To kick-start our discussion on all things relating to diet and health, I think it’s important to start with the macronutrient that has somehow earned itself a negative reputation carbohydrates. Carbohydrates have been given a bad name for their attribution to weight gain and metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. However, labeling an entire food group as “bad” or “harmful” is unfair because not all carbs are made the same. Before you jump on the no/ low carb diet bandwagon it is important to understand the difference between the various sources of carbs and what the right choice can do for your body. Without further ado, let’s talk carbs.
The Importance of Carbs
The best way to explain the role of carbs is to compare them to the gas that makes our cars run. Carbohydrates function to provide our body with the energy it needs to carry out various functions. Without carbs, our body may start to feel weak because if we can’t get energy from carbs, our body may resort to getting it from protein or fat which is not a good thing. Our body needs protein to help repair and build muscle and fat to help protect, insulate, and regulate our body temperature. If our energy was taken from either of those sources, our overall health would be compromised. For that very reason, it’s important to make sure we include carbohydrates in our diet to provide us with a steady flow of energy.
Sources of Carbs
Carbohydrates can be classified as simple or complex. While all carbohydrates eventually break down into sugar, the absence or presence of fiber and starch can make all the difference in how our bodies react. Those that contain starch or fiber (or both) are known as complex carbs. On the contrary, those that are made up of sugar alone are called simple carbs.
If you can guess, the carbs that you’ve heard negatively about are the simple carbs. Simple carbs are high in calories, low in nutritional value (lacking vitamins, minerals, and fiber), and when eaten in excess are associated with increased risk of diabetes and/or obesity.
Some examples of simple carbs are those highly processed chips, sodas, and white flour-based products (pasta, rice, cakes, etc).
The problem with simple carbs is that they have been altered to remove any nutritional value and after being digested are immediately released into the bloodstream leading to a huge spike in your blood sugar (AKA carb coma). These carbs are often stored immediately as fat because as soon as the body detects a sufficient amount of sugar to use for energy, the rest is stored for later use. There’s no shame in indulging in simple carbs from time to time but on a day-to-day basis, I would recommend a complex carb.
The most notable difference between complex carbs and simple carbs is the presence of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. These components are crucial for our body to function at an optimal level. Fiber takes longer to break down and therefore provides the body with that steady flow of energy. In addition, fiber helps to curb hunger more quickly because of the additional time it takes to break it down.
Carbohydrates are typically derived from plant foods so fruits and vegetables fall under this category. Some additional examples of complex carbs include wheat bread, brown rice, lentils, beans(all varieties), and quinoa. For those of us who can’t live without pasta, there are now alternatives that are made of whole grains including lentils, brown rice, and quinoa. These pasta varieties are a much better choice as they include fiber and B vitamins.
*An important note to make regarding complex carbohydrates are those that are considered starches. Starches are concentrated forms of carbohydrates and if eaten in excess can lead to carb comas as well. The whole wheat versions of pasta and rice are considered to be starches along with corn, potatoes(including sweet potato), peas, and beans. Like with all other food groups, incorporating these foods into your diet in a balanced manner is key to achieving your health goals. Excess of any kind can lead to unwanted weight gain but because these starchy foods contain fiber you are much less likely to overindulge. Also, if you’ve previously consumed a diet low in fiber, start by slowly introducing the amounts of fiber-containing foods into your diet. It may take some time for your stomach and taste buds to adapt, but the end result will be an amazing feeling of steady energy.
So now that I’ve downloaded all this information regarding carbs into your brain, let’s recap the important points.
- Not all carbs are made the same. Keep this in mind the next time someone tries to sell you on the idea that “a carb is a carb”, it is not.
- Carbohydrates should provide your body with a steady flow of energy throughout the day.
- Simple carbs are those that are made of refined white-flour and simple sugars and should be limited in your diet to avoid blood sugar spikes and excess weight.
- Complex carbs are those that contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals and should be included in a balanced diet along with healthy fats and lean protein.
- Fiber helps to fill you up faster as it takes longer to break down in the body.
- Starchy vegetables and whole wheat products such as peas, beans, corn, brown rice, lentils, and whole wheat pasta should also be eaten in moderation to avoid additional weight gain.
- Excess of any food can lead to weight gain, but when it comes to complex carbs you are much less likely to overindulge because of the fiber.
- Find a balance between your favorite carbs and nutritious alternatives. You don’t have to give up pasta or bread, just find ways to make it work for you and your health.
I hope this helps you to understand the difference in carb choices and enlightens you on the importance of carbs in your diet. Before I wrap this up I also want to add the importance of listening to your body. If you notice that your body reacts very quickly to starchy carbs such as bread and pasta, try the gluten-free alternatives and note how your body reacts. Some of us are more sensitive to carbs than others so make the choice that is right for you.
Leave your questions, comments, or concerns down below or feel free to direct message me and I would be more than happy to answer them!