True or False : Carbs are bad!
Written by Alessa Pomerantz | Reviewed by Adiana Castro, MS, RDN, CDN, CLT
“Carbs are bad;” we’ve all heard it before and most of us have said this, but why? For years there has been a negative perception of carbs, so much so that people have “removed” carbs from their diet. Yes, certain carbs can lead to weight gain, elevated blood sugar levels, and some unhealthy habits, but this isn’t true of all carbohydrates. Most carbs actually help the body maintain weight and benefit the digestive system, nervous system, improve sleep, and even a faster metabolism. It is after all where our body gets its energy from.
Simple VS Processed/Refined VS Complex Carbs
The thing about carbs is that they are everywhere. They’re chips, baked goods, white breads, pastas, and rice. These foods are known as processed, refined simple carbs. But there are also naturally occurring simple carbs like fruits, vegetables, and dairy. Complex carbs include whole grains, legumes and beans. And that’s something that a lot of people don’t recognize.
Processed/refined carbs are stripped of their nutrients. These are the carbs that you want to limit in your diet. They are incomplete sources of carbs leading to a spike in energy and then a nearly immediate crash. These foods are unnatural and contain little nutrition.
The good news is that these aren’t the only carbs! Complex carbs and naturally occurring simple carbs are non-refined meaning their natural form isn’t changed and therefore they don’t lose any nutrients. Great examples include: quinoa, oats, bananas, beets, oranges, apples, kidney beans, and chickpeas. These foods are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals that help you sustain energy without spiking your blood sugar.
Benefits of Carbs:
Carbs are the body’s main source of energy. They keep your body alert and running smoothly, especially your metabolism. They’re essential for an optimal metabolism because they provide the energy, or calories, which your body needs to do daily cellular reactions. Carbs are also great for your digestive system. They have a ton of fiber, which is great for digestion, regularity, and keeping you full. The average person needs about 25-30 grams of fiber per day, and oats contain 12 grams per cup. That’s nearly half your day’s worth of fiber! Carbs also help your brain and nervous system because they provide, on a chemical level, a sense of reduced stress and satiety. This keeps your brain focused on what you need to get done. Overall carbs can be a great nutrient rich food.
Quantity Vs. Quality
One of the most important things to remember when it comes to carbs is quantity and quality. Just like having a box full of donuts, having 3 cups of quinoa in one sitting isn’t a good idea either. Quality is about choosing the carb that will benefit you and your body the most. Choose more nutrient dense carbs like beans, whole fruit and brown rice. When it comes to quantity, be mindful of serving sizes. You can have simple carbs, just in moderation! A serving size is 1 ounce, which is equivalent to 1 slice of whole wheat bread, a ½ cup of grains or ½ cup of fruit. Remember that carbs are meant to be the side dish, not the main event. Processed/refined carbs can be had as well in moderation.
Carbohydrates are a great source of fiber, minerals, and energy! It is recommended to choose complex and naturally occurring simple carbs over processed/refined carbs when you can because it will help your digestive system and metabolism. Remember that quality is key. While keeping in mind quality, be conscious of serving sizes because quantity is very important as well. Carbs are meant to be a side dish, so try to think of new ways to add them into your next meal!