The phrase low-carb has become part of our daily lexicon. But what exactly does this mean and what’s all the hype about carbs? A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine sorts out the conflicting information.
Carbs, or carbohydrates, are one of the essential nutrients needed in the diet. When we think of carbohydrates, we usually think of plant foods – fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts/seeds. The primary purpose of carbohydrates is to provide energy in the form of calories, so our bodies can walk, breathe, think, and function in society. Indeed, our brains and central nervous systems rely preferentially on carbohydrates for energy. However, carbs have gotten a bad name in the past years due, in part, to the popularity of low carbohydrate (or low carb) diets that are high in animal meats, such as the Atkins Diet. It makes sense that cutting out some sources of carbohydrates, especially processed/refined grain products, will reduce calorie intake, and thus support weight loss; however, a low-carb weight loss plan that encourage the majority of calories come from meat sources, rather than plant foods, may not be the healthiest choice.
The current study suggests that people who engage in a low carbohydrate diet high in animal meats are at increased risk for heart disease and cancer. Women (86,168) and men (44,548) without heart disease, cancer, or diabetes were followed for 26 and 20 years, respectively. A low-carbohydrate diet based on animal foods was associated with higher mortality rates in both men and women, whereas a low-carbohydrate diet based on plant sources was associated with fewer cardiovascular disease deaths.
This study suggests that plant foods are the foundation of a healthful diet, and that diets should be balanced and moderate between the food groups. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts/seeds provide carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and energy. So, start (and end) your day with nutrient dense plant foods. Try slicing a pear into oatmeal or cold cereal, or grab one to go!