like a welcome change to a negative trend!