With so many contradicting ideas about carbs, it can be very confusing to understand if and how you should include them in your diet. The truth is that not all carbs are bad, and adding the right carbs to your diet can help you reach your health and fitness goals.
What are Carbs
Carbs are one of the three macronutrients - along with fat and protein - that we need to include in our diet. Carbs are divided into three categories:
- Also called simple carbs, these are small compounds that are easily digested. They are found naturally in fruit and dairy products and are added to most processed for that sweet flavor that we all love. These are the carbs that you should try to avoid in your diet as eating too much can have negative health impacts.
- Also called complex carbs, these compounds are a lot larger and take longer to digest. Once in the body, they are broken down into sugars before they can be used. They are found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains.
- Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that we can’t breakdown, so we don’t get any calories or nutrients from fiber alone. However, it is essential to include fiber in your diet as it plays a vital role in the digestive process and is associated with several other health benefits.
Why We Need Carbs
When we eat carbs our body breaks them down into glucose, which is the body’s preferred energy source. Current dietary guidelines recommend that 45-65% of our daily calorie intake should come from healthy carbohydrate sources. For an average 2000 calorie diet, this would be about 225-300g of carbs per day.
Not only are healthy carbs a great source of energy, but they are also rich in vitamins and minerals. Whole grains are a great source of B vitamins and minerals like magnesium and selenium. Fruits, vegetables, and legumes are also loaded with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that play a massive role in our health.
Dietary fiber plays an important role in our digestive health and can prevent problems like constipation, and more serious bowel disorders such as diverticulitis. Additionally, fiber can lower blood cholesterol levels, which helps prevent heart disease.
The reason that carbs get a bad reputation is that when we eat too many carbs at once, the body stores them as fat so that we can use them for energy later if needed. This process happens a lot faster with simple carbs that can be digested quickly and generate huge amounts of glucose in a short period of time. To avoid this spike in glucose and the subsequent production of fat, eat a diet rich in complex carbs and fiber that takes longer to break down and generates a more manageable stream of glucose for the body to use.
Good sources of carbs to include in your diet are high in fiber and complex starch and lower in simple sugars.
Healthy carbs include foods like:
- Whole grains: oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain breads/pastas/cereals
- Legumes: black beans, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts
- Vegetables: carrots, broccoli, spinach, cucumber, beets
- Fruits: apples, bananas, berries, pears
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, cashews
Buy Whole Grain
When buying any processed or packaged carb like bread or pasta, make sure the label says “whole grain.” Whole grains means that the bran layer, the part of the grain that contains all the fiber, vitamins, and minerals, hasn’t been removed. In most processed carbs, the bran is removed to improve the taste and appearance of the product, but unfortunately, it also removes all of the nutrients. If your product doesn’t say “whole grain,” then you are missing out on many of the benefits of consuming carbs.
Try to buy fresh fruits and vegetables as much as possible as they contain the most nutrients and no added preservatives. Frozen fruits and veggies are also a great option as they last longer than fresh products and can be added to a meal with very little prep time.
When purchasing canned products, always rinse them off before eating. This removes any added sugar or salt that has been added as a preservative, making them a lot healthier to consume.
A simple trick to adding carbs to your diet is to stay away from highly processed and packaged foods as much as possible and stick to fresh and whole foods. Combining these carb sources with lean proteins and healthy fats for well-balanced meals and snacks is an excellent step towards achieving your health goals!