Since carbs are such a hotly contested topic in the wellness community, we were excited to hear plant-based fireman, triathlete, and creator of the Engine 2 Diet, Rip Esselstyn's, take on them. In this excerpt from his book, Plant-Strong, he shares why we should be eating carbohydrates as part of a healthy diet.
You may have tried some of the trendy, low-carb diets that have been making the rounds in recent years. Unfortunately, Atkins and other supposedly well-researched diets have reinforced the misconception that carbohydrates are somehow bad for you and succeeded in making the vast majority of America carbophobic.
Stop being a carb scaredy-cat and start enjoying unrefined carbohydrates as part of a healthy and satisfying plant-strong diet! Carbohydrates are our number one energy source, so don’t even think about giving them up.
The problem is that the low-carb/high-protein diets give all carbohydrates — including whole grains, beans, vegetables, and even fruit — a bad name.
I'm in complete agreement with those in the high-protein camp who say refined carbohydrates are the worst: Soda pop, doughnuts, candy bars, fruit juice, white pasta, white rice, white bread, and fried chips all are filled with empty calories and have been stripped of their fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients; they’re a dangerous black hole of empty calories and nothing but Trouble with a capital T.
But good carbs are a must in creating a healthy you. Three macronutrients account for the calories in our diet: carbs, fat, and protein. Carbs are the largest and most important source. They help regulate our heart rate, our digestive system, and our breathing.
Here’s the deal: Processed and refined carbs, like the junk found in packaged foods and fast-food meals, can make you fat. These bad boys typically lack any fiber, nutrients, or much of anything useful and are very concentrated in calories. But folks like Dr. Atkins have spread the misconception that all carbohydrates are alike.
The truth is that the majority of your calories should come from unrefined, unprocessed complex carbs and simple carbs found in fruits, veggies, and whole grains. These excellent carbs are converted into glucose, which is basically gasoline for our bodies.
Processed carbs, on the other hand, have been chemically altered by humans. These “Frankencarbs,” stripped of all fiber and minerals and vitamins, are rich in calories and digested more quickly by the body, and can cause your blood sugar levels to spike.
This, in turn, shoves your pancreas into insulin-pumping overdrive, inundating blood cells with extra glucose at pendulum-like intervals and leaving you fatigued and even more hungry. Why wouldn’t you be?
Most nutrients, fiber, and water have been removed, so they don’t fill you up, and people often overeat. If you’ve ever had a bad case of the munchies, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.
But hey, how the heck do I know which carbs are processed and which aren’t? Well, if they’re in a box full of fancy marketing, most likely they’re processed. If you order them on a microphone from your car, they’re probably processed. Processed carbs are shells of their former selves and really shouldn’t even be called carbohydrates.
But until the FDA gets its act together and requires packaging to label them as Frankencarbs, you’ll need to be careful when looking for the real stuff. Whole and unprocessed carbs (both simple and complex) are abundant in a plant-based diet.
They’re found in vegetables; whole grains and whole-grain breads, pasta, and dry cereals; peas; beans; sweet potatoes; oats; brown rice; and fruit.
Unlike processed and refined Frankencarbs, whole-grain carbohydrates cause a slow and stable release of sugar into the bloodstream, which is then converted into energy by your body, rather than stored as fat. And because these natural carbohydrates retain all their water and energy, your stomach fills up fast, ensuring that you’ll never overeat.
So drop the white bread for whole-grain bread, park the candy for fruit, ditch the soda pop for water, and bury the white pasta for whole-grain pasta. It’ll make a world of difference, and you can stop being a carbophobe!
Excerpt from Plant-Strong (formerly published as My Beef With Meat) by Rip Esselstyn. Copyright © 2013, 2015 by Rip Esselstyn. Used with permission by Grand Central Life & Style. All rights reserved.
Cover photo credit: iStock