Over the years, “carbohydrates” have gotten a bad rap. It has been said time and time again by popular diet culture that if you are looking to lose weight, you need to cut carbs from your diet. That said, we can’t forget that carbohydrates are one of the 3 main macronutrients that our body needs to survive!
Diet trends come in and out of popularity as quickly as some fashion trends. The current diet trend is that fats are good, and carbohydrates are bad! If we examine this through a closer lens, we discover that, yes, too many carbohydrates in your diet can be bad. But, too many fats (and too much protein) can also be bad. Put simply, too much of anything can be detrimental to your diet and health.
What the deal with carbohydrates, then?
“Carbohydrates are foods that get converted into glucose, or sugar, in our bodies during digestion. Glucose is a main source of fuel for our body. It is especially important for the brain, which cannot easily use other fuel sources (such as fat or protein) for energy.”
“There are two kinds of carbohydrates:
Simple carbohydrates include sugars found in foods such as table sugar, honey, dairy products, fruit and fruit juice.
Complex carbohydrates are starches — long chains of glucose molecules — which include grain products, such as bread, crackers, pasta and rice. Some vegetables — corn, peas, white and sweet potatoes, and butternut and winter squash — are high in starch. Complex carbohydrates can be broken down further into refined and whole grain carbohydrates.”1
It is important to differentiate between these two forms of carbohydrates, particularly if you are an athlete looking to use carbohydrates to fuel your workout or sport. Simple carbs result in faster energy sources, while complex carbs provide a bit longer-lasting energy because they are digested more slowly. Because of this slower digestion, some of us may find that our stomachs begin to hurt after we have consumed complex carbs. That’s because our body is working harder and longer to digest these foods.
For 99% of the population that is not a high performing athlete or training for something athletics- related, we need to understand when and how many carbohydrates we should be consuming in a day. This can vary by individual and body type. But, rather than focusing on the number of carbohydrates, try focusing more on the type of carbohydrates you consume. Most of the carbohydrates that first come to mind are often highly processed foods with preservatives that can have health detriments of their own.
If you are ever wondering which types of carbs should be consumed, try to stick with non-processed carbs that have no “added sugar” – fruits, vegetables, potatoes, rice, non-processed bread, and plain granola. Food labels now state the number of grams of added sugar. We can get into trouble with our carbohydrate consumption when we are consuming processed carbs – white bread, sugary cereal, processed potato chips, candy bars, the list goes on and on.
Simply put, carbohydrates are not inherently bad. But, of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates are the most frequently processed and the most likely to have added, processed and refined sugars. Sticking to foods and carb sources that are cleaner with “no added sugar,” or a short ingredient list, is often a good place to start.
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