How many times have you heard (or read) that carbs are really bad for you and that you should avoid them in your nutrition? I hear it almost every day for some reason. And from my immediate family who still cannot decide on whether to trust a professional or mainstream media on this.
The "Carb Theory"
It does frustrate me. A lot. Not so much the fact that they actually avoid carbs and then fill themselves with huge amounts of fat and calories.
But mostly the fact that they constantly try to convince me that carbs are bad for us and that I should stop serving my family carbs.
So in the hopes of demystifying the "carb theory" in case you have your doubts or like me have family or friends who try to convince you to avoid carbs, I've tried to compile all the facts and scientific evidence on how to choose your carbs in this post.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates (carbs) are one of the 3 macronutrients that our body requires to release energy for your everyday tasks.
There are a lot of different carbohydrates and the division is pretty complex. If you are interested in the details, you can read more about it here.
Carbohydrates vs. Fats
I think the reason that carbohydrates have such a negative treatment in the mainstream media is because we have "good" and "bad" carbs and are unable to distinguish the two.
And people eat much more of the "bad" ones than the "good" ones. Bakeries and processed foods are one reason for that but also the availability of the "good" carbs.
Something similar is happening with fats but for some reason they haven't gotten such a bad treatment.
And it beats me why not. I mean we have diets promoting fat intake instead of carbohydrate intake which I find disturbing since there is irrefutable evidence that saturated fats ("bad" fats) can cause cardiovascular diseases that eventually lead to premature death.
So if people are just eating fat without differentiating between saturated and unsaturated then it's not doing a lot of good (more about fats here).
"Good" And "Bad" Carbs
But back to carbs. So the main difference between the "good" and "bad" carbs is in their molecular structure. Meaning how complex they are.
The more complex the carbohydrate the better they are for our overall health.
Simple, "bad" carbs
So for example simple sugars, like table sugar, glucose or fructose are considered "bad" carbs because after we eat them they are quickly released into the bloodstream causing a spike in blood sugar which requires an immediate release of insulin.
This is a normal bodily function but if it happens a lot and often it can lead to certain metabolic diseases.
Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and certain cardiovascular diseases to name a few.
Complex, "bad" carbs
There are also some complex carbs that are considered "bad".
Like starches for example.
Meaning white flour.
Why is that then?
Well because the "white" carbohydrates are the ones that have been left once the grain has been "stripped" of all the good stuff.
Like fiber, vitamins and minerals. And all you are left with are calories.
We call these empty calories as they have no real nutritional value. And we don't want to eat many of those.
So which carbs to eat then?
The "brown", unprocessed ones.
We need those to fulfill our daily carbohydrate requirements and by eating those we also contribute to the overall daily fiber and essential micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) intake.
How does that translate to real food?
Let's break it down a bit.
When choosing grains that you want to include in your everyday diet, look for those that are unprocessed. For more in depth information on grains, check this post out.
Here's a list of a few:
- Wholegrain wheat
There aren't really any natural table sugar alternatives that we can consider good, but what we can do is choose the "least bad" ones.
And these are syrups derived from natural sources like agave, maple, date or barley. So basically other carbs.
The reason we tend to choose these is because their nutritional profile is slightly better than regular sugar.
They contain higher amounts of the fructose which doesn't cause as rapid a spike in blood sugar like regular table sugar does.
They also contain more nutrients (vitamins, minerals) than table sugar. Not much, but table sugar doesn't contain any so anything we can get is an improvement.
List of possible sugar alternatives:
- Maple syrup
- Agave syrup
- Date syrup (or dates)
- Barley syrup
Pretty much all starchy vegetables are good for you and should be included in your nutrition plan since they contain a greater amount of nutrients for the calories.
What you don't want is to prepare them in huge amounts of (unhealthy) fats.
List of starchy vegetables:
- Sweet potato
How Much Carbs Should I Eat?
The American Dietetic Association has made it pretty easy for us to check and track how much carbs we need to eat on a daily basis to fulfill our body's requirements per age and gender.
We wrote about the recommendations here and you can find the serving sizes in our "portion size post here".
Although this post doesn't go in depth into the scientific part of carbohydrates, I tried to provide simple facts to distinguish the types of carbs that we should avoid and the ones that we should include in our everyday nutrition.
Hopefully I was able to demystify a bit the "carb" theory giving you more confidence in choosing your nutrient-filled grains, sugars and veggies that are carb-based.
Overall, my final note here would be: don't be afraid of carbs. We need them for our body to be able to function normally! The "good" carbs that is. 🙂
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