Since the advent of the Atkins Diet, carbs have been under fire. Following Atkins, the South Beach, Dukan, Paleo and Gluten Free diets have carried the torch. The latest is the "Wheat Belly" craze (although, Dr. Davis' may be onto something with the genetic modification argument...). Are there merits to lowering your intake of carbohydrates? Sure. By ditching the excess sugar, studies show you can lose weight quickly (although, after one year weight maintenance/gain was the same as pretty much any other diet), moderate blood sugar (very effective for diabetics who stick with a low carb diet for the long term) and decrease overall diabetes risk. (Although, FYI, new research demonstrates an increased risk of Type I and Type II diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease with meat consumption too, so...).
Added to the clinical research on eliminating carbs from your diet, there's scary talk of a hormonal response to sugar (reality check...there's also hormonal response to fats and proteins), detrimental gut-flora alterations (also true with fats and proteins), and changes in brain chemistry (again, seen with fats and proteins).
Unfortunately, this bad press throws a dire brush-stroke warning over all carbohydrates - regardless of source. Twinkies, bad (duh). Bread, bad. Potatoes, bad. Corn, bad. Oatmeal, bad. Barley, bad.
Wait, what? How did we get from Twinkies to Barley in one breath?
Excellent question. I'm not going to go off on some diatribe against the anti-carb faction (I've already done that here). But, I am going to emphatically state that the popular message about carbohydrates is getting totally muddled and a bit ridiculous.
Let's take cereals as an example. You often hear from organizations like the American Heart Association, the Mayo Clinic, and the American Diabetes Association that eating a breakfast of whole-grain cereal helps to lower your risk of ______ disorder. Then, two seconds later they're blasted by this or that anti-carb ideologue because carbohydrates equal sugar and sugar is the root of all disease. (Granted, the AHA has slapped their "heart healthy" label on some pretty questionable boxes).
So, who's right?
Well, on this one, they actually both are.
Because there's cereal:
and then there's cereal. Big difference.
The cereal you find in a box, regardless of which health food store you frequent or exorbitant price you pay, is processed and (most likely) has a ton of added sugar...even if sugar isn't high on the ingredients label (check this list to see what I mean). The whole grain cereal you find in the bulk section of the store has no added sugar. These "whole grains" are whole because they still have the bran and the germ, where all the good stuff is (most of which is lost when these grains are ground for processing, which is why boxed cereals have to be "enriched"). This bulk cereal is mostly soluble and insoluble fiber (the really healthy form of carbohydrate) encapsulating a droplet of fat that contains some seriously healthy vitamins (mostly Vitamins E and the B's).
So, what if you can't have gluten? Can you still have whole grain cereal? Sure thing! Try Amaranth, Buckwheat (not actually in the wheat family at all), and quinoa! If you're not Celiac, and just avoiding gluten, oats can be on your list too (just check that they are from a gluten-free environment).
So now, when you go to pour your breakfast cereal, reach for the Oats, Barley, Amaranth or Wheat Berries. That's cereal.
Don't eat the stuff in the box...no matter how fond of the leprechaun you are.