Repost: The Carrot Train to Crazytown

Whole9 is still on vacation, so we’re re-posting an Urban Gets Diesel article from June 2009

I was having a conversation with my friend Melissa “Melicious” Joulwan via email last week. We were talking about post workout food, and she asked for some sample meals. I suggested a few things – salmon and sweet potato, a chicken breast and butternut squash, egg whites and – in a pinch, while on the go – a banana.

She responded with the following: “A banana?! Are you f*cking kidding? I haven’t had a a banana in a year and a half. I’m, like, over the moon with the prospect of eating a banana. I could weep, seriously. It feels like I’m doing something naughty even considering a banana. How f’ed up is that?”

Um, that is very f’ed up, Mel.

And it reminded me of my now-infamous Carrot Confrontation. I was participating in a discussion on a message board when someone asked what I eat in a typical day. I replied with a list of things I had eaten that morning – chicken, radishes, egg whites, spinach, olives… and carrots. I mentioned I had eaten almost an entire bag of baby carrots. At which point, another poster responded, “You should be careful about eating so many carrots. Carrots are pretty high in sugar.”

This response made me wish I had more middle fingers.

Because the day you tell me that CARROTS AREN’T THAT GOOD FOR ME is the day I give you the finger. Maybe even both. Which brings me to the following rant – get off the Carrot Train to Crazytown and think about it for just a brief moment. I’ll start you off. They’re CARROTS, people.

I could get all science-y here, and talk about glycemic index versus glycemic load. I could talk about how the all natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables are nothing like the mutated, processed sugar-like substances found in soda, Starbucks Frappuccinos and “healthy” whole bran muffins. I could also talk about how the “sugar” in carrots comes bundled with an amazing assortment of valuable vitamins and minerals.

But I’m not going to get all science-y here, because I’m trying to prove a point. Amidst the ridiculous volume of nutritional information floating around out there, the confusing statistics like glycemic index and potential renal acid load, all of the books and diet plans and recommendations and suggestions, it’s easy to lose the beta-carotene forest through the trees. So I’m going to recommend one simple thing.

Take a step back and use your head.

In the big picture, carrots are not “high in sugar.” Are they higher in sugar than, say, spinach? Sure. Should you eat five bags a day? Probably not. I wouldn’t recommend you eat five bags of ANYTHING a day, frankly. But if you feel like something sweet, I will applaud you for your healthy choice if you grab a carrot. If you want something crunchy to mindlessly gnaw on, I’m more than okay if you plow through an entire bag of carrots. If you don’t like vegetables at all, but can somehow manage to choke down a serving of carrots… I’m thrilled, because one vegetable is better than no vegetables.

If you read my stuff, you’ll know I am all for reviewing, analyzing and tweaking your nutritional plan. And I understand the fact that, when both choices are good, one might be more good. For example, I might counsel someone to cut back on dried fruit and eat the real stuff instead, for two reasons. One is simply practical – you can have more of the real stuff. (For the same number of carbs, you can have 1/4 cup of dried cranberries, or three cups of fresh strawberries.) A more pressing reason relates to those people who are in that initial “getting off the crack” nutritional phase. If you are trying to right a very upended insulin sensitivity, you don’t want to trick your taste buds into craving “bad” sweets with something like dried fruit (which has a higher concentration of sugar and the sweetness of candy). For those people, I may be a little more strict with fruit and vegetable choices – but only for the first few weeks, until their tastes reset a bit. But unless eating carrots are going to tempt you into a box Krispy Kremes, I am not going to worry about your intake. (And I seriously doubt a bag of carrots is going to be any kind of Gateway Vegetable.)

So let’s not be too quick to jump on the Carrot Train to Crazytown. Take a step back and think about your food choices from a rational perspective. Eating mostly meat, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits? You’re doing better than 99% of the general population. Want to take it further? Try to balance your fruits and vegetables on a bigger scale. Eat plenty of color, get plenty of variety, and fill every plate with leafy greens. But, like, you want a banana? Eat one. Want some peas, or a sweet potato, or some carrots? Have them. Because in the whole scheme of things, fruits and vegetables are still, as far as I know, good for you.

Except for corn, of course.

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Comments

  1. Windy says

    Agreed. There's a hell of a lot of conflict when it comes to nutrition. You speak the truth. People need to step back and look at the bigger picture.

    Also, I apologize for being a lurker but I like your blog and your posts. Thank you for being straight to the point with everything.

  2. Karen says

    "Take a step back"

    So so true! That is my mantra when I feel myself occasionally spiraling down the never ending rabbit hole that is nutritional science.

    Take a freakin' step back!

  3. WoodshedFitness@Gmail.com says

    Great stuff…sometimes in all the hum of movement that accompanies a true nutritional overhaul, it's so easy to lose the forest for the trees. They are carrots, after all!

  4. armywife says

    The best is when the people you are getting the advice from are 100 pounds overweight. You know how many obese people have been telling me that my diet and exercise plan is whack? Yet I've dropped 40 pounds and 3 sizes and can actually carry shit up and down the stairs. The only thing they've dropped is their Krispy Kremem donut on the ground. The ate it anyways. :) Luv ya, girl!!

  5. armywife says

    That last sentence was jacked up. That's what I get for posting mad, thinking about the fat people chastising me.

  6. Victoria Nordgren says

    Rock on! Couldn't have said it better. When someone warns me about the fat content in an avocado I remind them "It's a PLANT!!"

  7. Will K. says

    some minor thoughts:
    1. I defer to the f-off scale regarding starbucks though I'm more a regular coffee guy myself.
    2. Carrots are a vital element of my diet, and it's working out fine for me thus far.
    3. Amen on the fat people talking diet to me, especially regarding the dreaded fat content. I have a personal policy requiring some credit (street, academic, etc.) to talk about such things. Coach Rip called that one for me.
    4. If I paid attention to every piece of nutritional advice people have given me I would live entirely off energy drinks and supplement pills with the occasional synthetic smoothie.

    Like I said minor thoughts on the subject.

  8. Melissa Byers says

    Will K said, "If I paid attention to every piece of nutritional advice people have given me I would live entirely off energy drinks and supplement pills with the occasional synthetic smoothie."

    BRILLIANT. And so, so true, and a fantastic back-up point to my post. Because how healthy does a diet of chemicals sound to you, REALLY?

    Thanks, Will.

  9. Meghan says

    Melissa,

    As usual, exactly what I needed to hear. Hey, I killed a pint of Ben & Jerry's one Friday night, felt horribly guilty, and the next day I hit two PR's. So….yeah. Carrots definitely can't be a bad thing.

    Thanks for the perspective.

  10. Jeffrey says

    Excellent post. After all the work that goes into watching what you eat and listening to experts the post was like getting hit in the face with a barbell, ooops, I meant truth. Sorry.

    How is the grille by the way?

  11. Júlíus says

    Solid post, Melissa. Someone tells me I shouldn't be eating carrots because they're too high in sugar and I'm kicking them in the nuts.

  12. Melissa says

    This post was exactly what I needed to read today. Thanks for some common sense! Tonight at the grocery store I bought a bag of baby carrots in honor of this post.

  13. Melissa Byers says

    Something else, too… this isn't just about carrots. I'm re-posting a comment from Facebook here, because I think it bears repeating.

    Marianne Urbanski wrote, "Melissa… GREAT ARTICLE!! Love it!! can you address the similar question about the Bananna?!! I have the same thoughts with that one… what do you think?"

    Marianne – first, know what you're eating. You can have one banana, or X quantity of other fruits or vegetables to arrive at the same nutritional stats. And don't eat twelve bananas, because that is totally unnecessary under any circumstances. And if you can work that banana in post workout where it will do the most good, that's a win/win.

    But in summary, if you want a banana, eat a f***ing banana. And ENJOY IT.

    And Jeffrey… the grille is still a little banged up, but at least now it's in a "people pay thousands of dollars to make their lips look like that" way than a "what the hell happened to that poor girl?" way. Thanks for asking.

  14. jilly says

    I love this article!!! I tend to shy away from the Crossfit nutrition boards because of this fanaticism. I was berated for eating 2 apples in one day. Apples! It's kind of bizaar and fucked up in a way. It's bad enough dealing with the guilt and paranoia of succumbing to Ben and Jerry, now i have to worry about apples?

  15. Chris says

    Will: If I listened to everyone else, I'd still be stacking creatine, downing protein powder, wearing Zubaz, and doing preacher curlz and leg extensions (feel the burn!!!!).

    Great post, Melissa. The "OMG!!! UR eating a banana!!!!" crowd really needs a link to the f-off scale.

    For me, sweet potatoes are high on the f-off scale. I know they're ideal PWO, but damn it, I'll eat them when I feel like it.

    Other "f-off" foods are my espresso (you'll pry it from my cold, dead hands), ice cream, beer, and BBQ (the Gant G school of eating).

    If you obsess over your food every minute of the day, you'll go nuts. I've learned that a cheat day is a good thing.

    One of the guys at our local affiliate eats low carb/paleo M-F and eats hundreds of grams of carbs Sat-Sun. He's still PR'ing with this cycle.

  16. Melissa Byers says

    This is a 100% True Story.

    Today, probably inspired by the Carrot Train, I bring in a giant bag of baby carrots to snack on. And I'm hungry, and carrots aren't cutting it. So I spy my jar of Sunbutter on the shelf, and think, Huh. So I try it.

    Carrots + Sunbutter = One Hundred Dollars of Delicious

    So I'm chomping on my snack when a woman from another department hits my desk, sees what I'm eating and says, "Is that… healthy?"

    I responded with a giant smile, "If I am eating it, you should assume it is healthy."

  17. Melicious says

    I responded with a giant smile, "If I am eating it, you should assume it is healthy."

    This will now be my stock response to any question I get about my food. Brilliant!

  18. Blair says

    A couple of our girls at the gym would swear they would get hyper when eating carrots. I'm thinking they just got hyper at the thought that carrots had the most sugar of veggies as they had become quite health conscious due to our head coach.

    Better watch out, you may get hyper off of carrots.

  19. Richard says

    It's interesting to read this, because it's the same reaction I have to people who talk about how unhealthy bread, pasta and rice are.

  20. Melicious says

    I think what we're all saying is that any kind of extremely militant attitude about any particular food is just silly, right?

    Vegetarians can get all up in my grill about meat… vegans hate my eggs… militant Zonies curse brown rice. It's all nonsense when taken to the extreme.

    And I don't think there's one answer for every individual person. I have a friend that's totally ripped, has PRs on a regular basis, and eats pancakes before every big workout. If I did that, I'd be sound asleep in a corner somewhere… and she turns up her nose at my piles of cabbage… mmmmmm, cabbage.

  21. Tim Rickards says

    Great post. Very funny.

    I drink 16 oz. of low-fat chocolate milk after every metcon. I'm getting stronger, faster and losing fat.

    I have yet to burst into a sugar-induced rage. Nor have my LDL cholesterol or triglycerides gone crazy. And I swear I'm less sore 24-36 hours after the WOD.

  22. Kevin Daigle says

    I just ate some baby carrots tonight….purely as a result of reading this the other day. They were F'ing delicious and I loved them…..will continue to nom them

  23. Random Acts of Fitness says

    Thanks so much for another chance to peek over the fence. I am an analyzer too. Somehow I can manage to justify every meal by categorizing them…its zone friendly when it may not be completely paleo, its paleo friendly when its just a punnet of blueberries, I am intermittent fasting if I have skipped a meal, or it is my cheat day when I have some chocolate almonds. Sometimes I wish I could let it all go and be like a 5 year old eat the banana sandwich with honey without the analytical me ranting about the carbs.

  24. Katie says

    Melissa, as always I loved the post. I think it's very interesting that in a society where obesity has become almost commonplace, we have begun pointing our fingers at foods like carrots and deeming them unhealthy.

    I like the healthy f off for the carrots. I feel the same way about potatoes. I'm part Irish and German. Let me have my f'ing potatoes!

    *Katie munches contentedly on her breakfast of eggs and potatoes* :)

  25. Tim says

    Not usually one to pile on, but Melissa was my judge at the NE Qualifers so I decided to check out her blog. I really enjoyed this piece because everyone kept telling me that I needed to "dial in my diet" and "zone" if I wanted to take my training to the next level. While I've tried to "balance" things a bit I haven't given up beer or pizza. I think my problem is that I'm NOT eating enough carrots. Who knows? Party Hard – Train Harder.

  26. Melissa Byers says

    Tim,

    I remember you. You kicked ass. I received a few notes from people pre-qualifier saying, "My training is going great, I'm strong, I'm fast, I feel fantastic… but I think I need to tighten up my diet in preparation for the event." My response to each and every one of them was, "Are you high? If things are going so well, why would you change anything now?"

    If you haven't already, please review my Healthy/Fuck Off Scale. You can put your beer and pizza right next to my dirty martinis and maple syrup.

    Melissa

  27. Melissa Byers says

    Random Acts of Fitness,

    Oh, boy. "I am intermittent fasting if I have skipped a meal." I hope my Trainer doesn't read this, because that is EXACTLY the conversation we've been having lately. Am I *really* IF'ing, or am I just skipping meals (while not always making up for the lost calories and nutrients later in the day)? It's more the latter, unfortunately, which is why I'm eating all day, every day these days.

    I think you should eat that banana sandwich. If only to personally experience that your health and fitness does not, in fact, completely fall apart after the last, delicious bite.

    Melissa

  28. Adam says

    Lol! One minute your eating a bag of baby carrots, next thing you know… BAM! You’re passed out under a bridge in a bad neighbourhood, clutching a bag of peas in one hand, a well-gnawed cob of corn in the other…

    Beware the ‘gateway vegetable’, it’s a slippery slope! :)

  29. Caroline says

    Great article! It is even better nearly a year later :)

    Could you explain why you eat egg whites over the whole egg?

    Thanks!

    Caroline

  30. JFlood says

    Yay! You read my mind. I too have an overwhelming love affair with carrots and whole pureed carrot juice… carrot juice is okay…right, right??! :)

  31. says

    Hahahhaa! Excellent post! First time I’m reading it and soooo relating, I love carrots and eat a ton of them if I feel like it. Hasn’t prevented my fat% from dropping down to 15% which for me is quite okay.

    Sometimes people just lose perspective… I mean, carrots?! Also hearing it with the banana. (Tho about carrots I gotta say my hands are frighteningly orange :-P But that’s not just carrots, green veggies have carotenoids as well.. And orange is beautiful! The new black maybe?)

    Just found out about your blog through Robb’s, liking it!

    All the best,

    Meri

    monkeyfood.net

    meripekkanen.com

  32. says

    Caroline: Egg WHITES post-workout only, when you don’t want fat slowing up the absorption of nutrients. I eat whole eggs for the rest of my meals.

    @JFlood: Carrot juice is okay, but we’d MUCH rather you just eat the carrots!

    @KH: We love this one too, and reference it at most of our workshops.

    @Meri: Thanks for the comment, and welcome!

  33. jenn says

    Thanks for this! I worked with a crazy “nutritionist” a few years back who put in my head that bananas, melon, beets, carrots… were to be avoided at all costs (diet coke? sweet and lo? sure, chemicals are fine). Yes, she was a true nutter but some of that seems to find its way into my head even still. Thanks for helping put healthy thoughts there instead ;)

  34. Neil says

    “Melissa @ Whole9 says:

    18 April, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Caroline: Egg WHITES post-workout only, when you don’t want fat slowing up the absorption of nutrients. I eat whole eggs for the rest of my meals.”

    Totally the new guy here, and maybe this is in another post, but i eat egg whites after every workout, generally with an avacado, and fresh salsa, Should I limit my fat intake (cut out the avacado) post workout?

  35. says

    @Neil: Yes – post workout, cut the avocado to allow for faster absorption of those carbs and protein! Go ahead and have a “normal” meal (including fat) an hour later – throw the avocado in there instead.

    @Simmon: Sorry about the delay – your comment got caught up in our Spam filter. Go right ahead and reference this post on your blog – thanks for asking!

    Best,

    Melissa

  36. says

    I still stand by my assertion that eating yams post work out feels un-American…HOWEVER I have started dropping fruit and fat and eating carrots pwo with meat and my recovery has jumped big time. I had not had a carrot in like 2 years!

  37. Daisy_zmommy says

    Carrots,

    hmmm….

    I like purreed carrots with garlic and basil! I call it a soup and could eat it for days!

  38. gnataxela says

    Thank you for this post! I’ve started to feel almost-guilty about eating carrots, and then I remember that that is INSANE and I should stop obsessing. Thanks for the realistic perspective and laugh.

  39. Laura says

    I love this article! I am on Day 4 of my first Whole30 and last night I found myself contemplating NOT eating half a grapefruit because of the sugar.

  40. Michele says

    LMFAO….best thing I’ve read all morning. This will help me get through my crazy Saturday afternoon work shift at Whole Foods, seriously. Thanks so much.

  41. christian says

    I know this post is old, but I still find it awesome!! I was eating carrots just the other day and someone told me how they aren’t really a vegetable and I shouldn’t consider them healthy. WHILE EATING FAT FREE KEY LIME YOGURT.

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