Carbohydrates: How carbs can fit into your diet

Are carbs the enemy?

The latest craze seems to be to villainise carbohydrates. But is there truth to this? At the end of the day, carbohydrate is just a macronutrient that provides your body with energy. So why all the commotion? 

We seem to live in an era where fear has encouraged diets to be all or none when it comes to nutrients. There was a time where fat was feared, salt was feared and even protein was feared, causing diets to focus on reducing a particular nutrient to a bare minimum.  This then resulting in the loss of good fats, quality salts and protein; all of which are needed for you to function.

The truth to this craze and many others is that our body can only absorb so much at one time. We are programmed to digest and absorb only a certain amount of nutrients at a given time. What happens when we overload our system? Our body does its best to compensate but when there is too much going in, something has to give! 

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Natural Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates in its natural form – sweet potato, chickpeas, carrots, provide an important role and we can trust that our body knows what to do with it. Processed carbohydrates such as sugar is a different ball game. Carbohydrate is a macronutrient that is converted to sugar (glucose) within the body. It provides quick energy to support muscle, nerve and cognitive function.

While carbohydrate is useful, our body needs to be efficient in managing how we use it and the simple fact is our body is not programmed to deal with the number of carbs we’re generally putting into it.

But does that make carbohydrate the enemy?

It’s about knowing your internal engine! If we push our limits, we will strain our system comprising our health and increase fat deposits around our body. The misconception is that only fat leads to increased fat deposits. Carbohydrate and protein will be stored if need be. The focus should be on balancing all quality macronutrients.  

A general cheat sheet with a balance of macronutrients to ensure optimal functionality, 20-25% (16g) carbohydrates, 30-35% (24g) good-fats and 35-40% (28g) protein.
Assuming main meal is 80g macronutrient totalled.

Not All carbohydrates are the same

To eat or not to eat carbohydrates? The information out there can be so confusing and it’s no wonder why people are unsure of whether carbohydrates are indeed good or bad.

Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy balanced diet as they provide energy and are found in foods with other important nutrients, but it’s the type of carbohydrate that matters.

There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly in the body and glucose is released into the bloodstream at a fast rate, leading to high blood glucose. This causes insulin to spike. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose and too much of insulin can lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes.

These simple carbohydrates are often very energy dense, with limited nutrients. Examples include white bread, table sugar, soft drink, donuts and pastries. These simple carbohydrates are also not very filling and therefore cause consumers to eat more as they are not satisfied, leading to weight gain. Another consequence of simple carbohydrates is feelings of fatigue not long after consumption as they only provide short lasting energy.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates on the other hand take longer to digest as the molecules are larger in size and often contain fibre. This means glucose is released into the blood at a slower rate, causing insulin not to spike but rather stay consistent. The slow digestion also helps you to feel fuller for longer and gives you a consistent source of energy. Complex carbohydrates are also more nutrient dense as they contain many vitamins and minerals which provides a range of benefits for your body. Examples include sweet potato, multigrain bread and legumes/beans.

So instead of thinking carbohydrates are bad, you should ask yourself when you consume a carbohydrate, is this a simple or a complex carbohydrate?

Try and consume complex carbohydrates for the majority of your food intake and leave the simple carbohydrates for special occasions.