“Carbs will make you fat”…”Carbs will make you gain weight quickly”… “Carbs are bad for you”…”Low carb diet”…”No carb diet”…”Stay away from carbs”… I’m sure that you have heard one of these statements before. There are TONS of opinions on carbohydrates out there. Many current diets and health enthusiasts agree that carbohydrates should not be a part of your daily nutrient intake. But, there are definitely people who still believe that carbohydrates should be a part of your everyday diet. So what is the truth??? In this post, we are going to explore carbohydrates: what they are, if they are good for you, and what ones you should look for.
What is a carbohydrate??
First off, what counts as a carbohydrate?? There is A TON of confusion on the topic of carbohydrates. Many people refer to carbohydrates as white bread, donuts, cakes, and sugars, but did you know that carbohydrates are found in healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and beans?? Carbohydrates are found in tons of different foods! Most carbohydrates occur naturally in plant-based foods like grains. Carbohydrates can also be added to processed foods in the form of added sugars and starches. Common foods that contain naturally occurring carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, milk, nuts, grains, seeds and legumes. Foods like candy, cake, cookies, and soft drinks have added carbohydrates. There are definitely good choices of carbohydrates and not so good choices! Remember not all carbs are created equal!
Different forms of carbohydrates:
Carbohydrates are considered simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates include sugar found naturally in foods such as fruit, vegetables, milk and milk products. They also include added sugars found in foods that are refined or processed. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grain breads and cereals, starchy vegetables and legumes.
There are three main types of carbohydrates: Sugar, starch and fiber. Here are great explanations from the Mayo Clinic about all three forms:
Sugar. Sugar is the simplest form of carbohydrates. Sugar occurs naturally in some foods, including fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products. Sugars include fruit sugar (fructose), table sugar (sucrose) and milk sugar (lactose).
Starch. Starch is a complex carbohydrate, meaning it is made of many sugar units bonded together. Starch occurs naturally in vegetables, grains, and cooked dry beans and peas.
Fiber. Fiber also is a complex carbohydrate. Fiber occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and cooked dry beans and peas.
Do Our Bodies Need Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are vital to our health, despite all of the negativity they get. Carbs are our bodies main source of energy. Right after we eat carbohydrates, digestion starts and sugars and starches are broken down into more simple sugars. These simple sugars are absorbed into our bloodstream, and are then referred to as blood sugar or blood glucose. Blood glucose enters into our bodies cells and is then used for energy, whether we need energy for exercise, working, or just sitting there and breathing! Glucose is also the brains main fuel source….soooo, its kind of important:)
Some Cool Perks of Carbohydrates:
- Studies have found that whole grains and fiber from whole foods help protect your body from diseases like cardiovascular disease. A diet rich in fiber may also play a role in helping prevent obesity, type II diabetes, certain cancers, and will keep your digestive system healthy.
- Eating the right kind of carbohydrates can actually help you control your weight…What?! Thats different than what you have probably heard lately! But, its true:) Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can leave you feeling fuller with taking in less calories, therefore helping you control your weight!
Choosing the Right Carbohydrates:
We have found that carbohydrates are really good for you, but like I said before, not all carbs are created equal! Here are some tips on how to add healthy carbohydrates to your diet:
- Choose whole grains: whole grains have many more health benefits than refined grains. Choose 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, etc. Try to limit the amount of refined grains (white rice, white flour, white bread, etc.). Refined grains do not have the nutrients that whole grains have.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables: Choose fresh, canned, or frozen fruit and vegetables. Watch out for added sugars and salt in the frozen and canned fruits and veggies.
- Watch out for added sugars: I am not saying to completely get rid of added sugars, but do try to eat them in small amounts. These are just empty calories. There is no nutritious value in added sugar! Too much of it can lead to weight gain and other health problems.
- Eat more beans and legumes! These little things are LOADED with nutrients. Lots of fiber and protein and very low in calories, fat and have no cholesterol. Yep, beans are the magical fruit;)
Here are a few examples of healthy vs unhealthy carbohydrates from Harvard.
The healthiest sources of carbohydrates—unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans—promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a host of important phytonutrients.
Unhealthier sources of carbohydrates include white bread, pastries, sodas, and other highly processed or refined foods. These items contain easily digested carbohydrates that may contribute to weight gain, interfere with weight loss, and promote diabetes and heart disease.
See, carbs aren’t so bad after all! I hope that answered any questions that you may have had about carbohydrates! Please let me know if you have any more questions and have an awesome day!