When people think of carbs, warning bells often sound in the brain. We have been conditioned to fear carbohydrates as the doer of all evil: the macronutrient that contributes to weight gain. In some respects, that is not incorrect. Refined carbohydrates certainly pose a threat to health. They include foods like white rice and white bread that have been stripped of their nutritional value. Research shows that refined carbohydrates can contribute to obesity and cardiovascular disease. They can also spike our glycemic index, which contributes to a slew of issues including diabetes, impaired glucose intolerance, higher amounts of insulin in the bloodstream and more. But not all carbs are created equal, as the saying goes.
Whole unprocessed carbs are wonderful for human health. They are the carbs that have been minimally affected and, thus, maintain the integrity of their nutrients. Some examples of healthy carbohydrates include sweet potatoes, legumes and bananas and they are comprised of key nutrients such as fiber, fatty acids, minerals and vitamins. As a whole, carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (along with protein and fats) that help to maintain our energy levels and metabolism. When we limit our intake of beneficial carbohydrates, we compromise various aspects of our health, including gut health.
One consideration when transitioning to a new diet is how the essential beneficial microbiota that reside in the intestinal tract will take to their new fuel. The bacterial organisms are essential parts of digestion and overall health. They work to ferment the indigestible molecules in the body and are responsible for digesting 10% of all of our calories. They also play a major role in serotonin production and help to prevent weight gain. It is widely known that when gut bacteria consume carbohydrates, they produce short-chain fatty acids that are extremely beneficial for us in terms of inflammation reduction and reduced risk of colon cancer.
A study conducted at Wright State University in Dayton, OH, illustrated what happens when gut microbiota are not provided carbs to feed on. The results published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology indicate that when carbs are restricted, the beneficial processes carried out by gut microbiota may go awry. The study showed that a transition from a balanced diet including carbohydrates to a no-carb high fat diet lowered bacteria such as Bacteroides, Clostridium, and Roseburia, which are important for breaking down proteins and carbs. Because of this, there was a reduced production of short-chain fatty acids and antioxidants which are integral for the destruction of harmful free radicals in the body. The researchers involved in the study warned that the reduction of short-chain fatty acids and antioxidants as a result of a no-carb diet could have detrimental effects on the human host.
I completely understand that it is difficult to keep this information straight. One day we hear that a low carbohydrate diet is key for overall health and the next day a study like this one is published cautioning the limitation of carbs in the diet. If you are confused about what diet modality might be the most beneficial for you, please do not hesitate to reach out to my team and schedule an appointment with me. I am currently taking on new clients and I regularly work with people on sifting through the hodgepodge of health information out there to determine what will work best for them. Working one-on-one with me allows me to take the time to personally interview you on your current and past health history so that I can get a full understanding of your wellness level to provide you with a personalized diet and lifestyle approach to help you feel better.