If you are like many of the clients I have worked with over the years you might find it confusing to know if carbs are good, bad or ugly. Low-carb diet books tell you to cut back on grains and eat more protein but at the same time you hear you should eat whole grains and more fibre. If you’re frustrated, you’re not alone. To make sense of all of this let’s take a look at the science of carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates can be simply described as sugar. Fruits, sweets as well as lactose found in milk and yogurt are simple carbs (single or double units of sugar). Complex carbs (long chains of sugars) are found in grains/starches such as pasta, rice, potatoes, breads, cereals.
Why do you need carbs?
You can think of carbs like “gasoline” to fuel your brain and muscles. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrate found in the liver and muscle. Carbs are also comfort foods – they boost serotonin in the brain which elevate mood. If your diet is too low in carbs your brain will not have the needed energy it needs to perform well resulting in moodiness, depression and poor concentration. You may also find that you experience fatigue and tired muscles if you don’t get enough carbohydrates which can lead to poor sports performance if you are active. On the other hand if you repeatedly eat too many carbohydrates, they will be stored as extra energy on your body.
The bottom line is that you need carbs every day to look and feel your best. Scientific research suggests you should consume approximately 45-65% of your total calories per day from carbohydrates (The Dietary Reference Intakes, National Academy of Sciences 2005). Choose nutrient dense carbohydrate choices such as whole grains, fruits, veggies and legumes more often but still allow yourself the flexibility to enjoy sweets, treats and “white” starches/grains sometimes. After all, moderation and flexibility is essential to both healthful and soulful eating.
Thanks for reading!