Carbs Are Not the Enemy (Cut the Crap!)
Have you ever thought carbs make you gain weight?
If so, you're not alone.
So many people who are actively trying to lose weight feel that cutting carbs is (at least part of) the answer.
As a nutritionist, I believe that if someone feels empowered enough to make the decision to reduce their carb intake, that's one thing. What I don't like to see is people demonizing a major food group and making drastic changes to their diet out of fear.
This crucial macronutrient has a bad reputation - especially among women - and my aim with this article is to help clear things up.
First, let's get one thing straight: carbs are highly beneficial to our health.
The functions of carbs in the body are plentiful and they include:
providing us with energy (as the body's preferred fuel source!)
providing an immediate boost and long-lasting energy
helping balance blood sugar
helping reduce risk of heart disease
helping balance hormones
promoting digestive health
supporting weight-loss efforts
The important thing to note here is that not all carbs are created equal.
In order to reap the full benefits of carbs, understanding the different types and learning how to choose more nutrient-dense options is what will set you up for better health.
There is room within a healthy diet for all kinds of carbs; while some might be more supportive of our health, others are highly enjoyable and important to maintaining a sense of balance.
Let's break down the different carbohydrate options...
1) Simple Carbohydrates
These are called "simple" carbs because they are in the most basic form: sugar. Some of these occur naturally (like lactose in milk) but for the most part they are added to foods and created through food processing.
Some of the common simple carbs (sugars) added to foods include refined sugar, corn syrup, glucose, fructose, sucrose or fruit juice concentrates.
We typically think of simple carbs as baked goods or grain products. These are also"simple carbs" because they are refined, lacking fibre and are converted more quickly into fuel (glucose) in the body.
These refined carbs are what give all carbs a bad reputation, but not even these refined foods are bad. These are still a useful source of quick fuel and can be beneficial if part of a well-balanced diet.
The overconsumption of these refined foods is why health problems arise.
The overconsumption of simple carbs & refined foods can lead to blood sugar imbalances, inflammation, poor gut health, low mood, fatigue, and many, many other ailments. People who rely on heavily processed carbs often crave sugar constantly and feed the fire by eating more.
This is not the way nature intended us to eat.
Nature provides us with plenty of whole, unrefined fueling options if we just know where to look...
2) Complex Carbohydrates
These are your starches & fibrous foods. They are the ones that are minimally processed, come from the earth and nourish our bodies with longer-lasting fuel and a greater impact on overall health.
Just like simple carbs, complex carbs are converted to glucose (fuel) in the body. The difference is that this process takes place more slowly due to the starch and/or fibre content. This is why you can feel more satiated after eating seedy, whole grain toast vs. a slice of white bread.
What's so great about fibre, anyway? Fibre helps to...
keep you feeling full for longer
balance blood sugar
improve bowel motility
remove toxins from the body
The other amazing things about complex carbs is that they provide vitamins & minerals that are essential for human health. Refined sugars (simple carbs) are sometimes known as "empty calories" because they don't offer the same nutrient value.
The further you get from "natural" the more processed a food is and the less nutrient-dense it becomes (fibre, vitamins & minerals get stripped away). This is what impacts the quality of our carbs.
So, how do you start improving the quality of your carbs?
Swap out anything white (like rice) for the whole food version, like brown rice. This can also be done with bread, pasta & many other everyday packaged foods. When food is less processed (more natural) fewer of its beneficial nutrients have been stripped away.
The next step is to incorporate more fresh, whole food carbohydrate sources like legumes, root vegetables & fruits.
Here are some delicious, high-quality complex carbs to add to your grocery list:
Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, oats, barley
Whole grain packaged items like breads & pasta
Legumes such as beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas
Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes and corn
So there you have it, a little bit of context to show that carbs are not evil.
When you break it down, you see it's not a matter of bad vs. good, it's actually about the quality & amount we routinely consume.
The takeaway? Life is about balance.
Carbs are not the enemy and they never were. The real problem we're facing as a society today is overindulgence, stress & stagnation.
Be sure to eat with good intention, make empowered choices, stick to moderation, move your body and RELAX whenever you can.
Life is short! Cut the crap, not the carbs.
Ciara Morin, R.H.N.