"Agh! I can’t eat carbs!” This might be what you think when they bring the basket of bread to your table at a restaurant or when you’re at your in-laws for dinner and they’re serving lasagna. And if this is the first thing that pops into your head, you’re not alone. We’ve all heard about low-carb diets and how they are supposed to help us lose weight and be healthier, and while this isn’t untrue, we still need SOME carbs to maintain a healthy balance in our diet. It can be extremely hard for most people to follow a low-carb diet for a significant length of time, so it’s pretty unrealistic to assume you’ll be able to stick with such a diet for the rest of your life. So… are we supposed to eat carbs or not? There isn’t a simple answer to that question, but throughout this blog, I will define what complex and simple carbohydrates are, sources of each, why carbs are important, and how to include them in a healthy, balanced die.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a carbohydrate is, “any of various neutral compounds of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (such as sugars, starches, and celluloses) most of which are formed by green plants and which constitute a major class of animal foods.” Precision Nutrition goes a step further by discussing simple versus complex carbohydrates and their structures. Simple carbohydrates are easily processed in the body because they contain a single sugar group and can’t be broken down any further. Complex carbohydrates have two or more sugar groups linked together and therefore use more energy and take longer for the body to break down.
Simple carbohydrates come from foods made with refined flour and refined sugar, and some examples include white bread, pizza crust, snack cakes, white rice, pretzels, and biscuits. These foods have been highly processed and a lot of their nutritional value has been stripped. They don’t require much energy to be broken down in our bodies which means they don’t keep us satisfied for long. When our diet consists of mainly simple carbohydrate sources, we will likely end up eating more and more often than we would if we were eating complex carbs instead.
Sources of complex carbs include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Complex carbohydrates are a better option for the following reasons: Complex carbs take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates, which helps control blood sugar and keeps us feeling fuller for longer. Complex carbohydrates also provide us with fiber which helps to keep our GI tract healthy and can help control cholesterol levels. Foods that provide complex carbohydrates are also more likely than simple carb sources to provide necessary vitamins and minerals.
Maintaining a diet that includes a healthy balance of complex carbohydrates is important because carbohydrates are the preferred energy source for both the body and the brain. Individuals who exercise intensely on a regular basis require a higher intake of carbs than those who live a sedentary or mostly sedentary lifestyle. If carbohydrate intake is too low in someone who exercises regularly, that person might experience a slowed metabolism and an inability to build muscle. He or she might often feel sluggish and have impaired mood and cognitive function. While adequate carbohydrate intake is necessary, it is important to maintain a diet with an appropriate balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
On average, we need about 130 grams of carbohydrate per day. This of course varies with gender, body type, and activity level. The majority of carbohydrate intake should come from unprocessed or minimally processed fruits and vegetables, although if you exercise regularly at an intense pace, simple carbs may be recommended for post-workout recovery. And, as always, moderation, a healthy balance of macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat), and consuming mostly un- and minimally processed foods are key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Think positive, stay active, and smile. –A