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Carbohydrates are much-maligned.

In certain circles, they have almost become a forbidden topic–something ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ to be avoided at all costs.

But nothing could be further from the truth!

Let’s clear up the three biggest myths about carbs.

So they can take their rightful (and glorious!) place in your diet once and for all.

Myth #1: Carbs Are Bad For You

Carbohydrates are not a food group. There are carbs in almost everything we eat from vegetables and fruits to beans and rice. But some carbohydrates are stripped while others are left intact. And those intact carbs are the most nutritious foods for both brain and body.

What is an intact carb?

An intact carb hasn’t had its fiber stripped away in an industrial process. For example, vegetables, beans, fruits, and whole grains are intact carbs. And why is fiber so important? Because fiber slows the absorption of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

What is a stripped carb?

A stripped carb is the exact opposite of an intact carb and acts exactly the opposite in the body, too. Stripped carbs are wheat, corn and rice used to produce white flour, table sugar, cornstarch (and corn syrup) and white rice. Without the fiber to slow down glucose absorption, stripped carbs trigger a more pronounced insulin release to carry the sugars to our cells.

The difference in a nutshell between intact and stripped carbs? Stripped carbohydrates release sugar quickly and can’t sustain energy or provide lasting fuel for the brain while intact carbs have fiber content that slows digestion and sugar release for lasting energy and brain/body fuel.

Myth #2: Carbs Make People Fat

Unfortunately this myth has been so widely told that most people believe all they’ll have to do is cut back on pasta or eliminate bread and they’ll be magically thin. It would be nice to blame the entire obesity epidemic on one evil culprit, but we cannot.

This “theory” that carbohydrates make you fat is based on two premises: 1) insulin dictates how fat or lean we are and 2) carbohydrates are the main reason that insulin levels go up.

The reason this myth is so widely accepted as truth is that in fact it is partially true. It is absolutely correct to say that some carbs spike insulin levels. However whole, intact carbs stimulate a more balanced insulin response and consequent slower absorption of glucose. There is also evidence that a high fat diet will elevate insulin, lead to insulin (and leptin) resistance in the brain and result in a failure to appropriately regulate food intake which will cause body mass gain.

Myth #3: Carbs Cause Disease

This myth is built on a partial truth.

So it is true that if you fill your body with stripped, refined carbohydrates like white pasta, pastries and white bread, your risk of health issues such as heart disease and diabetes will indeed most probably go up.

But carbohydrates are not your enemy. Stripped carbohydrates are.

When scientists looked around the world at the countries with the least diabetes, carbohydrates were front and center in their diets. Second, they realized that it was the fat in muscle cells that interfered with insulin, preventing the cells from utilizing sugars (glucose).

All carbs are not bad. If you really value your health, simply avoid the stripped carbs and embrace the intact ones like fruits, veggies, whole grains and legumes.

Maybe it’s time that carbs come out of the closet in all their glowing glory.

Rosane Oliveira, DVM, PhD

President & CEO, Plant-Based Life Foundation | Dr. Rosane Oliveira combines a lifelong passion for nutrition with 25 years of genetics research to create programs that help people develop healthy habits on their journey towards a more plant-based lifestyle. She is a Visiting Clinical Professor in Public Health Sciences and was the founding director of the first Integrative Medicine program at the UC Davis School of Medicine. She completed her postgraduate studies in Brazil and did her postdoctoral training in immunogenetics and functional genomics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.