Are you confused by carbs? If you are confused, you are far from alone. Ask a friend about carbs and they will tell you that are the devil and to be avoided at all costs. Ask another and they will say the exact opposite. There is a lot of sketchy science out there mingled with real, legit evidence based information which makes it difficult to discern exactly what you should be doing in your healthy practices day to day.
If you are tired of not knowing what
to believe, we can add a little clarity!
Carbohydrates are one of the main nutrients essential to your body's functioning. Your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose. Your blood carries this glucose throughout your body to be used for energy in all the things you do over the course of a day. Unless you have been specifically told otherwise by a medical doctor, carbs are a part of healthy diet. But having said that, not all carbs are created equal. To help you determine the type (and quantity) of carbs you should be eating, we'll walk you through some of the most common carbohydrate myths.
Carb Myth #1: Carbs will make you fat
We are a society that likes easy answers. We love to blame our health and weight loss troubles on one single ingredient. Don't eat sugar, don't eat fat, or red meat, or gluten. Carbs have found themselves placed in this same sort of category. “People like [carbohydrates] so much, they tend to overeat them,” says Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet
and a member of the Passion for Pasta Advisory Council. “So people gain weight—not because the carbs are bad—but because they’re having too much.”
The carbs people tend to crave are the ones that are high in refined sugar and low in fiber. These include things like potato chips, crackers, candies and cookies. But there are lots of good, nutrient dense, carbohydrate sources like fruits, vegetables and grains that should be eaten and not lumped in with soda and syrup explains Willow Jarosh, R.D., a dietitian and co-founder of C&J Nutrition.
“If you consume more calories than your body needs—whether or not it contains carbohydrate—you can gain an unhealthy amount of weight,” says Elisa Zied, R.D., author of Younger Next Week
and a member of the Passion for Pasta Advisory Council. It is tempting to make carbs your weight gain culprit but it would be far more useful to take a step back and look at what else you are eating.
Carb Myth #2: All simple carbs are unhealthy
Simple carbs have a bad reputation because foods that contain refined sugar fall into this category. “Simple carbohydrates have a high glycemic index and can raise blood sugar levels,” Zied says but they aren't all necessarily bad for you. Dairy and fruit, for example, are simple carbs.
The flip side of simple carbs are complex carbs. "Complex carbohydrates are absorbed and digested by the body more slowly,” Zied says. “They have a lower glycemic index than simple carbohydrates and tend not to raise blood sugar levels the way simple carbohydrates do.” Grains, bulgur wheat, quinoa, and starchy vegetables like acorn squash, corn, and pumpkin are examples of complex carbs.
If you consume complex carbs that are also high in fiber (5 grams of fiber or more per serving), you will feel satisfied much longer without going overboard on calories.
“Fiber is one of the things that helps slow down the blood sugar spike,” Jarosh says. “[Without fiber], it’s more likely that you’ll get hungrier again sooner, and you’re not going to feel as satisfied. And that’s what gives carbs a bad name.”
Carb Myth #3: Pasta and bread are bad
Zied says that instead of making pasta enemy number one, you should pair it with healthy foods like lean protein, vegetables and legumes. “Pasta is a perfect vehicle for cooking with many foods,” she says. But if you are looking for other hearty meal options, you can also use quinoa, wild rice, brown rice or farro. The only thing to keep in mind here is portion size.
This same theory applies to bread. If you are someone who cannot live without a sandwich in your day, make sure you are filling it with nutritious morsels. Try some grilled chicken, avocado, tomato and lettuce on your whole grain slices of bread.
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When you are going out, Gans recommends you be incredibly weary of that tempting bread basket. The bread isn't likely whole grain and more often than not, people load each slice with butter. It is also important to consider what else you will be eating. If you are sitting down to a pasta dinner, for example, having the bread will likely push you well past your carb limits.
Carb Myth #4: Low-carb diets are the only way to lose weight
Low-carb, high-protein diets are great for helping you shed pounds quickly but they are not sustainable long term. "We need carbohydrates," Gans says. "Our bodies rely on glucose to function optimally—especially our brain." If you are not getting enough carbs, your body will go into ketosis which means your body is burning fat, instead of glucose, for fuel. This causes your body to store ketones and can lead to nausea, headache, mental and physical fatigue, and bad breath.
So, instead of cutting carbs out of your life completely, reduce your portion sizes and focus on eating high-fiber, complex carbs to keep yourself feeling full and satisfied.
Carb Myth #5: Less than half your diet should be carbs
Each and every person has different nutritional needs. But the current acceptable macronutrient distribution range (or AMDR) for carbs is between 45 to 65 percent of your total daily caloric intake. Because calorie needs vary so drastically from person to person, it is a good idea to think about your carb intake in terms of a percentage.
If you are a 20-something woman eating 1,800 calories a day, you should be trying to get between 810 to 1,170 of those calories (or 202 to 292 grams) from carbohydrates.
This percentage range stays the same, even if you are active. If you do long, strenuous workouts you may find you have to increase your overall calorie intake but the percentage of calories you should be getting from carbohydrates remains the same.
This information is all well and good but how exactly do you translate percentages and grams into an actual meal? You'll have to take a close look at how many grams of carbs are in each serving of the foods you eat.
As you can tell, there is no one answer to carbs. You have to take a bit of a Goldilocks tactic: not too much, not too little, eat only the right kinds and you will see and feel results. When you find your balance, you will have the energy you need to crush your workouts and manage everything else you need to fit in during your day!
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How do you deal with carbs in your diet?