Incorporating Carbs Back Into Your Diet

You’ve heard, or read, that you should avoid carbohydrates (carbs) at all cost because carbs are “sugar”, they make you fat and are bad for you. As a result, you’ve been trying to eliminate or restrict your intake of carbs. You may have even completed a sugar detox, but now what? You never have carbs again? Let’s take some time to break things down and clarify some misconceptions.

All carbs, unfortunately, have been lumped together and labeled as “bad. They are considered to be the main reason for weight gain and poor health. We need to understand what they are, as well as the different kinds. Carbs are found in a majority of food sources and are one of the three macronutrients our bodies need (protein and fat being the others). They are needed in order for our bodies to stay healthy and function well. Eating the right carbs can protect the body from certain diseases such as hypertension and diabetes and have been shown to promote weight loss.

Carbs commonly come in the form of sugar, fiber and starch.  Carbs are broken down into glucose during digestion. Glucose is carried to our cells through the bloodstream and provides us with energy needed to support bodily functions & physical activity. Energy that is not utilized immediately is stored in our muscles as fat and in our liver as glycogen and used by our bodies at a later time as needed. Carbs are also needed for the production of serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that regulates our mood. When we are lacking carbs our body may experience headaches or feelings of sluggishness or fatigue which may cause us to automatically reach for caffeine. It also causes an increase in cortisol levels which is the stress hormone associated with weight gain. 

Carbs are classified into two categories, complex or simple. Complex carbs take longer to break down & therefore do not cause the blood sugar roller coaster high and lows. Complex carbs  include starch and fiber. They help us feel full or satisfied, lowers cholesterol, improves digestion and reduces the risk of heart disease. These are deemed to be healthy carbs as they occur naturally in foods like whole grains, vegetables & fruits. Other natural occurring carbs can be found in nuts, seeds and legumes/beans. These food sources also contain vitamins, minerals and nutrients which our bodies also need. 

Simple carbs are most commonly found in processed or prepared foods. They are also found to occur naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk.  Sugars in processed or prepared foods however have fewer nutrients than foods with naturally occurring sugar. Simple carbs are broken down quickly. As a result, blood sugar rises and drops quickly causing the burst of energy followed by a crash. Processed and prepared foods and beverages contain simple carbs which are labeled as added sugar. Food manufacturers add in sugar  to maintain the shelf-life of their products. According to the American Heart Association, the average American has 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day which accounts for 350 extra calories.  If you are thinking about the foods you eat and how much simple sugar you are consuming, start looking at food labels. If there are options to buy fresh store made products in the refrigerator section choose those rather than the jarred products on the shelf as they will have less added sugar. In regard to carbs in beverages, carbonated drinks are often first thought of, however it is important to point out that juices,flavored coffees and creamers are to be included as well as alcohol. 

Ideally, you want to avoid processed and prepared foods products, including dairy products, condiments & dressings, that have added sugar. Read the labels, total carbs equate to the product’s combined amount of sugar, starch and fiber. Sugar however can be hidden as it is listed by a variety of names that you may not be recognized. Names of sugar include words ending in “ose” such as fructose, dextrose, maltose, honey, maple syrup, molasses, corn syrup, malt syrup, agave, and evaporated cane juice.You also want to keep in mind that items labeled as sugar free, reduced sugar and no sugar added are not carb free. Sugar free products have < 0.5 grams per serving, reduced sugar means that there is a minimum of 25% less sugar per serving than the original version. No sugar added means that no sugar or sugar containing ingredient was added during processing. Another noteworthy tip for you to know is that ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. This means the main ingredients, or what the food primarily consists of, are listed first.    Therefore, if any of these names for sugar are within the top 3 of the product’s ingredient list it would be a good idea to place it back on the shelf.   

Choose high quality complex carbs that are rich in nutrients. These include fruit and vegetables, particularly berries, apples and green leafy vegetables. Select whole grains rather than refined or enriched grains. Refined grains go through a stripping process that removes outer layers and most nutritious parts of the garin. This means we miss the beneficial fibe, vitamins and minerals. Grains labeled as ‘enriched” mean that the essential vitamins and minerals were added back in during the processing. Whole grains include quinoa, buckwheat, farro and barley.  Incorporate beans/legumes in your favorite salads or dishes. Legumes are a good source of protein and fiber. They are also rich in nutrients like folate, potassium, iron and magnesium.   

As with all foods, it comes down to making smart decisions. Don’t be afraid to add carbs to your diet. Choose foods made up of complex carbs over those with added sugars. Avoid the fad trendy diets that restrict or eliminate the intake of carbs as they are difficult to maintain long term and are not optimal for overall health. These types of diets also tend to promote animal fat and oils which can increase the risk of heart disease. 

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Diane Saulle, PhD.
Diane Saulle, PhD. is a certified Health Coach and Founder of Eat Clean Be Vital Inc. The demands placed on women today make it easy to prioritize everyone & everything before ourselves. This takes a toll on how we look & feel. I provide guidance, support & accountability to women looking to reclaim their health & well-being. Focus is placed on what to eat, physical activity & personal development.
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