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In defense of Carbs

When the Atkins craze finally bit the dust, you couldn’t have found a happier girl than me.  However, all too often I still hear my friends, family members, and fellow bloggers voice a fear of:

The Big, Bad Carbohydrates

Dun dun dun.

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(Click for more on the Alfredo Pasta meal above)

Pick up any health magazine, and you have a good chance of seeing a celebrity interview where said celebrity credits her slim physique to:

1. An absolutely-no-bread diet
2. Eschewing all carbs after 7pm
3. Steering clear of pasta at any cost… after all, pasta is Satan in noodle form, right??

This is ridiculous! I would argue that these celebrities are thin thanks to regimented workout routines (hello, personal trainers!), low-calorie diets that do not include very many Mexican-restaurant gorges or Dunkin Doughnut runs (meal delivery service, anyone?), hectic, on-the-go schedules, and industry pressures that motivate and remind them to keep up these practices. It’s not the carbs! I feel sad every time one of my friends admits to a fear of carbs—pasta in particular.

You deserve to eat pasta! Real pasta. There’s a reason carbohydrates exist: protein repairs and rebuilds cells, fats provide hormonal functions for cells, and it’s the job of the carbohydrates to energize cells. Cut out carbs, and you cut out energy. You’re doing your body a major disservice, especially if you’re highly active.  We live in a society that deems any weight loss a good thing. But on low-carb diets, the major source of weight loss is muscle loss (which, in term, slows one’s metabolism) and water loss/dehydration (which presents a problem for one’s kidneys and can cause one’s body to go into a very dangerous state called “ketosis”). So yes, one may initially lose water weight and muscle weight on a low-carb diet; but in the long run, it means a sacrifice of one’s metabolism and muscles.

And a lack of carbs in one’s diet has also been associated with inferior athletic performance and brain function.  Glucose (from carbohydrates) is the favored fuel for one’s muscles, brain, and central nervous system, so a breakdown of glycogen (the storage form of glucose) causes fatigue and confusion, thus inhibiting the desire and ability to exercise.  Part of the reason carbs get a bad rap is that people fill up on highly-refined grains—cookies, white flour, etc.  But restrict whole-grain carbohydrates and you’ll be missing out on fiber, B vitamins, thiamin, niacin, and even protein (surprisingly enough, grains offer quite a bit of protein).

Most of you are probably rolling your eyes at me right now, because how can one little blog post successfully counter a message that’s been drummed into Americans’ minds for years and years and years? But consider the source. While I’m not going to get into specific numbers (the subject of this post is not my weight; if you’re interested in that, please see my FAQ page), I’m nowhere near overweight. I adore carbs. You know this. Carbs fuel my super-active runner lifestyle, fill my body with essential nutrients, and—most importantly—taste delicious.

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bread

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pan

And yes, pasta too.

CCK Pasta Love:

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sob

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Pasta Substitutions

One of my friends told me the reason she stays away from pasta is that it’s such a small serving and, for the same amount of calories, she can eat a much bigger serving of say, spaghetti squash.

True, a big bowl of something like my favorite voluminous oatmeal recipe can be much more filling than a small bowl of pasta. But sometimes you don’t want to feel bloated after eating (such as if you have a date that night!). Also, I’d argue that if one tries to fake oneself out with a pasta substitute, he or she subconsciously won’t feel as satisfied after eating because his or her brain knows it’s a substitute and therefore doesn’t register that the food craving was met.  This can thus lead to bingeing as the brain attempts to satisfy the craving for the desired food, so, in the long run, a person can end up taking in way more calories than if he or she had simply indulged in a small amount of the real stuff to begin with.  It’s like those studies that have shown people who use artificial sweeteners actually end up consuming more calories than those who don’t.

This isn’t to say spaghetti squash is not satisfying in its own right; it’s only when such foods become replacements for others that a problem can arise. Although spaghetti squash, zucchini spirals, mushroom pasta, and those Asian shirataki noodles can be super-fun to eat it’s sad when they completely replace pasta in one’s diet. 

This doesn’t mean one should quaff down a quadruple serving of Fettuccine Alfredo every day because “CCK said it’s ok” (especially since the sauce, not the pasta, is filled with unhealthy saturated fat and cholesterol). Everything in moderation. But it’s recommended that the average person take in 6-11 servings of whole grains per day (depending on activity level; athletes obviously need more carbohydrates than sedentary people).

So go ahead and eat those carbs (especially if they’re served to you by a cute boy)! 😉

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Published on September 30, 2009

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ABC's 5 O’Clock News. Her favorite food is chocolate, and she believes in eating dessert every single day.

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127 Comments

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  1. Sophia S. says

    Wow..if carbs made people fat then don’t you think China would be the fattest nation in the world? I also grew up in China and for school lunch everyone’s lunchboxes were at least 2/3 filled with rice. Only those who could afford dairy and meat products were on the chubby side.

  2. Kay says

    I realize that for some people, carbohydrates do not pose a problem, and I’ve heard that runners and other athletes need more carbs for their bodies to function optimally. However, there have been scientific studies that show that carbs, not fat, are the thing to minimize in order to lose or maintain weight, as well as to prevent diabetes and other health problems. As much as I enjoy looking at your blog (I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet because we don’t have some of the ingredients, and I’m a bit lazy), it is a major pet peeve of mine when people defend carbs as an essential nutrient. They are good for athletes and growing children, and you are right about choosing whole grains over refined stuff. However, the majority of carb intake for anyone who wants to lose weight, as well as for many people who simply want to maintain their weight and be healthy, should come from vegetables (which are rich in fiber) and some fruit (not bananas, which is sad considering it would make going low-carb a lot easier if I could eat bananas) rather than whole-grain bread or pasta. Anyway, my point is that you don’t have to eat all meat (as in the Atkins diet) and there’s nothing wrong with being a vegetarian or vegan, but carbs are not all that good for you. And let me reiterate that by carbs I do not mean complex carbohydrates such as those found in broccoli and carrots, but I do mean the ones in bread, pasta and potatoes. It’s totally counter-intuitive, but many people would be better off eating stir-fried veggies, or an apple with peanut butter, or even bacon and eggs (for the omnivores out there) for breakfast, rather than oatmeal or granola. When I say “many people” I am NOT pointing at you specifically, as you seem to be staying healthy eating carbs, as some people can.
    Okay, I’m done. I do not mean any of this in an offensive way. I am simply interested in health and nutrition, as it is obvious that you are, and I like to share my knowledge with those who might be interested. Thank you. And I’m hoping to try some of your desserts sometime…I do love chocolate and I am not against desserts in moderation 🙂

    • Kay says

      P.S. In case I wasn’t clear, I am not only talking about weight when I talk about health. One can be at a healthy weight and be prediabetic or even diabetic (not saying you are, but just clarifying what I meant by “health”). I guess I’m just saying be careful with carbs, that’s all. Nothing to see as big, bad, and scary, but rather another reason to pile your plate high with veggies and peanut butter (okay, maybe not on the same plate). And of course, plain ol’ bakers’ chocolate (I think you mentioned in another post that you like it)…yum!

      • Gina says

        You are correct.

        I was steadily gaining weight when I was cooking the “CKK way”; I would consider it insidious weight gain, because I am an incredibly active individual (hot yoga, ashtanga, HIIT, and weight lifting every week) that could not keep the weight-gain at bay unless I maintained highly-consistent activity levels.

        I also experienced incredible shifts in mood/energy with a disastrous mid-day crash and early-evening coma-like energy depletion.

        My GERD also came back with a vengeance (due to Katie’s proclivity to put legumes in her desserts) and I could not unravel the mystery until I worked backwards and analyzed my food intake in the MyFitnessPal app.

        With CCK’s desserts (all very high carb per serving) I realized my daily caloric intake was about 45 – 60% carbohydrates; and my fats took a nose-dive, and my protein was sub-par.

        At 5’4, I went from 112 – 117 lbs in about 3 weeks with Katie’s carb-laden treats. No one’s fault but my own, I realize; but I, too, was seduced by the promise of ‘healthy’ desserts, completely disregarding the carb content.

        Now, that I restrict my carbohydrates to less than 100g per day (which severely limits the recipes I can play with on this website) I realized just how carb-intensive her recipes are; some of her SINGLE-SERVING desserts smash through the DAILY QUOTA of my carbohydrate allotment. No wonder I was gaining weight!

        Now I am incredibly discriminating with which recipes I make here. I love the chocolate ones, and a few that eschew high carb counts. By doing this not only have I lost the insidious weight gain, but I’ve normalized my leptin/ghrelin and energy levels, and no longer suffer the mid-day or post-day crash.

        And my GERD cleared up.

        So, needless to say I’d be overjoyed if she made a low-carb index for recipes (;

  3. Anonymous says

    So…
    I just found myself looking through all this comments…
    Yup, I guess I’m the one who is a little scared of carbs. But to be honest, when nobody knows who I am, I can tell you I’m scared of a lot of things – and is diagnosed right now with an eating disorder. And I’m totally confused know, because IS carbs good or not? Can we all agree on, that you need to be careful with carbs, but not avoid them totally?
    Just asking:)

  4. Kaela says

    Just to be devils advocate here, I have been low carbing for a few weeks. I have failed miserably on every diet and/or lifestyle change I have ever tried to do. Low carbing is the only thing I have stuck to, that I was able to stick to, that makes me feel great and have lots of energy. I DO eat carbs… I just dont get them from refined flour pasta. I get them from veggies and healthy ‘from the earth’ foods.
    I am not a celebrity, and I dont have a personal trainer either 😉 In fact, the only ‘working out’ I do is walking with my friend, for about an hour, 3 times a week.
    I have lost 15 pounds in a short amount of time, and have ever felt better!
    Google ‘ketogenic diet’ for anyone who is interested. Doctors put patients on it all the time.

  5. Kathy says

    As a lifelong carbivore who loves the rawest, darkest, most ancient grains available along with chocolate in the 80-100% range, I was flabbergasted when I got my blood test results two years ago: prediabetic. Really? I’ve never had sugar highs or lows; my energy level is very steady; I’m never hungry. I can’t blame genetics (no one in my family is diabetic), my weight (130 at 5’6” at the time), or a sedentary lifestyle (I dance, work out, and/or speed-walk 2 miles daily). My doctor said it was age (mid-50s) and/or diet and said to go low-carb. I immediately started retooling my diet, and the weight just fell off. I continue to eat 1200 calories a day and have the same exercise regimen; I just changed what I was eating. My energy level is just as high as ever, but I’m 15 pounds lighter, and my blood pressure and cholesterol are much lower.

    I miss all the bread and pasta I used to live on. I now compromise with one grain item and about 2 ounces of high-quality dark chocolate per day. Please know that some of us haven’t just drunk the low-carb Kool-aid—it’s a medical necessity. Low-carb chocolate recipes are especially appreciated!

  6. Lauren says

    Carbs are not evil BUT most Americans eat entirely too many!! 100 carbs a day is plenty enough to fuel the body, but most ppl eat way more and ppl who don’t food journal have no idea how many they are eating.

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