Trendy fad diets tend to contradict each other. While some include carbohydrates, others altogether avoid them or differentiate between good and bad carbs. It can be challenging to know what information to trust or what approach is right for you. With our ultimate guide to carbs, you can ditch the fads and better understand how carbs work and support your body.
What are Carbohydrates?
Before you decide on a diet, it’s essential to understand what carbs are and what they do for your body. Most people think of carbs as just bread and pasta, and we often hear that they aren’t good for you. But you can find these sugars, starches, and fibers in other foods, too. Fruits, vegetables, and milk all have carbs, and some are healthier than others. Put simply, carbohydrates are macronutrients, meaning that they are one of the main ways for our bodies to get energy (or calories).
Simple vs Complex
There’s a simplified argument that some carbohydrates are “good,” while others are “bad.” As macronutrients, our bodies can’t produce carbs, so we must get them from food sources. But instead of labelling good vs. bad, our guide to carbs will follow natural nutrition and call them simple vs. complex. Some simple carbs can still be good for you, so it’s essential to understand the food rather than label them as bad. The difference between the two, however, is all in the sugar content.
Simple Carbohydrates have only one or two sugars, and they include food like:
- Sugar (white, brown)
- Fruit Juice
- Cakes and Biscuits
- White Bread and White Rice
- Processed Sweets and Snacks
Complex Carbohydrates have three or more sugars, and include food like:
- Whole Grain Bread
- Brown Rice
- Nuts and Seeds
In general, complex carbs are healthier for you, so natural nutrition considers them “good.” Simple carbs usually include refined sugar and grains, so they have low nutritional value. However, some simple carbs like fruit juices or baked goods can be nutritious, as long as they don’t contain added sugar or refined ingredients.
A Guide to Carbs: How We Process & Use Them
Now that you know what carbohydrates are, it’s imperative to understand how our bodies process them. Carbs provide fuel for our bodies and are particularly vital to our muscles and nervous system. Interestingly, they have a crucial influence on our mood, memory, and even our decision-making abilities.
When we eat carbs, our bodies break down the food as sugar — mostly glucose and fructose — which we convert into energy. We need this energy for basic functions, but carbohydrates are essential for athletes and sports nutrition. When you need quick energy, and energy to sustain you for more extended periods (like in a race), carbs are your best bet. This energy should come from wholesome sources, like those complex, “good” carbs.
Will Carbs End Up As Fat?
Many think that eating carbs will add to weight gain, prohibiting or slowing weight, or accumulating fat. Certainly, when our sugar stores are full, and we continue to eat carbs, our bodies start to store them as fat. Our bodies burn carbohydrates before fats, but if we over-eat them they will end up in storage!
But remember that carbs are essential macronutrients that we need for energy and vital functions in our bodies. Although many diets tell you to avoid fruit and carbs, we need some carbohydrates to feel and perform at our best. Natural nutrition will tell you that it’s not just about consuming carbs, but more so how much and what kind.
When and What to Eat
If you’re going to run a marathon, then yes, you should consume carbohydrates. You’ll need the energy! But most activities don’t require carb-loading. That’s why at Bindi Nutrition, we make our sport hydration powders with combined carbs. You can refuel lost electrolytes without excess sugars and with carbs that have an even, slow release of energy. When you do need them, complex carbs are much better for your health, and it’s essential to consume as many unprocessed versions as possible.
A general rule is to stick with complex carbohydrates and avoid simple carbs. If you want to prioritize your complex carbs, then eating high-fibre is best. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and beans have more fibre to help your body process and absorb nutrients. These foods are more nutritious versions of carbohydrates than bread, pasta, or rice.