Updated: Aug 15, 2019
Carbs, or carbohydates, have gotten a pretty bad rep recently. Low carb and no carb diets have become the new go-to for anyone looking to lose weight. But have we gone too far in our quest to eliminate carbs from our diet?
Carbohydrates provide energy that fuels Your body. Carbohydrates are just glucose, (sugar), molecules that are strung together. These molecules break down in the body to provide energy.
Carbohydrates can be simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates have fewer molecules of sugar and break down quickly in the body. Think of simple carbohydrates as a match that burns bright and quick. When we consume simple carbs, our energy levels spike quickly and then drop fast.
Complex carbohydrates break down more slowly and provide a more even energy. Like the light of a candle, complex carbs provide energy at a steady rate for a longer period-of-time than simple carbohydrates.
Should simple carbohydrates be totally eliminated from our daily nutrition?
The problem with vilifying any type of food whether it is simple carbohydrates, fats or protein is that there is no perfect nutrition plan that provides all the nutrients we need to thrive and a one size fits all plan does not take into account individual variations based on size, gender, age, culture, activity type and level or geography.
A good general recommendation is to consume more complex carbohydrates than simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates make us feel full, aid in digestion, regulate our blood sugars, can help us maintain a healthy weight, as well as provide protection against developing Type 2 Diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
However, some simple carbs are good for us. Examples of foods that contain simple sugars and provide us with nutrients that we need are milk and fruits. Milk contains lactose, a simple sugar. Milk also contains calcium which helps in the development and maintenance of strong bones. Fruit contains fructose, a simple sugar, but also provides the body with fiber and vitamins. Fiber slows down the absorption of sugar in the body and helps keep our digestive system healthy.
Why we need Carbs
1. Energy – Carbohydrates provide energy for the body. Carbs in the bloodstream provide the quick energy for our daily needs
2. Digestion – Carbohydrates break down into glucose molecules. Every cell in the body needs glucose to function as their primary fuel. The brain and red blood cells rely almost exclusively on glucose for energy.
3. Metabolism – After carbohydrates break down into glucose, they are available to fuel the body
and become the primary source of energy that we use for daily activity.
4. Sleep – Some complex carbohydrates contain tryptophan which relax the body and helps you to sleep. Bananas, brown rice, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes are examples of carbs that contain high amounts of tryptophan.
5. Filling Fiber – Fiber breaks down more slowly in the body that simple sugars. Fiber helps your blood sugar and energy to be more stable during the day and keeps you feeling full longer.
6. Brain Function – The brain used carbohydrates for energy. Limiting carbohydrates in your diet may cause you to have a hard time processing and retaining information, concentrating, feeling foggy or even leave you feeling sad or depressed.
7. Nervous system Function - The cells in our nerves depend on glucose to function properly.
The chemical name for table sugar is sucrose. Other names you might see include fructose, dextrose, and maltose. The higher up they appear in the ingredients list, the more added sugar the food has.
How Can I tell a simple carb from a complex carb?
Peas, beans whole grains, legumes, nuts, fibrous fruits and vegetables are the primary sources of complex carbs. Simple carbs often hide in foods. The best way to tell if you are getting simple carbs you do not need are to read food labels. The ingredients in foods are lists by amount from the highest to the lowest. The higher sugar appears on the ingredients list, the more sugar there is in that food.
Food manufacturers can also hide the amount of sugar in a product. A good way to detect sugar on a food label is to look at all the words that end in “ose”. Sucrose, fructose, high-corn syrup fructose, dextrose and maltose are other names for sugar. Also look for the words syrup, (Cane syrup, tapioca syrup), nectars, juices and other sugars, (brown sugar, molasses). The total amount of all these forms of sugar are the total amount of sugar in a product.
Another way to look at the “good” versus “bad” carbohydrates is to define your carbs as refined versus non-refined. Non-refined carbohydrates contain natural sugars and fiber. Refined carbohydrates have been processed until little or no nutritional value remains.
Moving up the Food Chain
Listed below are some simple carbohydrates and healthier alternatives. Improve your nutrition and health by substituting healthier alternatives in your daily nutrition.
Use Less of These Add More of These
Soda Water flavored with lemon or orange
Baked treats – cakes, cookies, low-fat snacks Fruit
Fruit Juice Concentrate 100% Fruit Juice
Refined Grains 100% Whole grain products
Processed Foods Foods in their natural state
White Bread Bread made with Whole grains
Fatty Meats Beans, peas and lentils
Level 1 – Decrease the amount of sugary drinks you consume each day. Switch soda for water or carbonated water.
Level 2 – Add some complex carbs in the form of vegetables to your dinner each day.
Level 3 – Remove all added simple sugars from your daily nutrition.