Carbs. For so many of us, they have a really bad rap, don’t they? What have carbs ever really done to us, except give us energy? There’s “good carbs,” “bad carbs,” – high carb – low carb – no carb; is your head spinning yet?
Where did all of the myths begin?
Let’s answer some common questions.
1. What is a carbohydrate?
To put in layman’s terms, carbs are a macronutrient [as are proteins and fats] that can be broken down to release energy in the body. Carbohydrates consist of the sugar [simple], starches and fiber [complex] found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products.
2. What types of carbs are there?
Answered simply, 2. There are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. The difference between them is their chemical structure and how quickly they are absorbed and digested.
Simple Carbs: are digested and absorbed more quickly and contain one or two sugars [aka quick energy source = spikes in blood sugar levels]
Monosaccharides = one sugar: fructose [from fruits] and galactose [from milk products]
Disaccharides = two sugars: sucrose [table sugar], lactose [dairy], maltose [beer, veggies]
Complex Carbs: Polysaccharides = three or more sugars, take longer to digest and absorb and are starchier in nature
Examples: beans, lentils, peanuts, potatoes, corn, parsnips, whole-grain bread/cereals
3. What’s the difference between good and bad carbs? First, let’s address the labeling; rather than moralizing a specific food using terms such as ‘good’ and ‘’bad’ how about we call them ‘smart carbs’ and ‘not as smart carbs.’ Just like all foods, carbohydrates fall on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum are your healthy choices, and the opposing end are your not as healthy choices - and in between are all of the other foods.
The carbs on your smart end are going to be your whole [most natural form], unprocessed foods. Examples: Fruits, Vegetables, Starchy Vegetables (sweet potatoes, plantains, parsnips, green peas), Legumes (peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans, soybeans, peanuts, green bean, alfalfa), Whole Grains (oats, quinoa, rice)
On the ‘not as smart’ end of the spectrum are your refined sugars, highly processed foods - these typically come pre-packaged. Examples: table sugar, white bread, sugary drinks, baked goods, candy, pastries, chocolate bars, etc.
Somewhere in between all of those foods, are hundreds of other foods that you see every day. Your goal is not to only eat from the smart end, and restrict from the other end, but to make conscious choices about which ones you are going to eat. Your only goal is to eat slightly better than before – not pull a complete 180 [we’re trying to establish healthy eating for a lifetime, not just because bathing suit season is around the corner].
4. But won’t cutting carbs will make me lose weight faster?
Yes, it’s true if you cut out carbs, you will drop some weight, but only temporarily. That’s because the weight lost is predominantly water weight. For every gram of carbohydrate, your body requires 3-4 grams of water to process and store it. That means you are holding extra water weight on a regular basis so if you decide to cut some carbs out, your retained water decreases; similarly, days after a heavy carb day you may notice you’re bloated and weigh more. Carbs are also essential for brain function as well as physical performance [because carbs = energy], so eliminating them doesn’t necessarily put you ahead of the game.
So what did we learn here? We can throw out the concept of "good" and "bad" carbs. We can eat from the entire carbohydrate spectrum (honestly restricting leads to worse food choices in the long run). There are different types of carbs that provide us quick or longer lasting energy. Carbs provide us with fiber - very important. They provide both your brain and your body with energy. All in all,, no, you should not be afraid of carbs. If you're feeling uncertain about this shift, perhaps because of years of conditioning, sign up for Nutrition in a Nutshell where we dive deeper into the taboo world of carbs.