The Real Skinny on Carbs
Over the years, many diet plans have labeled carbs as enemy #1, and we’ve been discouraged from eating them. The truth is you NEED carbs. In fact, they are essential to our health. Carbohydrates are one of the macronutrients, along with protein and fat, that serve as our main source of energy, so we can function properly everyday.
Carbohydrates are not only vital for the body, but also for our brain.
You’ve heard about glucose, right? Glucose is the fuel that the brain uses to produce the energy we need for pretty much everything we do – our movement, thinking, creativity, and even motivation.
Because the neurons in the brain cannot store glucose, they depend on the bloodstream to pump in a steady supply.
How does the glucose get to our bloodstream? From carbohydrates. See how that works?
No wonder learning is so tough for the kids who eat no breakfast in the morning. I told you carbs were important!
Simple vs. Complex Carbs
Carbs can be either simple (the “bad” ones) or complex (the “good” ones). Complex carbs are actually made up of longer chains of sugar molecules. Our bodies takes a longer time to process them.
The “simpler” a carbohydrate is, the faster is gets into our system and the faster the sugar reaches our bloodstream. Translation: more spikes in insulin. Over time, this puts us at risk for heart disease and diabetes.
The time it takes to break down the carbohydrate and actually put it to use provides us with a more steady flow of energy, so simple is not better.
Examples of complex carbs:
- green vegetables
- whole grains
- sweet potatoes
- unprocessed foods
The simple carbohydrates are made up of just one or two sugar molecules and are quick to digest, and have little to no nutritional value. Many simple carbs are added to foods to enhance flavors.
Examples of simple carbs:
- enriched flour (used in white breads, pastas, and even most wheat breads)
- sugary beverages
- many breakfast cereals
- most processed food
The GI Scale
There is also another way they classify carbs, according to how quickly the body absorbs our food – that is, how quickly and how high they boost your blood sugar. This is classification is referred to as the Glycemic Index, or GI.
The Glycemix Index actually originated from a study done on subjects who ate different foods and had their blood sugar monitored for three hours immediately following the meal. The faster the glucose reached the bloodstream, the higher GI number was assigned.
High GI foods tend to be the ‘bad’ (simple) carbs. They cause rapid spikes in blood sugar. Be careful: too much glucose (sugar) or refined carbohydrates at once can actually deplete from our bodies and our brains the glucose it needs – taking our energy with it. This affects our ability to concentrate, remember, learn, and over the long run, can lead to illness.
Low GI foods are MUCH better for you. They are the “good”( complex) carbohydrates, which are digested much more slowly, causing a lower and more gradual change in blood sugar. This helps alleviate hunger swings and helps our metabolism.
Shakeology is another great low-GI food made with whole ingredients and no added sugar, making it a good morning meal. I added Shakeology to my daily morning meal six years ago and have been drinking it ever since.
Some Glycemic Index Examples
The lower the better, but keep in mind to not only look at the GI number in isolation, as some higher GI foods (i.e. papaya) would still be a better choice over a lower GI, highly sugary, processed food (i.e. M&Ms).
A Carb Recap
- Yes, we do need carbs, but all are not created equal (complex vs. simple)
- Foods low on the Glycemic Index are best
- Go for the fiber to get the most bang for your buck!
Another bonus for your body comes from eating carbs that still have their fiber content, like brown rice or quinoa, rather than the over-processed, refined, or enriched stuff, such as white bread and candy.
We all probably know fiber is known for keeping us “regular”, but because it also helps keep our blood glucose levels steady, lowers blood cholesterol levels, and aids in weight loss as a result by helping us feel full sooner and longer.
A Better Carb Lifestyle
Our bodies are complex machines, and while any “diet” can give you success in the short term, the answer to better health might not be a no-carb, or even low-carb policy, but a lifestyle with enough carbs, and better carbs.
So feel free to fill up on natural whole foods, and be a healthier you just by making a few better choices each day. Your body, your brain, and your waistline will love you for it!
If you are looking for a no-brainer healthy way to dial in your nutrition and keep your carbs in check, try the 21 Day Fix program, with its no-counting-calories, portion-controlled system for eating right. I highly recommend it!