When it comes to carbs – for some people the line seems hazy. I’m sure you have heard varying statements and opinions from friends, TV, magazines, dieticians, books, etc. So which one is it? Are they good – or are they bad? The simple answer is: they’re both.
What is a Carbohydrate?
Carbohydrates provide us with glucose, which our body converts to energy used to support bodily functions and physical activity. In fact, carbs provide more than 60% of the amount of energy required by the body. They are found in a wide array of both healthy and unhealthy foods including: bread, beans, milk, popcorn, potatoes, cookies, spaghetti, soft drinks, corn, and cherry pie. They also come in a variety of forms. The most common and abundant forms are sugars, fibers, and starches.
Not the best kind.
These simple carbs are simple sugars with a chemical structure that is composed of one or two sugars. They are refined sugars that have very little nutritional value for your body. They’re digested by the body more quickly because of their very simple chemical structure. The energy is stored as glycogen in our cells, and if not used immediately gets converted to fat.
These bad carbs are generally processed carb foods that have been stripped of their natural nutrients and fiber to make them more ‘consumer friendly’. They have a high glycemic index (which is why they’re digested so quickly) and this rapid fluctuation in blood sugar level is what you might know as a ‘sugar crash’. This leaves you feeling tired and causes you to become hungry faster. Foods that contain these nasty little carbs include table sugar, products with white flour (most bread), honey, milk, candy, cake, fruit juice, jam, soda, biscuits, and packaged cereal.
So, dear friends, my advice to you is to treat these simple carbs as a no-no. Here’s a summed up/at a glance list of pretty good reasons why:
Low in fiber & nutrients
High glycemic index
Empty calories converted to fat
High blood glucose levels = feel tired and crappy
We like these.
Complex carbs consist of a chemical structure that’s made up of three or more sugars, which are usually linked together to form a chain. They are mostly rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This makes them more satisfying and causes you not get hungry again so quickly. Due to their complexity they require our bodies to work harder to digest them (hence why it takes longer) and the energy is released over a longer period of time. They act as the body’s fuel, and they contribute significantly to energy production.
Unlike the simple carbs, complex carbs have a low glycemic indexes. As I said above, they’re digested and absorbed more slowly – which produces a gradual rise in blood sugar, not a spike. They have benefits for weight control because they help to control appetite and delay hunger.
What contains the complex carbs you need to be consuming? Surprise surprise, fruits and veggies! ESPECIALLY veggies. Since fiber is kind of the king – eating at least 6 servings of vegetables daily is a pretty good idea. I’d recommend fresh or frozen vegetables and a small amount of starchy vegetables and legumes. Some of the best types of vegetables are zucchini, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, spinach, and kale. Some of the best fruits to get your carbs from are blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, dates, plums, cherries, and grapefruit. They have more nutrient value with less sugar than other fruits.
Some other acceptable sources of complex carbs include ancient grains such as wild rice, quinoa, and rye.
So, quick recap on why complex carbs are your go-to:
High in fiber & nutrients
Low glycemic index
Help you feel full with fewer calories
Naturally stimulate your metabolism
Aren’t Whole Grains Complex Carbs, Too?
Well…technically yes. BUT – the problem with grains like breads, tortillas, multi-grain muffins, whole grain pancakes, the list goes on…is that they often include trans fats, refined sugar, preservatives, and/or additives such as high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners.
So we don’t encourage the consumption of whole grains. An occasional slice of sprouted-grain bread is fine – particularly if you’re an avid exerciser. But wheat-gluten is not very nice to the G.I. tract. Grains stimulate improper liver, thyroid, and pancreas responses in many people. Grains can also foster reduced immunity, fungal infections, skin problems, anxiety, depression and weight gain.