Alright, so the nutrition science side of this might not look as fun, but I assure you this is the stuff that’s most important to understand for you to make easier and better decisions on the way you eat. As a disclaimer I just want to mention that while I will be telling you the benefits and reasons why consuming foods high in different nutrients is beneficial, we’re all human and it’s okay if you’re not eating 100% balanced and healthy all the time. It’s so easy to feel deprived of food when you’re on a diet, so I want you to think of the information I give you as suggestions to change your lifestyle long-term, not to solely to lose a few pounds. Note: there are some diseases and ailments that cause people to need a smaller amount of carbs, so before you start eating a crazy amount of carbs after reading this post, it may be necessary to check with your doctor before adding a lot of carbs to your diet (though the daily amount of carbs needed in a day, as mentioned below, isn’t too many carbs for the average person).
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about CARBS!
CARBOHYDRATES ARE NOT BAD FOR YOU! Say, whatttt? I know it’s hard to believe, but carbohydrates are not an enemy. By definition, a carbohydrate is a molecule that the body breaks down into glucose to use as energy or storage for future need of energy. In other words, almost all of our vital organs use carbs to function properly. Our body begins to break down carbohydrates in the saliva and then finishes breaking down in the stomach to get the end result which is what we know as glucose.
Glucose is an amazing molecule. It can be used in all types of metabolic processes that include giving you energy for that run or walk that you enjoy doing as well as giving your brain the energy to think. It’s a fast burning molecule, so we need a lot of carbohydrates to carry out these processes. According to the USDA, about 65% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates.
- To put it tangibly, if you had 2,000 calories, you want to consume about 1300 calories from carbs.
- 1 gram (g) of carbohydrate = 4 calories so at 1300 calories that would mean you need to consume 325g of carbohydrates.
- 1 medium apple contains 22g of carbs and 2 tbsp of peanut butter contains about 7g of carbohydrates which means about 10% of your daily need of carbs in one small snack, so 325g of carbs really isn’t that much.
So if the body needs carbohydrates, why is it misconceived that carbs are bad for you? Well, there are different types of carbohydrates! There are what is known as complexcarbs and simple carbs.
Complex carbs are known as the “healthier” carb because they are essentially what nature is providing us from the source. In other words, we aren’t messing with the structure of the food item. Complex carbs, most often, contain a higher amount of dietary fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Another important point is that complex carbohydrates don’t spike the level of glucose in your blood very high after you have consumed them, which is imperative to keeping your insulin (a protein in the body that helps glucose get into organs for energy use) levels in check — more to come on this topic soon! The reason why I have quote marks around the word ‘healthier’ is because they are harder to digest than simple carbohydrates, so consuming too much of the complex carbohydrates can cause discomfort in the digesting process; it’s important to consume both simple and complex carbohydrates, but complex carbohydrates tend to have more nutrient value and thus are important to consume a greater amount of.
Simple carbs are otherwise known as refined carbs because all of the nutrients that a complex carbohydrate contains is stripped of said nutrients. The most distinct difference is that simple carbohydrates tend to be lower in fiber and overall vitamin/mineral content. The USDA, however, made it mandatory that simple carbohydrate breads, pastas, and other starches are fortified (nutrients added to the food) with important B vitamins to make up for the loss in the process. Also, simple carbohydrates tend to have a more intense effect on the amount of glucose in the blood and insulin, so it’s important to limit these carbohydrates, but make sure you are still getting some in the diet!
Okay, so you have this bit of information to chew on, but what foods are considered complex vs simple?
Complex carbs include: Squash, beans, lentils, quinoa, potatoes (with peel on and make sure it’s homemade to avoid over processed foods like fries, etc), nuts, fruits with low glycemic index (I will again touch more on this soon), vegetables (especially green vegetables), whole grain oats, breads, and pastas. Many more are included on this list, but this is a good place to start.
Simple carbohydrates include: sugar, fruit juices, refined flours, cereals, pastas and rice (otherwise known as “white”), candy, cake, and most processed foods in general.
Let me know your thoughts on this and if there is something you guys want to know more about!