Let’s Chat about Fats and Carbs: National Nutrition Month

You want to eat healthy, and you may be wondering which is better — a low-fat diet or a high-fat, low-carb diet? With the recent popularity of the ketogenic (keto) diet and the abundance of mixed “best diet” recommendations, who can honestly blame confused consumers?

In honor of National Nutrition Month, our friend and dietitian Shelby Burns is here to debunk popular nutrition myths and FAQ’s to help separate fact from fiction.

Carbs and Your Body

No, not all carbs are “bad.” In fact, many people don’t realize that fruits and vegetables are carbs!

There are healthy carbs and less-healthy carbs, and both can fit within a healthy diet. So what’s with all the carb confusion? We tend to eat too many carbs given our culturally sedentary lifestyle. Naturally, when we decrease our intake, we lose weight. Much of this initial weight-loss is actually water because our bodies store water along with carbs. We also tend to cut out many processed foods and sugar when we opt for a low-carb diet.

Fats and Carbs: What’s the Deal?

The downfall to a low carb or “keto” diet is that we often replace calories with saturated fat from red meat, cheese and other processed foods. A diet high in saturated fat increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, whereas fibrous complex carbs like fruits, veggies and whole grains are very beneficial  — specifically with heart health and the promotion of healthy gut bacteria.

The key is not to avoid all carbs, but to choose smarter carbs: sweet potatoes, steel-cut oats, quinoa, vegetables and fruits vs white pasta, white bread, white rice and pastries.

Rather than eating an exclusively low-carb diet, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that you focus on your overall eating habits. The 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting calories from added sugars and saturated fats to less than 10 percent of your total daily calories. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends specifically limiting to ~25 grams of added sugar per day for woman and 38 grams for men.

Sugar Matters, Too.

When it comes to sugar, less is better. The new Nutrition Facts Label will start to include added sugars which are NOT those found naturally in foods (i.e. fruits and vegetables). They have been added to foods, and we tend to consume way more than we realize!

Added sugars contribute zero nutritional values but a lot of calories. Dairy products, cereals, fruit drinks, protein bars, pastries, sweats and even ketchup and peanut butter are just a few products with lots of added sugar. A common misconception is that “natural sugars,” such as maple syrup and agave, don’t fall under the “added sugars” category. But in fact, they do!

Some Key Takeaways:

For a healthy diet, don’t eliminate several food groups. Instead, focus on a balanced, varied diet. Limit saturated fat and favor heart-healthy fats. Carbs are not the enemy, and neither is fat. Food is fuel, so it’s important to find an eating regimen that prioritizes your individual health and needs.

About the Author:
Shelby Burns is a Senior Bariatric Dietitian at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She completed her MS at Boston University in Human and Nutrition Metabolism and is both a Certified Personal Trainer and Licensed Dietitian! Throughout her time in the health and wellness world, her experience has included corporate nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, and weight loss counseling in addition to personal training as she fully believes in a total lifestyles approach in order to transform, take care of, and nourish the body and mind.

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