So many diet fads have come and gone that it’s simply impossible to keep up with what’s good and what’s bad. Carbohydrates have been under scrutiny for some time now, with some saying they should be avoided altogether — an opinion supported by claims that they cause obesity and type 2 diabetes — and others, like our own dietary guidelines, saying half of our calories should come from carbs. So who is right?
While it’s not as cut and dry as right and wrong, and there are good arguments on both sides, it’s important to understand that the answer is dependent mainly on the individual, since some do better with a lower carb intake, while others are fine eating a lot of carbs. To better understand what’s right for you, you should really understand the ins and outs of carbs in their entirety.
What Is A Carb, Anyway?
We hear about carbohydrates all the time, especially in relation to how they either work for or against our health and our weight, but do you really know what they are?
Carbs consist of molecules that have carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. There are protein and fat, and then there are dietary carbohydrates, which can be split into three main categories. These consist of sugars, starches, and fiber.
What’s The Purpose Of Carbs?
We need carbs in our diet because they provide us energy. The majority of carbs get broken down and converted into glucose, which the body can use as a source of energy. This energy can also be stored however, which turns the carbs into fat to be utilized for later use.
Fiber, however, works differently. Rather than providing energy directly, the good bacteria in the digestive system can use it to produce fatty acids that our cells can then use as energy.
The Difference Between “Whole” And “Refined”
Carbs make their way into a variety of the foods we eat, but they’re not all created equal.
Whole, or complex, carbs are unprocessed and are filled with the fiber naturally found in the food. Refined, or simple, carbs are processed, and the natural fiber has been removed.
Examples of whole carbs include:
- Whole fruit
- Whole grains
Whole carbs are complete with nutrients and fiber. Various studies link the high-fiber sort with improved metabolic health, along with a lower risk of disease.
Examples of refined carbs include:
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
- Fruit juices
- White bread
- White pasta
- White Rice
Along with their lack of essential nutrients, refined carbs have been found to cause serious spikes in blood sugar levels, which results in an eventual hard-hitting crash which creates hunger and cravings for additional high-carb foods.
Many studies have found a link between various health problems, including obesity and type 2 diabetes, and refined carbohydrate consumption (1,2). Furthermore, the added sugars in them are linked to a variety of chronic diseases.
What About Low-Carb Diets?
Low-carb diets are undoubtedly popular. By restricting carbohydrates, and allowing plenty of protein and fat, people have found success in losing weight, and plenty of studies point to the fact that this type of diet may be more beneficial than a low-fat one.
People suffering from obesity or type 2 diabetes may find this diet a valuable choice, but it isn’t the answer for everyone, because carbs are not the cause of obesity; in fact, research has found this style of diet may do just the opposite for healthy adults not suffering from such conditions.
While you don’t technically need carbs, many carb-containing foods are very good for you, including vegetables and fruits.
How You Can Incorporate Carbs Correctly
If you’re a healthy adult, you may still have some questions as to how you can make the right choices in terms of consuming carbs.
First and foremost, if you’re going to eat carbs, you should make sure they are whole. They should be natural and rich in fiber.
To scratch the surface, here are some examples of good carbs to consume:
- All vegetables
- Whole fruits like apples, bananas, and strawberries
- Legumes like lentils, peas, and kidney beans
- Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and peanuts
- Seeds like chia seeds and pumpkin seeds
- Whole grains like oats, quinoa, and brown rice
- Tubers like potatoes and sweet potatoes
For those who are looking to restrict their carbohydrates, it’s important to be mindful of whole grains, legumes, and high-sugar fruit.
And here are ones to stay away from:
- Sugar drinks like soda, Gatorade, and Vitaminwater.
- Fruit juices, which are bad for metabolic health.
- White bread, which is ow in essential nutrients and also bad for metabolic health.
- Pastries, cookies, and cakes, which are typically high in sugar and refined wheat.
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