"Carbs are bad"
“Carbs make you fat!”
"You should just cut carbs out"
When you read headlines like these, it's totally normal to just want to stop eating carbs altogether and look forward to being thin and healthy, because carbs are the worst thing that can happen to your diet.
Here's the thing... there are very (very) few studies proving that, and if you really think about it, what does the average person actually know about carbs? Most of us are not quite sure what to do...
Should we eat them?
How much of them can you eat?
Is there a best (or worst) time of day to eat them?
So let's expand our knowledge, and find out more about carbs. Let's talk about the good and the bad, starting with...
WHAT ARE CARBS?
Carbohydrates are macronutrients that our bodies use as a primary source of energy. During digestion, carbs are turned into the main fuel for our body - glucose. The name carbohydrate comes from their chemical composition (carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen). Practically all dietary carbohydrates come from plant sources except for lactose that comes from milk.
Carbs are divided into simple and complex carbs. (1)
They both turn into glucose and raise our blood sugar (but some do it faster than others).
Spike your blood sugar levels higher (and faster) than complex carbs. This means if you eat a lot of these you'll notice an almost constant fluctuation in your energy levels throughout the day.
Have afternoon energy crashes? Chances are you're eating too much of these at lunch.
COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES (polysaccharides)
Are processed slower by our bodies and lead to a more stable level of energy throughout the day. They tend to be more nutrient dense and better for us.
- Starches - found in cereal grains, legumes, and potatoes
- Insoluble fibers - found in integral cereals, bran, etc.
(they can interfere with absorption of vitamins and can cause bloating)
- Soluble fibers - found in avocado, rice, apples (they don't lead to bloating)
Before we start with the good and the bad keep in mind that this is all individual, and these are just some guidelines. A lot can depend on age, health, activity, etc. Some people who are more physically active may feel and function better with more carbs in their diet but if you have some health problems like diabetes or metabolic syndrome, or you have problems with obesity, then reducing carbs can have some beneficial effects.
In the case that you are just trying to stay healthy and you don't have conditions like the ones above just choose better carbs and you will probably have no problems.
To help you make the right choice, here are some examples...
EXAMPLES OF GOOD CARBS
In most cases, if it's not in a box it's probably better, and if you are buying some packed products look at the ingredient list (the shorter the better). Always look for natural, unprocessed and rich in nutrients. Fiber is necessary for a healthy digestive system so choose high fiber foods. (2)
People who need to restrict carbohydrates need to be careful with the whole grains, legumes, tubers, and high-sugar fruit.
EXAMPLES OF BAD CARBS
In general we want to stay away from refined, overly processed foods - they have low levels of essential nutrients (so you eat and don't feel full). There are a few easy to remember hints you can use when shopping for groceries. If the ingredients list looks very long, or it has a long shelf life, that usually means there are added chemicals which can wreak havoc on our systems. Here are some examples of what you should avoid (2):
COMMON QUESTIONS REGARDING CARBS
Why do we need carbs?
The first thing carbs can offer us is energy. During digestion, they are converted into glucose (fuel for our body). So every time you workout, you need to be fueled so you don't crash during your workout, and throughout the day. This means that what types of carbs you are eating is very important.
Fruit and veggies, whole grains and some kinds of starchy foods can be rich in fiber and carbs. Which is great because fibers are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, better bowel health, reduction of cholesterol.
How many carbs do I need?
According to Mayo Clinic, carbs should be around 45 - 65 % of a woman's total daily calories. For a diet of 2,000 calories a day that means 225 - 325 g of carbs. However, carbohydrate requirements should be adjusted to the individual. (3)
When is the best time to eat carbs?
There is little to no evidence on WHEN should we eat carbs. More physically active people may improve their performance by eating carbs before a workout and recover faster by eating them after. But timing is less important than choosing the right kind of carbs.
What is Glycemic Index (GI)?
Glycemic index measures how a carb-containing food raises blood glucose. Foods are ranked in comparison to glucose or white bread.
Some nutrient dense foods have a higher GI than ones with little nutritional value (e.g. oatmeal has a higher GI than chocolate) and because of that we cannot only look at GI when evaluating your diet. You can use GI to balance your nutrition along with basic nutrition principles (variety of healthy foods and eating in moderation). (4)
Are you still unsure of what you need to be eating?
If you need help, or have questions about your current situation, please send me a message (using the contact form) and I will be happy to help you! It's what I do, so don't be shy.
Have a great day!
1. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk, National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989.
2. Carbohydrates: quality metters, Harvard scholl of public heath https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/
3. How carbs fit into a healthy diet, Mayo Clinic
4. Glycemic index and Diabetes, American Diabetes Association