By Vanessa Evens a recent ASU Nutrition Student
We all know that carbs have a bad reputation. There are too many “low carb” diets to even keep track of, but all carbs are not created equal. Understanding what a carbohydrate is, is essential to know which kind of carbohydrates we should actually limit.
Carbohydrates are sugars. They come in two forms, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates contain sugars that are quickly absorbed. Complex carbohydrates take time to be broken down and therefore are not absorbed as quickly.
Here’s the deal. Each type of carbohydrate-containing food sits somewhere on the glycemic index. The higher a food is on the glycemic index the more likely it is to raise your blood sugar. That means that eating a lunch of a baked white potato (high on the glycemic index) is not the same as eating a salad loaded with fresh veggies and even some whole grain croutons. The salad falls low on the glycemic index while the baked potato will fall higher. Foods that are high on the glycemic index are the things you would expect including white flour products, white potatoes, sweets, and prepackages flour-containing products. These are the simple carbohydrates I talked about earlier. They are the carbs to limit. Limiting your healthy carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and vegetables just deprive you of essential nutrients. One more bonus to enjoying these carbs is that they are satiating while containing lower amounts of calories. This means if you are trying to lose weight, carbs are a great thing to include in your diet!
Why We Need Carbs
Here is why we need carbs. Every cell in our body relies on sugars provided by carbohydrates to fuel its function. Your body literally runs on carbs, it like gasoline in a car. Aside from being our basic source of energy, carbohydrates can actually help to regulate a healthy weight! Think of that. The very thing we are told to avoid is the very thing that can help us get to and maintain a healthy weight. The trick is choosing the right carbohydrates. If you’re at all like me, when you think of carbs you think of bread, pasta, and sweets. All of that is true, but they are also found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. There are so many great carbs available to us every day and cutting them out completely can end up nutritionally depriving you.
What does this mean for your love of bread? Bread is still very much a healthy option for you if you choose the right kind. Consider whole grain bread instead of white flour bread next time you make a sandwich or need something to dip in your soup. Your body will thank you.
Now that you understand a little better what carbs are, the next question is how many carbs should we be eating a day? Mayo recommends between 45% and 65% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. If you average that out to 50% of your total calories and you are eating 2,000 calories a day then that means 1,000 calories per day should be from carbs. This isn’t an open invitation to eat macaroni and cheese for every meal! Making smart decisions about your carbohydrates is half the battle. I recommend using an app that will keep track of your macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) so you can see exactly what your ratio is. This way you can make adjustments as needed and see exactly what you are eating.
Now that you have the power of knowledge, enjoy having carbohydrates as your new friend!
Ali, R. (2019, March 17). ‘I. love. bread.’: Why your love affair with carbs doesn’t have to end. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2019/02/27/i-love-bread-why-your-love-affair-carbs-doesnt-have-end/3002229002/
Choose your carbs wisely. (2017, February 07). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/carbohydrates/art-20045705