The idea that “carbs are bad,” has left many people confused about whether or not to include carbohydrates in their diet. Carbohydrates are often blamed for causing weight problems, which has led many people to maintain a low-carb diet or to cut carbs out completely. However, carbohydrates are essential macronutrients needed to fuel the body and brain. They also play an important role in regulating blood sugar levels. A healthy diet should be comprised of complex, unrefined carbohydrates rather than simple, refined carbohydrates, which contain no nutritive value. The three main types of carbohydrates are sugars, starches and fiber. They are referred to as “simple” or “complex” based on their chemical makeup and what your body does with them. Carbohydrates are also classified as “refined” or “unrefined,” based on the level of processing they undergo.
Refining is a process which removes nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. Eating refined carbohydrates leads to a rapid spike in blood sugar and insulin levels after meals, which can cause symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, and changes in appetite. Some examples of refined grains include white bread, white rice, cookies, pizza, white sugar and regular pasta. These foods provide us with empty calories and lack the nutrients that we need to maintain a healthy diet.
Simple carbohydrates are an immediate source of energy because they are digested very quickly. However, although they are an energy source, they do not satisfy hunger as well as complex carbohydrates, which can actually lead you to eat more. Simple carbohydrates from refined or processed foods such as white bread, candies, baked goods and soda are frequently consumed in the American diet. These products are full of added sugars, provide no additional health benefits, and can lead to weight gain and other medical issues.
Consuming complex carbohydrates can actually help with controlling weight, as they are full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Examples of complex carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans. The high amounts of fiber in complex carbohydrates helps keep you full, which can help prevent excessive snacking between meals. Having adequate fiber is also essential in maintaining a healthy digestive system and may reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes. Complex carbohydrates are digested slowly in the body and release energy over a long period of time. As energy is slowly released, blood sugar levels are kept stable. Complex carbohydrates may also speed up metabolism, encouraging the release of acids to burn fat and preserve muscle mass. As you can see choosing the right type of carbohydrates can have a huge impact on your health and physique!
Here are some tips to help you make healthier choices when consuming carbohydrates:
- Replace fizzy drinks or fruit juices made from concentrate with water or natural fruit juices.
- Choose whole fruits instead of foods that are high in added sugar, such as cakes or cookies.
- Eat whole grain pasta, whole wheat couscous, or quinoa rather than white pasta.
- Swap white bread for whole grain bread or wraps.
- Snack on nuts instead of potato chips.