There’s a lot of debate around carbohydrates these days. Are they good, or are they bad? What are examples of complex carbs and simple carbs?
Why are we made to fear carbs? Aren’t they a great energy source? Yes, they absolutely are. But before you go loading up on bread and pasta, you must understand that not all carbs are the same.
Have you heard that there are “good fats” and “bad fats?” Well, there are also “good carbs” and “bad carbs.”
What Exactly Are Carbs?
Carbs can be broken down into 3 main categories: sugars, starches and fiber. As the main role of carbs is to provide us with energy, most of them get broken down and put into our energy supply.
However this isn’t the case for fiber. Have you ever wondered why fiber is highly encouraged for optimal gut health? This is because fiber feeds the healthy bacteria in our body, which is primarily found in our gut. The bacteria then uses this fuel to nourish our cells, which gives us energy. So even though fiber doesn’t give us energy directly, it plays an important role in our health and stamina.
Other carbs are turned into fat and stored in our body. These simple carbs are readily available to provide quick bursts of energy. But when you they are over consumed, the pancreas releases insulin to convert the energy into fat for storage.
Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs
Good carbs can be referred to as “complex carbs” and bad carbs as “simple carbs.”
Whole foods, such as vegetables, potatoes (especially sweet potatoes because they’re packed with additional nutrients), fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains make up good carbs. Because of their nutrients and anti-inflammatory properties, these carbs not only act as our primary energy source, but they lower our overall risk of disease.
Before you read on to why simple carbs can be harmful to our bodies, it’s important to note that not all simple carbs are bad for us. Fruits and vegetables are actually simple carbs, but they’re still good carbs, and are drastically different than other simple carbs. The fiber in these foods changes the way the body breaks down their sugars and slows down digestion. They have lower glycemic levels which means that lower levels of sugars are gradually released throughout the day, keeping your energy level more consistent, rather than experiencing peaks and valleys where you’re bouncing off the walls, and then crashing.
Bad carbs are made up of refined and processed ingredients. These are the carbs that feed the inflammation fire and all health problems are connected to inflammation. Stay away from any carb that is a white grain! Bad carbs include white bread, white rice, white pasta, sweets, pastries, many cereals, french fries, potato chips, fruit juices and sugary beverages.
Bad carbs may give quick, limited bursts of energy. Without the fiber to help curb the insulin spike, your energy dwindles and you crash. The refined ingredients cause spikes in our blood sugar levels and when we crash, we are often left with the craving for more bad carbs which becomes a vicious cycle. This is exactly why there is a great link between high consumption of bad carbs and obesity, as well as type 2 diabetes.
What Is a Healthy Carb Intake?
It’s been said that 100-150 grams of carbs per day is recommended to keep your weight regulated. To put that in perspective, 15 grams of carb will get you: 1 cup of rice, ½ cup of pasta, 1 slice of bread, 1 small potato and 1 piece of fruit.
However, like everything else when it comes to diet and nutrition, it depends on your body. Some bodies need more carbs than others, depending on your age, metabolism rate and how active you are. If you’re working out regularly you’re going to want to be sure to boost your good carb intake. Before a more intense workout, it’s best to take some easy-to-digest carbs like a banana, or a piece of whole wheat toast. Post-workout foods are nutrient-dense meals or snacks packed with protein, along with some good carbs. A fantastic option is salmon with grilled veggies.
The Bottom Line:
Try to avoid refined and processed foods that are high in simple carbs.
A focus on consuming whole foods containing complex carbs can provide sustainable energy and a lower risk of disease.