“Diets should be moderate in carbohydrate, moderate in fat, and protein should contribute 25% to 30% of energy intake.” – D.A. Schoeller, University of Wisconsin-Madison
No matter how misinformed they are, people will say you are on a low-carbohydrate diet when they see you taking in a natural balanced amount of carbohydrates. Eating a large amount of non-starchy vegetables is the single most important aspect of eating more—smarter. These types of vegetables are carbohydrates. Therefore, eating more—smarter—is not a low-carb diet. People make this mistake because they do not realize that the vast majority of the foods making up their “balanced” diet are carbohydrates.
Defining carbohydrates as foods with most of their calories coming from carbohydrate, fats as foods with most of their calories coming from fat, and protein as foods with most of their calories coming from protein, we end up with:
Common Proteins, Fats, and Carbohydrates
For example, the calories in whole milk come from 30% carbohydrate, 21% protein, and 49% fat. Whole milk is mostly fat, so it is a fat. The calories in skim milk come from 53% carbohydrate, 42% protein, and 5% fat. Skim milk is mostly carbohydrate, so it is a carbohydrate. How about the so called “good source of protein” beans? They are 76% carbohydrate, 21% protein, and 3% fat. Beans are a carbohydrate. Broccoli is a carbohydrate with 71% of its calories coming from carbohydrate. So are bananas—93% carbohydrate. The point is that grains, potatoes, rice, breads, pasta, beans, fruits, vegetables, and most dairy products are carbohydrates. That does not leave much to put in the non-carbohydrate bucket other than seafood, meat, eggs, tofu, oils, nuts, whey protein powder, milled flax seeds, fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese, and fat-free or low-fat plain Greek yogurt.
With the vast majority of foods being carbohydrates, most people eat diets very high in carbohydrate and then call anything that is not very high in carbohydrate a high-protein or a high-fat diet. That is a mistake. Avoiding a diet very high in carbohydrate is not the same as going on a low-carbohydrate diet. No low-carbohydrate dieting for us. Just a natural and balanced intake of carbohydrate given that, as Fred Ottoboni, M.P.H., Ph.D and Alice Ottoboni, Ph.D. tell us: “It is a biochemical fact that no carbohydrate is essential for human nutrition.”
At the risk of being redundant, this is not to say carbohydrates are bad–non-starchy vegetables are carbohydrates and are the most useful type of food available. This is simply saying that carbohydrates are non-essential. It is an indisputable scientific fact that while there are essential fatty acids (EFAs…omega-3 fats etc…fat that we must eat because we cannot manufacture them in our bodies) and essential amino acids/proteins (again, substances that we cannot make within our body), there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate. Why? Because our body can manufacture that which we traditionally get from carbohydrate (glucose etc.). Even if we at no carbohydrate our body would essentially make them from other substances. This is not true for certain fats and proteins. And isn’t it a bit curious that the one macronutrient not essential for human health is recommended to make up ~65% of our diet by our government.
Also, try to avoid the complex differentiation between simple carbohydrate and complex carbohydrate. This distinction only causes confusion. For example, SANE fruits contain simple carbohydrates, while inSANE starches contain complex carbohydrates. The key to long-term fat loss and health is eating more water-, fiber-, and protein-rich SANE foods. The only water-, fiber-, and protein-rich SANE carbohydrates are non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits.
PS This low-carb-confusion is also caused in part because this is how bureaucrats define “high,” “low,” etc. for the three macronutrients compared to common sense math. Remember, there are three macronutrients and a balanced intake of them is therefore about 33% of each.
How is eating 30% protein a “very high” protein diet while eating 30% carbohydrate is a “very low” carbohydrate diet? For example, from the Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism of the American Heart Association:“For weight reduction…high-protein diets (≥20% of total energy) and very-high-protein diets (≥30% of total energy) have become popular.”
What? If 20% of our calories from protein is a “high protein” diet, then what do we call a diet giving us 20% protein and the other 80% from carbs and fat? A really-really-really-high-carb, really-really-really-high-fat, and high-protein diet?
- Schoeller DA, Buchholz AC. Energetics of obesity and weight control: does diet composition matter? J Am Diet Assoc. 2005 May;105(5 Suppl 1):S24-8. Review. PubMed PMID: 15867892.
- Ottoboni A, Ottoboni F. The Food Guide Pyramid: will the defects be corrected? J Am Phys Surg 2004;9:109-113.
- St Jeor ST, Howard BV, Prewitt TE, Bovee V, Bazzarre T, Eckel RH; Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism of the American Heart Association. Dietary protein and weight reduction: a statement for healthcare professionals from the Nutrition Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism of the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2001 Oct 9;104(15):1869-74. PubMed PMID: 11591629.