Carbs seems to be the latest buzz word used in dieting circles, dietary guidelines even state that we get about half of our daily calories from carbohydrates. So it is no surprise that carbs are highly controversial these days with some dietitians even claiming that carbs can actually cause type-2 diabetes and we should avoid eating them all together. But are they really as bad as everyone makes out?
It has been documented that reducing the amount of carbs in your diet can be one of the best ways to lose weight in certain individuals. However, that being said it appears that carbohydrate requirements depend largely on each individual with some people doing just fine eating every carb they can find while others do better lowering their carb intake to maintain their weight.
In this article I’m going to take a look at carbs (good and bad), their effects on health and how you can make the right choices when it comes to carbs in your diet.
What are Carbohydrates?
Carbs are the starches, sugars, and fibers found in vegetables, fruits, milk products and grains. They are called carbohydrates because they contain oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen (at the chemical level).
Even though the current trend for some people trying to lose weight is to stop eating carbs altogether, carbs are actually very important to leading a healthy life.
Dietary carbohydrates can be split into three main types:
- Starches: long chains of glucose which will eventually get broken down into glucose in the digestive system.
- Sugars: short-chain carbohydrates found in foods, some examples are fructose, glucose, sucrose, and galactose.
- Fiber: we cannot digest fiber however the bacteria in the digestive system can use these fibers.
Carbs are not bad, according to The American Diabetes Association carbs are the main source of energy for the body. Most of the carbs we eat can be transformed into glucose, which can then be used as energy. Carbs can also be turned into fat for later use (stored energy).
The fiber found in carbohydrates helps to feed the friendly bacteria in the digestive system. These friendly bacteria use this fiber to produce fatty acids which some of the cells in our body can then use as energy.
Whole Carbs vs. Refined Carbs
Let’s get this right, not all carbohydrates are equal some are good some are bad and they vary greatly in their health effects, let’s take a closer look. Refined carbs have been processed and have had all of the natural fiber removed, this type of food is typically unhealthy. Whole carbs on the other hands contain the naturally occurring fiber found in the food, these carb containing foods are generally healthy.
Refined carbohydrate foods typically lack the essential nutrients our boys need and they are often referred to as “empty” calories. Refined carbs tend to cause spikes in blood sugar levels, which in-turn leads to a subsequent crash that can then trigger cravings for more high-carb foods.
Whole food sources of carbohydrates are loaded with fiber and nutrients that our body’s need to functional correctly and don’t cause the same dips and spikes in blood sugar levels as refined carbs do.
Carbs are not the Cause of Obesity
Can carbs make you overweight? This is actually a myth, and there is a lot of evidence against this theory. Sure, restricting carb intake can often help you to lose weight however, this does not mean that the carbs caused you to gain weight in the first place.
Refined carbs are linked to increased obesity (I repeat “refined” carbs) but the same isn’t true for whole carbs, or as I like to call them the good carbs. We as humans have been eating carbohydrates for thousands of years and have remained in excellent health whilst doing so. The problem with the obesity epidemic started to kick-off in the early 80’s and this is believed to be with more refined carbs being readily available.
To be honest, blaming ALL carbs for this obesity epidemic simply doesn’t make any sense. You only have to take a look at the Asian rice eaters, the Kitavans, and the Okinawans to see how healthy they are with high carb diets. It tends to be populations that eat a lot of refined carbs and processed foods that tend to be unhealthy.
Low-Carb Diets Can Help you to Lose Weight
Like I said above no all carbs are bad, low-carb diets that restrict carbohydrate intake and allow you to eat lots of fat and protein can actually help you to lose weight. Numerous studies have shown that a diet low in carbs is far more effective at losing weight than the favored “low-fat” diet that is typically recommended by dietitians.
The research carried out shows that a diet low in carbohydrates can aid in more weight loss and also lead to increased health. Benefits of restricting your carb intake include improved HDL (the “good”) cholesterol, blood sugar levels, blood triglycerides, and blood pressure to name just a few.
However, just because low-carb diets can help you to lose weight and improve general health they are definitely not the best approach for everyone.
Many Carb-Containing Foods Are Incredibly Healthy
The body can actually function without a single gram of carbohydrate in the diet, they are not essential. However, just because carbs are not essential that doesn’t mean that they cannot be beneficial in some way. To reap the health benefits of eating carbs just remember to eat whole carbs. As a rule of thumb, carbohydrates that are in their natural fibrous form are healthy, while those that have been processed or stripped of their fiber are not.
Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs
So with this is mind let’s take a look at some good carbs and bad carbs, but keep in mind that these are just general guidelines and are not set in stone.
✓ Good Carbs:
- Whole Fruits: strawberries, bananas, pears, apples, etc.
- Vegetables: all vegetables are excellent and Its best to eat a variety of vegetables every day.
- Seeds: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.
- Legumes: kidney beans, lentils, peas, etc.
- Tubers: sweet potatoes, potatoes, etc.
- Nuts: all nuts really such as hazelnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, peanuts, walnuts, etc.
- Whole Grains: only opt for grains that are truly whole such as quinoa, pure oats, brown rice, etc.
✗ Bad Carbs:
- White Bread: this type of bread is made from refined carbs, is bad for metabolic health and contains a low amount of essential nutrients.
- Sugary Drinks: sodas are packed full of sugar and are some of the unhealthiest things you can actually put into your body. Drinks like Vitamin Water (trying to sound healthy) Coca cola, and Pepsi, etc. should ideally be avoided.
- Cakes, Pastries, and Cookies: these food types are typically high in refined wheat and sugars.
- Potato Chips and French Fries: whole potatoes (from the ground) are healthy but processed potato chips and French fries are not.
- Ice Cream: most commercial ice creams are packed full of sugars however, there are exceptions, make sure you read the label.
- Fruit Juices: often touted as the healthy choice, store bought fruit juices may have similar metabolic effects as sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Chocolates and Candies: typically, all candies and sweet should be avoided but (yes there is a but) if you enjoy chocolate choose a quality dark chocolate for added health benefits.