Carbs - Friend or Foe
Updated: Jul 29, 2019
It's safe to say, a majority of us love to eat good food. When we think of the comfort foods we love - pancakes, bread, chocolate, cake, fries, brownies, biscuits - most of them contain a good amount of carbs.
Low-carb, keto, Paleo, the Atkins diet, avoid carbs at night… I could go on and on about how the media portrays avoiding carbs as a necessity to lose weight.
So what's the deal?
Do carbs make you fat? Should we avoid them like the plague? Are they good or bad?
Carbs are controversial, clearly. So let’s get back to the basics and start with what a carbohydrate is.
A carbohydrate is one of the three macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates), all necessary for our bodies to function properly. A carbohydrate is an organic molecule composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (which is why CHO is a shorthand for carbohydrates).
When we consume carbs, our body breaks most carbs down into glucose (AKA blood sugar) where it is used for energy for our cells, organs, and tissues.
In the foods that we eat, there are 2 types of carbohydrates:
Simple carbs are QUICKLY broken down, digested, and used for energy. Simple carbohydrates are made of just one or two sugar molecules (monosaccharides & disaccharides). Simple carbs add a sweet flavor to foods. Naturally, simple carbs are found in fruits, milk, and milk products. But they're also found in processed and refined foods like candy, soda, table sugar, and syrups… these foods could be the part of the reason why we commonly hear that carbs are bad and make you fat.
Complex carbs take longer to break down due to their chemical structure. They're made of 3-10+ sugar molecules linked together (oligosaccharides & polysaccharides). Complex carbs are the starches and fibers, such as vegetables, grains, beans, and peas. Since they take longer to break down, complex carbs keep you full and energized longer than simple carbs do.
Why do we need to eat carbohydrates?
Primary energy source for the body - especially during exercise
ONLY source of energy in high-intensity anaerobic exercise
Energy source for cells of the central nervous system (AKA your brain and spinal cord which is only kind of important)
Prevent muscle wasting - if your carb intake is too low, your body will literally burn your muscles to provide energy, so you lose the muscle mass that you’ve worked so hard for
Important for glycogen and muscle recovery (glycogen is AKA animal starch; the storage form of carbohydrates in animals and humans)
Are you still wondering if carbohydrates are good or bad?
The TIMING, CHOICE, and CONSISTENCY of the carbs you eat are what will answer that million dollar question. Simple, processed carb sources like cookies, soda, milkshakes, white bread - they're okay once in a while, but if that's what you consistently choose over and over, they won't benefit you in the long run as much as complex carbs would.
Since simple carbs don't yield as much energy and satiety, you’re more likely to get hungrier quicker which will lead to excess snacking and rapid spikes and drops in your blood sugar levels. It can also lead to cavities, weight gain, and may increase your risk of diabetes, CVD, kidney issues, and neuropathy. Complex carbs on the other hand can improve blood cholesterol, increase feelings of fullness, aid in weight management, and improve muscle recovery. These are just a few of the pros of consuming complex carbs, but to reap even more benefits, consume them at the proper time.
Y’all probably remember growing up and hearing that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and there's some truth to that. There are 3 prime times to remember to eat carbs – breakfast, pre-workout, post-workout. These 3 times are important because it's when our bodies are the most insulin sensitive AKA the carbs are more likely to be stored in lean tissues (muscles) rather than adipose tissues (fat). So think about it, if we can eat strategically to maximize carbs being stored in muscle tissues instead of fat, that diminishes the notion that "carbs make you fat".
Carb timing and insulin sensitivity can be a whole other post but regardless, carbs are SO incredibly important for our bodies! We shouldn’t be afraid of eating carbs as long as we are being mindful of our consistent choices and timing.
Each individual NEEDS a specific amount of carbohydrates. Eating less carbs than what your body needs can have devastating effects, including stalling weight loss. Eating within the range that your body requires improves body composition, mental function, energy levels, and cravings. Are you wondering if you're eating too little? Or too much? Just shoot me a message and we can talk about food, how much (or little) you're eating, and how I can help you!