That tiny, dreaded word. I bet if I filled a room up with a hundred or so females between the ages of 18-50 and shouted that word into their midst, chaos would ensue. You’d get:
1. The impossibly thin 40 year old sipping black coffee and swearing that she hadn’t touched a carb since she was twenty. Impressive, sure, but her shaky hands and wild eyes are a little disconcerting despite her apparent willpower.
2. Then you’d have the super shredded gym-shark girl who launches into a speech about IIFYM (if-it-fits-your-macro’s), and how she consumes carbs strictly in the form of brown rice.
3. Undoubtedly you’d have the twenty-something rocking back and forth in the corner crying, eating a donut, and whispering “no ragrets” repeatedly to herself (disclaimer, that would be me).
The health, fitness, and food industries have done an excellent job on marketing this essential nutrient and making it seem either like your best friend or worst enemy. Most of us don’t even know what to do with carbs anymore, so much so that we either avoid them altogether (BAD), or throw in the towel and decide not to care if pizza is our main diet staple (ALSO BAD). But have no fear! In recent years I’ve gone through every type of mindset surrounding carbs possible – from never eating carbs to religiously measuring my intake – and I’ve finally found the happy medium approach in the pendulum swing.
The truth is, carbs are both very good and very bad for you; they are a nutritional frenemy. So, let’s start debunking this macronutrient mayhem and make peace with a necessary evil once and for all.
The first thing that you need to understand is that you need need NEED carbs in your diet. Any diet or lifestyle that condemns carbs is not sustainable for the long run. A lot of people cut carbs out of their diet because it causes quick weightloss, a common strategy used by fitness competitors before a stage show, but as soon as you re-introduce them into your diet, the weight will come back. Cutting out carbs is not the answer.
In fact, carbohydrates should make up the greatest percentage of your diet, around 50-60% of your daily food consumption. Carbohydrates are a simple form of energy, they fuel your activities all day long, support healthy skin, hair, and nails, aid brain function, stabilize your metabolism and mood, and so much more! So, first and foremost, “carbs” in a general term are necessary for you to maintain a proper level of overall health.
The second thing to understand is that there are in fact good sources of carbohydrates and bad ones. Just like both water and orange juice will hydrate you, water will do the job without all the added sugar. The same reasoning is true for carbohydrates. There are two types of carbs: complex and simple. Complex=good, simple=bad. The way I remember this is by the contemporary quip, “Don’t be basic,” which reminds me to avoid simple, or basic carbs. “Yes, Emily, all fine and wonderful and dandy, but what are complex and simple carbs?” I am so glad you asked.
“Complex” and “simple” refer to the chemical makeup of the carbohydrate. “Complex” carbs have a more elaborated molecular structure (lol at big words). This releases energy over a longer period of time and makes our bodies work harder to digest them. The result? Regulated blood-sugar levels, longer lasting energy, and an evenly stimulated metabolism. “Simple” carbs are exactly the opposite – they have a simple chemical makeup that gives short bursts of energy, don’t make the body work to digest them, and cause spikes and crashes in blood sugar and metabolism.
It’s time for the third and final nugget of knowledge: knowing which foods are actually sources of complex and simple carbs. Complex carbs are usually carbs that are closest to their most natural state. These would include, whole grains, fruits, green leafy veggies, nuts and legumes, etc. There are plenty of breads, pastas, cereals, juices, snacks, etc, that aren’t in a “whole” state, but are still a fine source of complex carbs. All you need to do is be aware of labels; avoid things that have ten million ingredients, say things like “bleached,” or have a very high sugar content.
And on the opposite hand, simple carbs are carbs that are far from their natural state. So, for example, ice cream is a simple carb because it has been taken from it’s natural state, milk, and had tons of sugar, flavors, dyes, and creams added to it. More forms of simple carbs would be sugary cereals, cookies, white breads and pastas, candy, desserts, and non-diet sodas. Now, thankfully we live in a day in age where they are learning to make delicious forms of snack foods that aren’t actually too bad for you. Again, just be aware of what you’re putting in your body. If there’s an option, always go for the “closest to natural” carb. And if not, it’s totally okay to splurge every once in awhile!
Moral of the story, carbs are more your friend than your enemy. Your body absolutely needs them to do it’s job! Just be aware of what type of carbs you’re eating and be sure to get plenty of the good kind in your diet! And if anyone tries to tell you to never eat carbs, well, bye felicia.