The Healthy Guide to EATing Carbs
Unfortunately, in the nutrition world, we have gotten into this terrible habit of vilifying foods. “Eggs will give you high cholesterol and kill you!” “Red meat clogs your arteries!” “Fat will make you fat!” “No, wait! Carbs make you fat!”
Ugh…it’s all enough to make your head spin, right?
It doesn’t have to if you stop listening to hype, influencers with an agenda and manufacturers who have nothing but profit as interest. Keep it simple, get back to the basics and develop a basic understanding of how your body works.
What are carbs?
While this may sound like a silly question, and far too basic, the truth is most people think of carbs as nothing other than bread, pasta, cereal, crackers and the variety of other foods they’ve been told not to eat. Carbohydrates are actually the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. Though often maligned in trendy diets, carbohydrates — one of the basic food groups — are important to a healthy life.
What do carbs do?
In simple explanation, they give us energy.
Carbohydrates provide fuel for the central nervous system and energy for working muscles. They also prevent protein from being used as an energy source and enable fat metabolism.
Also, carbohydrates are important for brain function. They are a quick energy source and can influence mood and memory.
Why did carbs get such a bad rap?
In a nutshell, when we started packaging our carbs and eating them in place of fruits and vegetables.
Without giving you an entire history lesson on agricultural revolutions, as we progressed into a more industrialized society, we started to manufacture our food, rather than just growing it. Fast forward to the shift towards more dual-person working homes, technological advancements and an overall fast paced lifestyle, we decided taking the time to make our own food was too much trouble and we started eating from a box.
While this explanation may sound obtuse, in actuality it is about as accurate explanation as you can find.
So what carbs should we EAT?
The real ones! Nutrient dense and not calorically dense vegetables is as simple as it gets.
When choosing carbohydrates, you want to stick with nutrient dense sources. Vegetables in a plethora of colors: kale, brussel sprouts, peppers, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, cucumbers, lettuces, etc., the list goes on and on!
What about tubers and root crops? Things like potatoes, squash, radishes, parsnips, carrots, beets? Of course! Last time I checked, very few people got obese from eating too many potatoes! Do you see the craziness here? We want to hold hotly debated discussions on sweet potatoes vs. white potatoes, all the while most people are scarfing down donuts at least once a month.
What about grains?
I am sure some of you reading this are saying, “well grains are grown so why shouldn’t I eat them.” Grains were not meant to be grown and consumed “as-is”. Meaning, you cannot pick a stalk of wheat and chew away. Grains have to be refined, they are not of their original form and are highly contaminated with pesticides and chemicals. If you want more in depth explanation on wheat, head over to Mark’s Daily Apple for an informative read on the problem with modern day wheat.
Rice is another area to use caution. It is high-glycemic, can contain high levels of arsenic and again, is refined. Quality here counts most and large quantities are unnecessary for anyone other than high-level athletes who need more carbs than the average person (which makes it tough to get enough from fruits and vegetables alone).
When it comes to grains, you need to be informed. Ask yourself if eating grains is truly the most nutrient dense source of carbohydrates and the answer will always be no.
What about fruit?
It is true that you can overdue fruit, for sure. Fruit is high in a sugar known as fructose. Even though the sugar is coming from a healthy source, you still have to use moderation. Choose fruits that high in antioxidants and vitamins like berries, apples, pears, apricots, peaches, and cherries and stay clear of things like pineapple, melon, and mango.
I personally recommend no more than 1-2 servings per day and never consume fruit juice! (As a rant I cannot resist, please stop giving your kids juice!)
What carbs should be avoided?
Anything that comes from a package or a bakery. Packaged foods in general are concentrated with large amounts of hidden sugars. Check your pantry now and I guarantee you will find foods you wouldn’t consider sweet that have at least several hidden sugars in them.
Packaged foods are high in calories, low in nutrients, full of refined sugars, low in fiber, and high in sodium.
This goes for “healthy” versions of packaged foods as well. While something may be gluten-free, sugar-free, whole-grain, etc., it is still void of vital nutrients. Enjoy these foods on rare occasion.
In summary you do not need to remove all carbs from your diet and they alone will not make you fat. In fact, removing all carbs from your diet will most likely lead to a carb intolerance. Unless you plan to never eat carbs again, I suggest you stay away from strict eating dogma like ketogenic diets. Once you reintroduce carbohydrates, you will blow up like a balloon.
Eating real food carbohydrate sources will not make you fat. Eating packaged carbs, high in sugar and low in nutrients will. Stick to sources that are grown and eaten without refinement.
Keep it simple!
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