Some claim that carbohydrates are an essential component to maintaining a healthy diet. Others tell you to limit your intake of carbs as much as you can in order to stay healthy. And others simply don’t know which way to swing. We’re here simply to educate you on what carbohydrates are, why we need them, which ones you should be avoiding, and how to prevent yourself from going crazy over low-carb/no-carb/all-carb diets!
What Are Carbohydrates?
Scientifically speaking, carbs are molecules of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. From a nutritional standpoint, carbohydrates give us energy. The majority of carbs are broken down into three categories: sugars, starches, and fiber, which are all used as energy.
Carbs are everywhere, but they can be split into two main groups, “complex” and “simple”. When you hear “complex”, think untouched—or unprocessed. “Simple” on the other hand is the opposite. A simple carb is one that has been processed and its natural fiber has been lost. Confusing right? By identifying the different types of carbs, we are able to determine which ones we should embrace and which ones we should avoid.
The Good vs. The Bad
Complex carbs, as mentioned above, are the untouched or unprocessed carbohydrates. These are fruits, vegetables, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, peanuts), potatoes and whole grains. Complex carbs are our friends, our best friends. They’re wholesome, nutritious and add value to our diet. Simple carbs, or processed carbs, are things like white rice, pasta, bread, fruit juices and other goods enhanced with added sugar.
Remember when we said that carbohydrates are broken down into three categories? Well when we consume simple carbs we are eating foods that have been stripped of their fiber and other essential nutrients leaving just the “bad” stuff—the sugar. When our blood sugar levels rise we continue to crave high-sugar products which make for a vicious cycle of bad eating habits. When eating complex carbohydrates, we get the fiber otherwise not found in simple carbs. The complex carbs are loaded with nutrients that WON’T cause crazy spikes in blood sugar. So, when you’re thinking about carbs and which ones to eat it is important to understand that sometimes the complex things in life are better.
The bottom line is that not all carbs are the same.
Carbohydrates are NOT the Bad Guy
Yes, there are good and bad carbs, but there are bigger fish to fry (in terms of poor diets habits). The issue that folks are running into is that simple carbs are easy to find, taste delicious and are thought to be the cheapest option. When we substitute whole grains—like quinoa in place of white rice we are still eating carbs! But, this is a complex rather than simple carb. What ends up happening is many of us avoid carbohydrates and instead focus on foods/food groups that cause more harm than they do good. Allowing yourself to eat good carbs is a lot easier than attempting to cut them from your diet completely. We spoke with Simsbury Trainer, Gene, who has a Precision Nutrition certification and she said, “Everyone needs carbohydrates. When we deprive ourselves of carbs, we are depriving ourselves of energy. When you workout, you need to carbs to replenish what you used while exercising. Restricting carbs too much will make you cranky, sluggish and you could even feel sick. Focus on ‘good’ carbs like vegetables, whole grains and fruits–they are our friends.”
The Take Away
Time and time again you’ll hear “carbs are bad for you” “I’m on a no-carb diet” “what even is a carb?”. The fact of the matter is carbohydrates are your best friend and your worst enemy at the same exact time. The good (complex) carbs like nuts, legumes, whole fruits and vegetables will give you energy, leave you feeling full for longer and you won’t feel sluggish and depleted at the end of the day. Bad carbs (simple) are things like soda, cookies, white bread, ice cream and white rice. While we love to treat ourselves on occasion, simple carbs could be the reason you feel tired, out of energy and can’t seem to lose any weight. By replacing white rice and flour products with whole grains, choosing fruit instead of candy and water as opposed to soda you’ll be reaping the benefits of carbohydrates, not feeling the detrimental side effects.
Making a conscious effort to make small changes will allow you to enjoy carbohydrates, not resent them. Still have questions about carbohydrates, their purpose and why we need them? Ask your trainer! Not working with a trainer? Sign up for the 10-day personal training trial below!
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