Carbohydrates or “carbs” are our body’s primary energy source which fuel our bodies and is crucial to our diet. Carbohydrates often get a bad rap, but each type affects your body differently and many types are beneficial to our health.
What is a Carbohydrate?
“Carbs” are micronutrients along with fats and proteins. The three main types of carbohydrates are sugars, starches, and fiber that are found in grains, fruit, vegetables and dairy along with soda, candy, sweets and baked goods.
Carbohydrates contain a few calories per gram. The body’s process of digestion converts these carbs into blood glucose, which we use for fast acting energy. The excess goes to our liver and muscles where it is stored to fuel our bodies when our blood glucose levels run low.
Whole versus Refined
Whole Carbohydrates – these carbs exist most naturally, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, pasta, beans and barley as well as foods that have been minimally processed for freshness such as frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, milk yogurt, whole grain bread and pasta. Whole Grains contain all of their parts: bran, germ and endosperm and are nutrient dense.
Refined grains include white flour, white rice, white bread and other highly processed carbohydrates which include sugary soda and candy. Refined grains are missing one or more of their three key parts – bran, germ & endosperm and many are manipulated for a longer shelf life.
They’re called “simple” or “complex” based on their chemical makeup and what your body does with them.
Complex Carbs – are found in whole grains, legumes and starchy vegetables. (Starchy veggies – sweet potatoes, parsnip, plantain, pumpkin, acorn & butternut squash, green peas and corn)
Simple Carbs – they are composed of one or two easily digestible basic sugars – some that naturally occur in fruits and milk while refined or processed sugars are often added to cereals, baked goods and soda.
Both are sources of energy however; complex carbs contain a certain kind of sugar molecule which take more time for the body to break down and use. This process provides us with a longer more consistent amount of energy.
Complex versus Simple
Many Simple Carbs are good for you, your health, weight and energy levels. Fruits and Vegetables are an important source of essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. They are very different from other simple carbs such as cakes, cookies and foods with added refined sugars.
The fiber in fruits and vegetables changes the way the body processes their sugars and slows down their digestion, making them act more like complexcarbohydrates.
- Low to moderate calories – We can eat larger amounts with lesser calories
- Nutrient dense
- No refined sugars or refined grains
- High fiber content – Shown to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, reduce bad cholesterol, assist in weight loss, improve digestion, and other health benefits
- Low in sodium
- Low in saturated fat, low to no cholesterol, and no trans fats
- High in calories for a small portion
- High in refined sugars
- High in refined grains – Wheat flour stripped of nutrient value made to look white in color
- Nutrient value – Zero to low
- Fiber – Zero to low
- Sodium, Fats, Cholesterol – High
A common misconception that I hear often is that “carbohydrates make you fat.” If eaten in large quantities, they can contribute to weight gain, but so can any other food!
Great reasons to eat Carbs!
- Carbs can help boost your mood (they promote the production of serotonin, the brain feel good food)
- Carbs can not only help prevent weight gain but can promote weight loss (many carbs are loaded with fiber)
- Many carbs are heart healthy!
- Refined grains may help reduce belly fat
- Slow release carbs don’t spike bold sugar levels – having lower levels may help you burn fat.