For many of us, when we hear the word "carbs," we instantly think of all the foods we love to eat but probably shouldn't. For years, nutritional advice taught us to be afraid of carbs and avoid them at all costs, creating feelings of shame and guilt during momentary lapses in willpower. But, what if we told you that everything you thought you knew about carbs was wrong?
Sure, carbs from sugar are not good for you. Sugar is basically a broken down carbohydrate that is devoid of all nutrients. And as we all know, when you eat too much sugar, bad things happen in your body. Complex carbohydrates, however, are an entirely different sort of creature. Found in foods like quinoa, farro, fruits, vegetables, and dairy, complex carbohydrates are a part of a healthy diet. Believe it or not, your body NEEDS carbs to function.
Here is everything you need to know about carbs and what really happens in your body when you eat them:
Not all carbs are created equal.
While all carbs seem to get a bad rap, simple carbs are the real villains. They can be found in foods like bread, white pasta, donuts, bagels, and sugary cereals. “Simple carbohydrates are made up of short chains of carbon molecules that require little breakdown and go directly into the bloodstream [and cause a blood sugar spike],” says Kim Larson, R.D., spokesperson for The Academy Of Nutrition And Dietetics. Simple carbs and sugar have no redeeming nutritional qualities. Besides, they can cause inflammation and lead to a variety of health troubles like heart disease and cancer. Complex carbs are made up of longer chain molecules so your body takes longer to break them down. This means that the sugar isn't instantly dumped into your blood stream. “We experience a more steady-state infusion of sugar into our bloodstream that supplies longer lasting energy,” says Larson.
When you eat carbohydrates, your body works to break them down to their simplest form known as glucose.
“The breakdown of carbohydrates starts in our mouth with salivary enzymes, then goes to the mechanical churning of the stomach using digestive enzymes, along with B vitamins (the helpers) and journey ends when they are in their simplest form, glucose, which is then absorbed in the small intestine,” explains Larson. Glucose then journeys to the liver and is distributed throughout the body. The cells use the glucose they need for energy, sending it to your muscles and other bodily tissues. Some gets stored in the liver as a reserve and the rest is stored as fat. This is why loading up on carbs, no matter the type, can lead to obesity.
We need carbohydrates for our bodies to even function.
Carbohydrates serve as our body's main source of fuel. “Glucose is the form of sugar that our brain uses,” explains Keri Glassman, R.D. We need glucose to complete our most basic metabolic processes like breathing, eating, and even thinking. Fat and protein also provide energy but when it comes to getting that most basic level, carbs are where it's at.
[bctt tweet="This Is What Eating Carbs REALLY Does To Your Body"]
So, what about the weight gain? “Certainly eating too much of anything (including protein and fat) will cause weight gain,” Larson explains. The very act of eating more calories than you are burning can lead to gaining. In this case, the problem is caused by the fact that simple carbs and sugars do not keep you full and so they are very easy to overeat. But, eating healthy carbs, fat, and protein as part of a balanced diet will help your body function as it should.
Complex carbs are found in more food than you think and you should be eating them every day.
Milk, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are not only complex carbs but they contain important nutrients like fiber and protein! It is not necessary to give up carbs completely, focus on eating the healthy ones -- in moderation. “Over half of our daily calories should come from quality carbohydrates, like whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables,” Larson notes. “We cannot support the brain if we are taking in less than 120 grams of carbohydrate per day, and a lack of glucose (like oxygen) to the brain can cause irreversible damage.”
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How do you include carbohydrates in your diet?