Since I’ve become aware of nutrition trends, I’ve seen obsessions with high-fat diets, low-fat diets, high-protein and low-protein diets, and worst of all, the no-carb diet. My personal philosophy is that all non-processed foods should be consumed in variety and moderation.
Carbohydrates get a seriously bad reputation, but it is only because they are misunderstood. I am going to break it down for you and give you some basic rules on how to enjoy them and still maintain a healthy weight.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbs are sugars, starches, and fibers found in plant-based foods and milk. There are two types: simple and complex.
Simple carbs are made up of one or two sugar rings and are very easily digested, which cause insulin levels to spike and lower your ability to burn fat. These include sugar, honey, milk sugars, fructose, white rice, white flour, and any other table sweeteners.
Complex carbs have three or more sugar rings. These include starches and fiber which are found in whole foods. The more complete the food is (for example, eating a carrot vs. drinking carrot juice), the slower it is digested and the more efficiently it is used in your body.
The Purpose of Carbohydrates
The primary purpose of carbohydrates is to fuel your body. When you consume carbs, the first thing your liver does is convert them into glycogen to refuel your muscles. Muscles can store up to 1600 calories worth of glycogen at a time, which last 24-36 hours at rest and 2-3 hours during exercise. Your muscles need to be fully replenished in order to maintain them.
Once your muscles are taken care of, the remaining glycogen is used to fuel your body. Your brain needs 400 calories of glycogen a day in order to function. It cannot use fat energy. If you do not get the carbs you need, your body will break down muscle and other tissue to be converted into glycogen. This is not a good thing.
Any left over glycogen that is neither stored muscle nor used will be converted into fat for long-term storage.
Enjoy whole, not processed, foods. When it comes to whole-food carbs, you should never feel guilty. They contain essential vitamins, minerals, and energy your body craves. Processed foods such as breads, cakes, cookies, white rice, white flour, sugar, candies, and conventional chocolates should be consumed in extreme moderation. They are high-glycemic index, high calorie, low-nutrient value, and most contain preservatives and other natural ingredients that are harmful to your health. Stick to whole foods and your body will thank you.
Weigh your carbs. I have no idea what a serving of brown rice, yams, or broccoli looks like. You could end up way over or under your caloric goals since how your veggies are cut, whether they are cooked, and how you pack them varies. Invest in a food scale until you know for sure what a healthy serving is. Apps like MyFitnessPal can help you calculate the nutrients in your foods.
Breakfast should always include starchy carbohydrates. Breakfast literally means to “break your fast.” In every country, people start their day with bread, rice, and pastries for a reason; your muscles need to refuel and your brain needs its dose of glycogen to kick into gear. If you have your carbs early in the day, when your body needs them, you won’t find yourself raiding the pantry for snacks before bed. Try a brown-rice breakfast bowl or some banana pancakes!
Post-workout should also include starchy, high-glycemic carbs. In order to help your muscles recover and rebuild, you need to consume a healthy dose of carbs with your post-workout protein. My favorite post-workout carbs include yams, sweet potatoes, brown rice, and bananas.
Stick to high-fiber, low glycemic index carbs after lunch. As we get closer to bed time, we tend to move less and therefore need less glycogen. To avoid carbs being converted to fat, stick to leafy greens, broccoli, spaghetti squash, cauliflower rice, and other high-fiber veggies.
Balance out your carbs with fat and protein. When your liver processes carbs by themselves, it does so very quickly, therefore reducing the efficiency in which they are used and stored and can cause you to be hungry sooner. By balancing your carbs with a portion of protein and fat, your liver slows down the release of glycogen into the body and allows you to be fuller longer.
Linda Niazi has over a decade of nutrition and personal training experience. She has helped her clients feel their best by creating a positive relationship with clean eating and corrective exercise. As a wife, mom of three young children, and a business owner, she understands the challenges of leading a healthy lifestyle; losing weight; and maintaining mental health. Her goal is to inspire to others to make their best choices when it comes to what goes in their bodies, their activity levels, and positive thinking.
Have a health, wellness, and nutrition of your own to ask Linda? Ask away below.