Updated: Mar 5
Between the latest magazine headline, social media ad, or late night infomercial understanding carbs can be so confusing.
Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients our body needs to perform and function healthfully (the others being protein and healthy fats). Unfortunately there are two big culprits in the carbohydrate category that have given the entire food group a bad wrap - added sugars and white processed flours.
But along with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and beans are all carbohydrates too and they are an important part of a healthy and well balanced diet.
Sadly, with an increase in processed foods, pre-packaged "convenience" meals, fast food restaurants, and a variety of confusing "diet" trends, many Americans are consuming less of the good and more of the bad, or avoiding this important macronutrient all together.
How can you navigate the confusing carbohydrate world, meet your body's nutrient needs, support healthy body function and empower a healthy waistline too? By understanding the important role carbohydrates play in your health and wellness and educating yourself on the differences between complex and simple carbohydrates so you can eat in a way that supports your ability to function, perform, and feel its best.
Why Carbohydrates are important.
Carbohydrates are the body's primary fuel source for energy. The natural sugars and starches found in carbohydrates are broken down by the body and turned into glucose (blood sugar), allowing them to be used as energy.
Carbohydrates also contain fiber. This fiber is not broken down by the body, instead it hangs out to help you feel full, (an important component of maintaining a healthy weight), provides "bulk" so you can stay regular, and it even helps lower cholesterol and improve blood glucose control.
Carbohydrates give you energy to walk, talk, run, hike, climb, crawl, think, dance, pick things up and set them down and much, much more!
"Good" vs. "bad" carbs.
In the nutrition world carbohydrates are often referred to as "complex" or "simple," otherwise known as good or bad carbs. Complex carbohydrates are unprocessed, contain natural fiber and are found in foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Simple or "bad" carbs are typically found in processed foods such as crackers, chips, candies, sweetened beverages, white pasta and breads. The body doesn't recognize these carbs as a nutrient it needs. These types of carbs can cause blood sugar to spike, make your insulin work overtime, and are often stored as fat. Which is why limiting your consumption of the simple or bad carbs is key to maintaining your overall health and wellness.
Severely restricting your intakes of complex or "good" carbs can lead to a condition called ketosis. Ketosis occurs when the body has to use fat for energy because it does not have enough carbohydrates from food to support the body's energy needs. You might be thinking, "That's great! I can burn all the fat!" But it's not that simple. Each macronutrient has its own job (remember protein, healthy fats and carbs), and the body uses each in a way that enables healthy body function. When one nutrient is missing (or consistently scarce) it forces the others to try and take on its role, placing strain on the body, its systems and abilities.
How much do you need?
The amount of carbohydrates you need is determined by several factors - age, activity level, current weight and/or weight loss goals, and overall health status. The general daily recommendation is that carbs be 45-65% of your total daily caloric intakes (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). For a 2,000 calorie diet this equates to approximately 900-1300 calories each day, or 225-325g!
Examples of Complex (a.k.a. good) Carbs:
Variety of Fruits
Variety of Vegetables
Dark Leafy Greens
Whole Wheat Products
Nuts & Seeds
Unsweetened Greek Yogurt
Examples of Simple (a.k.a bad) Carbs:
Candy, Candy Bars and other Sugar Coated Foods
Sweetened Carbonated Beverages
Fruit Leather and Fruit Flavored Snacks
Bottom line - baring any underlying health conditions, carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy and well-balanced diet. The body needs carbs to function healthfully and provide the energy needed to perform a variety of day-to-day tasks. Most complex carbs also offer a variety of essential vitamins and minerals too, making them a real healthy living powerhouse! Bring your carb consumption back to healthy basics and enjoy a bowl of fruit, snack on some veggies, nosh on nuts, enjoy a serving of quinoa, or a slice of whole wheat bread...those carbs are on your side, the healthy side!
Are you are a woman who is ready to live healthier and happier, ditch the diet, and discover small steps that make a big impact so you can live a life you love in a body you are proud of? Come join me inside my women’s-only Facebook Group - The Healthy Habits Club. It's where busy women go for tips, tools and support so they can stress less, eat healthy, move daily, and feel good for life!