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The Science Behind Carbohydrates

Poor carbs. Even though the low carb craze of the late 90s has come and gone, carbohydrates still don’t get any love. It’s like there’s a little voice inside people’s head saying “BEWARE” every time they catch a whiff of a slice of bread! Today, we’re here to mythbust the idea that carbohydrates are bad for you with science and reason over fads.

First, let’s discuss what carbohydrates actually are. Carbs are often talked about as if they are a food group. In reality, carbohydrates are found in a wide variety of foods along with the other two macronutrients, fat and protein. These macronutrients break down to provide your body with energy to function, otherwise known as calories. Most foods contain a mixture of macronutrients. Think nuts, which are about half fat and 25% protein and carbohydrate or beans, which are mostly carbohydrate but also contain a hefty dose of protein.

The idea that carbohydrates are unhealthy and cause weight gain stems from two main reasons. First, the fact that carbohydrates break down into glucose, a type of sugar. But glucose in our body is different than the sugar in a cookie. The body uses glucose for energy, in fact, it’s the main source of energy for your brain. If you’ve ever done a low carb diet, you probably felt lethargic, moody and a bit off your mental game. That’s because your brain was hungry! Cutting out carbohydrates does result in rapid, short-term weight loss, but it’s rarely sustainable. Glycogen, the storage unit of glucose, is hydrated with three to four parts water. Cutting out carbs results in the rapid shedding of water, but of course, this isn’t permanent.

The second reason carbohydrates are often vilified is because the high carbohydrate Standard American Diet, rich in sweets, sugary beverages and ultra processed food, is associated with poor health and chronic disease. But it’s not necessarily the carbohydrates that are the problem, it’s the type of carbohydrate containing foods. Ultra processed carbohydrate foods, made with lots of added sugar and refined flour, spike blood sugar and aren’t very filling, so you’ll end up eating much much more.

A healthier, and more sustainable approach, is to focus on including an unprocessed or minimally processed carbohydrate containing food at each meal. These foods are rich in fiber, which keeps you full and maintains a steady blood sugar level, preventing cravings and mood swings. These foods are also rich in essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Here’s a list of nutritious carbohydrate foods to eat regularly:

Whole Grains

Beans

Starchy Vegetables

Fruit

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