Confused about carbs? You’re not alone! Here are some guidelines for navigating the complex world of healthy carb consumption.
When it comes to healthy eating, carbs are a tricky subject. While consuming excess amounts of the wrong types of carbohydrates almost certainly leads to weight gain and associated diseases, which types should you avoid, and which types should you eat – and how much?
These are important questions, some of which have complex answers.
This article addresses these topics and more, so that you can make smart and healthy decisions when it comes to your carb consumption.
For better health, and to maintain a healthy weight, you will want to stay away from “bad” carbs, and embrace “good” carbs instead. Here is a breakdown of the differences between the two, how you can recognize them, and what they mean for your health.
What You Should Know About Carbs
Humans have three macronutrients in their diets: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Like fats and proteins, carbohydrates are important for a varied, well-balanced diet—especially since they are a vital source of energy for the body. In fact, an average adult should get 45-60% of their daily energy from carbohydrates.
Here’s how it works. Once carb-heavy foods are digested, they eventually turn into glucose, which the cells of our bodies absorb and use for energy to complete many daily functions. However, cells can’t process nearly all the carbs we like to eat, and the leftovers are kept in reserve for two days. If they’re still not used by that time, they are turned into fat, which the body hangs on to for a long-range energy supply in case food becomes scarce.
Because of this natural fat-morphing phenomenon, carbs have gotten a bad rap, and they are the first thing many diets will tell you to nix when you want to lose weight. Regardless, not all carbs should be eliminated since completely removing them from the diet denies your body an essential nutrient it needs to function.
However, there are some types to watch out for and limit.
…Simple (bad) carbohydrates are comprised of one or two sugar molecules, while complex (good) carbs are comprised of many chains of sugar molecules. The more dense, the more vitamins, minerals, and fiber are available for the body to use.
Simple carbs are often referred to as “empty calorie” foods and beverages, and frequently have loads of added sugar. They are a quick, albeit unsatisfying, source of energy because there aren’t any nutrients involved. Complex carbs, on the other hand, include whole grain or naturally occurring sugar sources that pack in more nutrients for your body, providing you with lasting energy.
What You Should Know About Bad Carbs
Bad carbs, which have little health value, are found in many popular snacks and sweets, including:
- Desserts such as ice cream, cookies, cakes, and candy
- Breads not made from whole grains
- Pastries such as croissants or scones
- Sugary beverages like soda and fruit drinks
- Potato chips, crackers, fried foods, and pizza
- Pastas that are not made from whole grains
You may enjoy indulging in foods that have bad carbs in them from time to time, but a diet heavy in these types of foods can negatively impact your overall health. People who regularly eat too many of the bad kind can experience:
- Weight gain. Eating the above foods packs on the calories, which your body can’t really use since they offer little nutritional value. When you eat large amounts of bad carbs, greater amounts of insulin are also needed, which can in turn lead to insulin resistance and cause fat accumulation.
- Bowel issues. Fiber is an excellent way to keep your large intestine healthy, but you’ll only find it in plant-based foods.
- Nutrient deficiency. The food pyramid acts as an excellent reminder that your body won’t get much out of highly processed foods. Instead of sweets and refined carbs, the whole grain options, vegetables, and fruits make up the majority of what your body truly needs to operate.
- Risk of diabetes. Many of the bad carb options are packed with sugar. Eating too many of them could cause your blood sugar levels to easily get out of control, especially if there is a family history of diabetes.
- Risk of heart disease. Refined carbs increase your triglyceride count, which is a type of fat circulating in your blood. Once this number gets too high, your risk of stroke and heart attack increases.
What You Should Know About Good Carbs
As you might have already guessed, the healthiest types of carbs are found in natural, whole foods. When eaten on a regular basis, they contribute to a healthy diet and provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a slew of nutrients that add to your overall well-being.
Some examples of carbohydrates that you should always add to your diet include:
- Whole grain breads
- Grains including quinoa, brown rice, bulgur, buckwheat, and couscous
- Fruits including bananas, blueberries, plantains, oranges, and apples
- Vegetables including broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, celery, beets, spinach, cucumbers, bell peppers, and tomatoes
- Cornflakes or all bran
Consistently consuming good carbs can positively impact your health. When you increase the amount of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and other good carb-friendly foods, you’ll experience:
- Easier weight management. Consuming foods with good carbs offers your body the nutritional value and energy you need. You’ll also feel much more satisfied after a meal of whole grains and vegetables than after consuming a bowl full of potato chips.
- Healthy bowel movements. Fiber is a vital player in staying regular and keeping your large intestine as healthy as possible.
- Heart health. Just as consuming bad carbs will increase cholesterol, it’s much easier to manage cholesterol levels on a diet of whole grains and good carbs.