With gay men from Chelsea to the Castro swearing off carbs, it's obvious we're in the midst of yet another crazy diet fad. The current craze involves several different diets that are variations based on the same core belief—carbohydrates are evil and make you fat.
Low-carb diet books like Atkins, Sugar Busters, and Protein Power have all topped the best sellers lists, and from restaurants to supermarkets, there are plenty of low-carb products out there encouraging weight-conscious men to jump on the bacon and cheese bandwagon. But before you swear off pasta and potatoes forever, you need to learn the truth about carbs and the health dangers of knelling before the low-carb altar.
Critics of low-carb diets—including most health professionals, nutritionists, and members of the medical field—have significant concerns about their healthfulness. And it's no wonder. Medically dangerous, unsustainable, and nutritionally unsound, low-carb diets have more than just a few flies in their ointment.
It's important to understand that low-carb plans are essentially just low-calorie diets. None are advertised that way. In fact, the diets encourage weight watchers to eat as much as he wants of a particular food. Nevertheless, these diets prescribe a daily caloric intake that is well below average requirements. There is not some magical transformation of your internal pathways due to the "special combination" of the foods eaten.
A low-carb diet, like any low-calorie diet, will certainly help you shed pounds, but cutting out carbs is a far cry from a long-term health solution. Most low-carb regimens are loaded with saturated fat, cheering you to eat as much meat, butter, and cream as you want. Yikes! Numerous scientific studies have shown that diets high in fat and saturated fat can increase your risk of heart disease.
Low-carb diets also severely limit your intake of—you guessed it!&151;carbohydrates. Excluding fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and all their proven health benefits (including a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease, and enhanced immune protection), is certainly not going to help you look or feel your best.
What you may feel is woozy and weak, as there is the dangerous possibility of throwing your body into ketosis. What's ketosis? If your carbohydrate intake is so low that the glucose needs of your brain are not met, your body will burn fat incompletely to produce a substance called ketone, which is a substitute brain fuel. This can cause light-headedness, nausea, and bad breath.
Last but not least, there is the glaring fact that for athletic males participating in sports and athletics, there is no better way to trash your performance than cutting your carbs
Carbs Done Right
Your body needs carbohydrates for energy—period. Carbs provide your body not only with the fuel it needs for physical activity and peak performance, but also for proper organ function. While it may be true that easily digested carbohydrates from white bread, white rice, pastries, and other highly processed foods may contribute to weight gain and interfere with weight loss, the same cannot be said about all carbs.
Carbohydrates should provide 45 to 60 percent of your total calories, and fiber-rich sources including lots of fruits, vegetables (all types and varieties are good for you), and whole grains should provide you the bulk of your carb calories. For optimal health, get your grains intact from whole foods such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole-grain pasta, and other interesting grains like quinoa, whole oats, and bulgur.
Be careful of foods labeled "multi-grain," "stone-ground," "100% wheat," "cracked wheat," "seven-grain," and more. They may sound whole grain, they may even look whole grain (FYI: color is not an indication of whole grain), but to find out the whole truth you need to check out the ingredient list. Look for one of the following whole-grain ingredients first on the label's list: brown rice, bulgur, oatmeal, whole oats, whole rye, whole wheat, wild rice, and whole-grain corn. Also use the nutrition facts label and choose products with a higher percent daily value for fiber, as it is a good clue to the amount of whole grain in a product.
H. K. Jones is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, and nutrition professional based in Washington, D.C.