“Carbohydrate” was once just a noun used to refer to a macronutrient, but it has now become “carbs,” the noun to avoid, to blame and to count.
The prevailing sentiment that carbs are the enemy grew as the number of “hyper processed, refined and fortified” foods grew. Those kinds of foods — sugary cereals, white bread, candy, and the like — contain empty calories, or calories void of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Not all carbs are bad, though: Foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, may be high in carbs and calories sometimes, but they are not empty. They provide fiber, protein, B vitamins and other nutrients.”
People often turn to low-carb or keto diets as a quick way to lose weight — keto diets are known to induce rapid weight loss in the first few weeks, but it’s not always sustainable.
For one thing, everyone is different and won’t see the same results on a low-carb diet, and secondly, it’s hard to keep up with a carb-free diet long-term.
With that, here are 3 reasons cutting carbs might not be the right approach for you.
- You might be missing out on key nutrients
Many carb-heavy foods are rich in essential vitamins and minerals — yet there’s a persistent misconception that “carbs” equal “bad.”
Carbs come in many forms. “Better or ‘healthy’ carbs provide value by bringing critical nutrients into the body: fibers, minerals, vitamins like magnesium and B12, and antioxidants.
These healthy carbs support metabolism, digestion and immune health. They act as building blocks for healthy bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and even blood.
When you completely cut carbohydrates out of your diet, you could put yourself at risk for nutrient deficiencies if you don’t replace those nutrients with other food sources. For example, about 70% of Americans don’t get enough magnesium, an important mineral that cells need to “turn off” stress.
When you reduce or cut out carbs completely, especially grains and beans, you will further reduce your intake of this essential nutrient. Therefore, your total nutrition plan must include other sources of this nutrient.
2. You may not get enough fiber
Fiber is one nutrient you may not consume enough of if you don’t eat carbs. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, especially starchy ones, are some of the greatest sources of fiber. But they also happen to be high in carbohydrates.
Fiber plays key roles in digestion, heart health and gut health. Research backs this up: Studies show that people who eat more fiber have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and tend to have more beneficial bacteria in the microbiome.
Fiber can also help you feel fuller for longer periods of time, which is helpful if you are trying to lose weight.
3. Carbs are good for your brain
Carbohydrates are your brain’s preferred source of energy. Scientists estimate that the brain consumes roughly 120 grams of carbohydrates every day and that your brain accounts for roughly 20% of your total energy (calories) burned each day.
When you first start a low-carb diet, you may experience brain fog, mental fatigue and mood swings because your body’s primary fuel source suddenly disappeared. Once your body adjusts, those symptoms should subside, but those initial effects are part of the reason why low-carb diets are so hard to stick to.
Many people confuse the role of stimulants like caffeine with the role of carbohydrates: Caffeine and other stimulants provide short-term bursts of energy, and then you crash. Whereas healthy carbs supply your brain with what it needs to perform its many functions and give you long-term energy.
It’s important to choose healthy carbs, as the quality of these carbs is the real factor in determining not just what the brain gets to run, but how it and the rest of the body will use those carbs and what the outcomes will be for your health.