Not too long ago, during a movie night with friends, I was watching Mean Girls and baking chocolate chip cookies when I heard the scene where Regina George asks, “ is butter a carb?” Do you recall this scene from Mean Girls? If you are also wondering the same thing or if you have never seen Mean Girls but also ask yourself the same question; it’s okay. It is a common misconception when you are new to the nutrition world because both macronutrients are found in foods that have a bad rep.
However, both are entirely different sources of energy for our body. So let me start of by first explaining the role of carbohydrates. A carbohydrate is the primary source of fuel for the body and brain. It is ESSENTIAL to have carbohydrates in our diet but there are certain types of carbohydrates that we should avoid. A diet high in refined carbohydrates or simple sugars such as sodas, packaged sweets, and cookies spike up blood sugar with little to no nutritional value. Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, take more time to digest and provide more nutritional value. They are packed with powerful phytochemicals, which play a role in preventing and fighting illness and cellular aging. The reason why carbohydrates get a bad rep is because Americans are overeating a lot of refined carbohydrates (potato chips, cookies, etc). These types of carbs do not leave you feeling satisfied. Which is why my friends and I probably overeat on the sweets during movie nights. So, to prevent this, choose complex carbohydrates that come from plant-based foods such as legumes, whole-grains, nuts and seeds, fruits, and vegetables.
Studies have shown that a complex-carbohydrate diet is linked with loss of abdominal fat. How is this possible? Quality over quantity. Complex-carbohydrates contain more fiber. Fiber takes longer to digest, leading to feeling satisfied and better regulation of insulin in the body, which keeps your body from creating excess belly fat.
So back to Regina George’s question- NO butter is not a carbohydrate. Butter is a fat, a slower form of energy that we use to protect our organs and to help synthesize and regulate hormones. Why does butter get a bad rep too? Well, just like carbohydrates, there are different types of fat and butter is not a good type. It is a saturated fat and these types of fats raise bad cholesterol levels leading to cardiovascular disease. When choosing fats, aim for mono- or polyunsaturated fats like olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, avocados, and nuts.
As a nutritionist, I suggest a balanced approach with more plant-based foods rich in fiber and nutrients. In the long-run, it is a lot easier to include more nutrient-dense foods to your diet then to cut carbs out completely. A rule of thumb is to always choose quality fuel for your body.
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