I feel like I need to make a public service announcement – Carbs are not the enemy. Carbs do not directly make you gain weight. Carbs do not make you fat. Cutting out carbs is not the golden ticket to health.
In recent years, carbs have gained a lot of attention, and the amount of conversations about how we need to cut them out makes my skin crawl. For myself, I know that my body does not function well without carbs. And I’m not talking just about fruits and veggies, I mean grains. Everyone does have different needs, and some people can tolerate more carbs than others, but I hope I can help you understand carbs a little better.
This week in IIN, we learned about carbohydrates, and I enjoyed learning more about the different types of carbohydrates and how they work in our bodies. Carbs are one of three macronutrients, along with fat and protein. They give our body high-quality energy, aid digestion, maintain blood sugar levels, and provide energy for optimal brain functioning. Aside from that, many whole grains contain iron, dietary fiber, B vitamins, and other antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Carbohydrates are not just energy that is converted into fat; they are so much more!
Food is food. If we have more than we need of any macronutrient, then our bodies convert it to fat (even protein). Our bodies do not discriminate energy.
Are all carbs created equal? No, they’re not. There are simple and complex carbs. Simple carbs are small compounds broken down quickly, providing a quick burst of energy when consumed. Complex carbs are larger compounds that require more time to be broken down, slowing digestion and absorption and preventing extreme changes in our blood glucose levels. Eating white pasta or cake will give you quick energy, while eating brown rice and sweet potatoes cause slower blood sugar rise for more sustained energy. While complex carbohydrates are ideal, eating simple carbs are a normal part of eating. Imagine completely cutting out that flakey croissant or that small dish of ice-cream at night. Whenever we restrict a food or food group from out diet, we crave it more and usually end up going overboard when we allow ourselves to have it. Eating simple carbs mixed in with a diet rich in complex carbs is part of normal eating and feeds not only our bodies, but our emotions and souls.
I have run into people who only get carbs from vegetables and some fruit. Others will add in quinoa or maybe brown rice, but swear off all refined carbohydrates and think everyone should do the same. This is where I get frustrated. For starters, no one can tell you how to eat. No one. You know better than anyone what works for your body. If you feel fine eating gluten, then eat gluten. If your body doesn’t respond well to it, then do what works for your body. There are so many messages in our culture telling us what we should and shouldn’t eat, and instead of enhancing our lives, I think it complicates them.
Second, life is so much more that the minutia of our nutrition. I personally would rather look back on my life seeing that I lived life fully, regardless of what I ate, than eating the “perfect” diet. Will eating a diet rich in whole foods positively impact our health? Yes! But so will laughing, having connected relationships, making memories, and doing things that we love.
I know many of you want the hard and fast answer to “are carbs good or bad?”, and I’m not going to answer that. No food is inherently good or bad, it’s just food. Carbohydrates are essential to our bodily functions, just like protein and fats. The science and research can tell us what vitamins and minerals are in each carbohydrate, but they cannot tell us what works for each of us specifically.
I know this is complicated. How do we actually figure out what our body needs? Be curious. Try different foods and pay attention to how they make you feel. I know for myself that if I skip a grain at at a meal, I’m hungry not long after and usually crave sugar (my body is telling me it needs that energy). Once you learn what works for you, trust your body not the health fads.
What do you think of carbs?