This question is a bit loaded.
In a day where everyone has their precious, much loved pet diet, it’s important to look at what the evidence actually shows. There are a couple of presuppositions that need to be clarified before I can attempt to answer this question for you.
- There is a big difference between a candy bar and a sweet potato. Refined and processed carbohydrates have an ill effect on the body and have been associated with stroke, cardiovascular disease and obesity.1 (PS… For the record, you can make healthy candy (or candy bars)… like, for real healthy. If you have been following me for any amount of time, you know I don’t do deprivation!)
- There are lots of factors that can alter the amount of carbohydrates a person can or should eat. For example, someone who does intense exercise needs more than someone who is consistently sedentary. However, an intense exerciser also needs more calories and nutrition of all kinds besides just carbs. Carbohydrates are the only fuel that the body can break down quickly enough to fuel intense exercise.2 Again, high quality carbohydrates are the ideal fuel (not refined/processed).
The issue is less about carbs and more about refined/processed carbs. Apart from animal products (which I as a naturopathic doctor don’t recommend), nuts, seeds and avocados, most foods are naturally rich in carbohydrates. This includes vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils and whole grains.
We need to get away from the idea that carbs, or any macronutrient for that matter, are bad. No nutrient is bad. However, of course you can suffer ill effects if you have too much or are deficient in any particular nutrient.
A high carbohydrate diet (also lower in fat and protein) has been a source of much conflict in research over the years. However, the research is clearer when you’re using a higher carb diet with whole food, high quality sources. This type of diet can actually be helpful and healing even in conditions that we traditionally think of as being carb-sensitive, such as type 2 diabetes.3 It can’t be stressed enough that the research is very different if you’re looking at high carbs in general (poor quality) verses high quality carbs from plant sources such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Quality does matter! You really don’t need to worry about getting too many carbs if you are eating a whole food, plant-based diet.
What happens when you don’t consume enough carbohydrates?
This is more of a question for the “Atkins” or “keto” diet that is higher in fat. Although this diet can be used to lose weight in the short term, the long-term effects are not worth the weight loss! Processing the amount of fat and protein in this diet is extremely difficult for the kidneys, so much so that it is recommended to have your kidneys checked regularly if you’re on a ketogenic diet for more than a year.4
Most people doing the keto diet are getting most of their fat from animal products such as meat, cheese and eggs as opposed to holistic plant sources such as nuts, seeds and avocados. The high levels of animal fats and proteins are associated with a multitude of health challenges, but specifically with numerous nutrient deficiencies. Of the 27 micronutrients tested, the keto diet only supplied less than half of them.5 The implications of even one nutrient deficiency can be detrimental, let alone 15 of them!
The keto diet creates digestive distress due to the trouble it causes in the microbiome. This diet is associated with gastro-intestinal disorders.6 It reduced beneficial bacteria in the gut as well as feces output (likely due to the lack of fiber).6 The keto diet is associated with an increase in both total cholesterol and inflammatory markers (C-Reactive Protein).7
One of many issues that is impacted by your carbohydrate intake is the microbiome. The microbiome helps strengthen your immune system, decreases inflammation, improves digestion, increases nutrition, and so much more. It is built from a fiber-rich diet, which is primarily carbohydrates. Animal products are low in carbs and have little to no fiber. They also have a greater level of harmful bacteria which further exasperates the microbiome. Although you can of course supplement with fermented foods and probiotics, the easiest and most healthful ways to build the microbiome if by eating lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.8
In order to get healthy now, you’re going to want to fuel your body and brain with a holistic healthcare approach; delicious and diversified high-carbohydrate diet. You will love the benefits! In my naturopathic clinic, I have had the honor of helping countless men, woman and children overcome tons of health conditions with this type of diet. It works!
1. Ludwig DS, Hu FB, Tappy L, Brand-Miller J. Dietary carbohydrates: Role of quality and quantity in chronic disease. BMJ. 2018. doi:10.1136/bmj.k2340
2. Kanter M. High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance. Nutr Today. 2018. doi:10.1097/NT.0000000000000238
3. Jung CH, Choi KM. Impact of high‐carbohydrate diet on metabolic parameters in patients with type 2 diabetes. Nutrients. 2017. doi:10.3390/nu9040322
4. Masood W, Annamaraju P, Uppaluri KR. Ketogenic Diet. StatPearls. 2020.
5. Calton JB. Prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in popular diet plans. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-7-24
6. Brinkworth GD, Noakes M, Clifton PM, Bird AR. Comparative effects of very low-carbohydrate, high-fat and high-carbohydrate, low-fat weight-loss diets on bowel habit and faecal short-chain fatty acids and bacterial populations. Br J Nutr. 2009. doi:10.1017/S0007114508094658
7. Rosenbaum M, Hall KD, Guo J, et al. Glucose and Lipid Homeostasis and Inflammation in Humans Following an Isocaloric Ketogenic Diet. Obesity. 2019. doi:10.1002/oby.22468
8. Klimenko NS, Tyakht A V., Popenko AS, et al. Microbiome responses to an uncontrolled short-term diet intervention in the frame of the citizen science project. Nutrients. 2018. doi:10.3390/nu10050576