As a registered dietitian who works directly with clients to help them reach their health goals, Maya Feller, RD is no stranger to carbophobia. She recently decided to set the record straight and shared a few carbohydrate facts on her Instagram feed inspired by the most common myths she hears. We talked with her to break down some of the most pertinent details.
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carb fact 1: Not all carbohydrates impact your blood sugar in the same way
One of the reasons many people give carbs the side-eye is that they are known to raise blood sugar levels (and therefore mess with your energy levels). Feller says that while it’s true that some high-carb foods, like bread, do have this effect, it’s a sweeping generalization to assume all foods with carbs affect the body the same way. This is what Feller refers to as “carbohydrate literacy,” which essentially means understanding the difference between the different kinds of carbohydrates and how they can impact you.
In general, complex carbs like beans, lentils, quinoa, and oats, have a less intense impact on your blood sugar than more simple, processed carbohydrates. Why? They contain fiber and other phytonutrients that help slow digestion so you don’t get a sugar rush all at once. Feller adds that solid carbs affect the body differently than drinks with carbs (like sports drinks, alcohol, and juice). “The simple act of drinking something is always faster than eating. Liquid carbohydrates have a faster impact on blood sugars and can be easier to consume in excess,” she says.
carb fact 2: carbohydrates are necessary fuel for the brain and body
“Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for the body and brain,” Feller says. “Insulin, secreted by the pancreas, moves sugars [which are the building blocks of carbohydrates] from the bloodstream into the cells to be used as energy.” Complex carbs in particular are linked to benefitting brain health, and give you the energy required to do things like power through a workout.
This is how things are supposed to work, but sometimes (as in the case with someone with diabetes), that process can get disrupted. “When the body has a hard time sensitizing or secreting insulin, managing blood sugars becomes difficult,” Feller says. Basically, a person’s insulin function can become disrupted, which makes it harder to keep blood sugars at a healthy level. However, it doesn’t mean that carbs in moderation aren’t necessary; it just means that people with blood sugar issues just have to be smart about what kinds of carbs they eat (back to point number one).
carb fact 3: Carbohydrates are in a lot of foods, and that’s okay
If a friend tells you that she’s cutting carbs, she may not realize that in order for this to be true, it would mean not consuming any vegetables or fruit whatsoever. Feller says that all produce (as well as many other foods) has carbs. That’s not a bad thing and that shouldn’t put you off vegetables—in fact, it should prove that carbohydrates absolutely have their place in a healthy diet. Because what’s better for you than vegetables?!
carb fact 4: people living with diabetes can enjoy a wide range of carbs
“A misconception among people living with diabetes is that they can’t have sugar or that consuming carbs is bad,” Feller says. “There is a previously accepted idea that a ‘diabetes diet’ exists and that people living with diabetes are required to consume a set amount of carbohydrates according to a plan that is not individualized or tailored to their lifestyle.” In truth, Feller says what works for one person with diabetes may not be best for someone else, which is why it’s so important for people with the condition to work with a dietitian for specific guidance.
Clearly there’s more layers to carbs than many assume. If you’ve been stand-offish toward carbs in the past, you’ll likely find that once to take the time to get to know them, you’ll warm up.
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