What are carbs? Many people consider them a macronutrient that should be cut out of their diets. Few nutrients have been as demonized as carbohydrates.
However, did you know that carbs are the main source of energy for the body, particularly for the brain? They also provide your muscles with the energy they need for performance when working out or when playing sports. Is removing carbs the right decision? It’s not that simple. You need to understand the types of carbs and how they affect the body. You need to understand the benefits of of this macronutrient and which foods you should be consuming for energy.
- What are Carbs, and How Much Should I Eat?
- The White Foods Scare
- Not All Carbs are Equal
- Focus on Energy Balance
- Tips to Be Carb Conscious
- Carbs Can Be Healthy
What are Carbs, and How Much Should I Eat?
Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the body. When consumed, the body transforms carbohydrates into glucose (sugar), which fuels the brain and muscles. Without carbs, your body must turn to other sources of energy that aren’t as efficient. That’s the focus of the keto diet—the body begins to burn ketones from stored fat for energy instead of glucose. However, there’s evidence that low-carb diets can cause serious health issues.
Everyone needs carbohydrates, but the amount you need varies. Many factors impact your carb consumption. For instance, your fitness goals, body type, and exercise type all affect how much of your daily caloric intake should be composed of this macronutrient, ranging from 45 to 65% of your diet. Athletes should consume even more.
The White Foods Scare
We’ve all heard the advice. Avoid white bread, avoid white pasta, avoid white rice. White foods are bad, right? That’s not the whole truth.
Yes, white bread and pasta have more carbohydrates and fewer nutrients in general. However, you’ll find carbs in other places, too. For instance, all fruits have high concentrations of carbohydrates, but they are undeniably good for you.
Vegetables also pack some carbs into their nutritional profiles, but vegetables are the building blocks of a healthy diet. In short, carbohydrates are everywhere. You need to learn the difference between good carbs and bad ones.
Not All Carbs are Equal
In the quest to eat healthier, you’ll find that there are simple carbs, as well as complex carbs. They’re not the same, and you shouldn’t treat them as though they were. How do they differ?
Simple carbohydrates have an immediate effect on your blood sugar. It takes the body very little time to digest them, and you usually feel a rush of energy after consuming them. Some good examples of foods rich in simple carbohydrates include sweets and candies, but also sodas and anything that has added sugar or that is made with white flour. (Flour substitutions can add healthy carbs to baked goods.)
Complex carbohydrates are naturally occurring sugars that the body must take time to unlock and extract, and you’ll find them mostly in low-calorie foods. For instance, while both a cookie and an apple include sugar, the apple contains complex carbs, lots of fiber, and vital nutrients and vitamins. Digesting an apple requires the body to exert effort to access the carbs and then transform them into glucose.
Foods with complex carbohydrates don’t have as immediate an impact on your blood sugar. Examples of foods rich in complex carbohydrates include seeds, nuts, fruits, and grains. Not only do these foods release sugar slowly over a longer period, but their fiber content also helps keep you feeling fuller for longer periods, reducing your overall caloric intake.
Focus on Energy Balance
Instead of focusing on the removal of carbohydrates from your diet completely, you should focus on energy balance. Ultimately, kcals in versus kcals out is the magic bullet for weight loss or maintenance. So, rather than trying to eliminate this macronutrient, focus on choosing high-fiber foods that are nutrient-dense and packed with complex carbs, vitamins, and other essential nutrients. Avoid foods loaded with simple carbohydrates that are devoid of nutrition.
Tips to Be Carb Conscious
Achieving your weight loss and fitness goals will require that you pay attention to what you’re eating. You must be carb conscious. How do you do that, though? Here are a few critical tips to help you along the way.
- Choose whole grains: Opt for whole-grain bread and pasta. Go for brown rice. The more fiber in a food, the longer it will take your body to digest it. That slows down the release of glucose over time while keeping you fuller, and providing you with gut health benefits, too.
- Snack wisely: Losing weight doesn’t have to mean starving yourself. You can still snack during the day. Just choose your options wisely. Go for fruits and veggies that combine carbohydrates with fiber and essential nutrients instead of cookies, chips, and crackers.
- Explore your choices: To get the protein and fiber you need, it’s important to play the field and explore your choices. Alternate quinoa, buckwheat, and bulger with pasta and rice.Always read the ingredient list: Added sugar can hide in some surprising places. Make sure that you read the ingredient list of any food that you purchase, and know the names that sugar can go by, such as corn syrup, HFCS, and glucose. If sugar is in the top three ingredients, choose something else.
- Make smart food combos: Finally, combine carbs with protein and healthy fats to promote satiety and nutrient absorption in the body. Fat-soluble vitamins are better absorbed when combined with fats. So use olive oil with sweet potatoes or dip baby carrots in your guac.
Carbs Can Be Healthy
Far from being the boogeyman that many gurus and trainers say they are, carbs are a vital part of a healthy, fit body. They’re the primary energy source for your brain and your muscles. However, not all carbohydrates are the same. It’s up to you to make smart choices in terms of carb type (simple vs. complex) and where your carbs come from. Focus on whole foods and complex carbohydrates, make smart food pairings, and explore the wide world of delicious choices out there.