Carbs – Where’s the Sweet Spot?
Finding accurate information about what is or isn’t a healthy diet can be confusing and frustrating. You read one article that says don’t eat carbs, eat fat, and then the very next one says the exact opposite. And, all these articles seem to be backed up by scientific studies, so how do you think what to believe?
One such study published recently in the Lancet found that low-fat diets didn’t lower the risk of death due to heart disease, whereas people who ate diets high in carbohydrates had a higher overall mortality risk.
On the other hand, a paper presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress claims that you are at risk for premature death if you eat too few carbs (which may be disappointing to the popular Keto diet crowd).
So, how many carbs should you eat?
Sheah Rarback, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the University of Miami Health System, explains, “Nutritional studies are released almost daily, and they often confuse the most important thing to remember – healthy eating is all about maintaining a balance of different types of natural foods.”
Another study published in the Lancet backs up this statement. It says there is a sweet spot regarding how many carbs you should eat, right down the middle.
Rarback added that the science behind fat, cholesterol, and carbohydrates isn’t straightforward and can be confusing.
The fundamentals of fats
“Healthy” fats are unsaturated fats (sometimes labeled as “monounsaturated” or “polyunsaturated”). They help lower cholesterol and cardiovascular risks, says Rarback. These fats are found in many plant-based oils like olive, safflower, and sunflower.
“Unhealthy” fats include trans fats and saturated fats. These increase cholesterol and contribute to cardiovascular disease.
“Most foods have eliminated trans-fat since they had to start labeling,” says Rarback. “But, what many people may not know is that a label can legally say it has 0 trans-fat if it has less than .5 grams.”
Saturated fats are most commonly found in animal products, especially fatty meats, red meat, butter, and other dairy products.
“Although it’s okay to eat saturated fats in moderation, you want them to be a very small part of your diet,” Rarback advises. “No more than maybe 5 percent of your calories should come from these fats. So, if you eat 1500 calories each day, then only 70-80 of your fat calories should come from fatty meats and dairy.”
The dangers of a diet high in carbohydrates (sugar included) is becoming clearer. But, not all sugars are harmful. “It’s the added sugars that we need to watch for,” says Rarback.
“Healthy” sugars can be found naturally in dairy products that contain lactose and in fruits and other foods that contain fructose. “Unhealthy” sugars that are added during the processing, packaging, or handling of foods pose a risk to your health.
Candies, sodas, cookies, and flavored drinks have a lot of added sugar. To find out if your food has added sugar, check the ingredients list for the following:
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Malt sugar`
- Invert sugar
A balanced diet is still the way to go
Extreme diets may be trendy but they are often bad for you and very difficult to keep up with.Sheah Rarback, registered dietitian nutritionist
She recommends these tips if you are looking for a healthy diet:
- Most of your food should come from vegetables.
- Fruits should make up the second largest part of your diet.
- In general, at least half of your grains should be whole-grain or high in dietary fiber.
- Stick to moderate servings of low-fat and fat-free dairy products.
- Try not to eat meat with every meal, but when you do, eat lean meats like chicken or fish or red meat with the fat removed.
- Remember to eat nuts, beans, and legumes a few times a week.
- Limit your fats and oils to 3 tablespoons a day.
Natasha Bright is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.