Carbs have been getting a lot of negative press these days. Some of the most popular diets these days like the Keto Diet, Atkin’s, and the Zero-Carb Diet all recommend ingesting little to no carbs. While studies show that low-carb diets are much more effective than low-fat diets, a balanced diet with good carbs has been shown to have great health benefits and can even improve mortality rates.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know what good carbs are how to distinguish between the helpful ones and the harmful ones. Carbs come in multiple categories and react with your body in various ways. By being able to determine what carb are good and where to find them, you can approach dieting in a much more effective way.
What are Carbs?
Carbs, or carbohydrates, are one of nutrition’s three “macronutrients” (the other two are fat and protein). Their main purpose in your diet is to provide you with the energy you need throughout your day. When ingested, most carbs are broken down and turned into glucose, which is the coal for your body’s fire. Other carbs are made into stored energy (fat) for future use or, in fiber’s case, interact with the digestive system where helpful bacteria feed off of them.
Carbs come in two different forms: simple and complex, and when included in your diet, they fall into three different groups. Like people, carbs are rich with complexity and shouldn’t be pigeonholed into a single category. Good carbs can be the heroes of your balanced diet, and even bad carbs are okay if used sparingly.
Simple vs. Complex
Simple carbs are “simpler” because they consists of fewer molecules and are therefore easier to break down. These carbs are your basic sugars, and some of them are good carbs while others, not so much. When it comes to simple carbs, the good carbs and bad ones fall into two separate categories: natural carbs and processed/refined carbs.
Natural carbs – These carbs are sugars that are found in ingredients that occur naturally, such as breads, pastas, and fruit. Natural carbs are good for you and should be included in your diet, even though they tend to have fewer nutrients.
Processed or refined carbs – When people refer to “bad carbs,” these are the main offenders. Foods in this group include candy, sodas, ice cream, potato chips, and most other items that you’ll find in most small convenience stores. While it’s okay to indulge every now and then, stick to smaller, infrequent servings.
These carbs contain more complex sugar molecules, which in turn takes them longer to break down in your body. These carbs provide you with a more consistent amount of energy and are more effective than their “simpler” cousins. Complex carbs include vegetables like cabbage, asparagus and potatoes, fruits such as apples, pears, and grapefruit, oats, barley, buckwheat, and legumes. Here’s a more extensive list.
Complex carbs tend to be better for you than simpler ones, but a proper diet can include both.
Dietary carbs are split up into three main categories: sugars, starches, and fiber.
Sugars tend to be sweeter and are usually more common in simpler molecules. Glucose, sucrose, and fructose all fall into this category.
Starches are usually more complex molecules and take awhile to get broken down into glucose. If you can recall the food pyramid from the early 90s, these foods were mostly found at the base.
Fiber, the third category, is a little more unique because we actually can’t digest it. The bacteria in our digestive system does that for us. Instead of it giving us energy directly, the bacteria that absorb fiber produce fatty acids, and those are what get used as energy.
Carb Intake and Mortality
According to the ARIC study, low-carb diets aren’t the answer to living longer. In fact, of the 15,428 adults aged 45-64 years old surveyed, the group that showed the fewest number of deaths were those who ingested carbs as 50-55% of their diet. The graph depicting mortality rates and carb consumption is in almost in a ‘U’ shape, with people consuming the fewest percentage of carbs as the most likely to have a higher mortality rate.
Diets insisting that your carb intake should be low are also potentially dangerous for your health in the long run. That said, “for people who are obese, or have metabolic syndrone and/or type 2 diabetes, low-carb diets can have life-saving benefits.”
Be sure to do your research before starting any diet. While cutting carbs can yield faster results, your overall goal should be to live a healthier lifestyle.
We believe that good carbs are underappreciated and that you should play a role in your health. At Boston Direct Health, we have nutritional counselors that are here to help you achieve your health and wellness goals. Your body deserves to be fueled and function at it’s very best, and you deserve to be able to enjoy a balanced diet free of gimmicks and fads.
Come in today to see how our nutritional counselors can help you begin your journey to become a better you.