It’s a common scenario: You’re out to lunch with co-workers, and you say no to the bread basket that’s passed around. Then an annoying co-worker across the table from you pipes up with, “Are you not eating carbs anymore? Are you on a diet?”
Au contraire, mon frère. You’re actually still eating carbs (carbohydrates, that is).
While you have an inquisitive co-worker, it’s easy to understand if their comments are guided under a common misunderstanding: “All carbs are bad!”
With so much information flying around from many emphatic sources, carbs are often relegated to doomed, definitive statements like:
- “Carbs are bread and pasta!”
- “Carbs make you fat!!!”
- “Carbs aren’t healthy!!!”
First of all, there’s no need to use so many exclamation points. Second of all, this is only half the story… and a good opportunity to help you keep making healthy choices .
6 Important Truths About Carbs
- They are a nutrient: They’re one of three major nutrients your body needs to function, with the other two being fat and protein.
- They are found in food: Not just bread and pasta, like our restaurateur thinks. They’re also found in unprocessed whole foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, fruits and vegetables (more on that coming up).
- They are an energy source: There are several forms of carbohydrates, with the primary form your body uses called glucose. There are other less common types such as dextrose and fructose, with fructose becoming an increasing part of our diet over the last few decades, with a strong correlation to the worldwide increase in obesity.
- They increase insulin: Insulin is the body’s primary regulator of fat metabolism, so perhaps this is the piece of the puzzle as to why most associate carbs with gaining weight. When insulin levels go up, we store fat. When it falls, we use fat for fuels. It’s important to know that over time, due to many different factors – eating an excess of carbohydrates is one of them – the body can become more resistant to insulin, causing an increase in insulin production.
- They impact blood sugar: Insulin, as mentioned above, primarily works to lower blood sugar to healthier levels. When it comes to Insulin resistance, it leads to higher blood sugar. Persistently high blood sugar, otherwise known as diabetes, affects your metabolic health and can result in such diseases as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, blindness, or ulcers.
- Different carbs do different things: Not all carbs are created equal. When it comes to optimal and total health – metabolic, cardiovascular, liver, kidney, bone, and blood – there are health benefits from some, and little from others.
Slow digesting carbs = Causes blood sugar/insulin to rise
Fast to digest carbs = Causes blood sugar/insulin to spike
In general, slower blood sugar/insulin rises are healthier than frequent blood sugar/insulin spikes.
Fast Digesting vs. Slow Digesting
Fast digesting carbs are typically processed carbs, such as starches, liquid carbohydrates, and foods made of refined flours. Think breads, pastas, muffins, cereals, cake, chips, cookies, beer, wine, fruit juice, soda, corn, potatoes, and rice.
These refined, processed foods are not as nutrient dense and are known to increase inflammation, diabetes, and insulin resistance because of the insulin and blood sugar impact we talked about above. Less fiber in your food means you might not feel as full or satiated when you eat, causing you to overeat which can lead to weight gain.
When your body has fiber to digest, you benefit in multiple ways, such as gut protection, through your body’s creation of its own butyric acid. Fiber lowers blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels and improves glycemia and insulin sensitivity in non-diabetic and diabetic individuals. Increased fiber intake also benefits a number of gastrointestinal disorders including the following: gastroesophageal reflux disease, duodenal ulcer, diverticulitis, constipation, and hemorrhoids.
Slower digesting carbs are called complex carbs and, when consumed in healthy moderation, have the fiber to keep your gut healthy and you satiated. Think sweet potatoes, veggies (such as kale, spinach, asparagus, and broccoli), fruits in their whole form (berries and citrus fruits) and beans.
The micronutrients found in these foods also give you necessary vitamins and minerals that play an important role in keeping your body healthy and functioning.
Tying it all together:
If we revisit our lunch salad from earlier: A salad of mixed greens, some bell peppers, cucumber slices, kidney beans, and avocado, would contain carbs that give the necessary glucose and energy you need, but won’t make your blood sugar fly off the charts as it would if you ate the influx of carbs that processed foods bring.
Being mindful to have a daily diet comprised mainly of the beneficial kinds of carbs will help move you toward optimal health, maintain a healthy weight, and control your blood sugar.
For those of you who don’t want to think about carbs, which ones you should be eating and how much of them, let us help you.
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