In today’s time, when obesity has become one of the most challenging health issues, several diets have become prevalent in today’s world. As per WHO, since 1975, worldwide obesity has tripled. Most of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight. When it comes to obesity and weight management, carbohydrates often get a bad name. Most people believe that carbohydrates make you gain weight. However, it is a myth. Not all carbohydrates are bad. The fact is, our bodies need some carbohydrates to function.
Carbohydrates are a major food group, and our bodies need them to produce energy. Therefore, carbohydrates deserve a place in your diet due to their multiple health benefits. However, it is also true that some carbohydrates are more beneficial than others. Hence, it is essential to understand more about carbohydrates and the best ways to include them in your diet to reap maximum benefits.
Carbohydrates are essential nutrients that we need to survive. They break down into our bodies and convert into glucose, giving us the energy required for our bodies to function. Like other nutrients, a low or high carbohydrate intake is as important as the type of carbohydrate-rich foods you eat. That means, quality and quantity of carbohydrates, both matter. However, unlike many nutrients, a low or high carbohydrate intake is not as important as the type of carbohydrate-rich foods you eat. That means, in the case of carbohydrates, quality matters more than quantity. For example, healthy, whole grains like barley, quinoa, and whole wheat bread are better choices than french fries or highly refined bread.
Let us understand everything about carbohydrate-diet foods you should eat and avoid. However, before moving to the foods and benefits, it is crucial to understand carbohydrates and their types.
What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are macronutrients vital to fuel your body with the required energy. Sugar, starch, and fibre are all types of carbs. Carbohydrates provide energy that our body uses during exercise, daily functioning and any activity that our body performs. In addition, carbohydrates also act as a fuel source during a fast. An adequate carbohydrate intake also helps to maintain blood sugar levels and fuel the brain to function normally.
Types of Carbohydrates
Most people who follow a diet plan or want to lose weight know carbohydrates as simple and complex carbohydrates. However, there are three types of carbohydrates.
Sugar is the simplest form of carbohydrate, made of one or two sugar molecules. It occurs naturally in some foods, including fruits, vegetables, dairy etc. Types of sugar include milk sugar (lactose), fruit sugar (fructose) and table sugar (sucrose).
Starch is a complex form of carbohydrates. That means it comes from many sugar units binding together. You can find starch naturally in some vegetables, grains, etc.
It is also a complex form of carbohydrates. You can find it naturally in various fruits, vegetables, whole grains etc.
One of the most common mistakes many of us make with carbohydrates is understanding right and wrong. Many believe that all carbohydrates, from soda to sweet potatoes, are equal. As a result, some of them cut down on carbohydrates to lose weight. At the same time, some believe that carbohydrates are essential and eat all forms, ultimately leading to weight gain. However, not all carbs are equal. Our body handles lentils differently than it does lollipops.
Simple and Complex Carbohydrates: Which is Better?
Carbohydrates include both simple and complex carbs, classified by the chemical structure of the food you consume. Please read below to know about their differences.
Complex carb foods are good for you because they don’t raise blood sugar levels as much as simple carbs. In addition, these complex carb foods can help with weight loss and weight management because they provide long-lasting energy that is more sustainable than simple carb foods like white bread or pasta. Furthermore, complex carbohydrates also contain minerals, vitamins and fibre, which offer several benefits to the body. For example, they improve eye health, reduce the risk of diabetes, enhance gut health etc., making them good carbohydrates.
As per Harvard research, many complex carbohydrate foods contain fibre, vitamins, and minerals, which take longer to digest. As a result, they leave less of an immediate impact on blood sugar, causing it to rise more slowly.
You can often find simple carbs in processed foods such as doughnuts, candy bars, ice cream, soda pop, and many more. Unfortunately, these types of food are often high in sugar and low in nutrients. As a result, they can lead to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. Furthermore, a study suggests that simple carbs are utilised for energy, causing a rapid rise in insulin secretion from the pancreas and blood sugar.
Foods with simple carbs have a high glycemic index, which means they quickly spike blood sugar and cause a quick burst of energy followed by a crash. In addition, most simple carbs do not have fibre or essential nutrients to enhance digestion. As a result, they can lead to gastrointestinal distress or even weight gain. Finally, simple carbs have a low satiety index, meaning they don’t fill you up as much as complex carbs, making it easy to overeat these types of foods and gain weight over a period of time.
Analysing several studies and research findings indicate that you should refrain from consuming simple carbs. However, you can consume complex carbohydrates as they bring several benefits to your body. So, when you think of carbohydrate diets, remember that you should focus more on complex carbohydrates.
Carbohydrate Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid
Including healthy carbohydrates in your diet is essential because they help regulate blood sugar levels and provide energy throughout the day. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source for brain function and muscle movement. They provide quick and immediate energy for your body to function correctly. You can include different carbohydrates in your carbohydrate diet. However, awareness of foods you should avoid is equally important.
Below are some foods that you can incorporate into your diet to get an adequate amount of healthy carbohydrates from your foods.
Healthiest Sources of Carbohydrate
The healthiest sources of carbohydrates to include in your carbohydrate diet include unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans. These healthy carbohydrates help promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals, fibre, and a host of important phytonutrients. Some of the healthy foods you can eat are:
- Fresh Seasonal Fruits
- Sweet Potatoes
- Whole Grains and it’s products
- Beans & Lentils
- Green Peas
- Green Beans
Unhealthy Sources of Carbohydrate
Unhealthy carbohydrate sources that you should avoid include highly processed or refined foods and white bread, pastries, sodas etc. These foods contain fairly easy to digest carbohydrates, which can contribute to weight gain. Furthermore, these foods can interfere with weight loss and increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Some foods that you should avoid are:
- Canned Fruits
- Processed Cereal
- Potato or Corn Chips
- French Fries
- Sweetened Yoghurt
- Refined Flour
- Nuts Coated with Sugar
- Refined Sugar
- Processed Fruit Juice
Adding Healthy Carbohydrates to Your Diet: Some Important Tips
Start the Day with Whole Grains
Whole grains are complex carbohydrates that offer several health benefits. Hence, it is best to start your day with whole grains. You can consume a hot cereal, like oats (avoid instant oatmeal), or cold cereal with a whole grain as a primary ingredient. However, ensure that it is low in sugar.
An essential thing to remember is choosing a cereal with nothing more than 8 grams of sugar and at least 4 grams of fibre per serving.
Lunch or Snacks: Consume Whole Grain Bread
Many people are confused about finding whole-grain bread. In addition, some brands confuse users with their packaging and labels in the current marketing-oriented scenario. A straightforward tip for you to remember is to look for bread with its first ingredients as whole wheat, whole rye, or some other whole grain. A much better option is to look for bread made with only whole grains. For example, you can go for 100% whole wheat bread.
Look Beyond Bread
Some of the whole wheat bread often contains finely ground flour. In addition, few bread products are high in sodium, which can be unhealthy. So, you can replace bread with other recipes of whole grains. For example, you can try a whole grain in salad forms, such as brown rice or quinoa. It is also healthy to start your day with a bowl of healthy oats or quinoa.
Avoid Fruit Juices, Instead, Opt Fresh Fruits
The most significant difference between fresh fruit and fruit juice is the fibre content. For example, an orange has twice the fibre and half sugar as a glass of orange juice.
Avoid Potatoes and Fill Your Diet with Healthy Veggies like Beans
Try to refrain from filling up your diet with veggies like potatoes, which promote weight gain specially if used unhealthy cooking methods. Instead, you can choose healthy carbohydrate-rich vegetables like beans, carrots, etc. Such veggies are an excellent source of slowly digested carbohydrates. In addition, these vegetables benefit beyond their valuable carbohydrate content. For example, beans, carrots, beets, etc. also provide a good amount of micronutrients and antioxidants.
5 Significant Benefits of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are not just a source of energy, but they also provide many other benefits. They are a vital part of our diet and the primary energy source for our body. However, they also have several other benefits. For example, they help us maintain a healthy weight, fight inflammation, and even ward off brain disorders. Some significant benefits of healthy carbohydrates include:
Helps to Manage Weight
Healthy carbohydrates help you stay satiated for more extended periods. As a result, you don’t feel the urge to binge eat unhealthy snacks. That helps to keep your calorie intake in check and allows you to keep the weight off in the long run. As per research, diets high in unrefined carbohydrates help maintain a healthy weight.
Although consuming too many simple carbohydrates may lead to weight gain, you can easily manage a healthy weight by consuming healthy complex carbohydrates.
Carbohydrate-rich foods like vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes, and nuts have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can lead to several health issues like internal scarring, DNA damage etc. These issues can also lead to cancer. Studies suggest that healthy carbohydrates can help to prevent and get rid of inflammation. Hence, it is essential to consume this to prevent chronic diseases.
Lowers the Risk of Heart Diseases
Several studies link low-carbohydrate diets to an increased risk of heart diseases. Carbohydrates are the most critical macronutrient for keeping your heart healthy. They provide us with fibre and nutrients that help to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and inflammation in the body.
Since most healthy carbohydrates contain an adequate amount of fibre, they are beneficial for your gut health. In addition, the stomach uses carbohydrates as fuel for the digestive process, so eating them before or after a meal can help to keep your gut happy.
Can Boost Brain Power
Research says it is too simplistic to assume that ingesting healthy carbohydrates will inevitably improve cognitive function. However, some studies also showed that eating carbohydrates could increase your mind’s information processing in one day by up to 40%.
The body needs carbohydrates to function, making them an essential part of your daily diet. Hence, it is vital to incorporate them in the healthiest ways. However, it is not difficult to consume the necessary macronutrient and reap their benefits with adequate information. In addition, you can also avoid all the adverse effects of excess simple carbohydrate intake by planning your diet full of complex carbs.
All you need to do is to choose your carbohydrates wisely. You should limit foods with added sugars and refined grains, such as sugary drinks, desserts and candy. They are packed with calories but low in nutrition. Instead, go for fruits, vegetables and whole grains. That will help you take a step towards Healthifying yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Do eggs have carbohydrates?
A. Eggs are very low in carbs and packed with protein, healthy fats, and essential vitamins. They provide nutrients that help the brain and eye health while having almost no carbs.
Q. Why do we need carbohydrates in our diet?
A. Carbohydrates are the most important macronutrients for our body to function correctly. Without them, we would not produce energy and perform essential bodily functions. For example, carbohydrates provide energy for our body’s functioning, help us maintain blood sugar levels, etc. They also help the body in many other ways, like providing fibre, minerals, and vitamins.
Q. Do a low carbohydrate diet lead to ketoacidosis?
A. The most common form of ketoacidosis is a diabetic one, and those patients often experience ketones in the blood or urine. Extreme hunger or fasting periods can cause ketoacidosis, but other conditions involve severe metabolic acidosis. If your body doesn’t have enough glucose to function, it goes into ketogenesis which can cause metabolic acidosis. So in some cases, if you have a very low-carb diet, ketoacidosis can occur.
Q. What are the worst carbs to eat?
A. The worst carbs to eat are those with a high glycemic index. They are typically processed foods that have been stripped of all the nutrients we need. You should avoid the most unhealthy carbs: white bread, refined flour, table sugar, pastries and other baked foods, chips and fried foods, soda and sugary drinks, candies and processed sweets, processed cereals with sugar and beverages like beer.
Q. Do carbs turn to sugar?
A. Your body breaks down carbs into glucose which provides energy for your cells. As a result, your blood sugar can rise after you eat, in turn letting your body get the energy it needs. You should monitor your blood sugar levels to check if your blood sugar levels are going high frequently. Levels that become too high or too low can be symptoms of insulin related issues, which may lead to the onset of diabetes.