Are carbohydrates bad?

Columnist Scott McDermott discusses nutrition - and debunks some common misconceptions.

I have been a trainer in the fitness world for nearly 20 years and I have seen a lot of nutrition fads come and go. Even longer than that, as a human trying to be healthy, I have seen a lot more things come and go in my nearly 48 years on the planet.

When I was younger, everything was low fat. Every single doctor, book, TV show, etcetera went on and on about how fat was the enemy and we should not eat fat. Then they figured out that was fully stupid, but they still tried to say cholesterol was bad and we shouldn’t eat that. Then they figured out that was wrong.

Lately, the big war is on carbohydrates and sugar, and exactly as before, (and with every trend that nutrition has ever known) the ‘experts’ are lining up, and lining their pockets as they sell potions and lotions and packets and pills.

They are scrambling to tell you that you should only eat protein and fat and never have any carbohydrates (carbs) at all, ever. I saw a post on Facebook yesterday where a guy said “carbs are non-essential in the human diet,” and I had to chime in…what utter garbage.

Look, folks…human beings (and I am assuming that if you are reading this, you belong to that group) are omnivores – period.

You can scream about being vegan and never eating meat, or being on ketosis (only eating meat and fat), or you can hop on your soapbox about being an ovo-lacto vegetarian, or a pescatarian, or a raw food vegan or whatever, but news flash: you are all right! And you are all wrong!

Human beings are designed for one thing: to survive. To survive on whatever food was most available – even if, and especially if, that changed. People survived concentration camps for years on stuff that could barely be categorized as food, and they went on to live long healthy lives that included having full multi-generational families.

I know of scientists who went all raw vegan, and then 15 years later, decided it wasn’t for them and changed back to a 40-40-20 diet and saw a huge improvement in their health problems. I know of seriously obese and unhealthy people that went from a fast food diet to a vegetarian diet, and got super healthy and dropped a bunch of weight.

In fact, I know of people who have gotten healthy and unhealthy from pretty much every diet there is. Everyone wants to know which diet is perfect and the answer is none of them – and all of them.

Confusing right? Hey, try being an ‘expert.’ It’s hard – I have to learn and unlearn and relearn things all the time as new evidence comes to light, old research is put into question with newer, more thorough research that uses better science, better methods and a bigger study group.

Then, of course, we have the ‘bought and paid for’ scientists, finding results exactly where the people paying their salary told them to find them. Like green coffee bean extract – that was so biased and ridiculous. But people made millions off of it, and nobody buying it got any real benefit.

The fact is, we need a variety of foods as human beings, and every single person is different. Are you interested in strength and increasing muscle? Increasing endurance? Dropping body fat? Are you male or female? Older or younger? Do you work out? How much? Do you sleep well? Is your digestion system working well?

There are so many other things to consider. Saying that carbs are bad, and that we should all be in ketosis is absolute garbage. Will some people benefit short term? Sure! Are there long-term negative side effects from eliminating a basic food group like carbohydrates? Absolutely.

Back to the guy that said “carbs are non essential.” I looked (we are friends, after all) and he had a photo of his fridge on Facebook, because he was talking about this soup he makes every year.

Guess what? His fridge not only had bread (carbs) but asparagus, apples, bell peppers and a bunch more fruits and vegetables (carbs).

In fact, it appeared that over 80 per cent of his fridge was carbohydrates. This is true of so many people advocating ‘no carbs,’ and the reality is that they actually don’t know what carbohydrates are.

Yes – some people do not deal with carbohydrates such as grains, breads, etcetera – and as a society, we do eat too much sugar. But let me say again, balance is key and balance is healthy. If something makes you sick, break out in hives or sends you to the hospital, or if you are very overweight or underweight, then you could have a look at what you are eating.

If you have been in ketosis for a while, and you eat carbohydrates and feel awful, that is simply because your body has stopped making the things it needs to break down carbs – it does not mean carbs are bad.

Nutrition is a funny, funny thing. People get crazy about it. They defend it like it is a personal insult if you do not agree with them. I love it when people get away from foods that made them sick, and start eating foods that make them well, but that never means the entire world needs to eat exactly that way. Nutrition ‘facts’ are very, very temporary as we continue to learn what fuels human beings best, while considering the thousands of variables.

Stick to the basics: have some protein, some fat and some carbohydrates at each meal, and avoid getting super stressed about it. Eat real food more than packaged food, and move your body. Get some rest and drink water.

See? Easy.

Happy Training!

Scott