Back to Top Skip to main content

Experts: Carbs are not the enemy in health, wellness battle

Navy Ensign Ted Johnson completed the Marine Corps Marathon while following a ketogenic diet, but now he's back on carbs. (Courtesy photo) Navy Ensign Ted Johnson completed the Marine Corps Marathon while following a ketogenic diet, but now he's back on carbs. (Courtesy photo)

Recommended Content:

Men's Health | Nutrition

Diets that restrict carbohydrates have their share of followers looking to lose weight. The ketogenic diet, for example, calls for slashing carbs to about 5 percent of calories consumed daily, with fats comprising at least 75 percent, and proteins about 15-20 percent. In comparison, the National Academies guidelines recommend carbohydrates comprise 45-65 percent of the daily diet, with fats at 20-35 percent, and proteins 10-35 percent.

Health care experts agree that cutting carbs may lead to initial weight loss. However, it's not necessarily an effective or wise long-term solution for losing and maintaining weight, they say. Indeed, when it comes to overall health and wellness, carbs are not the enemy.

"I think carbohydrates have gotten a bad name because people tend to lump them all together," said Jonathan Scott, Ph.D., a registered dietitian and certified specialist in sports dietetics. "But not all carbs are created equal," said Scott, who's also an assistant professor in the department of military and emergency medicine at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

The Warfighter Nutrition Guide contains strategies and recommendations for all aspects of performance nutrition for Military Service Members. (USU graphic)
The Warfighter Nutrition Guide contains strategies and recommendations for all aspects of performance nutrition for Military Service Members. (USU graphic)

Scott clarifies that carbs are equal when it comes to calorie count. No matter the source, carbs contain 4 calories per gram. (Proteins also are 4 calories per gram; fats are 9 calories per gram.) However, carbs vary when it comes to nutrition density, or the amount of vitamins including B6, C, and K; and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Nutrient-poor "bad" carbs include processed foods, white bread, sugary beverages, and baked goods. Nutrient-rich "good" carbs include whole grains, beans, dairy, fruits, and vegetables.

"Carbs are really the source of fiber in our diet," Scott said. Studies have found that fiber lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some gastrointestinal illnesses.

"Carbs are the body's most readily available and preferred energy source," Scott added. Digested carbs become glucose. They provide more energy per gram than either fats or proteins offer. Some carbs provide quick bursts of energy, while others provide a steady supply of energy.

Limiting intake of even "good" carbs can lead to an initial rapid weight loss, Scott and other health care experts agree. However, they add, the pounds shed initially are mainly water weight. Further weight loss is linked to an overall decrease in actual calories consumed, not the diet itself. Scott said studies that compared weight loss among participants following diets that were respectively low, moderate, or high in carbohydrates found no significant weight-loss differences among the three groups over time. Many of the studies focused on people with health issues including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, he said.

Navy Ensign Ted Johnson, a USU medical student interested in emergency medicine, followed a ketogenic diet for six months as an experiment, even running the Marine Corps Marathon while following it. Johnson said he lost 10 pounds he really didn't need to lose, with the initial five coming off within the first week or two and the rest over the next few months.

"I was eating at a calorie deficit," Johnson said. "With the keto diet, it's easy to do that because the fat and protein make you feel full longer."

Johnson said his experiment with keto ended mainly because "I missed getting to enjoy some of my favorite foods." He says he's back on carbs, but not the standard American diet, or SAD. "It's called that for a reason," he said, laughing. "I've given up foods with added sugar. I eat a lot of sweet potatoes, whole grains, and a ton of vegetables. In fact, I eat way more vegetables than I ever have before, because all that fiber keeps me full."

Johnson said he does allow himself to cheat during the week following an endurance competition. "I did an ultramarathon recently and basically ate whatever I wanted the following week," he said. "I don’t eat pizza anymore, but I ordered a pizza. I treated myself to a bowl of ice cream. But now I'm back to eating healthy and training for the next race."

Scott said a low-carb diet may help to control blood sugar in patients with diabetes. However, he recommends people focus on the overall quality of what they eat and not a specific macronutrient, such as carbohydrates.

"It's important to be mindful of the types and amounts of carbs we're eating, rather than eliminating an entire group that provides a wide variety of benefits to health," he said. "This really helps to foster and encourage a healthier relationship with food."

USU's Consortium for Health and Military Performance, or CHAMP, has created a nutrition guide for service members to optimize performance and improve and maintain health.

You also may be interested in...

2019 Men's Health Case Studies

Publication
6/27/2019

This chart summarizes case studies of adult male patients in different life stages

Recommended Content:

Men's Health

Men’s preventive health screenings essential for readiness and a lifetime of good health

Article
6/27/2019
Hospitalman Payton Dupuis, a native of Mill City, Oregon, checks veteran Joseph Levette’s blood pressure at Naval Hospital Jacksonville’s internal medicine clinic. “Men’s health is a vital part of the mission,” stated Dupuis. “We need a healthy workforce to succeed.” (U.S. Navy photo by Jacob Sippel)

An apple a day helps, too

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Men's Health

Sexually transmitted infections on the rise in military

Article
6/26/2019
Some sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in the military. To increase awareness, members of Team McConnell attend a briefing on STIs at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)

What you need to know to stay safe

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Men's Health | Women's Health

Mail-in colon cancer screening may end colonoscopy for most

Article
6/19/2019
Army Medicine logo

The best test is the one the patient will do

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Men's Health | Women's Health

Nine tips for Men's Health

Article
6/12/2019
Many of the major health risks that men face can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle, and a healthy lifestyle can start with one small choice.

Many major health risks can be prevented by lifestyle choices

Recommended Content:

Men's Health

Take Command of your health during Men’s Health Month

Article
6/6/2019
Take Command of Your Health

Men’s Health Month is a great time to focus on taking preventive steps and making small changes to your lifestyle

Recommended Content:

Men's Health

A healthy lifestyle is integral to achieving my career goals

Article
6/4/2019
Petty Officer 3rd Class Logan Talbott gets exercise and fresh air when taking dog Odin on long walks. Here, they're at Oceanside Pier in California. (Courtesy photo)

Men's Health Month reminds me to go beyond box-checking

Recommended Content:

Men's Health

Eat well, live well

Article
3/20/2019
From left, Air Force Capt. Abigail Schutz, 39th Medical Operations Squadron health promotions element chief, Staff Sgt. Jennifer Mancini, 39th MDOS health promotions technician, and Tech. Sgt. Brian Phillips, 39th MDOS health promotions flight NCO in charge, pose for a photo at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Learning about proper nutrition can help service members stay healthy and ensure they’re in optimal warfighting shape. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Wisher)

Fad diets come and go, but basic nutrition has staying power

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Nutrition

Mobile app aids ‘truly informed’ contraception conversations between patients, providers

Article
3/11/2019
A new app provides information about contraception with the goal of helping patients make informed decisions with their providers. The app includes a module to address the unique needs of servicewomen around deployment. (Photo by Sgt. Barry St. Clair)

Decide + Be Ready, an app that provides information on contraception for men and women, is designed to help patients make informed decisions with their providers. The app also includes a module to address the unique needs of service women around deployment and duties.

Recommended Content:

Men's Health | Women's Health | Technology

National Nutrition Month 2019

Infographic
2/25/2019
This infographic discusses the types of foods that make up a healthy eating plan.

This infographic discusses the types of foods that make up a healthy eating plan.

Recommended Content:

Nutrition

MyPlate, MyWins: Meet Rocio

Video
2/25/2019
MyPlate, MyWins: Meet Rocio

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion introduces the “MyPlate, MyWins” video series, a collection of videos that brings MyPlate to life and shows how families all over America are finding simple solutions to make healthy eating work for them. Rocio shows how she teaches her four boys the value of nutrition and prepares meals that feed her sons’ minds and bodies. Find more healthy eating solutions at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/.

Recommended Content:

Nutrition

Focus on heart-healthy diet is perfect fit for February

Article
2/22/2019
Changing your eating habits doesn't have to be drastic to be effective. When registered dietitians and other health professional talk about a "heart-healthy" diet, it generally means to increase the amount of fiber in one's diet, reduce saturated fats and reduce salt. (DoD photo)

With the typical American diet and lifestyle, many people put themselves at risk for developing various heart diseases

Recommended Content:

Heart Health | Nutrition

'Fused' technologies give 3D view of prostate during biopsy

Article
1/9/2019
Eisenhower Army Medical Center graphic

Other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men

Recommended Content:

Men's Health | Military Hospitals and Clinics | Preventive Health

Sticks and stones can break bones – and so can osteoporosis

Article
10/11/2018
Master Sgt. Kimberly Kaminski, 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, flips a 445-pound tire during a workout at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. Resistance training is just one of many steps to take to fight osteoporosis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ross A. Whitley)

Steps to take today to build a future of healthy bones

Recommended Content:

Nutrition | Physical Activity | Women's Health

Prostate Cancer Awareness Month: Empowering patients

Article
9/28/2018
During September, the Military Health System is encouraging men to learn more about prostate cancer. Patients can discuss with their providers the risks and benefits of a prostate-specific antigen blood test, also known as a PSA test. (U.S. Navy photo by Jacob Sippel)

For September’s Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, the Military Health System is encouraging men to learn more about the disease

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Men's Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 4

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.