Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for our bodies. Without it we tend to get cranky, moody and energy swings. Even though it is the main source of fuel for our bodies many people eat way to many carbohydrates or even worse, the wrong types of carbohydrates. Although our body needs them, we need to keep things in balance with the other nutrients our bodies need. We are going to take a look at what carbohydrates are, and what type we should be eating.
There are different sources of carbohydrates and they are not all created equal. They are:
- Simple Carbohydrates: fruits, refined sugars, and refined flour products (most breads)
- Whole Grains: brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth
- Starchy Vegetables: potatoes, squash, corn, peas, yams
- Legumes: beans, lentils
- Non-starchy Vegetables: leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus
Some bodies do well with a higher amount of carbohydrates and some do better with less. You will know if you do better with less carbohydrates because if you lower the amount you are eating and feel lighter, less bloated or your energy increases you know lower carbohydrates are better for you. Many people also feel better eating different kinds of carbohydrates. For example, you may feel lethargic eating bread and pasta but you may feel great eating yams and squash or even better eating tons of non-starchy vegetables. If you think that you may do better with less high carbohydrate foods, you can start by limiting grains, starches and legumes and add a bunch of non-starchy vegetables into your diet. Give yourself a few weeks; if you feel like you are much lower on energy you probably need to add more of the starchy carbohydrates back into your diet. You can test out the different types of carbohydrates and see which ones you feel better with. It is a very individual thing, but pay attention to how you feel with different carbohydrates not just which you think is the tastiest.
There are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are one that are broken down by your system very fast. These are refined breads, sugars, most dry cereals, the sugars in milk, fruit, and some vegetables. Athletes sometimes use simple carbohydrates while they are in training or during competitions since simple carbohydrates are instant energy, when they are running a marathon they are expending energy so fast that they need the instant boost. This means that the simple carbohydrates are getting used instantly, they are not staying in their system unused.
For most sedentary people, simple carbohydrates just cause havoc in the body. They can cause weight gain and energy swings. This is because most people in our age work very light physical jobs. So they are taking in all of that instant energy but not using it, therefore it gets stored. When all that energy gets stored in our body it does so as fat. This is great for survival, but not so good in our modern day society. Also this puts the body on over drive creating insulin to help process this extra sugar in the system, if that happens too much it can lead to blood sugar problems such as diabetes.
If you are someone who trains very extensively or are just starting and you think you are going to need instant fuel then aim for the fruit and vegetables if possible. With fruits and veggies you will get more vitamins, minerals and fiber that most other simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates have more fiber and nutrients in them. They also take longer to digest, so they wind up creating a slow sustained release of energy in your system. This means you have a steady stream of energy, not a quick burst and then crash. You also are helping your insulin sensitivity stay strong. If you eat an excess of any carbohydrate it is still possible to gain weight, but our bodies process the complex carbohydrates better and they are harder to over eat. How many people want to eat more than 1 bowl of steel cut oats? When you see the recommendations for a certain portion of your diet to be carbohydrates, this is the type they are talking about. Examples of complex carbohydrates include green vegetables, starchy vegetables, potatoes, yams, bean, legumes, and whole grains.
Lets go over the different types of carbohydrates in a little more detail:
Healthy Grains are whole grains, such as steel cut oats, buckwheat groats, brown or wild rice etc. It is always healthiest to eat grains in as whole form as possible verses bread or pasta. Gluten free is a popular trend around right now. So what is the big deal with gluten? Gluten is a protein that is in many of the grains we eat such as wheat, oats and a laundry list of others. If you have sensitivity to gluten the reactions can vary. You could feel bloated, nauseous, foggy headed and get head and stomach pains; it ranges in severity depending on the person. You may just feel better not eating it; again, it depends on your individual body chemistry. It has been argued that grains can mess with hormones and are micro toxins on the system. This is not to say that you should not to eat grains because all our bodies run better on different things. So for some, the grains may be working great and for others it may in fact be toxic in the body. That is for you to decide. Some of my favorite "grains" are quinoa, red rice and black rice. These are great because of the low association with allergic reactions. Most people can eat them, and they are highly nutritious and all gluten free for those who need it!
Breads and Pastas
Refined flours as found in pastas, breads, etc should be avoided if possible! They are void of the added nutrients that come from eating their whole grain counter parts; we call these empty calories. This is the kind of stuff that makes many people gain weight!
If you must eat bread then get the most dense whole grain bread you can find. Ezekiel bread is whole sprouted grain flour-less bread; it is going to be a much healthier choice. If you cannot find this type of bread or do not like it then just get the most dense, heartiest grain bread you can find. Keep your consumption of breads, cereals and other processed carbohydrates to a minimum.
Most people think that legumes are a just a source of protein but in actuality they have more carbohydrates in them than they do protein. This is not to say that you should not eat legumes, but be aware when you are eating beans for protein you are actually eating a higher concentration of carbohydrates than protein. For example 1/2 a cup of pinto beans has a little less than 6 grams of protein and a little over 18 grams of carbohydrates. That being said, beans are also a great source of fiber.