It's such a common occurrence within the fitness industry to exclude carbohydrates from your diet. Whilst there is always new data showing conflicting findings in relation to what we should consume, the bottom line remains that carbohydrates are a vital macronutrient and form a huge part of our daily nutrition intake. Carbohydrates are the bodies prime fuel source and our brains rely almost exclusively on glucose to function properly! Limiting or excluding carbs can thus lead to feeling tired, lethargic and "foggy headed." So why is that carbs have such a bad name?
Carbohydrates are made up of fiber, starch and sugar and can be broken into simple and complex carbs:
Simple carbohydrates are sugars and can be found naturally in fruits and dairy products. Simple sugars found in fruits and vegetables also contain fiber, which changes the way they are digested. making them act a little more like complex carbs. Simple carbs are often referred to as 'bad' carbs as a large portion of the population consume refined or added sugars found in sugary and highly processed foods. They include things like biscuits, sweets, white bread and pasta and fruit juices. They are broken down very quickly by the body, consequently resulting in a 'spike' in blood sugar levels. This leads to a subsequent crash and hunger cravings for more sugary foods in what people experience as the "blood sugar roller coaster." Multiple studies show that excess consumption of refined carbohydrates is directly related to obesity and type 2 diabetes. They also provide "empty calories" as they lack any essential nutrients such as fiber. Naturally occurring simple carbohydrates are required in moderation as they provide an important source of energy through easy to digest, basic sugars. Refined and processed simple carbohydrates however to limit or avoid include:
Soft drinks: A can of coke has around 10 teaspoons of sugar!! Eeeeeeek say no more!
Baked goods - most are packed with refined flour and sugar and are completely devoid of essential nutrients such as fiber, protein and minerals. Pre-packaged baked goods are normally far worse than home made as they are often loaded with additives and preservatives also.
Fruit juice concentrate: they are not what they seem! Many go through multiple processes before being bottled and a far from their original state. Did you know some apple juices have almost as much sugar as a can of coke? (9.8 teaspoons!)
Breakfast cereals: some contain up to 3 teaspoons of sugar per serve which is equivalent to 2 1/2 chocolate biscuits! Some of the worst include Kellogs Crunchy Nut, Frosties and Coco Pops. Wheet-bix is a great choice and an Aussie favourite :)
White breads - they include refined carbs that are low in essential nutrients
Complex carbohydrates are made of fiber and starch and are generally slower to break down. They are nutrient dense and provide a longer lasting source of energy as they are digested more slowly than simple carbs. Consequently, you don't get spikes in blood sugar levels and so are great for diabetics. Fiber is vital for bowel regularity and assists in controlling cholesterol. Fiber-rich foods include:
Starch is the other compound of complex carbohydrates and can be found in foods such as:
whole wheat bread
Complex carbohydrates are a key ingredient to long term health - good choices includes:
(source from www.healthline.com)
Grains: "Whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat and millet have been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of cancer while stabilising blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, plus optimising digestive function. Wholegrain varieties found in oats and rye specifically lower the risk of cardiovascular disease."
Legumes: "Beans and legumes in the form of kidney beans, lentils, fava, black-eyed peas and chickpeas are naturally low in fat, and practically free of saturated fat, and cholesterol. As a result, they lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and help improve both unhealthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels while regulating blood pressure. Fibre, protein, and slowly digested carbohydrate content aid in satiety, helping with weight loss and weight control."
Potatoes: "Resistant starch from potatoes is mostly converted into the short-chain fatty acid butyrate - the preferred food source for gut bacteria. Studies have shown that butyrate can reduce inflammation in the colon, strengthen the colon's defenses and reduce the risk of colorectal cancer."
Whole fruits: "While the effects of fructose on metabolism can be harmful, this is only true when consumed in concentrated form such as fruit juice. When eaten as a whole fruit with the skin on, fruit adds the positive benefits of fibre, water and "chewing resistance", which means it takes a while to eat and digest, so fructose hits the liver slower and doesn't cause harm."
So the consensus - don't exclude them however make better choices about good quality carbohydrates. Choose quality over quantity and aim to have lots of complex carbohydrates. These will increase metabolism, aid digestion, provide you with a stable energy source, improve mood and brain function and keep you fuller for longer. We still need simple carbohydrates however limit them to unrefined and unprocessed varieties.