In recent years, carbs have developed a bad rap – often cited as a key contributor to weight gain. With the rise of the Paleo movement and the Atkins Diet in particular, many people looking to lose weight have greatly reduced or eliminated high-carb foods from their diet.
But are we throwing the baby out with the bath water? Although there is some truth to the link between carbs & weight gain, to say carbs are bad is an over-simplification AND inaccurate. All carbs are NOT created equal and vary greatly in what they offer our bodies and how they are ultimately processed.
Carbs fall into two categories: simple carbs and complex carbs. In either form, they are the bodies preferred choice in fuel, converting easily to energy. The difference is in their molecular structure, determining how quickly they enter the blood stream.
Simple carbs are made up of one or two sugar molecules. Because of their simple molecular structure, they break down easily and are quickly absorbed into the blood stream as energy. Any sugars that are not used as fuel are converted to fat and stored for future use.
Simple carbs are found largely in processed foods. During processing, these foods are stripped of both their original nutrients and fiber. They become a short-term fuel source, offering little nutritional value. They also lack the necessary fiber to slow down the digestive process, resulting in a sudden spike in blood sugar levels. Unable to make use of the sudden influx of sugars, the body converts what’s left to fat.
Common sources of simple carbs are:
- Table sugar
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice
- Baked goods made with white flour
- Soft drinks
Simple carbs can also be found in fruit. Unlike other sources of simple carbs however, unprocessed fruit still has valuable nutrients intact. Fiber also slows down the digestive process, helping to stabilize blood sugar levels. That said, fruit tends to have relatively high levels of sugar and should be eaten in moderation.
In contrast to the simple carbs, complex carbs are made up of three or more sugar molecules linked together. They take longer to break down and are most often found in high-fiber, high-nutrient foods. Because the sugar from complex carbs takes longer to move into the blood stream, blood sugar levels remain fairly even – providing the body with a more stable and consistent energy source.
Common sources of complex carbs include:
- Leafy greens
- Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower)
- Whole grains
- Brown or wild rice
THE BOTTOM LINE
The good news… “Bad” carbs are most often found in refined foods – those high-sugar, low-nutrient options that are best avoided anyway. So, before saying “no” to carbs, we suggest doing a bit of homework. First, think about where your carbs are coming from (who knew that one of the biggest sources of carbs is soda). See how your body responds to higher-carb foods – both simple and complex. Continue to experiment until you find the foods that help you to thrive. Odds are good that you will find a few deliciously nutritious, high-carb foods that you enjoy AND that support your health goals to feel and look your best.