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Are All Carbs Bad For You? Demystifying Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs

Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

Society tells us that ALL carbohydrates are bad and we should stay away from them. And then they tell us fat is also bad for us, so that leaves one thing. According to society and fad diets, all we are able to eat is protein. But, that isn’t going to get us very far because it leaves out a lot of essential micronutrients that are also important. Eating a well-balanced diet is the number one aspect of a successful fitness regime. If you don’t fuel your body with the correct foods and quantities for your training program, you will not reach the specific goals you have set for yourself, it has been proven. This blog is going to give you all the information you need to know about different types of carbohydrates as well as when to eat them and how much to eat for your fitness goals!

The body uses carbohydrates to produce glucose, which is then used by the body as an energy source for body function on both the cellular and functional level. When we consume carbs and glucose is formed, it travels to the blood stream where it is synthesized for energy and increases blood sugar levels. When we eat bad carbohydrates, our body forms too much glucose which “spikes” blood sugar and causes us to then store the excess as fat (Nordqvist). This process gives carbs a specific glycemic index. Foods that are slow digesting are low glycemic, food that is fast digesting are high glycemic, which we, therefore, want to stick with low glycemic carbs! Therefore, the difference between good carbs and bad carbs is the speed of digestion. There are several different types of carbohydrates, such as sugars and starches, and can be either healthy or unhealthy. Carbohydrates in sugar form are found in dairy, and fruits and starches are found in grains, potatoes, and rice. 1 gram of carbohydrate has approximately 4 kilocalories in it, which means you can eat 50g of carbs for only 200 calories!

Slow digesting carbs

Examples of Good Carbs (Slow Digesting)                                                                    

  • Rice Noodles
  • Quinoa
  • Rolled Oats
  • Ezekiel Bread
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Peanut butter
  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Almond Milk
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Berries
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Plums
  • Grapefruit
  • Leafy Green Vegetables
  • Asparagus

This does not mean that you CANNOT eat the ‘bad carbs’, you just want to only indulge in them periodically. Deciding if a carb is low glycemic or high glycemic can be very confusing, so stick to the following criteria below when out grocery shopping for the best carbs to use in your diet!

  • Low in calorie density, so we can eat more of these filling foods
  • Ingredients have several other nutrients such as protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals
  • Keep the ingredient list low, the more ingredients, the more processed and  filled with “extras”
  • Avoid refined sugars, make sure there is NO added sugar or high fructose corn syrup
  • High in natural fiber, this keeps us full and helps regulate the digestive system. The average person should consume between 20-30g of fiber a day!
  • Low in saturated fat
  • Steer clear of refined grains and flour
  • Stick to ingredients you can pronounce

Next up: when is the best time to eat? It is important that all our meals to contain all macronutrients (fats, protein and carbs) to ensure we are getting adequate amounts. This creates a well-balanced diet.  Starting your day off with a slow digesting carb will keep you full longer, and allow your brain to start using the glucose for energy and function! If you are one that works out regularly, eating high glycemic foods, or fast digesting carbs post workout is the best option for optimum results. This is because during a workout you burn all of the glycogen stores and break into stored fat, therefore you deplete the body of all energy and carbohydrates and need to re-feed them quickly! Finally, the last meal of the day is also important. Most individuals get their snacking or sugar cravings after dinner, which is the WORST time you could eat these things. As I said before, these foods ‘spike’ your blood sugar and cause the body to store fat because too much glucose is released into the blood stream at once. Eating slow digesting carbs at night allows the body to use the glucose all night, and keeps you full so you do not end up snacking or indulging because you feel hungry again.

Research shows that the most effective way to lose weight is to eat several small meals throughout the day rather than 3 large meals. This is because the body can only use a certain amount of food at one time as energy, which the body has reached its capacity, it begins to store the rest as fat or glycogen (energy stores in the muscle). If you are someone who counts calories, make sure you are never below 1,200kcal for a woman and 1,800kcal for a man. This is a general number created by the American College of Sports Medicine (Medicine). This is the adequate nutrition the body needs for basic metabolic functions. This number does not take into account daily exercise. If calories drop too low or enough food is not consumed, your metabolism will slow, making it harder to burn calories and lose weight. When talking numbers, carbohydrates should take up 50-60% of daily caloric intake, 30-35% protein and 15-20% fats (Busch).

Overall, a well-balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein, and fat is important to lead a healthy lifestyle. Nutrition is the number one factor of all fitness regimens; if you do not feed your body the adequate amount of macronutrients, it will not perform and get the results you want such as lose fat or increase muscle. So next time you are in the grocery store, make sure you read labels and choose carbs that are slow digesting and nutrient dense!


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