Updated: May 27, 2020
Carb talk has been storming the nutrition and health industry as of late. With so many mixed messages, it can get really confusing on what is truly healthy. Today, I'm sharing all the details on what carbs are, are there "bad" carbs, and what you should be eating!
Let's break it down...
Carbs (or carbohydrates) are made up of 3 main elements: hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. There are many different types of carbs - as there are many different types of fat and protein. In its most simple form, there are monosaccharides. These are also known as simple sugars. These simple sugars include glucose, fructose, and galactose. In your body, every carbohydrate (other than fiber) is broken down into simple sugars in order to be absorbed.
What foods have carbs?
The common misconception when it comes to carbs is that carbs = bread and pasta. While these are made of mostly carbs, carbohydrates are in a lot more than just that. Almost all fruits and vegetables are comprised mostly of carbohydrates. Think broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bananas, beans, lentils, sweet potato, carrots, spinach, berries, beets, asparagus, cabbage... essentially any plant that you can grow mostly contains carbs.
The main difference between fruits and veggies versus pasta and bread is that the carbs in fruits and veggies haven't been refined. Most often during the refining process, many of the nutrients and fiber are stripped in order to make the product more shelf stable. These nutrients and fiber are needed for literally every function in your body. Fiber is probably the most underrated portion of fruits and veggies. It's needed to feed the probiotics in your gut, regulate your blood glucose levels, protect you from heart disease, and allows for natural weight loss.
Are there "bad" carbs?
Short answer: it depends. Like I said, refined carbs provide nearly no nutrients for you and have limited fiber. Because it has less fiber, it gets absorbed into your body quicker and causes a surge in blood glucose and insulin levels. Insulin is used to store glucose which means that those carbs are quickly being converted to fat in your body. A higher carbohydrate (especially refined carbohydrate) diet can lead to higher blood triglyceride levels and an increased risk in heart disease. However, if you're getting the majority of your carbohydrate intake from all natural sources (i.e. not refined), then you're actually decreasing your risk of heart disease, mostly due to the fiber and plant-based antioxidants provided in the veggies, legumes, roots, and fruits.
What carbs should I be eating?
If you've read my "About Me" you'll know that I studied abroad in Italy to learn all of the science and culture behind the Mediterranean Diet. So... wait a second. Isn't there a ton of bread, pasta, and pizza in Italy?! Oh yes. And while I was there, I had my fair share of all of the above! I'm a big believer in the fact that life is meant to be enjoyed. So if you're in Rome, do as the Romans do!
What I always go over with my clients is that it's not about being "perfect". It's about your overall habits. One meal or one vacation is not going to make or break your health/wellness goals. In fact, eating some homemade pasta with your friends and family while sipping on a glass of vino and laughing the night away every now and then will help to reduce your stress levels and enjoy your life!
With that being said, it's really important to fill your meals with life-giving foods like the delicious veggies, legumes, roots, and fruits that I mentioned above. And there are tons of AMAZING meals that you can make. These are full of fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals that all will make you feel confident a