Repeat after me, carbohydrates are not bad! You’re hardly alone in this thinking. In fact, many women believe carbohydrates are the enemy. Labelling an entire food group as “bad” is a vast oversimplification.
We thrive off carbs, and they’re an essential food group, as part of a healthy diet. Despite their bad public relations, carbohydrates boast many health benefits. For starters, they help fuel your brain, kidneys, heart muscles, and central nervous system. Carbs also contribute to the production of the feel-good brain chemical Serotonin.
How does the body use Carbohydrates?
When ingested, carbohydrates are broken down by your gut into glucose and released into your bloodstream. Your pancreas responds by releasing insulin to move that glucose into cells. The higher your blood sugar levels get, the more insulin circulates through your system. However, not all carbs cause a big spike in blood sugar.
Two major types of Carbs:
Simple ("bad") carbs—the kind found in sugars and processed grains, like white rice, and anything baked with white flour— are stripped of nutrients and contain little to no fibre. They are broken down swiftly and send your blood glucose and insulin levels soaring.
Complex ("good") carbs, on the other hand, are made up of longer chains of sugar molecules (starches), as well as fibre. They aid digestion, help you feel full, keep cholesterol levels in check, and ease bloating and constipation. And perhaps most important, complex carbs are rich sources of nutrients and powerful phytochemical, which play a role in preventing and even fighting illness and cellular ageing.
They take more time to digest and provide a steadier stream of blood sugar, prompting a more gradual release of insulin. These types of carbs are in a wide array of highly nutritious foods—including whole-grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and all fruits and vegetables.
How many carbs should you consume?
The answer differs for everyone. As a general rule, you can eat as many carbs as you like when they come in the form of low-starch vegetables - like asparagus, broccoli, celery - and glycemic fruits - such as pears, kiwis, and oranges. Or, in other words, produce that has a nominal effect on your blood sugar. As for higher-starch complex carbs (hello, sweet potatoes and bananas), they’re best eaten in moderation; aim for a serving or so per meal, max, though the ideal amount for you really depends on your age, weight, and personal biochemistry.
What about gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in grains. Gluten intolerance, or sensitivity, occurs when a person has a reaction after eating a food containing gluten.
The main sources of gluten are bread, cereal, cakes, biscuits, and crackers. Gluten can also be hidden in foods such as gravies, soups, sausages, bottled sauces and some marinades.
All in all, carbs are so delicious! Not to mention, foods such as fruit and veg are carbohydrates – and these contain so many essential nutrients for your health.
So, instead of fearing carbs, just opt for complex, high-quality carbs. Your body and brain will love you for it.