fbpx

The Ultimate Guide to Carbohydrates  
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Answering your burning questions about one of the most controversial nutrition topics: CARBS  

A Dietitians Ultimate Guide to Carbohydrates

If you’re confused about carbohydrates, you’re not alone. There are many differing opinions and recommendations out there, many suggesting to completely avoid carbs or to cut certain ones out of your diet. In this blog post, we’ll unpack what are carbohydrates, different types of carbohydrates, why we need them, and some examples of carbohydrates. 

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are one of the essential macronutrients that our body primarily uses for energy. Our digestive track breaks down carbohydrates into glucose which is then absorbed into our bloodstream to be used as energy to fuel our brain, muscles, and nervous system 

There are 3 types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches, and fibre. 

Sugars are sweet, short-chain carbohydrate molecules found in foods, built out of glucose, fructose, galactose, and sucrose. 

Starches are long chains of glucose molecules, which get broken down into glucose in the digestive tract. 

Fibre is an indigestible carbohydrate that acts as food for bacteria in the gut and helps food move through our digestive tract smoothly. 

There are 2 main categories of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Continue reading as we define what these mean 

Simple Carbohydrates 

Your body breaks down simple carbohydrates quickly and as a result, blood sugars rise, and often drop, quickly. You may notice after consuming simple carbs that you have a short burst of energy, followed by a feeling of drowsiness or hunger. Simple carbohydrates are sometimes found in highly processed foods that are lower in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Sugars are another example of a simple carbohydrate and can be found naturally in food or as added sugars in processed foods.   

Natural occurring sugars are found in foods like milk, fruits, and fruit juice. 

Added sugars are found in sweets, baked goods, ice cream, canned fruit (syrups), soda, condiments, etc.  

Sugar goes by many names. Here are some to look for on the food label: 

  • Agave nectar  
  • Cane syrup or corn syrup  
  • Brown rice syrup 
  • Barley malt  
  • Dextrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, or sucrose 
  • High fructose corn syrup  
  • Maltodextrins  
  • Honey or maple syrup 
  • Molasses  
  • Sugar  

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbs are less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar because they often contain fibre, protein, vitamins, and minerals and take longer for our bodies to digest. They often have undergone minimal or no processing and provide longer-lasting fullness and energy.  

Some examples of complex carbohydrates are:

  • Whole grain products
  • Legumes
  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Quinoa
  • Couscous
  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Vegetables

Wondering how to incorporate these? Search our blog for weekly recipes that include these.  

examples of complex carbohydrates

Why Do We Need Carbohydrates? 

Carbs are our body’s main source of energy or what we like to refer to as the “gasoline” for our muscles and brain. Our brains cannot store glucose and therefore need a constant supply otherwise you may experience fatigue, brain fog, anxiousness, mood swings, have difficulty concentrating, or become obsessive about food. 

In addition to this, our muscles need carbs for physical activity. The more active you are, the more carbs you need otherwise you may experience muscle fatigue or poor sports performance.  

How Many Carbohydrates Do We Need? 

Our brain itself requires at least 130 grams of carbohydrates per day regardless of age, gender, or activity level. This is the amount in a few slices of bread, a cup of rice, and a few pieces of fruit. As activity levels increase, so does the need for more carbs.  

Nutrition research suggests that 45-65% of total calories should come from carbohydrates. For the average adult female, this is anywhere between 180-390g of carb per day, and for the average adult male, approximately 225-488g of carb per day.  

Are Carbs Bad? Should I Avoid Them?  

This is a question I often get asked, so if you have been told this or are confused about the necessity of carbs, you’re not alone. If you have read this far, my hope is that you’ve gained a foundational understanding of why carbs are NOT bad and the reason behind why they should be included daily as part of a balanced diet.  

Our bodies are made to enjoy carbs and use them to fuel our brain and daily activities. Without them, you may experience a wide range of symptoms such as drowsiness, brain fog, or what many refer to as “hanger” (irritability + hunger combined – this is my personal telltale sign and why I almost always have a snack stashed nearby at all times).  

Okay, so we’ve established carbs are important, but the next most common question I get asked about carbs is: 

What Type of Carbs Are Best?

No foods are morally good or bad, but we do know that they can differ nutritionally.  

Complex carbs, as mentioned above, contain a greater variety of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fibre, and choosing them most often at meals and snacks can support general well-being and provide more long-term energy and fullness during the day. However, if you’re looking for a quick burst of energy during an intense workout or physical activity, simple carbs may be the more fitting choice.  

For most people, following the balanced plate approach can help ensure you’re meeting your carbohydrate needs as well as your other macronutrients. The balanced plate suggests that ½ your plate is filled with vegetables and fruit, ¼ of your plate grains/starches (with ideally 50% of grains being whole grains), and ¼ of your plate protein foods.  

Building balanced meals and snacks

Apart from fuelling our bodies, we know we also choose foods for pure enjoyment, fun, and social reasons, so if you’re really just feeling an ice cream on a hot summer’s day or a scone and coffee when hanging out with a friend, know that these are completely valid reasons to choose this type of carbohydrate. 

Healthy, balanced eating is not solely the type of nutrients we’re putting in our body but also honouring what foods bring us joy, feel best in our body, and align with our lifestyle and values.

What About Low-Carb Diets?

Low-carb diets, like the keto diet, have been in and out of popularity for years, often for their weight loss results. Different eating patterns work for different people, however, be aware that 1 g carb stores 3 g water in the body therefore if following a low-carb diet, you will lose water weight.  The only way to lose true body weight is through a caloric deficit in general by eating less of either carbs, protein, OR fat calories.  

If you follow a low-carb diet but just swap the reduced carbohydrate calories for fat and protein calories, you won’t lose true weight, just fluid weight. For a more detailed look at the keto diet, check out our other blog post, Dietitian Advice: Detoxes, Cleanses, and the Keto Diet.  

Looking for further support in making lifestyle changes? We can help!  

Unsure where to start or feeling stuck on the way? Get connected with one of our qualified Registered Dietitians who can support you on your journey.

Our team of experienced Dietitians are passionate about coming alongside you and finding personalized solutions to your nutrition challenges.

Learn more about nutrition counselling or simple click the button below to see how we can help:

Check out these related blogs on our website:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As seen in

  •  

Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This