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Woman adding chopped vegetables into salad.

Carbs Are Not the Enemy

Kathryn-Parker-aviv-clinics by Kathryn Parker, RD, LD/N , Dietitian
February 28, 2022
Woman adding chopped vegetables into salad.

Remember when we used to just sit down and eat because we were hungry, or it was time to eat?  Now we worry about what we are eating and whether or not it is good for us, especially when it comes to carbohydrates. It may feel like the simple joy of eating is gone.

Carbohydrates (aka carbs) seem particularly bad because of the growing number of low-carb or no-carb diets that suggest that we should be restricting carb intake. Generally, food provides energy, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber and water – if eaten without processing. Therein lies the problem: processing. Carbohydrates are not the enemy. It’s more about the types of carbohydrates being consumed that’s the real issue.

Long gone are the days of hunting and gathering and rarely do we eat farm to plate. If your carbs come in a bag, box, can, or carton, then chances are they have been processed, which strips them of many nutrients.

Why do we need carbohydrates?

The primary role of carbohydrates is to fuel our brain and allow the nutrients in the meat, fish, poultry and other high-protein foods in our diet to focus on building and repairing muscle. This becomes especially important as we get older.

After the age of 30, we naturally begin to lose muscle mass. Muscle mass is vital to cognition, strength, bone density, immune system and reducing the risk of falling. We continue to need carbohydrates in our diet to help protein because without enough carbohydrates, our bodies cannot continue to maintain muscle.

What is the connection between carbohydrates and sugar?

High-quality, complex carbohydrates, like the ones found in fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, oats, and starches provide the glucose (sugar) that we need for energy. The glucose journey begins and ends in our gastrointestinal tract. We have glucose receptors in our mouth, esophagus, stomach and intestines for absorption.

Once absorbed into our bodies, glucose makes deposits in our liver (in the form of glycogen) to keep our brain functioning in the middle of the night while we sleep. Glucose is stored inside our muscle cells (glycogen) to allow our muscles to relax and contract. It also circulates in our blood stream to feed our brains and “extra” glucose is stored in our visceral fat (triglycerides). (You may know that as “the inch you can pinch”.)

Two veggie burgers.

Why is there controversy around eating carbohydrates?

In the last 50 years, our intake of fruits and juices, vegetables, legumes, nuts and soy, eggs, poultry, fish, meat and dairy products have not really changed. However, our intake of fats and oils and grains have dramatically changed.

We consume vast quantities of processed carbs, also known as chips, sodas, candy, etc. Today’s vending machines no longer contain cigarettes, but rather highly processed carbs. This translates into the average male increasing their daily caloric intake by 208 and the average female increasing calories by 269 per day.

Processing strips carbs of their beneficial fiber, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. In other words, processed carbohydrates lack the essential nutrients needed by your brain and body. Processed foods are ones that are high in refined sugar, low in fiber, contain artificial ingredients, and trans fats, and contribute to negative health effects like heart disease and strokes.

How many carbohydrates do the brain need?

Four different variations of Avocado on Toast

The minimum number is 130 grams of carbohydrates per day for your brain function. Of course, the more active you are, the more carbs you need. The best food sources for this are by eating whole fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed complex carbs. Unprocessed complex carbs are ones that are free of refinement and processing, and high in water, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber.

The key to carbs

Carbohydrates are not to be feared or frowned upon. The key is choosing wisely, eating in moderation, and being aware of the nutrition label when it comes to satisfying hunger.

Stay aware of food industry marketing methods, including subliminal messaging that plays on our emotions and products that are infused with hidden sugars. Read the nutritional labels on food packages and avoid being influenced by marketing ploys that could lead to overeating.

The bottom line

There are no forbidden foods, just foods that are better for your health than others. Choose wisely as often as you can.

Proper nutrition can have a profound effect on brain health and performance. The Aviv Medical Program’s intensive treatment protocol combines hyperbaric oxygen therapy with personalized nutrition planning and dietitian support to optimize your diet for better brain health. Based on over a decade of research and development, the Aviv Medical Program takes a multidisciplinary approach to helping our clients manage symptoms such as brain fog, poor circulation, and memory loss associated with conditions such as mild cognitive impairment, stroke, Lyme disease, and fibromyalgia.

Aviv Medical Program provides you with a unique opportunity to invest in your health while you age.

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