First of all, let me state my bias: I love carbs.
Bread, rice, potatoes, cookies, fruits – I love it all; because of this, I read any low-carb theory with great skepticism. My most compelling argument against a low-carb diet is that if you visit most other continents in the world, carbs make up most of their diet, and they are not overweight.
When I lived in Malawi, Africa, the diet was about 85 per cent carbohydrate. A meal consisted of a mountain of carbohydrate (white rice or maize meal), with a couple of tablespoons of either beans or dark green vegetables. The men had bodies like Michelangelo’s David and the ladies could probably bench press me.
So why do they seem to make us fat?
Carbs are the primary energy source for your muscles and brain. And unfortunately, many of us do not use these very often.
The big difference between most Malawians and Canadians is activity level. Malawians walk to the well for their water and carry it back on their heads. They cut down trees for firewood, work their own fields without machines and either walk or ride a single-gear bike to work.
In Canada, most of us walk to our car, sit on a chair all day, walk back to our car, and then sit on the couch. If your body is not using the carbohydrates you consume, they build up in your blood and cause damage. So the question becomes – if we are inactive, should we be trying to eliminate our carbohydrates?
The main problem with eliminating carbohydrates is that they are a good source of many essential nutrients – vitamins, minerals, fiber – and are low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Furthermore, almost every food is a carbohydrate. By eliminating them, all you are left with is meat, cheese and leafy vegetables. And while this may be an appealing diet to some people, you will be eating a lot of saturated fat and may be constipated the rest of your life.
The bottom line is that carbohydrates are generally healthy, but most of us do not have an activity level to support eating a large quantity of them. This means either eating smaller portions or moving to Malawi.
-Serena Caner is a registered dietician who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.