I often hear people telling me that they are cutting out carbohydrates from their diet or they are trying to limit their carb intake, but why? Many people have a misconception about what carbohydrates are, what they do for our bodies, and what foods they are found in. So I have decided to dedicate an entire post to talking all about CARBS!
Carbohydrates are considered one of the 3 primary macronutrients in our diet. Macronutrients (i.e. fats, carbohydrates, and protein) encompass the bulk of the calories we consume every day. Many carbohydrates occur naturally in plant-based foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts/seeds. Food companies also add carbohydrates to processed foods mostly in the form of starch or added sugar. So are carbohydrates inherently bad for us? Let’s dig deeper:
When we eat carbohydrates, they break down and are digested into simple sugars that are then absorbed into our bloodstreams where they are known as blood sugar or blood glucose. From there, this glucose enters our body’s cells with the help of a hormone called insulin. This glucose fuels all of our organs to sustain us and perform daily activities hence why carbohydrates are so important in our diet! Our brain depends on glucose as its main source of energy, requiring continuous delivery of glucose from the blood to perform work efficiently. Thus, think about what happens when we skip breakfast in the morning… by mid-morning we might feel super lethargic and maybe even a bit hangry. Our body has gone multiple hours without any nutrition which means we have to rely on any energy that is stored up in our cells to sustain our brains and essential organs until our next meal. It might be a tendency for some to reach for a quick source of carbohydrates such as a can of soda, a candy bar, chips, etc. We might feel better for upwards of a few hours, but will eventually crash again thus continuing this cycle.
So, what can we eat to provide our bodies with sustained energy? Let’s explore some excellent sources of carbohydrates that have the ability to make us feel our best.
Fruits and vegetables. This might seem like a no-brainer, but many of us lack adequate fruits and vegetables in our diet. Not only do these foods provide carbohydrates, but they also offer FIBER. Fiber is awesome because it slows our digestion down and helps regulate our bodies’ use of sugar, thus keeping us fuller longer and providing sustained energy. Win-win. Fruits and vegetables also provide phytonutrients (think: vitamins, minerals, antioxidants). These compounds are what give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. The more variety, the more phytonutrients! I often have patients and clients who are apprehensive of eating fruits because of the sugar content. Don’t be afraid of eating whole fruits! We must consider what an entire food item offers us rather than simply focusing on one single nutrient. Whole fruits = fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
Whole grains. Many of us are used to eating refined grains (think white rice, white bread, crackers, processed snacks, etc). What is the difference between refined and whole grains? Refined grains are milled, a process that removes certain parts of the grain kernel stripping away essential vitamins and fiber. Try choosing whole grain options such as brown rice, whole grain breads, and oatmeal. You can also find less common but still just as delicious whole grain options for budget friendly prices such as quinoa, buckwheat, and farro. These options will make you feel fuller for longer and will also give your body continuous energy for many hours.
Legumes. Examples of legumes include beans, peas, and lentils. I feel like legumes are often overlooked or undervalued, but these little gems are LOADED with nutrition and are CHEAP! These sources of carbohydrates provide essential micro-nutrients, fiber, as well as loads of plant-based protein (more on protein in a future post). I love using legumes to bulk up salads or eating them over brown rice for a filling plant-based quick meal!
There ya have it! Interested in learning more about carbohydrates and how to incorporate them more into your diet? Want a meal plan that includes yummy fiber rich carbohydrate recipes? I've got you covered. Let's connect!
Xx, Mary Claire
Photos by Amy Beth Strang