All Carbs Are Evil…Not!
Are Carbohydrates Bad For You?
One of the biggest misconceptions about nutrition is that all carbohydrates are bad for you and they’ll make you fat. Well, what about sweet potatoes, brown rice, beans, berries, whole grains, nuts etc.? These are all carbs, so they must be bad for us, right? Wrong, please keep reading to get a more thorough understanding.
Why Do We Need Carbohydrates?
First, let’s discuss the purpose of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are used as the body’s main source of energy in the form of glucose. Carbohydrates are broken down and converted to glucose, which is used to provide energy and fuel to perform everyday activities such as walking and talking. That is why the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrates make up 45-65 percent of your total daily calories. Otherwise, if your body doesn’t get enough glucose, you can experience hypoglycemia, which may make you feel fatigued, lightheaded, and dizzy. Now, that we have discussed the purpose of carbohydrates, we need to examine what kinds of carbohydrates you should be eating, because not all carbohydrates are created equal!!
Did you know there are three main types of carbohydrates in food?
1. Starches (also known as complex carbohydrates).
2. Sugars – simple carbs (two main types of sugar: Naturally occurring such as fruits and added sugar which is considered refined/processed).
3. Fibers (two main types: soluble and insoluble).
If you are a diabetic it’s important for you to know how to count carbs. On the nutrition label, the term “total carbohydrate” includes all three types of carbohydrates. This is the number you should pay attention to if you are carbohydrate counting – because you’re a diabetic.
Two types of Simple Carbs: Natural vs. Refined/Processed
Refined simple carbohydrates hold little to no nutritional value. Simple (refined) carbohydrates are made up of sugars and are often found in foods such as white bread, bagels, corn syrup, pasta (non-whole grain), cereals, white rice, and candy amongst other processed foods. These simple carbohydrates are high glycemic index foods, which means they are digested and broken down quickly by the body, lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, and provide a short burst of energy. In return, because these foods are high glycemic index foods, they leave you feeling hungry shortly after you have finished eating, which can lead to overeating and food cravings.
Although, most fruits are considered simple carbs and some vegetables are too. They are considered natural carbs and are much different than the other type of simple carbs: Refined/processed carbohydrates. This is the case because fruits and vegetables have fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals in their makeup, which the body is able to slowly break down over time.
In short, refined/processed carbohydrates can be found in foods high in calories but provide no nutritional value. Refined/processed carbs have little to no fiber, vitamins, minerals, proteins, antioxidants. Where as, some fruits and vegetables might be simple carbs but has tons of those important nutritional values listed above. It’s important to know that diets consisting of mainly refined/processed carbohydrates has been associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Choices – Simple Refined/processed or Simple Natural?
If you have a choice between a processed or a natural carbohydrate as a snack, such as choosing between a candy bar or apple, you can boost your nutrition by choosing the apple. It contains fewer calories than the candy bar and also provides vitamins A and C, folate, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. In addition, fruits have nutrients and of often serve double duty by providing complex carbohydrates in the form of soluble and insoluble fiber. Always choose natural carbs over refined/processed carbs.
Complex carbohydrates are often referred to as good carbohydrates and for good reason. Complex carbohydrates are the complete opposite of simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are generally made up of fibers and starches and have a low glycemic index. This means that complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, brown rice, beans, and nuts, are all slowly broken down by the body providing you with a steady dose of energy throughout the day, as well as a great deal of nutritional value. Some great benefits of complex carbohydrates include a lower risk of obesity, reduced body mass index (BMI), reduced waist-to-hip ratio, lower cholesterol levels, and reduced risk of heart disease amongst other benefits.
Take Away Message
What we want you to learn from this post is that not all carbohydrates are created equal. So, it’s important to watch and limit your intake of refined/processed carbohydrates. But do not cut out natural carbs such as fruits from your diet and do not cut out complex carbs from your diet either. If you are a diabetic, be sure to follow the guidelines laid out for you by your Doctor or Registered Dietitian. There are countless fad diets, to the array of articles and advice on the internet which can overcomplicate our nutrition and health. That being said, we want to leave you with a simple message. Do yourself, your weight, your health, and your happiness a favor, and avoid processed foods that provide no nutritional value, but rather incorporate natural whole foods in your diet.
Authors: Rob Habib, BS, CPT and Louben Repke, RN, BSN, CPT
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