Carbohydrates: The Real Enemy?

Low-Carb, No Carb, Carb FREE, Carb Carb Carb Carb – Seems all we hear about now a days is carbohydrates and how bad they are for us. Well today I want to take a step back, look at what these devilish things are, and explain why, or why not, they are so dang bad!

1. What are carbohydrates?

I could take the biochemistry route here, but I don’t want bore you or give you flashbacks to high school chemistry class. Rather, carbs are one of the 3 macronutrients (protein and fat are the others) that can be used for energy. Carbs are the preferred fuel source for your muscles and organs. Carbs are found in a wide array of both healthy and less healthy foods—bread, beans, milk, popcorn, potatoes, cookies, pasta, soft drinks, corn, etc. They also come in a variety of forms. The most common and abundant forms are sugars, fibers, and starches.

Foods high in carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet. Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose, which is converted to energy used to support bodily functions and physical activity.

See and remember bolded terms: energy, fuel, important, energy (again) and physical activity 

2. So should I eat carbs?

Yes! (here come the riots)… If your brain is working, you will need them. If you are active, you might need more of them.  Carbs are your fuel for activity (unfortunately your fat stores aren’t as much as you might think, unless you are exercising for longer periods of time). Think about it this way; carbs are like gasoline. You need to put gas in your car to get from point A to point B (unless you drive a new fancy electric car, bear with me). When you fill your gas tank up, it automatically stops when full. However, when you eat the amount of fuel (carbs in this example) your body needs for activity, your body doesn’t just automatically stop intaking food. Unfortunately, when we eat past what our body needs, it gets stored as fat tissue.

Weight loss surgery patient at a carbohydrate gas pump - cartoon

3. How much and what kind should I eat?

This is where I recommend carb-cycling. In a nutshell, if you have a very active day, eat more (but still within reason) carbohydrates. If you have a lower activity day, or less of a calorie burn at your workout than normal, maybe opt for a salad for lunch, or pass on the big potato at dinner. Just make the conscious effort to eat a little less carbs than you normally would. Not because carbs are the devil, but because your body just doesn’t need them! Choose your carbs from whole grain, higher fiber sources (I like a 5:1 total carb to fiber ratio – ex: bread is 20g carbs per slice, at least 4g should be from fiber), vegetables, fruits,  and beans (extra protein too!).

The one thing I don’t want you to take away from this article is: “Okay Mike, I worked out really hard for 1 hour today, so I can eat a basketball size bowl of pasta, right?” Wrong.

You still need to eat in balance, and keep your carbohydrate (and overall food) intake in check. Ideally spacing your carbs out evenly throughout the day, or at least getting more of them in closer to your workout (remember, they are used for energy!)

Carbs aren’t as bad as some people will tell you. (But we probably DO need to eat less of them!) Learn more by meeting with a Registered Dietitian, not watching Dr. Oz.

Stay Healthy My Friends

 

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