WHAT ARE CARBOHYDRATES?
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients that help your body perform its essential functions. Carbohydrates often get a bad rap, but they are actually your body’s go-to source of energy, providing fuel for the muscular and central nervous systems. They play a major role in cognitive function and are an important source of nutrients like fiber, which helps maintain a healthy heart and a functioning digestive system. Eating too few carbs can lead to low energy, headaches, constipation, and mental fatigue.
Carbohydrates have been demonized by fad diets over the years. As a result, less-nutritious foods like candy, cake, chips, and doughnuts are often the first foods that are associated with carbs. While these are sources of carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains are also sources of carbohydrates.
“GOOD” CARBS VS. “BAD” CARBS
Carbs play an important role in keeping your body functioning, so why do they have such a bad reputation? When people talk about “bad” carbs, they are often referring simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly and have little nutritional value. Some examples of simple carbohydrates are non-diet soda, candy, concentrated fruit juice, baked goods, breakfast cereal, and cookies. These simple carbohydrates aren’t necessarily bad (sometimes a cookie is important for your mental health!), but they are hyperpalatable, meaning they taste great and keep you craving more. They are also generally higher in calories, so a diet high in these sugary, processed carbohydrates can lead you to consume more calories. It is these extra calories, not the carbohydrates themselves, that can lead to weight gain and other health issues.
On the other hand, complex carbohydrates, often considered to be the “good” carbs, are processed slowly and provide nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Vegetables, fruits, oats, whole grains, and beans are examples of complex carbohydrates and should be your main source of carbs. Not only do they provide essential nutrients, but they are also generally lower in calories and higher in fiber, so they provide you with more volume of food and keep you full longer.
Diets that advocate for dramatically cutting carbs are often too restrictive and do not set you up for long-term success. Avoiding carbs forever is neither healthy nor practical! Rather than eliminating carbs, replacing processed carbs with carbs from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help you fill your day with high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods that will keep you full and satisfied.
Kate Lyman, MPH, CHES is owner and head coach of an online nutrition coaching business. She and her team at KLN believe in ditching restrictive diet rules and building flexible eating habits that allow you to eat the foods you enjoy while still working towards your aesthetic, performance, and health-related goals. She provides individualize and group nutrition coaching and also instructs corporate nutrition seminars. Get in touch at katelymannutrition.com or on follow along at @klnutrition.