People are eating way too many low-quality carbohydrates. In fact, one recent study from Tufts University's Health and Science Campus, reports that the average American adult get about 42% of his or her daily caloric intake from low-quality carbs. Diet studies aren't always completely accurate. But even when we factor in the potential margin of error, 42% is still really high. That means people are getting nearly half their calories from low-quality carbs. Is it any wonder we're facing a giant obesity epidemic? And yes, that pun was intended.
The majority of low-quality carbohydrate intake comes from refined grains and added sugars. Starchy vegetables were also counted among these carbs. The people who consumed the most low-quality carbs were the elderly, people living below the poverty line, and those who did not finish high school.
On the plus side, the study did report that overall carbohydrate consumption fell by 2% throughout the country during the duration of the study. As diets like the ketogenic diet continue to gain popularity, people are becoming increasingly aware that there are good quality carbs vs. low quality carbs, and that high carb consumption isn't as necessary as we were once told.
The main problem is that lower quality carbs are more affordable and often more appealing thanks to government subsidies and clever marketing tactics. There's also still quite a lack of education surrounding refined vs. unrefined carbs. Refined carbohydrates, sometimes referred to as simple carbs, consist of sugars and refined grains that have been stripped of all bran, fiber and nutrients. Think: cake, cookies, pastries, pasta, white bread, most breakfast cereals and other tempting sweets. They often come in colorful packages. Unrefined carbs, on the other hand, don't often come in cleverly marketed packages. These carbs include non-starchy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
The study suggests that better education is needed in order to get people to stop consuming low-quality carbs and choose unrefined ones instead. Consuming low-quality carbs, especially as nearly half of one's daily caloric intake, can lead to a lifetime of diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and obesity. I love organizations like the Nutrition Coalition who are trying to educate people about this, especially policy makers and government officials. It's time our for-profit food system gets a makeover so that subsidies go toward marketing higher quality carbohydrates to vulnerable individuals. It's also time that retirement homes and school cafeterias change their menus to include better choices, and that SNAP funding is used to help individuals purchase better-for-them foods.