Long Live Carbohydrates!6 years ago | Diet
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Could it be time for bread lovers to rejoice?
According to a recent study reported by The Lancet Health, diets that include carbohydrates may promote a healthy life. But it should not really take a study to arrive at this conclusion, because carbohydrates comprise one of the six critical nutrients we need to survive. (The other five are protein, water, minerals, vitamins and fats). There is no credible evidence that carbohydrates as a group are bad for our health. Like any other nutrient, however, too many carbohydrates or too little may be bad for our health and affect our lifespan.
Scott Solomon, senior author on the study, called the research "the most comprehensive study of carbohydrate intake" ever. Solomon is the Edward D. Frohlich Distinguished Chair at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. But as with anything in life, it is all about moderation, so don’t get too attached to the thought of bottomless bowls of mac’n’cheese just yet.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded study observed the diets of 15,428 people in the United States. Of that almost 15.5k people, scientists found that the diets both low and high on the carbohydrate spectrum died younger than participants that consumed carbs in moderation.
The Broader Scope on Healthy Carbohydrates
The study went even further to confirm these findings by a meta-analysis of studies of over 432,000 people from around the globe. (Low-carb diets were defined as less than 40% of calories from carbohydrates and high-carb diets were more than 70% of calories).
Consuming more animal-based proteins and fats from foods like beef, pork, chicken and cheeses was also associated with a greater risk of mortality. Conversely, eating more plant-based proteins and fats from foods such as vegetables, legumes, and nuts was linked to a lower mortality rate.
Dr. Sara Seidelmann, Clinical and Research Fellow in Cardiovascular Medicine from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, USA, who led the research, observed that "low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with protein or fat are gaining widespread popularity as a health and weight loss strategy.” She concluded that her “data suggests that animal-based low carbohydrate diets, which are prevalent in North America and Europe, might be associated with shorter overall life span and should be discouraged. Instead, if one chooses to follow a low carbohydrate diet, then exchanging carbohydrates for more plant-based fats and proteins might actually promote healthy aging in the long term."
So Who Are the Good Guys In The War On Carbs?
If we steer clear of ‘refined carbohydrates’ and welcome back ‘whole carbohydrates’, we should be in good shape. Now that we know that not all carbs are ‘evil’, here are some healthy carbohydrates that can help bring life back to our diet.
Sweet Potatoes - Maybe we’ve been told that these starchy, sometimes creamy, root vegetables are not the best thing for the thighs, but sweet potatoes, in moderation, can really add substance to any meal. According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), “bioactive compounds contained in this vegetable play a role in health promotion by improving immune function, reducing oxidative stress and free radical damage, reducing cardiovascular disease risk, and suppressing cancer cell growth.” Eat your sweet potatoes baked with the skin on and some light butter or olive oil if need be. They are great as a side dish to a salad or as an afternoon snack.
Whole Wheat Couscous - This is a great alternative to those tempting plates of refined flour pastas. Whole wheat couscous is packed with selenium. Selenium is an essential mineral with many health benefits. It’s a powerful antioxidant that helps the body repair damaged cells and decreases inflammation. It also can assist in improving thyroid health. It is important to maintain proper thyroid gland function. An overactive thyroid may cause sudden weight loss, irregular or rapid heartbeat, sweating, nervousness and irritability.
Whole Fruits - Now I get this isn’t a ‘fun carb,’ but that is a matter of opinion. Whole fruits are a pretty important and delicious food group. Put some berries in your yogurt, sweeten your salad with some grapes or pomegranates or simply have a handful of strawberries as a snack. You really can’t go wrong with fresh fruit.
Lentils - Long live the lentil! Lentils, along with chickpeas, dried beans and peas, are considered pulses. Pulses are edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Lentils are popular in Mediterranean and Indian cooking and come in a variety of types and colors, including red, green and brown. They are reportedly one of the oldest known sources of food, dating back to more than 9,000 years ago. According to a study, eating a serving of lentils may significantly reduce bad cholesterol in the body and, as a result, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Currently, North Americans eat less than half a serving of the recommended daily amount.
So there are tons of healthy carbohydrates from which to choose. We just need to look past the burgers, fries, pizza and doughnuts. Not to say that you can’t indulge every now and again, but maintaining a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains should take priority over your cheesecake obsession. If it means adding more healthy years to your life, isn’t it worth it? I think so.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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