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Carbohydrates 101 | what are they, what do they do for our bodies and should they be avoided?

Before you let the words "carbohydrates" and "sugar" scare you off, let's learn about what carbohydrates really are and what they do for our bodies.

Carbohydrates (carbs) are another macronutrient alongside proteins and fats. It's definitely the most widely available macronutrient, as it makes up the majority of the standard American diet.

Carbohydrates come in three forms - sugars, starches, and fiber.

Carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of energy because they are easily broken down into simple sugars, which are converted to energy that can be used immediately or stored for later use. They're used to support bodily functions and physical activity, such as exercise.

Carb consumption >> broken down into simple sugars >> enters our blood stream >> increase blood sugar levels >> provides energy.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that unlike fats and proteins, carbohydrates are not required to sustain human life, meaning, if you didn't eat carbohydrates, your body would still have everything it needs (through adequate intake of fats, proteins, and micronutrient supplementation) to execute all necessary bodily functions. This does by no means indicate that carbohydrates are bad! They're an immensely helpful tool for quality of life, energy, performance, and should not be avoided. Not to mention they provide loads of micronutrients (vitamins/minerals) that are not found in fats and proteins.

QUALITY MATTERS. It's much more important where you get your carbs than simply the amount eaten. Carbs get a bad rap because they're correlated with fat gain due to the fact that they're widely available and most people are drawn to the processed simple carbohydrates, as opposed to whole food, complex carbohydrates.

The better sources of carbohydrates (like every other macronutrient) is minimally processed.

Complex Carbs Vs. Simple Carbs

Simple Carbs = Sugars. These can be found naturally (honey, fruits), but most are in the form of added sugar (raw sugar, corn syrup, fructose, etc.). The benefit of these is that they can be broken down very quickly to be used as immediate energy. The downside is that this causes excessive fluctuation in blood sugar.

Complex Carbohydrates = Fiber & Starches. These are found in whole wheat/grains and starchy vegetables. The effect they have on blood sugar is more gradual, which is more optimal for your metabolic health. They also tend to have more micronutrients.

*the main function of carbohydrates is to provide the body with energy and complex carbohydrates do this while placing les stress on your metabolism than simple carbohydrates.

General Guidelines & Carbohydrate Sources:

  • The more complex the carb, the better.

  • Avoid foods with added sugar/artificial sweeteners.

  • DO EAT whole foods (vegetables, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, beans, quinoa, fruit, etc.)

  • LIMIT consumption of processed carbs (soda, baked goods, packaged things like cookies/crackers/cereal).

  • Eat a wide variety of vegetables to ensure diverse micronutrients.

  • Carbohydrates alone are not the reason for obesity.

How many carbohydrates should we eat?

While we do not need carbohydrates (explained above), if you're not practicing any particular type of diet (i.e. keto, carnivore), carbohydrates requirements vary greatly depending on your goals.

A great rule of thumb is to prioritize protein and fat first, and then figure out how many carbohydrates you need to meet your specific nutritional needs from there.

*consult your qualified healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet.

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