What foods come to mind when you think carbs? Cookies? Pasta? Potatoes? Bread? Donuts? Fruit? If you take a trip down fad-dieting memory lane, you may see that the diet industry has, for the most part, demonized carbs and instilled an intense phobia around carbohydrates in general (Atkin’s, Keto, South Beach, Paleo, Whole30 to name a few). The fear around carbs is comparable to the 1990’s when the world feared eating fat. Remember the low-fat and non-fat everything? Thank goodness we have learned from this. However, fatphobia has now been replaced with carbophobia.
All foods are composed of three macronutrients-protein, fat and carbohydrates. We have three macronutrients for a reason and they all serve important functions in the body. Protein helps to repair and build muscle; fat helps with hormone production and nutrient absorption and carbohydrates provide us with the quickest and most readily available form of energy. Gennev Dietitians agree that carbohydrates serve many key purposes in our body and certainly during all stages of menopause, when you may really benefit from the much-needed energy that carbohydrate-rich foods can provide. And, when you are restricting carbs, you may tend to crave more of them. Is this sounding familiar? This is the body’s normal and natural response to scream out for what it wants and needs (hello 4 pm sugar cravings).
Another common problem many women encounter is undereating early in the day and then feeling sluggish, tired, irritable and hangry by the afternoon. That’s when we want to eat ALL THE CARBS! If you can relate to this, you’re not alone.
5 myths about carbs
- Carbs will cause weight gain. This very commonly believed myth is probably THE number one reason people avoid eating carbohydrates. However, the exact opposite is true for most people as the fiber content in (healthy) carbs naturally help fill us up and provide satiety after eating. Fiber-rich carbs found in fruit, veggies, whole grains and legumes may support maintaining your body’s natural weight because you’ll feel full and satisfied, and less likely to eat more than you need. Plus, fiber supports digestion, helps to maintain blood sugar levels and aids in reducing cholesterol. So you may be asking yourself - why does the scale jump up after a high carb day or two? To put it simply, this is likely the body retaining extra water along with the natural storing of glycogen (energy to be used later). Keep those fiber-rich carbs on your plate to maximize your satiety and work towards eliminating the refined, more processed carbs that are typically less filling, and can quickly pack on the calories that can lead to weight gain. More on this in Myth #3.
- Carbs will lead to diabetes. Many individuals believe that eating carbs leads to developing diabetes. While a high sugar diet can certainly lead to glycemic health issues like insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes over time, we are happy to say this is false! True diabetes arises after the body becomes resistant to insulin and therefore glucose (sugar) builds up in our bloodstream and is difficult to control. Fiber-rich carbohydrates, paired with healthy fats and lean protein, help to stabilize blood sugar levels and thus help to prevent diabetes.
- All carbs are bad for me. All carbs are NOT created equal. The fiber-rich carbs like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes also contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help our bodies fight disease and support our natural biochemical processes. The more refined carbs found in sweetened beverages, baked goods, white breads and snack foods tend to be higher in added sugar and contain little to no fiber or nutritional value. Does that mean all sugary/refined carb foods are BAD? Not at all. These are simply foods to enjoy in moderation.
- Carbs are stored as fat. The body knows how to metabolize carbohydrates and it is very efficient at this. When we eat carbohydrates, natural enzymes in the body break down the carbohydrates into glucose in the bloodstream. The pancreas releases insulin in response which helps bring the glucose into our cells and give us energy (we need this-especially in menopause). We store the glucose in the form of glycogen in our cells. Consider this the “reserve” for energy later on. If our glycogen stores are “full” the body can convert carbs to fat through a process called lipogenesis. However, lipogenesis is a fairly inefficient process and only a small amount of fat can be stored. To maximize satiety and maintain your body’s natural healthy weight, it’s best to eat fiber-rich carbohydrates balanced with protein and healthy fats. For example, add some hummus with protein and fat to your crackers or include a handful of almonds with an apple for a snack.
- Carbohydrate foods have too much gluten, and I heard that’s bad for me. Not all carbohydrate containing foods are full of gluten and therefore, there are many carb foods that are fine for those who are sensitive/intolerant to gluten. The gluten containing carbohydrate foods tend to be those made with wheat flour (gluten is primarily found in wheat, barley and rye) such as baked goods, pasta, bread and crackers. There is no need to limit gluten itself unless you have a sensitivity, intolerance or true allergy to wheat or gluten. There are still plenty of ways to get the benefits of eating fiber-rich carbs that are naturally gluten free (vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, oats, rice, millet, quinoa and many more).
3 ways to overcome your carbophobia
- Retrain your brain that carb-containing foods are perfectly healthy and nourishing. The diet industry wants you to remain fearful of carbs and now you know that this simply isn’t true. Think about a carb food you previously thought of as unhealthy (maybe it’s a potato, rice or even carrots). As you enjoy eating that food, remember all the important nutrients you are putting into your body. Practice eating these foods paired with protein or fat at your meals and snacks to feel full and satisfied.
- Lean into the fiber-rich carbs first and foremost. It’s the more processed and refined carb-containing foods that tend to be less satiating and easy to overeat. Try front-loading your fiber-rich carbs throughout the day to provide sustainable energy and to prevent crashing in the afternoon or evening and then wanting to eat all the carbs. This may look like oatmeal with nuts for breakfast, a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread at lunch and roasted potatoes and root vegetables with salmon at dinner.
- Be intentional with your treats and indulgences. There is a time and a place for all the refined carbs too. Give yourself permission to be intentional and enjoy the carb-containing foods you really like, including the more processed ones. Don’t skimp out on your birthday cake or pick the rice out of your sushi if you really want it. Food doesn’t need to only be fuel. It can, and should, provide emotional satisfaction too. Decide what you want, own that and go for it-guilt free.
The bottom line about carbs...
We have an unnecessary fear of eating carbs, but they are important for energy, satiety and digestion. Strict low-carb diets like many of the recent fads are not sustainable for most people. We need carbs every day, and the amount of carbs is going to vary person to person. This may be related to genetics, activity and your own biochemistry. Eating a balanced diet of all 3 macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates) is crucial for maintaining good health and Gennev Dietitians advise on the importance of balanced fiber-rich carbs with healthy fats and lean protein. This balanced plate approach aligns well with the Mediterranean Diet which includes carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruit, legumes and some whole grains. So, enjoy those whole grain breads, potatoes, carrots, fruit and any other fiber-rich carbs that have unfortunately been painted in a bad light. And enjoy the chocolate and cupcakes too - but save them for a special treat.
If you need support putting these tips into action, book a virtual visit with a menopause specialist to help you optimize your health and nutrition. Our board-certified OB/GYNs and Registered Dietitians can offer you a wellness plan that is unique to your individual needs.
The information on the Gennev site is never meant to replace the care of a qualified medical professional. Hormonal shifts throughout menopause can prompt a lot of changes in your body, and simply assuming something is “just menopause” can leave you vulnerable to other possible causes. Always consult with your physician or schedule an appointment with one of Gennev's telemedicine doctors before beginning any new treatment or therapy.