Carbohydrates have caused a lot of confusion in our culture thanks to the marketing gimmicks of the multi-billion dollar dieting industry we are exposed to. However, carbs are one of three macronutrients the body needs to function optimally. In subsequent blog posts, I will address the other two: fat and protein.
It is important to know that carbohydrates have multiple functions in the body. First, it is an energy source to maintain bodily function in rest and during physical activity. It should be noted-it is the body’s preferred and primary source of energy. It also helps the body preserve tissue protein, meaning you will keep or increase lean body mass or muscle mass. It is a metabolism primer. Yes, you need carbs to burn fat! Lastly, it is critical for the central nervous system. Your brain almost exclusively uses glucose as its fuel source.
So why do we avoid them?
The confusion about carbs has led us to believe that all carbs are bad, and this is not the case. Remember, complex carbs are “good” and simple carbs are “bad”. The only ones you should be avoiding are the simple carbs! The average person needs to consume 50% of their calories from carbohydrates to properly fuel the body. For a 150-pound person, that equates to about 300g per day. If you are physically active (exercise 5 times per week for 45-60 minutes), you should increase that to 60% of your total calories. If you are an athlete (training daily for over an hour most days), your requirements for carbs increase to 70% (8-10g per kg body mass).
Buyer beware…excess carbohydrates will be stored as fat so you want to be sure you are selecting the proper level of carbohydrates for your activity level.
Choose a variety of complex carbs daily to fuel your body:
Vegetables should be consumed in large quantities! The latest recommendations are to eat 5-7 servings per day. Keep in mind that the average serving size is ½ cup, with the exception of leafy greens in which a serving is 2 cups.
Fruits provide a nice sweet treat or an afternoon pick me up. An apple provides the same energizing boost as a cup of coffee. Aim for 2 servings per day.
Legumes are not only a great source of carbs and fiber but also protein. This includes all beans, lentils, soybeans and hummus. The goal is to have at least 1 serving per day with the average serving size being a ½ cup.
Whole grains include rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat and other delicious options. They are important but should be limited in serving sizes to a max of 1 per day or a maximum of 1/2 cup per day. This is the category of food that tends to get overeaten and as a result you will miss out on all of the other great carbohydrate options.
Avoid these simple carbs daily…remember they will get stored as fat!
White breads and bagels
Most chips and crackers
Candy, cookies and other sweet snacks/desserts
Soda and juices with added sugars
Most breakfast cereals
Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates are not the enemy! Choose them wisely and be prepared to watch you health improve!