Let’s face it – carbohydrates don’t have the most stellar reputation over the last decade in the health & fitness community. What once was the ‘fat makes you fat’ is now the ‘carbs make you fat.’ You’ve heard the common narrative, too.
- “Don’t eat bread! It causes belly bloat!”
- “Fruit is pure sugar. It’s just as bad as a candy bar.”
- “I won’t touch a white potato, but sweet potatoes are SO good for you.”
But are we too quick to unfairly judge the poor carbohydrate? After all, for decades we saw whole grains as the integral base of the food pyramid. Not to mention the countless grain-based products with the heart-healthy symbol.The confusion is real – so let’s start to unpack what we know about carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates is just a fancy word for sugar. No matter how you ingest it, our body breaks down all simple and complex carbohydrate chains into individual sugar units called glucose. This glucose is then easily absorbed and used by every cell as a primary energy source, especially during times of stress or intensity, such as exercise! So if our cells love their daily dose of glucose to fuel our daily activity, are all carbohydrates evil?
It’s time to wrap our brains around the fact that, contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates are NOT synonymous with grains. You would be correct in thinking that all of your typical grains products – wheat, corn, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, barely – are all dense in carbohydrates. However, the most prevalent sources of dietary carbohydrates should be found in vegetables and fruit! That’s right – vegetables and fruit, straight from Mother Nature herself are our best sources of carbohydrates. In fact many individuals can get more than enough of their daily carbohydrate need from vegetables & fruits alone! Our problem? We suck at eating vegetables and fruits, and are really good at eating grain products (i.e. chips, crackers, cookies, potatoes, bread, etc).
What are the best sources of healthy carbohydrates?
Simply put, the most ideal sources of carbohydrates are those that carry a specific type of carbohydrate called FIBER. Fiber is unmatched in it’s ability to ‘clean out the pipes.’ Whether that is assisting your large intestine in digestion, helping the liver detox and eliminate excess hormones, or aiding the pancreas in controlling blood sugar. Foods that are rich in fiber should make up the bulk of your dietary carbohydrates, so think vegetables and fruits. Other grain sources with higher fiber content include lentils, beans, oats, and potatoes. If it doesn’t have much (or any) fiber, skip it 9/10 times.
How many carbohydrates should I be eating per day?
Every body is different in it’s need for dietary carbohydrates. The higher your activity, the more intense your exercise routine, and the more stressful lifestyle you carry – the more depleted your body becomes in carbohydrate stores and it is crucial to include ideal carbohydrates in adequate amounts. That being said – most individuals with a weight loss goal, a desk job, and 3-5x/week of unstructured exercise can get sufficient carbohydrates from vegetables & fruits. It’s critical to take in sufficient amounts of protein and healthy fat, LOTS of vegetables & fruits, and then meet the rest of your energy needs with grain-based carbohydrates — not the other way around. Remember that the most important type of carbohydrate we can eat is fiber. All adults should aim for 25-35 grams of fiber each day. Eat those vegetables until your heart is content, add in a fruit 2x/day, and enjoy a fist-size serving of fiber-rich grains each day.
If you’ve been avoiding carbohydrates like the plague, or aren’t using the most ideal types of carb sources, start adding some options! Ensure your breakfast has a vegetable – add some spinach and diced bell peppers into your scrambled eggs. Add a 1/4 cup of quinoa to the salad you are already having at lunch. Opt for a 1/2 cup of oats for breakfast instead of the morning bread or bagel. The opportunities are there if you look for them.
As always, if you need help identifying your ideal nutrition plan that aligns with your current health situation & goals, get in touch with me through my ‘Coaching Services’ or “Contact’ page.