Should I Cut Out Carbs? (Diet Myth 3)

Sort fact from fiction when it comes to carbs

Stack of bread slices

We’re working our way through the top 6 diet myths, and this week we tackle a big one: carbohydrates.

If you’ve dabbled in diets through the years, you’ve undoubtedly considered cutting out carbs. Let’s take a look at what the research says and see if we can sort fact from fiction.

Myth 3: To lose weight and be healthier, cut carbohydrates

There is something lurking in your kitchen that may be toxic to you and your entire family. You may have several versions of it in your pantry, fridge and freezer, and worse yet, it may be within arm’s reach of small children.

I’m not talking about your oven cleaner or dishwashing detergent — things that your family could accidentally ingest. I am referring to something that you may be giving them several times a day: simple carbohydrates. These simple carbs could be in your bread, pasta, crackers, cakes, cookies and pretzels. They can be bad for your health, but don’t let that ruin the reputation of their more healthy cousins: complex carbohydrates.

Not all carbs are created equal, and cutting them out altogether means you’re losing an opportunity to improve your health and your weight. A 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that adherence to a Mediterranean diet (a diet high in complex carbohydrates) helped with overall weight loss. Going further back, a 2002 study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that replacing refined grains with whole-grain and minimally processed grain products, along with eating more fruits and vegetables, may help to reduce the risk of both type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

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On the flipside, the same study found that a diet high in refined carbs (white bread, pasta and rice, for example) contributes to hypertriglyceridemia, a condition that increases your risk of atherosclerosis and other conditions — yet another reason to stay away from simple carbohydrates.  A 2010 study in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine found similar results.

The list goes on: A 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that refined grains in the diet — defined as white breads (lavash, baguettes), noodles, pasta, rice, toasted bread, milled barley, sweet bread, white flour, starch and biscuits — were associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, which is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. The authors commented that the combination of the obesity epidemic and growing intake of refined carbohydrates have created a ‘‘perfect storm’’ for the development of cardio-metabolic disorders.

With this laundry list of evidence, it’s easy to be scared of carbs. But instead of elimination, consider replacement. You can keep complex carbohydrates in your diet if you aim only for ones that are 100 percent whole grains, or are contained in fruits, vegetables and legumes.

Carbs to Keep

Make the replacements below for a healthy dose of complex carbohydrates.

  • Eat brown rice instead of white rice.
  • Opt for a 100 percent whole grain English muffin instead of a white English muffin.
  • Try whole wheat pita bread instead of plain old white bread.
  • Eat an orange and skip the glass of processed orange juice.
  • If you need a snack, choose popcorn over potato chips.

More diet myths

Diet Myth 1: Sea salt is better than regular table salt.

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Diet Myth 2: Whatever you don’t get from food, you can get from a vitamin.

Diet Myth 4: If you have high cholesterol, stop eating eggs.

Diet Myth 5: Artificial sweeteners are a great substitute for the real thing.

Diet Myth 6: For the most nutrients, go raw.

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Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
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  • cynthiawick

    The problem with what you are recommending is that whole wheat is not what it used to be. GMO’s to death. So we are consuming whole grains that are making us sick. That’s why I wish you guys would recommend NON GMO gluten free grains which are so much healthier for us. Thanks.

    • Fernando Domeniconi

      I am all for labeling GMO-food and I follow a non-GMO diet, but this is a personal decision and a very expensive one, I must say. I don’t see the reason for this comment here, it is like blaming someone who tells you to eat vegetables for the pesticides they use on them. Also, there’s nothing really healthier about the gluten-free approach (unless you are gluten sensitive). It’s just another fad… as a matter of fact a risk associated to a gluten-free diet is eating too much fat and too little fiber.

      • do some real research

        Gluten free is not a fad, just because its of the moment doesn’t mean its not based in science. Gluten causes inflammation in everyone and your body treats gluten like sugar, huge insulin spike, storing more fat, etc… You should eat more fat, its healthy. Eating a lot of fiber has nothing to do with eating gluten, try almonds for one.

        • Fernando Domeniconi

          As a matter of fact, I do a lot of real research, not just some… it’s funny how you can always find people on internet defending opposite points of view based on science. Some will tell you not to eat ANY fat (China Study, etc) including nuts, some will tell you to eat lots of saturated fat or to splurge on coconut oil as the miracle of the century, some will tell you not to eat grains, some to eat only raw food… and if you don’t read a lot you can just get lost in so much information…

  • Anita Dingman

    I agree with cynthiawick. I also wish we could have GMO foods labeled because I believe that many of the auto-immune diseases that are plaguing us are caused by GMO food. If we get rid of GMOs, maybe so many people won’t be sensitive to gluten and won’t be autistic. These things became more common a little after GMO foods became common.