For the longest time, carbohydrates have been “demonised” by numerous diets.
Found in grains, milk starches and sugars, precisely those foods we’ve often been advised to avoid, carbohydrates are actually one of the three main components to a healthy lifestyle. Proteins, carbohydrates and fats are our body’s main source of energy.
While proteins need to reach our digestive system to transform into energy, our saliva actually kickstarts the digestion process in our mouths. But just like good fats and bad fats, there are good and bad carbs. So how can you know which ones you’re okay to consume? We’ll walk you through it.
Teach a man how to fish…
The point isn’t to give you a list of things you can or can’t eat. The best way is to explain which carbs are bad, and which are not, so you’ll make your own choices much easier. There are two types: simple and complex. The former are found in sugars contained in fruit and milk products, while the latter are found in starchy foods, like beans, potatoes, lentils, and whole-grain pastry. While simple carbs are processed and digested much quicker, it is the complex carbs that are more useful. They take a while to digest, and the burst of energy you gain from them lasts much longer.
Good carbs vs bad carbs
This doesn’t go to say that all simple carbs are bad, and all complex carbs are good. Both doughnuts and strawberries have simple carbs, yet you can easily tell which ones are better for you. An apple for breakfast, even though a simple carb, is not a better option than having a glass of milk with some oatmeal cookies. The apple will cause a spike in your sugar levels, which will make you hungrier much sooner. Milk and oatmeal cookies will stay a while in your body and provide a more sustainable energy source
How to know for sure?
The best way to know is to read the label on the packaging.
- Bad carbs will be high in sodium, high in processed sugars, high in calorie count, low in fiber and high in saturated fats
- Good carbs will be low in sodium, have no processed sugars, be moderate or low in calorie count and high in fiber
As we said, both a donut and a strawberry are simple carbs, but a donut is chock-full of refined sugar, which account for empty calories (the ones that actually cause weight gain).
What is the solution?
Find all the bad carbs you’ve been consuming so far. Replace them with high-fibre and low-on-sugar carbohydrates, either through different foods, or supplements, if some seasonal food aren’t available. Cook your own meals, and try to go for the unprocessed versions of your food (buy and cook your beans instead of getting them canned, for example).
In the end
As mentioned before, know your carbohydrates. Trusting the media is easy, but also detrimental for your health if you’re not well-informed. Instead of following the latest fads and facing years of unsuccessful attempts to adapt your diet to the next popular thing, get to know your body and how it works. Maybe it has problems digesting dairy, maybe it’s the hidden sugars in your bottled sports drinks, or you’re getting your fruits and veggies packaged instead of fresh. Weight gain and health problems are often far from coming from a single food group.
The Carousel would like to thank Ian Pearson for this article.