They’ve been blamed for everything from the obesity epidemic to our skyrocketing rates of diabetes and heart disease. But do they really deserve all the bad press they’re getting? What are carbohydrates and why are they getting such a bad rap?
What are carbs?
Carbohydrates are one of the main types of macromolecules that your body needs to function properly. They’re found in all fruits and vegetables, as well as pasta, bread, legumes, dairy and any foods that have sugar. Like the other main macromolecules— fat and protein—your body breaks down and processes carbohydrates for a range of different purposes. Most importantly, carbs are broken down into simple sugars like glucose that your body uses as its main source of energy.
Carbs. It’s complicated.
There are two types of carbs: simple and complex.
Simple carbs are small and easy for your body to process. Lots of processed foods contain them because they enhance flavour and help foods to last longer. When they’re in processed foods, simple sugars can make your blood sugar spike, which makes you feel drained and craving even more sugar.
Fruit and dairy also contain simple carbs, but the sugar that comes from these enters the bloodstream more slowly, so you don’t get that nasty spike in blood sugar. These foods also have vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and protein that are essential for your body, so they’re normally pretty healthy.
Complex carbs, like the name suggests, are more complex. They’re chains of sugars that have been linked together. Complex carbs include starch and fibre, which are found in vegetables, legumes and wholegrains. These carbs take longer to break down, or can’t be broken down at all, so they don’t raise your blood sugar levels as much, and they can help you feel full for longer. Foods that have complex carbs also tend to have lots of beneficial essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
Why the bad reputation?
The trouble with carbs is that it’s easy to eat too much of them. Pizza, pasta and rice are the kinds of foods that people like to indulge in. If you regularly eat a restaurant-sized serve of pasta, you will put on weight. It takes will-power to limit portion sizes and that is at the heart of the battle with carbs.
Also, some people only associate carbs with unhealthy, processed foods and refined grains like those found in white bread. They might not realise that fruit, vegetables and dairy also have them.
Your body needs the glucose that comes from carbs, but not all carbs are created equal. The types of foods that you get your carbs from can make all the difference.
So What’s the truth?
The truth is that it’s okay to eat most foods in moderation. Cutting out an entire food group from your diet may work for your short-term goals, but such a restrictive diet can be difficult to maintain, and it can ultimately be unhealthy if you’re not careful.
It’s important to keep in mind that people will process carbohydrates differently depending on a huge range of factors, including their lifestyle, microbiome (their gut bacteria) and their genetics. A diet that works for one person may not work for someone else. It’s worth taking the time to figure out what works for you.
Stay friends with carbs
If you aim for a balanced diet, keep track of your portion sizes and focus on eating fresh, unprocessed foods like vegetables and fruits, wholegrains and legumes, then carbohydrates can be an enjoyable part of every meal.
To find out more about your unique needs, order a myDNA Nutrition & Fitness Report.