Carbs. We love to hate them!
In reality, carbohydrates are nothing more than a source of nutrients- one of the big 3 macro-nutrients in fact- and they are largely responsible for supplying our bodies with much-needed energy. Not to mention, they also spare protein (so we can build that sexy, lean muscle) and help regulate blood sugar (which is no small task!).
However, as a general population, we blame carbs for our widening waistlines and rising obesity rates. And we hold all the donuts, pastas and breads responsible for disease such as type II diabetes.
The fitness industry has us so convinced over the evils of carbs that diet plans such as Atkins and Paleo, which eliminate carbs almost entirely, are among the most popular.
While these programs can help many achieve weight loss (provided you can stick to it), it’s not necessary if you’re looking to get fit. To be honest, I have a hard time calling all carbs bad when vegetables (and even fruits) are carbohydrates …you catch my drift?!
So what constitutes a good carb? What carbs should you avoid? And how can you tell the difference?
This blog post will help you understand everything you need to know about the role carbohydrates play in fat loss.
What are carbs?
Simply put, they are the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and dairy products. They get their name because on a chemical level, they contain carbon, hydrogen & oxygen.
Science uses the number of carbon & water units to differentiate simple carbs from complex. Thus, a carbohydrate with more than 10 carbon/water is complex while anything less is classified as simple. Examples of both these carb groups are as follows:
- Complex– starchy foods like beans, peas, lentils, potatoes, corn and whole grain breads & cereals.
- Simple– table sugar, milk, beer, ice cream, sodas.
Now that distinction is important because depending on the type of carbohydrate consumed, there are important health implications (keep reading, we discuss this below)
Why the type of carb matters?
It matters for a couple different reasons…
For one, even though all carbs function as relatively quick energy sources, simple carbs, in particular, are absorbed and digested much more quickly. Consequently, this leads to spikes in one’s blood sugar levels. (It’s where the term sugar high actually comes from).
Unlike complex carbs, which provide more sustained highs, simple carbs cause bursts of energy that often result in a dreadful crash. You know the feeling you get after finishing a candy bar and washing it down with a 24 oz soda from the local convenience store? -yeah that’s simple carbs at work!
And secondly, in addition to providing more sustained energy, complex carbohydrates also tend to be more dense in nutrients. Meaning that even when consuming the same amount of calories of simple and complex carbs, you’ll get more bang for your buck (or more nutrients per se) by choosing the complex version.
Let’s clear this up with an example: take rice for instance.
Brown rice is full of nutrients & fiber and is therefore a great healthy food option. The same is not true for white rice. You see, during its processing, the outer parts of the rice kernel are removed. The white inner part is what remains- which has calories but unfortunately lacks the same nutritional value as whole-grain rice varieties.
This same rule applies to wheat and grains: brown, whole-grain varieties are a healthier option than their white, highly-processed counterparts. So you can see how this can be particularly important to someone looking to lose weight and who may be in a calorie deficit!
Pro Tip: Consuming more whole, natural foods and avoiding processed foods is a simple method that has a big impact. By following this advice, you not only increase your consumption of foods high in nutrients, but you also minimize your consumption of things like High Fructose Corn Syrup, sodium, saturated fats, trans fats and preservatives. Talk about a bonus!
- The Health Benefits of Protein for Weight Loss
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Why low-carb isn’t always best?
Can we just start off by saying that “low” is a relative term not a set number?
What’s low for one person may be extremely high for another. And there is no one size fits all approach for determining your own appropriate carbohydrate intake. Every person’s dietary needs are different and can vary largely due to any number of factors like age, gender, genetics, activity level, etc.
That being said, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrates make up between 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories. At the low end of that range, a person consuming 1600 total calories would still be eating 180 grams of carbs each day (45% of 1600 is 720 calories; 1 gram of carbs equals 4 calories- hence 180 grams is 720 calories).
As said before, carbs act as a main fuel source for our body. So what happens when we don’t eat enough carbs into our diet?
I’ll save the lengthy explanations as to why for another blog post- but some of what you can expect from keeping to a too-low low-carb diet is as follows:
- difficulty regulating internal body temperature (you’re cold all the time)
- bad breath (no joke!)
- bloated belly, constipation & other intestinal issues
- lethargic feeling
- stalled weightloss
- brain fog
So where does this leave us in the debate about carbs?
Avoiding carbs all together may not be the solution you’re looking for to fix your health.
Instead it’s important to be smart about the kinds of carbs consumed (and their sources). Consuming a diet that’s full of whole, minimally processed foods will get you on the right track to feeling (and looking) your best! So focus on carbs that are low or moderate in calories, high in nutrients and devoid of refined sugars or grains.
Need help finding the best carbs to add to your diet? I’ll help you get started by including a free shopping list of my favorite healthful carb sources!
Let’s hear in the comments below, some of your favorite “good carbs”
Here to Support You! XO- Britney (ms.fit.farmer)