There have been a lot of fad diets claiming that carbohydrates are the enemy, and that eliminating carbs from your diet is a guaranteed way to lose weight. And in some cases, this may be true. But the reality is, weight loss is the result of consuming less calories than you are using, no matter what macronutrient those calories are from. There are certain people who have specific digestive issues where it is not this simple, but in majority of people, over-consumption is the cause of weight gain, not carbohydrates.
The real problem that exists in our world today is the options for sources of carbohydrates. We live in a high-fat, high-sugar world. It seems easier to say “don’t eat carbs” than it is to say “read your labels and learn about what you are actually putting in your body”. This is where carbohydrates are getting their bad reputation. But carbohydrates are the major source of energy for your body. Cutting out carbohydrates can leave you sluggish and interfere with your training performance. So instead of removing carbs from my diet, I chose to learn more about them.
There are two main categories of carbohydrates: complex and simple. We will cover complex carbohydrates first.
There are two types of complex carbohydrates: Starches and fibers. Starches are found in whole grains, rice, oats, potatoes, etc. These are the complex carbohydrates that are broken down into glucose to be used as energy for the body. This “breaking down” process takes a little while, so your blood sugar rises and lowers gradually, leaving you with more continuous energy.
Fibers are not digested by the body, but help feed the good bacteria in your digestive system. There are also two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers absorb a lot of water and become thick inside the body, sort of like a jelly. They move slowly through your digestive system, slowing the absorption of fat and cholesterol. Eating more foods with soluble fibers will help you feel satiated longer, since your stomach will empty at a slower rate. Soluble fibers are found in foods such as legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Insoluble fibers move more quickly through the body, and help regulate digestion. These are found in similar food sources, but are usually the tougher or harder to chew parts of the food (ex: soft inside of apple has soluble fiber, skin has insoluble fiber). Women should aim to have at least 25g of fiber per day, while men should aim for 38g per day.
The second major type of carbohydrates are simple carbs, or sugars. These are small short-chain molecules that can very quickly be turned into glucose for the body to use as energy. These tend to spike your blood sugar rapidly (and usually follow with an energy crash) if they are not consumed with other important nutrients such as fiber. Types of sugars include sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit), and lactose (milk).
SO, WHAT SHOULD I BE EATING?
The answer to this question is most easily explained by categorizing carbohydrates into a different kind of category: refined or whole carbohydrates.
Refined carbohydrates are what brings the trouble when it comes to weight management. These are processed carbs such as sweets, fruit juice, white bread, white pasta, and white rice. By processing these foods, many nutrients are often stripped away such as the fiber that prevents blood sugar spikes. When your blood sugar increases quickly, your body reacts by storing all the extra energy it doesn’t need as fat, and then you’re left with an energy crash and craving more carbohydrates.
The best solution to this is to stick to whole carbohydrate sources. Try to get all of your daily carbohydrates from natural foods. With all the “natural ingredients” and “all natural” labels out there, maybe this can be confusing. But just think to yourself: did this have to come from a factory? Or can I go outside and find it growing somewhere? The foods I most recommend would be oats, potatoes, brown rice, fruits (in moderation), and LOTS of vegetables. If you include these in your daily meals, you will be getting plenty of fiber to help you feel satisfied, lots of energy for your workouts, and the vitamins your body needs to function at its best.
You don’t need to feel deprived or avoid a whole food group to feel and look your best. Just make sure you are choosing the right sources!