'Carbs', also known as carbohydrates, have long been at the center of hot debates in the health and fitness world. Some diets claim that they're 'bad' and promote limiting carb consumption, while other diets embrace carbs and promote daily consumption. It's no wonder so many people are confused with what to believe! The truth of the matter is, your body needs carbs in order to function properly. Some sources of carbs are simply healthier than others, which is where 'simple' and 'complex' carbs come into play. Learn to always look on the bright side of the LOAF with these carb facts, do's, and don'ts.
What are carbohydrates & what do they do?
Carbohydrates come in many forms which include fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, sugars and processed foods. Carbs are a crucial part of our diet, because they provide our bodies with energy in the form of glucose. Our body breaks them down, leaving the sugar to enter the bloodstream. As cells absorb blood sugar, levels in the bloodstream begin to fall, which in turn signals the liver to release stored sugar to ensure our bodies have a steady supply of it . If your liver seeks glucose and there isn't any, you'll know-- you may experience severe headaches, fogginess, mood swings, etc.
Why are people so obsessed with the idea of a "low carb" diet?
Low carb diets were (and still are) a fad, because people truly believe that carbs are the devil. Most low carb diets recommend eating less than 100g of carbohydrates a day, sometimes as little as 20g. A typical granola bar has about 15-20g of carbohydrates so that would be your carbohydrates for the day. Can you imagine?! I would go crazy!
Individuals participating in the diet may see weight loss results initially, but will they just keep losing weight until they've reached their goal weight? Most likely not. It's hard to stick with this diet, plus it can have some negative effects on your body, as discussed earlier. It is okay to cut back on carbs slightly, but when you make a dramatic change or take them out of your diet as much as possible, your body may not react well. Lowering your carb intake can cause headaches, mood swings, make it difficult to concentrate and may actually make you gain weight-- because when your body goes to reach for energy and there isn't any, it takes energy from your lean muscle mass. When your body uses lean muscle mass, it actually slows down your metabolism, because that muscle sped it up previously .
How many grams of carbs do you need in your daily diet?
Health experts recommend that we get between 45 and 65 percent of our calories from carbohydrates . According to the United States Drug Administration (USDA) , adults are recommended to consume anywhere from 1800-3000 calories a day, based on gender, age and activity level. For example, for an individual seeking to consume 2000 calories a day, they should aim for 900-1300 of their calorie intake to revolve around carbohydrates (2000 x .45= 900 & 2000 x .65=1300), equaling out to about 100-150g of carbs. Everyone is unique, as mentioned in other articles. Your recommended carb intake will differ based on several factors as mentioned earlier.
To give you an idea of what 100 grams looks like...
1 1/4 cup of cooked quinoa: ~50 g carbs
2 slices of whole wheat bread: ~46 g carbs
1/4 cup of fresh blueberries: ~4g carbs
50 + 46 + 4= 100 grams. This is a general idea of the recommended daily carb intake (on the low end of the spectrum)
Now on to discuss how carbohydrates rank on the Glycemic Index and the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates.
The Glycemic Index
Being familiar with the Glycemic Index will help you better understand simple and complex carbs.
It serves as a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels . It is recommended to incorporate foods that rank low on the Glycemic Index more than foods that rank higher.
Low GI Foods
Foods that rank in this category can range anywhere from fruit to beans to whole grains. It is recommended to eat more foods that rank in this category, if possible.
Medium GI Foods
This category mainly consists of whole grains, such as whole grain breads, oatmeal, brown rice, etc. It is recommended to incorporate foods from this category into your diet along with Low GI foods.
High GI Foods
As you can guess, this category includes food that spike blood sugar, which means you may want to consume them in moderation. Some examples include potatoes, white rice refined cereal and candy bars.
Now onto the terms simple and complex in terms of carbohydrates. Simple carbs score high on the glycemic index and complex carbs score low. Some people are afraid of carbs-- desperately looking for low-carb options because they believe that they're bad for you. While some carbs are recommended to be eaten in moderation (simple), studies show that complex carbs are beneficial, even when trying to lose weight.
Although the majority of simple carbs are found in processed foods with added sugar, some foods are considered simple carbs such as fruit and dairy products that contain natural sugars. Since foods with natural occurring sugars can provide health benefits, you don't have to completely avoid them. Like anything else in your diet, it is helpful to track your intake to determine which macronutrient levels work best for you and your health goals.
- Made of one, two or three sugar molecules
- Digested quick
- Low in nutritional value
- Made of several sugar molecules strung together
- Take longer to digest/absorb
- Rich in fiber
- High in vitamins/minerals
Now for some examples from each category to give you a better idea of which is which.
Foods with added sugars
Whole Grain foods
Beans & Legumes
 Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar
 About Glycemic Index
 Dietary Guidelines For Americans
 Why Low-Carb Diets Aren't the Answer