Unless you’ve been hiding under a bagel all these years, you’re aware of the many popular low-carbohydrate diets that have unfairly demonized grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables. You’ve probably even tried going low-carb for a while. Maybe you’re still shunning sweet potatoes because a skinny influencer you follow online warns they’ll bump you out of ketosis, god forbid. At the risk of beating a dead Brussels sprout, we’ll say it again: Not all high-carb foods will make you fat. It’s certain carbs, usually, those that come in a box or snack bag or don’t have any fiber left in them, that may be detrimental to your health and waist.
Most dietitians and doctors agree and research backs up the idea that carbohydrate is an essential macronutrient for good health and should not be avoided. For example, Polish researchers using data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, warned that long-term low-carb diets lead to unhealthy outcomes in a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in 2018. The study found that eating less than 215 grams of carbs a day over six years increased the risk of cancer death by 36% and cardiovascular disease death by 50%. (By the way, 215 grams is roughly the amount of carbs in a large apple, 15 crackers, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, and a glass of vanilla soy milk.)
A 2019 meta-analysis in the journal The Lancet suggests that carbs can be metabolically protective. In reviewing 58 clinical trials, researchers found that adults who ate the most whole grains, vegetables, and other carbohydrates that are high in fiber reduced their risk of diabetes and colorectal cancer by 15–31% and reduced their risk of death from stroke or heart disease compared with people who ate low amounts of healthy carbs.
Don’t dis all carbs. Even the poster children for high-carb foods, bread and pasta, are important for good nutrition.
“Eliminating all carbs can be counterproductive to your health, leading to significant deficiencies,” warns registered dietitian nutritionist Dr. SuNui Escobar, DCN, RDN, a doctor of clinical nutrition and owner of MenopauseBetter.com. “Carbs provide glucose, which is essential for energy production in cells, including the brain. They also contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial phytonutrients.”
Just remember to choose bread and pasta made with whole grains, which are slow-digesting complex carbohydrates.
Yes, these fruits are considered to be high-carb foods because of their fructose, or the sugar in fruit. However, their nutrition benefits outnumber the carbs you’re getting, especially if you eat the whole fruit, including the skin of apples and pears.
“Whole foods are rich in fiber, often water, and nutrients to slow digestion, help us to feel full longer and decrease sugar cravings,” says Amy Shapiro, RD, founder of Real Nutrition NYC.