Carbs are Confusing: Why Atkins is to Blame

As recommended by the USDA, an adult should consume between 4-8 servings of carbohydrates a day, depending on their age and gender. However, according to the Atkins Diet Foundation, there’s a bit of confusion as to how many carbs that actually is and the average person’s ability to determine it.

But is this even important? According to Atkins, the answer is yes.

The food and diet company – founded by Dr. Robert C. Atkins in 1972 – did some research recently to determine how Americans perceived carbohydrates, including how many carbs they were eating throughout the day and how often they considered the contents of their meals. They were hoping to clear up what they’re refering to as ‘carb confusion.’

The study concluded that Americans typically don’t monitor the food on their plates – as shown below – with six in 10 reporting they didn’t know how many carbohydrates they eat on a daily basis. Findings revealed that:

  • 57% said they usually don’t give much thought to how many carbs they eat on a daily basis, and 54% said they eat more carbs than they think they should
  • 56% report typically feeling lethargic or tired after eating a large carbohydrate heavy meal
  • 87% say they crave bread, pasta and rice at least once a week and, on average, experience these cravings 11 times a week
  • 47% of Americans yearn for meals high in carbohydrates – ranking as high as cravings for sugary foods like candy and soda

Of the study’s results, Colette Heimowitz – VP of nutrition and education for Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. – said, “The Atkins Carb Index reinforces that Americans are increasingly consuming carbohydrates without a clear understanding of how much is right for their bodies and which carbs are healthiest. We know people are confused about carbs and Atkins is committed to helping dieters by providing the tools, education and success metrics to meet these challenges head-on and teaching people how to reach their ideal weight and their own personal carb balance.”

However,’s Registered Dietitian, Mary Hartley, RD, disagrees, saying, “If people are confused about carbohydrates, then Atkins is to blame.”

“Atkins put carbohydrates in the spotlight and then changed their name to ‘carbs.’ Blaspheme! It doesn’t matter if people don’t know how many grams of carbohydrate they eat per day,” she says. “People eat food, not carbohydrates or other nutrients. It’s more important to know about the foods needed for a balanced diet and to be able to identify foods that are full of added sugars.”

Mary continues, saying, “When it comes to losing weight, research has shown over and over again that it’s the calories – not the fat nor protein nor carbs – that matter. The message should be to eat wholesome foods, mindfully, to satiety but not fullness, and to save added sugars for special occasions. That message still pertains when metabolic syndrome is a problem.”

For clarification on what types of carbohydrates are healthier for us than others, Mary defines good ‘carbs’ as whole grains (as an ingredient), as well as whole grain cereals, bread, and pasta; beans and legumes; fruit; all vegetables including root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots; and milk and yogurt.

Bad ‘carbs,’ she says, are simple sugars eaten to excess. “Identify them on the ingredient list as sugar, invert sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, or fruit juice concentrates. Among that group are soda, candy, desserts, syrups, table sugar, sugary snack foods, breakfast cereals, and drinks. Fruit juice becomes a problem when the portion is larger that a 4-ounce serving,” she says.

As a former ‘carb-confused’ dieter myself, this clears much up in the way of healthy eating. I used to view carbs as the enemy on the wake of the Atkins craze – avoiding bread at all costs. But now I know there’s no need to fear them, and that in fact, I need them as a part of a well-rounded, healthy diet.

Just remember, as Mary recommends, that it’s much wiser to avoid processed foods and foods that are high in sugar than to avoid carbs altogether. There’s really no need to go without them as part of a balanced, healthy diet.

Also Read:

What’s Your Carbohydrate IQ?

Atkins Diet vs. Dukan Diet

The Worst Diets of All Time Slideshow

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